River protection critical for snapping turtles

‘All it has is this river and it has nowhere else to go …’

Gary M. Stolz/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

An alligator snapping turtle. Photo courtesy Gary M. Stolz/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Conservation of coastal rivers of the northern Gulf of Mexico is vital to the survival of the alligator snapping turtle, including two recently discovered species, University of Florida scientists concluded in a recent study that sheds more light on the taxonomy of the dinosaurs of the turtle world.

The study shows the alligator snapping turtle, the largest freshwater turtle in the Western Hemisphere and previously believed to be one species, is actually three separate species. Continue reading

Oyster farming could clean up Potomac River

New NOAA-USGS study evaluates aquaculture cleanup potential

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Oysters could help clear the water in the Potomac River estuary.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Degraded water quality in the Potomac River estuary could be improved with intensive cultivation of oysters according to a new NOAA and U.S. Geological Survey study published in the journal Aquatic Geochemistry.

As filter feeders, oysters could remove all of the nitrogen currently polluting the river if 40 percent of its river bed were used for shellfish cultivation. The researchers determined that a combination of aquaculture and restored oyster reefs may provide even larger overall ecosystem benefits. Oysters can clean an enormous volume of water of algae which can cause poor water quality, leading to unwanted algae blooms and dead zones. Continue reading

California condors still dying of lead poisoning

A tagged California condor in flight.

A tagged California condor in flight.

New study suggests that spent lead ammunition could make it impossible to recover the species

Staff Report

FRISCO — Accidental ingestion of spent lead ammunition is killing endangered California condors at a rate that may prevent the birds from establishing self-sustaining populations.

The condors were among the first animals to be protected under the Endangered Species Act. By 1966, the population had dropped to just a handful of birds, but a massive collaborative conservation effort helped the population grow to more than 400 individuals.

But those gains may be at risk, according to San Diego Zoo conservation biologists.

“After reviewing nearly 20 years of our mortality data on the free-ranging birds, it became clear that lead poisoning is the primary problem for the birds in the wild,” said Bruce Rideout, director of the wildlife disease laboratories for San Diego Zoo Global.

“And this is not just a problem for California condors. We can view them as an indicator species, warning us about the hazards of widespread lead contamination in the environment.” said Bruce Rideout, director of the wildlife disease laboratories for San Diego Zoo Global.

The recent study of lead impacts was done with researchers from the Wildlife Health Center at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California at Davis. The findings are published in the  January edition of the journal EcoHealth.

 

Court rejects challenge to endangered species deal

Developers and energy companies show no love for rare species

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Federal biologists are deciding whether wolverines should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Photo courtesy USFWS.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A federal judge last week rejected claims by developers that a 2011 agreement between environmental groups and the federal government will hurt the industry.

At issue is a groundbreaking deal covering more than 700 species that could someday be listed as threatened or endangered. Under the agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it will make listing decisions on all the species by 2018, and so far, 138 species have been protected or formally proposed for protection. Continue reading

Grand Canyon National Park eyes bison plan

Roaming buffalo create management challenges

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The buffalo are roaming in Grand Canyon National Park. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A herd of bison brought to northern Arizona in the early 1900s has moved from a state-run wildlife area into Grand Canyon National Park, and now park rangers want to develop a plan to manage the animals.

Initially, the bison were managed in the House Rock Wildlife Area for big game hunters, but in the late 1990s, the animals have pioneered their way to the top of the Kaibab Plateau and into Grand Canyon National Park.

Resource managers say  combination of public hunt pressure, drought and fire, and reduced forage quality in House Rock Valley during the 1990s may have contributed to the bison moving through Saddle Mountain Wilderness and onto the higher elevations of the Kaibab Plateau. Over the past several years, very few bison have returned to wildlife area. Most now spend a majority of their time inside the park. Continue reading

Study: Birds have highly developed weather ‘radar’

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Study offers new insight into long-distance avian migration.

