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Cara J

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Everything posted by Cara J

  1. It’s late fall in the high mountains of western North America and the whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) forests are alive with activity. Birds and mammals are feasting on the pine’s copious amounts of large seeds. When the cones ripen, the competition for the fatty, nutritious seeds — which contain “more energy than chocolate per unit of weight” according to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology — is a sight to see. Among the important wildlife species that consume the seeds is the iconic grizzly bear (Ursus arctos). Highly dependent on the pine seeds, the grizzly population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem thrives when the cone crop is good. Local management agencies even conduct extensive annual cone survey transects to measure the crop size and adjust their grizzly bear management plans based on the size of the crop. The whitebark pine comprises 10 to 15 percent of total forest cover in the lower timberline areas of the Northern Rocky Mountains. ©USDA NRCS Montana While the grizzly bear may be the largest species that covets the seeds, over 110 species of animals compete for them in many parts of the tree’s range. That’s why scientists often describe whitebark pine forests as “keystone” or [...] View the full article
  2. When diving ducks plunge into the water, they run the risk of getting trapped in fishermen’s gill nets. These nets are responsible for hundreds of thousands of incidental deaths of water birds each year. Now, researchers are wondering if pinger systems — like those used to keep marine mammals away from nets — could be used for ducks, too. Researchers at the University of Delaware are testing what frequencies ducks hear to see if pinger systems could be effective for them. The research is taking place at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland. Read more from the University of Delaware here. View the full article
  3. At a cabinet meeting Oct. 17, President Donald Trump asked all cabinet secretaries to reduce their agencies’ proposed budgets by 5 percent for fiscal year 2020. The call for cuts comes just days after the Treasury Department announcement that FY2018 showed a $779 billion deficit, a 17 percent increase over the previous year’s deficit. The administration recommends a federal budget each year, but the final appropriation amounts are determined annually by Congress. In recent years, Congress has resisted adopting the recommended wholesale reductions in discretionary domestic spending, such as Interior and Agriculture Department programs that impact wildlife. The administration recommended several budget cuts in FY2019 that were not carried out by Congress. The administration budget would have eliminated the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cooperative Research Unit Program and cut funding for the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program by more than half, but neither change was enacted by Congress. With many wildlife management and conservation programs already chronically underfunded, an additional 5 percent reduction could have serious effects. The USGS Cooperative Research Units have been appropriated around $17 million for the last several years and needs an additional $6.6 million annually to fill outstanding vacant positions and meet the needs of [...] View the full article
  4. The U.S. Forest Service has released proposed changes to land management plans in five Western states intended to better protect greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), along with a draft environmental impact statement analyzing those changes. The proposal, which incorporates new information about sage-grouse conservation, aims to “improve the clarity, efficiency and implementation” of 2015 Greater Sage-Grouse Plan amendments, it says, and is intended to better align with Bureau of Land Management and state plans. The changes would affect sage-grouse habitat on 5.32 million acres of national forests in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. Proposed changes would replace the designation of “sagebrush focal areas” with “priority habitat management areas,” and change the adaptive management framework to align with BLM and state-based adaptive management systems. They would revise livestock management guidelines to remove restrictions on water developments and replace specific grass-height requirements with standardized evaluation methods. The changes would also further emphasize invasive plant management by adding a plan objective that stresses treatment of invasive plants in priority habitat management areas. In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to list sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act, determining that voluntary, cooperative efforts by state and federal agencies, along with private landowners, [...] View the full article
  5. While initiatives like the Endangered Species Act help, researchers say there’s not enough funding to recover all listed species. That leaves federal agencies with difficult decisions. Researchers set out to identify the best way to allocate limited resources when it comes to recovering species listed on the ESA. The authors suggest a structured, logical, transparent approach. Their framework helps identify which objectives are the most important and how to spend funds to maximize benefits for the most species under a limited budget. The authors stress that transparent and cost-effective spending is important within funding agencies and conservation partners and will result in better success. These strategies have been successful already outside of the U.S., they said. Read the study in Science. View the full article
