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Interior Announces New Mitigation Strategy

14 hours 12 min ago

Crucial habitat maps, such as the one above for Oregon, are developed in cooperation with the Western Governors’ Association’s habitat assessment tool and allow developers to evaluate the proposed location of a project during the pre-planning stages. (Credit: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell recently announced the release of a new landscape-scale mitigation strategy formulated by the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Energy and Climate Change Task Force. The strategy aims to take a broader approach to mitigation on federal lands, rather than focusing on a narrower project-by-project approach, as is current practice.

The mitigation strategy emphasizes collaboration and problem solving among agencies and stakeholders and is designed to allow DOI to assess mitigation strategies for landscape-scale areas that share similar ecological characteristics. For example, as part of the new strategy, DOI can use hydrogeologic information to understand where wetlands form in the landscape, and how potential loss of wetlands will affect the entire landscape. The hope is that federal and state land managers will be able to better coordinate their land management and mitigation procedures.

In the strategy, DOI specifically recognizes and builds upon mitigation initiatives already in place across the country that aim to avoid development conflicts and improve conservation outcomes. One example is the Western Governors’ Association’s Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT), which takes a landscape-level overview of important wildlife habitat in 16 western states and allows development project proponents to better plan future projects. The desired results are a decrease in costs, conflicts, and surprises, such as an unexpected change in a species conservation status, during development and to ensure that the needs of wildlife are incorporated into decision-making processes.

Sources: DOI Mitigation Report (accessed April, 2014), DOI announcement (accessed April, 2014), Greenwire (April 10, 2014)

Decision to Remove Sheep from National Forest Upheld

Wed, 2014-04-23 13:46

A bighorn sheep ambles through the Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada. The U.S. Forest Service is taking steps to ensure viable bighorn sheep herds while maintaining grazing allotments for domestic sheep. (Credit: Bruce Thompson, BLM)

A 9th circuit court judge recently upheld the 2010 decision by the Payette National Forest Supervisor in Idaho to protect the health of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) by banning domestic sheep from grazing in 70 percent of the forest. The Forest Supervisor’s decision was based on an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared at the order of a district judge in 2007. Under the same 2007 order, ranchers were required to remove their sheep from five grazing allotments in parts of Hells Canyon adjacent to Payette National Forest because of concerns over disease transmission from grazing domestic sheep to native bighorn sheep living in the area.

Even though the circuit court’s decision only applies to Payette National Forest, Region 4 of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), which covers all of Utah and Nevada and portions of Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado, is proceeding with plans to complete risk-of-contact assessments for bighorn sheep and domestic sheep throughout the region, in addition to population viability analyses of bighorn sheep herds. Once these assessments are completed, Region 4 plans to create maps of where the greatest risk for contact between domestic and bighorn sheep is likely to occur and convene a group of stakeholders to provide input on development of a regional management plan. By doing this, Region 4 officials believe they can maintain viable bighorn sheep populations while allowing domestic sheep to continue grazing on national forest lands.

Concerns over disease transmission between the two species in the Payette area stem from an outbreak of pneumonia in bighorn sheep herds in the Hells Canyon region in 1995 and 1996. The herds were nearly extirpated and are still recovering from population losses. Outbreaks of pneumonia in bighorn sheep are not isolated to Idaho and have been found to affect numerous herds throughout the species 14-state range in the western U.S. In fact, in the winter of 2009-2010, five western states with a total bighorn population of approximately 1,600 sheep lost 888 to pneumonia.

Bighorn sheep once numbered in the millions across their historic range in the western U.S., western Canada, and Baja California in Mexico. By the early 20th century, only a few thousand remained due to sport hunting, expanding ranch lands, and introduction of disease. Thanks to conservation efforts including re-introductions, establishment of national parks, and regulated hunting, the species experienced a comeback in the early to mid-20th century. However, Audubon’s bighorn (Ovis canadensis auduboni), a subspecies that once roamed the plains of the Dakotas, Montana, and Nebraska was not able to recover and went extinct in the early 1920s.

Currently, one of the major threats to the species is epizootic bacterial pneumonia, which has been shown, in some cases, to be transmitted to bighorn sheep from domestic sheep. While the exact cause of the disease is uncertain, research has shown that bighorn sheep are more likely to suffer high morbidity and mortality rates from an array of bacteria that can cause pneumonia after being infected with Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae. This mycoplasma species is not a native pathogen of bighorn sheep, but regularly infects domestic sheep and goats. Further, domestic sheep can be infected with mycoplasma but not show symptoms, and when their grazing allotment overlaps the range of a bighorn sheep herd, close contact can occur between the two species, resulting in transmission of the disease. There is no effective treatment for pneumonia in bighorn sheep and a vaccine has yet to be developed. As a result, physical separation of the sheep where their ranges and grazing lands overlap is seen as the best way to control the problem.

Sources: USFWS (accessed April 2014), Washington Department of Fish and Game (accessed April 2014), Centers for Disease Control (accessed April 2014), Yosemite National Park (accessed April 2014), Region 4, National Forest Service (Webinar, April 14, 2014), Idaho Statesman (March 26, 2014), Energy and Environment News (March 27, 2014), National Wildlife Federation (accessed April, 2014)

Wildlife News Roundup (April 12-18, 2014)

Mon, 2014-04-21 10:12

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.

Scientists at Griffith National Park suspect exposure to rat poison may be behind the emaciated and mangy appearance of puma (Puma concolor) P-22, a once healthy animal that lives in the park. (Credit: National Park Service)

Household Rat Poison Linked to Death and Disease in Wildlife
(Los Angeles Times)
The mountain lion known as P-22 looked majestic just a few months ago, in a trail-camera photo shot against the backdrop of the Hollywood sign. But when a remote camera in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park captured an image of the puma more recently, it showed a thinner and mangy animal. Scientists sedated him and drew blood samples. They found evidence of exposure to rat poisons. More

NEWS FROM NORTH AMERICA

Temporary Plan Proposed for Dealing with American Burying Beetle
(The Oklahoman)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service detailed a temporary plan to allow oil and natural gas activity to continue near endangered insects in eastern Oklahoma. The two-year, interim plan would provide a uniform way for oil and natural gas companies to receive incidental take permits for the American burying beetle, allowing them to continue operating in the beetle’s habitat, which includes 45 counties in central and eastern Oklahoma. More

Grizzly Bear Trapping to Resume in Banff, Yoho
(Rocky Mountain Outlook)
Parks Canada plans to capture and collar more grizzly bears this spring as part of a project to stop the ongoing deaths of the threatened species on the train tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks. Five grizzlies still had functioning GPS collars when they headed into the den last fall, but two of the high-tech tracking devices will be removed this spring because they are nearing the end of their lifespan. Several other collars malfunctioned for varying reasons. More

Wyoming Governor Touts Success of Wolf Reintroduction
(The Associated Press via Missoulian)
A recent survey showing Wyoming’s wolf population is stable proves ending federal protections for the animals and placing them under state management was the right move, Gov. Matt Mead said. Mead released a report prepared by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department stating there were at least 306 wolves in at least 43 packs — including more than 23 breeding pairs — in Wyoming at the end of 2013. More

