California sea otters inch toward recovery


Sea otters are increasingly facing shark attacks at the northern and southern end of their range. Photo courtesy USGS.

Latest survey shows population growth in some areas

Staff Report

There’s good news and bad news for sea otters along the California coast. A boom in sea urchin numbers in some areas is providing plenty of food for the species, but sharks are taking a bite from the otter population at the northern and southern end of their range, potentially slowing the spread of otters up and down the coast.

Sea otters were presumed extinct in California after the fur trade years, but a remnant population was discovered off the coast of Big Sur in the 1930s, prompting a recovery effort. Otters are a keystone coastal species that maintain the ecological balance in undersea kelp forests.

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Sea turtles face serious plastic pollution risk


Sea turtles along the East Coast of North America face a high risk of ingesting plastic waste. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Study estimates more than half of all sea turtles have ingested plastic debris

Staff Report

LINZ — Not long after a team of scientists detailed the extent to which seabirds have been exposed to ocean plastic pollution, another group of researchers say sea turtles face similar threats.

The international study, led by a led by a University of Queensland researcher, shows more than half the world’s sea turtles have ingested plastic or other human trash — perhaps not surprising considering that up to 12 million tons of plastic debris reach the oceans each year.

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Drought dries up frog ponds in Pacific Northwest


Current drought offers window into future climate conditions.

‘More years like 2015 do not bode well for the frogs …’

Staff Report

LINZ — This year’s fierce drought in the Pacific Northwest has given researchers a chance to see how climate change may affect the region long-term, and the outlook is not good for amphibians.

The low winter snowpack and long, hot summer have left some frogs high and dry as their mountain ponds dry up and disappear. Those conditions could be the norm in another 50 years, said Se-Yeun Lee, research scientist at University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group and one of the lead authors of the study published last week in PLOS ONE.

“This year is an analog for the 2070s in terms of the conditions of the ponds in response to climate,” said Se-Yeun Lee, research scientist at University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group and one of the lead authors of the study. Continue reading

Can the Endangered Species Act save the stonefly?

Western Glacier Stonefly

A Western Glacier Stonefly.

Glacier meltdown threatens unique ecosystems

Staff Report

Even with immediate and massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, most of the glaciers in the northern Rockies are likely to vanish in the next few decades. That means there won’t be any habitat left for the western glacier stonefly, which depends on cold glacial meltwater for habitat.

Even though their demise is all but certain, environmental activists say the insect needs protection under the Endangered Species Act, and last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to make that decision within the next year. Continue reading

Getting a handle on wildfires may be key to saving greater sage-grouse


Wildfires are putting a bit hit on greater sage-grouse populations. Photo via USFWS.

Current wildfire trends could cut sage grouse populations dramatically

Staff Report

Slowing the spiral of growing wildfires may be crucial to protecting greater sage-grouse during the next 30 years, U.S. Geological Survey researchers said after comparing wildfire, precipitation and sage grouse population trends.

Cutting destructive fires near key habitat areas would be most beneficial and could even help sage grouse populations rebound, the scientists concluded.

The new study  projects that, if the current trend in wildfire continues unabated, sage grouse populations will continue to plummet — by as much as half by the mid-1940s. The models used by the scientists  simulated different post-fire recovery times for sagebrush habitats based on soil attributes — soil moisture and temperature maps — that strongly influence resilience to wildfire and resistance to invasive grass species. Continue reading

Rare black-capped petrels may get endangered status

A petrel soars above the waters of the Drake Passage, between Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica.

Petrels are risk from oil spills. @bberwyn photo.

Deal with conservation group may help speed listing decision

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Conservation advocates say a rare Atlantic seabird has moved one step closer to gaining endangered species protection under a settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity gives the federal agency until Sept. 2018 tod decide whether the black-capped petrel — once thought to be extinct — will be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The agreement follows a lawsuit filed by the Center this summer.

“Black-capped petrels need Endangered Species Act protection, particularly given new offshore oil exploration in the Atlantic,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center. “Petrels have a deadly attraction to oily surfaces, so this long-overdue determination could come just in time to prevent their extinction.” Continue reading

Feds to boost protection for Florida manatees


Manatees at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. @bberwyn photo.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes strict limits on commercial access to key winter manatee habitat

Staff Report

FRISCO — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to better protect endangered manatees with new rules at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.

With record numbers of manatees wintering in Three Sisters Springs, and substantial increases in the number of people wanting to see the marine mammals in their natural habitat, the rules are needed to limit the potential for “viewing-related disturbance,” according to refuge manager Andrew Gude.

“Three Sisters Springs is among the top three most frequented springs by manatees in the world,” Gude said in a press release. “It is also the only confined-water body in the United States open to the public while wintering manatees are present. Understandably, more manatees in the springs attract more people who wish to experience them up close,” Gude said. Continue reading


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