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Global News

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

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

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

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

“We actually found there was over 500 animals that live on land that haven’t been seen in over 50 years,” he said in an interview. “That’s almost twice as many as have been declared extinct since 1500 AD. There’s a huge pool of species out there that we don’t know whether they’re still around or not.”

The researchers reviewed information on 32,802 creatures listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species and identified 562 of them lost.

The study was published this month in the journal Animal Conservation.

Mooers said they used a computer program that went through the group’s database to identify the lost species.

The criteria used to list a species lost was the missing or last-seen date, or any accounts from the first time the animal was collected and named, he said.

“There’s lots of these sort of hints that the species was in fact lost.”

One of the lost Canadian species is the Eskimo curlew, a shorebird that nested in the northernmost part of the tundra and migrated all the way to Argentina, Mooers said.

There were a few Eskimo curlews seen in Texas in 1962 and another was shot in Barbados in 1963, but that was the last confirmed sighting, he said.

“That is our most famous and only, I believe, lost species and it’s probably extinct. It’s one of the sadder ones, I think,” he said, referring to the Canadian bird.

Researchers highlighted in the study that many of the lost species are from tropical countries such as Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil.

Species go extinct because of various reasons including human-caused threats and pressures, habitat loss and overhunting, Mooers said.

Of those 562 species, he said 75 can be classified as possibly extinct. The International Union for Conservation of Nature defines extinct as “when there is no reasonable doubt the last individual of a species has died,” which can be challenging to verify, he said.

“Extinction means that you lose the last individual. As something is approaching extinction, it’s becoming rarer and rarer and rarer until there are very few left of course, right down to one and then zero,” he said.

“If a species is endangered and it lives in a habitat that is difficult to access, or it’s large like the tundra with not a lot of people, or it’s deep in the tropics or tropical islands, people may not be looking for such species often, then it can stay very rare. And maybe extinct, maybe not.”

And that is the point of the study, he said. The paper gives a list of species that people should look for because these animals haven’t been seen in a long time and it’s not known if they are still around, he added.

Mooers said he is hoping some of the species will be found again.

He pointed to the ivory-billed woodpecker, which researchers thought was extinct with the last sightings in 1944, but an April study that has not been peer-reviewed suggests the bird might still be pecking in Louisiana.

His first reaction to seeing the list of over 500 lost species was surprise, he said, and then delight when he started reading about how some of these animals have been rediscovered.

People get upset when they hear of animals going extinct, Mooers said.

“We do know that people really don’t like losing species that they are familiar with in their backyard,” he said. “But the people are sad even for the golden toad that they will have never seen and will ever see. (It) just makes them sad.”

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ESC Press Release

U.S. Celebrating Endangered Species Day on May 20

California 14-Year-Old Wins Endangered Species Day Youth Art Contest

WASHINGTON, DC —(May 19, 2022)—In the runup to Endangered Species Day on May 20, the Endangered Species Coalition today proudly announced the winners of the 2022 Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest, including the grand prize winner, Ian D., a California middle school student.

The contest was an integral part of the 17th annual national Endangered Species Day, which occurs this year on Friday, May 20th. The art contest engages school children in grades K-12 in expressing their appreciation for our nation’s most imperiled wildlife, and promotes national awareness of the importance of saving endangered species. The winning art entries can be viewed on the Endangered Species Coalition’s Flickr Gallery.

“I’m so glad I’ve been chosen as the winner,” said Ian D, the 2022 grand prize winner. “This year there are so many great works and I’m surprised I’ve been chosen! I created this because my art teacher suggested it to me and I chose the rusty patched bee because I believe bees are very important to the environment and nature around us.”

Contest winners were selected by a panel of eight artists, photographers and conservationists, including David Littschwager, a freelance photographer and regular contributor to National Geographic Magazine, as well as Susan Middletown, a photographer who has collaborated with Littschwager and whose own work has been published in four books, and Alice Tangerini, botanical illustrator for the Smithsonian Institution.

“Endangered Species Day celebrates our declared national responsibility to our children and their children to save our vanishing wildlife and plants,” stated Leda Huta, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition, primary sponsor of Endangered Species Day. “Bald eagles, sea turtles, wolves, and gray whales are just a fraction of the 1,600 species that the Endangered Species Act is saving every day.”

On Friday (and throughout May) wildlife refuges, zoos, aquariums, parks, botanic gardens, schools, libraries, museums, and community groups will hold in-person and online events. Some highlights include:

*A nationwide chalk art contest, hosted by the Endangered Species Coalition;

*Colorado Endangered Species Week, a week of free educational events and fun advocacy opportunities to protect the plant and animal species at risk in Colorado, including a bat conservation hike, webinars, and an auction, hosted by Rocky Mountain Wild and other organizations;

*A special online event for Girl Scouts with programming about endangered species from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

*A discussion on Hawaii’s reef wildlife with film directors of The Dark Hobby, local conservation leaders, and the Director of Shark Stewards and the Earth Island Institute;

*Pollinator garden plantings in states across the U.S. to create habitat for native bees, butterflies, and other pollinator species.

These and other events are listed on the Endangered Species Day website.

Endangered Species Day was first created by the U.S. Senate in 2006, when it unanimously designated May 11, 2006 as the first ever “Endangered Species Day,” to encourage “the people of the United States to become educated about, and aware of, threats to species, success stories in species recovery, and the opportunity to promote species conservation worldwide.” Across the country, organizations hold special events to celebrate Endangered Species Day each year on or around the third Friday in May. For more information about the annual art contest, winners and Endangered Species Day, visit http://www.endangeredspeciesday.org.

In 2009 the Coalition began incorporating a national youth art contest into the Endangered Species Day event. Each year, nearly two thousand students of all ages submit illustrations of their favorite endangered species to contest judges. The top winners in each age group are selected for the publication in the annual Endangered Species Art calendar, and the grand prize winner receives a special award.

The 2022 Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest winners are:

Grand Prize: Ian D., [age 14], Tustin, CA

ArtContestWinner

**Above illustration by Ian D., grand prize winner of 2022 Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest.

First Place: Lucas P. [age 5], Chandler, AZ

Grade Category Winners:

Grades K-2: Marcus L. [age 8], Clarksburg, MD

Grades 3-5: Celine M. [age 10], Cary, NC

Grades 6-8: Rachel Z. [age 13], Wayland, MA

Grades 9-12: Lainie R. [age 16], Penngrove, CA

The grand prize winner, Ian D., will receive a $200 award for art materials, museum passes, an art lesson and funding for native plants to restore pollinator habitat via Endangered Species Coalition’s Pollinator Protectors campaign.

For more information about the annual art contest, winners and Endangered Species Day, visit http://www.endangeredspeciesday.org

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Goldstream Gazette (Langford B.C.)

562 endangered species considered ‘lost’, researchers trying to find them

International study with researchers from SFU hopes to focus search efforts for lost species

BLACK PRESS MEDIA STAFF, May. 19, 2022

Over the past several decades, thousands of species have been determined to be extinct or at risk of extinction due to human activity. But in some cases, scientists lack conclusive proof that species are extinct. Those species are considered “lost”, a distinction reserved for animals that haven’t been observed in at least 50 years.

A new international study that includes researchers from SFU suggests there are 562 lost species that are designated as “possibly extinct” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

Of the lost species, 257 are reptiles, 137 are amphibians, 130 are mammals and 38 are birds. Most of the lost species are in countries with high biodiversity like Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil.

“The fact most of these lost species are found in megadiverse tropical countries is worrying, given such countries are expected to experience the highest numbers of extinctions in the coming decades,” said study lead author Tom Martin from the UK’s Paignton Zoo.

The red list only shows species as “extinct” when there is no reasonable doubt that the last species has died, but that distinction is often difficult to verify.

Only 311 terrestrial vertebrate species have gone extinct, meaning there are 80 per cent more lost species than have been declared extinct. Being lost doesn’t necessarily mean that species have been wiped out. Some species, like the Miles’ robber frog of Honduras, were thought to be extinct, but were later rediscovered.

Researchers recommend focusing search efforts on megadiverse regions to determine whether the lost species are extinct. Though more funding for such searches is required.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Dunes Sagebrush Lizard From Extinction

Lizard Threatened by Oil, Gas Development in Permian Basin

SILVER CITY, N.M.—(May 19, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for again stalling in making a decision on whether to grant Endangered Species Act protections to the dunes sagebrush lizard. The agency has delayed protecting the lizard for four decades.

The lizard lives in a very small area of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico overlaying a part of the Permian Basin, which over the last decade has been one of world’s fastest-growing oil and gas extraction areas.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.

“We won’t stand by while the last dunes sagebrush lizards disappear,” said Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate at the Center. “Even as the oil and gas industry ruins our climate, it’s also destroying the lizards’ last homes. Protection under the Endangered Species Act is this unique animal’s last hope.”

The 2.5-inch-long dunes sagebrush lizard has the second-smallest range of any lizard in North America. The lizards inhabit a rare ecosystem where they hunt insects and spiders in wind-blown dunes. They burrow into the sand beneath low-lying shinnery oak shrubs for protection from extreme temperatures.

More than 95% of the original shinnery oak dunes ecosystem has been destroyed by oil and gas extraction and other development, as well as herbicide spraying to support livestock grazing. Much of the lizards’ remaining habitat is fragmented, preventing them from finding mates beyond those already living close by. The lizard is further imperiled by burgeoning sand-mining operations in the area — a secondary impact of the oil and gas industry, which uses the sand for fracking.

“Dunes sagebrush lizards are perfectly adapted to their shinnery oak dune habitats, but they won’t survive the oil and gas industry without protection,” said Robinson. “Climate change isn’t just caused by burning fossil fuels. It’s also driven by the destruction of carbon-storing natural habitats like those needed by the lizard. This destruction in turn is the main cause of the extinction crisis and thus the oil and gas industry’s destruction of the natural world is a double whammy.”

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The Guardian

Australia’s tropical rainforests have been dying faster for decades in ‘clear and stark climate warning’

Jordyn Beazley, May 18, 2022

Australia’s tropical rainforest trees have being dying at double the previous rate since the 1980s, seemingly because of global heating, according to new research that raises concerns tropical forests could start to release more carbon dioxide than they absorb.

The study, published in the journal Nature, found the average life of tropical trees in north Queensland had been reduced by about half over the past 35 years . The finding was consistent across different species and rainforests.

Scientists said it indicated natural systems such as rainforests may have already been responding to the climate crisis for decades, and suggested other tropical forests across the globe may be experiencing a similar rise in death rate.

David Bauman, a tropical forest ecologist at the University of Oxford and and the study’s lead author, said it was a shock to detect such a marked increase in tree mortality.

Oxford professor Yadvinder Malhi, a study co-author, compared the changes in Australia’s rainforests to those in corals in the Great Barrier Reef, which have suffered four mass bleaching events over the past seven years.

“The likely driving factor we identify – the increasing drying power of the atmosphere caused by global warming – suggests similar increases in tree death rates may be occurring across the world’s tropical forests,” he said.

“If that is the case, tropical forests may soon become carbon sources, and the challenge of limiting global warming well below 2C becomes both more urgent and more difficult.”

The study examined data from more than 8,300 trees in 24 north Queensland forests. Much of the data came from a CSIRO lab in Atherton. The lab is focused on tropical forest research and is closing down.

Prof Susan Laurance, a tropical ecology expert at James Cook University and a co-author of the study, said the CSIRO had been monitoring tree plots used for the study since 1971.

“The beauty of this research is that it’s one of a few long-term studies and it’s so hard to get funding to do that,” she said. “It’s a little bit sad because CSIRO was probably the only organisation in the country that was funded long-term to be able to do [that research].”

Russell Barrett, a senior research scientist at the Australian Institute of Botanical Science, said the findings of the study were significant, and should serve as a climate warning “as clear and stark as mass coral bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef”.

“It is just much harder to see and document,” he said.

He said it could cause a re-think of the potential for forests to store carbon. “A doubling of tree death risk dramatically changes our calculations for the quantity of carbon stored in our forests, and how long it is likely to stay there” he said.

A study in 2020 found tropical forests were taking less carbon from the atmosphere, increasing the likelihood of an accelerated climate breakdown. It pointed to the need to cut carbon-producing activities faster to counteract the loss of carbon sinks.

Barrett said while the study focussed on tropical forests in North Queensland, the drying atmosphere affected all Australian plant communities. It highlighted the need for more studies in a range of habitats, he said.

“This need is especially great for plant communities that are already at the edge of their climatic windows, such as alpine vegetation and wet rainforests,” he said.

Laurence said she would seek funding from the Australian Research Council to continue the research. She hoped to analyse the age of the trees affected and the implications for the ecosystem.

She said if old-growth tropical trees were the most at risk it could affect rainfall patterns.

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Hey SoCal

Brown Pelican crisis developing in Southern California

May 18, 2022

A Southland wildlife center is being inundated with sick and injured Brown Pelicans, with more than 55 patients arriving in the past four days and more expected this week, officials said Wednesday.

“We’re seeing a mix of fledglings, second-year birds and mature adults, which makes me think it could be a food supply issue rather than a simple influx of starving fledglings,” said Dr. Rebecca Duerr, director of research and veterinary science for Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center in San Pedro.

Officials with the global conservation organization say several of the birds in the latest group came in with multiple fish hooks, but some have been hit by cars or have fractures for unknown reasons. A few are just cold and starving.

“Birds in a changing world face new challenges which take time to research and understand. In this case, Bird Rescue suspects that part of the problem is a lack of available fish stocks leading to birds failing to find enough to eat or taking extra risks when foraging for food,” a Bird Rescue statement said. “That, combined with a new crop of young pelicans having to learn to feed themselves, may explain the current influx.”

Brown Pelicans were added to the endangered species list in 1970 due to exposure to DDT and then removed in 2009. In 2010 and 2012, Bird Rescue’s wildlife centers saw similar inundations of Brown Pelican patients.

“Rescue efforts like in 2010 and 2012, and the one we’re undertaking now help keep pelicans off the endangered species list,” Bird Rescue CEO JD Bergeron said.

“Thanks to our banding program, we recently spotted a former patient feeding its young four years after its release in the wild,” Bergeron added. “This proves that the hard work to save one bird at a time can affect future populations.”

Bird Rescue officials reminded fishers not to cast lines into groups of feeding birds to avoid snaring the birds. The public was also reminded to keep an eye out for pelicans landing in unusual locations such as along Pacific Coast Highway.

Those who find a pelican in need may contact International Bird Rescue’s helpline at 310-514-2573. After hours, they should contact their local animal control agency. For pelicans found in Malibu, call California Wildlife Center at 310-458-WILD (9453).

Donations for food and medical supplies for the birds can be made at http://www.birdrescue.org/donate/.

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Honolulu Civil Beat

Environmental Group Sues Feds To Better Protect Endangered Sharks

Federal officials have delayed critical scientific assessments of how commercial fishing affects oceanic whitetips, conservationists say

By Marcel Honore, May 17, 2022

A new lawsuit aims to get federal regulators to finally gauge just how severely oceanic whitetip sharks are impacted by the longline fishing fleets that operate in waters off Hawaii and American Samoa.

That analysis of how many sharks are inadvertently caught by those commercial boats – and whether the number pushes them closer to extinction – should have been done when the oceanic whitetip was first added to the endangered species list as “threatened” in 2018, the suit contends.

Such a study could compel those U.S. longline fleets to take further steps in addition to the changes they’ve already made to their fishing gear in order to reduce the number of sharks that die after getting hooked on their fishing lines.

However, the National Marine Fisheries Service has been “dragging its feet” for the past four years and hasn’t completed the impact analysis as required under the Endangered Species Act, according to the environmental law firm Earthjustice.

“We have no idea what are the impacts of these fisheries on these sharks,” Grace Bauer, an Earthjustice attorney, said Tuesday. “That’s a big, gaping question mark.”

Earthjustice filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court on behalf of the Conservation Council for Hawaii and Kona-based Hawaiian cultural practitioner Mike Nakachi. CCH and Nakachi first warned the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2019 of their intent to sue over the agency’s lack of a so-called “consultation” on the oceanic whitetip shark.

It’s not clear why NMFS has yet to complete its analysis. A spokeswoman said Tuesday that the federal agency can’t comment on matters of ongoing litigation.

“It’s a question we’re all kind of baffled on,” said Moana Bjur, the executive director for CCH. “You’ve got a species that’s heading toward extinction … I would think that as a national organization they would want to have stronger data.”

What is clear is that the oceanic whitetip, once an abundant shark species, has seen its numbers fall precipitously in recent decades, largely due to their being overfished across the Pacific as bycatch.

The species is believed to have declined by as much as 95% since the mid-1990s, according to an Earthjustice news release.

Data from the international Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission further indicates that an average of 53,500 oceanic whitetip sharks were caught annually by Western and Central Pacific fishing fleets each year from 2013 to 2017. That included more than 1,700 catches a year by Hawaii’s deep-set longline vessels.

More recently, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council reported that some 2,125 oceanic whitetips were caught by the Hawaii deep-set vessels in 2019, according to the new lawsuit. That council, also known as Wespac, manages the U.S. commercial fisheries in the region.

“Significant numbers” of the sharks caught each year die from the trauma, the suit added.

The lawsuit aims to get more reliable data on the impacts to the sharks in Hawaii and American Samoa from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observers to better hold the fishing industry accountable, Bjur said Tuesday.

In 2020, the Hawaii Longline Association announced it would voluntarily replace all the steel wire leaders at the ends of its fishing lines with less-lethal nylon ones to better protect the sharks. A NOAA ban on the wire leaders will take effect at the end of this month.

Conservationists and fishermen view the change as a positive step, although Bauer called it “a shot in the dark” when federal regulators still don’t know the full impacts of longline fleets on the sharks.

“That’s an obligation that the Endangered Species Act requires them to do,” Bauer said. “The agency was supposed to do all of this before authorizing the fisheries (for use).”

Wespac representatives did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. However, in 2019 the group’s longtime executive director, Kitty Simonds, expressed angst over the looming threat of the lawsuit and said it could potentially shut down the fisheries until the issue was resolved, according to the newsletter Environment Hawaii.

Simonds further blasted the National Marine Fisheries Service for moving too slowly in fulfilling its duties, leading to a tense exchange with the NMFS regional administrator during a Wespac meeting, Environment Hawaii reported.

Now, the potential lawsuit that Simonds expressed deep concerns about three years ago is a reality.

“We decided to continue with our fight for the reporting measures,” Bjur said. “Let’s get numbers.”

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News 19 (Columbia, SC)

Fort Jackson discovers new salamander species

Recently, a new species has been uncovered at the training post—the Chamberlain Dwarf Salamander.

Walker Lawson, Published: May 17, 2022

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Fort Jackson is a well-known U.S. Army training post, but it’s also a place full of plants, animals, and reptiles. Recently, a new species has been uncovered at the training post—the Chamberlain Dwarf Salamander.

Michelle Wilcox, wildlife biologist for Fort Jackson, explained what it looks like and what this means.

“This one has a yellow belly, whereas the other dwarf salamander does not, lives in a slightly different environment, might be a slightly different size,” Wilcox said. “This species is only recently split from another type of dwarf salamander, and we’re not sure how many there are. That’s because they are hard to find, they live underneath thick moss.”

The lot of 52,000 acres is also home to one plant that has been placed on the endangered species list, a smooth coneflower. Wilcox said they are working to keep it alive.

“It’s found only in North Carolina and South Carolina. We’re not sure why it’s endangered. It’s probably habitat loss over time, but what it requires is a prescribed fire every two to three years to help knock down the competing vegetation.”

There is also an endangered bird, the red-cockaded woodpecker, which they are working to save.

Fort Jackson says they are working hard to keep these different endangered species alive due to their impact on our ecosystem right here at home.

“Additionally, we’re helping clean air and clean water,” Wilcox said. “This is a whole segment of Richland County that we’re trying to have fresh air and fresh water.”

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E&E News/Greenwire

Judge reverses Trump-era ESA sage grouse move

By Scott Streate, | 05/17/2022

A federal judge has struck down a 2020 Fish and Wildlife Service decision that a distinct subpopulation of greater sage grouse found along the Nevada-California border does not warrant federal protection.

Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a ruling late yesterday concluding that FWS did not use the best available science in withdrawing a near decade-old decision to list the so-called bi-state population of grouse as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act.

Corley, a Biden appointee, ruled that the Trump-era FWS decision in March 2020 — which quickly led to a federal lawsuit filed by a coalition of environmental groups — had “erred” in several significant ways.

Among them, she said, FWS was wrong in “concluding that the effective population size” of the bi-state grouse “was above the minimum threshold for viability,” as determined by the service.

Thus, FWS was also wrong in “determining that the bi-state sage grouse is not likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout a significant portion of its range,” Corley wrote.

The judge also disagreed with FWS’s reasoning that “cheatgrass removal was sufficiently certain to be effective as a conservation measure.”

Corley concluded: “These combined errors undercut the Service’s broader conclusion that the bi-state sage grouse population is stable, that the portions where it is likely to be [extinct] are not significant, and that its conservation measures will reduce one or more threats enough so that the bi-state sage grouse is not threatened.

“Thus,” she continued, “these errors go to the heart of the Service’s listing decision and are not harmless.”

The judge remanded the issue of ESA protections for the bi-state grouse to FWS “to issue a new final listing decision.”

In the meantime, Corley reinstated the 2013 determination that the bi-state grouse warrants federal protections as a threatened species.

An Interior Department spokesperson said the agency is reviewing the court’s ruling. A DOJ spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

But environmental groups involved in the lawsuit were pleased.

“These rare dancing birds have a chance at survival thanks to this court decision,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, which was one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Anderson added: “We’ve watched for more than a decade as these sage grouse have continued to decline. Without the legal protection of the Endangered Species Act, multiple threats will just keep pushing these grouse toward extinction.”

Different kind of grouse

Though similar to their greater sage grouse kin, the bi-state grouse were declared a distinct population segment in 2010, in part because they’ve been breeding separately from other sage grouse for thousands of years. There are six separate population segments across 4.5 million acres of high-desert sagebrush in Nevada and California.

FWS had based its 2020 decision on a yearlong review of the bi-state population, determining at that time that the threats to the bird “no longer are as significant as believed” when the agency first proposed a rule listing the bird as a threatened species in 2013 (Greenwire, March 30, 2020).

It also based that determination on the work of “a coalition of federal, state, tribal, private and non-governmental partners” as sufficient to protect the bi-state population.

Environmental groups, however, noted estimates that only about 3,300 birds remain. They have been petitioning FWS to formally protect the bi-state population for more than a decade.

That population estimate is well below the 5,000-bird threshold that the groups say scientists have determined is the “minimum viable population” for the genetically distinct birds.

FWS said in 2020 that the decision to withdraw the proposed threatened listing was based on “the best scientific and commercial data available.”

Those data, FWS said in the Federal Register, “indicate that the threats to the [bi-state grouse] and its habitat, given current and future conservation efforts, are reduced to the point that the [grouse] does not meet” the ESA’s “definition of an ‘endangered species’ or of a ‘threatened species.’”

FWS cited as “supporting documents” a peer-reviewed “species report” it prepared for the bi-state population that “represents a compilation of the best scientific and commercial data available concerning the status of the species, including the impacts of past, present, and future factors (both negative and beneficial) affecting the species.”

The court decision comes as overall greater sage grouse populations appear to be struggling, with hundreds of thousands of acres a year of lost habitat due to a combination of severe drought, catastrophic wildfires and the spread of invasive plant species like cheatgrass that can overwhelm the sagebrush ecosystem that the bird depends upon for survival (Greenwire, May 9).

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Newsweek

Rare Red Wolf Shot in North Carolina Was Left Alive, Drowned in Mud

By ROBYN WHITE on 5/16/22

A rare red wolf was found shot in the spine and left alive to drown in the mud in North Carolina.

A necropsy of the animal, which was found in Tyrrell County, showed that its lungs were full of mud, indicating it had been severely injured by the shot but was initially still alive. It had eventually died as it lay in the muddy farm field, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement.

Animal welfare campaign, Help Ashville Bears, reposted the incident to its Facebook page, and said the wolf had died a gruesome death.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it is offering a $5,000 reward for any information that would lead to “the successful prosecution” of the case.

Red wolves are critically endangered and are only found in eastern North Carolina’s Albemarle Peninsula. The animals are federally protected species.

In 2018, it was ruled that killing the species would no longer be permitted unless individuals were proving a threat to human safety or a nuisance to livestock. There is no penalty for accidental killings, as these can occasionally happen when people mistake the red wolves for coyotes, which are abundant across the United States.

Red wolves differ in appearance from coyotes by having a reddish tint to their fur. If someone kills a red wolf by accident, they are obligated to report it to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service so that officials can retrieve any carcasses.

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service told Newsweek that there are currently no updates on the investigation.

Now one of the most endangered canids in the world, the American red wolf used to live far across the southeast of the United States until overhunting and habitat destruction pushed them to the brink of extinction. By 1970, there were hardly any left in the wild.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deployed a captive breeding program to boost the species, by capturing the last remaining few in the wild and breeding them in captivity. They were then reintroduced to the wild.

However, despite conservation efforts, there are estimated to be as few as 35 or less red wolves remaining in the wild today.

There are many threats still present to red wolves. Because of the large abundance of coyotes in their habitat, there is risk of them mating and creating hybrids. The remaining population may also come into contact with humans regularly, when they wander onto private farmlands in search of prey.

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WION (New Delhi)

Study says climate change, water sports posing threat to sea turtles

Edited By: Vyomica Berry, New Delhi, India, Updated: May 15, 2022

A new study conducted by the University of Exeter has found that climate change and water sports are posing a threat to sea turtles.

The study, published in the journal Endangered Species Research, shows that tens and thousands of sea turtles are dying every year.

During the research, scientists reviewed the evidence about sea turtles from the last 57 years along the coast of Kenya, Somalia, Mozambique, South Africa, and Tanzania.

According to the study’s leader author Casper van de Geer, a Ph.D. student at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, “Turtles face many threats along the African east coast, from egg to adult.”

“Our aim was to bring together everything that is currently known about these turtles and to identify opportunities to better protect them in this rapidly developing region. We found that there’s still a lot we don’t know about these turtle populations, like how many there actually are or where they spend most of their time and migrate to.”

“If we use clutches of eggs laid as a measure of population, then we see that some have recovered well in some places. For example, loggerhead turtles appear to be recovering in South Africa and Mozambique. However, leatherbacks in the same areas have not responded as positively to conservation efforts—suggesting there’s something going on in their lifecycle that’s stopping them from bouncing back as quickly,” Geer added.

Kenyan waters are host to the green, loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback, and olive ridley turtles. The most frequently encountered off Tiwi and Diani beaches south of Mombasa are the hawksbill turtle and green turtles.

Sometimes Kenyan people are lucky enough to get a rare sighting of loggerheads or leatherbacks. But these sea turtles face a multitude of obstacles to their survival.

“Local knowledge was key to this research, just as it is vital to turtle conservation,” explained Van De Geer.

“Conservation work is most effective when it is supported by the local stakeholders and this is achieved through genuine engagement and cultural sensitivity.”

“There are great examples of this along the African east coast where people are trained and employed as rangers or monitors in the area where they grew up, and the use of community theatre or musical performances to inform people about the marine world and conservation. Ultimately, it’s the people who live in a place who have the knowledge and motivation to protect it,” he concluded.

”There is an urgent need to identify and plan around essential areas used by marine turtles in the East African seascape,” said Gladys Okemwa, of the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute.

“Despite legal protection measures, illegal take and consumption of marine turtles, particularly green turtles, still persists in the region due to cultural values. Sustained community engagement and support towards community self-policing will help to make strides in tackling the issue.”

“While significant progress has been made with regard to awareness, education, and law enforcement in coastal towns and villages, much work remains to be done to ensure the conservation of these magnificent animals, especially offshore, where ‘ghost’ (discarded or lost) fishing gear, industrial long-liners and plastic pollution still constitute a major threat,” said Marcos Pereira, of NGO Centro Terra Viva in Mozambique.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Mexican Gray Wolf Rule Eliminates Cap on Population, Restricts Killing

New Federal Management Rule Still Falls Short on Genetic Diversity by Rejecting Science-Based Reforms

SILVER CITY, N.M.—(May 13, 2022)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed today that it will eliminate its current population cap of 325 Mexican gray wolves that are allowed to live in the wild in the Southwest. Today’s announcement follows a 2018 legal victory by conservation organizations. In the same decision, the agency rejected science-based reforms that would increase genetic diversity at a faster rate.

“Mexican gray wolves have won a reprieve from a planned massacre, but their hopes to find unrelated mates are being dashed at the same time,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s disappointing that the federal government still refuses to replenish the priceless genetic diversity lost through its own mismanagement of these wolves.”

A final environmental impact statement justifies the new rule, which temporarily curtails some federal, state and private wolf-killing.

To enhance the wolf population’s genetic diversity, the rule has a goal of ensuring that 22 captive-born wolf pups that have been introduced to the wild survive through their second year of life. But there are no requirements that those wolves breed.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is hinging genetic health to an irrelevant metric,” said Maggie Howell, Wolf Conservation Center executive director. “Unless those cross-fostered wolves who survive to breeding age actually reproduce, those animals have zero impact on the wild gene pool. So how are they moving the needle any closer to a genetic objective?”

Further, the Service decided not to resume releasing well-bonded male-female pairs with pups from captivity into the wild as families to increase their chances of survival. Instead, the agency decided to double down on its practice of placing neonatal pups removed from their captive parents into the wild with unrelated wolves.

“Cross-fostering alone will not produce a thriving, recovered, and genetically healthy Mexican gray wolf population,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. “The Fish and Wildlife Service has again missed an opportunity to do right by these highly endangered animals and to promote release of well-bonded wolf packs into Arizona and New Mexico.”

Only 13 of the 72 cross-fostered pups that have already been released to unrelated wolves are known to be alive today. Just four of these wolves are known to have reproduced, and only six of the offspring, all from just one of those four wolves, are known to be alive. Since the Service started releasing pups without their parents in 2016, inbreeding in the population has increased by 3%.

“The Service admits that they received approximately 82,000 public comments that somehow did not result in substantial changes to their final environmental impact statement,” explains Michelle Lute, Ph.D., wolf conservation and national carnivore conservation manager for Project Coyote. “This lack of accountability to the public who supports strong lobo recovery tells you everything you need to know about the Service’s leadership on the issue. So much more can and should be done to protect wolves and promote coexistence.”

“With the added stressors of accelerating climate change already falling heavily on their Southwest home, Mexican gray wolves don’t have time for Fish and Wildlife Service to sidestep the full set of actions needed to recover the lobo,” said Kelly Burke, Wild Arizona’s executive director. “The wolves are bravely doing their part, but regrettably the Service still needs to get fully onboard.”

“Sadly it has become the norm for this program to ignore the best science and public support for actual, robust wolf recovery and instead opt for the minimum,” said Chris Smith, southwest wildlife advocate at WildEarth Guardians. “These wolves need real genetic rescue, access to more habitat, and an essential designation. This rule — while a fractional improvement on the prior attempt — still fails lobos.”

The new rulemaking was prompted by a 2018 court victory by several conservation organizations over the 2015 Mexican wolf-management rule. That 2015 rule stemmed from a 2013 settlement agreement with the Center over failures in the Service’s 1998 reintroduction and management rule.

The Fish and Wildlife Service was ordered by the court to release the final wolf management rule by July 1.

Background

The Fish and Wildlife Service and its predecessor agency exterminated gray wolves from the western United States between 1915 and 1945 on behalf of the livestock industry. The government also exported poison to Mexico to enable wolf poisoning there beginning in 1950. The 1973 Endangered Species Act led to the remaining Mexican wolves being captured alive. Seven bred successfully in captivity, and the subspecies was reintroduced in the U.S. in 1998 and Mexico in 2011.

Pups are now being born, including in places that wolves last consistently occupied in the 1920s. Multiple wolves now live in the San Mateo Mountains of west-central New Mexico. A lone female has established a home range west of Albuquerque.

In addition to the 196 wolves counted in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico early this year, approximately 35 wolves live in Sonora, Mexico.

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EcoWatch

Planting Trees and Shrubs Will Help Bring Woodland Birds Back to Farms, Study Finds

Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, May 13, 2022

Oftentimes, where there are trees, there are birds, whether the landscape is woodland, forest, an urban park or rural farmland. In Australia, farmland is being revegetated to attract woodland bird species, a team of researchers wrote in The Conversation. Trees bordering paddocks are being planted, and stands of trees and shrubs that run beside creeks are being replenished.

The research team included four researchers from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia — professor of ecology Andrew F. Bennett; research fellow Angie Haslem; associate research fellow Greg Holland; principal research fellow with the Research Centre for Future Landscapes Jim Radford — as well as the director of the Monash Drone Discovery Platform and senior lecturer in ecology at Monash University Rohan Clarke. Their new study showed how the replanting of trees and shrubs on farmland is helping woodland birds to return.

The researchers’ findings, “Restoration promotes recovery of woodland birds in agricultural environments: A comparison of ‘revegetation’ and ‘remnant’ landscapes,” were published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

After comparing communities of birds living on farmland that had varying numbers of trees, the researchers said in The Conversation that increasing the amount of vegetation on open farmland from one to ten percent led to twice the number of species of woodland birds.

“This is important, because populations of woodland birds have been steeply declining in southern Australia, with species such as the southern whiteface, brown treecreeper and white-browed babbler now of conservation concern. The collective efforts of landholders can help reverse these declines by attracting species back into otherwise-cleared farmland,” said the researchers.

In many rural areas of Australia, more than 90 percent of native woodland vegetation that was once home to many species of woodland birds has been cleared and replaced with intensive farmland.

“Birds are a visible and often colourful part of Australia’s wildlife; most mammals, for example, are nocturnal and harder to see. In general, farmers, landholders and the community like to see wildlife, they’re part of our identity as Australians and they contribute to the aesthetics of the landscape and give much pleasure,” Bennett, who was lead author of the research, told EcoWatch in an email. “From a conservation perspective, we need to maintain species throughout their range. With so much land cleared, maintaining them through farmland regions is an important part of conservation.”

According to the scientists in The Conversation, there are a range of bird species that live among native farmland vegetation.

“Some species typically occur primarily in regions heavily cleared for farming, such as the ‘sheep-wheat’ belt, rather than, for example, the forested ranges where there are more national parks. Birds have a range of ecological roles in farm landscapes,” Bennett told EcoWatch.

Instead of sampling single “patches” of land like most studies that are conducted on the value of revegetation, the researchers looked at whole landscapes of about three square miles in size that spanned from one to three southwestern Victoria farms, the researchers wrote in The Conversation.

The study areas were divided into three types of landscapes comprising one to 18 percent tree cover on each. One group had tree cover from revegetation, while another had vegetation leftover after the land had been cleared, called “remnant native vegetation.” A third group was a mixture of both.

The researchers found that woodland bird species increased when more of the land was revegetated.

“For example, in landscapes with only 1% revegetation cover, most birds were open-country species such as galah, red-rumped parrot and willie wagtail, with only 11 woodland species on average. On the other hand, landscapes with 15% revegetation cover had 25 woodland species, on average, as part of the bird community,” the scientists wrote in The Conversation.

Landscapes that had been revegetated were found to support fewer and different types of woodland birds than native landscapes with mature trees.

“It takes many decades for trees to grow and mature and develop resources associated with older trees. The revegetation plots were up to about 20-45 years old, whereas a mature tree may be 100+ (and up to 250) yrs old. Some of the main differences in species between the two types of landscapes were that bird species associated with mature trees were less common or scarce in revegetation. This includes trunk and bark foragers (e.g. tree creepers), those that forage in canopy foliage (e.g. some honeyeaters, thornbills, pardalotes), and some aerial insectivores that like to forage around and perch on open canopy branches (e.g. dusky woodswallow, tree martin),” Bennett told EcoWatch.

Bennett added that revegetation is usually achieved through the planting of trees and shrubs, without ground-layer plants.

“Often there is a fairly dense shrub layer – which favours some species for foraging and shelter (e.g. New Holland honeyeater, superb fairy-wren) and hence also contributes to differences in species,” Bennett said.

Bennett added that the rows often used when revegetating an area don’t mimic native vegetation’s “natural patchy structure.”

“Remnant native vegetation is inherently patchy, with trees and shrubs spaced somewhat randomly, sometimes in clumps, sometimes with gaps; whereas revegetation is often planted in rows and more evenly spaced. Over time, the pattern of revegetation will change as some trees die, some fall, some natural regeneration may occur,” Bennett told EcoWatch.

Birds that use the trunks, large branches and canopy foliage of older trees, like the varied sitella, white-throated treecreeper, white-naped honeyeater and spotted pardalote, weren’t found as often on revegetated land, the scientists wrote in The Conversation.

“With regard to age, as revegetation gets older it develops a greater range of resources – for example, as trees get older there’s more likely to be a larger canopy, dead limbs (for perching), limbs that fall to the ground as logs, the development of tree hollows in trunk[s] and large limbs, and also with larger trunks and branches (with age) there’s a greater surface area for bark-foraging species,” Bennett told EcoWatch.

The research showed that revegetation was most successful when it was mixed with remnant vegetation, the scientists wrote in The Conversation. The combination drew types and numbers of birds akin to remnant landscapes. Diversity of types of trees and shrubs planted was also important, as was proximity to native vegetation.

“The diversity of resources (from different plant species and varied physical structure) leads to a greater range of opportunities for species – for foraging, shelter, refuge and nesting. Having a mix of both remnants and revegetation means that there will be a greater range of resources than when there’s revegetation alone – and hence more likely to support the full range of species,” Bennett wrote.

Trees scattered about the landscape are also helpful for birds too, as they “act as stepping stones,” the researchers wrote in The Conversation.

Bennet said that birds have numerous roles in the ecosystems in which they live, such as being “part of natural food webs and thus inter-related with other parts of the ecosystem (ground layer, shrubs, canopy trees and foliage etc); pest control – feeding on insects and other invertebrates that may be detrimental when abundant (e.g. defoliators associated with tree dieback); [and] pollinators for some flowering plants.”

Bennett added that, if there is a diverse community of birds, it can indicate a healthy ecosystem.

The researchers wrote in The Conversation that a long-term goal of at least ten to 30 percent of wooded vegetation cover was important to ensure enough habitat to support healthy populations of numerous woodland bird species. Of the 60 species the researchers recorded, at least 11 were not found in the revegetated landscapes.

“Natural vegetation has a greater range of species and life-forms than are typically present in revegetation. Planting for revegetation typically involves only trees and shrubs, but sometimes only trees in woodlots. It rarely/never includes planting lifeforms such as native grasses, sedges, ground-layer herbs and lilies. Further, remnant native vegetation is more likely to have components such as microbial communities (bacteria, fungi) and soil/litter invertebrates already present,” Bennett told EcoWatch. “However, I should note that much of the remnant native vegetation in this study area is far from pristine – it has a history of disturbance from grazing by stock and grass/weed invasion, so most are quite disturbed stands.”

Bennett said that revegetating land that had been used for farming comes with its own unique issues.

“Where revegetation occurs in former farmland, it is likely to have higher levels of nutrients (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorous) in the soil than in remnant vegetation, and this can contribute to greater persistence of pasture grasses and weeds.”

And revegetation isn’t just for the birds, the researchers said.

“Of course, it’s not just for woodland birds — revegetating farms has a number of benefits. Planting along creeks helps stabilise stream banks and improve aquatic environments, trees store more carbon as they grow and age, and tree lines (shelterbelts) and shade benefit livestock and farm production,” the researchers wrote in The Conversation.

The climate crisis presents distinct considerations for land managers.

“It raises questions about what the climate and environment will be like in the future (e.g. 20, 50, 100 years from now), bearing in mind that trees are long-lived. So, some are asking whether, when selecting trees and shrubs to plant, we should be selecting species that may be better able to cope with what the future climate will be like in 50 or 100 years,” Bennett told EcoWatch.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched Over Delay of Endangered Species Protections for 11 Species

Bureaucracy at Fish and Wildlife Service Threatens Species Across U.S.

WASHINGTON—(May 12, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity announced its intent today to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for delaying critically needed Endangered Species Act protections for 11 imperiled plants and animals. The species range from the Puerto Rico harlequin butterfly and the Suwannee alligator snapping turtle to a rare wetlands wildflower found only in Arizona and Mexico.

Coupled with the Service’s failure to make decisions for 66 species in fiscal year 2021, the delay in protecting these 11 species highlights persistent problems in the agency’s listing program that are placing plants and animals at increased risk. These continuing problems include politically driven decisions, crippling bureaucracy and a loss of scientific capacity.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service should be on the front lines of the fight to stop the extinction crisis. Instead, it’s bogged down in bureaucracy and politically driven decision making,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “Delays in protection have real consequences, leading to further declines and even extinction. It’s heartbreaking this agency can’t seem to get it together to make timely protection decisions.”

The lawsuit notice faults the Service for unlawfully delaying endangered species protections for the Arizona eryngo, Wright’s marsh thistle, Puerto Rico harlequin butterfly, round hickorynut, frecklebelly madtom, sickle darter, whitebark pine, Suwanee alligator snapping turtle, slickspot peppergrass, Big Creek crayfish and St. Francis river crayfish.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has long struggled to provide timely protection to species. The Endangered Species Act requires the entire process of listing species and designating critical habitat to take two years. But on average it has taken the Service 12 years, and in many cases decades, to protect species. At least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for the Service to act.

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Boston Globe

The declining size of North Atlantic right whales threatens the endangered species, new study finds

By David Abel Globe Staff, Updated May 12, 2022,

As female North Atlantic right whales decline in size, they’re producing fewer calves, which could have grave consequences for the critically endangered species, according to a new study.

Scientists found in an earlier study that right whales have been shrinking, a phenomenon they attributed to frequent entanglements in fishing gear. The previous study found that entanglements place greater stress on the whales by forcing them to drag heavy fishing gear over long distances, which consumes their energy, reduces the fat reserves they need to reproduce, and makes them more susceptible to a range of diseases.

Some 85 percent of right whales have been entangled at least once, and of those, a majority have been entangled multiple times, scientists say. Entanglements and vessel strikes have been the leading cause of death and serious injuries to the whales, whose population has plummeted by about 30 percent over the past decade.

In the latest study, published on Thursday by the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, scientists determined that the declining body length and girth of the whales have likely resulted in their low birth rates in recent years.

“Smaller females appear to have less capacity to raise calves as frequently as larger whales,” said Joshua Stewart, a research biologist with NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center, one of the authors of the study. “Their smaller size means they may take longer to recover from the energetic cost of giving birth, especially in light of other stresses on the population.”

The scientists said their research reflects the need for further protection of the whales, whose overall population has declined to fewer than 350.

“With this study, [we] have gained further insights into how these stressors are affecting their reproduction,” said Amy Knowlton, a senior scientist at the New England Aquarium, who was also an author. “The remedies to address these threats are clear: shifting how humans operate in the ocean so that they do not inadvertently harm whales.”

Right whales can grow to 60 feet long and weigh more than 250,000 pounds. Previous studies have estimated that a calf born in recent years was likely, when mature, to be about 3 feet shorter in length than those born in the 1980s. Entanglements have become more of a problem for whales in recent decades, as ropes have increasingly used synthetic materials and become stronger.

The link between entanglements and calving rates underscored the need for fishermen to use weaker ropes and for federal officials to prod the lobster industry to adopt ropeless fishing gear, she said. The whales are believed to be entangled mainly in the vertical buoy ropes of the lobster and crab fisheries, which use heavy ropes that stretch from their traps on the seafloor to buoys on the surface.

Scientists based their conclusions on the aerial photos of 41 female right whales from 2000 to 2019, allowing them to compare their sizes with their reproductive histories. The relationship showed that smaller whales produced fewer offspring per reproductive year.

The study also found that larger female right whales also appeared to have more calves over the course of their reproductive years.

The scientists noted that other factors, which are more difficult to observe, could also influence the reproduction rates of the whales, including the availability of food, impacts of climate change, and the overall health of each whale.

“Doing everything we can to relieve pressure on the population and help support their recovery and resiliency will become increasingly important in the face of a rapidly changing ocean,” Stewart said.

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The Guardian

Labor pledges millions in funding to protect threatened species and Great Barrier Reef

Opposition says it will also provide a response to the Samuel review into Australia’s national environmental laws

Lisa Cox, 12 May 2022

Labor says it will establish a national threatened species program and provide a full response to the independent review of national environmental laws if it forms government.

In a policy announced Thursday evening the party promised $224.5m over the forward estimates for a national threatened species program that will include addressing the backlog of almost 200 overdue and outdated species recovery plans.

The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, and Labor’s environment spokesperson, Terri Butler, said they would also work with state and territory governments to develop a national conservation strategy.

They did not say what the conservation strategy would entail.

The threatened species funding includes an extra $24.5m for koala conservation, $24.8m to address invasive yellow crazy ants in Cairns and Townsville and $75m for the equivalent of 1,000 full-time Landcare rangers to work on environmental restoration.

Labor is also promising an additional $194.5m for protection programs for the Great Barrier Reef, which has suffered its sixth mass bleaching and the first in a La Niña year.

The money will be used for programs including working with farmers on land management practices, $85m for reef restoration projects, and research into thermal-tolerant corals in partnership with the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

“Seeing the wonder of the Great Barrier Reef is a highlight for so many Australians,” Albanese said.

“But parents and grandparents are worried their children will not be able to see this incredible natural wonder for themselves.

“That’s why it’s so important we act on climate change and species protection – to protect the reef and the tens of thousands of jobs that rely on it.”

The 2020 independent review of Australia’s national environmental laws, led by the former competition watchdog head Graeme Samuel, found Australian governments had failed to protect the country’s unique environment.

He recommended an overhaul of Australia’s system of protections, underpinned by new national environmental standards and independent oversight.

Butler said Labor, if elected, “will provide a full government response to the Samuel review”.

“The Saving Native Species program will go towards protecting Australia’s threatened species, including by addressing the backlog of recovery plans amassed during a near-decade of Liberal-National government neglect,” she said.

Basha Stasak, of the Australian Conservation Foundation, said whoever formed government needed to deliver a comprehensive response to Samuel’s recommendations.

“If we want to see koalas, gang-gang cockatoos and bogong moths survive, we need strong environment laws and an independent regulator implemented in this next term of government,” she said.

“The once-in-a-decade review of our environment laws by Prof Graeme Samuel sets out a clear roadmap to achieve this.”

Scientists have estimated Australia needs a tenfold increase in nature spending to recover endangered wildlife.

The Invasive Species Council, backed this estimate in a recent report, saying it would require expenditure of about $1.5bn to $2bn annually.

Tim Beshara, of the Wilderness Society, said Australia’s environment was in disrepair partly because successive governments “had let their environmental protection and management frameworks fall into disrepair themselves”.

“The backlog of actions and the backlog of reforms for a future environment minister will not be solved with a couple of hundred of million dollars,” he said,

“But it’s encouraging to hear Labor acknowledge the problem in nature itself and that there is some intent to undo the damage that has happened to environmental administration over the last decade.”

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California Department of Fish & Game

CDFW Seeks Public Comment Related To Mojave Desert Tortoise

May 11, 2022

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is seeking public comment on a proposal to uplist the Mojave Desert Tortoise from threatened to endangered under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

The Mojave Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is found in the Mojave Desert, the western Sonoran Desert and the southern Great Basin Desert. They spend much of the year underground in burrows to shelter from extreme temperatures. When they do emerge, they feed on native grasses. Their densities have declined drastically in many places in California in the past 20 years. Threats include habitat fragmentation, development in these desert regions, increasing drought due to climate change, invasive grasses out-competing food items preferred by tortoise, disease, predation by coyotes and ravens, and human-caused mortality.

In March 2020, the Defenders of Wildlife submitted a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission to formally uplist the Mojave Desert Tortoise as an endangered species under CESA. The Commission published findings of its decision to advance the species to candidacy on October 14, 2020, triggering a period during which CDFW will conduct a status review to inform the Commission’s decision on whether to uplist the species.

As part of the status review process, CDFW is soliciting public comment regarding the species’ ecology, biology, life history, distribution, abundance, threats and habitat that may be essential for the species, and any recommendations for management. Comments, data and other information can be submitted by email to wildlifemgt@wildlife.ca.gov. If submitting comments by email, please include “Mojave Desert Tortoise” in the subject heading.

Comments may also be submitted by mail to:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Wildlife Diversity Program
Attn: Anne Hilborn
P.O. Box 944209
Sacramento, CA 94244-2090

All comments received by June 10, 2022 will be evaluated prior to submission of the CDFW report to the Commission. Receipt of the report will be placed on the agenda for the next available meeting of the Commission after delivery and the report will be made available to the public at that time. Following the receipt of the CDFW report, the Commission will allow a 30-day public comment period prior to taking any action on the petition.

CDFW’s Mohave Desert Tortoise petition evaluation report (PDF)(opens in new tab) can be found on the CDFW website.

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EcoWatch

More Than 90% of Great Barrier Reef Impacted by Sixth Mass Bleaching Event

Olivia Rosane, May 11, 2022

More than 90 percent of the Great Barrier Reef was impacted by coral bleaching during the Australian summer of 2021-2022.

This is the conclusion of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which released the results Tuesday of aerial surveys taken of 719 reefs between Torres Strait and the Capricorn Bunker Group.

“The surveys confirm a mass bleaching event, with coral bleaching observed at multiple reefs in all regions,” the authority wrote. “This is the fourth mass bleaching event since 2016 and the sixth to occur on the Great Barrier Reef since 1998.”

The surveys revealed that 654 reefs, or 91 percent of those surveyed, had experienced some bleaching. The bleaching is especially notable this year because it is the first time it has happened under La Niña conditions, which usually result in cooler ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, as AP News pointed out.

“This is heartbreaking. This is deeply troubling,” Climate Council researcher Simon Bradshaw told AP News. “It shows that our Barrier Reef really is in very serious trouble indeed.”

Coral bleaching occurs when warmer than normal ocean temperatures turn the chemicals that coral-dwelling algae produce into poisons, prompting the coral to expel the algae. Because the algae provide the coral with both nutrients and color, the remaining coral turns white.

This summer, the waters around the Great Barrier Reef began to heat up in December of 2021, the authority said. Ocean temperatures exceeded historical summer maximums that typically don’t occur until later in the summer. Between December and early April, the area experienced three distinct marine heat waves. The surveys were conducted after the last heat wave, which lasted from March 12 to 23.

The bleaching recorded in the report does not necessarily mean that the impacted corals will die.

“It is important to note that bleached coral is stressed but still alive,” the authority wrote. “As water temperatures cool, bleached corals may regain their colour and survive this stress event, as happened in 2020 when there was very low coral mortality associated with a mass bleaching event.”

During back-to-back mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, however, the reef experienced higher death tolls, according to AP News. Scientists predict that this year will be more like 2020.

“The early indications are that the mortality won’t be very high,” the authority’s chief scientist David Wachenfeld said, as AP News reported.

However, the reef remains in hot water as long as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. The authority has said that the climate crisis is the single biggest threat to the reef, and a 2020 study found that the reef had already lost more than half its corals in the past 25 years because of human-induced global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that allowing temperatures to rise to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will kill 99 percent of all tropical reefs, while limiting warming to 1.5 degrees could save 30 to 10 percent of them.

The report comes as Australia prepares for federal elections later this month, AP News noted. Current Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party has promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, while the Labor Party has promised steeper cuts of 43 percent by 2030.

Australian Marine Conservation Society campaign manager Lissa Schindler told The Guardian that reducing emissions should be a priority for the next government.

“This was a La Niña year, normally characterised by more cloud cover and rain,” she said. “It should have been a welcome reprieve for our reef to help it recover and yet the snapshot shows more than 90% of the reefs surveyed exhibited some bleaching. Although bleaching is becoming more and more frequent, this is not normal and we should not accept that this is the way things are. We need to break the norms that are breaking our reef.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit: EPA Must Protect Manatees From Water Pollution

Hundreds Starved to Death in 2021 Because Unchecked Pollution Is Killing Seagrass

ORLANDO, Fla.—(May 10, 2022)—Three conservation groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today for failing to protect manatees and sea turtles from water pollution in Florida.

Over half of the more than 1,000 manatee deaths in Florida in 2021 were attributable to starvation. The mass die-off is being caused by pollution-fueled algal blooms that have killed thousands of acres of seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon, highlighting the inadequacy of the state’s federally approved water-quality standards.

Earthjustice is representing the Center for Biological Diversity, Save the Manatee Club and Defenders of Wildlife. Today’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Middle District of Florida, pushes the court to require the EPA to reinitiate consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act to reassess its approval of Florida’s water-quality standards for the Indian River Lagoon.

The Florida manatee is currently experiencing an officially declared unusual mortality event along Florida’s east coast, which includes important manatee warm-water habitat like the Indian River Lagoon. The lagoon supports more species of plants and animals than any other estuary in North America.

“Manatees need clean water to live in — it’s that simple,” said Earthjustice attorney Elizabeth Forsyth. “The pollution in the Indian River Lagoon is preventable. We’re asking EPA to step in and ensure the protection of the Indian River Lagoon and the species that depend on it.”

Unchecked pollution in the Indian River Lagoon — stemming from wastewater-treatment discharges, leaking septic systems, fertilizer runoff and other sources — fuels algal blooms that kill seagrass and prevent it from growing back. Nearly a decade ago, the EPA approved the state’s water-quality criteria for nitrogen and phosphorous, concluding the standards would not “adversely affect” manatees. New information, including the mass die-off of manatees in the lagoon, calls this conclusion into question.

“Hundreds of manatees are dying in the Indian River Lagoon as the water quality plummets, and the EPA must confront the massive nutrient pollution behind this disaster,” said Ragan Whitlock, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The existing water-quality standards just aren’t strong enough to preserve this important ecosystem and save these amazing animals.”

Florida’s 2021 manatee deaths were more than double the average annual death rate over the previous five years. The number of deaths represents 19% of the Atlantic population of Florida manatees and 12.5% of all manatees in Florida.

“Florida’s beloved manatees will continue to suffer and die as long as EPA maintains inadequate water quality standards,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “There simply is no more time for EPA to waste in reinitiating consultation.”

State and federal agency staff continued to witness high levels of malnourished and starving manatees throughout the winter of 2021-22, implementing a first-of-its-kind supplemental feeding program. In recent weeks the surrounding water has warmed, causing the manatees to disperse, and the program has been suspended. Unfortunately many manatees continue to suffer the long-term health consequences of starvation.

“Although nothing we do will bring back those nearly 1,000 manatees that suffered and died from years of neglect despite repeated warnings, we insist that the EPA join forces with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure that improved water quality standards are expeditiously set and met to bring an end to this travesty.” said Patrick Rose­­, an aquatic biologist and executive director of Save the Manatee Club, who has worked for over 45 years to help bring the species back from near extinction since it was first listed as endangered in 1967.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted the manatee from endangered to threatened in 2017. Since then the species has suffered significant setbacks from habitat degradation, red tide, cold winters and now unprecedented mass starvation from the catastrophic seagrass die-off.

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Metro (London)

Whale sharks are dying in large numbers and now we know why

Nina Massey, May 10, 2022

Whale sharks, the largest fish in the oceans, are dying in large numbers.

And scientists have determined the global shipping industry is to blame.

The number of times large ships hit whale sharks with fatal consequences is hugely underestimated, new research suggests.

It could be the reason why whale shark populations are decreasing around the globe.

Because the endangered animals spend a lot of time in surface waters and gather in coastal regions, experts have suggested being hit by ships could be causing substantial whale shark deaths.

But there was previously no way of monitoring this threat.

University of Southampton PhD researcher Freya Womersley, who led the study as part of the Global Shark Movement Project, said: ‘The maritime shipping industry that allows us to source a variety of everyday products from all over the world, may be causing the decline of whale sharks, which are a hugely important species in our oceans.’

Led by marine biologists from the Marine Biological Association (MBA) and the University of Southampton, the groundbreaking study tracked the movements of both whale sharks and ships across the world to identify areas of risk and possible collisions.

Satellite tracked movement data from nearly 350 whale sharks was submitted into the Global Shark Movement Project, led by researchers from the MBA.

Researchers mapped shark hotspots that overlapped with global fleets of cargo, tanker, passenger and fishing vessels – the types of large ships capable of striking and killing the ocean giants, which can grow up to 20 metres long.

They found that more than 90% of whale shark movements fell under the footprint of shipping activity.

According to the study, whale shark tag transmissions were ending more often in busy shipping lanes than expected, even when technical failures were ruled out.

The researchers from 50 international research institutions and universities concluded that loss of transmission was likely due to whale sharks being struck, killed and sinking to the ocean floor.

Whale sharks are slow-moving and feed on microscopic animals called zooplankton.

They help to regulate the ocean’s plankton levels and play an important role in the marine food web and healthy ocean ecosystems.

Professor David Sims, senior research fellow at the MBA and University of Southampton and founder of the Global Shark Movement Project, said: ‘Incredibly, some of the tags recording depth as well as location showed whale sharks moving into shipping lanes and then sinking slowly to the seafloor hundreds of metres below, which is the ‘smoking gun’ of a lethal ship strike.’

‘It is sad to think that many deaths of these incredible animals have occurred globally due to ships without us even knowing to take preventative measures,’ he added.

At present there are no international regulations to protect whale sharks against being hit by ships.

The research team say that this species faces an uncertain future if action is not taken soon.

(The findings are published in PNAS.)

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Travel Awaits

Endangered Birds Fly Over Redwood National Park For First Time In 100 Years

Greg Robertson, May 9, 2022

Two California condors were released from captivity this week, marking the first time the massive birds have flown over northern California and the Pacific Northwest in more than 100 years.

The birds were released from a pen in Redwood National Park just south of the Oregon border as part of a project to restore the birds in the region.

Two others are set to be released at a later date once observers determine the first two have shown appropriate behavior in the wild.

“They just jumped up and took flight off into the distance,” said Tiana Williams-Claussen, wildlife director for the Yurok tribe, according to the Associated Press.

California condors, the largest native North American bird, have not been seen in the region since 1892.

The birds had all but disappeared anywhere by the 1970s due to poaching, poisoning, and the destruction of their habitats. In the 1980s, the 22 known condors in the wild were trapped and brought into a captive breeding program.

Birds began being released in southern California in the early 1990s. The release this week in northern California was particularly significant for the Yurok tribe, which calls them prey-go-neesh and considers them sacred.

“The loss of the condor has limited our capacity to be Yurok because prey-go-neesh is such an important part of our culture and traditions,” Williams-Claussen told the North Coast Journal. “In a very real way, restoring condor habitat and returning condor to Yurok skies is a clear restoration of the Yurok people, homeland, ecological systems, culture, and lifeway.”

She noted the release is particularly significant for the younger generation.

“I have a 3-year-old-daughter. She is going to grow up with condors in her sky for her entire life. She is not going to know what it is to miss condors,” Willams-Claussen said. “She will always live in a relationship with condors, which is really what this project is all about.”

The vultures have a wingspan of up to 10 feet and can live for 60 years. Their ability to fly long distances in search of food means the birds could be spotted throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The condors released this week were both males. The two set to be released in the near future are a male and a female. Two were hatched at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, and two at the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.

The birds are between the ages of 2 and 4, so a long life in the wild should be ahead of them.

“This is just incredible, exciting times,” Williams-Claussen told Jefferson Public Radio. “This has literally been my life’s work.”

The release of the birds involved moving them to a staging area where a remote-controlled gate was opened. After only a few minutes, the birds went through the opening and took flight.

“That was just as exciting as I thought it was going to be,” Williams-Claussen said. “Those guys just took right off.”

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VPR (Colchester, VT)

Rare North Atlantic right whale spotted feeding off N.H. coast

New Hampshire Public Radio, By Dan Tuohy, Published May 6, 2022

New Hampshire’s coast had a rare visitor Friday: a North Atlantic right whale could be seen feeding just off the shore in North Hampton.

The right whale has been on the federal endangered species list since 1970. There are fewer than 350 left.

Dianna Schulte, director of research for the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, has observed right whales in New England for over 25 years — but never one right off the New Hampshire coastline.

“It is extremely rare for a North Atlantic right whale to be that close around here,” Schulte said. “To have that endangered of an animal coming in and having a bunch of people be able to look at it from the beach is actually really special for all those folks who did get to see it.”

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Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

Mountain butterfly in New Mexico could see federal protections from extinction

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus, May 6, 2022

A rare butterfly in New Mexico and other western states could soon be at risk of extinction, and the federal government planned to begin recovering the species before its threats worsened.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the silverspot butterfly as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), opening a 60-day public comment period to conclude July 5.

Threatened status provides federal protections for a species the Service believes could soon warrant an “endangered” listing that implies extinction is imminent.

The silverspot butterfly was known to dwell in 10 population groups across northern New Mexico, southwestern Colorado and eastern Utah, typically at elevations between 5,200 and 8,300 feet.

Silverspots grow up to a 3-inch wingspan and are known for silvery-white spots on the underside of their wins.

They require moist, open meadows to survive with available vegetation to lay eggs on.

The butterfly requires bog violets to lay eggs on our near, which their larvae feed on exclusively between hatching in September to the May.

Federal regulators identified climate change, livestock grazing and habitat loss as threats to the animal.

The Fish and Wildlife Service did not propose any critical habitat restrictions to protect the butterfly but noted its environment could change significantly over the next 30 years.

The proposal came after the Fish and Wildlife Service released a Species Status Assessment (SSA), using research and studies into the animal’s present viability and future impacts.

It pointed to climate change as minor factor today that would likely grow into a major threat in the coming decades.

“The climate already appears to be changing from human impacts with earlier springs and warmer temperatures,” read the report. “The butterfly has survived through the more severe past droughts and, despite noted changes in climate over the last 36 years, climate has thus far not been a detectable factor in reduction of species viability.

“However, climate appears to be at the verge of becoming a major factor.”

Another rule was proposed to support conservation efforts for the species to allow for agricultural and other necessary land uses.

“As summarized in the SSA report, climatic conditions are expected to change across the range of the silverspot butterfly over the next 30 years, such that the viability of the subspecies may decrease in the future,” read a report from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Fish and Wildlife Service initially proposed the butterfly, then known as the Great Basin silverspot butterfly, for a listing in 1978 and withdrew the proposal about a year later.

The species found again a listing might be warranted in 1984, adding to a list of candidate species, but removed it again from consideration in 1996.

In making its most recent proposal, the Service evaluated multiple factors for species’ potential extinction, along with human industrial impacts, and found federal regulations were presently inadequate for its survival.

“These factors represent broad categories of natural or human-caused actions or conditions that could have an effect on a species’ continued existence,” read the proposal.

“In evaluating these actions and conditions, we look for those that may have a negative effect on individuals of the species, as well as other actions or conditions that may ameliorate any negative effects or may have positive effects.”

Santa Fe-based environmental group WildEarth Guardians petitioned the Service in 2013 to list the silverspot butterfly for protections, and in 2016, the Service found WildEarth Guardians’ petition presented “substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted,” and began reviewing the species for listing.

Joe Bushyhead, attorney with WildEarth Guardians said listing the animal for protections was a crucial step in preventing its extinction and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

“Listing offers silverspots a much-needed lifeline,” Bushyhead said. “We’re hopeful the ESA can provide a path to both recover the butterfly and safeguard its vanishing habitat.”

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NPR/Empire KVCR (San Bernardino, CA)

Scientists say endangered porpoise isn’t doomed — so long as humans stop killing them

May 5, 20222, KENDAL BLUST

The vaquita marina, Spanish for “little sea cow,” is considered the world’s most endangered marine mammal.

The gray porpoise – known for its small size and characteristic black markings around its eyes and mouth – only lives in the northernmost part of Mexico’s Gulf of California, where fishing has brought the species to the brink of extinction.

But research now finds that, genetically speaking, there is still hope the vaquita population can recover.

“We’re really pushing back on the idea that the species is doomed,” says Jacqueline Robinson, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of California, San Francisco and an author of the study, which is published in the journal Science.

While all future vaquita will be descendants of just an estimated 10 remaining porpoises, the study shows that the negative impacts of inbreeding would be minimal. In fact, Robinson and her team found the species would have a good chance of recovering – if it can be better protected from gillnets, walls of netting submerged underwater that can trap and drown the small mammal.

Predicting the vaquita’s chance of survival

The study’s authors note that vaquita populations have historically been small. That means there’s actually little genetic variation between the porpoises, which tend to weigh about 100 lbs and can grow about 4 to 5 feet long.

“The fact that they’ve had low population sizes and low genetic diversity for a very long time in their evolutionary history kind of gives them an edge for rebounding from this current extreme population decline,” Robinson says. “They have less hidden, harmful genetic variation that could become a problem with future inbreeding.”

To understand the vaquita’s chances of recovery, the researchers started by sequencing and analyzing 20 vaquita genomes taken from archival tissue samples. The species’ genetics helped researchers understand the vaquita’s history and its past population size, which they estimate remained under 5,000 for tens of thousands of years because of its restricted habitat.

The recent dramatic population decline is largely due to vaquitas being ensnared in fishing nets, which are often set up by poachers in the waters of Baja California to catch totoaba — a huge endangered fish that’s extremely lucrative on the black market in China where it’s sold for its swim bladder.

The study drew on their genetic analysis and what’s known about the vaquita’s biology – its lifespan and reproductive behavior – to model population growth or decline assuming different levels of gillnet deaths.

If those deaths stopped entirely, the scientists only found a 6% chance that the vaquita would go extinct in the next 50 years, based on simulation estimates. But if fishing continues to kill off the animals, even at significantly reduced levels, the likelihood of extinction increases dramatically.

“Our results show a major impact of the gillnet mortality rates,” says UCLA researcher and study co-author Chris Kyriazis, who developed the team’s simulations. Even with an 80% reduction in gillnet deaths, chances for the species’ survival plummet, he says.

Robinson says their research shows that genetic diversity is not the problem for the endangered porpoise and that humans can intervene to keep them from vanishing.

Without the pressures of harmful fishing in their habitat, “there is a very good chance that vaquitas would rebound on their own,” she says. “And that is what has not been happening so far.”

Enforcing ‘zero tolerance’

Stopping harmful fishing practices has been a long-term struggle in the Upper Gulf of California.

Regulations to protect the vaquita marina have been on the books for decades in Mexico, and there is a “zero tolerance” zone in the area considered most critical for the little porpoise, where gillnet fishing is prohibited.

But enforcement of those rules is lax.

“The vaquita’s population won’t recover without protection,” says Alex Olivera, senior scientist and Mexico representative for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need more enforcement from the Mexican government.”

Despite pressure from conservation groups, the U.S. government and international organizations, Olivera says Mexico has failed to adequately protect the few remaining vaquita.

This new study on the genetic viability of the species shows there is still time to act, he says: “This adds to the argument that the species can be saved, they can recover, even though there are only a few individuals left.”

UCSF’s Robinson says their research makes it clear that the recovery of the vaquita ultimately depends on keeping the waters where it lives free of fishing nets. And while past efforts have been insufficient, she’s still hopeful.

“I think the takeaway is not to write off a species because it has low genetic diversity, or to say it’s doomed. That’s an assumption, and it’s probably a flawed one,” she says.

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CNBC

SpaceX Starbase expansion plans will harm endangered species, according to Fish and Wildlife Service

Published May 3, 2022, Lora Kolodny

SpaceX must take steps to track and mitigate its impact on endangered species and their habitat in order to gain approvals for testing and commercial launches of its Starship Super Heavy lift-launch vehicle in Boca Chica, Texas, according to documents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service obtained by CNBC.

The documents, released by the federal agency in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, show that recent declines in an endangered bird species, the piping plover, have already been correlated with SpaceX activity at the South Texas facility.

The documents also reveal that SpaceX is, for now at least, reducing the amount of energy it plans to generate at a utility-sized natural gas power plant on the 47.4-acre launch site there.

The company did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the documents.

What’s at stake

Ultimately, the Federal Aviation Administration must decide and is liable for final approvals and oversight of SpaceX in Texas.

The company’s ability to expand its business, and conduct launches beyond its existing Falcon rockets, hinges on this FAA approval. So does the fate of SpaceX’s business commitments in Texas.

In February, CEO Elon Musk said that his reusable rocket and satellite internet company could shift its Starship Super Heavy launch activity to the state of Florida, and turn its Boca Chica spaceport into more of an R&D campus, if regulatory hurdles in Texas proved insurmountable.

SpaceX sent its most recent known proposal for the Boca Chica facility to the FAA in September 2021. At that time, the company had said it wanted to build a new launch pad, new landing pad, power plant, natural gas processing facilities, and water infrastructure, including deluge systems and retention ponds used for cooling the launch pad there.

SpaceX is seeking from the FAA a permit and/or vehicle operator license that would allow it to build out new facilities and conduct launches of its larger Starship rockets near the cities of Brownsville and South Padre Island, Texas. The facility is on a small piece of land surrounded by wildlife refuge areas.

Before granting these licenses and permits, the FAA considers research from a number of other federal and state agencies and local environmental specialists.

Part of the FAA’s process includes a consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that the agency won’t violate the Endangered Species Act if it gives SpaceX a go-ahead for its proposed activity.

Wildlife impacts

The FWS has determined — and written in a document known as a draft biological and conference opinion (BCO) — that if SpaceX moves ahead with the proposal it sent to the FAA, it would impact some species protected under the Endangered Species Act, as well as hundreds of acres of their critical habitat, although the activity would not completely wipe out those species.

Of greatest concern is the company’s anticipated impact to the mating, migration, health and habitat of the piping plover, red knot, jaguarundi and ocelot populations. Disruptions and harm can be caused by everything from regular vehicle traffic, to the noise, heat, explosions and fragmentation of habitat caused by construction, rocket testing and launches.

Several species of sea turtles are also of concern, but FWS deferred to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for marine life expertise. One of the turtles is known as the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, which nests on the beaches of Boca Chica. It is the most critically endangered sea turtle in the world.

The draft opinion cautions that some 903.65 acres of piping plover critical habitat surrounds the facility and 446.27 acres of that will be lost from the direct impact of SpaceX activity under the proposal submitted to the FAA.

Among its recommendations and requirements, the FWS wants SpaceX to monitor affected animal populations carefully, limit construction and launch activity to specific seasons or times of day and night, and use shuttles to reduce vehicle traffic of workers on location.

The agency is also encouraging further research to understand potential effects on the monarch butterfly, which is under consideration to be listed as a threatened or endangered species in the U.S. now.

Overall, the FWS opinion may be good news for SpaceX.

The agency requires very little in the way of spending, conservation and other commitments by SpaceX, says Jared Margolis, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who read a copy of the draft BCO.