Ontario Slashes Adult Moose Tags
(CBC)
Hunters in many areas of northern Ontario will have a harder time getting an adult moose tags for the upcoming moose-hunting season. The province has announced it will reduce the adult moose tags it makes available in 2014 by about 18 percent overall. The reductions are in response to declining moose populations in northern Ontario, which were noted by provincial biologists during this winter’s annual aerial surveys. More

Arizona State Research Looks at New ID Methods for Endangered Species
(Arizona State University)
In a time of global climate change and rapidly disappearing habitat critical to the survival of countless endangered species, there is a heightened sense of urgency to confirm the return of animals thought to be extinct, or to confirm the presence of newly discovered species. Field biologists traditionally collect specimens to distinguish the animals — or to confirm that they do indeed exist in the wild. More

Northern Gateway Pipeline Rejected by B.C. First Nation
(The Huffington Post)
A group of First Nations with territory covering a quarter of the route for the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline met with Canadian federal representatives to officially reject the project. Officials with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans met with the four clans of the Yinka Dene in Fort St. James, and listened as dozens of elders, hereditary and elected chiefs said “No.” More

Stanford Researchers Rethink ‘Natural’ Habitat for Wildlife
(Stanford University)
Protecting wildlife while feeding a world population predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050 will require a holistic approach to conservation that considers human-altered landscapes such as farmland, according to Stanford researchers. Wildlife and the natural habitat that supports it might be an increasingly scarce commodity in a world where at least three-quarters of the land surface is directly affected by humans and the rest is vulnerable to human-caused impacts such as climate change. More

WILDLIFE HEALTH AND DISEASE NEWS

Study: Mercury Contamination Affects Even Fish in National Parks
(The Spokesman-Review)
National parks in the Western United States and Alaska are some of the most pristine landscapes and waters on the planet, yet results of a four-year study indicate that mercury contamination affects fish even in these protected areas. It’s important to note that 96 percent of the affected fish had low levels of contamination and are considered safe for human consumption. More

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Kenyan Governor to Oversee Wildlife Service Amid Corruption Allegations
(Nature World News)
The Kenyan government will take over the country’s wildlife management authority for the next three months after allegations of corruption within the Kenya Wildlife Service has led to the suspension of at least six senior officers, according to news reports. The move is an apparent response to Kenyan conservationist Richard Leakey, founder of the Kenyan NGO WildlifeDirect and former founding head of the KWS. More

Study: Large Decrease in Green Turtle Catch Rates
(RedOrbit)
A 20-year assessment of Nicaragua’s legal, artisanal green sea turtle fishery has uncovered a stark reality: greatly reduced overall catch rates of turtles in what may have become an unsustainable take, according to conservation scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and University of Florida. During the research period, conservation scientists estimated that more than 170,000 green turtles were killed between 1991 and 2011. More

The Trade in Rhino Horn: Asset Stripping on an Apocalyptic Scale
(The Guardian)
I am sitting in a large meeting room at Pretoria University in South Africa at a conference to discuss the trade in rhino horn. Expecting a fierce debate pitting conservationists against hunters and traders, instead I find myself confronting my own impotence against the most horrific poaching of rhinos. What is happening in South Africa is truly in a league of its own. I already knew that over 1000 rhino are being poached each year in South Africa. But these were just statistics. More

Chronic Wasting Disease Detected in Iowa Wild Deer

Fri, 2014-04-18 14:50

A healthy, wild deer walks through a field in the northeastern United States. Iowa recently reported the presence of Chronic Wasting Disease in its wild deer population. The disease is a fatal condition threatening wild elk and deer herds. (Credit: Scott Bauer/USDA Image Gallery)

Last week, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) confirmed its first case of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in wild deer. The announcement was not a complete surprise—Iowa’s six neighboring states are all currently struggling with the contagious disease in wild populations.

CWD primarily affects the brains of elk and deer, causing abnormal behavior, extreme weight loss, and ultimately death. Since its discovery in the 1960s, the disease has been detected in 21 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. There is no scientific evidence suggesting that humans can contract the disease. However, health concerns and perceptions can dissuade hunters from harvesting deer in infected regions, hurting economies and leaving diseased herds unchecked. Surveillance and management programs for the disease are also expensive and can draw resources away from other wildlife management efforts.

The infected wild deer was originally harvested in Northeast Iowa early last December near a region of Wisconsin containing high rates of the disease. Iowa has been expecting and preparing for detection in wild deer since the disease was first detected in the state in 2002. “We have been testing for CWD in Iowa’s deer herd for more than a decade and are optimistic, given the extensive data we have collected, that we have caught this early,” said DNR director Chuck Gipp in a press release.

Tackling the Disease

A white-tailed deer struggles with Chronic Wasting Disease in a captive facility in Wyoming. The disease causes brain lesions, extreme weight loss, and ultimately the death of infected animals. (Credit: Wyoming Game and Fish Department/CWD Alliance)

Early detection of CWD is essential since it can be extremely difficult to eradicate once it establishes itself in a region. The state’s surveillance strategy has included sample collections from harvested wild and captive deer throughout the state, but the DNR invests extra effort in counties neighboring infected regions of Wisconsin and Illinois. Since 2002, the state has taken more than 650 samples from within a five-mile radius of where the infected deer was harvested this winter.

The Iowa DNR is beginning to implement a disease response plan. “The next step will be to focus our monitoring efforts in the area where the animal was harvested and work closely with local landowners and hunters to gather more information.” Gipp said. Increasing sampling from this region will help determine whether this is an isolated case of the disease or if the problem is more widespread.

CWD is not completely new to Iowa. The state has been managing the disease in captive populations at breeding and hunting preserves since 2012. In fact, biologists have found a total of 13 cases of the disease distributed between three facilities. Captive facilities can be quickly quarantined, but disease management in wild populations presents new challenges. “They’re wild animals, so you don’t have a lot of control over them or what kind of contact they have,” said Iowa DNR spokesperson Kevin Baskins. Unfortunately scientists believe the disease can be spread by both direct and indirect contact between deer. As a result, the Iowa DNR plans to provide hunters and landowners with tips on minimizing both types of contact. Other states, for example, have already demonstrated that avoiding use of salt licks and deer feed on personal property or for baiting animals during hunting season may help limit direct contact between deer and the spread of the disease.

A distribution map of Chronic Wasting Disease in North America. Grey regions represent areas where wild deer were detected with the disease, red dots depict captive facilities where the disease has been detected, and yellow dots represent facilities that have depopulated their deer population to manage infection. (Credit: USGS National Wildlife Health Center)

Minimizing indirect contact presents a bigger challenge. An abnormal protein called a “prion” causes CWD. These infectious proteins can survive a long time in the carcasses of infected animals or even in soil. Baskins notes the Iowa DNR will remind hunters about how to properly dispose of animals and other materials to minimize indirect contact and disease spread. In addition, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend wearing protective gloves when handling carcasses and, to remain safe, not consuming the brain, eyeballs, or spinal cord of harvested deer.

Neighboring states have been dealing with the disease in wild populations for longer, and may provide a good model for disease management. “I think one of the advantages that Iowa has is that we had CWD in all bordering states,” Baskins said. “We have the opportunity to kind of look at other states for what worked there and what didn’t work.” He says this is one of the things that the state will consider as it continues to formulate its response plan.

