Monthly Archives: June 2008

Nature Conservancy of Canada to protect rare and endangered species habitat

THE TELEGRAM –

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) announced today it will protect 19 acres of rare and endangered species habitat on Sandy Point Island, St. George’s Bay.
This makes a total of 54 acres of land in the area being protected by the NCC. The NCC says the area is quickly being reclaimed by nature. The sand dunes and salt marshes in the area are uncommon to the province.
The area is being protected as part of NCC’s seventh annual “Gifts to Canadians” celebrations. The conversancy is presenting 10 “gifts” across the country, providing habitat for rare or endangered species. NCC develops stewardship plans for the land to ensure the site’s natural integrity is maintained and protected.
On hand for the announcement at Memorial University’s Botanical Gardens were Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie and provincial Conservation and Resources Minister Charlene Johnson.

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Poachers kill last four wild northern white rhinos

TIMESONLINE – LEWIS SMITH

The last four northern white rhinoceros remaining in the wild are feared to have been killed for their horns by poachers and are now believed to be extinct in the wild. Only a few are left in captivity but they are difficult to breed and the number is so low that the species is regarded as biologically unviable.

The outlook for other types of rhino, including the endangered African black rhino, was more optimistic yesterday however. Figures released by the IUCN, the international conservation body that assesses threats to wildlife, showed that the number of wild rhinos had increased to its highest level for decades.

The northern white rhino, Ceratotherium simum cottoni, has been struggling for suvival since the 1970s, when numbers dropped from about 500 to 15. A slight recovery was recorded in 2003 when 30 were counted but by 2006 only four were left. All of them were recorded in the Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo but war and civil unrest in the region has led to an increase in poachers.

“Worryingly, recent fieldwork has so far failed to find any presence of these four remaining rhinos,” Dr Martin Brooks, a rhino specialist with the IUCN, said. “Unless animals are found during the intensive surveys that are planned under the direction of the African Parks Foundation the subspecies may be doomed to extinction.”

The southern white rhino, Ceratotherium simum simum, is doing better than its northern counterpart – its numbers have risen from 14,540 in 2005 to 17,480 in 2007.

Conservationists were relieved at the figures for the African black rhino, Diceros bicornis. Recorded numbers rose from 3,730 in 2005 to 4,180 in 2007. Its prospects have been helped by the establishment of several groups, such as the one in North Luangwa National Park, Zambia.

“This is fantastic news for the African black rhino,” said Dr Richard Emslie, of the IUCN species survival commission’s African rhino specialist group. “However, these magnificent creatures are not out of the woods yet. They are still classed as critically endangered and face increasing threats of poaching and civil unrest. There is no room for complacency.”

Most African black rhino are found in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Kenya but increasingly they are being found in neighbouring countries as the animals expand their range. Of the four countries, only Zimbabwe experienced a fall in the rhino population since 2005.

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UW scientist: Sea level changes a driving force in mass extinctions

ANITA WIER – THE CAPITAL TIMES

Watch out for the oceans.

That’s the lesson of an extensive study by University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor Shanan Peters published June 15 in the journal Nature.

Peters looked at data gathered by scientists over many years and analyzed what they found at about 600 locations all over the continental United States and Alaska, going back more than 500 million years.

Changes in ocean environments related to sea level exert a driving influence on rates of extinction, which animals and plants survive or vanish, and the composition of life in the ocean, he found.

“This breakthrough speaks loudly to the future impending modern (oceanic) shelf destruction due to climate change on earth,” said National Science Foundation program manager Rich Lane.

No matter what the cause of the ebb and flow of the oceans in various eras, the repeated and resultant extinctions must be considered, Lane said.

Scientists say there may have been as many as 23 mass extinction events over the last 3.5 billion years on earth, many involving simple forms of life such as single-celled microorganisms.

Over the past 540 million years, there have been five well-documented mass extinctions, primarily of maritime plants and animals, with as many as 75-95 percent of species lost.

For the most part, scientists have been unable to pin down the causes of the dramatic events, though in the case of the demise of the dinosaurs, they suspect that a large asteroid crashed into the planet.

“Impacts, for the most part, aren’t associated with most extinctions,” Peters said in an interview. “There have also been studies of volcanism, and some eruptions correspond to extinction, but many do not.”

So the assistant professor of geology and geophysics looked at sea levels by reviewing previous studies of the geological record, which show a clear difference in composition of the earth when it is covered by the sea and when it is not.

He measured two types of marine shelf environments, one where sediments were derived from land erosion and the other composed primarily of calcium carbonate, which is produced in place by shelled organisms and chemical processes.

