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Cara J

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Posts posted by Cara J

  1. In a Sept. 10 memo to Interior Department bureau and office heads, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reaffirmed “the authority of the State to exercise their broad trustee and police powers as stewards of the Nation’s fish and wildlife species on public lands and waters under the jurisdiction of the Department.” Noting the states have fish and wildlife agencies specifically charged with exercising their responsibilities as trustees for fish and wildlife, Zinke asserted that these agencies have “consistently demonstrated their commitment to sustaining fish and wildlife resources in perpetuity.” “The Department recognizes States as the first-line authorities for fish and wildlife management and hereby expresses its commitment to defer to the State in this regard except as otherwise required by Federal law,” he wrote. The memo serves to reaffirm a policy set forth in 1983, which recognizes “the basic role of the States in fish and resident wildlife management, especially where States have primary authority and responsibility, and to foster improved conservation of fish and wildlife.” In the memo, Zinke tasks Interior officials with developing a plan to better align the department’s policies regarding fish and wildlife management with those of the states. To do so, he asks all Interior bureaus [...]

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  2. The Department of Interior has announced the approval of $23.8 million in grants for waterfowl and wetland conservation. The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission issued the grants, which will be awarded to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the conservation of nearly 135,000 acres of wetland and associated upland habitats for waterfowl, shorebirds and other birds in 17 states. Made through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), the grants will also be matched by more than $60 million from partners.   The goal of NAWCA grants, which were awarded Sept. 5, is to increase bird populations and wetland habitat, while supporting local economies; wildlife-dependent recreation such as hunting, fishing and bird watching; family farming and cattle ranching. Wetlands protected by NAWCA perform key ecosystem services such as flood control, reducing erosion, improving water and air quality and recharging ground water.  Since 1989, NAWCA has funded over 2,800 projects totaling $1.6 billion in grants. More than 6,000 partners have contributed another $3.3 billion in matching funds. Overall, 30 million acres of habitat through the U.S., Canada and Mexico have benefited from NAWCA. A complete list of the projects funded through this grant cycle is available here.   The commission also authorized the funding of 37 NAWCA small grant projects, which were previously approved by the North American Wetlands Conservation Council in February. These grants are available for projects up [...]

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  3. The U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 2591, Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act last week.  The bill allows states to use Wildlife Restoration Account funds to build and maintain shooting ranges, and for communications and marketing efforts aimed at recruiting and retaining hunters and recreational shooters. The number of hunters in the U.S. has declined over the past several decades. The Wildlife Society previously submitted testimony supporting the general effort but also outlining concerns the bill could result in funds being directed away from science-based management and wildlife research efforts. A related bill in the Senate, S. 1613, has not yet been considered by committee. See also The Wildlife Society’s Standing Position on Hunting.

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  4. An array of exotic reptiles introduced to the wilds of Florida is posing a growing threat to the state’s bird life, according to a recent article on Audubon.org. It’s not just pet pythons set loose in the Everglades. “Farther north,” Audubon writes, “Nile monitors — the largest lizard in Africa— have been terrorizing a population of burrowing owls in the city of Cape Coral. And on the outskirts of Florida City, just outside Everglades National Park, egg-eating Argentine tegus could soon raid the nesting grounds of one of the last remaining populations of the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow.” The common denominator is the pet trade, Audubon reports, “but while most people acknowledge that’s a leaky pipeline, few agree on whether and how to plug it.” Read the full story here.

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  5. On the plains of western Kansas, Conservation Reserve Program lands, where crops have been replaced by native grasses, have proved crucial to lesser prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus). The threatened birds have established themselves in a part of the state where they weren’t historically known — and one of the few places of the country where their numbers are increasing — using these grasslands set aside for environmental benefits. But the birds mostly use CRP lands during nesting and the nonbreeding season, researchers found, suggesting that a mosaic of grasslands across a broader landscape is necessary for the birds’ success. “If you establish a CRP field in the middle of a crop field landscape, that’s not really going to do very much for lesser prairie-chickens,” said TWS member Dan Sullins, a postdoctoral research associate with the Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Kansas State University and lead author of the paper in the Journal of Wildlife Management. “But if you establish a CRP field next to it a large remaining tract of native grasslands, it can really provide important habitat.” The Conservation Reserve Program was created in 1985 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to encourage farmers to avoid planting [...]