Sources:
Iowa DNR Press Release, Iowa DNR, USGS National Wildlife Health Center, CWD Alliance

New Initiatives to Address Honeybee Decline

Thu, 2014-04-17 08:54

Honeybees pollinate over $15 billion worth of agricultural crops every year, such as these sunflowers in a field in North Dakota. (Credit: Bruce Fritz, USDA/ARS)

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced a new initiative that will provide $3 million in funding for pollinator management and conservation. Funding will be provided through the Farm Bill Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and will supply technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers in five Midwestern states to improve honeybee and other pollinator health on their lands.

The initiative would encourage landowners to undertake a number of practices designed to provide safe and diverse habitat and food sources for pollinators. Examples include pasture grazing rotation to make appropriate plants available to bees throughout the growing season, planting of native drought-resistant hedgerows attractive to pollinators, and planting cover crops such as alfalfa and clover which are attractive to bees. These measures not only encourage honeybee pollination, but also provide essential habitat for other pollinators and wildlife such as butterflies, bumblebees, and hummingbirds.

In his FY 2015 budget, the President outlined a second, $4 million initiative to be carried out by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), also part of the USDA, which aims to develop and test best management practices to prevent and isolate causal factors of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). CCD was first identified in 2006 when some beekeepers reported losses of 30-90 percent of their hives; colony losses near 30 percent continue to be seen around the country today. A definitive cause of CCD has not been determined, but a number of factors have been identified that may contribute to the disorder. Identifying and mitigating CCD is critical since over $15 billion worth of agricultural production in the U.S. depends on honeybee pollination.

Sources: USDA (accessed, April 2014), Ecological Society of America (accessed, April 2014), The New York Times (April 2, 2014), USDA Newsroom (accessed, April 2014), USDA FY 15 Budget (accessed, April 2014)

House Considers New ESA Legislation

Wed, 2014-04-16 08:06

An endangered Florida panther stands vigilant at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. The species was originally listed in 1967 under precursors to the Endangered Species Act, which could see marked reform after evaluations from House Republicans. (Credit: George Gentry, FWS)

The 13 House Republicans of the Endangered Species Act Congressional Working Group released a report in early February consisting of recommendations for updating the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA celebrated its 40th anniversary this past December, and has recently come under scrutiny by lawmakers for placing too much emphasis on the listing of individual species. Four pieces of proposed legislation followed the working groups’ report, detailing reforms to the ESA to increase transparency of spending and listing decisions.

The first bill, H.R. 4315, would require the Secretary of the Interior to publicly release and provide online access to all data used in species listing decisions. H.R. 4317 also focuses on data use, requiring the federal government to include data collected by state and tribal agencies in its consideration of the best available science. The other two bills, H.R. 4316 and H.R. 4318, focus on how agencies manage ESA-related litigations and would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to report spending on litigations and cap attorney fees at $125 per hour.

Lawmakers discussed the proposed legislation in a House Natural Resources Committee hearing last week, with clear partisan divides on how to reform the ESA. So far, the measures have garnered support only from Republican co-sponsors, who argue the legislation would provide simple incremental changes, not a complete overhaul of the ESA, which has not seen large changes since amendments in 1988. While Democrats agree that the ESA should be updated, they remain concerned that current proposals were created without them and could irreparably damage the landmark legislation. Democrats argue that releasing all data, such as rare species locations and landowner information, could thwart conservation efforts and wording in H.R. 4317 would create a restrictive definition of the best science available, limiting data available to FWS for species listing decisions.

Sources: FWS Endangered Species (accessed April 2014), ESA Congressional Working Group (accessed April 2014), E&E News (April 9, 2014)

Draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan and EIS Released

Tue, 2014-04-15 18:43

Great Egret (Ardea alba)at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (Credit: Justine Belson / FWS)

The public review and comment period for the draft Bay Delta Habitat Conservation Plan (Plan) began Friday December 13, 2013. The Plan is a proposed 50-year Habitat Conservation Plan and Natural Community Conservation Plan, which seeks to restore 150,000 acres of habitat along with several other conservation objectives.

After 7 years of discussion, research, and review, the 9,000-page plan and the 25,000-page Environmental Impact Report / Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) have been released, which detail 22 separate conservation measures to balance water demands and impacts throughout the region. The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta area is home to more than 500,000 people but supplies water to 25 million Californians, 3 million acres of farmland, and impacts the economies of the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, and Southern California. According to the highlights report, over 98% of the historical marsh and sub-tidal habitat have been lost, this coupled with the decline of species like the threatened delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus), and concerns over the impacts of climate change, land subsidence, and seismic activity on flood levees and other water flow infrastructure, spurred this project.

The comment period is open until April 14, 2014. Written comments may be submitted by email to bdcp.comments@noaa.gov or by U.S. mail to: Ryan Wulff, National Marine Fisheries Service, 650 Capitol Mall, Suite 5–100, Sacramento, CA 95814.

Twelve public meetings will be held throughout California in early 2014.

 

Sources:

DOI Press Release (December 9, 2013) , Draft BDCP Highlights brochure (December 13, 2013)

Additional Document links:

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and Ecosystem Restoration Plan

Public Draft Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP)

Public Draft BDCP Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement

Draft BDCP Highlights brochure

Draft EIR/EIS Highlights brochure

How to Comment factsheet

What’s Changed BDCP

What’s Changed EIR/EIS

Comment Period Extended for Greater Sage Grouse

Tue, 2014-04-15 09:24

A male greater sage grouse displays in Butte County, South Dakota. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has extended the comment period for its proposed rule to list a portion of the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (Credit: Steve Fairbairn, USFWS)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently announced the extension of the public comment period on the proposed rule to list the Bi-State Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act with a special rule.

FWS is also re-opening the comment period on the proposed rule to designate critical habitat for the grouse. The deadline for FWS to make a final determination on the bird’s status has now been extended six months and is due April 28, 2015.

FWS is taking the above actions because of “substantial disagreement” about population trends and threats, interpretation of existing population data, and the existence of scientific literature that was not used in their initial analysis.

The Bi-State DPS, covering parts of California and Nevada, was originally proposed for listing in October 2013 because of threats to the population including invasive plants, habitat fragmentation due to renewable energy and urban development, mining, and climate change. FWS found in 2010 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.

Written comments must be submitted by June 9, 2014 using one of the following two methods:
(1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS-R8-ES-2013-0072 (proposed listing) or FWS-R8-ES-2013-0042 (proposed critical habitat), which are the docket numbers for these rulemakings. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate the document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”

(2) By hard copy for the proposed listing: Submit by U.S. mail or hand delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-ES-2013-0072; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203. By hard copy for the proposed critical habitat: Submit by U.S. mail or hand delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-ES-2013-0042; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.

Sources: Federal Register (April 8, 2014), Energy and Environment Daily (April 9, 2014), FWS (accessed April, 2014)

Related TWS articles: New Baseline Environmental Report on the Greater Sage Grouse Released (June, 2013), BLM Failed to Analyze Grazing Impacts to Sage-Grouse, Judge Rules (March 2012), BLM to Increase Sage-Grouse Protections (September 2011), Gateway West Transmission Line Project a Potential Threat to Sage-Grouse (October 2011), WY Governor Maintains Core Sage-Grouse Habitat (July 2011), BLM Expands Sage Grouse Protections in Wyoming (December 2008).

