Florida manatee deaths spike to record high in 2013

Worsening coastal water quality seen as factor

Endangered Florida manatees are dying at an alarming rate. bberwyn photo.

Endangered Florida manatees are dying at an alarming rate. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Florida manatee deaths in 2013 spiked to the highest level ever, with the state’s wildlife agency reporting that 829 of the gentle sea cows died during the year. That total is more than double last year’s and exceeds the previous record number of deaths set in 2010, when a severe cold snap contributed to 766 deaths.

If there’s any good news for manatees in this year’s numbers, it’s that the number of deaths attributed to collisions with boats dropped to the lowest level in at least five years, comprising only 9 percent of the total mortality.

On the downside,  more frequent episodes of toxic algal blooms may have been a big factor in this year’s mortality toll, according to environmental watchdogs, who chastised state officials for not doing more to protect water quality.

Altogether, the 829 deaths comprise about 17 percent of the state’s total population of the endangered marine mammals. There were 276 red tide-related manatee deaths in 2013, almost as many as for the previous eight years combined and more than 60 percent above the previous record for red tide-related deaths of 151 back in 1996. Continue reading

Wyoming wolf battle far from over, as wildlife advocates challenge delisting in federal court

Gray wolves a. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Gray wolves are facing state-sanctioned slaughter in Wyoming. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Lawsuit says state management plan is inadequate

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Wildlife advocates say that, without federal protection, wolves in Wyoming could soon be back on the ropes because of anti-wolf state policy that does little to protect the predators.

Based on those concerns, conservation groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The court heard arguments in the case on Dec. 17, with Earthjustice attorney Tom Preso asking the judge to restore Endangered Species Act protections to gray wolves in Wyoming until state officials develop a stronger wolf conservation plan. Continue reading

Feds delay wolverine listing decision

Wolverine. Photo courtesy Roy Anderson/USFWS.

Wolverine. Photo courtesy Roy Anderson/USFWS.

Not everyone is convinced that the species is threatened by global warming

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal biologists last week said they aren’t quite ready to make a final decision about endangered species status for wolverine. The listing deadline has been pushed back by six months for another review of the science — a step that’s taken when there is “substantial scientific disagreement.”

“During the peer review process on our proposed rule to list the wolverine as threatened, we received a variety of opinions from the scientific community concerning the information we used to develop the proposed rules,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement. Background on wolverine conservation online here. Continue reading

Can a diet change help pikas survive global warming?

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Pika habitat is threatened by global warming. Kim Fenske photo.

Researchers carefully document eating habits of unusual low-elevation pika population in Oregon

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — They’re cute and fuzzy and threatened by global warming, but it turns out that at least some pikas may be able to survive a warmer world by changing their diet.

“Our work shows pikas can eat unusual foods like moss to persist in strange environments,” University of Utah biology professor Denise Dearing said after studying pikas living in rockslides near sea level in Oregon — at much lower elevations than most other pikas. “It suggests that they may be more resistant to climate change than we thought,” she said. Continue reading

Environment: Loggerhead sea turtles need protection at sea and in feeding grounds, not just on nesting beaches

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy NOAA/Marco Giuliano.

Loggerhead sea turtle. Photo courtesy NOAA/Marco Giuliano.

New research to help inform conservation

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Protecting nesting beaches is an important part of the loggerhead sea turtle recovery effort, but it may be even more critical to protect older juveniles and sub-adults to ensure they reach maturity and breed multiple times, according to new research by federal, state and university biologists.

NOAA last summer proposed designating nearshore reproductive habitat, breeding areas, and migratory corridors as critical habitat for the species.

“Our study suggests that the cumulative survival from hatchling to maturity, which may take 30 years, combined with present-day climate effects on mature females, has a greater influence on annual nesting population size than does the exclusive impact of survival during the first year of life as hatchlings,” said biologist Vincent Saba.  “The first year of life represents only 3 percent of the time elapsed through age 31.”

