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Potential Environmental Impact of New Undersea Fiber Optic Cable

Fri, 2014-08-29 15:58

An underwater cable stretches along the ocean’s floor. Underwater cable networks are rapidly expanding to support our global world. Careful construction and maintenance of cables helps to preserve delicate marine habitats and wildlife. (Credit: Sean Nash)

A rose fish and lobster hide within a cold-water coral reef. These deep-sea habitats are especially sensitive to construction or fishing disturbances. (Credit: United States Geological Survey)

Google and five other companies recently announced their plans to invest in a $300 million undersea cable called FASTER. The new FASTER cable will connect the U.S. West Coast to Japan, offering unprecedented internet speeds for countries throughout Asia.

Undersea cables like FASTER make up the backbone of the internet. Over 250 of these fiber optic cables already traverse the ocean floor. The underwater networks — which collectively span over 600,000 miles — connect entire continents and support our global world. Construction and maintenance of these underwater cables is increasing at a drastic rate as the demand for internet access and faster speeds spreads across the globe. But, how do these expansive undersea networks impact the environment?

Cables and the Environment
Undersea cables have improved drastically since their construction first began in the 1850s. Early cables needed constant maintenance and their poor installation sometimes led to the entanglement of unsuspecting whales. Today, the cables are sturdier and are typically buried within the seabed to prevent run-ins with fishing ships and marine life. Although only a few comprehensive studies exist, most seem to indicate that the cables pose a minimal risk to marine environments near the shoreline.

Much less is known about how the cables impact ecosystems and wildlife in deeper waters. These deeper waters are known to be more sensitive to environmental changes and can take longer to recover from any disturbances. Some countries have therefore begun to establish laws to protect sensitive deep-sea environments—like those containing cold-water coral.

Many researchers and lawmakers believe that cables could even help marine environments. Since the underwater networks are so crucial to our global economy, Australia and New Zealand have begun establishing protective zones around the cables. The zones prohibit fishing and other marine activities to prevent cable damage. The hope is that these protective areas will double as marine wildlife sanctuaries. It’s too soon to tell if these inadvertent preserves have helped improve ecosystems or marine wildlife biodiversity. However, it’s likely that more countries will adopt cable protection zones as the underwater networks continue to expand.

Cables and the Law
Despite their apparent minimal environmental impact, the laws surrounding cables trouble many lawmakers and scientists. A single cable can extend past the shorelines of multiple countries and even venture into international waters beyond a coastal state’s jurisdiction. This means that the environmental laws governing a lengthy cable’s construction and maintenance can quickly become complex.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea divides expansive oceans into different zones based on distance away from the shoreline of a coastal state. A state has more rights and control over zones that are closest to its shoreline. There are few provisions under this law that affect cables crossing multiple zones. For example, one article charges states with the general responsibility to protect and preserve the marine environment. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is one tool that states use to meet this obligation.

Nippon Electric Company (NEC) begins construction on an underwater cable. The laws surrounding underwater cables are complicated and may leave marine habitats at risk. (Courtesy of NEC Corporation’s Media Library.)

EIAs examine how a proposed development project — like cable construction — will impact the environment and marine life. These EIAs can be a powerful tool, but not all coastal states require the assessments for cable construction. The level of detail and quality of data can also vary drastically between countries. North America, Europe, Australia, and parts of Asia and Africa have well-established protocols for environmental assessments. In the United States for example, cables proposed in marine sanctuaries undergo extensive review by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. In addition to typical EIAs, companies have to provide a detailed analysis of why cable construction within the sanctuary is the best option.

Everything becomes even more complicated in international waters. “Modern conservation norms such as environmental impact assessment, marine protected areas, marine spatial planning and development mechanisms … are underdeveloped in [marine areas beyond national jurisdiction]” writes Robin Warner, an associate professor with the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security at the University of Wollongong in a recent report.

Warner is one of several experts advocating to incorporate changes into the current international law framework for conservation in international waters. An informal United Nations working group studying the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction (The UN BBNJ Working Group) is at the center of these efforts. The hope for the group — which was formed almost a decade ago — is that implementing more comprehensive laws will better protect marine wildlife in international waters.

The FASTER cable and the Future
How will all of this affect the FASTER cable? The cable will connect the U.S. West Coast with Japan, but specifics about its route haven’t been released yet. The cable will likely travel through international waters along with waters under the jurisdiction of several Asian coastal states. This means that Nippon Electric Company — the supplier contracted to build the undersea cable — will have to navigate complicated overlapping environmental laws. How the company chooses to plan and construct the cable in areas with fewer environmental laws will help set the tone for future development projects.

Planning and construction for FASTER is expected to begin shortly and the cable should be ready for use in the second quarter of 2016.


The Hidden Works of J. N. “Ding” Darling

Thu, 2014-08-28 10:59

A triple-frame “Ding” Darling cartoon from 1930 shows the artist’s despair about how over-harvest of wildlife had the potential to push some species toward extinction. Such works helped ignite a conservation ethic. (Credit: J. N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society) 

Anyone who has ever marveled at the sight of ducks in flight should appreciate the legacy of Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling — the Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist and pioneering conservationist whose link to The Wildlife Society goes backto its beginnings. Soon, many of you will have the opportunity to see newly discovered artifacts from Darling’s life and work at a special exhibit during TWS’s annual conference in Pittsburgh this October. These treasures help reveal the character and vision of a true Renaissance man, whose work in wildlife conservation changed the face of the nation.