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  6. There have always been stories — and some research since the 1950s and ’60s — that murre (Uria aalge) eggs have a unique shape that allows them not to roll the off cliffs where the birds nest. But a team of researchers wanted more than stories. They wanted a conclusive answer. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers looked at the pear-shaped eggs to see if they’re actually shaped this way for a reason. Do the eggs roll in tight radiuses because of their shape, keeping them safe on the rocks? “It has always been a special interest to me,” said Mark Hauber, a professor of animal biology at the University if Illinois at Urban Champaign and the senior author of the study. “Murre eggs are something I’ve always wanted to know about.” To conduct their study, the team first scanned previous literature, looking at comparative studies of eggs relative to murres. They found that murre eggs were in fact unique in their rolling in a tight radius. Then, Hauber and his colleagues used 3D printing to put the egg-shape idea to the test. “It’s been 60 years now, and we now have an experimental approach [...]

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  7. Conserving wildlife doesn’t work very well without taking humans into account. The North American Bird Conservation Initiative has launched a new program to highlight the advantages of bringing the social science field of human dimensions research into bird conservation. On its website, the NABCI is featuring human dimensions success stories from across North American, from Canada to the Caribbean. How did updated messaging help increase dog leash use to protect Nebraska’s piping plovers? How can more “landlords” be recruited to put up nest boxes for purple martins? Readers are encouraged to share the stories on the website as case studies, use them as inspiration for their own projects and contact the authors to find out more. Read the NABCI success stories here.

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  8. Researchers in Michigan found that citizen scientists were more likely to use a recently launched citizen science phone app when they saw personal benefits from doing so. In a study published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, researchers with help from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources launched and used an app called MI-MAST to collect information on hard and soft mast production that many species, such as bears ,rely on. “The Michigan DNR recognized that many wildlife species respond to hard and soft mast production,” said TWS member Gary Roloff, an associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University, who coauthored the study led by his graduate student Alex Killion. “Mast production can vary across large spatial and short time scales, and the DNR had no way to collect consistent information statewide.” The team launched a pilot of the MI-MAST program in 2015, allowing citizen scientists to input data on hard and soft mass in Michigan, then fully launched it in 2015. “We hit a lot of speed bumps along the way in developing the program,” Roloff said, including successfully marketing the program to get citizens involved. They found that people were less likely to [...]

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  9. In 2017, the White House announced plans to streamline government agencies and increase efficiency. That included reorganizing the Interior Department so that most of its bureaus would follow the same regional lines. Currently, DOI has eight bureaus with 49 different regions. Officials said the impetus behind the reorganization was to modernize the department, shift resources to the field and away from Washington and improve interagency coordination and collaboration. Last week, Interior released additional information about the transition to 12 unified regions, along with a final map showing the new regional boundaries. In the next few weeks, the department expects to initiate steps to align itself into the 12 new regions. In late 2017, witnesses at a Congressional hearing were generally supportive of efforts to streamline government and increase efficiency, but they were leery about the lack of detail then available about the reorganization. In January, the reorganization became more concrete as Interior official hosted meetings and calls with state governors, local governments and external stakeholders to discuss a draft map of the Unified Regional Boundaries concept. That map showed 13 administrative regions. A revised map released in March also consisted of 13 regions. Last week’s map shows 12 regions, largely based [...]