  6. LED lights have been proposed for use in airplanes to reduce bird strikes, but would these lights actually cause avoidance behavior in birds? Researchers recently tested how different wavelengths of light affect the behavior of brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater), a species that has been involved in bird strikes. “If birds can detect aircraft earlier because of the lights, hopefully they can do avoidance maneuvers earlier and decrease the chance of bird strikes,” said Esteban Fernandez-Juricic, a professor of biological sciences at Purdue University and lead author of the study published in PeerJ. While researchers have found that lights on aircraft enhance detection from birds, they hadn’t studied if they lead to avoidance behavior, Fernandez-Juricic said. In this study, he and his colleagues took information from their previous papers on how brown-headed cowbirds perceive light and used mathematical models to estimate which wavelengths are more conspicuous to them. Determining that UV, blue, green and red portions of the spectrum stimulate cowbird retina to a large degree, the team tested avoidance behaviors. They also included white lights in the study, since those are often used on aircraft. The team released the birds into an enclosure where they could make a decision to [...] View the full article
  7. Northeastern Puerto Rico’s insects, millipedes and sowbugs have declined exponentially as rainforest temperatures have increased, a recent study found. Researchers say a 2-degree Celsius increase since the mid-1970s has affected tropical forests more than had originally been anticipated. Their study looked at the Luquillo rainforest, which experienced at least a 2-degree temperature increase between 1976 and 2013. They found a 60-fold decline in arthropods and invertebrates, accompanied by a drop in the lizards, birds and frogs that consume them. The authors say the results show climate warming is the main driver in arthropod declines in the Luquillo rainforest, which can cascade and impact the entire food web. Read the study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. View the full article
  8. While forest fires have burned extensively this year throughout the West, even the biggest blazes can leave behind hidden pockets of unharmed landscape. Researchers say these areas of unburned or less damaged trees, shrubs and grass —known as fire refugia — are important to species that are vulnerable after fires. That includes northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis caurina), which struggle after forest fires and rely on remaining shelter from western hemlock and Pacific silver fir. Scientists in a recent study characterized these fire refugia over space and time to help understand the role they play, particularly “in the context of global change.” Read more in The New York Times or read the study in Bioscience. View the full article
  9. Citing habitat loss, wildfires and loss from predation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to list the distinct coastal population of Pacific marten (Martes caurina) along the Oregon and northern California coasts as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Coastal Pacific martens live only in the coastal forests of northwestern California and Oregon and are secretive and stealthy hunters. While historically occurring throughout the forests in that region, the USFWS states there are only four relatively small and isolated populations with a total population as low as 400 individuals. If the listing is finalized, the coastal marten population will be largely protected from “take,” although the special 4(d) rule includes exemptions for certain forest management activities, such as maintenance of existing fuel breaks, firefighting activities and habitat management. The USFWS is proposing to list the Pacific marten in just these coastal areas as a distinct population segment, meaning the “take” restrictions will not apply to marten populations in other areas. The Service is also proposing to list the eastern black rail (Laterallus jamaicensis jamaicensis) as threatened under the ESA. A small, secretive marsh bird, eastern black rails are partially migratory and can be found in as [...] View the full article
  10. The Western Section of The Wildlife Society will host “How to work with local governments: a workshop for biologists” Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Davis, California. This three-day workshop will go into the steps it takes to coordinate with municipal, county, special district, and joint powers authorities as a consultant, conservationist, agency biologist or researcher. Instructors will bring decades of experience to the topic, covering everything from ethics to CEQA implications and more. The workshop will incorporate examples from personal experience, as well as have guest speakers from different entities and agencies. Early registration lasts until Oct. 30 and is: $335 for Section members $380 for non-members (Student registration spots are already filled) To register please visit www.wildlifeprofessional.org/western/gov2018_reg.php. More information is also available here. Contact Ivan Parr at workshops@tws-west.org with any questions. View the full article
  11. Using weather radar to study North American bird migrations, researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology made a surprising discovery: birds leaving the United States on long, hazardous journeys to the tropics each fall actually survive better than those making shorter flights to cooler climes closer by. Of those short-distance migrants, which include American robins (Turdus migratorius), dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) and many sparrows, “many don’t make it through the winter,” said Adriaan Dokter, a postdoctoral fellow at the Cornell lab and lead author of the study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution. Dokter’s team used data from 143 weather stations across the United States between 2013 and 2017, and cloud computing to crunch all that data. Developing complicated algorithms to measure the amount of bird biomass in the air picked up by the radar, they estimated how many birds cross the borders with Canada and Mexico each year in spring and fall. They found 4.7 billion birds fly south over the southern U.S. border each fall. Another 4 billion birds leave Canada for the United States. Those numbers plunge on the return journeys. In the spring, 3.5 million birds cross back to the United States — a 76 percent [...] View the full article
