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Environment: “Microplastics are everywhere’

The five major ocean gyres.

The five major ocean gyres.

Plastic waste infiltrating many ocean ecosystems

Staff Report

FRISCO — Plastic pollution is far more widespread and prevalent in all the world’s oceans than more previously believed.  Far from being contained in several well-known ocean garbage patches, those “gyres” are acting like shredders, breaking the pollution in smaller bits that are subsequently transported far and wide.

“When the 5 Gyres Institute formed in 2008, we set out to answer a basic question: how much plastic is out there?” said the group’s research director, Dr. Marcus Eriksen. “There was no data from the Southern Hemisphere, Western Pacific or Eastern Atlantic. We’ve found microplastic ocean pollution, in varying concentrations, everywhere in the world.” Continue reading

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Environment: Defense bill riders may undermine greater sage-grouse conservation efforts

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More political wrangling over greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USGS.

Ranching loopholes proposed

Staff Report

FRISCO — In the West, many eyes are on a defense spending bill pending in Congress, which may include amendments that would exempt ranchers from regulations aimed at protecting greater sage-grouse and potentially strip agencies of funding for sage grouse conservation.

With a little lobbying, the western livestock industry managed to attached the Grazing Improvement Act” into the bill (§3023). Continue reading

NOAA says (again) that current California drought isn’t directly caused by global warming

Natural ocean cycles driving current dry spell

A January 2013 image from the NASA Earth Observatory website shows a brown and dry California in the heart of the rainy season, with only sparse snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.

A January 2013 image from the NASA Earth Observatory website shows a brown and dry California in the heart of the rainy season, with only sparse snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.

FRISCO — Regardless of global warming, California’s current multiyear drought is not unprecedented and similar events are likely in the future, a new NOAA-sponsored study concludes, point at natural oceanic and atmospheric patterns are the primary drivers of the ongoing West Coast dry spell.

A stubborn high pressure ridge off the West Coast has been blocking wet season storms. The pattern is similar to other drought periods in California, the federal scientists said, explaining that the current pattern of ocean surface temperature patterns makes such a ridge much more likely.

According to the new study, the ridge over the North Pacific, is almost opposite to what models project to result from human-induced climate change. Most climate change models project that mid-winter precipitation is actually projected to increase, though warming temperatures may sap much of those benefits for water resources overall, while only spring precipitation is projected to decrease. Continue reading

Collaborative conservation plan eyed for Wyoming toad

A Wyoming toad. Photo via USFWS.

A Wyoming toad. Photo via USFWS.

Voluntary conservation easements would protect habitat and traditional land use

Staff Report

FRISCO — Federal biologists are seeking input on a draft plan to protect habitat for the endangered Wyoming toad. The species was common in the Laramie plains area through the 1970s, when populations crashed, leading to an endangered species listing in 1984.

 

The proposed conservation would enable the USFWS to buy conservation easements and limited fee-title lands from willing sellers in the Southern Laramie River area whose lands provide important habitat for the endangered Wyoming toad and a variety of other fish and wildlife resources. Continue reading

Biodiversity: 20-year battle over Montana’s Arctic grayling headed back to court

An Arctic grayling in the Gulkana River, Paxson, Alaska. Photo courtesy USGS.

An Arctic grayling in the Gulkana River, Paxson, Alaska. Photo courtesy USGS.

Conservation groups say the river fish needs endangered species protection

Staff Report

FRISCO — Wrangling over the fate Montana’s Arctic grayling will continue in court, as conservation groups this week challenged a federal finding that the fish don’t need Endangered Species Act protection.

Graylings are part of the salmon family, native to cold freshwater streams and rivers across Canada and Alaska, with a genetically distinct population in Montana that was nearly wiped out by the 1970s. Continue reading

Study: Killing wolves to save cattle usually backfires

Lethal predator control leads to more livestock kills

Heavy snow has pushed elk out of the high country, so the Colorado Division of Wildlife will try to divert them from important livestock feeding areas in the Yampa Valley. PHOTO COURTESY THE NATIONAL PAKR SERVICE.

Yellowstone wolves surround an elk.  Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Killing wolves to keep them from killing livestock is counterproductive and actually leads to more predation — up to a certain point — according to Washington State University researchers.

The scientists tested the idea that lethal control is an effective way of slowing predation and found the hypothesis lacking. Shooting and trapping lead to more dead sheep and cattle the following year, not fewer, they concluded in their study, published in the journal PLOS ONE. Continue reading

Feds making progress on endangered species

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A lynx kitten in Colorado. Photo courtesy CPW.

Annual endangered species list update shows 146 species awaiting protection

Staff Report

FRISCO — Despite a nearly continuous string of endangered species lawsuits, conservation advocates say they’re pleased overall with recent progress on protecting plants and animals in danger of extinction.

For the second year in a row, the number of species waiting for Endangered Species Act protection decisions remains below 150, according to a summary released this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — the lowest number since the endangered species waiting list was created in its current form in the 1990s. The 2014 “candidate notice of review” released by the agency today includes 146 species now awaiting protection: 79 animals and 67 plants. Continue reading

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