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  10. The Union of Concerned Scientists surveyed scientists in 16 federal agencies to gauge the role of science in the current administration. The results appear in a new report, Science Under Trump: Voices of Scientists across 16 Federal Agencies. The report is the latest in a series started in 2005 by UCS evaluating the integrity of science in federal agencies.  Investigating topics like staff capacity, employee morale, political influence and scientific integrity, researchers surveyed more than 63,000 scientists in agencies chosen based on their missions and history of scientific integrity. Results varied between agencies. The survey found relatively less perceived political pressure within the Food and Drug Administration and the National and Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and relatively more at the Environmental Protection Agency. Across agencies, 79 percent of respondents said they noticed staff reductions. Of those, 87 percent said the reductions made it more difficult for agencies to fulfil their missions. As of June 2018, only 25 of the positions considered science and technology appointees by the National Academy of Sciences have been filled. Scientists in several agencies reported that political appointees negatively affected their ability to work effectively. Twenty percent considered “influence of political appointees in your agency or [...]

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  11. Common nighthawks (Chordeiles minor) have declined about 80 percent since 1968, but researchers hadn’t yet known where they go for the winter — information that could be important in understanding what’s causing their decline. “It’s generally known that they spend their winters somewhere in South America,” said Janet Ng, a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta and the lead author of the paper published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology. “We never came across where that knowledge came from.” Ng suspects these were just observations. To answer the question scientifically, a team including collaborators from the University of Alberta and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Research Center’s Migratory Connectivity Project set out to discover where the aerial insectivore overwinters and the route that the threatened bird takes. But first, they had to overcome a few hurdles. Before 2015, satellite transmitters were about the size of a person’s palm and weighed too much to fit on a 90-gram nighthawk. But new tiny satellite tracking technology weighing about as much as a penny allowed researchers to remotely track the birds on their migration and wintering grounds without having to recapture them. Capturing the birds was also a feat. Nighthawks have superb eyesight [...]

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  12. Site visits are critical to helping scientists learn more about species and their habitats. The trips often take them into areas most people do not have a chance to explore, including public and privately-owned restricted sites, as well as some remote and hard-to-reach areas. “Site visit Insights” provides a behind-the-scenes perspective of wildlife biology, featuring photographs and interesting discoveries and happenings biologists experience in the field. In cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Wildlife Society is pleased to share these insights. Wildlife Biologist: Harry Kahler, fish and wildlife biologist, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office Site visit location: Beale Air Force Base, California What was the purpose of the site visit? Fish and Wildlife Biologist Harry Kahler bands a nine-day-old kestrel, which can help identify the bird at a future encounter. ©Veronica Davison, USFWS The purpose of this site visit was to band and collect information about American kestrel (Falco sparverius) nestlings. Nesting sites for American kestrels are limited. As part of The Peregrine Fund’s American Kestrel Partnership, the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office installed a series of kestrel nest boxes at various sites on Beale Air Force Base. We monitor them for use and productivity during the [...]

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  13. A “Let’s Go Birding Together” walk in New York recently brought together members of the LGBTQ community to share a love for birding. The walk, which took place June 23 in Central Park, was one of a series of bird walks that took place throughout the country deliberately welcoming the LGBTQ community and allies as part of Pride Month. These events started in 2016 by a community education director for Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center with the purpose of making birding accessible and inclusive to everyone. Aside from the New York event, Audubon staff helped organize LGBTQ birding walks in Los Angeles; Seattle; Columbus, Ohio and elsewhere. “Biodiversity makes our ecosystem stronger, and our diversity makes our community stronger,” organizer Jason St. Sauver told Audubon.org. Read more about the event at Audubon.org.

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  14. Fishing nets take a huge toll on seabirds and many marine species. A new study, published in the Royal Society journal Open Science, has shown that illuminating the nets with low-cost lights could reduce the impact they have.

    For the study, a team of international researchers compared 114 pairs of gillnets, which are anchored in fixed positions at sea and designed to snare fish by the gills, in fishing waters off the coast of northern Peru. They discovered that the nets fitted with green battery-powered light-emitting diodes (LEDs) caught 85% fewer guanay cormorants – a native diving bird that commonly becomes entangled in nets – compared with those without lights.

    Coupled with previous research conducted by the same team, that showed LED lighting also reduced the number of sea turtles caught in fishing nets by 64 per cent, the researchers believe the lights offer a cheap, reliable and durable way to dramatically reduce the capture and death of birds and turtles, without reducing the intended catch of fish.

