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Study: Colorado pikas holding their own

Colorado pika

A Quandary Peak pika enjoys some sunny weather recently on his rocky ledge. bberwyn photo.

Plenty of good habitat left in the Colorado Rockies, researchers conclude

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — New surveys by Colorado wildlife biologists suggest that pikas seem to be holding their own as temperatures rise in the Rocky Mountains. The study found that pikas remain well distributed in the Colorado high country.

“In their primary habitat, mainly at and above timberline where there is lots of talus, we find pikas almost everywhere we look,” said Amy Seglund, a species conservation biologist for Parks and Wildlife based in Montrose. Continue reading

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Wildlife: Feds punt on wolverine protection

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Wolverine habitat in the West.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will face new lawsuit over failure to give the species endangered species status

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — In a decision that’s certain to trigger a new round of lawsuits, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it won’t put wolverines on the Endangered Species List.

The decision was made by the agency’s regional directors from the areas where wolverines are native. In a release, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe contradicted all the best available science from his agency’s own biologists, claiming that there’s too much uncertainty about global warming impacts to list wolverines. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Can Colorado’s native greenback cutthroat trout make a big comeback?

Recovery team stocks genetically pure trout in historic habitat

A Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Photo courtesy Andrew Todd.

A Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Photo courtesy Andrew Todd.

FRISCO — Colorado’s native greenback cutthroat trout may be on their way to repopulating their historic habitat in the South Platte River Basin, thanks in part to a scientific sleuthing effort that helped trace the genetic roots of the colorful fish a couple of years ago.

About 1,200 greenback cutthroat fingerlings reared in federal and state hatcheries in Colorado were stocked into Zimmerman Lake, near Cameron Pass last week. An interagency recovery team hopes the stocking is a first milestone toward re-establishing populations of the state fish, which nearly vanished from Colorado’s rivers  because of  pollution, overfishing and stocking of native and non-native species of trout.

In 2012, scientists concluded that the only remaining genetically pure greenbacks were isolated in a small, single population — about 750 fish, all living in a four-mile reach of Bear Creek, a small Arkansas River tributary in the mountains west of Colorado Springs.

University of Colorado, Boulder researcher led the study that pinpointed the genetic history of the fish, clarifying the native diversity and distribution of several Colorado cutthroat trout strains. Tracking that history wasn’t easy. Historical records show that, between  1889 and 1925, more than 50 million cutthroat trout from the Gunnison and Yampa river basins were stocked in tributaries of all major drainages in the state, jumbling the picture of native cutthroat strains in Colorado through time and space.

“This is a conservation genetics success story,” said Metcalf. “We were able to use historical specimens to find out something quite novel about cutthroat trout biodiversity that has resulted in a management action. We are not just bringing a native species back to its historic range, but the greenback cutthroat trout, our Colorado state fish. I would have never imagined this outcome when we started our research in 2001.”

According to Doug Krieger, senior aquatic biologist for CPW and the Greenback Cutthroat Recovery Team leader, about 3,500 greenback cutthroat trout — offspring of fish taken from Bear Creek — have been raised at the Mt. Shavano State Rearing Unit and the Leadville National Fish Hatchery.

“We finally have the opportunity to bring these fish home,” Krieger said.

According to CU-Boulder Professor Andrew Martin, who spearheaded the 2012 study with Metcalf, researchers are trying to understand more about the characteristics of the greenback, including a collaborative effort to assess how the fish succeed in their new environment.

“Living in Zimmerman Lake in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest at an elevation over 10,000 feet will be very different from living in Bear Creek at 6,100 feet or living the ‘cushy’ life in a hatchery,” Martin said, explaining that researchers will closely watch the newly stocked greenbacks in Zimmerman Lake.

