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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

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Wildlife: Wyoming wolves get reprieve

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A federal judge has blocked Wyoming’s unsustainable wolf management plan. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Federal judge invalidates state hunting plan

Staff Report

FRISCO — Wyoming wolves will get at least a temporary reprieve from the state’s shoot-on-sight management plan, as a federal judge this week set aside a 2012 decision that turned wolf management over to the state.

The state plan, approved by the Wyoming legislature, would allow hunters and trappers to kill most wolves outside of Yellowstone National Park, leaving only a token population in the park — hardly in keeping with the spirit and intent of the Endangered Species Act. Continue reading

Southwestern bird populations in steep decline

Report shows that even many common species are dwindling

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Global warming threatens ptarmigan habitat in the mountains of the West.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Bird populations are dwindling all over North America, especially in the Southwest, where some species have declined by as much as 48 percent since the late 1960s, according to the 2014 State of the Birds report released last week.

In Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, habitat loss and fragmentation due to development are the largest threats. These are also significant threats in the nation’s grasslands, where breeding birds like the eastern meadowlark and the bobolink have declined by 40 percent since 1968, with the steepest declines coming before 1990, when stakeholders started investing in grassland bird conservation.

And experts say it’s not just rare birds that are vanishing. The report includes a list of 33 common species in steep decline, losing ore than half their global populations over the past four decades — a clear warning sign that birds can undergo a massive population collapse with surprising rapidity. For example, passenger pigeon populations crashed from 2 to 3 billion birds to none in the wild in just 40 years. 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

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

Will global warming wipe out Devils Hole pupfish?

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Devils Hole pupfish — a poster child for climate extinction? Photo courtesy USFWS.

Rare fish species in steep decline as global, regional temperatures soar

Staff Report

FRISCO — Rare fish living in desert freshwater springs in Nevada may be adapted to warm weather, but they may not be able to survive long-term global warming, researchers said this week, outlining the threats facing endangered Devils Hole pupfish.

At times, the population of the fish has been as low as just 35 individuals, and the geothermal water on a small shelf near the surface of an isolated cavern in the Nevada desert where the pupfish live is heating up as a result of climate change and is likely to continue heating to dangerous levels.

From the 1970s through the mid-1990s, the population appeared stable, but 1997 marked the start of a long-term decline that is probably linked with global warming, according to scientists who closely watch the fish. The population dropped to an all-time low of just 65 fish in the fall of 2013, with a further decline expected this year that will push the species toward extinction. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Endangered species protection sought for dwindling monarch butterflies

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Can monarch butterflies be saved?

Pesticides, habitat loss and GMO crops seen as main threats

Staff Report

FRISCO —As monarch butterfly populations dwindle to unprecedented low levels, activists say the colorful and far-ranging insects need protection of the Endangered Species Act to survive. In a formal listing petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a coalition of advocacy groups say the widespread use of pesticides and genetically modified crops are the biggest threats to the butterflies. Continue reading

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