Monthly Archives: December 2008

Wood Turtle Makes Top 10 List of Species in Need of Protection


New report highlights nation’s species in danger of extinction

Charlottesville, VA – The wood turtle is one of the most in-need species for protection under the Endangered Species Act, according to a report released today by the Endangered Species Coalition. The report, Without a Net: Top Ten Wildlife, Fish and Plants in Need of Endangered Species Act Protection, demonstrates the critical need to reinvigorate the process under the Endangered Species Act used to protect our nation’s species on the brink of extinction.

In the Southeast, the wood turtle is found only in Virginia, usually in or near flowing, clear streams, in adjacent hardwood forests and old fields with favorite summer foods such as strawberries and raspberries. They eat mushrooms, leaves and many kinds of animals, including earthworms, grubs, snails, tadpoles and dead fish. They rarely venture far from flowing water but have strong homing instincts and will always try to return to their original location if they are displaced. Wood Turtles will climb into bushes to eat berries or stomp on the ground to draw earthworms to the surface to eat. The Wood Turtle’s range is Northern Virginia and West Virginia up through the Northeast and upper Midwest. However, the intense development of its native range has fragmented populations and shrunken available habitat which affects both the current population and limits their ability to repopulate areas. In addition, global warming threatens to alter their aquatic and terrestrial habitats.

“Wood Turtles face accumulating assault that can prevent many populations from persisting. The Turtles may not reproduce enough or survive long enough to make up for collection, predation, or road kill as well as losses from habitat alteration or development. Without strong decisive action, America will continue to lose its Wood Turtle” said Steve Krichbaum, Conservationist and Naturalist living in Virginia.

“It is critical that we move quickly to protect the endangered population of wood turtles here in Virginia,” said David Hannah, Conservation Director of Wild Virginia. “We continue to urge the U.S. Forest Service to establish a Special Biological Area in the George Washington National Forest specifically to protect our little friends.”

“The Endangered Species Act is our nation’s safety net for the wildlife, fish and plants at risk of disappearing forever,” said Tara Thornton, Northeast Representative of the Endangered Species Coalition. “Sadly, too many species are being left without the Act’s protections. Some of these species are jeopardized by the bad behavior of political appointees, while some face the impacts of global warming and other threats. All share in the common need for the nation to renew our commitment to protecting imperiled species.”

The wildlife, fish and plants considered for the report were nominated by conservation and environmental organizations from around the country. A panel of scientists and advocates selected the final ten featured, as well as three honorable mentions. In addition to the Wood Turtle, the highlighted species include the Pacific Walrus, Wolverine, Gunnison Sage-grouse, Fluvial Arctic Grayling, Island Marble Butterfly, Southern Rockies Boreal Toad, Mason’s Skypilot, the Great White Shark, the Red Knot, the Sand Dune Lizard, Grahams Penstemon, and the western population of the Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl.

“All of the species nominated for this report – and hundreds of others – need our help to avoid extinction, even though they are not yet on the Endangered Species List,” stated Thornton. “We need to renew our commitment to protecting all wildlife, fish and plants in need and we look forward to working with the new congress and administration to restore how our nation implements the Endangered Species Act.”

Wild Virginia is a local non-profit that works to ensure the biological integrity of Virginia’s National Forests and believes that their highest benefit is to provide a source and a legacy of clean drinking water, clean air, wilderness, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. For more information on Wild Virginia, contact David Hannah at 434-971-1553 or Ernie Reed at 434-971-1647 or visit the Wild Virginia website at

The full report and information on each species is available online at


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Illegal bird hunting drives rare species toward extinction


BEIRUT: Lebanon, one of the world’s key migratory bird corridors, has turned into a death trap for the avian population due to illegal hunting of increasingly rare species. Environmentalists cry foul every hunting season, which typically lasts from October to December, when poachers kill birds by the thousands in the mountains and the eastern Bekaa region despite a 1995 hunting ban.

“The more poaching increases, the more migratory birds will lack safe areas and will not return,” warned Nizar Hani, scientific coordinator of the Chouf Biosphere Reserve, east of Beirut. “The country is also a bottleneck where birds from Africa congregate en route to Europe,” he added.

Some 390 bird species, including 260 migratory species, were identified in Lebanon in a 1992 study by Ghassan Jaradi, a Lebanese University ecology and taxonomy professor who updated his research this year.

“Millions of birds from Europe and Asia stop by Lebanon each year,” some of them to reproduce, said Bassima al-Khatib of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL).

The country offers a variety of different habitats: the Bekaa Valley, the mountains, semi-arid regions, rivers and the Mediterranean coast.

Some 20 areas, including the cedar forests of the Chouf, Palm Islands Nature Reserve in the North and a sandy beach in the Southern city of Tyre have been designated as protected areas.

However, environmentalists say these regions have been declared “safe areas” and yet are flooded with hunters.

“Some hunters kill migratory birds, mistakenly thinking that this does not affect the local environment,” Khatib said. “But what they don’t understand is these birds belong to the world and their disappearance affects the ecosystem.”

