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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 the nurturing of wild species of fish, insects, fungi, algae, wild fruits, forests and birds of any kind is fundamental to building and preserving sustainable ecosystems.

Wild species benefit people

Protecting wild species and their ecosystems will help secure the livelihoods of millions of people, says the report. Sustainable management of wild species would further bolster one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals of fighting poverty and hunger, it adds.

Two-thirds of all food crops, for example, depend largely on wild pollinators. Meanwhile, wild plants, fungi and algae are part of the diet of one-fifth of the global population.

Some 70% of low-income people globally are directly dependent on wild species, with the use of wild tree species forms an important source of income for millions worldwide.

But at the same time, the 2 billion people who need wood for cooking are destroying biodiversity. Most access timber unsustainably, with around 5 million hectares of forest lost annually through deforestation.

Wild species can also produce income, even without harvesting for food or cutting down habitat.

Nature tourism such as scuba diving, bushwalking or wildlife viewing generated $120 billion (€118 billion) in revenue in 2018. National parks and protected areas were visited by 8 billion people worldwide before the pandemic, generating about $600 billion per year.

Assessing impacts and factoring in environmental costs

Undervaluing nature when making political and economic decisions is fundamentally worsening the global biodiversity crisis, say the authors.

Basing policy decisions on economic considerations overlooks how environmental changes impact people’s lives. For example, a focus on short-term gains and measuring growth and progress in terms as gross domestic product fails to account for negative impacts such as overexploitation or social injustice.

Incorporating nature values into policy-making “entails redefining ‘development’ and ‘good quality of life,’ and recognizing the multiple ways people relate to each other and to the natural world,” said Patricia Balvanera, a co-author of one of the two reports.

From sushi hype to tuna population recovery

Bluefin tuna had been on the verge of extinction since the 1980s due to the rising popularity of sushi, noted Donaldson.

But the shortening of the fishing season, an increase in the minimum size of the fish, new tools to monitor and control fishing activity, and a sharp reduction in fishing capacity — as well as annual quotas — have seen stocks recover.

“Where you get the management done properly,” said Donaldson, it not only enhances sustainability, but “allows for the recovery of stocks where they’ve been overutilized.”

The authors recommend similar levels of innovation in the timber industry, including the establishment of a functioning certification system, an end to illegal logging, strong state regulations, forestry that respects the land rights of Indigenous peoples and nurtures wild species instead of monocultures.

Indigenous communities ‘undervalued’

When proposing how ecosystems could be better protected and used, the report highlights the role of Indigenous communities.

Sustainability aspects of Indigenous peoples include crop rotation and resting livestock grazing, and stopping certain species from being harvested or hunted during given seasons, all with the goal of maintaining or even increasing biodiversity.

There tends to be less deforestation in areas where Indigenous communities live, the report noted.

Representatives of Indigenous communities directly contributed to the report, which highlighted their shared culture of not taking more from nature than is needed; of avoiding waste; and of distributing harvests equitably. 

This recognition of Indigenous knowledge “is progress,” says Viviana Figueroa of the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity. “Indigenous people are doing the real work in species conservation without being paid for it,” she added.

Yet despite this extensive contribution, many communities continue to face human rights violations, from displacement to violence and illegal extraction on their lands.

“[Governments need to] support us in the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife species,” said Figueroa. “We want that this report also supports real action at a local level.”

(This article was originally published in German. It was first published in English on July 8 and updated on July 11 after the second IPBES report was released.)

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Center for Biological Diversity

World’s Most Endangered Whales Move Closer to Expanded Habitat Protections off Alaskan Coast

ANCHORAGE, Alaska—(July 11, 2022)—NOAA Fisheries announced today that expanding critical habitat protections in Alaska for North Pacific right whales — the most endangered whale population in the world — may be warranted.

The decision came in response to a petition filed in March by two groups, the Center for Biological Diversity and Save the North Pacific Right Whale, urging the federal government to revise the critical habitat designation for North Pacific right whales under the Endangered Species Act.

“Safeguarding the North Pacific right whale’s habitat is crucial to protecting these magnificent animals,” said Kristin Carden, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The threats to North Pacific right whales grow with each passing day. This review has come not a moment too soon.”

The eastern North Pacific right whale population ranges from the Bering Sea to Baja California and is down to only about 30 individuals. With few reproducing females, it is at extreme risk of imminent extinction.

“We applaud NOAA Fisheries’ initial finding as a hopeful first step,” said Kevin Campion, a boat captain and founder of Save the North Pacific Right Whale. “We also applaud the agency’s survey efforts that expanded our knowledge of how North Pacific right whales are using the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. These whales are in the state they are because of human activity. Taking steps to see that we cause them no more harm is the right thing to do.”

In April 2008 the Fisheries Service issued a final rule designating approximately 1,175 square miles in the Gulf of Alaska and approximately 35,460 square miles in the Southeast Bering Sea as critical habitat for North Pacific right whales.

Since that time, new surveys and research have confirmed two key habitats essential for this right whale population’s survival — a migratory corridor through the Fox Islands in the Aleutian chain, including Unimak Pass, and feeding grounds near Kodiak Island. The review will determine if these areas will be designated critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act and connect the two existing units.

Acoustic surveys verified that right whales use Unimak Pass during and outside the assumed migratory season. This follows another important discovery scientists made in an earlier acoustical analysis: North Pacific right whales put calls into distinguishable, consistent songs — making them the first right whales ever known to sing.

The Fisheries Service must now make a final decision on the petition within one year.

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Daily Beast

Gray Wolves Are Back on the Endangered Species List

Blake Montgomery, Reporter/Editor, Feb. 10, 2022

Gray wolves should be re-added to the endangered species list, a judge ruled Thursday. Under Donald Trump, the Fish and Wildlife Service had previously declared their conservation and population rehabilitation a success, taking the apex predators off the list, which comes with powerful federal protections. The Northern California judge ruled the agency failed to account for threats against the animals outside of the Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains, where conservation efforts have been concentrated and seen their best results. The wolves will be protected in 44 of the lower 48 states, with Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho excluded due to an act of Congress. New Mexican wolves, which will also remain unprotected, are considered a separate population.

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Global News

U.S. government’s failure to protect endangered whales violates law, judge says

By Patrick Whittle, The Associated Press, Posted July 9, 2022

The U.S. federal government hasn’t done enough to protect a rare species of whale from lethal entanglement in lobster fishing gear, and new rules are needed to protect the species from extinction, a judge has ruled.

The government has violated both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act by failing to protect the North Atlantic right whale, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled on Friday. The whales number less than 340 in the world and have been declining rapidly in population in recent years.

Boasberg’s ruling was a victory for conservation groups that have long sought to save the whale and a new challenge for lobster fishermen who have fought back against tightening restrictions on where and how they can fish. Boasberg ruled that the court’s findings “do not dictate that it must immediately shutter the American lobster fishery,” but instead said the parties must propose potential remedies to the threat faced by whales.

The ruling “may seem a severe result for the lobster industry” and the government, but no one “operates free from the strict requirements imposed by the MMPA and ESA,” Boasberg wrote.

Environmental groups celebrated the ruling, while some members of the fishing industry took a more measured approach.

The ruling came after a group of environmental organizations sued the federal government with a complaint that it wasn’t doing enough to save whales from lobster gear. Boasberg’s ruling validates that claim, said Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued.

“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. The Biden administration has to work much harder to help the industry prevent these agonizing, deadly entanglements,” Monsell said.

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the largest fishing trade group on the East Coast, said in a statement that it was still reviewing the ruling. The association also pointed to a section of Boasberg’s ruling that said the National Marine Fisheries Service “may find that other measures exist to reduce lethal take, or that projected take is in fact lower than originally estimated.” That renders the ruling “a mixed bag,” the association said.

“We are heartened that the court recognizes the great importance of Maine’s lobstering heritage and appreciates the potential and unnecessary harm that could be imposed on the men and women who work so hard to make our industry thrive,” said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

The right whales give birth off Florida and Georgia and come north to the waters off New England and Canada to feed. They’re also imperiled by lethal collisions with ships, and federal authorities are expected to soon release new guidelines to help protect them from that threat.

The whales were once numerous, but they were decimated during the commercial whaling era. Some scientists have said warming ocean temperatures are causing them to stray from protected areas in search of food, and that has left them more vulnerable to collisions and entanglement.

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South Dakota Public Broadcasting

GF&P proposes moving peregrine falcons from endangered to threatened list

SDPB Radio, By Joshua Haiar, July 8, 2022

The state Department of Game, Fish and Parks is proposing peregrine falcons be moved from the state endangered species list to the threatened list, as the bird’s numbers improve in the state and nationally.

The next move will be a public hearing in September. At that time, the proposal will go to the Game, Fish and Parks Commission for final approval.

The move comes after the department’s survey efforts concluded there are enough active nest locations in the state to no longer consider the bird endangered.

Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kevin Robling said the news is a testament to the hard work of the department.

“A lot of work went into this and it’s great to see a down-listing of a species that we’ve been working on for more than a decade,” Robling said. “I mean, it’s been a great success story.”

Peregrine falcon populations rapidly declined between 1940 and 1970, causing the species to be federally listed as endangered. Population declines were primarily attributed to the widespread use of the pesticide DDT.

Dan O’Brien is a falconer, author and bison rancher in western South Dakota who has been active in peregrine falcon conservation efforts. He said the state is making the right move.

“They’re really not endangered,” O’Brien said. “And I think it’s important that we don’t put stuff on the endangered species list that isn’t endangered, because that’s an abuse of the system.”

Peregrines were removed from the federal endangered species list in 1999 but remained on the list in South Dakota due to their rarity in the state.

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Yahoo News

Hawaiian waters may get too hot for humpback whales due to climate change

Ben Adler, July 7, 2022

The warm, shallow waters near Hawaii are a renowned breeding ground for humpback whales. An estimated two-thirds of North Pacific humpback whales are born there, and the massive creatures — adult males can be up to 52 feet long and can weigh 45 tons — figure in the mythology of native Hawaiians. For the locals who make their living giving tours to whale-watching visitors, they are also an important part of the state’s economy.

But that may all be upended in the decades to come, due to climate change — and the more greenhouse gases that are emitted this century, the fewer whales there will be in Hawaii, according to a new study.

Humpback whales give birth in waters that range from about 70°F to 82°F, but at their current pace of warming, two-thirds of the waters near Hawaii will surpass 82°F by the end of this century, the study found.

The paper, published earlier this week in Frontiers in Marine Science, was authored by three graduate students at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and two co-researchers at the Pacific Whale Foundation.

“We expected to see critical warming in some of the breeding grounds, but the number of critically affected areas was a surprise,” said Hannah von Hammerstein, one of the co-authors, in a statement that accompanied the study’s publication.

But the findings were not hopeless. The research also showed that in a “middle of the road” scenario, in which nations cut emissions to a more moderate level, only 35% of current breeding grounds would become too hot by 2100.

“While the results of the study are daunting, they also highlight the differences between the two emission scenarios and what still can be won by implementing emission mitigation measures,” said von Hammerstein, a graduate student in geography and environment.

“Our findings provide yet another example of what is to come with anthropogenic climate change, with humpback whales representing merely one impacted species,” said the paper’s co-author Martin van Aswegen, a graduate student in marine biology.

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Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

Lobo population cap lifted, but environmentalists say new rules don’t go far enough

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus, July 7, 2022

New federal rules governing the recovery of Mexican gray wolves, known as “lobos,” in New Mexico were immediately challenged after being enacted last week as environmentalists criticized the regulations as inadequate to save the species from extinction.

A group of New Mexico environmental groups announced a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week, charging the agency with failing to comply with the Endangered Species Act in announcing multiple changes to the federal wolf recovery strategy.

The federal agency has 60 days to issue a finding in response to the groups’ objections, read the announcement, before they file an official complaint in federal court.

Lobos were listed as endangered by the federal government in the 1970s, meaning the animals’ extinction could be imminent and the federal government was required to develop and maintain a strategy to see population numbers grow.

Changes to that strategy, which take effect Aug. 1, included removing the population limit of 300 to 325 wolves living within an experimental population area used for recovery in southern New Mexico and Arizona and setting a goal of an eight-year average of at least 320 wolves living in the wild.

The wolves were once thought to number in the thousands throughout the American West and parts of Mexico, but today only survive in a remote area of southern New Mexico and eastern Arizona.

The Service also enacted an objective of increasing the number of wolves released toward a goal of 22 surviving to the breeding age – about two years old – by 2030.

Records show an estimated 13 released wolves reached that age since 2017.

Restrictions were also placed on killing Mexican wolves on federal land to either remove them from the area, or in response to their impacts on wild herd animals like elk.

Amy Luders, southwest regional director with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the changes would improve the wolf’s chances of survival, and provide balance between species conservation and local agriculture and livestock.

“This revision to the Mexican wolf rule ensures we are on the best path toward recovery while continuing to provide a variety of tools to manage for conflict on the landscape,” she said in a statement.

“We look forward to continued collaboration with our state, federal and Tribal partners in ensuring the experimental population contributes to long-term conservation and recovery while also minimizing impacts on livestock operators, local communities and other wildlife.”

But Sally Paez, attorney with the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance argued, along with other plaintiffs in the lawsuit, that the new rules did not go far enough in tracking genetic diversity of the wolf population in the wild while also lacking adequate restrictions on wolf killing.

“Mexican wolves evolved to play a critical role in the ecosystem, and they deserve a chance to thrive in the landscapes of the Southwest,” Paez said.

“After 40 years of recognition that Mexican wolves need a lifeline to survive, we urge the Fish and Wildlife Service to incorporate the best available science into its management rule to prevent the extinction of Mexican wolves and establish a viable, self-sustaining population in the wild.”

Southwest Wildlife Advocate Chris Smith with Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians said his organization and other repeatedly sued the federal government over its wolf strategy as wildlife managers have so far failed to enact adequate protections for the species.

In 2018, a federal court in Arizona ruled against revisions to the plan enacted in 2015, leading to this year’s alterations, calling for the removal of population caps and tighter restrictions on wolf killings.

Smith said the new rules still fail to protect the wolf from being killed by landowners and will not result in the genetic diversity needed for the species to survive and grow in the long-term.

“It is outrageous that, over and over, we have to sue the government agency tasked with recovering lobos in order to get them to act according to science, public interest, and the law,” he said. “But if that’s what it takes, we will go to the mat for these wolves. They are essential. And they belong.”

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Politico Pro

Judge vacates suite of Trump endangered species rules

By ALEX GUILLÉN | 07/05/2022

A federal judge on Tuesday vacated three Trump administration rules concerning endangered species, ruling that the regulations should be jettisoned immediately as the Biden administration works to reconsider them.

Background: The lawsuit targeted three separate but related Endangered Species Act regulations.

One, Reg. 1018-BC97, repealed a “blanket” rule that had previously automatically extended “take” protections that apply to endangered species to threatened species as well. Another, Reg. 0648-BH42, allowed regulators to factor in economic impacts when making listing decisions and critical habitat designations. The third rule, Reg. 0648-BH41, revised interagency consultation procedures.

Multiple lawsuits over those rules were pending when the Biden administration reconsidered and announced plans to revise or repeal them completely.

Details: The Biden administration had asked only that Judge John Tigar of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, an Obama appointee, remand the rules back to the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service for reconsideration.

But Tigar went a step further, vacating the rules as well, which has the effect of immediately wiping them off the books and reverting the agency to prior regulations.

The agencies made “substantial concessions regarding the infirmity of the 2019 ESA Rules,” Tigar wrote.

“The Services have already announced their intention to reexamine and revise the regulations,” he wrote. “In so doing, they put the public on notice that the regulations’ existence in their current form is unlikely. It therefore seems doubtful that vacatur would add to whatever ‘uncertainty [exists] about which standards to apply.’”

The Interior Department did not immediately return a request for comment.

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Reuters

After 40 years of extinction, rhinos return to Mozambique

By Sisipho Skweyiya, July 4, 2022

JOHANNESBURG, July 4 (Reuters) – Over four decades after they became extinct locally, rhinos are roaming again the wilds of Mozambique, which is bringing the endangered species from South Africa in efforts to breathe new life into its parks and boost local tourism.

A group of rangers captured, sedated and moved black and white rhinos over 1,000 miles (1,610 km) to Mozambique’s Zinave National Park, which has over 400,000 hectares and more than 2,300 other reintroduced animals.

“Rhinos are important to the ecosystem, which is one of the reasons why we’re moving them all this distance and doing all this effort to get them there,” Kester Vickery, a conservationist who is supervising the rhino translocation told Reuters.

The Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) conservation group, which is conducting the operation, aims to relocate over 40 rhinos in the next two years to Mozambique.

Its project manager, Anthony Alexander, said that the group has already brought in certain predators and many elephants to the park and that it was now rhinos’ turn.

“It’s very exciting now to complete the presence of historical species in the park,” Alexander said.

This initiative is a part of a campaign to save the endangered species by relocating them to safe havens where they have a chance to increase their population.

“We are effectively spreading our eggs and putting them in different baskets,” Vickery said, adding that he hoped to see a thriving population of white rhinos in Zinave in 10 years.

Mozambican Environment Minister Ivete Maibaze said in a statement that this historic translocation will also be beneficial for the country’s emerging eco-tourism industry.

Mozambique’s wildlife numbers were badly hit by a 15-year civil war that ended in 1992, and by poaching.

(Reporting Sisipho Skweyiya; Writing by Anait Miridzhanian; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Spectrum News/9 (Tampa, FL)

Endangered sea turtles threatened by tiktok challenge

By Ashonti Ford, Pinellas County

PUBLISHED July 04, 2022

TREASURE ISLAND, Fla. — A social media trend, of people digging massive holes in beach sand, went viral and now wildlife advocates are saying it could harm sea turtles.

If you pull up TikTok and type in “digging holes challenge,” thousands of videos will show people digging holes as deep as 6 feet at the beach.

Now wildlife and city officials are responding to the aftermath of these holes.

“The holes on the beach are a big problem year around, especially now,” said beach ambassador, Carrie Auerbach. “May 1st to Oct 31st is turtle season and they are endangered.”

Treasure Island Beach has a leave no trace ordinance. This means when you leave the beach, it should look like you weren’t there – it’s not a new rule but the dangers of not following these rules are.

The sea turtles are falling in these holes and they can’t get out,” said Auerbach.” They lay their eggs on the beach then Clearwater Marine Aquarium corners them off so people stay away from them but 60 days later the eggs hatch and make their way back to the sea.”

That’s when the trouble of those holes comes up.

“People running on the beach, flying kites, throwing frisbees – stepping in holes and breaking an ankle; also law enforcement vehicles that drive on the sand,” said Auerbach. “Build your sandcastle, take pictures of them then knock it down. Turtles can’t get around those either.”

Treasure Island’s public information officer said the beaches are still a place meant to let your hair down and relax, however we all should do our small part in taking care if the environment – even if that means skipping a TikTok challenge, or two.

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Mongabay

Habitat loss, climate change send hyacinth macaw reeling back into endangered status

by Jenny Gonzales on 4 July 2022

Less than a decade since conservation actions helped pull the hyacinth macaw out of Brazil’s endangered species list, the iconic cobalt-blue bird is back in the red, driven there by the loss of its habitat and a changing climate.

Brazil’s National Center for Research and Conservation of Wild Birds (Cemave) updated the bird’s category, from vulnerable, at the end of April, following an assessment conducted with outside experts of the species’ extinction risk based on IUCN Red List criteria.

The hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) remains in the vulnerable category on the IUCN Red List, which assesses its conservation status across its global range, which includes Bolivia and Paraguay.

The change to endangered status in Brazil isn’t official yet. Cemave still needs to submit its findings to the National Biodiversity Commission for analysis and approval of the change to the hyacinth macaw’s place in the National List of Endangered Species. There’s no deadline, however, for these steps to be completed. The last edition of the list was published on June 7, and includes species that were assessed between 2015 and May 2021.

“That year, the data showed that the conservation efforts, carried out especially by the Hyacinth Macaw Institute, were keeping the largest population of this species, located in the Pantanal biome, in a safer condition,” Priscilla do Amaral, the Cemave coordinator, told Mongabay by phone. “It is not comfortable being in the vulnerable category, but compared to the previous situation, we had a more optimistic scenario.”

Between 2000 and 2013, the hyacinth macaw, the world’s largest flying parrot, was classified as an endangered species in Brazil. Its conservation status improved to vulnerable in 2014, according to the IUCN. Its decline now is due to the loss of habitat in its range in Brazil: in the Pantanal wetlands, the Cerrado savanna, and the Amazon rainforest.

“The perception of those who work in the field and have known the species and its environment for decades is that the pressures are higher,” Amaral said. “This is supported by a scientific work published last year and by calculations we made about the macaw’s habitat loss with technology tools such as Google Engine and MapBiomas.”

The Ministry of the Environment, which publishes the National List of Endangered Species, told Mongabay in an email that it plans to publish an updated list every year. Since the latest one was published in June this year, it’s most likely that the next one, which could include the hyacinth macaw, will be released in 2023.

Conservation experts say the rising frequency and intensity of fires in the Pantanal and the ongoing deforestation in the Amazon and central Brazil are the main drivers of habitat destruction in recent years. The Pantanal, home to 70% of hyacinth macaws in Brazil, saw 28% of its total area hit by fires in 2020, according to the Laboratory of Environmental Satellite Applications at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. A technical report by the Public Ministry of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, the states that are home to the Pantanal, showed that nearly 60% of the fire outbreaks that year were related to farming activities.

Fire in the wetlands

Living in flocks, the hyacinth macaw population is concentrated in Mato Grosso do Sul, in particular in the Caiman Ecological Sanctuary. That’s where the Hyacinth Macaw Institute has been based since 1998. Sprawled across 54,000 hectares (133,400 acres), the site is also a breeding center for the macaws and has about 110 nests, both natural and artificial. In the 2019 fires, 35,000 hectares (86,500 acres) of the site were burned, and macaw eggs and hatchlings were lost.

A key roosting site for the birds, where they gather in huge numbers to sleep, was outside the São Francisco do Perigara ranch in Mato Grosso. The Hyacinth Macaw Institute, which has monitored the site since 2004, counted more than 1,000 individual birds there in the past. But in August 2020, 90% of the property burned, and the macaws dispersed.

“In April [2022], our last count, there were only 227 macaws,” Neiva Guedes, president and founder of the Hyacinth Macaw Institute, told Mongabay by phone. “It was a traditional place for the species for over 60 years. After the fires, most did not return to sleep in the area again.”

The Pantanal fires resulted in food scarcity, disrupting the natural functioning of the ecosystem and leaving the macaws vulnerable to predators such as the weasel-like tayra (Eira barbara) that would otherwise have gone after other prey, Guedes said.

“Animals that took advantage of remains left by the hyacinth macaw could no longer do so, and tayras even ate adult macaws, which has never happened before,” she said. “There are changes we still don’t understand, as well as their impacts.”

In 2008, there were 6,500 hyacinth macaws in Brazil, more than three-quarters of them in the Pantanal. That marked a dramatic reversal from a low of 2,500 in 1987. Trafficking of the birds for the illegal pet trade up until the 1980s was estimated to have taken more than 10,000 hyacinth macaws from the wild.

“Precise numbers are difficult to obtain, especially after the last fires,” said Guedes, who has worked on hyacinth macaw research and conservation since 1994. “This year, we will try to estimate with the collaboration of international researchers.”

Smaller populations of hyacinth macaws are also found in Bolivia (home to about 150 birds in 2000) and in the Paraguay section of the Pantanal.

A more hostile climate

The hyacinth macaw is a large bird that can measure up to 1 meter (3.3 feet) from beak to tail tip and live an average of 50 years. It’s also one of the most at-risk macaw species: It has a low reproductive rate (the female usually lays only two eggs per cycle on average), and its breeding period, from August to October, coincides with the dry season in the Pantanal, when fires occur.

“Last year, we quickly removed four chicks from two artificial nests at the Caiman farm until the fire died,” Guedes said. “Otherwise, they would have died intoxicated from the smoke.”

The bird has a very particular diet centered on native species of palm trees. In the Pantanal region, it only eats the fruit of the acuri (Attalea phalerata) and bocaiúva (Acrocomia aculeata) trees. When they nest, they do so almost exclusively in cavities in the manduvi tree (Sterculia apetala), which has a soft core.

Climate change has also affected the birds’ reproduction. “Some years ago, it used to rain the same volume of water for 20, 30 days. Now it concentrates in a short period, and the water ends up flooding the cavities, especially the natural ones,” Guedes said. “With the flooded nests, chicks drown, and the eggs, which need the incubation of the female for embryo development, have their cycle interrupted.”

Changes in temperature are another negative factor in the region. The average temperature in the Pantanal is 35° Celsius (95° Fahrenheit), but last year it reached 43°C (109°F) in the shade and dropped to 7°C (45°F) in less than 24 hours. Those extreme swings can kill both eggs and hatchlings.

“Animals are at the mercy of climate extremes. When these variations happen very quickly, they don’t have time to adapt,” Guedes said. “It may be obvious to say this, but unlike us, animals don’t have coats, air conditioning or technology to defend themselves.”

Despite the rapid changes in the hyacinth macaw’s habitat, Guedes said her institute and its partners remain positive in the fight to save the species, collecting data to support public policies and training more people to help with conservation. “We must be persistent and join efforts to accomplish much more, to help save biodiversity, which includes mankind,” she said.

Amaral echoed the sentiment. “If we give nature a chance, it recovers, which is why I believe in conservation efforts,” she said. “It is a colossal struggle because it is necessary to understand that the benefits will come in the future for everyone, which is not natural for human beings who seek immediate advantages for themselves or their group. This mindset shift is crucial.”

(Citation: Oliveira, M. R., Szabo, J. K., Santos Júnior, A. D., Guedes, N. M., Tomas, W. M., Camilo, A. R., … Garcia, L. C. (2021). Lack of protected areas and future habitat loss threaten the Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) and its main food and nesting resources. Ibis, 163(4), 1217-1234. doi:10.1111/ibi.12982)

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WildEarth Guardians

Lawsuit launched to challenge new federal rule that fails to recover Mexican gray wolves

The new rule perpetuates many of the same flaws as its 2015 iteration which was overturned by federal courts in 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, NM—(July 1, 2022)—Today, Western Environmental Law Center, on behalf of group of conservation organizations that includes WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, Wildlands Network, New Mexico Wild, and Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project, notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) of their intent to sue the agency under the Endangered Species Act for its failure to adopt an adequate federal rule for recovering Mexican gray wolves (also called “lobos”).

The new rule perpetuates many of the same flaws as its 2015 iteration which was overturned by federal courts in 2018. In the rule published today, the Service maintained its “nonessential” determination for the subspecies, a decision that  depends on the cooperation of private breeding facilities, which have no legal obligation to recover wolves, and the persistence of a small population of wolves in Mexico, which is not bound by United States law.   Additionally, the rule  provides only temporary reprieve for wolves from being killed for livestock depredations, and lacks provisions to address illegal killings. Importantly, it also fails to secure a genetic future for wolves, relying instead on sheer numbers of releases rather than diversity metrics.

“It is outrageous that, over and over, we have to sue the government agency tasked with recovering lobos in order to get them to act according to science, public interest, and the law,” said Chris Smith, southwest wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “But if that’s what it takes, we will go to the mat for these wolves. They are essential. And they belong.”

“It’s unfortunate that we’re caught in this legal ‘lather, rinse, repeat’ because the Service is refusing to comply with the law that requires recovery of the Mexican wolf based on the best available science,” said Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project. “The agency has known for a long time what the lobos need, but they apparently would rather have the courts tell them what to do, so here we are again.”

“Mexican wolves evolved to play a critical role in the ecosystem, and they deserve a chance to thrive in the landscapes of the Southwest,” said Sally Paez, a staff attorney for New Mexico Wild. “After forty years of recognition that Mexican wolves need a lifeline to survive, we urge the Fish and Wildlife Service to incorporate the best available science into its management rule to prevent the extinction of Mexican wolves and establish a viable, self-sustaining population in the wild.”

“The Service is once again ignoring the science and its clear legal mandate to manage Mexican wolves in a manner that allows for the true recovery of this critically imperiled species,” said Kelly Nokes, Shared Earth Wildlife Attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center. “We stand ready to once again hold the agency accountable for failing to comply with the Endangered Species Act’s strict conservation commands.”

“The 2018 court remand, tens of thousands of public comments, notable wolf scientists, and the Mexican wolves themselves have been saying that the Service must expand the reintroduction area to include suitable wolf habitat north of Interstate 40, yet the Service failed to take this opportunity to do so. It is unscientific to limit recovery at an arbitrary boundary for a mammal that naturally travels over hundreds of miles,” said Emily Renn, Executive Director of the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project.

The Notice of Intent to Sue submitted today starts a 60-day clock for the Service to address its failings before the groups will file a complaint in federal district court.

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EcoWatch

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

By: Tiffany Chaney, June 30, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most Species in Tropical Regions Threatened With Volatile Conditions

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

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

Avoiding Temperature Offshoot Takes Priority

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

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

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

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Phys.Org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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

Press Release, June 30, 2022

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

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

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

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

The facilities receiving reimbursement funds include:

Arizona – Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center, $44,154

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

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

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

Hawaii – Bishop Museum, $225,390

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

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

Maryland – National Aquarium, $182,143

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

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

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

New Jersey – Adventure Aquarium, $65,840

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

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

Oklahoma – Oklahoma Aquarium, $183,263

Oregon – Oregon Coast Aquarium, $117,987

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

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

South Carolina – South Carolina Aquarium, $456,617

Tennessee – Tennessee Aquarium, $14,474

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

Texas – Dallas Zoo, $156,749

Utah – Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, $83,546

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

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

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

Food.

Veterinary care/medicine.

Direct animal/plant care staff time.

Life-support systems.

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

Real property debt and holding space improvements/modifications.

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

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

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

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Yahoo! News/Aiken Standard (Aiken, SC)

Rare CSRA plant likely to become endangered species

Samantha Winn, Aiken Standard, June 28, 2022

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

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

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

A status report on the plan started in 2019.

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

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

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

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched Over Federal Failure to Protect Shortfin Mako Shark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Science Daily

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

June 27, 2022, Source: University of Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Orlando.com (Orlando, FL)

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

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

Ashley Bermudez, Published: June 27, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jefferson Public Radio (Southern Oregon University)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Axios Seattle

Wolves are making a comeback in Washington

Lewis Kamb, June 24, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eight packs were involved in livestock depredation last year.