“This is an extremely challenging situation,” said Martin of CU-Boulder’s ecology and evolutionary biology department. “But this recovery effort has been a joint project of many different people with different interests and backgrounds combining their energy toward one specific goal. We have a chance to bring a native species back from the brink, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Colorado’s greenbacks, along with 14 other recognized subspecies, all originated in the Pacific Ocean, evolving along different genetic lineages in river drainages across the West.

 In Colorado, four lineages of cutthroats were previously identified: the greenback cutthroat, the Colorado River cutthroat, the Rio Grande cutthroat and the extinct yellowfin cutthroat. Work by the CU team also identified a previously undiscovered San Juan Basin cutthroat trout that is now extinct.

The study technique could pave the way for the gene sequencing of other wild creatures like reptiles and amphibians that were preserved in ethanol by early scientists, perhaps even helping researchers determine biodiversity levels in the late 1800s, said Metcalf,

 

 

Environment: New research shows exactly how systemic neonicotinoid pesticides harm honey bees

A widely used class of pesticides is probably responsible for a massive honeybee die-off.

Systemic neonicotinoid pesticides affect basic cell function in honey bees. bberwyn photo.

Toxic chemicals inhibit basic cellular functions

By Summit Voice

FRISCO —The latest in a series of studies linking declines in bee populations with systemic pesticides shows that fipornil and imidacloprid affect basic cell functions. The findings help explain why the pesticides are toxic to bees.

Essentially, the toxic chemicals inhibit mitochondrial bioenergetics, resulting in depleted cell energy. Honeybee flight muscles are strongly dependent on high levels of oxygen consumption and energy metabolism. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Some progress for Mexican gray wolves?

Feds propose updates to management of Southwest wolves

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Wolf pups recently born to a New Mexico pack. Photo by USFWS.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Rare and beleaguered Mexican gray wolves may get a little more room to roam in the Southwest, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes changes to a recovery plan from the species, including new releases of captive-bred wolves to bolster wild populations.

The new releases could happen in new areas of New Mexico and parts of Arizona where there are no wolf packs yet, and the federal agency’s proposed changes would also allow wolves to roam from the Mexican border to Interstate 40, a much broader region than currently permitted.

Only 83 Mexican wolves live in the wilds of the Southwest, including just five breeding pairs. Scientists have shown that inbreeding caused by a lack of wolf releases to the wild, coupled with too many killings and removals of wolves, is causing smaller litter sizes and lower pup-survival rates in the wild population. Expanding wolf releases to New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, in particular, would enable managers to diversify the population through new releases and diminish inbreeding. Continue reading

Oceans: Pacific bluefin tuna on the brink as feds seek input on new fishing regulations

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Even the imminent decimation of tuna populations hasn’t stopped sport fishermen from harvesting the desirable fish in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere. bberwyn photo.

Not enough adults left to replenish populations

Staff Report

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FRISCO — Pacific bluefin tuna won’t last long at any sustainable level without immediate and drastic intervention by fisheries managers, according to ocean advocates who are urging the federal government to adopt strict limits on bluefin tuna catch.

Overall, many tuna populations are on the brink of collapse. Five of eight tuna species have been assigned threatened or near-threatened status on the international Red List maintained by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

In the Gulf of Mexico, for example, the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster spewed millions of gallons of oil into the species’ prime breeding grounds, and a 2010 report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed how illegal fishing and inadequate enforcement are decimating tuna stocks all over the world. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Condor chick hatches in Zion National Park

A tagged California condor in flight.

A tagged California condor in flight. Photo via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Can the endangered birds recover from the brink of extinction?

Staff Report

FRISCO — California condors have been hovering on the brink of extinction for decades. But the majestic birds may be on the verge of making a comeback in southern Utah, National Park Service biologists said last week, announcing the first-ever birth of a condor chick in Zion National Park.

Without revealing the exact location to the public, biologists had been monitoring a rock cavity in a remote corner of the park for several weeks where they observed the nesting pair. Finally, on June 25, the condor chick made its first appearance at the edge of the nest. Continue reading

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