A study carried out by SPNL between 2004 and 2007 found that only 18 percent of hunters were able to distinguish between resident and migratory birds. The majority could not identify a rare species.

And while nature lovers are crying foul over the killing of the migratory population, they also warn that local species face similar dangers.

“In the space of five years, the number of common birds decreased by 18 percent according to a study that we conducted from 2002 to 2007, whereas the figure was previously at 9 percent” over a similar period, Jaradi said.

Hunting methods are considered scandalous, as several poachers use deception to trap birds.

“They install an artificial chirping device on a tree or shrub at night,” explained Jaradi. “Attracted to the sound, birds gather in the morning when the hunters arrive by the dozens and kill them all.”

To make matters worse, a growing number of amateur hunters are using automatic weapons to mow down their prey. “You can’t call this a sport anymore,” Khatib said. “It’s cruel.”

Abdo al-Kareh, 48, has been hunting since he was 9. For him, killing birds in large quantities is justifiable “because there are thousands of them.”

“I find hunting to be a relaxing sport that allows me to be in touch with nature,” Kareh told AFP.

But Jaradi said such comments reflected people’s ignorance about the sport.

“Hunters do not understand that killing many common birds will make them uncommon, rare and then endangered,” he said.

About 16 species of birds, including the pygmy cormorant and the imperial eagle, are threatened with extinction in Lebanon and the Near East, partly because of global warming and deforestation.

“The problem is that not only do these birds face extinction but you have people hunting them even in the spring when they reproduce,” Khatib said. “This is catastrophic.”

Quails, calandra larks, woodcocks and turtle doves are among the few species that can be hunted because of high numbers, experts say, urging the authorities to regulate the activity rather than simply impose an outright ban.

“We must specify the species and quantity of birds that can be hunted and must license and train park rangers,” said Khatib.

But Kareh is more concerned about the threat posed to people by inexperienced and trigger-happy hunters. “We are also threatened,” he said. “Many people are killed each year by stray bullets.” – AFP

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March of the penguins–onto the endangered species list


Seven species of penguins will now join polar bears on the list of species endangered by climate change and other environmental threats, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said this week. Worst off: the African penguin, which is disappearing due to overfishing and oil pollution.

The other threatened penguins: yellow-eyed, white-flippered, Fiordland crested, erect-crested (all from New Zealand) and the Humbolt penguin of South America. Still safe, at least according to the FWS, are the southern and northern rockhopper as well as the lord of all penguins—the emperor, which the agency decided was safe because it lacked enough info on how Antarctica will change over the coming century.

Given the rapid warming of the Antarctic peninsula—and other signs of climate change on the southernmost continent—it may not be long before the emperor joins his subjects on the list. Already, the emperor penguin colony featured in the hit film “March of the Penguins” has lost more than half its members in recent years.

Of course, being on the list affords scant protection for the penguins that don’t live in the U.S.—it merely prohibits their import or export. But if the proposed listing is adopted after a public comment period, nearly half of known penguin species will officially be listed as threatened or endangered. Not a good sign for a warming world experiencing what has been called the 6th (mass) extinction.

“Right now, penguins are marching towards extinction due to the impacts of global warming,” said seabird biologist Shaye Wolf of the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement. “For the species proposed for listing, today’s decision is an important step forward. However, for the emperor penguin, it is a step closer to extinction.”

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Brazil maps partially destroyed areas of Amazon


RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil: A new system for mapping destruction of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is reporting a surge in areas that have been partially cut but not yet cleared.

Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research said the system shows that an area roughly the size of Belize or the state of Vermont was partially knocked down this year.

The institute tracked 24,932 square kilometers (9,600 square miles) of partially decimated forest this year, up 67 percent from 14,915 square kilometers (5,750 square miles) in 2007, according to statistics available Friday on its Web site. That’s also twice the size of zones that were clearcut during the last 12 months on record.

Scientists say the new system for tracking areas in the process of being destroyed can better alert the government to locales needing urgent policing. Previously Brazil’s government concentrated on monitoring areas completely denuded of trees.

“It is much more likely that the clearcut will occur in areas that have already been degraded than in areas where the forest is intact,” the director of the space research institute, Gilberto Camara, told the O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper for its Friday editions.#

The new system uses the same satellite images that Brazil’s scientists use to track clearcut areas, which have been monitored since 1988.

Brazil slowed deforestation by 60 percent between 2005 and 2007, but officials recently announced that destruction accelerated in the first half of this year as higher soy and beef prices prompted farmers to carve more fields and pastures from the rain forest.

Brazilian officials released a plan to slow deforestation earlier this month — the first time the government has set a concrete goal to decelerate rainforest destruction.

The goal is to reduce deforestation to 5,000 square kilometers (1,900 square miles) a year by 2017.

The plan would boost federal patrols of forested areas, replant 5.5 million hectares (13.6 million acres) of forest, and finance sustainable development projects to give locals alternative work in areas where illegal logging dominates the economy.