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

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

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The Hill

Biden administration reverses Trump endangered species habitat definition

By ZACK BUDRYK, 06/23/22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Guardian

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

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

Arthur Neslen, 23 June 2022 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

PRESS RELEASE, June 23, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EcoWatch

Scientists Develop Robotic Fish That Consumes Microplastics

By: Olivia Rosane, June 22, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Newsweek

Customs Dog Sniffs Out Hundreds of Endangered Seahorses at Airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sun-Gazette Newspaper (Exeter, CA)

Common insecticides may harm three-fourths of endangered species

By John Lindt, June 21, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEE-ING CAUTIOUS

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

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

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

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

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Center for Biological Diversity

House Democrats Provide Long-Overdue Funding for Endangered Species Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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KPBS Broadcasting (San Diego)

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

By Thomas Fudge / Science and Technology Reporter

Published June 20, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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University of Sydney News

Endangered Tasmanian devils insured against future threats

20 June 2022

Protected populations deemed genetically sound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing the devils

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

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

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

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

The Tasmanian devil

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

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

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British Ecological Society

Albatross populations declining due to invasive mouse species

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eos (Science News by American Geophysical Union)

Reevaluating Ecosystems on the Basis of Climate Change Vulnerability

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

By Deepa Padmanabanm, 17 June 2022

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

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

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

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

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

Developing a Vulnerability Index

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local Ecosystems

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

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

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

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

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

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Center for Biological Diversity

Oregon Commission Votes to Better Protect Wildlife From Trapping

Reduced Trap Check Times Still Longer Than Most States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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USA Today

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

Dinah Voyles Pulver, USA TODAY, June 17, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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KCRA 3 (Sacramento, CA)

California won’t immediately list Joshua tree as threatened

By Kathleen Ronayne, June 16, 2022, AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Courthouse News Service

Flower found only on the Virgin Islands listed as endangered

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

MEGAN BUTLER / June 15, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Habitat for 12 Endangered Coral Species

Safeguards Needed Around Florida, Pacific Islands to Prevent Mass Extinction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Science News

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

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

June 14, 2022, Source: Duke University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Texas A&M Today (College Station, TX)

45 Endangered Sea Turtles Hatch On Texas Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fortunately, the turtles hatching on Magnolia beach had help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Center for Biological Diversity

House Passes Historic Legislation Securing Billions for Imperiled Wildlife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New York  Post

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

By Hannah Sparks, June 13, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black rhino: 22%

Asian elephant: 22%

Red panda: 21%

Blue whale: 20%

Mountain gorilla: 20%

African forest elephant: 20%

Sumatran rhino: 20%

Cross river gorilla: 20%

Sunda tiger: 19%

Sea turtle: 19%

Javan rhino: 19%

Sumatran elephant: 19%

Galapagos penguin: 19%

Fin whale: 19%

Hawksbill turtle: 18%

Sea lions: 18%

African wild dog: 18%

Ganges river dolphin: 18%

Black-footed ferret: 18%

Bluefin tuna: 18%

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Times of San Diego

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

by Editor, June 13, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Center for Biological Diversity

Rare Southwest Wildflower Protected Under Endangered Species Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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VPR News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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National Geographic

Humpback whales face a major setback from climate change

Kieran Mulvaney, June 8, 2022

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

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

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

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

Humpbacks stand their ground

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

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

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

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

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

The results were a surprise to the researchers.

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

Unknown impacts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Offshore Engineer

BOEM, NOAA Use Drones to Tag Endangered Whales

June 8, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Guardian

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

Discrepancy between aesthetic value and extinction vulnerability could have repercussions

Sofia Quaglia, 7 June 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Courthouse News Service

US proposes experimental populations of endangered species outside historic habitat

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

EDVARD PETTERSSON, June 6, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sierra Sun Times (Mariposa, CA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Guardian

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

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

Adeshola Ore, 4 June 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Business Insider

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

Bethany Dawson, June 4, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AP News

US wildlife agency to consider protecting Yellowstone bison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reuters

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

By Barbara Grzincic, June 1, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scientific American

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

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

By Susan Cosier, May 31, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Earthjustice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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YubaNet.com (Nevada City, CA)

Southern California Fish Move Closer to Endangered Species Act Protection

Legal Victory Secures Decision Dates for Two Speckled Dace

by Center for Biological Diversity, May 31, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Voice of America

Some African Countries Want Ban on Elephant Ivory Reconsidered

May 30, 2022, Columbus Mavhunga

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

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

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

Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu is Zimbabwe‘s wildlife minister.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CHEK-TV News (Victoria, BC)

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

Posted: May 29, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flathead Beacon (Kalispell, MT)

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

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

By TRISTAN SCOTT, May 29, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daily Press (Victorville, CA)

Advocates urge California to put western Joshua Tree on endangered list

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Earthjustice

Court Restores Wolverine Protections While Agency Reconsiders Endangered Species Decision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Newsweek

Hundreds of California Pelicans Are Mysteriously Sick and Dying

Robyn White, May 27, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newsweek has contacted International Bird Rescue and CDFW for comment.

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EcoWatch

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

By Olivia Rosane, May 26, 2022

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

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

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

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

*Four were Regionally Extinct.

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

*Five, or nine percent, were Near Threatened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PHYS-ORG

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

by PLOS Biology, May 26, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EcoWatch

Monarch Butterfly Count Up 35% in WWF-Mexico Survey

Paige Bennett,  May 25, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched to Seek Habitat Protection for 49 Endangered Hawaiian Species

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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The Guardian

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

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

Lisa Cox, 24 May 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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E&E News/Greenwire

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

By Michael Doyle | 05/24/2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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10 Boston TV

Rare Right Whale Sightings Reported Along New England Shoreline

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

By Alysha Palumbo,• Published May 23, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FOX 5 TV (San Diego)

How San Diego airport helps preserve endangered bird species

by: Dillon Davis, Posted: May 23, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Global News

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

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

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

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

“We actually found there was over 500 animals that live on land that haven’t been seen in over 50 years,” he said in an interview. “That’s almost twice as many as have been declared extinct since 1500 AD. There’s a huge pool of species out there that we don’t know whether they’re still around or not.”

The researchers reviewed information on 32,802 creatures listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species and identified 562 of them lost.

The study was published this month in the journal Animal Conservation.

Mooers said they used a computer program that went through the group’s database to identify the lost species.

The criteria used to list a species lost was the missing or last-seen date, or any accounts from the first time the animal was collected and named, he said.

“There’s lots of these sort of hints that the species was in fact lost.”

One of the lost Canadian species is the Eskimo curlew, a shorebird that nested in the northernmost part of the tundra and migrated all the way to Argentina, Mooers said.

There were a few Eskimo curlews seen in Texas in 1962 and another was shot in Barbados in 1963, but that was the last confirmed sighting, he said.

“That is our most famous and only, I believe, lost species and it’s probably extinct. It’s one of the sadder ones, I think,” he said, referring to the Canadian bird.

Researchers highlighted in the study that many of the lost species are from tropical countries such as Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil.

Species go extinct because of various reasons including human-caused threats and pressures, habitat loss and overhunting, Mooers said.

Of those 562 species, he said 75 can be classified as possibly extinct. The International Union for Conservation of Nature defines extinct as “when there is no reasonable doubt the last individual of a species has died,” which can be challenging to verify, he said.

“Extinction means that you lose the last individual. As something is approaching extinction, it’s becoming rarer and rarer and rarer until there are very few left of course, right down to one and then zero,” he said.

“If a species is endangered and it lives in a habitat that is difficult to access, or it’s large like the tundra with not a lot of people, or it’s deep in the tropics or tropical islands, people may not be looking for such species often, then it can stay very rare. And maybe extinct, maybe not.”

And that is the point of the study, he said. The paper gives a list of species that people should look for because these animals haven’t been seen in a long time and it’s not known if they are still around, he added.

Mooers said he is hoping some of the species will be found again.

He pointed to the ivory-billed woodpecker, which researchers thought was extinct with the last sightings in 1944, but an April study that has not been peer-reviewed suggests the bird might still be pecking in Louisiana.

His first reaction to seeing the list of over 500 lost species was surprise, he said, and then delight when he started reading about how some of these animals have been rediscovered.

People get upset when they hear of animals going extinct, Mooers said.

“We do know that people really don’t like losing species that they are familiar with in their backyard,” he said. “But the people are sad even for the golden toad that they will have never seen and will ever see. (It) just makes them sad.”

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ESC Press Release

U.S. Celebrating Endangered Species Day on May 20

California 14-Year-Old Wins Endangered Species Day Youth Art Contest

WASHINGTON, DC —(May 19, 2022)—In the runup to Endangered Species Day on May 20, the Endangered Species Coalition today proudly announced the winners of the 2022 Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest, including the grand prize winner, Ian D., a California middle school student.

The contest was an integral part of the 17th annual national Endangered Species Day, which occurs this year on Friday, May 20th. The art contest engages school children in grades K-12 in expressing their appreciation for our nation’s most imperiled wildlife, and promotes national awareness of the importance of saving endangered species. The winning art entries can be viewed on the Endangered Species Coalition’s Flickr Gallery.

“I’m so glad I’ve been chosen as the winner,” said Ian D, the 2022 grand prize winner. “This year there are so many great works and I’m surprised I’ve been chosen! I created this because my art teacher suggested it to me and I chose the rusty patched bee because I believe bees are very important to the environment and nature around us.”

Contest winners were selected by a panel of eight artists, photographers and conservationists, including David Littschwager, a freelance photographer and regular contributor to National Geographic Magazine, as well as Susan Middletown, a photographer who has collaborated with Littschwager and whose own work has been published in four books, and Alice Tangerini, botanical illustrator for the Smithsonian Institution.

“Endangered Species Day celebrates our declared national responsibility to our children and their children to save our vanishing wildlife and plants,” stated Leda Huta, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition, primary sponsor of Endangered Species Day. “Bald eagles, sea turtles, wolves, and gray whales are just a fraction of the 1,600 species that the Endangered Species Act is saving every day.”

On Friday (and throughout May) wildlife refuges, zoos, aquariums, parks, botanic gardens, schools, libraries, museums, and community groups will hold in-person and online events. Some highlights include:

*A nationwide chalk art contest, hosted by the Endangered Species Coalition;

*Colorado Endangered Species Week, a week of free educational events and fun advocacy opportunities to protect the plant and animal species at risk in Colorado, including a bat conservation hike, webinars, and an auction, hosted by Rocky Mountain Wild and other organizations;

*A special online event for Girl Scouts with programming about endangered species from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

*A discussion on Hawaii’s reef wildlife with film directors of The Dark Hobby, local conservation leaders, and the Director of Shark Stewards and the Earth Island Institute;

*Pollinator garden plantings in states across the U.S. to create habitat for native bees, butterflies, and other pollinator species.

These and other events are listed on the Endangered Species Day website.

Endangered Species Day was first created by the U.S. Senate in 2006, when it unanimously designated May 11, 2006 as the first ever “Endangered Species Day,” to encourage “the people of the United States to become educated about, and aware of, threats to species, success stories in species recovery, and the opportunity to promote species conservation worldwide.” Across the country, organizations hold special events to celebrate Endangered Species Day each year on or around the third Friday in May. For more information about the annual art contest, winners and Endangered Species Day, visit http://www.endangeredspeciesday.org.

In 2009 the Coalition began incorporating a national youth art contest into the Endangered Species Day event. Each year, nearly two thousand students of all ages submit illustrations of their favorite endangered species to contest judges. The top winners in each age group are selected for the publication in the annual Endangered Species Art calendar, and the grand prize winner receives a special award.

The 2022 Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest winners are:

Grand Prize: Ian D., [age 14], Tustin, CA

ArtContestWinner

**Above illustration by Ian D., grand prize winner of 2022 Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest.

First Place: Lucas P. [age 5], Chandler, AZ

Grade Category Winners:

Grades K-2: Marcus L. [age 8], Clarksburg, MD

Grades 3-5: Celine M. [age 10], Cary, NC

Grades 6-8: Rachel Z. [age 13], Wayland, MA

Grades 9-12: Lainie R. [age 16], Penngrove, CA

The grand prize winner, Ian D., will receive a $200 award for art materials, museum passes, an art lesson and funding for native plants to restore pollinator habitat via Endangered Species Coalition’s Pollinator Protectors campaign.

For more information about the annual art contest, winners and Endangered Species Day, visit http://www.endangeredspeciesday.org

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Goldstream Gazette (Langford B.C.)

562 endangered species considered ‘lost’, researchers trying to find them

International study with researchers from SFU hopes to focus search efforts for lost species

BLACK PRESS MEDIA STAFF, May. 19, 2022

Over the past several decades, thousands of species have been determined to be extinct or at risk of extinction due to human activity. But in some cases, scientists lack conclusive proof that species are extinct. Those species are considered “lost”, a distinction reserved for animals that haven’t been observed in at least 50 years.

A new international study that includes researchers from SFU suggests there are 562 lost species that are designated as “possibly extinct” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

Of the lost species, 257 are reptiles, 137 are amphibians, 130 are mammals and 38 are birds. Most of the lost species are in countries with high biodiversity like Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil.

“The fact most of these lost species are found in megadiverse tropical countries is worrying, given such countries are expected to experience the highest numbers of extinctions in the coming decades,” said study lead author Tom Martin from the UK’s Paignton Zoo.

The red list only shows species as “extinct” when there is no reasonable doubt that the last species has died, but that distinction is often difficult to verify.

Only 311 terrestrial vertebrate species have gone extinct, meaning there are 80 per cent more lost species than have been declared extinct. Being lost doesn’t necessarily mean that species have been wiped out. Some species, like the Miles’ robber frog of Honduras, were thought to be extinct, but were later rediscovered.

Researchers recommend focusing search efforts on megadiverse regions to determine whether the lost species are extinct. Though more funding for such searches is required.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Dunes Sagebrush Lizard From Extinction

Lizard Threatened by Oil, Gas Development in Permian Basin

SILVER CITY, N.M.—(May 19, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for again stalling in making a decision on whether to grant Endangered Species Act protections to the dunes sagebrush lizard. The agency has delayed protecting the lizard for four decades.

The lizard lives in a very small area of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico overlaying a part of the Permian Basin, which over the last decade has been one of world’s fastest-growing oil and gas extraction areas.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.

“We won’t stand by while the last dunes sagebrush lizards disappear,” said Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate at the Center. “Even as the oil and gas industry ruins our climate, it’s also destroying the lizards’ last homes. Protection under the Endangered Species Act is this unique animal’s last hope.”

The 2.5-inch-long dunes sagebrush lizard has the second-smallest range of any lizard in North America. The lizards inhabit a rare ecosystem where they hunt insects and spiders in wind-blown dunes. They burrow into the sand beneath low-lying shinnery oak shrubs for protection from extreme temperatures.

More than 95% of the original shinnery oak dunes ecosystem has been destroyed by oil and gas extraction and other development, as well as herbicide spraying to support livestock grazing. Much of the lizards’ remaining habitat is fragmented, preventing them from finding mates beyond those already living close by. The lizard is further imperiled by burgeoning sand-mining operations in the area — a secondary impact of the oil and gas industry, which uses the sand for fracking.

“Dunes sagebrush lizards are perfectly adapted to their shinnery oak dune habitats, but they won’t survive the oil and gas industry without protection,” said Robinson. “Climate change isn’t just caused by burning fossil fuels. It’s also driven by the destruction of carbon-storing natural habitats like those needed by the lizard. This destruction in turn is the main cause of the extinction crisis and thus the oil and gas industry’s destruction of the natural world is a double whammy.”

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The Guardian

Australia’s tropical rainforests have been dying faster for decades in ‘clear and stark climate warning’

Jordyn Beazley, May 18, 2022

Australia’s tropical rainforest trees have being dying at double the previous rate since the 1980s, seemingly because of global heating, according to new research that raises concerns tropical forests could start to release more carbon dioxide than they absorb.

The study, published in the journal Nature, found the average life of tropical trees in north Queensland had been reduced by about half over the past 35 years . The finding was consistent across different species and rainforests.

Scientists said it indicated natural systems such as rainforests may have already been responding to the climate crisis for decades, and suggested other tropical forests across the globe may be experiencing a similar rise in death rate.

David Bauman, a tropical forest ecologist at the University of Oxford and and the study’s lead author, said it was a shock to detect such a marked increase in tree mortality.

Oxford professor Yadvinder Malhi, a study co-author, compared the changes in Australia’s rainforests to those in corals in the Great Barrier Reef, which have suffered four mass bleaching events over the past seven years.

“The likely driving factor we identify – the increasing drying power of the atmosphere caused by global warming – suggests similar increases in tree death rates may be occurring across the world’s tropical forests,” he said.

“If that is the case, tropical forests may soon become carbon sources, and the challenge of limiting global warming well below 2C becomes both more urgent and more difficult.”

The study examined data from more than 8,300 trees in 24 north Queensland forests. Much of the data came from a CSIRO lab in Atherton. The lab is focused on tropical forest research and is closing down.

Prof Susan Laurance, a tropical ecology expert at James Cook University and a co-author of the study, said the CSIRO had been monitoring tree plots used for the study since 1971.

“The beauty of this research is that it’s one of a few long-term studies and it’s so hard to get funding to do that,” she said. “It’s a little bit sad because CSIRO was probably the only organisation in the country that was funded long-term to be able to do [that research].”

Russell Barrett, a senior research scientist at the Australian Institute of Botanical Science, said the findings of the study were significant, and should serve as a climate warning “as clear and stark as mass coral bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef”.

“It is just much harder to see and document,” he said.

He said it could cause a re-think of the potential for forests to store carbon. “A doubling of tree death risk dramatically changes our calculations for the quantity of carbon stored in our forests, and how long it is likely to stay there” he said.

A study in 2020 found tropical forests were taking less carbon from the atmosphere, increasing the likelihood of an accelerated climate breakdown. It pointed to the need to cut carbon-producing activities faster to counteract the loss of carbon sinks.

Barrett said while the study focussed on tropical forests in North Queensland, the drying atmosphere affected all Australian plant communities. It highlighted the need for more studies in a range of habitats, he said.

“This need is especially great for plant communities that are already at the edge of their climatic windows, such as alpine vegetation and wet rainforests,” he said.

Laurence said she would seek funding from the Australian Research Council to continue the research. She hoped to analyse the age of the trees affected and the implications for the ecosystem.

She said if old-growth tropical trees were the most at risk it could affect rainfall patterns.

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Hey SoCal

Brown Pelican crisis developing in Southern California

May 18, 2022

A Southland wildlife center is being inundated with sick and injured Brown Pelicans, with more than 55 patients arriving in the past four days and more expected this week, officials said Wednesday.

“We’re seeing a mix of fledglings, second-year birds and mature adults, which makes me think it could be a food supply issue rather than a simple influx of starving fledglings,” said Dr. Rebecca Duerr, director of research and veterinary science for Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center in San Pedro.

Officials with the global conservation organization say several of the birds in the latest group came in with multiple fish hooks, but some have been hit by cars or have fractures for unknown reasons. A few are just cold and starving.

“Birds in a changing world face new challenges which take time to research and understand. In this case, Bird Rescue suspects that part of the problem is a lack of available fish stocks leading to birds failing to find enough to eat or taking extra risks when foraging for food,” a Bird Rescue statement said. “That, combined with a new crop of young pelicans having to learn to feed themselves, may explain the current influx.”

Brown Pelicans were added to the endangered species list in 1970 due to exposure to DDT and then removed in 2009. In 2010 and 2012, Bird Rescue’s wildlife centers saw similar inundations of Brown Pelican patients.

“Rescue efforts like in 2010 and 2012, and the one we’re undertaking now help keep pelicans off the endangered species list,” Bird Rescue CEO JD Bergeron said.

“Thanks to our banding program, we recently spotted a former patient feeding its young four years after its release in the wild,” Bergeron added. “This proves that the hard work to save one bird at a time can affect future populations.”

Bird Rescue officials reminded fishers not to cast lines into groups of feeding birds to avoid snaring the birds. The public was also reminded to keep an eye out for pelicans landing in unusual locations such as along Pacific Coast Highway.

Those who find a pelican in need may contact International Bird Rescue’s helpline at 310-514-2573. After hours, they should contact their local animal control agency. For pelicans found in Malibu, call California Wildlife Center at 310-458-WILD (9453).

Donations for food and medical supplies for the birds can be made at http://www.birdrescue.org/donate/.

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Honolulu Civil Beat

Environmental Group Sues Feds To Better Protect Endangered Sharks

Federal officials have delayed critical scientific assessments of how commercial fishing affects oceanic whitetips, conservationists say

By Marcel Honore, May 17, 2022

A new lawsuit aims to get federal regulators to finally gauge just how severely oceanic whitetip sharks are impacted by the longline fishing fleets that operate in waters off Hawaii and American Samoa.

That analysis of how many sharks are inadvertently caught by those commercial boats – and whether the number pushes them closer to extinction – should have been done when the oceanic whitetip was first added to the endangered species list as “threatened” in 2018, the suit contends.

Such a study could compel those U.S. longline fleets to take further steps in addition to the changes they’ve already made to their fishing gear in order to reduce the number of sharks that die after getting hooked on their fishing lines.

However, the National Marine Fisheries Service has been “dragging its feet” for the past four years and hasn’t completed the impact analysis as required under the Endangered Species Act, according to the environmental law firm Earthjustice.

“We have no idea what are the impacts of these fisheries on these sharks,” Grace Bauer, an Earthjustice attorney, said Tuesday. “That’s a big, gaping question mark.”

Earthjustice filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court on behalf of the Conservation Council for Hawaii and Kona-based Hawaiian cultural practitioner Mike Nakachi. CCH and Nakachi first warned the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2019 of their intent to sue over the agency’s lack of a so-called “consultation” on the oceanic whitetip shark.

It’s not clear why NMFS has yet to complete its analysis. A spokeswoman said Tuesday that the federal agency can’t comment on matters of ongoing litigation.

“It’s a question we’re all kind of baffled on,” said Moana Bjur, the executive director for CCH. “You’ve got a species that’s heading toward extinction … I would think that as a national organization they would want to have stronger data.”

What is clear is that the oceanic whitetip, once an abundant shark species, has seen its numbers fall precipitously in recent decades, largely due to their being overfished across the Pacific as bycatch.

The species is believed to have declined by as much as 95% since the mid-1990s, according to an Earthjustice news release.

Data from the international Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission further indicates that an average of 53,500 oceanic whitetip sharks were caught annually by Western and Central Pacific fishing fleets each year from 2013 to 2017. That included more than 1,700 catches a year by Hawaii’s deep-set longline vessels.

More recently, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council reported that some 2,125 oceanic whitetips were caught by the Hawaii deep-set vessels in 2019, according to the new lawsuit. That council, also known as Wespac, manages the U.S. commercial fisheries in the region.

“Significant numbers” of the sharks caught each year die from the trauma, the suit added.

The lawsuit aims to get more reliable data on the impacts to the sharks in Hawaii and American Samoa from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observers to better hold the fishing industry accountable, Bjur said Tuesday.

In 2020, the Hawaii Longline Association announced it would voluntarily replace all the steel wire leaders at the ends of its fishing lines with less-lethal nylon ones to better protect the sharks. A NOAA ban on the wire leaders will take effect at the end of this month.

Conservationists and fishermen view the change as a positive step, although Bauer called it “a shot in the dark” when federal regulators still don’t know the full impacts of longline fleets on the sharks.

“That’s an obligation that the Endangered Species Act requires them to do,” Bauer said. “The agency was supposed to do all of this before authorizing the fisheries (for use).”

Wespac representatives did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. However, in 2019 the group’s longtime executive director, Kitty Simonds, expressed angst over the looming threat of the lawsuit and said it could potentially shut down the fisheries until the issue was resolved, according to the newsletter Environment Hawaii.

Simonds further blasted the National Marine Fisheries Service for moving too slowly in fulfilling its duties, leading to a tense exchange with the NMFS regional administrator during a Wespac meeting, Environment Hawaii reported.

Now, the potential lawsuit that Simonds expressed deep concerns about three years ago is a reality.

“We decided to continue with our fight for the reporting measures,” Bjur said. “Let’s get numbers.”

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News 19 (Columbia, SC)

Fort Jackson discovers new salamander species

Recently, a new species has been uncovered at the training post—the Chamberlain Dwarf Salamander.

Walker Lawson, Published: May 17, 2022

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Fort Jackson is a well-known U.S. Army training post, but it’s also a place full of plants, animals, and reptiles. Recently, a new species has been uncovered at the training post—the Chamberlain Dwarf Salamander.

Michelle Wilcox, wildlife biologist for Fort Jackson, explained what it looks like and what this means.

“This one has a yellow belly, whereas the other dwarf salamander does not, lives in a slightly different environment, might be a slightly different size,” Wilcox said. “This species is only recently split from another type of dwarf salamander, and we’re not sure how many there are. That’s because they are hard to find, they live underneath thick moss.”

The lot of 52,000 acres is also home to one plant that has been placed on the endangered species list, a smooth coneflower. Wilcox said they are working to keep it alive.

“It’s found only in North Carolina and South Carolina. We’re not sure why it’s endangered. It’s probably habitat loss over time, but what it requires is a prescribed fire every two to three years to help knock down the competing vegetation.”

There is also an endangered bird, the red-cockaded woodpecker, which they are working to save.

Fort Jackson says they are working hard to keep these different endangered species alive due to their impact on our ecosystem right here at home.

“Additionally, we’re helping clean air and clean water,” Wilcox said. “This is a whole segment of Richland County that we’re trying to have fresh air and fresh water.”

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E&E News/Greenwire

Judge reverses Trump-era ESA sage grouse move

By Scott Streate, | 05/17/2022

A federal judge has struck down a 2020 Fish and Wildlife Service decision that a distinct subpopulation of greater sage grouse found along the Nevada-California border does not warrant federal protection.

Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a ruling late yesterday concluding that FWS did not use the best available science in withdrawing a near decade-old decision to list the so-called bi-state population of grouse as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act.

Corley, a Biden appointee, ruled that the Trump-era FWS decision in March 2020 — which quickly led to a federal lawsuit filed by a coalition of environmental groups — had “erred” in several significant ways.

Among them, she said, FWS was wrong in “concluding that the effective population size” of the bi-state grouse “was above the minimum threshold for viability,” as determined by the service.

Thus, FWS was also wrong in “determining that the bi-state sage grouse is not likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout a significant portion of its range,” Corley wrote.

The judge also disagreed with FWS’s reasoning that “cheatgrass removal was sufficiently certain to be effective as a conservation measure.”

Corley concluded: “These combined errors undercut the Service’s broader conclusion that the bi-state sage grouse population is stable, that the portions where it is likely to be [extinct] are not significant, and that its conservation measures will reduce one or more threats enough so that the bi-state sage grouse is not threatened.

“Thus,” she continued, “these errors go to the heart of the Service’s listing decision and are not harmless.”

The judge remanded the issue of ESA protections for the bi-state grouse to FWS “to issue a new final listing decision.”

In the meantime, Corley reinstated the 2013 determination that the bi-state grouse warrants federal protections as a threatened species.

An Interior Department spokesperson said the agency is reviewing the court’s ruling. A DOJ spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

But environmental groups involved in the lawsuit were pleased.

“These rare dancing birds have a chance at survival thanks to this court decision,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, which was one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Anderson added: “We’ve watched for more than a decade as these sage grouse have continued to decline. Without the legal protection of the Endangered Species Act, multiple threats will just keep pushing these grouse toward extinction.”

Different kind of grouse

Though similar to their greater sage grouse kin, the bi-state grouse were declared a distinct population segment in 2010, in part because they’ve been breeding separately from other sage grouse for thousands of years. There are six separate population segments across 4.5 million acres of high-desert sagebrush in Nevada and California.

FWS had based its 2020 decision on a yearlong review of the bi-state population, determining at that time that the threats to the bird “no longer are as significant as believed” when the agency first proposed a rule listing the bird as a threatened species in 2013 (Greenwire, March 30, 2020).

It also based that determination on the work of “a coalition of federal, state, tribal, private and non-governmental partners” as sufficient to protect the bi-state population.

Environmental groups, however, noted estimates that only about 3,300 birds remain. They have been petitioning FWS to formally protect the bi-state population for more than a decade.

That population estimate is well below the 5,000-bird threshold that the groups say scientists have determined is the “minimum viable population” for the genetically distinct birds.

FWS said in 2020 that the decision to withdraw the proposed threatened listing was based on “the best scientific and commercial data available.”

Those data, FWS said in the Federal Register, “indicate that the threats to the [bi-state grouse] and its habitat, given current and future conservation efforts, are reduced to the point that the [grouse] does not meet” the ESA’s “definition of an ‘endangered species’ or of a ‘threatened species.’”

FWS cited as “supporting documents” a peer-reviewed “species report” it prepared for the bi-state population that “represents a compilation of the best scientific and commercial data available concerning the status of the species, including the impacts of past, present, and future factors (both negative and beneficial) affecting the species.”

The court decision comes as overall greater sage grouse populations appear to be struggling, with hundreds of thousands of acres a year of lost habitat due to a combination of severe drought, catastrophic wildfires and the spread of invasive plant species like cheatgrass that can overwhelm the sagebrush ecosystem that the bird depends upon for survival (Greenwire, May 9).

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Newsweek

Rare Red Wolf Shot in North Carolina Was Left Alive, Drowned in Mud

By ROBYN WHITE on 5/16/22

A rare red wolf was found shot in the spine and left alive to drown in the mud in North Carolina.

A necropsy of the animal, which was found in Tyrrell County, showed that its lungs were full of mud, indicating it had been severely injured by the shot but was initially still alive. It had eventually died as it lay in the muddy farm field, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement.

Animal welfare campaign, Help Ashville Bears, reposted the incident to its Facebook page, and said the wolf had died a gruesome death.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it is offering a $5,000 reward for any information that would lead to “the successful prosecution” of the case.

Red wolves are critically endangered and are only found in eastern North Carolina’s Albemarle Peninsula. The animals are federally protected species.

In 2018, it was ruled that killing the species would no longer be permitted unless individuals were proving a threat to human safety or a nuisance to livestock. There is no penalty for accidental killings, as these can occasionally happen when people mistake the red wolves for coyotes, which are abundant across the United States.

Red wolves differ in appearance from coyotes by having a reddish tint to their fur. If someone kills a red wolf by accident, they are obligated to report it to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service so that officials can retrieve any carcasses.

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service told Newsweek that there are currently no updates on the investigation.

Now one of the most endangered canids in the world, the American red wolf used to live far across the southeast of the United States until overhunting and habitat destruction pushed them to the brink of extinction. By 1970, there were hardly any left in the wild.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deployed a captive breeding program to boost the species, by capturing the last remaining few in the wild and breeding them in captivity. They were then reintroduced to the wild.

However, despite conservation efforts, there are estimated to be as few as 35 or less red wolves remaining in the wild today.

There are many threats still present to red wolves. Because of the large abundance of coyotes in their habitat, there is risk of them mating and creating hybrids. The remaining population may also come into contact with humans regularly, when they wander onto private farmlands in search of prey.

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WION (New Delhi)

Study says climate change, water sports posing threat to sea turtles

Edited By: Vyomica Berry, New Delhi, India, Updated: May 15, 2022

A new study conducted by the University of Exeter has found that climate change and water sports are posing a threat to sea turtles.

