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Florida panthers catch break from National Park Service

Big Cypress National Preserve closes some motorized backcountry routes in response to environmental lawsuit

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Ribbons of trails cut through Big Cypress National Preserve.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —Florida panthers will get at least a temporary reprieve from dirt bikes and off-road vehicles, as the National Park Service agreed to cut motorized in Big Cypress National Preserve.

The agreement with conservation groups requires the park service to close an extensive network of motorized secondary and user-created trails until it conducts an environmental analysis. The park service must also work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure protection for panthers and other rare species in the area. Continue reading

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Report highlights species on brink of extinction

Sierra Yellow-legged frog. PHOTO COURTESY USFWS.

Sierra Yellow-legged frog. Photo: USFWS.

Biodiversity crisis growing as more and more species blink out

Staff Report

FRISCO — It’s no secret that many plant and animal species in the U.S. are in danger of disappearing permanently, but a new report from the Endangered Species Coalition brings home the point by highlighting several once-common species teetering on the brink of extinction.

Among them, the mountain yellow-legged frog, with 90 percent of remaining populations supporting fewer than 10 frogs.

“Frogs have successfully thrived on our planet since the time of the dinosaurs, but now the mountain yellow legged frog and 30 percent of all amphibian species are facing extinction due to human actions,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity, which nominated the mountain yellow-legged frog for today’s report and petitioned for its federal protection in 2000. Continue reading

Great Smoky Mountains National Park seeks to protect bat populations by limiting seasonal access to hibernation area

Monitoring to help inform conservation plan

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A map from Bat Conservation International shows the spread of white-nose syndrome in the eastern United States.

Staff Report

RISCO — The National Park Service hopes to protect bat populations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a winter closure to limit human disturbance to bat hibernacula and help hikers avoid interactions with bats.

The Whiteoak Sink area will be closed through March 31 while park biologists monitor  the site throughout the winter to cllect population, ecological and behavioral data. The information will be used to develop a long-term protection plan. An extended closure through late spring may be recommended if the winter data suggests such an action would increase the chances for survival of a significant number of bats. Continue reading

Report claims Florida’s fast-track permitting for boat launches ignores impacts to manatees

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Florida manatees. bberwyn photo.

Feds consider changing manatee status from endangered to threatened

Staff Report

FRISCO — Gentle, slow-moving manatees are still facing serious threats from motorboats in Florida waterways and should continue be be listed as endangered, according to conservation advocates.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering down-listing manatees, but the move doesn’t make sense, considering that boat collisions are still the leading cause of death, as detailed in a new report issued by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The conservation group charges that federal and state officials have issued permits for thousands of new docks, boat ramps and piers without considering the cumulative effects on the marine mammals who favor the same near-shore waters used by Florida’s recreational boaters. Continue reading

Study tracks big drop in Pacific walrus numbers

PHOTO: U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY Melting Arctic sea ice is forcing walrus colonies into a shore-bound existence to which they aren't adapted. Scientists say they've documented several cases of young calves being trampled in stampedes.

 Melting Arctic sea ice is forcing walrus colonies into a shore-bound existence to which they aren’t adapted. Photo courtesy USGS.

Melting sea ice likely a factor in population decline

Staff Report

FRISCO — With a 2017 endangered species listing deadline looming, federal researchers are trying to pinpoint Pacific walrus population numbers. In the newest study, the U.S. Geological Survey said the population dropped by about half between 1981 and 1999, but scientists aren’t sure if the numbers have stabilized since then.

in 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that the species was under pressure from sea ice loss and over-harvesting, but didn’t formally add the Pacific walrus to the endangered species list. A federal court said the agency must make a final determination by 2017. Continue reading

Study shows why Penguins need more protection

‘If we don’t worry about the imminent threats now, it’s probably not worth worrying about the medium-term future’

Gentoo penguins and the S/V Professor Molchanov at sea.

Gentoo penguins and the S/V Professor Molchanov. bberwyn photo.

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A penguin dives in and out of the icy waters near the Antarctic Peninsula. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The world’s penguins could use a little help, a team of  leading conservation biologists said last month, announcing results of a study that systematically assessed global risks to the southern hemisphere sea birds.

While global warming remains a long-term threat, other impacts, primarily related to human activities, are a more clear and present danger, the scientists said, advocating for a more widespread network of marine protected areas to buffer penguins from pollution, tourism and fishing.

“We need to address some of these issues before we think about resilience to climate change,” said Dr. Phil Trathan, head of conservation biology with the British Antarctic Survey. “If we don’t worry about the imminent threats now, it’s probably not worth worrying about the medium-term future,” Trathan said, explaining that penguins living and breeding in southern Africa and South America face the highest risks.

“If you want to create resilient populations, deal with some of the immediate threats, and where the threats are most evident is where penguins inhabit areas close to mankind,” he said. Continue reading

Biodiversity: California blue whales make huge comeback

Naval training exercises off the coast of California could pose a threat to endangered marine mammals.

Conservation works! Protective measures have helped restore blue whale populations in the eastern Pacific.

‘We think the California population has reached the capacity of what the system can take as far as blue whales’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Marine scientists say the population of California blue whales, living the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean from the equator up into the Gulf of Alaska, has rebounded to about 2,200 individuals, which may be near the historic pre-whaling level.

According to the new study, published the journal Marine Mammal Science, it’s the only population of blue whales known to have recovered from whaling after being nearly hunted to extinction.

“The recovery of California blue whales from whaling demonstrates the ability of blue whale populations to rebuild under careful management and conservation measures,” said Cole Monnahan, a University of Washington doctoral student in quantitative ecology and resource management and lead author of the paper. Continue reading

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