Arctic rain-on-snow events tilt the ecological playing field

Caption: Arctic foxes in Svalbard will have more than enough food during rainy and icy winters because there will be many reindeer carcasses for them to eat. The next winter, however, the fox population size will be reduced because a robust and small reindeer population will mean many few deaths and hence, very little carrion.Credit: Brage B. Hansen, NTNU Centre for Conservation Biology

Arctic foxes in Svalbard will feel the effects of global warming, as rain-on-snow events change the abundance of prey animals. Photo by Brage B. Hansen, NTNU Centre for Conservation Biology.

Norwegian researchers document cascading environmental impacts

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Norwegian scientists say they’ve observed how climate-linked extreme weather events have affected not just single species, but an entire ecological community in the Arctic.

Rain-on-snow events caused synchronized population fluctuations among all vertebrate species in a relatively simple high arctic community, the scientists said after documenting how populations of three species crashed at the same time.

These findings, published in the Jan. 18 issue of Science, may be a bellwether of the radical changes in ecosystem stability that could result from anticipated future increases in extreme events.  Continue reading

Oceans: Study says sharks get a bad rap from media

Sensationalized shark attack stories favored by mass media outlets

A great white shark in California coastal waters. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Sharks have always been seen as the big, bad wolves of the sea, and despite their critical ecological role as apex predators, they’ve been treated especially harshly by the media.

A new study by Michigan State University researchers shows that the mass media — especially in the U.S. and Australia — favor scare stories about shark attacks over coverage of shark-related conservation issues.

Allowing such articles to dominate the overall news coverage diverts attention from key issues, like declining global shark populations and the risk of extinction, said Meredith Gore, MSU assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife and the School of Criminal Justice. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Lead poisoning still plagues condor recovery

A tagged California condor in flight.

Failure to reduce lead exposure may lead to end of condor restoration effort in Arizona And Utah

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Government conservation biologists say California condors are slowly recovering in Utah and Arizona, with more breeding pairs and consistent use of seasonal ranges — but exposure to lead contamination associated with big game hunting  continues to be a major challenge.

The goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan is to establish two geographically separate, self-sustaining populations – a primary population in California and the other outside of California, each with 150 birds and at least 15 breeding pairs.

But the partner agencies will seriously consider withdrawing support for condor reintroduction efforts in the Southwest if, by the end of 2016, a reduction of extreme lead exposures (blood lead levels) is not achieved and a declining trend in diagnosed lead related mortality and morbidity is not observed. Continue reading

Global warming: California salmon under the gun

Spring-run Chinook salmon, photographed in Butte Creek, upstream from Centerville, Calif., may become extinct in the future due to warming waters. (Allen Harthorn, Friends of Butte Creek/photo) .

Warmer stream temps could force resource managers to choose between fish and hydropower

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Global warming may soon force resource managers in California to choose between maintaining salmon populations or producing hydropower.

That’s because warming streams could spell the end of spring-run Chinook salmon in California by the end of the century, according to a study by scientists at UC Davis, the Stockholm Environment Institute and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Salmon are already under stress from multiple causes, including pollution, and introduced predators and competitors, Thompson said. Even if those problems were solved, temperature alone would finish off the salmon — but that problem can be fixed, said Lisa Thompson, director of the Center for Aquatic Biology and Aquaculture at UC Davis. Continue reading

Study pinpoints key ocean conservation areas

Protecting just 4 percent of the ocean would protect 84 percent of marine mammals worldwide

Marine mammals could benefit from targeted conservation efforts.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Targeted conservation efforts could pay off for marine mammals like  blue whales and sea otters, according to researchers with Stanford University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, who identified areas off the coasts of Baja California in Mexico, eastern Canada, Peru, Argentina, northwestern Africa, South Africa, Japan, Australia and New Zealand as critical for protecting ocean biodiversity.

The nine key sites could protect critical habitat for 84 percent of all marine mammal species on Earth, the scientists found. That’s because those nine locations have very high species richness, providing habitat for 108 of the existing 129 marine mammal species. The scientists identified the areas by overlaying maps of where each marine mammal species is found. About 25 percent of marine mammal species are facing extinction.