  12. Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt issued a new policy on ‘open science’ Sept. 28. Under the four-page memo, Interior bureaus will be required to make publicly available the scientific data and analysis used to develop new rules, as well as the methodology used to gather the data. Regulators will also have to ensure that all scientific literature used or relied on for such rulemaking are made publicly available. The purpose of the order is to ensure that Interior “bases its decisions on best available science and provide the American people with enough information to thoroughly and substantively evaluate the data, methodology, and analysis used by the Department to inform its decisions.” Citing its obligation to ensure that the department makes its decisions based on the best available science, the order calls on its bureaus to “utilize and prioritize publicly available, reproducible, peer-reviewed science to the extent possible.” If regulators make a decision based on data that is not publicly available, peer reviewed, or readily reproducible, they must provide an explanation as to why the data relied on is the best available information. Deputy Interior secretaries can waive the provisions of the order if they determine that such as waiver is [...] View the full article
  13. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has announced the distribution of more than $50 million in funding to states and territories through the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program in fiscal year 2018. The funding will support the conservation of fish and wildlife species across the country. STWG is the only federal program that directly supports the states with the goal keeping common species common and preventing species from becoming endangered. Through the program, grants are provided to states and territories annually, based on a formula that accounts for geographic size and human population. A competitive grant program provides some additional funds for states, as well as funding for tribal wildlife conservation. Funding for STWG comes through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service budget and must be appropriated each year by Congress. The program was created by Congress in 2000 and initially funded at $50 million. Annual appropriations reached a high of $90 million in FY2010 but have declined since then. Congress appropriated $63.6 million for the program in FY2018. Appropriations have not yet been completed for FY 2019; the administration recommended a $32 million cut to the program. In FY 2018, it recommended funding at $52.8 million. STWG provides the primary [...] View the full article
  14. A new tool developed by Canadian researchers seeks to direct limited conservation dollars to where they would save the most species per dollar. Researchers from the University of British Columbia and Environment and Climate Change Canada applied the tool to 15 species at risk in southwestern Saskatchewan. The mathematical equation is designed to help determine the cost of recovery, how many species could be recovered under a given budget and which species face the steepest challenges. They found that with minimal species management only two of the 15 species would probably recover, but with a few suggested management strategies, 13 were likely to meet recovery goals. Read the open access paper in Conservation Letters. View the full article
  15. Wildlife conservation faces challenges around the world, but conservationists can celebrate several important success stories. That is the theme of this year’s annual conference, TWS’s 25th annual conference, and it was underscored by speakers at Monday’s opening plenary “As you all know, there’s no end of crisis,” said TWS President John McDonald as he introduced the speakers. “There are lots of problems in the world, both in our sphere of conservation and in the world at large. … I thought it would be important, particularly at our anniversary meeting like this, to have a theme that focuses on some of the actual success stories.” Plenary speakers shared the story of three species that have come back from the brink of extinction thanks to conservation efforts: the Kirtland’s warbler, snow leopard and North American river otter. These are “remarkable conservation success stories,” McDonald said, “that were not accidental. These were not serendipitous things where things weren’t as bad as we thought they were. In some cases they were worse than we thought and goals were set that were very ambitious that we never thought we’d achieve in our lifetimes, and yet we’ve achieved them and surpassed them.” The story of the [...] View the full article
  16. Airports don’t just use radar to keep a watch out for airplanes coming and going. Some also use it to look out for birds, which pose a collision hazard for air traffic. But how well does radar work for spotting birds? In a study published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, researchers from USDA Wildlife Services and the University of Illinois collaborated to see how well the three avian radar systems used by O’Hare International Airport outside Chicago performed. Comparing on-the-ground observations with radar data, the team found that the radar sensors tracked just 15 percent of the birds or flocks of birds that researchers spotted from the airfield. Birds that were larger, closer and flying higher were more likely to be tracked. This trailer houses two of the three avian radar systems used to monitor birds at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. ©University of Illinois “We were surprised when we got the results,” said TWS member Brian Washburn, a research wildlife biologist at Wildlife Services’ National Wildlife Research Center field station in Sandusky, Ohio. Bird strikes pose a significant safety and economic threat to commercial aircraft. Researchers say annual economic losses exceed $690 million in the United States and $1.2 billion [...] View the full article