In the course of hundreds of millions of years the world’s oceans have expanded and contracted in response to movement of the Earth’s crust and changes in climate. There were periods when vast areas of continents, including Wisconsin, were flooded by shallow seas.

“Most of the major extinctions have come when sea levels were high,” Peters explained.

“Anything we can learn about how the physical environment and life has changed in the past will tell us what to expect in the future.”

The sea level has changed dramatically in the past, with each ice age, for instance, and 14,000 years ago there was ice over Madison, he said.

So in respect to climate change, he said, sea level will change whether the climate is warming or cooling.

“The bottom line is that the biosphere is well primed for the type of sea level change we are likely to see as a result of global warming,” Peters said.

“The biggest thing we should worry about is the impact of sea level rise on humans. The scariest part is sea level rise from a human perspective in my opinion, because so many people live close to the sea. The toll will be large.”

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Earth near tipping point, climatologist warns

TIM HARPER – TORONTO STAR

WASHINGTON–James Hansen returned to Capitol Hill a hero yesterday, but certainly not a conquering hero.

The soft-spoken scientist, hailed as the “whistle-blower for the planet,” tried to quiet a standing ovation from environmentalists here with a typically blunt admonition.

“It is not a time to celebrate,” said Hansen, 20 years to the day since he became the first leading scientist to warn of the dangers of global warming before a congressional committee.

He returned not to bask in any adulation, but to warn that the Earth is nearing a tipping point, to call for a national carbon tax and to say that CEOs of energy companies may be guilty of crimes against humanity and nature.

On June 23, 1988, by most accounts, the temperature in the committee room hovered at 38C and the U.S. was in the midst of a historic drought when Hansen told a Senate committee he was “99 per cent certain” that humans were warming the global climate.

His comments brought the issue to American consciousness.

The following day, The New York Times carried an account under the headline:

Global warming has begun, expert tells Senate.

Although global warming alarms had been sounding for more than a decade and Canadian scientists were warning of the greenhouse effect in the early 1980s, Hansen’s testimony seemed to crystallize the concern and provide the first jolt to the mass media in this country.

Two decades later, now 67 and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, his message has not changed.

“We have reached a point of planetary emergency,” he said.

“There are tipping points in the climate system, which we are very close to, and if we pass them, the dynamics of the system take over and carry you to very large changes which are out of your control.”

During a speech at the National Press Club, he rambled, as if his ideas were sprinting well ahead of his words, but he kept an overflow ballroom audience rapt.

Already, he said, the world’s safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide has been exceeded.

Yet, in the 20 years since he first testified, no major U.S. law restricting greenhouse gas emissions has been passed, 21 new coal-fired generating units have been built at power plants in this country and total U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide have climbed by about 18 per cent.

“If there is any single moment that marked the turning point where the climate issue became a serious public policy issue, June 23, 1988, had to be seen as that moment,” said Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute.

“(Yesterday) may mark a second kind of turning point.”

Tim Wirth, the onetime Democratic Colorado senator who organized the hearing that day, said he knew he had made much progress with Hansen’s testimony when a report made the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated.

“It was a brave and lonely leadership role he played then, and he hasn’t stopped one day since,” Wirth said.

Hansen’s second Capitol Hill appearance in 1989 was before a committee chaired by a Tennessee senator named Al Gore, but the White House edited his statement before Gore’s committee, throwing into question his certainty about the link between human activity and global warming.

Hansen was told he could accept the revisions, or he would not be able to testify.

So, in advance of the hearing, he asked Gore to question him on the edited parts, he then revealed the White House edit and the story led all U.S. network newscasts that evening. Hansen then moved out of the political spotlight for 15 years.

Yesterday, Hansen warned of greater forest fire risk in Canada, the extinction of polar and alpine species, danger to the coral reefs and the ocean life that depends on them because of carbon dioxide in the oceans, and refugees from melting ice sheets in Greenland and the western Antarctic.

He called for a phase-out of all coal-burning power plants by 2030 except those in which carbon dioxide is captured and buried and he called for a carbon tax on coal, oil and gas.

The tax, he said, should be returned in full to the public – not used by government – in equal amounts for each adult and a half-share for children, deposited directly into bank accounts or credited to debit cards.

Such a non-regressive tax, Hansen says, will spur low and middle-income people to limit their tax while profligate users will pay for their excesses.

