Category Archives: USA

Crab measure may aid endangered birds

 SANDY BAUERS – PHILLY.COM

After vetoing an open-ended moratorium on harvesting horseshoe crabs last month, the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council yesterday unanimously endorsed a one-year moratorium.

Whether it actually will take effect is unclear.

Environmentalists and bird biologists had sought the limit to help the red knot, a small shorebird that feeds on the crab eggs.

The bird, which migrates from the tip of South America to the Arctic, stops on Delaware Bay to refuel just as the crabs are coming ashore to spawn.

Heavy crab harvests in the 1990s led to a reduction in the number of crabs, and the birds have declined as well. Biologists say they could go extinct in a matter of years.

But yesterday’s action still left the question of the harvest in limbo, returning the issue to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The council only has the authority to approve or veto proposals by the DEP. It cannot initiate measures itself.

“Basically, what we did is reverse the process,” said council member Edward Goldman. “We’re saying to the commissioner, ‘This is what we like.’ ”

It’s now up to commissioner Lisa P. Jackson “to say whether she’s on board,” Goldman said.

The DEP did not immediately comment on the action.

The moratorium would last for one year, and then allow a males-only harvest of 100,000 crabs, which conforms to limits set by a multistate fisheries agency, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

The crabs are used as bait for conch and eel, which are exported to the Asian food market.

Environmentalists who had pushed for the moratorium criticized the action as too little, too late.

Since last month’s veto, the groups initiated bills in both houses of the state legislature and have been pushing for their passage before a six-week recess later this month.

They vowed to continue.

“The legislature is poised to intervene to protect the public’s interests in conservation of the state’s irreplaceable natural resources. This half-hearted measure won’t change that,” Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum said in a statement today.

The pending legislation would continue the moratorium until the red knot population has recovered or until the adoption of a fisheries management plan that guarantees a more-than-adequate number of eggs for the birds.

“Anything short of that is inadequate and unacceptable,” said Eric Stiles, New Jersey Audubon’s vice president for conservation, in a statement.

But Erling Berg, a member of the council, said the issue did not belong in the legislature. “This is a more proper process,” he said. He said the council felt yesterday’s vote would return control of the resource to them, “which is where it belongs.”

Sandy Bauers at 215-854-5147 or sbauers@phillynews.com.

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US government sued over failure to protect polar bears

 EDWARD HELMORE – THE GUARDIAN

The US government agency responsible for compiling the country’s list of endangered species will face a new legal challenge today over its failure to protect the polar bear.

Environmental groups are set to sue the Bush administration in a federal court in California, claiming the Fish and Wildlife Service is now in breach of its own mandate.

The FWS was due to have decided by January 9 whether to classify the polar bear as threatened due to climate change. This date itself was a full year after consultations began on the issue. But the service has said it is still reviewing technical data along with more than 670,000 comments on the issue.

The FWS inspector general has announced a preliminary investigation into the delay to determine whether a full-fledged investigation is warranted.

Environmental campaigners widely believe the decision is being held up by the Bush administration so it can complete sale of valuable oil and gas leases in coastal waters in Alaska — areas considered to be prime bear habitats.

“The Bush administration seems intent on slamming shut the narrow window of opportunity we have to save polar bears,” said Kassie Siegel, climate program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, which, along with Greenpeace and the National Resource Defence Council, is involved in the legal challenge.

With the polar bear having become a leading symbol of the planet’s deepening environmental crisis, its inclusion on the endangered list is a key issue to groups seeking to force the Bush administration to recognise the fact of climate change as a consequence of man-made atmospheric pollution.

While US law requires an endangered species listing decision to be made strictly on the basis of scientific information regarding the foreseeable future, groups believe that recent sales of oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea, as well as expectations of an energy and mining boom across the entire Arctic region, is the truer measure of the administration’s motivation.

“This administration has listed fewer species than any other — ever — under the Endangered Species Act,” said Siegel. “Time and again we have seen political interference in listing proposals that are supposed to be based on science.”

Environmental groups hope that the courts will force the administration to make a decision to protect the species — a decision that would be widely interpreted as a significant step toward acknowledging the extent of climate change. “For seven years they have denied or downplayed global warming,” added Siegel. “This is the thing that has pinned them into a corner; either they go to court and lose, or acknowledge it — and acknowledge that our greenhouse gas emissions are driving the polar bear to extinction.”

Disputed figures

There is disagreement over population numbers for polar bears. The animals are difficult to count in the wild. Unlike ring seals or walruses, which live and hunt exclusively on ice, polar bears are considered relatively adaptable. Alaskan political figures led by Governor Sarah Palin, a consistent advocate of increased oil and gas drilling, maintain the bears’ population is steady. But a recent US Geological Survey report stated that unless greenhouse gas emissions are curbed significantly, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears, including all Alaskan bears, will disappear by 2050.

