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Cara J

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Everything posted by Cara J

  1. For the first time, biologists noted American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) touching, attacking and attempting to mate with dead crows. Kaeli Swift, a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington, discovered this while showing one of her experiments to a film crew where she left a stuffed taxidermy crow on the ground. She was surprised to see a nearby crow attempting mating with the dead crow. Previous research showed crows sense danger when they see dead crows on the ground, but this new finding adds a twist, researchers say. They think the odd behavior may be caused by hormonal fluctuations that cause some crows confusion when responding to stimuli. Read about this in the New York Times or read the study here in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. View the full article
  2. Northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) face plenty of external threats, including habitat loss, deforestation and competition from invasive barred owls (Strix varia). They also face threats from inbreeding, according to new research. “A lot of research has gone into studying northern spotted owl dispersal and looking at effects of barred owls and deforestation,” said Mark Miller, a statistician with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center. “All of these things have had an impact on owls. One thing that’s important but is not known about is the extent that inbreeding is occurring in northern spotted owls. We took this up as a challenge. How we could quantify inbreeding rates in northern spotted owls?” In a study published in the Auk: Ornithological Advances, lead author Miller and his colleagues developed northern spotted owl pedigrees for almost 14,200 owls that had been collected over 30 years, using a method they developed and described in a 2017 Journal of Heredity in 2017 paper. “We need to know the parents, the grandparents and even the great-grandparents,” Miller said. “These data are not often available. There are ways to account for missing information to figure out how common inbreeding is.” The [...] View the full article
  3. Biodiversity in tropical ecosystems throughout the world face dramatic declines, unless drastic measures are taken, according to a new study. These declines are due to climate change, habitat loss, pollution, overfishing, hunting and other human impacts. The researchers said exploitation by industrialized countries plays an improtant role. With the tropics including almost all shallow-water corals and over 90 percent of terrestrial birds, scientists say if actions aren’t taken, the ecosystems will face a large biodiversity loss. In a study published in Nature, scientists call for a multinational effort to protect and preserve biodiversity in the tropics. Read the study here. View the full article
  4. A continuous border wall between the United States and Mexico would cause trouble for the biodiversity of 1,506 native terrestrial and freshwater animal and plant species that use the border region as habitat, according to a new paper in Bioscience. Sixty-two of those species are listed as critically endangered or vulnerable. In the paper, scientists outline the wall’s impact on biodiversity, including not adhering to environmental laws, eliminating and fragmenting animal and plant populations and habitats and devaluing binational research and conservation investments. They suggest surveys for at-risk species, habitats and ecological resources before construction and call for facilitating scientific research at the border. So far, over 2,500 scientists from 43 countries have endorsed the paper. Read more in Newsweek, and read the Bioscience paper here. View the full article
  5. As climate change impacts ecosystems around the world, wildlife managers are expecting to see many species leave their current ranges for new areas better suited to them. But where are those new refuges? How will the animals get there? And what can managers do to help give them safe passage? To try to answer those questions, researchers used computing methods to map North American “climate corridors” leading from current climate types to where those climates will occur in the future. It’s the first time scientists have ever mapped climate connectivity over an entire continent, said Carlos Carroll, a researcher at the Klamath Center for Conservation Research and lead author on the study published in Global Change Biology. “Many organisms will not be able to persist in refugia if climate changes past a certain threshold,” Carroll said. “They’re going to have to shift.” Researchers found they’ll generally follow routes along passes and valley systems that trend in a north-south direction, and they’ll seek the drier, leeward slopes of mountain ranges. These paths don’t necessarily follow a straight line, Carroll found. Because species often seek out specific conditions, some are likely to follow a circuitous route to find them. “If you were [...] View the full article
  6. The Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works held a hearing on July 17 to discuss the draft language of the Endangered Species Act Amendments of 2018, a bill forwarded by Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyoming. “Stakeholders are making it clear that the Endangered Species Act can be improved,” Barrasso said in his opening statement. Barrasso’s bill would increase the role of states in the management of threatened and endangered species. It would require federal officials to give extra consideration to state data during listing decisions, require the number of federal representatives on a recovery team to be equal or less than the number of state or local representatives and require the Interior secretary to solicit annual state feedback on federal employees’ performances. “In my view, states are the leaders in terms of species conservation,” said Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican and chairman of the Western Governors Association. Barrasso’s draft bill was largely drawn from recommendations from the WGA. Although the original WGA report was a bipartisan efforts, many Democratic Western governors have not openly endorsed Barrasso’s bill because of some alterations made in the language. Ranking member Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Delaware, said that although the ESA could probably [...] View the full article