The study, published in the journal Endangered Species Research, shows that tens and thousands of sea turtles are dying every year.

During the research, scientists reviewed the evidence about sea turtles from the last 57 years along the coast of Kenya, Somalia, Mozambique, South Africa, and Tanzania.

According to the study’s leader author Casper van de Geer, a Ph.D. student at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, “Turtles face many threats along the African east coast, from egg to adult.”

“Our aim was to bring together everything that is currently known about these turtles and to identify opportunities to better protect them in this rapidly developing region. We found that there’s still a lot we don’t know about these turtle populations, like how many there actually are or where they spend most of their time and migrate to.”

“If we use clutches of eggs laid as a measure of population, then we see that some have recovered well in some places. For example, loggerhead turtles appear to be recovering in South Africa and Mozambique. However, leatherbacks in the same areas have not responded as positively to conservation efforts—suggesting there’s something going on in their lifecycle that’s stopping them from bouncing back as quickly,” Geer added.

Kenyan waters are host to the green, loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback, and olive ridley turtles. The most frequently encountered off Tiwi and Diani beaches south of Mombasa are the hawksbill turtle and green turtles.

Sometimes Kenyan people are lucky enough to get a rare sighting of loggerheads or leatherbacks. But these sea turtles face a multitude of obstacles to their survival.

“Local knowledge was key to this research, just as it is vital to turtle conservation,” explained Van De Geer.

“Conservation work is most effective when it is supported by the local stakeholders and this is achieved through genuine engagement and cultural sensitivity.”

“There are great examples of this along the African east coast where people are trained and employed as rangers or monitors in the area where they grew up, and the use of community theatre or musical performances to inform people about the marine world and conservation. Ultimately, it’s the people who live in a place who have the knowledge and motivation to protect it,” he concluded.

”There is an urgent need to identify and plan around essential areas used by marine turtles in the East African seascape,” said Gladys Okemwa, of the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute.

“Despite legal protection measures, illegal take and consumption of marine turtles, particularly green turtles, still persists in the region due to cultural values. Sustained community engagement and support towards community self-policing will help to make strides in tackling the issue.”

“While significant progress has been made with regard to awareness, education, and law enforcement in coastal towns and villages, much work remains to be done to ensure the conservation of these magnificent animals, especially offshore, where ‘ghost’ (discarded or lost) fishing gear, industrial long-liners and plastic pollution still constitute a major threat,” said Marcos Pereira, of NGO Centro Terra Viva in Mozambique.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Mexican Gray Wolf Rule Eliminates Cap on Population, Restricts Killing

New Federal Management Rule Still Falls Short on Genetic Diversity by Rejecting Science-Based Reforms

SILVER CITY, N.M.—(May 13, 2022)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed today that it will eliminate its current population cap of 325 Mexican gray wolves that are allowed to live in the wild in the Southwest. Today’s announcement follows a 2018 legal victory by conservation organizations. In the same decision, the agency rejected science-based reforms that would increase genetic diversity at a faster rate.

“Mexican gray wolves have won a reprieve from a planned massacre, but their hopes to find unrelated mates are being dashed at the same time,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s disappointing that the federal government still refuses to replenish the priceless genetic diversity lost through its own mismanagement of these wolves.”

A final environmental impact statement justifies the new rule, which temporarily curtails some federal, state and private wolf-killing.

To enhance the wolf population’s genetic diversity, the rule has a goal of ensuring that 22 captive-born wolf pups that have been introduced to the wild survive through their second year of life. But there are no requirements that those wolves breed.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is hinging genetic health to an irrelevant metric,” said Maggie Howell, Wolf Conservation Center executive director. “Unless those cross-fostered wolves who survive to breeding age actually reproduce, those animals have zero impact on the wild gene pool. So how are they moving the needle any closer to a genetic objective?”

Further, the Service decided not to resume releasing well-bonded male-female pairs with pups from captivity into the wild as families to increase their chances of survival. Instead, the agency decided to double down on its practice of placing neonatal pups removed from their captive parents into the wild with unrelated wolves.

“Cross-fostering alone will not produce a thriving, recovered, and genetically healthy Mexican gray wolf population,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. “The Fish and Wildlife Service has again missed an opportunity to do right by these highly endangered animals and to promote release of well-bonded wolf packs into Arizona and New Mexico.”

Only 13 of the 72 cross-fostered pups that have already been released to unrelated wolves are known to be alive today. Just four of these wolves are known to have reproduced, and only six of the offspring, all from just one of those four wolves, are known to be alive. Since the Service started releasing pups without their parents in 2016, inbreeding in the population has increased by 3%.

“The Service admits that they received approximately 82,000 public comments that somehow did not result in substantial changes to their final environmental impact statement,” explains Michelle Lute, Ph.D., wolf conservation and national carnivore conservation manager for Project Coyote. “This lack of accountability to the public who supports strong lobo recovery tells you everything you need to know about the Service’s leadership on the issue. So much more can and should be done to protect wolves and promote coexistence.”

“With the added stressors of accelerating climate change already falling heavily on their Southwest home, Mexican gray wolves don’t have time for Fish and Wildlife Service to sidestep the full set of actions needed to recover the lobo,” said Kelly Burke, Wild Arizona’s executive director. “The wolves are bravely doing their part, but regrettably the Service still needs to get fully onboard.”

“Sadly it has become the norm for this program to ignore the best science and public support for actual, robust wolf recovery and instead opt for the minimum,” said Chris Smith, southwest wildlife advocate at WildEarth Guardians. “These wolves need real genetic rescue, access to more habitat, and an essential designation. This rule — while a fractional improvement on the prior attempt — still fails lobos.”

The new rulemaking was prompted by a 2018 court victory by several conservation organizations over the 2015 Mexican wolf-management rule. That 2015 rule stemmed from a 2013 settlement agreement with the Center over failures in the Service’s 1998 reintroduction and management rule.

The Fish and Wildlife Service was ordered by the court to release the final wolf management rule by July 1.

Background

The Fish and Wildlife Service and its predecessor agency exterminated gray wolves from the western United States between 1915 and 1945 on behalf of the livestock industry. The government also exported poison to Mexico to enable wolf poisoning there beginning in 1950. The 1973 Endangered Species Act led to the remaining Mexican wolves being captured alive. Seven bred successfully in captivity, and the subspecies was reintroduced in the U.S. in 1998 and Mexico in 2011.

Pups are now being born, including in places that wolves last consistently occupied in the 1920s. Multiple wolves now live in the San Mateo Mountains of west-central New Mexico. A lone female has established a home range west of Albuquerque.

In addition to the 196 wolves counted in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico early this year, approximately 35 wolves live in Sonora, Mexico.

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EcoWatch

Planting Trees and Shrubs Will Help Bring Woodland Birds Back to Farms, Study Finds

Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, May 13, 2022

Oftentimes, where there are trees, there are birds, whether the landscape is woodland, forest, an urban park or rural farmland. In Australia, farmland is being revegetated to attract woodland bird species, a team of researchers wrote in The Conversation. Trees bordering paddocks are being planted, and stands of trees and shrubs that run beside creeks are being replenished.

The research team included four researchers from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia — professor of ecology Andrew F. Bennett; research fellow Angie Haslem; associate research fellow Greg Holland; principal research fellow with the Research Centre for Future Landscapes Jim Radford — as well as the director of the Monash Drone Discovery Platform and senior lecturer in ecology at Monash University Rohan Clarke. Their new study showed how the replanting of trees and shrubs on farmland is helping woodland birds to return.

The researchers’ findings, “Restoration promotes recovery of woodland birds in agricultural environments: A comparison of ‘revegetation’ and ‘remnant’ landscapes,” were published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

After comparing communities of birds living on farmland that had varying numbers of trees, the researchers said in The Conversation that increasing the amount of vegetation on open farmland from one to ten percent led to twice the number of species of woodland birds.

“This is important, because populations of woodland birds have been steeply declining in southern Australia, with species such as the southern whiteface, brown treecreeper and white-browed babbler now of conservation concern. The collective efforts of landholders can help reverse these declines by attracting species back into otherwise-cleared farmland,” said the researchers.

In many rural areas of Australia, more than 90 percent of native woodland vegetation that was once home to many species of woodland birds has been cleared and replaced with intensive farmland.

“Birds are a visible and often colourful part of Australia’s wildlife; most mammals, for example, are nocturnal and harder to see. In general, farmers, landholders and the community like to see wildlife, they’re part of our identity as Australians and they contribute to the aesthetics of the landscape and give much pleasure,” Bennett, who was lead author of the research, told EcoWatch in an email. “From a conservation perspective, we need to maintain species throughout their range. With so much land cleared, maintaining them through farmland regions is an important part of conservation.”

According to the scientists in The Conversation, there are a range of bird species that live among native farmland vegetation.

“Some species typically occur primarily in regions heavily cleared for farming, such as the ‘sheep-wheat’ belt, rather than, for example, the forested ranges where there are more national parks. Birds have a range of ecological roles in farm landscapes,” Bennett told EcoWatch.

Instead of sampling single “patches” of land like most studies that are conducted on the value of revegetation, the researchers looked at whole landscapes of about three square miles in size that spanned from one to three southwestern Victoria farms, the researchers wrote in The Conversation.

The study areas were divided into three types of landscapes comprising one to 18 percent tree cover on each. One group had tree cover from revegetation, while another had vegetation leftover after the land had been cleared, called “remnant native vegetation.” A third group was a mixture of both.

The researchers found that woodland bird species increased when more of the land was revegetated.

“For example, in landscapes with only 1% revegetation cover, most birds were open-country species such as galah, red-rumped parrot and willie wagtail, with only 11 woodland species on average. On the other hand, landscapes with 15% revegetation cover had 25 woodland species, on average, as part of the bird community,” the scientists wrote in The Conversation.

Landscapes that had been revegetated were found to support fewer and different types of woodland birds than native landscapes with mature trees.

“It takes many decades for trees to grow and mature and develop resources associated with older trees. The revegetation plots were up to about 20-45 years old, whereas a mature tree may be 100+ (and up to 250) yrs old. Some of the main differences in species between the two types of landscapes were that bird species associated with mature trees were less common or scarce in revegetation. This includes trunk and bark foragers (e.g. tree creepers), those that forage in canopy foliage (e.g. some honeyeaters, thornbills, pardalotes), and some aerial insectivores that like to forage around and perch on open canopy branches (e.g. dusky woodswallow, tree martin),” Bennett told EcoWatch.

Bennett added that revegetation is usually achieved through the planting of trees and shrubs, without ground-layer plants.

“Often there is a fairly dense shrub layer – which favours some species for foraging and shelter (e.g. New Holland honeyeater, superb fairy-wren) and hence also contributes to differences in species,” Bennett said.

Bennett added that the rows often used when revegetating an area don’t mimic native vegetation’s “natural patchy structure.”

“Remnant native vegetation is inherently patchy, with trees and shrubs spaced somewhat randomly, sometimes in clumps, sometimes with gaps; whereas revegetation is often planted in rows and more evenly spaced. Over time, the pattern of revegetation will change as some trees die, some fall, some natural regeneration may occur,” Bennett told EcoWatch.

Birds that use the trunks, large branches and canopy foliage of older trees, like the varied sitella, white-throated treecreeper, white-naped honeyeater and spotted pardalote, weren’t found as often on revegetated land, the scientists wrote in The Conversation.

“With regard to age, as revegetation gets older it develops a greater range of resources – for example, as trees get older there’s more likely to be a larger canopy, dead limbs (for perching), limbs that fall to the ground as logs, the development of tree hollows in trunk[s] and large limbs, and also with larger trunks and branches (with age) there’s a greater surface area for bark-foraging species,” Bennett told EcoWatch.

The research showed that revegetation was most successful when it was mixed with remnant vegetation, the scientists wrote in The Conversation. The combination drew types and numbers of birds akin to remnant landscapes. Diversity of types of trees and shrubs planted was also important, as was proximity to native vegetation.

“The diversity of resources (from different plant species and varied physical structure) leads to a greater range of opportunities for species – for foraging, shelter, refuge and nesting. Having a mix of both remnants and revegetation means that there will be a greater range of resources than when there’s revegetation alone – and hence more likely to support the full range of species,” Bennett wrote.

Trees scattered about the landscape are also helpful for birds too, as they “act as stepping stones,” the researchers wrote in The Conversation.

Bennet said that birds have numerous roles in the ecosystems in which they live, such as being “part of natural food webs and thus inter-related with other parts of the ecosystem (ground layer, shrubs, canopy trees and foliage etc); pest control – feeding on insects and other invertebrates that may be detrimental when abundant (e.g. defoliators associated with tree dieback); [and] pollinators for some flowering plants.”

Bennett added that, if there is a diverse community of birds, it can indicate a healthy ecosystem.

The researchers wrote in The Conversation that a long-term goal of at least ten to 30 percent of wooded vegetation cover was important to ensure enough habitat to support healthy populations of numerous woodland bird species. Of the 60 species the researchers recorded, at least 11 were not found in the revegetated landscapes.

“Natural vegetation has a greater range of species and life-forms than are typically present in revegetation. Planting for revegetation typically involves only trees and shrubs, but sometimes only trees in woodlots. It rarely/never includes planting lifeforms such as native grasses, sedges, ground-layer herbs and lilies. Further, remnant native vegetation is more likely to have components such as microbial communities (bacteria, fungi) and soil/litter invertebrates already present,” Bennett told EcoWatch. “However, I should note that much of the remnant native vegetation in this study area is far from pristine – it has a history of disturbance from grazing by stock and grass/weed invasion, so most are quite disturbed stands.”

Bennett said that revegetating land that had been used for farming comes with its own unique issues.

“Where revegetation occurs in former farmland, it is likely to have higher levels of nutrients (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorous) in the soil than in remnant vegetation, and this can contribute to greater persistence of pasture grasses and weeds.”

And revegetation isn’t just for the birds, the researchers said.

“Of course, it’s not just for woodland birds — revegetating farms has a number of benefits. Planting along creeks helps stabilise stream banks and improve aquatic environments, trees store more carbon as they grow and age, and tree lines (shelterbelts) and shade benefit livestock and farm production,” the researchers wrote in The Conversation.

The climate crisis presents distinct considerations for land managers.

“It raises questions about what the climate and environment will be like in the future (e.g. 20, 50, 100 years from now), bearing in mind that trees are long-lived. So, some are asking whether, when selecting trees and shrubs to plant, we should be selecting species that may be better able to cope with what the future climate will be like in 50 or 100 years,” Bennett told EcoWatch.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched Over Delay of Endangered Species Protections for 11 Species

Bureaucracy at Fish and Wildlife Service Threatens Species Across U.S.

WASHINGTON—(May 12, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity announced its intent today to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for delaying critically needed Endangered Species Act protections for 11 imperiled plants and animals. The species range from the Puerto Rico harlequin butterfly and the Suwannee alligator snapping turtle to a rare wetlands wildflower found only in Arizona and Mexico.

Coupled with the Service’s failure to make decisions for 66 species in fiscal year 2021, the delay in protecting these 11 species highlights persistent problems in the agency’s listing program that are placing plants and animals at increased risk. These continuing problems include politically driven decisions, crippling bureaucracy and a loss of scientific capacity.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service should be on the front lines of the fight to stop the extinction crisis. Instead, it’s bogged down in bureaucracy and politically driven decision making,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “Delays in protection have real consequences, leading to further declines and even extinction. It’s heartbreaking this agency can’t seem to get it together to make timely protection decisions.”

The lawsuit notice faults the Service for unlawfully delaying endangered species protections for the Arizona eryngo, Wright’s marsh thistle, Puerto Rico harlequin butterfly, round hickorynut, frecklebelly madtom, sickle darter, whitebark pine, Suwanee alligator snapping turtle, slickspot peppergrass, Big Creek crayfish and St. Francis river crayfish.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has long struggled to provide timely protection to species. The Endangered Species Act requires the entire process of listing species and designating critical habitat to take two years. But on average it has taken the Service 12 years, and in many cases decades, to protect species. At least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for the Service to act.

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Boston Globe

The declining size of North Atlantic right whales threatens the endangered species, new study finds

By David Abel Globe Staff, Updated May 12, 2022,

As female North Atlantic right whales decline in size, they’re producing fewer calves, which could have grave consequences for the critically endangered species, according to a new study.

Scientists found in an earlier study that right whales have been shrinking, a phenomenon they attributed to frequent entanglements in fishing gear. The previous study found that entanglements place greater stress on the whales by forcing them to drag heavy fishing gear over long distances, which consumes their energy, reduces the fat reserves they need to reproduce, and makes them more susceptible to a range of diseases.

Some 85 percent of right whales have been entangled at least once, and of those, a majority have been entangled multiple times, scientists say. Entanglements and vessel strikes have been the leading cause of death and serious injuries to the whales, whose population has plummeted by about 30 percent over the past decade.

In the latest study, published on Thursday by the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, scientists determined that the declining body length and girth of the whales have likely resulted in their low birth rates in recent years.

“Smaller females appear to have less capacity to raise calves as frequently as larger whales,” said Joshua Stewart, a research biologist with NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center, one of the authors of the study. “Their smaller size means they may take longer to recover from the energetic cost of giving birth, especially in light of other stresses on the population.”

The scientists said their research reflects the need for further protection of the whales, whose overall population has declined to fewer than 350.

“With this study, [we] have gained further insights into how these stressors are affecting their reproduction,” said Amy Knowlton, a senior scientist at the New England Aquarium, who was also an author. “The remedies to address these threats are clear: shifting how humans operate in the ocean so that they do not inadvertently harm whales.”

Right whales can grow to 60 feet long and weigh more than 250,000 pounds. Previous studies have estimated that a calf born in recent years was likely, when mature, to be about 3 feet shorter in length than those born in the 1980s. Entanglements have become more of a problem for whales in recent decades, as ropes have increasingly used synthetic materials and become stronger.

The link between entanglements and calving rates underscored the need for fishermen to use weaker ropes and for federal officials to prod the lobster industry to adopt ropeless fishing gear, she said. The whales are believed to be entangled mainly in the vertical buoy ropes of the lobster and crab fisheries, which use heavy ropes that stretch from their traps on the seafloor to buoys on the surface.

Scientists based their conclusions on the aerial photos of 41 female right whales from 2000 to 2019, allowing them to compare their sizes with their reproductive histories. The relationship showed that smaller whales produced fewer offspring per reproductive year.

The study also found that larger female right whales also appeared to have more calves over the course of their reproductive years.

The scientists noted that other factors, which are more difficult to observe, could also influence the reproduction rates of the whales, including the availability of food, impacts of climate change, and the overall health of each whale.

“Doing everything we can to relieve pressure on the population and help support their recovery and resiliency will become increasingly important in the face of a rapidly changing ocean,” Stewart said.

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The Guardian

Labor pledges millions in funding to protect threatened species and Great Barrier Reef

Opposition says it will also provide a response to the Samuel review into Australia’s national environmental laws

Lisa Cox, 12 May 2022

Labor says it will establish a national threatened species program and provide a full response to the independent review of national environmental laws if it forms government.

In a policy announced Thursday evening the party promised $224.5m over the forward estimates for a national threatened species program that will include addressing the backlog of almost 200 overdue and outdated species recovery plans.

The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, and Labor’s environment spokesperson, Terri Butler, said they would also work with state and territory governments to develop a national conservation strategy.

They did not say what the conservation strategy would entail.

The threatened species funding includes an extra $24.5m for koala conservation, $24.8m to address invasive yellow crazy ants in Cairns and Townsville and $75m for the equivalent of 1,000 full-time Landcare rangers to work on environmental restoration.

Labor is also promising an additional $194.5m for protection programs for the Great Barrier Reef, which has suffered its sixth mass bleaching and the first in a La Niña year.

The money will be used for programs including working with farmers on land management practices, $85m for reef restoration projects, and research into thermal-tolerant corals in partnership with the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

“Seeing the wonder of the Great Barrier Reef is a highlight for so many Australians,” Albanese said.

“But parents and grandparents are worried their children will not be able to see this incredible natural wonder for themselves.

“That’s why it’s so important we act on climate change and species protection – to protect the reef and the tens of thousands of jobs that rely on it.”

The 2020 independent review of Australia’s national environmental laws, led by the former competition watchdog head Graeme Samuel, found Australian governments had failed to protect the country’s unique environment.

He recommended an overhaul of Australia’s system of protections, underpinned by new national environmental standards and independent oversight.

Butler said Labor, if elected, “will provide a full government response to the Samuel review”.

“The Saving Native Species program will go towards protecting Australia’s threatened species, including by addressing the backlog of recovery plans amassed during a near-decade of Liberal-National government neglect,” she said.

Basha Stasak, of the Australian Conservation Foundation, said whoever formed government needed to deliver a comprehensive response to Samuel’s recommendations.

“If we want to see koalas, gang-gang cockatoos and bogong moths survive, we need strong environment laws and an independent regulator implemented in this next term of government,” she said.

“The once-in-a-decade review of our environment laws by Prof Graeme Samuel sets out a clear roadmap to achieve this.”

Scientists have estimated Australia needs a tenfold increase in nature spending to recover endangered wildlife.

The Invasive Species Council, backed this estimate in a recent report, saying it would require expenditure of about $1.5bn to $2bn annually.

Tim Beshara, of the Wilderness Society, said Australia’s environment was in disrepair partly because successive governments “had let their environmental protection and management frameworks fall into disrepair themselves”.

“The backlog of actions and the backlog of reforms for a future environment minister will not be solved with a couple of hundred of million dollars,” he said,

“But it’s encouraging to hear Labor acknowledge the problem in nature itself and that there is some intent to undo the damage that has happened to environmental administration over the last decade.”

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California Department of Fish & Game

CDFW Seeks Public Comment Related To Mojave Desert Tortoise

May 11, 2022

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is seeking public comment on a proposal to uplist the Mojave Desert Tortoise from threatened to endangered under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

The Mojave Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is found in the Mojave Desert, the western Sonoran Desert and the southern Great Basin Desert. They spend much of the year underground in burrows to shelter from extreme temperatures. When they do emerge, they feed on native grasses. Their densities have declined drastically in many places in California in the past 20 years. Threats include habitat fragmentation, development in these desert regions, increasing drought due to climate change, invasive grasses out-competing food items preferred by tortoise, disease, predation by coyotes and ravens, and human-caused mortality.

In March 2020, the Defenders of Wildlife submitted a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission to formally uplist the Mojave Desert Tortoise as an endangered species under CESA. The Commission published findings of its decision to advance the species to candidacy on October 14, 2020, triggering a period during which CDFW will conduct a status review to inform the Commission’s decision on whether to uplist the species.

As part of the status review process, CDFW is soliciting public comment regarding the species’ ecology, biology, life history, distribution, abundance, threats and habitat that may be essential for the species, and any recommendations for management. Comments, data and other information can be submitted by email to wildlifemgt@wildlife.ca.gov. If submitting comments by email, please include “Mojave Desert Tortoise” in the subject heading.

Comments may also be submitted by mail to:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Wildlife Diversity Program
Attn: Anne Hilborn
P.O. Box 944209
Sacramento, CA 94244-2090

All comments received by June 10, 2022 will be evaluated prior to submission of the CDFW report to the Commission. Receipt of the report will be placed on the agenda for the next available meeting of the Commission after delivery and the report will be made available to the public at that time. Following the receipt of the CDFW report, the Commission will allow a 30-day public comment period prior to taking any action on the petition.

CDFW’s Mohave Desert Tortoise petition evaluation report (PDF)(opens in new tab) can be found on the CDFW website.

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EcoWatch

More Than 90% of Great Barrier Reef Impacted by Sixth Mass Bleaching Event

Olivia Rosane, May 11, 2022

More than 90 percent of the Great Barrier Reef was impacted by coral bleaching during the Australian summer of 2021-2022.

This is the conclusion of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which released the results Tuesday of aerial surveys taken of 719 reefs between Torres Strait and the Capricorn Bunker Group.

“The surveys confirm a mass bleaching event, with coral bleaching observed at multiple reefs in all regions,” the authority wrote. “This is the fourth mass bleaching event since 2016 and the sixth to occur on the Great Barrier Reef since 1998.”

The surveys revealed that 654 reefs, or 91 percent of those surveyed, had experienced some bleaching. The bleaching is especially notable this year because it is the first time it has happened under La Niña conditions, which usually result in cooler ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, as AP News pointed out.

“This is heartbreaking. This is deeply troubling,” Climate Council researcher Simon Bradshaw told AP News. “It shows that our Barrier Reef really is in very serious trouble indeed.”

Coral bleaching occurs when warmer than normal ocean temperatures turn the chemicals that coral-dwelling algae produce into poisons, prompting the coral to expel the algae. Because the algae provide the coral with both nutrients and color, the remaining coral turns white.

This summer, the waters around the Great Barrier Reef began to heat up in December of 2021, the authority said. Ocean temperatures exceeded historical summer maximums that typically don’t occur until later in the summer. Between December and early April, the area experienced three distinct marine heat waves. The surveys were conducted after the last heat wave, which lasted from March 12 to 23.

The bleaching recorded in the report does not necessarily mean that the impacted corals will die.

“It is important to note that bleached coral is stressed but still alive,” the authority wrote. “As water temperatures cool, bleached corals may regain their colour and survive this stress event, as happened in 2020 when there was very low coral mortality associated with a mass bleaching event.”

During back-to-back mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, however, the reef experienced higher death tolls, according to AP News. Scientists predict that this year will be more like 2020.

“The early indications are that the mortality won’t be very high,” the authority’s chief scientist David Wachenfeld said, as AP News reported.

However, the reef remains in hot water as long as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. The authority has said that the climate crisis is the single biggest threat to the reef, and a 2020 study found that the reef had already lost more than half its corals in the past 25 years because of human-induced global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that allowing temperatures to rise to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will kill 99 percent of all tropical reefs, while limiting warming to 1.5 degrees could save 30 to 10 percent of them.

The report comes as Australia prepares for federal elections later this month, AP News noted. Current Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party has promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, while the Labor Party has promised steeper cuts of 43 percent by 2030.

Australian Marine Conservation Society campaign manager Lissa Schindler told The Guardian that reducing emissions should be a priority for the next government.

“This was a La Niña year, normally characterised by more cloud cover and rain,” she said. “It should have been a welcome reprieve for our reef to help it recover and yet the snapshot shows more than 90% of the reefs surveyed exhibited some bleaching. Although bleaching is becoming more and more frequent, this is not normal and we should not accept that this is the way things are. We need to break the norms that are breaking our reef.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit: EPA Must Protect Manatees From Water Pollution

Hundreds Starved to Death in 2021 Because Unchecked Pollution Is Killing Seagrass

ORLANDO, Fla.—(May 10, 2022)—Three conservation groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today for failing to protect manatees and sea turtles from water pollution in Florida.

Over half of the more than 1,000 manatee deaths in Florida in 2021 were attributable to starvation. The mass die-off is being caused by pollution-fueled algal blooms that have killed thousands of acres of seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon, highlighting the inadequacy of the state’s federally approved water-quality standards.

Earthjustice is representing the Center for Biological Diversity, Save the Manatee Club and Defenders of Wildlife. Today’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Middle District of Florida, pushes the court to require the EPA to reinitiate consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act to reassess its approval of Florida’s water-quality standards for the Indian River Lagoon.

The Florida manatee is currently experiencing an officially declared unusual mortality event along Florida’s east coast, which includes important manatee warm-water habitat like the Indian River Lagoon. The lagoon supports more species of plants and animals than any other estuary in North America.

“Manatees need clean water to live in — it’s that simple,” said Earthjustice attorney Elizabeth Forsyth. “The pollution in the Indian River Lagoon is preventable. We’re asking EPA to step in and ensure the protection of the Indian River Lagoon and the species that depend on it.”

Unchecked pollution in the Indian River Lagoon — stemming from wastewater-treatment discharges, leaking septic systems, fertilizer runoff and other sources — fuels algal blooms that kill seagrass and prevent it from growing back. Nearly a decade ago, the EPA approved the state’s water-quality criteria for nitrogen and phosphorous, concluding the standards would not “adversely affect” manatees. New information, including the mass die-off of manatees in the lagoon, calls this conclusion into question.

“Hundreds of manatees are dying in the Indian River Lagoon as the water quality plummets, and the EPA must confront the massive nutrient pollution behind this disaster,” said Ragan Whitlock, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The existing water-quality standards just aren’t strong enough to preserve this important ecosystem and save these amazing animals.”

Florida’s 2021 manatee deaths were more than double the average annual death rate over the previous five years. The number of deaths represents 19% of the Atlantic population of Florida manatees and 12.5% of all manatees in Florida.

“Florida’s beloved manatees will continue to suffer and die as long as EPA maintains inadequate water quality standards,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “There simply is no more time for EPA to waste in reinitiating consultation.”

State and federal agency staff continued to witness high levels of malnourished and starving manatees throughout the winter of 2021-22, implementing a first-of-its-kind supplemental feeding program. In recent weeks the surrounding water has warmed, causing the manatees to disperse, and the program has been suspended. Unfortunately many manatees continue to suffer the long-term health consequences of starvation.

“Although nothing we do will bring back those nearly 1,000 manatees that suffered and died from years of neglect despite repeated warnings, we insist that the EPA join forces with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure that improved water quality standards are expeditiously set and met to bring an end to this travesty.” said Patrick Rose­­, an aquatic biologist and executive director of Save the Manatee Club, who has worked for over 45 years to help bring the species back from near extinction since it was first listed as endangered in 1967.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted the manatee from endangered to threatened in 2017. Since then the species has suffered significant setbacks from habitat degradation, red tide, cold winters and now unprecedented mass starvation from the catastrophic seagrass die-off.

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Metro (London)

Whale sharks are dying in large numbers and now we know why

Nina Massey, May 10, 2022

Whale sharks, the largest fish in the oceans, are dying in large numbers.

And scientists have determined the global shipping industry is to blame.

The number of times large ships hit whale sharks with fatal consequences is hugely underestimated, new research suggests.

It could be the reason why whale shark populations are decreasing around the globe.

Because the endangered animals spend a lot of time in surface waters and gather in coastal regions, experts have suggested being hit by ships could be causing substantial whale shark deaths.

But there was previously no way of monitoring this threat.

University of Southampton PhD researcher Freya Womersley, who led the study as part of the Global Shark Movement Project, said: ‘The maritime shipping industry that allows us to source a variety of everyday products from all over the world, may be causing the decline of whale sharks, which are a hugely important species in our oceans.’

Led by marine biologists from the Marine Biological Association (MBA) and the University of Southampton, the groundbreaking study tracked the movements of both whale sharks and ships across the world to identify areas of risk and possible collisions.

Satellite tracked movement data from nearly 350 whale sharks was submitted into the Global Shark Movement Project, led by researchers from the MBA.