    Lead author Dr Jeffrey Mangel, from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter, said: “We are very encouraged by the results from this study. It shows us that we may be able to find cost-effective ways to reduce bycatch of multiple taxa of protected species, and do so while still making it possible for fishers to earn a livelihood.”

    Peru’s gillnet fleet comprises the largest component of the nation’s small-scale fleet and is conservatively estimated to set 100,000 kilometres of net per year in which thousands of turtles and seabirds will die as “bycatch” or unintentionally.

    The LED lights were attached at regular intervals to commercial fishing gillnets which are anchored to the bottom of the water. The nets are left in situ from late afternoon until sunlight, when the fishermen collect their haul.

    The researchers used 114 pairs of nets, each typically around 500 metres in length. In each pair, one was illuminated with LEDs placed every ten metres along the gillnet floatline. The other net in the pair was the control and not illuminated. The control nets caught 39 cormorants, while the illuminated nets caught just six.

    A previous study, using the same LED technology, showed they also reduced the number of sea turtles also caught in gillnets. Multiple populations of sea turtle species use Peruvian coastal waters as foraging grounds including green, olive ridley, hawksbill, loggerhead and leatherback.

    For that study, the researchers found that the control nets caught 125 green turtles while illuminated nets caught 62. The target catch of guitarfish was unaffected by the net illumination. They are now working with larger fisheries in Peru and with different coloured lights to see if the results can be repeated and applied with more critically endangered species.

    Professor Brendan Godley, co- author of the study also from the University of Exeter, said: “It is satisfying to see the work coming from our Exeter Marine PhDs leading to such positive impact in the world. We need to find ways for coastal peoples to fish with the least impact on the rest of the biodiversity in their seas.”

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  15. A new study in The Condor: Ornithological Applications presents the negative associations that have been discovered between human disturbance, such as recreational use of beaches and coastal modifications, and piping plovers on their non-breeding grounds.

    Shorebirds are one of the most threatened bird families in the world. Numerous studies have shown the negative impacts of humans on these birds, whether it be large-scale (e.g. habitat loss, climate change) or small-scale (ATV use, running with pets or flying kites, for example). This research indicates that there are direct consequences of disturbance.

    Most piping plover research has focused on the breeding season in an attempt to directly influence population numbers, however this study argues that efforts are required throughout the year, and in all locations, in order to ensure piping plover survival.

    The study’s lead author Dan Gibson, from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and colleagues monitored piping plovers year-round to determine the health and behaviour of individuals. Of particular interest to them was the body condition, survival and site fidelity of the birds. Plovers in disturbed areas proved to be significantly lighter in mass, due to the birds not being able to find enough food. Given poorer body condition, it should be no surprise that birds in these disturbed areas also had lower survival rates.

    Piping plovers have strong site fidelity on the breeding grounds and the study found that fidelity continues on the non-breeding grounds. While physically capable of changing location, it was not common for individuals to do so even if there was a high level of disturbance – such strong site fidelity didn’t allow them to. Therefore, some of the strategies used on their breeding grounds (e.g. reduced human recreation, roped-off areas and banning dogs from beaches) may be beneficial to also do on the non-breeding grounds. This would ensure the year-round conservation of this threatened species.

    “We have a lot of opportunity to engage with the public in what exactly our research is about. We often try to stress that the impact an individual recreationist has on a shorebird is practically non-existent. However, if every person who uses a beach in a given day influences how these shorebirds feed or rest, those minute impacts can begin to add up over the course of a season that can manifest itself as reductions in individual body condition and ultimately their ability to withstand bad weather conditions or successfully migrate and find a mate. We try to stress that small changes in how we use a beach (e.g. keep dogs on leash, avoid running through groups of birds) can really add up to substantial improvements in the overall quality of coastal habitat for shorebirds,” says Dan Gibson

    Professor Jonathan Cohen, an expert on shorebirds, adds: “This study availed itself of a unique resource that range-wide banding efforts have provided for the study of the demographics of the endangered piping plover, and successfully attempted the difficult task of teasing out the sometimes subtle effect of disturbance in nonbreeding areas on annual vital rates [the statistics used to calculate population changes]. The finding that this endangered species may not readily abandon habitat that is detrimental for fitness was surprising, and warrants immediate attention from the conservation community.”