During last year’s conference, I had the honor of receiving TWS’s 2013 Conservation Education Media Award for my film about Darling’s life. In researching that film, I gained unprecedented access to the archives of the Des Moines Register, where Darling worked as a reporter and cartoonist from 1913 to 1949. There we discovered 21 cases of original Darling cartoon plates — some 5,000 in all — which the paper is now allowing me to digitize, archive, and exhibit. Most of these have never been exhibited, and I’ll be bringing some of the best to Pittsburgh and then to the Ward Museum in Maryland in 2015.

In the course of my research I had other thrilling moments of discovery, thanks to the generosity of private collectors and individuals who knew Darling well. One collector gave me the honor of allowing me to exhibit some of Darling’s previously unseen studies, including exquisite sketches of ducks in flight. I was also able to explore the archives of Darling’s Wisconsin alma mater, Beloit College, where I saw early drawings he did in the late 1800s as art editor of the yearbook. These early drawings and cartoons provide glimpses of Darling’s evolving social conscience and conservation ethic.

For all the power of this man’s work, some of the greatest gifts I discovered on my filmmaking journey lie in the relationships I built with people I met along the way. Without them there would be no film or exhibit, and without them I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Opening the Door to Discovery
I was wet behind the ears when I agreed to bring Ding Darling’s extraordinary story to life. The idea was born in 2003, when I was producing a film on Sanibel Island in Florida. There I visited the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and began to learn about the man who helped pioneer the nation’s refuge system. It was also during that time in Florida that I had the good fortune to meet “Kip” Koss, Ding Darling’s grandson. The two had been uniquely close until Darling’s death in 1962, and Kip could talk for hours about his grandfather’s life and legacy.

Kip and I began talking about producing a documentary on Darling’s life, and those discussions launched an odyssey. I was on the phone daily with Kip, and with every call came a new story about one of America’s greatest national treasures. I learned that not only was Darling a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, he was also an artist who always had a sketch book at hand, a writer who could move audiences, a sculptor whose “impatient hands” (as Kip’s wife Andrea noted) could bring delight to any child’s eyes, and a great leader and advocate for the wise use of our natural resources.

Appointed in 1934 as director of the U.S. Biological Survey, Darling launched the Federal Duck Stamp Program and designed the first stamp. He also brought science to conservation by effectively establishing the university-based Cooperative Research Unit program, a federal-state collaboration to enhance wildlife science education. And let’s not forget Darling’s stroke of inspiration in promoting and vastly increasing the size of the National Wildlife Refuge System, thus changing America’s landscape.

After that first meeting with Kip, I put 160,000 miles on my cars, listened to 300 hours of audiotape, viewed 15,000 cartoons and drawings, and met remarkable people. I will never forget the summer day I was greeted by Carolyn Hunter, the gentle and private woman who purchased Darling’s Iowa home from him many years ago. When she kindly opened her door to me, I shook the hand that had shaken Darling’s hand, an unforgettable moment in my unfolding adventure

With an impish grin that captures the spirit of his biting political satire, a young “Ding” Darling (above in 1904 at about age 28) sketches a cartoon at the Sioux City Journal in Iowa. Winning two Pulitzer Prizes for his political cartoons, Darling also distinguished himself as an advocate of wildlife stewardship, earning honorary membership in The Wildlife Society in 1938 (bottom photo) for his “outstanding service to wildlife conservation and management.” (Top Credit: Courtesy the late Christopher “Kip” Koss; Bottom Credit: University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections)

Bringing a Life to Light
With the support of friends, generous underwriters, and a dedicated team, America’s Darling: The Story of Jay N. “Ding” Darling made its debut in 2012, the 50th anniversary of Darling’s death. The tremendous response to the film continues — with emails, requests for screenings, and artifacts continuing to come in, including a few of Darling’s unfinished studies from the 1930s. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas Lendt, son of Darling’s noted biographer David Lendt. Thomas gave me accessto his father’s research files, a treasure trove that yielded some of Darling’s personal letters, including one he wrote in 1953 about his relationship with Aldo Leopold. “Those who are fortunate enough to be among Aldo Leopold’s friends,” wrote Darling,“communed with nature under one of the rarest of gentle interpreters. Not knowing him would seem to me to have been a great misfortune.”

Darling’s friendship with Leopold went back to the early 1930s when both were creating experimental training programs for scientifically skilled wildlife professionals. As head of the Iowa State Fish and Game Commission, Darling simply could not find people with the scientific knowledge he needed for his conservation projects. Inspired by Leopold’s work and sharing his commitment to education, Darling dug into his own pockets to start the Cooperative Research Units that still train conservationists today. It was also during this decade that Darling was distinguished with an honorary membership in The Wildlife Society. Later, in 1950, he was fittingly awarded The Wildlife Society’s first Aldo Leopold Memorial Award.

Darling’s legacy still lives on, not only in his cartoons and writings, but in projects that honor a commitment to conservation through public and private partnerships that practice consensus and compromise. Two in particular are close to my heart: A major renovation at Lake Darling (named for Ding) in Brighton, Iowa, to restore water quality and reduce algal blooms, and the creation of Mahr Park in Madisonville, Kentucky, designed to unite a community and bring young people outdoors. Both projects will become models of stewardship as they unite the best of science and community involvement, principles upheld by The Wildlife Society.

It is a privilege to continue my involvement with the life and work of Ding Darling, particularly in light of recent personal losses. Between November 2013 and May 2014, I lost three people very dear to me: Darling’s grandson Kip Koss, my father Sam Koltinsky, Jr., and Randy Brubaker, the Des Moines Register senior news director, who allowed me to explore and share Darling’s life. It is largely because of their help that I’m able to bring Darling’s hidden works to light.