Wildlife News Roundup (April 5-11, 2014)

Mon, 2014-04-14 09:00

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 box of hunting ammunition. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service is reinvesting in conservation and recreation programs by providing nearly $1.1 billion of hunting and fishing tax revenue to state and territorial agencies. (Credit: M. Smashy, Creative Commons)

Wildlife Dividend: Guns, Ammo Have Direct Connection to Conservation
(The Spokesman-Review)
A set of numbers suggests that Barack Obama’s presidency is the best thing that’s happened to hunting since Teddy Roosevelt. Record-breaking sales of guns and ammunition in recent years have resulted in a windfall for wildlife conservation. The corresponding federal excise taxes on guns and ammunition also have soared to record levels — and that funding is earmarked for wildlife and hunting programs. More

 

 

 

NEWS FROM NORTH AMERICA

Ravens, Wolves Targeted in New Saskatchewan Wildlife Laws
(Global News)
Changes to wildlife laws in Saskatchewan will make it easier for landowners to deal with ravens and wolves. Officials from the Ministry of Environment said wolves are causing problems for livestock owners in certain parts of the province, and the government is designating them as a big game species to allow hunters to target problem animals in those areas. The change will not create a general wolf hunting season. More

Federal Officials Look to Manage Bison Herd at North Rim of Grand Canyon
(Grand Canyon News)
Because of damage to archaeological sites, water sources and natural resources, federal officials are investigating ways to manage a herd of around 350 bison on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Brought to the Grand Canyon area in the early 1900s as part of a hybrid breeding experiment, Arizona Game and Fish took over the herd’s management in 1950 in the House Rock Wildlife Area on the Kaibab National Forest through an interagency agreement with the Forest Service. More

Invasive Stink Bugs Spreading Across Ontario
(The Huffington Post)
Stink bugs are spreading across Ontario. The first official detection of brown marmorated stink bugs came in 2012 when a homeowner found one in Hamilton. Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture has now confirmed the invasive species has been spotted south of Chatham, about an hour east of Windsor. The bug has also been found in Toronto (2012), Vaughan (2013), Windsor (2013), Niagara-on-the Lake (2013), London (2013), Fort Erie (2014) and Ottawa (2014), to name just a few municipalities. More

Florida Aims to Protect Gopher Tortoises with App
(WUFT-TV)
Threatened animal species protection — there’s an app for that. The free “Florida Gopher Tortoise” app allows the public to submit photos with GPS coordinates of tortoises or their burrows to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC. The app will help scientists gather data on the locations of tortoises in the state. Allie Perryman, local government coordinator for the FWC, said the idea originated as a way to get Florida residents and visitors involved in tortoise conservation. More

Cause of Lake Erie’s Harmful Algal Blooms Gains More Certainty
(Circle of Blue)
Changes in the timing and method of applying agricultural fertilizer are the primary drivers behind the increasing amounts of phosphorus entering Lake Erie and causing toxic algal blooms and a large dead zone, according to new basin-wide scientific studies. The studies, drawing on institutions from across the Great Lakes, also found that climate change is increasing the urgency of developing ways to keep fertilizers on fields, and may mean that larger reductions in phosphorus will be necessary to alleviate Great Lakes algal blooms. More 

WILDLIFE HEALTH AND DISEASE NEWS

Fungal Disease Fatal to Bats Spreads to Half of US
(The Associated Press via KOSA-TV)
A fungal disease that has killed millions of North American bats is spreading and now has been detected in half of the United States. Officials in Michigan and Wisconsin said Thursday they’ve confirmed that bats in their states have been diagnosed with white-nose syndrome, which first showed up in the U.S. in upstate New York in 2006. The disease is named for the white fuzz it creates on the animals’ noses, wings and tails. More

Humans Give Sea Otters the Flu
(Wildlife Extra)
Northern sea otters living off the coast of Washington state were infected with the same H1N1 flu virus that caused the world-wide pandemic in 2009, according to a new study from the U.S. Geological Survey and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During an August 2011 health monitoring project, USGS and CDC scientists found evidence that the Washington sea otters were infected with the flu, although the exact date and source of exposure could not be determined. More

Report: ‘Oil is Not Gone; Impacts to Wildlife Ongoing’
(The Advocate)
Dying dolphins, bluefin tuna embryos with heart defects and hundreds of dead sea turtles washing ashore are proof the BP oil spill is still hurting and killing wildlife four years after the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the National Wildlife Federation claims in a new report. The report, “Four Years into the Gulf Oil Disaster: Still Waiting for Restoration,” includes a compilation of research so far about impacts of the oil disaster on 14 species around the Gulf of Mexico. More

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Massive Survey Aims to Save Liberia’s Precious Chimpanzee Population
(Wildlife Extra)
An international research team has been conducting a census of chimpanzees and other large mammals living in Liberia, West Africa. This has revealed that the country is home to 7,000 chimpanzees and, therefore, has the second largest known population of the western subspecies of chimpanzees. When Liberia enters the news it is usually in the context of civil war, economic crisis, poverty or a disease outbreak. More

Zimbabwe Decries US Elephant Trade Ban
(SABC)
Zimbabwe has described the U.S. decision to ban the importation of hunted-elephant trophies, as a blow to its wildlife conservation program. America’s Fish and Wildlife Services has banned the importation into the U.S. of trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania, saying elephants in both countries are under siege. At least 90 elephants are poached in Tanzania every day, while Zimbabwe lost close to 300 jumbos in a cyanide poisoning incident last year. More

Stiffer Penalties Proposed for Mozambique’s Poachers
(Wildlife Extra)
A proposed bill that will rapidly increase the penalties for poaching wildlife, particularly of endangered species, in conservation areas in Mozambique has passed the parliament’s first reading. Introducing the bill, Tourism Minister Carvalho Muaria said the current legislation “does not allow for severe penalties against offenders, and so there are no measures that discourage poaching.” More

USDA Announces National Feral Swine Control

Mon, 2014-04-14 08:59

Feral swine, like this one in Florida, have expanded from 17 to 39 states in the past 30 years and are one of the most economically destructive invaders a state can have, according to USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Undersecretary Edward Avalos. (Credit: Steve Hillebrand, FWS)

Early this month the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced plans for a national effort to control and minimize damage from feral swine. APHIS is allocating $20 million for the program to assist states in feral swine management and help mitigate the $1.5 billion in costs for control and damages caused by this invasive species.

Feral swine pose a serious risk to human, wildlife, and livestock health and can negatively impact habitat and water quality. They have been found to carry 30 different diseases and 37 parasites, can ravage high-value crops, and compete with native wildlife for resources. Swine have been especially successful in invading multiple states because of their ability to reproduce quickly, averaging 1.5 litters a year and five to six piglets per litter after reaching sexual maturity at six to eight months of age.

The APHIS control program, which follows a pilot study that was successful in eliminating feral swine from 5.3 million acres of land in New Mexico, is scheduled to begin operation within the next six months. Goals of the program include the elimination of feral swine from two states every three to five years and stabilization of damage costs within 10 years. Funds will be divided to include $9.5 million for state projects, $1.4 million for disease monitoring and development of vaccines, and $1.5 million for research to improve control procedures. Wildlife Services will head the effort and work with state and tribal governments to tailor management in respective areas.