Saba, a research fishery biologist at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center , and his study co-authors used annual nest counts from Florida and a time-series of climate data in turtle-nesting population models. These models were then used to assess observed changes in nest counts and to project future nesting trends in the Northwest Atlantic loggerhead sea turtle population, the largest in the world. Continue reading

Feds once again push grizzly bear de-listing

An adult grizzly bear in the brush. PHOTO COURTESY THE U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE.

An adult grizzly bear in the brush. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE.

Conservation groups say it’s too early

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal biologists last week said they expect to decide within a month whether they will remove grizzly bears in the northern Rockies from the endangered species list despite a recent study suggesting that populations may be declining.

Grizzlies were classified as a threatened species in 1975 and cooperative conservation efforts have help recover and stabilized some populations, but wildlife conservation groups say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to take grizzlies off the list is premature. Continue reading

Climate a huge factor in endangered species managment

New research helps narrow range of outcomes for resource managers

Dolphins off the coast of Florida have been exposed to more mercury than captive dolphins fed a controlled diet. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

New research shows how global warming may affect aquatic species. bberwyn photo.

Staff report

FRISCO — The ecological playing field has changed dramatically since the Endangered Species Act was passed 40 years ago. Along with continued environmental threats like pollution and habitat loss, global warming has emerged as a huge factor in the survival of numerous species.

Resource managers and scientists are still grappling with how warmer temperatures will affect ecosystems, but the range of possible outcomes is starting to become more clear. This month, federal fisheries scientists published a series of papers outlining several scenarios for the coming decades, including case studies for species ranging from chinook salmon to steelhead to 82 different types of coral. Continue reading

Feds pick up the pace on endangered species listings

Conservation and recovery efforts still hampered by funding shorfall

A new climate change study casts doubt on the ability of wolverines to survive in the face of climate change. PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL PARK SERVICE.

A new climate change study casts doubt on the ability of wolverines to survive in the face of climate change. PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL PARK SERVICE.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — You’d need more than all your fingers and toes to count the plants and animals that are in danger of extinction in the U.S. But all in all, 2013 was a good year for endangered species protection, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

The organization last week praised the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for adding 81 species to the list in 2013, making some progress in whittling down the list of 757 species covered under a landmark agreement that requires the federal agency to speed listing determinations. So for the first time since the  1970s, the number of plants and animals on the waiting list for Endangered Species Act protection has dropped below 150. Continue reading

Environment: EPA to boost reviews for pesticide impacts to endangered species

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Will the EPA follow through on its new policies to better analyze pesticide impacts to endangered species?

Conservation advocates say new guidelines are a good first step

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Endangered species may get more protection from pesticides under new guidelines that require federal agencies to better assess the risks posed by toxic chemicals.

The policies will ensure that mitigation measures recommended by the federal wildlife agencies are put in place to protect endangered species in agricultural areas, as well as in areas downstream that are affected by pesticide runoff.

According to environmentalists, the EPA has routinely ignored the Endangered Species Act for more than two decades by failing to consult with wildlife agencies on pesticide impacts. In 2011 Congress asked the National Academy of Sciences to study this issue and report on ways of addressing the EPA’s failures to fully protect listed species. Continue reading

Feds say eastern population of Steller sea lions is recovered

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Steller sea lions. Photo courtesy National Marine Mammal Laboratory.

Protective measures help restore marine mammals from Alaska to California

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal biologists say the eastern distinct population of Steller sea lions has recovered to the point that they can be removed from the endangered species list — the first species to be de-listed by by NOAA Fisheries since the eastern North Pacific gray whale in 1994.

The eastern distinct population segment is found along the coast of southeast Alaska and British Columbia. The best available scientific information indicates numbers of eastern Steller sea lions have increased from an estimated 18,040 animals in 1979 to an estimated 70,174 in 2010. Eastern Steller sea lions will continue to be protected under provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Continue reading

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