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Cara J

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  1. Parents may want to think twice before allowing their children to let balloons fly off into the atmosphere. When seemingly harmless latex balloons end up in the ocean, according to a new study, they become unusually deadly for seabirds. “They are attractive and they are disproportionately deadly if those balloons are eaten,” said Lauren Roman, the lead author of the study published recently in Nature Scientific Reports. Roman is a postdoctoral researcher at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, an Australian government agency. It’s nothing new that ingesting too much plastic and other human marine debris can kill seabirds. By blocking up their gastrointestinal systems, it can cause infections and even starvation. But Roman and her co-authors wanted to see whether they could narrow down the causes of death. They examined the insides of more than 1,700 dead birds from 51 different species that they and other organizations collected. They divided the carcasses into those that clearly died due to ingesting debris, those that died from non-debris causes such as fisheries bycatch and those whose death was undetermined. A grey-headed albatross (Thalassarche chrysostoma) is found dead with balloon fragments inside its body. ©Lauren Roman They found that while birds were [...] View the full article
  2. Climate change has pushed migratory birds to take their spring trips a week earlier than they did six decades ago. According to a large-scale analysis of data gathered by 21 bird observatories from northern Europe and Canada on nearly 200 species, birds have advanced the timing of their migration by an average of just over a week since the late 1950s and early 1960s. Short-distance migratory birds have sped up the start of their migrations by 1.5 to two days per decade on average. Long-distance migrants start 0.6 to 1.2 days earlier. “There are clearly some species which have advanced very fast and other species which have changed hardly at all,” says Aleksi Lehikoinen, an academic research fellow at the University of Helsinki’s Finnish Museum of Natural History and the lead author of a study published in Ecological Indicators. While the birds have timed their migrations a week earlier on average to cope with warmer weather due to climate change, Lehikoinen said, this varies within migration season of species. Early migrants, for example, are more likely to have sped up their spring migrations compared to later migrants of the same species, which haven’t changed their habits as much on average. While [...] View the full article
  3. Implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, passed in December, is now underway. The $867 billion package funds many programs, from producer subsidies to food stamps, including $5 billion for conservation incentives on private lands. Key Farm Bill conservation programs include the Conservation Reserve Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The new bill increased the enrollment cap for CRP, and EQIP will now dedicate 10 percent of funds distributed though the program to wildlife conservation, providing about $200 million a year. Last week, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue testified in front of both the House and Senate agriculture committees. During the Senate hearing, staffing vacancies currently faced by the USDA that may slow Farm Bill implementation were brought up by lawmakers. Perdue agreed with lawmaker concerns, noting that federal government hiring is not done quickly. Despite these challenges, Perdue said, the USDA is moving forward with implementing the conservation programs. “The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) utilized mandatory program funding to keep staff working throughout the recent shutdown,” he said in written testimony, “providing significant time to begin building the framework for the new and revised conservation programs they are responsible for implementing.” During the House hearing, Perdue also discussed the challenges surrounding [...] View the full article
  4. The House voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bipartisan public lands package last week, a week after the Senate did the same. It now goes to the president’s desk to be signed. The Natural Resources Management Act (S. 47) contains more than 100 different bills affecting public lands and conservation, including permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. During the last Congress, LWCF expired Sept. 30, after several attempts to pass reauthorization during the last Congress failed. The LWCF allows proceeds from oil and gas drilling on federal lands and waters to be used to acquire parks, forests, recreation areas, wildlife habitat and cultural sites around the country for conservation and public access. The legislation also reauthorizes the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, which provides grants for to conserve populations and habitats of neotropical migratory birds. The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, which works with private landowners who want to voluntarily undertake habitat restoration projects on their lands, was also reauthorized through the public lands package. Laura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with [...] View the full article
  5. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced its decisions to list the northern subspecies of scarlet macaw (Ara macao cyanoptera) as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Scarlet macaws are large neotropical parrots native to Mexico, Central America and South America, with the greatest concentration of their population in the Amazon. Destruction of the birds’ habitat and collection for the pet trade have reduced the scarlet macaw’s range in Mexico and Central America. It is no longer found in most of its former range in those areas. While the scarlet macaw is currently classified as “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, several countries throughout Central and South American have listed the species under their endangered species protections. The northern subspecies is considered in danger of extinction in Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica and Panama; threatened in Guatemala; a species of concern in Honduras; and protected from take in Nicaragua. In South America, the southern subspecies (A. m. macao) is designated vulnerable in Peru and near threatened in both Ecuador and Venezuela. Its populations will also receive ESA protections under the USFWS decision. The northern distinct population segment will be listed as threatened. The southern distinct population segment will [...] View the full article