Study Reveals Actual Numbers of Illegal Elephant Kills

Wed, 2014-08-27 09:00

An elephant killed for its tusks. New research indicates elephant poaching has reached unsustainable levels, and populations are swiftly declining. (Credit: ENOUGH Project)

Ivory-seeking poachers are exhausting Africa’s elephant populations at an alarming rate, according to new research recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study provides the first reliable estimate of illegal elephant kills for the entire continent.

Africa’s poaching problem isn’t new, but only recently has it reached crisis levels. Historically, quantifying exactly how many elephants are illegally killed has been a challenge. Poaching often occurs surreptitiously under the cover of darkness, and sometimes it is difficult for authorities to distinguish between natural and purposeful deaths. Five years ago during field observations of elephants in Kenya, assistant professor at Colorado State University and member of The Wildlife Society George Wittemyer and his team began noticing increased rates of illegal killings in their core study area. “Beyond reporting this increase at the site level, it became clear that to elicit change and action, we had to expand our analysis to the continental level,” Wittemyer said.

Combining field-based carcass monitoring data with demographic data from their long-term study of a wild African elephant (Loxodanta spp.) population in Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve, the team distinguished between natural deaths and poaching deaths. Then, using CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) survey data on illegally killed elephants at 45 monitored sites around Africa, modeled poaching across the continent based on observed rates.

Wittemyer and his team found that overall, Africa’s elephant population—which the IUCN estimates to be between 427,000 and 690,000 individuals—is declining at a rate of about two percent annually. Starting in 2009, illegal killing reached unsustainable levels for the species as the amount of deaths began outnumbering births. Poaching peaked in 2011 with 40,000 elephant deaths and an estimated 3 percent reduction of the entire population—the worst year on record. Altogether, poachers killed 100,000 elephants between 2010 and 2012. And preliminary data from 2013 indicates that overharvesting continues. “About 75 percent of the populations are now declining at very fast rates,” said Wittemyer. “Some are being extirpated, or may already be extirpated and we just don’t know about it,” he said.

However, elephant deaths aren’t happening at the same rate across Africa. Central Africa was hit the hardest, losing 64 percent of its elephants in a decade. Other seriously affected areas include Mozambique in Southern Africa and Tanzania in East Africa. Meanwhile, Botswana’s population remains stable and poachers in South Africa have rarely attacked elephants, instead focusing their efforts on rhinos.

Feeling the Impacts

A herd of elephants travels through Chobe National Park, Botswana. Social creatures, elephants are deeply impacted by the rise in poaching. (Credit: Paolo/Flickr Creative Commons)

Although the study results reveal the elephant poaching epidemic to be larger than previously thought, Wittemyer said the results don’t speak to the impact of poaching on an ecological and behavioral level. The effects of elephants’ absence ripple throughout ecosystems. This keystone species plays a critical role in maintaining the balance between grassland and forest habitats, and dispersing seeds. When elephants disappear from the landscape, the species composition of the affected area changes.

Large declines of elephant populations also significantly impact the individuals left behind. Like most species in decline, decreasing genetic diversity leaves shrinking populations vulnerable to inbreeding, disease, and the effects of climate change. Elephants are social animals that form complex communities. Poachers generally target elephants with the largest tusks—primary breeding males and established matriarchs—disturbing elephant society and leaving orphaned juveniles in their wake. Wittemyer is continuing his research on the population in Samburu National Reserve, but is now focusing on the repercussions to the remaining elephants, especially juveniles.

An Uphill Battle

A driving force behind the surge in poaching is China’s rising demand for ivory. A hot commodity, just one pound of “white gold” can fetch approximately $1,500 in international markets—for reference, a male tusk can weigh more than 100 pounds. Poaching rates in Wittemyer’s study correlated strongly with rising ivory prices and seizures by Kenyan authorities of ivory destined for China. However, the country is taking steps to curb its insatiable ivory appetite. In January, officials crushed 6 tons of ivory tusks and carvings in part to raise public awareness. And in May, Hong Kong began the process of destroying 30 tons of confiscated ivory, which will likely take a year to complete.

U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife officials prepare to crush six tons of confiscated ivory in 2013. Some critics say destroying ivory does more harm than good by driving up black market prices. (Credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie)

But the desire for ivory reaches far beyond East Asia. “There are significant ivory markets in most major cities in the world; we have ivory consumption in the western world,” said Wittemyer. “A lot of illegal ivory is being sold in legal markets. It’s unacceptable,” he said. Last year, the U.S. government began destroying tons of confiscated ivory. And in February, the Obama administration announced a ban on the commercial trade of ivory as part of the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. Both strategies have their fair share of controversy. Some economists say that destroying ivory only drives up prices, while politicians and lobbyists believe the ban isn’t enough to drive down demand and is detrimental to antique businesses in the U.S. and African economies that rely on tourism and big game hunting (see related story).

The commercial trade of endangered species is a global problem. At an IUCN elephant conservation summit held in Botswana in December 2013, delegates from countries in Africa and Asia agreed to 14 urgent measures aimed at stemming illegal killing and ivory trade, including imposing maximum sentences and fines for wildlife trafficking crimes, bolstering law enforcement and wildlife protection agencies, creating public awareness programs, and reducing demand by implementing strategies to change consumer behavior. Meanwhile, millions of dollars have been pledged by the U.S. government, the European Union, and NGOs such as the Clinton Global Initiative to protect elephants and other species from the wildlife trade.