What is not in dispute is the decline of ice cover. Surveys have shown there was 1m square miles less sea ice last summer than the average minimum extent observed between 1979-2000. Even this analysis is considered cautious. A study released in January by the US National Snow and Ice Data Center says the North Pole could be free of summer sea ice by 2030; one Nasa scientist says it might gone by 2012; and a meteorologist in Resolute Bay, Canada, told guardian.co.uk last summer of a projection in which the region could have “Florida summers in 40 years”.

Still, the forces arrayed against listing the bear are formidable. Listing a species obligates the Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a recovery plan and to designate critical habitats. In a cascade of knock-on effects, this would force all government agencies to ensure they do not jeopardise the species or adversely affect its habitats.

To Alaskan political figures, the implications are clear. Alaska senator Ted Stevens recently voiced concern that bear protections could interfere with construction of a pipeline from the state’s North Slope gas field. Adding polar bears to the endangered list, Stevens said, “would establish a dangerous precedent”.

Given the economic and strategic value of the oil and gas reserves in the US High Arctic — the leases on 29m acres of the Chuchki Sea raised $2.6bn and a further 83m acres are being made available — it is conceivable that the administration could reject listing the bear altogether.

“The science is unequivocal,” said Margaret Williams, director of World Wildlife Fund’s Bering Sea programme. “But anything is possible given this administration’s poor record on listing species. It’s hard to imagine such a decision could be made in good faith.”

Still, those opposed to the listing argue that the scientific justification to declare the bear as threatened isn’t there. They dispute evidence that bear populations are showing the signs of environmental stress — such as declining numbers, declining life expectancy, and low birth weight. “From my perspective, it’s very difficult to put a population on the list that’s healthy, based on a projection 45 years into the future,” said Ken Taylor, Palin’s deputy commissioner of fish and game, recently. “That’s really stretching scientific credibility.”

Hunting

Across the Arctic region of the North American continent, there is resentment over what Inuit regard as meddling southerners. Under Canadian regulations, indigenous communities are awarded licences to kill a certain number of bears each season. These “tags” are typically sold to wealthy US and European hunters, each bringing in as much as $50,000 each to impoverished communities.

If polar bears were listed, a complete ban on hunting on US territory would follow. Furthermore, the skins of bears shot in Canada would be banned from the entering the US. These measures would be a strong disincentive to US trophy hunters, who might take their lucrative business elsewhere.

Inuit elders say that since those in the south are the cause of the imbalance between nature and man, they have no right to challenge the Inuit’s tradition as huntsmen. But environmentalists stress their objective is not to deprive indigenous people of their livelihood.

Other Arctic species have been listed before — Kittlitz’s murrelets, for example — and more are proposed, including the walrus and ringed seal. But as the argument over the polar bear’s status intensifies, there’s no underestimating the emotional value invested in the outcome. “It’s a landmark decision and [a] landmark case,” said Williams. “But we still don’t know how it will play out.”

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Bush Administration’s Inaction Pushes Jaguar Closer to Extinction in US

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 11, 2008
12:00 PM

CONTACT: Defenders of Wildlife
Craig Miller, (520)623-9653
Joe Vickless, (202)772-0237
Bush Administration’s Inaction Pushes Jaguar Closer to Extinction in US
Defenders of Wildlife promises suit over Bush administration refusal to create a recovery plan for jaguar
WASHINGTON, DC – March 11 – Defenders of Wildlife has filed a notice of intent to sue in Washington D.C. district court to compel the Bush administration to create a recovery plan for jaguars in the Southwest. In February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) stated that it would not be drafting a recovery plan for the jaguar, claiming that despite the presence of jaguars in the United States and the existence of large swaths of prime jaguar habitat, this big cat is biologically a “foreign” species and as such does not qualify for formal recovery planning.

“The jaguar is as American a species as the bald eagle,” said Craig Miller, southwest representative of Defenders of Wildlife. “When the eagle was in danger of extinction in the United States, we didn’t give up and say, ‘There are plenty in Canada, so we don’t need them here in the States.’ It doesn’t make sense that the agency would be willing to let the jaguar fade from the Southwest just because there is a larger population across the border.”

Defenders is considering legal action in this instance not only because FWS has a responsibility to protect this particular species, but also because there are many other species in the United States with populations that exist both here and across borders in Mexico, Canada and other nations. Some of these species, including sea turtles, grizzly bears, woodland caribou and numerous bird species, are threatened or endangered and thus require a recovery plan which provides a road map to achieving healthy, sustainable populations.

“The Bush administration’s decision to forgo creating a recovery plan for the jaguar sets a dangerous precedent for all threatened and endangered species that live along our borders,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president for Defenders of Wildlife and former director of FWS. “Animals do not recognize man-made political boundaries. They do not know whether they are in the United States, Mexico or Canada, but they do know a good home when they see one. This cross-our-fingers-and-hope approach to conserving species along the U.S. borders could result in us giving up on keeping some of the most amazing species on the planet around for all Americans to enjoy.”