Altogether, the study identified the 20 conservation sites based on three main criteria: how many species were present, how severe the risk of extinction was for each species and whether any of the species were unique to the area. The scientists also considered habitats of special importance to marine mammals, such as breeding grounds and migration routes. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Northern Rockies seen as key refuge

Report outlines need for habitat connectivity

A new report highlights the importance of wilderness in the northern Rockies. PHOTO COURTESY THE WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Remote mountain terrain in the northern Rockies could serve as a critical refuge for vulnerable species like wolverines,  grizzly bears and mountain goats, according to a new report by the Wilderness Conservation Society.

The independent assessment of the Crown of the Continent area was written by conservation biologist Dr. John Weaver. The report is a compilation and synthesis of the latest information on these species — and how climate change may affect them — from 30 biologists in the region and from nearly 300 scientific papers.

Weaver also spent four months hiking and riding horseback through these remote roadless areas to evaluate their importance for conservation.

The Crown of the Continent is a trans-border ecosystem of dramatic landscapes, pristine water sources, and diverse wildlife that stretches more than 250 miles along the Rocky Mountains from Glacier National Park-Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana north to the Canadian Rockies. Continue reading

Wildlife: Republicans try to undermine Mexican wolf recovery

A Mexican wolf. PHOTO BY BRIAN GRATWICKE VIA THE CREATIVE COMMONS.

Will politics prevail over science?

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Even as federal conservation biologists work to develop recovery goals for Mexican wolves, once plentiful in the Southwest, a group of Republican lawmakers from the West and Midwest is conspiring to prematurely remove Endangered Species Act protections for the rare species.

The introduction of H.R. 1819 follows last month’s budget rider that arbitrarily removed wolves from the endangered species list in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Utah, the first-ever congressional removal of Endangered Species Act protections for a species.

“The feds are declaring victory, but gray wolves still only survive in 5 percent of their former range, and even in those places they continue to face a real threat of persecution. Taking protection away from them now is premature and will impede the long-term recovery of wolves in the United States,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Endangered Species Act, in stark contrast to congressional whimsy, requires meeting scientific benchmarks to delist a species. H.R. 1819 would circumvent the act’s clear mandate to recover spices by allowing wolves to remain listed, but turning management over to states on an indefinite basis once the population reaches 100 animals. Continue reading

Opinion: Western governors wrong on endangered species

A western gray wolf. PHOTO BY GARY KRAMER, USFWS.

Changes in conservation policy and law must be based on science, not politics

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Reading some of the news reports from the recent Western Governors’ Association discussions on the Endangered Species Act left me rubbing my eyes, shaking my head in disbelief and wondering what century I’m in and what planet I’m living on. In case you missed it, here’s the gist, according to an Associated Press story, anyway.

It seems that the governors want to change the Endangered Species Act because they think it is a nonsensical law that hurts business, property owners and farmers and impinges on state sovereignty — in short, one of the greatest threats to motherhood and apple pie since Al Qaeda.

Some of the language used by the governors, at least as interpreted in the AP story, is the moral equivalent of the language used by Confederate secessionists in the Civil War era, and to hear welfare ranchers and golf course developers whine about how prairie dogs are “ravaging” their lands would be laughable if it weren’t so alarming. Continue reading

Feds update list of endangered species candidates

CAIC Benefit Bash, Nov. 13. Click for more info.

The Kentucky arrow darter is one of five species just added to the list of candidates for possible designation under the Endangered Species Act.

251 plants and animals now waiting for a listing decision

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — At first glance, species like the Hawaiian picture-wing fly, the norther Mexican garter snake and the yellow-billed cuckoo may not seen to have much in common. But they, along with 248 other plants and animals are all on the updated list of candidates for  endangered species status.

One animal — the the Palm Springs round-tailed ground squirrel — was removed from the list, and five were added:

the Kentucky arrow darter
the Rosemont talussnail
Kenk’s amphipod
Packard’s milkvetch
Vandenberg monkeyflower Continue reading

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