The researchers emphasize that enhancing conservation efforts, enforcement, and curbing demand for ivory is paramount to stemming the rate of illegal killing. But finding strategies that are effective is another challenge. “Appropriate commercial trade is a fundamental issue for the wildlife profession,” said Wittemyer. “It’s an important topic and something that wildlife professionals need to understand and think about holistically. We have to determine best practices.”

Thoughts from the Executive Director

Tue, 2014-08-26 10:51

I want to mention a few things that you can expect at our upcoming TWS Council meeting and national conference at the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, PA. I direct your attention to our conference web site at There you will find the conference agenda along with detailed information about symposia, special sessions, receptions, field trips, and other items of interest that are planned for the conference. We have worked with our conference planning team and the convention center staff to organize a conference this year that will be unlike others you may have attended, starting with the David Lawrence Center on the waterfront of the Allegheny River. The Center provides convenient access to and from the conference hotels, and it offers some breathtaking views of the river and skyline. Much of the conference layout has been designed to take advantage of the scenic possibilities; our trade show, poster session, coffee breaks, and much more will be held in a large commons area with high windows and open views with the river as a backdrop.

In an effort to improve your opportunities for networking with colleagues and sharing information, we have rearranged some of the conference events that typically occur at our conferences and added some new ones, including Ignite TWS featuring a variety of speakers who will enlighten you with 5-minute talks supported by 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. We will have two plenary sessions focusing on especially pertinent topics at this time, namely making science relevant in today’s society, and linkages between wildlife and energy in North America. There will also be the popular quiz bowl, numerous receptions where friends and colleagues can meet and greet, and lots of opportunities for interactions at the working group meetings. We’ve even arranged for a very special Closing Night Riverboat Cruise Reception. We hope to attract some 1700 attendees to this year’s Conference, including 500 or so students. The conference will host some 400 educational and 50 networking opportunities, along with numerous opportunities for field trips and other recreational opportunities. I hope and expect that you’ll find the conference this year to be an especially good experience. And don’t forget – the early registration will close on August 31, so sign up now and take advantage of the $50 savings on any full registration.

Immediately before the start of the conference, on Friday and Saturday October 24-25 the Council will hold its annual meeting in the Westmoreland Room at the nearby Westin Hotel. Most of the meeting will be open to the public, so you are encouraged to come by and hear the discussions among Council members. This year a number of important issues on the agenda may be of interest to you. For example, at the meeting the Council will discuss the final draft of the TWS 2015-2019 Strategic Plan, along with any comments from members. The Council expects to finalize the Plan and hopefully approve it at the meeting. In addition, the Council will review and hopefully approve recommended changes to the certification process from the Certification Change Committee. It will review our 2014-15 budget and the financial status of the Society, along with projections for the rest of the year. We will have an in-depth discussion about our e-communications strategy, including developments and plans for our website, our e-newsletters, and the use of social media. We will discuss trends and initiatives for membership, including a new member survey designed to provide important information to better focus benefits and services to meet member needs. We’ll be discussing efforts to reach out to potential members, including the rollout of our new Wildlife Partners Program to connect with non-member wildlife professionals and supporters and encourage their membership in the Society. There will be considerable discussion about the future of our journals and The Wildlife Professional, and in particular the newly signed contract with Wiley Publishers to continue as our publishers for the Society’s journals. There will be discussion as well about our new Conservation Affairs Network – where we are in its implementation and how it will work.

Finally, I remind you that there will be a TWS Members Meeting with the Council on Wednesday October 27, 8:30am – 10:00am in the Spirit of Pittsburgh Ballroom B/C in the Convention Center. This is an opportunity to gain and share up-to-date information on TWS activities, including the Council discussions that will have occurred at the Council meeting on the previous weekend.

All in all, the conference this year promises to be an exciting event with excellent engagement opportunities for attendees. So register now to take advantage of the early registration savings, and get ready for a great conference experience.

News from Headquarters

Tue, 2014-08-26 10:49

Request for 2014-2015 Volunteers for TWS Committees 

One of the primary responsibilities of the President of TWS is appointing all of the committees that help to make important decisions for TWS, such as our award recipients. As the incoming president for 2014-2015, I will be appointing members to committees in October. Specifically, the committees that need to be filled are the following:

  • Aldo Leopold Award Committee
  • Caesar Kleberg Award Committee
  • Conservation Education Award
  • Donald H. Rusch Memorial Game Bird Research Scholarship
  • Honorary Membership and Special Recognition Service Awards
  • Investment Review Committee
  • Jim McDonough Award
  • Retired Wildlife Professionals Committee
  • Wildlife Publication Awards

If you are interested in serving on any of these committees, I would like to hear from you. Please send me an email indicating your interest, and if you have a preference for specific committees, let me know that as well. Unfortunately there are often more volunteers than can be appointed to committees, so please understand if I am not able to include you in this year’s appointments. Thanks in advance for your willingness to volunteer to help your professional society. I look forward to hearing from you.

Rick Baydack

2014-2015 President of The Wildlife Society 

TWS Online Membership Survey Coming Soon

As part of The Wildlife Society’s strategic plan for 2014-2019, we intend to improve member services, organizational integration, and the sustainability of the Society. As a valued member, you will be receiving a link to an online survey with questions that cover six major categories related to membership: demographics, membership benefits, certification, publications, meetings, and communications. This survey, for both wildlife professionals and students, is the first step in helping the Society’s leaders identify how to improve specific aspects of membership services and benefits. TWS members have not been invited to participate in a detailed membership survey effort for over a decade; your participation will provide valuable insight to help the Society’s leaders to best serve TWS members. Key findings of the survey will be provided on the TWS website once they are available.