He said, “It seems the Fish and Wildlife Service is bending over backwards to figure out a way to permit more of what has been a very detrimental use of the Boca Chica site as far as impacts to wildlife go.”

Margolis said FWS did not ask for well-defined or large commitments by SpaceX where conservation is concerned. He pointed to FWS requiring SpaceX to donate a meager $5,000 to an ocelot conservation group per year.

He also said that too many of the agency’s requests were merely recommendations, and not enforceable under the terms and conditions of an eventual FAA permit.

“This is a company with very deep pockets,” Margolis added, “the least they could do is address these harms in a meaningful way.”

CNBC contacted the press office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service but officials were not immediately available to comment on Margolis’ assertions.

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Mongabay

To secure a future for wildlife, look to their distant past, study says

by Suzana Camargo on 3 May 2022, Translated by Maya Johnson

“Anywhere you find humans, you find the extinction of species,” says biologist Mathias Pires, a professor of biology at Campinas State University (UNICAMP) in Brazil.

The near-eradication of the American bison (Bison bison), the largest land animal in North America, is a case in point. These one-ton bovines once roamed the prairies in herds numbering in the millions. The bison’s distribution was so vast that it was found from Alaska all the way down to northern Mexico.

But with the arrival of the first European colonialists in North America, the bison was hunted near to extinction. In the 19th century, fewer than 100 of the animals remained in the wild. Today, their numbers have recovered slightly, and they can be found in small herds mostly in protected areas.

Pires’s observation of the destructive power of humans isn’t new, but now he and several colleagues have put into numbers the impact that we as a species have had on the other species that share this planet since Homo sapiens first migrated out of Africa 50,000 and 11,000 years ago.

“The late Pleistocene was the period when the great human migrations out of Africa began to take place,” says Lilian Sales, a UNICAMP researcher and the lead author of the new study that maps out the original and current distributions of 145 large mammal species. “Man’s arrival and the disappearance of some species were synchronous.”

The study, published in March in the journal Global Change Biology, shows how species such as bison were wiped out from much of their range — nearly a third, on average — because of human activity and forced to move into other habitats and climates.

Some, including the greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) and the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), are today found in less than 50% of the habitats where they once occurred. Others, like the Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and the European bison (Bison bonasus) are restricted to an area that’s just 1% of their original range.

“The impact of human presence on the reduction of mammal megafauna species distribution has been well documented in fossil records,” Sales says. “The study’s main objective was to analyze whether the changes in these species’ geographic distribution led to changes in the niches they occupy.”

Species in Asia the most affected

The reason that large mammals were chosen for the study — megafauna defined as weighing more than 44 kilograms (97 pounds) — is that their large bodies are more likely to leave a fossil record, and hence identify patterns of change. They’re also more vulnerable to humans because of their size.

According to the study, large mammals in Asia have experienced the greatest impact from human activity. The list of those whose ranges were reduced the most includes the two rhino species, as well as the wild water buffalo (Bubalus arnee), Père David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus) and the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx). These last two were at one point declared extinct in the wild, but thanks to reintroduction programs, have once again begun to populate parts of their original ranges.

In South America, the marsh deer (Blastocerus dichotomus) and the jaguar (Panthera onca) are among those species whose distribution shrank the most, by 76% and 40% of their original territory, respectively. The latter, the largest cat in the Americas, was originally found from the southeastern U.S. through to northern Argentina. Today, jaguar sightings in the U.S. are rare, and the species is also seldom in Mexico.

Climate refugees

The changes in species’ niches that Sales speaks of are driven by factors such as the temperature and its variability, and rainfall. Many of the species that have gone locally extinct across much of their original range are now confined to regions where the climate is no longer optimal for them.

This is the case with the Javan rhino, which today is restricted to a single national park with humid forest on the western tip of the Indonesian island of Java. In the past, the species occupied a wide range of habitats, from lowland forest to high-altitude forest, marshes to humid prairies, throughout much of Southeast Asia.

Another species, the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), an animal associated today with the savannas of Africa, originally also occurred in the steppes and prairies of Europe and Asia — a range much larger than the African continent.

Sales says large animals need suitably large ranges to live. They also tend to have low reproduction rates, which also leaves them more vulnerable to change.

This is why researchers already refer to some species like the Javan rhino and spotted hyena as “climate refugees.” This term, however, is used in a different context than when referring to human populations forced to leave regions rendered inhospitable by climate change.

“Many species we know today are actually found in less-than-ideal climates, different from those in which their ancestors lived,” says Mauro Galetti, a co-author of the article and faculty member at Brazil’s Paulista State University and assistant professor at the University of Miami. “This is due to the fact that the populations of these species in perfect climates were made extinct by humans.”

Given this scenario, the study authors stress the importance of taking these historical distribution changes into account when making projections for the species’ future and to better plan conservation actions. Without considering these animals’ original ranges, they warn, we could be making mistakes about choosing the best environments for them where they can avoid extinction.

“If we ignore the past and look only at the present, we have only the perspective of already-impoverished environments,” Pires says. “We must also consider the habitats of these species before the arrival of Homo sapiens.”

The vast majority of models in use today for predicting species’ responses to climate change are based on current events. But if they show only a small part of the ranges that these animals originally occupied, they may be making an incorrect diagnosis.

“All of Earth’s species are restricted in space by just a few variables like temperature and humidity,” Galetti says. “This is easy to understand. If you want to know where to find a polar bear [Ursus maritimus], you will look in cold, high-latitude regions with little rainfall. But if we kill off 90% of all the polar bears and scientists in the future try to restore their distribution based only on those in existence, we will have an erroneous ‘map’ as to the ideal climate in which they lived.”

That’s because climate conditions across the Arctic are not homogenous. There are warmer and colder regions, others in which the temperature varies more during the year, and regions with more rainfall. In a future conservation project for reintroducing polar bears in the event they become nearly extinct, the map of their current occurrence won’t represent the species’ true distribution area over the past centuries. And this could affect the success of any conservation or reintroduction program.

The authors say the survival of Earth’s existing fauna depends on humans keeping a careful eye on the past — as in, thousands of years ago — and not maintaining a myopic focus on today’s “environmentally compromised” situation for most of these threatened and iconic species.

(Citation: Sales, L. P., Galetti, M., Carnaval, A., Monsarrat, S., Svenning, J., & Pires, M. M. (2022). The effect of past defaunation on ranges, niches, and future biodiversity forecasts. Global Change Biology. doi:10.1111/gcb.16145  This story was reported by Mongabay’s Brazil team and first published here on our Brazil site on April 21, 2022.)

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United Nations News

Natural resources must be ‘part of the solution’ in fight against deforestation

3 May 2022

Between 2010 and 2018, the rate of deforestation worlwide slowed by nearly 30 per cent compared to the previous ten years, according to a key report launched on Tuesday by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The Global Forest  Resources Assessment Remote Sensing Survey warned however, that from livestock grazing in South America to the expansion of croplands in Asia, the earth’s tropical rainforests still face a tremendous threat. 

“This survey is important, not just for the new numbers it gives us but for what it tells us about forest area trends and what’s driving deforestation, also the crucial ability it gives us to monitor how things are evolving,” said FAO Deputy Director-General, Maria Helena Semedo.

Losses halved

Annual deforestation decreased by around 29 per cent – from 11 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2010, to 7.8 million hectares from 2010 to 2018, the survey revealed.

Moreover, net forest area losses have more than halved during the survey period – from 6.8 million hectares annually between 2000 and 2010 down to 3.1 million hectares per year from 2010 to 2018. 

By region, the highest level of deforestation between 2000 and 2018 occurred in South America (68 million hectares deforested), followed by Africa (49 million hectares).

This is despite a slower deforestation rate in South America and South and southeast Asia between 2000 and 2018.

“Unsustainable agricultural development and other land uses continue to put intense pressure on our forests, especially in many of the poorest countries,” Ms. Semedo explained.  

Unsustainable development

Meanwhile from 2000 to 2018, tropical forest losses accounted for more than 90 per cent of global deforestation.

And while that equals 157 million hectares – roughly the size of western Europe – annual deforestation in the tropics slowed significantly from 10.1 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2010 to seven million hectares annually 2010 to 2018.

“There are win-win solutions which we can and must scale up, to feed the world without destroying our forests,” assured the FAO official.

Driving deforestation

Cropland expansion is the main driver of deforestation, responsible for nearly half of global deforestation, followed by livestock grazing, accounting for 38.5 per cent.  

From 2000 to 2018, oil palm planting alone accounted for seven per cent of the global deforestation.

While the survey suggests that tropical regions of Central America are most severely threatened by land-use conversion, similar phenomena were detected in the region’s tropical dry forest and shrubland. 

However, the small number of samples in these ecoregions, means further investigations are needed to confirm these findings.

Tap solutions in nature

The XV World Forestry Congress (WFC) opened on Monday, in Seoul, Korea, as well as online.

Kicking off the event, Ms. Semedo said that “no matter which crises we are facing – a pandemic, conflicts, climate change – and [their] resulting economic recession and food insecurity, we must consider our forests and our natural resources as part of the solution and integrate them in recovery plans and strategies.” 

The Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) states that protecting forests helps  tackle climate change, boost food security, conserve biodiversity and boost efforts to create a poverty-free world. 

State of forests

Under the main theme Building a green, healthy and resilient future with forests, leaders from the FAO, the World Bank, and youth and Indigenous representatives participated in discussions 

In addition to the survey launch, as part of the Forestry Resources Assessment 2020, FAO on Monday launched its flagship State of the World’s Forests Report 2022.

The report underscored the three mutually reinforcing pathways of halting deforestation and maintaining forests; restoring degraded lands and expanding reforestation; and ensuring sustainable value chains. 

Other key findings included the need to enshrine tenure rights; provide incentives and remove disincentives for forest conservation; and the urgency of addressing the conflict between forest conservation and other development needs.

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Wisconsin Examiner (Madison, WI)

Six Wisconsin tribes write letter opposing bill to delist wolves

By HENRY REDMAN, May 2, 2022

Six Ojibwe tribes in Wisconsin wrote a letter this week to Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson opposing a bipartisan bill co-authored by Baldwin (a Democrat) and Johnson (a Republican) that would remove the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list in the Western Great Lakes region and Wyoming.

Delisting of the gray wolf would allow the animal to be hunted again. Baldwin and Johnson argue that the wolf populations in these parts of the country are healthy and therefore management should be returned to the states.

The letter sent Wednesday to Wisconsin’s two U.S. senators was signed by the Bad River, Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau, Red Cliff, Sokaogon Chippewa and St. Croix Chippewa tribes.

The letter states that neither senator reached out to the tribes to discuss how the delisting would affect their rights or treaty-protected resources. The letter notes that in 2021 when the wolf was delisted, the hunt held that February was badly mismanaged by the state and led to hunters overshooting the planned quota.

In that hunt, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources had set a quota of 200, with a portion of that meant to be for the tribes. The tribes didn’t participate in the hunt, but hunters still went past the total quota — killing 218 wolves.

“You both have stated that management of the gray wolf, or Ma’iingan in Anishinaabemowin, should be undertaken by the state,” the letter states. “However, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (“WNDR”) has demonstrated that it is unable to effectively manage the gray wolf population under the state’s current statutory and regulatory framework, as evidenced by Wisconsin’s botched February 2021 wolf hunt. That hunt yielded an excessive removal of wolves that surpassed the state’s hunting quota and consumed the tribes’ entire treaty-protected share of wolves through the actions of state-licensed hunters in just three days. The hunt was ill-advised not only because of its brutality, occurring as it did during wolf breeding season, but also because such hunts destabilize packs, causing dispersal and increasing livestock predation.”

Another hunt was planned for November 2021 with a quota of 300 wolves but a Dane County Circuit Court judge put a halt to it, finding that the DNR had failed to put in place permanent rules guiding the hunt and therefore was unable to move forward.

This February, a federal judge restored endangered species protections for wolves in most of the country.

After introducing the bill, Baldwin told the Wisconsin Examiner that the wolf population is healthy in Wisconsin and that the state can responsibly manage its control — despite increasing polarization over the issue and conservative meddling in the body responsible for setting quotas.

“There is scientific consensus that the population of gray wolves has recovered and the federal government can safely return the stewardship of the animals to the state of Wisconsin,” she said. “In crafting policies to manage these animals, I urge all stakeholders in the state to come to the table in a good faith effort to reach a consensus on hunting regulations.”

In the letter, the tribes specifically call out Baldwin for failing to consult them on her decision to co-author the legislation.

“Senator Baldwin, you have recognized that tribes work to protect Wisconsin forests, lakes, and rivers to ensure that they will be there for the next generation,” the letter states. “We remind you that our work also extends to protection of the species that populate this landscape, such as the gray wolf. That work is imperative to the perpetuation of all species upon which we depend and upon which our descendants will depend. You also have spoken in the past of your trust and treaty responsibilities to tribes, as well as the importance of tribal sovereignty. We are disappointed that you introduced this bill without consulting the eleven federally recognized tribes in Wisconsin to learn our position on what level of protections should apply to Ma’iingan. If you had spoken with us, you would have learned about our efforts to protect Ma’iingan, and the important role they play in the ecosystem, and in our culture.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Seeks Documents on Biden Administration Plans to Weaken Endangered Species Act

WASHINGTON—(May 2, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a lawsuit challenging the Biden administration’s failure to release documents detailing discussions between political officials, other agency staff, and members of Congress over potential legislation that would further weaken the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, comes after documents previously obtained by the Center revealed that political officials within the Office of the Secretary of the Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service may be considering legislation to weaken the legal requirements for the Forest Service to assess the conservation needs of endangered species at the landscape scale.

“It’s disturbing that the administration would even consider crippling protections for our most imperiled animals and plants during this unprecedented extinction crisis,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center. “If Biden officials truly care about conserving our natural heritage, they shouldn’t be working with the worst anti-wildlife members of Congress who are bent on pushing some of our most iconic species toward extinction.”

In 2018 when the Republican Party held control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, Sen. Steve Daines successfully passed the so-called “Cottonwood” rider, which temporarily exempted the Forest Service from the requirement to reassess and potentially strengthen land-management plans after a species was listed or critical habitat was designated on the affected national forest.

Since the Cottonwood rider passed, Sen. Daines has introduced additional legislation that would expand and make permanent this exemption. It would also allow the Forest Service to ignore “any new information” — including new information about climate change’s threats to protected species like the Yellow-billed cuckoo or Yosemite toad — for years or even decades to come.

“We sincerely hope the Biden administration will publicly reject this head-in-the-sand approach to the climate emergency and extinction crisis,” said Hartl. “It’s time for Biden’s political appointees to stop playing games, come clean by turning over these documents, and stop pandering to Sen. Daines.”

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Lootpress (Beckley, WV)

NOAA announces $6.2 million in endangered species recovery grants

By Tyler Barker, May 1, 2022

(LOOTPRESS) – NOAA Fisheries is proposing 12 new projects and the continuation of 13 multi-year projects under the Species Recovery Grants Program, with up to $6.2 million in new funding. The program supports management, research, monitoring and outreach activities that have direct conservation benefits for endangered species.

Up to $3.6 million in funding for new awards are proposed for projects in Alaska, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Florida, Maryland, Oregon, Puerto Rico and to the Makah Tribe. And up to $2.6 million in funding will continue to support 13 existing projects approved through prior grant cycles.

“States and tribes play an essential role in conserving and recovering species,” said Janet Coit, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, and acting assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator. “NOAA is responsible for endangered species that may spend all or part of their lifecycle in state waters, and successful conservation depends on our cooperation with valued state and tribal partners.”

This year’s recommended projects support our state and tribal partners in a range of activities, such as:

*Assessing and monitoring endangered and threatened species, including evaluating abundance, spawning and foraging behaviors.

*Collecting demographic and genetic information to improve understanding of population distribution, habitat use and impacts from human threats.

*Assessing the impacts of climate change on species’ predator-prey interactions, and population distribution, abundance and recovery.

*Improving captive reproduction, health and survival of endangered species.

*Assisting with animal stranding responses.

*Assessing threats of specific prey populations to the diet of endangered species.

*Engaging the public in conservation of Endangered Species Act-listed species.

The Species Recovery Grant Program began in 2003 and is an example of how NOAA advances funding opportunities and partnerships towards recovering species while supporting our mission of preserving marine resources for future generations.

During this period of the selection process, the application approval and obligation of funds is not final. Each application is being “recommended” for funding. This is not an authorization to start the project and is not a guarantee of funding. A complete list of funded projects to states and tribes is available online. Awardees will be notified directly when applications are approved in the coming months. For more information about this year’s proposed projects, please visit the NOAA Fisheries website.

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The Times of Israel

First birth of an Asiatic cheetah in captivity takes place in Iran

Only a dozen of the endangered breed of the world’s fastest land animal remain in Islamic Republic, down from an estimated 100 in 2010

By AFP, 1 May 2022

TEHRAN, Iran — An Asiatic cheetah gave birth to three “healthy” cubs in Iran, the head of the environment department said Sunday, calling it a first in captivity for the endangered species.

“Iran,” one of only a dozen cheetahs found in the Islamic Republic, delivered three “healthy” cubs by C-section, Ali Salajegheh told IRNA news agency.

“This is the first birth of an Asiatic cheetah in captivity,” he said. “By preserving these cubs, we can increase the cheetah population in captivity and then in semi-captivity,” Salajegheh added.

The cubs were born in the Touran Wildlife Refuge in the Semnan province east of Tehran, where the mother and her babies are being monitored in intensive care.

The world’s fastest land animal, capable of reaching speeds of 120 kilometers (74 miles) per hour, cheetahs once stalked habitats from the eastern reaches of India to the Atlantic coast of Senegal and beyond. They are still found in parts of southern Africa, but have practically disappeared from North Africa and Asia.

Iran is one of the last countries in the world where the Asiatic cheetahs live in the wild and began a United Nations-supported protection program in 2001.

The subspecies “Acinonyx jubatus venaticus,” commonly known as the Asiatic cheetah, is critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In January, Deputy Environment Minister Hassan Akbari said Iran is home to only a dozen Asiatic cheetahs — down from an estimated 100 in 2010.

Their situation “is extremely critical,” Akbari said at the time, adding that the animals have been victims of drought, hunters and car accidents.

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The Canberra Times

New frog species already endangered

By Finbar O’Mallon, April 29 2022

Australian scientists have discovered a new species of frog in south-east Queensland and it’s already classified as endangered.

The new mountain frog’s only known habitat is the world heritage-listed Gondwana rainforests which were extensively burned during the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires.

Dubbed Philoria knowlesi, after Sydney environmentalist Ross Knowles, the frog was discovered thanks to extensive genetic testing.

Queensland’s environment department said it was already moving to protect the habitat of the newly identified species.

“There are a number of measures rangers are taking to support the recovery of fire-impacted areas,” senior conservation officer Harry Hines said.

University of Newcastle’s Professor Michael Mahony said the frog’s habitat, the Gondwana rainforests, were of “special significance” for the evolution of Australia’s plant and animal life.

“There are currently seven known species of mountain frog, six of which are found only in the Gondwana rainforest area,” Professor Mahony said.

The discovery is part of a joint effort from the Queensland government ecologists, the University of Newcastle, South Cross University, CSIRO and the South Australian Museum.

Scientists have been gathering and analysing the DNA of the mountain frogs in the rainforest since 2006.

Over the last 16 years they have been busy confirming they are all distinct species.

Philoria knowlesi comes in different shades of brown and lets out a deep “bop”-like croak.

It breeds in spring and early summer in small bogs and along the banks of mountain streams. When mating, the male creates a small breeding chamber where the tadpoles develop.

Philoria knowlesi’s biggest threat is habitat loss, with rangers working to keep out stray cattle, control feral pigs and weeds and reduce the risk of future bushfires.

Part of a national bushfire recovery fund will go to protecting the Gondwana rainforests, with $3.85 million for recovery projects of the World Heritage icon.

Areas of Gondwana that had never been touched by fire before Black Summer had blazes threatening numerous plant and animal species. Populations in the rainforest are still struggling to recover more than two years on.

Australia has the world’s worst rate of wildlife extinctions.

(Australian Associated Press)

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National Parks Traveler

Defenders Of Wildlife: Pinyon Jay Needs ESA Protection To Dodge Extinction

By NPT Staff, April 29th, 2022

The pinyon jay, a gregarious bird that’s an icon on the Western landscape, is plummeting in number and needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act if it’s to avoid extinction, according to Defenders of Wildlife.

Defenders petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday to protect the pinyon jay under the ESA. The species is experiencing a precipitous decline throughout the western United States due, in part, to the loss and degradation of its piñon-juniper woodlands habitat, according to Defenders. Over the past 50 years, the pinyon jay population declined by 85 percent, and, without the protections afforded by the ESA, half of its remaining global population is expected to be lost by 2035, the group said.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must act now to prevent the extinction of the pinyon jay,” said Defenders of Wildlife New Mexico representative Patricia Estrella. “This remarkable bird is threatened by a suite of factors including removal of its piñon-juniper habitat, drought, and climate change. Due to the combined threats facing the pinyon jay, the bird warrants the federal protection of the ESA.”

A species warrants ESA protection if it is determined to be endangered or threatened in all or a significant portion of its range based on any one or combination of five factors. The Pinyon Jay satisfies several of the factors set forth in the ESA such as habitat destruction, the inadequacy of state and federal legal protections, and other man-made factors.

The pinyon jay is a charismatic, social bird that travels in large flocks and plays a significant role in maintaining the biodiversity of the West. The range of the pinyon jay includes 13 states. It facilitates piñon pine tree regeneration by extracting and burying the seeds, commonly known as pine nuts. The birds do not retrieve all their cached seeds, allowing the seeds to germinate and replenish the woodlands. Without pinyon jays, it’s not clear that the piñon pine tree would continue to persist.

Loss of piñon pine would disproportionately affect Native American and Hispanic communities in the Southwest, which have cultural connections with pine nuts. For generations, Native Americans in the Southwest have harvested and consumed the seeds. During the fall harvest, families collect the nutritional seeds and store them for the winter. This important cultural tradition would likely be lost if the pinyon jay went extinct.

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Spectrum News

NOAA introduces new rule to save oceanic whitetip sharks

By Michelle Broder Van Dyke/Hawaii, April 29, 2022

NOAA Fisheries introduced new rules Thursday that will protect oceanic whitetip sharks from being hooked by longline fishers, according to a news release.

The new rules prohibit the use of steel wire leaders on hooks deployed in the Hawaii deep-set longline fishery, which operates around the main Hawaiian Islands, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and the U.S. Pacific Remote Island Areas. Instead, monofilament nylon leaders should be used.

The rules also require fishers in the Western Pacific longline fisheries to remove fishing gear from oceanic whitetip sharks that get caught in it.

Oceanic whitetip sharks have distinct white markings on the tips of their dorsal fins, grow up to 11 feet long and can live for up to 25 years. They exist around the world in tropical and subtropical waters and often reside near the surface of the water.

NOAA Fisheries listed oceanic whitetip sharks as threatened in 2018 under the Endangered Species Act. In the Pacific, the species has declined by 80-95% since the mid-1990s.

The sharks are threatened because they get caught in longline fishing gear, large fishing nets and gillnets. Not meaning to capture the sharks, fishers often discard them, in what is known as bycatch. Oceanic whitetip sharks are also harvested internationally for their fins.

NOAA said the new rules, which go into effect on May 31, are anticipated to increase the species bycatch survival by 30%.

The gear used by deep-set longline fishers usually comprises a continuous mainline set below the surface, which is supported horizontally in the ocean by floats with branch lines attached at intervals. Each branch line has a single baited hook at its end, and wire leaders are short metal wire fishing lines that attach the rest of the fishing line to the baited hook, according to NOAA.

However, the metal lines are too strong for sharks to cut themselves free when they are hooked. Replacing them with nylon will allow the sharks to bite through the line and free themselves. If a shark doesn’t bite through the nylon, a fisher can also cut the line close to the hook to free the shark.

NOAA said it made the rules in conjunction with Hawaii longline fishers and the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council. Some longline fishers, who are usually fishing for tuna, already made the change to monofilament nylon leaders starting in Nov. 2020.

“The Hawaiʻi fishing fleet sets the standard for longline tuna fishing, with high levels of observer coverage and strong regulations to limit the effects of the fishery on protected species,” said Michael Tosatto, Regional Administrator, NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office.

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KUOW/FM—NPR (Seattle, WA)

Scientists race to rescue world’s fastest sea star from oblivion

April 28, 2022, By John Ryan

Scientists are racing to revive a critically endangered species that has succumbed to a mysterious underwater pandemic up and down the West Coast.

The species is the sunflower star, a pizza-sized predator that can have two dozen arms. Since 2013, a wasting disease of unknown origin has turned some 5 billion sunflower stars, or 90% of the global population, into goo.

“I think there’s a pretty high potential for extinction of this species, particularly in certain geographies, so we’re all moving as quickly as we can,” Nature Conservancy scientist Walter Heady said during a panel on sunflower stars Wednesday at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference.

While some other species hit by the wasting disease have shown signs of recovery, sunflower stars have not.

Scientists say a few scattered fjords in British Columbia and Washington state still harbor remnant pockets of decent-sized populations of the endangered species. Recreational divers report finding patches of adult sunflower stars on the eastern shoreline of Whidbey Island.

Researchers are working to find what’s causing the wasting disease, why it kills some stars but not others, and how to help survivors of the the world’s worst underwater pandemic bounce back more quickly.

Gliding along on thousands of tiny tube feet beneath its two dozen arms, the sunflower star is the world’s fastest sea star and a dominant predator on seafloors along North America’s West Coast. But it has been unable to outrun the virus or bacterium or whatever is behind the wasting syndrome that has attacked 20 species.

“It’s always kind of blown my mind, honestly, that this disease was so broad, across so many different sea stars,” University of Washington biologist Jason Hodin said. “Maybe that doesn’t seem like such a big deal to some of you, but that’s equivalent to saying that a disease hits all different mammals that we know of.”

Biomedical researchers identified the virus behind humanity’s Covid-19 pandemic and sequenced its genome within weeks of its initial December 2019 outbreak in Wuhan, China.

It has been a different story for this underwater pandemic.

“It’s coming on 10 years after we first saw this wasting outbreak, and we still don’t know what the disease is,” Hodin said.

Researchers say until recently, very little was known about what microbes or viruses sea stars might harbor.

“When you’re working in a system where you don’t know what’s normal, it is a lot harder to find something that is new,” said biologist Alyssa-Lois Gehman of British Columbia’s Hakai Institute.

“There is a possibility that we never discover or understand what is the causative agent of sea star wasting,” said ecologist Lauren Schiebelhut of the University of California, Merced. “We obviously really hope that is not the case.”

Schiebelhut has found genetic differences between healthy sea stars and diseased ones in the wild. She said pinpointing those differences could help efforts to breed disease-resistant stars—even without identifying the cause of the disease.

Even in pre-underwater-pandemic times, studying sunflower stars was challenging. In the lab, researchers wear gloves and carry the big stars upside down so their many tube feet don’t attach to human arms.

“These animals are so strong that it can be difficult to get them off if they decide to attach, particularly without harming them,” Gehman said.

“They have lots of interesting structures on their skin that can jab and grab predators, competitors or my arm hairs,” Gehman said.

The mass die-off of sea stars further complicated the work, from biosecurity measures to the supply of lab animals drying up.

Gehman has been hunting for the cause of the disease by injecting healthy sunflower stars with tissue from diseased stars.

“For a while we were unable to run experiments because we couldn’t get access to animals,” Gehman said.

With an invisible killer stalking sunflower stars, researchers have had to take further precautions to keep stars healthy, including separating the gregarious animals.

“They were very touchy-feely with one another, and that could be not a very good thing for transmitted disease,” Hodin said.

Like Covid-19 among humans, the wasting disease can be spread by individuals who don’t have symptoms. And it kills fast: within two to four days.

In 2020, the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the sunflower stars critically endangered, the first sea star to gain that unfortunate status.

Neither the U.S. nor the Canadian government has given endangered species protections to the sunflower star.

The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service in August to list the sunflower star, Pycnopodia helianthoides, as an endangered species. The federal agency launched a review in December to determine whether the species deserves an endangered listing.

Even without a government mandate, an international working group has been putting together a “roadmap to recovery” for the species to coordinate research efforts and prepare to expand the number of captive-rearing facilities.

“We need to transition from only studying and documenting to acting,” Schiebelhut said. “Pycnopodia may not have the time for us to delay any longer.”

Scientists speaking at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference wouldn’t estimate how long it might take before all the pieces are in place to start reintroducing the critically endangered species to the sea on a large scale.

“That’s something our team wrestles with on a daily basis,” Heady said. “It’s that mix of being really careful and yet setting us up to be as quick as possible.”

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories currently have 900 juvenile sunflower stars growing in tanks. The two-year-olds are about the size of an outstretched human hand. Hodin said he hopes to have enough full-size adults by next year to put some of them in undersea cages off San Juan Island for divers to monitor how the lab-raised animals fare in the wild.

Marine biologists say bringing the big stars back could help all sorts of ocean life, since sunflower stars prey on sea urchins. With fewer predators around in recent years, urchins have been chewing their way through the kelp forests that many species rely on.

From observing them in the lab, Hodin said, scientists have found that young sunflower stars can devour up to six young sea urchins in a day—ten times the appetite of adult sunflower stars for adult urchins.

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The Independent (UK)

Endangered butterflies and spiders ‘being sold illegally on Amazon’

Most expensive insect researchers discovered for sale was $3,850 birdwing butterfly

Tom Batchelor, April 28, 2022

Rare, endangered and threatened insects and spiders are being sold online as pets, researchers have found.

Experts at Cornell University claimed a Luzon peacock swallowtail, one of the rarest butterflies which is listed as endangered and is illegal to trade, was found for sale at Amazon for around $110 (£88).

Many species of live tarantulas which are not endangered but whose trade is tightly controlled were also listed for sale.

John Losey, professor of entomology and lead author of the paper, Insects and Spiders on the Web: Monitoring and Mitigating Online Exploitation of Species and Services, said: “We surveyed the web to determine if there were species available for sale that are rare, threatened, or for which commerce is in some way regulated.

“As they get rarer and rarer, they become more and more valuable to collectors, and then the amount of collecting and sale, if not done sustainably, has greater impact on those species.”

The most expensive insect the researchers discovered for sale was a birdwing butterfly species named Ornithoptera allottei, which they said was listed on eBay for $3,850 (£3,070).

The team also found species for sale that should only be bought through regulated sources, such as ladybugs released for pest control.

They said inadvertently releasing diseased insects, the wrong strain or batches not suited for certain areas could have a negative impact on wild populations of animals.

Paul Curtis, a senior co-author on the paper and an extension wildlife specialist in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, said: “Hopefully, our findings will lead to better enforcement of the illegal online sale of rare insects and protect those species in the wild.”

The study, which has been shared with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, was published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.

An eBay spokesperson said: “eBay does not permit the sale of endangered or threatened species. We have block filter algorithms aimed to prevent the sale of prohibited items and, on the very rare occasion that such items evade our filters, our security teams will remove them from the site.

“We have identified a small number of animal-related listings that contravene our policy and are removing them. We will also take enforcement action against sellers breaching this policy, which may include suspending accounts or permanent bans.”

An Amazon spokesperson said: “Third party sellers are independent businesses and are required to follow our selling guidelines and all applicable laws, when selling animals or animal-related products.

“We clearly prohibit the sale of endangered species, we are investigating the product in question and will take appropriate action on any non-compliant listings.”

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EcoWatch

Up to 40% of the World’s Land Is Degraded by Humans, UN Report Warns

Olivia Rosane, Apr. 28, 2022

Human activity has degraded as much as 40 percent of the world’s land, impacting half of the people on Earth and putting about half of global gross domestic product at risk.

That’s the stark finding of the Global Land Outlook 2, a new report from the UN’s Council to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). With more than 1,000 references and the support of 21 partner organizations, the publication is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the state of the world’s land, and it offers both a dire warning and promising solutions.

“In a world of profligate consumerism, global supply chains, and a growing population, land resources – our soil, water, and biodiversity – are rapidly being depleted. As a finite resource and our most valuable natural asset, we can no longer afford to take land for granted. We must move to a crisis footing to address the challenge and make land the focus,” UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw wrote in a foreword to the new report. 

Mining vs. Managing

More than 70 percent of the Earth’s land has been altered by human activity, and up to 40 percent is degraded, meaning that it has become less biologically or economically productive over a sustained period of time. Land degradation increases poverty and pollution and puts the people who live on or near it at risk for diseases and disasters.

One major driver of this degradation is the global food system, which is the leading cause of land-based biodiversity loss and is also behind 80 percent of deforestation and 70 percent of freshwater use. Yet UNCCD members emphasized that the main problem was not any particular type of land use, but rather the dominant economy’s overall attitude towards land.

“We have been mining land, we have not been managing it,” Thiaw told reporters in a Wednesday press conference.

He defined mining as a linear approach that favored using and discarding resources, while managing would mean a more circular approach that uses and reuses resources sustainably.

“It is the way that our economy is shaped right now,” UNCCD Deputy Executive Secretary Andrea Meza Murillo agreed.

In an interview with EcoWatch, UNCCD lead scientist Barron Joseph Orr said that the land-use conversation had moved on from 10 years ago, when it had focused on single direct drivers like overgrazing.

“We know now that the cup of coffee that you or I may have had this morning may have contributed to land degradation somewhere very far away, as is true for almost everything that we eat, that we wear, etc.,” he said. “And so unsustainable consumption and production is probably the underlying, major indirect driver.”

Three Scenarios

The new report outlined three scenarios for how humanity might respond to this land-use crisis and what their impact would be by 2050.

**Business-as-usual: If we continue with current consumption and production patterns, we will lose an additional 16 million square kilometers (approximately six million square miles) of land by 2050, an area the size of South America. Further, land-use change and soil degradation will pump an additional 69 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the growth in crop yields will decrease and biodiversity loss will continue.

**Restoration: If we restore five billion hectares – 35 percent of the Earth’s land area – through measures like conservation agriculture, agroforestry and improved grazing, this will increase carbon stocks by 17 gigatonnes, increase crop yields by five to 10 percent in most developing countries compared to the first scenario and prevent 11 percent of biodiversity loss predicted in the first scenario.

**Restoration and Protection: This scenario builds on the restoration scenario with the additional protection of areas important for biodiversity, water, soil and carbon storage. Together, the measures would impact nearly half of the Earth’s land area, storing an additional 83 gigatonnes of carbon and reducing projected biodiversity loss by one third. However, in order to feed the world’s population, agricultural yields would have to increase by nine percent compared to the business-as-usual scenario.

All of these scenarios illustrate one of the report’s major messages: that land degradation is intimately linked to all of the other environmental and social crises facing humanity today.

“What’s really important about this report is that it brings together that we have to look at nature, people, climate, water, etc. – all together,” Orr told EcoWatch. “That you can’t anymore deal with these in separate ways, and, at the same time, it makes it clear that land is underneath all of these, and if you do well with land, you can make a difference in all of those categories through restoration.”

‘Enabling Environment‘

If the problems surrounding land-use change are all interconnected, the solutions also require a holistic approach. The report called for an “enabling environment” in which governments, financial institutions, businesses, scientists and local communities all work together to restore land.

Orr said that restoration must also look beyond single acts of conservation to consider a systemic approach that decides where it is best to build a biodiversity corridor or launch a climate mitigation project. He offered the example of Africa’s Great Green Wall, which focuses on land restoration in the Sahel covering 8,000 kilometers (approximately 4,971 miles) and 11 countries.

“In recent years, the vision has evolved from a tree-planting program to an integrated ecosystem management approach, striving to optimize a mosaic of different land use systems,” the report wrote.

On a global level, UN Sustainable Development Goal Target 15.3 has called for Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) by 2030, which is defined by the UNCCD as  “a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security remain stable or increase within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems,” according to the report. Currently, land restoration targets made by 115 countries, nearly half of them LDN targets, would restore a total of one billion hectares.

The report also joined with the emerging scientific consensus that protecting the land rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities is essential for protecting the land itself.

“In the face of rising threats to tropical forests — UN and other climate and biodiversity experts have begun to argue for expanding the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities and for drawing on their traditional knowledge as a proven solution for protecting intact ecosystems,” General Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin José Gregorio Diaz Mirabal said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “The new global land report for the first time recommends scaling up the land rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities – not just as a climate solution — but as a means for ensuring the success of projects to restore nature.”

The report comes at an opportune time to make a difference. It was released weeks ahead of the UNCCD’s 15th session of the Conference of Parties in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire in May and in the first year of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

“It will not be the end all of all that comes out on this, but it certainly will generate a lot of energy and movement,” Orr said.

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Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, FL)

Feds ponder endangered species protection for Florida gopher tortoises

By Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida, April 28, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — Federal wildlife officials will decide in the coming months whether increased protections are needed for gopher tortoises, as Florida looks for ways to move the animals out of the path of developers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity reached a settlement this week that will require the federal agency to determine by Sept. 30 whether gopher tortoises in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and eastern Alabama should be listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The settlement came in a lawsuit that the Center for Biological Diversity filed last year that accused the federal agency of “dragging its feet” on listing gopher tortoises and other species.

“The tortoises need large, unfragmented, long-leaf pine forests to survive,” the center said in an announcement about the settlement. “They’re severely threatened by development-caused habitat loss and fragmentation, which limits food availability and options for burrow sites and exposes them to being crushed in their burrows during construction, run over by cars or shot.”

Gopher tortoises are already listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in Louisiana, Mississippi and western Alabama. If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services decides that listing is warranted in Florida and the other states, it appears most likely that gopher tortoises would be listed as threatened, Elise Bennett, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity said in an email.

Gopher tortoises have long spurred debates in Florida, as development continues and conservationists push for protecting the habitats.

Tuesday’s announcement of the settlement came after Florida wildlife officials and the Legislature in recent months have taken steps to increase the sites where gopher tortoises can be moved. Gopher tortoises are considered threatened by the state, which has a permitting process for capturing and relocating the animals.

The Legislature last month passed a bill (SB 494) that, in part, would direct state agencies to consider using parts of certain public lands as gopher tortoise “recipient” sites.

Among other things, the bill calls for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to “streamline and improve the review of applications for public and private gopher tortoise recipient sites.”

The bill has not been formally sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

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The Guardian

One in five reptiles faces extinction in what would be a ‘devastating’ blow

Largest analysis to date on the state of the world’s reptiles warns of threat to ecosystems as more than 1,800 species fight to survive

Graeme Green, 27 April, 2022

More than a fifth of all reptile species are threatened with extinction, which could have a “devastating” impact on the planet, a new study warns.

The largest ever analysis of the state of the world’s reptiles, published in Nature, found that 21% of reptile species are facing extinction. From lizards to snakes, such a loss could have disastrous impacts on ecosystems around the world, the study says.

“We would lose a combined 15.6bn years of evolutionary history if each of the 1,829 threatened reptiles became extinct,” said Neil Cox, co-leader of the study and manager of the biodiversity assessment unit at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Conservation International. “This is evolution that we could never get back. It would be a devastating loss.

“If we remove reptiles, it could change ecosystems radically, with unfortunate knock-on effects, such as increases in pest insects,” he added. “Biodiversity, including reptiles, underpins the ecosystem services that provide a healthy environment for people.”

Fifty-two experts analysed data from the Global Reptile Assessment, which has received contributions from more than 900 scientists across six continents in the past 17 years. While 1,829 of 10,196 species are known to be threatened, the status of 1,489 could not be determined. Allowing for these data deficient species, the authors estimate that, in total, 21% are threatened.

The study was led by NatureServe, the IUCN and Conservation International.

Although many reptiles live in arid environments such as deserts and scrubland, most species occur in forests, where they suffer from threats such as logging and conversion of land for agriculture. The study found 30% of forest-dwelling reptiles are at risk of extinction, compared with 14% in arid habitats. The king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), for example, listed as globally ‘vulnerable’, is declining across much of its range in Asia, largely due to the loss of forest habitat.

Hunting is also a major threat to reptiles, especially turtles and crocodiles, many of which are at risk of extinction. Another major contributing factor is the introduction of invasive species.

Like birds or freshwater fish, reptiles tend to be less popular than iconic species of land mammals or marine life, but more reptile species are threatened than birds, suggesting more work is needed to protect them, said Mike Hoffmann, head of wildlife recovery at the Zoological Society of London, and one of the scientists involved with the study.

“From turtles that breathe through their genitals to chameleons the size of a chickpea and giant tortoises that can live to more than 100, they’re utterly fascinating. Our hope is that this first-ever assessment of the world’s 10,000-plus reptiles helps put them in the spotlight and goes some way to highlighting this diversity, and just how much we have to lose.”

As well as controlling rats, mosquitoes and other “pests”, reptiles deliver many other benefits. “They help disperse seeds, especially in island environments,” said Hoffmann. “We’ve also achieved many medical advances from studies of reptiles. Snake venom, for example, has resulted in critical drug discoveries, including for treating hypertension.

“The impending loss [of reptile species] could lead to wide-ranging and unforeseen impacts on our environment and our own wellbeing.”

In Australia, home to about 10% of the world’s species, reptiles face a growing number of threats. “Most of Australia’s threatened reptiles have declined due to habitat loss and predation by invasive cats and foxes,” said Nicki Mitchell from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Western Australia, who also contributed to the study.

“Climate change is an emerging threat to species confined to small fragments of habitat, as the microclimates they occupy will change and may no longer be optimal for a population to thrive.”

The study is not all doom. Scientists noted that conservation efforts to help other animals are likely to be protecting reptile species as collateral. “We found, surprisingly, that if you set out to protect places where threatened birds, mammals and amphibians live together, you’ll simultaneously protect many more threatened reptiles,” said Bruce Young, co-leader of the study, and chief zoologist and senior conservation scientist at NatureServe.

Yet reptiles also require direct, global, efforts to protect them, said Cox. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity is scheduled to convene Cop15’s second phase in Kunming, China, later this year, where governments will negotiate new targets to protect biodiversity, including reptiles.

“We need solid conservation plans, global policy agreement, and to have countries fully invest in turning around the looming biodiversity crisis if we are to prevent the ongoing extinction catastrophe,” he said.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Monarch Butterflies, Dozens of Other Species One Step Closer to Endangered Species Protections

Legal Victory Secures Decision Dates for 27 Animals, Plants Across Country, Hundreds More Still Waiting

WASHINGTON—(April 26, 2022)—In response to three lawsuits brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed today to dates for decisions on whether 18 plants and animals from across the country warrant protection as endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The Service will also consider identifying and protecting critical habitat for another nine species.

“I’m so glad these 27 species are finally getting a shot at badly needed protections and a chance to avoid extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “It’s incredibly frustrating, however, that some of these animals and plants have waited decades for help. Disturbingly, the Fish and Wildlife Service has done little to nothing to address the problems that caused these delays.”

Twenty-one of the species will see protection decisions by the end of fiscal year 2022. These include tricolored bats threatened by disease, eastern gopher tortoises threatened by Florida’s runaway sprawl, and longfin smelts in the collapsing ecosystem that is San Francisco Bay.

Western pond turtles and black-capped petrels will see decisions in fiscal year 2023. Monarch butterflies, whose population has been declined by 85% in two decades, will have to wait until fiscal year 2024, as will Bethany Beach fireflies and Las Vegas bearpoppies. The Mojave poppy bee will get a decision in 2026.

The court order addressed only a portion of the species for which the Center is seeking protection. Another 158 species, including Venus flytraps, Cascades frogs and golden-winged warblers, will continue in litigation. Roughly another 100 species are waiting for protection decisions but are not part of the litigation. Hundreds more have been identified as at risk of extinction by scientific organizations like NatureServe or IUCN yet aren’t under consideration by the Service.

The Service has taken 12 years on average to list species under the Act, but according to the law it is supposed to take two. Five of the Florida plants awaiting critical habitat and included in today’s court victory were first identified as needing the Act’s protection in 1975 but didn’t receive it until 2016 or 2017 — more than 40 years later. Even then, the Service still didn’t provide critical habitat protections at the time as required. At least 47 species have gone extinct while under consideration for endangered species protections.

“The Service’s slow, bureaucratic process for listing species has tragic consequences, like further declines, more difficult recoveries and sometimes even extinction,” said Greenwald. “This is simply unacceptable. We’re in an extinction crisis, and scientists are warning of the impending loss of more than a million species. We need a Fish and Wildlife Service that does its job and acts with urgency.”

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Phys.Org

Three critically endangered Sumatran tigers killed in Indonesia

April 25, 2022

Three critically endangered Sumatran tigers were found dead in western Indonesia on Sunday after being ensnared by traps, police said, dealing another blow to the species’ rapidly declining population.

Rampant deforestation has reduced the tigers’ natural habitat and increasing conflict with humans has left only several hundred of the endangered species remaining in the wild, according to estimates.

Two of the dead tigers were first found by local conservationists in Aceh—which sits on the the northern tip of Sumatra island—before police were alerted, conservation officials said.

Authorities found the two intact tiger carcasses next to each other with their feet ensnared by steel slings at a palm oil plantation in East Aceh district, a police statement said.

A few hours later, police found a third dead tiger about 500 metres (1,600 feet) away from where the other two tigers were discovered. Its feet were also ensnared by a sling and the body had started to rot.

“Our initial suspicion is that the tigers died after being caught by a boar trap, because when we found them their feet were ensnared by thick steel sling,” local police chief Hendra Sukmana said in a statement late on Sunday.

Officials will conduct autopsies to determine the causes of the tigers’ deaths.

“We strongly condemn this incident… if the tests reveal there’s intentional action that caused the deaths of these protected species, we will take strict action,” head of Aceh conservation agency Agus Arianto told AFP on Monday.

Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with fewer than 400 believed to remain in the wild.

Up to 10 tigers are killed yearly, according to the Indonesian forestry ministry.

Tigers are also targeted by poachers for their body parts that are widely used in traditional medicine—particularly in China—despite overwhelming scientific evidence that they have no beneficial value.

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NPR

For the first time in 4 years, a litter of red wolf pups was born in the wild

April 23, 2022, DUSTIN JONES

U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff in North Carolina welcomed a litter of six red wolf pups into the world earlier this week. It’s the first time in four years that a pair of wild red wolves — a species teetering on the brink of extinction — gave birth to a litter in the wild.

The newborn pups, four females and two males, were found in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge along the coast of northeastern North Carolina. Staff at the Red Wolf Recovery Program announced the paw-sitive news on Facebook Thursday.

“This new litter is the first wild-born litter of red wolves since 2018. This red wolf pair was formed through the combination of several management actions and the two red wolves subsequently following their natural instincts in pairing, establishing their territory and mating,” the post read. “Every generation yields a new born hope for the red wolf…a cause for joy and celebration!”

Before settlers arrived in North America, red wolves thrived throughout the Southeast U.S, from Florida to the Great Plains and the Ohio River Valley, according to national conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife. But through hunting, extermination and the expansion of cities and towns, humans drove the species to near extinction.

There were a mere 17 wolves left to save when the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973. Before 14 of the remaining 17 wolves were trapped and transferred into captivity, the handful of survivors lived across a small area of the Louisiana and Texas coast.

The remaining wolves disappeared, Fish and Wildlife said, attributed to continued human persecution and a loss of habitat. The red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980.

Just four years later, there were 63 healthy red wolves in captivity, which were being prepared to release into the wild with hopes of giving the species a second chance. As part of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, the Red Wolf Recovery Program said, more than 60 adult wolves were released into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge between 1987 and 1994.

In the following years, the wolves did what came naturally: They maintained territories, formed packs and more importantly, began to breed.

As other environmentalists marveled at the success of the Red Wolf Recovery Program, it became a model for reintroduction efforts of gray wolves, Mexican wolves, California condors and the black-footed ferret.

In 2012, the population reached a peak of 120. According to the FWS, this was the first time a large carnivore was brought back from extinction and reintroduced to the wild in the U.S.

But once again, humans threatened the handful of the surviving wolves.

Conservationists came to the wolves’ aid once again in 2012, after one red wolf after another was shot and killed, having been mistaken for a coyote, according to a Southern Environmental Law Center news release. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission had recently approved a temporary rule allowing hunters to kill coyotes, which occasionally breed with the wolves, at night in the area where red wolf was trying to make a comeback.

The population had dropped to 100 by the time a settlement was reached between environmentalists and the NCWRC. Spotlight hunting at night was outlawed and hunters were required to carry a permit for coyote hunting during daylight hours.

But the number of wolves continued to dwindle, reaching a concerning low population estimate of 17-20 in 2020 and 2021. There has been a steady decline in red wolves born in the wild from 2008, which saw 47 new wolves, to only four pups in 2018. Fish and Wildlife didn’t report a single red wolf birth in the wild in 2019, 2020 or 2021.

Which is why the recent litter of six is such exciting news to conservationists and wolf enthusiasts alike. As of today, there are an estimated 15 to 17 red wolves living in the wild. Another 241 exist in captivity. They continue to be one of the most endangered animals on the planet.

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Ventura County Star (Ventura, CA)

Southern steelhead fish get broader protection as state studies endangered species status

Cheri Carlson, Ventura County Star, April 22, 2022

The state Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously Thursday to give the Southern steelhead temporary protection under the state’s Endangered Species Act.

The decision means development in Ventura County and elsewhere along the coast may be required to take steps to lessen any impacts to the species.

On a 4-0 vote, commissioners granted a year-long protection for the native steelhead as state officials review whether the fish merits a state listing as “endangered” or threatened” with extinction.

“The information before us, certainly for me, supports a finding that listing may be warranted,” Commission President Samantha Murray said at the meeting Thursday.

In June, the nonprofit California Trout conservation group petitioned the state to put Southern steelhead on its list of endangered species. The listing could broaden protections the fish has had since 1997 as a federally designated endangered species.

Steelhead once ran by the thousands in local coastal rivers and streams and now faces possible extinction. CalTrout says the state listing would strengthen legal protection, increase opportunities for monitoring steelhead populations and potentially attract funding to help the fish.

Scientists with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife found a state listing may be warranted. The commission’s decision Thursday means the fish becomes a “candidate” species during the year-long scientific review.

During that time, the fish gets the same protections as animals and plants already listed.

Water agencies in Ventura County and elsewhere have said that protection could delay projects and potentially limit water supplies. Commissioners delayed a decision in February to allow those agencies and others time to discuss potential limited exemptions under state regulations.

Federal agencies have allowed some exemptions over the years, including for facilities that tap rivers for drinking water or agricultural use and may harm fish. Those federal exemptions, however, would not automatically apply under state law now that steelhead are a candidate species.

On Thursday, the commission voted to allow some state exemptions for emergencies. But instead of a list of exempted projects, the state will consider those that meet specific criteria.

Conditions include flood control projects, highway work that benefits public safety and essential water supply or treatment. Projects also must have valid federal authorization for the work.

Some public speakers, including those with CalTrout, opposed any exemptions while others said the waivers didn’t go far enough.

Erika Zavaleta, the commission’s vice president, said Southern steelhead likely will experience exceptional stress and mortality over the next year of the prolonged drought.

Drought limits water supply not only for people but also for fish. Steelhead start their lives in freshwater streams, migrate to the Pacific Ocean, then return to streams to reproduce. A prolonged drought can keep steelhead from reaching the ocean for years.

“It is a serious issue to sustain activities that will continue to cause mortality over this year, and we should get it right,” Zavaleta said.

Water agencies urged commissioners to consider adding restoration work to the list of possible exemptions. State officials, however, said restoration efforts have other avenues for a streamlined approval and may not be considered emergency projects.

Commissioners voted 3-1 to allow the proposed criteria for emergency exemptions. Murray voted no, saying she worried about carving out too many exceptions.

In its petition, CalTrout seeks protections for steelhead below dams and other impassable barriers in coastal rivers and streams from San Louis Obispo to Mexico.

Steelhead can get stuck behind dams that cut off access to their historic spawning grounds. The species also faces threats from climate change, pollution, wildfire and development.

Historically, thousands of adult steelhead were found in Southern California rivers. Fewer than 200 adult steelhead have been documented in the past 25 years, according to the petition.

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Associated Press

Biden order aims to protect old-growth forests from wildfire

MATTHEW DALY AND JOSH BOAK, April 22, 2022

SEATTLE (AP)—President Joe Biden is taking steps to restore national forests that have been devastated by wildfires, drought and blight, using an Earth Day visit to Seattle to sign an executive order protecting some of the nation’s largest and oldest trees.

Old-growth trees are key buffers against climate change and provide crucial carbon sinks that absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Biden’s order directs federal land managers to define and inventory mature and old-growth forests nationwide within a year. The order requires the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service to identify threats to older trees, such as wildfire and climate change, and develop policies to safeguard them.

The order does not ban logging of mature or old-growth trees, the White House said.

By signing the order on Friday, Biden can publicly reassert his environmentalist credentials at a time when his administration has been preoccupied by high oil and gasoline prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Gas costs have been a drag on Biden’s popularity and created short-term political pressures going into this year’s midterm elections, yet the Democratic president has been focused on wildfires that are intensifying because of climate change.

The measure is intended to safeguard national forests that been severely damaged by wildfires, drought and blight, including recent fires that killed thousands of giant sequoias in California. Redwood forests are among the world’s most efficient at removing and storing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and provide critical habitat for native wildlife and watersheds that supply farms and communities in the West.

Blazes so intense to kill trees once considered virtually fire-proof have alarmed land managers, environmentalists and tree lovers the world over — and demonstrated the grave impacts of climate change. A warming planet that has created longer and hotter droughts, combined with a century of fire suppression that choked forests with thick undergrowth, has fueled flames that extinguished trees dating to ancient civilizations.

A senior administration official noted that forests absorb more than 10% of U.S. annual greenhouse gases, while also providing flood control, clean water, clear air and a home to wildlife. The official insisted on anonymity to discuss details of Biden’s order before it was made public.

Biden’s ambitious climate agenda has been marred by setbacks, a year after he took office amid a flurry of climate-related promises. The president hosted a virtual summit on global warming at the White House last Earth Day. He used the moment to nearly double the United States’ goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, vaulting the country to the front lines in the fight against climate change.

A year later, his most sweeping proposals remain stalled on Capitol Hill despite renewed warnings from scientists that the world is hurtling toward a dangerous future marked by extreme heat, drought and weather.

In addition, Russia’s war in Ukraine has reshuffled the politics of climate change, leading Biden to release oil from the nation’s strategic reserve and encourage more domestic drilling in hopes of lowering sky-high gas prices that are emptying American wallets.

While Biden is raising fuel economy standards for vehicles and included green policies in last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, the lack of greater progress casts a shadow over his second Earth Day as president.

Timber industry representative Nick Smith said before the order was made public that loggers are worried it will add more bureaucracy to a forest management framework already unable to keep up with growing wildfires due to climate change.

That would undercut the Biden administration’s goal of doubling the amount of logging and controlled burns over the next decade to thin forests in the tinder-dry West, said Smith, a spokesman for the American Forest Resource Council, an Oregon-based industry group.

“The federal government has an urgent need to reduce massive greenhouse gas emissions from severe wildfires, which can only be accomplished by actively managing our unhealthy and overstocked federal forests,” he said.

But former U.S. Forest Service Deputy Chief Jim Furnish said wildfire risks and climate change would be better addressed by removing smaller trees that can fuel uncontrolled blazes, while leaving mature trees in place.

For many years the Forest Service allowed older trees that are worth more to be logged, to bring in money for removal of smaller trees, Furnish said. But that’s no longer necessary after Congress approved more than $5 billion to reduce wildfire risks in last year’s infrastructure bill, he said. The law includes money to hire 1,500 firefighters and ensure they earn at least $15 an hour.

Timber sales from federal forests nationwide more than doubled over the past 20 years, as Republicans and Democrats have pushed more aggressive thinning of stands to reduce small trees and vegetation that fuel wildfires.

Critics, including many forest scientists, say officials are allowing removal of too many older trees that can withstand fire.

A letter signed by 135 scientists called on Biden to protect mature and old-growth forests as a critical climate solution.

“Older forests provide the most above-ground carbon storage potential on Earth, with mature forests and larger trees driving most accumulation of forest carbon in the critical next few decades. Left vulnerable to logging, though, they cannot fulfill these vital functions,” the scientists wrote Thursday. Former Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck and Norman Christensen, founding dean and professor emeritus at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, were among those signing the letter.

Protecting mature forests also “would set an important, highly visible example for other major forest-holding nations to follow as they address climate change threats,” the scientists wrote.

Associated Press writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this story.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Rare Parasitic Bumblebees That Play Critical Role in Keeping Other Bee Populations Diverse, Robust

TUCSON, Ariz.— (April 21, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

These unique parasitic pollinators were once common in prairies, meadows and grasslands across the western United States and Canada but have declined by more than 78%. The last sighting of the bees was in Oregon in 2017. Over the past two decades, a few scattered individuals have been spotted in California, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.

“Protecting these parasitic bees may seem strange, but parasites play an irreplaceable role in keeping other bee populations healthy,” said Jess Tyler, a staff scientist at the Center and a petition co-author. “Imperiled insects like Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees deserve the same rigorous protection consideration we give to mammals and fish. When we fail to aggressively prevent the extinction of small creatures, we create huge ecological ripple effects that end up harming many other species.”

Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees are threatened by declines in their host species, habitat degradation, overgrazing, pesticide use and climate change.

“The fundamental purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to preserve imperiled species,” said Kylah Staley, a legal fellow at the Center. “Delays in providing Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees the protections they need to survive undermines our laws protecting endangered wildlife.”

In April 2020 the Center petitioned to protect Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees. The deadline for the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a final listing decision was April 2021; today’s lawsuit seeks to require the Service to complete its legally required review.

Background

The decline of Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees is part of a troubling downward trend in many of the 46 species of bumblebees and approximately 3,600 species of native bees in the United States that are needed to pollinate wild plants. The generalist pollinator is among a rare group of parasitic cuckoo bumblebees that play important regulatory roles in bumblebee communities and ecosystems.

While their specific methods remain unknown, female Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees must fight or sneak into a host colony, then kill or subdue the host queen. The cuckoo bee then lays her own eggs and controls the workers to continue collecting pollen and nectar to feed her offspring.

The survival of Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees is dependent on the welfare of their primary host, western bumblebees, who have declined by 93%. The Center is also working to obtain Endangered Species Act protection for western bumblebees.

Today’s legal complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.

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Public News Service

CO Lawmakers Raise Awareness About Biodiversity Crisis, Possible Solutions

Lily Bohlke, Producer, April 21, 2022

Advocates for endangered species and wildlife are raising awareness about the biodiversity crisis the nation is facing, and approaches for addressing it.

This Earth Month, Colorado state lawmakers took the opportunity to highlight how important biodiversity is in the Centennial State. State Rep. Alex Valdez – D-Denver – was one of them, and he noted that 74 species native to Colorado are endangered or threatened.

And he added that the state is home to more than 900 species of native bees, as well as hundreds of butterflies and 11 species of migratory hummingbirds.

“We have a pollinator crisis, but pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food you take,” said Valdez. “About a half a trillion dollars of global crops are at risk from a pollinator crisis.”

Valdez added that three quarters of terrestrial and two thirds of marine environments in Colorado have been altered beyond repair.

State lawmakers across the nation have signed a letter in support of a resolution in Congress calling for a National Biodiversity Strategy, introduced by U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse – D-Lafayette. It would guide and mobilize a coordinated response to the crisis.

Robert Dewey, vice president for government relations with Defenders of Wildlife, noted there are five main causes of biodiversity loss: climate change, habitat loss, pollution, the threat of invasive species and the direct over-exploitation of wildlife – such as commercial overfishing, for instance.

He cited a study that predicts a million species are at risk of going extinct in the coming decades. He said dealing with it via a national strategy makes sense.

“This is not something unheard of,” said Dewey. “In fact, today, 193 countries around the world have some form of national biodiversity strategy. And yet the U.S. lacks one.”

He added that in addition to lawmakers, more than 120 organizations are calling for the establishment of a National Biodiversity Strategy as well as leading scientists.

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Newsweek

Biggest Elephant in Botswana Killed by Trophy Hunters for 8ft Tusks

Robyn White, April 19, 2022

The biggest elephant in Botswana has been killed by trophy hunters for its near 8-foot-long tusks.

The elephant had been carrying 200 pounds of ivory in its tusks, and was the largest to be hunted in the country since 1996, according to Wildlife At Risk International.

The trophy hunter had traveled to Botswana and paid $50,000 to partake in the hunt along Botswana’s northern border, The Times reported.

Photographs of the trophy hunter standing next to the ginormous tusks have sparked debate on social media.

African elephants are an endangered species and Botswana has one of the largest populations. According to National Geographic, there are around 130,000 elephants in the country and this accounts for a third of the remaining population in Africa.

In recent years, poaching for ivory has been on the rise. Ivory is typically used to make figurines, ornaments and other trinkets. It has high demand in China and is mainly seen as a status symbol.

Former Botswana president Ian Khama imposed a trophy hunting ban across the country in 2014 to better protect the nation’s wildlife. However, this ban was scrapped in 2019 by Khama’s successor, Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Masisi lifted the ban in an attempt to manage human-wildlife conflicts. In some areas, elephants can prove problematic to local people by damaging crops and infrastructure. Large bulls in particular can also pose a danger to human life if they stray too close to populated areas.

Khama said on his Facebook page that the dead tusker elephant had been an “iconic attraction” for tourists in the country.

“How does it being dead benefit our declining tourism due to poor policies. Our tourism is wildlife based,” he said. “No wildlife means no tourism, no tourists no jobs, and no revenue stream. Incompetence and poor leadership have almost wiped out the rhino population, and now this!”

Blood Origins, a non-profit in favor of the hunting industry, posted details of the hunt on its Facebook page. The group claims the elephant was killed in line with Botswana’s “elephant management plan,” a government initiative that aims to manage the country’s population.

The page slammed the former president’s comment that the elephant had been a tourist attraction as “there are no ecotourism operators” in this area.

“Elephant populations are at their highest level and have stabilized in Botswana. Hunting is NOT a population control measure. Hunting is a mechanism to relieve small amounts of human wildlife conflict and provide meat and income into areas that likely have very little of both,” the Facebook post said.

The location the hunt took place is considered a “fear zone” for elephants, according to Africa Geographic CEO, Simon Espley.

“The surgical removal of Africa’s remaining large-tusked elephants by trophy hunters will not solve any human-elephant conflict or habitat issues,” Espley said in a statement.

“The volume of elephants hunted is not sufficient to reduce elephant populations. Instead, the likely result of the selection of large-tusked elephants as trophies will be to hasten the disappearance of tuskers from the African landscape.”

The tusks of elephants (in African elephants they can be found on both males and females) are elongated incisor teeth, with one third hidden from view and embedded in the elephant’s head. African elephant tusks are mainly used for protection, digging, lifting objects, and gathering food.

According to travel company Safari Ventures, African elephant tusks can range from 1.5-2.5 meters in length (males tend to have larger ones), and weight around 23-45 kg each.

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EcoWatch

Colorado River Tops List of Ten ‘Most Endangered’ Rivers in U.S.

 Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, April 19, 2022

Water is the lifeblood of existence and rivers are the veins that carry it, connecting organisms, minerals and species across the globe. Rivers provide habitat, help drain rainwater, replenish groundwater, instill in us a feeling of ancient connectedness to our planet and are the source of drinking water for two-thirds of U.S. residents.

American Rivers, a nonprofit conservation organization, has put together a list of the top rivers it considers the most endangered in the U.S., and the Colorado River — called the Grand River until 1921 and responsible for carving out the Grand Canyon — was named the most endangered. The Colorado River provides irrigation for five million acres of land used for farming and ranching, and drinking water to more than 40 million inhabitants in seven Southwestern States and northern parts of Mexico.

Water management of the Colorado River is outdated, and the historic overallocation of the amount of water the river has to offer, coupled with increasing temperatures and drought due to the climate crisis, has made the situation worse.

“This is a river in crisis because of climate change,” director of the American Rivers Colorado Basin programs Matt Rice said, as CNN reported. “This is not the same river it was two years ago, three years ago or five years ago. We need to learn to live with the river that we have, and we need to implement solutions to allow us to do so.”

A water shortage on the Colorado River was declared by the federal government last year, which caused mandatory water use reductions.

“[O]verestimations of the river’s bounty when the Colorado River Water Compact was ratified back in 1922 established a bank account destined to be permanently overdrawn. Following decades of wasteful water management policies and practices, demand on the river’s water now exceeds its supply, and storage levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead are critically low,” the American Rivers website states.

According to the American Rivers report, the flow of the Colorado River will be reduced by an additional ten to 30 percent by 2050 due to the climate crisis, CNN reported. If it were a country, the Colorado River basin would be the world’s seventh largest economy, the report said.

The report noted that, despite the water rights that many Tribal Nations hold to water in the Colorado River, their water infrastructure is still lacking, reported The Hill.

“The seven basin states and the Biden administration must work with Tribal Nations and Mexico to act urgently,” said Rice, as The Hill reported. “Failure is simply not an option, given all that depends on a healthy Colorado River.”

Other rivers on the top ten list include Idaho’s Snake River, which originates in Wyoming and runs along the Oregon-Idaho border into Washington State; the mighty Mississippi, the second-longest river in the U.S. after the Missouri River; and the Los Angeles River, which is threatened by development and pollution, reported CNN.

“The climate crisis is really a water crisis, and ground zero for that crisis is the Colorado River Basin,” Rice said to CNN. “We are being pushed in realtime to live with the river we have, to adapt to a hotter, drier reality in the Colorado River.”

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Honolulu Civil Beat

Lawsuit Leads To Critical Habitats For Endangered Species In The Pacific

The Pacific sheath-tailed bat and the Guam tree snail are among the species that will benefit from the settlement.

By Anita Hofschneider, April 19, 2022

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will designate critical habitats for 23 endangered species in the Pacific thanks to a legal settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The nonprofit environmental advocacy group filed the settlement Tuesday on Guam, concluding the lawsuit that it filed against the federal agency last year.

Species that will benefit from the settlement include the Pacific sheath-tailed bat, the Guam tree snail and Bulbophyllum guamense, an orchid with greenish-yellow flowers.

Maxx Phillips, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Honolulu office, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated nearly two dozen species in the Micronesian region as endangered or threatened in 2015, but blew past a 2016 deadline to designate critical habitats for the animals and plants.

“Unique Pacific island species like the Marianas eight-spot butterfly needed habitat protection years ago,” she said, adding that federal agencies including the military have been responsible for habitat loss. “Our nation really has a duty to protect the natural heritage of special places and these species that are found nowhere else on this earth.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Honolulu didn’t reply to requests for comment on Monday.

Under the settlement, the agency must submit a proposed rule to the Federal Register by June 26, 2025. That will open up a public comment period and allow people to weigh in on the proposed critical habitats before they’re finalized, Phillips said.

She said the multiyear wait to designate the habitat takes into account the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s limited funding and resources.

The settlement also includes the Marianas eight-spot butterfly, which used to be found on both Saipan and Guam but now is only found on Guam, she said. One of its homes is the National Wildlife Refuge in northern Guam, which is slated to be used as a surface danger zone for a machine-gun range in the neighboring Anderson Air Force Base.

That plan is part of the reason the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was concerned about several of the plants and animals back in 2015.

“We consider the threat from ordnance and live-fire training to be a serious and ongoing threat for four plant and three animal species addressed in this final rule,” the agency wrote in the Federal Register in 2015, noting “direct damage to individual plants and animals may be fatal, or cause enough damage to render them more vulnerable to other threats.”

The butterfly isn’t the only creature at risk —  the animals referenced also include a type of lizard called Slevin’s skink and the humped tree snail.

That’s worrisome to Julian Aguon, an attorney with Blue Ocean Law on Guam who worked with the Center for Biological Diversity on the case. He said the settlement is just one part of a long-term effort to protect Guam’s environment against destruction from military training.

“It’s the time to stand up for these creatures. It’s really now or never. It’s not enough and we need to keep doing more,” he said. “You can’t cut and paste a butterfly out of its habitat.”

He recalled how the U.S. military got an exception to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to continue bombing practice on Farallon de Medinilla, an island in the northern part of the Marianas chain, despite the presence of migratory birds that would’ve been protected elsewhere.

Normally, federal wildlife refuges can’t be surface danger zones for military training ranges but Congress made an exception for this on Guam to allow the new machine gun range to proceed.

“This is just one step along the road, there are just so many more steps we have to take,” he said.

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EcoWatch

Are Western Joshua Trees a Threatened Species? California State Biologists and Environmental Advocates Disagree

Olivia Rosane, April 18, 2022

With their branches reaching up like knobby arms with tufts for fists, western Joshua trees are an iconic part of the California desert ecosystem, and environmental advocates want to make sure they stay that way in the face of development and the climate crisis.

To that end, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a petition in 2019 to grant the trees protections under the California Endangered Species Act as a threatened species. But, on Wednesday, Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists argued that the trees were not imperiled enough to qualify.

“While the Department recognizes the threats faced by the species, and the evidence presented in favor of the petitioned action, the scientific evidence that is currently possessed by the Department does not demonstrate that populations of the species are negatively trending in a way that would lead the Department to believe that the species is likely to be in serious danger of becoming extinct throughout all or a significant portion of its range in the foreseeable future,” the report authors concluded.

The western Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) is one of two species of Joshua tree that lives in the California desert, according to CBD. Currently, the trees are “relatively widespread and abundant” in the state, the department wrote. However, environmental advocates are concerned that this will not always be the case. A 2019 study found that Joshua Tree National Park would lose almost all of its namesake trees by the end of the century if nothing is done about the climate crisis. Warmer temperatures have already forced the trees to migrate towards higher elevations in the park, and trees in the warmer, lower areas are reproducing less. Currently, the western Joshua tree’s entire range is experiencing severe drought, the Los Angeles Times reported. Further, advocates are worried that desert development, including for renewable energy, will put additional pressure on the species.

“We should take care of these trees now, before we have fewer options to work with,” California State University Northridge evolutionary geneticist Jeremy Yoder told the Los Angeles Times.

After CBD filed its petition in 2019, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to grant the trees candidate status in 2020, meaning that they were legally protected while their status was reviewed, CBD explained. This made it illegal to kill a Joshua tree without a permit.

“California wildlife officials just proposed open season on Joshua trees,” CBD conservation director Brendan Cummings, who lives in Joshua Tree, said in a CBD press release. “Before state protections took effect, developers were bulldozing these beautiful, fragile trees by the thousands to build roads, warehouses, power plants, strip malls and vacation rentals. If Joshua trees are to have any hope of surviving in a warming world, we have to stop the widespread killing of them.”

The department’s decision does not necessarily mean the trees don’t have a chance to retain these protections. Instead, the commission will review their advice and issue a final decision by June.

