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NRCS Updating Conservation Practices

Wed, 2014-08-20 15:44

This strip of vegetation protecting a stream on a farm in Story County, Iowa helps maintain wildlife habitat on working lands. The national standards for this conservation technique, and many others, are updated periodically by NRCS. (Credit: Tom Schultz)

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced this week that it will be accepting comments on proposed changes to its National Handbook of Conservation Practices.

The NRCS provides financial and technical assistance to landowners to implement conservation practices through various programs mandated in the Farm Bill such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Detailed information on each conservation practice that NRCS uses, which range from irrigation water management to cover crops, is found in the handbook and used to guide states and landowners in their installation.

Some of the conservation practices are geared towards restoring or enhancing wildlife habitat on private lands. In fact, one of the changes to the handbook is a new “wildlife structure (Code 649)” standard to address the present lack of clear standards for creating structures for wildlife. NRCS will want to hear input from wildlife professionals and scientists to ensure this standard — and other wildlife standards — is effective and accurate.

Farm Bill programs and the conservation practices they promote are crucial to conserving wildlife habitat on private lands, which comprise approximately 70 percent of the land area in the lower 48 states. Getting these practices right could be a huge boon for wildlife on working lands.

The NRCS will accept comments through September 17, 2014. Comments may be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking portal at under docket number NRCS-2014-0009. By hard copy, submit to: Public Comments Processing, Attention: Regulatory and Agency Policy Team, Strategic Planning and Accountability, Natural Resources Conservation Service, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Building 1-1112D, Beltsville, Maryland 20705.

Sources: NRCS website (Accessed August 18, 2014), Federal Register (August 18, 2014)

FY 2015 Appropriations Update: Agriculture

Wed, 2014-08-20 09:04

A black-footed ferret at the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center, CO. Congress recently approved separated funding in the FY 2015 budget for the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services — one of several Federal agencies involved in the recovery of the endangered species (Credit: FWS, Ryan Haggerty).


 The House and Senate Appropriations committees have each approved bills to fund the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for FY 2015; those bills are now awaiting a vote by the full chamber before the end of the Fiscal Year on September 30. The USDA manages several critical wildlife and habitat management programs and divisions such as the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that is responsible for controlling wildlife damage to agriculture, aquaculture, forest, range, and other natural resources, monitoring wildlife-borne diseases, and managing wildlife at airports through its Wildlife Services unit. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), also funded through this legislation, facilitates research, education, and extension programs in food and agricultural sciences.

In a recent testimony to both the House and Senate on FY 2015 budgets, The Wildlife Society (TWS) called for increased funding to numerous USDA programs including APHIS, NIFA, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) — a federal agency which administers many Farm Bill conservation programs. TWS also supported the President’s request of $106 million to Wildlife Services in FY 2015, which, in fact, has been exceeded by both the House at $106.248 million and the Senate at $109.041 million.

Congress also appropriated approximately $4 million to NIFA’s Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA), which provides an expanded, comprehensive extension program for forest and rangeland renewable resources; TWS had recommended the RREA be funded at $10 million. The need for RREA educational programs is greater than ever because of continuing fragmentation of land ownership, urbanization, diversity of landowners needing assistance, and increasing societal concerns about land use and increasing human impacts on natural resources.

Although the Senate bill (S.2389) has no amendments, it does contain language to prevent taxpayer dollars from funding horse slaughter houses. The House bill (H.R. 4800) does not contain a similar provision, although it does contain an amendment that would appropriate $1 million to the USDA to study how captivity affects marine mammals. The House bill contains 19 amendments and numerous language riders, many of which are not supported by the Administration. The House bill contains amendments that would limit funding to the Watershed Rehabilitation Program, along with language that would restrict school nutrition programs.  The President has threatened to veto the House bill, stating that, “the bill undermines key investments in financial oversight, injects political decision-making into science-based nutrition standards, and includes objectionable language riders.” Along with acknowledging the administration’s objections to the riders in the House bill, the House and Senate will have to reconcile funding differences and amendments this fall in order for the appropriations funding to become law.

The chart below summarizes funding levels for important wildlife programs appropriated by the two bills, the President’s request, as well as The Wildlife Society’s testimony to Congress earlier this year.


Program TWS President House Senate Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)      - 1.14B 867.505M 872M Wildlife Services Operations 106M 106.284M 106.284M 109.041M Wildlife Services – Methods Development 19M 18.856M 18.856M 19.014M National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA) 10M 4.060M 4.060M 4.060M McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Program 34M 34M 33.961M 33.961M Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) NRCS Conservation Operations 843.4M 814.772M 843.053M 849.295M Conservation Operations – Technical Assistance 717M           - 746.753M         -

Energy and Environmental News PM (May 22, 2014), Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget Statement of Administration Policy (June 10, 2014), Greenwire (June 12, 2014)

New Studies Reveal More About Sharks Big and Small

Tue, 2014-08-19 11:14

The Wildlife Society News is bringing you more science every week with the addition of our new feature Research Roundup where we’ll highlight some of the latest wildlife research. On the heels of Shark Week, this week’s lineup includes studies on glow-in-the-dark sharks and the world’s largest sharks.

Deep-Sea Sharks Hunt Photons

Eye of a velvet-belly lantern shark. The eyes of some species of bioluminescent sharks have more rods than their non-light producing counterparts, allowing them to see complex light patterns in the deep dark sea (Credit: J. Mallafet, FNRS/UCL) .

A dark and expansive habitat, the mesopelagic twilight zone of the deep sea is home to a variety of little-studied bioluminescent organisms including sharks. One of the many predators in these waters largely devoid of light, bioluminescent sharks have developed specialized visual systems that detect a high proportion of photons in their environment, giving them an advantage when hunting other light-producing organisms, communicating with one another, and camouflaging themselves from predators, according to a new study published in PLOS ONE.

Most deep-sea organisms have light-sensitive vision with low resolution, meaning they are able to distinguish the dim lights emitted by their neighbors, but not much else. Light-producing sharks, however, are able to detect dim lights and complex light patterns, indicating they may have increased resolution. To find out, Julien M. Claes, a postdoctoral researcher at the Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium, and colleagues analyzed the eye shape, structure, and retinal cell mapping of five deep-sea luminescent shark species—four species of lanternsharks (Etmopteridae spp.) and one kitefin shark (Dalatiidae sp.)—using a variety of optical instruments including microscopy and spectrophotometry.

The researchers found the five species possess a translucent area in their upper eye-socket, which may help the sharks adjust to counter-illumination tactics used by prey or use their own bioluminescence to camouflage themselves from other predators. Other newly discovered structures include a gap between the lens and iris, which allows more light into the retina. Compared to non-bioluminescent sharks, these species had higher rod densities in their eyes, increasing resolution and making them more sensitive to light shifts. Claes and his team believe this adaptation is particularly useful for communication between sharks during social interactions.

“Every bioluminescent signal needs to reach a target photoreceptor to be ecologically efficient,” said Claes in a PLOS ONE press release. “Here, we clearly found evidence that the visual system of bioluminescent sharks has co-evolved with their light-producing capability, even though more work is needed to understand the full story.”

Future research will focus on the electrophysiology of the retina to understand the mechanisms of these adaptations and confirm their role in shark behavior.

Whale Sharks Genetically Isolated

Georgia Aquarium visitors marvel at a male whale shark. Researchers recently discovered that there are two genetically distinct populations of whale sharks instead of one global meta-population. (Credit: Zac Wolf, Wikimedia Commons)

Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) likely exist in two distinct populations with minimal connectivity, according to a new study published in the Journal of Molecular Ecology. This is the most extensive genetic study on the world’s largest sharks to date.

Thomas Vignaud of the Laboratoire d’Excellence in French Polynesia and his colleagues analyzed DNA isolated from skin samples taken from 675 whale sharks in the Indio-Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. The genomes of the whales from the two populations indicate that the populations are distinct, instead of belonging to one global meta-population. “If mixing occurs between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, it is not sufficient to counter genetic drift,” write the researchers. Microsatellite—short repeating segments of DNA—and mitochondrial DNA analyzed from the samples also showed that the populations underwent a significant expansion before their recent decline. The expansion began sometime in the Holocene era—the geological period that spans from 11,700 years ago to today—when sea level rise allowed tropical species to expand their ranges, eliminating dispersal barriers and increasing plankton productivity.

Over the past six years, however, declines in genetic diversity at Ningaloo Reef off the coast of Australia indicate the whale shark boom is going bust. The researchers attribute the declining genetic diversity—which can leave species vulnerable to inbreeding, disease, and climate change—to human activities such as commercial harvesting of whale sharks and collisions with watercraft.