Deforestation — both the burning and rotting of Amazon wood — releases an estimated 400 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, making Brazil at least the sixth biggest emitter of the gas in the world.

Rain forest burning accounts for 55 percent of Brazilian emissions that contribute to global warming, officials have said.

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Lynx one step closer to endangered species protection


The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday that it has begun the process of offering endangered species protection to the Canada lynx, a big furry cat that is protected in other states. As NMI has noted, the animal was reintroduced to Colorado 1999, and since then, approximately 60 of the cats have wandered into northern New Mexico. At least 14 have been killed.

The service was required to make a determination on the lynx as a result of a lawsuit brought by the Western Environmental Law Center on behalf of several environmental groups, including WildEarth Guardians.

“This is stage one, when they say ‘This has sufficient merits for us to consider it and we’ll take 12 months to mull it over further.’ If they issue a positive finding in 12 months then they will change the listing status for the lynx in New Mexico,” says Rob Edward, carnivore recovery director for WildEarth Guardians.

Why did WildEarth Guardians have to sue the federal agency to protect the lynx? “Well, the short answer is that we’ve been working for the last eight years under the Bush administration, which had no interest in doing much of anything for endangered species.”

The longer answer, Edward says, is that “The Fish and Wildlife Service is functioning under political pressure or simple budget pressure and they have to push back on things that they don’t have the budget or political cover for.” Like protecting the big furry lynx.

While Edward is hopeful that conditions for endangered species will improve in an Obama administration, he is less than pleased about Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, Obama’s nominee for Department of the Interior.

“We’re going to have to take a wait-and-see approach at this point. … [Obama] could have done much better than [Salazar],” Edward says. WildEarth Guardians and other groups had pushed for the nomination of Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, a progressive member of the House Natural Resources Committee and the chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forest and Public Lands.

“We certainly hope that Secretary Salazar will be much more of a friend to endangered species… than his voting record and actions would indicate,” Edward says.

While you wait to see what kind of Secretary Salazar will make, if confirmed by the Senate, you can amuse yourselves with this neat-o chart of lynx distribution in the West. Lotsa dots in New Mexico!

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US Agents Investigate Slaughter Of Endangered Fruit Bat Colonies


U.S. federal law enforcement officers from a number of agencies have raided five homes on the Northern Marianas island of Rota in connection with the recent mass slaughter of endangered Marianas fruit bats, the Saipan Tribune reports.

An estimated 190 mammals were killed, which officials say nearly decimates two of the three known fruit bat colonies on Rota, the southernmost island in the Northern Marianas chain.

“We are urging anyone with information about the poaching of these rare animals to please come forward. The future of an entire species may depend on it,” said Paul Chang, special agent in charge of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Region.

The slaughter of the fruit bat colonies is thought to have taken place this past Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. Northern Marianas Fish and Wildlife officers discovered remains of dead bats and .410 and 12 gauge shotgun shells at the two sites.

Other agencies involved in the investigation include the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency; National Marine Fisheries Service; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; U.S. Coast Guard; U.S. Marshals, and the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Leonardo M. Rapadas, United States Attorney, also provided assistance.

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Could Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs Be Endangered?

BIG SPRING – We’ve all seen them, Prairie Dogs are a fairly common sight in the Permian Basin. A national petition, however, is making the rounds that could lead to the black-tailed prairie dog on the endangered species list.

“We just live in harmony together out here with the priairie dogs,” Pilot Rhyse Gehrett, with the Air Evac Lifeteam in Big Spring, said. “It’s us and the prairie dogs and the wind and the weather and that’s about it.”

Pilot Rhyse Gehrett says having prairie dogs roaming around the Big Spring Airpark is just a way of life.

“It seems like they actually know our cars,” Gehrett explained. “Believe it or not. And the way that we’re dressed. I mean, they know us. If there’s different people out here in different uniforms or different dress, they head to their holes.”

Holes that could soon be in danger. National wildlife experts say there’s now a possiblity black-tailed prairie dogs could go on the Endangered Species List.

“The black-tailed prairie dogs very widespread species and historically it occured and still does from Canada to Mexico,” Pete Gober, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said. “It’s a grassland species. It occured on about 20 percent of the landscape historically, but because of a number of things, it’s been reduced to a fraction of that.”

Now experts across the country are reviewing a petition and moving forward with more research to see if prairie dogs really are endangered. Petitioners say there are several reasons that could affect the habitat of black-tailed prairie dogs, including urbanization, oil extraction, and diseases.

“It can react to threats like plague or disease on the colony level rather than individually,” Gover said. “So while there are many, many individuals, they also can blink out simultaneously when they are exposed to the same threat, be it posioning or disease.”

With Big Spring City laws protecting the creatures at the Airpark, workers here will tell you, it looks like they’re a permanent part of the landscape.

“They give us a little wave with their paw, we’re on our way and they’re on their way,” Gober said.

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told NewsWest 9 this is just a first step in a long process of trying to figure out if the black-tailed prairie dog should be on the Endangered Species List. They said from here, they’re going to do more research. They said this time next year, they’ll know if the prairie dog should be on the list.

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