However, the Los Angeles Times pointed out that the state of California has never protected a species purely based on the threat of the climate crisis. Only one species has gained protections on a federal level for this reason – the polar bear.

“The state’s upcoming decision on protecting Joshua trees is a litmus test that will show whether its climate leadership is real or just empty rhetoric,” Cummings said in the release.

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Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

Human killing of endangered Mexican wolves addressed in revised federal plan

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus, April 18, 2022

Mexican gray wolves were long feared as a danger to livestock in southern New Mexico, even as their populations dwindled and the animal neared extinction.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported 14 illegally killed wolves in 2020, with six dying in vehicle collisions. The rest were likely shot by people.

About 74 percent of documented Mexican wolf deaths between 1998 and 2020 were blamed on human causes, records show, 119 of 216 deaths.

Those deaths were the focus of federal efforts to restore the wolf to its historic range and population, after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday it was revising its Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan first developed in 2017, to increase efforts to mitigate killings by people.

A draft of the altered plan was released Thursday, initiating a 30-day public comment period where landowners and other stakeholders can submit feedback to the agency.

Brady McGee, Mexican wolf recovery coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the plan was intend address human threats to the animal.

“Mexican wolves continue to make progress toward their recovery goals here in the U.S., but human-caused mortality continues to be a concern as it could hinder future population growth,” he said.

“Addressing this threat will require the support of our partners, law enforcement and members of the public.”

The draft included actions to address human wolf killing, including illegal killings, and maintain previous recovery criteria.

It proposed public outreach in wolf-occupied areas, seeking to improve awareness of wolf recovery efforts among ranchers, hunters and other land users and owners.

The plan could also increase law enforcement in areas known for high mortality rates, strengthening investigations into unlawful deaths.

And it would entail adding road enhancements to increase the wolf’s ability to cross roadways without being hit by cars.

“It is our intention that the actions we have added to the draft revised recovery plan will help alleviate the threat of excessive human-caused mortality, including illegal killing,” read the proposal.

“We will adapt our implementation of recovery actions over time to address sources of human-caused mortality, as we assess population performance, the contribution of specific sources to overall mortality levels, the availability of resources needed for implementation of specific actions, and other considerations.”

Feds seek input on wolf plan revisions

After the revised plan was published on April 14, comments will be accepted for 30 days until May 14, and a final plan will be published six months later Oct. 14, per the court order.

Those who wished to participate in the process were able to submit comments online at regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2022-0018.

“We encourage the public, federal and state agencies, tribes, and other stakeholders to review the proposal and provide comments,” read a news release from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wolf recovery draw criticism from environmentalists

Recent data from the agency showed 196 wolves living in New Mexico and Arizona, and 35 surviving in Mexico of the species that once numbered in the thousands across the American West.

It was listed as endangered in 1976, beginning decades of controversy as human killings continued and conservations sought increased protections.

The Center for Biological Diversity estimated 119 wolves were killed illegally since 1998, including 25 dead last year.

Michael Robinson, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity based in Silver City said the federal government must take action through the revised plan.

This plan has to recognize that each wolf-killing is a tragedy for the victim, pack members, and the endangered Mexican gray wolf subspecies that so many people have dedicated themselves to saving from extinction,” he said. “I hope the government will finally take resolute action.”

Robinson said the Fish and Wildlife Service must work to increase “tolerance” of wolves among local landowners and communities to fully protect them from extinction.

“The recovery plan revision process must logically connect federal actions to the broader goal of saving these endangered animals,” he said.

The proposed revisions were the result of a 2018 lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and an October 2021 court ruling calling on the agency to adjust its plans to account for human killings.

Robinson said the practice of using radio receivers by landowners to locate wolves based on their tags should be banned, pointing to “at least” two people using such devices before pleading guilty to illegal kills.

“Urging tolerance for wolves while giving wolf-killers the tools to locate them doesn’t sound cutting edge and innovative anymore,” he said.

In March, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, noted in the plan as a partnering agency with the Fish and Wildlife Service, reported the wolf’s population grew by 5 percent in 2021, credited to federal and state recovery efforts.

That agency reported the numbers grew by 14 percent the year before, and drew criticism from conservationists for the slower growth rate.

Patricia Estrella, New Mexico representative with Defenders of the Wildlife said more actions should be taken to curb illegal deaths, expand wolf habitat and improve breeding programs.

“The increase in the number of Mexican gray wolves is encouraging, but there is still significant work to be done to save this critically endangered subspecies,” she said.

“Continuing to improve conservation efforts to reduce illegal mortalities, expand areas where the wolves are allowed to roam and address the genetic problems this species faces will help the population continue to rebound.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Legal Victory Secures Habitat Protection for 23 Imperiled Micronesian Species

HAGÅTÑA, Guam—(April 18, 2022)—Following a successful legal challenge by the Center for Biological Diversity and Blue Ocean Law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must now identify and protect critical habitat for 23 endangered and threatened species located throughout greater Micronesia. The Service now has to act on critical habitat for these nine rare animals and 14 plants by June 26, 2025.

“I’m relieved these 23 beautiful Pacific Island species found nowhere else on Earth will finally get badly needed habitat protections,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawai‘i director and a staff attorney at the Center. “This is a big win, as endangered and threatened species with federally protected critical habitat are twice as likely to recover as those without such protections. Safeguarding the places these unique plants and animals require for survival is crucial in our fight against the extinction crisis.”

Found on Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia, the 23 species are threatened by habitat loss due to agricultural and urban sprawl, military expansion and training, invasive species and climate change.

The unique species, including tiny sac-winged bats, bright orange and yellow tree snails, and beautiful eight-spot butterflies, are also vulnerable because of small population sizes, invasive species and limited range. Several of the species on Guam and other islands in the northern Marianas are severely threatened by military expansion related to the relocation of 5,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the 23 species in 2015. But the agency failed to designate critical habitat for them, as required under the Endangered Species Act. Today’s agreement resolves a lawsuit filed by the Center in 2021, when habitat protections were more than five years overdue.

“With everything going on right now with the military buildup, we are in danger of losing important parts of our culture. We are the people of the land and so when our native plants and animals thrive, we thrive,” said Frances Meno, a local yo’åmte, or traditional healer. “There is no future without them.”

While listing a species as endangered or threatened is the first step in ensuring its survival and recovery, designating critical habitat is a necessary second step. That helps prevent federal actions that destroy or harm areas plants and animals need to survive — and helps conserve what remains of a species’ limited native range.

“Without critical habitat designations, native species like the Mariana eight-spot butterfly, which exists only in the Marianas Islands, would be lost, and along with them irretrievable aspects of our Indigenous ecosystem and culture,” said attorney Julian Aguon of Blue Ocean Law. “As Indigenous peoples, we stand up for our other-than-human relatives.”

Background

Pacific sheath-tailed bat: This tiny insectivorous, sac-winged bat has already been wiped out on Guam and the island of Vanuatu. Across its remaining range, the bat is threatened by habitat destruction from nonnative species, development, military training, urbanization, typhoons and climate change.

Slevin’s skink: Also known as the Mariana skink, this social creature has already been eliminated from Guam. The rest of the skink’s range is also threatened by habitat destruction from nonnative species, development, military training, urbanization, typhoons and climate change. Military training puts the skink at risk of direct harm from live-fire training exercises.

Mariana eight-spot butterfly: Native to Guam and Saipan, the butterfly is no longer found on Saipan. It is reliant on two host plant species, one of which is used as a native medicinal plant to treat various ailments. In addition to being threatened by parasitic wasps, the butterfly’s habitat is similarly threatened by nonnative species, development, military training, urbanization, typhoons and climate change.

Guam tree snail: Found only in Guam, this once-common, air-breathing snail is now endangered. In addition to the common habitat threats listed above, the Guam tree snail is threatened by fire and overcollection for commercial and recreational purposes.

Bulbophyllum guamense: Part of the Guam Plant Extinction Prevention Program, this orchid has a greenish-yellow flower that smells faintly of carrion. In the past the plant occurred in common large mat-like formations on trees. However, in addition to habitat-based threats, the orchid is being hurt by predation from non-native slugs.

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Pahrump Valley Times (Pahrump, NV)

Threatened Devils Hole pupfish are making a comeback

By Brent Schanding, Pahrump Valley Times, April 16, 2022

Biologists say populations for one of the world’s rarest fish are increasing.

Scientists recently counted 175 Devils Hole pupfish — the most they’ve observed in a spring count in 22 years. They’ve been tracking populations of the rare Devils Hole pupfish, which live in the upper 80 feet of a deep water-filled cavern and sun-lit shallow pool in Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge just west of Pahrump, for 50 years.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nevada Department of Wildlife and National Park Service have been managing this critically endangered species to ensure their survival.

Scientists typically perform deep dives to count fish in the cavern, starting at depths below 100 feet. Others handcount visible fish near the surface to keep track of populations.

Before the 1990s, the pupfish population was around 200, according to scientists, who noted declines of the fish in the past two decades when only about 90 remained each spring.

Nine years ago, fish populations hit an all-time low when only 35 pupfish were counted.

The rebound of the bright blue fish could signal important changes in the ecosystem, according to Kevin Wilson, aquatic ecologist for Death Valley National Park, who manages resources of Devils Hole.

“Such shifts highlight the importance of maintaining long-term data as we work to find out what’s changed,” he said in a release from park officials.

Scientists noted the fish appeared in remarkable condition and were very active.

“It’s exciting to see this shift, because if persistent, it allows more opportunity for study and to explore new management options,” said Michael Schwemm, senior fish biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a release from park officials.

The next pupfish count occurs next fall.

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Science Daily (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

US Nationwide maps of bird species can help protect biodiversity

(April 15, 2022)–Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison developed the maps at a fine-enough resolution to help conservation managers focus their efforts where they are most likely to help birds — in individual counties or forests, rather than across whole states or regions.

The maps span the contiguous U.S. and predict the diversity of birds that live in a given area, related by traits such as nesting on the ground or being endangered. Those predictions are based on both detailed observations of birds and environmental factors that affect bird ranges, such as the degree of forest cover or temperature in an area.

“With these maps, managers have a tool they didn’t have before that allows them to get both a broad perspective as well as information at the level of detail that’s necessary for their action plans,” says Anna Pidgeon, a professor of forest and wildlife ecology at UW-Madison who helped lead the development of the maps.

Pidgeon worked with UW-Madison professor Volker Radeloff, postdoctoral researcher and lead author Kathleen Carroll and others to publish the research and the final maps April 11 in the journal Ecological Applications. The maps are available for public download from the open-access website Dryad.

The research was designed to address two outstanding problems in conservation.

“Across the world we’re seeing huge species losses. In North America, 3 billion birds have been lost since 1970. This is across virtually all habitat types,” says Carroll. “And we’re seeing a disconnect between what scientists produce for conservation and how that translates to boots-on-the-ground management.”

Many resources previously available to conservation managers, such as species range maps, are both at too broad of a scale to be useful and not rigorously tested for accuracy.

To overcome those challenges, Carroll and her team wanted to develop data-driven maps of existing bird biodiversity. They produced the maps by extrapolating observations of birds from scientific surveys to mile-by-mile predictions of where different species really live. Those predictions were based on factors including rainfall, the degree of forest cover and the extent of human influence on the environment, such as the presence of cities or farms.

To improve the predictive power of their maps, the scientists clustered individual species by behavior, habitat, diet, or conservation status — such as fruit eaters or forest dwellers. These groups are called guilds. Many conservation decisions happen at the guild level, rather than at the level of species. Guilds can also make up for limited information on the most endangered species.

The final maps cover 19 different guilds at resolutions of 0.5, 2.5 and 5 kilometers. While the finest-grained maps were not as accurate, the 2.5-kilometer-resolution maps provided a good balance of accuracy and usefulness for realistic conservation needs, say the scientists. At the 5-kilometer resolution, the maps provide the greatest accuracy and are useful to conservationists operating across large areas.

“We see this being really applicable for things like forest management action plans for the U.S. Forest Service,” says Carroll. “They can pull up these maps for a group of interest, and they can get a very clear indication of what areas where they might want to limit human use.”

The maps may also help private land conservancies decide where to prioritize limited resources to maximize biodiversity protections.

Carroll is now working to extend the analysis down to individual species, rather than guilds made up of multiple species. The increased level of detail could help specialist conservation managers improve their work, especially those aiming to protect a single species.

This work was supported in part by the U.S. Geological Survey Landsat Science Team (grants G17PS00256) and the NASA Biodiversity and Ecological Forecasting Program (grant 20-BIODIV20-00460.

(Story Source: Materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison. Original written by Eric Hamilton.)

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EcoWatch

Climate Crisis Could Threaten More Than Half of Cactus Species With Extinction

 Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, April 15, 2022

The iconic saguaro cactus of the American Southwest may evince an image of a lonely figure in the desert, cylindrical arms stretched out and upward toward the sky in a friendly and somewhat lonely wave. But there are many other species of cactus — more than 1,500 — and not all of them thrive in arid conditions; some live in the mountains, coastal areas and even in tropical rainforests.

A team of researchers at the University of Arizona hypothesized that, since cacti adapt well to dry and hot conditions, they might thrive in the increasingly warmer climates that some regions are experiencing due to the climate crisis.

Their new study, “Elevated extinction risk of cacti under climate change,” considered how three different global warming scenarios could affect the range of 408 species of cactus, reported The New York Times. The researchers found that global warming could mean a higher risk of extinction for 60 percent of cactus species by the middle of the century. The study was published in the journal Nature Plants.

According to University of Arizona doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology Michiel Pillet, who led the study, the study did not consider extreme climate events like wildfires and droughts.

Pillet said that most species of cactus are “in some way” used to the environments and climates in which they live. “Even a slight change may be too much for them to adapt over shorter time scales,” Pillet said, as The New York Times reported.

And, even though many species of cacti can survive for long periods without rain because of their ability to store water in their stems and leaves, they do need water to survive.

“Cacti cannot survive indefinitely without water. Test[s] conducted on cacti demonstrate that after four weeks without water underwatering signs such as 1) shrinking, 2) discoloration, 3) wilting/leaves curling, and 4) dead brittle roots will appear. Cacti can survive without water from a few weeks to a few years,” Your Indoor Herbs and Garden explained.

Florida, parts of Brazil and central Mexico were some of the regions predicted by the study to have the most species at risk, reported 12News. However, the iconic saguaro cactus of Arizona is expected to be less threatened.

Even modest global warming could decrease the amount of hospitable territory for many species of cactus, Pillet said, as The New York Times reported.

“Species either adapt or they will go extinct,” said biodiversity researcher at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research Arnóbio de Mendonça, who was not part of the study, as reported by The New York Times. “As adaptation is a slow process and current climate change is occurring rapidly, it is likely that many species will be lost.”

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EcoWatch

What Is the Greenest State in the Nation?

 Olivia Rosane, April 15, 2022

What is the greenest state in the nation?

Financial advising website WalletHub has released a new report ranking U.S. states based on how well they take care of their environment.

“We should all try to do our part to save the world for future generations,” WalletHub wrote. “In order to highlight the greenest states and call out those doing a poor job of caring for the environment, WalletHub compared each of the 50 states on 25 key metrics.”

The report ranked the states according to three different categories: environmental quality, eco-friendly behaviors and climate-change contributions. To judge environmental quality the report looked at air quality, water quality, soil quality and energy efficiency. Eco-friendly behaviors included metrics like green buildings per capita, energy consumption per capita and gasoline consumption per capita. Climate-change contributions were based on carbon-dioxide emissions per capita, methane emissions per capita, nitrous-oxide emissions per capita and fluorinated greenhouse-gas emissions per capita.

Vermont took the lead as the most environmentally friendly state overall, followed by New York and Hawaii. On the other end of the spectrum, West Virginia came in last, preceded by Louisiana and Mississippi.

The entire top ten list is as follows, according to The Hill:

  1. Vermont
  2. New York
  3. Hawaii
  4. Maryland
  5. California
  6. Massachusetts
  7. Minnesota
  8. Connecticut
  9. South Dakota
  10. Maine

The nation’s most environmentally-friendly states are similar to the states selected by WalletHub in 2021, as U.S. News and World Report said at the time. Vermont and New York remained in the No. 1 and 2 slots. However, Massachusetts was third. Washington and Oregon appeared in the top ten last year, but were swapped out with Maine and South Dakota this year.

Another ranking from ConsumerAffairs put Washington, Oregon, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine in the top five slots. This list, released in February, was based on greenhouse gas emissions; waste, recycling and compost; and energy generation from renewables and nuclear. West Virginia took the bottom slot in this list as well.

The WalletHub report also ranked the states on individual metrics. For example, Wyoming had the best air quality in the nation, Oregon and Maine tied for the highest renewable energy consumption and New York had the lowest gasoline consumption per capita. California had the worst air quality in the nation, while Delaware had the lowest renewable energy consumption and Mississippi had the highest gas consumption per capita.

WalletHub is above all a financial advice website, and the report emphasized the fact that financial and ecological health can go hand in hand. It pointed out that 2021 was the third most expensive year on record in the U.S. in terms of damages from extreme weather events.

“It’s possible that living more sustainably and using greener energy sources could prevent us from having quite as bad hurricane seasons in the future – and saving a lot of money in repairs as a result,” WalletHub said.

The report also included the testimony of experts who weighed in on the relationship between the economy and the environment, and what individuals could do to make a difference.

“[I]t it is important to think of sustainable development which encompasses the Triple Bottomline, i.e. the three P’s (people, planet, and profits). A green economy is good not just for the environment, but it creates working and living conditions that allow people to thrive while corporations make equal or more profit on the same level of investment. We have been duped into believing a false dichotomy. There are many ways of incorporating green development in ways that improve the lives of the people who live and work in that economy while protecting the planet and investors,” Stockton University professor of environmental science, geology and sustainability Dr. Tait Chirenje said.

The report also found that political decisions made a difference. Blue states were on average more eco-friendly than red states, having a score of 15.24 compared to 35.76. (The greener the state, the lower the score.) This means that political participation is an important part of individual climate action.

“There are many ways individuals can help protect the environment, from recycling to home insulation to using public transportation more often. But the single most powerful way to protect the environment is our vote,” Presidential Climate Action Project executive director William Becker said in the report. “We need to elect legislators, congressional members, governors, and presidents who understand the importance of a healthy natural environment and who champion public policies that protect our forests, rivers, oceans, wilderness, soils, and biodiversity.”

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CBS News

Stranded dolphin dies after beachgoers try to “ride” it, rescuers say

Stephen Smith, April 15, 2022

An ailing dolphin stranded on a Texas beach died after a crowd of people harassed the mammal and tried to “ride” it, rescue officials said.

On Sunday, beachgoers found the sick dolphin on Quintana Beach, pushed it back out to sea and tried “to swim with and ride the animal,” the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network said in a Facebook post.

The female dolphin was ultimately stranded again on the beach where she was harassed by a crowd of people, the network said in the post, along with two images of the stranded dolphin.

“This type of harassment causes undue stress to wild dolphins, is dangerous for the people who interact with them and is illegal — punishable by fines and jail time if convicted,” the group said.

Last year, NOAA Fisheries said it had observed “continued incidents of inappropriate and illegal interactions” with another dolphin near North Padre Island.

In a separate incident this week in Florida, NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement asked the public for information about a bottlenose dolphin found dead on Fort Myers Beach. A necropsy revealed the dolphin was impaled in the head with a spear-like object while alive.

“Based on the shape, size and characteristics of the wound, it is suspected that the dolphin was impaled while  in a begging position,” NOAA said in a statement. “Begging is not a natural behavior for dolphins and is frequently associated with illegal feeding.”

Since 2002, at least 27 dolphins have stranded with evidence of being shot by guns or arrows, or impaled with sharp objects, the agency said. 

Harassing, harming, killing or feeding wild dolphins is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. NOAA says violations can be prosecuted civilly or criminally and are punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and up to one year in jail per violation.

The agency encourages people to observe marine mammals from a distance of at least 50 yards.

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Thousand Oaks Acorn (Agoura Hills, CA)

Group argues steelhead are endangered

April 14, 2022, By Scott Steepleton

The state Fish and Game Commission later this month will consider listing the Southern California steelhead trout as an endangered species.

Ahead of that vote, local water officials expressed concerns over how such a designation might affect Malibu Creek, already one of the most managed habitats in the state, and other area waterways.

With more than 25,000 miles of stream territory from San Luis Obispo County to Mexico at its disposal, the steelhead trout is mostly prevalent in the Santa Maria, Santa Ynez, Ventura and Santa Clara rivers.

The federal government listed the steelhead as an endangered species in 1997, but its numbers continue to dwindle with dams, urbanization and development practices that alter estuaries posing the most significant threats, according to California Trout, the organization pushing the state to list the rainbow-colored fish.

In addition to submitting the petition to get the steelhead on the state’s endangered list, California Trout is working to get the Rindge Dam south of Calabasas removed from Malibu Creek, arguing that human encroachment could render the species extinct before 2050.

A yes vote by the Fish and Game commission would trigger a one-year status review after which the board would be asked to make a final decision on whether the endangered listing is warranted.

At issue locally is the natural flow rate in Malibu Creek. In 2012, the Las Virgenes-Triunfo water district joint powers authority began adding treated recycled water from the Tapia Water Reclamation Facility to the creek to help sustain the steelhead, which can become stranded in down-canyon pools where water levels tend to drop.

The joint powers agency today injects 600 gallons of treated wastewater per minute into the Malibu Canyon stream as water continues to get soaked up by arid creek beds and vegetation.

The endangered listing by the state could trigger changes to the creek and affect its flow rate, said Joe McDermott, director of engineering and external affairs for the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District.

“We’re hopeful that that wouldn’t change,” he said.

Steelhead thrive in fresh water and the ocean, and can make several trips between the two. Locally, the trout passes into Malibu Creek when the sand berm at Surfrider Beach estuary in Malibu is open. When the berm closes in spring and when drought comes, some fish remain stranded upstream.

As the water evaporates and the pools they’re in shrink, the steelhead’s existence becomes threatened.

Staff at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife evaluated CalTrout’s request and determined the petition “provides sufficient scientific information on the trend of (Southern California) steelhead populations to indicate that the petitioned action may be warranted.”

Oxnard-based United Water Conservation District doesn’t want to see the steelhead listed. The 460-member Association of California Water Agencies also weighed in on the side of caution.

Michael Flood, general manager of Casitas Municipal Water District in Oak View, submitted a letter to the state warning that regulations brought about by the endangered species designation “will most likely delay projects, including recovery actions that are already in place or are in the advanced planning stages, as well as additional concerns regarding elements of recovery that CalTrout did not provide in their petition letter.”

Flood noted that his district along with the United States Bureau of Reclamation have been active in the recovery of steelhead in the Ventura River “by designing and operating a diversion with a state-of-the-art fish passage facility and fish passage life cycle monitoring station.”

The unprecedented drought stretching back to 2007, Flood writes, has had a significant adverse effect on the recovery of the species resulting in no change in steelhead numbers in the region.

“Would adding this species to the list,” Flood continues, “change that or provide additional, meaningful recovery actions not already included in the federal recovery plan?”

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Euronews.green

By Maeve Campbell, 14/04/2022

Freezing koala sperm could be the best way to save the endangered species from becoming extinct, according to researchers in Australia.

Scientists at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales propose setting up a biolab of collected sperm, to improve genetic diversity in koalas.

The process is called biobanking and involves freezing sex cells and tissues for use in assisted breeding. The technology is similar to what doctors use to help (human) couples struggling to conceive.

Biobanking could “future-proof” the species, the new study explains, through capturing the genetics of key populations and long-dead individuals and re-introducing them into at-risk populations.

“These tools could make quite a big impact in captive breeding programmes by reducing rates of inbreeding and boosting genetic diversity,” Dr Lachlan Howell, Honorary Associate Lecturer at the University of Newcastle told ABC Australia.

The other advantage is the cost, he says.

“Captive breeding is very expensive. It’s, on average, about $200,000 AUD (€136,000) per year for Australian species. And that might be required for decades.”

Howell explains that conservationists don’t have the resources to keep captive breeding populations for that long, which is why freezing sperm could be a cost-effective solution for their survival.

“We’ve identified 16 wildlife hospitals and zoos across Australia that could act as nodes to collect koala sperm.”

Are koalas endangered?

The IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) lists the koala as ‘potentially vulnerable’. This relatively low listing is influenced by the Australian state of Victoria’s apparently stable official Koala conservation status.

But research conducted by the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) strongly suggests that the species’ conservation status should be upgraded to ‘critically endangered’, especially in the South East Queensland bioregion.

The Queensland Minister for the Environment even declared koalas to be “functionally extinct” in 2019.

Koalas are in serious decline due to habitat destruction. They have been killed in their thousands as a result of bushfires in recent years.

But the animals also face threats from domestic dog attacks and road accidents. The Australian Koala Foundation estimates that there are less than 100,000 Koalas left in the wild, possibly as few as 43,000.

So freezing koala sperm could become a key part of a strategy to save the animals from extinction by 2050.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Temblor Legless Lizard Gets Closer to California Endangered Species Protection

Oil Drilling Imperils Rare Central California Lizard

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—(April 14, 2022)—The California Department of Fish and Wildlife today recommended that the Temblor legless lizard move toward protection under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The action came in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Temblor legless lizard is an unusual sand-swimming reptile found only in Kern and Fresno counties in the southwestern San Joaquin Valley. The survival of the species is jeopardized by extensive oil and gas drilling in its narrow range.

“I’m elated these unique lizards are closer to protection from oil industry pollution,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center. “The oil and gas industry’s rampant drilling is rapidly destroying the little remaining habitat these animals have left. The state must act quickly to protect these rare lizards before the fossil fuel industry wipes them out.”

Last November the Center petitioned the state to protect Temblor legless lizards under the California Endangered Species Act. In June California’s Fish and Game Commission will decide whether to accept the department’s recommendation and grant these imperiled lizards candidate status under state law.

A candidate designation triggers a yearlong review of whether the species should be formally protected under the state act. The species is legally protected during the review period.

The Temblor legless lizard is currently known to live at only five sites in Kern and Fresno counties, four of which are within oilfield boundaries and surrounded by extensive oil and gas development. In total, 31 oilfields overlap the lizard’s restricted range and more than 98% of its habitat is open to oil and gas development.

Oil and gas drilling threatens the Temblor legless lizard by destroying and fragmenting its habitat, compacting the soil, changing soil moisture levels, removing plant cover, and spilling oil and chemicals. Oil and produced-water spills are rampant in the lizard’s restricted range, including at least 20 surface spills in the past few years.

The Temblor legless lizard is also threatened by urban and industrial development, invasive grasses and non-native wild pigs, as well as rising temperatures and drier conditions caused by climate change.

In 2019 experts on the species recommended listing the Temblor legless lizard under both the California Endangered Species Act and federal law.

The Center petitioned for federal Endangered Species Act protection for the Temblor legless lizard in October 2020. In June 2021 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the species may qualify for protection. Last month the Center filed a lawsuit over the agency’s delay in determining whether the lizard warrants protection.

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Cronkite News – Arizona PBS (Arizona State University)  

New study shows nearly half of bald eagles affected by chronic lead poisoning

April 13, 2022, By Troy Hill, Cronkite News

PHOENIX, Arizona — A new study from the journal Science found that almost half of bald eagles and golden eagles in Arizona and 37 other states suffered from chronic lead poisoning.

The main way eagles consume lead is through their diet. Lead bullets and shot used in hunting game and varmints break apart on impact, and the carcasses are scavenged by birds of prey, who then ingest the lead.

Experts say solutions are simple: use nonlead ammunition or remove gut piles and carcasses from the field. The Arizona Game & Fish Department has a program that in certain cases allows hunters to swap their lead ammo for free.

“We’ve had 80 to 90% over the last decade of hunters in the area either switching to nonlead alternatives or removing their gut piles out of the environment,” said Kenneth “Tuk” Jacobson, the department’s raptor management coordinator.

Vince Sable, a wildlife research biologist and one of the authors of the Science study, said the poisoning is suppressing bald eagle populations by 4%, slowing the 10% growth seen over the past several years. Lead poisoning also can impair eagles’ ability to fly.

The study showed that 46% to 47% of bald and golden eagles had chronic lead poisoning and 27% to 33% of bald eagles had acute lead poisoning. The figure for chronic lead poisoning was determined by finding traces of lead in the birds’ bones, showing lower levels of exposure over long periods of time. Acute lead poisoning was determined by finding lead in the animals’ blood and feathers, which shows higher concentrations of exposure in shorter periods of time.

The condor population has suffered from the same lead poisoning, which nearly drove them to extinction, according to National Geographic.

“A lot of it is open areas where (scavengers) are feeding on carrion and carcasses that are left out,” said Jan Miller, animal care coordinator at Liberty Wildlife, an animal rehabilitation and refuge center in south Phoenix.

“Oftentimes, people will go out and varmint hunt, and they’ll do things like shoot rabbits or shoot coyotes and then leave it there with the intention of … animals can feed on it,” she said.

“The unfortunate thing is they don’t understand that the lead is going to poison the animals that are now going to eat that carcass,” said Miller.

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Reuters

US group says finds Facebook posts offering endangered wildlife for sale

SHANGHAI, April 13, 2022 (Reuters) – Facebook has become a “thriving marketplace” for illegal online wildlife trading, allowing the sale of many critically endangered species, a report by the U.S.-based campaign group Avaaz said on Wednesday.

Avaaz researchers said an investigation into the social media platform uncovered 129 posts listing endangered species that were up for sale, including baby tigers, African grey parrots and the pygmy marmoset, the world’s smallest monkey.

“Avaaz’s research shows that, on Facebook, wildlife trafficking takes place in broad daylight,” said Ruth Delbaere, senior legal campaigner with Avaaz.

“By insufficiently enforcing its own policies, Facebook is enabling an international trade that has devastating effects on biodiversity and the stability of natural ecosystems,” Delbaere added.

Facebook’s guidelines prohibit content that seeks to buy, sell, trade, donate or gift endangered species or their parts.

A spokesperson for Facebook owner Meta (FB.O) told Reuters that it was unfair to judge the company’s enforcement efforts on the basis of just 129 posts and said it has removed pages that violate its policies.

“The results don’t reflect the extensive work we’ve done to combat wildlife trafficking on Facebook,” the spokesperson said, adding that the company has introduced technology to find and remove such content, and to warn users who search for it.

“This is an adversarial space though, and the people behind this awful activity are persistent and constantly evolving their tactics to try to evade those efforts,” the spokesperson said.

Illegal wildlife trafficking has been under the spotlight amid claims that the virus that causes COVID-19 might have crossed the species barrier from bats to humans via China’s extensive animal trading network.

Since early 2020, China has sought to crack down on the trading of all kinds of wildlife for food.

China’s Supreme Court also issued new guidelines last week saying legal efforts to combat trafficking should cover the entire criminal supply chain, from poaching to processing.

(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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The Guardian

Back from the dead? Elusive ivory-billed woodpecker not extinct, researchers say

An expedition to the forests of Louisiana say extinction of bird, last definitively seen in 1944, has been exaggerated

Oliver Milman, Wednesday., 13 April 2022

In terms of elusiveness, it is the Bigfoot or Loch Ness monster of the bird world, so rare and undetectable that the US government declared it extinct last year. But the ivory-billed woodpecker is, in fact, still alive and pecking in the forests of Louisiana, a team of researchers has claimed.

A series of grainy pictures and observations of the bird, which had its last widely accepted sighting in 1944, show that the scrupulously furtive woodpecker is still holding on in the swampy forests of the US south, according to the team’s new research, which is yet to be peer-reviewed.

A three-year quest to find the woodpecker involved scientists trudging through an undisclosed portion of Louisiana woodland to observe the bird and take audio recordings. Unmanned trail cameras, set up to take pictures on a time lapse, and a drone were used to capture photos of the creature.

Steve Latta, the director of conservation at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh who led the effort, said each member of the team had encounters with the ivory-billed woodpecker and often heard its call, which has been described like hearing a child puff into a tin trumpet.

Latta himself saw the bird fly upwards in front of him, showing the distinctive white edges to its wings. “It flew up at an angle and I watched it for about six to eight seconds, which was fairly long for an ivory-billed woodpecker,” he said. “I was surprised. I was visibly shaking afterwards. You realize you’ve seen something special that very few people had the opportunity to see.”

The size and the markings of the bird captured in the photos is strong evidence that it is not another woodpecker, such as a pileated or red-headed woodpecker, Latta said. “It reinforced to me that, yes, this bird does exist and left me feeling a sense of responsibility to protect it for the future,” he said.

Ivory-billed woodpeckers were once relatively common, stretching from the Carolinas through the south-east US to Texas. They were, or are, the largest woodpeckers in the US, with the males sporting a distinctive red crest on their heads. They enjoy feasting on insects that accumulate in the bark of recently deceased trees.

Their numbers started to drop sharply in the 19th century due to human interference with their habitat and overhunting, with their scarcity spurring collectors to hunt them further as valuable specimens. They were also eaten by poverty-stricken people of the time who turned to devouring the woodpecker, wild turkeys, gopher tortoises and other wildlife.

With just a few of the birds occupying largely inaccessible forests, confirmed sightings, let alone clear pictures, became almost impossible. Last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), after years of listing the woodpecker as critically endangered, declared the species extinct.

“No one has held a camera and got a picture of one in years because it’s a scarce bird in tough swampy habitat and they don’t want people close to them because they’ve been shot at for 150 years,” said Geoffrey Hill, a biologist at Auburn University who took part in another, largely frustrating, trip to find the bird in Florida in 2005.

“They have better eyes than we do, they are high in the trees and actively flee people. They aren’t great thinkers but they have developed a pretty simple strategy to avoid people.”

Hill said Latta’s research was “very interesting” and that he thought it likely that the bird pictured is indeed an ivory-billed woodpecker. He added that the FWS was premature to decide the species was extinct and that several dozen could still be holding on in forests across the south.

“Some people cannot believe a bird can defy documentation by modern humans because we have such dominion over nature but it is endlessly interesting because if it has done that, it’s one pretty impressive bird,” Hill said.

“People who are into birds are fascinated by them. Ivory bills couldn’t care less, though. They hate all people.”

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Environmental Protection Agency

EPA Announces Plan to Protect Endangered Species and Support Sustainable Agriculture

New comprehensive workplan will further species conservation while improving certainty for farmers, local public health agencies, and other pesticide users

April 12, 2022, EPA Press Office 

WASHINGTON (April 12, 2022) – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its first-ever comprehensive workplan to address the decades-old challenge of protecting endangered species from pesticides. The plan establishes four overall strategies and dozens of actions to adopt those protections while providing farmers, public health authorities, and others with access to pesticides.

“Today’s workplan serves as the blueprint for how EPA will create an enduring path to meet its goals of protecting endangered species and providing all people with safe, affordable food and protection from pests,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “The workplan reflects EPA’s collaboration with other federal agencies and commitment to listening to stakeholders about how they can work with the Agency to solve this longstanding challenge.”

“The workplan announced today will allow us to better protect wildlife, imperiled species, and ecosystems” said White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory. “I look forward to continuing to work collaboratively across the federal government to better protect wildlife from extinction and minimize the impacts of pesticides.”

“USDA appreciates the steps EPA is taking today.  We are confident that EPA can streamline ESA consultations around pesticides in a way that continues to conserve wildlife while allowing farmers access to the tools they need to produce the food and fiber that all of us rely on,” said USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is eager to help EPA achieve its vision to protect federally listed threatened and endangered species while fulfilling its obligations related to authorizing the safe use of pesticides,” said Martha Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director.

“NOAA supports the Environmental Protection Agency’s ESA-FIFRA workplan and looks forward to continued collaboration with our interagency partners to ensure the protection of federally listed species and their habitats. Implementation of this work plan will lead to a more consistent and timely regulatory process, and better outcomes for our species and our partners,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D.

EPA has an opportunity and an obligation to improve how it meets its duties under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) when it registers pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). For most of EPA’s history, the Agency has met these duties for less than five percent of its FIFRA decisions. This has resulted in over 20 ESA lawsuits against the Agency, which have increased in frequency in recent years, creating uncertainty for farmers and other pesticide users, unnecessary expenses and inefficiencies for EPA, and delays in how EPA protects endangered species.

EPA currently has over 50 pesticide ingredients, covering over 1,000 pesticide products, with court-enforceable deadlines to comply with the ESA or in pending litigation alleging ESA violations. Completing this work will take EPA past 2040, yet the work represents less than five percent of all the FIFRA decisions in the next decade for which ESA obligations exist. This is an unsustainable and legally tenuous situation, in which EPA’s schedule for meeting its ESA obligations has historically been determined through the courts. The workplan must provide a path for the Agency to meet those obligations on its own, thus protecting endangered species while supporting responsible pesticide use.

Today’s workplan also sets a new vision for a successful ESA-FIFRA program that focuses on protecting species under the ESA, while minimizing regulatory impacts to pesticide users, supporting the development of safer technologies to control pests, completing timely FIFRA decisions, and collaborating with other agencies and stakeholders on implementing the plan.

The workplan describes four strategies and multiple actions to further the vision.

*A key strategy is for EPA to meet its ESA obligations for all FIFRA actions that invoke ESA. Because EPA does not have the capacity or scientific processes in place to meet all these obligations immediately, it has identified the FIFRA actions that are the highest priority for fulfilling its ESA obligations. These include actions with court-enforceable deadlines and new registrations of conventional pesticides.

*A second strategy is to improve approaches to identifying and requiring ESA protections, especially for species facing the greatest risk from pesticides.

*A third strategy is to improve the efficiency and timeliness of the ESA consultation process for pesticides, in coordination with other federal agencies.

*And the final strategy is to engage stakeholders more effectively, to better understand their pest control practices and implement species protection measures.

EPA needs the help of other federal agencies, state agencies, and stakeholders to implement these actions. Through the workplan, EPA is describing its future directions in the hope of collaborating with all these organizations on implementation. Over the coming months, EPA will engage with a wide range of stakeholders to identify opportunities for collaboration and will continue seeking input on more effective and efficient ways to meet its ESA obligations. The workplan is a living document that EPA will periodically revisit to incorporate lessons learned from implementation.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Nevada’s Railroad Valley Toad

Small Toad’s Survival Threatened by Proposed Lithium Project

RENO, Nev.—(April 12, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition today with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the critically imperiled Railroad Valley toad, which is threatened by a proposed lithium production project and oil drilling.

This recently identified species is found at just one spring-fed wetland complex in Railroad Valley, Nevada. It has an estimated distribution of only 445 acres and is isolated from other toads by miles of arid desert. Like many of Nevada’s groundwater-dependent species, this unique toad relies on consistent spring flow for survival.

The Railroad Valley toad’s sole habitat is imminently threatened by a proposed lithium production project that would be located less than 10 miles away. The project is seeking to extract billions of gallons of groundwater, or brine, per year, threatening the springs the toad depends on. Post-processed brine would also be reinjected underground, potentially degrading the water quality of the wetland complex.

“While we strongly support the transition to renewable energy and recognize that lithium is an important component, it can’t come at the expense of these rare toads’ survival,” said Krista Kemppinen, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Center. “We’re in a biodiversity crisis, and amphibians are more imperiled than any other group of vertebrates. Lithium production needs to minimize threats to species and water consumption and maximize recycling.”

In addition to lithium production, oil and gas development in the valley also threatens the Railroad Valley toad. There are dozens of active oil wells in Railroad Valley, and the Bureau of Land Management has leased out much of the public land in the valley, including land around the toad’s habitat, to oil companies.

The Railroad Valley toad has a brown and gray back with prominent warts and a black and white belly. It has evolved to survive in a rare spring-fed habitat in a geothermally active area. Described as a distinct species in 2020, it is one of the smallest members of the Anaxyrus boreas species group.

“The Railroad Valley toad has been a survivor for millennia at its aquatic desert home,” said Kemppinen. “Without protection under the Endangered Species Act, this unique toad will disappear forever.”

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EcoWatch

Children Believe Humans and Farm Animals Should Be Treated Equally, Study Finds

But They Tend to Lose This Belief in Adolescence

Paige Bennett, April 11, 2022

According to a new study, children believe humans and farm animals should be treated in the same ways, but they start to lose these beliefs as they become teenagers. The study notes that speciesism is learned in adolescence.

The study, done by researches at Exeter University and Oxford University, asked people of different age groups: kids 9 to 11, young adults ages 18 to 21 and adults ages 29 to 59 about treatment toward animals, including animals considered food.

The researchers found that the children showed less speciesism overall compared to the young adults and older adults. Speciesism is considered a moral hierarchy that ranks the value of different animal species.

The study also said that the children tended to associate farm animals as pets more so than food compared to the adult groups. The kids also had higher instances of wanting better treatment for farm animals and they considered eating meat as less morally acceptable.

“Humans’ relationship with animals is full of ethical double standards,” Luke McGuire, study lead author and a lecturer at the University of Exeter, told The Guardian. “Some animals are beloved household companions, while others are kept in factory farms for economic benefit. Judgments seem to largely depend on the species of the animal in question: dogs are our friends, pigs are food.”

The research is considered an important step toward understanding “moral aerobics” where humans may have moral double standards or contradicting beliefs. For instance, through the course of the study, the kids noted that dogs deserved better treatment than pigs, but that pigs still deserved equal treatment to humans. The adult groups wanted dogs and humans to be treated equally and both to be treated better than pigs.

“Something seems to happen in adolescence, where that early love for animals becomes more complicated and we develop more speciesism,” McGuire explained. “It’s important to note that even adults in our study thought eating meat was less morally acceptable than eating animal products like milk. So aversion to animals — including farm animals — being harmed does not disappear entirely.”

Although McGuire noted that changes in attitudes and beliefs is natural over time, understanding these shifts could help society shift to more sustainable lifestyles by introducing eco-friendly behaviors, like plant-based diets, early.

“If we want people to move towards more plant-based diets for environmental reasons, we have to disrupt the current system somewhere,” McGuire told The Guardian. “For example, if children ate more plant-based food in schools, that might be more in line with their moral values, and might reduce the normalization towards adult values that we identify in this study.”

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The Denver Post

Lauren Boebert and fellow Republicans want gray wolves removed from federal endangered species list

The wolves are fully recovered and don’t need federal protections, Boebert and 23 other members of Congress argued

By CONRAD SWANSON, April 11, 2022

Colorado’s U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert and 23 other Republican members of Congress wrote federal officials this month, asking that they remove the gray wolves from the federal endangered species list.

A northern California judge’s February ruling placed the gray wolves on the federal endangered species list once more after they were taken off during former president Donald Trump’s administration.

“Some activist judge from California shouldn’t be able to overturn the best available science and contradict the law based on his own leftist political beliefs,” Boebert said in a release announcing the effort to delist the wolves.

Boebert and the other representatives, including Colorado’s Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn, addressed the April 7 letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, asking her to appeal the February ruling, calling wolf populations “fully recovered.”

Experts and environmentalists argue otherwise, though. While wolf packs in the Great Lakes region might be doing well, their numbers are still lacking elsewhere across the country, especially in the Rocky Mountain region where they were hunted to near extinction generations ago.

In Colorado, gray wolves remain on the state endangered list and the issue came to a tipping point in 2020 when the state narrowly approved a contentious ballot measure requiring officials to reintroduce the species by the end of 2023. The state already has one pack of gray wolves in Jackson County, which made news after its members killed several cows and dogs in the area.

The majority of counties in Boebert’s expansive district covering the Western Slope, where the wolves will be reintroduced, opposed the statewide measure.

Rather than leaving gray wolves on the federal endangered species list, the letter argued that the protections should instead be left up to individual states. It pointed to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming as states that “far exceeded” federal management objectives.

While wolf populations have increased in Rocky Mountain states, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming permit wolf hunting, which environmentalists say undercuts efforts to restore their populations.

In Colorado anyone who hunts or kills wolves could face a fine and jail time. Department of the Interior representatives could not immediately be reached for comment and Haaland has not indicated that she would appeal the California ruling. Instead, she has repeatedly expressed her support for federal protections.

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6ABC/WATE.com (Knoxville, TN)

Plant found only on Cumberland Plateau taken off endangered list

by: Robert Holder, Posted: April 10, 2022

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A plant found only in a small area of the Cumberland Plateau has been taken off the federal endangered species list. Since the Cumberland sandwort, Minuartia cumberlandensis, was put on the list in 1988, Tennessee and Kentucky environmental officials – as well as federal agencies and conservation groups – have been working to protect the plant.

State and federal officials met Friday at Hazard Cave at Pickett CCC Memorial State Park to celebrate the milestone.

“This is a meaningful day for conservation,” said David Salyers, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation commissioner. “It’s a tribute to the partnerships involved that made this happen. This is another example of the great natural resources of our state and the determination to protect them.”

Cumberland sandwort occurs at the base and ledges of sandstone cliffs or rock overhangs in only four Tennessee counties – Pickett, Fentress, Morgan and Scott – and one county in Kentucky, McCreary.

“The recovery of the Cumberland sandwort is a conservation success that would not be possible without our dedicated partners,” said Dr. Catherine Phillips, the Service’s assistant regional director for Ecological Services. “Partnerships are essential to the success of the Endangered Species Act and the reason this plant will be enjoyed for years to come.”

The plant was first described to science in 1979 by Robert Kral of Vanderbilt University and Eugene Wofford of the University of Tennessee. Cumberland sandwort is now found in 71 places, 66 of which are on federal and state lands, managed by the National Park Service, Tennessee Division of Forestry, Tennessee Division of Natural Areas or Tennessee State Parks. Pickett CCC Memorial State Park has 29 of the 71 occurrences.

Hazard Cave also provides a reachable location to view the plant, as does Slave Falls at the Big South Fork National Recreation Area.

At the time of the listing, only 28 occurrences of the plant were known.

To keep the ensure the species’ viability, TDEC Division of Natural areas and partners will continue monitoring the species for five years.

The National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, and Missouri Botanical Garden also aided in the protection of the plant.

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The Guardian

Police in Spain seize €29m haul of stuffed endangered animals

Haul of more than 1,000 specimens includes over 400 protected species from polar bears to Bengal tigers

Reuters, 10 April 2022

Police in Spain have seized one of the largest hauls of taxidermy animals in Europe as they investigate potential smuggling, after a warehouse in Valencia was found to contain stuffed rhinos, polar bears, elephants and other animals.

The Guardia Civil discovered more than 1,000 specimens in a 50,000 sq metre (538,000 sq ft) industrial warehouse in Bétera, Valencia, on Wednesday, it said in a statement on Sunday.

The haul included more than 400 protected species, including some that have been extinct in the wild, such as the scimitar oryx, or severely threatened, such as the Bengal tiger. Others included lions, leopards, cheetahs and lynx.

The warehouse owner was under investigation for smuggling and crimes against flora and fauna, police said. He has not been arrested.

Investigators estimate the stuffed animals are worth €29m (£24.2m).

The discovery was the culmination of an investigation by Valencia police’s nature protection team that began in November 2021 when agents became aware of a possible private collection in Bétera.

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Anthropocene

Reducing food waste is an overlooked solution to saving endangered species  

According to a new study, reducing food waste by just half could be a more effective way to protect biodiversity than changing people’s diets.

By Emma Bryce, April 8, 2022

Halving rates of food waste in the United States could slash global biodiversity losses driven by American consumption, according to a new paper published in PNAS. What’s more, the analysis suggests that cutting food waste may be even more effective at reducing species loss than some nationally-recommended diets.

Biodiversity is often left out of the equation when calculating environmental impacts, explain the researchers in the new paper, which is why they made it the focal point of their analysis. They set out to tally up the amount of land—domestically and internationally—that’s required to feed the US, and the number of species that are consequently threatened by this production.

To drill down into these impacts they looked at how this land use and biodiversity impact would change under several dietary scenarios, including the Planetary Health Diet, as well as several diets officially recommended by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), including a vegetarian, and a Mediterranean-style diet—the latter of which is rich in fruits, vegetables and fish. The researchers also factored in the impact of substantial food waste reductions at the national scale.

They calculated that eating vegetarian and plant-rich diets uses less land and therefore reduces the overall threat to global biodiversity by around 30%, compared to baseline US diets.

However, when viewed through the lens of biodiversity, these more sustainable diets include some notable environmental trade-offs. The researchers found that 20% of the land required to produce food for US consumers occurs outside the country, and this foreign land represents 39% of the biodiversity risk driven by US diets. That’s because food imports to the US often come from countries including Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico where farmland is more likely to overlap with biodiversity hotspots, driving the destruction of rainforest and other wildlife-harboring habitats.

The reliance of plant-based diets on imported fruit and veg therefore skews its environmental footprint, increasing its biodiversity impact and offsetting some of the benefits of this greener diet: “Increasing the number of people eating plant-based diets would be incredibly beneficial for global biodiversity, but that we have to think carefully about where those calories are coming from,” explains lead author Quentin Read, who was working as a data scientist at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center when he produced this paper (he is now an applied statistician with the USDA.)

Meanwhile the nationally-recommended Mediterranean-style diet, which includes plenty of fruit, veg, fish and dairy, actually increased land pressures compared to the baseline (large amounts of land are devoted to pastureland to raise dairy cattle, and to grow feed for fish that are increasingly derived from aquaculture). In fact this diet, which is meant to be healthier for humans, isn’t so for nature: the extra land use increases the threat to global biodiversity by 10%, the study found.

Against these varied and complex dietary scenarios, tackling food waste offers an unexpectedly effective and elegant solution for saving biodiversity, the models suggest.

The researchers calculated that even if we leave current US diets unchanged, simply cutting avoidable food waste by half would reduce required food production, taking huge amounts of pressure off farmland, reducing the area required to fulfill American dietary needs, and therefore reducing biodiversity loss—all by about 17%. Food waste reduction is “way more beneficial for environment and biodiversity than it might appear at first glance,” says Read.

This figure significantly outpaces the biodiversity benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet. And while it isn’t as effective as the 30% reduced biodiversity threat achieved by a nationwide vegetarian diet, tackling food waste could make US food production more efficient, reducing the need for fruit and veg imports from biodiversity-rich regions—and thereby helping tackle the trade-offs of this more sustainable diet.

What’s more, slashing the US’s food waste by half can still accomplish the bulk of the biodiversity benefit achieved by sustainable diets, but with comparably less effort. “Changing diets is an incredibly fraught and problematic thing, making it all the more important to put resources toward food waste reduction—in addition to diet shifts. But we can expect more short-term success with food waste reduction,” says Read.

However we approach the challenge, the study reveals the importance of including biodiversity measures when we account for the environmental pressures of our food systems. By labelling diets as ‘sustainable’ just because they reduce emissions, for instance, we see only part of the picture and risk falling into a trap that puts nature and our food futures at risk.

Likewise, no single solution will achieve the deep reductions in biodiversity loss that our planet needs to see. In fact, the researchers found that the biggest biodiversity benefits occur when food waste reductions are combined with dietary change: slashing US food waste by half, and pairing it with more sustainable consumption could reduce the country’s food-related global biodiversity threat by almost 45%, they determined.

“Together, diet shifts and food waste reduction can help us achieve that crucial goal,” the researchers write.

(Read, et. al. “Biodiversity effects of food system sustainability actions from farm to fork.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2022.)

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Fox News

Wind energy company kills 150 bald eagles in US, pleads guilty

Fox Business, April 7, 2022

A subsidiary of one of the largest U.S. providers of renewable energy pleaded guilty to criminal charges and was ordered to pay over $8 million in fines and restitution after at least 150 bald eagles were killed at its wind farms in eight states, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

NextEra Energy subsidiary ESI Energy was also sentenced to five years probation after being charged with three counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act during a court appearance in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The charges arose from the deaths of nine bald eagles at three wind farms in Wyoming and New Mexico.

In addition to those deaths, the company acknowledged the deaths of golden and bald eagles at 50 wind farms affiliated with ESI and NextEra since 2012, prosecutors said. Birds were killed in eight states: Wyoming, California, New Mexico, North Dakota, Colorado, Michigan, Arizona and Illinois.

NextEra, based in Juno Beach, Florida, bills itself as the world’s largest utility company by market value. It has more than 100 wind farms in the U.S. and Canada and also generates natural gas, nuclear and solar power.

Almost all of the eagles killed at the NextEra subsidiary’s facilities were struck by the blades of wind turbines, prosecutors said. Some turbines killed multiple eagles and because the carcasses are not always found, officials said the number killed was likely higher than the 150 birds cited in court documents.

Prosecutors said the company’s failure to take steps to protect eagles or to obtain permits to kill the birds gave it an advantage over competitors that did take such steps — even as ESI and other NextEra affiliates received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal tax credits from the wind power they produced.

NextEra spokesperson Steven Stengel said the company didn’t seek permits because it believes the law didn’t require them for unintentional bird deaths. The company said its guilty plea will resolve all allegations over past fatalities and allow it to move forward without a continued threat of prosecution.

The criminal case comes amid a push by President Joe Biden for more renewable energy from wind, solar and other sources to help reduce climate changing emissions. It also follows a renewed commitment by federal wildlife officials under Biden to enforce protections for eagles and other birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Criminal prosecutions had been halted under former President Donald Trump for birds killed inadvertently by industry.

It’s illegal to kill or harm eagles under the migratory bird act. However, a wide range of industries — from energy firms to manufacturing companies — have lobbied for years against enforcing the law for accidental bird deaths.

The bald eagle — the U.S. national symbol since the 1700s — saw its populations widely decimated last century due to harmful pesticides such as DDT and other problems. Following a dramatic recovery, it was removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2007. Biologists say more than 300,000 bald eagles now occupy the U.S., not including Alaska.

Golden eagles have not fared as well, with populations considered stable but under pressure from wind farms, collisions with vehicles, illegal shootings and poisoning from lead ammunition.

Most of the eagles killed at the ESI and NextEra wind farms were golden eagles, according to court documents.

There are an estimated 31,800 golden eagles in the Western U.S. with an estimated 2,200 killed annually due to human causes, or about 60% of all deaths, according to a study released last week by leading eagle researchers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other entities.

The study concluded that golden eagle deaths “will likely increase in the future” because of wind energy development and other human activities.

Companies historically have been able to avoid prosecution under the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty law if they take steps to avoid deaths and seek permits for those that occur.

Charging documents said company representatives, including ESI’s president, were warned that eagles would be killed if the company built two wind farms in central and southeastern Wyoming, and also knew about a risk to eagles when they authorized the repowering of a New Mexico wind farm, about 170 miles from Albuquerque.

The company proceeded anyway and at times ignored further advice from federal wildlife officials about how to minimize the deaths, according to court documents.

“For more than a decade, ESI has violated (wildlife) laws, taking eagles without obtaining or even seeking the necessary permit,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division in a statement.

ESI agreed under a plea deal to spend up to $27 million during its five-year probationary period on measures to prevent future eagle deaths. That includes shutting down turbines at times when eagles are more likely to be present.

Despite those measures, wildlife officials anticipate that some eagles still could die. When that happens, the company will pay $29,623 per dead eagle under the plea deal.

NextEra President Rebecca Kujawa said collisions of birds with wind turbines are unavoidable accidents that should not be criminalized. She said the company is committed to reducing damage to wildlife from its projects.

“We disagree with the government’s underlying enforcement activity,” Kujawa said in a statement. “Building any structure, driving any vehicle, or flying any airplane carries with it a possibility that accidental eagle and other bird collisions may occur.”

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EcoWatch

Commercial Fishers Kill Sharks to Retrieve $1 Hooks in New Zealand, Report Finds

Paige Bennett, April 06, 2022

Documents collected via the Official Information Act in New Zealand show that commercial fishers in the area have been killing or injuring sharks to retrieve their fishing gear, including hooks that cost as little as $1.

The documents come from government observers who worked to oversee commercial longline fleets in the country from 2016 to 2021.

Fishing gear on its own already presents problems for wildlife that may become entangled in nets or fishing lines.

“Bycatch accounts for about half of global shark catches. Longlines are mostly responsible, but bycatch in nets is also important,” according to WWF New Zealand. “In the Pacific Ocean alone, 3.3 million sharks are caught each year as bycatch on longlines. Indeed, in terms of numbers, sharks are the most significant bycatch species in the world’s major high seas fisheries. They are also particularly vulnerable to over-fishing due to their relatively slow reproductive rate, with several species showing recent drastic declines.”

Yet commercial fishers trying to retrieve their gear are another threat, as the observers documented that these workers would kill or maim sharks that accidentally became entangled in the gear.

The documents noted that fishers would throw sharks, swing them around by their tails, or cut through their jaws to collect fishing hooks, as Plant Based News reported. After cutting off the sharks’ jaws, fishers would throw the still-alive sharks back into the water.

Another document noted that a skipper, or person in charge of a fishing boat, told crew members to kill off blue sharks to reduce the population, even though the species is considered Near Threatened by IUCN due to overfishing and hunting for shark fins.

“The Blue Shark is caught globally as target and bycatch in commercial and small-scale pelagic longline, purse seine, and gillnet fisheries,” IUCN reported. “Most of the catch is taken as bycatch of industrial pelagic fleets in offshore and high-seas waters. It is also captured in coastal longlines, gillnets, trammel nets, and sometimes trawls, particularly in areas with narrow continental shelves.”

Experts have called the documents horrific and appalling and are calling for reforms to prevent these shark killings.

“While I can understand the frustration of the fishers in incidentally catching a shark that is not wanted, nothing justifies such inhumane and callous action,” said Laws Lawson, chief executive of Fisheries Inshore New Zealand.

Activists have drafted a petition for better shark protections and more monitoring of fishing vessels. The petition also wants fishers to release any bycatch, including sharks, with “as little harm as possible.”

“Sharks that aren’t intended for food should be released back to the sea alive and unharmed by cutting the line,” said Geoff Keey, spokesperson for Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand, also known as Forest & Bird. “Forest & Bird is urging the fishing industry to end the practice of killing and maiming unwanted sharks and calls on the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries to ban this horrific practice.”

At the time of writing, the petition has just over 30,000 signatures and is looking to reach 100,000.

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Center for Biological Diversity

140 Groups Call for Major Reforms at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Restore Scientific Integrity

Protection of Species Hindered by Bureaucratic Interference, Inefficiency

WASHINGTON—(April 6, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity and 139 other organizations sent a letter today urging U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams to take immediate action to reform the agency’s process for listing imperiled species as threatened or endangered.

The agency’s process for protecting species involves multiple layers of bureaucracy and upwards of 20 people who only vet listing decisions based on political concerns.

Today’s letter states that “it is frequently the case — especially with politically controversial species — that listing decisions are made in Washington, D.C., including reversing the original listing recommendations of the Services’ own scientists.” As a result, “the agency has failed to protect species for years, even decades — making extinction much more likely and recovery much more difficult and expensive.”

“Instead of fighting at the front lines to combat the extinction crisis, the Service has been crippled by decades of bureaucratic boondoggles and illegal political interference at all levels of decision-making,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “It’s clear that drastic reform is desperately needed to fix this broken agency. We only hope that Director Williams will be bold enough to do so.”

More than 300 animals and plants are still awaiting protection decisions — including the western pond turtle, lake sturgeon and western bumblebee — while hundreds more imperiled species are not even under consideration. On average, the agency has taken 12 years to protect species even though under the Endangered Species Act, it should take no more than two. Nearly 50 unlisted species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

The Service has failed to make dozens of required protection decisions every year, violating promises in a workplan developed by the agency. In fiscal year 2021, the Biden administration failed to make decisions on 66 imperiled species. The agency failed to make required findings for 30 species in fiscal year 2017, 78 species in fiscal year 2018, 46 species in fiscal year 2019, and 58 species in fiscal year 2020.

The Service has also often denied protection for clearly endangered species, resulting in repeated court battles to overturn politically motivated decisions. For more than 20 years the American wolverine has been under consideration for protection with the agency seesawing between proposing protection and withdrawing it, only to have the withdrawal overturned in court.

“The Service is doing no better at protecting species in a timely manner than it did under the Trump administration, which was the most anti-wildlife administration in recent history,” said Greenwald. “Williams has the public support to make transformative changes within the agency, but she needs to muster the political will to do so.”

More than 24,000 members of the public so far have also called on Williams to reform the agency.

The Center recently filed a comprehensive legal petition urging the Service to, among other things, reduce political interference in the listing process by empowering career scientists to make science-based decisions without fear of political reprisal.

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ABC News

Experts estimate 8 endangered porpoises may remain in Mexico

April 6, 2022

The Sea Shepherd environmental group says scientists estimate that only about eight of the world’s most critically endangered porpoises may remain in the Gulf of California, the only place where the vaquita marina lives

By The Associated Press, April 5, 2022

MEXICO CITY — Scientists estimate only about eight of the world’s most critically endangered porpoises may remain in the Gulf of California, the only place where the vaquita marina lives, an environmental group said Tuesday.

Pritam Singh, chairman of the Sea Shepherd group, said its crews had not seen any of the elusive porpoises during about three dozen trips this year to what is believed to be the last area in the gulf where vaquitas live.

But he said scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature reviewed images taken late last year that suggest eight adults and perhaps one or two calves are still in the the Gulf, also known as the Sea of Cortez.

Vaquitas drown in illegal nets set by fishermen to catch totoaba, a fish whose swim bladder is a delicacy in China and sells for thousands of dollars per pound (kilogram).

The Mexican government has been criticized for partially giving up on efforts to enforce a zero-fishing zone in the last known area of the Gulf where vaquitas live. But Singh said that while there were a lot of small fishing boats in the zero-fishing area early this year, coordination between Sea Shepherd and the Mexican navy has helped cut down on the vessels.

Singh said that the first three days Sea Shepherd patrolled the area this year, they sighted 58 fishing boats on the first day, 35 the second and 27 on the third. During their most recent trip, those numbers were down to between one and three boats per day, he said.

“That is great news,” Singh said. “That helps to give the vaquita a chance.”

Last year, the Mexican government abandoned the policy of maintaining a “zero tolerance” zone in the upper Gulf. It then introduced a sliding scale of punishments if more than 60 fishing boats are seen in the area on multiple occasions.

For years, Mexico relied on Sea Shepherd boats to remove most of the illegal nets that trap and drown vaquitas, while doing relatively little to combat violent attacks by poachers on the environmentalists’ ships. The group estimates it removed about 1,000 of the long, heavy nets over the last six years.

But the environmentalists were forced to leave the Gulf in January 2021 after a New Year’s Eve attack in which fishermen rammed a Sea Shepherd vessel with their boat. One of the fishermen later reportedly died of injuries sustained in that attack.

Since then, the job of locating and removing nets has been largely left to Mexico’s navy, acting on reports from Sea Shepherd vessels. Mexican authorities allowed the group to return to the Gulf about a year after it was forced out, but it no longer allows the group to remove illegal nets.

In February, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office filed the first trade-based environmental complaint against Mexico for failing to protect the vaquita marina, which is the world’s smallest porpoise.

The office said it had asked for “environment consultations” with Mexico, the first such case it has filed under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade pact. Consultations are the first step in the dispute resolution process under the treaty, which took effect in 2020. If not resolved, it could eventually lead to trade sanctions.

Mexico’s Economy Department said after the complaint was announced Thursday that “the Mexican government reaffirms its commitment to the proper implementation of the USMCA and the responsibilities it has within it.”

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has expressed his dislike of foreign interference, and his desire to balance the interests of fishermen and endangered species.

“We don’t need foreigners telling us what to do or placing sanctions on our country’s fishermen,” López Obrador said in 2021. He insisted that “we can reach an agreement that seeks an equilibrium between fishing and productive activities, and taking care of species.”

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The Times-Standard (Eureka, CA)

CDFW ends crab season after humpback entanglements

The Times-Standard, April 6, 2022

The following is a press release from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director Charlton H. Bonham has assessed entanglement risk under the Risk Assessment Mitigation Program (RAMP) and announced the closure of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in Fishing Zones 1 and 2 (Sonoma/Mendocino county line to the Oregon state line) effective at noon on April 20, 2022. This closure is being implemented in addition to a closure of Zones 3 through 6 announced on March 25 because of three recent humpback whale entanglements involving California commercial Dungeness crab fishing gear. All commercial Dungeness crab traps must be removed from the fishing grounds in Zones 3, 4, 5 and 6 by noon on April 8 and by noon on April 20 in Zones 1 and 2. In addition, the Director has authorized the Lost and Abandoned Gear Retrieval Program to begin removing commercial Dungeness crab traps left in the water starting April 15 at noon in Zones 3, 4, 5 and 6 and April 27 at noon in Zones 1 and 2.

“We received reports of additional humpback whale entanglements and moved quickly to close the fishery to protect migrating humpback whales that are just starting to return to California waters,” said Director Bonham. “While this poses an economic impact on certain sectors of our coastal fishing communities, it is important to protect both whales and the long-term viability of the commercial fishery. We will be working with the fishing fleet, researchers and other agencies to better understand these recent entanglement events and find ways to mitigate this risk in future seasons.”

CDFW asks fishermen and mariners to be on the lookout for and report any entangled whales so a disentanglement response team can be mobilized to remove the gear. Reports can be made to 1-877-SOS-WHALE or contact the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16. The recreational fishery remains open statewide but may be subject to a future trap restriction as humpback whales return to California waters to forage during the spring and summer. The recreational fishery should be ready to respond to minimize risk. To that end, CDFW reminds everyone in the commercial and recreational fisheries to implement best practices, as described in the Best Practices Guide.

A map of all Fishing Zones can be found on the CDFW website. For more information related to the risk assessment process, please visit CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries page. For more information on the Dungeness crab fishery, please visit CDFW’s Crab page, including FAQs for the 2021-22 commercial fishing season and FAQs for the new recreational crab trap regulations.
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The Columbian (Vancouver, WA)

Growth slows for endangered wolves

Mexican gray wolf population still struggling

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press, April 5, 2022

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There are now more Mexican gray wolves roaming the southwestern U.S. than at any time since the federal government started to reintroduce the endangered species, wildlife managers said Wednesday.

The results of the latest annual survey of the wolves show there are at least 196 in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona — the sixth straight year that wolf population has increased.

But officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the population’s growth in 2021 was tempered by higher than average pup mortality. Life was made more difficult for the wolves because of a persistent drought that has resulted in low precipitation and scant snowpack, the officials said.

Fewer than 40 percent of pups survived through the end of the year, though more breeding pairs were recorded in 2021.

“We are happy to see the wild population of Mexican wolves continue to grow year after year,” said Brady McGee, coordinator of the Mexican gray wolf recovery program. “The service and our partners remain focused on recovery through improving the genetic health of the wild population and reducing threats, while also working to minimize conflicts with livestock.”

Ranchers continue to have concerns about livestock killed by the wolves, saying efforts to scare the predators away from livestock — by horse riders, nonlethal shots fired from guns and flags put up on fences near cattle — have not been effective enough. Feeding caches for the wolves are also set up by officials to lure wolves away from livestock.

State Rep. Rebecca Dow sent a letter to McGee about two separate livestock kills on a grazing allotment in her district. The Republican from the small city of Truth or Consequences said Wednesday that she learned about ranchers forced to camp out on their property to protect their herds.

“Ranching is a way of life in our district and the release of these wolves without proper management is taking away from our community’s right to earn a living,” said Dow, who is seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Numbers disappoint

Unlike wolf reintroductions in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere in the northern U.S., wildlife managers in the Southwest must deal with a climate that has encouraged a year-round livestock calving season, meaning wolves can prey on the livestock year-round instead of several months of the year.

The rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America, the Mexican wolf was listed as endangered in the 1970s and a U.S.-Mexico captive breeding program was started with the seven remaining wolves in existence.

It’s estimated that thousands of Mexican wolves once roamed from central Mexico to New Mexico, southern Arizona and Texas. Predator eradication programs began in the late 1800s. Within several decades, the predators were all but eliminated from the wild.

There are currently about 380 Mexican wolves in more than 60 zoos and other facilities in the two countries. In Mexico, the wild population numbers around 40, officials have said.

The wolf recovery team placed 22 captive-born pups into seven wild dens in 2021 as part of a cross-fostering program aimed at boosting the population’s genetic diversity. Officials said two of the pups have since been captured and collared and that the effort to determine how many survived will continue this year.

The team also documented 25 wolf deaths in 2021. Officials rarely release many details about those cases that involve illegal shootings.

Environmentalists had hoped the U.S. population would have topped 200 in 2021. They have been pressuring the Fish and Wildlife Service to release more captive wolf packs and to allow the predators to establish new packs in areas beyond the current recovery zone in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona.

The environmentalists have said that the southern Rockies and the Grand Canyon area would be suitable wolf habitat.

“The disappointing lack of significant growth is a sign that this recovery paradigm is not working,” Chris Smith with the WildEarth Guardians group said in a statement.

Wolves “need better protection and more room to roam and re-establish themselves. U.S. Fish and Wildlife continues to flout the science and bow to political pressure,” Smith said.

Federal officials are expected this summer to finalize a new rule that will govern management of Mexican wolves in the U.S.

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New York Times

U.S. Allows Hunters to Import Some Elephant Trophies From African Countries

After settling a lawsuit filed during the Trump administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service granted six permits to bring elephant parts into the country. It may approve more in the coming months.

By Miranda Green, April 1, 2022

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service informed some hunters last month that it would allow the import of six elephant trophies into the United States from Zimbabwe. The African elephant carcasses will be the first allowed into the country in five years.

The decision reverses an agencywide hold on processing elephant trophy import permits that was put in place during the Trump administration in November 2017, and has since prevented any elephant tusks, tails or feet from being brought into the country.

The reversal is the result of a September 2021 settlement with the Dallas Safari Club, a big-game hunting organization that sued the Trump administration in December 2019 for pausing trophy permit processing. The environment and tourism ministry of Namibia was also a plaintiff in the case. The Fish and Wildlife Service is required under the settlement to process the permits of the 11 hunters named in the suit, as well as 73 other outstanding permit applications. That could potentially lead to additional trophies being brought into the United States from countries that allow limited hunting of elephants for sport.

According to a Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson, both parties “negotiated a settlement they consider to be in the public interest and a just, fair, adequate and equitable resolution of the disputes set forth in the plaintiffs’ complaint.”

The service’s decision to settle the lawsuit continues a long-running dispute between hunters and biodiversity experts over whether trophy hunting is beneficial or harmful to big game species, particularly endangered animals like the two species of African elephants. It has also prompted criticism from activists and biodiversity groups who question why the agency did not fight the lawsuit or reinstate a similar ban that was instituted during the Obama administration.

They point out that the move goes against President Biden’s commitment on the campaign trail to limiting hunting imports. The critics also say it is the latest in a series of confounding steps by the Biden administration to acquiesce to lawsuits leftover from the Trump administration and a failure to invest in more protections under the Endangered Species Act, like conserving more gray wolves. They argue these actions show that Mr. Biden hasn’t kept his word on environmental priorities.