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  16. On his first day studying long-billed curlews (Numenius americanus) in southwest Idaho, Jay Carlisle came across a disturbing find. A curlew lay dead on the side of the road, shot through the head. Nine years later, that sight proved to be an omen. “It took me years to realize the gravity of the situation,” said Carlisle, researcher director at the Intermountain Bird Observatory and associate research professor at Boise State University. Long-billed curlews had been studied in the region in the late 1970s by a University of Montana team — a time when their population density was among the highest throughout the bird’s range. In collaboration with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Bureau of Land Management, Carlisle returned an area now known as the Long-billed Curlew Habitat Area of Critical Environmental Concern in April 2009 to try to understand the decline. Maybe it was tied to changes in their habitat, he thought. Nonnative grasses and forbs were moving in. Ranchers were shifting from sheep to cattle. Could that have something to do with it? A curlew takes flight to protect its offspring from potential threats. In southwest Idaho, illegal shooting has emerged as the bird’s greatest [...]

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  17. Russian cosmonauts have installed an antenna on the International Space Station to help a team of scientists track animals. The operation was part of a German-led project known as Icarus, short for International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space. The project will start tracking blackbirds and turtle doves outfitted with GPS tags, the Associated Press reports, then move on to other songbirds, fruit bats and larger wildlife, including gazelle and elephants. Read more from the Associated Press here and from NASA here.

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  18. As public funding for conservation appears to be dwindling and the need for projects increases, a panel of speakers at the TWS 25th Annual Conference in Cleveland offer glimpses into where future conservation dollars might come from. The Caesar Kleberg Keynote: The Future Funding for Wildlife Conservation will look at four models that bring in funds from nontraditional sources. The common denominator for all of them is private dollars for a profession that has historically relied on public funding, said David Hewitt, executive director of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, which is sponsoring the keynote and is a platinum sponsor of the conference. The keynote takes place Thursday, Oct. 10 from 10:20 a.m. to 11:50 p.m. at the Huntington Convention Center. “There are projections of less money being available, and it’s obvious there is more and more conservation work that needs to be done,” Hewitt said. His own organization is one of the success stories he wants to share. Although the nonprofit wildlife research institute is affiliated with Texas A&M’s Kingsville campus, most of its budget comes from private funds, primarily through endowments and annual gifts. “It’s really opened up a lot of potential to [...]

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  19. Compared to the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) seems to get overlooked. And compared to the peaks and parks of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, so does eastern Wyoming’s sagebrush steppe. An exhibit at the Buffalo Bill Center for the American West’s Draper Natural History Museum seeks to change that. The new permanent exhibit, “Monarch of the Skies: The Golden Eagle in Greater Yellowstone and the American West,” is based on nine years of research on Bureau of Land Management land by Chuck Preston, a TWS member and senior curator at the museum. “The golden eagle really is an icon of the open spaces of North America,” Preston said. Preston set out to gather data on golden eagle populations in Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin. He found the bird’s reproduction fluctuated each year — changes that appeared to be tied to the rising and falling of its chief prey base, desert cottontails (Sylvilagus audubonii). “The pattern is clear,” Preston said. “When cottontails decline, so does golden eagle reproduction.” But Preston decided he didn’t just want to record and publish the data in scientific journals. He also wanted to use golden eagles to inspire the public to recognize the uniqueness [...]

