Feds seek to tweak Endangered Species Act

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Lynx have protected under the Endangered Species Act for 15 years, but legal wrangling and bureaucratic inertia have prevented completion of a recovery plan for the mammals, Photo courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Modernization aimed at keeping regs in line with science, political pressure and court rulings

Staff Report

FRISCO — Federal biologists say they want to freshen up the Endangered Species Act to “reflect advances in conservation biology and genetics, as well as recent court decisions interpreting the Act’s provisions.”

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, many of the country’s endangered species regulations date back to the 1980s, and need an overhaul. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe, the changes will address states’ concerns and boost voluntary conservation efforts, and add transparency to the listing process.

The proposal to revamp parts of the law comes against a backdrop of blistering attacks by anti-environmental Republicans in Congress who see endangered species regulations as hurdles to the exploitation of natural resources and have tried to undercut the bedrock law by preventing funding for environmental protection, and even going as far as trying to prevent federal agencies from making science-based listing decisions. Continue reading

Wildlife: Sandhill cranes migrating through Colorado

Tours and viewing opportunities abound in San Luis Valley

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Sandhill cranes. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Staff Report

One of Colorado’s great wildlife migrations peaks this weekend, as vast flocks of sandhill cranes stop in the San Luis Valley on their way from New Mexico north to Montana, Idaho and Canada. By mid-march, the fields, ranches and wetlands in the valley may see as many as 25,000 cranes.

“People in Colorado should take time to see the cranes; the migration is truly one of nature’s wonders,” said Rick Basagoitia, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the San Luis Valley.

The annual San Luis Valley Crane Festival is scheduled for this weekend, March 13-15. The cranes start arriving in late-February, stopping in the valley to rest-up and re-fuel for the rest of the trip. Continue reading

Feds put Wyoming, Great Lakes wolves back on endangered species list

Heavy snow has pushed elk out of the high country, so the Colorado Division of Wildlife will try to divert them from important livestock feeding areas in the Yampa Valley. PHOTO COURTESY THE NATIONAL PAKR SERVICE.

Wolves chase down an elk in Yellowstone National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Responding to lawsuits, USFWS acknowledges that state protections are inadequate

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Wild wolves in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes once again are protected under the Endangered Species Act, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a Federal Register notice explaining that Wyoming’s management plan is not adequate to protect the predators.

Of course the agency needed a push from the federal courts to acknowledge the reality of the Wyoming’s anti-wolf policies. Similarly, a federal court also said the agency can’t delist wolves in the western Great Lakes because protections can’t be removed in part of a species’ range when it has not recovered overall. Continue reading

Climate: California pikas vanishing from lower sites

‘It looks like we’re going to lose pikas from many areas where people have been used to seeing them …’

Colorado pika

A Quandary Peak pika enjoys sunny weather on a rocky ledge. bberwyn photo.

FRISCO — Global warming is probably shrinking habitat for California’s pikas, scientists said this week in a new study that looked at 67 locations with historical data on populations of the small alpine mammals. Pikas have already vanished completely from 10 of those sites, the researchers said, explaining that local extinctions are likely where summer temperatures are high and habitat is already marginal.

“This same pattern of extinctions at sites with high summer temperatures has also been observed in the Great Basin region,”  said Joseph Stewart, a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz and first author of a paper reporting the new findings, published January 29 in the Journal of Biogeography. Continue reading

Arctic: Satellite images help track polar bears

Data will help assess global warming impacts to Arctic wildlife

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Polar bears near a U.S. Navy submarine.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The latest generation of high-resolution satellite images may help scientists gain a better understanding of Arctic polar bear populations. Dwindling Arctic sea ice is seen a huge threat to the predators, but difficult field conditions make it challenging to get a clear picture of polar bear population dynamics.

Satellite images have also been used recently to track emperor penguins in Antarctica, and researchers are starting to rely on satellite images more and more. In a new study, U.S. Geological Survey biologists matched satellite surveys with ground-truthed counts. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Invasive barred owls displacing endangered native northern spotted owls in Pacific Northwest forests

Barred owl. PHOTO COURTESY USGS.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans experimental removal of barred owls

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Invasive barred owls are increasingly taking up residence in northwestern forests at the expense of native — and endangered — norther spotted owls, according to a research project conducted jointly by the Oregon State University and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The three-year study shows that the barred owls are outcompeting spotted owls for critical resources such as space, habitat, and food, according to the study released last week by Oregon State University.

“Interactions between invasive and native species can be multifaceted and complex, with the stakes being even higher when the native species is already threatened with extinction,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “Careful scientific observation and analysis can tease out the critical areas of conflict or competition, the first step in finding solutions.” Continue reading

Morning photo: Deception Island

Antarctic caldera

The volcanic rocks of Deception Island show their colors agains the cool gray backdrop of the Southern Ocean.

Only a narrow passage way, known as Neptune's Bellows, gives access to the sheltered bay.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Every now and then, I like to reach back into the archives for a little vicarious travel. This series is from Deception Island, one of the most interesting chunks of land in the South Shetland archipelago, northwest of the Antarctic Peninsula, which stretches up like an index finger pointing at South America.

Deception Island is submerged caldera — the drowned crater of a giant and still-active volcano. The island served as a whaling base, and because of the sheltered bay, served as refuge from fierce Southern Ocean storms right from the early days of Antarctic exploration.

Toward the end of World War II, the British established a naval base on the island, but volcanic activity in 1969 forced the base to close. Chile and Argentina also established stations to strengthen territorial claims, but several of those bases were also destroyed by eruptions.

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During the approach to Deception Island, the clouds lift for a moment, giving the sky a layer-cake look.

Continue reading

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