  6. The purple martin (Progne subis) is in the midst of a long-term decline, and researchers worry that without humans continuing to put out birdhouses for them, their numbers will fall faster. In a study published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, researchers found that eastern purple martins (P.s. subis) have very high nest survival in artificial housing, making it an important component in the bird’s conservation. “If people are interested in helping out a species, this is a really easy solution,” said Texas Tech assistant professor Blake Grisham and an author on the study. In the centuries since European settlement in North America, eastern purple martins have become almost completely dependent on artificial housing, from gourds suspended from tree branches to deluxe high-rises with pitched roofs and balcony perches. The shift began even before colonization, Grisham said, with martins nesting in gourds placed by Native Americans. Since then, with the exception of a Florida population that still nests in the wild, the birds rely exclusively on birdhouses, Grisham said, and that could present a problem. “Most of the individuals who have purple martin cavities are greater than 56 years old,” he said. “What happens if they stop providing those cavities?” Researchers found [...] View the full article
  7. On the mountaintops of the Sierra Nevadas, mountain chickadees (Poecile gambeli) create food caches to survive the winter, and they rely on their memories to find them. Researchers had already known that in places of higher elevation or with harsher winters, chickadees often rely more on these caches. In previous research, they found that chickadees in these areas had a larger hippocampus, a part of the brain that helps with memory, and they had more neurons in their hippocampus than other chickadees. Recently, biologists found these traits relating to good memory are gained through natural selection. In the study published in Current Biology, they used passive integrative transponder tags and feeders equipped with radio frequency identification devices. The tagged birds were assigned to one of eight feeders. When they attempted to get food from a feeder that they weren’t assigned to, the machine recorded it but no food came out. “Any time a bird lands, it records the time and ID of every bird,” said Vladimir Pravosudov,biology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the study’s corresponding author. The team recorded how long it took for the birds to learn which feeder gave them food and how well they remembered [...] View the full article
  8. TWS member Jason Luscier focuses on urban wildlife conservation, so when he needed more data on house cats (Felis catus) roaming the streets, he turned local residents into citizen scientists. Luscier developed Cat Tracker, a smartphone app that lets residents report sightings of house cats on the loose. “One of the greatest threats to our native urban wildlife is predation by free-roaming house cats,” said Luscier, an assistant professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. “I have a number of ongoing research projects regarding urban mammals, urban amphibians and urban birds — all of which are likely affected by cats.” The app lets residents report when they spot both feral cats and pets on the prowl, using the phone’s GPS data to pinpoint exact locations. The app collects some basic survey information of the spotters. Were you walking? Sitting on a park bench? Out running errands? And it allows users to make simple comments about what they saw. “The hope is that the process is as quick and easy as possible,” Luscier said. Uploading the sightings to a map, he can see how the sightings might intersect with wildlife data. Luscier first targeted the city of Syracuse, but [...] View the full article
  9. When researchers looked at the effects of recent extreme drought in the Sierra Nevada, they expected to find the large-scale death of trees would cause bird numbers to decline. Instead, they found many of the species increased— apparently in response to favorable conditions that emerged from the warming climate. An extensive drought struck the region from 2013 to 2016, resulting in the widespread death of pine trees by bark beetles. Researchers from Point Blue Conservation Science wanted to see what effect the death of these trees would have on the birds that depend on them. For many of the species, they found, whatever negative impacts the dead trees had were offset by positive effects from climate conditions. They published their findings in the journal Ecological Applications. “Birds respond rapidly to changes in both habitat and climate conditions and thus are good indicators of the ecological effects of a changing climate, which may include warmer temperatures, changing habitat conditions, and increased frequency and magnitude of extreme events like drought,” they wrote. Looking at the influence of temperature, water deficit and tree mortality on 45 bird species, researchers used climate models to predict the effect of climate change on the bird community [...] View the full article