Sources: USDA APHIS Newsroom (April 2, 2014), E&E News (April 3, 2014)

Wildlife News Roundup (March 29-April 4, 2014)

Mon, 2014-04-07 09:00

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 honeybee (Apis spp.) pollinates a flower. Drought-resistant plants that are bee friendly are increasingly important in arid California. (Credit: Paul Stein)

Program Looks to Give Bees a Leg (or Six) Up
(The New York Times)
Helping America’s beleaguered bees could start with something as humble as planting a shrub. In California’s Central Valley, researchers are trying to find assortments of bee-friendly plants that local farmers and ranchers can easily grow, whether in unusable corners and borders of their land or on acreage set aside with government support. More

NEWS FROM NORTH AMERICA

Bill 4 Passes, Opens BC Parks to Industry
(Vancouver Observer)
A little-known Canadian bill, the Park Amendment Act, that will drastically alter the management of British Columbia parks is set to become law, creating controversy among the province’s most prominent environmental and conservation organizations. The passage of Bill 4 will make way for industrial incursions into provincial parklands, including energy extraction, construction of pipelines and industry-led research. More

US Fish and Wildlife Officials to Consider Federal Protection of Southeast Alaska Wolves
(UPI)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it will consider the possible protection Southeast Alaska wolves under the Endangered Species Act. The decision to review the wolves’ status comes two years after the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace submitted a petition to protect the species known as the Alexander Archipelago wolf. “We determined that there was substantial information presented, enough to make us think we probably should do a real status review,” said Steve Brockmann, FWS’s Southeast Alaska coordinator. More

Fences Cause ‘Ecological Meltdown’
(Science Codex)
Wildlife fences are constructed for a variety of reasons, including to prevent the spread of diseases, protect wildlife from poachers, and to help manage small populations of threatened species. Human–wildlife conflict is another common reason for building fences: Wildlife can damage valuable livestock, crops, or infrastructure, some species carry diseases of agricultural concern, and a few threaten human lives. More

Facing Climate Change in Forests and Fields
(The Wildlife Professional)
As a growing body of science shows, climate change impacts on wildlife are already profound — from shifting species’ ranges and altering the synchronicity of food sources to changing the availability of water. Such impacts are only expected to increase in the coming decades. As climate change shapes complex, interwoven ecological processes, novel conditions and ecosystems will continue to emerge. More

Manitoba Eyes Lifting Moratorium on Tundra Buggy Permits in New Polar Bear Park
(The Canadian Press via Canada.com)
Manitoba is deciding whether to lift restrictions on eco-tourism as it prepares to designate a new polar bear provincial park on Hudson Bay. The province is hiring a consultant to review the number of off-road tundra vehicles used to carry tourists around polar bear country near Churchill and to recommend how many should be allowed to operate in the new park. There are 18 permits right now for tundra vehicles — a number that has been in place since the early 1990s. More

Doppler Radar to Alert Drivers of Wildlife is Idea Worth Watching
(The Spokesman-Review)
The forecast for animal and driver safety could improve if a promising experiment using a meteorologist’s tool is successful. As part of a pilot project, Doppler radar is being strategically deployed along U.S. 95 in North Idaho to spot animals approaching the highway. Detection then trips flashing lights on roadside signs to alert drivers to slow down. Similar experiments in Colorado and Arizona have reduced collisions significantly. More

WILDLIFE HEALTH AND DISEASE NEWS

National Effort to Reduce Damage Caused by Feral Swine
(Feedstuffs)
Undersecretary for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs Edward Avalos announced that the agency is kicking off a national effort to reduce the devastating damage caused by feral, or free ranging, swine. The $20 million program aims to help states deal with a rapidly expanding population of invasive wild swine that causes $1.5 billion in annual damage and control costs. More

Study: A Quarter of Europe’s Bumblebees, Vital to Agriculture, Face Extinction
(Reuters)
Almost a quarter of Europe’s bumblebees are at risk of extinction due to loss of habitats and climate change, threatening pollination of crops worth billions of dollars, a study showed. Sixteen of 68 bumblebee species in Europe are at risk, the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature said. It is preparing a global study of the bees, whose honeybee cousins are in steep decline because of disease. More

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Japan Halts Whaling Program in Response to International Court Ruling
(National Geographic)
Japan says it will abide by a ruling from the United Nations’ International Court of Justice ordering the nation to stop hunting whales off Antarctica. Japan had long claimed that its program to take minke, fin and humpback whales in the Southern Ocean was aimed at collecting scientific data. But the International Court of Justice, headquartered at the Hague in the Netherlands, found that the program was not scientific in nature and that it could be considered commercial whaling. More

Students Help Protect Endangered Species in Africa
(Phys.org)
Ivory trafficking is out of control — if it goes on unchecked, there will be no elephants or rhinos in Africa in 10 years. That’s the reason a professor and nine Stanford students have joined the fight against wildlife trafficking — and they are making a difference. A winter quarter student practicum led by David J. Hayes, a visiting distinguished lecturer at the Stanford Law School, produced recommendations that will help the Obama administration implement a new approach to saving endangered wildlife. More

Series of Bills Threaten Conservation in Kansas

Fri, 2014-04-04 12:57

A war is raging in the Kansas legislature that could undermine conservation efforts in the state. Four bills have been introduced that would remove protections for dozens of species — including the lesser prairie chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) — end perpetual protections of private lands, and change how the state handles illegal take. The legislative session ends today, April 4, with significant stakes for conservation.

Senate Bill 276

U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s decision to list the lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) prompted Kansas legislators to introduce one of four bills that threaten conservation in the state. (Credit: Steven Walling / Wikimedia Commons)

In response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) designation of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species last week, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach drafted Senate Bill 276, which challenged both the bird’s designation and the Endangered Species Act. In its original form, the bill would have made it a felony for a federal worker to enforce any laws or regulations in the state regarding the lesser prairie chicken. The Kansas House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee rejected that provision, but then added an amendment recommending a fine of $100 for each federal enforcement attempt. That amendment was also rejected. As it stands now, the bill still makes federal enforcement illegal, but there are no civil or felony penalties.

“The original bill would’ve made it illegal for us to participate in the five-state lesser prairie chicken conservation plan,” said Ronald Kaufman, a Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism spokesperson. However, legislators added a provision that provides an exemption for state agencies. “Now that the bill has been amended, we’re okay with it,” he said. “It doesn’t get in our way and still lets us and other state entities do conservation work.”

Kobach argues that the management of non-migratory wildlife, including the lesser prairie chicken, should be in state hands. In January, he testified before a Kansas House committee that the federal government’s threatened designation for the lesser prairie chicken would create “an economic wasteland,” as it renders thousands of acres exempt from development. Kansas recently joined Oklahoma in a federal lawsuit challenging FWS’s process leading to designation. (Our calls for comment from Kobach’s office were not returned.)

House Bill 2118

The smooth earth snake (Virginia valeriae) is a threatened species in the state of Kansas. Now a new bill is trying to delist the species along with nearly 60 others. (Credit: Eric Osmundson)

A second bill, House Bill 2118, would repeal the Kansas Nongame and Endangered Species Act of 1975. The legislation originally proposed the removal of  two snake species — the threatened redbelly (Storeria occipitomaculata) and smooth earth (Virginia valeriae) snakes — from the state endangered species list. However, Sen. Larry Powell (R-Garden City) expanded the bill to remove nearly 60 threatened and endangered species from the list.