Researchers mapped shark hotspots that overlapped with global fleets of cargo, tanker, passenger and fishing vessels – the types of large ships capable of striking and killing the ocean giants, which can grow up to 20 metres long.

They found that more than 90% of whale shark movements fell under the footprint of shipping activity.

According to the study, whale shark tag transmissions were ending more often in busy shipping lanes than expected, even when technical failures were ruled out.

The researchers from 50 international research institutions and universities concluded that loss of transmission was likely due to whale sharks being struck, killed and sinking to the ocean floor.

Whale sharks are slow-moving and feed on microscopic animals called zooplankton.

They help to regulate the ocean’s plankton levels and play an important role in the marine food web and healthy ocean ecosystems.

Professor David Sims, senior research fellow at the MBA and University of Southampton and founder of the Global Shark Movement Project, said: ‘Incredibly, some of the tags recording depth as well as location showed whale sharks moving into shipping lanes and then sinking slowly to the seafloor hundreds of metres below, which is the ‘smoking gun’ of a lethal ship strike.’

‘It is sad to think that many deaths of these incredible animals have occurred globally due to ships without us even knowing to take preventative measures,’ he added.

At present there are no international regulations to protect whale sharks against being hit by ships.

The research team say that this species faces an uncertain future if action is not taken soon.

(The findings are published in PNAS.)

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Travel Awaits

Endangered Birds Fly Over Redwood National Park For First Time In 100 Years

Greg Robertson, May 9, 2022

Two California condors were released from captivity this week, marking the first time the massive birds have flown over northern California and the Pacific Northwest in more than 100 years.

The birds were released from a pen in Redwood National Park just south of the Oregon border as part of a project to restore the birds in the region.

Two others are set to be released at a later date once observers determine the first two have shown appropriate behavior in the wild.

“They just jumped up and took flight off into the distance,” said Tiana Williams-Claussen, wildlife director for the Yurok tribe, according to the Associated Press.

California condors, the largest native North American bird, have not been seen in the region since 1892.

The birds had all but disappeared anywhere by the 1970s due to poaching, poisoning, and the destruction of their habitats. In the 1980s, the 22 known condors in the wild were trapped and brought into a captive breeding program.

Birds began being released in southern California in the early 1990s. The release this week in northern California was particularly significant for the Yurok tribe, which calls them prey-go-neesh and considers them sacred.

“The loss of the condor has limited our capacity to be Yurok because prey-go-neesh is such an important part of our culture and traditions,” Williams-Claussen told the North Coast Journal. “In a very real way, restoring condor habitat and returning condor to Yurok skies is a clear restoration of the Yurok people, homeland, ecological systems, culture, and lifeway.”

She noted the release is particularly significant for the younger generation.

“I have a 3-year-old-daughter. She is going to grow up with condors in her sky for her entire life. She is not going to know what it is to miss condors,” Willams-Claussen said. “She will always live in a relationship with condors, which is really what this project is all about.”

The vultures have a wingspan of up to 10 feet and can live for 60 years. Their ability to fly long distances in search of food means the birds could be spotted throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The condors released this week were both males. The two set to be released in the near future are a male and a female. Two were hatched at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, and two at the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.

The birds are between the ages of 2 and 4, so a long life in the wild should be ahead of them.

“This is just incredible, exciting times,” Williams-Claussen told Jefferson Public Radio. “This has literally been my life’s work.”

The release of the birds involved moving them to a staging area where a remote-controlled gate was opened. After only a few minutes, the birds went through the opening and took flight.

“That was just as exciting as I thought it was going to be,” Williams-Claussen said. “Those guys just took right off.”

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VPR (Colchester, VT)

Rare North Atlantic right whale spotted feeding off N.H. coast

New Hampshire Public Radio, By Dan Tuohy, Published May 6, 2022

New Hampshire’s coast had a rare visitor Friday: a North Atlantic right whale could be seen feeding just off the shore in North Hampton.

The right whale has been on the federal endangered species list since 1970. There are fewer than 350 left.

Dianna Schulte, director of research for the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, has observed right whales in New England for over 25 years — but never one right off the New Hampshire coastline.

“It is extremely rare for a North Atlantic right whale to be that close around here,” Schulte said. “To have that endangered of an animal coming in and having a bunch of people be able to look at it from the beach is actually really special for all those folks who did get to see it.”

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Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

Mountain butterfly in New Mexico could see federal protections from extinction

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus, May 6, 2022

A rare butterfly in New Mexico and other western states could soon be at risk of extinction, and the federal government planned to begin recovering the species before its threats worsened.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the silverspot butterfly as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), opening a 60-day public comment period to conclude July 5.

Threatened status provides federal protections for a species the Service believes could soon warrant an “endangered” listing that implies extinction is imminent.

The silverspot butterfly was known to dwell in 10 population groups across northern New Mexico, southwestern Colorado and eastern Utah, typically at elevations between 5,200 and 8,300 feet.

Silverspots grow up to a 3-inch wingspan and are known for silvery-white spots on the underside of their wins.

They require moist, open meadows to survive with available vegetation to lay eggs on.

The butterfly requires bog violets to lay eggs on our near, which their larvae feed on exclusively between hatching in September to the May.

Federal regulators identified climate change, livestock grazing and habitat loss as threats to the animal.

The Fish and Wildlife Service did not propose any critical habitat restrictions to protect the butterfly but noted its environment could change significantly over the next 30 years.

The proposal came after the Fish and Wildlife Service released a Species Status Assessment (SSA), using research and studies into the animal’s present viability and future impacts.

It pointed to climate change as minor factor today that would likely grow into a major threat in the coming decades.

“The climate already appears to be changing from human impacts with earlier springs and warmer temperatures,” read the report. “The butterfly has survived through the more severe past droughts and, despite noted changes in climate over the last 36 years, climate has thus far not been a detectable factor in reduction of species viability.

“However, climate appears to be at the verge of becoming a major factor.”

Another rule was proposed to support conservation efforts for the species to allow for agricultural and other necessary land uses.

“As summarized in the SSA report, climatic conditions are expected to change across the range of the silverspot butterfly over the next 30 years, such that the viability of the subspecies may decrease in the future,” read a report from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Fish and Wildlife Service initially proposed the butterfly, then known as the Great Basin silverspot butterfly, for a listing in 1978 and withdrew the proposal about a year later.

The species found again a listing might be warranted in 1984, adding to a list of candidate species, but removed it again from consideration in 1996.

In making its most recent proposal, the Service evaluated multiple factors for species’ potential extinction, along with human industrial impacts, and found federal regulations were presently inadequate for its survival.

“These factors represent broad categories of natural or human-caused actions or conditions that could have an effect on a species’ continued existence,” read the proposal.

“In evaluating these actions and conditions, we look for those that may have a negative effect on individuals of the species, as well as other actions or conditions that may ameliorate any negative effects or may have positive effects.”

Santa Fe-based environmental group WildEarth Guardians petitioned the Service in 2013 to list the silverspot butterfly for protections, and in 2016, the Service found WildEarth Guardians’ petition presented “substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted,” and began reviewing the species for listing.

Joe Bushyhead, attorney with WildEarth Guardians said listing the animal for protections was a crucial step in preventing its extinction and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

“Listing offers silverspots a much-needed lifeline,” Bushyhead said. “We’re hopeful the ESA can provide a path to both recover the butterfly and safeguard its vanishing habitat.”

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NPR/Empire KVCR (San Bernardino, CA)

Scientists say endangered porpoise isn’t doomed — so long as humans stop killing them

May 5, 20222, KENDAL BLUST

The vaquita marina, Spanish for “little sea cow,” is considered the world’s most endangered marine mammal.

The gray porpoise – known for its small size and characteristic black markings around its eyes and mouth – only lives in the northernmost part of Mexico’s Gulf of California, where fishing has brought the species to the brink of extinction.

But research now finds that, genetically speaking, there is still hope the vaquita population can recover.

“We’re really pushing back on the idea that the species is doomed,” says Jacqueline Robinson, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of California, San Francisco and an author of the study, which is published in the journal Science.

While all future vaquita will be descendants of just an estimated 10 remaining porpoises, the study shows that the negative impacts of inbreeding would be minimal. In fact, Robinson and her team found the species would have a good chance of recovering – if it can be better protected from gillnets, walls of netting submerged underwater that can trap and drown the small mammal.

Predicting the vaquita’s chance of survival

The study’s authors note that vaquita populations have historically been small. That means there’s actually little genetic variation between the porpoises, which tend to weigh about 100 lbs and can grow about 4 to 5 feet long.

“The fact that they’ve had low population sizes and low genetic diversity for a very long time in their evolutionary history kind of gives them an edge for rebounding from this current extreme population decline,” Robinson says. “They have less hidden, harmful genetic variation that could become a problem with future inbreeding.”

To understand the vaquita’s chances of recovery, the researchers started by sequencing and analyzing 20 vaquita genomes taken from archival tissue samples. The species’ genetics helped researchers understand the vaquita’s history and its past population size, which they estimate remained under 5,000 for tens of thousands of years because of its restricted habitat.

The recent dramatic population decline is largely due to vaquitas being ensnared in fishing nets, which are often set up by poachers in the waters of Baja California to catch totoaba — a huge endangered fish that’s extremely lucrative on the black market in China where it’s sold for its swim bladder.

The study drew on their genetic analysis and what’s known about the vaquita’s biology – its lifespan and reproductive behavior – to model population growth or decline assuming different levels of gillnet deaths.

If those deaths stopped entirely, the scientists only found a 6% chance that the vaquita would go extinct in the next 50 years, based on simulation estimates. But if fishing continues to kill off the animals, even at significantly reduced levels, the likelihood of extinction increases dramatically.

“Our results show a major impact of the gillnet mortality rates,” says UCLA researcher and study co-author Chris Kyriazis, who developed the team’s simulations. Even with an 80% reduction in gillnet deaths, chances for the species’ survival plummet, he says.

Robinson says their research shows that genetic diversity is not the problem for the endangered porpoise and that humans can intervene to keep them from vanishing.

Without the pressures of harmful fishing in their habitat, “there is a very good chance that vaquitas would rebound on their own,” she says. “And that is what has not been happening so far.”

Enforcing ‘zero tolerance’

Stopping harmful fishing practices has been a long-term struggle in the Upper Gulf of California.

Regulations to protect the vaquita marina have been on the books for decades in Mexico, and there is a “zero tolerance” zone in the area considered most critical for the little porpoise, where gillnet fishing is prohibited.

But enforcement of those rules is lax.

“The vaquita’s population won’t recover without protection,” says Alex Olivera, senior scientist and Mexico representative for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need more enforcement from the Mexican government.”

Despite pressure from conservation groups, the U.S. government and international organizations, Olivera says Mexico has failed to adequately protect the few remaining vaquita.

This new study on the genetic viability of the species shows there is still time to act, he says: “This adds to the argument that the species can be saved, they can recover, even though there are only a few individuals left.”

UCSF’s Robinson says their research makes it clear that the recovery of the vaquita ultimately depends on keeping the waters where it lives free of fishing nets. And while past efforts have been insufficient, she’s still hopeful.

“I think the takeaway is not to write off a species because it has low genetic diversity, or to say it’s doomed. That’s an assumption, and it’s probably a flawed one,” she says.

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CNBC

SpaceX Starbase expansion plans will harm endangered species, according to Fish and Wildlife Service

Published May 3, 2022, Lora Kolodny

SpaceX must take steps to track and mitigate its impact on endangered species and their habitat in order to gain approvals for testing and commercial launches of its Starship Super Heavy lift-launch vehicle in Boca Chica, Texas, according to documents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service obtained by CNBC.

The documents, released by the federal agency in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, show that recent declines in an endangered bird species, the piping plover, have already been correlated with SpaceX activity at the South Texas facility.

The documents also reveal that SpaceX is, for now at least, reducing the amount of energy it plans to generate at a utility-sized natural gas power plant on the 47.4-acre launch site there.

The company did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the documents.

What’s at stake

Ultimately, the Federal Aviation Administration must decide and is liable for final approvals and oversight of SpaceX in Texas.

The company’s ability to expand its business, and conduct launches beyond its existing Falcon rockets, hinges on this FAA approval. So does the fate of SpaceX’s business commitments in Texas.

In February, CEO Elon Musk said that his reusable rocket and satellite internet company could shift its Starship Super Heavy launch activity to the state of Florida, and turn its Boca Chica spaceport into more of an R&D campus, if regulatory hurdles in Texas proved insurmountable.

SpaceX sent its most recent known proposal for the Boca Chica facility to the FAA in September 2021. At that time, the company had said it wanted to build a new launch pad, new landing pad, power plant, natural gas processing facilities, and water infrastructure, including deluge systems and retention ponds used for cooling the launch pad there.

SpaceX is seeking from the FAA a permit and/or vehicle operator license that would allow it to build out new facilities and conduct launches of its larger Starship rockets near the cities of Brownsville and South Padre Island, Texas. The facility is on a small piece of land surrounded by wildlife refuge areas.

Before granting these licenses and permits, the FAA considers research from a number of other federal and state agencies and local environmental specialists.

Part of the FAA’s process includes a consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that the agency won’t violate the Endangered Species Act if it gives SpaceX a go-ahead for its proposed activity.

Wildlife impacts

The FWS has determined — and written in a document known as a draft biological and conference opinion (BCO) — that if SpaceX moves ahead with the proposal it sent to the FAA, it would impact some species protected under the Endangered Species Act, as well as hundreds of acres of their critical habitat, although the activity would not completely wipe out those species.

Of greatest concern is the company’s anticipated impact to the mating, migration, health and habitat of the piping plover, red knot, jaguarundi and ocelot populations. Disruptions and harm can be caused by everything from regular vehicle traffic, to the noise, heat, explosions and fragmentation of habitat caused by construction, rocket testing and launches.

Several species of sea turtles are also of concern, but FWS deferred to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for marine life expertise. One of the turtles is known as the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, which nests on the beaches of Boca Chica. It is the most critically endangered sea turtle in the world.

The draft opinion cautions that some 903.65 acres of piping plover critical habitat surrounds the facility and 446.27 acres of that will be lost from the direct impact of SpaceX activity under the proposal submitted to the FAA.

Among its recommendations and requirements, the FWS wants SpaceX to monitor affected animal populations carefully, limit construction and launch activity to specific seasons or times of day and night, and use shuttles to reduce vehicle traffic of workers on location.

The agency is also encouraging further research to understand potential effects on the monarch butterfly, which is under consideration to be listed as a threatened or endangered species in the U.S. now.

Overall, the FWS opinion may be good news for SpaceX.

The agency requires very little in the way of spending, conservation and other commitments by SpaceX, says Jared Margolis, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who read a copy of the draft BCO.

He said, “It seems the Fish and Wildlife Service is bending over backwards to figure out a way to permit more of what has been a very detrimental use of the Boca Chica site as far as impacts to wildlife go.”

Margolis said FWS did not ask for well-defined or large commitments by SpaceX where conservation is concerned. He pointed to FWS requiring SpaceX to donate a meager $5,000 to an ocelot conservation group per year.

He also said that too many of the agency’s requests were merely recommendations, and not enforceable under the terms and conditions of an eventual FAA permit.

“This is a company with very deep pockets,” Margolis added, “the least they could do is address these harms in a meaningful way.”

CNBC contacted the press office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service but officials were not immediately available to comment on Margolis’ assertions.

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Mongabay

To secure a future for wildlife, look to their distant past, study says

by Suzana Camargo on 3 May 2022, Translated by Maya Johnson

“Anywhere you find humans, you find the extinction of species,” says biologist Mathias Pires, a professor of biology at Campinas State University (UNICAMP) in Brazil.

The near-eradication of the American bison (Bison bison), the largest land animal in North America, is a case in point. These one-ton bovines once roamed the prairies in herds numbering in the millions. The bison’s distribution was so vast that it was found from Alaska all the way down to northern Mexico.

But with the arrival of the first European colonialists in North America, the bison was hunted near to extinction. In the 19th century, fewer than 100 of the animals remained in the wild. Today, their numbers have recovered slightly, and they can be found in small herds mostly in protected areas.

Pires’s observation of the destructive power of humans isn’t new, but now he and several colleagues have put into numbers the impact that we as a species have had on the other species that share this planet since Homo sapiens first migrated out of Africa 50,000 and 11,000 years ago.

“The late Pleistocene was the period when the great human migrations out of Africa began to take place,” says Lilian Sales, a UNICAMP researcher and the lead author of the new study that maps out the original and current distributions of 145 large mammal species. “Man’s arrival and the disappearance of some species were synchronous.”

The study, published in March in the journal Global Change Biology, shows how species such as bison were wiped out from much of their range — nearly a third, on average — because of human activity and forced to move into other habitats and climates.

Some, including the greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) and the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), are today found in less than 50% of the habitats where they once occurred. Others, like the Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and the European bison (Bison bonasus) are restricted to an area that’s just 1% of their original range.

“The impact of human presence on the reduction of mammal megafauna species distribution has been well documented in fossil records,” Sales says. “The study’s main objective was to analyze whether the changes in these species’ geographic distribution led to changes in the niches they occupy.”

Species in Asia the most affected

The reason that large mammals were chosen for the study — megafauna defined as weighing more than 44 kilograms (97 pounds) — is that their large bodies are more likely to leave a fossil record, and hence identify patterns of change. They’re also more vulnerable to humans because of their size.

According to the study, large mammals in Asia have experienced the greatest impact from human activity. The list of those whose ranges were reduced the most includes the two rhino species, as well as the wild water buffalo (Bubalus arnee), Père David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus) and the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx). These last two were at one point declared extinct in the wild, but thanks to reintroduction programs, have once again begun to populate parts of their original ranges.

In South America, the marsh deer (Blastocerus dichotomus) and the jaguar (Panthera onca) are among those species whose distribution shrank the most, by 76% and 40% of their original territory, respectively. The latter, the largest cat in the Americas, was originally found from the southeastern U.S. through to northern Argentina. Today, jaguar sightings in the U.S. are rare, and the species is also seldom in Mexico.

Climate refugees

The changes in species’ niches that Sales speaks of are driven by factors such as the temperature and its variability, and rainfall. Many of the species that have gone locally extinct across much of their original range are now confined to regions where the climate is no longer optimal for them.

This is the case with the Javan rhino, which today is restricted to a single national park with humid forest on the western tip of the Indonesian island of Java. In the past, the species occupied a wide range of habitats, from lowland forest to high-altitude forest, marshes to humid prairies, throughout much of Southeast Asia.

Another species, the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), an animal associated today with the savannas of Africa, originally also occurred in the steppes and prairies of Europe and Asia — a range much larger than the African continent.

Sales says large animals need suitably large ranges to live. They also tend to have low reproduction rates, which also leaves them more vulnerable to change.

This is why researchers already refer to some species like the Javan rhino and spotted hyena as “climate refugees.” This term, however, is used in a different context than when referring to human populations forced to leave regions rendered inhospitable by climate change.

“Many species we know today are actually found in less-than-ideal climates, different from those in which their ancestors lived,” says Mauro Galetti, a co-author of the article and faculty member at Brazil’s Paulista State University and assistant professor at the University of Miami. “This is due to the fact that the populations of these species in perfect climates were made extinct by humans.”

Given this scenario, the study authors stress the importance of taking these historical distribution changes into account when making projections for the species’ future and to better plan conservation actions. Without considering these animals’ original ranges, they warn, we could be making mistakes about choosing the best environments for them where they can avoid extinction.

“If we ignore the past and look only at the present, we have only the perspective of already-impoverished environments,” Pires says. “We must also consider the habitats of these species before the arrival of Homo sapiens.”

The vast majority of models in use today for predicting species’ responses to climate change are based on current events. But if they show only a small part of the ranges that these animals originally occupied, they may be making an incorrect diagnosis.

“All of Earth’s species are restricted in space by just a few variables like temperature and humidity,” Galetti says. “This is easy to understand. If you want to know where to find a polar bear [Ursus maritimus], you will look in cold, high-latitude regions with little rainfall. But if we kill off 90% of all the polar bears and scientists in the future try to restore their distribution based only on those in existence, we will have an erroneous ‘map’ as to the ideal climate in which they lived.”

That’s because climate conditions across the Arctic are not homogenous. There are warmer and colder regions, others in which the temperature varies more during the year, and regions with more rainfall. In a future conservation project for reintroducing polar bears in the event they become nearly extinct, the map of their current occurrence won’t represent the species’ true distribution area over the past centuries. And this could affect the success of any conservation or reintroduction program.

The authors say the survival of Earth’s existing fauna depends on humans keeping a careful eye on the past — as in, thousands of years ago — and not maintaining a myopic focus on today’s “environmentally compromised” situation for most of these threatened and iconic species.

(Citation: Sales, L. P., Galetti, M., Carnaval, A., Monsarrat, S., Svenning, J., & Pires, M. M. (2022). The effect of past defaunation on ranges, niches, and future biodiversity forecasts. Global Change Biology. doi:10.1111/gcb.16145  This story was reported by Mongabay’s Brazil team and first published here on our Brazil site on April 21, 2022.)

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United Nations News

Natural resources must be ‘part of the solution’ in fight against deforestation

3 May 2022

Between 2010 and 2018, the rate of deforestation worlwide slowed by nearly 30 per cent compared to the previous ten years, according to a key report launched on Tuesday by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The Global Forest  Resources Assessment Remote Sensing Survey warned however, that from livestock grazing in South America to the expansion of croplands in Asia, the earth’s tropical rainforests still face a tremendous threat. 

“This survey is important, not just for the new numbers it gives us but for what it tells us about forest area trends and what’s driving deforestation, also the crucial ability it gives us to monitor how things are evolving,” said FAO Deputy Director-General, Maria Helena Semedo.

Losses halved

Annual deforestation decreased by around 29 per cent – from 11 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2010, to 7.8 million hectares from 2010 to 2018, the survey revealed.

Moreover, net forest area losses have more than halved during the survey period – from 6.8 million hectares annually between 2000 and 2010 down to 3.1 million hectares per year from 2010 to 2018. 

By region, the highest level of deforestation between 2000 and 2018 occurred in South America (68 million hectares deforested), followed by Africa (49 million hectares).

This is despite a slower deforestation rate in South America and South and southeast Asia between 2000 and 2018.

“Unsustainable agricultural development and other land uses continue to put intense pressure on our forests, especially in many of the poorest countries,” Ms. Semedo explained.  

Unsustainable development

Meanwhile from 2000 to 2018, tropical forest losses accounted for more than 90 per cent of global deforestation.

And while that equals 157 million hectares – roughly the size of western Europe – annual deforestation in the tropics slowed significantly from 10.1 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2010 to seven million hectares annually 2010 to 2018.

“There are win-win solutions which we can and must scale up, to feed the world without destroying our forests,” assured the FAO official.

Driving deforestation

Cropland expansion is the main driver of deforestation, responsible for nearly half of global deforestation, followed by livestock grazing, accounting for 38.5 per cent.  

From 2000 to 2018, oil palm planting alone accounted for seven per cent of the global deforestation.

While the survey suggests that tropical regions of Central America are most severely threatened by land-use conversion, similar phenomena were detected in the region’s tropical dry forest and shrubland. 

However, the small number of samples in these ecoregions, means further investigations are needed to confirm these findings.

Tap solutions in nature

The XV World Forestry Congress (WFC) opened on Monday, in Seoul, Korea, as well as online.

Kicking off the event, Ms. Semedo said that “no matter which crises we are facing – a pandemic, conflicts, climate change – and [their] resulting economic recession and food insecurity, we must consider our forests and our natural resources as part of the solution and integrate them in recovery plans and strategies.” 

The Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) states that protecting forests helps  tackle climate change, boost food security, conserve biodiversity and boost efforts to create a poverty-free world. 

State of forests

Under the main theme Building a green, healthy and resilient future with forests, leaders from the FAO, the World Bank, and youth and Indigenous representatives participated in discussions 

In addition to the survey launch, as part of the Forestry Resources Assessment 2020, FAO on Monday launched its flagship State of the World’s Forests Report 2022.

The report underscored the three mutually reinforcing pathways of halting deforestation and maintaining forests; restoring degraded lands and expanding reforestation; and ensuring sustainable value chains. 

Other key findings included the need to enshrine tenure rights; provide incentives and remove disincentives for forest conservation; and the urgency of addressing the conflict between forest conservation and other development needs.

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Wisconsin Examiner (Madison, WI)

Six Wisconsin tribes write letter opposing bill to delist wolves

By HENRY REDMAN, May 2, 2022

Six Ojibwe tribes in Wisconsin wrote a letter this week to Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson opposing a bipartisan bill co-authored by Baldwin (a Democrat) and Johnson (a Republican) that would remove the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list in the Western Great Lakes region and Wyoming.

Delisting of the gray wolf would allow the animal to be hunted again. Baldwin and Johnson argue that the wolf populations in these parts of the country are healthy and therefore management should be returned to the states.

The letter sent Wednesday to Wisconsin’s two U.S. senators was signed by the Bad River, Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau, Red Cliff, Sokaogon Chippewa and St. Croix Chippewa tribes.

The letter states that neither senator reached out to the tribes to discuss how the delisting would affect their rights or treaty-protected resources. The letter notes that in 2021 when the wolf was delisted, the hunt held that February was badly mismanaged by the state and led to hunters overshooting the planned quota.

In that hunt, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources had set a quota of 200, with a portion of that meant to be for the tribes. The tribes didn’t participate in the hunt, but hunters still went past the total quota — killing 218 wolves.

“You both have stated that management of the gray wolf, or Ma’iingan in Anishinaabemowin, should be undertaken by the state,” the letter states. “However, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (“WNDR”) has demonstrated that it is unable to effectively manage the gray wolf population under the state’s current statutory and regulatory framework, as evidenced by Wisconsin’s botched February 2021 wolf hunt. That hunt yielded an excessive removal of wolves that surpassed the state’s hunting quota and consumed the tribes’ entire treaty-protected share of wolves through the actions of state-licensed hunters in just three days. The hunt was ill-advised not only because of its brutality, occurring as it did during wolf breeding season, but also because such hunts destabilize packs, causing dispersal and increasing livestock predation.”

Another hunt was planned for November 2021 with a quota of 300 wolves but a Dane County Circuit Court judge put a halt to it, finding that the DNR had failed to put in place permanent rules guiding the hunt and therefore was unable to move forward.

This February, a federal judge restored endangered species protections for wolves in most of the country.

After introducing the bill, Baldwin told the Wisconsin Examiner that the wolf population is healthy in Wisconsin and that the state can responsibly manage its control — despite increasing polarization over the issue and conservative meddling in the body responsible for setting quotas.

“There is scientific consensus that the population of gray wolves has recovered and the federal government can safely return the stewardship of the animals to the state of Wisconsin,” she said. “In crafting policies to manage these animals, I urge all stakeholders in the state to come to the table in a good faith effort to reach a consensus on hunting regulations.”

In the letter, the tribes specifically call out Baldwin for failing to consult them on her decision to co-author the legislation.

“Senator Baldwin, you have recognized that tribes work to protect Wisconsin forests, lakes, and rivers to ensure that they will be there for the next generation,” the letter states. “We remind you that our work also extends to protection of the species that populate this landscape, such as the gray wolf. That work is imperative to the perpetuation of all species upon which we depend and upon which our descendants will depend. You also have spoken in the past of your trust and treaty responsibilities to tribes, as well as the importance of tribal sovereignty. We are disappointed that you introduced this bill without consulting the eleven federally recognized tribes in Wisconsin to learn our position on what level of protections should apply to Ma’iingan. If you had spoken with us, you would have learned about our efforts to protect Ma’iingan, and the important role they play in the ecosystem, and in our culture.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Seeks Documents on Biden Administration Plans to Weaken Endangered Species Act

WASHINGTON—(May 2, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a lawsuit challenging the Biden administration’s failure to release documents detailing discussions between political officials, other agency staff, and members of Congress over potential legislation that would further weaken the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, comes after documents previously obtained by the Center revealed that political officials within the Office of the Secretary of the Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service may be considering legislation to weaken the legal requirements for the Forest Service to assess the conservation needs of endangered species at the landscape scale.

“It’s disturbing that the administration would even consider crippling protections for our most imperiled animals and plants during this unprecedented extinction crisis,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center. “If Biden officials truly care about conserving our natural heritage, they shouldn’t be working with the worst anti-wildlife members of Congress who are bent on pushing some of our most iconic species toward extinction.”

In 2018 when the Republican Party held control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, Sen. Steve Daines successfully passed the so-called “Cottonwood” rider, which temporarily exempted the Forest Service from the requirement to reassess and potentially strengthen land-management plans after a species was listed or critical habitat was designated on the affected national forest.

Since the Cottonwood rider passed, Sen. Daines has introduced additional legislation that would expand and make permanent this exemption. It would also allow the Forest Service to ignore “any new information” — including new information about climate change’s threats to protected species like the Yellow-billed cuckoo or Yosemite toad — for years or even decades to come.

“We sincerely hope the Biden administration will publicly reject this head-in-the-sand approach to the climate emergency and extinction crisis,” said Hartl. “It’s time for Biden’s political appointees to stop playing games, come clean by turning over these documents, and stop pandering to Sen. Daines.”

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Lootpress (Beckley, WV)

NOAA announces $6.2 million in endangered species recovery grants

By Tyler Barker, May 1, 2022

(LOOTPRESS) – NOAA Fisheries is proposing 12 new projects and the continuation of 13 multi-year projects under the Species Recovery Grants Program, with up to $6.2 million in new funding. The program supports management, research, monitoring and outreach activities that have direct conservation benefits for endangered species.

Up to $3.6 million in funding for new awards are proposed for projects in Alaska, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Florida, Maryland, Oregon, Puerto Rico and to the Makah Tribe. And up to $2.6 million in funding will continue to support 13 existing projects approved through prior grant cycles.

“States and tribes play an essential role in conserving and recovering species,” said Janet Coit, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, and acting assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator. “NOAA is responsible for endangered species that may spend all or part of their lifecycle in state waters, and successful conservation depends on our cooperation with valued state and tribal partners.”

This year’s recommended projects support our state and tribal partners in a range of activities, such as:

*Assessing and monitoring endangered and threatened species, including evaluating abundance, spawning and foraging behaviors.

*Collecting demographic and genetic information to improve understanding of population distribution, habitat use and impacts from human threats.

*Assessing the impacts of climate change on species’ predator-prey interactions, and population distribution, abundance and recovery.

*Improving captive reproduction, health and survival of endangered species.

*Assisting with animal stranding responses.

*Assessing threats of specific prey populations to the diet of endangered species.

*Engaging the public in conservation of Endangered Species Act-listed species.

The Species Recovery Grant Program began in 2003 and is an example of how NOAA advances funding opportunities and partnerships towards recovering species while supporting our mission of preserving marine resources for future generations.

During this period of the selection process, the application approval and obligation of funds is not final. Each application is being “recommended” for funding. This is not an authorization to start the project and is not a guarantee of funding. A complete list of funded projects to states and tribes is available online. Awardees will be notified directly when applications are approved in the coming months. For more information about this year’s proposed projects, please visit the NOAA Fisheries website.