He also accused corporate America of a “greenwash” in which their environmentally friendly words are not backed by actions and he supported criminal charges against CEOs of corporations such as ExxonMobil who are smart enough to know the situation but are intent on continuing their fossil fuel ways.

“When their descendants look back on them, they should not to be able to pretend that they didn’t know,” Hansen said.

“They do know.”

They are also guilty of funding and promoting contrarian views from scientists, furthering a charade that confuses the public into believing there is debate among scientists in this country, Hansen said.

“There is no debate,” he said.

Next year, with a new president, a new direction is desperately needed, Hansen said.

He said a call for offshore drilling, sounded last week both by U.S. President George W. Bush and Republican presumptive nominee John McCain is “crazy.”

“To go around drilling for the last drop of oil on the continental shelf will extend our addiction a little bit, but it will put us past the tipping point,” he said.

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10 most endangered U.S. Wildlife Refuges threatened by politics

WILDLIFE EXTRA

June 2008. US National Wildlife Refuges are supposed to protect wildlife but many refuges themselves threatened, according to a survey of refuge managers and staff by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER.

The overwhelming threat to refuges is political pressure

The overwhelming threat to all refuges, PEER says in its report, is, “political pressure to put the interests of wildlife second.” This attitude permits destructive intrusion onto refuges from industrial activities, such as mining and drilling, as well as off-road vehicle abuse, the PEER report says.

Created by Roosevelt 540 refuges across 50 states

The National Wildlife Refuge System was commissioned by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 when he designated Florida’s Pelican Island as America’s first wildlife refuge. Today the system encompasses more than 540 refuges in all 50 states.

Wildlife refuges are inhabited by more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species, and more than 200 species of fish.

Based upon interviews with refuge staff, PEER identified the 10 most imperiled refuges in the United States.

Most threatened refuge – Arizona

The threatened refuges span the nation from Alaska’s Yukon to the Florida Keys, but the most threatened of all is the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona.

The refuge shares a 56-mile border with Sonora, Mexico. “Failed border policy that pushes migrants to remote areas is a huge problem for refuge protection,” the PEER report states.

The Bush administration is planning to build a 700-mile double fence along the southern border of the United States, dividing the Sonoran desert and the refuge to block human migration routes. They will also impact wildlife.

The Cabeza Prieta refuge is the third largest in the United States. In 1990, over 90 percent of this refuge was designated by Congress as wilderness. To help maintain the wilderness character of the refuge, no vehicle traffic is allowed except on designated roads.

But the land of Cabeza Prieta is still deeply cut by off-road ruts created and used by smugglers and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The desert ecosystem is fragile, and tracks made by vehicles or people can remain for hundreds of years.

“The wall would be a double-edged sword for the refuge,” the PEER report states. “On one hand, it would prevent illegal immigrants, who leave garbage, create fires and abandon vehicles in the refuge that cannot easily be removed, from entering. On the other hand, the wildlife in the refuge know nothing of borders or politics, and the impact on them would be detrimental.”

Roger DiRosa, manager of the Cabeza Prieta NWR, proposes a solution to the border issue – erect vehicle barriers, allowing animals to migrate through but not motorized vehicles.

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

Arizona has two refuges among the 10 most imperiled. The other is the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge – a grassland landscape surrounded by mountains and inhabited by pronghorns and the rare masked bobwhite quail.

Created in 1985, this refuge is increasingly at risk from reckless off-road vehicle use, especially during hunting season from fall until spring, and suffers long-term problems from border walls and militarization, refuge managers and staff told PEER.

Sally Gall, acting refuge manager of Buenos Aires says, “The increase in the use of those vehicles has been incredible. It has become a growing issue for us.”

Low funding prevents the Buenos Aires refuge from hiring enough rangers to stop illegal off-roading. Rangers say they have a hard time dealing with off-road vehicle crimes because they spend a “very high amount, 80-100 percent” of their time on border-related enforcement.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has built border walls on the southern end of the refuge, disrupting wildlife movements. But the border walls “have not stopped illegal immigration,” the PEER report says. “People use rope ladders and simply go over or around the walls.”

“Each of these threatened refuges has a different story, but they all share the peril of politics undermining the mission of wildlife protection,” said Grady Hocutt, a former long-time refuge manager who directs the PEER refuge program. “We hope that by drawing attention to the plight of these wildlife sanctuaries they stand a better chance of surviving the jeopardy they face,” said Hocutt.

Widespread concern

While the 10 refuges profiled by PEER are facing acute threats, there appears to be widespread and growing concern among managers throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System.  A 2007 PEER survey of all refuge managers found that nearly two out of three do not feel the refuge system is meeting its mission.

