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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

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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.

deception island

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

Continue reading

Biodiversity: Yukon wolf herd thriving

Study shows wolf numbers don’t have a big effect on caribou herd

A collared wolf in the Yukon. PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL PARK SERVICE.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A long-term study of wolves and caribou in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, a few hundred miles east of Fairbanks, suggests that a thriving wolf population in the area doesn’t have a significant impact on the caribou herd in the preserve.

Wolf abundance and distribution has been monitored in the 2.5 million acre national preserve since 1993 using radio collars on animals within most of the packs using the area. No wolf study in Alaska, other than one at Denali National Park, has been in place for more years. The latest data from study shows a healthy and rebounding wolf population.

“Wolves depend on healthy populations of large ungulates, like caribou, which in turn respond to vegetation, weather and other habitat patterns across the landscape,” said Tom Liebscher, chief of resources for Yukon-Charley Rivers. ‘These data give us insight into what’s happening across a large range of resources, as well as help other agencies make informed management choices.” Continue reading

Morning photo: Penguin portraits

Some of our favorite feathered friends …

Bathing beauties. Gentoo penguins on Deception Island.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Some might call it a shameless quest for page views but I’m going to call it fine art photography, even though there’s no doubt that penguin pictures to help drive web traffic. There’s no denying — they are cute little critters, and despite being so cuddly and loveable, they manage to survive and even thrive in an incredibly harsh environment. Their environment is, of course, one of the most threatened by climate change, as temperatures across parts of Antarctica are warming at double the rate of the global average. Continue reading

Park service wins court case on Mojave hunting rules

Conservation groups sought sport-hunting rules to protect endangered desert tortoise; agency wins case on procedural grounds

Desert tortoise. PHOTO COURTESY BEKEE HOTZE, USGS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A decade-long saga involving the fate of desert tortoises, careless hunters and a big dose of politics ended last month, as a federal court refused to make the National Park Service uphold one of its own management rules for the Mojave National Preserve. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Sierra red fox considered for endangered list

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct in-depth review of species

A Sierra Nevada red fox. PHOTO COURTESY USFWS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —A rare fox living in a couple of isolated pockets in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California may get Endangered Species Act protection after The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week that it will take a hard look at the status of the species.

The Sierra Nevada red fox is one of 10 subspecies of red fox in North America. The subspecies can be distinguished from other red fox subspecies based on morphology (form and structure), coloration, and habitat use. This subspecies is typically red, but can occur in black or silver phases. With an elongated snout, large ears, slender legs and body, and a bushy tail with a white tip, the Sierra Nevada red fox is generally smaller than other red fox subspecies in North America. Continue reading

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