Monday, April 04, 2005

Rounding up endangered species

Kentucky coffee tree
Fish, birds rare to Florida appearing around St. Augustine: South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
In the past few months, fish and bird species have been occurring in places they're not normally found. These transients aren't arriving in huge numbers, just an oddity here and there -- an Arctic bird off St. Augustine Beach, an armored catfish usually in South America found in the Indian River Lagoon, spiny dogfish normally farther north found in Ponce de Leon Inlet.

"Something's going on in the North Atlantic," said Chuck Hunter, an Atlanta-based refuge biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But there isn't one explanation to account for the unusual sightings, bird and fish experts say. Some attribute them to the hurricanes while others point the finger at a cold-water phenomenon that started in 2003.
It could be anything, maybe even nothing. Arctic species might be getting confused by global warming, or we could be getting better at noticing things out of place.

Alaska's Studied Wolf Pack Threatened (

For nearly 40 years, he has been observing a family of wolves, whose current leader was the lethargic alpha male down below him in the snow.

That family, which lives in Denali National Park and is often described as the longest-studied, most-photographed group of wolves in the world, is now at risk. In the past two months, trappers operating just outside the park's northeastern border have picked off two senior females in the 11-member group. For weeks, the alpha male and his new mate have been separated from each other and from six younger members of the pack.

"It's so senseless," Haber shouted over the aircraft noise. "I'm not sure what is worse: the animals being killed or all the so-called experts allowing it to happen."

The demise of this family of wolves, known to tens of thousands of park visitors as the Toklat group, would end a unique stream of longitudinal research. For nearly six decades, Haber and other scientists have chronicled the hunting techniques, mating habits and social interdependence of generations of a geographically stable group of wolves.

Trapping the Toklat wolves also raises questions about the ethical treatment of animals that for decades have been cosseted inside a park, where they have been regarded as prime tourist attractions and have learned to associate people with harmless curiosity -- not with the slow, lethal torment of a trap.

At the urging of wildlife preservation and animal rights groups in the lower 48, three Democratic senators -- Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Carl M. Levin (Mich.) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.) -- wrote last Monday to Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, citing a "biological emergency" and imploring her to take immediate steps to save the Toklat family.
Wolves in the lower 48 are making a gradual recovery, and it would be awful if the Alaskan populations, which were never in great danger, started heading the wrong way.

Via the Kauai Garden Island News:
During the weekend of March 11, eight nene, including three adult female birds, were killed by a dog or dogs on the Crater Hill side of the refuge, refuge officials said.

The killings take away from successful, governmental preservation programs that have helped bring the nene back from near-extinction in Hawai‘i, indicated Brenda Zaun, a wildlife biologist with the Kauai National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The nene numbered only about 30 in Hawai‘i in the 1950s. Today, the statewide population of the nene is estimated at around 1,300, half of which are found on Kaua‘i.
This is a remarkably successful program that saved the state bird of Hawaii. It'd be a shame if feral dogs undermined it.

Judge voids Fish and Wildlife Service's approval of Montana mine -
A proposed copper and silver mine challenged by environmental groups - and by jeweler Tiffany & Co. - has been sidelined by a judge who found federal officials gave approval without adequately considering potential harm to imperiled bears and fish.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy said that in analyzing the Montana mining proposal of Revett Silver Co., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inadequately weighed the possible effects on grizzly bears and bull trout, both protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Revett proposed developing the Rock Creek mine beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area in northwestern Montana. In a full-page advertisement last year in The Washington Post, New York's Tiffany demanded the federal government reject the mine and change the nation's mining law written nearly 135 years ago. …

“Mining copper and silver is important, but there are places to do it, and as Tiffany pointed out, this isn't one of them.”

In its ad, the jeweler said the mine area is more valuable as a place for wildlife than for mineral extraction. The trade group Jewelers of America said last year the industry already had begun demanding that raw materials come from mining companies friendly to the environment. …

In Trout Creek, resident Peter Lupsha said Molloy ruled on behalf of a “paradise” where Theodore Roosevelt hunted mountain goats a century ago.