Poor leadership

A majority of 57 percent of those surveyed lacks “confidence in the current leadership of the Fish and Wildlife Service.” Not a single refuge manager registers strong confidence in agency leadership. “While adequate funding is crucial, refuges absolutely cannot function without leadership support to turn back threats to their very mission,” Hocutt observed. He said, “Refuges are slices of natural habitat vital to wildlife that are especially vulnerable to the major human interferences highlighted in this report.

Recreational use on national wildlife refuges generated almost $1.7 billion in total economic activity during fiscal year 2006. The report, titled “Banking on Nature 2006: The Economic Benefits to Local Communities of National Wildlife Refuge Visitation” was compiled by Service economists.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is “operating on a starvation diet,” PEER concludes. “When challenges such as those profiled in this report arise, it is increasingly unlikely that refuges will have the resources to respond.”

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Extinction threatens Vietnam tigers

VietNamNet Bridge – On the endangered species list since 1960, the country’s tiger population is still falling prey to poachers. The number of wild tigers in Vietnam has dropped to around 100, half the figure less than a decade ago, a recent report released by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) has revealed.

In 1999, the Big Cat Specialist Group reported an estimated 200-300 tigers were living in the country. The animals have already been added to the Viet Nam Red Book of endangered species. According to MARD, the major reason for their dramatic decline is poaching.

Selling wild animals such as tigers is a hugely lucrative business, raking in illegal profits only topped by weapons and heroin dealing, director of the Asian Animal Fund (AAF) Tuan Bedixen says.

Tiger skins, teeth and bones can be readily purchased in major cities. Last year Ha Noi police seized two live tigers and pieces of frozen meat from four tigers as they busted a smuggling ring in the city, one senior officer at Unit 2, says the Environmental Protection Division of the Ha Noi Police. Other rare animals were also discovered in the raid. “This was the first time that live tigers were smuggled through an urban area. It indicates that the perpetrators knew what they were doing and had done it before.”

Later the same year, police found two butchered Indochinese tigers in a freezer in an apartment in Ha Noi’s Thanh Xuan District. One tiger had been cut in half and the other skinned with its meat and bones diced for rendering. Each tiger weighed about 250kg.

But smuggling isn’t the only problem. Illegal tiger breeding is also on the rise across Viet Nam. Although Government policies encourage individuals and organisations to breed and protect rare animals such as tigers, this must be done according to strict guidelines, says Tran The Lien from the Forest Protection Department in Ha Noi.

“Government decisions No 18, 32 and 48 say people can breed wild animals but it’s important that the animals’ genetic origin is clearly stated as well as where the creature was procured,” he says.

Providing genetic information to help breeding wasn’t the only issue, according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The organisation states that the animals’ environment must mimic their natural habitat to ensure they can survive in the wild.

These regulations may be in place, but enforcing them is another matter. A recent report by forestry inspectors revealed that breeders are still not being prosecuted for failure to follow IUCN regulations. The report also raises concerns that these animals are being bred for commercial purposes, not for conservation.

Extensive troubles

Vietnamese tigers are from the Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) species. In the past, they were widely distributed in great numbers across the country’s forests and mountainous areas. Today they are only found in 24 of the 87 established nature reserves and national parks, according to MARD’s Forest Protection Department. But some reserves are quite large, and a comprehensive census is currently underway to establish an accurate count.

Despite falling numbers, the Thua Thien-Hue provincial Forest Department has reported evidence of three or four tigers living in Phong Dien Forest, an area previously feared to be tiger-free.

Nguyen Van Muot and Nguyen Van Mua of the Co Tu ethnic group in Phong My Commune reported that tigers had killed two buffalo in Rot Forest and Ma Canyon in March 2003. Ho Van Bong of the Van Kieu ethnic group also said he had spotted a tiger of at least 100kg drinking water in a stream while he collected honey in the forest. Earlier in the month, a 60kg tiger was seen in the Phong Dien Natural Reserve.

Also in that year, a team of scientists found tiger prints near an animal carcass in the forest’s wet lands. “We are so happy to find evidence to prove the existence of such a rare animal in the area,” one member of the study team says. “But the dry weather hindered our search a lot because it was difficult to find fresh footprints.”

Department Head Hoang Ngoc Khanh says his department will devise a detailed plan to protect the newly-found tiger population. With the support of the World Wildlife Fund, he says, the country will build a web cam system to keep a close eye on the animals to help research them and protect locals from attacks. “Such a system could help us crack down on poachers,” he says.