Gary Potts, Chair of the Increasing Agency Membership Ad-hoc Committee

TWS President Haufler attends International Wildlife Management Symposium in China

TWS President Jon Haufler was invited to provide opening comments and a keynote address at the International Wildlife Management Symposium and International Deer Biology Congress held in Harbin China from July 27-30. The meetings attracted approximately 300 delegates from around the world. Considerable interest was expressed in expanding the international role of The Wildlife Society. Ideas for increasing TWS’s presence in China were discussed with attendees as well as with the Northeast Forestry University in Harbin which hosted the symposium. The important role that TWS’ journals play in disseminating high quality science on wildlife management was recognized and interest was expressed in expanding the international contributions of our journals.

During the meeting, President Haufler also met with the leadership of the China Wildlife Conservation Association, an organization with a membership of approximately 360,000 whose focus is on conservation of many of China’s rare and declining species. The Association has programs for species conservation, wildlife conservation education, and a wildlife trade program. The Association is interested in developing better communication and partnership opportunities with The Wildlife Society.

The symposium and meeting demonstrated the interest and opportunities that exist for TWS to expand its international role and involvement. Follow-up discussions will occur with Council.

Vth International Wildlife Management Congress Trip

TWS President Elect Rick Baydack spent the first week in August conducting planning meetings for the Vth International Wildlife Management Congress (IWMC) in Tokyo and Sapporo, Japan. Along with planning meetings, Rick conducted two talks during his visit. The symposiums were organized by IWMC partner, the Mammal Society of Japan (MSJ).

On August 4, Rick spoke to over 60 employees of the Japanese Ministry of the Environment in Tokyo. During his one hour talk, Rick focused on the education and career development programs offered by TWS. Rick fielded questions for over 30 minutes following his talk.

Rick also participated in a larger symposium on August 9 in Sapporo and gave a talk titled, Ecological and Social Considerations for Managing Human Wildlife Conflicts: Case Studies of Urban White-tailed Deer and Polar Bears in Manitoba, Canada. About 200 wildlife biologists and students took part in this symposium.

During his week in Japan, Rick, along with representatives from MSJ met with representatives from government agencies, universities, and other potential sponsors such as banks and consulting companies.

The Vth IWMC is taking place July 26-30, 2015 in Sapporo, Japan. The theme of the Congress is “International Models of Wildlife Biology and Management: Beyond Cultural Differences. “ For information on the IWMC and dates for the Call for Symposia and Call for Papers visit You can view photos of Rick’s visit on the Vth IWMC Facebook page at

Strategic Plan

As mentioned in the Executive Director’s address and in the May Wildlifer, The Wildlife Society draft 5-year strategic plan is provided here.We welcome feedback from members and encourage you to provide input to your Council representatives and TWS staff regarding the plan. Council and staff anticipate approving a final plan at the fall 2014 Council meeting in Pittsburgh.

Annual Conference News

Start Planning Your Conference Experience Today!

With our new Schedule At A Glance and our detailed Program Planner through OASIS , you can start mapping out which of the more than 400 educational opportunities you want to attend this October 25-30 at the 21st Annual Conference in Pittsburgh. You’ll also be able to figure out which of the more than 50 networking opportunities will be most helpful to your work and career. For the full look at this year’s conference in Pittsburgh, PA, visit our conference website at

Ignite TWS

An exciting new addition to our conference lineup is Wednesday’s Ignite TWS! Similar to TED talks, a diverse set of speakers will reflect on careers in science, challenge our wildlife paradigms, excite us with tales from the field, and share cutting edge research…with 20 slides auto-advancing every 15 seconds for 5 minutes. Our dynamic lineup of speakers includes David Drake, Ashley Gramza, Jen Forbey, Ryan Long, Scott McWilliams, Brent Rudolph, Carol Chambers, and more. Prepare to be quickly enlightened, informed, inspired…. and ignited this October in Pittsburgh!

$50 Early Registration Ends on August 31

Why pay an additional $50 for the Annual Conference in September or October? Register by August 31 and lock in your savings!

Professional Development

Tue, 2014-08-26 10:41

U.S. Forest Service Native American Professional Development Research Assistantship

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS), through partnership with The Wildlife Society, is sponsoring a professional development program for Native American students. The program will facilitate mentoring opportunities for USFS Research & Development (R&D) scientists with the students and promote student advancement and training for careers in natural resource and conservation-related fields. The USFS uses an ecological science-based approach to make informed decisions on the multiple-use management of the National Forests and Grasslands.

A short-term assistantship is available for Native American students interested in wildlife and forest resources and excited to learn and work with an interdisciplinary team of researchers. Applicants must be members of a Native American, First Nations, or Indigenous Tribe. Applicants should be either currently enrolled as an upper-level undergraduate (junior/senior) or graduate (M.S. or Ph.D.) student at an accredited academic institution, be taking classes in non-degree status, or a recent graduate with intent to pursue graduate school. A bachelor’s or master’s degree in wildlife biology, ecology, forestry or other closely related natural resource discipline is preferred.

