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Biodiversity: Some progress for Mexican gray wolves?

Feds propose updates to management of Southwest wolves

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Wolf pups recently born to a New Mexico pack. Photo by USFWS.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Rare and beleaguered Mexican gray wolves may get a little more room to roam in the Southwest, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes changes to a recovery plan from the species, including new releases of captive-bred wolves to bolster wild populations.

The new releases could happen in new areas of New Mexico and parts of Arizona where there are no wolf packs yet, and the federal agency’s proposed changes would also allow wolves to roam from the Mexican border to Interstate 40, a much broader region than currently permitted.

Only 83 Mexican wolves live in the wilds of the Southwest, including just five breeding pairs. Scientists have shown that inbreeding caused by a lack of wolf releases to the wild, coupled with too many killings and removals of wolves, is causing smaller litter sizes and lower pup-survival rates in the wild population. Expanding wolf releases to New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, in particular, would enable managers to diversify the population through new releases and diminish inbreeding. Continue reading

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Oceans: Pacific bluefin tuna on the brink as feds seek input on new fishing regulations

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Even the imminent decimation of tuna populations hasn’t stopped sport fishermen from harvesting the desirable fish in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere. bberwyn photo.

Not enough adults left to replenish populations

Staff Report

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FRISCO — Pacific bluefin tuna won’t last long at any sustainable level without immediate and drastic intervention by fisheries managers, according to ocean advocates who are urging the federal government to adopt strict limits on bluefin tuna catch.

Overall, many tuna populations are on the brink of collapse. Five of eight tuna species have been assigned threatened or near-threatened status on the international Red List maintained by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

In the Gulf of Mexico, for example, the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster spewed millions of gallons of oil into the species’ prime breeding grounds, and a 2010 report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed how illegal fishing and inadequate enforcement are decimating tuna stocks all over the world. Continue reading

Environment: USGS study shows neonicotinoid pesticide pollution common in Midwest streams

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Bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides widespread in Midwest streams, USGS study finds. bberwyn photo.

Concentrations in some streams are high enough to kill aquatic organisms

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey studying streams in the Midwest have found levels of neonicotinoid insecticides at up to 20 times the concentrations deemed toxic to aquatic organisms. The systemic pesticides have raised concerns because they’ve been linked with honey bee declines.

Traces of the chemicals were widespread in streams throughout the region — not surprising in the heart of the country’s agricultural belt. In all, nine rivers and streams, including the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, were included in the study. The rivers studied drain most of Iowa, and parts of Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. These states have the highest use of neonicotinoid insecticides in the Nation, and the chemicals were found in all nine rivers and streams. Continue reading

Climate change drives Antarctic fur seal decline

Fur seals on Half Moon Island, in the South Shetland chain, off the Antarctic Peninsula. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

Fur seals on Half Moon Island, in the South Shetland chain, off the Antarctic Peninsula. bberwyn photo.

Survival of the fittest?

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After studying fur seals around Antarctica for decades, researchers with the British Antarctic Survey say they’re seeing distinct genetic changes related to a changing climate and food availability. But despite a shift  towards individuals more suited to changing environmental conditions, this fitness is not passing down through generations, leaving the fur seal population on South Georgia Island in decline. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Condor chick hatches in Zion National Park

A tagged California condor in flight.

A tagged California condor in flight. Photo via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Can the endangered birds recover from the brink of extinction?

Staff Report

FRISCO — California condors have been hovering on the brink of extinction for decades. But the majestic birds may be on the verge of making a comeback in southern Utah, National Park Service biologists said last week, announcing the first-ever birth of a condor chick in Zion National Park.

Without revealing the exact location to the public, biologists had been monitoring a rock cavity in a remote corner of the park for several weeks where they observed the nesting pair. Finally, on June 25, the condor chick made its first appearance at the edge of the nest. Continue reading

Environment: Another silent spring?

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Systemic neocotinoid pesticides are starting to affect bird populations, according to research.