Vignaud and his colleagues suggest the findings have implications for models of whale shark population connectivity and advocate for continued focus on effective protection of the species at multiple spatial scales.

Wildlife News Roundup (August 9-15, 2014)

Mon, 2014-08-18 11:34

The following clips reflect recent wildlife-related news coverage in the media. The Wildlife Society does not independently verify any statements or assertions in these articles. The statements expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect official TWS policy unless so stated. Likewise, products mentioned herein are not endorsed by The Wildlife Society unless so stated.

Wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) graze in an Alaskan refuge. Next March, a group of 40 to 100 Canadian wood bison will be transported from the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage to the Lower Yukon Valley. (Credit: Dan Callahan)

Rare Bison Species Returning to Western Alaska
Early next year, a long-absent animal will return to Western Alaska. Wood bison, which have been extinct in the state for over 100 years, will be released along the Lower Yukon River near Shageluk in the spring. The release is part of a joint conservation effort by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Canadian government. More


Gator Hunting Inside Refuge is Drawing Hunters and Criticism from Activists
When the sun begins to dip below the horizon on Friday evening, for the first time hunters will be allowed to kill alligators inside the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Boynton Beach, Florida. Decades have gone by without any gators being hunted inside the grounds. Now, 11 hunters will get the chance to kill two gators each starting Friday night. More

Biologists Researching Black Bear Population in Rhode Island
Biologists from the University of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management are aiming to shed some light on the black bear population and movement in the state. Previously it was thought that the black bears in Rhode Island where young males that were displaced from their mothers in Connecticut and Massachusetts. More

10 Years into the Fracking Boom, Wildlife Effects Still Unknown
(Inside Climate News)
A decade into America’s oil and gas boom, and scientists still know very little about how hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and shale development affect wildlife, according to a recent scientific study. The knowledge gap is particularly glaring when it comes to the ecosystem impacts of fracking fluid and wastewater spills. More

Nine Rare Alala Chicks Hatched at Keauhou Bird Conservation Center
(West Hawaii Today)
Using puppets and wearing cloaks, animal care staff at the San Diego Zoo Global’s Keauhou Bird Center have spent the past several weeks as the faux mother to rare alala, or Hawaiian crow, chicks. These special conditions begin from the moment the hatchlings open their eyes at the Volcano center. “Alala are very intelligent birds and are susceptible to imprinting,” said Bryce Masuda, San Diego Zoo Global program manager. More


‘Electro-mats’ Used to Deter Wildlife Away from Banff Train Tracks
(CBC News)
Parks Canada is studying the use of electrified mats to keep wildlife away from the Canadian Pacific Railway train tracks in Banff National Park. Right now they are being tested at sites built to mimic a fenced railway line. The so-called “electro-mats” are placed at the fence openings. Jen Theberge, a wildlife ecologist in Banff, says they have had a 100 percent success rate in the summer months. But in winter the charge can drop when the mats are covered with snow. More

Salmon Near BC Mine Spill to be Tested
(Brampton Guardian)
First Nations health officials are preparing to test salmon near the site of a massive mine tailing spill in British Columbia amid fears in aboriginal communities that fish from affected lakes and rivers aren’t safe to eat. The provincial government has been testing water in Quesnel Lake and Quesnel River after the tailings dam at the Mount Polley Mine failed last week, releasing millions of cubic meters of water and silt. More

Skunk Trapping Program Had ‘Little Effect,’ Staff Finds
(CBC News)
City of Windsor staff recommends the city stop trapping skunks. In a report set to be tabled before council July 21, staff says the program has had “little effect on the skunk population.” Instead, it says “the population has returned to more normal levels.” “However, this does not indicate a poor performing program,” the report reads. More

Sniffing Out Invasive Mussels
(Lethbridge Herald)
Alberta is enlisting a four-legged ally in its fight to protect the province against invasive species that have caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage across the continent. Environment Minister Robin Campbell announced a 10-day pilot program that utilizes specialized sniffer dogs to help identify invasive zebra and quagga mussels that may be coming into the province from other jurisdictions. More


Many Bird Species Exposed to ‘Eye Disease,’ New Study Finds
(Science Daily)
A bacterial parasite previously thought to infect only a few species of feeder birds is actually infecting a surprisingly wide range of species, though most do not show signs of illness, researchers report. “The results were shocking,” says one investigator. “More than half the bird species we tested have been exposed to the bacteria responsible for House Finch eye disease.” More

Ebola Outbreak a ‘Call to Arms’ for Disease Prevention
(Brandeis Now)
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 1,000 people, ground the economy of three countries to a halt and incited panic across the globe. The World Health Organization has called it a global crisis. It is the largest and most widespread Ebola outbreak on record and it could have been prevented, says Jonathan Epstein, a veterinarian and epidemiologist. More

Herbicides Hurting Hooves?
(Longview Daily News via The Columbian)
When Krystal Davies moved herself and her horses to the Kalama area in March, she started noticing something on their hooves. Her 5-year-old horse, Tucker, had previously had only one abscess. “Since I moved up here, he’s had 10,” she said. “Typically, you’re not going to get abscesses in healthy feet.” Davies is a farrier — or horseshoeing expert — and is among the growing number of people asking if the use of herbicides on private timber lands is related to animals’ health. More


Gangs Raking in Thousands from the Rising Tide of Wildlife Crime in Britain
(The Guardian)
Poaching, poisoning and the theft of animals may sound like activities from Britain’s past, but modern gangs are muscling in on the act. A new report claims the scale of the problem is being hidden and that gangs are making large sums of money from illegal activities such as hare-coursing, raking in up to £10,000 a month in one case, while poaching of fish and deer is common and as likely to happen in urban parks as in the countryside. More

Study Helps Prevent Rhino Deaths During Relocation
(Cornell Chronicle)
Wildlife experts lose one to two black rhinoceros each year from anesthesia complications when they capture and relocate the animals. That’s 1 to 2 percent of the black rhinos that are moved annually, but with only 5,000 or so left in the wild in southern Africa, any losses are too many. A new Cornell-led study of black rhinos in Namibia finds that positioning the large animals on their bellies as opposed to their sides helps them breathe more efficiently during anesthesia. More

Scientists Study ‘Talking’ Turtles in Brazilian Amazon
Turtles are well known for their longevity and protective shells, but it turns out these reptiles use sound to stick together and care for young, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society and other organizations. Scientists working in the Brazilian Amazon have found that Giant South American river turtles actually use several different kinds of vocal communication to coordinate their social behaviors. More

FY 2015 Appropriations Update: Interior and Environment

Mon, 2014-08-18 08:20

Bison graze at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa. The Interior and Environment appropriations bills would fund wildlife programs such as the National Wildlife Refuge System. (Credit: USFWS)

Before heading to August recess at the end of July, both the House and Senate developed appropriations bills that would fund the Department of the Interior (DOI), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Forest Service (housed in the Department of Agriculture) for FY 2015. The Wildlife Society provided testimony for both bills at their hearings to promote funding for several wildlife-focused programs including the National Wildlife Refuge System and the Wild Horse and Burro Management program.

The House moved first on its appropriations bill passing it through the full appropriations committee and onto the House floor where it awaits a vote.

HR. 5171 appropriates $30.22 billion to DOI, EPA, and other agencies — an increase from last year. However, the increase is mostly due to a surge of funding for wildland fire suppression and a change in discretionary funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program. These changes led to precipitous declines in funding for other discretionary programs.

The EPA took the hardest hit, receiving $7.5 billion – a 9 percent decrease from FY 2014. On the DOI side, land acquisition and assistance programs were cut by nearly 50 percent.

On the other hand, important U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) programs such as the National Wildlife Refuge System and State and Tribal Wildlife Grants were given close to or above the funding level proposed by the administration.

The most contentious aspect of the bill is the bevy of policy riders, most aimed at limiting the regulatory authority of various agencies. For example, language in the bill would restrict the EPA’s ability to regulate navigable waters, greenhouse gas emissions, coal ash, and streams affected by mining pollution. Other riders would prevent FWS from listing the sage grouse as endangered for one year and expanding or establishing wildlife refuges without congressional approval.

Conservation groups oppose inclusion of the riders, claiming they interfere with necessary regulation. Diverse groups such as the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) and Defenders of Wildlife are particularly concerned about language barring expansion or establishment of new wildlife refuges without congressional approval. In a press release, Defenders of Wildlife president and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark stated that, “Congress should be facilitating the growth of the refuge system, not undermining it.” NWRA released a statement opposing the rider saying that “local communities, not Capitol Hill, should be actively engaged in these important decisions.”

Furthermore, some of the riders, such as the one preventing greenhouse gas regulation, would give the bill an extremely low chance of passing the Senate as the majority in that chamber is unlikely to vote for such anti-regulatory language.