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The Times of Israel

First birth of an Asiatic cheetah in captivity takes place in Iran

Only a dozen of the endangered breed of the world’s fastest land animal remain in Islamic Republic, down from an estimated 100 in 2010

By AFP, 1 May 2022

TEHRAN, Iran — An Asiatic cheetah gave birth to three “healthy” cubs in Iran, the head of the environment department said Sunday, calling it a first in captivity for the endangered species.

“Iran,” one of only a dozen cheetahs found in the Islamic Republic, delivered three “healthy” cubs by C-section, Ali Salajegheh told IRNA news agency.

“This is the first birth of an Asiatic cheetah in captivity,” he said. “By preserving these cubs, we can increase the cheetah population in captivity and then in semi-captivity,” Salajegheh added.

The cubs were born in the Touran Wildlife Refuge in the Semnan province east of Tehran, where the mother and her babies are being monitored in intensive care.

The world’s fastest land animal, capable of reaching speeds of 120 kilometers (74 miles) per hour, cheetahs once stalked habitats from the eastern reaches of India to the Atlantic coast of Senegal and beyond. They are still found in parts of southern Africa, but have practically disappeared from North Africa and Asia.

Iran is one of the last countries in the world where the Asiatic cheetahs live in the wild and began a United Nations-supported protection program in 2001.

The subspecies “Acinonyx jubatus venaticus,” commonly known as the Asiatic cheetah, is critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In January, Deputy Environment Minister Hassan Akbari said Iran is home to only a dozen Asiatic cheetahs — down from an estimated 100 in 2010.

Their situation “is extremely critical,” Akbari said at the time, adding that the animals have been victims of drought, hunters and car accidents.

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The Canberra Times

New frog species already endangered

By Finbar O’Mallon, April 29 2022

Australian scientists have discovered a new species of frog in south-east Queensland and it’s already classified as endangered.

The new mountain frog’s only known habitat is the world heritage-listed Gondwana rainforests which were extensively burned during the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires.

Dubbed Philoria knowlesi, after Sydney environmentalist Ross Knowles, the frog was discovered thanks to extensive genetic testing.

Queensland’s environment department said it was already moving to protect the habitat of the newly identified species.

“There are a number of measures rangers are taking to support the recovery of fire-impacted areas,” senior conservation officer Harry Hines said.

University of Newcastle’s Professor Michael Mahony said the frog’s habitat, the Gondwana rainforests, were of “special significance” for the evolution of Australia’s plant and animal life.

“There are currently seven known species of mountain frog, six of which are found only in the Gondwana rainforest area,” Professor Mahony said.

The discovery is part of a joint effort from the Queensland government ecologists, the University of Newcastle, South Cross University, CSIRO and the South Australian Museum.

Scientists have been gathering and analysing the DNA of the mountain frogs in the rainforest since 2006.

Over the last 16 years they have been busy confirming they are all distinct species.

Philoria knowlesi comes in different shades of brown and lets out a deep “bop”-like croak.

It breeds in spring and early summer in small bogs and along the banks of mountain streams. When mating, the male creates a small breeding chamber where the tadpoles develop.

Philoria knowlesi’s biggest threat is habitat loss, with rangers working to keep out stray cattle, control feral pigs and weeds and reduce the risk of future bushfires.

Part of a national bushfire recovery fund will go to protecting the Gondwana rainforests, with $3.85 million for recovery projects of the World Heritage icon.

Areas of Gondwana that had never been touched by fire before Black Summer had blazes threatening numerous plant and animal species. Populations in the rainforest are still struggling to recover more than two years on.

Australia has the world’s worst rate of wildlife extinctions.

(Australian Associated Press)

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National Parks Traveler

Defenders Of Wildlife: Pinyon Jay Needs ESA Protection To Dodge Extinction

By NPT Staff, April 29th, 2022

The pinyon jay, a gregarious bird that’s an icon on the Western landscape, is plummeting in number and needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act if it’s to avoid extinction, according to Defenders of Wildlife.

Defenders petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday to protect the pinyon jay under the ESA. The species is experiencing a precipitous decline throughout the western United States due, in part, to the loss and degradation of its piñon-juniper woodlands habitat, according to Defenders. Over the past 50 years, the pinyon jay population declined by 85 percent, and, without the protections afforded by the ESA, half of its remaining global population is expected to be lost by 2035, the group said.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must act now to prevent the extinction of the pinyon jay,” said Defenders of Wildlife New Mexico representative Patricia Estrella. “This remarkable bird is threatened by a suite of factors including removal of its piñon-juniper habitat, drought, and climate change. Due to the combined threats facing the pinyon jay, the bird warrants the federal protection of the ESA.”

A species warrants ESA protection if it is determined to be endangered or threatened in all or a significant portion of its range based on any one or combination of five factors. The Pinyon Jay satisfies several of the factors set forth in the ESA such as habitat destruction, the inadequacy of state and federal legal protections, and other man-made factors.

The pinyon jay is a charismatic, social bird that travels in large flocks and plays a significant role in maintaining the biodiversity of the West. The range of the pinyon jay includes 13 states. It facilitates piñon pine tree regeneration by extracting and burying the seeds, commonly known as pine nuts. The birds do not retrieve all their cached seeds, allowing the seeds to germinate and replenish the woodlands. Without pinyon jays, it’s not clear that the piñon pine tree would continue to persist.

Loss of piñon pine would disproportionately affect Native American and Hispanic communities in the Southwest, which have cultural connections with pine nuts. For generations, Native Americans in the Southwest have harvested and consumed the seeds. During the fall harvest, families collect the nutritional seeds and store them for the winter. This important cultural tradition would likely be lost if the pinyon jay went extinct.

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Spectrum News

NOAA introduces new rule to save oceanic whitetip sharks

By Michelle Broder Van Dyke/Hawaii, April 29, 2022

NOAA Fisheries introduced new rules Thursday that will protect oceanic whitetip sharks from being hooked by longline fishers, according to a news release.

The new rules prohibit the use of steel wire leaders on hooks deployed in the Hawaii deep-set longline fishery, which operates around the main Hawaiian Islands, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and the U.S. Pacific Remote Island Areas. Instead, monofilament nylon leaders should be used.

The rules also require fishers in the Western Pacific longline fisheries to remove fishing gear from oceanic whitetip sharks that get caught in it.

Oceanic whitetip sharks have distinct white markings on the tips of their dorsal fins, grow up to 11 feet long and can live for up to 25 years. They exist around the world in tropical and subtropical waters and often reside near the surface of the water.

NOAA Fisheries listed oceanic whitetip sharks as threatened in 2018 under the Endangered Species Act. In the Pacific, the species has declined by 80-95% since the mid-1990s.

The sharks are threatened because they get caught in longline fishing gear, large fishing nets and gillnets. Not meaning to capture the sharks, fishers often discard them, in what is known as bycatch. Oceanic whitetip sharks are also harvested internationally for their fins.

NOAA said the new rules, which go into effect on May 31, are anticipated to increase the species bycatch survival by 30%.

The gear used by deep-set longline fishers usually comprises a continuous mainline set below the surface, which is supported horizontally in the ocean by floats with branch lines attached at intervals. Each branch line has a single baited hook at its end, and wire leaders are short metal wire fishing lines that attach the rest of the fishing line to the baited hook, according to NOAA.

However, the metal lines are too strong for sharks to cut themselves free when they are hooked. Replacing them with nylon will allow the sharks to bite through the line and free themselves. If a shark doesn’t bite through the nylon, a fisher can also cut the line close to the hook to free the shark.

NOAA said it made the rules in conjunction with Hawaii longline fishers and the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council. Some longline fishers, who are usually fishing for tuna, already made the change to monofilament nylon leaders starting in Nov. 2020.

“The Hawaiʻi fishing fleet sets the standard for longline tuna fishing, with high levels of observer coverage and strong regulations to limit the effects of the fishery on protected species,” said Michael Tosatto, Regional Administrator, NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office.

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KUOW/FM—NPR (Seattle, WA)

Scientists race to rescue world’s fastest sea star from oblivion

April 28, 2022, By John Ryan

Scientists are racing to revive a critically endangered species that has succumbed to a mysterious underwater pandemic up and down the West Coast.

The species is the sunflower star, a pizza-sized predator that can have two dozen arms. Since 2013, a wasting disease of unknown origin has turned some 5 billion sunflower stars, or 90% of the global population, into goo.

“I think there’s a pretty high potential for extinction of this species, particularly in certain geographies, so we’re all moving as quickly as we can,” Nature Conservancy scientist Walter Heady said during a panel on sunflower stars Wednesday at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference.

While some other species hit by the wasting disease have shown signs of recovery, sunflower stars have not.

Scientists say a few scattered fjords in British Columbia and Washington state still harbor remnant pockets of decent-sized populations of the endangered species. Recreational divers report finding patches of adult sunflower stars on the eastern shoreline of Whidbey Island.

Researchers are working to find what’s causing the wasting disease, why it kills some stars but not others, and how to help survivors of the the world’s worst underwater pandemic bounce back more quickly.

Gliding along on thousands of tiny tube feet beneath its two dozen arms, the sunflower star is the world’s fastest sea star and a dominant predator on seafloors along North America’s West Coast. But it has been unable to outrun the virus or bacterium or whatever is behind the wasting syndrome that has attacked 20 species.

“It’s always kind of blown my mind, honestly, that this disease was so broad, across so many different sea stars,” University of Washington biologist Jason Hodin said. “Maybe that doesn’t seem like such a big deal to some of you, but that’s equivalent to saying that a disease hits all different mammals that we know of.”

Biomedical researchers identified the virus behind humanity’s Covid-19 pandemic and sequenced its genome within weeks of its initial December 2019 outbreak in Wuhan, China.

It has been a different story for this underwater pandemic.

“It’s coming on 10 years after we first saw this wasting outbreak, and we still don’t know what the disease is,” Hodin said.

Researchers say until recently, very little was known about what microbes or viruses sea stars might harbor.

“When you’re working in a system where you don’t know what’s normal, it is a lot harder to find something that is new,” said biologist Alyssa-Lois Gehman of British Columbia’s Hakai Institute.

“There is a possibility that we never discover or understand what is the causative agent of sea star wasting,” said ecologist Lauren Schiebelhut of the University of California, Merced. “We obviously really hope that is not the case.”

Schiebelhut has found genetic differences between healthy sea stars and diseased ones in the wild. She said pinpointing those differences could help efforts to breed disease-resistant stars—even without identifying the cause of the disease.

Even in pre-underwater-pandemic times, studying sunflower stars was challenging. In the lab, researchers wear gloves and carry the big stars upside down so their many tube feet don’t attach to human arms.

“These animals are so strong that it can be difficult to get them off if they decide to attach, particularly without harming them,” Gehman said.

“They have lots of interesting structures on their skin that can jab and grab predators, competitors or my arm hairs,” Gehman said.

The mass die-off of sea stars further complicated the work, from biosecurity measures to the supply of lab animals drying up.

Gehman has been hunting for the cause of the disease by injecting healthy sunflower stars with tissue from diseased stars.

“For a while we were unable to run experiments because we couldn’t get access to animals,” Gehman said.

With an invisible killer stalking sunflower stars, researchers have had to take further precautions to keep stars healthy, including separating the gregarious animals.

“They were very touchy-feely with one another, and that could be not a very good thing for transmitted disease,” Hodin said.

Like Covid-19 among humans, the wasting disease can be spread by individuals who don’t have symptoms. And it kills fast: within two to four days.

In 2020, the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the sunflower stars critically endangered, the first sea star to gain that unfortunate status.

Neither the U.S. nor the Canadian government has given endangered species protections to the sunflower star.

The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service in August to list the sunflower star, Pycnopodia helianthoides, as an endangered species. The federal agency launched a review in December to determine whether the species deserves an endangered listing.

Even without a government mandate, an international working group has been putting together a “roadmap to recovery” for the species to coordinate research efforts and prepare to expand the number of captive-rearing facilities.

“We need to transition from only studying and documenting to acting,” Schiebelhut said. “Pycnopodia may not have the time for us to delay any longer.”

Scientists speaking at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference wouldn’t estimate how long it might take before all the pieces are in place to start reintroducing the critically endangered species to the sea on a large scale.

“That’s something our team wrestles with on a daily basis,” Heady said. “It’s that mix of being really careful and yet setting us up to be as quick as possible.”

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories currently have 900 juvenile sunflower stars growing in tanks. The two-year-olds are about the size of an outstretched human hand. Hodin said he hopes to have enough full-size adults by next year to put some of them in undersea cages off San Juan Island for divers to monitor how the lab-raised animals fare in the wild.

Marine biologists say bringing the big stars back could help all sorts of ocean life, since sunflower stars prey on sea urchins. With fewer predators around in recent years, urchins have been chewing their way through the kelp forests that many species rely on.

From observing them in the lab, Hodin said, scientists have found that young sunflower stars can devour up to six young sea urchins in a day—ten times the appetite of adult sunflower stars for adult urchins.

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The Independent (UK)

Endangered butterflies and spiders ‘being sold illegally on Amazon’

Most expensive insect researchers discovered for sale was $3,850 birdwing butterfly

Tom Batchelor, April 28, 2022

Rare, endangered and threatened insects and spiders are being sold online as pets, researchers have found.

Experts at Cornell University claimed a Luzon peacock swallowtail, one of the rarest butterflies which is listed as endangered and is illegal to trade, was found for sale at Amazon for around $110 (£88).

Many species of live tarantulas which are not endangered but whose trade is tightly controlled were also listed for sale.

John Losey, professor of entomology and lead author of the paper, Insects and Spiders on the Web: Monitoring and Mitigating Online Exploitation of Species and Services, said: “We surveyed the web to determine if there were species available for sale that are rare, threatened, or for which commerce is in some way regulated.

“As they get rarer and rarer, they become more and more valuable to collectors, and then the amount of collecting and sale, if not done sustainably, has greater impact on those species.”

The most expensive insect the researchers discovered for sale was a birdwing butterfly species named Ornithoptera allottei, which they said was listed on eBay for $3,850 (£3,070).

The team also found species for sale that should only be bought through regulated sources, such as ladybugs released for pest control.

They said inadvertently releasing diseased insects, the wrong strain or batches not suited for certain areas could have a negative impact on wild populations of animals.

Paul Curtis, a senior co-author on the paper and an extension wildlife specialist in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, said: “Hopefully, our findings will lead to better enforcement of the illegal online sale of rare insects and protect those species in the wild.”

The study, which has been shared with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, was published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.

An eBay spokesperson said: “eBay does not permit the sale of endangered or threatened species. We have block filter algorithms aimed to prevent the sale of prohibited items and, on the very rare occasion that such items evade our filters, our security teams will remove them from the site.

“We have identified a small number of animal-related listings that contravene our policy and are removing them. We will also take enforcement action against sellers breaching this policy, which may include suspending accounts or permanent bans.”

An Amazon spokesperson said: “Third party sellers are independent businesses and are required to follow our selling guidelines and all applicable laws, when selling animals or animal-related products.

“We clearly prohibit the sale of endangered species, we are investigating the product in question and will take appropriate action on any non-compliant listings.”

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EcoWatch

Up to 40% of the World’s Land Is Degraded by Humans, UN Report Warns

Olivia Rosane, Apr. 28, 2022

Human activity has degraded as much as 40 percent of the world’s land, impacting half of the people on Earth and putting about half of global gross domestic product at risk.

That’s the stark finding of the Global Land Outlook 2, a new report from the UN’s Council to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). With more than 1,000 references and the support of 21 partner organizations, the publication is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the state of the world’s land, and it offers both a dire warning and promising solutions.

“In a world of profligate consumerism, global supply chains, and a growing population, land resources – our soil, water, and biodiversity – are rapidly being depleted. As a finite resource and our most valuable natural asset, we can no longer afford to take land for granted. We must move to a crisis footing to address the challenge and make land the focus,” UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw wrote in a foreword to the new report. 

Mining vs. Managing

More than 70 percent of the Earth’s land has been altered by human activity, and up to 40 percent is degraded, meaning that it has become less biologically or economically productive over a sustained period of time. Land degradation increases poverty and pollution and puts the people who live on or near it at risk for diseases and disasters.

One major driver of this degradation is the global food system, which is the leading cause of land-based biodiversity loss and is also behind 80 percent of deforestation and 70 percent of freshwater use. Yet UNCCD members emphasized that the main problem was not any particular type of land use, but rather the dominant economy’s overall attitude towards land.

“We have been mining land, we have not been managing it,” Thiaw told reporters in a Wednesday press conference.

He defined mining as a linear approach that favored using and discarding resources, while managing would mean a more circular approach that uses and reuses resources sustainably.

“It is the way that our economy is shaped right now,” UNCCD Deputy Executive Secretary Andrea Meza Murillo agreed.

In an interview with EcoWatch, UNCCD lead scientist Barron Joseph Orr said that the land-use conversation had moved on from 10 years ago, when it had focused on single direct drivers like overgrazing.

“We know now that the cup of coffee that you or I may have had this morning may have contributed to land degradation somewhere very far away, as is true for almost everything that we eat, that we wear, etc.,” he said. “And so unsustainable consumption and production is probably the underlying, major indirect driver.”

Three Scenarios

The new report outlined three scenarios for how humanity might respond to this land-use crisis and what their impact would be by 2050.

**Business-as-usual: If we continue with current consumption and production patterns, we will lose an additional 16 million square kilometers (approximately six million square miles) of land by 2050, an area the size of South America. Further, land-use change and soil degradation will pump an additional 69 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the growth in crop yields will decrease and biodiversity loss will continue.

**Restoration: If we restore five billion hectares – 35 percent of the Earth’s land area – through measures like conservation agriculture, agroforestry and improved grazing, this will increase carbon stocks by 17 gigatonnes, increase crop yields by five to 10 percent in most developing countries compared to the first scenario and prevent 11 percent of biodiversity loss predicted in the first scenario.

**Restoration and Protection: This scenario builds on the restoration scenario with the additional protection of areas important for biodiversity, water, soil and carbon storage. Together, the measures would impact nearly half of the Earth’s land area, storing an additional 83 gigatonnes of carbon and reducing projected biodiversity loss by one third. However, in order to feed the world’s population, agricultural yields would have to increase by nine percent compared to the business-as-usual scenario.

All of these scenarios illustrate one of the report’s major messages: that land degradation is intimately linked to all of the other environmental and social crises facing humanity today.

“What’s really important about this report is that it brings together that we have to look at nature, people, climate, water, etc. – all together,” Orr told EcoWatch. “That you can’t anymore deal with these in separate ways, and, at the same time, it makes it clear that land is underneath all of these, and if you do well with land, you can make a difference in all of those categories through restoration.”

‘Enabling Environment‘

If the problems surrounding land-use change are all interconnected, the solutions also require a holistic approach. The report called for an “enabling environment” in which governments, financial institutions, businesses, scientists and local communities all work together to restore land.

Orr said that restoration must also look beyond single acts of conservation to consider a systemic approach that decides where it is best to build a biodiversity corridor or launch a climate mitigation project. He offered the example of Africa’s Great Green Wall, which focuses on land restoration in the Sahel covering 8,000 kilometers (approximately 4,971 miles) and 11 countries.

“In recent years, the vision has evolved from a tree-planting program to an integrated ecosystem management approach, striving to optimize a mosaic of different land use systems,” the report wrote.

On a global level, UN Sustainable Development Goal Target 15.3 has called for Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) by 2030, which is defined by the UNCCD as  “a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security remain stable or increase within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems,” according to the report. Currently, land restoration targets made by 115 countries, nearly half of them LDN targets, would restore a total of one billion hectares.

The report also joined with the emerging scientific consensus that protecting the land rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities is essential for protecting the land itself.

“In the face of rising threats to tropical forests — UN and other climate and biodiversity experts have begun to argue for expanding the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities and for drawing on their traditional knowledge as a proven solution for protecting intact ecosystems,” General Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin José Gregorio Diaz Mirabal said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “The new global land report for the first time recommends scaling up the land rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities – not just as a climate solution — but as a means for ensuring the success of projects to restore nature.”

The report comes at an opportune time to make a difference. It was released weeks ahead of the UNCCD’s 15th session of the Conference of Parties in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire in May and in the first year of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

“It will not be the end all of all that comes out on this, but it certainly will generate a lot of energy and movement,” Orr said.

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Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, FL)

Feds ponder endangered species protection for Florida gopher tortoises

By Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida, April 28, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — Federal wildlife officials will decide in the coming months whether increased protections are needed for gopher tortoises, as Florida looks for ways to move the animals out of the path of developers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity reached a settlement this week that will require the federal agency to determine by Sept. 30 whether gopher tortoises in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and eastern Alabama should be listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The settlement came in a lawsuit that the Center for Biological Diversity filed last year that accused the federal agency of “dragging its feet” on listing gopher tortoises and other species.

“The tortoises need large, unfragmented, long-leaf pine forests to survive,” the center said in an announcement about the settlement. “They’re severely threatened by development-caused habitat loss and fragmentation, which limits food availability and options for burrow sites and exposes them to being crushed in their burrows during construction, run over by cars or shot.”

Gopher tortoises are already listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in Louisiana, Mississippi and western Alabama. If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services decides that listing is warranted in Florida and the other states, it appears most likely that gopher tortoises would be listed as threatened, Elise Bennett, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity said in an email.

Gopher tortoises have long spurred debates in Florida, as development continues and conservationists push for protecting the habitats.

Tuesday’s announcement of the settlement came after Florida wildlife officials and the Legislature in recent months have taken steps to increase the sites where gopher tortoises can be moved. Gopher tortoises are considered threatened by the state, which has a permitting process for capturing and relocating the animals.

The Legislature last month passed a bill (SB 494) that, in part, would direct state agencies to consider using parts of certain public lands as gopher tortoise “recipient” sites.

Among other things, the bill calls for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to “streamline and improve the review of applications for public and private gopher tortoise recipient sites.”

The bill has not been formally sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

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The Guardian

One in five reptiles faces extinction in what would be a ‘devastating’ blow

Largest analysis to date on the state of the world’s reptiles warns of threat to ecosystems as more than 1,800 species fight to survive

Graeme Green, 27 April, 2022

More than a fifth of all reptile species are threatened with extinction, which could have a “devastating” impact on the planet, a new study warns.

The largest ever analysis of the state of the world’s reptiles, published in Nature, found that 21% of reptile species are facing extinction. From lizards to snakes, such a loss could have disastrous impacts on ecosystems around the world, the study says.

“We would lose a combined 15.6bn years of evolutionary history if each of the 1,829 threatened reptiles became extinct,” said Neil Cox, co-leader of the study and manager of the biodiversity assessment unit at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Conservation International. “This is evolution that we could never get back. It would be a devastating loss.

“If we remove reptiles, it could change ecosystems radically, with unfortunate knock-on effects, such as increases in pest insects,” he added. “Biodiversity, including reptiles, underpins the ecosystem services that provide a healthy environment for people.”

Fifty-two experts analysed data from the Global Reptile Assessment, which has received contributions from more than 900 scientists across six continents in the past 17 years. While 1,829 of 10,196 species are known to be threatened, the status of 1,489 could not be determined. Allowing for these data deficient species, the authors estimate that, in total, 21% are threatened.

The study was led by NatureServe, the IUCN and Conservation International.

Although many reptiles live in arid environments such as deserts and scrubland, most species occur in forests, where they suffer from threats such as logging and conversion of land for agriculture. The study found 30% of forest-dwelling reptiles are at risk of extinction, compared with 14% in arid habitats. The king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), for example, listed as globally ‘vulnerable’, is declining across much of its range in Asia, largely due to the loss of forest habitat.

Hunting is also a major threat to reptiles, especially turtles and crocodiles, many of which are at risk of extinction. Another major contributing factor is the introduction of invasive species.

Like birds or freshwater fish, reptiles tend to be less popular than iconic species of land mammals or marine life, but more reptile species are threatened than birds, suggesting more work is needed to protect them, said Mike Hoffmann, head of wildlife recovery at the Zoological Society of London, and one of the scientists involved with the study.

“From turtles that breathe through their genitals to chameleons the size of a chickpea and giant tortoises that can live to more than 100, they’re utterly fascinating. Our hope is that this first-ever assessment of the world’s 10,000-plus reptiles helps put them in the spotlight and goes some way to highlighting this diversity, and just how much we have to lose.”

As well as controlling rats, mosquitoes and other “pests”, reptiles deliver many other benefits. “They help disperse seeds, especially in island environments,” said Hoffmann. “We’ve also achieved many medical advances from studies of reptiles. Snake venom, for example, has resulted in critical drug discoveries, including for treating hypertension.

“The impending loss [of reptile species] could lead to wide-ranging and unforeseen impacts on our environment and our own wellbeing.”

In Australia, home to about 10% of the world’s species, reptiles face a growing number of threats. “Most of Australia’s threatened reptiles have declined due to habitat loss and predation by invasive cats and foxes,” said Nicki Mitchell from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Western Australia, who also contributed to the study.

“Climate change is an emerging threat to species confined to small fragments of habitat, as the microclimates they occupy will change and may no longer be optimal for a population to thrive.”

The study is not all doom. Scientists noted that conservation efforts to help other animals are likely to be protecting reptile species as collateral. “We found, surprisingly, that if you set out to protect places where threatened birds, mammals and amphibians live together, you’ll simultaneously protect many more threatened reptiles,” said Bruce Young, co-leader of the study, and chief zoologist and senior conservation scientist at NatureServe.

Yet reptiles also require direct, global, efforts to protect them, said Cox. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity is scheduled to convene Cop15’s second phase in Kunming, China, later this year, where governments will negotiate new targets to protect biodiversity, including reptiles.

“We need solid conservation plans, global policy agreement, and to have countries fully invest in turning around the looming biodiversity crisis if we are to prevent the ongoing extinction catastrophe,” he said.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Monarch Butterflies, Dozens of Other Species One Step Closer to Endangered Species Protections

Legal Victory Secures Decision Dates for 27 Animals, Plants Across Country, Hundreds More Still Waiting

WASHINGTON—(April 26, 2022)—In response to three lawsuits brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed today to dates for decisions on whether 18 plants and animals from across the country warrant protection as endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The Service will also consider identifying and protecting critical habitat for another nine species.

“I’m so glad these 27 species are finally getting a shot at badly needed protections and a chance to avoid extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “It’s incredibly frustrating, however, that some of these animals and plants have waited decades for help. Disturbingly, the Fish and Wildlife Service has done little to nothing to address the problems that caused these delays.”

Twenty-one of the species will see protection decisions by the end of fiscal year 2022. These include tricolored bats threatened by disease, eastern gopher tortoises threatened by Florida’s runaway sprawl, and longfin smelts in the collapsing ecosystem that is San Francisco Bay.

Western pond turtles and black-capped petrels will see decisions in fiscal year 2023. Monarch butterflies, whose population has been declined by 85% in two decades, will have to wait until fiscal year 2024, as will Bethany Beach fireflies and Las Vegas bearpoppies. The Mojave poppy bee will get a decision in 2026.

The court order addressed only a portion of the species for which the Center is seeking protection. Another 158 species, including Venus flytraps, Cascades frogs and golden-winged warblers, will continue in litigation. Roughly another 100 species are waiting for protection decisions but are not part of the litigation. Hundreds more have been identified as at risk of extinction by scientific organizations like NatureServe or IUCN yet aren’t under consideration by the Service.

The Service has taken 12 years on average to list species under the Act, but according to the law it is supposed to take two. Five of the Florida plants awaiting critical habitat and included in today’s court victory were first identified as needing the Act’s protection in 1975 but didn’t receive it until 2016 or 2017 — more than 40 years later. Even then, the Service still didn’t provide critical habitat protections at the time as required. At least 47 species have gone extinct while under consideration for endangered species protections.

“The Service’s slow, bureaucratic process for listing species has tragic consequences, like further declines, more difficult recoveries and sometimes even extinction,” said Greenwald. “This is simply unacceptable. We’re in an extinction crisis, and scientists are warning of the impending loss of more than a million species. We need a Fish and Wildlife Service that does its job and acts with urgency.”

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Phys.Org

Three critically endangered Sumatran tigers killed in Indonesia

April 25, 2022

Three critically endangered Sumatran tigers were found dead in western Indonesia on Sunday after being ensnared by traps, police said, dealing another blow to the species’ rapidly declining population.

Rampant deforestation has reduced the tigers’ natural habitat and increasing conflict with humans has left only several hundred of the endangered species remaining in the wild, according to estimates.

Two of the dead tigers were first found by local conservationists in Aceh—which sits on the the northern tip of Sumatra island—before police were alerted, conservation officials said.

Authorities found the two intact tiger carcasses next to each other with their feet ensnared by steel slings at a palm oil plantation in East Aceh district, a police statement said.

A few hours later, police found a third dead tiger about 500 metres (1,600 feet) away from where the other two tigers were discovered. Its feet were also ensnared by a sling and the body had started to rot.

“Our initial suspicion is that the tigers died after being caught by a boar trap, because when we found them their feet were ensnared by thick steel sling,” local police chief Hendra Sukmana said in a statement late on Sunday.

Officials will conduct autopsies to determine the causes of the tigers’ deaths.

“We strongly condemn this incident… if the tests reveal there’s intentional action that caused the deaths of these protected species, we will take strict action,” head of Aceh conservation agency Agus Arianto told AFP on Monday.

Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with fewer than 400 believed to remain in the wild.

Up to 10 tigers are killed yearly, according to the Indonesian forestry ministry.

Tigers are also targeted by poachers for their body parts that are widely used in traditional medicine—particularly in China—despite overwhelming scientific evidence that they have no beneficial value.

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NPR

For the first time in 4 years, a litter of red wolf pups was born in the wild

April 23, 2022, DUSTIN JONES

U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff in North Carolina welcomed a litter of six red wolf pups into the world earlier this week. It’s the first time in four years that a pair of wild red wolves — a species teetering on the brink of extinction — gave birth to a litter in the wild.

The newborn pups, four females and two males, were found in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge along the coast of northeastern North Carolina. Staff at the Red Wolf Recovery Program announced the paw-sitive news on Facebook Thursday.

“This new litter is the first wild-born litter of red wolves since 2018. This red wolf pair was formed through the combination of several management actions and the two red wolves subsequently following their natural instincts in pairing, establishing their territory and mating,” the post read. “Every generation yields a new born hope for the red wolf…a cause for joy and celebration!”

Before settlers arrived in North America, red wolves thrived throughout the Southeast U.S, from Florida to the Great Plains and the Ohio River Valley, according to national conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife. But through hunting, extermination and the expansion of cities and towns, humans drove the species to near extinction.

There were a mere 17 wolves left to save when the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973. Before 14 of the remaining 17 wolves were trapped and transferred into captivity, the handful of survivors lived across a small area of the Louisiana and Texas coast.