“We expected the Biden administration would have halted everything and taken a hard look and made some tough decisions that maybe this isn’t something we should be doing given the biodiversity crisis,” said Tanya Sanerib, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “So to have the reality be the exact opposite of that, it feels like whiplash.”

For trophy hunters and big game groups, the reversal came as a long delayed win.

“It’s a victory for conservation because in a lot of these places where elephants reside, the habitat is only made available because of hunting dollars,” said Lane Easter, 57, an equine veterinarian in Texas whose trophy permit was approved under the settlement for a Zimbabwe hunt he did in 2017.

The majority of trophy hunters are from the United States. Under the federal Endangered Species Act, hunters must prove before they import a trophy that killing the animal aided in the “positive enhancement” of a species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s perspective, which predates Mr. Biden’s election, is that trophy hunting can qualify as species enhancement if it’s “legal, well-regulated hunting as part of a sound management program,” the agency spokesperson said.

Big game hunters say that the money they spend on hunts is later invested in the rehabilitation of the species and economically benefits nearby communities, preventing poaching. They also say that hunting certain animals like elephants and lions can benefit overall herd health.

Hunters can spend upward of $40,000 on an African hunt in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia and Namibia, and many of them win the rights through bidding wars held at national conferences like the Safari Club International’s annual convention.

But groups like Humane Society International say that hunting a species does not benefit its survival and that the Fish and Wildlife Service should not allow paid hunts to qualify as a method of species enhancement, especially on animals the United States considers threatened. The International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2021 revised its listing for both species of African elephant to highlight that both are at greater risk of extinction.

Critics also say there is little proof that money paid for a hunt ultimately helps the species recover, especially when corruption has been found to be rampant in several of the countries where African elephants reside.

“There is no evidence that trophy hunting advances conservation of a species,” said Teresa Telecky, a zoologist and the vice president of wildlife at the Humane Society International.

When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, big game hunters expected it would be easier to import elephant trophies. The week before Thanksgiving in 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service reversed an Obama-era ban, allowing hunters to import elephant trophies from several African countries. The news set off a storm of disapproval and criticism, with even staunch allies of Mr. Trump warning the move might increase the “gruesome poaching of elephants.”

Just 24 hours later, Mr. Trump tweeted that he would put the decision on “hold.” After that tweet, not a single elephant trophy was approved for import to the United States.

“Because the president found trophy hunting distasteful he essentially abrogated the law with a tweet,” said George Lyon, the lawyer who represented the Dallas Safari Club, “and that’s not how the administrative process is supposed to go.”

So far, the wildlife service said it had processed eight permits. In addition to the six it allowed, it denied two, and it is expected to rule in coming months on more. Mr. Lyon estimated that as of last September, close to 300 elephant trophy permits from various African countries were awaiting processing.

Mr. Easter says he’s not wasting any time to bask in his legal victory. His elephant’s tusks are already being prepared for shipment to his home in Texas.

“They are going to hang in the living room of my house, and I will remember that elephant for the rest of my life,” he said.

He has another trophy hunt in Africa booked for August.

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CarsonNow.org (Carson City, NV)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife announces emergency listing of Dixie Valley Toad as endangered species

Submitted by Jeff Munson on 04/04/2022

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

RENO — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday that it is emergency listing the Dixie Valley toad under the Endangered Species Act.

Upon publication of the emergency rule in the Federal Register, the Dixie Valley toad will be listed as endangered under the ESA and, be provided immediate federal protections for 240 days.

Concurrently, the Service is issuing a proposed rule to list the Dixie Valley toad as an endangered species and taking public comment to inform the decision on whether ESA protections should continue beyond the 240 days of the emergency listing.

The Dixie Valley toad is the smallest of the western toads and is endemic to Nevada. Its range is restricted to a 760-acre wetland complex that is fed by hot springs in the remote Dixie Valley northwest of Fallon, Nevada. In making this emergency and proposed listing determination, the Service has carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial information available regarding past, present, and future threats faced by the Dixie Valley toad.

Primary threats to the Dixie Valley toad include geothermal development, disease, predation by other non-native frog species, groundwater pumping for human and agricultural use and climate change. The Service has determined that geothermal development poses a significant risk to the well-being of the Dixie Valley toad and that emergency listing is necessary to prevent losses that may result in its extinction. Protecting small population species like this ensures the continued biodiversity necessary to maintain climate resilient landscapes in one of the driest states in the country.

Additionally, the Service seeks input from the public, Tribes, other government agencies, the scientific community, industry and other interested parties on the proposed rule to list the Dixie Valley toad under the normal rulemaking process.

Upon publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register a 60-day comment period will open. The proposal and information on how to submit comments will be posted to https://www.fws.gov/office/reno-fish-and-wildlife, and upon publication in the Federal Register can be found on http://www.regulations.gov by searching under docket number FWS-R8-ES-2022-0024.

On May 9, 2022, at 5 p.m. PST the Service will hold a virtual public informational meeting about the proposed listing rule. The informational meeting will be followed by a virtual public hearing at 5:35 p.m. PST during which the public can submit verbal comments on the proposed listing rule. Please visit https://www.fws.gov/office/reno-fish-and-wildlife for information on how to register for the public informational meeting and public hearing.

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EcoWatch

127 Reptiles Added to Global Treaty Against Wildlife Trade

 Paige Bennett, April 04, 2022

A total of 127 reptiles will have stronger protections from smugglers as they have been added by Australia to a global treaty that protects against wildlife trade. The reptile species have been targets of illegal smuggling.

Australia’s Environment Minister Sussan Ley has added the species to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) treaty. This global agreement includes 183 nations and has been in effect since 1975. It aims to ensure species are not threatened by trade of specimens.

“Sadly, our reptiles have become a major international target, and while I stress very clearly that it is already a crime under Australian law to export these animals without specialized permits, this listing will secure additional international support for their protection,” Ley said, as reported by The Guardian.

According to CITES, the 127 newly added species will appear on the protected list by the middle of this year. This is one of the biggest listings since the treaty began. There are over 38,700 plant and animal species protected by CITES, including an outright international trade ban for 1,082 species and 36 subspecies.

Although reptile trade was already illegal, smuggling has been on the rise. Australian reptiles are prized for their unique colors and patterns, and illegal traders have been advertising the animals online via trade websites and other platforms, including Facebook.

“The illegal trade in reptiles is often cruel, where live animals are bound with tape and stuffed into socks or small containers before being shipped abroad with no food or water,” said Alexia Wellbelove, a senior campaign manager at Humane Society International. “Many do not survive the journey. This listing is another weapon in our arsenal against the illegal international trade of live reptiles.”

The listings, part of CITES Appendix III, will now require Australia to report imported animals to better track the trade.

As explained by CITES, Appendix III “contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling the trade… A specimen of a CITES-listed species may be imported into or exported (or re-exported) from a State party to the Convention only if the appropriate document has been obtained and presented for clearance at the port of entry or exit.”

Wellbelove hopes the reptiles will eventually be listed under Appendix I, which would ban international trade of the species.

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EcoWatch

Seafood Watch Warns Against Consuming Lobster, Snow Crab, to Help Save Right Whales

 Paige Bennett, April 01, 2022

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program recommends that consumers avoid eating any lobster or snow crab caught in the U.S. and Canada, as commercial fishing has put the endangered North Atlantic right whales at further risk of extinction.

There are about 70 reproductively active females left of the species, as reported by NRDC, and fewer than 340 North Atlantic right whales exist. From 2015 to 2019, there was an average decline of 31 deaths and critical injuries per year. The population declined an additional 8% from 2019 to 2020.

While these whales face many challenges to survival, one major threat is entanglement in fishing gear, particularly fixed-bottom fishing equipment used for commercial fishing of lobster and crabs. Entanglement can lead to death. Even when a whale gets entangled and survives, it can be left with serious injuries that prohibit it from reproducing or raising calves.

The NRDC has written a letter in support of Seafood Watch’s stance against consuming lobster and snow crabs sourced in the U.S. and Canada, particularly along the Atlantic Coast.

“NRDC is in strong support of the overall recommendation by Seafood Watch that consumers ‘avoid’ purchase of American lobster caught by trap in the United States and Northwest Atlantic Canada, as well as Snow Crab caught by pot off Canada’s Atlantic Coast,” the letter reads. “In our view, this recommendation reflects the best available scientific information regarding the status of the North Atlantic right whale and the level of mortality, injury, and sublethal impacts to the species presently resulting from each of the three fisheries, as well as the limited effectiveness of the risk reduction strategies currently in place.”

The letter continues on, outlining the plight of the whales, which are one of the most endangered large whale species on Earth. The population declined by over 20% from 2016 to 2020, and according to a study referenced in the letter, no adult or juvenile North Atlantic right whale died of natural causes between 2003 to 2018. Instead, they have been killed by entanglement, boat strikes, and other human-related causes.

Seafood Watch has updated its assessments with draft red ratings for fishing gear, such as pots, traps, and gillnets, that are dangerous to the right whales. The NRDC further suggests that there should be partnerships to test ropeless fishing systems, which pose nearly zero entanglement risk to the whales or sea turtles.

Until more work is done to create safer methods of commercial fishing, Seafood Watch and NRDC, along with other global organizations, such as WWF-Hong Kong, advise consumers to avoid lobster and crabs caught in the North Atlantic right whales’ habitat.

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Tillamook Headlight Herald (Tillamook, OR)

Rare sand dune-dwelling plant in Oregon proposed for endangered species act protection

March 31, 2022

Following a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect the sand dune phacelia as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Just 26 populations of this rare plant remain in the coastal dunes of southern Oregon and northern California.

The Service also proposed to designate 252 acres of critical habitat in Coos and Curry Counties in Oregon and Del Norte County in California.

“This is encouraging progress for this beautiful plant that exists only in Oregon and California’s fragile coastal sandy dunes,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center. “The sand dune phacelia simply can’t survive without Endangered Species Act protections. This proposal is a hopeful and long-overdue step toward making sure this species doesn’t disappear.”

The sand dune phacelia is threatened by off-road vehicles, invasive species like European beech grass and gorse, and climate change-driven sea-level rise. Its small population size makes it even more susceptible to these stressors.

The sand dune phacelia is in the Forget-Me-Not family of flowering plants and grows to be 18 inches tall. Its white flowers are a rich source of nectar and pollen for native bees. The number and variety of bee species in dune vegetation are higher in places where phacelia grows. The plant’s silvery hairs — which are an adaptation to the harsh coastal environment — keep salt off its leaves, decrease water loss and reflect excess light.

The name “Phacelia” is from the Greek “phakelos,” meaning cluster, for its lovely, clustered flowers, and the Latin “argentea,” meaning “silvery,” for the appearance of the leaves. The sand dune phacelia blooms from March to September.

The Center’s lawsuit against the Service sought to force the agency to make timely evaluations and protection decisions for 241 plant and animal species thought to be trending toward extinction, including the sand dune phacelia.

The lawsuit followed a 2014 petition to protect the species. That petition was filed by the Center and seven other conservation groups: Oregon Wild, Friends of Del Norte, Oregon Coast Alliance, the Native Plant Society of Oregon, the California Native Plant Society, the Environmental Protection Information Center and the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Coastal California Sunflower Is Latest Endangered Species Act Success

EUREKA, Calif.—(March 30, 2022)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today changed the Endangered Species Act status of beach layia, a small sunflower that grows only in California’s coastal dunes, reclassifying it from endangered to threatened. The change is due to reduced impacts from offroad vehicles, grazing, and development throughout much of the species’ range.

“The lovely beach layia has benefited immensely from protection under the Endangered Species Act and is heading toward recovery,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Their gorgeous white, yellow and purple flowers now adorn more than 600 acres of our coastal dunes.”

The largest populations of beach layia are found on the North Coast in Humboldt County, where it grows in 13 locations — mostly around Humboldt Bay — and at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County. On the Central Coast there are three small populations on Monterey Peninsula, and there is a small South Coast population at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County.

Beach layia was protected as endangered in 1992 because of damage to dune habitat from human disturbances, particularly from offroad vehicles, agricultural activities, and development. Since a recovery plan was developed for the species in 1998, a significant amount of suitable dune habitat has been protected as preserves and conservation areas. Threats have been reduced, especially by preventing offroad vehicles from driving in the flower’s habitat. Beach layia has responded by increasing in abundance, and there are now nine robust populations of the flowers that each had more than 1 million plants during 2017 surveys.

But beach layia still faces threats, mostly from invasive plants that compete for growing space on open areas of sandy dunes. Invasive plants can also artificially stabilize coastal dunes, disrupting natural dune movement and processes that layia plants depend on. They’re further threatened by livestock grazing, erosion and disturbance from offroad and equestrian recreation, rapid climate change, drought, sea-level rise, and pesticide use.

“The future looks better for beach layia, but its survival isn’t secure yet,” said Miller. “There are still many threats to this flower, and it could benefit from reintroducing plants to former sites where it once thrived to expand its range and resilience.”

An estimated 20% of beach layia occurrences at Point Reyes National Seashore have been subject to cattle grazing, which caused an 84% decline in the flowers’ abundance in the park between 2004 to 2018. Livestock trample layia plants and increase the spread of weeds. The National Park Service has restored dune habitats where layia can thrive but recently approved a plan to continue unsustainable levels of cattle grazing at Point Reyes, over the objections of conservation groups that want to end commercial cattle ranching in the park. The Park Service plan would allow cattle to continue trampling 12% of the layia occurrences at Point Reyes.

“There’s no excuse for allowing any cattle grazing in habitat for beach layia and other endangered plants at Point Reyes National Seashore,” said Miller.

Beach layia occurs on the North Coast in five areas in Humboldt County, with the largest populations near Humboldt Bay and the mouth of the Mattole River. One of largest populations in size and acreage is at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County. Former layia populations have been eliminated from San Francisco, Point Pinos in Pacific Grove, and two locations in Humboldt County.

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Newsweek

Newly-Discovered Seabird Placed Straight On ‘Critically Endangered’ Species List

By ANAMARIJA BRNJARCHEVSKA, Zenger News, on 3/29/22

A newly-discovered seabird has been placed straight on the “critically endangered” species list.

The fate of the New Caledonian storm petrel, found in the South Pacific, rests on scientists being able to find and protect its breeding grounds.

The population is estimated at between 100 and 1,000 pairs as they are nocturnal, discreet and tend to nest on isolated islands.

The birds were first spotted off the islands’ capital of Nouméa in 2008 and again in the Coral Sea, east of Australia, in 2010.

An international team of scientists has identified the new species as Fregetta lineata in a study published in the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club, but they say time is running out for the species unless the breeding grounds are found quickly.

“We present evidence that confirms the streaked Fregetta lineata is a valid extant species that breeds on New Caledonia and endorse the vernacular name New Caledonian Storm Petrel,” the study’s abstract stated.

The birds are distinct from other storm petrels because of their streaked belly compared with the latter’s white belly.

Five specimens collected during Pacific expeditions more than 100 years ago were recently rediscovered in museum collections around the world, but they had been wrongly assigned to different species.

Three of these specimens have now been identified as the New Zealand storm petrel, which was once thought to be extinct but was later spotted in 2003.

Scientists initially thought they had glimpsed this New Zealand species in New Caledonia in 2008.

But the recent study of the morphology and genetics of the other two mysterious museum specimens — one collected from the Marquesas Islands in 1922 and one from Samoa in 1839 — revealed they were in fact members of a new, distinct species.

A third, more recent, specimen collected in 1973 on an island off Brisbane, Australia, was also confirmed to be a member of the new species.

The researchers have already spent many nights searching for the birds’ breeding grounds on small islands in the southern lagoon of New Caledonia but have had no luck.

They believe it could be located on islands in the unexplored Bouloupari Lagoon or further inland along the Tontouta River Valley, where another species of petrel breeds.

“It is now vitally important to find breeding burrows where immediate protective measures will be required. … Compared to breeding on islets, nesting in the mountains would be far more difficult to confirm and conservation management far more difficult to implement,” the authors wrote in the study.

Between one and five new bird species are reportedly discovered every year, adding to the 10,000 — or as many as 18,000, according to a 2016 study — that have already been documented worldwide.

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

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UC Santa Cruz News (Santa Cruz, CA)

Local pumas don’t sense danger in places where they’re most often killed by humans

March 28, 2022, By Allison Arteaga Soergel

A new study led by UC Santa Cruz researchers suggests that pumas in the Santa Cruz Mountains don’t make accurate assessments of where they are most likely to be killed by humans, especially when it comes to the threat of being killed in retaliation for loss of livestock.

Mountain lions fear humans and alter their behavior in order to avoid areas with high housing density, where human activity is most obvious. But it’s actually areas of intermediate housing density that prove the most lethal for pumas in the Santa Cruz Mountains. That’s largely because these areas are where conflicts arise over livestock. Between 2009 and 2019, the leading cause of death for mountain lions in the region was “retaliatory killings,” where a landowner kills a puma for preying on livestock—most often goats kept in small numbers on rural residential properties.

Researchers analyzed data on retaliatory killings over this 10-year time period and found that they accounted for 36% of all puma mortality and the majority of human-caused deaths. The team then looked for patterns in the distribution of risk from these killings over space and time. They compared this with tracking data from pumas outfitted with GPS collars, which shows how the cats choose habitats. This comparison demonstrated what is likely a mismatch between pumas’ perception of risk and actual risk from humans over 17% of the study area.

Chris Wilmers, a professor of environmental studies who leads the Santa Cruz Puma Project, was the senior author on the paper, and Anna Nisi, a former graduate researcher in Wilmers’ lab, was the study’s lead author. The team believes their findings show that humans are “unpredictable predators” for pumas.

“The people who carry out retaliatory killings are distributed in places where there are fewer cues related to overall levels of human activity that pumas can use to understand risk,” Nisi explained. “So, while pumas usually behave in ways that allow them to avoid encountering humans, there are places that appear safe to them that actually carry a lot of risk.”

Pumas did tend to avoid regions of intermediate housing density during the day, but they seemed to actually prefer these high-risk habitats at night. Researchers didn’t find any indication that this was related to hunting behavior. Domestic animals make up only 4% of puma diets, and the team’s analysis showed that pumas killed for preying on livestock weren’t skinnier than others and hadn’t gone longer since the last kill of their primary food source: deer. This means pumas likely weren’t attracted to these areas because of the opportunity to eat livestock. The research team has a different theory.

“Pumas’ spatial requirements are quite large, which means that, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, most animals have some degree of habitat fragmentation in their home ranges,” Nisi said. “We think the reason why we see them using these intermediate housing density areas at night is that they simply need to traverse these spaces, so they end up doing that at night, when there’s less chance of encountering a person.”

Unfortunately, crossing these areas at night doesn’t spare pumas from chance encounters with livestock. And if a mountain lion seizes the opportunity for an easy meal, they may then become a target for retaliatory killing. Hunting or killing of mountain lions has been illegal in California since 1990, but there are exceptions for the protection of livestock. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife issues “depredation permits” that allow for killing of mountain lions in verified instances when a domestic animal has been attacked.

The vast majority of retaliatory killings analyzed in the study were permitted. However, after the study period, the process for issuing depredation permits in the Santa Cruz Mountains changed significantly. In 2020, local pumas received temporary special protections as part of a proposal to list certain regional populations of mountain lions under the California Endangered Species Act. These temporary protections require a step-wise process of nonlethal efforts to deter mountain lions before a depredation permit can be issued.

Nisi says improved animal care practices—like keeping livestock in a covered enclosure at night—can significantly reduce the risk of pumas preying on domestic animals. If the proposal to list local mountain lions under the California Endangered Species Act is approved, these types of nonlethal measures might become a first-resort on a more permanent basis. Also, Chris Wilmers, who has been studying local mountain lions for over a decade, says he hopes the new paper’s findings will draw attention to the broader issue of how development patterns set the stage for conflict.

“This study is an example of how low-density, exurban areas are where we see the most human-wildlife conflict, and that can turn a place that could have been a potential habitat into an area with high mortality,” Wilmers said. “I think that should give us pause about how much of this type of sprawl we’re allowing across the landscape, especially since it’s the most rapidly increasing kind of development throughout the American West.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Biden Budget Shortchanges Key Programs to Protect, Recover Endangered Species

WASHINGTON—(March 28, 2022)—Despite an overall increase of $86.4 million for endangered species conservation, President Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget request, released today, still falls short of what’s needed to stem the loss of our nation’s biodiversity and halt the global extinction crisis.

The Biden administration is proposing just $23.9 million — a mere $2.7 million above last year’s levels — to protect the more than 400 imperiled animals and plants still waiting for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The data shows that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs at least $78.7 million, more than three times the proposed amount, to process the backlog of species waiting for protections.

A 2016 study found that species waited a median of 12 years to receive safeguards, in part due to funding shortfalls. At least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

“The Biden administration’s lack of urgency about saving the hundreds of imperiled species on the brink of extinction is distressing,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center. “We’re losing rare animals and plants faster than ever before. Without significantly more funding for the Service’s listing program, species like the golden-winged warbler and dunes sagebrush lizard will keep declining until the only place they can be found is in children’s books.”

The budget proposal increases funding for endangered species recovery by $17 million. While this represents a modest increase from last year’s budget, the Endangered Species Act has been severely underfunded for decades, resulting in already-protected species receiving few dollars for their recovery. According to the Service’s own data, hundreds of endangered animals and plants receive less than $1,000 for their recovery in a typical year, with several hundred receiving no funding at all from the agency.

Based on the Service’s own recovery plans, at least $2 billion per year is needed to recover the more than 1,700 endangered species across the country. The proposed budget fails to even come close to closing the gap in needed funding.

In January more than 75 conservation groups asked the administration for significantly more funding for endangered species. This request echoed similar pleas from more than 100 members of the House of Representatives and 24 senators.

“Fighting the extinction crisis can’t be an afterthought anymore. For the sake of our planet and preserving our natural heritage, the Biden administration must do better,” said Kurose.

In 2021 the Service announced it would remove 22 animals and one plant from the endangered species list because those species had gone extinct. They will now join the list of 650 species in the United States that have likely been lost to extinction. Globally, an additional 1 million animal and plant species face extinction within the coming decades.

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Public News Service

Bipartisan Conservation Bill Would Stem Species-Decline ‘Crisis’

Eric Tegethoff, Procucer, March 28, 2022  

A bipartisan effort in Congress to curb the loss of plant and animal species could get a Senate committee vote as soon as this week.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would invest $1.4 billion annually in state and tribal conservation efforts, and dedicate at least 15% to recovering threatened and endangered species.

Danielle Moser, wildlife program coordinator with the group Oregon Wild, said it would send nearly $25 million annually to the state for the Oregon Conservation Strategy and Nearshore Strategy.

“These two strategies are our premiere wildlife conservation measures in the state,” said Moser. “But unfortunately they have been woefully underfunded for far too long. So, passage of this legislation at the federal level would be a huge boost for Oregon’s wildlife conservation programs.”

The Senate version could receive a vote in the Environment and Public Works Committee as soon as Wednesday. Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley sits on that committee.

The bill has 32 cosponsors in the Senate, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

Moser said the measure would help not only species on the brink, but also proactively save Oregon species like the western painted turtle, which isn’t listed as threatened.

She said the turtle species found in the Columbia River Basin and the Willamette Valley lays its eggs near the water, but faces pressure from habitat loss.

“This one in particular,” said Moser, “if there were an actual infusion of dollars into the Oregon Conservation Strategy, it means the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife could finally take the necessary steps to better protect this species and its habitat that it’s relying on.”

Mike Leahy is director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy for the National Wildlife Federation. He said states have identified more than 12,000 species of animals and plants in need of conservation assistance, and called this a “silent crisis.”

“There is awareness of some of the more charismatic species out there that are in decline,” said Leahy. “But there is widespread wildlife and biodiversity declines with pollinators, aquatic species, fish, various types of birds.”

If the Senate committee approves the bill this week, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will be ready for a floor vote in both the House and Senate.

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Signals AZ.com (Prescott, AZ)

ADOT Project Helps Save Endangered Species

By Staff | on March 26, 2022

The recent completion of an Arizona Department of Transportation bridge replacement project near Globe means new life for an endangered species of cactus.

The location of the US 60 Pinto Creek bridge is also home to the endangered hedgehog cactus, which grows only within a several mile radius of the site. About a foot high, usually covered in spines and often with red flowers at the top, Arizona hedgehog cactus looks something like the small animal it’s named after. The species is listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is protected under Arizona law.

When the project began in 2018, a team from Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix safely removed 34 cactus that would have been impacted by the construction work, then nurtured and propagated more, replanting a total of 61 cactus earlier this month.

This environmental protection effort took on added importance in the summer of 2021. At that time a wildfire swept through the project site, threatening some of the cacti in that area that were not removed because they were not threatened by construction.

“The plants on site could have easily been destroyed in the fire which is why it was a good thing these plants were taken back to Desert Botanical Garden out of harm’s way”, said Steve Blackwell, Conservations Collections Manager for Desert Botanical Garden. “That was an important side benefit of taking cactus out when we did. Another valuable part of this process was that we were able to hand pollinate the plants at the Garden, clone the mother plants and develop a seed bank for future preservation. This is a great win for the environment”

“ADOT has a responsibility to respect the environment and to make sure the plants and animals that make Arizona special are protected,” said Josh Fife, ADOT’s biology team lead. “We’re proud that the work we did will make sure the Arizona hedgehog cactus will continue to exist in the one special place in the world where they thrive.”

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Fox 11 News (Los Angeles)

California groundbreaking set for largest wildlife crossing over 101 freeway

Published March 26, 2022, Associated Press

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Groundbreaking is set for next month on what’s billed as the world’s largest wildlife crossing — a bridge over a major Southern California highway that will provide more room to roam for mountain lions and other animals hemmed in by urban sprawl.

A ceremony marking the start of construction for the span over U.S. 101 near Los Angeles will take place on Earth Day, April 22, the National Wildlife Federation announced Thursday.

The bridge will give big cats, coyotes, deer, lizards, snakes and other creatures a safe route to open space in the Santa Monica Mountains and better access to food and potential mates, said the wildlife federation’s Beth Pratt.

“Crossings like this are nothing new,” Pratt said, noting there is one outside Yosemite for toads. “This one’s historic because we’re putting it over one of the busiest freeways in the world.”

She helped organize the project along with other conservationists and state transportation officials.

Pratt said the bridge will be the first of its kind near a major metropolis and the largest in the world, stretching 200 feet (61 meters) above 10 highway lanes and a feeder road just 35 miles (56 kilometers) northwest of downtown LA.

Construction will take place mostly at night and won’t require any lengthy shutdowns of the 101 freeway, officials have said. It’s slated to be completed by early 2025.

The $90 million price tag will be covered by about 60% private donations, with the rest coming from public funds set aside for conservation purposes. The span will be named the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, for the philanthropist whose foundation donated $25 million.

Gov. Gavin Newsom called the project an “inspiring example” of public-private partnership.

“California’s diverse array of native species and ecosystems have earned the state recognition as a global biodiversity hotspot. In the face of extreme climate impacts, it’s more important than ever that we work together to protect our rich natural heritage,” Newsom said in a statement Thursday.

The star of the fundraising campaign was the mountain lion P-22. Famous for traveling across two freeways and making a huge Los Angeles park his home, the big cat became a symbol of the shrinking genetic diversity of wild animals that must remain all but trapped by sprawling development or risk becoming roadkill.

Scientists tracking cougars fitted with GPS collars found over decades that roadways are largely confining animals in mountains that run along the Malibu coast and across the middle of LA to Griffith Park, where P-22 settled.

Despite being the face of the project, P-22 is unlikely to use the bridge because he’s confined to the park many miles away. But many of his relatives could benefit, Pratt said.

Some 300,000 cars a day travel that stretch of the 101 in Agoura Hills, a small city surrounded by a patchwork of protected wildland that the new crossing will connect.

Drivers in the Liberty Canyon area will speed under the bridge 165 feet (50 meters) wide with brush and trees growing on top, seamlessly joining hillsides on both sides of the lanes.

Architects designed the topography to be indistinguishable from the scenery on either side. Berms and hollows with high edges will block sound and light from the lanes below.

Wildlife crossings — bridges and tunnels — are common in western Europe and Canada. A famous one in Banff National Park in Alberta spans the Trans-Canada Highway and is frequently used by bears, moose and elk.

The Los Angeles-area bridge has enjoyed nearly universal support, unusual for a public works project. The draft environmental impact document received nearly 9,000 comments — with only 15 opposed, according to the wildlife federation.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Endangered Species Protection Sought for Tiny Virginia Fish

Roughhead Shiner Slipping Into Extinction in James River Basin

RICHMOND, Va.—(March 25, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a legal petition today seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the roughhead shiner, an olive-colored minnow found only in the upper James River watershed in western Virginia.

The 3-inch fish, named for the bumps on its head, lives in the Cowpasture River and its tributary creeks in Alleghany, Bath and Craig counties, where it’s being displaced by the telescope shiner, an invasive fish.

“The roughhead shiner is an emblem of the quiet extinction crisis unfolding in our nation’s rivers,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “Endangered Species Act protection will bring a recovery plan to pull it back from the brink.”

The shiner was first identified as threatened 50 years ago and was put on a waiting list for federal protection in 1994. The state of Virginia has identified it as a species of critical concern but doesn’t have the necessary funding for monitoring or restoration.

“People ask, Why save one little fish when there are so many other kinds? But it’s like March Madness. How boring would it be without all the different teams? The roughhead shiner is like St. Peters, finally getting its day in the sun,” said Curry.

North America has lost 57 kinds of freshwater fish to extinction in the past 125 years. Nearly 40% of the continent’s fish are at risk of extinction due to dams, pollution, invasive species and climate change. The extinction rate for freshwater fish is now nearly 900 times greater than the historical rate.

Another Virginia fish, the ironically named slender chub, hasn’t been seen since 1996 and is likely extinct. The fish was so rare that when it wasn’t detected in surveys, scientists expected to find it during the next survey. Sadly it wasn’t brought into captivity in time to survive and propagate.

“There’s still time to save the roughhead shiner so that it doesn’t become another ‘don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ fish like the slender chub,” said Curry. “Endangered Species Act protection is the surest way to make sure it’s still here for future generations.”

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CNN

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef suffers sixth mass bleaching event

By Hilary Whiteman, CNN , March 25, 2022

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is suffering its sixth mass bleaching due to heat stress caused by climate change, the reef’s managers confirmed Friday.

The update comes mid-way through a 10-day monitoring mission by UNESCO scientists as they consider whether to add one of the world’s seven natural wonders to their “in danger” list.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) said Friday that aerial surveys of around 750 reefs show widespread bleaching across the reef, with the most severe bleaching observed in northern and central areas.

“More than half of the living coral cover that we can see from the air is severely bleached completely white and can have signs of fluorescence in the colors of pink, yellow and blue,” said AIMS coral biologist Neal Cantin.

“The corals are producing these fluorescent pigments in an attempt to protect their tissue from heat and from the intense sun during these marine heatwaves.”

The latest bleaching event comes despite La Niña, a weather system that typically creates more movement in the water and increases rain and cloud cover, helping to reduce average maximum temperatures.

It’s the fourth mass bleaching in six years and the first since 2020, when about one quarter of the reef surveyed showed signs of severe bleaching. That event came just three years after back-to-back bleaching events in 2016 and 2017. Previous bleaching occurred in 1998 and 2002.

David Wachenfeld, chief scientist at the GBRMPA, said the coral was stressed but not dead.

“If the water temperature decreases, bleached corals can recover from this stress. It is important to remember that we had a mass bleaching event in 2020, but there was very low coral mortality,” Wachenfeld said.

Natural wonder under threat

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef stretches 1,400 miles (2,300 kilometers) down the Queensland coast. Before the pandemic forced borders to close, it attracted around three million tourists each year.

This year aerial surveys with helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft showed the worst of the bleaching is near Townsville. Tourist areas near Cairns and Port Douglas have been less affected due to lower levels of heat stress.

Bleaching occurs when stressed coral ejects algae from within its tissue, depriving it of a food source. If conditions don’t improve, coral can starve and die, turning white as its carbonate skeleton is exposed.

“Even the most robust corals require nearly a decade to recover,” said Jodie Rummer, associate professor of Marine Biology at James Cook University in Townsville.

“So we’re really losing that window of recovery. We’re getting back-to-back bleaching events, back-to-back heat waves. And, and the corals just aren’t adapting to these new conditions,” she said.

The Australian government has been under pressure from UNESCO to prove that it’s doing enough to save the reef.

Earlier this year, the Australian government pledged one billion Australian dollars ($700 million) spread over 10 years to support new climate adaptation technology, investment in water quality programs, and protection for key reef species.

While the extra funding was welcomed, the government has been called out by global climate experts, among others, for not doing enough to transition Australia away from fossil fuels.

The Climate Action Tracker gives the country a “highly insufficient rating” for its action on climate change. “The government appears intent on replacing fossil fuels with fossil fuels,” it says, citing the government’s “gas-led recovery” program, announced in 2020 to lead the country out an economic downturn related to the spread of Covid-19.

On Monday, United Nations Chief Antonio Guterres name-checked Australia among a “handful of holdouts” in the group of G20 countries who had not announced “meaningful emissions reductions.”

He said countries and private businesses who invest in coal are costing the world its climate targets. And he said money spent on fossil fuels and subsidies was “a stupid investment leading to billions in stranded assets.”

“It’s time to end fossil fuel subsidies and stop the expansion of oil and gas exploration,” he said.

Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the Climate Council, said the real issue the government should be addressing is climate change.

“To give our reef a fighting chance, we must deal with the number one problem: climate change. No amount of funding will stop these bleaching events unless we drive down our emissions this decade,” she said in a statement.

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Courthouse News Service

Animal advocates urge feds to put hippo on endangered species list

Wildlife advocates hope adding the hippo to the U.S. endangered species list will curb the illicit trade of their parts worldwide.

Matthew Renda, March 24, 2022

(CN) — A coalition of wildlife advocacy organizations filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday, requesting the agency consider whether the hippopotamus should be added to the endangered species list.

There are no hippopotamuses in North America, but advocates argue the wildlife trade around hippo parts, which includes their prized ivory tusks, would be greatly diminished if the species were added to the list.

“Hippos are being needlessly slaughtered for commercial trade and trophy hunting,” said Adam Peyman, director of wildlife programs for Humane Society International. “As the leading importer of hippo parts, the United States should be ashamed of the role they play in the decline of this iconic species. If we don’t protect them now, hippos may disappear forever.”

The United States has imported more hippo parts, which include teeth, tusks, leather products made from the animal’s skins and other forms of trophy, than any other country on the globe, the advocates say.

Humane Society International says import records kept by federal agencies indicate that a little more than 3,000 hippos have been slaughtered as part of the legal wildlife trade program in the United States over the course of the last decade.

“We cannot continue to allow thousands of hippos to be killed for their teeth or skin, for a ridiculous trinket or a pair of boots,” said Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “This iconic species must be granted urgent protection under the Endangered Species Act to end this cruel cycle.”

The hippopotamus is a large mammal — the third-largest behind the elephant and rhinoceros — that is native to sub-Saharan Africa, although it has made incursions into parts of Colombia due to former cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar, who kept them on his sprawling estate. It is a semiaquatic animal that prefers to occupy small rivers, lakes and other water bodies. It is recognized because of its squat shape, but despite appearances, it can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour, much faster than the average human.

While many fear lions, leopards and other imposing animals native to America, the hippo is actually the most dangerous due to its aggressive and wildly unpredictable nature.

The hippo is poached both for its meat and for its canine teeth. Under President Teddy Roosevelt, lawmakers from Louisiana proposed releasing hippos into the bayou to help control and invasive weed problem while providing a source of low-cost meat.

The proposal, which Roosevelt backed, came just shy of passing in 1910.

In addition to hunting, habitat loss continues to negatively impact African mammals including the hippo. Climate change, which can exacerbate drought trends, could hamper the animals’ well-being as freshwater systems come under increasing pressure in sub-Saharan Africa.

Water diversions and other efforts to mobilize freshwater for human uses could further harm the species, advocates say.

“Limiting U.S. imports by listing hippos under the ESA will grant them important protections and will set the stage for other countries to follow,” said Tracie Letterman, vice president of federal affairs for Humane Society Legislative Fund. “As conservation leaders, but also the leading importer of hippo parts and products, the U.S. has a critical role to play in saving hippos from extinction.”

Fish and Wildlife has 90 days to review petitions and to make determinations.

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The Lawyer’s Daily (Published by LexisNexis Canada)

Court of Appeal to interpret meaning of ‘damage’ under Endangered Species Act for first time

By Amanda Jerome, March 23, 2022

In a case highlighting an endangered bird habitat, the Ontario Court of Appeal will be interpreting for the first time a provision of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that “could affect protected species across the province,” a lawyer for Ecojustice said.  

On March 11, environmental groups intervened at the court to address “the meaning of ‘damage’ to habitat under section 10 of the ESA, which makes it an offence to damage or destroy an endangered or threatened species’ habitat,” a release from Ecojustice explained.

The court granted Environmental Defence Canada Inc. (Environmental Defence) and the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (Ontario Nature) leave to intervene in a case between the Town of South Bruce Peninsula (the appellant) and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (the respondent).

According to court documents, the piping plovers are “migratory shorebirds identified as endangered on the Species at Risk in Ontario List.” These birds “nest seasonally on Sauble Beach which is maintained by the appellant.”

In April 2017, “shortly before the plovers had returned to Sauble Beach, the appellant mechanically raked the beach, and after the plovers had left the beach later that summer, it graded the beach area with a bulldozer and agricultural cultivator,” the court explained.

In March the following year the appellant “was charged with two counts of damaging piper plover habitat on Sauble Beach, contrary to s. 10(1)(a) of the ESA.” The appellant was granted leave to appeal as “the interpretation of ‘damage’ in s. 10(1) of the ESA is a legal question and it is essential in the public interest …”

Lindsay Beck, a lawyer for Ecojustice who represented Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature as interveners in the case, said s. 10(1) is framed “as a broad prohibition on damage to the habitat of endangered or threatened species.”

She emphasized that “maintaining a really robust interpretation of that meaning of damage in section 10 of the Endangered Species Act is important to the protection of endangered species across the province.”

“A lot of the case law about regulatory offences, particularly in the environmental protection context, focuses not just on the acting question, but on what damage could be caused by cumulative effect if that damage is not sanctioned under whatever provision is at issue,” she said, noting the Act itself “recognizes the importance of the protection of habitat to the protection of the at-risk species because habitat loss is a primary driver of species loss.”

Beck stressed that although this case is about piping plover habitat at Sauble Beach, “this is the Ontario Court of Appeal’s first opportunity to interpret this provision of the Endangered Species Act, so it matters because what the court says about this could affect protected species across the province.” 

There are “115 endangered species and 56 threatened species” in Ontario, she explained 

Ecojustice noted that the piping plover returned to Ontario “after a 30-year absence” and “their return highlights new hope for species recovery efforts and the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem as a whole.”

“The birds nest on dry, sandy, or gravelly beaches with sparse vegetation. The survival and recovery of the species is principally being threatened by habitat loss and degradation; beach raking has been identified as a significant threat to their habitat,” an Ecojustice release explained.

The interpretation of “damage” in the ESA will not just affect the piping plover, but “endangered and threatened species across the province,” Beck told The Lawyer’s Daily.

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EcoWatch

The Demand for This Toad’s Psychedelic Venom Puts the Species at Risk, Conservationists Warn

By  Olivia Rosane, March 23, 2022

The Sonoran Desert toad excretes a chemical that can induce a psychedelic experience so memorable that some people call it the “God molecule.” But, unfortunately, the largest native toad in the U.S. is not immortal.

Conservationists are now warning that demand for the toad’s psychedelic toxin could put the species at risk.

“There’s a perception of abundance, but when you begin to remove large numbers of a species, their numbers are going to collapse like a house of cards at some point,” Robert Villa, president of the Tucson Herpetological Society, told The New York Times.

The Sonoran Desert toad can grow to be more than eight inches long and 900 grams in weight, according to the Tucson Herpetological Society. It is found primarily in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and Mexico, though its habitat extends into California and New Mexico, Undark reported. However, it is believed to be extinct in California and is considered threatened in New Mexico, partly because of overcollection. That overcollection comes because, in the last few decades, it has gained an “unfortunate notoriety,” as the Tucson Herpetological Society put it.

When threatened, the toad secretes a cocktail of toxins strong enough to kill a dog, The New York Times explained. One of these toxins is called 5-MeO-DMT. When dried into crystals and smoked in a pipe, this toxin can produce a psychedelic experience lasting 15 to 30 minutes. As psychedelics gain acceptance as treatments for mental health problems and addiction, it has become increasingly popular as a retreat experience both in Mexico, where it is legal, and in the U.S., where it is technically a Schedule 1 substance but authorities tend to look the other way.

“I saw why they call this the ‘God molecule’ after I got a full central nervous system reset,” former Navy SEAL Marcus Capone, who says the toxin helped him with anxiety and depression and now helps run a nonprofit providing the chemical to other Special Operations veterans, told The New York Times.

Villa, however, worries that the toad will suffer the same fate as the Asian river turtle, which is at risk from extinction partly because people believe it can cure diseases like cancer.

It is possible to collect the poison without killing the toad through a process called milking, which involves stroking the toad under its skin until it releases the toxin. However, some have argued that this puts unnecessary stress on the toad.

“Toads offer those secretions in a defensive context, in a stressed and violent context,” Villa told Undark. “Ultimately, people are self-medicating at the expense of another creature.”

There is a potential compromise, however. Researchers have found that a synthetic version can also reduce anxiety and depression, according to a study published in Psychopharmacology. Capone told The New York Times that said he supported using the synthetic chemical, but others refuse.

“We’re a church, and this is sacred medicine,” 42-year-old Brooke Tarrer, who founded the Universal Shamans of the New Tomorrow as a church that uses the toxin in key rituals, told The New York Times.

Another solution is to farm the toads, but Villa said this risks spreading diseases like chytrid fungus.

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Missoula Current (Missoula, MT)

Wolverine research underway again in Glacier National Park

By KEILA SPZALLER (DAILY MONTANAN), March 22, 2022

One of the first wolverine studies in the lower 48 states took place in Glacier National Park from 2002 to 2008 and now, research on the ferocious and rarely seen carnivore is again underway in the park.

“It’s exciting to see the park back in the wolverine business,” said Doug Mitchell, head of the Glacier National Park Conservancy, in a recent interview. “It’s such an iconic animal and indicator of so many things.”

In April, before grizzly bears start ambling about too frequently, a research team will start pulling equipment from the field on a couple of wolverine projects. One study follows up on research completed five years ago that’s part of an expanded multistate project, and it takes place alongside a separate effort that looks more closely at wolverines inside Glacier National Park.

“They are one of the rarest animals in North America,” said John Waller, supervisory wildlife biologist with Glacier National Park. “And so anytime you can see one is an amazing experience just because you know you may never see another one.”

Glacier National Park is a hot spot for wolverines, which are part of the weasel family. Still, Waller, a wildlife biologist for more than 30 years, said he can count on one hand the number of times he’s seen a wolverine in the wild outside of a trap.

“Being able to get your hands on one is pretty neat,” he said. “They’re an amazing animal. They’re tough. They have a growl that sounds like a grizzly bear.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently denied wolverines endangered species protections.

A “coarse” estimate has put the wolverine population in the lower 48 states at 300, but Waller said it’s hard to come up with an accurate number because of their low density, and the National Park Service notes sudden declines could go unnoticed. However, Waller also said he believes the current research will contribute to a lot more information about the wolverine, an animal the Conservancy notes has been tracked moving nearly 500 miles in just eight days.

“When we can do these landscape-scale projects of species across the range, I think we’re going to learn a lot more about how populations perform, how they use the environment, and hopefully get some insights about how they’ll fare under a changing climate and development pressure,” Waller said.

Waller, who in June will have been with Glacier park for 20 years, noted the first wolverine research there started in 2003 and ran through 2008. Researchers trapped wolverines, put tiny radios in their abdominal cavities (they don’t have much of a neck for collars), and tracked their movements, he said, and the work formed the basis for Montana author Douglas Chadwick’s “The Wolverine Way.”

From 2008 to 2012, for roughly four or five years, the researchers landed on a DNA-based method of collecting information, Waller said. They attached bait to a tree, and below it, placed wire brushes that grab the wolverine’s hair when it scrambled up for the bait, and they estimated at the time roughly 40 wolverines in the park.

“It’s challenging just because they’re such a rare animal,” Waller said. “It’s sort of a catch-22. The rarer an animal it is, the harder it is to estimate how many of them there are.”

In 2016, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and other parties put together a large project that looked at wolverine distribution across four states: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington. The Conservancy described it as the first range-wide survey for wolverines in the western United States. Waller said it was a feat to pull together so many entities, such as national forests, Native American tribes, fish and game departments, and national parks, on one project, which included 185 remote camera stations and hair snares.

“I thought that was cooler than heck, and of course, Glacier was all in,” he said.

A report on the project noted more than 22,000 wolverine photos and 240 wolverine DNA samples were obtained, and Waller said the study showed wolverines were doing pretty well in those four states, with Glacier as a hot spot. There was an agreement the research would relaunch in five years, and this time, Colorado, California, Utah and Oregon also are participating in the Western Wolverine Occupancy Survey for eight states altogether, Waller said.

However, Waller said the large-scale project only has five sites within the park, so he overlaid a much finer grid for sampling inside the park. The Conservancy notes 34 wolverine stations are placed in a grid across Glacier from “Kintla, Marias Pass, the Belly River Drainage, and everything in between.”

The remote stations have a small canister with a little electric pump that automatically squirts wolverine scent lure every day, and the researchers use that setup along with a camera and hair snag in places that are difficult to check in the winter. Challenges include steep canyons, high avalanche risk, and no motorized use. In the past, Waller took arduous treks pulling a 70-pound sled through crusty snow.

“It’s just logistically challenging to get to these places,” he said.

Volunteers do most of the field work, he said, and they’re the kind of people who are good backcountry skiers, savvy in winter camping, and not easily going to get into avalanche trouble. He’s going to tally up all the miles they travel during the project, from Dec. 1 to April 1.

“It’ll be thousands of miles, I’m sure, skiing,” Waller said. “It’s quite an effort, but it is largely a volunteer effort funded by the National Park Foundation and Glacier Park Conservancy.”

They’ll start pulling the equipment out of the woods starting April 1, and it will likely take the better part of the month to do so, he said. Then, they’ll catalog all the genetics, photos and DNA samples, and the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation in Missoula will conduct the testing. Scientists will plug the results into models, and they’ll have results ready for publication in a year or two.

In an interview with the Conservancy and posted on its website, Glacier wildlife technician Shawn Servis said the research is important because wolverines are a highly specialized species and have an increased risk of population decline if “detrimental changes” take place in their range.

“This makes them a species of precedence to focus on and learn as much as we can about them,” Servis said in the interview. “The more knowledge we gather today, the more capable we will be to (make) decisions in the future. Glacier is a honey hole for wolverine habitat in the contiguous United States and will serve as an excellent baseline to help serve the population as a whole. With some prudence and good will, we can help to ensure a future for these incredible animals.”

Mitchell, with the Glacier National Park Conservancy, said one of the reasons the fundraising arm of the park exists is to help support just the type of research Glacier is conducting. Parks have seen resources grow more scarce, he said, and at the same time, they’ve seen visitation rise significantly.

So parks have to invest their money into public health, wellness and safety, and in some cases, robust research, such as the earlier wolverine project, ended up partly a budget casualty. However, he said the Conservancy has grown from being able to provide some $300,000 a year in support to the park to more than $2 million in private philanthropy every year since 2018, including some $60,000 for the current wolverine study.

“It still takes a huge commitment from the park,” Mitchell said. “They are spending money. They are spending time.”

Philanthropic dollars don’t magically launch the projects, he said, but donors allow the Conservancy to think strategically about funding meaningful, long-term research that speaks to Glacier’s “wilderness, wildlife and wonder.” He said the funds actually mean more work for the park, which makes the research a priority, offers project leadership, and provides the “scaffolding,” or processes for the work to be done.

“So the park deserves a ton of credit in really staying very active and committed,” Mitchell said. “While the wolverine research may have a gap, their eye has never left the ball about what can we do to look at species in the park. And so this new research piece that we’re helping fund this year is really exciting because it kind of gets our oar, the park’s oar, back in the water on wolverines.”

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AP News

Fungus-ravaged bat proposed for endangered species listing

By JOHN FLESHER, March 22, 2022

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Federal officials on Tuesday proposed designating the northern long-eared bat, once common but ravaged by a deadly fungus, as an endangered species.

The population has plummeted since colonies infected with white-nose syndrome were spotted in New York caves in the mid-2000s. The bat is likely to go extinct without a dramatic turnaround, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.

“It’s going to be difficult but we’re going to do everything humanly possible to stop the decline,” said Charlie Wooley, director of the service’s Midwest region.

Named for white, fuzzy spots that appear on infected bats, white-nose syndrome attacks their wings, muzzles and ears as they hibernate in caves and abandoned mines.

It causes them to become active and sometimes fly outside too soon. They burn up their winter fat stores and eventually starve.

Where the fungus originated is unknown, but scientists say it may be carried on people’s clothes and shoes. It has spread to a dozen U.S. bat species, but the northern long-eared is among the hardest hit.

Found in 37 central and Eastern states and much of Canada, it roosts alone or in small groups during summer in tree cavities or crevices, or beneath the bark. Emerging at dusk, it flits through forests to feed on moths, beetles and other insects.

Bats are believed to give U.S. agriculture a $3 billion yearly boost by gobbling pests and pollinating some plants.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern long-eared as threatened in 2015. Since then, white-nose syndrome has spread across nearly 80% of its range and is expected to cover it all by 2025, prompting the proposal for the more severe designation.

Scientists have no estimate of how many remain, said Shauna Marquardt, supervisor of the agency’s ecological field office for Minnesota and Wisconsin. But they’ve recorded drop-offs of 97%-100% in caves where population surveys have been taken for decades.

“There might have been thousands before and now we’re seeing fewer than 100, and in some cases they’re absent completely,” Marquardt said.

Officials will take public comment through May 23 and decide in November whether to approve the “endangered” designation, which would make it illegal to kill the bats. Under the “threatened” status, the agency sets rules to conserve them but can allow small numbers to be sacrificed for economic development projects.

Preservation efforts include working with loggers, power companies, road builders and other industries to protect trees where the bats nest in summer and give birth, Wooley said. Winter hibernation areas also need security, he said.

“We have a strong foundation in place for working with stakeholders to conserve the bat while allowing economic activities within the range to continue to occur, and will continue to build on these,” an agency statement said.

Wind turbines also pose a danger to migrating bats, although much less than white-nose syndrome, Marquardt said. The wind energy industry has 16 habitat conservation plans and is developing 13 others, she said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is leading a campaign involving more than 150 agencies, private organizations and Native American tribes to research white-nose syndrome, reduce its presence where bats hibernate and help them recover. Work on a vaccine is underway, Marquardt said.

Approval of the endangered status and stepped-up rescue efforts are urgently needed, said Winifred Frick, chief scientist for Bat Conservation International, a research and advocacy group.

“We either need to find a solution to white-nose syndrome or ways to improve the body conditions of the bats that are still remaining on the landscape to have the best chance of survival,” Frick said.

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Center for Biological Diversity

400,000 Native Animals Killed by Federal Program Last Year, New Data Shows

WASHINGTON—(March 22, 2022)—The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services reported killing 404,538 native animals in 2021, according to new data released by the program today. The federal wildlife-killing program targets wolves, coyotes, cougars, birds and other wild animals, primarily to benefit the agriculture industry in states like Texas, Colorado and Idaho.

According to the report, the multimillion-dollar program last year killed 324 gray wolves, 64,131 coyotes, 433 black bears, 200 mountain lions, 605 bobcats, 3,014 foxes, 24,687 beavers, and 714 river otters. These figures almost certainly understate the actual number of animals killed, as program insiders have revealed that Wildlife Services kills many more animals than it reports.

“It’s stomach-turning to see this barbaric federal program wiping out hundreds of thousands of native animals,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Killing carnivores like wolves and coyotes to supposedly benefit the livestock industry just leads to more conflicts and more killing. This is a truly vicious cycle, and we’ll continue to demand change from Wildlife Services.”

The reported number of native animals killed in 2021 was similar to the 433,192 killed in 2020. These numbers reflect a steep decline compared to 2019, when approximately 1.3 million native animals were killed. The red-winged blackbird is an example of a species with fewer individuals intentionally killed by Wildlife Services, with 15,096 killed in 2021 compared to 364,734 in 2019.

According to the new data, the wildlife-killing program unintentionally killed more than 2,746 animals in 2021, including bears, bobcats, mountain lions, foxes, muskrats, otters, deer, turtles and dogs. Its killing of nontarget birds included wood ducks, tree swallows, herons and turkeys. Such data reveals the indiscriminate nature of leghold traps, snares, poisons and other methods used by federal agents.

Wildlife Services poisoned 7,573 animals using M-44 cyanide bombs in 2020. Of these deaths, 314 were unintentional. This month marks the fifth anniversary of an Idaho teen nearly being fatally poisoned by an M-44. The incident received worldwide media coverage and spurred federal and state efforts to ban these devices.

“It’s inexcusable that Wildlife Services continues to target rare and ecologically important animals like wolves and grizzly bears, forcing them to suffer and die in cruel traps and snares,” Adkins said. “Taxpayer-funded wildlife slaughter needs to stop and be replaced with a program that provides nonlethal tools that effectively prevent most conflicts with wildlife.”

In the last few years, litigation and community opposition curtailed Wildlife Services operations in numerous states, including California, Idaho, Minnesota and Washington, as well as localities such as Humboldt County and Minneapolis.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Rare Sand Dune-Dwelling Plant in Oregon, California Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection

PORTLAND, Ore.—(March 21, 2022)—Following a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect the sand dune phacelia as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Just 26 populations of this rare plant remain in the coastal dunes of southern Oregon and northern California.

The Service also proposed to designate 252 acres of critical habitat in Coos and Curry Counties in Oregon and Del Norte County in California.

“This is encouraging progress for this beautiful plant that exists only in Oregon and California’s fragile coastal sandy dunes,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center. “The sand dune phacelia simply can’t survive without Endangered Species Act protections. This proposal is a hopeful and long-overdue step toward making sure this species doesn’t disappear.”

The sand dune phacelia is threatened by off-road vehicles, invasive species like European beech grass and gorse, and climate change-driven sea-level rise. Its small population size makes it even more susceptible to these stressors.

The sand dune phacelia is in the Forget-Me-Not family of flowering plants and grows to be 18 inches tall. Its white flowers are a rich source of nectar and pollen for native bees. The number and variety of bee species in dune vegetation are higher in places where phacelia grows. The plant’s silvery hairs — which are an adaptation to the harsh coastal environment — keep salt off its leaves, decrease water loss and reflect excess light.

The name “Phacelia” is from the Greek “phakelos,” meaning cluster, for its lovely, clustered flowers, and the Latin “argentea,” meaning “silvery,” for the appearance of the leaves. The sand dune phacelia blooms from March to September.

The Center’s lawsuit against the Service sought to force the agency to make timely evaluations and protection decisions for 241 plant and animal species thought to be trending toward extinction, including the sand dune phacelia.

The lawsuit followed a 2014 petition to protect the species. That petition was filed by the Center and seven other conservation groups: Oregon Wild, Friends of Del Norte, Oregon Coast Alliance, the Native Plant Society of Oregon, the California Native Plant Society, the Environmental Protection Information Center and the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

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The Guardian

Australian government ‘aggravating extinction’ through land-clearing approvals, analysis finds

Campaigners say the pace at which native species habitat is being cleared for mining is accelerating despite warnings of an endangered species crisis

Adam Morton, Climate and environment editor, 21 Mar. 2022

The pace at which the Australian government is approving the destruction of habitat relied on by threatened species has increased in recent years, despite scientists warning of an escalating extinction crisis, according to an environment group analysis.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) compiled publicly available information on federal decisions that gave the green light to developments that involved clearing of forests and other areas relied on by threatened species.

It found levelling of more than 200,000 hectares of threatened species habitat – an area larger than Queensland’s Fraser Island (K’gari), or more than 100,000 Melbourne Cricket Grounds – was approved over the decade to the end of 2021. More than half of that total (120,000 hectares) had been approved in the five years since 2016.

ACF found nearly three-quarters of the clearing approved under national environment laws was for new and expanded mining developments. The most affected species was the koala, which in February was listed as endangered in New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT.

The foundation found more than 25,000 hectares of koala habitat had been approved for clearing. A fifth of that was to make way for one mine, the Olive Downs metallurgical coalmine in central Queensland, which last year received a $175m federal government loan to support its construction.

Other significantly affected threatened species included the critically endangered swift parrot, the greater glider (7,400 hectares), the forest red-tailed black cockatoo (1,800 hectares) and the spot-tailed quoll (1,200 hectares).

Jess Abrahams, a national nature campaigner with ACF, said the investigation had exposed the cumulative impact of federal government decisions made in isolation. It showed the commonwealth was “aggravating extinction” rather than protecting vulnerable native animals, she said.

Abrahams said federal data gave only a partial picture of land clearing across the country as two major industries – agriculture and native forest logging – were rarely assessed under national laws. Logging is effectively exempt from the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act under forestry deals between Canberra and the states.

“If we value Australia’s unique wildlife and plants we must do more to protect them,” Abrahams said. “That means stronger environment laws to stop the rampant wrecking of habitat revealed by this research, increased funding and specific plans for threatened species recovery.”

A spokesperson for the federal environment minister, Sussan Ley, said the ACF analysis looked at only one aspect of the environmental approval process, and did not take into account offset requirements to protect threatened species or how much approved clearing had ultimately occurred.

The spokesperson said $128.5m funding announced last week to “advance environmental law reform” would lead to better management of the cumulative impacts of developments in some areas by moving from project-specific to region-level assessment. It would also pay for a review of national offset strategies and improvements to data on threatened species, they said.

The opposition’s environment spokesperson, Terri Butler, said if elected later this year Labor would consider last year’s review of the EPBC Act led by the former competition watchdog head Graeme Samuel, including its advice about the importance of taking into account the cumulative impacts of developments.

“We will also address delays in recovery plans, including the one for the koala which is seven years late,” she said.

Dr. Megan Evans, a lecturer and research fellow at the University of New South Wales in Canberra, said the results of the investigation were not surprising.

Evans said the federal government had no central record of how much threatened species habitat remained and officials relied almost entirely on information provided by developers when assessing proposals. Developments were routinely approved with a promise that offsets to limit their environmental impact would be decided later, she said.

“There is no centralised database of protected habitat data and offsets. The system is not transparent and it is getting worse,” she said.

Australia is the world’s capital for mammal extinction, with 34 species known to have died out since European colonisation. The Samuel review found Australia’s natural environment is in decline and the EPBC Act is failing.

A report by the auditor general last week found the federal government could not demonstrate it was protecting Australia’s endangered wildlife as it was not monitoring most species, habitats or threats. Meanwhile, a study by 38 scientists working across Australia and Antarctica last year found 19 ecosystems were collapsing due to the impact of humans and warned urgent action was required to prevent their complete loss.

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Oregon Capital Chronicle (Salem, OR)

State takes next steps on plan to protect threatened species in western forests

By ALEX BAUMHARDT, March 21, 2022

A plan to protect critical animal habitat in nearly 640,000 acres of western Oregon state forests is moving towards its final stages.

An environmental impact review of the Western Forests Habitat Conservation Plan was released March 18, and Oregonians have 60 days to submit their thoughts and concerns to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who will be in charge of permitting for the plan.

The 70-year plan is designed to better protect 17 species identified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. These animals live in the state’s western forests where logging occurs.

The plan also would offer some legal protections to logging companies, giving them more assurance about where they could harvest trees and help them to avoid being sued under the Endangered Species Act.

The plan creates a patchwork of protected habitat areas, mostly in Tillamook and Clatsop counties, that cover about 4% of the Oregon Coast Range.

Currently, the state Forestry Department determines where logging can occur by spot surveying areas to see if any threatened species are present. This costs the agency a lot of time and money and upends some logging operations, according to Michael Wilson, a manager at the department who worked on the habitat conservation plan.

Under the new plan, which took nearly four years to develop, the agency will focus on the protection of critical habitat in areas where the species are known or prone to gather, spawn or forage in, rather than surveying spots of western state forests for nests and animals.

In newly protected habitat areas, there would be wider no-logging zones on land abutting rivers and streams to protect threatened coho and chinook salmon from sediment and heat. It also would prohibit or enact seasonal logging bans against areas known to be nesting and foraging grounds for threatened birds like the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet.

The 1,850 page environmental review of the habitat conservation plan includes a “recommended option” and five alternative options for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider as they issue critical permits to the Oregon Department of Forestry during the next year.

One of those permits would allow the “incidental take” of the threatened animals who are killed or displaced in areas outside the 640,000 acres of protected habitat, in exchange for stricter regulations within the protected habitat areas.

Public comment on the environmental impact statement will be accepted until May 17, and a virtual public meeting will be held by the national fisheries agency from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6.

The state Forestry Department hopes to have its final environmental impact statement done by early 2023 and to have the Western Forests Habitat Conservation Plan ready by next spring for approval by the state Board of Forestry.

Once implemented, the plan and the health of the threatened animals would be monitored by the state Forestry Department and enforced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Science Alert

There Is Something Similar Among Many Species at Risk of Extinction

Clare Watson, 20 MARCH 2022

Human activities are pushing plants and animals to extinction at a sickening rate. From habitat loss, overfishing and poaching, to global heating and pollution, species are dying out faster than we can comprehend.

A new study by conservation ecologist Haydee Hernandez-Yanez and two colleagues from Alexander Center for Applied Population Biology at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, has identified common traits among plants, birds, or mammals at risk of disappearing – with some unexpected results.

“Certain combinations of life history traits and demographic rates can make a population more prone to extinction than others,” explains Hernandez-Yanez of the Woodwell Climate Research Center and colleagues in their paper.

But, as they point out, until only recently, few studies have tested predictions of what makes one species more vulnerable to the next across diverse taxonomic groups using real-world data on a global scale.

Patterns and timing of survival, growth and reproduction all factor into whether populations of plants and animals can withstand or adapt to an onslaught of human-made environmental change.

In this new study, Hernandez-Yanez and team compiled data on growth rates, lifespans and reproduction for 159 species of herbaceous plants, trees, mammals, and birds, and crosschecked the species’ most current endangered status from the IUCN Red List, the world’s foremost record of threatened species.

“Despite our relatively small sample of species, we found that species with certain demographic patterns are more at risk of extinction than others, and that the important predictors differed between taxonomic groups,” writes the trio of researchers.

For example, mammals that have longer generation times are most at risk of extinction, perhaps because the longer it takes species to mature and reproduce, the harder it is for them to adapt to rapid environmental change – and especially if animals only reproduce once in their lifetime.

Meanwhile birds that reproduce often and grow fast, from chicks to fledglings to mature adults, are more vulnerable to extinction, which was somewhat unexpected – you might think producing lots of offspring ups a species’ survival odds.

In contrast, other studies have found birds with smaller clutch sizes face greater extinction risks, so the data vary and differences might reflect the many ways reproduction can be measured, the researchers note.

When it comes to species similarities among plants, soft-stemmed herbaceous perennials – the type that die back before winter and bloom in springtime and summer – are more likely to perish if they mature early and have high survival rates as juvenile seedlings. No clear patterns were observed for endangered woody trees, though.

“After all, deforestation for growing crops and urbanization do not discriminate among tree species,” Hernandez-Yanez and colleagues write.

The findings add to those of another recent study predicting extinction risk which found species that sit atop the food chain, have sparse populations, or small geographic ranges are most vulnerable.

But these types of studies are often limited by the scope of the IUCN Red List, which captures only a fraction of endangered species – mostly within highly threatened biodiversity hotspots – and is heavily skewed towards birds and mammals.

Amphibians, for example, are among the most vulnerable, with a third of all known amphibian species facing extinction and thousands of species not yet assessed by the IUCN or lacking data to do so.

And that’s before we get to insects and other invertebrates that pollinate plants, disperse seeds and cycle nutrients through ecosystems – and the innumerable species yet to be discovered which are going extinct faster than we can describe them.  

“Most of these extinctions are unrecorded, so we do not even know what species we are losing,” conservation ecologists Elizabeth Boakes and David Redding wrote in a 2018 article describing the “incalculable loss”.

All of which is to say, try as scientists might, we are most likely underestimating the true extent of biodiversity loss and extinction risk. Nearly 350 herbaceous plant species analyzed in the current study had no IUCN status

Conservationists refuse to bury their heads in the sand when the threat is nigh and the stakes are high. We know what needs to be done to curb biodiversity loss and protect endangered species; it’s whether or not we can turn the extinction tide before it’s too late.

Acknowledging this, Hernandez-Yanez and colleagues hope that a better understanding of what traits put plants and animals at most risk of disappearing helps with conservation efforts. The findings could be used to assess which species are more or less vulnerable to extinction, especially when abundance data is lacking.

(The research was published in PLOS One.)

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Talker News

Why birds of prey are dying from lead poisoning

By Gwyn Wright via SWNS, March 17, 2022

Birds of prey numbers across Europe are far lower than they should be because of lead poisoning from ammunition, according to a new study.

Scientists from the University of Cambridge, England have found toxic lead from guns left in the animals that birds of prey eat, which ends up killing the birds.

When birds such as eagles and Red Kites, eat fragments of the toxic lead in large doses they become poisoned and suffer slow and painful deaths.

Lower doses of the toxin can change the birds’ behavior and physiology.

The researchers estimate lead poisoning alone has led to an absence of around 55,000 birds from Europe’s skies.

Species such as eagles that have a high life expectancy have few young per year, and breed later in life are particularly badly affected.

However, species loved by bird-watchers across Britain, such as Red Kites and Common Buzzards, would also be more numerous if it were not for lead ammunition poisoning.

It is believed Europe’s white-tailed eagle population is 14 percent smaller than it would have been without more than a century of exposure to lethal levels of lead in some of its food.

Golden Eagles and Griffon Vultures are also fewer in number than they would have otherwise been- with populations being 13 and 12 percent smaller than they would have been.

Northern Goshawk numbers are six percent smaller, and both Red Kite and Western Marsh Harrier populations are three percent smaller than they should be.

While Common Buzzard populations are just one and a half percent smaller, this equates to almost 22,000 fewer adults of this widespread species, the researchers say.

They estimate that the overall European population of ten raptor species is at least six percent smaller than it should be, solely as a result of poisoning from lead ammunition.

For the study, the scientists used data on lead levels in the livers of more than 3,000 birds of prey found dead in more than a dozen countries to work out how much damage the poisoning had caused.

The team, who worked with researchers in Germany, then used population modeling to work out how big Europe’s bird populations would have been without the impact of lead ammunition poisoning.

They took data gathered since the 1970s from the livers of dead birds of prey in 13 countries and tracked the relationship with ‘hunter density,’ the average numbers of hunters per square kilometer in each country, using data from the European Federation for Hunting and Conservation.

More poisoned birds of prey were found in places with a higher density of hunters.

The scientists then used this relationship to predict rates of poisoning in countries without data from bird livers, but where “hunter density” is known.

Results indicate a country with no hunters using lead ammunition would have almost no lead-poisoned raptors.

The team says their estimate is likely to be an underestimate given how limited and difficult to gather data on poisoned birds of prey and the fact there was not enough data to work out how great the risk is to many European species.

The researchers say a range of alternatives to lead shotgun cartridges and rifle bullets are widely available to hunters and work well.

However, efforts by British hunters’ organizations to instigate voluntary bans on lead shot in hunting have had almost no effect.

The same team last month found more than 99 percent of pheasants killed in the UK are still shot with lead, despite hunting groups having urged members to switch to non-toxic gunshot with the aim of phasing out lead use by 2025.

Only two European nations, Denmark and the Netherlands, have banned lead shot.

Denmark plans to soon ban lead rifle bullets.

Both the European Union and the UK are considering legal bans on all lead ammunition due to effects on wildlife and the health of human consumers of game meat, but many hunting groups are opposed to it.

Some birds of prey are poisoned when they scavenge from dead animals killed with lead ammunition.

This can be a whole carcass lost or abandoned by hunters, or, for example, the guts of a hunted deer, discarded to reduce carrying weight.

As well as vultures, which rely on scavenging, many other raptors also scavenge when they get the opportunity, including eagles, buzzards and kites.

Many dead pheasants at UK roadsides carry lead shot and fragments in their bodies and are scavenged by buzzards and kites.

Other species, such as falcons and goshawks, are exposed through preying upon live animals with lead embedded in their bodies from being shot and injured but not killed.

X-ray studies of wild ducks in the UK have shown that about a quarter of live birds have lead shot in their bodies.

Injured ducks or pigeons are less likely to be able to evade predatory birds.

Lead study author Professor Rhys Green said: “The continued blanket use of lead ammunition means that hunting as a pastime simply cannot be considered sustainable unless things change.

“Unfortunately, efforts to encourage voluntary shifts away from lead shot have been completely ineffective so far.

“The kinds of reductions in raptor populations suggested by our study would be considered worthy of strong action, including legislation, if caused by habitat destruction or deliberate poisoning.”

Study co-author Professor Debbie Pain said: “It’s taken decades for researchers from across Europe to amass sufficient data to enable us to calculate the impacts of lead poisoning on raptor populations.

“We can now see just how substantial population impacts can be for some of our most charismatic and vulnerable species – species that are protected by EU Regulation and the UK Wildlife & Countryside Act.

“The avoidable suffering and death of numerous individual raptors from lead poisoning should be sufficient to require the use of non-toxic alternatives. These population-level impacts make this both doubly important and urgent.”

(The findings were published in the journal Science of The Total Environment. The post Why birds of prey are dying from lead poisoning appeared first on Talker.)

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Newsweek

Seal Slaughter Starts in Canada Just Weeks After Mothers Give Birth

Hannah Osborne, March 17, 2022

The seal slaughter season on the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence begins today, with the Canadian government announcing those with commercial and personal licenses can begin hunting in designated areas on March 17.

The Canadian seal hunt has taken place for hundreds of years, with early 17th-century settlers targeting harp seals in the region. Archaeological evidence also suggests indigenous people have hunted the species for about 4,000 years. The hunt has social, cultural and economic importance, although the latter appears to be in decline.