The Senate version of the bill, which is still a subcommittee draft, totals $30.7 billion in appropriations and represents much higher funding for conservation programs, mostly because unlike the House bill, PILT is not funded through discretionary funds and wildfire management is at least partially funded through the disaster fund.

FWS, Bureau of Land management (BLM), and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are all funded higher than the House bill – by $27 million, $57 million, and $11 million respectively. Most notably, FWS’ land acquisition budget is funded at $55 million as requested by the administration. The House version funds this program at only $14.5 million.

The Senate bill appropriates the EPA $8.2 billion which is $700 million more than the House version.

The Senate bill does not contain any of the controversial riders that made it onto the House version which is a sticking point that will have to be reconciled in conference if the bill is to become law. Considering the number and scope of the riders, it is unlikely that the bill will make it to the president’s desk before the end of the Fiscal Year, therefore necessitating a Continuing Resolution, at least until after the elections.

The chart below summarizes funding levels for important wildlife programs appropriated by the two bills as well as the President’s request earlier this year. Click here to learn more about the appropriations process.

  President House Senate Department of the Interior – Total 10.855B 11.069B 10.833B Fish and Wildlife Service – Total 1.476B 1.423B 1.45B Endangered Species Program 252.2M 169.537M 238.83M National Wildlife Refuge System 476.4M 476.865M 475.4M State and Tribal Wildlife Grants 50M 58.695M 58.695M Migratory Bird Management 46.922M 45.123M 46.922M Partners for Fish and Wildlife 52.066M 52.066M 52.066M Bureau of Land Management – Total 1.065B 1.059B 1.112B Horse and Burro Management 80.238M 80.045M 80.238M Wildlife Management 52.589M 52.338M 52.589M U.S. Geological Survey – Total 1.073B 1.035B 1.046B Ecosystems Division 162M 153.191M 155.075M Other Agencies U.S. Forest Service – Total 5.707B 5.565B 5.580B Wildlife and Fisheries Habitat Management Program - 140.466M 140.466M Environmental Protection Agency – Total 7.89B 7.521 8.182B

Table created by Mark Hofberg

Sources: Environment and Energy News (July 14, 2014), Environment and Energy News (August 1, 2014). Defenders of Wildlife (July 9, 2014), U.S. Senate (Accessed August 12, 2014), U.S. House of Representatives (Accessed August 12, 2014)

South Africa to Relocate Hundreds of Rhinos

Fri, 2014-08-15 16:42

A black rhino (Diceros bicornis) and calf tread through the brush in South Africa, home to nearly 40 percent of Africa’s black rhino and over 80 percent of the continent’s entire rhino population. As rising demand for rhino horn poses an increased threat to the critically endangered species, the South African government recently announced more drastic measures to protect the population. (Credit: WhatsThePointSA/Flickr)

The South African Department of Environmental Affairs recently announced plans to evacuate approximately 500 rhinos from Kruger National Park, in response to a rising attack on the animals. Illegal poaching in the six-million-acre park — an area about the size of Wales — has soared from just 13 cases in 2007 to 1,004 in 2013. And so far this year, more than 630 rhinos have been killed in South Africa—with over 400 of those in Kruger.

To protect the rhinos from hunters seeking their horns, park officials plan to move the large mammals — each weighing over a ton — out of the most threatened areas of the park and into secret rhino “strongholds” in state-owned or private nature parks, safer areas of Kruger, or even nearby countries such as Zambia or Botswana. Each move will require tracking and darting the animals from helicopters and could potentially cost up to $2,000. Officials have yet to determine a time frame for the operation.

Over 80 percent of Africa’s rhino population resides in South Africa. The South African population was decimated in the early 1900s, but due to successful restoration efforts in the last 50 years, the population bounced back to an estimated 21,000 in 2012.

A mother and calf fell prey to poachers in South Africa. To save others from this fate, South Africa will move 500 black and white rhino out of Kruger National Park into less threatened areas of South Africa and nearby countries. (Credit: Hein Waschefort/Wikimedia Commons)

According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, relocations have been a key measure for conserving and growing the rhino population. In the past 15 years, a total of 1,450 rhinos have been translocated from Kruger, but this is the largest rhino move yet; the highest number previously moved at one time was 250 in 2009 — but authorities believe the severity of the current poaching problem necessitates a more drastic step. “This approach allows the offsetting of poaching in the short to medium term, while also expanding rhino range and improving overall population size,” stated the Department of Environmental Affairs in a news release.

An increasingly coveted item, especially in China and Vietnam, rhino horn earns an estimated street value of $65,000 per kilogram — more than both platinum and gold. To those who desire it, the horn is considered a sign of wealth and an ingredient in some traditional medicines. To bolster the planned conservation efforts, the South African government’s Security Cluster — the committee that deals with crime prevention — will also initiate tougher penalties for individuals caught poaching.

FWS Bans Controversial Pesticides in Refuge System

Fri, 2014-08-15 08:18

Red-winged blackbirds take off en-masse at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. The ban on neonicotinoids is geared towards protecting wildlife like these birds. (Credit: Michael Rosenbaum)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced last month that the use of neonicotinoid pesticides will be phased out throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) by 2016. In a memorandum to regional refuge chiefs, NWRS Chief James Kurth reasoned that the pesticides can “distribute systematically in a plant and can potentially affect a broad spectrum of non-target species.”

Controversy over the neonicotinoids stems from studies that link the pesticide family to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a phenomenon that is taking a heavy toll on bee populations throughout the world. Last year, the European Commission enacted a two-year moratorium on the pesticides and calls for a U.S. ban are growing.

Many environmental and sportsmen groups support the move given rising concern over the pesticide’s effect on wildlife and their habitat.

The National Wildlife Refuge System consists of 560 separate refuges that manage almost 150 million acres of land for wildlife and recreation. Nearly 47.5 million people visited refuges last year to see the natural habitat and take advantage of recreational opportunities.

The memo also informs the regional chiefs about the FWS’s goal of transitioning from agricultural land to more natural ecosystems in refuges in order to reduce their carbon footprint and improve wildlife conditions.

Sources: USFWS (July 17, 2014), Greenwire (August 1, 2014), New York Times (March 29, 2012), NWRS website (Accessed August 6, 2014), CARE (June 24, 2014)

Oregon Wolf Pups Thriving

Thu, 2014-08-14 11:31

In June, the Oregon U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office, part of the FWS’s Pacific Region Division, confirmed the existence of two gray wolf (Canis lupus) pups in the Cascade Mountains — marking the first time in 70 years that the species has reproduced in the region (See related story). A month later, remote trail cameras captured OR-7, his mate, and the growing pups.

“We know there are at least three, but there could be more,” said John Stephenson, a biologist with the Oregon FWS. From field observations and photos, Stephenson estimates the pups weigh between 40 and 45 pounds. And GPS data from OR-7′s collar indicate the pups are covering more ground than they were in the spring. “They should be with their parents through the winter,” he said. “When they get to be one and a half to two years old, some of the pups may disburse, but some will stay with the pack.”

Check out the photo gallery, below, for new images of the pups and their parents.

Photo Gallery

FWS Withdraws Listing Recommendation for Wolverine

Thu, 2014-08-14 09:27

Wolverines are found in areas of persistent snow cover. FWS recently noted that the effects of climate change on snow cover in wolverine habitat are unclear and, therefore, withdrew its recommendation to list the species as federally threatened. (Credit: Getty Images)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officially withdrew its 2013 recommendation to list the wolverine as threatened under the Endangered Species Act this week despite disagreement from federal field biologists. The biologists recommended listing because, among other things, climate change is predicted to reduce essential snow cover in wolverine habitat.

Director Dan Ashe defended the decision saying that FWS could not reliably predict the impact that climate change would have on the wolverine. He reiterated that global warming is certainly a threat, but the predictive model used by the biologists was not at a fine enough scale, and the degree to which snow cover is needed by wolverines is not well understood.

Some environmental groups say that this interpretation is incorrect and fails to take into account other threats to the wolverine’s survival. Discounting threats from climate change, the estimated population of 300 animals is very small considering that wolverines have a slow reproductive rate and low genetic diversity. Defenders of Wildlife, among other groups, contend that the classic threats of habitat loss, hunting, trapping, and disturbance from vehicles could be enough to drive the wolverine to extinction.

Other criticism stems from a group of biologists who, in a letter to FWS, criticize Ashe for using “uncertainty” as a reason to reverse the listing recommendation. The letter states that FWS should use the precautionary principle, and that going against “best available science” sets a bad precedent for future decisions.

FWS has stated that it will continue to monitor the wolverines for warning signs and work with states to manage the population to prevent population declines.