Current regulations require that the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism review the state endangered species list every five years and re-evaluate protected species designations based on scientific analysis. Allan Pollom, senior conservation specialist with the Kansas Nature Conservancy, opposes the bill. “It’s premature. You’re taking elected officials with no biological expertise that would guide their decision and putting them in charge,” he said. “It’s just a bad deal all around for all species in our state.” House Bill 2118 seems to be dead in the current legislative session, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be revived in future sessions, Pollom said.

Senate Bill 323

The third piece of legislation, Senate Bill 323, proposes to eliminate the “in perpetuity” clauses from existing and future conservation easements as well as to provide landowners with an option to opt out of conservation programs, leaving once-protected land open to development. Since the 1990s, Kansas has acquired more than 130,000 acres of privately owned land that is protected from development indefinitely, thanks to The Nature Conservancy, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Kansas Land Trust, FWS, and the Ranchland Trust of Kansas. Much of this land consists of fragile wetlands and prairie.

“What legislatures want to do with the easements will only be good for the life of the individual,” said Lynn Thurlow, a soil conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “It wouldn’t be acceptable for any of our programs. We would be out of the business of offering easements to our landowners,” he said. Kansas currently has 300 easements through conservation programs, which either last for 30 years or indefinitely. “The new Farm Bill is gearing up so we can work with landowners for new easements,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

House Bill 2538

The final bill up for debate in the legislature, House Bill 2538, would allow landowners rights to wildlife taken illegally on their land. The proposal was sparked by an Kansas Department of Wildlife, Game, and Parks move to seize antlers from a private landowner after a man illegally hunted a deer on his property. The man, David Kent, received 30 days in prison and a $1,500 fine for poaching. Tim Nedeau, the landowner, took his fight to get the antlers returned to the legislature. Current regulations require poached wildlife to be surrendered to the state.

“[The bill is] the first step down a slippery slope of recognizing private ownership of wildlife, which we do not do in this country,” said Pollom. “Wildlife does not belong to a private individual until it has been harvested in a legal and licensed manner. Allowing this could lead to unintended consequences,” he said.

The current legislative session ends today, April 4, and the legislature could take action on any or all bills at any time today or in the next legislative session.

Lesser Prairie Chicken to be Listed as Threatened

Fri, 2014-04-04 09:39

 

A Lesser Prairie Chicken displays near Milnesand, New Mexico. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently listed the species as threatened — 19 years after first receiving a petition to list the species. (Credit: Nick Richter/Flickr)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently released a final rule to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The decision comes 19 years after the agency first received a petition by the Biodiversity Legal Foundation to list the species under the ESA.

This recent listing would cover the prairie chicken’s entire range, which reaches across parts of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado. The prairie chicken’s grassland habitat has decreased by 84 percent from its historic size and the population itself has declined precipitously from 34,440 in 2012 to only 17,616 individuals today. Severe drought has been a significant contributor to the decline in population in recent years, but ongoing threats such as habitat loss from grazing, tree encroachment, agricultural development, and energy projects have contributed as well. FWS stated that critical habitat is “not determinable” at this time, but will be explored at a later date.

A Special Rule under Section 4(d) of the ESA was released concurrently with the final decision. Under the 4(d) rule, oil and gas companies, farmers, ranchers, and other landowners who are enrolled in one of the FWS approved voluntary conservation plans, such as the Range-wide Oil and Gas Industry Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances, would not be subject to additional regulatory burdens beyond what those plans already outline.

Industry groups expressed dismay that the prairie chicken was listed despite what they termed an “impressive” effort on their part to enroll in voluntary conservation plans and undertake mitigation efforts. On the contrary, some environmental groups voiced concerns that a threatened listing allows too much regulatory leeway, and mitigation options utilized by industry have not been proven to be effective.

Sources: FWS (accessed March, 2014), Energy & Environment News (March 27, 2014), Energy & Environment News (March 28, 2014), FWS final rule (accessed March, 2014), FWS final 4(d) rule (accessed March, 2014)

AFWA creates Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining National Resources

Wed, 2014-04-02 08:59

An osprey flies off with its catch in William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. A recently established Blue Ribbon Panel supports wildlife funding that has helped with the recovery of osprey and many other non-game species in the country. (Credit: George Gentry, FWS)

The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) recently announced the creation of a Blue Ribbon Panel on sustaining America’s diverse fish and wildlife resources. The Panel will be headed by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris and former Wyoming governor Dave Freudenthal and will consist of 20 panelists representing outdoor recreation, conservation, energy, and sportsmen’s groups.

The effort focuses on avoiding species listings and costs associated with recovery attempts by encouraging collaboration as opposed to regulation. Creation of the panel will allow business, energy, and conservation interests to recommend funding and policy alternatives, shaping the 21st century conservation model and providing resources to protect the more than 12,000 species currently at risk of being listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

According to AFWA, petitions for federal endangered species have increased 1,000 percent over the past five years, while funding for state conservation programs has been repeatedly cut. With continual decreases in funding to key wildlife management and conservation programs, such as the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program, and a swell in congressionally mandated planning, practical solutions from the collaboration of diverse stakeholders is crucial.

Sources: Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (Accessed March 19, 2014), Teaming With Wildlife (Accessed March 18, 2014)

Proposed Rule to Clarify Clean Water Act Coverage

Mon, 2014-03-31 12:11

Wetlands such as this one in the prairie pothole region of North Dakota may regain protection under the EPA’s proposed rule that clarifies the types of waters protected under the Clean Water Act (Credit: Kathleen Macek-Rowland, USGS).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) jointly released a proposed rule that is intended to clear up long-standing confusion over the types of waters that are covered under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

Approximately 20 million acres of wetlands have cumulatively lost protections under the CWA as a result of EPA and USACE guidance issued in 2003 and 2009 as well as Supreme Court decisions made in 2001 and 2006. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found the rate of wetland loss accelerated by 140 percent between 2004 and 2009, after the Supreme Court rulings. This lack of protection particularly affected isolated wetlands such as prairie potholes and ephemeral or intermittent streams.

Under the proposed rule, protections for most seasonal and rain-dependent streams and wetlands near rivers and streams will be reinstated. For example, most tributary streams in the southwestern U.S. do not flow year-round and have been under uncertain jurisdiction. The proposed rule would clearly cover these waters. Wetlands such as the prairie potholes in the upper Midwest, which have a more uncertain connection to downstream waters, will need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The EPA and USACE specifically ask for public comment in their proposed rule on whether there are categories of waters that could automatically be ruled outside of jurisdiction without a case-by-case analysis.

The EPA states that no new types of waters would be covered that have not been covered in the past. The proposed rule would preserve CWA exemptions and exclusions for agriculture and would exclude, for the first time, many upland water features important for farming and forestry.

The EPA and USACE will be taking comments on the proposed rule for 90 days once it has been published in the Federal Register.

Sources: EPA (accessed March, 2014), EPA definition of Waters of the U.S. (March, 2014), TRCP (accessed March, 2014), Energy and Environment News (March 25, 2014)

Wildlife News Roundup (March 22-28, 2014)

Mon, 2014-03-31 10:40

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.

