Bakken drilling boom displaces grassland birds


Rare species like the Sprague’s pipit are losing ground to energy development. USFWS photo.

More thoughtful energy development could reduce habitat impacts

Staff Report

If the Bakken drilling boom continues, land managers and fossil fuel companies will have to do much more to prevent further displacement of grassland birds, according to U.S. Geological Survey scientists.

Already, the furious pace of energy development in the region has displaced many species, the researchers said after documenting habitat impacts in a new study of Bakken grassland sites in northern North Dakota containing oil well pads. Continue reading

Mexico to step up vaquita conservation efforts


Mexican agencies say they will try to cut illegal fishing and work more closely with conservation groups to prevent the vaquita from going extinct. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Focusing on illegal trade could help protect world’s most endangered marine mammal

By Bob Berwyn

In a hopeful sign for the critically endangered vaquita, Mexican environmental and law enforcement officials have indicated they’ll work more closely with conservation groups to track illegal fishing in the upper Gulf of California, and try to stop the trade of illegal fish in the region.

The vaquita is the world’s most endangered marine mammal. The small dolphins live only in a few thousand square miles of ocean in the northern Gulf of California. Biologists estimate the total population at fewer than 100 individuals. Continue reading

Wolf advocates push for more releases in Gila Wilderness

Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS

More releases of wolves are needed to genetically bolster the population in the wild. Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS.

Letter to feds points out dangers of ‘genetic bottleneck’

Staff Report

Political resistance at the state level shouldn’t deter federal biologists from releasing more Mexican gray wolves into the wild, according to conservation activists, who say that such releases are needed to prevent the wild population from becoming genetically crippled.

In a letter to federal officials, biologists and wildlife advocates urged Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to release at least five more packs of wolves into  the Gila National Forest in New Mexico through the end of this year and into 2016.

The “perilously low” number of breeding pairs makes the wolf population vulnerable to inbreeding depression that could send the population into a downward spiral, more than 40 biologists and conservation groups warned in the Oct. 8 letter. Continue reading

Scientists search for ‘acoustic wilderness’ in the oceans


A supply ship lumbers through the biodiverse waters of the Antarctic Sound. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Ocean scientists are advocating for the designation of quiet zones to help gain a better understanding of how noise pollution affects marine life.

Creating areas where ship traffic is limited would help researchers find the best way to protect marine life from harmful noise, according to a new study published in the journal  Marine Pollution Bulletin. By assigning zones through which ships cannot travel, researchers can help find the best way to protect marine life from harmful noise.

Almost all marine organisms, including mammals like whales and dolphins, fish and even invertebrates, use sound to find food, avoid predators, choose mates and navigate. Chronic noise from human activities such as shipping can have a big impact on these animals, since it interferes with their acoustic signaling. Increased background noise can mean animals are unable to hear important signals, and they tend to swim away from sources of noise, disrupting their normal behavior. Continue reading

Study shows simple treatment can protect salmon from toxic urban stormwater runoff

Coho salmon are struggling, but a new report suggests that boosting stormwater treatment could help them in some environments. Photo courtesy USGS.

Coho salmon are struggling, but a new report suggests that boosting stormwater treatment could help them in some environments. Photo courtesy USGS.

Green stormwater infrastructure needed to protect salmon in urban streams

Staff Report

Simple sand and soil filters could prevent much of the pollution from urban runoff that’s killing adult coho salmon in West Coast streams, NOAA researchers found after studying water quality around Puget Sound.

The research traced the link between toxic parking lot runoff and other urban pollution and salmon deaths. More than half the coho salmon returning to urban streams dominated by stormwater runoff die every year before they spawn. Continue reading

Feds finalize plan to save country’s most endangered toad


Wyoming toads are listed as extinct in nature by the IUCN. Photo via USFWS.

Wyoming toad has been on endangered species list since 1984

Staff Report

After more than a quarter century on the Endangered Species List, Wyoming toads may have a chance at recovery under a new plan that sets specific targets and requires long-term monitoring.

The once-common toads died off in massive numbers starting in the 1970s, succumbing to a deadly fungal disease that has afflicted amphibians around the world.

Listed as endangered in 1984, the Wyoming toad is considered one of the four most endangered amphibian species in North America and is currently classified as “extinct in the wild” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Approximately 500 individuals are currently held in captivity for breeding and reintroduction efforts. Continue reading

Threatened prairie butterflies get habitat protection


Federal biologists have designated about 46,000 acres of critical habitat for two endangered prairie butterflies. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Preserving prairie remnants could help species survive

Staff Report

With most of their prairie habitat sliced and diced by agricultural development, the  Dakota skipper and Poweshiek skipperling have long been in trouble.

The butterflies were put on the Endangered Species List in 2014, and this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated about 46,000 acres of critical habitat for the two species.

“That these butterflies have survived at all is because of the good stewardship of some of the region’s landowners,” said USFWS Midwest regional director Tom Melius. “We will continue to work with these and other landowners to ensure the conservation of remnant prairie habitat and these prairie butterflies.” Continue reading


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