  7. For decades now, scientists have been trying to understand the implications of climate change for species around the world. But climate change isn’t the only major environmental transformation being driven by humans. Land use changes are also impacting ecosystems that wildlife relies on across the planet. What happens when these two forces combine? New research suggests that together, climate change and land use change could wipe out a large portion of terrestrial vertebrate species in ecological communities over the next several decades. “When I looked at the combined effects of climate and land use, predictions of change were very high losses of biodiversity,” said Tim Newbold, the author on the study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. A research fellow with the United Kingdom’s University College London, Newbold used maps that conservatively estimated present and future land uses, such as cultivation, livestock grazing and human habitation. He complemented those maps with climate forecasts and analyzed tens of thousands of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians under four carbon emission scenarios of varying severity projected out to 2070. Land use change has already brought about the loss of 11 percent of vertebrate species from the average community, Newbold found, but [...] View the full article
  8. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is asking the Bureau of Land Management to remove greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) habitat from a planned oil and gas lease sale. The Dec. 6 sale includes 227 parcels — covering 236,000 acres — for oil and gas leasing in the state. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said almost half of that acreage has been identified by the BLM as sage-grouse habitat. He also expressed concern that the BLM has proposed significant changes to sage-grouse conservation plans in Colorado and other Western states. Read Hickenlooper’s letter here, and read the story in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel here. View the full article
  9. A new effort in Washington, D.C. has an ambitious goal: count all the cats in the city. That includes feral cats, which roam the streets and prey on wildlife, as well as pets. “We tend to forget that they don’t actually belong in our yards and parks,” Clare Nielsen, a spokeswoman for the American Bird Conservancy, told the New York Times. “They are not part of our native wildlife, and they kill more birds than any other direct human-caused threat — more than 2 billion each year in the U.S.” The $1.5 million project will include 60 camera traps, infrared sensors and a smartphone app. A conservation biologist who studies cat populations will analyze the data. Read the full New York Times story here. View the full article
  10. Rather than using their historical migratory stopovers, Barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) have begun making nonstop journeys from the Netherlands to their Arctic breeding grounds. Scientists say the reason is climate change. In a study published in Current Biology, researchers tracked female barnacle geese traveling in the spring from the North Sea coast where they winter to the Russian Arctic where they nest. The birds had been known to use stopover sites along the Baltic and Barents seas along their migration journey. But with a warming climate, researchers were curious about how their journeys may be impacted. “The climate is warming so rapidly in the Arctic, much more rapidly than anywhere else in the world,” said Bart Nolet, a professor at the University of Amsterdam and a researcher at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology who was senior author of the study. “This means the birds face difficulty in tracking those changes.” Nolet and his colleagues already noted anecdotally that the birds stopped using a particular stopover site in the Baltic region in the past 20 to 25 years. That showed them that the birds are capable of changing their migrating behavior. Nolet and his colleagues used GPS tracking, remote sensing, stable [...] View the full article
  11. Despite the controversy that continues to swirl around the Endangered Species Act, including the proposal by the Interior Department to embark on a major set of revisions, most Americans support the 45-year-old law, according to a recent study. About four in five Americans support the act and only one in 10 oppose it, according to a study published in Conservation Letters. The study looked at support for the ESA, trust in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and attitudes toward gray wolves (Canis lupus). “In contrast to the often-repeated statement that the Act is controversial, these data suggest that support for the law among the general population is robust and has remained so for at least two decades,” lead author Jeremy T. Bruskotter, of the Ohio State University, wrote on The Conversation. His team concluded that even protecting controversial predators like wolves “does not weaken support for protective legislation.” View the full article
