Biodiversity: Counting whales — from space

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New satellite technology could help biologists getter more accurate estimates of whale populations  NOAA photo.

New method could help with marine mammal conservation planning

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After using satellite images to discover new emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica, scientists with the British Antarctic Survey said they’ve also been able to use similar technology to count whales.

Marine mammals are extremely difficult to count on a large scale and traditional methods, such as counting from platforms or land, can be costly and inefficient, so the new method could lead to breakthroughs in estimating populations of whales and other marine mammals. Continue reading

Environment:: Some good news for endangered Colorado River fish

Recovery stakeholders find permanent sources of water to sustain needed late summer and autumn flows

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Endangered Colorado River Fish will benefit from permanent sources of water earmarked for a collaborative recovery effort. Click on the image to visit the recovery project website.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Four endangered native fish species in the Upper Colorado River may have a little better chance a long-term survival, as stakeholders in a collaborative recovery program found permanent sources of water needed to protect aquatic habitat for the the fish.

Water previously provided from Williams Fork and Wolford reservoirs to benefit endangered fish recovery has been replaced with permanent sources at a cost of about $25 million. The water will come from Ruedi Reservoir (5,412.5 acre-feet) and  from Granby Reservoir (5,412.5 acre-feet). The releases from Granby Reservoir will also benefit flow conditions and water quality upstream of endangered fish habitat. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Review panel says feds didn’t use best available science for wolf delisting proposal

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Scientists find flaws in federal plan to take wolves off the Endangered Species List. Photo courtesy USFWS.

USFWS reopens comment period on controversial proposal

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A federal plan to take gray wolves off the endangered species list hit a snag last week, as an independent review panel raised questions about the scientific rationale for the plan.

Specifically, the reviewers questioned whether U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists used the best available science when they developed the delisting proposal. Part of the criticism hinged on the fact that the agency relied heavily on one single report that may have omitted some key information, and included fundamental flaws about the taxonomy and genetic differentiation of wolves. Continue reading

Environment: Scientific misconduct and cover-ups on Keystone XL pipeline wildlife studies

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Official documents suggest that top federal officials have once again subverted science to downplay impacts from a major development project.

No relief yet for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service whistleblowers

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — It’s pretty clear that top-level decisions on the Keystone XL pipeline are going to be made based primarily on political considerations, but a watchdog group is charging that federal agencies are taking extraordinary steps to cover their tracks after issuing flawed and politically tainted reports.

According to the U.S. Department of Interior’s inspector general, the tainted process damages the department’s credibility and integrity.

A series of documents released this week by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, managers with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used misleading maps to downplay impacts to endangered species. Continue reading

Wildlife: Idaho ends wilderness wolf hunt — for now

There will no wolf hunting in Idaho and Montana this year. Photo by Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf / USFWS

Idaho halts wilderness wolf hunt. Photo by Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf/USFWS.

Wildlife advocates claim hunt was intended to boost elk numbers to benefit hunters and outfitters

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Wildlife conservation advocates made some headway in their battle to halt relentless wolf hunting in the northern Rockies this week, as the Idaho Department of Fish and Game agreed to stop its trapping and hunting program in the Middle Fork region of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

Since mid-December, Idaho killed nine wolves from two packs in the region. Represented by Earthjustice, several conservation groups went to court to block the killing, arguing that the state wolf extermination program would degrade the largest forested wilderness in the lower-48 states. Continue reading

Can polar bears adapt to global warming?

A polar bear roams a coastal strand. PHOTO BY SUSANNE MILLER, USFWS.

A polar bear roams a coastal strand. Photo courtesy Susanne Miller, USFWS.

Studies show changing foraging behavior

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A shared genetic heritage with brown bears may enable some polar bears to adapt as their icy Arctic hunting grounds shrink in the face of global warming.

As Arctic sea ice dwindles, polar bears have a limited amount of time to hunt their historically preferred prey — ringed seal pups — and must spend more time on land.

But polar bears in the western Hudson Bay region are using flexible foraging strategies while on land, such as prey-switching and eating a mixed diet of plants and animals, as they survive in their rapidly changing environment.

“There is little doubt that polar bears are very susceptible as global climate change continues to drastically alter the landscape of the northern polar regions,” said Robert Rockwell, a research associate  at the American Museum of Natural History’s department of ornithology. “But we’re finding that they might be more resilient than is commonly thought.” Continue reading

Florida manatee deaths spike to record high in 2013

Worsening coastal water quality seen as factor

Endangered Florida manatees are dying at an alarming rate. bberwyn photo.

Endangered Florida manatees are dying at an alarming rate. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Florida manatee deaths in 2013 spiked to the highest level ever, with the state’s wildlife agency reporting that 829 of the gentle sea cows died during the year. That total is more than double last year’s and exceeds the previous record number of deaths set in 2010, when a severe cold snap contributed to 766 deaths.

If there’s any good news for manatees in this year’s numbers, it’s that the number of deaths attributed to collisions with boats dropped to the lowest level in at least five years, comprising only 9 percent of the total mortality.

On the downside,  more frequent episodes of toxic algal blooms may have been a big factor in this year’s mortality toll, according to environmental watchdogs, who chastised state officials for not doing more to protect water quality.

Altogether, the 829 deaths comprise about 17 percent of the state’s total population of the endangered marine mammals. There were 276 red tide-related manatee deaths in 2013, almost as many as for the previous eight years combined and more than 60 percent above the previous record for red tide-related deaths of 151 back in 1996. Continue reading

Oceans: New study could help protect endangered whales from impacts of seismic airgun blasting

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Ocean conservation advocates say federal government must use new data on endangered North Atlantic right whales when it considers permits for fossil fuel exploration. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Conservation advocates call for expansion of protective zones and seasonal closures

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Endangered North Atlantic right whales may be more at risk from oil exploration than previously thought.

New research from Cornell University suggests the rare marine mammals are present throughout the year at varying distances off the coast of Virginia, putting them at risk from the acoustic impacts generated by seismic airguns — used to probe the ocean floor for oil and gas deposits. Continue reading

Can a diet change help pikas survive global warming?

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Pika habitat is threatened by global warming. Kim Fenske photo.

Researchers carefully document eating habits of unusual low-elevation pika population in Oregon

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — They’re cute and fuzzy and threatened by global warming, but it turns out that at least some pikas may be able to survive a warmer world by changing their diet.

“Our work shows pikas can eat unusual foods like moss to persist in strange environments,” University of Utah biology professor Denise Dearing said after studying pikas living in rockslides near sea level in Oregon — at much lower elevations than most other pikas. “It suggests that they may be more resistant to climate change than we thought,” she said. Continue reading

Conservation groups challenge feds on naval training

Lawsuit highlights potential impacts to marine mammals from sonar and underwater explosives

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An orca and calf. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Conservation advocates say federal authorization of a five-year U.S. Navy plan for testing and training activities off Hawai‘i and Southern California doesn’t do nearly enough to protect marine mammals from the impacts of sonar noise and underwater explosions.

The plan acknowledges that the training could cause up 9.6 million instances of harm to whales and dolphins and other marine mammals. The use of active sonar and explosive are known to cause permanent injuries and deaths to marine mammals.

According to the lawsuit filed this week Hawai‘i federal court, the plan violates federal environmental laws. The National Marine Fisheries Service didn’t evaluate alternative plans that would have required the Navy to avoid biologically important areas, the conservation groups said in a press release. Continue reading

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