  17. The U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee met Sept. 26 to discuss nine bills aimed at amending the Endangered Species Act. Each of the bills aims to make a variety of changes to the ESA, including making it easier to delist a species, reducing judicial review of listing and delisting decisions, improving coordination with states and encouraging voluntary conservation measures. The bills, put forth by the Congressional Western Caucus, were originally introduced in July. Witnesses at the hearing included representatives from the California Farm Bureau Federation and the Pacific Legal Foundation — both supporters of the bills — and a witness from Defenders of Wildlife, who expressed opposition to the proposed changes. Proponents argued the bills would increase flexibility and efficiency. “I believe that if the ESA is to work better for species, it must work better for people,” said Jamie Johansson, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation. “For this to happen,” he said, “we must increase the opportunities for collaboration and decrease the opportunities for conflict.” Bob Dreher, senior vice president of conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, said the bills “would undermine key provisions of the ESA and result in increased harm to protected species and [...] View the full article
  18. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 4647) – legislation that would dedicate $1.3 billion annually towards the conservation and monitoring of at-risk species at the state level – has just reached 100 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. The Wildlife Society and NGO partners have been seeking congressional support for this legislation since the Blue Ribbon Panel of Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish & Wildlife Resources originally recommended the framework of this legislation in the spring of 2016. Pending next steps for the legislation include a full House Natural Resources Committee hearing and the garnering of additional co-sponsors in both the House and Senate. The Senate version of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (S. 3223) – which unlike the House version requires funds to be appropriated by Congress each year – has just increased its co-sponsor count to six. The Wildlife Society and the American Fisheries Society recently sent a letter to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee requesting that discussions on the need for proactive wildlife conservation funding be folded into existing discussions on an overall conservation funding framework. These discussions currently include reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and funding for the federal lands maintenance backlog [...] View the full article
  19. Weather radar is usually collected by the National Weather Service to help people know what to wear outside or if any big storms are coming, but it can also help predict continental-scale bird migrations. In a study published in Science, a research team created a model that can automatically turn weather radar data into avian migration predictions. “Using weather radar to study birds is not a new idea and people have been using radar to study birds since radar was invented around World War II,” said Benjamin Van Doren, the lead author of the study and a PhD student at the University of Oxford. “But what is really new about our study is the scale at which we are applying radar to look at bird migration.” A bird appears like a “large raindrop” on weather radar, but those appearances usually get filtered out by meteorologists, Van Doren said. When the researchers collected the raw data, they filtered out the precipitation instead to get bird numbers. Using radar data of the atmosphere taken every five to 10 minutes, Van Doren and his colleagues looked at springtime bird migration across the continental United States for about 30 minutes each night corresponding with [...] View the full article
  20. National parks in the United States are bearing the brunt of climate change, a recent study says, putting many small mammals and plants at risk of extinction by the end of the century. Over the past 100 years, average temperatures in national parks increased at twice the rate of the rest of the nation and yearly rainfall decreased more in national parks than in other areas, according to research published in Environmental Research Letters. At that rate, researchers found, small mammals and plants wouldn’t have time to shift to more suitable locations. Read the story in Berkeley News or the study in Environmental Research Letters. View the full article
  21. The Bahama Nuthatch is an endangered species, only known from a small area of native pine forest on Grand Bahama Island, which lies approximately 100 miles off the coast of Florida. It had been feared extinct following the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and had not been found in subsequent searches. Fortunately it has been rediscovered by research teams searching the island. The bad news is that it is feared that there could only be two left, placing the species on the verge of extinction and making it one of the world’s most critically endangered birds. An exhaustive search of Grand Bahama, over a three-month period, was made by University of East Anglia students in partnership with scientists from Birdlife International and the Bahamas National Trust. The students caught the elusive bird on film. The Bahama Nuthatch has a long bill, a distinctive high-pitched squeaky call, and nests only in mature pine trees. There had been a sharp decline in its population crashing from an estimated 1,800 in 2004 to just 23 being seen in a survey in 2007. The decline likely began in the 1950s due to habitat loss due to timber removal, and more recently due to hurricane damage, storm surges having killed large areas native forest. Dr Diana Bell, from the University of East Anglia’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “The Bahama Nuthatch is a critically endangered species, threatened by habitat destruction and degradation, invasive species, tourist developments, fires and hurricane damage. Our researchers looked for the bird across 464 survey points in 34,000 hectares of pine forest. It must have been like looking for a needle in a hay stack. They played out a recording of the bird’s distinctive call in order to attract it. As well as searching for the elusive bird, they also collected environmental data to better understand its habitat preferences and surveyed the extent of hurricane and fire damage.” The UEA team made six Nuthatch sightings in total. One of the students, Matthew Gardner said: “We were the first to undertake such an exhaustive search through 700km of forest on foot. We had been scouring the forest for about six weeks, and had almost lost hope. At that point we’d walked about 400km. Then, I suddenly heard its distinctive call and saw the unmistakable shape of a Nuthatch descending towards me. I shouted with joy, I was ecstatic!” There is little optimism about the bird’s fate, as the reasons behind its precipitous decline are still unclear. Dr Bell explains: “Sadly, we think that the chances of bringing this bird back from the brink of extinction are very slim – due to the very low numbers left, and because we are not sure of the precise drivers for its decline. But it is still absolutely crucial that conservation efforts in the native Caribbean pine forest do not lapse as it is such an important habitat for other endemic birds including the Bahama Swallow, Bahama Warbler and Bahama Yellowthroat.” View the full article