  12. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks held a hearing on July 11 to discuss the Restore Our Parks Act (S. 3172). The bill currently has 11 cosponsors, nine of which announced their support just before or after the hearing. “This would be the most significant piece of legislation in support of the national parks in over half a century,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, one of the original co-sponsors of the Restore Our Parks Act. The National Park Service currently has about $11.6 billion dollars in deferred maintenance projects across the country. Projects include everything from repairing roads, replacing outdated plumbing and restoring historic buildings. Congress and previous administrations have tried to address the backlog before, but the problem has continued to grow. The new bill combines elements of the National Park Service Legacy Act (S. 751) and the National Park Restoration Act (S. 2509). It would authorize up to $1.3 billion a year until 2023 to be put into a new National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund in order to address maintenance projects. Lena McDowall, deputy director of management and administration, said the money would come from 50 percent of the nonobligated revenue from federal [...] View the full article
  13. Registration for The Wildlife Society’s 25th Annual Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, is now open! Visit twsconference.org for details, or register now by logging in to Your Membership and clicking on the Conference tab. The opening plenary at this year’s TWS Annual Conference will highlight snow leopards, Kirkland’s warblers and river otters to chronicle North America’s conservation successes in recent decades. TWS President John McDonald’s plenary theme urges wildlife professionals to appreciate and learn from the success conservation work has achieved over the years. It’s vital, he argues, that recognizing and sustaining this success continues to inspire wildlife professionals and the general public. Abstract The challenges facing the conservation of wildlife and their habitats can be daunting and provide the impetus for much of the research we undertake and the management actions we prescribe and implement. They also dominate our policy discussions, and of course, conference themes. Research into the life histories and population dynamics of wildlife species, their habitat associations, and human-wildlife interactions have formed the basis for many successful management programs restoring species through concerted efforts to apply science to conservation, both in North America and beyond. The policy discussions have led to the implementation of laws, regulations, and management plans designed to overcome [...] View the full article
  14. The bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (S. 3223) was introduced in the Senate on Tuesday by Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, and cosponsored by Senators Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia; Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, and Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee. The bill would provide up to $1.3 billion annually in appropriated funds for state fish and wildlife agencies to support the implementation of state wildlife action plans. SWAPs identify species at risk of becoming threatened or endangered, known as species of greatest conservation need, and detail proactive plans to reduce population declines in an effort to prevent the need to list them under the Endangered Species Act. These appropriated funds would come from existing onshore and offshore energy and mineral production revenues already collected by the federal government at $5 billion to $12 billion annually. Unlike the House version (H.R. 4647) of this legislation introduced in December by Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Nebraska, the Senate version would require Congressional approval on the amount of funding state agencies can receive each year. By contrast, the House version would provide $1.3 billion in dedicated funding every year in order to provide state agencies with certainty in planning multiyear conservation efforts. The House version [...] View the full article
  15. A community on Maryland’s Eastern Shore contracted with the USDA Wildlife Services to eliminate 290 Canada geese (Branta canadensis) that were endangering water quality. Since 2014, Ocean Pines has attempted to deter the geese from its ponds and roads by using a deterrent called Flight Control and by not mowing areas around lakes and ponds, but the nonlethal efforts didn’t work, the Salisbury Daily Times reported. An Ocean Pines official said the geese were causing “unacceptable levels of feces in the water and recreation areas of the community.” The geese were donated to the Maryland Food Bank. Read the full story here. View the full article
  16. Like Goldilocks, birds prefer it just right when it comes to severity and time after wildfires, researchers found. Some like it hot. Some not so much. To accommodate a diversity of bird species, authors on a recent paper suggest managers in the Sierra Nevadas maintain a mix of fire severity. In a study published in Ecosphere, researchers studied bird patterns in the Sierra Nevada following three wildfires beginning in 2000. “For the most part, the focus on fires has been on single species — basically black-backed woodpeckers,” said Ryan Burnett, the Sierra Nevada Director with Point Blue Conservation and second author on the study. The impact on these birds (Picoides arcticus) was important, but Burnett wanted to look at broader impacts to the avian community. Examining national forest lands where several large wildfires burned, Burnett and his colleagues randomly selected locations and sampled habitat availability on the landscape. Then, they used point counts to detect which bird species were using the habitat after it burned as well as nearby unburned sites. “The initial finding was that many species reach greatest density after fire, especially after high severity,” Burnett said. “It’s clearly very important habitat.” But the team also found that [...] View the full article