The hunt, which is considered one the biggest slaughtersw of marine mammals on the planet, is regulated by the Canadian government. Hunting levels peaked in the mid to early 2000s. In 2004, 366,000 seals were killed. Kill rates have plummeted in the last decade as demand for seal-related products falls. In 2019, 32,071 harp seals were slaughtered.

Sealing is divided into different areas. Around 30 percent of the seals killed as part of the annual harvest come from the Magdalen Islands, the Quebec North Shore and Western Newfoundland. The remaining 70 percent come from the ‘Front,’ which is east of Newfoundland.

The region being targeted from March 17 surrounds the Magdalen Islands, which is a harp seal nursery. Seals begin to gather around the islands around December, giving birth in late February and early March. Mothers feed their pups for around 15 days, at which point they leave the young to fend for themselves.

It has been illegal for hunters to kill seal pups, known as whitecoats, since 1987. Young seals lose their white fur by the time they are three or four weeks old.

The Government of Canada says it ensures the harvesting of seals is humane by implementing a strictly enforced kill method. Harvesters must shoot or strike the seal on the top of the head with a gun, club or hakapik. They must then check if the skull has been crushed, meaning they know the seal is either dead or unconscious. The seal is bled via two axillary arteries for at least one minute before it is skinned.

Animal rights groups have strongly opposed seal hunting for decades, calling on the Canadian government to put an end to the practice. Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International/Canada, told Newsweek the suffering of seal pups is “utterly heartbreaking.”

“Sealers shoot at these seals from moving boats and pups are often wounded and suffer terribly,” she said. “Many escape into the water where they die slowly and painfully. Others are impaled on metal hooks and dragged onto vessels where they are clubbed to death.

“The seals are killed primarily for their fur, and the skins of very young seals fetch the highest prices. Government reports confirm more than 98 percent of the seals killed in the commercial seal hunt are pups less than three months old. Veterinary experts have concluded that all legal methods of hunting in Canada’s commercial seal hunt are inherently inhumane, and the slaughter should be ended as a result.”

A spokesperson from Fisheries and Oceans Canada told Newsweek the government of Canada is committed to providing a sustainable, highly-regulated and humane seal harvest that supports rural, coastal and indigenous communities. They said that while Total Allowable Catch levels are not assigned, it closely monitors how many are landed each year.

Harp seal numbers are currently not a cause for concern. However, climate change is currently altering their breeding habits. Sea ice, which they give birth on, is forming later and less consistently. This means many newborn pups are dying as they do not have a safe and stable place to gain the weight they need to fend for themselves. In 2021, the lack of sea ice meant seal pup mortality was extremely high. It is thought that as warming trends continue, harp seal numbers will decline.

“The commercial harvests of harp and grey seals remain well within sustainable levels, representing only a small fraction of scientifically advised sustainable removal levels,” the department spokesperson said.

They also said market demand for seals, as well as participation in seal fishery, has been low.

Last year, Canada exported C$224,223 ($177,178) worth of seal products— primarily marine mammal oil and fats. The biggest importers were Norway, followed by Japan, Hong Kong, South Africa, South Korea and China. Ukraine represented the smallest market, importing just over C$1,600.

“The department continues to support efforts to maintain existing markets for Canadian seal products and support the development of potential new markets,” the spokesperson said.

Aldworth says the seal hunt must stop. “The commercial sealing industry has been reduced to a fraction of its former size, and demand continues to plummet even further as seal product markets continue to close,” she said. “Today, 90 percent of licensed commercial sealers no longer participate in the hunt because it is no longer profitable for them to do so. Yet every year, tens of thousands of seal pups are still slaughtered in the commercial seal hunt, and we are calling on the Canadian government to put a final end to this outdated and cruel industry.

“We are advocating for a fair transition program for the few hundred sealers who continue to engage in the industry. In particular, we believe seals can be worth far more alive than dead to coastal communities, and that the government should invest in development of responsible marine ecotourism in the areas currently engaged in commercial sealing.”

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Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

Feds will not protect imperiled native Pecos River turtle after decades of debate

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus, March 16, 2022

A small turtle native to the Pecos River in southeast New Mexico was found to not need federal protections to save the species after years of conflict between conservationists and landowners.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the Rio Grande cooter did not warrant listing as endangered or threatened by the federal agency, per a March 14 notice in the Federal Register, despite being listed for protections by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a species can be listed as either “endangered,” meaning extinction is imminent, or “threatened” which means endangered status is likely in the future.

The two classes involve varying degrees of protections for the animal, protections for the species’ habitat lands, or require the federal government devise plans to restore populations.

The Blanco blind salamander will also not be listed, per the same notice, a lizard species believed to dwell in the Blanco River near San Marcos, Texas of which only one specimen was ever collected in 1951 and believed to be either extinct or actually the Texas blind salamander.

But the Rio Grande cooter is known to exist in multiple tributaries of the Rio Grande in several states.

The Fish and Wildlife Service reported its known habitats included the Pecos River in southeast New Mexico, Devil’s River in West Texas, the Rio Salado in southern Arizona and the Rio San Juan basins in the Four Corners Region including parts of northwest New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah.

It grows to about 15 inches long, living in freshwater streams and pools throughout the Rio Grande watershed.

Threats to the turtle were described as degrading water quality and quantity amid widespread drought in the cooter’s range, but the federal government reported it existed in all of its historical range.

The Rio Grande cooter was described as having a “moderate to low” risk of extinction.

“Because the species has adequate levels of resiliency, redundancy and representation across its distribution currently and into the foreseeable future, we find that it is not warranted for listing under the ESA,” read a statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Contaminants in the water could harm the cooter, and low stream flows can impede its ability to breed and nest.

Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity contended these threats could get worse amid intensifying climate change.

He said the Center planned to review the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision and hoped the petition, despite its denial, could lead to additional research to conserve the animal.

“The Rio Grande cooter is an essential inhabitant of its namesake river and tributaries, yet those watercourses are less hospitable for the turtle because clean flowing water has been taken for granted, overused and abused,” Robinson said.

“We are not convinced that all is well for this turtle and will decide on any next steps after we review the federal decision.”

But the despite these threats, the Fish and Wildlife Service said it found multiple “resilient populations” of the turtle throughout its range.

“Based on these conditions, the current risk of extinction for the Rio Grande cooter is low,” read the notice. “Thus, the best available information does not indicate that the magnitude and scope of individual stressors would cause the species to be in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future.”

Debate to conserve the cooter dates back to 2012

The decision to not list the animals came after 12-month findings were completed following petitions that requested the species’ status be reviewed.

Damage to habitat, disease, man-made factors and present regulatory impacts were considered in the decisions.

The cooter was included in a 2012 petition to list it and 52 other amphibious animals for protections, and a 90-day finding found it and 20 other species could warrant such a listing.

Listing the Rio Grande cooter for protections was controversial as conservationists accused the federal government of postponing the decision for about a decade after the petition was filed in 2012.

The Center for Biological Diversity in October 2021 accused the federal government of missing several deadlines for listing decisions that year, including the Rio Grande cooter, set by a 2016 workplan.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center said the Fish and Wildlife Service’s process of listing species was “too slow” to address widespread extinctions brought on by pollution and climate change.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service’s process for listing species is just too slow to address the extinction crisis, and Biden officials need to speed things up,” Greenwald said. “If the Service can’t streamline its decision-making and follow its own workplan, we’re going to lose more plants and animals to extinction.”

The Center also advocated for an at least $63.7 million increase in funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to aid in species conservation. 

“The heartbreaking reality is that extinctions are preventable, so when we permanently lose an animal or plant, it’s really a political choice,” said Stephanie Kurose, senior policy specialist at the Center. “Our most vulnerable species face a deadly combination of decades of underfunding and unnecessary bureaucratic delays within the Service.”

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Talker News

Scientists warn that over 850 species could be wiped out if humans continue to do this

By Stephen Beech via SWNS, March 16, 2022

More than 850 species could be wiped out by the growth of towns and cities around the world over the next 30 years, according to a new study.

Researchers warned that a projected urban expansion of more than 500,000 square miles over the next three decades threatens the survival of hundreds of breeds of birds and animals.

But a focus on urban planning that protects habitats can mitigate the impact, say scientists.

The global urban population is projected to increase by 2.5 billion people over the next 30 years, which will greatly increase the spread of towns and cities.

Much of the forecast urban expansion is predicted to occur in biodiversity hotspots — areas rich with species that are at a high risk of destruction due to human activity.

Expansion is projected to result in up to 1.53 million square kilometers (590 square miles) of new urbanized land, directly threatening 855 species, according to the findings of the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The study identified “hotspot” cities whose growth are predicted to have particularly large impacts on species habitats. Many of the cities are in equatorial regions where urban growth coincides with biodiverse habitats.

The cities that pose the greatest threat to species due to expansion are predominately located in the developing tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa, South America, Mesoamerica, and Southeast Asia.

Species listed as “threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List are disproportionately represented among those most heavily impacted, according to the findings.

But focusing global efforts on minimizing impacts on habitats in these growth regions can help conserve and protect species, say the research team led by scientists from Yale University in the US.

The study relied on data from Yale’s Map of Life – a collection of species distribution data used to monitor, research, and create policies that protect species worldwide.

It also used a recently developed suite of land-use projections to assess future habitat loss from urban land expansion for more than 30,000 terrestrial species globally. The study found that urban land expansion is a significant driver of habitat loss for about one-third of these.

The study comes as the 15th Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity prepares to convene next month to decide the new post-2020 biodiversity conservation framework.

Co-author Professor Karen Seto, of Yale School of the Environment (YSE), said: “Cities are actually part of the solution.

“We can build cities differently than we have in the past. They can be good for the planet; they can save species; they can be biodiversity hubs and save land for nature.’’

The study found that the largest impacts on species are not from the world’s largest cities, but from urban areas that have a myriad of endemic species and where expansion can destroy habitats. And these areas are rapidly becoming more urbanized.

Study lead author Rohan Simkin, a Ph.D. student at YSE, said: “One of the aims of the study was to identify those species, not that just are threatened, but that are specifically threatened by urban land development.

“I think that the average person on the street is very aware of the climate crisis now, but I’m not sure they are aware of the biodiversity crisis.”

But obstacles to containing sprawl include economic pressures, governance structures, and awareness of the importance of habitats and preserving biodiversity. It’s easier to build out, not up, noted Prof. Seto.

Species under the most pressure from expansion are concentrated in areas from central Mexico through Central America, the Caribbean, Haiti, Nigeria, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Brazil, and Ecuador.

Robert McDonald, lead scientist for nature-based solutions at The Nature Conservancy, said: “We are at a critical moment when the world’s governments are renegotiating their commitments to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“This study is important since it lets us quantify, for the first time, which specific species are most threatened by urban growth and where urban protected areas are needed to safeguard them.”

Professor Walter Jetz, director of the Yale Centre for Biodiversity and Global Change, said: “The study offers vital decision-support in regions across the world to plan for urban growth that minimizes the loss of biodiversity.

“It leverages the Species Habitat Index, a central biodiversity change indicator of the draft post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity, to assess future scenarios.”

Despite the potential for loss of species from land expansion, Prof. Seto says the study highlights how cities can proactively protect biodiversity.

She added: “The majority of these places have yet to be built.

“Science-driven policies that guide how the cities of tomorrow get built will have a tremendous effect.”

(The post Scientists warn that over 850 species could be wiped out if humans continue to do this appeared first on Talker.)

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Arizona’s Family

Forest Service to remove ‘feral’ horses from Alpine to protect endangered species

By Kim Powell, Published: Mar. 15, 2022

ALPINE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) – The US Forest Services will be collecting ‘feral’ horses in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Alpine starting Mar. 21st. The removal of the horses comes after the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit group based out of Tucson, filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service for violating the Endangered Species Act. The group claims the Forest Service fails to control feral animals’ damage to the meadows and streams, which are the New Mexico Jumping Mouse’s federally protected habitat.

“Since the early 2000s, feral horses have been causing severe damage to the habitat of threatened and endangered species in an area including the Chiricahua leopard frog, narrow-headed garter snake, loach minnow, and Apache trout, and New Mexico meadow jumping mouse – which is nearing extinction. There are indirect effects on habitats of Three Forks spring snail and Mexican spotted owl. Collection of these feral horses is an ongoing process and necessary for responsible forest management for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests,” said Jeffrey Todd, the spokesperson for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest (ASNF).

The Center for Biological Diversity says the jumping mouse relies heavily on the tall grass and streams in the Alpine area, which they claim unauthorized livestock are damaging.

“What is really the damage the horses are doing? Because when you have elk and deer and cattle and they’re all kind of using the same area, you can’t really say it’s the horses doing the damage,” said Simone Netherlands, an Arizona wild horse advocate. Netherlands says she and other horse advocates were notified two days ago of the roundup and wish they had more notice. “We think it’s really sad we’re only getting seven days to try to save these horses. That’s not enough time for the public to give their input.”

The Forest Service says they have a contract for passive baiting and trapping of unauthorized feral horses, which they say is the least dangerous process for collecting them. Robin Silver, who is with the Center for Biological Diversity, says they want all of the feral horses out of that habitat, but the Forest Services doesn’t know when they will all be collected.

“The ASNF is starting with up to 20 heads. There are approximately 400 head of unauthorized feral horses. We are working closely with the local community, grassroots collaborative, multiple horse rescues, permittees, and Arizona horse advocates to find creative solutions,” Todd said.

Silver says they do not want to harm the horses by any means, and they’ve spent the last three years trying to get horse activists to help remove the horses. Netherlands says they’ve been invited to the public auctions but have a hard time outbidding “kill buyers.”

“The fact is that the Forest Service will bring them to the Holbrook auction; now they cannot guarantee at that auction they won’t be purchased by kill buyers,” Netherlands said. “There’s no way for them to guarantee that these horses are not going to end up on a dinner plate abroad,” Netherlands said her main goal is to work with the Forest Service and conservation groups to make sure the horses are treated humanely and not sent out for slaughter. “If there really is 400, it would be reasonable to leave about 200 and treat them with humane fertility control, so the herd doesn’t grow too large, and it doesn’t put too much pressure on the environment.”

Netherlands said she and other horse advocates are heading up to Alpine on Friday to discuss options with the Forest Service.

“We would really like the Forest Service to postpone this action of bait trapping these wild horses until they can guarantee these Arizona wild horses will not end up in slaughter,” Netherlands said. “We just want all Arizona wild horses treated humanely, and that’s literally all we ask.”

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The Guardian

National Trust creates Northumberland ‘ark’ to protect endangered crayfish

Trust creates refuge for white-clawed crayfish in old cattle drinking hole on Wallington estate near Morpeth

Mark Brown, North of England correspondent, 15 March 2022

An “ark” refuge is being created by the National Trust to help save one of the UK’s most endangered native species from extinction.

The white-clawed crayfish is the UK’s only indigenous crayfish but the population has been almost wiped out because of the introduction of a bigger American species in the 1970s.

The trust on Tuesday said it wanted to do its bit to help by creating the refuge in an old cattle drinking hole at the Wallington estate in Northumberland.

It will move up to 100 of the crustaceans from the River Wansbeck, which runs through the estate, to the site, where it is hoped they will breed.

Matthew Fitch, the National Trust ranger at Wallington, said the white-clawed crayfish was “on a knife-edge”.

He added: “It’s so important we shore up the healthy populations, like the one we’re fortunate to have here on the Wansbeck, as quickly as we can to make sure it doesn’t vanish from our rivers altogether.”

Fitch said the site would be a haven “but also contribute to the long-term protection of the animal, as the crayfish that are kept here can in theory be used to repopulate other waterbodies”.

Populations of white-clawed crayfish have more than halved across Europe in recent decades. In the UK an estimated 70% of the population has been lost.

The losses can be traced back to the introduction of the American signal crayfish, a bigger species introduced to Europe in the 1970s as a restaurant delicacy.

They were deliberately introduced to British waterways in 1976 by a government that hoped they would be an export money spinner, supplying the lucrative Scandinavian market. Grants were made available for estate owners and others to take part.

The consequences have been devastating for indigenous crayfish. As well as outcompeting smaller crayfish for food and habitat, the interloper often carries a plague that is harmless to itself but can wipe out other species of crayfish in weeks.

The Wallington estate is, at 13,500 acres, the largest estate in the care of the National Trust. Rangers at Wallington have spent 15 months diligently taking water samples and surveying to make sure the project will succeed. The 200-year-old cattle drinking hole is fed by a spring, with the water flowing over barriers before it reaches the Wansbeck, meaning the chances of signal crayfish or plague entering are low.

Around 250,000 visitors a year go to Wallington. As well as the marvellous Pre-Raphaelite artworks in the house people will soon be able to see a display tank of white-clawed crayfish in the property’s reception area.

Ian Marshall, who is the Environment Agency’s national lead on white-clawed crayfish, said Northumberland had some of the best populations.

“They are vital to our ecology, helping to keep our waterways clean and providing a source of food for other native species.

“The Northumberland Crayfish Partnership is working hard to better protect them and this brilliant project at Wallington is one of many big plans to make 2022 the best year yet for the recovery of native crayfish across the region.”

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Public News Service

Budget Bill Blocks Endangered Species Protection for Sage Grouse

Suzanne Potter, Producer, March 14, 2022

Conservation groups are slamming a spending deal in Congress that’s expected to pass this week – because it would forbid Endangered Species Act protections for an imperiled bird in the West.

The sage grouse population in the high desert country of Western states has dropped 80% since 1965. Yet federal spending bills have included this prohibition since 2014.

This year, the initial bill dropped the ESA prohibition – but the final version restored it. Robert Dewey, vice president for government relations with the group Defenders of Wildlife, called it a huge missed opportunity.

“Policy on the sage grouse must be driven by science and not politics,” said Dewey. “I think it’s time to end this prohibition and allow biologists to determine whether this species needs federal protection.”

Sage grouse rely on sagebrush for food and shelter, and their habitat has dwindled with development and energy exploration.

In 2015, the Obama administration negotiated a major compromise to protect the bird – a settlement between conservation groups, state agencies, the feds, ranchers, tribes, and the oil industry. However, the Trump administration opted to weaken that agreement.

Dewey said this year, Republicans insisted on maintaining the requirement to keep the sage grouse from being classified as endangered. He blamed pressure from the fossil-fuel industry.

“Since 2015, 1.6 million acres of sage grouse habitat have been leased for oil and gas purposes,” said Dewey. “So there’s no doubt the oil and gas industry is no fan of greater protections for the sage grouse.”

Sage grouse habitat covers 11 states, from California east to the Dakotas. The same area supports more than 350 other declining species, including pronghorn, mule deer, pygmy rabbit, elk and almost 200 species of birds.

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The Hill

US hunters imported more than 700K trophies in ‘disturbing’ trend: Report

Jenna Romaine | March 14, 2022

U.S. hunters imported more than 700,000 hunting trophies – including skulls, mounts, and teeth, among others – over the course of 5 years.

According to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, from 2016 through 2020 hunting trophies – largely of exotic animals, such as giraffes, rhinos, and zebras – were imported to the United States.

“The vast volume of hunting trophies pouring into the United States represents a massive exploitation of wildlife during a global extinction crisis,” Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the center, said in a press release.

Data show a largely “steady and sizable annual increase” of trophy imports between 2016 and 2019, excluding a minor decline in 2017. In 2016, 109,579 hunting trophies were imported to the U.S.; a slight decline to 108,490 in 2017; 212,393 imports in 2018; and a whopping 234,532 imported hunting trophies in 2019.

The center said that the data reveals “disturbing U.S. trophy trends,” noting that some wealthy trophy hunters were still likely traveling during the pandemic.

There was a decline between 2019 and 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic first began and travel restrictions were in place. However, even with coronavirus travel restrictions, 2020 still saw a significant number of imports, with 55,990 hunting trophies brought into the U.S. during this timeframe. Giraffe trophies dipped only slightly in 2020, the group says, despite the pandemic.

“While most people in the United States were on lockdown, with many living paycheck to paycheck, elite trophy hunters were still jet-setting around to kill wildlife for skins, skulls, mounts, bones, wings, teeth and feet,” said Sanerib.

Though the overall number of imports saw a considerable decrease between 2019 and 2020, some species were still significantly affected. For example, there was an increase in zebra trophy imports, with 3,795 imported in 2019 compared to 7,199 in 2020.

According to the Humane Society International, the U.S. is the largest importer of hunting trophies, bringing in roughly 345 trophies per day. Conservationists hope the eye-opening data will spur the U.S. government to enact stronger conservation measures.

“Giraffes, rhinos and other imperiled animals are gunned down for trophies, along with animals from wallabies, zebras and porcupines to birds and lizards,” Sanerib said. “The Biden administration should take a hard look at how greenlighting trophy imports contributes to the biodiversity emergency.”

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The Guardian

Conservationists seek collaboration to end illegal Pangolin trade

By Gbenga Akinfenwa, 13 March 2022

Experts have warned that unrestricted poaching, hunting, and trafficking of pangolins can lead to the extinction of the animal, unless urgent steps are taken to tackle practice.

The Chairman and convener, Pangolin Conservation Guild Nigeria, Olajumoke Morenikeji, gave the warning at an event organised by the body, in collaboration with the US Consulate, One Health Development Initiative (OHDI), and the Wildlife of Africa Conservation Initiative (WACI), as part of activities to mark the 2022 World Pangolin Day in Lagos.

While noting that pangolins are the most smuggled mammal in the world because of their meat and scales, Morenikeji said to solve the problem, the existing conservation laws in the country should be amended and better enforced, to discourage hunting and poaching of pangolins and other wildlife animals.

In her keynote address, the Minister of State for Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, represented by the Director General of National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), Aliyu Jauro, said achieving sustainability without community action is a challenge to sustainable wildlife resources.

Ikeazor said the ministry’s mission is to ensure environmental protection, natural resources conservation, and sustainable development, adding that the country is set to sign a Cooperation Framework Agreement on Transboundary Ecosystem Conservation and Sustainable Management of Forestry and Wildlife Resources with Cameroun.

The Conservator-general, National Park Service, Ibrahim Goni, said President Muhammadu Buhari had recently approved the establishment of 10 new national parks in the country, to enhance efforts and commitment to tackling illegal wildlife trade in the country.

According to him, the theme for the 2022 World Pangolin Day is especially relevant because the conservation of any animal species, including the pangolins, is impossible without the cooperation of the community where these species are found.

Also speaking, a representative from the department of Public Affairs, United States consulate, Lagos, Jenny Foltz, said “the joint project between the United States Consulate and the Pangolin Conservation Guild Nigeria is focused on promoting advocacy, drive awareness and curb the threats from pangolin trafficking on the environment and human health.”

She added that the US mission to Nigeria, embassy in Abuja, and the consulate in Lagos would work closely with the country to train enforcement agencies on how to identify pangolins and the traffickers of pangolin meat and scales.

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WION (London)

Plant species that are not useful to humans are going extinct, says study

WION Web Team, London Published: Mar 11, 2022

Most of the plant species are going extinct in the world as people don’t need them, found researchers.  

More than 80,000 plant species have been categorised worldwide.

The plant communities of the future will largely depend on humans and will be hugely homogenised than those of today, as per the paper, which was published in the journal ‘Plants, People, Planet’. 

The findings show a dark picture of the threat to biodiversity. The study covered less than 30% of all known plant species. It is like a “wake-up call”, say the researchers, who highlighted the need for more work in this field.

There are 6,749 plants, which are winners and helpful to humans, such as rice, corn, wheat and other crops. They cover 40% of the surface of the planet. There are 164 plants, which are winners and but not useful to humans. These include weedy species like kudzu. 

About 20,290 species of plants have been categorised as losers as they are mostly not useful to humans. They are already recognised as endangered species like magnolia tree from Haiti, etc.  

The scientists have also branded 26,002 species as potential losers, and 18,664 species as potential winners. These last two categories are plants, which are currently considered neutral. And 571 plant species have already gone extinct.

John Kress, botany curator emeritus, Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and lead author of the paper, said, “We’re actually beginning to quantify what’s going to make it through the bottleneck of the Anthropocene, in terms of numbers. It’s not the future, it’s happening. The bottleneck is starting to happen right now. And I think that’s part of the wake-up call that we are trying to give here. It’s something we might be able to slow down a little bit, but it’s happening.” 

(With inputs from agencies)  

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E&E News/Greenwire

White House starts key ESA ‘critical habitat’ review

By Michael Doyle | 03/11/22

The Fish and Wildlife Service this week stepped closer toward erasing a Trump administration rule that crimped the Endangered Species Act’s definition of “critical habitat.”

On Tuesday, records show, the federal agency, along with NOAA Fisheries, submitted a long-awaited ESA rule for final White House review. Once the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has done its thing, it will be go time for one of the environmental community’s priorities.

“The Endangered Species Act has saved hundreds of irreplaceable plants and animals from extinction, but it could be doing so much more good,” Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

Kurose added that “despite the law’s remarkable success, the services have been reluctant to fully implement it, succumbing to years of political and industry pressure to weaken what is the only hope for imperiled species.”

On Tuesday, the same day the federal agencies handed the ball to White House reviewers, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a sweeping petition urging FWS and NOAA Fisheries to take a variety of actions.

The petition, according to the environmental group, “calls on the services to holistically address the threat of climate change, reduce illegal political interference that undermines scientific integrity, strengthen law enforcement and add new measures to ensure accountability for extractive industries that harm the habitats of endangered species.”

The proposed federal rule now at the White House, while significant, is considerably more focused than that broad call for action.

Instead, it would cancel the Trump administration’s December 2020 final rule adding a definition of the term “habitat” to the existing ESA regulations.

That new rule, for the first time, stated that “for the purposes of designating critical habitat, habitat is the abiotic and biotic setting that currently or periodically contains the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.”

Under the ESA, critical habitat is considered “essential for the conservation of the species.”

Any federal agency seeking to authorize, fund or carry out an action on designated land must first consult with FWS to ensure the action is not likely to destroy or damage a critical habitat. But, as the Supreme Court noted, the term “habitat” had not been itself defined, leading to regulatory ambiguity.

In 2012, FWS included more than 1,500 acres of private land in Louisiana in its designation of critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog. The frog used to live throughout coastal Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, but most individuals now inhabit a single pond in Mississippi.

The Louisiana landowners argued that their 1,544 acres shouldn’t qualify as critical habitat because the land would need restoration to be useful. In a 2018 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts observed that the ESA does not provide a “baseline definition” of habitat.

“It identifies only certain areas that are indispensable to the conservation of the endangered species,” Roberts wrote. “The definition allows the [Interior] Secretary to identify the subset of habitat that is critical, but leaves the larger category of habitat undefined.”

The federal government and the landowners in the case subsequently reached a settlement and left unresolved questions over how “habitat” should be defined in the law (Greenwire, Nov. 27, 2018).

FWS said last year it had determined that the subsequent Trump-era definition would “inappropriately constrain the Services’ ability to designate areas that meet the definition of “critical habitat” under the law.

“This [Trump administration] definition of ‘habitat’ excludes areas that do not currently or periodically contain the requisite resources and conditions, even if such areas could meet this requirement in the future after restoration activities or other changes occur,” the agency explained last year.

FWS added that the “attempt to codify a single, one-size-fits-all definition of ‘habitat’ … was one that neither stemmed from the scientific literature nor had a clear relationship with the statutory definition of ‘critical habitat.’”

FWS subsequently received nearly 13,000 public comments on the critical habit definition issue, many of them identical.

“The [Trump rule] to narrowly limit the definition of ‘habitat’ to only areas that currently can support individuals of an imperiled species represents a 180-degree reversal of past agency practice,” Earthjustice wrote.

The environmental group, writing on behalf of itself and other organizations, added that “for decades, the Services have designated critical habitat in unoccupied areas that were not, at the time, habitable for the listed species, but were nonetheless deemed essential for conservation.”

Others have urged retention of the Trump administration’s definition.

“Given the significant scientific uncertainty with many listed species and the ecosystems in which they reside and the failure of the ESA regulators to look at the many varied stressors affecting them, the agencies need to step back and rethink the consequences of their actions,” the Family Farm Alliance wrote.

On a related front, the ESA further states that critical habitat is to be designated “on the basis of the best scientific data available and after taking into consideration the economic impact, the impact on national security, and any other relevant impact.”

The law allows exclusion of areas if “the benefits of such exclusion outweigh the benefits of specifying such area as part of the critical habitat,” unless the exclusion “will result in the extinction of the species concerned.”

A Trump-era rule allowed that “other relevant impacts” may be considered, including public health and safety and risk of wildfire or pest and invasive species management (Greenwire, Dec. 17, 2020).

FWS is working to reverse this rule, as well.

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NBC News

Rare wolverine photographed in Yellowstone National Park

Tim Fitzsimons, March 11, 2022

A tour guide and former park ranger last weekend had what he called a “phenomenal” encounter with one of Yellowstone National Park’s rarest and most elusive animals: a wolverine.

He even snapped a picture to prove it.

MacNeil Lyons, owner of Yellowstone Insight, was with a tour group in the park’s northern reaches March 5 when the visitors spotted what he calls a “unicorn.”

The wolverine — the largest species in the mustelid, or weasel, family — is related to otters, ferrets and minks.

In North America, the wolverine’s southernmost range touches Yellowstone National Park, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Fewer than 10 wolverines are thought to call Yellowstone and its 2.2 million acres home.

When Lyons spotted the animal this month, it was the first time he had done so in more than 20 years of working and traveling in the park.

Expert animal tracker James Halfpenny visited the site where the wolverine was spotted to make some determinations about the animal.

He said the wolverine had followed moose tracks through deep, packed snow and then turned, finding itself at a nearly empty road near Cold Creek, where it encountered Lyons and his group.

“I would like to think that this might have been the first human encounter that this elusive, more backcountry creature had,” Lyons said.

Lyons said wolverines are known to search far and wide for food in winter and may even sniff out an avalanche-buried moose carcass that it can burrow deep into snow and scavenge from for weeks.

“A wolverine is a scavenger, and it’ll eat anything it can put its mouth around, and in that bleak, high-snow country, it’s looking for dead animals, anything that’s died, a carcass,” Halfpenny said.

In normal years, Halfpenny says, it’s typical to get three solid reports of wolverine sightings in Yellowstone, but never a photo.

“I haven’t had time to run through our tracking databases yet to decide if it’s a male or female,” he said.

Halfpenny, who runs the tracking education company A Naturalist’s World and is licensed to submit animal data to Yellowstone officials, said members of the Yellowstone Cougar Project this week found more wolverine tracks and even obtained a hair sample.

If a follicle is attached or a nearby scat pile identified, Halfpenny said, researchers might have valuable DNA information to submit to Yellowstone Wolf Project, which collects data on wolves and other rare mammals.

“If they can prove whether it’s one or two, that would be neat,” he said.

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PhillyVoice (Philadelphia, PA)

Endangered, miniature bat from Pennsylvania sets migration distance record

Indiana bats have a been a target of conservation efforts as their populations face man-made and natural threats

Michael Tanenbaum, PhillyVoice Staff, March 10, 2022

A tiny female bat weighing no more than 10 paper clips has completed the longest-known migration of her species in a single season, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The Indiana bat, a federally endangered species, is native to the Midwest and tends to have its largest populations in the caves of Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri. The species is found in much of the eastern U.S., including Pennsylvania, but has experienced significant decline over the last 50 years due to habitat disturbance and the ravaging spread of white-nose syndrome, a disease caused by fungus.

Last September, the Pennsylvania Game Commission banded and placed radio transmitters on bats from the last-known Indiana bat colony of breeding females in Pennsylvania. The bats received bright orange bands on their wings and 21-day transmitters on their backs.

The research is intended to help wildlife experts monitor migration patterns and determine where the bats hibernate so that conservation resources can be maximized.

During the course of the study, the Game Commission tracked a single female bat that flew at least 418 miles from her summer roost in Pennsylvania to a winter cave in Carter County, Kentucky. That distance represents a straight line, meaning the bat likely flew an even longer distance to arrive at her destination.

Indiana bats are sometimes called “the social bat” because they form large clusters in the caves where they hibernate. This helps them dampen disruptive sounds and collectively respond to the presence of predators.

In Pennsylvania, the Game Commission estimates that only about 1,000 Indiana bats hibernate at about 18 known sites in 11 counties. The stability of these cave sites are reinforced by the installation of gates, which have sometimes been successful in drawing bats back to locations they have abandoned due to human encroachment. Indiana bats also are known to sometimes inhabit man-made structures such as mines, though the conditions of these tunnel sites are less favorable to them than natural caves.

The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome is found in some cave habitats and grows on bats’ skin. This disturbs their their hibernation leaves bats dehydrated, which often results in starvation and death. Pennsylvania is part of a multi-state program to create a regional response to white-nose syndrome.

Indiana bats and many other threatened bat species play an important ecological role as the primary predators of night-flying insects and anthropoids that wreak havoc on crops. Bats also pollinate and disperse the seeds of hundreds of plant species in the United States.

In addition to annual studies on bat populations, the Pennsylvania Game Commission conducts research on highway design and man-made obstacles to the recovery of Indiana bats. The Game Commission also works with private consultants and university researchers to develop knowledge of the bats’ behavior that aids ongoing conservation efforts.

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WQCS/FM— Fort Pierce Campus of Indian River State College (Ft. Pierce, FL)

Beachgoers Reminded to Be Sea Turtle Friendly, the Nesting Season Has Begun

WQCS | By Kevin Kerrigan, Published March 10, 2022

Sea Turtle nesting season has begun along the Treasure Coast. It runs from March 1st to November 15 every year.

Over the coming months the Green Sea Turtle, the Leatherback, and the Loggerhead will be crawling ashore to nest. All 3 are on the Endangered Species list.

Treasure Coast beaches have been designated as “a critical nesting habitat” for these sea turtles says Ken Gioeli, He is the Natural Resources Extension Agent in Fort Pierce. “Instinctively they come back to these beaches and lay their eggs … this is home for them.”

The female turtles dig a nesting chamber and drops 100 to 150 ping pong sized eggs. Disturbing a nesting chamber, or touching any the baby turtles is against the law.

Last year 2,619 sea turtle nests were laid along St. Lucie County beaches alone. That was a 7.5% increase over 2020. Loggerheads produced 2,193 nests in 2021, followed by Green Turtles with 381 and Leatherbacks laid 45 nests.

Ahead of the peak nesting season this summer St. Lucie County is reminding beach-goers to practice sea turtle friendly habits.

Beachgoers are asked not to leave any beach chairs or other gear on the beach overnight because of the danger of entanglement. Sandcastles and holes on the beach should be returned to their natural condition to prevent sea turtle entrapment or injury.

Bonfires and flashlights are discouraged, as well as interior lighting that may illuminate the beach from homes and condos. Water front residents are encouraged to turn out all unnecessary interior lights during nesting season and close curtains and blinds at night.

“If there is too much lighting on the beach … that could attract predators,” said Gioeli. “Raccoons are an example, they will disturb these nesting sea turtles, so lighting is best when reduced.”

The turtles, says Gioeli seek out the darkest beaches where they feel safest. Too much light is also a concern when the eggs hatch and the baby turtles crawl out in search of the ocean and safety.

“If there is lighting behind the dunes what happens is that messes with their instinct, and the hatchlings, instead of going towards that moonlit horizon,  they will go backwards towards the light. And if they end up going the wrong way, they burn up all their energy and they will literally die.”

Walton Rocks Beach is the only dog-approved beach in St. Lucie County and dogs should be on leashes to prevent them from digging up sea turtle nests.

St. Lucie County enforces sea turtle lighting codes during sea turtle nesting season and if you observes sea turtle nest poaching or harassment officials ask that you call 911 or the Florida Fish and Wildlife hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC.

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KNDO 23/NBC News (Kennewick, WA)

Gov. Little petitions to axe grizzly bears from Endangered Species Act

BOISE, Idaho—March 10, 2022—Idaho Gov. Brad Little is joining efforts to remove grizzly bears from the Endangered Species Act.

Montana has been pushing for the removal of grizzly bears off the Endangered Species Act since 2021.

A release from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said Gov. Little submitted a petition to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Thursday saying there’s no ecological reason to keep grizzly bears on the list.

“Bureaucratic gridlock is keeping healthy grizzly populations on the threatened species list un-necessarily. When there’s no exit for healthy grizzly populations from the Endangered Species Act, it’s time to demand a reset,” Gov. Little said in the release. “For decades, Idaho, our sister states, tribes, local governments – and especially our rural communities – have invested considerable resources in this effort, and they have shouldered much of the burden of rebuilding grizzly bear populations.”

When they were added in 1975, there were only a few hundred bears across northern states of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Washington.

Now there are more than two thousand in those states.

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EcoWatch

Climate Change Is Transforming Europe’s Birds

 Paige Bennett, March 10, 2022

A new study has found that the climate crisis is causing major disruptions to European birds, from shifting their nesting dates to decreasing their chick numbers to even changing their general body sizes.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that rising temperatures and non-temperature effects of climate change are transforming European birds, such as garden warblers, chiffchaffs, and crested tits.

The authors focused on data collected on 60 species in Britain since the mid-1960s, reviewing changes in egg-laying, body form, and number of offspring. From there, researchers determined what impacts were caused by higher temperatures and what other factors played a role in these transformations.

More than half, about 57%, of the effects were linked to increasing temperatures, but other factors, like habitat loss, pollution, invasive species, and diseases, also contributed. About 32% of the 60 species studied experienced body changes related to heat stress. The researchers found that 86% of birds in the study experienced a shift in egg-laying dates, with 31% of the 60 birds also experiencing a change in the regular number of offspring.

“For example, climate change caused chiffchaffs to lay their eggs six days earlier over the last 50 years, but other unknown environmental factors led to an additional six days, meaning in total they now lay their eggs 12 days earlier than they did half a century ago,” Martijn van de Pol, lead author of the paper from James Cook University in Australia, told The Guardian.

Similarly, garden warblers saw a decrease in offspring by 26%, which can be detrimental to the species. While some species are experiencing lower offspring numbers and shrinking body sizes, some of the birds in the study faced opposite impacts. Redstarts are growing larger and having more offspring.

“The study gives a well-grounded explanation for why different species change at such different rates,” Shahar Dubiner, an ecologist at Tel Aviv University and was not involved in the study, told The Guardian. “And it is not to do with temperature sensitivity, but with those other, non-temperature factors.”

Dubiner’s research on birds in Israel, including migratory birds, has found similar changes in the birds’ body shapes and sizes.

The study highlights that while warming is clearly causing challenges for bird species, there are other factors that need attention, too.

“As we increase our understanding of how changes in climate directly impact species and how nonclimatic variables simultaneously drive changes, we can better identify those species or populations most at risk from climate change,” the study concluded.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Congress Urged to Increase Spending to $700 Million for Endangered Species Conservation

WASHINGTON— (March 10, 2922)—Citing the global extinction crisis, more than 150 groups urged Congress today to significantly increase the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget for endangered species conservation from $300 million to $704 million — an increase of more than $400 million over the fiscal year 2022 budget.

Today’s plea comes one day after the Democratic-controlled Congress released its omnibus budget, which undercut President Biden’s budget request and maintained inadequate status quo funding levels for our most imperiled species. For example, the bill would increase funding for the recovery of the nation’s 1,800 endangered species by just $3 million, while funding for the listing program would remain frozen at last year’s levels.

According to the Service’s own data, hundreds of endangered animals and plants receive less than $1,000 for their recovery in a typical year, with several hundred receiving no funding at all from the agency. The requested budget increase would ensure every federally protected species receives a minimum of $50,000 per year to get them on the road to recovery.

“Congress needs to do more than the bare minimum if it truly wants to stop extinction, and that starts with fully funding the Endangered Species Act,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ve already lost too many unique animals and plants to extinction. During a global extinction crisis, it’s heartbreaking that Congress continues to underfund this critical work.”

Today’s letter notes that “the majority of extinctions are entirely preventable, so when we lose a species to extinction it represents an unforgiveable moral failure. The U.S. has one of the most powerful tools to end extinction — the Endangered Species Act — yet decades of underfunding has kept it from realizing its full potential.”

“Red lights and alarms have to be going off right now as the extinction crisis and biodiversity loss threatens life on this planet. Yet, our nation’s strongest conservation tool, the Endangered Species Act, is starving for adequate funding,” said Mary Beth Beetham, legislative affairs director for Defenders of Wildlife. “Tragically, hundreds of species are being left at the brink of extinction simply because there isn’t enough money to recover them. Next year’s appropriations must reflect the dire straits of the crisis we face.”

The proposed funding package requests $78.7 million for the Service’s listing program — nearly four times the wildlife agency’s current budget. The listing program has been chronically underfunded for decades, and as a result, more than 400 animals and plant species have been waiting in most cases more than a decade to be reviewed for protections under the Endangered Species Act.

In 2021 the Service announced it would remove 22 animals and one plant from the endangered species list because those species had gone extinct. These species will now join the list of 650 species in the United States that have likely been lost to extinction. Globally, an additional 1 million animal and plant species face extinction within the coming decades.

Other groups signing today’s letter include the League of Conservation Voters, Earthjustice, Sierra Club and The Humane Society of the United States.

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AP

Mexican wildlife managers release two pairs of wolves

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press, March 9, 2022

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Wildlife managers in the United States say their counterparts in Mexico have released two pairs of endangered Mexican gray wolves south of the U.S. border as part of an ongoing reintroduction effort.

The wolves came from the Ladder Ranch in southern New Mexico and were placed in two areas in the state of Chihuahua, officials with the Arizona Game and Fish Department announced Tuesday.

The wolf population in Mexico now numbers around 45, with 14 litters being born since 2014, officials said.

“Through international cooperation, recovery efforts are moving forward in Mexico and contradict the contention of some critics that recovery can’t occur in that country,” Jim deVos, Mexican wolf coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said in a statement.

The U.S. reintroduction program has been operating in New Mexico and Arizona for more than two decades. The most recent count in early 2021 showed at least 186 wolves in the wild in the two states, marking a 14% increase over the previous year and a doubling of the population over the last five years.

The results of a new survey of the U.S. population are due soon.

Agencies in the U.S. and Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas have been working for years to help the species recover.

The Mexican grey wolf is the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America and was listed as endangered in the U.S. in 1976.

The wolf was once common throughout portions of the southwestern U.S. and throughout Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental and Oriental regions, but had been all but eliminated from the wild by the 1970s due to extensive predator control initiatives.

Officials said the Mexican commission along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife managers are in final negotiations for a letter of intent aimed at strengthening the program. It will include efforts focused on conflicts with livestock where the predators are reintroduced.

Ranchers in Arizona and New Mexico have been critical of reintroduction efforts because the wolves have been known to kill livestock, but environmentalists have been pushing for the release of more captive wolves into the wild.

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Natural Resources Committee

Press Release—3/8/22

Chair Grijalva Blasts Fish and Wildlife Service Finding that Pesticide Malathion Does Not Jeopardize Endangered Species

Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today expressed disappointment in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) newly released final biological opinion, which determined that malathion—a dangerous and likely carcinogenic pesticide linked to developmental disorders in children—does not jeopardize a single endangered species.  

The new findings starkly contradict the draft biological opinion on malathion released in April 2021, which concluded that ongoing use of the pesticide would jeopardize the continued existence of 78 endangered species of wildlife and would adversely impact 23 critical habitats. FWS had never published a level of risk and harm that severe on a given substance.  

A 2017 biological opinion by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on malathion and other pesticides produced similarly grave findings. It showed that continued use of malathion is likely to jeopardize 38 of the 77 listed species under NOAA’s jurisdiction, and adversely modify nearly 75 percent of designated critical habitats.

FWS largely attributed their new finding to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s agreement to incorporate measures that would potentially restrict use of malathion.

“The extinction crisis we are facing today can no longer be ignored. The previous draft opinion makes it clear that we must stop using malathion as soon as possible—theoretical restriction measures are simply not enough,” Grijalva said. “This was an opportunity for the Biden administration to act on indisputable evidence that would protect dozens of critically endangered species. Instead, they put out a final biological opinion that relies on tricks devised by the Trump administration to skirt robust scientific analyses. I expect to see a full explanation for these disappointing findings.”

This is not the first time FWS’ biological opinion on malathion has come under scrutiny. In 2019, the New York Times reported that President Trump’s Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, David Bernhardt, intervened in the public release of FWS’ biological opinion on malathion and other pesticides. The release was stalled indefinitely, but leaked internal briefing documents for the opinion showed that malathion “jeopardizes the continued existence” of more than 1,200 endangered species. Publication of the opinion would have mandated tighter restrictions on, and possibly led to a ban on, the pesticides. 

Malathion is widely used across the U.S. for agriculture and mosquito control. The harms of malathion to both wildlife and humans have been extensively documented since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, but decades of lobbying and industry influence have kept the substance on the market.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Petition Urges Biden Administration to Strengthen Endangered Species Act to Save Life on Earth

WASHINGTON—(March 8, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity filed a comprehensive legal petition today urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to take bold, unprecedented action to stem the global wildlife extinction crisis by strengthening the Endangered Species Act’s implementing regulations.

Noting that “extinction is not inevitable — it is a political choice,” today’s petition calls on the two federal agencies to not only undo the Trump-era rollbacks to the Act, but to push for ambitious new regulatory safeguards that strengthen all aspects of the law.

The petition calls on the services to holistically address the threat of climate change, reduce illegal political interference that undermines scientific integrity, strengthen law enforcement and add new measures to ensure accountability for extractive industries that harm the habitats of endangered species.

“The Endangered Species Act has saved hundreds of irreplaceable plants and animals from extinction, but it could be doing so much more good,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center. “Despite the law’s remarkable success, the services have been reluctant to fully implement it, succumbing to years of political and industry pressure to weaken what is the only hope for imperiled species. The time for reform is now.”

In addition to undoing the Trump-era rollbacks — which the Biden administration has started to do, but at a sluggish pace — the petition calls for more ambitious improvements to achieve the Act’s mandate that extinction be halted “whatever the cost.” Some of those improvements include:

*Empowering career scientists to make science-based decisions without fear of political reprisal;

*Guaranteeing that federal agencies can no longer ignore the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from their actions on climate change and climate-imperiled species;

*Strengthening protections for critical habitat to protect key areas where species can live;

*Creating a scientifically defensible definition of recovery;

*Defining “significant portion of its range” to fulfill Congress’ intent that species be protected before they are threatened with worldwide extinction;

*Requiring all federal agencies to have proactive conservation programs in place for listed species harmed by their actions;

*Requiring habitat conservation plans to confer a net benefit whenever development activities harm endangered species;

*Strengthening protections for foreign listed species;

*Strengthening the regulations governing the reintroduction of experimental populations; and

*Revamping the enhancement permitting program to address dubious trophy hunting practices overseas that do not actually enhance the survival or propagation of species.

“Combating the extinction crisis and restoring our natural heritage are monumental challenges that will require the services to be more visionary than any other administration in history,” said Kurose. “We challenge Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and the Biden administration to change the status quo and do whatever it takes to protect our planet for future generations.”

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Newsweek

What Is Happening to Wildlife Inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone After Russian Invasion?

Robyn White, March 8, 2022

Since the world’s worst nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine in 1986, a 1,000 square mile area surrounding the site has been off-limits to humans.

Over the years, wildlife has returned to the exclusion zone, which due to a lack of human disturbance, has become a thriving ecosystem. Scientists have observed brown bears, wolves, lynx, bison, moose, foxes, and many more wild animals in the area. Around 200 species of birds have also returned to the zone, including a particularly rare species of eagle.

But on February 24, the first day of the Ukraine invasion, Russian soldiers captured Chernobyl and troops have been massed there for 12 days. Experts suspect the strategic benefits of basing military operations in the exclusion zone are numerous–it is a largely unpopulated area, connected by a highway that heads straight to Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv. This means troops are likely to stay there for quite some time.

So what could be affecting wildlife in the exclusion zone amid the invasion?

Hunting and noise pollution

Timothy Mousseau, professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina, told Newsweek that military action in Chernobyl will be seriously affecting the wildlife that lives there “directly and indirectly.”

He said: “Although we are not entirely sure how many troops traversed the exclusion zone, based on the size of the military convoy heading to Kyiv, it was probably tens of thousands of men. One might expect these men to be hunting wildlife along the way.”

As well as the direct impact of hunting, noise pollution from thousands of troop vehicles will likely drive the wildlife away from the roads, Mousseau said.

He said if this disturbance continues, it is likely the wildlife will gradually move away from the zone, into adjacent areas.

Landmines

The military action could also pose more serious, long-term, risks to the area’s wildlife. The area may be carpeted with landmines, Mousseau said, which could pose a “very significant threat” to larger wildlife that roams the land, such as deer and bison, “for many years to come.”

This is because landmines cause land degradation, and through toxic explosives, damage soils’ and the surrounding environment.

Forest fires

“Military activity in this region could be very risky with respect to forest fires,” Mousseau said. “The region as a whole is a tinderbox and is filled with dead organic matter and trees that were killed but not burned by previous forest fires in the region. One incendiary device could spark a major forest fire in the region.”

Forest fires would drive wildlife straight out of the area and make the area inhabitable for some time.

A lack of research

Carmel Mothersill, professor and research chair in environmental radiobiology at McMaster University, Canada, told Newsweek that scientists “have no idea” what is happening, or what will happen to wildlife in the area.

The main concern is whether scientists will be able to continue research efforts in the area, which is vital for the long-term future of many species which live in the zone.

For years, the exclusion zone has been one of the only places on earth where scientists can collect data for re-wilding projects and assess the impact of radiation on wildlife. While Chernobyl may now be a thriving ecosystem, research continues to show that the radiation has harmed animals, birds, and insects.

“Many [researchers] have long term projects in the area. It is one of the few places on earth where recovery of ecosystems can be studied,” Mothersill said. “[The area] is crucial for re-wilding projects, for studies of adaptation, for efforts to restore biodiversity … Chernobyl allowed us to get field information about the impacts of radiation on species populations and ecosystems.”

For the long-term benefit of wildlife in the area, Motehrsill said it is “vital” that research in the area can continue.

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KNAU News Talk (Flagstaff, AZ)

AZ House passes bill to strip wildlife officials of authority to stop killings of endangered wolves

KNAU News Talk – Arizona Public Radio | By Associated Press, March 7, 2022

The Arizona House has passed a bill that would strip state wildlife officials of the authority to stop the killing of endangered

Mexican gray wolves in certain circumstances.

The Arizona Republic reports, the measure would bar the Game and Fish Commission from prohibiting a person from killing a wolf if the person feels threatened or if their livestock or pets are in danger.

The bill doesn’t specifically say that only the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can set rules for killing Mexican wolves, but that would be the result if it becomes law.

Opponents of the bill say it would cause confusion.

Mexican gray wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The bill now heads to the state Senate.

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Gilmore Health News

Scientists Create Framework for Identifying Most Endangered Marine Species

By Stan Martinez | Published on March 6, 2022

Conservation and policy efforts across the globe to protect marine species would be boosted by being able to spot those at most risk. A framework that will help in that regard has now been developed.

In collaboration with marine and taxonomic experts from across the globe, University of Queensland researchers put together the framework after a review of marine biology literature. They looked into a variety of threats that confront more than 45,000 marine species, ranging from fishing to pollution and climate change. The research appeared in the journal Ecosphere.

Endangered species

Researchers noted that the uniqueness of this framework lies in its use of biological traits or characteristics. It relies on these qualities to evaluate marine species’ vulnerability to particular stressors or threats, including climate change, fishing, and pollution.

The analysis brought to light species that are under most threats from different sources, researchers noted.

Molluscs, corals, and echinoderms, such as sea urchins, were found, in particular, to be subject to a wide variety of threats.

“They’re affected by fishing and bycatch, pollution, and climate change,” said Dr. Nathalie Butt of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Queensland.

The research also showed that flowerpot corals – native to the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Persian Sea – were being threatened by stressors. These species are, in particular, impacted by stressors linked to climate change, including acidification of the ocean.

Similar climate change-linked stressors, which exist in marine environments across the globe, more and more threaten flying fish, starfish, and sea snails.

“Roughly fishes are quite vulnerable to the effects of pollution, including organic, inorganic, and nutrient pollution, which was quite a surprise, as they live at a range of depths, including deep sea, which demonstrates how far the effects of pollution are spreading,” Butt said.

Protection of most vulnerable species

Actions taken by humans are ever more causing the environment to change for the worse. The rising rate of environmental change made this project necessary, the researchers stated.

Butt said that all information existing needs to be put into use to know and protect animals that are at risk. This new framework will offer some help in that regard.

By enabling the identification of specific stressors, the framework will guide conservationists and policymakers on the most fitting courses of action.

Carissa Klein, a fellow researcher, noted that it would promote more informed decisions and better allocation of resources to protect the most at-risk marine species.

According to the UQ associate professor, the research probed all currently known marine species and threats.

“The exciting thing is that we built the framework so that we could accommodate new information, whether that be about new species or information about threatening processes,” Klein said.

What this implies is that the framework could be applied in different places using specific species and threat information in these places to preserve the ocean.

(References: A trait-based framework for assessing the vulnerability of marine species to human impacts)

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Jurist (A collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh)

Federal appeals court clears plan to kill one owl species to protect another

Sarah Kimball Stephenson | U. Nevada Las Vegas School of Law, MARCH 6, 2022

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Friday allowed the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to implement a controversial policy to restore the northern spotted owl habitat by killing a limited number of barred owls from Oregon.

Northern spotted owls have been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1990. The USFWS concluded in 2011 that an increase in barred owls, which are native to the east coast but have expanded westward over time, may be contributing to the decline in spotted owl populations in Oregon. The two species compete for habitat and food resources, and barred owls have been seen acting aggressively toward spotted owls.

In 2011, the USFWS proposed a “barred owl management” plan, which created agreements with four landowners. The landowners agreed to conduct surveys of spotted owl sightings on their property and allow the USFWS to enter and remove barred owls in exchange for the right to continue harvesting timber from sites on the property where no spotted owls were sighted. The plan provided for the “lethal removal” of 3,600 barred owls. Environmental advocacy group Friends of Animals opposed this plan, claiming that the removal permits would not result in a “net conservation benefit” to the northern spotted owl population and could potentially harm the already-fragile spotted owl species with invasive removal tactics targeting the barred owl.

USFWS argued in response that, while the removal plan would not directly cause a “net conservation benefit,” it would allow the agency to study the relationship between the barred owl’s presence and the spotted owl’s decline, which would help them formulate a long-term strategy to bolster the spotted owl population. The Ninth Circuit panel agreed with this conclusion, holding that the policy “allowed the agency to obtain critical information to craft a policy to protect threatened or endangered species.”

The panel also ruled that the USFWS would not need to conduct another environmental impact survey, as this proposed plan was “adequately contemplated” when it was first proposed.

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VTDigger (Montpelier, VT)

Southeastern Vermont’s endangered species face elevated risk of extinction

By Ethan Weinstein, March 6 2022

Southeastern Vermont may be at an elevated risk of losing its endangered species.

A new study, published in the journal of Ecological Applications and led by the nonprofit NatureServe, revealed that some federally threatened species along the Connecticut River exist primarily outside of conserved areas, putting their continued existence at risk.

State biologists pointed to several aquatic animals and plants as species of unique concern.

“The reason that southeast Vermont shows up as a hotspot is the presence of the federally endangered Northeastern bulrush,” said Bob Popp, a botanist for Vermont Fish & Wildlife. The plant, also known as Scirpus ancistrochaetus, “has about two dozen populations in Windham and Windsor counties, but very few are on land that is protected.”

According to Fish & Wildlife zoologist Mark Ferguson, who focuses on aquatic biology, the endangered dwarf wedgemussel, found in the Connecticut River, has also been losing its hold on existence.

“Historic populations (of dwarf wedgemussels) have been eliminated due to damming on the river,” he said.

The species’ distribution has been reduced in the southern Connecticut River to just the stretch between Hartland and Springfield, according to the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

Although not factored into this particular study because they don’t face global extinction, Ferguson pointed to the brook floater and cobblestone tiger beetle as southeastern Vermont species at risk of disappearing locally.

On the national level, the Biden administration has set a goal of preserving 30% of the country to prevent the loss of biodiversity, and a similar movement has sprung up internationally.

Here in Vermont, Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury, has introduced legislation that seeks to localize the initiative.

H.606 hopes to “establish State goals of conserving 30 percent of the land of the State by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050,” according to the text of the bill.

The latest study from NatureServe sought to map more at-risk organisms and habitats than ever before, thus highlighting the areas of increased, imminent risk.

Bruce Young, chief zoologist and senior conservation scientist at NatureServe, helped lead the new study. He said the finer-scale resolution of the project’s maps set it apart from previous studies.

The study also accounted for “many more taxonomic groups” and weighted species based on the relative rarity of their distribution regions, he said.

By and large, the study’s maps show New England’s endangered species are at low to moderate risk compared to much of the country. Yet parts of Windsor and Windham counties along the Connecticut River show much higher risk than the rest of the state.

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WisPolitics.com (Madison, WI)

U.S. Sen. Johnson: Introduces legislation to delist gray wolf as endangered species

WASHINGTON –(March 5, 2022)—This week U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), along with U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) introduced bipartisan legislation to return management of gray wolf populations to states and delist the gray wolf as an endangered species in western Great Lakes states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, as well as Wyoming under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

“Wisconsinites must have a say in the management of gray wolves. In the western Great Lakes region, state wildlife agencies should manage the recovered population so the wolf’s ongoing role in the ecosystem does not come at the expense of farmers, loggers, sportsmen and people who simply live in these areas. Since 2015, I’ve fought to delist the gray wolf through multiple pieces of legislation and I will keep fighting until Congress passes a law that will codify the wolf delist administrative rulings that the Department of Interior under President Obama issued,” said Senator Johnson.

“I have supported a bipartisan effort to delist the gray wolf in Wisconsin since 2011 because of the scientific conclusion that the population has recovered in the Great Lakes region and that is why we should return management to the State of Wisconsin. This bipartisan legislation is the best solution because it is driven by science and is focused on delisting in the Great Lakes region, including Wisconsin,” said Senator Baldwin.

The legislation comes after a California federal court restored endangered species protection for the gray wolf in the lower 48 states, rolling back policies supported by the current and previous administrations. Since 2015, Sen. Johnson has advocated a narrow approach to delist the gray wolf and allow wolf management plans that are based on state wildlife expertise.

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KFOR/Oklahoma’s News 4 (Oklahoma City)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Two species of freshwater mussels should be listed as ‘threatened’ under Endangered Species Act

by: Kaylee Douglas/KFOR, Posted: March 4, 2022

WASHINGTON (KFOR) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the western fanshell (Cyprogenia aberti) and newly-identified species, the “Ouachita” fanshell (Cyprogenia cf. aberti), should receive Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections.

USFWS says habitat loss, degraded water quality, changes to river and stream flows, and construction of dams and other barriers are the primary threats to the species. Continued urbanization and the effects of climate change are also expected to intensify these threats.

They also say the fanshells should receive critical habitat and 4(d) rule protections.

Critical habitat is an area that contains essential habitat features for the survival and recovery of the threatened species. A 4(d) rule promotes conservation of that species by encouraging management of the landscape to benefit both land management and conservation needs.

The western fanshell is currently found in the Lower Mississippi-St. Francis, Neosho-Verdigris, and Upper White River basins, in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma and is considered locally extinct in the Lower Arkansas basin.

The Ouachita fanshell currently resides in the Lower Red-Ouachita basin in Arkansas and historically lived in Louisiana.

There is now a 60-day public comment period that closes on May 2, 2022.

The proposed rule and supporting documents are available for comment online at regulations.gov under docket number FWS–R3–ES–2021–0061.

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10 News/WBIR (Knoxville, TN)

Zoologists discover rare threatened bat along Norris Reservoir not seen for years in East TN

The TVA said it rediscovered a rare and old friend during a cave survey in East Tennessee: the northern long-eared bat.

Tom Barclay, Published March 3, 2022

NORRIS, Tenn. — Zoologists made an exciting find recently while surveying caves along the Norris Reservoir: a threatened bat species they had not seen in East Tennessee in years.

The Tennessee Valley Authority said its terrestrial zoologists have finally been able to resume pandemic-paused fieldwork and conducted cave surveys recently to check up on East Tennessee cave life. What they didn’t expect to find but were happy they did: a northern long-eared bat.

According to TVA, these bats are not only listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act but notoriously elusive.

“These bats are notoriously hard to find in caves. They’re tiny – they fit in the palm of your hand and hibernate in small crevices or cracks,” said TVA Terrestrial Zoologist Liz Hamrick.

Once relatively plentiful, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency reported their populations have dropped off by more than 98% in the state since 2010.

The reason the bats are considered threatened: white-nose syndrome. It’s a fungal disease that spread rapidly across most of the U.S. and is responsible for killing millions of bats in North America. The northern long-eared bat is one of the hardest-hit species, seeing a decline of nearly 99% of its species since the spread of the deadly fungus.

White-nose syndrome is primarily spread between bats, but the National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey said evidence shows there’s a strong possibility it spreads inadvertently from humans to bats because the fungus can be introduced into new caves from clothes and equipment. It’s not known to be harmful to humans, but it’s devastating to bats.

The TVA cautions people should not explore caves unless they have permission to and not to disturb the bats.

“Disturbing hibernating bats contributes to the decline of this species,” zoologist Jesse Troxler said. “Avoid trespassing in caves and, if you are authorized to explore a cave, take care to not disturb resting bats and disinfect your clothing and gear after each trip.”

Bats are ecologically important to East Tennessee and are critical for farmers as “pest control” since they eat insects that damage crops like moths and beetles.

The zoologists said they continue to monitor bat populations and collect swab samples for WNS. So far, there is no treatment for bats that have it.

“Our data collection supports studies across North America, and we remain hopeful that enough bats are able to survive with white-nose syndrome in their environment that we will start to see increases in populations in the near future,” Hamrick said.

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SciTechDaily.com

Endangered Shark Species Secretly Added to Pet Food – Identified by DNA Barcoding

By FRONTIERS, MARCH 3, 2022

Pet owners may unknowingly be feeding their pets with meat from endangered shark species, shows a new study published in Frontiers in Marine Science. The researchers used DNA barcoding to investigate the occurrence of shark in different pet food products purchased in Singapore, which revealed a considerable prevalence of ingredient mislabeling. They suggested implementing global standards for pet food labels to avoid overexploitation of endangered sharks.

If you ever read the ingredient list on your pet’s favorite food, you may come across ambiguous terms such as ‘fish’, ‘ocean fish’, or ‘white bait’. Have you ever wondered what exactly these ingredients are? A team of researchers at Yale-NUS College in Singapore analyzed pet food products purchased within Singapore and discovered that these terms may refer to endangered shark meat.

Shark population declines

Sharks are crucial for the functioning of healthy marine ecosystems. As apex predators, they are at the top of the oceanic food chain. Shifting their prey’s distribution, which changes the feeding strategy of other species, they maintain a balance of the food chain. The loss of sharks has led to the decline in seagrass beds and coral reefs.

The growing shark fin and meat trade is putting shark populations at risk. Research suggests that around 100m sharks may be killed annually. Overfishing is the biggest threat to sharks worldwide, and a lack of effective monitoring and management of fishing practices adds burden to vulnerable shark species.

“Shark populations are overfished throughout the world, with declines of more than 70% in the last 50 years documented. This is indicative of the current lack of regard in which we hold our oceans,” said authors Dr. Ben Wainwright and Ian French, of Yale-NUS College.

Shark meat in everyday products

A silent contributor to the decline in shark populations is the use of shark products in everyday products such as pet food and cosmetics. For example, many people may not know that certain body care and beauty products may use shark-derived squalene (as opposed to plant-derived squalane).

Research has also discovered shark meat in pet food products. A previous 2019 study found the occurrence of shark in 78 pet food samples collected within the US.

“Given the results of a previous study performed in the US, we wanted to see if endangered sharks are also sold in Asian pet food,” explained the authors.

The researchers used DNA barcoding to investigate whether there was shark DNA in 45 different pet food products from 16 different brands on sale in Singapore.

“None of the products purchased listed shark as an ingredient, using only generic catch-all terms such as ‘fish’, ‘ocean fish’, ‘white bait’ or ‘white fish’ to describe their contents,” said Wainwright and French.

Of the 144 samples taken, 31% contained shark DNA. The most identified sharks were the blue shark (Prionace glauca), followed by the silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis), and the whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus).

The silky shark and the whitetip reef shark are listed as ‘vulnerable’ in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The silky shark is also listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix II, which means that its trade must be controlled to avoid overconsumption that would threaten survival of the species.

Transparent labels

The results demonstrate the high overfishing pressure to which sharks are increasingly subjected.

“The majority of pet owners are likely lovers of nature, and we think most would be alarmed to discover that they could be unknowingly contributing to the overfishing of shark populations,” commented the authors.

The authors urge for more transparency in the ingredient labels of pet food products. Avoiding vague catch-all terms in ingredient lists to allow consumers to make informed purchasing choices and implementing global standards for pet food labels are two steps to avoid shark overfishing.

A higher accountability throughout human and pet food seafood supply chains is needed, which would mitigate unsustainable fishing and resource use incompatible with shark populations survival.

Reference: “DNA Barcoding Identifies Endangered Sharks in Pet Food Sold in Singapore” by Ian French and Benjamin J. Wainwright, 4 March 2022, Frontiers in Marine Science.

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Center for Biological Diversity

National Marine Fisheries Service Analysis: Chlorpyrifos, Diazinon, Malathion Jeopardize Dozens of Endangered Species

Southern Resident Orcas, Salmon, Steelhead, Sturgeon Gravely Imperiled by Three Widely Used Insecticides

WASHINGTON—(March 2, 2022)—The National Marine Fisheries Service released a revised draft biological opinion today finding that three widely used insecticides — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion — jeopardize the continued existence of dozens of endangered marine species, including salmon and Puget Sound orcas.

Today’s analysis echoes a previous biological opinion on the three pesticides released by the Fisheries Service in 2017. That opinion was disavowed by Trump political appointees, forcing the agency to redo its analysis.

In the five years since the 2017 analysis, the Environmental Protection Agency has continued to allow unchecked use of the three pesticides in the habitat of endangered plants and animals, despite its knowledge that these chemicals pose an extinction-level threat to many protected species.

“The National Marine Fisheries Service should be commended for following the science and confirming that these three toxic poisons are lethal for salmon and are pushing Puget Sound orcas closer to extinction,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Despite enormous pressure during the Trump administration, the Fisheries Service maintained scientific integrity and showed real courage in not bending to the will of the pesticide industry.”

The draft biological opinion concludes that chlorpyrifos and malathion jeopardize the continued existence of 37 endangered species and adversely modify the designated critical habitat of 36. It also finds that diazinon jeopardizes the continued existence of 26 endangered species and adversely modifies the designated critical habitat of 18.

The next step will be for the Fisheries Service to receive public comments and transmit its analysis to the EPA for implementation.

The Trump administration agreed to the pesticide industry’s demands that biological opinions must consider “usage data” — data widely considered to be incomplete and unreliable — in determining harm to endangered species.

After requiring countless staffers at the Fisheries Service, EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to review and assess usage data, the Fisheries Service explained in its opinion that “Usage data (data on past use) are not available at a useful scale to predict exposure to the threatened and endangered species” and that “NMFS concluded that usage data is not sufficient to represent the extent of pesticide use that will occur over the 15-yr period of the action, particularly given NMFS’ need to insure the action doesn’t jeopardize the species or adversely modify the habitat.”

The agency’s conclusion is supported by the fact that pesticide usage data is only collected at the state level and that existing federal law prohibits finer-scale collection of such data based on privacy concerns.

In contrast to the Fisheries Service’s scientific conclusions regarding usage data, its sister agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, continues to follow the industry-requested directives first set forth during the Trump administration.

For example, in a draft biological opinion on these three chemicals released in April, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined malathion would jeopardize only 78 of the more than 1,700 endangered species under its jurisdiction. That finding contrasts with an earlier draft conclusion — reached prior to the Trump administration’s intervention — finding that 1,284 species would be jeopardized by the pesticide.

In the coming days the Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to release a final biological opinion according to the terms of a legal agreement with the Center.

“As we commend the National Marine Fisheries Service for its excellent analysis of these pesticides’ impacts, we must also condemn the Fish and Wildlife Service, which has all but given up on trying to protect endangered species from these very same pesticides in these very same places,” said Burd. “We’ll continue to fight to protect scientific integrity and these critical biological opinions that provide a lifeline to orcas and salmon alike.”

BACKGROUND

As part of a legal agreement, the Fish and Wildlife Service was supposed to issue a biological opinion by the end of 2017 identifying ways to safeguard endangered species from chlorpyrifos, malathion and diazinon, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

In January 2017 the EPA completed its part of that process when it issued a biological evaluation determining that nearly all federally protected species are likely harmed by chlorpyrifos and malathion. It also found that more than three-quarters of all endangered species are likely to be harmed by diazinon.

The World Health Organization has found that malathion and diazinon are “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Following the EPA’s announcement, officials at Dow AgroSciences asked the Trump administration to suspend the assessments.

In May 2017 the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that after nearly four years of work, its draft biological opinion assessing the pesticides’ harms was nearly complete and would be ready for public comment within months. As career staffers at the Service were preparing to make the biological opinion available for public comment, they briefed Trump’s political appointees, including then-acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, on the results of the agency’s rigorous scientific review.

Following this briefing, top officials at the Department of the Interior, including Bernhardt, acted to indefinitely suspend the release of the Service’s assessment. The Trump administration’s unprecedented efforts to undermine those findings were highlighted in a New York Times investigation.

A document obtained by the Center through the Freedom of Information Act revealed the assessments were suspended after the top political appointees were briefed on the fact that the Service’s analysis had determined that chlorpyrifos jeopardized the continued existence of 1,399 protected species.

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Newsweek

De-Extinction Scientists Are Planning To Bring a Long-Lost ‘Tiger’ Species Back to Life

Orlando Jenkinson, March 1, 2022

De-extinction scientists are hoping to bring back a long lost “tiger” back to life, almost 100 years after the last of its kind died. Researchers are planning to use stem cells to create an embryo of the Tasmanian tiger that they can implant into a surrogate animal.

Tasmanian tigers, or thylacines were a type of marsupial that went extinct in mainland Australia around 3,000 years ago. They lived on in Tasmania until European settlers wiped them out in the wild through hunting. The last living Tasmanian tiger died in captivity in 1936.

Scientists with the University of Melbourne, Australia, have been working on a project to “de-extinct” the animals for years and new funding for a state-of-the-art laboratory has brought them to the brink of resurrecting this lost species.

A philanthropic donation of over $3.6m USD made to the university is expected to go to towards the Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research (TIGRR) Lab.