Potential project topics include:

  1. Restoring California black oak to support tribal values and wildlife habitat in the Sierra Nevada
  2. Tracking post-emergence movements of Myotis spp. to uncover habitat preferences and potential migratory routes
  3. Examining long-term changes in stream habitats on Dzil Ligai Sian (Mt. Baldy)
  4. Kings River Fisher Project – Ecology and Habitat Requirements

Projects are anticipated to begin March – August 2015 and last approximately 4 months in duration depending on the project. For more information and to download an application, please visit The deadline for applications is October 20, 2014.


Policy News

Tue, 2014-08-26 10:37

TWS and Coalition Thank Senator for Supporting Refuge Bill 

In a letter to Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), The Wildlife Society (TWS), as part of the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (CARE), expressed support for a bill aimed to provide the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) the ability to seek compensation for destroyed National Wildlife Refuge resources.

CARE is a coalition of 23 sportsmen, conservationist, and professional organizations united in their support for funding for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Currently, any damage or vandalism on refuge property must be restored using FWS funds, often at the expense of important programs. Cardin’s bill (S.2560) would allow FWS to require the parties responsible for the damage to pay for restoration so the refuges can operate without unexpected costs.

The letter also notes that other park management agencies such as The National Park Service and The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration have the authority to seek compensation.

Comments Submitted to FWS Urging Regulation of Invasive Snake Species

In a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), The Wildlife Society (TWS) expressed support for the listing of five invasive snake species as injurious under the Lacey Act. TWS cited recent studies that linked the constrictors, python, and anaconda species to decimated wildlife populations and other serious ecological consequences. Other studies implicated that these reptiles could easily become established in a variety of natural systems.

The five species were originally under consideration as part of a proposed rule to list nine total species in 2010. Despite comments from TWS and other conservation groups, only four of the snake species were listed.

Injurious status under the Lacey Act allows FWS to limit importation and interstate sale of the species, reducing the risk that they will spread and impact native habitats. The devastating effect the Burmese python has had on the Everglades shows the need for controlling invasive snakes.

TWS also sent a separate letter as part of the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species (NECIS), a diverse collaboration of conservation groups dedicated to protecting wildlife by reducing the threat of invasive species. The NECIS letter comments on the destructive nature of the species and refutes the claim that the listing will have a large impact on the reptile pet industry.

Take Action: Ask Your Representative to Join the Invasive Species Caucus

Invasive species are one of the largest threats to native wildlife around the world. The U.S. alone experiences economic losses in the billions of dollars every year due to invasive species and their often destructive and disruptive impacts. Further, approximately 42 percent of threatened and endangered species are placed at an increased risk by non-native, invasive species.

Solutions to the invasive species problem – based on sound science – are achievable. Congress and other policymakers need to be made aware of the pervasiveness of the issue, how it affects their constituents and local economy, and how they can enable wildlife professionals and help create solutions.

Take action today by asking your representative to join the recently formed Congressional Invasive Species Caucus! As a member of the caucus, your representative will be regularly updated on the most recent invasive species issues and are much more likely to participate positively in legislative solutions.

Click the link below to log in and send your message:

Publications and Communications News

Tue, 2014-08-26 10:31

TWS Members in the News

Dan Clark—Director of Natural Resources with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR) Division of Water Supply Protection — was featured in an article on highlighting his fieldwork with common loons. Clark and his team build artificial rafts to provide loons with a stable nesting environment that’s unaffected by dramatic changes in water levels that often destroy loons’ natural nesting sites. Clark’s ongoing work helps to protect loons, which the state has labeled a species of special concern.


Photo Credit: Ken MacKenzie

Wildlife Technician Jillian Pereira was also featured in the online article.  Pereira works with the same division of the DCR and has been monitoring loons since 2005.  In addition to building artificial nests, Pereira has helped the team capture and band loons to monitor their behavior.  They also sample the birds for evidence of dangerous contaminants, like mercury or organic pollutants to monitor the overall health of the environment and loon population.

Have You Been Featured in the Media?

Have any of you done a study or given a speech that was mentioned in the press? Have you submitted an op-ed that was published, appeared on a TV or radio program, provided wildlife-related testimony? If so, we’d like to highlight your efforts in a new feature in the monthly Wildlifer, TWS’s electronic newsletter that goes to all members of the Society.

If you have been in the news or the public arena, please send a brief note to, and put “In the News” in the subject line. Include your name, your agency or university, and a sentence or two about your press coverage or other relevant activity, with links to the news clip, study, video clip, or other such reference. Include a small headshot if you can.

You—the members of The Wildlife Society—are out there every day making a difference in the health and sustainability of wildlife and habitats. Help us tell the story of the great work you’re doing!

Johns Hopkins University Press – New, Larger Book Discount for TWS Members

Members of The Wildlife Society (TWS) can now get a 30 percent discount on all books published by Johns Hopkins University Press (JHUP). To date, JHUP has published five books about wildlife management and conservation in collaboration with TWS:

Valuable as textbooks or for general research and reference, these are important works for wildlife practitioners. In addition, portions of each sale come back to The Wildlife Society to support our programs and our mission.

To order, go to the links above or to and use code HTWS.

News from Subunits

Tue, 2014-08-26 08:47

Kansas Chapter of The Wildlife Society – Matt Smith, President

Chapter Member Update:

The Kansas Chapter was very pleased and honored to have one of our Charter members, Robert Wood of Pratt Kansas, receive the TWS 2014 Distinguished Service Award. Throughout Robert’s career and beyond, Bob has been the upmost professional tireless supporter of wildlife and resource management firmly rooted in science. Our Chapter congratulates Bob on his award and the recognition he well deserves for his service to the Society and our Chapter.