  17. In western Canada, it’s not unusual to find structures built to help wildlife cross busy highways. But in Ontario, where the wildlife tends to be smaller but the urban populations are bigger, they’re not so common. The result may be thousands of wildlife-vehicle collisions that could be prevented, millions of dollars that could be saved and wildlife — and human — deaths that could be prevented. That’s the conclusion of a paper published in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, which looked at why more mechanisms aren’t put in place in southern Ontario, which has the highest concentration of roads in Canada. “The cost of them is relatively low compared to the societal cost of collisions in general,” said Kristin Elton, who completed the research as part of her master’s thesis in urban and environmental planning at the University of Waterloo. Elton looked at why more strategies like signage, wildlife detection systems, fencing and wildlife crossings weren’t implemented on southern Ontario’s roadways. Using a project management approach, she tried to understand why some are successfully implemented while others aren’t. Cost was sometimes an issue, she found, but more often there were human factors. Sometimes it was a lack of [...] View the full article
  18. As temperatures rise and the Arctic climate becomes more unpredictable, birds could be following the shifting spring and showing up to nest off schedule. Researchers recently developed machine learning approaches to analyze sound recordings to estimate when songbirds will arrive for the breeding season. They hope the technology can also be harnessed to assess climate change’s effects on other wildlife in other places. The techniques did a good job of replicating the work of humans on the ground, said Ruth Oliver, first author on the study published in Science Advances. “Deploying them in the future would be important for understanding how climate change might be impacting the timing of bird arrival on breeding grounds,” she said. The timing has implications for the birds’ reproductive success and population, she said. This new approach “could help us tease out” which environmental conditions most affect changes in their timing. A graduate student at Columbia University, Oliver and her colleagues aimed to investigate how increasing variability in the onset of the Arctic spring related to when migratory songbirds flew in to reproduce. They worked with 1,200 hours of vocalizations by many songbird species, including Gambel’s white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) and Lapland longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus), [...] View the full article
  19. Last year, wildlife biologist Dan Strickland searched documents in the Smithsonian Institute basement to determine how the Canada jay (Perisoreus canadensis) became renamed the gray jay. In an effort to reinstate popular common names for birds 60 years ago, he found, the American Ornithologists’ Union Checklist Committee had no valid reason for taking “gray jay,” then the name of an obscure west coast subspecies, and imposing it as a new overall species name for this iconic Canadian bird, rather than continuing with “Canada jay” the traditional name that was then at least 185 years old. Recently, Strickland and colleagues successfully petitioned what is now known as the North American Classification Committee to restore the old name. That’s good news for a team of Canadian biologists fighting for the jay to become Canada’s national bird. “Birds have become very important to society,” said David Bird, an emeritus professor of wildlife biology at McGill University in Montreal. “Today, millions of North Americans love feeding them and watching them. Birds feed us, they clothe us, they act as environmental barometers, and they also stimulate us in a cultural sense.” Bird has come up with a list of 17 reasons why the Canada jay should [...] View the full article
  20. What’s killing the curlews? Mostly poachers, according to Boise State University researchers. Long-billed curlews (Numenius americanus) nest in the mountain West, but biologists found their population in southwest Idaho was falling. Researchers fitted 16 birds with transmitters and found seven had been killed by suspected poachers, according to the Idaho Statesman. That wasn’t true, however, in other parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, where no birds had been poached. Read more in the Idaho Statesman here. View the full article
  21. In recent weeks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife has posted three wildlife-related notices in the Federal Register and are accepting public comments and information submissions. Bald and Golden Eagle Collision Risk Models The first of these opportunities relates to a collision risk model for bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) at wind energy facilities. The model’s estimates are used to inform incidental take permit allowances for the eagles, which are protected under both the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In previous years, USFWS used golden eagle data as a proxy to estimate bald eagle collisions because bald eagle-specific data was not available. Recently, the Service was able to update their data for golden eagles and gather new data specific to bald eagles. “The Service acknowledges, however, that the bald eagle collision prior [data] is based on data from relatively few sites that do not span the range of bald eagle density conditions that exist across the country, and therefore may not be representative of all locations,” the USFWS wrote in the notice. Acknowledging these limitations, the USFWS presented three alternatives for incorporating the new data into the CRM, each with varying [...] View the full article