Sources: Environment and Energy News (August 12, 2014), Environment and Energy News (August 11, 2014), Defenders of Wildlife (July 17, 2014), Federal Register (August, 13, 2014).

Game Ranching in South Africa

Wed, 2014-08-13 09:31

Fenced and fed like livestock, red roan antelope on a game ranch in Limpopo Province are part of an intensive breeding program to produce this color variant, which is rare and highly desirable commercially. Funds generated by the hunting industry help sustain conservation on private land. (Credit: Brian Reilly)

“Auction turnover breaks the billion-rand barrier” (Farmer’s Weekly 2014). This recent headline from a periodical in South Africa highlights the phenomenal growth in game ranching — the practice of extensive ranching, breeding, and selling game species such as Cape buffalo, wildebeest, oryx, impala, and many more. In 2013 alone, a total of 23,963 animals were sold at 67 official South African game auctions, with sales exceeding 100 million U.S. dollars — the highest official sales in the nation’s history.

Though the breeding and selling of wildlife is considered controversial in North America and antithetical to the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, the practice is long-established in South Africa as a means to provide a livelihood for private landowners and as a wildlife management strategy. But any analysis of this industry and its way forward in the 21st century has to be reviewed against a backdrop of the nature of the wildlife resource and changing conservation paradigms over the last century and a half in South Africa.

Wildlife Riches in South Africa
In terms of biological diversity, South Africa ranks as the third most diverse nation in the world after Brazil and Indonesia. South Africa comprises less than 1 percent of the world’s surface area but is home to 10 percent of the world’s known plant, fish, and bird diversity as well as 6 percent of the mammal and reptile diversity (Jenkins 2003). Currently only 6.1 percent of the country falls within protected areas, which is substantially below the recommended 10 percent worldwide and falls short of the national conservation strategy of 8 percent by 2010. By contrast, the current area under game ranching is estimated at 16.8 percent of the land surface area, meaning roughly a quarter of the country is involved with wildlife on a daily basis.

The recent history of wildlife management in South Africa can be divided into a number of distinct paradigms. From 1850 to 1900 it is characterized by the extensive overutilization of wildlife, particularly game animals by sportsmen and pioneers making way for traditional agriculture (Carruthers 2008). This massive decline was compounded by epidemics of bovine pleuropneumonia (1850) and rinderpest in 1896, which all but wiped out many ungulates in many areas (Bond et al. 2004 in Child 2013). As recently as 1950, most wildlife had been severely decimated outside of protected areas (Bothma 2009).

Beginning in the late 1800s and following the paradigm of North America (McLean 2003) — which involved the creation of the first protected areas such as Yellowstone — a groundswell of public opinion drove the growing perception that some areas of South Africa should be put aside for wildlife. This movement manifested when President Paul Kruger declared certain areas of the Transvaal Republic of northeastern South Africa as protected from hunting, ultimately leading to the creation of the Kruger National Park in 1898.

A local hunter on a private game ranch in South Africa poses with his harvest — a bull blue wildebeest. This species is common on game ranches. The nation’s game ranching industry covers nearly 17 percent of the South African landscape and generates an annual economic value topping $1 billion. (Credit: Willem Myburgh)

Immediately after World War I, interest in wildlife was driven by a small number of landowners who had a personal curiosity about wildlife conservation, and also by studies from museums housing biological collections. During that time, many wildlife managers were appointed in the classic colonial military style — mostly ex-army officers. Parallel to this period, efforts were made to eradicate wild ungulates in many areas as they were considered vectors for diseases such as foot and mouth, corridor disease, horse sickness, and swine fever, which could be transferred to domestic stock (Murombedzi 2003).

Following the creation of the National Parks Board in 1926 and continuing after World War II, conservation departments were created to take social responsibility for wildlife management at the provincial level (Carruthers 2006). From 1950 onwards, conservation departments’ primary activities centered on problem animals and regulating hunting and fishing activities.

Game animals up until the 1950s occurred within a natural distribution range as an adjunct to normal farming or stock ranching activities. These included more common species such as impala, kudu, reedbuck, blesbuck and springbuck. Animals, and wildlife in general, were construed as res nullius under law, or belonging to nobody, thus very little incentive existed to conserve wildlife outside of national parks and protected areas. The game ranching industry was considered to harbor only around 340,000 animals in 1966 (Du Toit 2007).

Commercial Wildlife
It was a revolutionary step taken by the then Transvaal Directorate of Nature Conservation in 1968 that introduced the “certificate of adequate enclosure,” more popularly known as the exemption permit. A landowner could apply to the Conservation Directorate for this permit if the landowner demonstrated adequate “game proof” fencing (a multistrand nine-foot fence designed to keep the game animals inside the ranch). The three-year permit exempted the landowner from regulations applicable to hunting seasons and bag limits, thus opening the way for year-round hunting of game animals.

A private collection in a trophy room on a game farm in South Africa’s Limpopo Province —  which includes lion, sable antelope, and kudu — hints at the wide range of species, both common and rare, sought by hunters. Today some 12,000 private landowners hold up to 20 million animals on South African game ranches. (Credit: Willem Myburgh)

This single exemption initiative proved to be the catalyst to an expanding wildlife ranching industry comprising mainly hunting. In 2003, the industry was estimated to involve 5,000 landowners on 13 percent of the land in South Africa (ABSA 2003). Today it encompasses approximately 12,000 private landowners and an estimated 16 million to 20 million animals, including a number of rare and threatened species such as roan and sable antelope, and even elephants. A significant game-ranching industry has also arisen in surrounding countries like Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe following a similar model (Bond et al. 2004).

The spread of this industry is rooted in economics, as the annual value of the industry is increasing (van der Merwe and Saayman 2003): It is currently estimated at more than 1 billion U.S. dollars — a significant contributor to the South African economy and a pivotal keystone to a burgeoning “green economy.” I say “green” because, from a biodiversity perspective, management of habitats for game animals conserves an enormous cohort of associated species and in essence results in indirect biodiversity conservation. Nongame species such as leopards and cheetah have benefitted from game farms. In fact, 80 percent of nature conservation in South Africa takes place on privately owned lands such as game farms (van der Merwe and Saayman 2003).

Allied to the industry has been the growth in ecotourism, which includes foreign trophy hunters. Significant economic activity arises from industry-related goods and services such as fencing, vehicles,and ranching infrastructure (Du Toit 2007). In addition, game managers, consultants, veterinarians, and game capture and translocation companies are all industries in their own right and on significant growth trajectories.

Divergent Camps
Since the latter part of the 20th century, a widening gap has manifested between two camps: the conservation fraternity — which created the opportunity for landowners to control wildlife, thereby giving it monetary value — and the game ranching fraternity, which has started to take a number of directions that diverge from the objectives and goals of the conservationists.

Students working toward a diploma in Game Ranch Management from South Africa’s Tshwane University of Technology learn to identify plant species collected during vegetation surveys done on a game farm in Limpopo Province (top). Elsewhere, students help treat a wounded African wild dog, a rare and threatened species (bottom). Private game farms can be valuable field laboratories that provide populations for research and study. (Top Credit: Willem Myburgh; Bottom Credit: Willem Myburgh)

This gap has arisen from the conservation fraternities’ dictates to the burgeoning game-ranching industry in terms of the distribution of indigenous species and the introduction of exotic species. Maps based on historical distribution for all indigenous species have been produced and the conservationists consider animals outside the distribution to be extralimital and therefore not part of the metapopulation. The conservation fraternity has always been against the introduction of exotic species and, despite strict regulations and permitting requirements, species such as fallow deer and wild boar have been introduced and are thriving and spreading.

These issues have been exacerbated by a changing agricultural landscape. For example, in 1992, agricultural subsidies were terminated, making it harder for landowners to make a living by farming crops or raising livestock. This was followed by the dismantling of the single marketing channels or boards created by the apartheid government to guarantee prices for agricultural produce. In effect, South African farmers now compete on an open market with many countries where farmers are still subsidized. This has in effect accelerated the conversion of particularly marginal lands to ranches for game farming of wildlife, with a commensurate fueling of prices for wild ungulates (ABSA 2003).

The scarcity of animals (which is a function of population size) drives the market price, and this is particularly so in the trophy-hunting industry. In South Africa, a trophy is an exceptional male specimen of the species. Animals qualifying in this regard form a limited component of any population, so in most cases a trophy in the South African hunting context is “a representative male animal” of the species in question. This has become skewed by the North American view, where unusual features, such as asymmetry of antlers or horns, also constitute a trophy.