The remaining wolves disappeared, Fish and Wildlife said, attributed to continued human persecution and a loss of habitat. The red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980.

Just four years later, there were 63 healthy red wolves in captivity, which were being prepared to release into the wild with hopes of giving the species a second chance. As part of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, the Red Wolf Recovery Program said, more than 60 adult wolves were released into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge between 1987 and 1994.

In the following years, the wolves did what came naturally: They maintained territories, formed packs and more importantly, began to breed.

As other environmentalists marveled at the success of the Red Wolf Recovery Program, it became a model for reintroduction efforts of gray wolves, Mexican wolves, California condors and the black-footed ferret.

In 2012, the population reached a peak of 120. According to the FWS, this was the first time a large carnivore was brought back from extinction and reintroduced to the wild in the U.S.

But once again, humans threatened the handful of the surviving wolves.

Conservationists came to the wolves’ aid once again in 2012, after one red wolf after another was shot and killed, having been mistaken for a coyote, according to a Southern Environmental Law Center news release. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission had recently approved a temporary rule allowing hunters to kill coyotes, which occasionally breed with the wolves, at night in the area where red wolf was trying to make a comeback.

The population had dropped to 100 by the time a settlement was reached between environmentalists and the NCWRC. Spotlight hunting at night was outlawed and hunters were required to carry a permit for coyote hunting during daylight hours.

But the number of wolves continued to dwindle, reaching a concerning low population estimate of 17-20 in 2020 and 2021. There has been a steady decline in red wolves born in the wild from 2008, which saw 47 new wolves, to only four pups in 2018. Fish and Wildlife didn’t report a single red wolf birth in the wild in 2019, 2020 or 2021.

Which is why the recent litter of six is such exciting news to conservationists and wolf enthusiasts alike. As of today, there are an estimated 15 to 17 red wolves living in the wild. Another 241 exist in captivity. They continue to be one of the most endangered animals on the planet.

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Ventura County Star (Ventura, CA)

Southern steelhead fish get broader protection as state studies endangered species status

Cheri Carlson, Ventura County Star, April 22, 2022

The state Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously Thursday to give the Southern steelhead temporary protection under the state’s Endangered Species Act.

The decision means development in Ventura County and elsewhere along the coast may be required to take steps to lessen any impacts to the species.

On a 4-0 vote, commissioners granted a year-long protection for the native steelhead as state officials review whether the fish merits a state listing as “endangered” or threatened” with extinction.

“The information before us, certainly for me, supports a finding that listing may be warranted,” Commission President Samantha Murray said at the meeting Thursday.

In June, the nonprofit California Trout conservation group petitioned the state to put Southern steelhead on its list of endangered species. The listing could broaden protections the fish has had since 1997 as a federally designated endangered species.

Steelhead once ran by the thousands in local coastal rivers and streams and now faces possible extinction. CalTrout says the state listing would strengthen legal protection, increase opportunities for monitoring steelhead populations and potentially attract funding to help the fish.

Scientists with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife found a state listing may be warranted. The commission’s decision Thursday means the fish becomes a “candidate” species during the year-long scientific review.

During that time, the fish gets the same protections as animals and plants already listed.

Water agencies in Ventura County and elsewhere have said that protection could delay projects and potentially limit water supplies. Commissioners delayed a decision in February to allow those agencies and others time to discuss potential limited exemptions under state regulations.

Federal agencies have allowed some exemptions over the years, including for facilities that tap rivers for drinking water or agricultural use and may harm fish. Those federal exemptions, however, would not automatically apply under state law now that steelhead are a candidate species.

On Thursday, the commission voted to allow some state exemptions for emergencies. But instead of a list of exempted projects, the state will consider those that meet specific criteria.

Conditions include flood control projects, highway work that benefits public safety and essential water supply or treatment. Projects also must have valid federal authorization for the work.

Some public speakers, including those with CalTrout, opposed any exemptions while others said the waivers didn’t go far enough.

Erika Zavaleta, the commission’s vice president, said Southern steelhead likely will experience exceptional stress and mortality over the next year of the prolonged drought.

Drought limits water supply not only for people but also for fish. Steelhead start their lives in freshwater streams, migrate to the Pacific Ocean, then return to streams to reproduce. A prolonged drought can keep steelhead from reaching the ocean for years.

“It is a serious issue to sustain activities that will continue to cause mortality over this year, and we should get it right,” Zavaleta said.

Water agencies urged commissioners to consider adding restoration work to the list of possible exemptions. State officials, however, said restoration efforts have other avenues for a streamlined approval and may not be considered emergency projects.

Commissioners voted 3-1 to allow the proposed criteria for emergency exemptions. Murray voted no, saying she worried about carving out too many exceptions.

In its petition, CalTrout seeks protections for steelhead below dams and other impassable barriers in coastal rivers and streams from San Louis Obispo to Mexico.

Steelhead can get stuck behind dams that cut off access to their historic spawning grounds. The species also faces threats from climate change, pollution, wildfire and development.

Historically, thousands of adult steelhead were found in Southern California rivers. Fewer than 200 adult steelhead have been documented in the past 25 years, according to the petition.

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Associated Press

Biden order aims to protect old-growth forests from wildfire

MATTHEW DALY AND JOSH BOAK, April 22, 2022

SEATTLE (AP)—President Joe Biden is taking steps to restore national forests that have been devastated by wildfires, drought and blight, using an Earth Day visit to Seattle to sign an executive order protecting some of the nation’s largest and oldest trees.

Old-growth trees are key buffers against climate change and provide crucial carbon sinks that absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Biden’s order directs federal land managers to define and inventory mature and old-growth forests nationwide within a year. The order requires the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service to identify threats to older trees, such as wildfire and climate change, and develop policies to safeguard them.

The order does not ban logging of mature or old-growth trees, the White House said.

By signing the order on Friday, Biden can publicly reassert his environmentalist credentials at a time when his administration has been preoccupied by high oil and gasoline prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Gas costs have been a drag on Biden’s popularity and created short-term political pressures going into this year’s midterm elections, yet the Democratic president has been focused on wildfires that are intensifying because of climate change.

The measure is intended to safeguard national forests that been severely damaged by wildfires, drought and blight, including recent fires that killed thousands of giant sequoias in California. Redwood forests are among the world’s most efficient at removing and storing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and provide critical habitat for native wildlife and watersheds that supply farms and communities in the West.

Blazes so intense to kill trees once considered virtually fire-proof have alarmed land managers, environmentalists and tree lovers the world over — and demonstrated the grave impacts of climate change. A warming planet that has created longer and hotter droughts, combined with a century of fire suppression that choked forests with thick undergrowth, has fueled flames that extinguished trees dating to ancient civilizations.

A senior administration official noted that forests absorb more than 10% of U.S. annual greenhouse gases, while also providing flood control, clean water, clear air and a home to wildlife. The official insisted on anonymity to discuss details of Biden’s order before it was made public.

Biden’s ambitious climate agenda has been marred by setbacks, a year after he took office amid a flurry of climate-related promises. The president hosted a virtual summit on global warming at the White House last Earth Day. He used the moment to nearly double the United States’ goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, vaulting the country to the front lines in the fight against climate change.

A year later, his most sweeping proposals remain stalled on Capitol Hill despite renewed warnings from scientists that the world is hurtling toward a dangerous future marked by extreme heat, drought and weather.

In addition, Russia’s war in Ukraine has reshuffled the politics of climate change, leading Biden to release oil from the nation’s strategic reserve and encourage more domestic drilling in hopes of lowering sky-high gas prices that are emptying American wallets.

While Biden is raising fuel economy standards for vehicles and included green policies in last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, the lack of greater progress casts a shadow over his second Earth Day as president.

Timber industry representative Nick Smith said before the order was made public that loggers are worried it will add more bureaucracy to a forest management framework already unable to keep up with growing wildfires due to climate change.

That would undercut the Biden administration’s goal of doubling the amount of logging and controlled burns over the next decade to thin forests in the tinder-dry West, said Smith, a spokesman for the American Forest Resource Council, an Oregon-based industry group.

“The federal government has an urgent need to reduce massive greenhouse gas emissions from severe wildfires, which can only be accomplished by actively managing our unhealthy and overstocked federal forests,” he said.

But former U.S. Forest Service Deputy Chief Jim Furnish said wildfire risks and climate change would be better addressed by removing smaller trees that can fuel uncontrolled blazes, while leaving mature trees in place.

For many years the Forest Service allowed older trees that are worth more to be logged, to bring in money for removal of smaller trees, Furnish said. But that’s no longer necessary after Congress approved more than $5 billion to reduce wildfire risks in last year’s infrastructure bill, he said. The law includes money to hire 1,500 firefighters and ensure they earn at least $15 an hour.

Timber sales from federal forests nationwide more than doubled over the past 20 years, as Republicans and Democrats have pushed more aggressive thinning of stands to reduce small trees and vegetation that fuel wildfires.

Critics, including many forest scientists, say officials are allowing removal of too many older trees that can withstand fire.

A letter signed by 135 scientists called on Biden to protect mature and old-growth forests as a critical climate solution.

“Older forests provide the most above-ground carbon storage potential on Earth, with mature forests and larger trees driving most accumulation of forest carbon in the critical next few decades. Left vulnerable to logging, though, they cannot fulfill these vital functions,” the scientists wrote Thursday. Former Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck and Norman Christensen, founding dean and professor emeritus at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, were among those signing the letter.

Protecting mature forests also “would set an important, highly visible example for other major forest-holding nations to follow as they address climate change threats,” the scientists wrote.

Associated Press writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this story.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Rare Parasitic Bumblebees That Play Critical Role in Keeping Other Bee Populations Diverse, Robust

TUCSON, Ariz.— (April 21, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

These unique parasitic pollinators were once common in prairies, meadows and grasslands across the western United States and Canada but have declined by more than 78%. The last sighting of the bees was in Oregon in 2017. Over the past two decades, a few scattered individuals have been spotted in California, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.

“Protecting these parasitic bees may seem strange, but parasites play an irreplaceable role in keeping other bee populations healthy,” said Jess Tyler, a staff scientist at the Center and a petition co-author. “Imperiled insects like Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees deserve the same rigorous protection consideration we give to mammals and fish. When we fail to aggressively prevent the extinction of small creatures, we create huge ecological ripple effects that end up harming many other species.”

Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees are threatened by declines in their host species, habitat degradation, overgrazing, pesticide use and climate change.

“The fundamental purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to preserve imperiled species,” said Kylah Staley, a legal fellow at the Center. “Delays in providing Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees the protections they need to survive undermines our laws protecting endangered wildlife.”

In April 2020 the Center petitioned to protect Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees. The deadline for the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a final listing decision was April 2021; today’s lawsuit seeks to require the Service to complete its legally required review.

Background

The decline of Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees is part of a troubling downward trend in many of the 46 species of bumblebees and approximately 3,600 species of native bees in the United States that are needed to pollinate wild plants. The generalist pollinator is among a rare group of parasitic cuckoo bumblebees that play important regulatory roles in bumblebee communities and ecosystems.

While their specific methods remain unknown, female Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees must fight or sneak into a host colony, then kill or subdue the host queen. The cuckoo bee then lays her own eggs and controls the workers to continue collecting pollen and nectar to feed her offspring.

The survival of Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees is dependent on the welfare of their primary host, western bumblebees, who have declined by 93%. The Center is also working to obtain Endangered Species Act protection for western bumblebees.

Today’s legal complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.

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Public News Service

CO Lawmakers Raise Awareness About Biodiversity Crisis, Possible Solutions

Lily Bohlke, Producer, April 21, 2022

Advocates for endangered species and wildlife are raising awareness about the biodiversity crisis the nation is facing, and approaches for addressing it.

This Earth Month, Colorado state lawmakers took the opportunity to highlight how important biodiversity is in the Centennial State. State Rep. Alex Valdez – D-Denver – was one of them, and he noted that 74 species native to Colorado are endangered or threatened.

And he added that the state is home to more than 900 species of native bees, as well as hundreds of butterflies and 11 species of migratory hummingbirds.

“We have a pollinator crisis, but pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food you take,” said Valdez. “About a half a trillion dollars of global crops are at risk from a pollinator crisis.”

Valdez added that three quarters of terrestrial and two thirds of marine environments in Colorado have been altered beyond repair.

State lawmakers across the nation have signed a letter in support of a resolution in Congress calling for a National Biodiversity Strategy, introduced by U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse – D-Lafayette. It would guide and mobilize a coordinated response to the crisis.

Robert Dewey, vice president for government relations with Defenders of Wildlife, noted there are five main causes of biodiversity loss: climate change, habitat loss, pollution, the threat of invasive species and the direct over-exploitation of wildlife – such as commercial overfishing, for instance.

He cited a study that predicts a million species are at risk of going extinct in the coming decades. He said dealing with it via a national strategy makes sense.

“This is not something unheard of,” said Dewey. “In fact, today, 193 countries around the world have some form of national biodiversity strategy. And yet the U.S. lacks one.”

He added that in addition to lawmakers, more than 120 organizations are calling for the establishment of a National Biodiversity Strategy as well as leading scientists.

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Newsweek

Biggest Elephant in Botswana Killed by Trophy Hunters for 8ft Tusks

Robyn White, April 19, 2022

The biggest elephant in Botswana has been killed by trophy hunters for its near 8-foot-long tusks.

The elephant had been carrying 200 pounds of ivory in its tusks, and was the largest to be hunted in the country since 1996, according to Wildlife At Risk International.

The trophy hunter had traveled to Botswana and paid $50,000 to partake in the hunt along Botswana’s northern border, The Times reported.

Photographs of the trophy hunter standing next to the ginormous tusks have sparked debate on social media.

African elephants are an endangered species and Botswana has one of the largest populations. According to National Geographic, there are around 130,000 elephants in the country and this accounts for a third of the remaining population in Africa.

In recent years, poaching for ivory has been on the rise. Ivory is typically used to make figurines, ornaments and other trinkets. It has high demand in China and is mainly seen as a status symbol.

Former Botswana president Ian Khama imposed a trophy hunting ban across the country in 2014 to better protect the nation’s wildlife. However, this ban was scrapped in 2019 by Khama’s successor, Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Masisi lifted the ban in an attempt to manage human-wildlife conflicts. In some areas, elephants can prove problematic to local people by damaging crops and infrastructure. Large bulls in particular can also pose a danger to human life if they stray too close to populated areas.

Khama said on his Facebook page that the dead tusker elephant had been an “iconic attraction” for tourists in the country.

“How does it being dead benefit our declining tourism due to poor policies. Our tourism is wildlife based,” he said. “No wildlife means no tourism, no tourists no jobs, and no revenue stream. Incompetence and poor leadership have almost wiped out the rhino population, and now this!”

Blood Origins, a non-profit in favor of the hunting industry, posted details of the hunt on its Facebook page. The group claims the elephant was killed in line with Botswana’s “elephant management plan,” a government initiative that aims to manage the country’s population.

The page slammed the former president’s comment that the elephant had been a tourist attraction as “there are no ecotourism operators” in this area.

“Elephant populations are at their highest level and have stabilized in Botswana. Hunting is NOT a population control measure. Hunting is a mechanism to relieve small amounts of human wildlife conflict and provide meat and income into areas that likely have very little of both,” the Facebook post said.

The location the hunt took place is considered a “fear zone” for elephants, according to Africa Geographic CEO, Simon Espley.

“The surgical removal of Africa’s remaining large-tusked elephants by trophy hunters will not solve any human-elephant conflict or habitat issues,” Espley said in a statement.

“The volume of elephants hunted is not sufficient to reduce elephant populations. Instead, the likely result of the selection of large-tusked elephants as trophies will be to hasten the disappearance of tuskers from the African landscape.”

The tusks of elephants (in African elephants they can be found on both males and females) are elongated incisor teeth, with one third hidden from view and embedded in the elephant’s head. African elephant tusks are mainly used for protection, digging, lifting objects, and gathering food.

According to travel company Safari Ventures, African elephant tusks can range from 1.5-2.5 meters in length (males tend to have larger ones), and weight around 23-45 kg each.

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EcoWatch

Colorado River Tops List of Ten ‘Most Endangered’ Rivers in U.S.

 Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, April 19, 2022

Water is the lifeblood of existence and rivers are the veins that carry it, connecting organisms, minerals and species across the globe. Rivers provide habitat, help drain rainwater, replenish groundwater, instill in us a feeling of ancient connectedness to our planet and are the source of drinking water for two-thirds of U.S. residents.

American Rivers, a nonprofit conservation organization, has put together a list of the top rivers it considers the most endangered in the U.S., and the Colorado River — called the Grand River until 1921 and responsible for carving out the Grand Canyon — was named the most endangered. The Colorado River provides irrigation for five million acres of land used for farming and ranching, and drinking water to more than 40 million inhabitants in seven Southwestern States and northern parts of Mexico.

Water management of the Colorado River is outdated, and the historic overallocation of the amount of water the river has to offer, coupled with increasing temperatures and drought due to the climate crisis, has made the situation worse.

“This is a river in crisis because of climate change,” director of the American Rivers Colorado Basin programs Matt Rice said, as CNN reported. “This is not the same river it was two years ago, three years ago or five years ago. We need to learn to live with the river that we have, and we need to implement solutions to allow us to do so.”

A water shortage on the Colorado River was declared by the federal government last year, which caused mandatory water use reductions.

“[O]verestimations of the river’s bounty when the Colorado River Water Compact was ratified back in 1922 established a bank account destined to be permanently overdrawn. Following decades of wasteful water management policies and practices, demand on the river’s water now exceeds its supply, and storage levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead are critically low,” the American Rivers website states.

According to the American Rivers report, the flow of the Colorado River will be reduced by an additional ten to 30 percent by 2050 due to the climate crisis, CNN reported. If it were a country, the Colorado River basin would be the world’s seventh largest economy, the report said.

The report noted that, despite the water rights that many Tribal Nations hold to water in the Colorado River, their water infrastructure is still lacking, reported The Hill.

“The seven basin states and the Biden administration must work with Tribal Nations and Mexico to act urgently,” said Rice, as The Hill reported. “Failure is simply not an option, given all that depends on a healthy Colorado River.”

Other rivers on the top ten list include Idaho’s Snake River, which originates in Wyoming and runs along the Oregon-Idaho border into Washington State; the mighty Mississippi, the second-longest river in the U.S. after the Missouri River; and the Los Angeles River, which is threatened by development and pollution, reported CNN.

“The climate crisis is really a water crisis, and ground zero for that crisis is the Colorado River Basin,” Rice said to CNN. “We are being pushed in realtime to live with the river we have, to adapt to a hotter, drier reality in the Colorado River.”

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Honolulu Civil Beat

Lawsuit Leads To Critical Habitats For Endangered Species In The Pacific

The Pacific sheath-tailed bat and the Guam tree snail are among the species that will benefit from the settlement.

By Anita Hofschneider, April 19, 2022

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will designate critical habitats for 23 endangered species in the Pacific thanks to a legal settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The nonprofit environmental advocacy group filed the settlement Tuesday on Guam, concluding the lawsuit that it filed against the federal agency last year.

Species that will benefit from the settlement include the Pacific sheath-tailed bat, the Guam tree snail and Bulbophyllum guamense, an orchid with greenish-yellow flowers.

Maxx Phillips, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Honolulu office, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated nearly two dozen species in the Micronesian region as endangered or threatened in 2015, but blew past a 2016 deadline to designate critical habitats for the animals and plants.

“Unique Pacific island species like the Marianas eight-spot butterfly needed habitat protection years ago,” she said, adding that federal agencies including the military have been responsible for habitat loss. “Our nation really has a duty to protect the natural heritage of special places and these species that are found nowhere else on this earth.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Honolulu didn’t reply to requests for comment on Monday.

Under the settlement, the agency must submit a proposed rule to the Federal Register by June 26, 2025. That will open up a public comment period and allow people to weigh in on the proposed critical habitats before they’re finalized, Phillips said.

She said the multiyear wait to designate the habitat takes into account the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s limited funding and resources.

The settlement also includes the Marianas eight-spot butterfly, which used to be found on both Saipan and Guam but now is only found on Guam, she said. One of its homes is the National Wildlife Refuge in northern Guam, which is slated to be used as a surface danger zone for a machine-gun range in the neighboring Anderson Air Force Base.

That plan is part of the reason the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was concerned about several of the plants and animals back in 2015.

“We consider the threat from ordnance and live-fire training to be a serious and ongoing threat for four plant and three animal species addressed in this final rule,” the agency wrote in the Federal Register in 2015, noting “direct damage to individual plants and animals may be fatal, or cause enough damage to render them more vulnerable to other threats.”

The butterfly isn’t the only creature at risk —  the animals referenced also include a type of lizard called Slevin’s skink and the humped tree snail.

That’s worrisome to Julian Aguon, an attorney with Blue Ocean Law on Guam who worked with the Center for Biological Diversity on the case. He said the settlement is just one part of a long-term effort to protect Guam’s environment against destruction from military training.

“It’s the time to stand up for these creatures. It’s really now or never. It’s not enough and we need to keep doing more,” he said. “You can’t cut and paste a butterfly out of its habitat.”

He recalled how the U.S. military got an exception to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to continue bombing practice on Farallon de Medinilla, an island in the northern part of the Marianas chain, despite the presence of migratory birds that would’ve been protected elsewhere.

Normally, federal wildlife refuges can’t be surface danger zones for military training ranges but Congress made an exception for this on Guam to allow the new machine gun range to proceed.

“This is just one step along the road, there are just so many more steps we have to take,” he said.

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EcoWatch

Are Western Joshua Trees a Threatened Species? California State Biologists and Environmental Advocates Disagree

Olivia Rosane, April 18, 2022

With their branches reaching up like knobby arms with tufts for fists, western Joshua trees are an iconic part of the California desert ecosystem, and environmental advocates want to make sure they stay that way in the face of development and the climate crisis.

To that end, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a petition in 2019 to grant the trees protections under the California Endangered Species Act as a threatened species. But, on Wednesday, Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists argued that the trees were not imperiled enough to qualify.

“While the Department recognizes the threats faced by the species, and the evidence presented in favor of the petitioned action, the scientific evidence that is currently possessed by the Department does not demonstrate that populations of the species are negatively trending in a way that would lead the Department to believe that the species is likely to be in serious danger of becoming extinct throughout all or a significant portion of its range in the foreseeable future,” the report authors concluded.

The western Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) is one of two species of Joshua tree that lives in the California desert, according to CBD. Currently, the trees are “relatively widespread and abundant” in the state, the department wrote. However, environmental advocates are concerned that this will not always be the case. A 2019 study found that Joshua Tree National Park would lose almost all of its namesake trees by the end of the century if nothing is done about the climate crisis. Warmer temperatures have already forced the trees to migrate towards higher elevations in the park, and trees in the warmer, lower areas are reproducing less. Currently, the western Joshua tree’s entire range is experiencing severe drought, the Los Angeles Times reported. Further, advocates are worried that desert development, including for renewable energy, will put additional pressure on the species.

“We should take care of these trees now, before we have fewer options to work with,” California State University Northridge evolutionary geneticist Jeremy Yoder told the Los Angeles Times.

After CBD filed its petition in 2019, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to grant the trees candidate status in 2020, meaning that they were legally protected while their status was reviewed, CBD explained. This made it illegal to kill a Joshua tree without a permit.

“California wildlife officials just proposed open season on Joshua trees,” CBD conservation director Brendan Cummings, who lives in Joshua Tree, said in a CBD press release. “Before state protections took effect, developers were bulldozing these beautiful, fragile trees by the thousands to build roads, warehouses, power plants, strip malls and vacation rentals. If Joshua trees are to have any hope of surviving in a warming world, we have to stop the widespread killing of them.”

The department’s decision does not necessarily mean the trees don’t have a chance to retain these protections. Instead, the commission will review their advice and issue a final decision by June.

However, the Los Angeles Times pointed out that the state of California has never protected a species purely based on the threat of the climate crisis. Only one species has gained protections on a federal level for this reason – the polar bear.

“The state’s upcoming decision on protecting Joshua trees is a litmus test that will show whether its climate leadership is real or just empty rhetoric,” Cummings said in the release.

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Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

Human killing of endangered Mexican wolves addressed in revised federal plan

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus, April 18, 2022

Mexican gray wolves were long feared as a danger to livestock in southern New Mexico, even as their populations dwindled and the animal neared extinction.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported 14 illegally killed wolves in 2020, with six dying in vehicle collisions. The rest were likely shot by people.

About 74 percent of documented Mexican wolf deaths between 1998 and 2020 were blamed on human causes, records show, 119 of 216 deaths.

Those deaths were the focus of federal efforts to restore the wolf to its historic range and population, after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday it was revising its Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan first developed in 2017, to increase efforts to mitigate killings by people.

A draft of the altered plan was released Thursday, initiating a 30-day public comment period where landowners and other stakeholders can submit feedback to the agency.

Brady McGee, Mexican wolf recovery coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the plan was intend address human threats to the animal.

“Mexican wolves continue to make progress toward their recovery goals here in the U.S., but human-caused mortality continues to be a concern as it could hinder future population growth,” he said.

“Addressing this threat will require the support of our partners, law enforcement and members of the public.”

The draft included actions to address human wolf killing, including illegal killings, and maintain previous recovery criteria.

It proposed public outreach in wolf-occupied areas, seeking to improve awareness of wolf recovery efforts among ranchers, hunters and other land users and owners.

The plan could also increase law enforcement in areas known for high mortality rates, strengthening investigations into unlawful deaths.

And it would entail adding road enhancements to increase the wolf’s ability to cross roadways without being hit by cars.

“It is our intention that the actions we have added to the draft revised recovery plan will help alleviate the threat of excessive human-caused mortality, including illegal killing,” read the proposal.

“We will adapt our implementation of recovery actions over time to address sources of human-caused mortality, as we assess population performance, the contribution of specific sources to overall mortality levels, the availability of resources needed for implementation of specific actions, and other considerations.”

Feds seek input on wolf plan revisions

After the revised plan was published on April 14, comments will be accepted for 30 days until May 14, and a final plan will be published six months later Oct. 14, per the court order.

Those who wished to participate in the process were able to submit comments online at regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2022-0018.

“We encourage the public, federal and state agencies, tribes, and other stakeholders to review the proposal and provide comments,” read a news release from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wolf recovery draw criticism from environmentalists

Recent data from the agency showed 196 wolves living in New Mexico and Arizona, and 35 surviving in Mexico of the species that once numbered in the thousands across the American West.

It was listed as endangered in 1976, beginning decades of controversy as human killings continued and conservations sought increased protections.

The Center for Biological Diversity estimated 119 wolves were killed illegally since 1998, including 25 dead last year.

Michael Robinson, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity based in Silver City said the federal government must take action through the revised plan.

This plan has to recognize that each wolf-killing is a tragedy for the victim, pack members, and the endangered Mexican gray wolf subspecies that so many people have dedicated themselves to saving from extinction,” he said. “I hope the government will finally take resolute action.”

Robinson said the Fish and Wildlife Service must work to increase “tolerance” of wolves among local landowners and communities to fully protect them from extinction.

“The recovery plan revision process must logically connect federal actions to the broader goal of saving these endangered animals,” he said.

The proposed revisions were the result of a 2018 lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and an October 2021 court ruling calling on the agency to adjust its plans to account for human killings.

Robinson said the practice of using radio receivers by landowners to locate wolves based on their tags should be banned, pointing to “at least” two people using such devices before pleading guilty to illegal kills.

“Urging tolerance for wolves while giving wolf-killers the tools to locate them doesn’t sound cutting edge and innovative anymore,” he said.

In March, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, noted in the plan as a partnering agency with the Fish and Wildlife Service, reported the wolf’s population grew by 5 percent in 2021, credited to federal and state recovery efforts.

That agency reported the numbers grew by 14 percent the year before, and drew criticism from conservationists for the slower growth rate.

Patricia Estrella, New Mexico representative with Defenders of the Wildlife said more actions should be taken to curb illegal deaths, expand wolf habitat and improve breeding programs.

“The increase in the number of Mexican gray wolves is encouraging, but there is still significant work to be done to save this critically endangered subspecies,” she said.

“Continuing to improve conservation efforts to reduce illegal mortalities, expand areas where the wolves are allowed to roam and address the genetic problems this species faces will help the population continue to rebound.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Legal Victory Secures Habitat Protection for 23 Imperiled Micronesian Species

HAGÅTÑA, Guam—(April 18, 2022)—Following a successful legal challenge by the Center for Biological Diversity and Blue Ocean Law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must now identify and protect critical habitat for 23 endangered and threatened species located throughout greater Micronesia. The Service now has to act on critical habitat for these nine rare animals and 14 plants by June 26, 2025.

“I’m relieved these 23 beautiful Pacific Island species found nowhere else on Earth will finally get badly needed habitat protections,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawai‘i director and a staff attorney at the Center. “This is a big win, as endangered and threatened species with federally protected critical habitat are twice as likely to recover as those without such protections. Safeguarding the places these unique plants and animals require for survival is crucial in our fight against the extinction crisis.”

Found on Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia, the 23 species are threatened by habitat loss due to agricultural and urban sprawl, military expansion and training, invasive species and climate change.

The unique species, including tiny sac-winged bats, bright orange and yellow tree snails, and beautiful eight-spot butterflies, are also vulnerable because of small population sizes, invasive species and limited range. Several of the species on Guam and other islands in the northern Marianas are severely threatened by military expansion related to the relocation of 5,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the 23 species in 2015. But the agency failed to designate critical habitat for them, as required under the Endangered Species Act. Today’s agreement resolves a lawsuit filed by the Center in 2021, when habitat protections were more than five years overdue.

“With everything going on right now with the military buildup, we are in danger of losing important parts of our culture. We are the people of the land and so when our native plants and animals thrive, we thrive,” said Frances Meno, a local yo’åmte, or traditional healer. “There is no future without them.”

While listing a species as endangered or threatened is the first step in ensuring its survival and recovery, designating critical habitat is a necessary second step. That helps prevent federal actions that destroy or harm areas plants and animals need to survive — and helps conserve what remains of a species’ limited native range.

“Without critical habitat designations, native species like the Mariana eight-spot butterfly, which exists only in the Marianas Islands, would be lost, and along with them irretrievable aspects of our Indigenous ecosystem and culture,” said attorney Julian Aguon of Blue Ocean Law. “As Indigenous peoples, we stand up for our other-than-human relatives.”

Background

Pacific sheath-tailed bat: This tiny insectivorous, sac-winged bat has already been wiped out on Guam and the island of Vanuatu. Across its remaining range, the bat is threatened by habitat destruction from nonnative species, development, military training, urbanization, typhoons and climate change.

Slevin’s skink: Also known as the Mariana skink, this social creature has already been eliminated from Guam. The rest of the skink’s range is also threatened by habitat destruction from nonnative species, development, military training, urbanization, typhoons and climate change. Military training puts the skink at risk of direct harm from live-fire training exercises.