Tasmanian tigers, also known as Tasmanian wolves, were a predatory marsupial that shared some characteristics with modern-day dingoes or wild dogs in Australia. They were visually striking animals with distinctive stripes similar to zebras on their hindlegs.

Scientists working at the lab said the funding be used in three main areas in their de-extinction efforts: Greater understanding of the Tasmanian tiger’s genome, using the stem cells from other marsupials to make a thylacine embryo, and transferring it to a surrogate animal such as the mouse-like dunnart.

“The level of support we have for this project now I think it is conceivable that we could a thylacine-like cell within 10 years,” Professor Andrew Pask, from the School of BioSciences at the University of Melbourne, told Newsweek.

“It’s a big job and it needs some significant support to drive it. Fortunately we now have that. It is a bit like Jurassic park—we start with a living cell from a closely related species, in this case the dunnart—and we edit that cell to turn it genome into that of the thylacine. Once you have your ‘thylacine’ cell, you can use cloning technology to turn that cell into a living animal.”

Pask said that the donation would provide 10 years of funding for the TIGRR lab. Pask and his team helped sequence the Tasmanian tiger genome in 2017. This mapped out the DNA blueprint of the animal and provided a crucial first step on the road to bringing it back to life.

Pask said that Tasmanian tigers were a good candidate for de-extinction as they played a crucial role in balancing Tasmania’s ecosystems and could do so again if they were reintroduced.

“The thylacine was our only apex predator and its loss from the ecosystem destabilizes everything that sits beneath it,” Pask said. “A great example of this is Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease, which nearly wiped [that species] out. If you have these apex predators around like the thylacine—they pick off and eat the sick animals controlling the spread of diseases.”

He said that the gene-editing technologies advanced at the lab could also help protect other key marsupial species in Australia threatened by ecosystem changes and recent wildfires because they help safeguard biodiversity from being lost in the region.

The donation came from the Wilson Family Trust.

Russel Wilson told the University of Melbourne about the decision to fund the research: “We came across Professor Pask’s incredible work, believe it or not, via some YouTube clips on him talking about his research and passion for the thylacine and Australian marsupials. We realise that we are on the verge of a great breakthrough in science through improvements in technology and its application to the genome.”

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Science Daily

Endangered, new to science orchid discovered in Ecuador with the help of a commercial nursery

February 28, 2022

An astounding new species of orchid has been discovered in the cloud rainforest of Northern Ecuador. Scientifically named Maxillaria anacatalina-portillae, the plant — unique with its showy, intense yellow flowers — was described by Polish orchidologists in collaboration with an Ecuadorian company operating in orchid research, cultivation and supply.

Known from a restricted area in the province of Carchi, the orchid is presumed to be a critically endangered species, as its rare populations already experience the ill-effects of climate change and human activity. The discovery was aided by a local commercial nursery, which was already cultivating these orchids. The study is published in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.

During the past few years, scientists from the University of Gda?sk (Poland) have been working intensely on the classification and species delimitations within the Neotropical genus Maxillaria — one of the biggest in the orchid family. They have investigated materials deposited in most of the world’s herbarium collections across Europe and the Americas, and conducted several field trips in South America in the search of the astonishing plants.

The first specimens of what was to become known as the new to science Maxillaria anacatalina-portillae were collected by Alex Portilla, photographer and sales manager at Ecuagenera, an Ecuadorian company dedicated to orchid research, cultivation and supply, on 11th November 2003 in Maldonado, Carchi Province (northern Ecuador). There, he photographed the orchid in its natural habitat and then brought it to the greenhouses of his company for cultivation. Later, its offspring was offered at the commercial market under the name of a different species of the same genus: Maxillaria sanderiana ‘xanthina’ (‘xanthina’ in Latin means ‘yellow’ or ‘red-yellow’).

In the meantime, Prof. Dariusz L. Szlachetko and Dr. Monika M. Lipi?ska would encounter the same intriguing plants with uniquely colored flowers on several different occasions. Suspecting that they may be facing an undescribed taxon, they joined efforts with Dr. Natalia Olędrzyńska and Aidar A. Sumbembayev, to conduct additional morphological and phylogenetic analyses, using samples from both commercial and hobby growers, as well as crucial plants purchased from Ecuagenera that were later cultivated in the greenhouses of the University of Gdańsk.

As their study confirmed that the orchid was indeed a previously unknown species, the scientists honored the original discoverer of the astonishing plant by naming it after his daughter: Ana Catalina Portilla Schröder.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Endangered Bats From Methane Gas Pipeline

Kentucky Pipeline is Ratepayer-Funded Giveaway to Jim Beam Distillery

CEDAR GROVE, Ky.—(February 28, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity and Kentucky Resources Council filed a formal notice of intent to sue two federal agencies for failing to protect imperiled bats from harm threatened by the construction of the proposed Bullitt County Transmission Line in Kentucky.

The conservation organizations are challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s finding that the project will not jeopardize three bat species, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers’ Clean Water Act authorization for the pipeline.

The three species — Indiana bats, northern long-eared bats and gray bats — all rely on caves and other underground habitat for survival. All three species are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“The Service and the Corps completely ignored the presence of caves and threats to endangered bat cave habitat when they authorized this pipeline,” said Perrin de Jong, a staff attorney at the Center. “We’re here to say that sticking one’s head in the sand is not a method for avoiding extinction. Kentucky’s bats deserve better.”

The path of the proposed pipeline in eastern Bullitt County is laced with abundant karst caves and sinkholes, making it likely that listed bats use the project area as habitat. Documented sinkholes in the path of the pipeline also highlight the danger of a sinkhole collapse rupturing the pipeline, resulting in a fireball that could burn nearby homes and their occupants. Numerous Kentucky pipelines — and their neighbors — have suffered a similar fate in recent years.

“Relying on inadequate visual surveys by an LG&E contractor, the federal government failed to meet its legal obligations to protect these bats and their habitat,” said Ashley Wilmes, director of the Kentucky Resources Council. “The rubber-stamping of this pipeline project is particularly concerning given that LG&E’s plans to clearcut trees, impact water resources and destroy bat habitat — including within the Cedar Grove Wildlife Corridor — are primarily for the benefit of the Jim Beam distillery.”

Under the Endangered Species Act, the Service is required to examine all potential impacts to listed bats caused by construction of the pipeline, and both the Service and the Corps are duty-bound to avoid jeopardizing the survival of endangered species.

Local residents repeatedly told the agencies that the proposed pipeline’s path is laced with caves and sinkholes. However, the Service based its “no jeopardy” finding for listed bats on the conclusion that no caves or sinkholes exist in the project area.

Beam Suntory, the owner of Jim Beam, owns a distillery in eastern Bullitt County that the proposed pipeline would serve. In 2015 Beam Suntory approached the local utility, Louisville Gas & Electric, about a new gas pipeline to support an expansion at its distillery. When Beam Suntory learned that the pipeline would cost the company $25 million, the company refused to pay for it.

The next year, LG&E proposed to increase rates on local ratepayers to finance the pipeline, and the proposal was approved by the Kentucky Public Service Commission in 2017. The pipeline is now projected to cost ratepayers $74.2 million.

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Nature World News

Humpback Whales No Longer Endangered Species, But Experts Are Still Worried

By Rain Jordan, Feb. 28, 2022

Humpback whales will be removed from Australia’s threatened-species list after a strong recovery was determined by the government’s independent scientific panel on vulnerable species.

The species was nearly extinct due to whaling. However, since the 1980s, when the practice was largely phased out, the population has exploded.

However, conservationists caution that the creatures continue to face significant dangers such as pollution and climate change while their numbers have recovered, according to ABC.

Sussan Ley, the Environment Minister, said the adjustment was made after the independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee advised her that the humpback whale population had grown strong enough to be removed from the list.

“They looked at concerns like climate change and krill fisheries, as well as all of the other factors that affect the species’ population patterns,” she explained.

Potential Threats to Humpback Whales

Despite being delisted, the species is still protected in Australian seas under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act since it is a migratory species and a cetacean, according to Ms. Ley.

It is illegal to kill, harm, take, trade, maintain, relocate, or meddle with a humpback because of its protected status.

The delisting, according to Macquarie University marine biologist Vanessa Pirotta, could help focus more attention – and funding – on whale species that haven’t recovered as well as others.

“There’s been this impetus to celebrate the conservation of these creatures, but also to reassess their classification in terms of protection,” said Dr. Pirotta.

They will continue to monitor these populations with caution, allowing us to focus our conservation dollars on other species like the southern right whale.

Dr. Pirotta cautioned, however, that the delisting did not mean authorities could rest since whales face a variety of risks, including climate change.

“Ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, acoustic pollution, marine pollution, and, of course, climate change are some of the problems that whales face internationally,” she said.

Climate change is huge because it affects where these animals move, where their prey is distributed, and, regrettably, a drop in sea ice implies a reduction in Antarctic krill habitat, which is one of these humpback whales populations’ essential food supplies.

Maintaining Caution

It’s a mixed bag because you have a rebounding whale population, which is fantastic. Still, we also need to be cautiously hopeful and continue to watch this population in the future.

Last year, when the Department of the Interior was considering removing humpback whales from the endangered species list, several conservationists expressed worries that it was too soon.

Nicola Beynon, the campaign director for Humane Society International, was one of them, warning that delisting the whales was short-sighted owing to the significant threat presented by climate change.

Ms. Beynon said, “The resurgence of humpback whales that travel up and down the Australian coast is something to celebrate.”

She believes that a more cautious approach would have been preferable to delist the whales entirely and that the government should reconsider how the listing system works.

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EcoWatch

Urgent Action Needed on Climate Change Before Nature Is Unable to Adapt, New UN Report Warns

 Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, Feb. 28, 2022

A new scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a panel of 270 researchers from 67 countries called together by the United Nations, concludes that urgent action must be taken by countries to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions before the effects of climate change — which are already reshaping the planet in drastic and myriad ways — overcome the planet and humanity’s ability to adjust and acclimate.

The report is the most meticulous appraisal of the dangers of climate change to date, reported The New York Times. The countries of the world must do more to safeguard cities and vulnerable coastlines as the dangers of climate change increase, the study said. It examined the growing threats of climate change on the security of resources, infrastructure, health and ecosystem biodiversity, NBC News reported.

The IPCC report is “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, as The New York Times reported. “With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change.”

As the climate crisis continues to affect the planet and all its inhabitants, migration will become more commonplace. More than 13 million people in Africa and Asia were displaced by extreme weather in 2019, the report said, as reported by The New York Times.

“One of the most striking conclusions in our report is that we’re seeing adverse impacts that are much more widespread and much more negative than expected,” said ecologist at the University of Texas, Austin, Camille Parmesan, one of the researchers who put together the report, as The New York Times reported.

According to the report, water and food insecurity have become widespread, affecting millions across the globe, as droughts, heat waves and floods inundate the planet, reported NBC News.

“Overall, the picture is stark for food systems,” said professor of global development at Cornell University and one of the authors of the report Rachel Bezner Kerr, as NBC News reported. “No one is left unaffected by climate change.”

The report said “transformational” changes will need to be made not only in the way we get our energy, but in the methods used in the building of new homes, in the way we grow food and in the way we protect the environment, reported The New York Times.

The report cautioned that if the greenhouse gases from fossil fuel emissions aren’t drastically reduced, soon much of the world will not be able to adapt.

“With climate change, some parts of the planet will become uninhabitable,” said marine biologist and co-chair of Working Group II for the IPCC Hans-Otto Pörtner, as USA Today reported.

If the planet sees warming higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels, many countries may not be able to manage the costs of protecting coastal inhabitants from rising sea levels.

According to Kerr, in some places farming will become more challenging as increasing temperatures make it progressively more strenuous for farm animals and people who work outside, as reported by The New York Times.

As with many aspects of the climate emergency, poorer nations will suffer the most. Fifteen times more people were killed due to storms, floods and droughts in poor nations between 2010 and 2020 than in rich ones, according to the report.

“Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frog march to destruction — now,” said Guterres, as The New York Times reported. “This abdication of leadership is criminal.”

Although many world leaders have pledged to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the current trajectory is from two to three degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

“Beyond 1.5, we’re not going to manage on a lot of fronts,” said director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center and one of the authors of the report Maarten van Aalst, reported The New York Times. “If we don’t implement changes now in terms of how we deal with physical infrastructure, but also how we organize our societies, it’s going to be bad.”

One of the main points of the report is that natural adaptation to the pace of warming that the world is currently experiencing is unrealistic.

“There has been the assumption that, ‘Well, if we cannot control climate change, we’ll just let it go and adapt to it,’” Pörtner said, as The New York Times reported. But considering the anticipated threats of our warming planet, “this is certainly a very illusionary approach.”

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CBC/Radio-Canada (Toronto, ON)

Endangered moose, bird habitat protected on N.S. South Shore

Nature Conservancy of Canada has acquired 157 hectares of land on Port Joli pensinsula

Taryn Grant, CBC News, Posted: Feb. 27, 2022

Two pieces of land on Nova Scotia’s South Shore that provide habitat to some endangered animals are being protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The newly conserved land — nearly 160 hectares in total — is made up of salt marshes, tidal flats, beaches and Wabanaki-Acadian forest. It connects with existing protected areas on the Port Joli peninsula, including Thomas Raddall Provincial Park.

Andrew Holland, spokesperson for the nature conservancy, said the protection is strategic.

“It’s not easy to find larger tracts of lands, wetlands, forests and coastal areas that have been unspoiled, so you’ve got to seize the opportunities as they come up, no matter the size,” Holland said.

The mainland moose and piping plover, both considered endangered by the provincial government, are known to live in the Port Joli area. Holland said it’s also a “hotspot” for many migratory bird species.

Forty-seven hectares of land was donated, and 110 hectares came at a cost of about $400,000 — a figure that includes the purchase of the land, as well as legal fees, staff time and contributions to stewardship endowment funds, among other costs.

Money for the conservation project came from a variety of sources, which Holland said “gives a sense of the importance.”

Those funding the project include the federal and provincial governments, local businesses and individuals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also chipped in through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.

Earlier this month, the Nature Conservancy finalized a deal to protect another swath of land in southwestern Nova Scotia — nearly 1,100 hectares next to Indian Fields Provincial Park and close to the Tobeatic Wilderness Area.

That area is also home to several endangered species, including lichens and birds.

Holland said protection of endangered, rare and at-risk species is the nature conservancy’s priority.

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The Guardian

‘It’s not rocket science’: how the world’s fastest parrot could be saved

Adam Morton, Climate and environment editor, 27 Feb. 2022

While swift parrot numbers plunge, their Tasmanian breeding grounds are still being logged. It’s a recipe for extinction, experts say

What if a critically endangered bird could be given a shot at survival by protecting 7% of Tasmanian native forests earmarked for logging?

And what if the forestry industry had – for different reasons – already argued that logging should be reduced by roughly that amount?

That’s the case made in a proposal that ecologists and environmentalists believe could halt the steep decline of the swift parrot, a migratory species that experts say could be extinct in 10 years if no action is taken.

Monitoring the world’s fastest parrot is challenging. It spends the winter in Victoria and New South Wales before nesting in different parts of Tasmania each summer, depending on where its main food source, the blue gum, is flowering.

But no one disputes that swift parrot numbers have slumped. A CSIRO-published birds guide released in December puts the population at about 750, down from 2,000 roughly a decade ago.

A new report released by BirdLife Australia, the Wilderness Society and the Tasmanian group the Tree Projects says the primary cause is the loss of large, hollow-bearing trees used for breeding.

It cites a peer-reviewed study that found nearly a quarter of Tasmania’s southern old-growth forests were logged between 1997 and 2016 – evidence, it says, of a systemic failure by the state government to act on repeated scientific advice that protecting parrot habitat was crucial for the species to survive.

Dr Jennifer Sanger, a forest ecologist with Tree Projects, says while the parrot faces other threats, including predation from sugar gliders and worsening bushfire risk due to the climate crisis, habitat loss from logging remains the “number one” issue.

“Unfortunately what we’ve seen from the government is inadequate policies over the past decade that have been exacerbating the decline,” she says. “The habitat is still being logged.”

The Tasmanian Liberal government says it has an answer. In late 2020 it released a policy, known as the public authority management agreement, under which it has promised to set aside 9,300 hectares of southern forests from logging.

The report, On the Edge of Extinction, argues this is misleading as 69% of the newly set aside area was already excluded from logging, either due to operational constraints or parts of it already being in reserves.

In reality, it says, the new policy would stop logging in only 2,900ha, and leave other areas with the mature trees the swift parrot relies on available to the forestry industry. Scientific advice to the government says all swift parrot foresting and nesting habitat on Tasmanian public land should be protected to give the species a chance.

This is not a new argument but the report includes what the groups say is a new calculation of what this would mean. It says a swift parrot protection plan would require the industry to give up just 7% of the forest area on state land available for logging. It would protect 40,000ha more mature forest and 20,000ha of regrowing forest that could provide future habitat.

It says this could be achieved by listening to the board of the state-owned forestry business, Sustainable Timber Tasmania, which in 2016 told the state government logging was not profitable if it had to meet a legislated quota of providing 137,000 cubic metres of sawlogs a year. It called for this to be cut to 96,000 cubic metres – a 30% cut in timber supply.

The call by the industry body was rejected by the state resources minister, Guy Barnett. The Liberal state government was elected in 2014 on a platform of ending a Labor-Greens “peace deal” brokered between the industry and environmentalists after decades of conflict and expanding native forestry to support jobs in regional communities. Barnett says the existing sawlog quota could be met by selling timber for higher prices while looking for lower cost areas of forest to log.

The groups behind the report say the quota should be dropped entirely, but that reducing it to the level nominated by Sustainable Timber Tasmania could be enough to stabilise parrot numbers. Sanger says it would also help other species, and retain a significant amount of carbon stored in the state’s mature wet eucalyptus forests.

“In a perfect world there would be no native forest logging, but to protect the parrot they really don’t have to do much,” she says. “At the moment they are doing nothing, really.”

Asked about the report last week, the Tasmanian environment minister, Roger Jaensch, said cutting the legislated sawlog quota was “not part of our thinking”. He said the government had committed $1m to implement priorities from a swift parrot recovery plan and he was getting advice from officials on how that money should be spent. “We’ve already made significant changes to harvesting arrangements in areas where there is swift parrot habitat,” Jaensch said.

Suzette Weeding, a general manager with Sustainable Timber Tasmania, says the current policy is a “significant step forward” in swift parrot protection, the agency “recognises its responsibility as a land manager” and a management plan including additional measures is being developed. She suggests the industry’s economic circumstances have changed since it called for the sawlog quota to be reduced in 2016.

Sustainable Timber Tasmania’s annual reports show it has posted an operating profit for the past four years. The economist John Lawrence says it would have recorded losses if not for accounting measures and government grants.

Dr Eric Woehler, an ecologist and the convenor of BirdLife Tasmania, says the government and agency’s plans do not go far enough to halt the “catastrophic decrease” in parrot numbers, and the strength of the report is that it “basically aligns with what the industry has asked for”.

“What it shows is that, with some strategic thinking and planning, we are in a position to ease the pressure on a critically endangered species,” he says. “It’s not rocket science.”

The only thing standing in the way, according to Woehler, is “political unwillingness”.

“The problem is well-known, has been for decades, and we’ve seen a weakening of protection and a business-as-usual approach to land management in the state,” he says. “It’s a recipe for the extinction of a species.”

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MSN/MarketWatch

New studies again target Wuhan market, not lab, for COVID-19 origin

Rachel Koning Beals, February 26, 2022

Scientists released two extensive studies on Saturday that again point to a market in Wuhan, China, as the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, the New York Times reported.

The two reports, totaling about 150 pages, have not yet been published in a scientific journal.

The researchers analyzed data from a range of sources to uncover how the virus first took hold. They concluded that the coronavirus was present in live mammals sold in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in late 2019.

Even in the early days of the pandemic, speculation — and plenty of cultural insensitivity and racism — emerged suggesting that Chinese “wet markets” were a probable source of origin. The markets offer wild animals — endangered species in some cases and sometimes sold live — as cuisine.

The new research suggests that the virus was spread to people working or shopping at the market. And the researchers said they found no support for an alternate hypothesis that the coronavirus emerged from a lab in Wuhan.

U.S. President Joe Biden had ordered that intelligence agencies probe how the virus emerged. Biden said that U.S. intelligence focused on two scenarios—whether the coronavirus came from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.

Interaction between humans and animals, often forced because of lost biodiversity on top of market sales, is neither exclusive to this outbreak nor likely to become less controversial absent intervention in coming years, environmentalists have warned since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most scientists see a link between deforestation and habitat change to pandemics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.

From Zika to West Nile, Ebola to SARS, Nipah to COVID-19, deforestation has had a hand in many of the world’s worst viral outbreaks as lost habitat brings animals in closer contact with humans.

“Due to anthropogenic activities, we are substantially increasing our exposure to pathogens we have never been exposed to, and thus we’re not prepared to respond to. We’re doing this in two main ways: bringing wildlife too close to us [such as markets], or us getting too close to wildlife [by way of overdevelopment],” Daniel Mira-Salama, senior environmental specialist in the World Bank’s Beijing office, has said.

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The Oregonian

Agency to decide if rare toad in Nevada warrants endangered species protection

Associated Press, Published: Feb. 26, 2022,

RENO, Nev. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed as part of a settlement with environmentalists to decide by April 4 whether a rare toad warrants endangered species protection in wetlands next to a geothermal plant being built in Nevada.

The agency’s lawyers signed the agreement this week with a conservation group that has filed a related lawsuit to block construction of Ormat Technologies Inc.’s geothermal power plant about 100 miles east of Reno.

The dispute is among a growing number of conflicts over wildlife protection and/or tribal rights on federal lands that the Biden administration faces as it pursues its agenda to combat climate change by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.

The Center for Biological Diversity and a Nevada tribe won a federal court order in Reno last month temporarily blocking construction of Ormat’s project east of Fallon.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals stayed that order Feb. 4 pending full consideration of Ormat’s appeal. The Reno-based company broke ground last week. The San Francisco-based appellate court is considering hearing oral arguments on the appeal in June.

Ormat had said it might be forced to abandon the project if it couldn’t begin work there by Feb. 28. Vice President Paul Thomsen said this week the new listing agreement won’t affect its plans.

The Center for Biological Diversity’s new settlement with the Fish and Wildlife Service is similar to one it secured last year regarding listing deadlines for a desert wildflower the agency has since proposed for endangered status at a lithium mine planned midway between Reno and Las Vegas.

Neither Tiehm’s buckwheat nor the Dixie Valley toad is known to exist anywhere else in the world.

“We’re thrilled that the Dixie Valley toad is being put on the fast-track for protection,” said Patrick Donnelly, the center’s Great Basin director.

It first petitioned for the toad’s listing in 2017. Donnelly said it’s the toad’s “last, best chance to avoid extinction.”

“Bulldozers are already destroying the toad’s habitat and preparing for a massive groundwater pumping operation that could dry up the only wetland where it lives,” Donnelly said.

Geothermal power is generated from hot water deep beneath the earth.

The Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit that claims the power plant will “turn a unique, remote desert oasis into an industrial site,” says the site is sacred to their people who have lived there thousands of years.

Thomsen said in an email to The Associated Press the mitigation plan the company spent six years developing to offset any potential environmental impacts “is not dependent on whether the toad is listed under the Endangered Species Act.”

“Ormat has long recognized the importance of conserving the Dixie Valley toad, regardless of its legal status,” he said, adding that “we remain fully committed to the sustainable development of renewable energy projects in the state of Nevada and around the world.”

Part of the foundation of future efforts to produce more “green” energy in the U.S., conservationists generally back such efforts but argue projects like the geothermal plant and a pair of lithium mines planned in Nevada shouldn’t be built if they can’t comply with federal environmental laws.

Lithium is an especially important mineral on the Biden administration’s energy agenda because it’s needed to manufacture batteries for electric vehicles.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden highlighted his efforts to counter China’s dominance in the electric battery market and bolster domestic production of lithium when he announced a $35 million in assistance to MP Materials to extract lithium from geothermal brine in Southern California near the Nevada line.

Meanwhile, his administration also announced it was delaying decisions on new oil and gas drilling on federal land after a U.S. judge in Louisiana blocked the way officials were calculating the real-world costs of climate change.

In the West, the drilling is often challenged by conservationists who say it will harm a variety of fish and wildlife, including the imperiled greater sage grouse.

Protection of grouse habitat also is part of a legal battle at another lithium mine planned in Nevada near the Oregon line.

Several tribes who have joined that suit also say Lithium Nevada’s Thacker Pass project is on land where dozens of their ancestors were massacred by the U.S. cavalry in 1865. That case also is now before the 9th Circuit.

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Maui Now

Draft Recovery Plan proposed for 50 endangered and threatened species in Hawaiʻi

February 26, 2022

Fifty endangered and threatened species in the Hawaiian archipelago are included in a draft recovery plan published by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This covers 35 plants, 13 invertebrates, and two birds.

Recovery plans are roadmaps that the Service and partners use to prevent extinction of species and support their recovery.

This draft recovery plan is available for public comment and will be made available until April 25, 2022.

Hawai’i is home to some 578 species protected under the Endangered Species Act, with many found nowhere else in the world.   Of the 50 species covered by this draft recovery plan, 48 are endangered under the ESA, meaning they are currently at risk of extinction.

The ESA defines threatened as species at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future. All of the plants and animals in the draft recovery plan face similar threats – habitat loss, introduced disease and non-native and invasive predators like rats, cats and pigs. In addition, climate change is exacerbating and accelerating these threats across Hawai’i and the Pacific Islands.

“This recovery plan for 50 species underscores just how important proactive, community-based partnerships are to our work in preventing extinctions and supporting recovery,” said Shannon Estenoz, Fish and Wildlife and Parks Assistant Secretary. “Collaborative recovery plans are especially important in places like Hawai’i, where we face significant conservation challenges including growing threats from invasive species and habitat loss, which are amplified by climate change. We look forward to continuing our important work with conservation partners in Hawai’i to preserve its unique biological heritage for future generations.” 

Plants are foundational to the unique island ecosystems of Hawai’i, and the 35 plants in this draft recovery plan co-evolved in isolation with the archipelago’s endemic wildlife. One of the two bird species in the draft recovery plan, the ʻiʻiwi, a scarlet-colored honeycreeper, developed its long, curved bill specifically for pollinating the lobeliads and other flowers unqiue to Hawai’i. Many other Hawai’i plants and animals share a similar symbiotic relationship, depending on each other for survival.

Like many endemic species, the ʻiʻiwi was once protected from invasive predators and disease. Today, forest birds like the ʻiʻiwi are threatened by avian malaria, a mosquito-borne disease that can kill a bird after one bite from an infected, non-native mosquito. Many forest birds like ʻiʻiwi are able to thrive in higher elevated areas where mosquitoes cannot survive, but rising temperatures caused by climate change are shrinking those protected areas and putting species like ʻiʻiwi in increasing danger. 

Recently the Service proposed removing 23 species from the ESA due to extinction, with nine of those once found in Hawai’i. Most of the species listed were in such decline or existed in such low numbers they did not have a chance to benefit from the protections provided by the ESA. 

In the Pacific Islands, natural resources are cultural resources as well, and when they disappear, so do their important roles in our heritage and communities. Now more than ever, it is important to work with our partners to protect Pacific Islands wildlife and plants for future generations.

The ESA has been extraordinarily effective in preventing extinctions, with more than 99 percent of all listed species still with us today. The ESA has also spurred unprecedented partnerships on behalf of wildlife conservation in America, with diverse states, federal agencies, private landowners and stakeholders coming together to conserve and recover listed species and their habitats. In total, 54 species have been delisted and 56 downlisted due to recovery since the ESA was passed into law in 1973. Recovery plans are an important tool in achieving recovery and preventing extinction. 

The draft plan will be available for public comment for 60 days. An electronic copy of the draft recovery plan is available at our website. Copies on CD are also available by request from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office. 300 Ala Moana Boulevard, Room 3­122, Honolulu, HI 96850; telephone 808-792–9400.   

To request additional information or submit written comments, please use one of the following methods. 

*Written comments and materials may be submitted to the field supervisor:  Attention: 50 Hawaiian Species Draft Recovery Plan, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, at the above Honolulu address. 

*Comments may be sent by email to megan_laut@fws.gov. Include “50 Hawaiian Species Draft Recovery Plan Comments” in the subject line. 

In order to be considered, comments on the draft recovery plan must be received on or before April 25. All comments and materials received will become part of the public record associated with this action. The USFWS will accept comments received or postmarked on or before April 25.

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The Guardian

South Africa grants permits to hunt 10 critically endangered black rhino

Government says black rhino population is growing and also gives permission to hunt 10 leopards and 150 elephants

Agence France-Presse, 25 Feb. 2022

The South African government has granted annual hunting and export permits for big game including 10 critically endangered black rhinoceros and a similar number of leopards.

It also gave permission for more than 100 elephants to be killed, in keeping with international laws on the trade of endangered species, saying its elephant population was growing and that fewer than 0.3% were hunted each year.

“A total of 10 black rhino may be hunted and 150 elephants,” the forestry and environment ministry announced.

In countries such as Botswana, trophy hunting is used to fund conservation.

Black rhino are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as critically endangered. But numbers of black rhino in the wild have doubled to more than 5,000 from a historic low three decades ago.

The government said its allocated quota for rhino was based on population estimates, “which show an increasing trend at present”.

Poaching of white rhino reached crisis levels between 2014 and 2017, when a thousand were killed on average each year. Those numbers dropped by half to 451 last year.

The animals are slaughtered for their horns, which are smuggled into Asia where they are mistakenly believed to have medicinal benefits.

The South African government said leopard hunts would be restricted to animals aged seven years and older, and allowed only in regions where the large cat populations were “stable or increasing”.

Hunting is big business in South Africa, bringing in around 1.4bn rand ($92m) in 2019, the government said.

Proceeds from government-approved annual hunting quotas go towards local marginalised and impoverished rural communities where the hunts happen.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Peppered Chub Placed on Endangered List

Great Plains Fish Gets 872 River Miles of Critical Habitat in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma

SILVER CITY, N.M.—(February 25, 2022)—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added a fish called the peppered chub to the endangered species list today. The agency also designated 872 river miles of critical habitat in New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma for the chub, a 3-inch-long, torpedo-shaped fish of the Great Plains.

Peppered chubs are on the brink of extinction. They survive only in the upper South Canadian River in northern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle and in a tributary creek, comprising about 6% of their historic range. That river stretch is gaining pollution and losing water to drought.

“Peppered chubs are barely getting this lifesaving protection in time,” said Michael Robinson at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Under the Endangered Species Act, habitat protection, captive breeding and reintroduction can keep these exquisite fish from going extinct.”

Today’s actions resulted from a 2020 lawsuit filed by the Center after the peppered chub and 240 other declining animal and plant species were left in limbo with no Endangered Species Act protection. WildEarth Guardians petitioned for its protection in 2007.

The critical habitat consists of 197 miles of the upper South Canadian River and Revuelto Creek in New Mexico and Texas, which support the sole remaining population; 400 miles of the lower South Canadian River in Texas and Oklahoma; and 275 miles in the Cimarron River in Oklahoma.

“Peppered chubs once shared their rivers with thirsty bison, but their habitat has been overexploited and now these fishes are in deep trouble,” said Robinson. “We can retain a small but beautiful part of the circle of life on the Great Plains through this endangered listing and critical habitat protection, and I’m relieved and grateful.”

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Newsweek

Hundreds of Yellowstone Bison Are About To Be Slaughtered

Orlando Jenkinson, February 25, 2022

Hundreds of bison are due to be killed in Yellowstone National Park in the coming weeks, the National Park Service (NPS) confirmed on Tuesday.

Between 600 and 900 of the animals will be hunted or moved on with the cooperation of Native American tribes and the wider public as park authorities look to keep the numbers of bison in Yellowstone at a manageable level.

In a Facebook post, the NPS in Yellowstone said that operations to control bison numbers in Yellowstone began on February 13 at a northern part of the park called Stephens Creek, near Gardiner in Montana.

“Bison capture and shipping operations begin when bison migrate from the interior of the park into the Gardiner (Montana) Basin and may continue through late March,” the post read.

There are around 5,450 bison in Yellowstone, divided between two herds. The Northern Herd breeds in the Lamar Valley and surrounding plateaus, while the Central Herd breeds in Hayden Valley.

Bison were once abundant across large areas of North America but were hunted to near extinction by colonial settlers and the U.S. army in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Settlers killed the animals for meat, sport and as part of their efforts to kill or subdue the Native American peoples living in the West who depended on the animals for their way of life.

Conservation efforts launched in the 20th century have seen the number of bison rebound dramatically in the U.S. An estimated 30,000 of the animals now live in managed herds across the country, while hundreds of thousands more are kept on private land as livestock.

Yellowstone National Park said that the cull of the bison would be done in three main ways: The hunting of bison who roam outside of the park by Native American tribes and the wider public, the capture of and transferral of bison near the park’s borders to tribal people for processing, and the Bison Conservation Transfer Program, which moves healthy bison onto tribal lands.

The land in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming that makes up Yellowstone National Park has deep links to Native Americans who lived there for centuries before settlers arrived.

Numerous Native American tribes including the Blackfeet, Kiowa, Nez Perce, Cayuse, Coeur d’Alen and Shosone have historical ties to the region. The United States Geological Survey said that many of the trails now used by park rangers and public visitors in Yellowstone are Native American relics dating back as far as 12,000 years ago.

The NPS video announcing their decision to cull between 600 and 900 bison included a statement explaining their decision: “Bison from Yellowstone don’t have enough room to roam outside the park. As the population grows, more bison migrate. This migration can cause conflict. Safety concerns include property damage and disease transmission to cattle. Our goal is to preserve bison while addressing these concerns.”

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MLive (Grand Rapids, MI)

Wolves are endangered again, but pressure for a Michigan hunt remains

By Sheri McWhirter, Published: Feb. 23, 2022

GAYLORD, MI – Hunting proponents this week pressed Michigan wildlife regulators to lock and load plans for a wolf hunt, even after a federal judge recently restored endangered species protections to the apex predator.

Hunting and trapping advocates said the gray wolf going back onto the U.S. Endangered Species List crushed their hopes for a public Michigan hunt of the wild canines as early as this autumn. Now they want state wildlife regulators to get rules ready for a wolf hunt across the Upper Peninsula, just in case federal protections are ever dropped again.

A lengthy and often boisterous debate happened this week around a conference table at Treetops Resort in Gaylord, where the volunteer Michigan Wolf Management Advisory Council gathered for two days of talks. The group began work seven months ago on recommendations for the state Department of Natural Resources as it updates Michigan’s wolf management plan.

DNR officials are legally responsible to oversee control of wolves when they are de-listed, and to protect the species under federal law when under endangered species safeguards.

Farmer Richard Pershinske, the only Yooper on the council, said he had hoped for a wolf hunt in Michigan as soon as this fall and was disappointed when a federal judge in California earlier this month ordered the species back under federal protections.

“I just want this all in place so that when the de-listing occurs, we’re ready to go. Because they can frig around and spend 10 months doing something that should be done, you know, in a month’s time,” he said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service moved to de-list gray wolves across most of the country in late 2020, which prompted lawsuits by environmental and animal rights groups. DNR officials have since then said a wolf hunt couldn’t happen again in Michigan until the state’s wolf plan was updated and the legal status of the species was more permanently settled.

The last wolf hunt in Michigan was in 2013.

The only council member who voted against recommending the DNR pursue wolf hunt plans was Beatrice Friedlander, board president for Canton-based nonprofit Attorneys for Animals.

She argued the recommendation should not have been considered until the council’s March meeting in Sault Ste. Marie, when wolf hunt opponents planned to attend and make public comments. Friedlander argued the hunting and trapping question should have waited until it was listed as “old business” on the agenda.

Others on the council said they’d grown impatient and were tired of delaying the decision.

Mike Thorman, of the Michigan Hunting Dog Federation, said a host of “stakeholders are hammering our head already,” and want an answer to whether state regulators will pursue hunting plans.

“Everybody expects this to be voted on tomorrow, all our stakeholders,” Thorman said during the first day of talks.

Friedlander said “rushing this process” was a disservice to the public because whether to allow a hunt is the most important part of their recommendation for the state plan.

“The hunt proponents are not interested in updates to the science which will be available at the March meeting. They do not want to hear the DNR biologists’ updates tomorrow and then have time to craft recommendations to be presented at the March meeting, a process we have followed in every other case,” she said.

During a meeting break, DNR workers checked an audio recording of January’s council meeting in Escanaba, when the past chairperson apparently agreed to allow the wolf hunt recommendation vote to happen in February.

This month, council member Miles Falck of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission could not drive from his home in Wisconsin to attend this week’s meetings in Gaylord because of a snow and ice storm that prevented safe travel. He said the council’s hunting recommendation vote happening this month frustrated him both because he agreed with Friedlander that it was not the agreed upon process, and he wasn’t allowed to participate remotely.

“Especially in this age with the pandemic and everybody’s familiarity using video conferencing now. There’s just no reason why that shouldn’t be an option to participate,” Falck said.

He also underscored how Great Lakes Indigenous tribes do not support a wolf hunt.

The wolf management advisory council’s complete recommendations are expected to be finalized in May. The group will next meet March 15-16 in Sault Ste. Marie.

State wildlife officials last updated the gray wolf plan seven years ago, but since 2008 the DNR’s principal goals remained to maintain a viable wolf population, facilitate wolf-related benefits, minimize wolf-related conflicts and conduct “science-based and socially acceptable management of wolves.”

Council member Amy Trotter, executive director of nonprofit hunting organization Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said during this week’s session she wanted language about what constitutes socially acceptable hunting and trapping methods to be struck from the plan.

“My recommendation is to take out kind of the dimensions of what’s socially unacceptable, or things like that comment, just say, what is legal and not legal. Refer to the state statute,” she said.

More details about wolves in Michigan can be found at https://bit.ly/3IeY5Br online.

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Science X/PhysOrg

Rare hammerhead sharks found in Australian waters

by University of Western Australia, February 21, 2022

A new study by researchers at The University of Western Australia has found a critically endangered species of hammerhead shark in Perth metropolitan waters, further south than previously recorded.

The presence of a recurrent aggregation of scalloped hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini) within Perth metropolitan waters has conservation implications for the species, according to lead author Naima Andrea López, a Ph.D. candidate at UWA’s Marine Futures Lab.

The research team conducted weekly drone surveys over two summers in waters south of Perth to document the status of the aggregation.

The study, published in Austral Ecology, identified the aggregating sharks as scalloped hammerheads, a critically endangered species of hammerhead shark that typically inhabits the tropical region of Australia and has rarely been recorded south of Jurien Bay.

The species is currently listed as conservation dependent in Australia under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act), although its conservation status is currently under review.

Ms López collected more than 90 hours of hours of aerial video footage over the course of two years, which allowed her to identify, count and measure the animals.

The aggregation was reliably seen during the months of January and February, and the average length of the sharks was approximately 1.5 meters, making them sexually immature juveniles.

Ms López said that Australia should take a precautionary approach when reviewing the conservation status of the species until the southern extent of the distribution of scalloped hammerhead sharks in Western Australia could be more clearly established.

“The presence of this aggregation so far south appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon that may indicate a poleward shift in the distribution of the species as a result of warming oceans and expose these animals to greater fishing pressure,” Ms López said.

Co-author Professor Jessica Meeuwig said the current catch of scalloped hammerheads in Western Australia was unknown and relying on historical catch composition data to understand current catches may be invalid.

“Until the contemporary composition of commercial and recreational hammerhead catches can be verified, both the State and Federal governments should strengthen protection of the species, especially at their aggregation sites,” Professor Meeuwig said.

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EcoWatch

Bison Restoration on Tribal Lands Has Cultural, Ecological and Economic Benefits, Study Finds

 Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, Feb. 21, 2022

Certain sounds are ancient, like the thunder of bison hooves across the prairie that turn the Great Plains into a giant drum. The American bison, our national mammal, was hunted to near extinction beginning in the early 1800s, and by late that century, less than a thousand remained.

The largest land-dwelling mammal in America, bison aid in balancing and maintaining a healthy ecosystem and help to create habitat for many species, including plants and birds. Their hooves aerate the soil, dispersing seeds and helping plants to grow.

Widespread restoration of bison to Northern Great Plains Tribal lands can help support food sovereignty and aid in the restoration of the prairie ecosystem, according to a new study, a South Dakota State University press release stated. Impacts on agricultural systems due to climate change may also be reduced by the presence of bison.

The study, “The Potential of Bison Restoration as an Ecological Approach to Future Tribal Food Sovereignty on the Northern Great Plains,” was published last month in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

“The buffalo is important to Indian communities, to our people culturally and ecologically to our lands,” said the president of the InterTribal Buffalo Council and Blackfeet buffalo manager Ervin Carlson, the press release said. “We know bringing them back will not only heal our people but also help us with the changes we see on our grasslands due to drought.”

Once, 30 to 60 million bison traveled across the Great Plains and were a main source of hides and meat, driving the economy of many Plains Indian Tribes. In an attempt to destroy the Tribal members’ livelihood, mass hunting of bison was encouraged by the U.S. government. As bison numbers dwindled in the late 19th century, the Tribes lost their main source of food and were driven onto reservations.

“The herds today are small and isolated. Today there are about 350K Plains bison in production herds, 30K in public herds and about 20K bison in tribal herds,” Hila Shamon, lead author of the study and a landscape ecologist and mammalogist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, told EcoWatch in an email.

“Bison are a social species and rely on their herd to survive; an evolutionary strategy to maximize fitness. They group together for predator vigilance, collective foraging and learning,” Shamon said.

Bison are “megaherbivores” — large herbivores that weigh more than 1,000 kilograms — and are important contributors to the grassland system of the prairies, South Dakota State University reported. The physical impact of bison and other animals on the environment modifies it in such a way that it creates habitat for different species.

As they graze, wallow and trample, bison make the landscape more habitable for hundreds of prairie species in different ways.

In the wake of the bison’s grazing, grasses of differing heights provide birds with nesting grounds, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Some birds even line their nests with bison fur.

As the great bison wallow, they create holes that fill up when it rains, turning their wallows into amphibian breeding pools and water troughs for other prairie species. Several rare and medicinal plants also rely on these indentations in the land to grow.

“Bison’s movements drove nutrient cycles, altered vegetation structure and fire regimes that in turn supported other prairie species. They are considered ‘ecosystem engineers’,” Shamon told EcoWatch.

“Today, most bison are no longer free roaming and are kept in production or conservation herds. However, they can still have an impact on the landscape. Studies show that under some management schemes, bison can have positive impacts on riparian vegetation restoration, and create heterogenous grasslands that can support many grassland specialists,” Shamon said.

Grasses are shorter where bison commonly graze, and prairie dogs dine on these shorter grasses and dig their burrows there, World Wildlife Fund reported. When bison make their way through the deep snow of a Great Plains winter, the paths they forge become “highways” for elk and pronghorn antelope, among other inhabitants who stick around through the winter months. As they dig through the snow, bison also make the hidden prairie grass available for animals who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access it.

“Prairie species evolved alongside bison, an iconic animal central to Plains Indian culture and communities for centuries,” said Shamon, as reported by South Dakota State University. “Against the backdrop of a changing climate, continued and new research is needed to develop bison restoration and land management strategies that maximize biodiversity and address the complex socio-economic and ecological needs of Native Nations.”

For thousands of years, Great Plains Tribes used every part of the bison — including the hides, bones and horns — for food and to make clothing, shelter, tools and musical instruments, and for other specialized uses.

“Buffalo are central to our community,” said study co-author and faculty member at the Aaniiih Nakoda College Daniel Kinsey, as South Dakota State University reported. “Fort Belknap reintroduced buffalo in the late 1970s, and we are fortunate to have such a successful program that is a product of hard-working people. It is my duty to connect our students, the younger generation, to the buffalo and the ecosystem and to work with students to incorporate our traditional knowledge into the present research. We recently established a new ʔíítaanɔ́ɔ́nʔí/Tatag ́a (bison in Aaniiih and Nakoda languages respectively) Research and Education Center for this purpose.”

Bison are an extremely adaptable species able to adjust to high temperatures and lack of water. Despite their size, bison’s needs are not as great as those of cows when it comes to taking refuge in the shade and seeking water; thus, where bison graze, grassland streams are not overrun with sediment.

“Bison are adapted to the climate of the Great Plains,” Shamon told EcoWatch. “Their physiology is what makes them tolerant to extreme weather.”

Compared to the rest of the country, the Northern Great Plains is becoming disproportionately warm and dry due to climate change, reported South Dakota State University. This will put the region’s agricultural system and the prairie ecosystem at risk as the climate crisis continues. Impoverished prairie communities that depend on the environment for their livelihoods will face a greater possibility of hardship.

“What we provide in this research article are successful solutions that are implemented on Indigenous lands. Many of those solutions may be applicable on other properties and some may not. The key is maintaining a high level of diversity and innovation to enhance sustainable solutions to climate change impacts,” said director of research for the Center of Excellence for Bison Studies at South Dakota State University Jeff Martin, as South Dakota State University reported.

The quality of the land on Native American reservations is often less than optimal and poverty and food insecurity disproportionately affect Tribal communities.

“In rural Native American communities, poverty is two to three times higher than in white rural communities, and, despite much of the grasslands being used for agriculture, Native Americans are twice as likely to be food insecure than white people and are 25% more likely to remain food insecure in the future,” reported South Dakota State University.

Restoration of bison herds on the Tribal lands of the Great Plains strongly correlates with the establishment of food sovereignty for the Plains Indians. However, the numbers of bison that would be needed to attain both restoration of herds and food sovereignty for Tribes are yet to be achieved, South Dakota State University reported.

“A reintroduction plan entails a feasibility assessment. There are certain criteria that need to be met in terms of habitat requirements, population genetic viability, social tolerance, and funding. Every reintroduction is unique and needs to be tailored to a specific community and place,” Shamon told EcoWatch.

According to South Dakota State University, theories derived from both commercial and conservation bison herds may need to be used for the successful reintroduction of bison on Tribal lands.

“Future bison reintroduction success requires merging the concepts of conservation and commercial herds or the growth of both herds until production meets local community food demands and conservation meets ecosystem service needs,” reported South Dakota State University.

The study recommended that management strategies for the reintroduction of bison on Tribal lands include “Indigenous and cultural knowledge” and be in keeping with the preservation of the bison’s “wild nature” for commercial and conservation herds. It also recommended monitoring how the reintroduction of bison affects an area’s biodiversity based on agreed upon monitoring and assessment standards.

“We are renewing our relationship with the buffalo as our relative, they are central to our lives,” said study co-author and member of the Pt’e stakeholder group, Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Roxann Smith, as South Dakota State University reported. “Together, our community is reclaiming our traditional ways and piecing our ecosystem together again as we heal together.”

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Forests News

New research details complexity of growing risks to endangered pangolins

JULIE MOLLINS, 21 Feb. 2022

A dietary delicacy in some countries in Africa and Asia, the pangolin is also prized for its scales, which are used in folk and traditional remedies to treat various ailments.

Although pangolins are protected by international laws under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), estimates indicate that more than a million pangolins have been illegally trafficked worldwide since 2013.

Research published recently in the journal Biological Conservation reveals that Nigeria has become a central intercontinental hub through which the scales of an estimated 799,300 pangolins have been shipped en route to Asia between 2010 and September 2020.

Although Nigeria is a party to CITES and has other national legislation designed to prevent illegal commercial trade in endangered species, the country has been involved in more reported pangolin trafficking incidents than any other African country.

Illegal wildlife trade diminishes animal populations, threatens food security and livelihoods in local communities, endangers public health through the spread of zoonotic diseases, and undermines the rule of law due to organized criminal networks and institutional corruption, said Daniel Ingram, a postdoctoral researcher at Britain’s University of Stirling, member of the IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group, and an author on the paper.

Of the eight pangolin species, four occur in Africa, and four occur in Asia. All are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

“By putting patterns of pangolin trafficking in Nigeria under scrutiny, policies can be developed to enhance law enforcement to protect wild species threated by trans-national trade,” Ingram said, adding that illegal trade in pangolins during the study timeframe involved 21 other countries, including nine in Africa, nine in Asia and three in Europe.

The team of researchers — also from the University of Cambridge, Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), University of Oxford and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Nigeria Program — analyzed three data types, including pangolin seizure records and results of interviews, to reach their findings.

They observed that Nigeria’s law enforcement efforts to tackle pangolin trafficking increased from 2017.

“Our study demonstrates the complexity of the global illegal pangolin trade and amplifies the need for concerted conservation efforts and stronger law enforcement, backed by inspection equipment, inspection officers and sniffer dogs at seaports and borders,” Ingram said.

“COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions likely reduced trafficking in 2020, but activities have already resumed.”

LOCAL TRADE

In addition to demand for scales from Asia, in parts of West and Central Africa, pangolin meat is still consumed as part of rural subsistence diets.

They can also be found in urban bushmeat markets in Cameroon (and elsewhere in the region) where they are consumed as a luxury, despite being illegal in many cases, said Ingram, who is a senior author on a new research paper published in the African Journal of Ecology  and released to coincide with World Pangolin Day on Saturday.

All three species of pangolin found in Cameroon were available in the market. Most were the arboreal, white-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis), but pieces of the endangered giant pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) were also found, according to the research, which was a collaboration between researchers at the Universities of Stirling, Cameroon’s Yaoundé I, Britain’s St. Andrews, and Denmark’s Aalborg, the Zoological Society of London – Cameroon, and the Central Africa Bushmeat Action Group.

By monitoring pangolin trade, the authors observed a decline in the average daily number of arboreal pangolins available in 2017 compared to 2020.

Despite this, during surveys undertaken over a six-month period in 2020 — during the height of COVID-19 lockdowns worldwide — arboreal pangolins were continually available across the survey period, and most pangolins were alive.

Despite COVID-19 and national bans banning the trade of pangolins, they were still regularly and openly offered for sale in the capital city, Ingram said.

REMEDIES AND FETISHES

Pangolins are used in some traditional remedies and ritual practices in West Africa, including in Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, but little is known about the ways in which pangolins are traditionally used in other West African countries.

In a second paper published in the African Journal of Ecology on World Pangolin Day, Ingram shares results collated from a vast range of sources, including historical reports, legal documents, and interviews with wildlife experts and traditional hunters in Mali.

Pangolins have been available on the fetish market in the country’s capital Bamako — where wild animal body parts are sourced for traditional remedies and ritual practices — at least in 2008.

Authors suggest that more research is needed to understand whether these practices still occur.

“Pangolins also featured in Malian ritual arts, where they are depicted in the tyiwara headdresses of the southern region from around 1980, suggesting some level of cultural significance,” Ingram said.

“Evidence from several sources suggest that at least two species of pangolin may occur in the far south of Mali, currently not listed on the IUCN Red List.”

The research was conducted by researchers affiliated to the Universities of Stirling, Linfield, Southern New Hampshire in the United States, and the École Pratique des Hautes Études in France.

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Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, OH)

Dazzling Ohio brook trout at the risk of extinction

Dave Golowenski, Special to The Columbus Dispatch, February 20, 2022

Brook trout require cool, clear, clean water.

The Buckeye state lacks that, and so the Ohio Division of Wildlife recently recommended the trout, found natively in a single pocket in a single Geauga County stream, should be downgraded to endangered.

Currently, the dazzling fish is listed as threatened.

“We watched trout in a couple of our streams go away recently. That induced a sort of panic,” said Paul Pira, biologist with the Geauga (County) Park District and a longtime “brookie” admirer. “So, I guess I was behind a push to change the brook trout listing.”

Brook trout found a home in northeastern Ohio some 10,000 years ago when Lake Erie was forming — a reservoir of cool water left behind by the retreat of melting glaciers. Steams in the nearby land were quickly surrounded by forest, which lessened soil runoff, mitigated floods and shaded stretches from the sun and summer heat.

Fish were not forced to contend with lawn chemicals or wastewater either.

For centuries brook trout flourished until, that is, European settlers started cutting down trees, turning soil and dirtying streams.

Not long afterward, most of the indigenous Ohio brook trout were gone.

By the mid-1800s, trout could be found in only two northeastern Ohio stream systems. Their habitat further degraded, no brook trout were noted in either when naturalists looked a century later.

Suburban growth may doom efforts to save native brook trout in Ohio

A sort of reprieve for the species occurred in 1972 when a researcher identified two reproducing colonies from the original strain of the genetically distinct Ohio brook trout in the headwaters of the Chagrin River. By 1993 one of the colonies had been eradicated as the result of stream degradation caused by home building.

With but a single cluster of reproducing native brook trout remaining, the wildlife division responded by identifying 15 streams in which establishing self-sustaining populations of the fish seemed worth a try. Stocking efforts began in 1997.

Things seemed to go well for a time, Pira said, but changing land use, coupled with more frequent heavy rainfalls, a recognized outcome of climate change, thwarted the effort.

Consequently, 15 sites “are down to three,” Pira said.

One of the three sites is the last remaining refuge of native trout holding an Ohio pedigree, untainted thus far because of care taken to avoid any mixing with stocked specimens. Recent work to improve that habitat, occurring on an 800-foot stretch owned by the park district and including the deepening of some pools, went well, Pira said.

Meanwhile, renewed restoration efforts are possible at “five of 10 streams where natural reproduction had previously been documented,” said Scott Hale, the wildlife division’s executive administrator of fish management and research.

Growing to only about 6 or 8 inches in Ohio waters and off-limits to fishermen, the fish is lovely to behold, and its loss would leave the landscape emptier. That has to drive additional efforts to not let it disappear.

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Ohio State News

How vacation photos of zebras and whales can help conservation

Scientists use AI to analyze images of wildlife for crucial data

Jeff Grabmeier, Ohio State News, February 20, 2022

Vacation photos of zebras and whales that tourists post on social media may have a benefit they never expected: helping researchers track and gather information on endangered species.

Scientists are using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze photos of zebras, sharks and other animals to identify and track individuals and offer new insights into their movements, as well as population trends.

“We have millions of images of endangered and threatened animals taken by scientists, camera traps, drones and even tourists,” said Tanya Berger-Wolf, director of the Translational Data Analytics Institute at The Ohio State University.

“Those images contain a wealth of data that we can extract and analyze to help protect animals and combat extinction.”

A new field called imageomics is taking the use of wildlife images a step further by using AI to extract biological information on animals directly from their photos, said Berger-Wolf, a professor of computer science and engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State.

She discussed recent advances in using AI to analyze wildlife images and the founding of imageomics in a presentation Feb. 20 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She spoke at the scientific session “Crowdsourced Science: Volunteers and Machine Learning Protect the Wild for All.”

One of the biggest challenges that environmentalists face is the lack of data available on many threatened and endangered species.

“We’re losing biodiversity at an unprecedented rate and we don’t even know how much and what we’re losing,” Berger-Wolf said.

Of the more than 142,000 species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the status of greater than half are not known because there is not enough data, or their population trend is uncertain.

“If we want to save African elephants from extinction, we have to know how many there are in the world, and where they are, and how fast they’re declining,” Berger-Wolf said.

“We don’t have enough GPS collars and satellite tags to monitor all the elephants and answer those questions. But we can use AI techniques such as machine learning to analyze images of elephants to provide much of the information we need.”

Berger-Wolf and her colleagues created a system called Wildbook that uses computer vision algorithms to analyze photos taken by tourists on vacation and researchers in the field to identify not only species of animals, but individuals.

“Our AI algorithms can identify individuals using anything striped, spotted, wrinkled or notched – even the shape of a whale’s fluke or the dorsal fin of a dolphin,” she said.

For example, Wildbook contains more than 2 million photos of about 60,000 uniquely identified whales and dolphins from around the world.

“This is now one of the primary sources of information scientists have on killer whales – they are data deficient no longer,” she said.

In addition to sharks and whales, there are wildbooks for zebras, turtles, giraffes, African carnivores and other species.

Berger-Wolf and her colleagues have developed an AI agent that searches publicly shared social media posts for relevant species. That means many people’s vacation photos of sharks they saw in the Caribbean, for example, end up being used in Wildbook for science and conservation, she said.

Together with information about when and where images were taken, these photos can aid in conservation by providing population counts, birth and death dynamics, species range, social interactions and interactions with other species, including humans, she said.

This has been very useful, but Berger-Wolf said researchers are looking to move the field forward with imageomics.

“The ability to extract biological information from images is the foundation of imageomics,” she explained. “We’re teaching machines to see things in images that humans may have missed or can’t see.”

For example, is the pattern of stripes on a zebra similar in some meaningful way to its mother’s pattern and, if so, can that give information about their genetic similarities? How do the skulls of bat species vary with environmental conditions, and what evolutionary adaptation drives that change? These and many other questions may be answered by machine learning analysis of photos.

The National Science Foundation awarded Ohio State $15 million in September to lead the creation of the Imageomics Institute, which will help guide scientists from around the world in this new field. Berger-Wolf is a principal investigator of the institute.

As the use of AI in analyzing wildlife images continues to grow, Berger-Wolf said, one key will be to make sure the AI is used equitably and ethically.

For one, researchers have to make sure it does no harm. For example, data must be protected so that it cannot be used by poachers to target endangered species.

But it must be more than just that.

“We have to make sure that it is a human-machine partnership in which humans trust the AI. The AI should, by design, be participatory, connecting among the people, among the data and among the geographical locations,” she said.

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New York Times

After Mounting a Comeback, Eagles Face a New Threat

A study of hundreds of bald eagles and golden eagles showed that nearly half of them had chronic lead poisoning.

By Maria Cramer, Feb. 19, 2022

The bald eagle, whose resurgence is considered one of the great conservation success stories of the 21st century, is facing a serious threat: lead poisoning.

Researchers who tested the feathers, bones, livers and blood of 1,200 bald eagles and golden eagles, another bird of prey in the Northern Hemisphere, found that nearly half of them had been exposed repeatedly to lead, which can lead to death and slow population growth.

Scientists believe that the primary source of the lead is spent ammunition from hunters who shoot animals that eagles then scavenge, usually during the winter, according to the study, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.

Nearly a third of the birds tested also showed signs of acute poisoning, or short-term exposure to lead, according to the study, which was led by scientists from the United States Geological Survey, Conservation Science Global, Inc. and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The effects of lead poisoning are devastating, said Vincent A. Slabe, the lead author of the study and a research wildlife biologist for Conservation Science Global in Montana.

Lead poisoning can prevent an eagle from digesting food properly, eventually leading to starvation, he said. It can cause loss of locomotion so severe that an eagle will lose the ability not only to fly, but also to move at all, he said.

“Lead can affect every single system of an eagle’s body — their respiratory system, their digestive system, their reproductive system,” Dr. Slabe said.

The study, which examined bald eagles and golden eagles from 38 states, is the first to look at the effects of lead poisoning on the bird populations on such a large scale, said Todd E. Katzner, a research wildlife biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey.

The research also showed that poisoning slowed down population growth rates by about 4 percent for bald eagles and 1 percent for golden eagles, which number about 35,000. The population of bald eagles is now above 300,000, according to researchers.

“These percentages seem small, but, over time, thousands and thousands of individual birds are being removed from the population” because of lead poisoning, Dr. Katzner said.

Bald eagles decades ago had been killed off largely by the widespread use of the synthetic insecticide DDT. A ban on DDT in 1972 and conservation efforts helped the population to rebound, with the bald eagle being removed from Endangered Species Act protection in 2007.

Dr. Slabe said he hoped the report’s findings would help to educate hunters and encourage more of them to switch to lead-free ammunition.

“This is 100 percent human caused and totally preventable,” said Laura Hale, president of the Badger Run Wildlife Rehab in Klamath Falls, Ore., whose organization has taken in bald eagles, golden eagles, and different species of hawks that were poisoned by lead.

In 2018, the group tried to save an eagle that a hunter had found in the woods and was unable to fly and gasping for air. When Ms. Hale told the hunter that the eagle most likely became sick from feeding on contaminated gut piles — the remains left behind after a hunter strips the animal’s carcass of its meat — she said that he was stricken.

“He was horrified,” Ms. Hale recalled. “He wanted to stop hunting.”

Ms. Hale said she told him that he did not have to stop hunting; he needed only to stop using lead ammunition.

Many hunters, concerned about effects not only on wildlife, but also on game meat consumed by humans, have been moving away from lead ammunition and have begun using copper bullets.

Sporting Lead-Free, a hunters and anglers group based in Wyoming that seeks to raise awareness about the adverse effects of lead ammunition, posted a short film with testimonials from hunters who stopped using it.

“Hunters are conservationists,” said Bryan Bedrosian, a co-founder of Sporting Lead-Free and a raptor biologist. “This does not need to be a polarizing issue.”

Some hunters hesitate to switch ammunition because of tradition, a mistaken belief that copper bullets are less effective, or because they have a backlog of lead bullets, he said.

“Then there are still folks who just don’t know,” said Mr. Bedrosian, who says he uses lead bullets at the range, where he knows the ammunition will not come into contact with wildlife.

Hannah Leonard, the group’s outreach coordinator, said she hunted with lead bullets until four years ago, when she came upon an emaciated golden eagle hobbling on the ground while she was hunting in Anaconda, Mont.

“Her talons were really clenched, her wings were drooped,” Ms. Leonard said. “You could tell she was in danger.”

The eagle later died and Ms. Leonard said the animal rescue group she called to try and save the bird told her the cause of death was lead poisoning.

“It was a no-brainer for me to switch” types of ammunition, she said.

In January 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a policy to phase out the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle used on national wildlife refuges, one of the last acts by the Obama administration. The Trump administration reversed the decision less than two months later.

On Friday, the service declined to say whether that policy would be reinstated as a result of the new study.

There has been a nationwide ban on the use of lead shot for hunting waterfowl since 1991, according to the service.

California prohibits the use of lead ammunition statewide, including on federal land, largely to prevent adverse impacts of lead on the California condor, which is endangered.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses the best available scientific data to conserve wildlife populations and evaluate compatible uses on the lands that we manage, as well as under applicable local, state and federal laws,” Vanessa Kauffman, a spokeswoman for the agency, said on Friday.

Dr. Slabe said that hunters, once they were educated, would voluntarily stop using lead ammunition.

“Hunters are very receptive to this issue,” he said. “Hunters are the solution to this problem.”

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The Durango Herald (Durango, CO)

Bipartisan bill would extend Colorado and San Juan River conservation programs

 Legislation would help protect four threatened and endangered fish species

By Aedan Hannon, Herald Staff Writer, Feb. 18, 2022

A bipartisan bill led by Colorado Sen. John Hickenlooper would extend a two-decades-long conservation effort on the Colorado and San Juan rivers.

Hickenlooper, D-Colo., and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, introduced the Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins Recovery Act in the Senate on Thursday to bolster the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery and San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation programs. The legislation would extend the two programs by one year and give communities more time to develop long-term management plans for the fish species they protect.

“We must protect native fish in the Upper Colorado and San Juan River. This bill shows how states, tribes, federal entities and water users can come together to get things done,” Hickenlooper said in a news release.

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery and San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation programs aim to recover and protect four threatened and endangered fish species: humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.

The four fish species are endemic to the Southwest, meaning they are found nowhere else, but they have faced threats from invasive species, water development and drought, among others.

“These are long-standing populations, many of them unique to our rivers, and it really does demonstrate the importance of our river ecosystems for maintaining these healthy populations,” said Aaron Kimple, San Juan headwaters program coordinator for Mountain Studies Institute.

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery and San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation programs were established in the late 1980s and early 1990s with cooperative agreements between public land agencies, states, tribes and other stakeholders. Their goal was to balance fish conservation with continued water development.

Both programs study, monitor and stock the fish. Federal, state and tribal agencies have modified water releases from reservoirs to maintain the habitat needs of the fish while other projects have constructed fish passages for spawning migrations and removed predatory fish.

At the same time, about 2,500 water projects have been developed with the Endangered Species Act compliance the programs have provided, according to a 2018-19 report.

The decades long conservation efforts have largely been successful with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommending the downlisting of the razorback sucker and humpback chub from endangered to threatened in 2018.

But the added threat of climate change could affect these fish populations, with the razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow and bonytail still reliant on active management from the agencies and their partners.

“As we get into a changing climate, we’re looking at potentially changing water temperatures (and) changes in streamflow and timing of streamflow,” Kimple said. “… Really, the climate change component will be an additional challenge for those populations.”

Rep. Joe Neguse, who leads the U.S. Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands and introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives in August 2021, cited climate change in his call for legislation to extend the programs.

“In the West, unprecedented drought and climate-induced wildfires have drawn great urgency to the way we steward and protect our water resources,” Neguse, who represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Boulder and Fort Collins, said in a news release. “That’s why we introduced the Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins Recovery Act to ensure that critical water infrastructure projects in Colorado can continue operating while we protect and safeguard endangered species in these river basins.”

Hickenlooper and Romney’s legislation would authorize the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to continue funding and implementing the programs through 2024, allow for the transfer of funds from the San Juan Basin to the Upper Colorado River program and extend the U.S. Department of Interior’s reporting deadline for metrics like recovery goals and expenditures.

The House Natural Resource Committee passed the bill in November.

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Star Tribune

Rehabilitated sea turtle ‘Sheldon’ released off Florida Keys

Associated Press, FEBRUARY 18, 2022

MARATHON, Fla. — Just in time for sea turtle mating season in the Florida Keys, a rehabilitated male loggerhead turtle was released Friday off Pigeon Key.

“Sheldon,” named by his U.S. Coast Guard rescuers, was discovered earlier this month near the Old Seven Mile Bridge. The 230-pound (105-kilogram) reptile was rehabilitated at the Keys-based Turtle Hospital after being found entangled in crab trap line.

“It’s mating season in the Florida Keys, it’s important to get this massive male turtle back out to sea so that he can begin mating and help preserve the species,” Turtle Hospital general manager Bette Zirkelbach said.

Based on his size and the circumference of his head, Zirkelbach estimates Sheldon is at least 50 years old, well into his prime as a sexually reproductive male.

Treatment at the turtle rescue facility included wound care, antibiotics and a diet of mixed seafood. Loggerheads have received federal protection ever since they were listed as threatened in 1978 under the Endangered Species Act.

Before being released, Sheldon was fitted with a satellite transmitter tag by research scientists from the Summerland Key-based Mote Marine Laboratory. Sheldon’s tagging illustrates the importance of being able to see how these turtles are doing once they are released back into the wild, since males don’t return to beaches where they emerged as hatchlings, a Mote official said.

The public can track Sheldon’s movements online.

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The Maui News

Plan aims to save 44 endangered species in Maui Nui

They face loss of habitat, threats from predators and climate change

COLLEEN UECHI, Managing Editor, February 17, 2022

Federal officials are mapping out a roughly $6.5 billion plan to help bring back 44 endangered species across Maui Nui, including 40 kinds of plants, three tree snails and one yellow-faced bee.

All of the species in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s draft recovery plan face similar threats — habitat loss, introduced disease and nonnative and invasive predators like rats, cats and pigs. Climate change is also exacerbating and accelerating these threats across Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.

“Recovery plans are an important step towards the rehabilitation of a species,” Earl Campbell, Pacific Island Fish and Wildlife Office field supervisor, said in a news release Wednesday. “Hawaii is unique because many of the native and endemic species evolved for centuries in isolation, free from threats.”

Hawaii is home to 578 species protected under the Endangered Species Act, with many found nowhere else in the world. The 44 species covered in the draft plan are listed as endangered under the act and are currently at risk of extinction, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The 40 endangered plants include grasses, herbs, shrubs and vines found throughout Maui Nui, with some potentially wiped out completely at this point, according to the draft recovery plan.

One of the three snail species, the Newcomb’s tree snail, is found on Maui, while two species of pupu kani oe, or the Lanai tree snail, are found on Lanai.

The hilaris yellow-faced bee has been found in coastal habitats on Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

The plan provides a road map for conservation officials to control threats in the habitats of the endangered species, document their population size, preserve some in safe locations such as a nursery or seed bank if needed and meet population benchmarks that will help remove the species from endangered lists.

“Conservation strategies include addressing threats of invasive species, disease and habitat loss that are being amplified by effects of climate change,” Campbell said. “These challenges showcase how important it is to continue working with our conservation partners, as we strive to preserve our native and endemic species for future generations.”

Plants are foundational to the unique ecosystems of the Hawaiian Islands, with many plants co-evolving in isolation with the archipelago’s endemic wildlife, the Fish and Wildlife Service said. The 40 plants addressed in the recovery plan are losing their habitat and populations to animals, disease and even other plants.

Introduced ungulates, like deer and other hooved mammals, are destructive to the native vegetation in all the occupied or suitable habitats of the 40 plant species as they create trails that damage native vegetation cover, destabilize substrates causing erosion, injure roots and seedlings through trampling, create gullies that contribute to flooding and promote invasion of nonnative species through transportation of seeds.

Invasive plant species, threats of fire and drought, disease and predation from rodents and insects also threaten the 40 plants.

Rapid ohia death is an example of a disease that poses an ongoing threat to ohia lehua, an important canopy tree in forest habitats that are home to endangered plants and animals. Killing individual trees as well as groups of trees, the disease is present on Maui and poses a significant threat to ohia on Lanai and Molokai if it were to become established on those islands, the Fish and Wildlife Service said. Other disease threats include myrtle rust and powdery mildew.

Yellow-faced bees, meanwhile, face threats such as introduced ants, which interfere with pollinators by consuming large quantities of nectar without pollinating the plant.

Preliminary cost estimates for recovery of the species top $6.5 billion, including:

  • $1,646,260,000 to protect habitats and control threats in management units.
  • $924,500,000 to control species-specific threats.
  • $3,536,473,720 to expand the distribution of existing wild populations and establish new populations.
  • $407,200,000 to conduct additional research essential to recovering the 44 species and restoring their habitats.
  • $29,450,000 to implement regulations and policy to support species recovery.

If the recovery efforts are fully funded and followed as outlined in the plan, it could take 25 to 95 years to meet the recovery criteria depending on the species.

The Maui Nui draft recovery plan is available for public comment for 90 days. To view the plan, visit ecos.fws.gov/docs/recovery_plan/Maui_Nui_Draft_RP_20211217_Signed.pdf.

Copies on CD are also available by request from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, at 300 Ala Moana Blvd., Room 3122, Honolulu, HI 96850, or by calling (808) 792-9400.

Requests for more information or written comments can be mailed to the field supervisor at the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office in Honolulu by mail marked with “Attention: 44 Maui Nui Species Draft Recovery Plan.” Or, they can be emailed to megan_laut@fws.gov with “44 Maui Nui Species Draft Recovery Plan Comments” in the subject line.

Comments must be received or postmarked on or before May 16. All comments and materials received will become part of the public record associated with the recovery plan.