Neonicotinoid use linked with decline in bird populations

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Populations of some insect-eating bird species are declining in areas where scientists measured high concentrations of a widely used neonicotinoid pesticide.

In some cases, bird numbers are dwindling by as much as 3.5 percent annually, according to the new study by researchers with Radboud University in Nijmegen and the Dutch Centre for Field Ornithology and Birdlife Netherlands. Continue reading

Seabed dredging linked to coral reef disease

Study findings to help inform coastal management

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Dredging near coral reefs can lead to chronic disease and decline.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Along with the stress of global warming and the disappearance of reef-grazing fish, corals are also beset by the increasing pace of coastal development — specifically dredging — which can increase the frequency of diseases affecting corals.

Australian researchers with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies made their findings after studying a site near Barrow Island, off the West Australian coast, where an 18-month, 7-million cubic metre dredging project took place, developing a channel to accommodate ships transporting liquefied gas to a nearby processing plant. The site was in otherwise very good condition. Continue reading

Environment: EPA to take hard look at impacts of proposed open pit mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay

Agency likely to restrict mining activities based on concerns about impacts to salmon fishery, other resources

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Proposed Alaska mine gets careful EPA scrutiny.

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Staff Report

FRISCO — A proposed mine in coastal Alaskan waters would spread across an area larger than Manhattan and jeopardize the health and sustainability of one of the world’s great salmon fisheries, the EPA said this week, releasing a draft version of its plan for protecting aquatic resources in Bristol Bay from a vast open pit mine.

According to the EPA, the proposed mine in its present form would have unacceptable impacts on Bristol Bay natural resources. As a result, the agency’s draft lays out common sense rules and guidelines that would ensure the integrity of those resources by prohibiting the discharge of any mining materials into critically important waters of the U.S. Continue reading

4 years after Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, dispersant still found lingering in the environment

Study looks at concentrations of oil and dispersant in ‘sand patties’ found along the Gulf Coast

32 beaches were sampled, with contamination found at 26 sites. MAP COURTESY JAMES "RIP" KIRBY, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA.

In 2012, University of South Florida scientists found oil remnants all along the Gulf Coast, often at levels that pose a potential risk to human health. MAP COURTESY JAMES “RIP” KIRBY, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA.

New research in Florida shows

The mess from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is still not completely cleaned up.

Read more Summit Voice stories about dispersants and the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill here.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Fossil fuel companies involved in offshore oil drilling may have to rethink their emergency response plans for oil spills after a new study showed that dispersant used to prevent large slicks persists in the environment much longer than previously thought.

Scientists at Haverford College and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has found that the dispersant compound DOSS, which decreases the size of oil droplets and hampers the formation of large oil slicks, remains associated with oil and can persist in the environment for up to four years.

The EPA approved the use of massive quantities of dispersant after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in hopes of preventing oil from fouling beaches, reasoning that the chemicals degrade rapidly. The Deepwater oil spill was the largest ever, releasing at least 210 million gallons of oil. BP applied almost 2 million gallons of dispersant, much of it deep beneath the surface.

But it’s far from clear that the use of dispersant is an overall environmental benefit. Ongoing studies have shown that the mixture of dispersant and oil is far more toxic to many marine organisms than either substance on its own. For example, a study by scientists with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes, Mexico showed that the oil-dispersant mix was up to 52 times more toxic to tiny rotifers, microscopic grazers at the base of the Gulf’s food chain. Continue reading

Environment: Changes in precipitation may drive birds response to global warming

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New model unravels some of the complexities of how wildlife will respond to global warming

Staff Report

FRISCO — Populations of familiar backyard birds like the rufous hummingbird and evening grosbeak are declining, a trend that may be linked with changes in precipitation patterns across the western U.S.

Scientists studying the changes with a new model say precipitation, rather than temperature, may be the the main factor in determining how birds will respond to climate change.

Several past studies have found that temperature increases can push some animal species – including birds – into higher latitudes or higher elevations. Few studies, however, have tackled the role that changes in precipitation may cause, according to Matthew Betts, an Oregon State University ecologist and a principal investigator on the study. Continue reading

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