“The price of metals may go up, but the price of (clean) water and the price of an ecosystem that is balanced will always be more precious than gold,” said Lupsha, who moved to Montana after retiring from the University of New Mexico faculty.
It's nice to see jewelry sellers concerned about the sources of their products, though I doubt their motives are pure. Where Eagles Dare:

For years, bald eagles have been dining here on small white cats and small white dogs, according to Ralph Broshes, a local veterinarian who for 30 years has been on call when the raptors run amok. (He believes bald eagles see white, small and furry -- and think rabbit.) He said the birds periodically fly into cars, electrocute themselves on power lines, get tangled up in fences, gouge each other's eyes out and make themselves sick from gorging on toxic garbage at the Homer dump.

Bald eagles are fearsomely big -- as large as 12 pounds, with wingspans of up to seven feet and talons that can rip through a human wrist -- and their copious droppings are fearsomely stinky. Out at the end of the Homer Spit, the stench can be breathtaking.

Not surprisingly, there is a grass-roots movement in Homer to do something about bald eagles. One of the movement's leaders is Edgar Bailey, a retired wildlife biologist who used to welcome sandhill cranes and other waterfowl to ponds surrounding his home on a bluff above Homer -- until the eagles slaughtered some of the cranes and scared off the other birds.

"We are turning our national bird into a dumpster diver," complained Bailey, who insisted that his position on the issue is "not just a NIMBY [not in my backyard] thing."

The cure for Homer's winter of big-bird discontent would be simple: Stop feeding the eagles.

For nearly three decades, bald eagles across south-central Alaska have gotten wise to the daily fish handouts that are available on the Homer Spit between late December and April. Without having to fuss with hunting, without having to worry about freezing to death, between 300 and 650 bald eagles have been able to count on large helpings of semi-frozen herring, halibut and salmon that each winter weigh in at between 50,000 and 70,000 pounds, depending on how many eagles decide to hang out in Homer.
The story, of course, is more complicated. This is the other side of the success story. The eagles have recovered enough to be a nuisance again. Oddly enough, that's a good sign.

U.S. plan could preserve vermilion darter:
The federal government is expected to approve a plan this summer that could improve the chances of survival for Turkey Creek's endangered vermilion darter. It's a plan biologists believe may be the last hope for the tiny fish.

The darter is a minnow about an inch and a half long named for its brightly colored markings. Discovered about 15 years ago, its only known habitat is the headwaters of Turkey Creek in the Pinson area.

The darter proved to be a major weapon in the successful fight against construction of a state prison near the creek in the late 1990s.

The vermilion darter was placed on the endangered species list in 2001. Two years ago, a six-month census of the fish led to a plan to help the creek again be a habitat that would allow the darter to thrive.
Development along the streams is the major problem facing the fish. The new plan will help the fish recover.

AIBS: Press Release: Endangered Species Act provisions appear to benefit imperiled organisms:

An analysis of the conservation status of 1095 species that have been protected under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) indicates that those that have been given more protection under the act are more likely to be improving in status and less likely to be declining than species given less protection. The study, "The Effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act: A Quantitative Analysis," by Martin F. J. Taylor, Kieran F. Suckling, and Jeffrey J. Rachlinski, affirms the effectiveness of some controversial aspects of the act for conservation. The results could inform various efforts now under way in Congress to amend the act.

The study finds that the longer species were listed under the act, the more likely they were to be improving in status and the less likely to be declining, suggesting ESA conservation measures act cumulatively over time. Separately, species for which "critical habitat" had been designated for two or more years appeared more likely to be improving and less likely to be declining than species that did not have critical habitat for at least two years. Likewise, species that had recovery plans for two or more years appeared more likely to be improving and less likely to be declining than others, and species with dedicated recovery plans appeared to fare better than species protected by multi-species recovery plans. Other protections afforded by the ESA, such as protection of individual animals from unregulated "take," also had apparently beneficial effects on species' conservation status. The benefits of ESA protections did not appear to favor animals over plants. Taylor and his coauthors urge that the $153 million estimated cost to complete work on the backlog of ESA listings and critical habitat designations be fully funded, and endorse a recommendation that the recovery program budget be increased by $300 million.
These findings are fairly obvious, though various Congresscritters will be shocked to learn that the Act is actually saving species, albeit slowly. In particular, the findings on critical habitat are interesting given TfK's long running concern for endangered habitat.

More later.

Sleeping in the Flowers

” by

They Might Be Giants

from the album

John Henry

(1994, 4:30).