According to Defenders, FWS has failed to respond to repeated calls over the last decade from scientists requesting that the wildlife agency develop a recovery plan for the American jaguar, as required by law. Most recently, in 2007, the prestigious American Society of Mammologists issued a resolution stating “jaguars continue to decline throughout significant portions of their remaining range” and “habitats for jaguars in the United States, including Arizona and New Mexico, are vital to the long-term resilience and survival of the species.” 

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has the duty to protect and recover imperiled wildlife, but when they ignore science for politics, citizens must ensure that wildlife laws are upheld.  The future of America’s jaguars is at stake,” said Miller.

Learn more about what Defenders is doing to save the jaguar.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.

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58 Isle species considered for endangered status

 HONOLULU ADVERTISER

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to decide within the next two years whether to list up to 58 Hawai’i species as endangered, the agency’s director told Congress this week.

Dale Hall, head of the agency, said decisions will be made on whether to protect a total of 92 species nationwide, more than half of which exist only in Hawai’i.

An environmental group which has sued the agency for its sluggish actions in the past hailed the announcement as “good progress.”

“Given how slowly they’ve moved in the past, this feels like a victory,” said Noah Greenwald, science director for the Center of Biological Diversity.

The announcement does not mean that all the Hawai’i species will receive endangered status and the protection that goes with it, Greenwald said.

Even so, it shows that the administration of President Bush is finally taking the issue seriously, he said.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has not protected a single new U.S. species in 661 days,” he said. “Many of these species are unique to one place and in very real danger of extinction.”

Among the species which will be considered by the agency in the coming year is the ‘akepa, or Kaua’i creeper, which has rarely been seen in recent years and likely is on the verge of extinction.

Also on the list are two rare insects, the picture-wing fly (Drosophila attigua) and the blackline megalagrion damselfly (Megalagrion nigrohamatum nigrolineatum).

The other Hawai’i species on the list are plants, Greenwald said.

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Yellowstone Rabbits Hop into Extinction

LIVESCIENCE.COM

A new study found that white-tailed jack rabbits have vanished from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, where the bunnies were once abundant.

No one knows what caused the rabbits to disappear, according to the study conducted by the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society. It could be disease, extreme weather, predation or other factors, said Wildlife Conservation Society conservationist Joel Berger, a professor at the University of Montana.

Historical records from more than 130 years ago indicate that white-tailed jack rabbits were once common in Greater Yellowstone, a 60,000 square kilometer (23,166 square mile) ecosystem that contains both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. The study found no jack rabbit sightings could be confirmed in Yellowstone since 1991 and only three in Grand Teton since 1978.

The jack rabbits’ departure may be having significant impacts on the whole region, including both predators of the rabbits and other prey species, Berger said.

The absence of jack rabbits may be causing elevated predation by coyotes on juvenile elk, pronghorn and other ungulates, according to the study. Elsewhere, when rabbit densities drop predators often turn to preying more on livestock. But without baseline data on rabbit numbers in Greater Yellowstone, assessing the impacts on predators such as grey wolves, which were reintroduced to the parks in 1995, becomes more difficult.

Berger said wildlife managers should consider reintroducing white-tailed jack rabbits into Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Reintroduction may restore the dynamic ecological processes that were intact before the rabbits vanished from the ecosystem, he said.

The study will appear in latest issue of the journal Oryx.

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Oregon’s Coho Return To Endangered Species List

Joseph Friedrichs – New West
Oregon’s coastal coho salmon have once again been placed on the endangered species list, after a recent ruling that found scientific evidence didn’t support delisting the fish.

According to an article in today’s Oregonian, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, a federal agency charged with restoring Northwest salmon, found the fish aren’t as resilient as they believed.

Coho were listed as threatened between 1998 and 2004, then was taken off the list in 2006 when NOAA Fisheries ruled that the coho are “not likely to become endangered” in the foreseeable future, the Oregonian reported.

More than a million coho once filled coastal rivers and streams, but similar to a dozen other spices of salmon in the Pacific Northwest, those numbers have declined dramatically.

As a result of Monday’s announcement, the federal protections could slow logging and other development along coastal rivers and streams where coho spawn.

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Endangered bat colony attacked ‘for a laugh’ in the US

Wildlife authorities are investigating the deaths of more than 100 endangered Indiana bats at Carter Caves State Resort Park.
 Wildlife Extra

Vandals entered a cave at the park and threw rocks at a hibernating colony of Indiana bats on two different occasions in late October. Some bats were crushed, while others died after being knocked into a stream.

Indiana bats first received protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1966. Until recently, their numbers have decreased steadily. The caves at Carter Caves State Resort Park harbor the largest hibernating population of Indiana bats in Kentucky

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