Our President-elect, John Silovsky, decided to “retire” from Kansas and start a new career in Texas. After 32 years working for Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, John moved south and began working for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. We will miss John and his professionalism in the Chapter but expect to see him again down the road soon. A new President and President elect will be install at our winter meeting in January 2015.

Conservation Affairs:

The fallout and aftermath from the listing of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken this spring is still being felt. Reaction in the Kansas legislature was swift. Bills were introduced declaring the state sovereign over all wildlife within its borders. Lawsuits were filed against the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and even attacks against the Kansas Non-game Conservation Program. The Governor is pursuing options for captive rearing and release of lesser prairie-chickens as the solution to the listing. The struggle between science based management and politics is now our number one conservation issue in Kansas.

Rangeland Wildlife Working Group – Megan Clayton, Chair

Join us during the TWS Conference on Monday, October 27th for the Rangelands Wildlife Working Group Meeting from 4-5 pm in Room 313. All members and perspective members are invited as we plan activities for the upcoming year! For questions or copies of past Newsletters, please email

San Francisco Bay Area Chapter – Matthew P. Bettelheim, President

In October, the chapter is hosting the next in a series of workshops – the Advanced Camera Trapping Workshop set for October 3-5th at Pepperwood Preserve.  And make sure to save the date for the first annual Gourmet Greens and Beasts Feast October 12 in Tilden Park, the much-talked-about, fabled fête pitting wildlife biologists (The Wildlife Society members) against botanists (The Native Plant Society members) in a battle of wits, muscle, and gourmet grub. Feast attendees will each be asked to bring a potluck dish featuring a native (or non-native) ingredient: acorn bread, venison, rose hips, trout, miner’s lettuce salad, wild boar sausage. This family-friendly event will feature games galore – treasure hunts, tug-of-war, gunny-sack races – as well as raffles and bake-offs. Details to follow!

Other upcoming events include a September tarantula hike, kayaking Big Break, a birding trip, and a trip to the coast to see butterflies and barnacles. So stay tuned!

Student Development Working Group – Andy Little, Chair

The Student Development Working Group promotes increased student awareness of TWS membership benefits, works to expand knowledge and technical capabilities of student members, and helps prepare student members for professional wildlife careers. The working group facilitates networking between students and experienced TWS members by hosting meetings, workshops, poster sessions, a mentoring program, and other events. Click here to learn more about the opportunities offered by the Student Development Working Group to help advance professionalism and career advancement of student members and events that will be held at the upcoming TWS 21st Annual Conference in Pittsburgh, PA.

Western Section – Natural Resources Communication Workshop AnnouncedJon Hooper

The Natural Resources Communication Workshop, sponsored by the Western Section of The Wildlife Society and the Department of Recreation, Hospitality, and Parks Management at California State University-Chico, will be held at California State University, Chico from January 5-9, 2015. The week-long workshop is designed to help natural resource workers more effectively communicate with general as well as technical audiences through personal presentations using computer-generated PowerPoint images. A variety of topics are covered including selecting communication strategies for specific audiences, creating computer-generated graphics, avoiding PowerPoint presentation “pitfalls,” handling difficult questions, and solving equipment problems.

The workshop’s instructor is Dr. Jon Hooper, a Certified Wildlife Biologist (CWB) and longtime member of The Wildlife Society. He is a Certified Interpretive Trainer (CIT) and has taught communication workshops for over 35 years in locations around the country and holds degrees in environmental communication and wildlife ecology.

The initial deadline for applications is October 31, 2014 (Friday). Late applications are accepted for placement on a waiting list. The registration fee is $795. The workshop is limited to 16 participants. The registration fee is not due until an applicant has been officially accepted into the workshop.

Applying for the workshop is easy. On letterhead, applicants should describe: (1) their current position within their agency/organization, (2) how they would use the training, (3) any special reasons why they feel they should be chosen as a participant, and (4) if they already have official agency/organization approval to attend. Applicants should include their address, phone number, fax number, and email address with their application.

Submit applications to: Dr. Jon K. Hooper, Dept. Recreation, Hospitality, and Parks Management, Calif. State University, Chico, CA 95929-0560. For more information, contact Jon by calling (530) 898-5811, faxing (530) 898-6557, or e-mailing

University of Tennessee – Martin Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society – Brant Luker, President

On April 12, 2014, the UT Martin Wildlife Society hosted its annual fishing rodeo. Around forty kids from grades K-5 showed up at Pacer Pond for a chance to catch big fish and win tons of prizes. The fishing rodeo is just another way the UT Martin Wildlife Society gets the community to enjoy the great outdoors.

Meetings/Workshops of Interest

Tue, 2014-08-26 08:13

Wildlife Disease Association coming conferences and meetings:

Bi-annual European WDA Conference: Edinburgh, Scotland, August 24-29, 2014

64th Annual International WDA Conference and WDA Australasian Section Conference: Maroochydore, 50 miles north of Brisbane,Australia, July 26–August 1, 2015

65th Annual International WDA Conference: Ithaca, New York, Hosted by Cornell University, Summer 2016

8th International Congress for Wildlife and Livelihoods on Private and Communal Lands: Livestock, Tourism, and Spirit, Sept 7-12, 2014, Estes Park Colorado: Detailed information about the congress can be found at

Raptor Research Foundation 2014 Conference, September 24-28 at the Emerald Beach Hotel in Corpus, Christi, Texas. Co-hosts are the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University, Kingsville and HawkWatch International. Workshops, three days of scientific papers, and field trips during the peak of hawk migration. Updates on the web site:

Science for Parks, Parks for Science: The Next Century
A 2.5-day Summit at UC Berkeley March 25-27, 2015 convening natural and social scientists, managers and practitioners — 100 years after historic meetings at UC Berkeley helped launch the National Park Service — to rededicate a second century of science and stewardship for national parks.  This summit will feature visionary plenary lectures, strategic panel discussions on current controversies, and technical sessions of contributed paper and posters. Abstract submission deadline is 1 November 2014.  For more information, see

Vth International Wildlife Management Congress
July 26-30, 2015, Sapporo, Japan
It is with great pleasure that we formally announce the Vth International Wildlife Management Congress (link IWMC invitation PDF) in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan. The Congress will be held in partnership with the Mammal Society of Japan (MSJ) and The Wildlife Society. This is the first time this prestigious Congress will be held in Asia.

Wildlife News Roundup (August 16-22, 2014)

Mon, 2014-08-25 10:00

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 seal on the Peruvian coast. Researchers recently discovered that seals likely introduced a strain of TB to Native Americans based on genetic analysis of ancient Peruvian skeletons. (Credit: Bill Hertha)

Seals ‘Brought TB to the Americas Before Europeans’
The long-held idea that Europeans were the first to bring tuberculosis to the Americas when they arrived in the 15th Century has been thrown into doubt. Instead, a study suggests that the deadly disease was present in the area hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus made landfall. Genetic tests reveal that humans were probably not responsible for moving TB to the New World at all — instead, seals carried it there. More


New Study Highlights the Precarious State of the World’s Primary Forests
An estimated 95 percent of the primary forests that existed prior to the advent of agriculture have been lost in non-protected areas, according to new research published online in the Society for Conservation Biology journal Conservation Letters. The paper details what the authors are calling a global analysis of the ecosystem also known as old-growth forests and also features a map illustrating their findings. More

Reaction Mixed to No Protection for Arctic Grayling
(The Montana Standard)
While people are applauding the decision not to list Arctic grayling as an endangered species, others have resolved to sue for a different outcome. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that its protection of the fish with its sail-like dorsal fin isn’t warranted given years of conservation efforts by private landowners and federal and state wildlife agencies. More

Conservation, or Curation?
(The New York Times)
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service — the main agency for the conservation of species — recently announced a new interpretation of the Endangered Species Act that severely limits its reach and retreats from the conservation ethic that healthy landscapes depend on native plants and animals. The law says that a species qualifies for protection if it is in danger of extinction “throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” More

Florida Man Caught with 300 Sea Turtle Eggs
(The Palm Beach Post)
A 55-year-old man from Riviera Beach, Florida, was arrested after he reportedly was caught with almost 300 sea turtle eggs in St. Lucie County, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said. A passerby called the FWC when she spotted James Odel McGriff snatching eggs from the endangered animal’s nest at the Diamond Sands beach off State Road A1A. More

Can the World Really Set Aside Half of the Planet for Wildlife?
(Smithsonian Magazine)
“Battles are where the fun is,” said E.O. Wilson, the great evolutionary biologist, “and where the most rapid advances are made.” We were sitting in oversized rocking chairs in a northwest Florida guest cottage with two deep porches and half-gallons of butter-pecan ice cream in the freezer, a Wilson favorite. He’d invited me here to look at what he considers a new approach to conservation, a new ecological Grail that, naturally, won’t happen without a fight. More


3,000 Minks from Fur Farm on the Loose in Montreal
(CTV Montreal)
Provincial police are investigating after someone broke into a fur farm and released animals being raised for their pelts. Sgt. Joyce Kemp of the Surete du Quebec said they received a phone call claiming someone had broken into the farm and was opening cages. Police went to the farm as did officials from the Ministry of Wildlife, all leaving before noon. More

Canada-to-NYC Power Line Receives Environmental Approval
(Westfair Online)
The U.S. Department of Energy has completed its environmental review of a $2.2 billion project that will run a 330-mile electric line from Canada to New York City. The 1,000-megawatt transmission cables will have a 5-inch diameter and run underwater or underground for the line’s entire length. The project will siphon hydro and wind-produced energy from Canada to a converter station in Queens. More


Ebola Has Profound Effects on Wildlife Population Dynamics
(Science Codex)
New research in gorillas that were affected by an Ebola virus outbreak shows that disease can influence reproductive potential, immigration and social dynamics, and it highlights the need to develop complex models that integrate all the different impacts of a disease. This approach requires long-term monitoring of wildlife populations to understand the responses of populations to emerging changes in the environment. More

Climate Change Starts to Bite. And Sting, Itch, Suck and Stink.
(Public News Service)
As concern rises about mosquitoes in eastern Virginia carrying disease, a new report suggests climate change means more of those and other pests. Norfolk, Virginia, health officials have found West Nile virus in a couple of neighborhoods. The report from the National Wildlife Federation documents a rise in mosquitoes, deer ticks, algal blooms and other outdoor problems because of global climate change. More


Big Cats Spared by Zambia as It Allows Trophy Hunting Resumption
Zambia, the southern African nation with nearly a third of its land reserved for wildlife, has lifted a ban on hunting for species other than wild cats. “The suspension of safari hunting is hereby lifted,” Tourism and Arts Minister Jean Kapata said in comments broadcast on Lusaka-based Radio Phoenix. “The suspension of cat hunting shall still remain in force until a survey to ascertain their numbers” is complete. More

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).