The quest to produce trophy specimens has led to the birth of an entire industry based mostly on phenotypic color variation within a species. These naturally occurring color variations — such as white springbuck, black impala, golden wildebeest or white lions — are due to recessive genes, and landowners are deliberately breeding for these specific phenotypes. This trend concerns conservationists, as these phenotypes constitute a potential reduction in the metapopulations of many species. Deliberately selecting animals for certain traits departs from the idea of free-ranging wild populations, albeit within a fenced area. The continuation of this practice and trading of specific individual animals must soon reach the point of animal husbandry and depart from the extensive ranching of free-ranging wildlife.

Recent economic trends have fueled this transition. Because game ranching income accounts for only about 50 percent of expenses on the average game ranch (ABSA 2003), owners have tended to subsidize the business with alternative economic ventures or professional services. Changes to the income tax system from 2006, however, prohibited landowners from deducting financial losses of running or developing a game ranch from their total business activities. This has led directly to landowners implementing alternative income streams specifically related to game ranching, such as breeding rarer color variants, reintroducing cattle in combination with game, or other ecotourism ventures that have fueled the conversion to high-value trophy animals such as buffalo and an increased interest in phenotypic variants.

An African buffalo lies dead of a cyclical anthrax outbreak in Kruger National Park (top), stark contrast to a trophy bull at Kruger (bottom). Some conservationists fear that the injudicious movement of wildlife between private game ranches could accelerate the spread of disease. Conversely, successful partnerships between private landowners and national parks have established significant numbers of disease-free animals on private land. (Top Credit: Brian Reilly; Bottom Credit: Brian Reilly)

Weighing the Pros and Cons
The most positive aspect of the industry is undoubtedly its massive contribution to South Africa’s growing green economy based on the sustainable use of wildlife resources. The intervention of private landowners investing in land, infrastructure, and animals themselves has also directly and indirectly benefitted biodiversity conservation and populations of many species — including black wildebeest, white rhino, roan antelope, and sable antelope — a very significant factor in the metapopulation management of these species. Additionally, selling excess animals from protected areas such as national parks and nature reserves to landowners has led to a significant increase in numbers of some key species, such as white rhino. This establishment of so many animals on private land sustains the local and foreign hunting industries with their associated economic activities.

Many private landowners also actively participate in initiatives with South Africa National Parks (SANP) to establish buffalo populations outside of endemic areas infested with wildlife diseases such as corridor disease and foot and mouth disease. Through this program — a combined venture by SANP and the private sector — SANP provides “disease free” animals to landowners, which has led to a growth in population of these high-value hunting species provided mostly for the foreign hunting market. The initiative has also instituted a breeding program within the Kruger National Park whereby buffalo calves were separated from their dams in boma (corral) facilities and repeatedly tested for disease before being removed from the park to areas non-endemic to the disease.

On the more negative side, the industry has in some cases been implicated in the spread of diseases, such as malignant bovine catarrhal fever, by the injudicious movement of animals around the country. In addition, translocation of animals by game ranchers outside of natural historical range, coupled with the introduction of species from other countries or continents, has led to a number of problems and potential ecological disasters.

The introduction of exotic species such as fallow deer and Russian boars, for example, has led to the establishment of feral populations of those species in some regions such as eastern and western Cape Province. And many landowners import species such as roan antelope from West Africa and sable antelope from Zambia, which is a problem because, in many cases, information concerning the subspecies separation of the animals regionally is not clear, and hybridization between subspecies holds a conservation threat for the future.

Researchers have already documented hybrids between blebuck and red hartebeest, red hartebeest and tsessebe, and black and blue wildebeest. The black and blue wildebeest are estimated to have split into two separate species only 700,000 years ago and thus have very similar genetic profiles (Grobler et al. 2011). To date, injudicious movement of species has resulted in more than 200 properties that have both black and blue wildebeest present. Against this backdrop, it is becoming clear that many of the black wildebeest in official protected areas are in fact also hybridized to some extent.

In addition, the status of source populations is often unknown, and removal of animals may have catastrophic consequences for in situ conservation of species. Accusations have also been leveled that animals have been smuggled across borders to secondary countries before export to South Africa, activities that negate the purpose of international conventions designed to conserve species at source.

Once free-ranging, gems buck caught during a mass capture operation exit a truck onto a private game farm near Swartruggens, South Africa. Such roundups have raised questions about the impacts on wildlife populations and spurred research into historical distribution. Such research may guide future regulation on animal relocations. (Credit: Willem Myburgh)

Curbing the Threats
The response of officialdom to the rampant and sometimes injudicious movement of animals was to introduce the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) legislation in 2007, limiting movement and utilization of many species through an onerous permitting process that is having some detrimental effect on the value of some species. For example, to hunt a black wildebeest, a special permit is now required — not from a regional office but from the head office of the conservation authority concerned, leading to a decline in interest and value of the species. On the more positive side, government biologists have produced sets of historical distribution maps based on the best information available that will hopefully guide future movement of animals by providing clearer guidelines for permit issuing authorities.

The industry is generally resentful of conservation actions that limit their freedom to capture and move animals anywhere they wish. This has led to the conservation fraternity reaching the point of considering animals far outside of historical natural range or habitat that they potentially may have colonized as “extralimital” and no longer part of any meta-population. This allows conservation agencies and their proxies to concentrate conservation efforts within the natural distribution range and ally with landowners in this range in the interest of the metapopulation.

It is fair to say that irrespective of the continuing friction between industry and the conservationists, the South African game ranching industry is ripe for new thinking on its future. The multiple roles that this industry is likely to play economically and in terms of biodiversity conservation leads one to the conclusion that game ranchers may have to consider their own independent management objectives and goals and reorganize themselves into distinct groupings depending on the nature and extent of operations.

One extreme would be those primarily involved with biodiversity conservation, and the other would be those doing intensive breeding, with the majority falling somewhere in between. It is also clear that the South African treasury may have to consider subsidizing the contribution landowners make to conservation in the form of tax rebates, which will improve the economic profitability of the landowner choosing to follow strict conservation principles. Such mutually beneficial moves could pave the way toward South Africa’s conservation future.

FWS Extends Comment Period for Greater Sage Grouse

Mon, 2014-08-11 12:09

A Greater sage grouse lek near Bodie, California. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has extended the comment period for its proposed rule to list the bi-State distinct population segment (DPS) of greater sage grouse as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (Credit: Jeannie Stafford/USFS).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently announced plans to extend the public comment period for the proposed rule to list select populations of the greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The rule applies to the bi-state distinct population segment (DPS) of the greater sage grouse in parts of California and Nevada — originally proposed for listing in October 2013 because of threats facing the population such as invasive plants, habitat fragmentation due to renewable energy and urban development, mining, and climate change. FWS recently received new information related to the Bi-State Action Plan, which included sage grouse population trends, recent State and Federal agency funding, and staffing commitments for various conservation efforts and, therefore, called for additional public comments.

The DPS is part of an overall 11-state population, which faces similar threats. In 2010, FWS found that the entire 11-state population warranted protection under the ESA, but further action was precluded by species facing more immediate and severe extinction threats.

Debate over whether state management or federal protection is most appropriate for the sage grouse continuous to be contentious amidst House and Senate legislation to either delay ESA listing or increase state management programs as an alternative to federal listing. In May, for example, Representative Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced the Sage Grouse Protection and Conservation Act (HR4716) — a bill to delay the listing of the sage grouse by a decade and require individual states to create sage grouse conservation management plan. Recently the House Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal 2015 spending plan for the Interior Department that includes a stipulation that would delay the decision to list the sage grouse by one year.

Last month, Senator John Walsh (D-MT) introduced the Sage-Grouse Accountability and Private Conservation Act of 2014 (S2575), which calls for transparency by FWS in listing species in the ESA and would increase support for programs that work with ranchers and private landowners to protect greater sage grouse habitat. The bill aims to focus conservation management at the state level rather than the federal level in the hopes that the bird does not have to be federally listed as threatened.

Written comments on the proposed rule to list the Bi-State DPS of greater sage grouse must be submitted by September 4, 2014.

Comments may be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking portal at  under Identification number FWS-R8-ES-2013-0072. By hard copy, submit to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-ES-2013-0072; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

Sources: Federal Register (August 5, 2014), Energy and Environmental News PM (August 4, 2014), Energy and Environmental News (July 11, 2014), Congressman Gardner Press Release (May 22, 2014)

Related TWS articles: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Gets Extension on Gunnison Sage-Grouse Listing (May 2014), Comment Period Extended for Greater Sage Grouse (April 2014), New Baseline Environmental Report on the Greater Sage Grouse Released (June, 2013), BLM Sage Grouse Management Ruffles Feathers (August 2012), BLM Failed to Analyze Grazing Impacts to Sage-Grouse, Judge Rules (March 2012)

Wildlife News Roundup (August 2-8, 2014)

Mon, 2014-08-11 11:23

The following clips reflect recent wildlife-related news coverage in the media. The Wildlife Society does not independently verify any statements or assertions in these articles. The statements expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect official TWS policy unless so stated. Likewise, products mentioned herein are not endorsed by The Wildlife Society unless so stated.