  10. On former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s last day in office, he signed a secretarial order calling for the department to do more to prevent wildfire on its lands. Coming in response to an executive order by the president on active forest management, the secretarial order, Reducing Wildfire Risks on Department of the Interior Land Through Active Management, calls for best management practices for wildfire to be included in all of the department’s land and resource management plans. It also requires that the plans use land and vegetation management techniques supported by the best available science. The order was just made publicly available last week. “The serious health risks, safety concerns, tragic loss of life, and economic losses resulting from catastrophic wildfire demonstrate the need for increased attention to active forestland, rangeland, watershed and wildfire management policies and techniques that reduce irreparable harm to landscapes and the citizens who live and work in neighboring communities,” the order says. It calls for increased logging in national parks, specifically salvage logging where forests have been affected by wildfires, insect infestation and disease in recent years. It also encourages the use of categorical exclusions under the National Environmental Policy Act to allow quicker action, [...] View the full article
  11. Averting another government shutdown, Congress passed a $333 billion appropriations and border security package containing language to fund federal agencies through the end of the fiscal year. The bill provides funding for agencies, such as the Interior Department, included in seven appropriations bills. Other agencies had been previously funded. The funding levels agreed upon by Congress are generally an increase over what the president requested for fiscal year 2019, which outlined major cuts for most agencies and programs. It also provides a 1.9 percent pay increase for all federal employees. In the spending package, Interior will receive $13 billion for FY 2019, an overall $95 million decrease from last year, although some agencies within the department will see an increase. It was appropriated $14 million to proceed with a reorganization effort started by former Secretary Ryan Zinke. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will receive $1.58 billion, a decrease of $17 million from FY 2018. The State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program is funded at $64.5 million, up slightly from $63.6 million last year. The bill also appropriates $42 million for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and $3.9 million for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Act. Funding for the Bureau of Land Management increased [...] View the full article
  12. Spreading salt on the roads to make winter driving safer may be causing problems for wildlife. In a recent article, scientists reported a large increase of chloride in streams, lakes and rivers over previous decades. A main reason for this increase in chloride is likely from salt applied before and during snowstorms, the authors said, which can impact freshwater organisms and change the ecosystem. For some species, salt can case dehydration. About 4,500 metric tons of salt was used in the 1940s, they found, but today, about 22 million metric tons are used. Some scientists suggest these threats may call for road salt regulation. Read more in Chemical & Engineering News. View the full article
  13. Wildlife trade restrictions implemented by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora (CITES) can take more than two decades to be implemented, a new study found. In the study, researchers looked at how quickly species from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List become protected under CITES. They found over 60 percent of species had to wait up to 19 years for CITES protection. Some species are still waiting to be listed since they were considered 24 years ago, they found. The researchers said this can be troublesome since wildlife trade trends can develop quickly. Overall, after analyzing 958 species on the Red List, they found 28 percent of species listed as endangered are not protected under CITES. The authors suggest steps policymakers can take to speed up the process. Read the study in Science. View the full article
  14. For decades, black vulture (Coragyps atratus) numbers have been on the rise in the United States. As their populations have grown and their range has expanded, conflicts with humans have grown, too. While famously scavengers, black vultures sometimes predate on livestock, creating conflicts with ranchers. Their predilection for chewing on vinyl seats hasn’t won them fans among convertible owners, either. As complaints about black vultures rise with their population numbers, wildlife managers wondered if the allowable take for these birds could be increased while still meeting requirements under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to sustain the species. “The goal is to minimize conflict with humans but still not damage the populations,” said TWS member Guthrie Zimmerman, population ecologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Migratory Bird Program and lead author on a paper on the subject published in the Journal of Wildlife Management. The team looked at analyses used to estimate allowable take in Virginia and expanded it to cover the vultures’ range throughout the eastern U.S. They found a range of estimated allowable take, down to just a few hundred individuals per year in the northern end of their range. Across the range, they estimated about 287,000 individuals could [...] View the full article
  15. In the 25 years since the Northwest Forest Plan was initiated, bird species still are not recovering, researchers found, despite sweeping protections the plan brought to old-growth forests in Washington, Oregon and California. While the plan reduced losses of old trees to logging, they found, losses to wildfire are on the rise. “Ultimately it turned out that this forest is in gradual decline since the plan,” said Oregon State University professor Matt Betts, co-author of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Betts, Ben Phalan, who was a research associate at OSU and their colleagues wanted to perform a sort of 25-year check-up on the plan so see how the forest was faring since the plan was put in place. They expected to find mature forests had increased over the years, the species that depend on them would be on the rise and young, pre-forest landscapes — early seral ecosystems — would be decreasing. “But that’s not what we found,” Betts said. Instead, they discovered that fires continued to claim older trees and create more early seral ecosystems on public land, while logging continued on private land. Using birds as an indicator of forest health, they [...] View the full article
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