Mariana eight-spot butterfly: Native to Guam and Saipan, the butterfly is no longer found on Saipan. It is reliant on two host plant species, one of which is used as a native medicinal plant to treat various ailments. In addition to being threatened by parasitic wasps, the butterfly’s habitat is similarly threatened by nonnative species, development, military training, urbanization, typhoons and climate change.

Guam tree snail: Found only in Guam, this once-common, air-breathing snail is now endangered. In addition to the common habitat threats listed above, the Guam tree snail is threatened by fire and overcollection for commercial and recreational purposes.

Bulbophyllum guamense: Part of the Guam Plant Extinction Prevention Program, this orchid has a greenish-yellow flower that smells faintly of carrion. In the past the plant occurred in common large mat-like formations on trees. However, in addition to habitat-based threats, the orchid is being hurt by predation from non-native slugs.

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Pahrump Valley Times (Pahrump, NV)

Threatened Devils Hole pupfish are making a comeback

By Brent Schanding, Pahrump Valley Times, April 16, 2022

Biologists say populations for one of the world’s rarest fish are increasing.

Scientists recently counted 175 Devils Hole pupfish — the most they’ve observed in a spring count in 22 years. They’ve been tracking populations of the rare Devils Hole pupfish, which live in the upper 80 feet of a deep water-filled cavern and sun-lit shallow pool in Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge just west of Pahrump, for 50 years.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nevada Department of Wildlife and National Park Service have been managing this critically endangered species to ensure their survival.

Scientists typically perform deep dives to count fish in the cavern, starting at depths below 100 feet. Others handcount visible fish near the surface to keep track of populations.

Before the 1990s, the pupfish population was around 200, according to scientists, who noted declines of the fish in the past two decades when only about 90 remained each spring.

Nine years ago, fish populations hit an all-time low when only 35 pupfish were counted.

The rebound of the bright blue fish could signal important changes in the ecosystem, according to Kevin Wilson, aquatic ecologist for Death Valley National Park, who manages resources of Devils Hole.

“Such shifts highlight the importance of maintaining long-term data as we work to find out what’s changed,” he said in a release from park officials.

Scientists noted the fish appeared in remarkable condition and were very active.

“It’s exciting to see this shift, because if persistent, it allows more opportunity for study and to explore new management options,” said Michael Schwemm, senior fish biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a release from park officials.

The next pupfish count occurs next fall.

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Science Daily (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

US Nationwide maps of bird species can help protect biodiversity

(April 15, 2022)–Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison developed the maps at a fine-enough resolution to help conservation managers focus their efforts where they are most likely to help birds — in individual counties or forests, rather than across whole states or regions.

The maps span the contiguous U.S. and predict the diversity of birds that live in a given area, related by traits such as nesting on the ground or being endangered. Those predictions are based on both detailed observations of birds and environmental factors that affect bird ranges, such as the degree of forest cover or temperature in an area.

“With these maps, managers have a tool they didn’t have before that allows them to get both a broad perspective as well as information at the level of detail that’s necessary for their action plans,” says Anna Pidgeon, a professor of forest and wildlife ecology at UW-Madison who helped lead the development of the maps.

Pidgeon worked with UW-Madison professor Volker Radeloff, postdoctoral researcher and lead author Kathleen Carroll and others to publish the research and the final maps April 11 in the journal Ecological Applications. The maps are available for public download from the open-access website Dryad.

The research was designed to address two outstanding problems in conservation.

“Across the world we’re seeing huge species losses. In North America, 3 billion birds have been lost since 1970. This is across virtually all habitat types,” says Carroll. “And we’re seeing a disconnect between what scientists produce for conservation and how that translates to boots-on-the-ground management.”

Many resources previously available to conservation managers, such as species range maps, are both at too broad of a scale to be useful and not rigorously tested for accuracy.

To overcome those challenges, Carroll and her team wanted to develop data-driven maps of existing bird biodiversity. They produced the maps by extrapolating observations of birds from scientific surveys to mile-by-mile predictions of where different species really live. Those predictions were based on factors including rainfall, the degree of forest cover and the extent of human influence on the environment, such as the presence of cities or farms.

To improve the predictive power of their maps, the scientists clustered individual species by behavior, habitat, diet, or conservation status — such as fruit eaters or forest dwellers. These groups are called guilds. Many conservation decisions happen at the guild level, rather than at the level of species. Guilds can also make up for limited information on the most endangered species.

The final maps cover 19 different guilds at resolutions of 0.5, 2.5 and 5 kilometers. While the finest-grained maps were not as accurate, the 2.5-kilometer-resolution maps provided a good balance of accuracy and usefulness for realistic conservation needs, say the scientists. At the 5-kilometer resolution, the maps provide the greatest accuracy and are useful to conservationists operating across large areas.

“We see this being really applicable for things like forest management action plans for the U.S. Forest Service,” says Carroll. “They can pull up these maps for a group of interest, and they can get a very clear indication of what areas where they might want to limit human use.”

The maps may also help private land conservancies decide where to prioritize limited resources to maximize biodiversity protections.

Carroll is now working to extend the analysis down to individual species, rather than guilds made up of multiple species. The increased level of detail could help specialist conservation managers improve their work, especially those aiming to protect a single species.

This work was supported in part by the U.S. Geological Survey Landsat Science Team (grants G17PS00256) and the NASA Biodiversity and Ecological Forecasting Program (grant 20-BIODIV20-00460.

(Story Source: Materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison. Original written by Eric Hamilton.)

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EcoWatch

Climate Crisis Could Threaten More Than Half of Cactus Species With Extinction

 Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, April 15, 2022

The iconic saguaro cactus of the American Southwest may evince an image of a lonely figure in the desert, cylindrical arms stretched out and upward toward the sky in a friendly and somewhat lonely wave. But there are many other species of cactus — more than 1,500 — and not all of them thrive in arid conditions; some live in the mountains, coastal areas and even in tropical rainforests.

A team of researchers at the University of Arizona hypothesized that, since cacti adapt well to dry and hot conditions, they might thrive in the increasingly warmer climates that some regions are experiencing due to the climate crisis.

Their new study, “Elevated extinction risk of cacti under climate change,” considered how three different global warming scenarios could affect the range of 408 species of cactus, reported The New York Times. The researchers found that global warming could mean a higher risk of extinction for 60 percent of cactus species by the middle of the century. The study was published in the journal Nature Plants.

According to University of Arizona doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology Michiel Pillet, who led the study, the study did not consider extreme climate events like wildfires and droughts.

Pillet said that most species of cactus are “in some way” used to the environments and climates in which they live. “Even a slight change may be too much for them to adapt over shorter time scales,” Pillet said, as The New York Times reported.

And, even though many species of cacti can survive for long periods without rain because of their ability to store water in their stems and leaves, they do need water to survive.

“Cacti cannot survive indefinitely without water. Test[s] conducted on cacti demonstrate that after four weeks without water underwatering signs such as 1) shrinking, 2) discoloration, 3) wilting/leaves curling, and 4) dead brittle roots will appear. Cacti can survive without water from a few weeks to a few years,” Your Indoor Herbs and Garden explained.

Florida, parts of Brazil and central Mexico were some of the regions predicted by the study to have the most species at risk, reported 12News. However, the iconic saguaro cactus of Arizona is expected to be less threatened.

Even modest global warming could decrease the amount of hospitable territory for many species of cactus, Pillet said, as The New York Times reported.

“Species either adapt or they will go extinct,” said biodiversity researcher at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research Arnóbio de Mendonça, who was not part of the study, as reported by The New York Times. “As adaptation is a slow process and current climate change is occurring rapidly, it is likely that many species will be lost.”

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EcoWatch

What Is the Greenest State in the Nation?

 Olivia Rosane, April 15, 2022

What is the greenest state in the nation?

Financial advising website WalletHub has released a new report ranking U.S. states based on how well they take care of their environment.

“We should all try to do our part to save the world for future generations,” WalletHub wrote. “In order to highlight the greenest states and call out those doing a poor job of caring for the environment, WalletHub compared each of the 50 states on 25 key metrics.”

The report ranked the states according to three different categories: environmental quality, eco-friendly behaviors and climate-change contributions. To judge environmental quality the report looked at air quality, water quality, soil quality and energy efficiency. Eco-friendly behaviors included metrics like green buildings per capita, energy consumption per capita and gasoline consumption per capita. Climate-change contributions were based on carbon-dioxide emissions per capita, methane emissions per capita, nitrous-oxide emissions per capita and fluorinated greenhouse-gas emissions per capita.

Vermont took the lead as the most environmentally friendly state overall, followed by New York and Hawaii. On the other end of the spectrum, West Virginia came in last, preceded by Louisiana and Mississippi.

The entire top ten list is as follows, according to The Hill:

  1. Vermont
  2. New York
  3. Hawaii
  4. Maryland
  5. California
  6. Massachusetts
  7. Minnesota
  8. Connecticut
  9. South Dakota
  10. Maine

The nation’s most environmentally-friendly states are similar to the states selected by WalletHub in 2021, as U.S. News and World Report said at the time. Vermont and New York remained in the No. 1 and 2 slots. However, Massachusetts was third. Washington and Oregon appeared in the top ten last year, but were swapped out with Maine and South Dakota this year.

Another ranking from ConsumerAffairs put Washington, Oregon, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine in the top five slots. This list, released in February, was based on greenhouse gas emissions; waste, recycling and compost; and energy generation from renewables and nuclear. West Virginia took the bottom slot in this list as well.

The WalletHub report also ranked the states on individual metrics. For example, Wyoming had the best air quality in the nation, Oregon and Maine tied for the highest renewable energy consumption and New York had the lowest gasoline consumption per capita. California had the worst air quality in the nation, while Delaware had the lowest renewable energy consumption and Mississippi had the highest gas consumption per capita.

WalletHub is above all a financial advice website, and the report emphasized the fact that financial and ecological health can go hand in hand. It pointed out that 2021 was the third most expensive year on record in the U.S. in terms of damages from extreme weather events.

“It’s possible that living more sustainably and using greener energy sources could prevent us from having quite as bad hurricane seasons in the future – and saving a lot of money in repairs as a result,” WalletHub said.

The report also included the testimony of experts who weighed in on the relationship between the economy and the environment, and what individuals could do to make a difference.

“[I]t it is important to think of sustainable development which encompasses the Triple Bottomline, i.e. the three P’s (people, planet, and profits). A green economy is good not just for the environment, but it creates working and living conditions that allow people to thrive while corporations make equal or more profit on the same level of investment. We have been duped into believing a false dichotomy. There are many ways of incorporating green development in ways that improve the lives of the people who live and work in that economy while protecting the planet and investors,” Stockton University professor of environmental science, geology and sustainability Dr. Tait Chirenje said.

The report also found that political decisions made a difference. Blue states were on average more eco-friendly than red states, having a score of 15.24 compared to 35.76. (The greener the state, the lower the score.) This means that political participation is an important part of individual climate action.

“There are many ways individuals can help protect the environment, from recycling to home insulation to using public transportation more often. But the single most powerful way to protect the environment is our vote,” Presidential Climate Action Project executive director William Becker said in the report. “We need to elect legislators, congressional members, governors, and presidents who understand the importance of a healthy natural environment and who champion public policies that protect our forests, rivers, oceans, wilderness, soils, and biodiversity.”

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CBS News

Stranded dolphin dies after beachgoers try to “ride” it, rescuers say

Stephen Smith, April 15, 2022

An ailing dolphin stranded on a Texas beach died after a crowd of people harassed the mammal and tried to “ride” it, rescue officials said.

On Sunday, beachgoers found the sick dolphin on Quintana Beach, pushed it back out to sea and tried “to swim with and ride the animal,” the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network said in a Facebook post.

The female dolphin was ultimately stranded again on the beach where she was harassed by a crowd of people, the network said in the post, along with two images of the stranded dolphin.

“This type of harassment causes undue stress to wild dolphins, is dangerous for the people who interact with them and is illegal — punishable by fines and jail time if convicted,” the group said.

Last year, NOAA Fisheries said it had observed “continued incidents of inappropriate and illegal interactions” with another dolphin near North Padre Island.

In a separate incident this week in Florida, NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement asked the public for information about a bottlenose dolphin found dead on Fort Myers Beach. A necropsy revealed the dolphin was impaled in the head with a spear-like object while alive.

“Based on the shape, size and characteristics of the wound, it is suspected that the dolphin was impaled while  in a begging position,” NOAA said in a statement. “Begging is not a natural behavior for dolphins and is frequently associated with illegal feeding.”

Since 2002, at least 27 dolphins have stranded with evidence of being shot by guns or arrows, or impaled with sharp objects, the agency said. 

Harassing, harming, killing or feeding wild dolphins is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. NOAA says violations can be prosecuted civilly or criminally and are punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and up to one year in jail per violation.

The agency encourages people to observe marine mammals from a distance of at least 50 yards.

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Thousand Oaks Acorn (Agoura Hills, CA)

Group argues steelhead are endangered

April 14, 2022, By Scott Steepleton

The state Fish and Game Commission later this month will consider listing the Southern California steelhead trout as an endangered species.

Ahead of that vote, local water officials expressed concerns over how such a designation might affect Malibu Creek, already one of the most managed habitats in the state, and other area waterways.

With more than 25,000 miles of stream territory from San Luis Obispo County to Mexico at its disposal, the steelhead trout is mostly prevalent in the Santa Maria, Santa Ynez, Ventura and Santa Clara rivers.

The federal government listed the steelhead as an endangered species in 1997, but its numbers continue to dwindle with dams, urbanization and development practices that alter estuaries posing the most significant threats, according to California Trout, the organization pushing the state to list the rainbow-colored fish.

In addition to submitting the petition to get the steelhead on the state’s endangered list, California Trout is working to get the Rindge Dam south of Calabasas removed from Malibu Creek, arguing that human encroachment could render the species extinct before 2050.

A yes vote by the Fish and Game commission would trigger a one-year status review after which the board would be asked to make a final decision on whether the endangered listing is warranted.

At issue locally is the natural flow rate in Malibu Creek. In 2012, the Las Virgenes-Triunfo water district joint powers authority began adding treated recycled water from the Tapia Water Reclamation Facility to the creek to help sustain the steelhead, which can become stranded in down-canyon pools where water levels tend to drop.

The joint powers agency today injects 600 gallons of treated wastewater per minute into the Malibu Canyon stream as water continues to get soaked up by arid creek beds and vegetation.

The endangered listing by the state could trigger changes to the creek and affect its flow rate, said Joe McDermott, director of engineering and external affairs for the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District.

“We’re hopeful that that wouldn’t change,” he said.

Steelhead thrive in fresh water and the ocean, and can make several trips between the two. Locally, the trout passes into Malibu Creek when the sand berm at Surfrider Beach estuary in Malibu is open. When the berm closes in spring and when drought comes, some fish remain stranded upstream.

As the water evaporates and the pools they’re in shrink, the steelhead’s existence becomes threatened.

Staff at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife evaluated CalTrout’s request and determined the petition “provides sufficient scientific information on the trend of (Southern California) steelhead populations to indicate that the petitioned action may be warranted.”

Oxnard-based United Water Conservation District doesn’t want to see the steelhead listed. The 460-member Association of California Water Agencies also weighed in on the side of caution.

Michael Flood, general manager of Casitas Municipal Water District in Oak View, submitted a letter to the state warning that regulations brought about by the endangered species designation “will most likely delay projects, including recovery actions that are already in place or are in the advanced planning stages, as well as additional concerns regarding elements of recovery that CalTrout did not provide in their petition letter.”

Flood noted that his district along with the United States Bureau of Reclamation have been active in the recovery of steelhead in the Ventura River “by designing and operating a diversion with a state-of-the-art fish passage facility and fish passage life cycle monitoring station.”

The unprecedented drought stretching back to 2007, Flood writes, has had a significant adverse effect on the recovery of the species resulting in no change in steelhead numbers in the region.

“Would adding this species to the list,” Flood continues, “change that or provide additional, meaningful recovery actions not already included in the federal recovery plan?”

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Euronews.green

By Maeve Campbell, 14/04/2022

Freezing koala sperm could be the best way to save the endangered species from becoming extinct, according to researchers in Australia.

Scientists at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales propose setting up a biolab of collected sperm, to improve genetic diversity in koalas.

The process is called biobanking and involves freezing sex cells and tissues for use in assisted breeding. The technology is similar to what doctors use to help (human) couples struggling to conceive.

Biobanking could “future-proof” the species, the new study explains, through capturing the genetics of key populations and long-dead individuals and re-introducing them into at-risk populations.

“These tools could make quite a big impact in captive breeding programmes by reducing rates of inbreeding and boosting genetic diversity,” Dr Lachlan Howell, Honorary Associate Lecturer at the University of Newcastle told ABC Australia.

The other advantage is the cost, he says.

“Captive breeding is very expensive. It’s, on average, about $200,000 AUD (€136,000) per year for Australian species. And that might be required for decades.”

Howell explains that conservationists don’t have the resources to keep captive breeding populations for that long, which is why freezing sperm could be a cost-effective solution for their survival.

“We’ve identified 16 wildlife hospitals and zoos across Australia that could act as nodes to collect koala sperm.”

Are koalas endangered?

The IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) lists the koala as ‘potentially vulnerable’. This relatively low listing is influenced by the Australian state of Victoria’s apparently stable official Koala conservation status.

But research conducted by the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) strongly suggests that the species’ conservation status should be upgraded to ‘critically endangered’, especially in the South East Queensland bioregion.

The Queensland Minister for the Environment even declared koalas to be “functionally extinct” in 2019.

Koalas are in serious decline due to habitat destruction. They have been killed in their thousands as a result of bushfires in recent years.

But the animals also face threats from domestic dog attacks and road accidents. The Australian Koala Foundation estimates that there are less than 100,000 Koalas left in the wild, possibly as few as 43,000.

So freezing koala sperm could become a key part of a strategy to save the animals from extinction by 2050.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Temblor Legless Lizard Gets Closer to California Endangered Species Protection

Oil Drilling Imperils Rare Central California Lizard

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—(April 14, 2022)—The California Department of Fish and Wildlife today recommended that the Temblor legless lizard move toward protection under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The action came in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Temblor legless lizard is an unusual sand-swimming reptile found only in Kern and Fresno counties in the southwestern San Joaquin Valley. The survival of the species is jeopardized by extensive oil and gas drilling in its narrow range.

“I’m elated these unique lizards are closer to protection from oil industry pollution,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center. “The oil and gas industry’s rampant drilling is rapidly destroying the little remaining habitat these animals have left. The state must act quickly to protect these rare lizards before the fossil fuel industry wipes them out.”

Last November the Center petitioned the state to protect Temblor legless lizards under the California Endangered Species Act. In June California’s Fish and Game Commission will decide whether to accept the department’s recommendation and grant these imperiled lizards candidate status under state law.

A candidate designation triggers a yearlong review of whether the species should be formally protected under the state act. The species is legally protected during the review period.

The Temblor legless lizard is currently known to live at only five sites in Kern and Fresno counties, four of which are within oilfield boundaries and surrounded by extensive oil and gas development. In total, 31 oilfields overlap the lizard’s restricted range and more than 98% of its habitat is open to oil and gas development.

Oil and gas drilling threatens the Temblor legless lizard by destroying and fragmenting its habitat, compacting the soil, changing soil moisture levels, removing plant cover, and spilling oil and chemicals. Oil and produced-water spills are rampant in the lizard’s restricted range, including at least 20 surface spills in the past few years.

The Temblor legless lizard is also threatened by urban and industrial development, invasive grasses and non-native wild pigs, as well as rising temperatures and drier conditions caused by climate change.

In 2019 experts on the species recommended listing the Temblor legless lizard under both the California Endangered Species Act and federal law.

The Center petitioned for federal Endangered Species Act protection for the Temblor legless lizard in October 2020. In June 2021 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the species may qualify for protection. Last month the Center filed a lawsuit over the agency’s delay in determining whether the lizard warrants protection.

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Cronkite News – Arizona PBS (Arizona State University)  

New study shows nearly half of bald eagles affected by chronic lead poisoning

April 13, 2022, By Troy Hill, Cronkite News

PHOENIX, Arizona — A new study from the journal Science found that almost half of bald eagles and golden eagles in Arizona and 37 other states suffered from chronic lead poisoning.

The main way eagles consume lead is through their diet. Lead bullets and shot used in hunting game and varmints break apart on impact, and the carcasses are scavenged by birds of prey, who then ingest the lead.

Experts say solutions are simple: use nonlead ammunition or remove gut piles and carcasses from the field. The Arizona Game & Fish Department has a program that in certain cases allows hunters to swap their lead ammo for free.

“We’ve had 80 to 90% over the last decade of hunters in the area either switching to nonlead alternatives or removing their gut piles out of the environment,” said Kenneth “Tuk” Jacobson, the department’s raptor management coordinator.

Vince Sable, a wildlife research biologist and one of the authors of the Science study, said the poisoning is suppressing bald eagle populations by 4%, slowing the 10% growth seen over the past several years. Lead poisoning also can impair eagles’ ability to fly.

The study showed that 46% to 47% of bald and golden eagles had chronic lead poisoning and 27% to 33% of bald eagles had acute lead poisoning. The figure for chronic lead poisoning was determined by finding traces of lead in the birds’ bones, showing lower levels of exposure over long periods of time. Acute lead poisoning was determined by finding lead in the animals’ blood and feathers, which shows higher concentrations of exposure in shorter periods of time.

The condor population has suffered from the same lead poisoning, which nearly drove them to extinction, according to National Geographic.

“A lot of it is open areas where (scavengers) are feeding on carrion and carcasses that are left out,” said Jan Miller, animal care coordinator at Liberty Wildlife, an animal rehabilitation and refuge center in south Phoenix.

“Oftentimes, people will go out and varmint hunt, and they’ll do things like shoot rabbits or shoot coyotes and then leave it there with the intention of … animals can feed on it,” she said.

“The unfortunate thing is they don’t understand that the lead is going to poison the animals that are now going to eat that carcass,” said Miller.

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Reuters

US group says finds Facebook posts offering endangered wildlife for sale

SHANGHAI, April 13, 2022 (Reuters) – Facebook has become a “thriving marketplace” for illegal online wildlife trading, allowing the sale of many critically endangered species, a report by the U.S.-based campaign group Avaaz said on Wednesday.

Avaaz researchers said an investigation into the social media platform uncovered 129 posts listing endangered species that were up for sale, including baby tigers, African grey parrots and the pygmy marmoset, the world’s smallest monkey.

“Avaaz’s research shows that, on Facebook, wildlife trafficking takes place in broad daylight,” said Ruth Delbaere, senior legal campaigner with Avaaz.

“By insufficiently enforcing its own policies, Facebook is enabling an international trade that has devastating effects on biodiversity and the stability of natural ecosystems,” Delbaere added.

Facebook’s guidelines prohibit content that seeks to buy, sell, trade, donate or gift endangered species or their parts.

A spokesperson for Facebook owner Meta (FB.O) told Reuters that it was unfair to judge the company’s enforcement efforts on the basis of just 129 posts and said it has removed pages that violate its policies.

“The results don’t reflect the extensive work we’ve done to combat wildlife trafficking on Facebook,” the spokesperson said, adding that the company has introduced technology to find and remove such content, and to warn users who search for it.

“This is an adversarial space though, and the people behind this awful activity are persistent and constantly evolving their tactics to try to evade those efforts,” the spokesperson said.

Illegal wildlife trafficking has been under the spotlight amid claims that the virus that causes COVID-19 might have crossed the species barrier from bats to humans via China’s extensive animal trading network.

Since early 2020, China has sought to crack down on the trading of all kinds of wildlife for food.

China’s Supreme Court also issued new guidelines last week saying legal efforts to combat trafficking should cover the entire criminal supply chain, from poaching to processing.

(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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The Guardian

Back from the dead? Elusive ivory-billed woodpecker not extinct, researchers say

An expedition to the forests of Louisiana say extinction of bird, last definitively seen in 1944, has been exaggerated

Oliver Milman, Wednesday., 13 April 2022

In terms of elusiveness, it is the Bigfoot or Loch Ness monster of the bird world, so rare and undetectable that the US government declared it extinct last year. But the ivory-billed woodpecker is, in fact, still alive and pecking in the forests of Louisiana, a team of researchers has claimed.

A series of grainy pictures and observations of the bird, which had its last widely accepted sighting in 1944, show that the scrupulously furtive woodpecker is still holding on in the swampy forests of the US south, according to the team’s new research, which is yet to be peer-reviewed.

A three-year quest to find the woodpecker involved scientists trudging through an undisclosed portion of Louisiana woodland to observe the bird and take audio recordings. Unmanned trail cameras, set up to take pictures on a time lapse, and a drone were used to capture photos of the creature.

Steve Latta, the director of conservation at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh who led the effort, said each member of the team had encounters with the ivory-billed woodpecker and often heard its call, which has been described like hearing a child puff into a tin trumpet.

Latta himself saw the bird fly upwards in front of him, showing the distinctive white edges to its wings. “It flew up at an angle and I watched it for about six to eight seconds, which was fairly long for an ivory-billed woodpecker,” he said. “I was surprised. I was visibly shaking afterwards. You realize you’ve seen something special that very few people had the opportunity to see.”

The size and the markings of the bird captured in the photos is strong evidence that it is not another woodpecker, such as a pileated or red-headed woodpecker, Latta said. “It reinforced to me that, yes, this bird does exist and left me feeling a sense of responsibility to protect it for the future,” he said.

Ivory-billed woodpeckers were once relatively common, stretching from the Carolinas through the south-east US to Texas. They were, or are, the largest woodpeckers in the US, with the males sporting a distinctive red crest on their heads. They enjoy feasting on insects that accumulate in the bark of recently deceased trees.

Their numbers started to drop sharply in the 19th century due to human interference with their habitat and overhunting, with their scarcity spurring collectors to hunt them further as valuable specimens. They were also eaten by poverty-stricken people of the time who turned to devouring the woodpecker, wild turkeys, gopher tortoises and other wildlife.

With just a few of the birds occupying largely inaccessible forests, confirmed sightings, let alone clear pictures, became almost impossible. Last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), after years of listing the woodpecker as critically endangered, declared the species extinct.

“No one has held a camera and got a picture of one in years because it’s a scarce bird in tough swampy habitat and they don’t want people close to them because they’ve been shot at for 150 years,” said Geoffrey Hill, a biologist at Auburn University who took part in another, largely frustrating, trip to find the bird in Florida in 2005.

“They have better eyes than we do, they are high in the trees and actively flee people. They aren’t great thinkers but they have developed a pretty simple strategy to avoid people.”

Hill said Latta’s research was “very interesting” and that he thought it likely that the bird pictured is indeed an ivory-billed woodpecker. He added that the FWS was premature to decide the species was extinct and that several dozen could still be holding on in forests across the south.

“Some people cannot believe a bird can defy documentation by modern humans because we have such dominion over nature but it is endlessly interesting because if it has done that, it’s one pretty impressive bird,” Hill said.

“People who are into birds are fascinated by them. Ivory bills couldn’t care less, though. They hate all people.”

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Environmental Protection Agency

EPA Announces Plan to Protect Endangered Species and Support Sustainable Agriculture

New comprehensive workplan will further species conservation while improving certainty for farmers, local public health agencies, and other pesticide users

April 12, 2022, EPA Press Office 

WASHINGTON (April 12, 2022) – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its first-ever comprehensive workplan to address the decades-old challenge of protecting endangered species from pesticides. The plan establishes four overall strategies and dozens of actions to adopt those protections while providing farmers, public health authorities, and others with access to pesticides.

“Today’s workplan serves as the blueprint for how EPA will create an enduring path to meet its goals of protecting endangered species and providing all people with safe, affordable food and protection from pests,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “The workplan reflects EPA’s collaboration with other federal agencies and commitment to listening to stakeholders about how they can work with the Agency to solve this longstanding challenge.”

“The workplan announced today will allow us to better protect wildlife, imperiled species, and ecosystems” said White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory. “I look forward to continuing to work collaboratively across the federal government to better protect wildlife from extinction and minimize the impacts of pesticides.”

“USDA appreciates the steps EPA is taking today.  We are confident that EPA can streamline ESA consultations around pesticides in a way that continues to conserve wildlife while allowing farmers access to the tools they need to produce the food and fiber that all of us rely on,” said USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is eager to help EPA achieve its vision to protect federally listed threatened and endangered species while fulfilling its obligations related to authorizing the safe use of pesticides,” said Martha Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director.

“NOAA supports the Environmental Protection Agency’s ESA-FIFRA workplan and looks forward to continued collaboration with our interagency partners to ensure the protection of federally listed species and their habitats. Implementation of this work plan will lead to a more consistent and timely regulatory process, and better outcomes for our species and our partners,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D.

EPA has an opportunity and an obligation to improve how it meets its duties under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) when it registers pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). For most of EPA’s history, the Agency has met these duties for less than five percent of its FIFRA decisions. This has resulted in over 20 ESA lawsuits against the Agency, which have increased in frequency in recent years, creating uncertainty for farmers and other pesticide users, unnecessary expenses and inefficiencies for EPA, and delays in how EPA protects endangered species.

EPA currently has over 50 pesticide ingredients, covering over 1,000 pesticide products, with court-enforceable deadlines to comply with the ESA or in pending litigation alleging ESA violations. Completing this work will take EPA past 2040, yet the work represents less than five percent of all the FIFRA decisions in the next decade for which ESA obligations exist. This is an unsustainable and legally tenuous situation, in which EPA’s schedule for meeting its ESA obligations has historically been determined through the courts. The workplan must provide a path for the Agency to meet those obligations on its own, thus protecting endangered species while supporting responsible pesticide use.

Today’s workplan also sets a new vision for a successful ESA-FIFRA program that focuses on protecting species under the ESA, while minimizing regulatory impacts to pesticide users, supporting the development of safer technologies to control pests, completing timely FIFRA decisions, and collaborating with other agencies and stakeholders on implementing the plan.

The workplan describes four strategies and multiple actions to further the vision.

*A key strategy is for EPA to meet its ESA obligations for all FIFRA actions that invoke ESA. Because EPA does not have the capacity or scientific processes in place to meet all these obligations immediately, it has identified the FIFRA actions that are the highest priority for fulfilling its ESA obligations. These include actions with court-enforceable deadlines and new registrations of conventional pesticides.

*A second strategy is to improve approaches to identifying and requiring ESA protections, especially for species facing the greatest risk from pesticides.

*A third strategy is to improve the efficiency and timeliness of the ESA consultation process for pesticides, in coordination with other federal agencies.

*And the final strategy is to engage stakeholders more effectively, to better understand their pest control practices and implement species protection measures.