A wheat field in Blackwater National Refuge, Maryland. Farmers allowed to use the land on the condition they leave some crops behind for wildlife will now have to phase out genetically modified seeds and neonicotinoid pesticides. (Credit: USFWS)

Wildlife Refuges Phasing Out GMO Crops, Pesticides
(Poughkeepsie Journal)
National wildlife refuges around the country are phasing out genetically modified crops and a class of pesticides related to nicotine in programs meant to provide food for wildlife. A July 17 letter from James W. Kurth, chief of the national refuge system, makes no specific mention of any concerns that the pesticides or the crops pose risks to wildlife or pollinators, such as bees and butterflies. It just says they don’t fit refuge objectives, such as promoting natural ecosystems. More


Research: Wildlife Corridors Sometimes Help Invasive Species Spread
(University of Florida)
When the ants come marching in, having miles of linked habitats may not be such a good idea after all. In a classic example of the law of unintended consequences, new University of Florida research suggests that wildlife corridors — strips of natural land created to reconnect habitats separated by agriculture or human activities — can sometimes encourage the spread of invasive species such as one type of fire ant. More

New Jersey Cracks Down on Ivory Trade
(Nature World News)
New Jersey is the first U.S. state to take a stand against the cruel ivory and rhino horn trade, banning all such items in a new law. Gov. Chris Christie, who signed the legislation, now prohibits both the import and in-state sale of both ivory and rhino horn. “We are proud of Gov. Christie and state legislators’ actions today and applaud them for recognizing the impact the new law will have on the global ivory trade,” said Kathleen Schatzmann, New Jersey state director for the Humane Society of the United States. More

Survey: Visitors Support Higher Entrance Fees to See Yellowstone Bears
(National Parks Traveler)
Bears in Yellowstone National Park and visitors who watch bears cost money, both in terms of the park’s approach to bear management, and its approach to “bear jams” on the park’s roads. And, interestingly, a study shows that a majority of Yellowstone visitors would pay as much as $50 extra in entrance fees to ensure the opportunity to see bears in the park. More

NCSU Researchers Track Cats for Wildlife Conservation Data
(Triangle Business Journal)
An N.C. State University researcher could help clear up the mystery about where your cats go when they leave home and what they eat. A crowd-sourced cat-mapping project called Cat Tracker is hoping you put a GPS tracker on kitty’s collar to shed light on data that conservationists hope to use. Beyond revealing their travels, NCSU researcher Roland Kays of the Biodiversity and Earth Observation Lab says ecologists want this data to pin-point the species the cats are killing. More


Environment Canada Investigating BC Tailings Pond Breach
(The Star)
Environment Canada has launched a federal investigation into a major tailings pond breach at the Mount Polley mine in British Columbia. “Environment Canada expects companies to operate in a responsible manner that protects the environment,” department spokesman Mark Johnson told the Star in a statement. “Spills are unacceptable.” More

City Reviews Beaver Control Practices After Trapping Mishap
(CBC News)
The City of Calgary, Alberta, is suspending all beaver trapping until a review into a recent incident is complete. A beaver had been building a dam in Fish Creek Provincial Park, and the city says it was going to flood a bike path. Officials hired a contractor to trap and kill the animal, but debris got caught in the trap and it didn’t work properly. People using the path spotted the beaver struggling to free itself. More


Montana FWP Commission Approves Elk Brucellosis Control Changes
(Bozeman Daily Chronicle)
The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission gave initial approval to a slightly expanded elk brucellosis management plan in southern Montana that allows expanded hazing and kill permits, even as a lawsuit challenges current operations. The commission tentatively approved an elk-brucellosis work plan for the greater Yellowstone area that resembles the two previous plans except for a few changes. More

More Bears Dying in Rockies
(Calgary Herald)
It’s been another challenging couple of weeks for bears in the Rockies. In the past week, wildlife officials confirmed grizzly No. 138 lost her second cub. A tagged grizzly bear, No. 144, was spending time in Harvie Heights, a community on the boundary with Banff National Park. And two black bears were hit on the highways in the national parks on the weekend, but it’s unknown whether either bear survived. More

Wild Horses on East Coast May be at Risk for Preventable Mosquito Disease
(TWC News)
It’s been a rainy summer, which means mosquitoes are out to bite. These mosquitoes could be carrying the disease Eastern Equine Encephalitis that recently killed two horses in North Carolina. “Horse owners should consult their veterinarians for the appropriate vaccination schedule for their horses based on their area because it varies even within the state of North Carolina,” said Susan Stuska, Wildlife Biologist. More

How Animals Deal with Infection
Humans are constantly at war with disease. We lob antibiotic missiles at bacteria and toss vaccine-shaped grenades at viruses. We drop bombs made of antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer on everything we can. The battle between humans and parasites (an umbrella term that includes viruses, bacteria and larger creatures) has ancient roots, and exert as strong a force on evolution as predators, drought or famine. More


China to Return 180 Smuggled Turtles to Sindh in Ceremony
(The Express Tribune)
For the first time in the history of Pakistan, wildlife officials will take back the possession of 180 confiscated black pond turtles in an international ceremony to be held on the Pakistan-China border on Aug. 18, The Express Tribune learned. The turtles which were being illegally transported to China, were confiscated by Chinese authorities about a month ago. The officials also arrested the four smugglers, including two Pakistani nationals. More

India to Use Drones to Track Wildlife and Fight Poaching
(One Green Planet)
Plans are afoot in India to employ drones to track wildlife and combat poaching in 10 separate sites across the country by January 2015. The 10 areas chosen for this initiative reflect the 10 different zones of biodiversity in the country, including the Sunderbans, the Himalayas, the Western Ghats, and so on. More

British Columbia Releases Five-Year Plan for Vulnerable Species

Tue, 2014-08-05 08:51

Fishers and other species at risk will benefit from B.C.’s new five-year management plan that’s designed to protect habitat for vulnerable species and increase cooperation among private sectors and government agencies involved in conservation efforts.
(Credit: Conservation Biology, FWS)

Last month, the British Columbia government released a plan outlining its proposed management actions from 2013 to 2017 to protect and conserve the province’s species at risk. The plan, titled Protecting Vulnerable Species: A Five-Year Plan for Species at Risk in British Columbia, acknowledges several recommendations that the Species at Risk Task Force — a ten-member board consisting of environmental educators, industry leaders, and wildlife researchers  — made in its 2011 report.  One recommendation called for the implementation of a centralized internet approach to public reporting that will provide citizens increased access to numerous government initiatives, agencies, and information related to species at risk in the province.

The recent plan also highlights the need to have ecosystem and landscape-level approaches to prevent the loss of habitat and fragmentation of landscapes — two main threats facing species at risk. These approaches call for a focus not just on species at risk but also other species that share the same ecosystem. In addition, the Species at Risk Task Force called for a shared stewardship approach to managing vulnerable species, which involves increased coordination between stewardship groups, conservation partners, First Nations, and federal, provincial, and local governments.

Sources: Brandon Sun (July 9, 2014), British Columbia (accessed July 22, 2014)

Wildlife News Roundup (July 26-August 1, 2014)

Mon, 2014-08-04 10:44

The following clips reflect recent wildlife-related news coverage in the media. The Wildlife Society does not independently verify any statements or assertions in these articles. The statements expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect official TWS policy unless so stated. Likewise, products mentioned herein are not endorsed by The Wildlife Society unless so stated.