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Courthouse News Service

Joshua tree survives challenge to California endangered species classification

A judge found sufficient evidence the trees are endangered.

EDVARD PETTERSSON / February 16, 2022

(CN) — A California judge on Wednesday rebuffed an attempt by a group of business organizations to prevent the western Joshua tree from being included on the state’s list of endangered species.

Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan in Fresno denied a request by the California Business Properties Association and other construction and farming groups to order the state to remove the tree as a “candidate” for protection under the California Endangered Species Act, which makes it illegal to cut the trees down for real estate development without a special permit.

The 2020 decision by the state’s Fish and Game Commission to provide interim protection to the trees until a final review by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, expected in April, was supported by sufficient evidence, Kapetan found.

“Joshua trees and their fragile desert ecosystem just scored a huge victory,” Brendan Cummings, conservation director with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Before state protections took effect, developers were bulldozing Joshua trees by the thousands to build roads, power lines, strip malls and vacation rentals.”

Mark Harrison, an attorney representing the business groups, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the ruling.

The Center for Biological Diversity asked the California Fish and Game Commission to put the trees on its endangered species list in 2019, after the Trump administration declined to provide federal protection to the trees.

The growing popularity of Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California has spurred a building boom in the town of Joshua Tree and adjacent communities, according to the conservation group. As a result, many of the namesake trees have been cut down to make way for vacation rentals and second homes.

Not far off in the Mojave Dessert, a similar construction boom is occurring in Hesperia and surrounding areas where new warehouse projects and other industrial facilities are being proposed in Joshua tree woodlands, according to the center.

Aside from construction, the trees face threats from climate change and wildfires.

Joshua trees are dying off because of hotter, drier conditions, with very few younger trees becoming established, the center said. In 2019, scientists projected the Joshua tree will be largely gone from its namesake national park by the end of the century.

A federal judge ruled in 2021 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acted in a way that was “arbitrary, capricious, contrary to the best scientific and commercial data available, and otherwise not in accordance with the ESA” in its decision not to list the tree under the Endangered Species Act. Although the government initially filed a notice of appeal of that ruling, it dropped the appeal late last month.

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CBS News

Humans are driving a rare Texas plant that serves as an important food source for bees and butterflies “to the edge of extinction”

By LI COHEN, February 15, 2022, CBS News

Prostrate milkweed, a rare plant native to Texas and northeastern Mexico, is part of an import support system for bees and monarch butterflies. But now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering naming the plant an endangered species as humans destroy their critical habitats.

USFWS proposed the endangered species listing on Monday, saying they made their proposition based on the “best available status.”

Chris Best, a USFWS botanist in Texas, said that the prostrate milkweed’s flowers “attract and support native pollinators,” including large bees and wasps, and that it serves as a host plant for monarch butterflies.

“Unfortunately, this species is negatively impacted by competition from introduced buffelgrass and increased development in its native Tamaulipan shrubland habitat,” Best said.

The agency also pointed to humans for depleting the resource, saying that root-plowing, border security and enforcement activities, energy development, road and utility construction, and right-of-way maintenance have resulted in habitat loss and degradation.

To help conserve the plant, the service has proposed nearly 700 acres of critical habitats in eight occupied areas in Starr and Zapata counties near the Rio Grande. Those areas were decided upon because they have features that are essential for the species’ conservation.

Currently, there are just 24 populations of the plant that remain in those counties, 19 of which are rated in low condition, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, an organization that has pushed for the protected status.

Milkweeds are a vital host plant for monarch butterflies, feeding monarch larva as they develop into butterflies. They also provide large quantities of nectar to bees and tarantula hawks, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

“I’m hopeful that Endangered Species Act protection will keep the prostrate milkweed flowering in South Texas for generations to come,” Michael Robinson, who represents the organization, said in a statement. “This fascinating plant long ago secured a sunny niche in tough landscapes, but it’s being driven to the edge of extinction by human development. Federal action is crucial.”

The proposed rule was published on the Federal Register on Tuesday, where people can submit comments until April 18.

Environmentalists have long pushed for prostrate milkweed protection under the Endangered Species Act. There was a petition for the plant to be considered endangered in 2007, and in 2009, USFWS “found the petition presented substantial information that listing may be warranted.”

Protecting the milkweed could also help with bee conservation efforts.

In 2020, scientists concluded that climate change is killing bumblebees, finding that the likelihood of a bumblebee population surviving in a single location in North America and Europe has declined by an average of 30% within one human generation.

In Texas, honey production and bee colony numbers declined last year, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. The massive winter storm that shook the state in 2021 delayed wildflower bloom and killed bees, particularly in South Texas, as they were not acclimated to the sudden freezing temperatures, the service said. A lack of rain also contributed to a lack of food availability for the bees.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Petition Aims to Protect Tope Shark Under Endangered Species Act

California Population Threatened by Gillnets, Disruption of Breeding Sites

PORTLAND, Ore.—(February 15, 2022(–Conservation organizations submitted a petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service today requesting protection of the tope shark under the Endangered Species Act.

The waters off California, Oregon and Washington offer prime tope shark habitat, and sharks off Southern California face a high risk of bycatch and entanglement in Mexico’s gillnets. Also known as the “soupfin” shark, the tope shark has declined by 88% globally in the past 80 years.

Today’s petition — submitted by Defend Them All and the Center for Biological Diversity — also asks the Service to designate critical habitat essential to the survival and recovery of the tope shark, including its West Coast breeding sites.

“These sharks are spiraling toward extinction because of shark fin soup and a disregard for how many are killed as bycatch in other fisheries,” said Kristin Carden, a Center scientist. “Tope sharks need protections in offshore fishing grounds as well as in their nearshore pupping grounds. The federal government has to move quickly to safeguard these incredibly imperiled animals and their West Coast habitat.”

The tope shark is categorized as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The species is highly threatened with extinction because of commercial overfishing for liver oil, meat and fins, as well as bycatch and habitat degradation. There has not been a U.S. stock assessment or fishery management plan developed for tope sharks, so their status in the United States is largely unknown.

“The tope shark’s presence is integral to healthy ecosystems; as a top predator, extinction of the species would have disastrous effects on the coastal food chain balance,” said Lindsey Zehel, a Defend Them All attorney. “This petition is a critical first step in the long road to saving this species from preventable extinction.”

The tope shark is long and slender, reaching up to 6 and a half feet long and nearly 100 pounds. The sharks can live up to 60 years and have late maturity — on average at 12.5 years. Tope sharks are found in temperate, shallow waters along coastlines around the world, from North America to Australia to the Mediterranean. The entire West Coast of the United States is prime tope shark territory, from La Jolla in San Diego County north to Washington state.

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Vermont Journal

February 12, 2022

Bald Eagle removed from State Endangered and Threatened Species list

REGION – Seven species and three critical habitats received updated conservation designations on Vermont’s Endangered and Threatened Species List, including the highly anticipated de-listing of the bald eagle after over a decade of restoration efforts.

“The bald eagle’s de-listing is a milestone for Vermont,” said Wildlife Division Director Mark Scott. “This reflects more than a decade of dedicated work by Vermont Fish & Wildlife and partners. It shows that Vermonters have the capacity to restore and protect the species and habitats that we cherish.”

In addition to the de-listing of the bald eagle, six other plants and animals received updated designations, including the American bumblebee, which has now been listed as ‘endangered,’ and the Eastern meadowlark, which is now designated as ‘threatened.’

“These new listings reflect the stressors affecting Vermont’s plant, fish, and wildlife species,” said Wildlife Diversity Program Manager Dr. Rosalind Renfrew. “In the face of climate change and habitat loss, our mission is to conserve these species and others to the very best of our ability on behalf of all Vermonters, who demonstrate time and again that they care about the survival of wildlife populations.”

The new listings are a vital step towards enabling the department to carry out that mission. They trigger additions to existing species and habitat management plans, development of recovery metrics, initiation of population monitoring, and strengthening or establishing critical partnerships.

“We dedicate incredible resources through population monitoring, habitat conservation and improvement, and education and outreach to preventing species from reaching these thresholds in the first place,” says Scott. “But, when necessary, we also draw on our successful track record leading endangered species recovery efforts including restoring Vermont’s populations of common loon, osprey, peregrine falcon, and now the bald eagle. We will bring that same dedication to each of these new listings.”

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Sydney Morning Herald

Koalas officially an endangered species in NSW, Queensland

By Mike Foley, February 11, 2022

Koalas are now an officially endangered species in NSW and Queensland, with federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley announcing on Friday that the species is now recognised as a higher risk of extinction.

“Today I am increasing the protection for koalas in NSW, the ACT and Queensland listing them as endangered rather than their previous designation of vulnerable,” Ms Ley said.

The iconic species was first listed as vulnerable in NSW, ACT and Queensland 2012. A vulnerable listing recognises that a species faces a high risk of extinction in the medium term. An endangered listing means a species is at high risk of extinction in the short term.

Koalas have suffered a rapid decline. It’s just 10 years since the species was listed as vulnerable in 2012 by former Environment Minister Tony Burke.

Land clearing for urban and agricultural development as well as feral predators are the biggest koala-killers. It is estimated as many as one-third of NSW’s koalas – about 10,000 animals – perished in the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires and the preceding drought, and Queensland’s population shrunk by about 50 per cent in the past decade.

“The impact of prolonged drought, followed by the black summer bushfires, and the cumulative impacts of disease, urbanisation and habitat loss over the past twenty years have led to the advice,” Ms Ley.

An endangered listing doesn’t create extra rules to protect wildlife habitat. But the upgraded status may generate greater focus on conservation and more rigorous assessment of project developments by the government. The Environment Department is currently developing a koala recovery plan that could also create more stringent protections.

“The new listing highlights the challenges the species is facing and ensures that all assessments under the (Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act) will be considered not only in terms of their local impacts, but with regard to the wider koala population,” Ms Ley said.

The federal government announced in January a $50 million commitment over the next four years for habitat restoration, population monitoring and research into animal health. It followed a funding commitment of $74 million in 2019, for habitat protection and restoration, koala health research, and the government’s National Koala Monitoring Program.

Environment groups welcomed the federal government’s funding initiatives and called for further protections for koala habitat.

“This money is much needed, but without stronger laws and major landholder incentives to protect koala habitat their forest homes will continue to be bulldozed and logged,” said WWF Australia landscape restoration manager Tanya Pritchard said in January.

Humane Society International senior campaign manager Alexia Wellbelove said at the time the funding must come “in combination with a national recovery plan, and stronger national and state environment laws”.

Humane Society International, WWF and International Fund for Animal Welfare applied to the federal government to “uplist” koalas from vulnerable to endangered. The Environment Department recommended the move in October. The statutory timeframe for the minister to consider the declaration would have allowed Ms Ley to wait until after the likely May election to make the announcement.

In November last year Sussan Ley announced a population census to identify key habitat in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia, including mandatory annual reporting for state governments on koala populations and conservation strategies.

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Center For Biological Diversity

Federal Court Restores Gray Wolf’s Endangered Species Act Protection

OAKLAND, Calif.—(February 10, 2022)—A federal judge today restored protection to gray wolves, reversing a Trump-era rule that removed Endangered Species Act protection from the animals across most of the country. Today’s ruling prohibits wolf hunting and trapping in states outside of the northern Rocky Mountains.

“This is a huge win for gray wolves and the many people across the country who care so deeply about them,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I hope this ruling finally convinces the Fish and Wildlife Service to abandon its longstanding, misguided efforts to remove federal wolf protections. The agency should work instead to restore these ecologically important top carnivores to places like the southern Rockies and northeastern United States.”

In his 26-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White wrote: “…the Service’s analysis relied on two core wolf populations to delist wolves nationally and failed to provide a reasonable interpretation of the ‘significant portion of its range’ standard.” He therefore set aside the delisting rule and restored wolf protections in the Great Lakes region, West Coast states and southern Rocky Mountains.

“Again and again, we’ve had to take the fight for wolves to the courts,” said Adkins. “I’m relieved that the court set things right but saddened that hundreds of wolves suffered and died under this illegal delisting rule. It will take years to undo the damage done to wolf populations.”

Today’s win is the result of a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States, Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association and Oregon Wild.

The court ruling does not restore protection to wolves in the northern Rockies, as wolves in that region lost their protection prior to the delisting rule challenged in this case. However, in response to an emergency petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and its partners, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined in September that protecting the species in the northern Rockies may be warranted based largely on new laws in Idaho and Montana that authorize the widespread killing of wolves.

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The Guardian

Wanted lost species: blind salamander, tap-dancing spider and ‘fat’ catfish

A Texas-based group has drawn up a new list of as part of its quest to find species lost to science and possibly extinct

Oliver Milman in New York, Wed. 9 Feb 2022

A blind salamander, a tap-dancing spider and a “fat” catfish that has been likened to the Michelin man are among a list of vanished species that one US-based conservation group is aiming to rediscover in the wild and help protect.

The Texas-based group, called Re:wild, has drawn up a new list of the “25 most wanted lost species” as part of its quest to find species lost to science and possibly extinct.

The most wanted list includes the “fat” catfish, which has not been seen in its known habitat in Colombia since 1957. The species is the only freshwater catfish in the world with rings of fatty tissue wrapped around its body, leading to it being described by scientists who have previously searched for it as “the closest a fish could get to the Michelin man”.

Michael Edmondstone, communications and engagement lead at Shoal, a conservation group for freshwater species, said the organization is “tremendously excited by the prospect of the fish being found”. He added: “Everybody is hoping to learn more about it and, ultimately, put the right measures in place to ensure it can thrive for future generations.”

The Togo mouse, lost from Togo and Ghana, is a ground-dwelling mammal that is still recognized by locals who call it “Yefuli” despite its last confirmed appearance being in 1890, while a blind amphibian that dwells in underground aquifers in the US, called the Blanco blind salamander, has not been seen since 1951.

“The Blanco blind salamander has achieved near-mythical status among herpetologists, cave biologists and conservationists,” said Andrew Gluesenkamp, director of conservation at the San Antonio Zoo.

Meanwhile, the Fagilde’s trapdoor spider, known for building horizontal traps and tap dancing in front of potential mates, is being sought after seemingly vanishing from its home range in Portugal in 1931. The new list also includes the big puma fungus, not seen in South America since the 1980s, and pernambuco holly, a tree species in Brazil not recorded since 1838.

Re:wild, which has the actor Leonardo DiCaprio as a founding board member, is also continuing to search for Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna, named in honor of Sir David Attenborough, which hasn’t been spotted in 60 years and is one of just five existing species of monotreme, which is a group of egg-laying mammals found in Australia and New Guinea. A tree-dwelling kangaroo from Indonesia and a pink-headed duck from India are also being sought by the organization.

Since starting its search for lost species in 2017, Re:wild has confirmed the rediscovery of eight species through expeditions and scientific analysis, including a type of giant tortoise in the Galapagos islands and the world’s largest bee, found in Indonesia.

There are many more species lost to science, however, with an estimated 2,200 species across 160 countries missing for 10 years or more. The loss of habitat, pollution, rampant hunting and climate change is fueling what scientists have described as the Earth’s sixth mass extinction, and the first to be driven by one species, in this case humans.

“When we launched the search for lost species, we weren’t sure if anyone would rediscover any of the wildlife on our most wanted list,” said Barney Long, Re:wild’s senior director of conservation strategies. “Each new rediscovery has reminded us that we can find hope in even the most unlikely situations and that these stories of overlooked, but fascinating, species can be a powerful antidote to despair.”

Long said the organization was now looking to conduct research expeditions and devise conservation programs for rediscovered species.

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The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)

World’s most endangered wolves will be released to the wild near NC’s Outer Banks

By ALISON CUTLER, February 9,2022

Nine of the world’s most endangered wolves will be released into the wild in North Carolina, a milestone for the species, which has spent decades teetering on the brink of extinction.

The American red wolf population dwindled to only 14 wolves in the 1970s, and the only place the wolves live in the wild are along the Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges in North Carolina, according to a news release from Zoo Knoxville.

Now, with the help of conservationists, they’re fighting to make a comeback.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP) and the Red Wolf SAFE Program have teamed up to plan the release of nine red wolves into their natural habitat in Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges, according to the release.

The nine wolves include a family and two breeding pairs that are from five different facilities, including Zoo Knoxville in Tennessee, the release said.

The nine wolves are in the first stage of their release, which will allow them to acclimate to the terrain before all fencing is removed from the area and they can roam the refuges, according to officials.

Red wolves once occupied a large region between southern New York to central Texas before their population was driven close to extinction from overhunting and habitat loss, the USFWS said in a statement. By 1973, the species had been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Once the population had shrunk to fewer than 15 total wolves in the wild, the USFWS began an effort to revive the population, according to Zoo Knoxville’s release. The department captured the last 14 wild wolves and established a breeding program. Four wolves from the program were reintroduced to the wild in 1987.

Even with the conservation plan in place, the wolves remain in danger of extinction. The number of red wolves in the wild has once again dwindled to its lowest in years, at about 15 to 17 as of October, according to data from the USFWS. One decade ago, conservationists estimated there were about 120 red wolves in the wild.

Over the years, conservationists have adjusted their game plan to find the best strategy for reinstating the wolves in the wild. The last release was in 2021, according to the USFWS.

“It is so inspirational to see our partners coming together to support the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to save this national treasure. These releases highlight the important work zoos are doing to save our wildlife and wild places and gives me so much hope for the future of the American red wolf,” Regina Mossotti, program leader for the Red Wolf SAFE Program, said in the release.

One of the wolves scheduled for release, named Garnet, is from the Western North Carolina Nature Center and was brought to the center in 2018. The nature center shared their excitement for the wolves’ release.

“Garnet is a magnificent wolf, and we hope he thrives in the wild,” Animal Curator Erin Oldread said in a statement.

There are 241 wolves captive and part of the species survival plan.

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Tucson.com

Sonoran desert tortoise denied federal protection

Tony Davis, Arizona Daily Star, Feb. 8, 2022

After years of pressure and litigation from environmental groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is sticking with a previous stance that the Sonoran desert tortoise doesn’t need federal protection from development, wildfires, drought or other environmental threats.

The wildlife service announced this week that a comprehensive scientific review determined the tortoise isn’t at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future, despite a wide range of threats to the animals and their habitat. So it won’t list the tortoise as endangered or threatened, the service said.

But an activist from one of two environmental groups that’s pushed for federal protection of the tortoise accused the service of paying ignoring threats to the armored-shell animal from livestock grazing. The agency’s Federal Register notice announcing its decision made no mention of grazing as a threat to the tortoise’s existence, while listing other threats, noted Cyndi Tuell of the Western Watersheds Project.

“They’re painting this rosy picture. They’re not looking at all the risks to tortoise in their (computerized) prediction models. They are underestimating how quickly the tortoise populations will decline in the future,” said Tuell, the group’s Arizona-New Mexico director, on Tuesday.

But the service’s decision, announced Monday, iaid the tortoise numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Computer modeling indicates an estimated 49,222 square miles of suitable Sonoran desert tortoise habitat occurs in Arizona and Sonora. The service has widely varying estimates of total tortoise population, from 148,358 to 2,507,762 adults with an average estimate of about 549,000.

The Arizona Cattle Growers Association is “gratified” at the service’s decision, said Jeff Isenberg, an association lobbyist.

“We always want the Fish and Wife Service to make decisions based on the facts and science and too often in our view that is not the case. So we are gratified that the evaluation of the information led to this conclusion and we just hope it will be supported by the facts and science and it will be sustainable in court,” Eisenberg said Tuesday.

Environmentalists said the tortoise’s habitat also is degraded by invasive species, increased fire risk, housing developments, off-road vehicles, habitat fragmentation, and increased predation facilitated by human activities.

The wildlife service acknowledged many of these threats and said several, mainly development and drought, may increase over time. But the species and its associated habitat are projected to remain at levels that don’t threaten the tortoise’s survival, the service said.

“The service has found the Sonoran desert tortoise currently occupies much of its historical range where populations remain stable. … Available survey data have not indicated systematic declines or extirpations,” the service said.

Arizona cattle growers recognize that the Endangered Species Act is an established law in this country, their lobbyist Eisenberg said.

“Within the implementation of that act, to extent the agency has discretion, we also strongly believe it’s important to take into consideration the impacts of their decisions on people,” Eisenberg said “Our concern always is it’s not taken into consideration enough.”

The decision comes more than 13 years since Western Watersheds Project and Wild Earth Guardians petitioned the federal wildlife agency to list the tortoise as endangered or threatened.

The service found in 2010 that its listing was warranted but precluded by higher priority species, then found in 2015 that a listing wasn’t warranted.

The two groups sued the service in 2019 seeking to overturn the latter finding. In 2020, the service agreed in an out-of-court settlement to reconsider it, but Monday’s decision reaffirmed it.

“It’s hopeful news that the Service thinks the future is rosy for the Sonoran desert tortoise based on the agency’s modeling scenarios, and we certainly hope they are right,” said Tuell in a written statement.

But the tortoise’s habitat remains “gravely threatened,” said Tuell, who is based in Tucson.

The tortoises live in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Sonora in Mexico. Adult tortoises range from 8 to 15 inches long, with a relatively high domed shell, usually brownish with a pattern and prominent growth lines. They can live to be 35 to 40.

Sonoran desert tortoises spend most of their time in below-ground shelter areas, and their emergence into the open air is timed to availability of resources such as precipitation or forage, the service said.

Their habitat typically consists of rocky slopes and washes that support shelter sites, the service said.

The service estimated the Sonoran desert tortoise not only occupies much of its historic range, but is “abundant” in Arizona and Sonora.

The agency’s computer modeling projects future drought is expected to result in a negative growth rate for tortoise populations by the end of this century and likely declines in its overall abundance, the service said.

But the modeling found less than a 1% risk that by the end of the century, the tortoise will reach a state of quasi-extinction, in which a species population may be doomed to extinction even if individuals are still alive, the service said.

Last year, the watersheds project sent the service a detailed report, outlining what its staffers believe are grazing impacts on the tortoise. It cited peer-reviewed studies the watersheds project said identified risks to tortoises or to their habitat from grazing.

“In brief, livestock compete with tortoises for the same food, especially in late winter/early spring or monsoon rainy seasons. They crush plants tortoises rely on for food. They crush burrows and actual tortoises.”

Livestock infrastructure also harms tortoise habitat, the group said. First, fences and roads can create barriers to movement, it said. Fences provide perches for ravens and other tortoise predators, and increases in watering tanks for livestock provide increased predator populations in tortoise habitat, the group said.

Tuell noted that more than 8,500 square miles of tortoise habitat is managed by the Bureau of Land Management for livestock grazing. Over 77 percent of the bureau’s grazing allotments have 10-year permits that have been renewed at least once without analysis of impacts on the tortoise, she said.

That’s possible due to a 2014 congressional legislative rider that allows BLM to continue authorizing grazing on federal lands without requiring collection or analysis of grazing’s impacts, she said.

But last September, a wildlife service report on the tortoise said livestock grazing management is an example of how “multi-use” lands can bring at least indirect wildlife benefits and moderate conservation value to the tortoise. On those lands, “best management practices” are designed and implemented to reduce potential negative effects in some cases and provide direct benefits in others, the wildlife service said.

That report listed grazing as one of a variety of “stressors,” that may affect individual tortoises but don’t have measurable effects on population levels, the wildlife service wrote.

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Courthouse News Service

Conservationists say luxury resort’s bright lights hurt endangered seabirds

Maui’s Grand Wailea Resort’s outdoor lighting attracts endangered Hawaiian petrels, which circle the lights until they fall to the ground from exhaustion.

MARIA DINZEO / February 7, 2022

(CN) — Conservation groups took Maui’s Grand Wailea Resort to court over claims that its bright outdoor lights are killing native seabirds, specifically the endangered Hawaiian petrel.

The federal lawsuit filed in the District of Hawaii claims that although the Grand Wailea recently made some changes in response to a letter from the Center for Biological Diversity and the National Wildlife Federation affiliate Conservation Council for Hawaii, the bright lights of the luxury beachfront resort continue to put petrels in peril.

“Conservation Council for Hawaii commends Grand Wailea’s management for taking some initial steps to protect seabirds during last year’s fallout season,” said Moana Bjur, executive director at Conservation Council for Hawaii, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, fallout continued in 2021, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive modifications at the resort. It is our hope that we can come to a resolution with the Grand Wailea before the next fledging season begins in September.”

She added, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is about to declare that eight native Hawaiian birds are now officially extinct. We need to do everything we can to prevent the Hawaiian petrel from being added to that list.”

The Hawaiian petrel is a large seabird with breeding colonies on Maui, in Haleakala crater, and on Lanai, across the ‘Au‘au Channel from the Grand Wailea, according to the complaint. Small small breeding colonies also exist on the Big Island and Kauai.

On Maui, they can be found nesting in volcanic rock crevices and arriving at breeding grounds in mid-February where pairs produce only one egg per year. Listed as an endangered species in 1967, their numbers have declined precipitously since the mid-1990s, which researchers attribute at least in part to the aftermath of Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

In a study published in the journal The Condor: Ornithological Applications, Andre Raine, a researcher at the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project, said the birds face a wide array of threats and that “conservation effort needs to be focused on reducing power line collisions, fallout related to artificial lights, the control of introduced predators, and the overall protection of their breeding habitats.”

The bright lights of the Grand Wailea, a luxury beachfront resort, wreak havoc on the endangered birds. Petrels become disoriented and circle the lights until they either fall from exhaustion or run into buildings, the complaint says, noting that since 2008, 15 grounded petrels were found on the property by the Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project. Nearly all were rescued, but one was dead.

Once grounded, petrels are vulnerable to predators, vehicle collisions, dehydration and starvation. The lawsuit says the seabird recovery project most recently recovered a grounded petrel near a Grand Wailea fountain during the October 2021 fledgling season.

“Plaintiffs are informed and believe, and on the basis thereof allege, that the MNSRP data reflect only the tip of the iceberg with respect to the harm that the Grand Wailea inflicts on endangered Hawaiian petrels. Data shows that people who are not seabird experts, such as hotel staff and guests, rarely discover grounded seabirds,” the complaint says. “Moreover, birds may crash into the nearby ocean or thick vegetation and not be recovered, in which case they likely perish. Finally, grounded seabirds that are eaten by on-site predators such as cats and mongoose prior to discovery are likewise excluded from MNSRP data documenting recovery of grounded seabirds that are discovered at the Grand Wailea.”

The conservation groups complain the Grand Wailea’s “unshielded spotlights, mercury vapor and metal halide lights, lighting in large pools, and beachfront tree and path lights” all contribute to petrel fallout.

“The Grand Wailea knows that its lights are harming imperiled seabirds on Maui. This isn’t rocket science — there are pragmatic, straightforward solutions the resort could — and, by law, should — be pursuing,” Leinā‘ala Ley, an attorney for the public interest organization Earthjustice said in a statement. “We’re taking the Grand Wailea to court to ensure the resort becomes a responsible neighbor, rather than watch native birds like the Hawaiian petrel disappear.”

The Center for Biological Diversity and Conservation Council seek an order declaring that the resort’s lights continue to harm Hawaiian petrels in violation of the Endangered Species Act, absent an “incidental take” permit, which allows private entities to proceed with projects that can injure or kill animals.

The Grand Wailea Resort, which is owned by Waldorf Astoria, said through a spokesperson, “While we do not comment on pending legal matters, we will respond appropriately to correct any misunderstandings about our record.”

In a statement sent to Courthouse News, the spokesperson said the resort strives to protect local wildlife.

“Grand Wailea has made sustainability and stewardship part of everything we do – from eliminating single-use plastics to prioritizing native plants and promoting reef-safe sunscreen. Protecting all wildlife in our community is of the utmost importance to us. To that end, we partnered with a leading local expert to assist our efforts to ensure native and endangered bird species can seamlessly coexist and flourish in and around Grand Wailea.”

The resort isn’t the first to face a lawsuit over its alleged threat to endangered petrels. In 2010, the Conservation Council filed lawsuits over the bright lights of the St. Regis Princeville Resort and the electric company Kauai Island Utility Cooperative. The utility eventually obtained an incidental take permit, and the resort settled its case with an agreement that included turning off fountain lights during fledgling season and implementing a search and rescue plan for grounded birds.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Rare Montana Plant Moves Closer to Endangered Species Protection

Mining Threatens Thick-Leaf Bladderpod

BILLINGS, Mont.—(February 7, 2022)—In response to a 2021 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the thick-leaf bladderpod may qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Service will now begin a full status review of the species.

This rare plant is found only in southern Montana’s Pryor Desert, where it is under imminent threat from gypsum mining.

“This is an important step for this tiny, imperiled plant that lives only in this small, unique area of Montana,” said Kristine Akland at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If the Service lists the bladderpod, the species and its habitat will receive much needed protection from the deadly threat of proposed gypsum mining.”

In 2015 the Bureau of Land Management designated 2,606 acres of the Pryor Foothills as an “area of critical environmental concern” to protect significant cultural and biological values, including the large concentration of sensitive plant species like the bladderpod.

Because this is an “area of critical environmental concern,” damaging activities like gypsum mining should not occur. In 2015 the BLM recommended that the area be withdrawn from mineral leasing. But under the Trump administration, that did not occur.

“We hope that this decision will prompt the BLM to protect the Pryor Mountain Desert and all of its biological treasures from future mining,” said Peter Lesica, conservation chair of the Montana Native Plant Society.

Dick Walton, spokesperson for the Pryors Coalition, said, “This is a positive step toward recognition of the unique and vulnerable Pryor Mountain ecosystems.”

The thick-leaf bladderpod is found on broad plains dominated by sparse vegetation and grows in cryptobiotic soil crusts — living soils made of blue-green algae, lichens, mosses, micro fungi and bacteria. This small plant is only a few inches in size and has tiny, yellow flowers that bloom for a few weeks in June.

Gypsum mining and exploration would damage the bladderpod by removing vegetation and degrading the soil through drilling, excavation, road building and road traffic. The exploration would also increase the threat of invasive plants and off-road vehicle activity driven by improvements to existing roads. This unique habitat of cryptobiotic crust is highly sensitive to disturbances, and the mining project could lead to the extinction of the thick-leaf bladderpod unless the plant receives protection under the Endangered Species Act.

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Public News Service

Yellowstone Wolf Kills in MT, WY Pose Economic Risks

Eric Galatas, Producer, February 7, 2022

New Montana hunting regulations could have a direct effect on Wyoming businesses relying on visitors to Yellowstone National Park.

At least 21 of the nearly two dozen Yellowstone wolves killed this hunting season happened in Montana, just outside the park.

Brooke Shifrin, wildlife conservation coordinator for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, pointed to the most recent data showing the economic impacts at stake for hotels, restaurants and other businesses in Wyoming’s gateway communities.

“Roughly 80 million dollars in economic value comes as a result of wildlife-related tourism,” Shifrin reported. “Much of that is driven by the interest in seeing Yellowstone National Park wolves.”

Shifrin added wolves calling Yellowstone home have no way of knowing when they’ve left the protection of the park’s boundaries. Three wolves were killed this year in Wyoming, where the state sets limits on kills in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Ranchers have long advocated for relaxing conservation efforts that helped bring the gray wolf back from the brink of extinction, citing loss of livestock.

Shifrin argued it is important to recognize predators present real challenges to people making their living off the land coexisting alongside carnivores, but she said it is not the case in the hunting districts seeing the most killing.

“In these areas immediately adjacent to Yellowstone National Park, livestock depredation is really not an issue,” Shifrin contended. “There is very little conflict between wolves and livestock just outside of the park boundary.”

Montana wildlife commissioners set hunting limits after public outcry, and have prohibited snaring within lynx-protection zones.

Ben Scrimshaw, associate attorney for the Northern Rockies office of Earthjustice, said what is happening in Montana calls into question whether states can be trusted to manage wildlife for the benefit of all stakeholders.

“Our approach to wolf management has to be guided by science and not politics, and right now, it’s being guided by politics,” Scrimshaw asserted. “But the science said that wolves are a valuable part of the ecosystem, and we need to honor that.”

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EcoWatch

Iceland to Ban Commercial Whaling by 2024

 Olivia Rosane, Feb. 07, 2022

In two years, Iceland will officially hang up its harpoon.

The country, one of only three in the world that allows commercial whaling, will end the controversial practice when current quotas expire.

“There are few justifications to authorize whale hunting beyond 2024,” Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir said Friday in Iceland’s Morgunblaðið newspaper, as CNN reported.

Iceland’s current three-year hunting quota lasts from 2019 to 2023 and permits the hunting of up to 209 fin whales and 217 minke whales, according to an AFP story published by The Guardian. However, so far during this period, hunters have only killed one whale: a minke in 2021. Svavarsdottir said this showed that the practice had little economic benefit. One major reason is that Japan, which was once a major market for Icelandic whale meat, resumed its own commercial whaling in 2019.

“Japan has been the largest buyer of [Icelandic] whale meat, but its consumption is declining year by year. Why should Iceland take the risk of continuing fishing that has not yielded economic benefits, in order to sell a product that is in low demand?” she asked, as CNN reported.

In fact, in some ways whaling’s controversial status has hurt Iceland economically. For example, U.S. retailer Whole Foods ceased promoting Icelandic products for a period in protest.

Conservation groups celebrated the news.

“This is obviously hugely welcome news… and not before time. Icelandic whalers have killed hundreds of whales in recent years, despite almost zero domestic demand,” Vanessa Williams-Grey of Whale and Dolphin Conservation told BBC News.

During Iceland’s last full whaling season, 146 fin whales and six minke whales were killed, according to AFP.

The International Whaling Commission banned all commercial whaling in 1986, according to CNN. Iceland left the IWC in 1992, rejoined in 2002 while announcing a “reservation” about the ban and then resumed commercial whaling in 2006. Since 1986, More than 1,700 minke, fin and sei whales have been slaughtered in the country.

Fin whales are the second-largest whale species in the world, according to AFP, while minke whales are one of the smallest. Fin whales are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, while sei whales are endangered and minke whales are considered a species of Least Concern.

Once Iceland’s decision goes into effect, the only two countries to allow commercial whaling will be Norway and Japan, according to BBC News.

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Animal Welfare Institute

The America COMPETES Act Passes the House with Big Wins for Animals

Press Release, February 4, 2022

Washington, DC—Thanks to the efforts of many members of Congress who support animal welfare, the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 4521), a bill aimed at bolstering US innovation, passed the House of Representatives today with several provisions that would benefit animals.

Among them:

Protections for Sharks: Although shark finning is illegal in US waters, it plays a significant role in perpetuating this barbaric trade by providing a market for shark fins. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act would prohibit the sale, purchase, and possession of shark fins in the United States. This would remove America from the global shark fin trade and help restore healthy ocean habitats and shark populations.

Marine Mammal Conservation: Recognizing that marine mammals are important indicators of ocean health, the Marine Mammal Research and Response Act would fund efforts by local governments and nonprofit organizations to rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured marine mammals. It would also support research efforts to determine the causes of stranding events.

Reducing Bycatch: Large mesh driftnets are used to catch swordfish and thresher sharks. However, at more than a mile long, they also indiscriminately kill or severely injure many nontarget animals, including threatened and endangered marine species. The Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act would phase out harmful large mesh drift gillnets used in federal waters off the coast of California — the only place they are still used in the United States.

Preventing Future Pandemics: Several provisions recognize the urgent need for a global approach to emerging zoonotic diseases and the threats they pose. Text from the Preventing Future Pandemics Act establishes as a US diplomatic priority working with international government and nongovernmental partners to shut down certain commercial wildlife markets and build coalitions to reduce the demand for wildlife. The bill also authorizes the government to undertake programs to help transition communities globally to safer, nonwildlife sources of protein. Furthermore, H.R. 4521 includes up to a three-year emergency ban on the importation of wildlife that pose imminent threats, including to human health, and prohibits the transportation across state lines of species listed as injurious under the Lacey Act.

Wildlife Trafficking: In addition to its provisions aimed at curbing the spread of zoonotic diseases, H.R. 4521 aims to fight wildlife trafficking more broadly. It requires the treasury secretary to conduct a study on global wildlife trafficking and its illicit profits, and authorizes $150 million annually until 2030 to expand the US Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement attaché program. This program uses criminal investigators to work with other nations to combat wildlife trafficking. H.R. 4521 also includes the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Reauthorization and Improvements Act, which would make it easier for the USFWS to prosecute wildlife trafficking cases and authorize harsher penalties for wildlife traffickers, provide antipoaching resources to countries in need, and address corruption by holding countries accountable for failing to observe international antitrafficking laws.

Additional wins under the America COMPETES Act include language aimed at strengthening fisheries management and funding for coral reef restoration.

In June, the Senate passed its version of this bill, the US Innovation and Competition Act (S.1260), which included the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. The two chambers will now reconcile differences between their versions of the bill. The House and Senate will then vote on the final reconciled bill.

The Animal Welfare Institute applauds the inclusion of these important animal welfare provisions and urges Congress to retain them when finalizing this legislation.

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AP News

Plan to gun down feral cattle spurs concern among ranchers

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, February 3, 2022

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A plan by U.S. Forest Service officials to put a dent in the population of feral cattle on national forest land near the New Mexico-Arizona border is drawing fire from ranchers who say gunning down the animals from helicopters is a violation of federal law and won’t help to solve the problem.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association is concerned about the ability of the wildlife agents to delineate branded from unbranded livestock, saying mistakenly killing cows with brands would amount to the taking of private property.

Environmentalists also have long voiced concerns that leaving cow carcasses on the landscape will only help condition Mexican gray wolves to prey on livestock. Ranchers worry the upcoming aerial gunning operation on the Gila National Forest could exacerbate conflicts with the endangered species.

Forest officials said Friday they are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to remove all unbranded and unauthorized cattle from the Gila Wilderness, saying the animals pose a significant threat to sensitive habitat along streams and wetlands. A previous effort by a contractor to catch and remove wild cattle from the area netted about 20 animals.

Citing the rugged terrain, forest officials said it’s difficult to say how many feral cattle are in the wilderness, but they believe there could be as many as 250.

The Cattle Growers’ Association argues that since the exact number is unknown, there is no way to hold federal officials accountable or determine if progress is being made in reducing the population.

Loren Patterson, president of the ranchers group, said the situation is the result of “many years of mismanagement by the Forest Service.”

“New Mexico Cattle Growers’ members understand that estray cattle are not good for the multi-use doctrine embraced by our federally administered lands,” Patterson said in a statement. “This situation took years to create, and a final solution may take years to achieve.”

Regional forest service officials said in a statement Friday that the most efficient way to deal with this issue is “with the responsible removal of the cattle” and the agency’s primary mission is to protect the sustainable use of the forest.

The association contends there is no federal statute or regulation that allows for the Forest Service to gun down livestock and that rounding up and impounding livestock is allowed only after certain conditions are met. The group said government agencies should provide adequate notice and allow public comment before “imposing their will to proceed as they deem equitable.”

A similar proposal was floated by forest officials last year. That prompted a notice of intent to sue by ranchers, a coalition of Arizona and New Mexico counties and others. The New Mexico Livestock Board also rejected any discussion of aerial gunning.

Some ranchers pointed out that the planned operation follows a series of recent settlements between the federal government and environmentalists that aim to keep livestock out of riparian areas on forest lands in the Southwest. They questioned why federal officials are resorting to lethal means with cattle despite the push by environmentalists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to handle problem wolves with nonlethal methods such as hazing.

Nelson Shirley with Spur Lake Cattle Co. said persistent efforts by environmentalists to get the federal government to retire more grazing allotments have resulted in more feral cattle on the landscape.

“There’s nobody to keep the fences up and nobody there to brand these cattle and do something with them,” he said. “The Forest Service is to blame for leaving so many permits vacant. Getting ranchers back on these allotments to fix fences and gather cattle would help to solve the problem.”

Federal wildlife officials also are in the midst of conducting an annual survey of Mexican gray wolves along the New Mexico-Arizona border. The results are expected in the coming weeks.

The survey done last year showed at least 186 Mexican gray wolves in the two states. That marks the fifth straight year that the endangered species increased its numbers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday in a statement that it does not think the operation will have an effect on wolves “due to the short-term nature of the carcasses and the limited utilization of the area by Mexican wolves.”

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The Hill

Fish and Wildlife Service to release nine endangered red wolves near Outer Banks

“We are committed, more than ever before … to identify ways to encourage and facilitate a coexistence between people and red wolves,” said the USFWS’s assistant regional director in the South Atlantic-Gulf and Mississippi Basin Regions.

By Jenna Romaine | Feb. 4, 2022

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is preparing to release nine endangered red wolves to a conservation area west of the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

The red wolf, endemic to the United States and considered the most endangered wolf in the world, once called the entire Southeastern U.S. home before habitat destruction and overhunting nearly killed off the species. Red wolves were listed as endangered in 1973 under the Endangered Species Act.

Now, the USFWS is working to transfer and release nine of the wolves to a conservation area that includes the Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges. The nine red wolves consist of a family and two additional breeding pairs that conservationists hope will result in breeding to help rebound the population of the species in the wild.

The USFWS recently held a virtual meeting with local residents, landowners, and stakeholders to address concerns and ensure a smooth transition in habiting species. The service has appointed a community liaison and set up a red wolf recovery hotline to aid with the transition.

“We are committed, more than ever before, to working with our partners — the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, landowners, and other stakeholders — to identify ways to encourage and facilitate a coexistence between people and red wolves,” Catherine Phillips, the USFWS’s assistant regional director in the South Atlantic-Gulf and Mississippi Basin Regions, said in a press release. 

“The recent meeting allowed us to hear from the local community and stakeholders, and to share with them what we are doing and plan to do going forward. We cannot recover the red wolf without them.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Federal Court Invalidates Another Key Permit in Endangered Species Act Case, Casting Serious Doubt on Future of Mountain Valley Pipeline

WASHINGTON—(February 3, 2022)—The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit today invalidated the biological opinion and incidental take statement issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act for the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

The court found that the agency failed to adequately analyze the project’s environmental context when assessing the detrimental impacts to the Roanoke logperch and the candy darter, a species on the brink of extinction. The court’s decision means that construction should not move forward along the 304-mile pipeline route.

The decision is the latest setback for the Mountain Valley Pipeline after another recent decision from the 4th Circuit invalidated approvals by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for construction through Jefferson National Forest. The project continues to face several legal battles and is more than three years behind schedule, barely half complete and billions over budget.

The pipeline has been required to pay millions of dollars in fines for more than 350 water quality-related violations in Virginia and West Virginia and has disturbed and destroyed important habitat, adversely affecting local wildlife. Today’s decision should stop the pipeline’s onslaught against one of the largest remaining wild landscapes in the eastern United States.

“Three more key federal agencies have been sent back to the drawing board after failing to analyze MVP’s harmful impacts,” said Kelly Sheehan, Sierra Club senior director of energy campaigns. “The previous administration’s rushed, shoddy permitting put the entire project in question. Now the Biden administration must fulfill the commitments it has made on climate and environmental justice by taking a meaningful, thorough review of this project and its permitting. When they do, they will see the science is clear: MVP is not compatible with a healthy planet and livable communities. MVP must not move forward.”

“Sacred life prevailed today with the court’s acknowledgement of the harmful impact MVP has on everything in its path, specifically endangered and threatened species,” said Russell Chisholm, co-chair of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR) Coalition. “Holding MVP accountable to the law is key to the ultimate cancellation of this noxious fracked gas pipeline. This decision not only protects the candy darter and other endangered species, it sets us on course to stop MVP, decisively transition away from deadly fossil fuels, and reroute towards a renewable economy on a livable planet.”

“MVP’s dangerous pipeline project has already destroyed and degraded the habitat of endangered species along its route, in addition to the threat it poses to clean air, water, and our communities,” said Sierra Club Senior Attorney Elly Benson. “We have seen its harmful effects on the region’s forests and streams as MVP has put profits before people and wildlife. Today’s decision underscores that the Fish and Wildlife Service can’t minimize MVP’s impacts on vulnerable species like the Roanoke logperch and candy darter that are already facing numerous other serious threats, including climate change.”

“At a time when we need to urgently move away from fracked-gas pipelines and all the harms they bring — from impacts to endangered species to damage to water quality to climate change — the law and science prevailed in this case,” said Anne Havemann, general counsel of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

“Today’s is a sweetly welcome decision in our fight to stop the ravage of MVP,” said Roberta Bondurant of Preserve Bent Mountain, a local member group of the POWHR Coalition. “The Bent Mountain community together with our allies, have fought relentlessly, and at unspeakable costs, to protect forest, meadow and waters of our venerable Appalachians. This is a banner day for Planet Earth — the Swomee Swan soars, the Humming Fish jumps, and the Truffula Tree breathes a grateful sigh of relief.”

“Once again, the courts have found that federal regulators weren’t following the laws passed by Congress to protect the public and our environment,” said Peter Anderson, Virginia policy director for Appalachian Voices. “Communities in this region rely on its rich biodiversity to support many recreational and economic opportunities. We take seriously our laws protecting habitat and ecological function, even if Mountain Valley Pipeline does not.”

“Again, the agencies that should be guardians of our most precious resources and the public interest failed us,” said David Sligh, conservation director at Wild Virginia. “But today is a victory for sensitive and valuable species, which have already been harmed by MVP’s pollution. This decision again reinforces the truth that this destructive project must not be allowed to continue. The company needs to face that fact now and should be forced to help heal the wounds it has inflicted.”

“This is an incredible victory,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a fossil fuel nightmare that threatens the essential habitat of imperiled wildlife. These projects lock us into an unsustainable spiral of climate change that inflict incredible damage to vulnerable species. That cycle must end.”

“Enough is enough,” said Cindy Rank of WV Highlands Conservancy. “This is just one more example of how wrong this pipeline is, how much it harms the earth and the critters that make our world a treasure to be protected from unwise developments like MVP.”

Today’s announcement is a result of a case argued by the Sierra Club on behalf of a coalition of conservation organizations, including Wild Virginia, Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Defenders of Wildlife, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Preserve Giles County, Preserve Bent Mountain, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Indian Creek Watershed Association and the Center for Biological Diversity. Appalachian Mountain Advocates also represented the petitioners.

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International Business Times

Rare California Snail Inching Toward Recovery, Reclassified From ‘Endangered’ To ‘Threatened’

By Athena Chan , 02/03/22

A rare snail that can only be found along the central California coast is now recovering after years of conservation efforts. This week, authorities reclassified the conservation status of the Morro shoulderband snail from endangered to threatened.

Unlike other garden snails, this particular species is not a pest and is even beneficial to building up soil. The Morro shoulderband snail gets its name from the dark band “on the shoulder of their shells,” the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) noted.

In 1994, the species was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A recovery plan was made by 1998, and by the surveys from 2000 to 2005, more and more snails have been found.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that the snail is already recovering and officially changed its conservation status from endangered to threatened. According to the agency, this decision was based on “the best available scientific and commercial information,” which revealed that the species’ status has already improved and it is no longer in danger of extinction in “all or a significant portion of its range.”

Cat Darst, the Assistant Field Supervisor for the USFWS, called the ESA a “catalyst for recovery” in a statement from the agency.

“(W)e know it’s working when we see species large and small take steps toward delisting,” Darst said. “Thanks to city, county and state efforts that include habitat protection and increased surveying, Morro shoulderband snail numbers are now in the thousands rather than hundreds.”

“Recovery of this snail demonstrates that to save species from extinction, we have to protect the places where they live,” Jeff Miller of the CBD said in the organization’s news release, calling it “good news” for the species. “A bonus of saving the Morro snail is it helped in creating and protecting many of the local preserves and open spaces we all love, making life better for all on the Central Coast, from people to gastropods.”

However, the move doesn’t mean that the Morro shoulderband snail is already out of the woods as they are still not yet fully recovered and are still in danger of extinction “in the foreseeable future.”

According to the ruling, the species may still be at risk in the future because of threats such as habitat loss due to development, habitat degradation mainly from invasive plant species and because the “level of continued conservation efforts and habitat management is uncertain.”

They are also still threatened by wildfire conditions and changing climate, the USFWS noted. As such, they still need to be protected under the ESA “until these threats can be reduced or eliminated.”

That said, the Morro shoulderband snail is included in the list of Central Coast creatures that have benefited from the protection that the ESA provides, according to the CBD. This includes the peregrine falcon, California condor, southern sea otter and brown pelican.

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Southern Environmental Law Center

PRESS RELEASE | FEBRUARY 2, 2022

SELC statement on U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s revised proposed rule to downlist red-cockaded woodpecker

ATLANTA, Ga. — Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a revised proposal to reclassify the red-cockaded woodpecker. In response to the announcement, SELC Staff Attorney Ramona McGee released the following statement:

“We are encouraged that the Fish and Wildlife Service went back to the drawing board and took a hard look at our previously-raised concerns with how the agency had proposed to manage red-cockaded woodpeckers in the future. The revision appears to scale back many of the originally proposed rule’s vague provisions that would have allowed for a variety of harmful actions to red-cockaded woodpeckers.”

“The revised proposal would, however, still downlist red-cockaded woodpeckers from endangered to threatened status, without responding to our stated concerns that this reclassification is scientifically and legally unsupported. Although the Service now acknowledges the need for continued and expanded habitat conservation and restoration, the threat of extinction still looms for the species. Habitat loss remains a substantial threat with the majority of red-cockaded woodpeckers persisting in small, isolated pockets of pine forests.”

Unlike the previous proposal, this revised rule sets a starting point of extending the same protections that red-cockaded woodpeckers currently receive as an endangered species, and then carves out exceptions for certain, limited activities that might harm red-cockaded woodpeckers. 

Federal protections for endangered species are especially vital for the red-cockaded woodpecker as the species faces continued risks such as climate change-induced storm events and sea level rise, and the destruction of its longleaf pine habitat.

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E&E News/Greenwire

FWS proposes habitat for rare flower in path of lithium mine

By Jael Holzman, Michael Doyle | 02/02/2022

The Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed designating critical habitat for a rare flower, Tiehm’s buckwheat, that lives in the path of a proposed lithium mine in Nevada.

As proposed by FWS, critical habitat for the buckwheat would be located in Esmeralda County in the western part of the state, directly in the path of Ioneer Ltd.’s Rhyolite Ridge lithium project. The agency said in its proposed rulemaking that it was protecting the habitat — a single 910-acre plot of land — because it was “essential to the conservation and recovery” of Tiehm’s buckwheat.

“Designating critical habitat for Tiehm’s buckwheat is key to the plant’s persistence and recovery because it occupies such a small range and requires such specific habitat conditions to survive,” Marc Jackson, field supervisor for FWS in Reno, said in a statement.

It’s the latest setback for Ioneer after a federal court ruled last year in favor of environmentalists seeking protections for the buckwheat under the species law.

Since then, as FWS has pursued safeguards for the wildflower, the company has also argued against scientific research it funded studying whether it could relocate the plant on its own (Greenwire, Dec. 17, 2021).

The company has argued it can protect the plant while moving forward with the mine through precautionary measures like buffer zones. Ioneer Managing Director Bernard Rowe responded to the FWS habitat proposal in a statement to E&E News, maintaining there can be “successful coexistence” of Tiehm’s buckwheat and Rhyolite Ridge.

Projects like Rhyolite Ridge exemplify the complexities green products like electric vehicles, which use batteries that rely on mined lithium chemicals, pose for those wanting to preserve and protect biodiversity.

Tiehm’s buckwheat plants have extremely restricted range, with only one known population comprising eight subpopulations scattered across a 3-square-mile area in western Nevada’s Silver Peak Range. The agency is still expected to say later this year whether Tiehm’s buckwheat should be listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (Greenwire, Dec. 13, 2021).

In the proposal for critical habitat, FWS identified several “anthropogenic” threats to the plant within the habitat, including mineral development, and laid out a set of physical and biological features essential for ensuring survival of the species within the area.

FWS made no comments on whether the habitat designation would impact final approvals for Rhyolite Ridge. It only referenced Rhyolite Ridge in a note at the end of the notice declaring the proposed critical habitat. FWS acknowledged it considered Ioneer’s “conservation strategy” for the buckwheat to be “in the early stages.”

The agency also said proposals from the company to protect the flower “may or may not be fully implemented” because the mine “may or may not be permitted” by the Bureau of Land Management.

Conservation advocates said the proposed critical habitat demonstrates the ways developing on this one tract of land will harm a rare species.

“This proposed rule is an indication the Service is rejecting Ioneer’s plans as inadequate to save this species,” Naomi Fraga, conservation director at the California Botanic Garden, said in a statement provided to E&E News.

Rowe, with Ioneer, countered that the company has incorporated protecting the flower into its plans.

“We have always firmly understood the need to protect this species, irrespective of its listing status,” Rowe said in his statement. “Core to our strategy is avoidance (no direct impact) and minimization of any indirect impacts by our operations coupled with appropriate mitigation measures.”

Efforts to propagate and transplant buckwheat will also expand species populations, he added.

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University of Miami News

No longer endangered, manatees now face another crisis

By Robert C. Jones Jr., 02-02-2022

A massive seagrass die-off in the Indian River Lagoon, coupled with continued threats from boating strikes, is putting these gentle sea cows in peril once again.

Some never make it, perishing from deadly boat strikes in Florida waters before animal care specialists can reach them.

Others are brought to zoos and aquariums with punctured lungs, lacerations, and fins so badly damaged from net entanglements that they must be amputated.

For University of Miami researcher Jill Richardson, who has helped care for several sick and injured manatees at rehabilitation facilities in Florida, it is always a “deeply emotional” experience to see these gentle sea cows suffer from such wounds.

“The absolute goal is to help them heal, regain their health, and return them to the wild. But not all of them survive,” said Richardson, senior lecturer in the Department of Marine Biology and Ecology at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. “It’s a stark warning and harsh reality about the impacts we, as humans, are having on these iconic and sensitive mammals.”

In 2021, a staggering 1,101 manatees died in Florida, making last year the deadliest on record in the state for these slow-moving, herbivorous creatures, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

But not all the deaths can be attributed to boat collisions. Many of the manatees starved to death after pollutants in the 156-mile-long Indian River Lagoon, where the creatures gather in the winter, killed large swathes of their primary food source—seagrass.

Indeed, the recent declines in seagrass abundance and health in the lagoon and other estuaries where manatees feed are directly related to poor water quality, said seagrass expert Diego Lirman, an associate professor of marine biology and ecology at the Rosenstiel School. “The specific triggers vary spatially and temporally, but the underlying causes are related to declines in water quality,” he said.

Lirman specifically noted increases in nutrients coming from urban, agricultural, and industrial land sources, the alteration of freshwater deliveries from the Everglades that cause sudden drops in salinity and bring in an abundance of nutrient-rich water through rivers and canals that dump large amounts of fresh water over a short period of time and over a reduced coastal footprint into semi-enclosed coastal bays like Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay.

“Declines in light availability caused by sedimentation related to dredging and construction, excess nutrients, and micro- and macroalgal blooms make it hard for seagrass to photosynthesize, and they eventually die,” Lirman said. “And seagrass decomposition increases organic and inorganic matter in the water column and sediments, causing additional seagrass mortality.”

He said temperature extremes driven by climate change exacerbate the impacts of these drivers.

The water quality problem, however, cannot be resolved overnight, Richardson said. “Though replanting efforts may be a viable, short-term solution, it’s a like putting a small Band-Aid on a large, gaping wound,” she said. “Until we make significant changes to improve water quality along Florida’s coastlines, these efforts will remain futile in the long run.”

If anything, the problem will only worsen as coastal development in Florida continues at a rapid clip, Richardson reported.

“With development comes additional nutrient pollution and habitat degradation,” she pointed out. “And as Florida’s population continues to grow beyond 21 million people, with a simultaneous increase in the number of registered recreational watercraft, the potential for boat related deaths also increases.”

Laws that protect manatees have been on the books for decades. They are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Meanwhile, the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 establishes restrictions to protect the mammals from boat collisions and from harassment; to safeguard their habitats from destruction by boats or other human activity; and to provide safe havens where they can rest, feed, reproduce, give birth, or nurse undisturbed by humans.

Such restrictions as well as other conservation measures such as extensive rescue and rehabilitation efforts have helped the manatee rebound from only a few hundred in the 1970s to more than 6,000 in the Southeastern U.S. today. As such, the animals were removed from the endangered species list in 2017 and moved down to the threatened species list.

“However, without a healthy ecosystem, it’s unlikely manatees will continue to thrive,” Richardson said.

Manatees living on Florida’s east coast, she noted, have limited genetic diversity, which puts them at greater risk of significant loss during episodes of rapid change in their environments such as unusually cold winters, the widespread loss of seagrasses, and algal bloom outbreaks. “Regardless of genetics, large, anomalous increases in manatee mortalities, such as what we are seeing right now in Florida, are a significant cause for concern regarding long-term species survival,” Richardson said.

Manatees, she indicated, are a critical link in the ecosystem, consuming predominantly new seagrass growth and, thereby, promoting a high level of primary productivity in communities of that species. “In this sense, they have been deemed ‘cultivation grazers,’ clearing space for faster growing, more nutritious seagrass species to thrive,” Richardson explained.

But the widespread loss of seagrass communities has put manatees in peril, leaving them with fewer options for sustenance. “There are very serious concerns regarding the nutritional status of manatees and whether or not a continuously degrading environment can support them now and into the future,” Richardson said. “And this is exacerbated during the winter months when manatees struggle to stay warm. Despite their size, they have very little blubber and experience a condition called cold stress syndrome when exposed to water temperatures below 68 degrees for extended periods of time,” she added. “Without ample food resources, coupled by limited access to warm water, they cannot achieve the energetic demands of thermoregulation and often perish.’’

According to the researcher,  we then “add exposure to red tide events and other algal blooms to what are likely already immune compromised and nutritionally deficient manatees, and it’s a disheartening ‘perfect storm’ of potential widespread losses.”

In a move to save manatees from starvation, Florida wildlife officials recently started feeding romaine lettuce to manatees gathered at warm-water sites. But such a practice, warned Richardson, comes with concerns.

“Of course, exceptions can be made under the experienced and watchful oversight of trained managers and scientists, but it’s very important for the public to understand that feeding manatees is detrimental to their health, as it brings them into closer contact with humans and exposes them to greater associated risks,” she emphasized. “But I have no doubt that FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) and partner organizations have a very detailed plan in place to minimize this association and ensure long-term manatee health and survival. In the bigger picture, this decision is very telling and a strong indication that the coastal ecosystem is no longer able to support manatees, particularly during difficult winter months.

“I hope it is a wake-up call for all Florida residents and one that promotes significant change,” Richardson declared.

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Public News Service

OR Wildlife Crossings Bill Aims to Reduce Potentially Deadly Collisions

Eric Tegethoff, Producer, February 2, 2022

A measure in the Oregon Legislature aims to reduce vehicle collisions with wildlife.

House Bill 4130 would allocate $5 million for wildlife crossings in problem spots across the state. In Oregon, there are about 7,000 collisions with deer each year, costing Oregonians $44 million in total.

State Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, a chief sponsor of the bill, said there’s broad support for wildlife crossings, including some Republican co-sponsors.

“These types of projects are not partisan,” he said. “We’ve got Republicans and Democrats, senators and House reps on the bill already. It’ll be a great bipartisan, bicameral effort and very popular. So, the enthusiasm is certainly there in this state.”

There are an average 700 injuries and two deaths from wildlife collisions each year. Oregon lags far behind on crossings, at five, compared with other states in the West. California and Utah each have 50.

HB 4130 is scheduled for a public hearing today.

Zach Schwartz, Oregon program manager for the Wildlands Network, said the crossings already have proved to be effective on a stretch of highway between Bend and Sunriver.

“The Lava Butte crossing on Highway 97 saw a decrease in wildlife-vehicle collisions of about 85%,” he said, “so they allow for wildlife to move much safer, they allow for drivers to drive on the highways safer, and they pay for themselves really quickly.”

Tyler Dungannon, conservation coordinator for Oregon Hunters Association, said the bill is a winner for the folks he represents. He said safe crossings also improve wildlife habitat and connectivity.

“As conservationists, sportsmen and women aspire to bolster our deer, elk and other game populations for the benefit of all Oregonians,” he said, “and one way to do that is to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions on our highways via wildlife crossing structures.”

Supporters of the bill also are hopeful passing it would put the state in a better position to compete for the $350 million in federal dollars from the Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program, passed as part of Congress’ infrastructure bill last year.

(Disclosure: Wildlands Network contributes to our fund for reporting on Endangered Species & Wildlife, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Urban Planning/Transportation. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.)

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Honolulu Star Advertiser

Hawaiian monk seal rescued after it swallowed fishing hook

By Nina Wu, Feb. 1, 2022

A young Hawaiian monk seal that accidentally swallowed fishing gear is now in recovery at Ke Kai Ola, The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital in Kailua-Kona specializing in the endangered pinnipeds.

The juvenile male seal, identified as N2, is currently in stable condition after a veterinarian at the center successfully extricated the hook from his stomach.

A call to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s hotline on Jan. 22 reported a sighting of the monk seal along Oahu’s Ka Iwi coastline with a wire fishing leader and swivel hanging from his mouth.

NOAA Fisheries staff responded, but were unable to remove the gear right away due to logistical constraints. Over the next few days, volunteers from the nonprofit Hawaii Marine Animal Response searched for N2 and eventually found him on Jan. 27 at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve.

The U.S. Coast Guard gave N2 a lift to Ke Kai Ola, where a specialized team was able to remove the hook and are now offering him a safe place to rest and recover. The team noted that N2 had been moderately malnourished, but alert.

He will be fed a diet of sustainably caught live and dead fish, along with fluids to boost his nutrition, over the next few days.

“The ingested fishing gear clearly impacted this monk seal’s condition and we’re hopeful thanks to a successful procedure, that this animal is on the road to a full recovery,” says Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, the Center’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Veterinarian, in a news release. “We’re proud to be able to support patients like N2 as the only partner organization permitted by NOAA Fisheries to treat and rehabilitate Hawaiian monk seals. We will do everything we can to give this endangered animal a second chance to return to his ocean home.”

Hawaiian monk seals, with a population of only about 1,400 left in the wild, are an endangered species protected by state and federal laws.

The seals suffer from very high rates of entanglement in ocean trash and fishing gear, as well as ingestion of fishing hooks, according to NOAA. They also suffer from toxoplasmosis, a disease resulting from a parasite spread through infected cat feces, as well as intentional harm by humans.

Since 2014, Ke Kai Ola has rehabilitated and released 36 monk seals, mostly from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands within Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

Anyone who sees a monk seal or other marine mammal in distress can report sightings to NOAA’s toll-free hotline at 1-888-256-9840.

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Mountain West News Bureau (A regional collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.)

Public comment period closing soon as BLM eyes new sage grouse regulations

Boise State Public Radio News | By Madelyn Beck, Published February 1, 2022

News Brief

The Bureau of Land Management is once again reviewing how it manages sage grouse habitat across 10 Western states.

Before we get into the details, though, let’s rewind. Back in 2015, a bunch of public and private stakeholders created land use plans across the West to protect sage grouse and avoid an Endangered Species Act listing.

For many states, that plan changed in 2019, favoring more industry and development. But a federal judge in Idaho blocked the changes, and last year the Biden administration restored the plans adopted in 2015.

Now, the BLM is looking at its land use plans again.

“The BLM will examine new scientific information, including the effects of stressors like climate change, invasive grasses, wildfire and drought, to assess actions that may best support sagebrush habitat conservation and restoration on public lands to benefit sage grouse and surrounding communities,” the agency stated.

That also includes reviewing challenges with wild horse and burro populations, and the development of renewable energy, fossil fuels and energy transmission.

“Depending on who you talk to, people are calling this the sage grouse plans 3.0 or the 20th round of sage grouse restoration policy plans,” said Brian Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Idaho Wildlife Federation.

Brooks said that while all this has been happening, the grouse’s populations continued to shrink.

“Since we started in earnest tracking sage grouse numbers, the population has declined by 80%,” he said, noting recent USGS findings that the decline sped up over the last few decades.

Brooks said that shows the sage grouse conservation plans require big changes to avoid an endangered species listing, which would impose broad and potentially burdensome federal restrictions across public and private lands.

“We really can’t just be rearranging chairs on the Titanic here to do little tweaks here and there to stop a sinking ship. We really need to look at what is causing it to sink,” he said.

When it comes to issues like wildfire’s impacts on sage grouse habitat, Brooks says part of the problem is invasive species like cheatgrass, which burns easier than many other native plants.

“Fire in itself is not always bad, it’s invasive species that burn very easily and have lots of fuels that make fires a lot worse,” he said. “Little patch fires here and there (are) actually quite good.”

He says the Idaho Wildlife Federation is currently working with agriculture, sportsmen and energy interests in an effort to jointly write suggestions and comments for the BLM plan.

The public can comment on the plan, too, through February 8. Just go to the BLM’s national NEPA register.

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The Guardian

WCS, Cross River signs 10-year deal to protect gorillas, other species

By Tina Agosi Todo, Calabar/31 January 2022

Wildlife Conservation Society has signed a 10-year deal to protect gorillas and other endangered species in the Cross River State forest.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Cross River State Government is for the management and protection of Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mbe Mountains.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, the State Commissioner for Ministry of International Development Cooperation, Dr. Inyang Asibong, who represented the state governor, Prof. Ben Ayade said: “The continuous protection, maintenance and rehabilitation of wildlife and their sanctuaries is a top priority of the state.

“We must do everything possible to preserve our remaining wildlife as it has unquantifiable benefits for mankind.”

On his part, the WCS Nigeria Country Director, Andrew Dunn, estimated that only 100 Cross River gorillas survived with an additional 200 found in neighboring Cameroon.

He said: “Cross River gorillas are classified as ‘critically endangered’ which means that they are on the very edge of extinction.

“The state is the most important site for biodiversity and WCS is proud to partner with the government to save the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mbe Mountains and their endangered wildlife.

“The WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. WCS works in 60 countries across the globe to support conservation with local, national, and international stakeholders,” Dunn said.

Also speaking, the state Landscape Director of WCS, Dr. Inaoyom Imong, explained that the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mbe Mountains, which are located in Boki Local government area of the state are internationally recognised biodiversity hotspots, supporting important populations of endangered species such as the Cross River gorilla and Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee.

“The main threats to the survival of Cross River gorillas are hunting and habitat destruction due to farming and logging.

“This are Managed by the Cross River State Forestry Commission, the habitat of Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary is rapidly being eroded by farming and logging.

“The Mbe Mountains are managed by the Conservation Association of the Mbe Mountains (CAMM), with support from WCS,” he added.

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Montana Free Press (Helena, MT)

Heavy wolf harvest triggers new limits near Yellowstone

Nearly 30% of the national park’s wolves have been killed since the start of the 2021-2022 hunting season.

by Amanda Eggert, 01.28.2022

The state Fish and Wildlife Commission voted today to close wolf trapping and hunting in southwestern Montana if or when six more wolves are harvested in the region.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that 20 wolves that roamed out of Yellowstone National Park have been killed this season, the most in any single hunting season since wolf reintroduction in 1995. Park employees have since deemed one pack, the Phantom Lake Pack, “eliminated,” according to the story, which re-ignited wildlife advocates’ frustration about the state’s approach to wolf management and inspired a coalition of western environmental organizations to petition Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to issue emergency federal protections for wolves. Haaland has thus far declined to implement such a measure.

When it was setting dates for the 2021-2022 rifle-hunting and trapping seasons last year, the commission set a harvest threshold for each of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ seven regions that would trigger a regulation review with potential for “rapid in-season adjustments.” In Region Three, which covers southwestern Montana, the commission set that threshold at 82 wolves.

As of Friday afternoon, hunters and trappers have harvested 76 wolves in Region Three, with more than six weeks left before the trapping season’s scheduled close on March 15.

The commission discussed several options at the Friday meeting, including closing the season in the two wolf management units closest to the park, closing Region Three to wolf harvest effective immediately, and directing FWP to close the season on wolf hunting and trapping when 82 wolves have been harvested. The latter motion passed unanimously after the commission heard 30 minutes of public comment on the proposal.

About 15 people spoke in favor of scaling back wolf hunting and trapping in Region Three specifically or the state more generally. Many expressed concern about high harvest rates in areas close to Yellowstone National Park, where the canines are off-limits to hunters and trappers, and emphasized the animals ecological and economic benefits. With the possible exception of one illegible testimony offered at the start of the meeting, which was streamed online, no commenter called for the wolf hunting season’s continuation.

Speaking on behalf of the nonprofit Montana Wildlife Federation, Chris Servheen said the 2021-2022 wolf regulations established by the commission last year “lacked any biological justification” and requested that the commission reinstate its previous system of allowing for the harvest of one wolf from each of the two units closest to Yellowstone National Park.

“The ongoing killing of wolves along Yellowstone National Park will continue to embarrass Montana and increase the momentum to relist wolves [as an endangered species],” he said.

Cary McGary, founder of Gardiner’s In Our Nature Guiding Services, expressed frustration that nearly 30% of the national park’s wolf population has been killed since the start of the 2021-2022 hunting season and emphasized wolves’ economic value to people living and working in and near the park.

“We have a disproportionately high wolf killing where these animals have the most value alive,” she told the commission. “These animals are the most viewable wolves in the Lower 48, if not the world. Their economic value cannot be overestimated.”

Bozeman resident Phil Knight urged commissioners to consider wolves’ ecological benefit as a limitation on the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, which has been expanding its reach across Montana to the detriment of cervids like deer, elk and moose.

Many commenters’ names were likely familiar to both FWP and the commission, as wolf management has been the subject of voluminous and often heated public comment before and after the Legislature passed three bills last year aimed at aggressively reducing the state’s wolf population by expanding the trapping season, legalizing neck snares, and allowing for the use of bait and spotlights by hunters pursuing wolves on private land.

Wolf management has also found its way into the judicial system and spurred the federal government’s involvement. In September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the Endangered Species Act, decided to review whether the management of wolves in states including Montana and Idaho has imperiled the species’’ recovery. The agency is expected to issue a decision about the merits of relisting early this summer.

In December, the groups Trap Free Montana Public Lands and Wolves of the Rockies sued FWP and the commission over 2021-2022 wolf hunting regulations allowing for aerial hunting of wolves and the use of artificial light or night-vision scopes when hunting wolves on private land. The groups argue that the proper process was not followed in allowing the use of such tools because the commission did not debate them before FWP included them in its 2021-2022 wolf-hunting regulations. The organizations say the lack of debate thwarted public participation in violation of Montana law.

They’ve asked Lewis and Clark County District Court to issue a temporary restraining order to disallow those tools while the issue is in litigation. Wolves of the Rockies Executive Director Marc Cooke told Montana Free Press that the court has not yet ruled on the request, and said he anticipates the state will submit its response to the lawsuit early next week.