Two Hawaiian geese (Branta sandvicensis) rest in a field near the Hawaiian coast. The world’s sixth most endangered waterfowl already inhabit the islands of Kuai and Maui, but a new breeding pair has been spotted on Oahu. (Credit: USFWS)

Endangered Hawaiian Geese Back in Oahu for First Time in 300 years
(Tech Times)
Hawaiian geese have just been spotted in the wild on the island of Oahu for the first time since the 1700s. A pair of the rare birds, also known as Nenes, built a nest on the island. They also have a brood of three youngsters. The family of birds is living in a national wildlife refuge near Kahuku, on the northern shore of the island. Their presence was first reported by officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. More

NEWS FROM NORTH AMERICA

Grizzly Bear Kill Quota Increases in Canada
(Wildlife Extra)
As British Columbia prepares for its annual spring grizzly bear hunting season, researchers are protesting that the hunting quotas put in place by the province are too high. The British Columbia Government has cited that some sub-populations of bears have recovered, and therefore has opened up areas that have been closed to hunting, increasing the grizzly bear kill quota from 1,700 to 1,800. This is based on estimations by the government of a population of around 13,000 to 14,000 grizzlies. More

Montana Receives $28 Million for Wildlife, Conservation Programs
(Missoulian)
Montana will receive nearly $28 million from the federal government for wildlife and conservation programs. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will distribute nearly $1.1 billion to states in excise tax revenues paid by sportsmen and sportswomen to state fish and wildlife agencies. Montana officials say that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks depends on the money for about a fifth of its annual budget. More

Feds Propose to Downgrade Protection for California Arroyo Toad
(The Associated Press via Bakersfield Now)
Federal wildlife officials proposed to downgrade the status of the arroyo toad from endangered to threatened, saying the California amphibian is no longer in danger of extinction. The small, stocky toad was listed as endangered in 1993 under the Endangered Species Act after suffering losing habitat and facing threats from other frogs. More

WILDLIFE HEALTH AND DISEASE NEWS

Beware of Bats: Guinea Issues Bushmeat Warning After Ebola Outbreak
(Reuters)
Bushmeat — from bats to antelopes, squirrels, porcupines and monkeys — has long held pride of place on family menus in West and Central Africa, whether stewed, smoked or roasted. A visit to a traditional market in the region assails the senses with a huge variety of forest game — mammal, bird and reptile carcasses smoked and partitioned and the smell of singed animal hair filling the air. More

First Documented Cat-to-Human TB Infection Revealed
(The Guardian)
The first documented evidence that TB can spread from cats to humans has been reported by public health officials, confirming long-held concerns about the disease’s capacity to jump from one of Britain’s favorite pets. Public Health England said that the risk of the disease being transmitted from cats to people was very low. However, putting down cats confirmed to have TB was the most sensible course of action because people having close contact with them faced a potentially significant risk of infection. More

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Belgium to Destroy Its Illegal Ivory Next Month
(Live Science)
Belgium is slated to destroy its entire stockpile of illegal ivory next month, joining the United States, China and several other countries in taking a stand against wildlife trafficking. Earlier this month, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx announced plans to destroy all the illegal ivory seized by customs April 9. A special ceremony will be held to mark the occasion, with dignitaries from the Belgian government present. More

Horses Threaten Panda Population
(Environmental News Network)
Pandas rely upon a specific diet and habitat. They typically live far away from human populations on gently sloping hillsides. Their diet is made up of exclusively bamboo. China invests billions to protect its panda habitat and conserve the 1,600 remaining endangered supported by this habitat. China has instituted many conservation programs limiting the timber harvesting that had greatly threatened this habitat. More

Working to Save Western Bats

Sun, 2014-03-30 00:23

Bat biologists with the western Bat working group examine range maps and discuss range extent of western bat species at a workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As part of the collaborative process, biologists from the u.s. and Canada recommended changes to be incorporated into the updated regional Priority Matrix. (Credit: Michael Fraidenburg)

In April 2013, more than 75 bat biologists from across the western United States met in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to exchange knowledge, assess threats, and update range maps for 36 western bat species. This was the latest effort of the Western Bat Working Group (WBWG) — a coalition of agencies, organizations, and individuals interested in bat research, management, and conservation from 13 western U.S. states, Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, and northern Mexico. The goal in Santa Fe was to update the WBWG’s Western Bat Species: Regional Priority Matrix, developed in 1998 to better understand the relative status of bats in the West and widely used by state and provincial fish and wildlife agencies, federal land management agencies, and others.

The updated matrix, designed to build upon and expand on the previous matrix, considers emerging threats facing bats today — such as wind energy, climate change, and white-nose syndrome — that either didn’t exist or weren’t recognized as problems in the 1998 assessment. Further, it provides a consistent, transparent, and repeatable approach to assessing the vulnerability of bat species in the West, while allowing for future revisions and updates. “The Western Bat Working Group accomplished the most intensive implementation of the threats assessment matrix that I know of,” says Geoff Hammerson, Research Zoologist for NatureServe and a key advisor to WBWG during this process. Ultimately, we envision a model that other regional groups can adopt to establish bat conservation priorities across North America.

Laying the Groundwork
We began the process by selecting an appropriate ecological unit for assessment, which formed the organizational structure for the effort. In the 1998 species matrix, regions were derived by grouping Bailey’s ecoregions — large areas of similar climate where ecosystems recur in predictable patterns — into 10 major western ecological areas (such as Temperate Steppe Division, Tropical/Subtropical Desert Division, and Prairie Division) to produce a workable but ecologically meaningful number of regions for assessment (US Forest Service Ecoregions). Bat species in each ecoregion were then ranked from high to low conservation priority (Western Bat Working Group 1998).

For the current effort, however, we chose Landscape Conservation Cooperatives as the assessment unit for three main reasons: (1) they provided a coarse regional scale (see map), (2) bat species lists were readily available for each LCC (with as many as 17 species to evaluate in the Great Northern and North Pacific LCC regions and 32 species to consider in the Desert LCC), and (3) we saw the benefit of future partnering with LCCs to further bat conservation in the West. We limited the as- sessment to the 36 U.S. bat species that occur in the West, including six tree- and foliage-roosting bats, four New World leaf-nosed bats, five free-tailed bats, 20 vesper bats, and one ghost-faced bat. We only considered full species.

This map shows 22 Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) across the U.S. Biologists used LCCs in the western U.S. as an ecological unit to assess conservation status of 36 western bat species. (Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, information Resources and Technology Management)

Next, we chose NatureServe’s methodology — a protocol that describes the method for assigning conservation status ranks to bat species by region (Faber–Langendoen et al. 2012). These methods are based on a suite of factors organized into three broad categories — rarity, threats, and trends (Master et al. 2012) — and automated by a tool known as the “rank calculator” (NatureServe 2012). The rank calculator is a spreadsheet programmed to apply rules and assign points and weights to status factor ratings to generate a relative rank (NatureServe 2012). It serves in effect as a dynamic database for documenting decisions and allows for future updates as new information becomes available or new threats arise — such as bat strikes at wind turbines, which has surfaced as a concern in the last two decades, and white-nose syndrome, which emerged as a deadly disease for bats in 2007.

Because of the lack of available bat data for most of the status factors and the broad scope of our project, we opted to focus on two key factors initially — range extent and threats. The U.S. Geological Survey’s National Gap Analysis Program (GAP) staff — whose tasks involve identifying conservation gaps and providing conservation information — helped calculate LCC-specific range extent for each bat species.