A lionfish (Pterois spp.) in the Red Sea. Native to the Pacific and Indian oceans, the invasive species now resides in Caribbean waters and all the way up the East coast to Rhode Island. (Credit: Michael Aston)

Lionfish Ban Takes Effect Aug. 1
(Florida Today)
Starting Friday, the invasive lionfish can no longer be imported in Florida. Several other lionfish management changes take effect Aug. 1 to help beat back the spiny, venomous predator and make sure more don’t get here. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also will allow lionfish to be harvested by spearfishing when diving with a rebreather, a device that recycles air and enables divers to remain in the water longer. More




US Wildlife Authorities Join State in Investigation of Owl Deaths at Oil Field Site
(Public Radio Tulsa)
Officials found several dead birds in this open saltwater tank at an oilfield site in northwest Oklahoma. Federal authorities have joined state officials in an investigation of bird deaths at a neglected oil field site in northwestern Oklahoma. Two oil-covered barn owls were found along with several other dead birds. The owls were taken in by a Fairview caretaker licensed to handle non-migratory birds, but both owls later died, the Enid News & Eagle and Associated Press report. More

Groups Press New York State to Ban Poisons that Kill Wildlife
(The New York Times)
For years, wildlife and conservation groups have raised alarms that a class of poisons used to kill rats in New York has been indiscriminately killing wildlife in places like New York City’s Central Park. Now, relying on fresh evidence from post-mortem examinations conducted by the State Department of Environmental Conservation, six such groups are pressing for a statewide ban in New York on those types of poisons. More

US Bans GMOs, Bee-Killing Pesticides in All Wildlife Refuges
( via Yahoo)
The U.S. government is creating a safe place for bees on national wildlife refuges by phasing out the use of genetically modified crops and an agricultural pesticide implicated in the mass die-off of pollinators. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System manages 150 million acres across the country. By January 2016, the agency will ban the use of neonicotinoids. More

Florida Wildlife Officials Ready to Round Up Menacing Tegu Lizards
(Tampa Bay Times)
Its name sounds exotic and cool. But the tegu lizard, with its forked tongue and fierce appetite for native species, is a growing pest that might be on the verge of rivaling the python as the state’s menace of the moment. A roundup of the invasive lizards, which can grow to just over 4 feet, is scheduled in Hillsborough, Florida, where they are thriving in sparsely populated areas. More

Biological Fallout of Shale-Gas Production Still Largely Unknown
(Smithsonian Science)
In the United States, natural-gas production from shale rock has increased by more than 700 percent since 2007. Yet scientists still do not fully understand the industry’s effects on nature and wildlife, according to a report in a scientific journal. As gas extraction continues to vastly outpace scientific examination, a team of eight conservation biologists concluded that determining the environmental impact of gas-drilling sites must be a top research priority. More


Study: Oil Spills in Canada’s Arctic Likely to Spread Across Borders
(The Canadian Press via CTV News)
New research suggests that any type of significant oil spill in Canada’s western Arctic would likely spread quickly and foul oceans around Alaska and possibly as far west as Russia. “Spills originating from the Canadian Beaufort and resulting coastal oiling could be an international issue,” says the report from RPS Applied Science Associates, a global environmental consultancy. More

Conservationists Give Province’s Land-Use Plan a Failing Grade
(Calgary Herald)
A long awaited land-use plan that will guide future decisions on development, recreation and conservation in southern Alberta fails to protect critical headwaters and misses the mark when it comes to preserving the Castle wilderness area, according to several conservation groups. Robin Campbell, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, released the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan in Calgary. More

Rare Lichen in Need of Recovery
(The Telegram)
It was only in 2006 that the presence of a rare lichen was first detected in Newfoundland and Labrador. Less than a decade later, biologists are trying to find a way to protect the small population that remains. Vole ears lichen is a large and leafy variety of lichen found on trees. It has a felty and greyish-brown upper surface that turns grey-green when it becomes moist. More


Yellowstone Considers Quarantine Program for Bison
(The Associated Press via News & Observer)
Yellowstone National Park is seeking public comment on a proposal to capture and quarantine wild bison so disease-free animals can be relocated to create new herds outside the park, Yellowstone officials said. The announcement comes after the Department of Interior last month identified 20 parcels of public lands in 10 states that could be suitable for relocated Yellowstone bison. More

A Bird’s Eye-View on Dwindling Numbers
The bird-counters stood in the windy bow chattering into headsets and scanning the Strait of Juan de Fuca with binoculars. “Scoters,” Sherman Anderson said. “Three of them. At 11 o’clock. Look like surfs.” “Marbled murrelets,” he added seconds later. “I see two.” Inside the boat’s cabin, another Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife worker listened through a headset of his own so he could record the tally on a computer. More


Pangolins are ‘Being Eaten Out of Existence,’ Conservation Group Says
(The New York Times)
Pangolins, the scaly anteaters prized in China and Vietnam for their culinary and medicinal uses, are “being eaten out of existence,” a conservation group warned. Consumer demand, which has already pushed the pangolin to the edge of extinction in Asia, is now driving poaching in Africa, threatening the indigenous species there, according to the Pangolin Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, an environmental organization, in a statement.  More

Changes to Farm Bill Programs Open for Comment

Mon, 2014-08-04 08:34

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources employees work to implement the Walk In Access Program which is funded in part by the programs in the new 2014 Farm Bill 2014. The Natural Resources Conservation Service is accepting public comments on proposed changes to some of these conservation programs. (Credit: Minnesota DNR)

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced this week that it is accepting comments on proposed changes to its conservation programs as required by the Farm Bill passed earlier this year.

The NRCS administers a host of conservation programs for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that provide technical and financial assistance to farmers to protect, enhance, and restore wildlife habitat, riparian areas, and ecosystem services. These programs are the primary vehicle for federal private lands conservation efforts. The 2014 Farm Bill requires several “non-discretionary” changes to these programs as well as the addition of new programs.

Of note is the newly authorized Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), which provides incentives for landowners to conserve habitat and allow access for hunters, anglers, and other recreationalists. A brand new program is the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) which coordinates conservation efforts across programs and agencies in high priority areas such as the Chesapeake Bay Watershed or Great Lakes Basin.

Comments may be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking portal at under Identification number NRCS_FRDOC_0001-0205. By hard copy, submit to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. NRCS-2014-0006, Regulatory and Agency Policy Team, Strategic Planning and Accountability, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Building 1-112D, Beltsville, MD 20705.

Sources: Federal Register (August 1, 2014), NRCS website (Accessed August 1, 2014)

Bill to Increase the Price of Duck Stamps Passes Committee

Fri, 2014-08-01 07:36

The first “Duck Stamp” as designed by J.D. “Ding” Darling. A recent bill that has passed the House Natural Resources committee calls for an increase in duck stamp prices from $15 to $25. (Credit: USFWS)

A bill that would increase the price of duck stamps passed the House Natural Resources committee earlier this week by voice vote. Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) — who sponsored the bill — touted the price increase as “common sense” at last week’s subcommittee hearing.

Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, or Duck Stamps, are permits required to hunt waterfowl in the United States. The money raised by the stamps goes to wetland conservation efforts that in turn lead to more waterfowl.

The proposed bill (H.R. 5069) would amend the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act of 1934 to increase the price of the stamps from $15 to $25 and also require that the extra $10 go to conservation easement purchases.

Proponents of the bill justify the price hike because the price of the stamp has not changed since 1991 while land values — and therefore the price of easements — have tripled since then. Steve Guertin, Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, agreed with this assessment in his testimony before the subcommittee while pointing out that easements are one of the most cost effective and efficient tools for conservation. Guertin also assured the committee that a more expensive stamp would not decrease sales.

The subcommittee ranking member Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-MP) agreed at the hearing that the stamps are critical to conservation, but disagreed with the provision in the bill that requires the extra money to go towards the purchase of easements. His sentiments were echoed at the full committee hearing by Delegate Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) who pointed out that land purchases are an important conservation tool in addition to easements.

An identical version of the bill has been introduced in the Senate (S. 2621) with bipartisan sponsorship, although it has not yet been voted on in committee.

Sources: (Accessed July, 2014), House Natural Resources Committee (Accessed July, 2014), Greenwire (July 30, 2014)

Obama Proposes Disaster Funds for Fighting Wildfires

Thu, 2014-07-31 12:04

Wildfires like this one in Watermelon Hill near the Turnbull NWR destroy significant wildlife habitat. With this year’s wildfire funding projected to fall short by $615 million, costs associated with tackling wildfires threaten to eat into funds set aside for other important Forest Service and Department of the Interior programs. (Photo Credit: Joe Aiello, USFWS)


Last month President Obama requested $3.57 billion in a supplemental funding bill in the Senate, of which a much-needed $615 million will go to battling wildfires. The bill also includes language to fund future wildfires through a disaster fund account similar to procedures in place for other agencies that deal with natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes.

A similar measure was introduced in the Senate last December, by Senators Wyden (D-OR) and Crapo (R-ID) through the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA) of 2013 (S. 1875) (See related article). WDFA is an effort to stem the shortfalls in wildfire funding that have forced the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior to utilize other budget accounts to cover wildfire costs, referred to as fire transfers. WDFA would replace fire transfers by allowing the use of disaster funds when wildfire spending goes above the yearly budgeted amount. The bill has 16 co-sponsors in the Senate and the companion WDFA bill in the House (H.R. 3992) has 116 co-sponsors.

