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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

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Oceans: Feds finalize critical habitat designation for threatened loggerhead sea turtles

Beach nesting areas, open ocean habitat protected

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Room to roam for loggerheads. Photo by NOAA.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Loggerhead sea turtles  may have a better chance of surviving — and even thriving — after federal agencies designated 685 miles of beaches along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastlines, as well as 300,000 square miles of ocean, as critical habitat. The decision came after more than five years of delays and court battles, as conservation groups sought protection for the turtles.

While the ocean habitat rule provides unprecedented habitat protection for loggerhead sea turtles, it only protects nearshore habitat for one mile off nesting beaches despite science showing the importance of habitat three miles from beaches for females and hatchlings. The rule also failed to identify critical habitat for the endangered North Pacific Ocean loggerhead, which is at risk due to Hawaii and California fisheries activities in areas overlapping with the loggerhead’s habitat. Continue reading

Can amphibians bounce back from the brink?

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A live boreal toad from waters known to harbor the deadly chytrid fungus. bberwyn photo.

Research suggests some species can develop or acquire an immunity to deadly fungal pathogens

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Florida-based researchers say they may have some answers for the puzzling wave of amphibian deaths that’s been wiping out populations of some species. At least some frogs and snakes may be able to develop immunity to the deadly chytrid fungus that’s been implicated in the die-off, University of South Florida biologists said this week.

Their findings could be good news in general for biodiversity, as emerging fungal pathogens are seen as posing the greatest threat of any parastic pathogens, contributing to declines of  amphibians, bats, corals, bees and snakes. Continue reading

Feds launch greater sage-grouse website

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Dwindling birds caught in a tangled web of science and politics

Staff Report

FRISCO — Just a couple of weeks after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $25 million in funding for greater sage-grouse conservation in California and Nevada, the federal government took another step in the long-running process to protect the dwindling birds by launching a new website.

Coordinated by three U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service information specialists, the new site emphasizes the collaborative nature of the conservation effort to protect the birds and their oft-overlooked sage-steppe habitat.

The scruffy badlands that stretch patchily between the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada may look empty, but there’s more than meets the eye, the USFWS explains on the new site’s intro page. Sage may dominate big slices of the landscape, but the ecosystem is threatened because not much of it is protected. Continue reading

Feds to backpedal on wolverine protection

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Are wolverines in the U.S. doomed by global warming?

Leaked memo suggests USFWS is bowing to political pressure from western states

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Federal officials apparently won’t let the best available science stop them from making yet another politically motivated endangered species decision.

This time, wolverines are at issue, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prepares to withdraw a proposal to list the rare mammal based on threats posed by global warming. The agency hasn’t officially announced its intention, but a leaked memo  shows that USFWS Mountain-Prairie regional director Noreen Walsh wants to override the recommendations of her own scientists and withdraw the listing proposal. Continue reading

Better planning needed to protect ocean resources

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Zoning coastal waters could help preserve marine resources for future generations. bberwyn photo.

Scientists call for ‘zoning’ of coastal waters

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Piecemeal planning and conservation efforts won’t be enough to preserve valuable ocean resources for future generations, a leading group of environmental and marine scientists said last week, calling on countries around the world to cooperate on zoning coastal waters in an approach that would mirror common land-use planning efforts.

Effective long-term conservation is crucial because about 20 percent of the world’s population  — mostly in developing countries — lives within 60 miles of the coast. Growing populations and worsening climate change impacts ensure that pressures on tropical coastal waters will only grow, they warned. Continue reading

Oceans: Study shows whales are ecosystem engineers

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Healthy whale populations could buffer oceans from some global warming impacts

Staff Report

FRISCO — Whales may play a much bigger role in ocean ecosystems than previously thought, according to a University of Vermont researcher who studied how the great cetaceans recycle and move nutrients from one region to another.

“For a long time, whales have been considered too rare to make much of a difference in the oceans,” notes University of Vermont conservation biologist Joe Roman.

That was a mistake, he said, explaining how his research shows that whales  have a powerful and positive influence on the function of oceans, global carbon storage, and the health of commercial fisheries. Continue reading

Environment: Emerging El Niño triggers call for fishing restrictions to protect endangered sea turtles

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy NOAA/Marco Giuliano.

A loggerhead sea turtle swimming over a coral reef. Photo courtesy NOAA/Marco Giuliano.

Ocean advocates say warming ocean drives sea turtles into floating gillnets

Staff Report

FRISCO — Along with the potential for affecting weather over North America, the emerging El Niño conditions on the Pacific Ocean could pose a  threat to endangered loggerhead sea turtles, conservation advocates say, calling on federal fisheries managers to implement legally required restrictions on gillnet fishing to protect the turtles.

When ocean waters in the eastern Pacific get warmer, the loggerheads tend to move into commercial fishing grounds, where they often die after getting tangled up in nets. When El Niño is occurring or forecasted, the Pacific Loggerhead Conservation Area (California ocean waters east of 120 degrees latitude) is, by law, closed to drift gillnet fishing during June, July and August. Continue reading

Report: Local measures won’t save sage grouse

Gunnison sage-grouse

A male Gunnison sage-grouse struts as part of its spring mating ritual. Photo courtesy BLM.

Federal protections needed to protect dwindling Gunnison sage-grouse

Staff Report

FRISCO — A new report by conservation biologists suggests that local and state-based measures to protect Gunnison sage-grouse won’t prevent the species from sliding toward extinction.

With only about 5,000 remaining birds, the population is already at a high risk, and only strict federal conservation measures under the Endangered Species Act will help, according to Megan Mueller, a senior conservation biologist with Rocky Mountain Wild.

The once-abundant species has dwindled dramatically as its habitat has been fragmented by energy and community development, as well as over-grazing. Continue reading

How much will a critical habitat designation for lynx cost?

New lynx conservation studies posted for public comment

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New federal documents spell out how a critical habitat designation for lynx could affect activities on federally managed lands.

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Lynx kitten in Colorado. Photo courtesy Tanya Shenk/Colorado Division of Wildlife.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —Designating 41,000 square miles of critical habitat for lynx in the northern Rocky Mountains won’t have a huge economic impact, federal biologists said last week as they took another step toward finalizing conservation measures for the threatened wild cat. Most costs associated with lynx conservation will be on the administrative side, as the critical habitat designation would result in the need for more coordination among federal agencies. Visit this Federal Register page to view all the documents and comment.

Two draft studies examining the effects of the proposed critical habitat designation in Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Wyoming were posted July 21 in the Federal Register for public comment. The latest version of the long-contested proposal includes revised critical habitat maps  “based on where the best science indicates the habitat could support lynx populations over time,” but includes only areas where lynx populations already exist” — with the exception of Colorado. Continue reading

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