‘We think that these behaviors represent a previously unknown cognitive ability …’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Some migrating birds may be able to sense weather patterns on a hemispheric scale, helping them optimally time their nonstop transoceanic flights.

Bar-tailed godwits, the ultra-marathon champions of migration, breed in Alaska and spend winters in New Zealand and a recent U.S. Geological Survey-led study suggests that these birds can sense broad weather patterns.

Careful monitoring of the birds suggest they time their departure  to match the best possible atmospheric wind conditions possible within a two-week window. Remarkably, not only were the conditions optimal for take-off, but they almost always provided the best possible conditions for the birds’ entire flights, as far as 7,000 miles in eight days between Alaska and New Zealand.

Continue reading

GOP renews attack on Endangered Species Act

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Why are so many Republicans opposed to efforts to protect and restore endangered and threatened species?

Not much substance, a lot of political smoke …

Staff Report

FRISCO — The Republican anti-environment cadre in the House is once again taking aim at the Endangered Species Act by introducing legislation that would make it even harder for federal agencies to protect animals and plants that are at risk of going extinct.

Two of the bills, H.R. 4316 and H.R. 4318, would limit the ability of citizens to challenge government decisions in court. The Republican measures are also ostensibly aimed at reducing the government’s legal costs associated with responding to endangered species lawsuits, but conservation advocates said that is an ideological red herring. Government data shows that the Department of Interior has spent far more money responding to frivolous demands for documents than on settling lawsuits.

Continue reading

Environment: Post-fire rehab treatments in Great Basin not doing much good for sage-grouse

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

More targeted treatments could benefit threatened birds

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Post-fire rehabilitation work in the Great Basin’s sagebrush ocean isn’t doing much to help greater sage-grouse, USGS and U.S. Forest Service scientists found in a new study.

The research team took a close look at areas eight to 20 years after seeding efforts, pointing out that such restoration projects could, in theory, be used to improve sage grouse habitat — but only if the right types of seeds are planted.

Sage-grouse tend to use areas with a mixture of dwarf sagebrush and Wyoming big sagebrush, native grasses, minimal human development, and minimal non-native plants. Most post-fire restoration projects are were designed to mitigate the effects of fire on soil and vegetation — but they provide an opportunity to reverse habitat degradation for sage-grouse, a species being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Continue reading

Environment: Study shows how Deepwater Horizon oil spill causes heart defects in Gulf of Mexico fish

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A recreational angler starts processing a tuna from the Gulf of Mexico at a port in Venice, Louisiana. A new study shows how crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill causes heart defects in embryonic fish. bberwyn photo.

‘This spill occurred in prime bluefin spawning habitats, and the new evidence indicates a compromising effect of oil on the physiology and morphology of bluefin embryos and larvae’

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After a series of post-spill studies in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s clear that the massive amount of crude that spewed into the water from BP’s failed Deepwater Horizon drilling rig had an enormous impact on marine life, and a new research effort led by federal scientists and academic researchers may confirm some of the worst fears.

Exposure to the oil, even at very low concentrations, resulted in severe defects in the developing hearts of bluefin and yellowfin tunas, commercially important species, according to the findings published  in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, show how the largest marine oil spill in United States history may have affected tunas and other species that spawned in oiled offshore habitats in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Continue reading

Oceans: Satellite data shows leatherback sea turtles ranging far and wide in search of jellyfish

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A leatherback sea turtle at sea. Photo courtesy NOAA.

New study to help inform conservation efforts along East Coast and Caribbean

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Threatened leatherback sea turtles like to hang out off the northeastern U.S. coast in late summer and fall, when mature jellyfish are abundant in the area, scientists said last week, sharing the results of a long-term study based on satellite data of tagged sea turtles.

“Our study provides new insights about how male and immature turtles behave, how they use their habitats and how that differs from adult females,” said University of Massachusetts researcher Kara Dodge. “Resource managers for protected marine species have lacked this key understanding, especially in coastal regions of the U.S. and Caribbean where leatherbacks and intense human activity coincide.” Continue reading

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