EPA needs the help of other federal agencies, state agencies, and stakeholders to implement these actions. Through the workplan, EPA is describing its future directions in the hope of collaborating with all these organizations on implementation. Over the coming months, EPA will engage with a wide range of stakeholders to identify opportunities for collaboration and will continue seeking input on more effective and efficient ways to meet its ESA obligations. The workplan is a living document that EPA will periodically revisit to incorporate lessons learned from implementation.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Nevada’s Railroad Valley Toad

Small Toad’s Survival Threatened by Proposed Lithium Project

RENO, Nev.—(April 12, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition today with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the critically imperiled Railroad Valley toad, which is threatened by a proposed lithium production project and oil drilling.

This recently identified species is found at just one spring-fed wetland complex in Railroad Valley, Nevada. It has an estimated distribution of only 445 acres and is isolated from other toads by miles of arid desert. Like many of Nevada’s groundwater-dependent species, this unique toad relies on consistent spring flow for survival.

The Railroad Valley toad’s sole habitat is imminently threatened by a proposed lithium production project that would be located less than 10 miles away. The project is seeking to extract billions of gallons of groundwater, or brine, per year, threatening the springs the toad depends on. Post-processed brine would also be reinjected underground, potentially degrading the water quality of the wetland complex.

“While we strongly support the transition to renewable energy and recognize that lithium is an important component, it can’t come at the expense of these rare toads’ survival,” said Krista Kemppinen, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Center. “We’re in a biodiversity crisis, and amphibians are more imperiled than any other group of vertebrates. Lithium production needs to minimize threats to species and water consumption and maximize recycling.”

In addition to lithium production, oil and gas development in the valley also threatens the Railroad Valley toad. There are dozens of active oil wells in Railroad Valley, and the Bureau of Land Management has leased out much of the public land in the valley, including land around the toad’s habitat, to oil companies.

The Railroad Valley toad has a brown and gray back with prominent warts and a black and white belly. It has evolved to survive in a rare spring-fed habitat in a geothermally active area. Described as a distinct species in 2020, it is one of the smallest members of the Anaxyrus boreas species group.

“The Railroad Valley toad has been a survivor for millennia at its aquatic desert home,” said Kemppinen. “Without protection under the Endangered Species Act, this unique toad will disappear forever.”

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EcoWatch

Children Believe Humans and Farm Animals Should Be Treated Equally, Study Finds

But They Tend to Lose This Belief in Adolescence

Paige Bennett, April 11, 2022

According to a new study, children believe humans and farm animals should be treated in the same ways, but they start to lose these beliefs as they become teenagers. The study notes that speciesism is learned in adolescence.

The study, done by researches at Exeter University and Oxford University, asked people of different age groups: kids 9 to 11, young adults ages 18 to 21 and adults ages 29 to 59 about treatment toward animals, including animals considered food.

The researchers found that the children showed less speciesism overall compared to the young adults and older adults. Speciesism is considered a moral hierarchy that ranks the value of different animal species.

The study also said that the children tended to associate farm animals as pets more so than food compared to the adult groups. The kids also had higher instances of wanting better treatment for farm animals and they considered eating meat as less morally acceptable.

“Humans’ relationship with animals is full of ethical double standards,” Luke McGuire, study lead author and a lecturer at the University of Exeter, told The Guardian. “Some animals are beloved household companions, while others are kept in factory farms for economic benefit. Judgments seem to largely depend on the species of the animal in question: dogs are our friends, pigs are food.”

The research is considered an important step toward understanding “moral aerobics” where humans may have moral double standards or contradicting beliefs. For instance, through the course of the study, the kids noted that dogs deserved better treatment than pigs, but that pigs still deserved equal treatment to humans. The adult groups wanted dogs and humans to be treated equally and both to be treated better than pigs.

“Something seems to happen in adolescence, where that early love for animals becomes more complicated and we develop more speciesism,” McGuire explained. “It’s important to note that even adults in our study thought eating meat was less morally acceptable than eating animal products like milk. So aversion to animals — including farm animals — being harmed does not disappear entirely.”

Although McGuire noted that changes in attitudes and beliefs is natural over time, understanding these shifts could help society shift to more sustainable lifestyles by introducing eco-friendly behaviors, like plant-based diets, early.

“If we want people to move towards more plant-based diets for environmental reasons, we have to disrupt the current system somewhere,” McGuire told The Guardian. “For example, if children ate more plant-based food in schools, that might be more in line with their moral values, and might reduce the normalization towards adult values that we identify in this study.”

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The Denver Post

Lauren Boebert and fellow Republicans want gray wolves removed from federal endangered species list

The wolves are fully recovered and don’t need federal protections, Boebert and 23 other members of Congress argued

By CONRAD SWANSON, April 11, 2022

Colorado’s U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert and 23 other Republican members of Congress wrote federal officials this month, asking that they remove the gray wolves from the federal endangered species list.

A northern California judge’s February ruling placed the gray wolves on the federal endangered species list once more after they were taken off during former president Donald Trump’s administration.

“Some activist judge from California shouldn’t be able to overturn the best available science and contradict the law based on his own leftist political beliefs,” Boebert said in a release announcing the effort to delist the wolves.

Boebert and the other representatives, including Colorado’s Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn, addressed the April 7 letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, asking her to appeal the February ruling, calling wolf populations “fully recovered.”

Experts and environmentalists argue otherwise, though. While wolf packs in the Great Lakes region might be doing well, their numbers are still lacking elsewhere across the country, especially in the Rocky Mountain region where they were hunted to near extinction generations ago.

In Colorado, gray wolves remain on the state endangered list and the issue came to a tipping point in 2020 when the state narrowly approved a contentious ballot measure requiring officials to reintroduce the species by the end of 2023. The state already has one pack of gray wolves in Jackson County, which made news after its members killed several cows and dogs in the area.

The majority of counties in Boebert’s expansive district covering the Western Slope, where the wolves will be reintroduced, opposed the statewide measure.

Rather than leaving gray wolves on the federal endangered species list, the letter argued that the protections should instead be left up to individual states. It pointed to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming as states that “far exceeded” federal management objectives.

While wolf populations have increased in Rocky Mountain states, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming permit wolf hunting, which environmentalists say undercuts efforts to restore their populations.

In Colorado anyone who hunts or kills wolves could face a fine and jail time. Department of the Interior representatives could not immediately be reached for comment and Haaland has not indicated that she would appeal the California ruling. Instead, she has repeatedly expressed her support for federal protections.

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6ABC/WATE.com (Knoxville, TN)

Plant found only on Cumberland Plateau taken off endangered list

by: Robert Holder, Posted: April 10, 2022

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A plant found only in a small area of the Cumberland Plateau has been taken off the federal endangered species list. Since the Cumberland sandwort, Minuartia cumberlandensis, was put on the list in 1988, Tennessee and Kentucky environmental officials – as well as federal agencies and conservation groups – have been working to protect the plant.

State and federal officials met Friday at Hazard Cave at Pickett CCC Memorial State Park to celebrate the milestone.

“This is a meaningful day for conservation,” said David Salyers, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation commissioner. “It’s a tribute to the partnerships involved that made this happen. This is another example of the great natural resources of our state and the determination to protect them.”

Cumberland sandwort occurs at the base and ledges of sandstone cliffs or rock overhangs in only four Tennessee counties – Pickett, Fentress, Morgan and Scott – and one county in Kentucky, McCreary.

“The recovery of the Cumberland sandwort is a conservation success that would not be possible without our dedicated partners,” said Dr. Catherine Phillips, the Service’s assistant regional director for Ecological Services. “Partnerships are essential to the success of the Endangered Species Act and the reason this plant will be enjoyed for years to come.”

The plant was first described to science in 1979 by Robert Kral of Vanderbilt University and Eugene Wofford of the University of Tennessee. Cumberland sandwort is now found in 71 places, 66 of which are on federal and state lands, managed by the National Park Service, Tennessee Division of Forestry, Tennessee Division of Natural Areas or Tennessee State Parks. Pickett CCC Memorial State Park has 29 of the 71 occurrences.

Hazard Cave also provides a reachable location to view the plant, as does Slave Falls at the Big South Fork National Recreation Area.

At the time of the listing, only 28 occurrences of the plant were known.

To keep the ensure the species’ viability, TDEC Division of Natural areas and partners will continue monitoring the species for five years.

The National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, and Missouri Botanical Garden also aided in the protection of the plant.

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The Guardian

Police in Spain seize €29m haul of stuffed endangered animals

Haul of more than 1,000 specimens includes over 400 protected species from polar bears to Bengal tigers

Reuters, 10 April 2022

Police in Spain have seized one of the largest hauls of taxidermy animals in Europe as they investigate potential smuggling, after a warehouse in Valencia was found to contain stuffed rhinos, polar bears, elephants and other animals.

The Guardia Civil discovered more than 1,000 specimens in a 50,000 sq metre (538,000 sq ft) industrial warehouse in Bétera, Valencia, on Wednesday, it said in a statement on Sunday.

The haul included more than 400 protected species, including some that have been extinct in the wild, such as the scimitar oryx, or severely threatened, such as the Bengal tiger. Others included lions, leopards, cheetahs and lynx.

The warehouse owner was under investigation for smuggling and crimes against flora and fauna, police said. He has not been arrested.

Investigators estimate the stuffed animals are worth €29m (£24.2m).

The discovery was the culmination of an investigation by Valencia police’s nature protection team that began in November 2021 when agents became aware of a possible private collection in Bétera.

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Anthropocene

Reducing food waste is an overlooked solution to saving endangered species  

According to a new study, reducing food waste by just half could be a more effective way to protect biodiversity than changing people’s diets.

By Emma Bryce, April 8, 2022

Halving rates of food waste in the United States could slash global biodiversity losses driven by American consumption, according to a new paper published in PNAS. What’s more, the analysis suggests that cutting food waste may be even more effective at reducing species loss than some nationally-recommended diets.

Biodiversity is often left out of the equation when calculating environmental impacts, explain the researchers in the new paper, which is why they made it the focal point of their analysis. They set out to tally up the amount of land—domestically and internationally—that’s required to feed the US, and the number of species that are consequently threatened by this production.

To drill down into these impacts they looked at how this land use and biodiversity impact would change under several dietary scenarios, including the Planetary Health Diet, as well as several diets officially recommended by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), including a vegetarian, and a Mediterranean-style diet—the latter of which is rich in fruits, vegetables and fish. The researchers also factored in the impact of substantial food waste reductions at the national scale.

They calculated that eating vegetarian and plant-rich diets uses less land and therefore reduces the overall threat to global biodiversity by around 30%, compared to baseline US diets.

However, when viewed through the lens of biodiversity, these more sustainable diets include some notable environmental trade-offs. The researchers found that 20% of the land required to produce food for US consumers occurs outside the country, and this foreign land represents 39% of the biodiversity risk driven by US diets. That’s because food imports to the US often come from countries including Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico where farmland is more likely to overlap with biodiversity hotspots, driving the destruction of rainforest and other wildlife-harboring habitats.

The reliance of plant-based diets on imported fruit and veg therefore skews its environmental footprint, increasing its biodiversity impact and offsetting some of the benefits of this greener diet: “Increasing the number of people eating plant-based diets would be incredibly beneficial for global biodiversity, but that we have to think carefully about where those calories are coming from,” explains lead author Quentin Read, who was working as a data scientist at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center when he produced this paper (he is now an applied statistician with the USDA.)

Meanwhile the nationally-recommended Mediterranean-style diet, which includes plenty of fruit, veg, fish and dairy, actually increased land pressures compared to the baseline (large amounts of land are devoted to pastureland to raise dairy cattle, and to grow feed for fish that are increasingly derived from aquaculture). In fact this diet, which is meant to be healthier for humans, isn’t so for nature: the extra land use increases the threat to global biodiversity by 10%, the study found.

Against these varied and complex dietary scenarios, tackling food waste offers an unexpectedly effective and elegant solution for saving biodiversity, the models suggest.

The researchers calculated that even if we leave current US diets unchanged, simply cutting avoidable food waste by half would reduce required food production, taking huge amounts of pressure off farmland, reducing the area required to fulfill American dietary needs, and therefore reducing biodiversity loss—all by about 17%. Food waste reduction is “way more beneficial for environment and biodiversity than it might appear at first glance,” says Read.

This figure significantly outpaces the biodiversity benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet. And while it isn’t as effective as the 30% reduced biodiversity threat achieved by a nationwide vegetarian diet, tackling food waste could make US food production more efficient, reducing the need for fruit and veg imports from biodiversity-rich regions—and thereby helping tackle the trade-offs of this more sustainable diet.

What’s more, slashing the US’s food waste by half can still accomplish the bulk of the biodiversity benefit achieved by sustainable diets, but with comparably less effort. “Changing diets is an incredibly fraught and problematic thing, making it all the more important to put resources toward food waste reduction—in addition to diet shifts. But we can expect more short-term success with food waste reduction,” says Read.

However we approach the challenge, the study reveals the importance of including biodiversity measures when we account for the environmental pressures of our food systems. By labelling diets as ‘sustainable’ just because they reduce emissions, for instance, we see only part of the picture and risk falling into a trap that puts nature and our food futures at risk.

Likewise, no single solution will achieve the deep reductions in biodiversity loss that our planet needs to see. In fact, the researchers found that the biggest biodiversity benefits occur when food waste reductions are combined with dietary change: slashing US food waste by half, and pairing it with more sustainable consumption could reduce the country’s food-related global biodiversity threat by almost 45%, they determined.

“Together, diet shifts and food waste reduction can help us achieve that crucial goal,” the researchers write.

(Read, et. al. “Biodiversity effects of food system sustainability actions from farm to fork.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2022.)

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Fox News

Wind energy company kills 150 bald eagles in US, pleads guilty

Fox Business, April 7, 2022

A subsidiary of one of the largest U.S. providers of renewable energy pleaded guilty to criminal charges and was ordered to pay over $8 million in fines and restitution after at least 150 bald eagles were killed at its wind farms in eight states, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

NextEra Energy subsidiary ESI Energy was also sentenced to five years probation after being charged with three counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act during a court appearance in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The charges arose from the deaths of nine bald eagles at three wind farms in Wyoming and New Mexico.

In addition to those deaths, the company acknowledged the deaths of golden and bald eagles at 50 wind farms affiliated with ESI and NextEra since 2012, prosecutors said. Birds were killed in eight states: Wyoming, California, New Mexico, North Dakota, Colorado, Michigan, Arizona and Illinois.

NextEra, based in Juno Beach, Florida, bills itself as the world’s largest utility company by market value. It has more than 100 wind farms in the U.S. and Canada and also generates natural gas, nuclear and solar power.

Almost all of the eagles killed at the NextEra subsidiary’s facilities were struck by the blades of wind turbines, prosecutors said. Some turbines killed multiple eagles and because the carcasses are not always found, officials said the number killed was likely higher than the 150 birds cited in court documents.

Prosecutors said the company’s failure to take steps to protect eagles or to obtain permits to kill the birds gave it an advantage over competitors that did take such steps — even as ESI and other NextEra affiliates received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal tax credits from the wind power they produced.

NextEra spokesperson Steven Stengel said the company didn’t seek permits because it believes the law didn’t require them for unintentional bird deaths. The company said its guilty plea will resolve all allegations over past fatalities and allow it to move forward without a continued threat of prosecution.

The criminal case comes amid a push by President Joe Biden for more renewable energy from wind, solar and other sources to help reduce climate changing emissions. It also follows a renewed commitment by federal wildlife officials under Biden to enforce protections for eagles and other birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Criminal prosecutions had been halted under former President Donald Trump for birds killed inadvertently by industry.

It’s illegal to kill or harm eagles under the migratory bird act. However, a wide range of industries — from energy firms to manufacturing companies — have lobbied for years against enforcing the law for accidental bird deaths.

The bald eagle — the U.S. national symbol since the 1700s — saw its populations widely decimated last century due to harmful pesticides such as DDT and other problems. Following a dramatic recovery, it was removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2007. Biologists say more than 300,000 bald eagles now occupy the U.S., not including Alaska.

Golden eagles have not fared as well, with populations considered stable but under pressure from wind farms, collisions with vehicles, illegal shootings and poisoning from lead ammunition.

Most of the eagles killed at the ESI and NextEra wind farms were golden eagles, according to court documents.

There are an estimated 31,800 golden eagles in the Western U.S. with an estimated 2,200 killed annually due to human causes, or about 60% of all deaths, according to a study released last week by leading eagle researchers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other entities.

The study concluded that golden eagle deaths “will likely increase in the future” because of wind energy development and other human activities.

Companies historically have been able to avoid prosecution under the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty law if they take steps to avoid deaths and seek permits for those that occur.

Charging documents said company representatives, including ESI’s president, were warned that eagles would be killed if the company built two wind farms in central and southeastern Wyoming, and also knew about a risk to eagles when they authorized the repowering of a New Mexico wind farm, about 170 miles from Albuquerque.

The company proceeded anyway and at times ignored further advice from federal wildlife officials about how to minimize the deaths, according to court documents.

“For more than a decade, ESI has violated (wildlife) laws, taking eagles without obtaining or even seeking the necessary permit,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division in a statement.

ESI agreed under a plea deal to spend up to $27 million during its five-year probationary period on measures to prevent future eagle deaths. That includes shutting down turbines at times when eagles are more likely to be present.

Despite those measures, wildlife officials anticipate that some eagles still could die. When that happens, the company will pay $29,623 per dead eagle under the plea deal.

NextEra President Rebecca Kujawa said collisions of birds with wind turbines are unavoidable accidents that should not be criminalized. She said the company is committed to reducing damage to wildlife from its projects.

“We disagree with the government’s underlying enforcement activity,” Kujawa said in a statement. “Building any structure, driving any vehicle, or flying any airplane carries with it a possibility that accidental eagle and other bird collisions may occur.”

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EcoWatch

Commercial Fishers Kill Sharks to Retrieve $1 Hooks in New Zealand, Report Finds

Paige Bennett, April 06, 2022

Documents collected via the Official Information Act in New Zealand show that commercial fishers in the area have been killing or injuring sharks to retrieve their fishing gear, including hooks that cost as little as $1.

The documents come from government observers who worked to oversee commercial longline fleets in the country from 2016 to 2021.

Fishing gear on its own already presents problems for wildlife that may become entangled in nets or fishing lines.

“Bycatch accounts for about half of global shark catches. Longlines are mostly responsible, but bycatch in nets is also important,” according to WWF New Zealand. “In the Pacific Ocean alone, 3.3 million sharks are caught each year as bycatch on longlines. Indeed, in terms of numbers, sharks are the most significant bycatch species in the world’s major high seas fisheries. They are also particularly vulnerable to over-fishing due to their relatively slow reproductive rate, with several species showing recent drastic declines.”

Yet commercial fishers trying to retrieve their gear are another threat, as the observers documented that these workers would kill or maim sharks that accidentally became entangled in the gear.

The documents noted that fishers would throw sharks, swing them around by their tails, or cut through their jaws to collect fishing hooks, as Plant Based News reported. After cutting off the sharks’ jaws, fishers would throw the still-alive sharks back into the water.

Another document noted that a skipper, or person in charge of a fishing boat, told crew members to kill off blue sharks to reduce the population, even though the species is considered Near Threatened by IUCN due to overfishing and hunting for shark fins.

“The Blue Shark is caught globally as target and bycatch in commercial and small-scale pelagic longline, purse seine, and gillnet fisheries,” IUCN reported. “Most of the catch is taken as bycatch of industrial pelagic fleets in offshore and high-seas waters. It is also captured in coastal longlines, gillnets, trammel nets, and sometimes trawls, particularly in areas with narrow continental shelves.”

Experts have called the documents horrific and appalling and are calling for reforms to prevent these shark killings.

“While I can understand the frustration of the fishers in incidentally catching a shark that is not wanted, nothing justifies such inhumane and callous action,” said Laws Lawson, chief executive of Fisheries Inshore New Zealand.

Activists have drafted a petition for better shark protections and more monitoring of fishing vessels. The petition also wants fishers to release any bycatch, including sharks, with “as little harm as possible.”

“Sharks that aren’t intended for food should be released back to the sea alive and unharmed by cutting the line,” said Geoff Keey, spokesperson for Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand, also known as Forest & Bird. “Forest & Bird is urging the fishing industry to end the practice of killing and maiming unwanted sharks and calls on the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries to ban this horrific practice.”

At the time of writing, the petition has just over 30,000 signatures and is looking to reach 100,000.

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Center for Biological Diversity

140 Groups Call for Major Reforms at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Restore Scientific Integrity

Protection of Species Hindered by Bureaucratic Interference, Inefficiency

WASHINGTON—(April 6, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity and 139 other organizations sent a letter today urging U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams to take immediate action to reform the agency’s process for listing imperiled species as threatened or endangered.

The agency’s process for protecting species involves multiple layers of bureaucracy and upwards of 20 people who only vet listing decisions based on political concerns.

Today’s letter states that “it is frequently the case — especially with politically controversial species — that listing decisions are made in Washington, D.C., including reversing the original listing recommendations of the Services’ own scientists.” As a result, “the agency has failed to protect species for years, even decades — making extinction much more likely and recovery much more difficult and expensive.”

“Instead of fighting at the front lines to combat the extinction crisis, the Service has been crippled by decades of bureaucratic boondoggles and illegal political interference at all levels of decision-making,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “It’s clear that drastic reform is desperately needed to fix this broken agency. We only hope that Director Williams will be bold enough to do so.”

More than 300 animals and plants are still awaiting protection decisions — including the western pond turtle, lake sturgeon and western bumblebee — while hundreds more imperiled species are not even under consideration. On average, the agency has taken 12 years to protect species even though under the Endangered Species Act, it should take no more than two. Nearly 50 unlisted species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

The Service has failed to make dozens of required protection decisions every year, violating promises in a workplan developed by the agency. In fiscal year 2021, the Biden administration failed to make decisions on 66 imperiled species. The agency failed to make required findings for 30 species in fiscal year 2017, 78 species in fiscal year 2018, 46 species in fiscal year 2019, and 58 species in fiscal year 2020.

The Service has also often denied protection for clearly endangered species, resulting in repeated court battles to overturn politically motivated decisions. For more than 20 years the American wolverine has been under consideration for protection with the agency seesawing between proposing protection and withdrawing it, only to have the withdrawal overturned in court.

“The Service is doing no better at protecting species in a timely manner than it did under the Trump administration, which was the most anti-wildlife administration in recent history,” said Greenwald. “Williams has the public support to make transformative changes within the agency, but she needs to muster the political will to do so.”

More than 24,000 members of the public so far have also called on Williams to reform the agency.

The Center recently filed a comprehensive legal petition urging the Service to, among other things, reduce political interference in the listing process by empowering career scientists to make science-based decisions without fear of political reprisal.

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ABC News

Experts estimate 8 endangered porpoises may remain in Mexico

April 6, 2022

The Sea Shepherd environmental group says scientists estimate that only about eight of the world’s most critically endangered porpoises may remain in the Gulf of California, the only place where the vaquita marina lives

By The Associated Press, April 5, 2022

MEXICO CITY — Scientists estimate only about eight of the world’s most critically endangered porpoises may remain in the Gulf of California, the only place where the vaquita marina lives, an environmental group said Tuesday.

Pritam Singh, chairman of the Sea Shepherd group, said its crews had not seen any of the elusive porpoises during about three dozen trips this year to what is believed to be the last area in the gulf where vaquitas live.

But he said scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature reviewed images taken late last year that suggest eight adults and perhaps one or two calves are still in the the Gulf, also known as the Sea of Cortez.

Vaquitas drown in illegal nets set by fishermen to catch totoaba, a fish whose swim bladder is a delicacy in China and sells for thousands of dollars per pound (kilogram).

The Mexican government has been criticized for partially giving up on efforts to enforce a zero-fishing zone in the last known area of the Gulf where vaquitas live. But Singh said that while there were a lot of small fishing boats in the zero-fishing area early this year, coordination between Sea Shepherd and the Mexican navy has helped cut down on the vessels.

Singh said that the first three days Sea Shepherd patrolled the area this year, they sighted 58 fishing boats on the first day, 35 the second and 27 on the third. During their most recent trip, those numbers were down to between one and three boats per day, he said.

“That is great news,” Singh said. “That helps to give the vaquita a chance.”

Last year, the Mexican government abandoned the policy of maintaining a “zero tolerance” zone in the upper Gulf. It then introduced a sliding scale of punishments if more than 60 fishing boats are seen in the area on multiple occasions.

For years, Mexico relied on Sea Shepherd boats to remove most of the illegal nets that trap and drown vaquitas, while doing relatively little to combat violent attacks by poachers on the environmentalists’ ships. The group estimates it removed about 1,000 of the long, heavy nets over the last six years.

But the environmentalists were forced to leave the Gulf in January 2021 after a New Year’s Eve attack in which fishermen rammed a Sea Shepherd vessel with their boat. One of the fishermen later reportedly died of injuries sustained in that attack.

Since then, the job of locating and removing nets has been largely left to Mexico’s navy, acting on reports from Sea Shepherd vessels. Mexican authorities allowed the group to return to the Gulf about a year after it was forced out, but it no longer allows the group to remove illegal nets.

In February, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office filed the first trade-based environmental complaint against Mexico for failing to protect the vaquita marina, which is the world’s smallest porpoise.

The office said it had asked for “environment consultations” with Mexico, the first such case it has filed under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade pact. Consultations are the first step in the dispute resolution process under the treaty, which took effect in 2020. If not resolved, it could eventually lead to trade sanctions.

Mexico’s Economy Department said after the complaint was announced Thursday that “the Mexican government reaffirms its commitment to the proper implementation of the USMCA and the responsibilities it has within it.”

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has expressed his dislike of foreign interference, and his desire to balance the interests of fishermen and endangered species.

“We don’t need foreigners telling us what to do or placing sanctions on our country’s fishermen,” López Obrador said in 2021. He insisted that “we can reach an agreement that seeks an equilibrium between fishing and productive activities, and taking care of species.”

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The Times-Standard (Eureka, CA)

CDFW ends crab season after humpback entanglements

The Times-Standard, April 6, 2022

The following is a press release from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director Charlton H. Bonham has assessed entanglement risk under the Risk Assessment Mitigation Program (RAMP) and announced the closure of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in Fishing Zones 1 and 2 (Sonoma/Mendocino county line to the Oregon state line) effective at noon on April 20, 2022. This closure is being implemented in addition to a closure of Zones 3 through 6 announced on March 25 because of three recent humpback whale entanglements involving California commercial Dungeness crab fishing gear. All commercial Dungeness crab traps must be removed from the fishing grounds in Zones 3, 4, 5 and 6 by noon on April 8 and by noon on April 20 in Zones 1 and 2. In addition, the Director has authorized the Lost and Abandoned Gear Retrieval Program to begin removing commercial Dungeness crab traps left in the water starting April 15 at noon in Zones 3, 4, 5 and 6 and April 27 at noon in Zones 1 and 2.

“We received reports of additional humpback whale entanglements and moved quickly to close the fishery to protect migrating humpback whales that are just starting to return to California waters,” said Director Bonham. “While this poses an economic impact on certain sectors of our coastal fishing communities, it is important to protect both whales and the long-term viability of the commercial fishery. We will be working with the fishing fleet, researchers and other agencies to better understand these recent entanglement events and find ways to mitigate this risk in future seasons.”

CDFW asks fishermen and mariners to be on the lookout for and report any entangled whales so a disentanglement response team can be mobilized to remove the gear. Reports can be made to 1-877-SOS-WHALE or contact the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16. The recreational fishery remains open statewide but may be subject to a future trap restriction as humpback whales return to California waters to forage during the spring and summer. The recreational fishery should be ready to respond to minimize risk. To that end, CDFW reminds everyone in the commercial and recreational fisheries to implement best practices, as described in the Best Practices Guide.

A map of all Fishing Zones can be found on the CDFW website. For more information related to the risk assessment process, please visit CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries page. For more information on the Dungeness crab fishery, please visit CDFW’s Crab page, including FAQs for the 2021-22 commercial fishing season and FAQs for the new recreational crab trap regulations.
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The Columbian (Vancouver, WA)

Growth slows for endangered wolves

Mexican gray wolf population still struggling

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press, April 5, 2022

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There are now more Mexican gray wolves roaming the southwestern U.S. than at any time since the federal government started to reintroduce the endangered species, wildlife managers said Wednesday.

The results of the latest annual survey of the wolves show there are at least 196 in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona — the sixth straight year that wolf population has increased.

But officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the population’s growth in 2021 was tempered by higher than average pup mortality. Life was made more difficult for the wolves because of a persistent drought that has resulted in low precipitation and scant snowpack, the officials said.

Fewer than 40 percent of pups survived through the end of the year, though more breeding pairs were recorded in 2021.

“We are happy to see the wild population of Mexican wolves continue to grow year after year,” said Brady McGee, coordinator of the Mexican gray wolf recovery program. “The service and our partners remain focused on recovery through improving the genetic health of the wild population and reducing threats, while also working to minimize conflicts with livestock.”

Ranchers continue to have concerns about livestock killed by the wolves, saying efforts to scare the predators away from livestock — by horse riders, nonlethal shots fired from guns and flags put up on fences near cattle — have not been effective enough. Feeding caches for the wolves are also set up by officials to lure wolves away from livestock.

State Rep. Rebecca Dow sent a letter to McGee about two separate livestock kills on a grazing allotment in her district. The Republican from the small city of Truth or Consequences said Wednesday that she learned about ranchers forced to camp out on their property to protect their herds.

“Ranching is a way of life in our district and the release of these wolves without proper management is taking away from our community’s right to earn a living,” said Dow, who is seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Numbers disappoint

Unlike wolf reintroductions in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere in the northern U.S., wildlife managers in the Southwest must deal with a climate that has encouraged a year-round livestock calving season, meaning wolves can prey on the livestock year-round instead of several months of the year.

The rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America, the Mexican wolf was listed as endangered in the 1970s and a U.S.-Mexico captive breeding program was started with the seven remaining wolves in existence.

It’s estimated that thousands of Mexican wolves once roamed from central Mexico to New Mexico, southern Arizona and Texas. Predator eradication programs began in the late 1800s. Within several decades, the predators were all but eliminated from the wild.

There are currently about 380 Mexican wolves in more than 60 zoos and other facilities in the two countries. In Mexico, the wild population numbers around 40, officials have said.

The wolf recovery team placed 22 captive-born pups into seven wild dens in 2021 as part of a cross-fostering program aimed at boosting the population’s genetic diversity. Officials said two of the pups have since been captured and collared and that the effort to determine how many survived will continue this year.

The team also documented 25 wolf deaths in 2021. Officials rarely release many details about those cases that involve illegal shootings.

Environmentalists had hoped the U.S. population would have topped 200 in 2021. They have been pressuring the Fish and Wildlife Service to release more captive wolf packs and to allow the predators to establish new packs in areas beyond the current recovery zone in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona.

The environmentalists have said that the southern Rockies and the Grand Canyon area w