  22. Being around noisy traffic may make zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) that have left the nest age faster than birds in more rural environments, according to new research. Researchers had known that birds in urban environments had been shown to have shorter telomeres — caps at the end of chromosomes that protect genes from damage — which is indicative of quicker biological aging. “But it was unknown so far what the causes and mechanisms are,” said Adriana Dorado-Correa, first author of the recent study, who completed the research while at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. In the study published in Frontiers in Zoology, Dorado-Correa and her colleagues looked at traffic noise and its relationship with telomere length. The team had three treatment groups. One group was exposed to a sound recording of traffic noise from the moment the birds started courtship until their chicks abandoned the nests. Another group was exposed to the noise from 18 to 120 days old, which is an important learning period for the birds. A control group wasn’t exposed to traffic noise at all. After sampling the birds’ blood, the team found that zebra finches exposed to noise after leaving the nest had shorter telomeres [...] View the full article
  23. Prescribed fire is often presented as a savior of wildlife and their habitats, restoring ecosystems and protecting landscapes from catastrophic wildfires. However, for greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) and many sagebrush ecosystems, a number of studies suggest that nothing could be further from the truth. Promotion of prescribed fire as a management tool is ongoing. In August, the U.S. Forest Service released a new strategy that, in part, calls for increasing the use of prescribed fires. In 2016, The Wildlife Society recognized the growing interest in prescribed fire use and published a technical review that evaluated its effects on wildlife across a variety of ecosystems and habitats in North America. The June 22 issue of the eWildlifer included a photo of a prescribed burn in sagebrush with a caption highlighting potential benefits of wildlife by using prescribed fires as a management tool. Given the wide variety of wildlife habitats across North America, it would be surprising if any habitat management technique, including fire, is universally effective. Indeed, numerous publications have urged caution when using prescribed fire and other techniques aimed at damaging or destroying sagebrush. In part, this is due to the continued loss of sagebrush throughout western North America. An [...] View the full article
  24. Eight states filed suit on Sept. 5 in federal court against the Interior Department, asking the court to vacate last year’s opinion from Interior’s Office of Solicitor regarding the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In the suit, New York, California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico and Oregon allege the opinion is inconsistent with the MBTA and decades of interpretation of the act by Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The states argue that the memo narrows the scope of the act and harms the states’ interests. In December 2017, Interior’s Office of the Solicitor issued an opinion stating the MBTA does not apply to unintentional “take” of a protected bird. Before the opinion was issued, MBTA was interpreted to cover both intentional and unintentional take of migratory birds. Unintentional take can apply to activities such as wind energy development, traditional oil and gas development and power transmission, and this new opinion could shield energy companies and others from persecution. The memo argues that “the text, history and purpose of the MBTA demonstrate that it is a law limited in relevant part to affirmative and purposeful actions, such as hunting and poaching,” and concludes that unintentional take of [...] View the full article
  25. Federal court decisions in three recent cases illustrate the complexity of the intersection between scientific wildlife management, public opinion and the judicial system. The Pryor Mountain wild horses (Equus caballus), Yellowstone area grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) and sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) along the California-Nevada state line have all been mired in court decisions and politics for years, with new developments in the last month for all three circumstances. A federal district judged halted a planned gather of wild horses from the Wyoming-Montana border Sept. 5. Though ecologically feral animals, they are managed according to the federal Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, designating them as “wild.” In response to a lawsuit filed by The Cloud Foundation, the judge ordered the Bureau of Land Management not to go forward with the planned gather and removal of horses from the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. BLM had been planning to remove 17 of the approximately 150 horses from that area and offer them up for adoption. BLM officials have determined the herd is too large for the arid and sparsely vegetated 59-square mile area, while The Cloud Foundation posits that removing the 17 animals would adversely affect the genetics of the herd. [...] View the full article
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