Concerns about unintentional snare or trap captures of grizzly bears and Canada lynx, which are federally protected, prompted the commission to decide in October to take trapping and snaring off the table within Lynx Protection Zones, which include parts of northwestern and southwestern Montana. The commission also pushed back the start date of trapping season for parts of the state that fall within the Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone on the theory that unintentional capture of the animals is less likely if trapping season starts after grizzlies have entered their dens for the winter.

If either lynx or grizzlies are captured in a trap or snare set for a wolf, the commission will be required to revisit its regulations.

In addition to setting regional wolf-harvest thresholds, the commission last year established a statewide quota that would trigger regulation review. As of Friday afternoon, 184 wolves have been harvested this season in Montana, according to FWP’s wolf quota dashboard — about 40% of the review-triggering quota of 450 wolves.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Mr. Goodbar, Famed Wandering Wolf of Borderlands, Shot in New Mexico But Survives

Mexican Gray Wolf Stymied By Border Wall Will Undergo Amputation

SILVER CITY, N.M.—(January 28, 2022)—The endangered Mexican gray wolf who spent five days pacing along the border wall in New Mexico before turning back was found shot but alive Wednesday.

The wolf, named Mr. Goodbar before his 2020 release into the wild in Arizona, suffered a gunshot wound to the knee on his lower right leg, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He was darted from the air by helicopter and transported to the Albuquerque BioPark Zoo, where veterinarians are amputating all or part of his leg.

The wolf is expected to survive and will be released to the wild after he recovers. The shooting is the subject of a federal law enforcement investigation. Mexican gray wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The maximum penalty for violating the Act is one year in jail and a $50,000 fine.

“It’s so awful that this young wolf blocked by a despicable border wall has now been shot and his own mobility curtailed with each step,” said Michael Robinson at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Mr. Goodbar’s painful experiences illustrate the inhospitable world we’ve created for Mexican gray wolves and other vulnerable animals.”

Mr. Goodbar was located during the Fish and Wildlife Service’s annual census of wolves in the Southwest, which is conducted by helicopter and entails capturing wolves to attach radio collars.

A year ago the census revealed 186 Mexican wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona. The 2021 number is expected to be more than 200 and should be released within weeks. There are also several dozen wolves in the wild in Mexico.

“We hope the criminal who shot Mr. Goodbar will be brought to justice,” said Robinson. “Here’s hoping Mr. Goodbar will be the wiliest lobo on three paws once he’s released, and that we can change federal policies that put these beautiful and vital animals at risk.”

Federal and state agencies, conservation organizations including the Center, and anonymous individuals have offered a reward totaling $49,000 for information leading to a conviction for illegally killing a Mexican wolf. A similar reward may be available for information that leads to the conviction for the attempted killing of a wolf, as in this instance. Anyone with information should call 1-844-397-8477 or email fws_tips@fws.gov.

Background

A century ago the U.S. government worked to exterminate gray wolves from throughout the western U.S. on behalf of the livestock industry. After killing what was likely the last U.S.-born wolf in the West in southwestern Colorado, the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1950 began poisoning wolves in Mexico as a foreign aid measure.

After passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, some of the last surviving wolves were captured alive in Mexico. Seven captive wolves were successfully bred in captivity. Their descendants were reintroduced into the U.S. beginning in 1998 and into Mexico beginning in 2011. The border wall constructed across southern New Mexico from 2018 to 2020 now blocks these wolves from going back and forth, which is needed to bolster their genetic diversity.

On Thursday the Service closed a public comment period around its proposal to manage Mexican wolves in the U.S. The Center for Biological Diversity, whose litigation with allies led to a new rule to be finalized by July, submitted comments criticizing the proposed continuation of policies that insufficiently protect the wolves.

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Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, ID)

Idaho looking to remove endangered species protections for grizzlies

Move coincides with similar petitions from Montana and Wyoming

By Eric Barker, for the Daily News Jan. 28, 2022

Idaho is preparing to ask the federal government to remove Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears.

The intention was announced during a presentation to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission at Boise on Thursday. It was unclear how far the state’s petition, which is expected to be completed in the next few weeks, will go and whether it will include all of the grizzly bear populations and recovery areas within Idaho or even all of those in the Lower 48. But officials said it will be timed to take advantage of grizzly bear delisting petitions recently submitted by Montana and Wyoming.

Deputy Director Jim Fredericks and Kathlene Trever, a deputy attorney general who works with the department, said leaving the bears listed under the Endangered Species Act will make it more difficult to build support for long-term conservation measures in rural communities and the federal government’s nearly 30-year old designation of grizzly bear recovery areas is legally and scientifically outdated.

Fredericks said Fish and Game officials are working with counterparts in the Office of Species Conservation to compile Idaho’s concerns.

“We expect the outcome of our scientific and legal policy review to result in a draft petition to delist grizzly bears in Idaho within the next few weeks, for review by the governor’s office and the (Fish and Game) commission,” he said.

Wyoming is asking the federal government to remove protections for grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. There are estimated to be about 1,000 grizzly bears in the area that is mostly in the Cowboy State but also includes parts of southwestern Montana and a sliver of eastern Idaho. The federal government delisted the Greater Yellowstone population in 2017 but the move was overturned by a federal judge.

Montana submitted a petition in December to delist the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem population in and around Glacier National Park. That population also numbers about 1,000 bears.

Fredericks said the Fish and Wildlife Service may choose to consolidate the Wyoming and Montana petitions, making it important for Idaho to also weigh in since those petitions did not address the Selkirk, Cabinet-Yaak or Bitterroot recovery areas. There are about 50 bears each in the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak recovery areas in the state’s northern Panhandle and none in the Bitterroot Area in north central Idaho.

Trever said the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak areas — and the grizzly bear management units within them — are quite small in comparison to other grizzly bear recovery areas and may be too small to support the number of bears called for in recovery plans. Because those bears in those recovery areas are connected to robust grizzly bear populations in Canada, the state believes they don’t require federal protection. Trever also noted protections are stronger south of the border.

“It is our perspective that if conservation measures are stronger in Idaho and the United States than Canada, the result should not be a separate listing of the grizzly bears in the United States and having grizzly bears in Canada not be on the list,” she said. “So that is one of the areas on which we will focus.”

It is unclear how the petition may address the Bitterroot Recovery area that has been identified as prime grizzly bear habitat. There were plans during the Clinton administration to release grizzly bears in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area and designate the animals as a “non-essential experimental” population, a classification that makes it easier for wildlife managers to remove problem bears. The reintroduction plans were spiked by the George W. Bush administration.

Following the meeting, Fredericks said the delisting petition is still under development. But he hinted it could be quite broad.

“I think the challenge is trying to figure out what would best meet Idaho’s needs altogether and what makes the most sense for grizzly bear conservation across the board. I can’t really go much further than that,” he said — but then did. “Is it a petition for Idaho alone or for the whole Lower 48 population?”

Gary Macfarlane, ecosystem defense director of the Friends of the Clearwater, a Moscow-based conservation group, said the state’s intentions are concerning and that the delisting would make it more difficult for bears to move and mate between populations, something needed to protect genetic diversity.

“The latest science calls for the need for connectivity,” he said.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Whales, Other Endangered Animals From Pacific Offshore Oil Drilling

LOS ANGELES—(January 26, 2022)—The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Biden administration today for failing to protect endangered whales, sea turtles and other species from continued oil and gas drilling off California’s coast.

Today’s lawsuit comes after an undersea pipeline connected to drilling platforms off Orange County ruptured in October, spewing tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean. The spill fouled sensitive beaches and wetlands, forced fisheries closures, and harmed or killed dozens of fish, birds and marine mammals.

“Endangered whales and other marine life have faced oil spill after oil spill off California’s coast, and the federal government has failed to protect them,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center. “These imperiled animals shouldn’t have to suffer and die because the oil industry is fouling our ocean waters. A robust, science-based analysis would show that drilling off California is just too risky to wildlife and our climate and should be phased out quickly.”

Since the spill, several oil sheens have been reported off Huntington Beach. At least one is believed to have come from another offshore pipeline. These incidents follow a long list of other oil industry spills and problems along the coast and across California, including the massive 2015 Refugio oil spill near Santa Barbara.

The Center’s lawsuit, filed against the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and National Marine Fisheries Service, says that the agencies’ existing Endangered Species Act analysis failed to predict or plan for an oil spill as big as the one in Southern California’s San Pedro Bay.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles, seeks a court order requiring the suspension of all new drilling permits off California’s coast while the agencies reexamine the threats of such activities to endangered species.

Prompted by a previous Center lawsuit, the Trump administration completed an Endangered Species Act analysis for oil and gas activity off California’s shores in 2017. It was the first consultation on drilling activities off California completed in more than 30 years.

The Trump administration’s analysis concluded that drilling off the state’s coast would not adversely affect threatened and endangered whales, sea turtles, abalone or other species. The conclusion was based on the assumption that an oil spill is unlikely and that if it did occur it would be limited to 8,400 gallons. The Center’s lawsuit highlights how the recent oil spill off California, which was several times larger than the Trump-era estimate, renders that entire analysis unlawful.

The lawsuit also asserts that the existing analysis is not based on the best available science and fails to consider new information regarding the threat to whales of being hit by ships engaged in oil and gas activity — or how existing oil drilling worsens the climate crisis and affects newly designated critical habitat for humpback whales.

The Fisheries Service recently found a 400% increase in humpback mortality and serious injury from human activities, including vessel strikes, since 2018 estimates.

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Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)

New federal lawsuit says PolyMet process violated Endangered Species Act

Plaintiffs say the proposed copper-nickel mine would threaten animal habitat.

By Jennifer Bjorhus, Star Tribune, January 25, 2022

A new federal lawsuit over PolyMet Mining’s proposed open-pit copper and nickel mine in northern Minnesota claims the project threatens essential habitat for gray wolves, Canada lynx and northern long-eared bats, and violates the federal Endangered Species Act.

The suit was filed Tuesday in federal court in Minneapolis by the Center for Biological Diversity, Save Lake Superior Association, Save Our Sky Blue Waters, Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest and Duluth for Clean Water.

Named as defendants were Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The groups challenge the agencies’ reliance on what they describe as a highly flawed wildlife assessment. The plaintiffs say the study — the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Feb. 5, 2016, Biological Opinion for the NorthMet Mine Project and Land Exchange — and the decisions based on it violate the Endangered Species Act.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s “determination that the NorthMet Mine Project is not likely to jeopardize the Canada lynx, gray wolf, or northern long-eared bat, and is not likely to adversely modify the designated critical habitat for the Canada lynx or gray wolf, is unsupported, lacks any rational basis, is in disregard of the best available science, is contrary to the evidence, and is arbitrary and capricious,” the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs want, among other measures, to void the 2018 land exchange between the Forest Service and PolyMet, and halt mine development until the matter is resolved.

The Center for Biological Diversity said it challenged the Fish and Wildlife opinion when it was first issued, but the judge said the request was premature and dismissed it because not all the mine permits had been issued.

“I’ve challenged biological opinions for other mining projects, and they’re much more extensive in their analysis,” said Marc Fink, the center’s Public Lands legal director.

The lawsuit is the latest challenge to the now-stalled $1 billion copper and nickel mine that PolyMet wants to build near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes. PolyMet is majority owned by Swiss mining giant Glencore and based in St. Paul.

PolyMet spokesman Bruce Richardson said the company is reviewing the complaint, intends to participate and is “confident” in a positive outcome. He noted that a federal judge dismissed four other challenges to the land exchange in 2019.

Over much public opposition, the Forest Service conveyed 6,650 acres, or about 10 square miles, of federal land to PolyMet that the company needed for the mine. In exchange, the agency received 6,690 acres of nonfederal land in tracts around Superior National Forest.

The Forest Service said it does not discuss litigation. The Fish and Wildlife Service said it was reviewing the matter and unable to comment.

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E&E News/Greenwire

Feds reverse course, seek protections for a New Mexico butterfly

By Michael Doyle | 01/24/2022

An endangered species dispute that goes back more than two decades took a fresh turn today as the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed federal protections for the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly in New Mexico.

The proposal to list the small butterfly as endangered reverses 2004 and 2009 determinations that Endangered Species Act protections were not warranted (, Dec. 22, 2004).

“Since we published the not-warranted rule in 2009, drought from climate change has worsened in New Mexico, worsening habitat conditions for the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly,” FWS said today.

The agency noted that “during abnormally dry conditions, both feral horses and elk switch to browsing certain plants that are important for the butterfly” and that recreation on the Lincoln National Forest has also increased in recent years.

Citing “heightened concern about the impact of these stressors on the habitat,” the agency had initiated a discretionary status review of the species in January 2021. In March 2021, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition to list the butterfly as endangered with critical habitat.

While now agreeing that ESA listing is warranted, FWS is not yet proposing to designate critical habitat.

“Careful assessments of the economic and environmental impacts that may occur due to a critical habitat designation are not yet complete, and we are in the process of working with the States and other partners in acquiring the complex information needed to perform those assessments,” the agency explained.

The butterfly is a subspecies of the Anicia checkerspot and lives in the Sacramento Mountains in south-central New Mexico. It has a wingspan of approximately 2 inches and a checkered pattern with dark brown, red, orange, cream and black spots.

It relies on a perennial plant called the New Mexico beardtongue and, for nectar, on a plant memorably called the orange sneezeweed.

Enter the horses.

FWS explained that “feral horses were inadvertently released onto the Lincoln National Forest around 2012” and that roughly 60,000 horses now live throughout the Sacramento Mountains.

New Mexico beardtongue is usually not a main food source for horses. But as drought dries up other food plants, the horses switch diets and start going after the plants that the butterfly needs.

FWS further noted that the 2020 monsoon season was an exceptionally weak one, with far less precipitation falling than in an average summer. That has meant weak growth of New Mexico beardtongue.

The organization that was then called the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition in 1999 requesting emergency listing of the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly as endangered.

In 2001, FWS proposed listing the species, but then a few years later reversed its position.

“On December 21, 2004, we published a withdrawal of the proposed rule, concluding that the threats to the species were not as great as we had perceived when we proposed it for listing,” the agency recounted today.

In 2007, the Center for Biological Diversity and the group now called WildEarth Guardians filed another petition, citing threats including feral horse grazing, climate change and an imminent plan to spray for insect pests.

In September 2009, FWS determined listing was not warranted.

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KJZZ/91.5 FM (Tempe, AZ)

Ferret cloned from frozen cells could improve prospects for endangered species

By Nicholas Gerbis, Published: Monday, January 24, 2022

A black-footed ferret at the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center in Colorado has become one of the first cloned, endangered animals to reach sexual maturity.

The stakes for successful breeding are high — and controversial.

Since the mid-1980s, conservationists have bred-back black-footed ferrets from the brink of extinction using a shallow gene pool of only seven animals.

The cloned ferret, Elizabeth Ann, comes from the cells of an eighth ferret preserved at the San Diego Frozen Zoo (SDFZ).

Opponents say cloning diverts funds and attention from efforts like habitat preservation, all for a tool with limited success and applications.

But Tara Harris, director of conservation and science at the Phoenix Zoo and Arizona Center for Nature Conservation — one of only six facilities in the world breeding black-footed ferrets for a reintroduction to the wild — says the endangered ferrets are good candidates.

“The black-footed ferret is highly endangered and has a well-established breeding and reintroduction program. But every individual on this Earth descends from only seven individuals, and that results in unique genetic challenges to recovering this species,” she said. “Cloning has the potential to infuse new genetics into this population that would otherwise be lost.”

That infusion of genetic diversity could help reduce risks of disease, infertility and genetic abnormalities. Still, Harris agrees it’s only one tool in the conservationist toolbox and not universally applicable.

“I think cloning may not be the answer for conserving a wide array of species, but several things make black-footed ferrets really good candidates for using cloning as one of multiple conservation tools to help the species,” she said.

Black-footed ferret cloning benefits from the species having an established breeding program and a close cousin — the domesticated ferret — that can donate eggs.

Phoenix Zoo was not involved in the cloning process or in providing the cells, which were obtained by SDFZ biologist Olivia Ryder from Wyoming Game and Fish veterinarian Tom Thorne in 1987. SDFZ would ultimately bank two cell lines: a male labeled Studbook #2 and a female named Willa.

“Thankfully, biologists had the foresight to create these cell lines long ago from other black-footed ferrets that didn’t pass along their genes,” said Harris.

Revive & Restore, a nonprofit focused on using biotechnology to help endangered and extinct species, worked with a pet cloning company called ViaGen Pets as well as a commercial ferret breeder to create embryos from Willa’s DNA. They hope eventually to clone the male ferret as well.

But reaching sexual maturity, though a significant feat, merely marks the beginning of a long process for the ferret and her team.

“First of all, they hope Elizabeth Ann will be fully sexually developed for breeding this season — not all 1-year-old black-footed ferrets are,” said Harris.

Assuming that holds true, the experts at the Colorado facility will need to find an experienced breeding male that is a good genetic match, then hope the pairing goes well and produces kits that grow up to reproduce successfully.

“Oftentimes, even in ones that appear to go very well, the female doesn’t actually get pregnant and then we have to keep trying or try other methods. Some facilities have tried artificial insemination in some cases,” said Harris.

Successful or not, whether conservationists can apply the approach to other animals will require more research and evaluation.

“I think the balance falls differently probably for every individual species because there’s so many different factors that make it either a useful tool, or less so,” said Harris.

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Center for Biological Diversity

Petition Aims to Protect Famed Ghost Orchids Under Endangered Species Act

Rare Florida Flower Threatened by Poaching, Development

PETERSBURG, Fla.—(January 24, 2022)—Conservation organizations submitted a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today requesting protection of the ghost orchid under the Endangered Species Act. The ghost orchid, one of the most famous and imperiled flowers in Florida, has declined by more than 90% globally.

The petition — submitted by The Institute for Regional Conservation, Center for Biological Diversity and National Parks Conservation Association — also asks the Service to designate critical habitat essential to the survival and recovery of the orchid.

“The ghost orchid is an icon of beauty and nature’s abundance,” said George Gann, executive director at The Institute for Regional Conservation. “Its long demise in southern Florida and Cuba, in part due to its immense popularity, is a bellwether of things to come. We can do nothing and watch another species go extinct in the wild, or we can act now to protect and restore this flagship orchid and its wild habitats. The Florida we envision includes a restored Greater Everglades ecosystem with all of its biological diversity, including the ghost orchid.”

The ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii), made popular by Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief and the movie Adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Nicholas Cage, is found only in Florida and Cuba.

There are only an estimated 1,500 ghost orchid plants left in Florida, and less than half are known to be reproductively mature. The Florida populations of ghost orchid have experienced a 30% to 50% decline. Chief threats to the flower include poaching, habitat degradation and the climate emergency.

“The ghost orchid is emblematic of wild, beautiful Florida, and this flower’s future depends on our ability to protect it from poaching and habitat loss,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The steady decline of ghost orchid populations coupled with the threats of the climate crisis puts this enigmatic plant at risk of extinction.”

“The ghost orchid is the rare plant species that captivates just as much attention as some charismatic megafauna in the state of Florida. This mysterious, beautiful plant captivates Floridians, reminding them of our state’s unique, wild heritage,” said Melissa Abdo, Ph.D., regional director at the National Parks Conservation Association. “While the ghost orchid has always been rare, threats to its existence have become dire in recent years. Poaching, climate change, loss and modification of habitat and direct threats to the ecosystem — even in protected areas like Big Cypress National Preserve — could spell disaster for the species. That is why it is imperative that the ghost orchid be afforded protections under the Endangered Species Act.”

Abdo has longstanding experience with the ghost orchid, having helped discover new subpopulations of the plant in Big Cypress National Preserve in the early 2000s.

The orchid is long-lived and may take 15 years or more to reach reproductive maturity. Its current range includes the Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and additional conservation and tribal areas in Collier, Hendry and possibly Lee counties.

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The Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA)

Judge orders USFWS to re-examine bison ruling

Sun., Jan. 23, 2022,  By Brett French,The Billing Gazette

BILLINGS – A U.S. District Court judge sided with bison advocates this week by ordering the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit its decision regarding a denial of evidence submitted in an attempt to have Yellowstone National Park’s bison protected under the Endangered Species Act.

In a 33-page memorandum opinion, District of Columbia Judge Randolph D. Moss said he had no view on the ESA issue. Rather, he said the Fish and Wildlife Service had applied the wrong standard and failed to address a significant aspect of the question before it when it last denied the petitioners’ arguments.

“It is concerning, to be sure, that over seven years have now passed since the 2014 petition was filed,” Moss wrote. “But it remains unclear whether sufficient basis exists to proceed to the next stage of the ESA process, and in light of the substantial amount of work done to date, the Service should be able to answer that question promptly.”

Although the judge set no deadline for the Fish and Wildlife Service response, he did require the parties to file a joint status report within 90 days to update the court.

Since 2014, Buffalo Field Campaign and Western Watersheds Project have been fighting to have Yellowstone’s bison declared endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The request is based on an argument that Yellowstone contains two genetically distinct subpopulations, the Central and Northern herds, which are often separated geographically but do intermix. To back up the claim, they pointed out that only 22 indigenous bison remained in Central Yellowstone in 1902. Meanwhile, the Northern herd is descended from 18 females from northern Montana and three bulls from Texas introduced in 1902.

The Central herd tends to remain around the Madison River while the Northern herd is found along the Yellowstone and Lamar rivers.

Under an agreement with the state of Montana, in an attempt to avoid bison infected with the disease brucellosis from passing it to livestock, the state and National Park Service agreed in 2000 to allow the slaughter of bison and bison hunting to reduce the park’s bison population. The theory was that fewer bison would mean fewer would wander out of the park in winter when they might come into contact with cattle and spread brucellosis.

Since that agreement was forged, however, the Central bison herd’s population has declined. To support a demand for boosting the bison population, the conservation groups cited a 2014 study that found the two herds were genetically distinct. So rather than set a limit of 3,000 bison for the entire park, they argued the population should be 3,000 bison for each herd.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, which implements the Endangered Species Act, dismissed the study and instead touted a different one that examined the bison’s mitochondrial DNA. This study did not support the claims of distinct bison populations. Therefore, no change to existing management was warranted, the agency argued.

The Fish and Wildlife Service had also said the petitioners “failed to adequately account for mixing between the central and northern herds.” Ignoring this “suggests that the substructure of two distinct lineages in two distinct herds may not be sustained over time.”

Judge Moss said the USFWS’s 2019 finding “offers no analysis of why, in the Service’s view,” it chose one study over the other. The agency failed to “articulate … a ‘rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.’ ”

Whether the issue will get more attention now that Martha Williams, the former director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, is on track to become the new director of the USFWS is uncertain.

When Montana congressman Ryan Zinke was appointed to lead the Department of Interior, the USFWS denied the bison ESA petition. At the same time, he was urging the Park Service to manage Yellowstone’s bison more like livestock.

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Earth.com

Lighted nets help protect endangered marine wildlife

By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.com staff writer, January 22, 2022

New research published in the journal Current Biology has found that using LED illuminated nets greatly reduced accidental catch of sharks, rays, sea turtles or other unwanted fish. This leads to a win-win situation for commercial fisheries and marine wildlife.

Gillnets are one of the most widely used fishing gear in coastal areas of the world’s oceans. However, using them often results in the bycatch of animals not targeted by fishers, including endangered, threatened, or protected species such as sharks, rays, sea turtles, or seabirds. This incidental catching of non-target species has contributed to declines in endangered species and has negatively impacted coastal ecosystems.

Luckily, during the last decade, increasingly more LED illuminated gillnets have been manufactured, which proved to be a highly effective solution to the problems entailed by accidental catch. A research team led by Arizona State University (ASU) and the Wildlife Conservation Society attached green LED lights every ten meters on gillnets along the Pacific Coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico to assess to what extent could this method reduce bycatch.

The scientists were amazed to find that using this gear reduced total fisheries bycatch by 63 percent, including a 95 percent reduction in the accidental catch of sharks, skates, and rays, an 81 percent reduction in incidental trapping of Humboldt squids, and a 48 percent reduction in catching unwanted finfish. Fortunately for fishers, this technology still allowed continued catches of targeted species, while significantly reducing bycatch.

“These results demonstrate that the potential benefits of illuminated nets extend well beyond sea turtles, while demonstrating the strong promise for net illumination to mitigate discarded bycatch in similar coastal gillnet fisheries throughout the world’s oceans,” said study lead author Jesse Senko, an expert in animal behavior and fisheries management at ASU.

“Making life easier for fishers by reducing the amount of time untangling bycatch is equally essential as reducing the bycatch biomass in nets,” added study co-author John Wang, a fisheries ecologist at the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

“It is important for fishers to know that there are tangible benefits for them. This is critical for the adoption of such technologies by the fishing industry,” he concluded.

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Turtle Island Restoration Network

Take Action for Salmon

January 22, 2022

A new Stream Conservation Area Ordinance (SCA) that could determine the fate of coho salmon in California is coming before the Marin County Board of Supervisors this March.

A new Stream Conservation Area Ordinance (SCA) that could determine the fate of coho salmon in California is coming before the Marin County Board of Supervisors this March. Despite being protected by the U.S. and California Endangered Species Act, Coho Salmon populations have plummeted 95% of their historic population numbers. They have been driven to near extinction by urbanization, habitat loss, and climate change.

The tiny 9 square mile San Geronimo Valley attributes 10% of the spawning habitat for central coast coho, making this one the vital coho spawning habitats in all of California. Yet even here, the actual number of fish is tragically low, averaging only 250 remaining adults returning to spawn each year. As the valley goes, so does the Salmon, making it paramount to preserve and protect the little remaining riparian habitat we have left.

For two decades without success, SPAWN has tried to persuade Marin supervisors to pass a science-based, common sense SCA ordinance to protect the salmon’s critical habitat.  With urban development continuing, SPAWN sued the county and won a series of important legal victories after the State Court found that Marin County’s plan to urbanize the watershed violated the California Environmental Quality Act. To mitigate any impacts, the county elected to create a science-based SCA to protect the streams from being overdeveloped. But over 14 years later, and still, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act, an effective SCA has not materialized.

The Marin County Planning Commission recently approved a version of the SCA to be voted on by the Board of Supervisors this spring.

Unfortunately, the current draft ordinance is plagued with problems that will allow continued destruction of habitat and cause coho salmon habitat and numbers to decline toward extinction. Excessive development is permitted within the SCA, lacking baseline regulations to protect the streambanks.  The SCA ordinance is absent of workable and clearly defined language, unnecessarily burdening the homeowners and the environment. It is hard to discern how development would be regulated due to the broad ill-defined exceptions and exemptions.

The SCA lacks any provisions for inspection or enforcement to ensure that the Ordinance is put into effect, making this nothing more than a toothless paper document. Also, the current SCA lacks any performance standards to measure how effective the SCA is at protecting salmon. Finally, there is no mention of adopting a mitigation program to restore degraded riparian habitat in priority areas of the Lagunitas Creek watershed that would be damaged due to development.

Warming oceans coupled with a higher probability of infrequent rain events are already creating an uphill battle for Coho Salmon to return to their native spawning grounds. For this species to survive, we must protect what little unimpaired streams we have left. Take action by letting the Marin County Board of Supervisors know that they need to adopt a common-sense science-based Ordinance that follows the

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Public News Service

Federal Funds Coming to Keep Invasive Carp Out of Great Lakes

Lily Bohlke/Producer, January 21, 2022

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to use federal funds for a project to help keep invasive carp out of the Great Lakes.

It is proposing using nearly $226 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for the Brandon Road Lock and Dam Project in Joliet.

Don Jodrey, director of federal relations for the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said carp crowd out native aquatic species, and have been moving up the Mississippi River system and into the Illinois River.

The project would modify the existing dam and locks to make it easier to detect invasive species.

“The Great Lakes have suffered over the years from invasive aquatic species, like zebra and quagga mussels and things like this,” Jodrey explained. “The concern is, if the carp move into the Great Lakes system, that they’re going to be detrimental to the fishing and recreational industries that are up there.”

He added the Army Corps is testing relatively new technology, which could help other states tackle the problem of invasive species.

Fighting invasive species is not cheap. Jodrey pointed out the money is expected to cover the planning, engineering and design phases of the project, about $28 million, plus roughly $200 million for construction, which he noted could cost another $850 million.

“They’re basically saying, as a matter of policy, that the administration supports the project,” Jodrey stated. “It’s a really important step, and it really tells us the project is going to get built.”

For the remaining funding, the eight governors of the Great Lakes states have requested the project be included in the 2022 Water Resources Reform and Development Act.

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Colorado Newsline (Denver, CO)

Trophy hunting of bobcats, Canada lynx, mountain lions would be banned under proposed Colorado bill

By: JULIA FENNELL – January 21, 2022

Colorado state representatives introduced a bill last week to ban trophy hunting of certain wildcats.

If passed, Senate Bill 22-31 would prohibit shooting, wounding, killing or trapping a bobcat, Canada lynx or mountain lion. The bill was sponsored by Democratic state Sens. Sonya Jaquez Lewis and Joann Ginal and state Reps. Judy Amabile and Monica Duran.

Mountain lions, bobcats and lynxes are Colorado’s three native feline species, according to the Colorado Virtual Library website.

The Colorado Farm Bureau, which protects, promotes and enhances agriculture and rural communities, according to its website, opposes the bill.

“It is a rancher’s first priority to care for their livestock and Colorado Farm Bureau opposes any new threat to the wellbeing of those animals such as SB22-031,” says a statement emailed to Newsline and attributed to Austin Vincent, the director of public policy and state affairs for the Colorado Farm Bureau. “Ranchers know firsthand how difficult and complex predator management is as well as protecting livestock from stress and harassment by predators. Limiting wildlife management via unwavering legislation leaves wildlife biologists on the sidelines as they manage healthy wildlife populations. Legislators taking away options to control predator populations only endangers the health of livestock and Colorado’s diverse wildlife ecosystem.”

The Humane Society of the United States supports the bill.

“Even though fur sales are plummeting across the world, trappers still target Colorado’s bobcats for their soft belly fur, which is sold on international markets,” the Humane Society of the United States’ website says. “Canada lynx, who are very similar in appearance to bobcats, could soon lose their protections under the federal Endangered Species Act, putting their small population in Colorado at risk to trophy hunting.”

The bill would allow a person to shoot, wound, kill or trap a bobcat, Canada lynx, or mountain lion in certain circumstances, including if it is immediately necessary to protect the person from bodily harm and if it’s by a peace officer or veterinarian who is acting within the scope of their duties. A person who shoots, wounds or kills one of the animals to prevent bodily harm is not allowed to move the animal and is required to notify the Colorado Parks and Wildlife within 24 hours.

Violators of the Prohibit Hunting Bobcat, Lynx And Mountain Lion bill would face a fine of up to $2,000 or up to one year in jail, an assessment of 20 hunting license suspension points and a civil restitution fee of $700 for a bobcat or mountain lion and $1,000 for a Canada lynx, according to the proposed legislation. If passed, violating the bill would be a misdemeanor.

Selling or buying a mountain lion or soliciting another person to illegally hunt a mountain lion is a class 5 felony.

Felines in Colorado

Colorado Parks and Wildlife established the lynx reintroduction program in the late 1990s, with the goal of establishing a self-sustaining population of lynxes in Colorado, according to a status report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Lynxes were considered endangered animals in Colorado in the 1970s, though theories for why the animal disappeared from the state vary. In 1999, 41 lynxes were released in Colorado. A total of 218 lynxes were reintroduced in the state as a result of the program, which lasted until 2006.

Trophy hunters kill about 500 mountain lions and about 2,000 bobcats a year in Colorado, according to a report from the Humane Society of the United States. Hunters who kill bobcats often use live traps — bobcats are drawn into the trap by bait set by hunters, who then return to kill the animal.

Bobcats and mountain lions in Colorado tend to live in areas with canyons and foothills, whereas lynxes tend to live in subalpine forest areas along mountain streams and avalanche chutes, according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

Between 3,000 and 7,000 mountain lions are estimated to live in Colorado, according to Breckenridge’s website.

Colorado is home to dozens of endangered species. The Canada lynx is listed as a threatened species federally; bobcats and mountain lions are not.

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E&E News/Greenwire

DeFazio blasts Haaland over gray wolf protections

By Michael Doyle | 01/20/2022

In a remarkably pointed critique, one of the most senior Democrats in the House yesterday voiced sharp disappointment with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland over her refusal to extend emergency Endangered Species Act protections to the gray wolf.

The chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) let loose following a phone call with Haaland to discuss the species, which was removed from the ESA list last January.

“I came away from the discussion disappointed,” DeFazio said in a lengthy statement, adding that “I am frankly dumbfounded that she would not invoke emergency relisting now.”

A longtime leading member of the House Progressive Caucus, DeFazio cited his “grave concerns” about the wolf and declared “there is simply no reason for Secretary Haaland to continue a Trump-era policy that threatens the existence of a species.”

DeFazio’s denunciation escalates both the rhetorical and the regulatory conflict over the gray wolf. Last September, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would perform a yearlong review to determine if relisting is warranted.

In theory, Haaland could use her emergency authority to relist the species for 240 days while FWS completes its latest assessment (Greenwire, Dec. 16, 2021).

Interior spokesperson Melissa Schwartz said in a statement that “the Secretary appreciated the opportunity to speak with the congressman on a topic they both care passionately about.”

“I will not go into the details of a private conversation but want to be clear — under Secretary Haaland’s leadership, the Department will address the status of the gray wolf and all species according to the science and the law, and will continue to evaluate all options for doing so,” Schwartz added.

With the gray wolf delisted, Western states including Idaho, Montana and Oregon have enacted laws that have opened the door to killing wolves.

“Sadly, Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Services has authorized the inhumane killings of gray wolf pups, which are no threat to livestock,” DeFazio said.

DeFazio has announced he is retiring after this term, capping a congressional career that began in 1987.

In December, DeFazio joined one of Haaland’s closest House allies, Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, and more than 70 other lawmakers in a letter calling for emergency relisting of the species.

The review by FWS was prompted by two petitions proposing to list the gray wolf’s northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segment (DPS), or a new Western DPS, as a threatened or endangered species.

One petition was filed by the Western Watersheds Project and 70 other organizations. The other petition asserting that Endangered Species Act protections are needed was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and several other groups.

In March 2019, FWS proposed delisting the species, first identified as endangered decades ago, after concluding that the population in the Lower 48 states had rebounded (Greenwire, July 16, 2019).

Gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains, including Montana, Idaho, and eastern portions of Oregon and Washington state, were previously delisted in 2009. The broader delisting for the Lower 48 was made final last year and took effect Jan. 4 (E&E News PM, Feb. 1, 2021).

Several weeks later, the Natural Resources Defense Council joined with other groups in suing FWS.

While that lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California is pending, the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Sheep Industry Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Public Lands Council are appealing a trial judge’s denial of their request to intervene.

“In the Coalition members’ experience, state and tribal agencies are best able to balance healthy ecosystems with the needs of local communities, including farmers and ranchers,” the groups stated in one legal filing.

The groups added that “a decision to relist the gray wolf, for example, could impair Coalition members’ ability to protect their livestock from wolves and place restrictions on their routine agricultural and timber activities.”

A Congressional Research Service report noted that the ESA requires Interior to exercise emergency authority to relist a delisted species when necessary “to prevent a significant risk to the well being” of the species.

“As of October 2020, no species had been relisted on an emergency basis under this authority,” CRS noted.

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Boston Globe (Boston, MA)

Genetic testing leads to ‘surprising discoveries’ about endangered right whales, researchers say

By Matt Yan, Globe Correspondent, January 20, 2022

Using genetic testing, scientists have discovered new information about North Atlantic right whale calves, according to a study published Thursday.

“The results of this study have changed what we know about the separation time between a mother and calf as well as calves’ physical development, all crucial information for a critically endangered species that numbers less than 350 individuals,” Philip Hamilton, lead author of the study and senior scientist at the New England Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, said in a statement.

The North Atlantic right whale is a critically endangered species, with a total population of 336 as of 2020, according to the aquarium statement. The animals typically travel close to shore along the US and Canadian coastlines, spanning from Florida to Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The study, which was published in the journal Mammalian Biology, has been in the works for over 40 years, Hamilton said in a telephone interview Thursday. He said North Atlantic right whales have been tracked via photo identification since 1980 and tracked genetically, through skin and blubber biopsies, since 1988. Data for this study was collected until 2018, he said.

When researchers compared the genetic and photo databases, “surprising” discoveries were made, Hamilton said.

“We regularly compare the two databases because you can obtain identifications from either but using very different metrics,” he said. He said that in a number of cases, researchers were able to use genetic testing to identify whales that they had not been able to identify using photographs.

Researchers said it was previously assumed that if mothers were always seen alone on the feeding ground in the calf’s birth year, then their calves were dead. But the study found, with the help of genetic testing, that four calves missing and presumed to be dead had survived. Two of the four possibly had weaned earlier than expected, the researchers said.

One of the 13 case studies, for example, involved an unnamed calf (denoted as Catalog #3970) born in 2009 and genetically sampled on the calving grounds in January 2009, with his mother, according to the statement.

The calf and his mother, Braces, were last seen together in mid-February 2009, according to the statement. But four months later, in mid-June, a young unidentified whale was spotted alone on a feeding ground 1,000 miles north.

After the whale was genetically sampled in September, it was identified as Braces’ calf, who had separated from his mother at only 7- to 8-months-old. This discovery, the statement said, helped researchers conclude that whales can wean from their mothers earlier than the typical 10 to 12 months.

Through the study, Hamilton said, researchers “gained better estimates on calf survival.”

“I don’t think it will have a big impact on the actual survival estimates because it’s just a few animals,” he said. “But everything helps to make our estimates more precise. And all of those estimates are built into assessments of, you know, what do we need in the way of protections for this species in order for them to survive?”

Right now, he said, the species is in “bad shape” with the population dwindling rapidly due to a decrease in reproduction and increases in mortality caused by vessel strikes and entanglement in ropes. And as someone who has studied whales for 35 years, he said he hopes that with this study, people recognize their importance.

“I think one thing about this study is that it shows, yet again, the power of knowing the individual,” he said. “By knowing an individual whale, we can track their behavior and their survival, and you link genetics in there, and it just makes it more refined. … The stories in this paper are about individuals, and I hope that makes the information more interesting and accessible to the reader.”

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Emory University (Atlanta, GA)

International trade bans on endangered species tend to help mammals but hurt reptiles

By Carol Clark, Jan. 19, 2022

International trade bans on endangered species generally help mammals improve their status but hurt reptiles, finds a major economics study led by Emory University.

Science Advances published the research on the impact of international trade bans by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“We find large spikes in legal trade in anticipation of the bans on reptilian species but not in anticipation of the bans on mammalian species, potentially explaining the differential effect of the bans,” says Hugo Mialon, professor of economics at Emory University and lead author of the study.

The work is the largest-scale study of its kind, spanning nearly four decades and including all mammalian and reptilian species for which threat-level assessments are available from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Co-authors include economists Tilman Klumpp, from the University of Alberta, Canada; and Michael Williams, from the Berkeley Research Group and Competition Economics LLC in Emeryville, California.

Their findings have significant implications for policymakers. Since CITES does not operate in secrecy, increased trading activity in anticipation of impending trading bans is generally not preventable.

“Anticipatory trade spikes may be especially detrimental when the bans are applied to critically endangered species, because market prices for the few remaining specimens tend to be high, so eleventh-hour trading may be more intense and post-ban recovery harder,” Mialon says. “This suggests that trade bans should be implemented at lower endangerment levels — in other words, when a species is near threatened rather than critically endangered.”

The authors propose several possible explanations for why eleventh-hour trade spikes did not occur — or were less pronounced — for mammalian species. One possibility is logistics, since many of the mammalian species in their dataset were many times larger and heavier than most of the reptilian species, requiring greater effort to ship across international borders. In addition, many of the reptilian species, such as turtles and tortoises, are easier to catch than the mammals. Finally, reptilian species traded in the exotic pet trade are known to be less likely to survive physical relocation compared to mammals.

Mialon specializes in research at the boundaries between law and economics.

“From a young age, I’ve been fascinated by wild animals and their importance to ecosystems,” he says. “The available IUCN data on endangered species and CITES bans offered a chance to apply my expertise to potentially help save animal species from extinction. As far as I know, we are the first economists to tackle this topic.”

Direct evidence for the effectiveness of trade bans by CITES has been inconclusive. Several previous small-sample studies have found that CITES regulations had a marginal effect, or no measurable effect, on endangerment.

Mialon and his colleagues took a more comprehensive approach to the question. They focused on the period starting in 1979, when data on CITES bans first became available, to 2018. Their analysis included all 41 mammalian and 20 reptilian species that have received CITES bans within the study period and the thousands of mammalian and reptilian species that have been assessed by IUCN during that period.

The status of a majority of species has deteriorated over the past four decades, due to various threats such as hunting, habitat loss and climate change. The statistical methods used by the researchers compared how the status of species that received CITES trade bans changed compared to those that did not receive bans.

Economic controls used in the study included data on GPD per capita, international trade volume as a percentage of GDP, and population density, by country and year. For each species and year, the researchers averaged each of these variables over all countries in the species’ distribution, as recorded by the IUCN. They also constructed a measure for scientific interest in a species. And the analysis controlled for factors that differ across species but do not change over time, such as a species’ average adult size.

The results indicate that, on average, trade bans work for mammals. A trade ban is associated with an average reduction in the probability that a species is assessed as endangered or worse of up to 17 percent, relative to species in which trade was not banned.

Mammalian species whose status eventually improved following a ban include the Guadalupe fur seal, the grey wolf, the northern bottle-nose whale, the ocelot, the margay, the sloth bear, the Samoan flying fox, the Pacific flying fox, Cuvier’s gazelle and the slender-horned gazelle.

“The Cuvier’s gazelle and the slender-horned gazelle are clear examples,” Mialon says. “They were endangered in 2007 when they received a CITES ban and are ‘vulnerable’ and no longer ‘endangered’ today.”

The Dorcas gazelle, however, which did not receive a CITES ban, was “vulnerable” in 2007 and remains “vulnerable” today, so it saw no improvement in status.

“All three species are closely related, share a similar geographic distribution, and face overlapping threats,” Mialon says. “This provides an example of the trade bans working and may suggest that extending a trade ban to the Dorcas gazelle could be effective, too.”

In the case of reptiles, the analysis found that an international trade ban is associated with an average increase in the probability that a species is assessed as endangered or worse of up to 42.6 percent, relative to species in which trade was not banned.

Only the American and saltwater crocodiles saw their status improve following a CITES ban. The Bolson tortoise, Simony’s lizard, the bog turtle, Kleinmann’s tortoise, the Antsingy leaf chameleon, the flat-tailed tortoise, the spider tortoise and the big-headed turtle all saw their status deteriorate following the ban.

One limitation to the study is that historical data on the use of other conservation measures besides CITES bans was unavailable so it could not be used as a control variable. Another limitation is that the analysis only looked at international bans.

“Many threatened animal species are not traded in international markets but are still traded in local and national markets,” Mialon says.

Mialon and his colleagues are currently working on another paper about the effects of CITES international trade bans on plant species.

The research received support from Competition Economics LLC and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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Daily Mail

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

January 18, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The results may have greater ecosystem implications.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Buckrail (Jackson Hole,WY)

Yellowstone bison get second chance at ‘endangered’ listing

Buckrail @ Shannon, Jan. 14, 2022—Yellowstone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hawaii Public Radio

Hawaiʻi has more endangered plants than any other state

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over 100 native plants are extinct because of invasive species.

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

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

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NPR

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

January 14, 20223, RINA TORCHINSKY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Center for Biological Diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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The Hill

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

By ZACK BUDRYK – 01/11/22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Florida Politics (St. Petersburgh, FL)

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

Officials would have to inspect septic tanks every five years.

By Renzo Downey, January 10, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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E&E News/Greenwire

Extinct? Ivory-billed woodpecker spurs dispute

By Michael Doyle | 01/10/2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hey SoCal (Los Angeles, CA)

Mountain lion inbreeding fuels extinction fears; SoCal freeways to blame

January 8, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Michigan Radio

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

Michigan Radio, By Lester Graham, January 7, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff, AZ)

Endangered Mexican gray wolf named Anubis found dead in northern Arizona

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Jan. 7, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ABC/Fox Montana Right Now.com

Gianforte releases grizzly delisting plan

ROB CHANEY, Jan. 7, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Montana Stock Growers Association praised the petition on Friday.

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

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JD Supra

Panama City Crayfish Listed as Threatened and Critical Habitat Designated

Benjamin Mathieu (Nossaman LLP), January 6, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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University of Hawaii

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

UH News, January 6, 2022

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

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

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

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

Mitigation and design

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

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

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

Planning required

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

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

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

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CNN

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

By Katie Hunt, CNN, January6, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Newsweek

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

Charlotte Trattner, January 6, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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Florida Today (Melbourne, Fla.)

Feds warn it’s wrong to approach endangered right whales

Jim Waymer, Florida Today, January 5, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That was Snow Cone,” Albert said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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YaleNews/Yale University

Measuring success: The path to real conservation gains

By Bill Hathaway, January 5, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NewsChannel 21/ktvz.com (Bend, OR)

Groups warns hunting season could threaten endangered species

Published January 4, 2022, By Emily Hamer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Border Report

Smuggled spider monkeys confiscated at Texas border crossing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Center for Biological Diversity

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

Rare, Beautiful Snake Wrongly Denied Protection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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KETV/7 (Omaha, NE)

Tiger killed after zoo worker goes into restricted part of enclosure

By Taylor Lang, WPBF, January 1, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The zoo is closed Thursday and scheduled to reopen Friday.

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

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

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The Sun Daily (Selangor, Malaysia)

Jaguar released in Argentina to help endangered species

January 1, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The jaguars are tracked with a GPS device they wear.

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

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

Jaguars are native to the Americas.

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

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

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Mohave Valley Daily News (Bullhead City, AZ)

Federal agencies partner to conserve Mojave desert tortoises

News West, Dec. 29, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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World Wildlife Fund

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

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

December 29, 2021

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

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

Facing a mass extinction event ‘within the next decade’

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

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

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

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

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

Polar bears and other species on thin ice in 2021

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

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

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

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

Lucky Bustards and other 2021 animal ‘winners’

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

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

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

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

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

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Foreign Brief

US to declare species extinct

In Daily Brief, December 29, 2021, Madeline McQuillan

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

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

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

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

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Maui Now

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

November 14, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ABC News Online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scientists track turtles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History of the tortoiseshell trade

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illegal tortoiseshell trade ramps up

Dr Whiting said the global tortoiseshell trade had escalated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Courthouse News Service

Judge asked to restore endangered species protections for gray wolves

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

NICHOLAS IOVINO, November 12, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Straits Times

Proposed changes to endangered species law include stiffer penalties for offenders

Shermaine Ang, NOV. 12, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Smithsonian Magazine

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

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

Rasha Aridi, Daily Correspondent, November 11, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WCIV/ABC News (Charleston, SC)

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

by Brittany Whitehead, November 11, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Center for Biological Diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Austin American-Statesman (Austin, TX)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to help

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

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Al.com (Birmingham, AL)

Alligator snapping turtles may get endangered species protection

By Greg Garrison, Published: Nov. 08, 2021

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

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

Environmental groups praised the decision.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Buckrail (Jackson Hole, WY)

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

Caroline Chapman, Nov. 7, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yahoo/Business Insider

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

Yelena Dzhanova, November 7, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Carlsbad Current- Argus (Carlsbad, NM)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Efforts to recover the wild turkey date back decades

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poaching was also a threat described in the recovery plan.

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

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E&E News/Greenwire

Biden admin revives talks on endangered species and pesticides

By Marc Heller, 11/04/2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Defenders of Wildlife

Mountaintop removal worse for endangered species than initially thought

by Defenders of Wildlife, November 4, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Office of Senator James Risch

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

Press Release/November 3, 2021

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

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

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

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

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Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Seeks Endangered Species Act Protection for Rare California Fish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Species Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monterey Herald (Monterey, CA)

Dungeness crab season delayed in the Monterey Bay area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Office

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

Nov. 01 2021

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

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

Full text of the letter follows:

November 1, 2021

Dear Governor Newsom,

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein

United States Senator

Alex Padilla

United States Senator

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Surfbirds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Casper Star Tribune (Casper, WY)

Conservation groups sue over status of black-footed ferrets

Nicole Pollack, Oct. 30, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Surfbirds

SpaceX Destroys Habitat of Endangered Species, Defies Federal Approval Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Associated Press

Senators urge emergency protections for wolves in US West

By MATTHEW BROWN, October 29, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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KNAU/Arizona Public Radio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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National Geographic

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

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

BYJASON BITTEL, October 28, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A survival tool?

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

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

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

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

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

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

More common than we think?

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

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

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

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

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

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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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

Press Release/October 26, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Associated Press

Endangered whale population sinks close to 20-year low

AP, PATRICK WHITTLE, October 25, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Wildlife Society

California monarch numbers increase after record lows

Posted on October 25, 2021

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

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CNN

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

By Amanda Jackson, CNN, October 25, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Officials are working to develop develop hazard tree mitigation actions.

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ABC-7/Chicago

JUDGE ISSUES INJUNCTION BLOCKING FALL WISCONSIN WOLF HUNT

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

AP, Todd Richmond, October 23, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Animal Welfare Institute

Federal Regulators Must Enforce Animal Welfare Law to Protect Toki

Press Release, October 22, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Guardian

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

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

Reuters in Nairobi, 21 Oct. 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Biodiversity of islands in peril, scientists warn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public’s help to save Hawaiʻi’s biodiversity

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

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

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

Research started at UH

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

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

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Center for Biological Diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ABC News

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

October 21, 2021

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

Much of the distress on the species occurred during the Mozambican Civil War from 1977 to 1992, when the ivory poaching in the region was at its most intense, according to a new study published Thursday in Science. During the conflict, armed forces on both sides relied heavily on the ivory trade to finance the war efforts, according to the researchers.

The elephant population in the region declined more than 90% due to the war, and the mass hunting of the mammals for their tusks resulted in a phenotype of the species that had a better chance of survival — specifically, female elephants.

During the conflict, a tuskless female would have five times the chances of survival than a female with a tusk, Shane Campbell-Staton, an evolutionary biologist at Princeton University, told ABC News.

“So it actually seems to be a very strong selection over a very short period of time,” he said.

The explanation for the trait evolving in female elephants and not males has to do with the genetics of tooth development, according to the study. Specifically, an X chromosome male-lethal syndrome that diminishes the growth of lateral incisors,

Campbell-Staton began hearing about the rise of “tusklessness” elephants years ago when he was in graduate school, but the research to find an explanation for the phenomenon had not yet occurred, he said.

“In regions where there’s intensive poaching, there seem to be more animals without tusks,” he said. “But we had no idea what was going on, why it happened … the degree with which it happened.”

The scientists investigated the impacts of ivory hunting on the evolution of African elephants in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, during and after the civil war.

The findings shed new light on just how powerful an effect human exploitation can have on wildlife populations, the researchers said.

“The selective killing of species – whether for food, safety, or profit – has only become more common and intense as human populations and technology have grown,” the authors wrote. “So much so, it’s suggested that wildlife exploitation by humans has become a powerful selective driver in the evolution of targeted species.”

However, if the ivory trade were to continue to decline and elephant populations were to rebound, there is a chance that the evolution of tuskless elephants could be reversed, Campbell-Staton said, adding that researchers already see this to be the case.

In Gorongosa National Park, which he described as a “success story” due to the climbing population, the children of female elephants that survived the war are inheriting the trait, but only by about 50%, Campbell-Staton said.

While the notion that rapid evolution is not new, the findings were surprising to Campbell-Staton due to the long life spans of African elephants, which can live up to 70 years, and the long gestation periods, which are typically about two years.

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Animal Legal Defense Fund

Press Release, October 20, 2021

Animals Recognized as Legal Persons for the First Time in U.S. Court

An international fight to protect Pablo Escobar’s hippos from slaughter results in a U.S. federal court order recognizing animals can be “interested persons”

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Animal Legal Defense Fund announced the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio has recognized animals as legal persons for the first time in the United States.

In pursuit of deposing two wildlife experts with expertise in nonsurgical sterilization who reside in Ohio, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an application on behalf of the plaintiffs in a Colombian lawsuit against the country’s government regarding a plan to kill roughly 100 hippos who are descendants of animals imported by Pablo Escobar.

The plaintiffs are the “community of hippopotamuses living in the Magdalena River.” In Colombia, animals have standing to bring lawsuits to protect their interests. In granting the application pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1782 to conduct discovery for use in foreign proceedings, the court recognized the hippos as legal persons with respect to that statute.

This U.S. statute allows anyone who is an “interested person” in a foreign litigation to request permission from a federal court to take depositions in the U.S. in support of their foreign case. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that someone who is a party to the foreign case “no doubt” qualifies as an “interested person” under this statute. The Animal Legal Defense Fund reasoned that since the hippos are plaintiffs in the Colombian litigation, they qualify as “interested persons” under this statute.

“Animals have the right to be free from cruelty and exploitation, and the failure of U.S. courts to recognize their rights impedes the ability to enforce existing legislative protections,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “The court’s order authorizing the hippos to exercise their legal right to obtain information in the United States is a critical milestone in the broader animal status fight to recognize that animals have enforceable rights.”

The lawsuit in Colombia was filed on behalf of the hippos by attorney Luis Domingo Gómez Maldonado on July 31, 2020, to save the animals from being killed. While the lawsuit is ongoing, the regional environmental agency involved in addressing the hippo population announced it had started to provide a fraction of the animals with the contraceptive drug GonaCon on October 15, 2021. It is unknown if the Colombian government’s use of the drug will be safe and effective, and it is also unknown how many hippos the government still intends to kill. The hippos’ lawsuit seeks an order to provide a contraceptive called PZP (porcine zona pellucida), given its historical success in hippos held in zoos and its recommendation by an International Advisory Committee assembled by Animal Balance, an international organization that focuses on sterilization of animals.

In the 1980s, Colombian drug trafficker Pablo Escobar purchased four hippos for his private zoo. After Escobar’s death, the Colombian government left the hippos on his property because it was unable to transport them to a suitable environment. In the years that followed, the hippos escaped the property, relocated to the Magdalena River, and reproduced at a rate that some ecologists consider to be unsustainable.

The testimony of Animal Balance’s wildlife experts, Dr. Elizabeth Berkeley and Dr. Richard Berlinski, will be used to bolster support for the PZP contraceptive to prevent the hippopotamuses who live in the Magdalena River from continuing to grow the population without slaughtering them.

(The Animal Legal Defense Fund thanks Robert Sparks from Strauss Troy for helping in this matter.)

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Field & Stream

Biologists Find Extremely Rare Endangered Spotted Gar in Lake Erie

Spotted gar are endangered in the state of Ohio. The fish’s capture brings new hope for the species in the area

BY Ken Perrotte, Oct. 20, 2021

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) biologists were elated to find a spotted gar in their fyke net while sampling Lake Erie waters near Marblehead, Ohio, during a fisheries survey earlier this month. The spotted gar is an extremely rare native fish in Lake Erie, according to USFWS biologist Kristen Towne, who participated in the survey.

“In the state of Ohio, [spotted gar] are endangered,” Towne says. “The fish isn’t federally listed, with some states having sustainable populations, but there have been only a handful of confirmed captures in the East Harbor of Marblehead, Ohio. To our knowledge, this is the first confirmed capture of a spotted gar in the West Harbor.”

Towne, along with USFWS biologists Greg Wright and Janine Lajavic, had placed the fyke nets in the afternoon and pulled them the following morning. The nets are designed for the live capture of fish. Fish enter a netted throat shaped like a cone. Entry is easy, but exit is difficult. Towne says the small size of the nets allows researchers to catch young fish while excluding larger species such as buffalo. Though the spotted gar is a native fish, the USFWS trapped the specimen while actively searching for invasive aquatic species. Catching young fish helps biologists identify potential threats early.

“We’re the front line to catch any new invasive species,” Towne says. “The idea is to detect and get them out before they are established.” Spotted gar used to be common in Lake Erie’s bays and wetlands. Their numbers plummeted due to habitat destruction, vegetation removal, nutrient and sediment loading, and the establishment of non-native species. Towne says the area where they placed the trap looked promising for gar, which thrive in habitats that are highly vegetated with low turbidity.

The caught gar measured just under 21 inches long. Spotted gar only grow to about 3 feet long, making them one of the smaller gar species in North America. “We know this was an adult, but we do not know the age or sex,” Towne adds. “With this being an endangered fish, we wanted to ensure it was returned to the water alive and not killed.” Above all, Towne says that capturing an adult spotted gar offers hope that the species is present in low but perhaps sustainable population numbers in both the East and West Harbors of Marblehead, Ohio.

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The Timberjay (Tower, MN)

Feds face lawsuit over lynx trapping

Marshall Helmberger, October 20, 2021

REGIONAL— The USDA’s Animal Services division killed just over 1.5 million wild creatures last year, which ranged from 8,524 common ravens to 626 great blue herons, to 13 northern cardinals, to 707 river otters.

Most of the killings were intentional, undertaken by federal trappers, although thousands of birds and mammals are unintentionally killed by the service each year as well. That has included threatened and endangered species, like the Canada lynx, and it’s those deaths that appear likely to land the federal agency in court.

The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a notice of intent to sue the agency over the deaths of several lynx in Minnesota over the past several years. In a press statement, the CBD says it plans to sue over Animal Services’ inadequate analysis of the risks to lynx as a result of the agency’s wolf-trapping program in the state. That program killed 203 wolves, 167 coyotes, and 30 foxes last year.

“Wildlife Services’ cruel killing of wolves and other wildlife is harmful and totally out of touch with science,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation program director at the CBD. “The science shows that nonlethal methods of addressing conflicts with wolves work. We’re hoping to force federal officials to consider alternatives to all this needless killing.”

The CBD is asking Animal Services to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to analyze and mitigate the adverse effects of the federal program on the lynx.

The CBD has an ongoing lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for state-permitted fur-trapping, which is also causing injury and death to lynx.

“Year after year we see sickening reports of lynx getting caught and even killed by traps set for wolves and other animals,” said Adkins. “Instead of relying on barbaric and indiscriminate traps to kill predators, governmental agencies should work with livestock operators to implement modern measures to prevent conflicts with wildlife.”

The notice of intent to sue starts a 60-day clock, after which the CBD can file its lawsuit.

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Sierra Sun Times (Mariposa, CA)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Seeks Public Comment on Southern Sierra Nevada Distinct Population Segment of Fisher Proposed Critical Habitat Rule – 554,454 Acres Across Six Counties Including Madera and Mariposa

October 19, 2021 – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comment on a proposed rule to designate 554,454 acres of critical habitat for the southern Sierra Nevada distinct population segment (DPS) of fisher. The proposed critical habitat would be located across portions of Fresno, Kern, Madera, Mariposa, Tulare and Tuolumne counties in California.

Fishers are medium-sized mammals classified in the same family as weasels, mink, martens and otters. The southern Sierra Nevada DPS of the species was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2020.

“The Service is committed to recovering this species, and identifying critical habitat is a crucial step,” said Michael Fris, field supervisor for the Service’s Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office. “This designation will enable us to work more effectively with federal partners, state agencies, Tribes and private landowners to successfully manage land for positive conservation outcomes for the fisher.”

Most of the proposed critical habitat falls on federal lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service. Both agencies have land use management plans in place that limit disturbance to denning fishers and conserve habitats used by the species to find food and raise kits. The designation of critical habitat would not affect land ownership or establish a wildlife refuge, wilderness reserve, preserve or other conservation area.

Habitat loss and fragmentation resulting from catastrophic wildfire is one of the biggest threats to the species. Tree mortality and prolonged drought are also a concern. The Service supports land management activities that contribute to healthy forest ecosystems and reduce the risk of wildfire. Through collaboration with federal and private partners, these activities can be conducted while maintaining habitat components that the species requires for successful reproduction and foraging.

Other activities that are essential for fighting fires, such as road maintenance, removing hazard trees and vegetation management activities along utility lines would also continue if critical habitat is designated.

The southern Sierra Nevada DPS of fisher is estimated to consist of 100-500 individuals. The species can be found in low to mid elevation coniferous and mixed conifer and hardwood forests from the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park south to the Greenhorn Mountains within the Sequoia National Forest. Both male and female fishers roam large distances and females use tree cavities for denning.

The proposed critical habitat rule will publish in the Federal Register on October 19, 2021, opening a 60-day public comment period. The Service will consider comments from all interested parties received by December 18, 2021. The proposal, legal boundaries, GIS shapefiles and information on how to submit comments can be found on http://www.regulations.gov by searching under docket number FWS-R8-ES-2021-0060.

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The Hill

California project aims to bring back monarch butterflies

BY MONIQUE BEALS, 10/18/21

California is attempting to bring back monarch butterflies with a new project that aims to restore their habitats.

In the past 30 years, the monarch butterfly population in California has declined by 99.9 percent. Only 1,900 were found along the California coast in a November survey by the Xerces Society, compared to 1.2 million in 1997, according to USA Today.

In 2021, spotters have reported seeing a few more monarchs than they did in 2020.

“These are very early numbers, so we need to be cautious to not read too much into this,” Xerces Society executive director Scott Hoffman Black said to USA Today. He added that “the numbers do lend some hope that we could see a slight rebound in Western population.”

In an effort to restore the butterfly population, the Xerces Society has partnered with Orville Schell Farms owner Ole Schell to create a monarch sanctuary. Together, they have created a revitalization plan that includes planting more than 1,200 native nectar-producing flowers and plants, USA Today reported.

While some hoped the monarch would be declared a threatened or endangered species last year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the service prioritized other species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Specifically, the FWS said that it determined the monarch butterfly’s status as endangered was “warranted-but-precluded” as it simply did not have room on its list for the butterfly. The FWS will continue to consider adding the butterfly to the list annually until the species is no longer in need of protections for endangered animals.

“We conducted an intensive, thorough review using a rigorous, transparent science-based process and found that the monarch meets listing criteria under the Endangered Species Act,” said FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith at the time.

The Hill has reached out to FWS and the Xerces Society for comment.

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Denver Post

Fish found only in Colorado River basin removed from the endangered species list

The humpback chub has been brought back from the brink of extinction

By James Anderson, The Associated Press, October 18, 2021

DENVER — The humpback chub, a rare fish found only in the Colorado River basin, has been brought back from the brink of extinction after decades of protection, though work must continue to ensure its survival, federal authorities said Monday in reclassifying the species from endangered to threatened status.

The fish, which gets its name from a fleshy bump behind its head, was first listed as endangered in 1967, its habitat severely disrupted by dam construction. Its numbers also declined with the introduction of predatory, non-native aquatic species.

Its change in status formally takes effect Nov. 17 under a rule published Monday in the Federal Register by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Environmentalists oppose the endangered status delisting. They argue the humpback chub’s future remains in peril as a megadrought, largely attributable to climate change, diminishes flows in the Colorado River basin, which includes seven Southwestern U.S. states and Mexico.

The delisting comes two months after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation declared an unprecedented water shortage on the river. It also follows a July Fish and Wildlife proposal to move another rare Colorado River fish, the razorback sucker, from endangered status to threatened.

Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers Program director at the environmental group WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement that it was “perplexing that the (U.S. Interior Department) would be going to so much trouble to reclassify these endangered fish at a time when so much uncertainty exists regarding climate change and the ability to continue to fund the suite of heroic measures it undertakes annually for these species to survive.”

Both the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation are part of the Interior Department.

The government considers a species “endangered” if it is in danger of extinction in all or much of its historical habitat. Protections are kept for “threatened” species, and that status means biologists can take steps to improve the overall population even if some of the fish might be hurt.

Fish and Wildlife said it finalized another rule to ensure that work with other parties — including private, state, tribal and federal agencies — continues to maintain its existing habitat and diminish the threat from predators and drought-induced water flows, among other preservation efforts.

The largest population of the humpback chub is in the Grand Canyon, with more than 12,000 adult fish. Four smaller wild populations are upstream of Lake Powell in Utah and in Colorado canyons. The species thrives in rocky waterways with swift currents but needs warm and muddy water to spawn.

The fish once had a broader range, but the construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam in Wyoming and Hoover Dam on the Nevada-Arizona border led to two other populations of the species becoming extinct. An eighth population in Dinosaur National Monument also is considered gone.

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EcoWatch

California Grants Endangered Species Protections for World’s Largest Turtle Species

 Olivia Rosane, Oct. 18, 2021

California is taking extra steps to protect its official state reptile.

The state’s Fish and Game Commission voted Thursday to list the Pacific leatherback turtle as endangered under California’s own Endangered Species Act, as the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) announced in a press release. The action comes as the population of these turtles off the California coast has declined by 5.6 percent per year in the last almost 30 years.

“California’s action will make an outsized difference for leatherback sea turtles, even in the face of global threats like the loss of nesting beaches,” CBD attorney Catherine Kilduff said in the release. “Protecting the state’s ocean to save leatherbacks benefits not only sea turtles, but whales and people too. The California Endangered Species Act will ensure that leatherbacks’ decline gets the attention it deserves during this global biodiversity crisis.”

Pacific leatherback turtles are the largest turtle species on the planet, according to The AP. They have been protected by the federal Endangered Species Act since 1973. However, new science has revealed the importance of California waters for their lifecycle.

A subpopulation of the marine reptile hatches on beaches in Indonesia, then swims almost 6,000 miles to eat jellyfish off the California coast. From 1990 to 2003, around 178 turtles came to California’s coast to eat, CBD said. Now, that number is down to 50. Globally, their population is also in decline, and they are considered “Vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List.

One major threat to the turtles is entanglement in fishing gear. This gear can either slow the turtles down, forcing them to drag it for months, or it can cause them to drown, conservation group Oceana explained in an email to EcoWatch. While California does not officially monitor turtle entanglements, leatherbacks in the state were found tangled in rock crab gear in 2019 and Dungeness crab gear in 2016 and 2015, according to CBD.

CBD and the Turtle Island Restoration Network petitioned the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to consider greater protections. Now that they have been granted, the turtles will become a state conservation priority.

“Leatherbacks that forage for jellyfish off the California coast will now receive greater protection in our state from entanglement in fishing gear, giving them a better chance at survival,” Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network, said in the CBD release. “We are hopeful this action will put these ancient, gentle giants on a path to recovery.”

Oceana also applauded the new protections.

“Pacific leatherback sea turtles survived 100 million years virtually unchanged but may disappear from the oceans in the next 30 years unless more is done to protect them,” Oceana Pacific policy and communications manager Ashley Blacow-Draeger said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “California has the responsibility to ensure these sea turtles can safely swim and feed off our coast for many more years to come. As one of the most imperiled ocean species, every turtle matters.”

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Center for Biological Diversity

Court Rules Federal Officials Must Address Poaching of Mexican Wolves in New Recovery Plan

Decision Forces U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Fix Flawed Recovery Plan

TUSCON, Ariz.—(October 15, 2021)—In response to a lawsuit by conservation groups, a judge has ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must add specific actions to address illegal killing of Mexican wolves to its plan for the species’ recovery.

The groups’ 2018 lawsuit claimed that the plan failed to meet basic requirements of the Endangered Species Act to provide site-specific management actions and objectives with measurable recovery criteria to address the most immediate threat facing the Mexican wolf recovery program since its inception: illegal killing.

Earthjustice represented the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Endangered Wolf Center, Wolf Conservation Center and David Parsons, former Mexican wolf recovery coordinator for the Service.

“More than 70% of documented Mexican wolf mortalities are human-caused,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, Earthjustice attorney. “We’re glad that the court has recognized that for the Mexican wolf to survive, the Fish and Wildlife Service must put in place a robust plan that includes concrete actions to address the threat of illegal killing.”

“The path to recovery for the Mexican wolf has been hampered by widespread poaching for far too long,” said Michael Robinson at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now that the Fish and Wildlife Service has to take this issue seriously, we hope these wolves will stand a better chance of survival.”

“Ensuring that wolves and people can coexist is an essential part of long-term success for Mexican gray wolf recovery,” said Bryan Bird, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “This court ruling recognizes the urgent need from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a recovery plan that addresses a significant threat to the Mexican gray wolf: poaching by people.”

“This court ruling is timely and important for securing a bright future for the critically endangered Mexican gray wolves. Recent research shows that human-caused mortality of these rare wolves, especially through poaching during times of reduced protection, has been consistently mismeasured and significantly underestimated,” said plaintiff David Parsons, the former Mexican wolf recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Too many wolves, including individuals released from our center, have already been killed by poachers,” said Maggie Howell, director of the Wolf Conservation Center. “This ruling confirms the critical need for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take meaningful action to protect these vulnerable and genetically invaluable wolves.”

Background

Mexican gray wolves, or lobos, are one of the most endangered mammals in North America and are also the most genetically distinct lineage of wolves in the Western Hemisphere. By the mid-1980s, federal hunting, trapping and poisoning on behalf of the livestock industry had caused the extinction of lobos in the wild, with only a handful remaining in captivity.

Poaching causes the deaths of more Mexican gray wolves than any other cause, with 105 wolves known to have been killed unlawfully between 1998, when reintroduction to Arizona and New Mexico began, and 2019. A similar number of radio-collared wolves disappeared, many under suspicious circumstances, during this same span.

With fewer than 250 lobos left in the wild, this critical decision will now spur the new administration to produce a recovery plan that adequately addresses the needs of the wolves and the need to protect biodiversity during an extinction crisis.

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Security Magazine

Protections fall short in mitigating online wildlife trafficking

October 11, 2021

In a new report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), online investigators uncovered nearly 1,200 advertisements for close to 2,400 animals, parts, derivatives or products of threatened species despite current protections under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The report, entitled Digital Markets: Wildlife Trafficking Hidden in Plain Sight, details the findings following a six-week investigation of advertisements posted on 34 U.S.-based online marketplaces.

Of the three most common types of advertisements found:

*Nearly half (44%) were identified as elephant ivory, a decline from 2008 levels (73%). 34% of ivory advertisements claimed that their product was exempt from existing elephant ivory regulations.

*Over one-quarter (27%) of all advertisements were for trophies and taxidermy products, including skins, skulls, claws or other animal parts primarily for display, half of which were for species only found in the wild outside of the U.S. (giraffes, African lions, caracals and several primate species).

*Live animals to be sold as exotic pets made up 19% of total advertisements, with birds, reptiles and mammals (44%, 40%, and 16% respectively) comprising the bulk of live animals sold. Live animals tended to be of higher value, with nearly three fourths of the advertisements for protected wildlife species valued at $10,000 or higher.

The report is a follow-up to the 2008 report “Killing with Keystrokes,” repr