  22. The U.S. Forest Service has followed the example set by the Bureau of Land Management by releasing a supplemental notice of intent to draft environmental impact statements for potential amendments to the Forest Service Greater Sage-Grouse and Resource Management Plans. National forests in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado would be affected. A collection of complementary management plans put in place by federal agencies, states and private landowners influenced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2015 decision not to list the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) under the Endangered Species Act. The USFWS determined that the combined efforts would be enough to help recover and protect the species and its sagebrush habitat without a federal listing. In June 2017, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued a secretarial order instructing agencies in the Department of the Interior to revisit the plans, particularly to assess the local economic impacts and consider resource and energy development in sage-grouse habitat. Zinke’s order emphasized the need for DOI agencies to coordinate with the USFS and state partners during the process. The Wildlife Society and other organizations expressed concern that any major changes to the plans could threaten the carefully crafted agreements that underpinned FWS’s decision not to [...] View the full article
  23. Many bird populations include perplexing young males who choose not to settle down and breed. Instead, they “float” through the breeding season without a territory. But this unattached approach may benefit birds in tough times. Biologists examining imperiled southwestern willow flycatchers (Empidonax traillii extimus) in Arizona recently found that these “floaters” survive and reproduce more than breeding birds in the aftermath of major drought. “Floaters tend to move around not showing territorial behaviors, so they’re hard to study,” said Tad Theimer, lead author on the paper published in The Auk: Ornithological Advances. “We were setting up nets throughout the year and would catch these birds we never saw acting territorially, so we knew they were in the habitat but weren’t breeding. That gave us the opportunity to get a window on this little-known secretive ‘underworld’ of bird society.” Listed as endangered in 1995, southwestern willow flycatchers inhabit rare riverine forests that are disappearing due to activities like damming and farming. In a cooperative study between the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Geological Survey and Arizona Game and Fish Department, researchers set up study areas near central Arizona’s Roosevelt Reservoir and the San Pedro and Gila rivers, where they caught 1,000 flycatchers [...] View the full article
  24. The House Natural Resources Committee met in Alpena, Michigan for a field hearing on double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) management. Cormorants are migratory birds and are therefore regulated under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. However, recreational and commercial fishermen around the Great Lakes say growing populations have negatively impacted local fisheries. Previously, managers were allowed to use lethal force to reduce the bird population in the Great Lakes. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service extended the Public Resource Depredation Order for five years. In 2016, a federal judge vacated the order, saying it violated the National Environmental Policy Act, and ordered the USFWS to complete a new environmental assessment. Soon after the assessment was released in November 2017, Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Michigan, introduced a bill (H.R. 4429) that would direct the Interior secretary to reissue the depredation order. “Without the ability to effectively manage cormorant populations the livelihood of our recreational and commercial fishing industries is seriously threatened,” Bergman said during the hearing. “These industries are critical to our local economies.” Tom Cooper, the USFWS Migratory Bird Program Chief for the Midwest Region, said that the 2017 assessment did not address the effects of cormorants on free-swimming fish due [...] View the full article
  25. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recognized three staff members for their extraordinary work by awarding them the Service’s 2017 Science Awards. The Science Awards were established to recognize that effective wildlife management and conservation is founded on innovative scientific inquiry and principles. They are awarded to recognize the outstanding efforts of the agency’s scientists and technical staff. Biometrician Matthew Butler received the 2017 Rachel Carson Award for Exemplary Scientific Accomplishment, which recognizes scientific excellence through the rigorous practice of science applied to a conservation problem. He received the award for his work for whooping cranes and lesser prairie-chickens, helping ensure that the most appropriate, best available, high-quality scientific and scholarly information is available to advance stewardship for these species. Butler led the development of an improved and peer-reviewed survey protocol for whooping cranes. He also conducted a population viability analysis, determined that juvenile recruitment most His contributions are steering management toward habitat protection along the Texas Gulf Coast and refocusing research toward understanding the declines of whooping crane recruitment on breeding areas in Canada. For lesser prairie-chickens, Butler led a team that developed aerial survey techniques that have provided population estimates, new lek locations and areas to target [...] View the full article
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