Red alert

As well as the formal consensus on tiger numbers, MARD’s Forest Protection Department has worked out a plan to protect and conserve tigers until 2010.

Under the project, scientists will be trained on conservative and biological research techniques to help them create a safe environment for the animals. A public awareness campaign will also target people living near or around forests, national parks or other protected areas where tiger populations survive. Special attention will be paid to protecting virgin forests, areas believed to be top tiger habitats.

Protecting tigers from extinction is an international issue and Viet Nam will also boost co-operation with Cambodia, Laos and China to protect and maintain tiger habitats, especially in national parks Pu Mat, Chu Mom Ray, Chu Yang Sin, Bu Gia Map and the Pu Luong Natural Protection Zone, according to an official from MARD.

Tigers have been on the rare species list in Viet Nam since 1960. So far, many forests that provide a natural habitat for tigers have been classified as nature reserves in a bid to protect the animals. The country became a member of the Global Tiger Forum in 1997 and signed a host of international conventions on natural preservation, including the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species, and the Convention on Bio-diversity.

But as the trade in wild animals continues to boom, only time will tell if Viet Nam’s tigers can be rescued from the brink of extinction.

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Biodiversity loss – it will make you sick

PEOPLE AND PLANET

A new generation of antibiotics, new treatments for thinning bone disease and kidney failure, and new cancer treatments may all stand to be lost unless the world acts to reverse the present alarming rate of biodiversity loss a new landmark book says.

The natural world holds secrets to the development of new kinds of safer and more powerful pain-killers; treatments for a leading cause of blindness – macular degeneration – and possibly ways of re-growing lost tissues and organs by, for example, studying newts and salamanders.

But the experts warn that we may lose many of the land and marine-based life forms of economic and medical interest before we can learn their secrets, or, in some cases, before we know they exist.

The new book, Sustaining Life, is the most comprehensive treatment of this subject to date and fills a major gap in the arguments made to conserve nature.

Promising treatment for peptic ulcers lost

A particularly illustrative example, highlighted by the book’s authors, of what may be lost with species extinctions can be found in the southern gastric brooding frog (Rheobatrachus) which was discovered in undisturbed rainforests of Australia in the 1980s.

The frogs raise their young in the female’s stomach where they would, in other animals, be digested by enzymes and acid. Preliminary studies indicated that the baby frogs produced a substance, or perhaps a variety of substances, that inhibited acid and enzyme secretions and prevented the mother from emptying her stomach into her intestines while the young were developing.

The authors point out that the research on gastric brooding frogs could have led to new insights into preventing and treating human peptic ulcers which affect some 25 million people in the United States alone.

“But these studies could not be continued because both species of Rheobactrachus became extinct, and the valuable medical secrets they held are now gone forever,” say Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein, the key authors of the book based at the Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School.

At the heart of the book is a chapter dedicated to exploring seven threatened groups of organisms valuable to medicine, including amphibians, bears, cone snails, sharks, non-human primates, gymnosperms, and horseshoe crabs that underscore what may be lost to human health when species go extinct.

These losses include: promising new avenues of medical research and new treatments, pharmaceuticals and diagnostic tests.

Experts, including the authors, emphasize that the book’s conclusions should not be construed as a licence to harvest wildlife in a way that puts further pressure on already threatened, vulnerable and endangered species.

Instead they should be a spur for even greater conservation and improved management of species and the ecosystems they inhabit.

Jeffrey McNeely, IUCN’s Chief Scientist and a co-author of the book, says: “While extinction is alarming in its own right, this book demonstrates that many species can help save human lives. If we needed more justification for action to conserve species, this book offers dozens of dramatic examples of both why and how citizens can act in ways that will conserve, rather than destroy, the species that enrich our lives.”

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, says: “Habitat loss, destruction and degradation of ecosystems, pollution, over-exploitation and climate change are among the powerful and persistent impacts that are running down the planet’s nature-based capital, including the medical treasure trove of the world’s biodiversity.

“The CBD has achieved a great deal but it needs to achieve much more if it is to meet the international community’s goals and objectives. We need a breakthrough in Bonn on all three pillars of the convention – conservation, sustainable use, and access and benefit sharing of genetic resources,” he said.

The findings come in the run up to the 9th meeting of the parties to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)-linked Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) taking place in Bonn, Germany later in May.

Here delegates from close to 190 countries; business leaders, academia and members of civil society will look to accelerate action to reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010.

Links

Convention on Biological Diversity

IUCN – the World Conservation Union

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