Embedded in the rank calculator is the Salafsky et al. (2008) unified classification of threats—a lexicon to enable the use of consistent terminology when identifying and describing scope and severity of direct threats. This classification — also adopted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature — has gained traction within the larger conservation community (IUCN, Threats Classification Scheme). For example, the State Wildlife Action Plan Best Practices Working Group recommended the use of this classification in revised State Wildlife Action Plans to characterize both threats and conservation actions — required elements in State Wildlife Action Plans (Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 2012).

Assessing Conservation Status
In 2012, state leads in 16 U.S. states and the province of British Columbia were asked to coordinate information gathering and assessments in their respective state or province. Depending on resources available, each state lead initially sought help from state and provincial natural heritage programs, local species experts, and/or state bat working group members to complete the threats assessment. In Arizona, for example, we overlaid bat species range maps with spatial layers that depicted areas of existing or proposed threats such as wind energy, off-road vehicle use, and urbanization. Arizona’s bat working group members completed threats assessments independently and then met as a group to discuss and agree upon the scope and severity (relative level of harm to species) for each threat. They broke down state assessments by LCC (Arizona consists of the Desert LCC South of the Mogollon Rim and the southern Rockies to the North) and examined each area independently.

For regional assessments, each regional lead (one per LCC) coordinated with states comprising the LCC. The Desert LCC lead assembled information from portions of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas and assessed threats facing bats across the region. For example, the threat of “mining,” which represented the combined impacts from abandoned mine-land closures, improper closures, poorly designed bat gates, and renewed mining, was ranked as affecting a large proportion (31 to 70 percent of the total population or occurrences) of the range of Townsend’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) in the Desert LCC.

Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) emerge from a cave in Arizona. The updated matrix assesses threats such as human disturbance at cave roosts and impacts from pesticide poisoning that face these and other western bat species. (Credit: Bruce D. Taubert)

Benefits and Challenges
The 2013 revision of the WBWG Regional Priority Matrix establishes a database tool that can be refined and updated in the future as biologists obtain more species knowledge and respond to changing and emerging threats. This automated matrix is progressive in its incorporation of components used by natural heritage programs and state and federal agencies, and dynamic in its potential to be updated as new information becomes available. Further, it provides an objective means to examine species vulnerability, inform the prioritization of at-risk species, and identify conservation actions to abate threats. For example, migratory tree-bat fatalities caused by wind turbines would potentially influence conserva- tion status or rank, based on changes in population size and/or scope and severity of threats such as an increase in number of wind facilities in a region. Likewise, hypothetically, if white-nose syndrome were to spread to the West and cause high mortality in the western small-footed myotis (Myotis ciliolabrum), the status of that species would likely change, thus triggering targeted conservation actions.

Apart from assessing critical information such as current threats facing bat populations across the West, the matrix helps compare and inform current conditions, such as the impact of mining or drought, to future conditions and potential vulnerabilities facing species. For instance, while stresses and threats such as white-nose syndrome, wind and solar development, and hydraulic fracturing or fracking weren’t on researchers’ radar 15 years ago, they’re significant considerations today. Similarly, although the lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae) was once deemed a high priority for funding, planning, and conservation action, today its populations are believed to be secure enough to warrant downlisting from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Also, evidence suggests that the Mexican long-tongued bat (Choeroncyteris mexicana) naturally occurs in low densities and is uncommon but not rare or imperiled as was thought 15 years ago.

In most cases, species ranked highest in the 1998 matrix have been the focus of time and funding resources. For example, in 2000, the Townsend’s big-eared bat became the focus of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among members of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies with the purpose of guiding conservation and management of this species. Researchers cited threats in the MOU — such as mining activities, human disturbance, pesticides, and timber harvest — and identified 11 conservation actions to protect habitats and sustain Townsend’s big-eared bat populations, which result- ed in an annual summary of wildlife agency activities to address threats to the bat. Further, although the California leaf-nosed bat (Macrotis californicus) — another species thought to be at high risk during the original assessment — is probably more secure than thought at the time, we now know that this species requires geothermally heated winter roosts, and is more vulnerable to losses of winter caves and mines than we realized 15 years ago. As a result, looking back at the 1998 Regional Priority Matrix provides context for relative vulnerabilities as we reevaluate the status of western bat species.

This assessment process isn’t without challenges. We’re working with imperfect information and gaps in knowledge, which has taught us to treat the process as adaptive. As a result of our efforts, NatureServe is interested in partnering with us to update the conservation status information and ranks for all North American bats — a critical step forward in our goal to understand the status of bat species across the Americas.

Author Bios
Angie McIntire is Bat Management Coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department and President of the Western Bat Working Group.
Rita Dixon, Ph.D., is State Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Past President of the Western Bat Working Group.


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President’s Podium

Wed, 2014-03-26 15:01

Earlier this month, I attended a meeting in Boise, Idaho, to celebrate the Idaho Chapter’s 50-year celebration and Northwest Section’s 60th anniversary. With around 300 people attending, it was an impressive event.

A retrospective on the Idaho Chapter revealed the changes and advances that have occurred in the wildlife field over the past 50 years. While change often appears slow, such reviews are useful in showing just how much has changed. A session coordinated by the Northwest Section showed new tools being developed and used in wildlife management, and clearly demonstrated how far we have advanced with various technologies. Another well-attended session addressed understanding and leveraging gender differences in the wildlife workforce, and provided great perspectives and ideas on this topic. Attending meetings such as this add tremendously to one’s overall view of wildlife management and allow one to keep current with changes and technologies.

After Boise, I spent a week in Denver at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, where Council held two days of meetings. As reported below — and as will be reported in future Wildlifers — numerous activities are underway to improve TWS.

The meeting was also an opportunity for Council members to meet new staff — such as Chief of Operations Ed Thompson, and Assistant Director of Government Affairs Keith Norris — who have been hired since the last meeting of Council in October. I think all of Council was impressed by the quality and enthusiasm of the entire team working for the membership at TWS headquarters.

The North American Conference is always a good place to feel the pulse of the current trends in wildlife management in North America. There was frequent mention of landscape approaches, large-scale initiatives, and collaboration. Yet the specifics of how to actually accomplish these were often murky, with each agency or organization restricted by their legal, financial, and positioning constraints. As exemplified by the discussion of the Resident Game Bird Working Group, efforts over the past 10 years or so have produced management plans for most of these species.  Yet implementation of these plans has at best been on a piecemeal and opportunistic basis.

Other meetings addressed the integration of energy developments with the needs of wildlife, where the importance of large-scale assessments and coordinated efforts were apparent. Even with this more-specific need identified, the challenges of integrating the various efforts of agencies and organizations were apparent. Still, it is important these discussions are occurring, and with the recognition that better and larger collaboration is needed, we should see positive results in the future.

There are many more pertinent meetings for biologists to attend than time and budgets permit. However, having the opportunity to at least periodically attend professional meetings is critical for biologists to remain current in our field. Attendance helps maintain networks of colleagues for collaborative efforts, and provides information on new perspectives and trends. Providing such opportunities is an important part of what professional societies are about.  I encourage those with decision-making authority over staff attendance at such meetings to consider strongly the diverse benefits these opportunities provide and find ways to enable as many wildlife professionals as possible to attend.

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