The Wildlife Society is part of a coalition that supports the use of disaster funds in fighting future wildfires instead of relying on fire transfers. Wildfires in many instances are disasters and should be treated as such. Fire transfers also take money away from other important Forest Service and Department of the Interior programs including some that fund mitigation and prevention efforts for wildfires, as well as those that provide critical funding for resource management.

Sources: Energy and Environment News (July 23, 2014), Energy and Environmental News (July 24, 2014)

Recent Elephant Poachings Underscore Need for Action

Tue, 2014-07-29 08:27

Two elephants roaming the savannah in Tanzania. Thousands of elephants are poached every year to satisfy growing demand for ivory. (Credit: Richard Ruggiero, USFWS)

Earlier this month, the 50-year-old elephant Klao — famous for appearing in Thai royal processions as well as in the blockbuster movie “Alexander” — was found dead with its tusks removed at the Thailand conservation center where he was being kept. Just last month, Kenya received similar bad news when one of its most beloved elephants Satao was killed for its ivory (see related story). The deaths of these animals are high profile examples of the illegal poaching trade running rampant across Africa and Southeast Asia.

Since 2007, the illegal ivory trade has doubled worldwide, a trend highlighted in a recent Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’s (CITES) report that details elephant poaching and ivory figures. The report estimates that over 20,000 elephants were poached in Africa just in 2013. On average, an elephant is poached in Africa every 25 minutes.

Most experts attribute the spike in poaching to increased demand — mainly from China and Southeast Asia — as well as the involvement of organized criminal activity. A recent report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) notes that the number of ivory items available for sale in Bangkok, such as ivory jewelry and utensils, has almost tripled in the past 18 months. Meanwhile, the CITES report mentions how more and more large shipments of ivory have been confiscated— a clear sign of burgeoning transnational organized crime.

While it is generally agreed that elephants are on the decline, current debate centers on what actions should be taken to reverse the trend. Conservation groups, including WWF, take aim at legal imports, arguing that they not only drive up demand, but create legitimate shipping pathways that poachers can exploit easily. For example, ivory harvested from domesticated elephants is legal in Thailand, so poachers disguise illegally harvested ivory, such as Klao’s tusks, as domestically harvested trinkets and antiques. In the U.S., legal import of trophies provides the same avenue for illegal ivory. The administration took action in February when it announced a nearly all-encompassing ban on commercial trade of ivory as part of a new National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking (see related story).

But enforcement is not the only issue. Ken Williams, Executive Director of The Wildlife Society, reinforces the critical need to address both the supply and demand side of the problem. “Unless we get control of demand as well as the supply of ivory, we are unlikely to stop the precipitous slide of this charismatic species toward extinction,” Williams said. “This is an international problem that will clearly require international cooperation.”

Some groups worry that the ban will not help control demand or reduce poaching. Sportsmen groups such as Safari Club International note that many African villages and towns rely on tourism dollars brought in from hunting excursions and that an abrupt cessation of these funds would actually make conservation more difficult. At a Congressional committee hearing in June, former House member Jack Fields echoed this sentiment in his testimony, saying that “denying the importation of legally taken sport hunted ivory converts the elephant from an animal protected by local citizens to an animal that is viewed as a source of protein and ivory to be poached.”

In Congress, some GOP lawmakers are attempting to prevent the ban’s enactment citing Fields’ testimony and the concerns of antique dealers. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee passed a bill funding the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior for Fiscal Year 2015, which contains language barring the administration from banning ivory trade. Companion bills have been introduced in the Senate (S. 2587) and House (H.R. 5052) with the same intent.

Lawmakers and the administration are seeking to find a common middle ground where demand for illegal ivory can be alleviated while causing minimal harm to businesses and African communities.

Sources: Energy and Environment News (February 14, 2014; June 25, 2014; July 17, 2014), Greenwire (July 11, 2014), CITES (June 6, 2014), WWF (July 2, 2014), (February 14, 2014), Safari Club International (July 24, 2014), House committee on Natural Resources (June 24, 2014)

Hunters Can Train Dogs for Wisconsin Wolf Hunts

Mon, 2014-07-28 21:29

A beagle picks up on the scent of a wild animal. A new court ruling this month allows Wisconsin residents to train beagles and other hounds to hunt wolves. (Credit: Karen Arnold)

A grey wolf rests under the cover of a forest. Animal rights groups are worried about how the new ruling will impact the safety of dogs and the continued recovery of the wolf population. (Credit: ForestWander Nature Photography)

Wisconsin hunters can now train their dogs to track and hunt wolves, according to a recent ruling by the state appeals court.

Wisconsin wolf hunts began in 2012 after grey wolves were removed from the federal endangered species list. Legalization of the hunts immediately ignited a court battle over whether or the hunts were safe for dogs. Amidst the controversy, a court ruling last year permitted hunters to begin using dogs for the first time ever in the state’s wolf hunt. However, the ruling didn’t allow hunters to train their hounds to track wolves since existing restrictions were outdated and not specific to wolves as game species. Now, the recent ruling — passed earlier this month — has found that the state’s residents have the right to hunt and therefore the freedom to train hunting dogs. As a result, hunters will be able to train their dogs for the upcoming 2014 wolf-hunting season.

The ruling is a disappointment to an alliance of humane societies and the National Wolfwatcher Coalition — a nonprofit organization advocating for wolf recovery and preservation. The groups have been arguing against the use of dogs in wolf hunts and believe that the practice could result in dangerous confrontations that could harm or kill the dogs

Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) examined harvested wolf carcasses for evidence of canine confrontations — like bite wounds — after this past 2013 hunting season. The evaluation was inconclusive due to the poor condition of many of the carcasses. However, hunting advocates maintain that wolves should be able to outrun dogs and fights between the two canines will be rare.

Animal rights groups and grassroots organizations are also worried about the impact of the hunts on the state’s grey wolves. Wolf populations were decimated by hunting in the early 1900s and were only just removed from the federal endangered species list in 2012.

“This is going to add another layer of stress on to an already stressed out wolf population,” Rachel Tilseth from Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin told Wisconsin Public Radio after the ruling.

The DNR says it is pleased with the new court ruling. The agency has implemented emergency rules that restrict the use of dogs at night and require hounds to be marked with identifying collars. The emergency rules will help guide hunters while the agency drafts more permanent regulations — such as restricting dog training to daylight hours during the wolf season and continuing to permit hunters to use up to use up to six hounds during hunts. The permanent regulations should be ready by the 2015 hunting season.

President’s Podium

Mon, 2014-07-28 13:54

Council made a major decision at the end of June in deciding to maintain Wiley-Blackwell as the publisher of our journals. Wiley began publishing TWS’s journals in 2011, and its current contract is due to expire at the end of 2015. Wiley was interested in retaining TWS as a client, and made an early renewal offer along with a new draft contract. TWS engaged an independent publishing consultant to review Wiley’s renewal offer and draft contract. Executive Director Williams, Director of Publications and Communications Moore, and Council all reviewed and discussed the report from the consultant, a thorough process of evaluation that culminated in the decision to remain with Wiley as our publisher. Williams and Moore are now working with Wiley to fine-tune the language of the new contract. Once signed, the new contract will go into effect in January 2016.

Among The Wildlife Society’s major roles is sustaining the quality and financial health of its three journals (The Journal of Wildlife Management, Wildlife Monographs, and the Wildlife Society Bulletin). Disseminating scientific information to our members and the broader scientific community is the primary goal of our journals and a vital part of the mission of TWS. Our journal editors manage manuscript review and acceptance, while our publisher handles production, marketing, and distribution.

Maintaining the quality of the journals is the responsibility of TWS through the work of our editors and their staff, the associate editors, and all of the peer reviewers. Overall, our editorial program maintains our journals as excellent sources of high quality information on wildlife biology and management, and the work of all involved in this process deserves our appreciation and respect.

Besides the critical role of disseminating scientific information, the income we receive from our journals has been one of the three primary sources of funding for TWS (the others being membership and conferences). For this reason, Council and staff must carefully evaluate the business aspects of our contract with a publisher. Wiley presented TWS with a very strong offer that with some additional negotiation, became even stronger and resulted in Council deciding to accept the proposed terms. It should secure a healthy revenue stream for TWS over the 7 years of the new contract, which will run from 2016 to 2022.

As indicated in previous editions of the Wildlifer, we expect the publishing world to change with an increasing shift to digital formats and with increasing trends towards open access. Council and staff think that the current format of our journals is appropriate for now, but recognize that changes are highly likely in the future. Language in the new contract will acknowledge the need for flexibility in how we publish our journals in the future and allow for changes to be made when the time is right.

Charting the best path forward for our journals is an important responsibility of Council and TWS staff that all take very seriously. The decision reached by Council was one that was carefully considered and should meet the needs for our journals as we progress in a rapidly changing publishing arena.