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  20. Most piping plover (Charadrius melodus) research focuses on disturbances during their breeding season, but researchers recently found anthropogenic disturbances can also have consequences for the shorebirds where they overwinter. “The nonbreeding season is a very important part of the piping plover lifecycle, and disturbances that they face during this season can really have population-level consequences,” said Daniel Gibson, a postdoctoral researcher at Virginia Tech and lead author of the recent study published in The Condor: Ornithological Applications. Gibson’s project began when his colleagues were studying piping plovers after the Deepwater Horizon spill. They picked an area in Georgia as a control site to compare plovers inside and outside of the spill area. By happenstance, Georgia had a major cold weather event that changed the course of the study. “In January and February 2011, people in the field noticed a 50 percent reduction in survival over a two-week period,” he said. “Our control site had less survivability than the Deepwater Horizon sites.” This led Gibson and his colleagues to look at piping plovers on their nonbreeding grounds and the environmental factors that may affect them. In North and South Carolina and Georgia, they also began noticing variation in the amounts of [...]

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  21. Hundreds of least tern chicks may have been killed at a shoal on Alabama’s Mobile Bay earlier this summer after beachgoers arrived at a breeding ground, scaring adults from their nests and using their eggs to decorate the sand, the New York Times reports. Biologists said they confirmed only 85 fledglings out of 1,400 birds at the site in August. “That’s an astronomical loss for reproductive output for the species,” Katie Barnes, a senior biologist at Birmingham Audubon, told the Times. Audubon members who investigated said they found a volleyball net at the site and 26 eggs placed in a circle, including some that were in the process of hatching. Read more in the New York Times.

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  22. The Environment and Climate Change Canada’s (ECCC) Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) has released a report of recent changes to the country’s Migratory Bird Regulations for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons. The ECCC manages migratory game birds under the Migratory Bird Convention Act, a complement to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States. The Canadian regulatory process requires proposals for hunting regulations to be finalized by the end of February and passed into law in June, with reports of the changes released in July. The changes vary between provinces, but one of the most common adjustments are increases to the daily bag limits for American black ducks (Anas rupripes). This species is managed under the American Black Duck International Harvest Strategy, an agreement between CWS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that was adopted in 2012. A “liberal” management regime was adopted across most areas, which allows for a 30 percent increase in harvest limits over the 1997-2010 mean levels. The liberal strategy will also be implemented for the 2019-2020 season in several provinces. In Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick the daily bag limit was increased to six black ducks for most [...]

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  23. In a memo to the U.S. Border Patrol, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has warned that building a border wall through Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park could force it to close. The Texas Tribune reports that an October 2017 memo warns the proposed wall “would certainly call into question whether TPWD could continue to safely operate the property as a state park, and thereby possibly causing the site to revert back to the original Grantors’ heirs.” The park, which was sold for $1 to the state in 1944 by the family of the late U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, is a top birdwatching destination. Read more in the Texas Tribune.


  24. Insectivorous birds, which make up more than 6,000 species around the world, use as much energy as a megacity the size of New York, according to new research. In a study published in The Science of Nature, researchers found the birds consume 400 to 500 million tons of prey annually. They also found when all insectivorous birds are put together, they weigh a total of around 3 million tons. Based on the amount of prey they consume annually, the team found the birds consume about the same amount of energy as New York, which has a value of about 2.8 exajoules. Scientists say these birds are important and contribute to natural insect pest suppression. Read more in Science Daily.

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  25. If you can’t save all the endangered species in the world, which ones do you choose? It’s not an easy question for conservationists, but they do have a way to answer it: choose species with the most diverse traits. To do that, they’ve relied on picking species with diverse genetic lineages. But that’s taking a chance — a “phylogenetic gambit” that diversity in evolutionary history, or phylogenic diversity, translates to diversity in traits, or functional diversity. Does that gambit pay off? “It’s a risky proxy,” said Florent Mazel, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia and lead author on a study in Nature Communications looking at how well phylogenic diversity stands in for functional diversity. The idea can get abstract, but its core is simple. If you have, say, a mouse, a rat and an elephant, Mazel said, and you can only save two of them, which two do you save? Well, the elephant is a given, because its traits are so distinct from the mouse and the rat. “When we talk about maximizing diversity, it’s about taking species far apart on the tree of life,” he said. He and a group of colleagues from Canada, the United States, [...]

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