Tag Archives: extinct

1st wolf pack in decades seen in northern California

California has its first wolf pack since the state’s gray wolf population went extinct in 1924.

State and federal authorities announced that a remote camera captured photos earlier this month of two adults and five pups in southeastern Siskiyou County.

They were named the Shasta pack for nearby Mount Shasta.

The pack was discovered four years after the famous Oregon wandering wolf OR-7 first reached Northern California.

Karen Kovacs of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said it was an amazing accomplishment for gray wolves to establish themselves in Northern California just 21 years after wolves were reintroduced in the Northern Rockies.

Those wolves eventually migrated into Oregon and Washington before reaching California, where they are protected by federal and state endangered speciesacts.

Just where these wolves, all black in color, came from will have to wait for DNA testing on scat at an Idaho lab, but it is likely they are a continuation of the increasing numbers of wolves migrating from Oregon’s northeastern corner to the southern Cascade Range, Kovacs said.

Though the wolves have been spotted by local ranchers tending their herds, there have been no reports of wolf attacks on livestock, Kovacs said.

Amaroq Weiss, of the conservation group with Center for Biological Diversity, said she was more worried the wolves could fall victim to hunters as hunting season gets underway.

Anticipating that wolves would migrate into the state, California declared them an endangered species last year, but the state Fish and Wildlife Department does not expect to have a management plan in force until the end of this year, Kovacs said.

The department has no goals for how many wolves might eventually live in California and no idea how many once lived in the state, she added. California’s last known native wolf was killed in 1924 in neighboring Lassen County.

There are at least 5,500 gray wolves in the contiguous 48 states, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Survey: only 50 vaquita porpoises remain on Earth

A new scientific report finds that vaquita porpoises declined by more than 40 percent in a single year and consequently only around 50 individuals of the species likely remain on Earth.

The vaquita is the world’s smallest and most endangered porpoise, found only in Mexico’s northern Gulf of California.

While the vaquita population has been declining for decades, based on data through 2013, an international team of scientists concluded a year ago that fewer than 100 animals remained. The new report documents a 42 percent decline from 2013 to 2014, with additional animals killed in late 2014 and early 2015 before a fishing ban was instituted in April 2015.

“It’s horrifying to witness, in real time, the extinction of an animal right in front of our eyes,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without drastic help, vaquitas could vanish completely in just a few years. We need the world to wake up and help save these incredible porpoises.”

Fishing gear is the biggest threat to vaquitas. They often drown after becoming entangled in shrimp nets or in illegal gillnets set for totoaba, an endangered fish that is also only found only in the Gulf of California. The totoaba’s swim bladder is illegally exported to Asia to make soup and for unproven treatments in traditional medicine. Demand for totoaba bladders has spiked recently, and a single totoaba bladder can sell for $14,000 (U.S.).

“We’re truly at the brink of losing the vaquita forever,” said Zak Smith, staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Marine Mammal Protection Project. “It’s inexcusable that vaquita are paying the price for Mexico’s history of ineffective and half-hearted efforts to ‘protect’ them. Now, only the most extreme measures will help, and that means a zero-tolerance enforcement of the gillnet ban in the Gulf of California.”

Recognizing the need for urgent action, in April Mexico announced a two-year ban on most gillnets in the northern Gulf of California and promised to increase enforcement against the growing illegal totoaba fishery. While Mexico’s actions are commendable, today’s new scientific report emphasizes that its actions may be too little, too late, and a permanent ban on nets in the Gulf and rigorous enforcement of that ban are necessary to save the vaquita.

The report also finds that Mexico’s previous efforts to ban fishing in vaquita habitat were unsuccessful. In fact, the number of boats within the porpoise’s habitat actually increased during the Mexican government’s previous efforts to ban fishing. Unless Mexico’s newest conservation measures are aggressively enforced, the vaquita will not survive. 

Conservation groups have requested that the Obama administration impose trade sanctions against Mexico to stop the country’s illegal totoaba fishery. That could include a boycott of shrimp from Mexico. Groups have also sought “in danger” status for the Gulf of California World Heritage site that was designated, largely to protect the vaquita and the totoaba.

A new population survey for vaquita by U.S. and Mexican scientists is scheduled to start in September, around the time that fishing activity, and hence vaquita mortality, is at its highest.

Shifting flight patterns | Climate change’s impact on birds

Could it be that some day the “oh-sweet-canada” whistle of the white-throated sparrow or the steady musical trill of the pine warbler won’t be heard in Wisconsin?

At least two climate change models — one from the Canadian Climate Center and another from the United Kingdom’s Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research — indicate that by 2100 many bird species now found in Wisconsin will be locally extinct, including the white-throated sparrow, red-breasted nuthatch, mourning warbler and pine warbler.

Other research efforts show that climate change is impacting birds and their behavior — especially migration and breeding —around the globe, raising questions for the fate of the proud peacocks of Pakistan, the brown pelicans of California, the pine warblers of Wisconsin and more.

“The science is clear: Carbon pollution is profoundly damaging to our air, water, natural spaces and wildlife, and failure to tackle the problem is no longer an option,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society. 

Researchers have looked at the impact of climate change on specific species, such as the peacock, a bird indigenous to Pakistan that typically breeds in June and July and nests through the summer. Delays in the monsoon season have brought heavy rains in September that can damage peacock eggs. And severe flooding has caused some peacock populations to migrate to more mountainous habitats.

At the University of East Anglia in England, scientists in the school of biological sciences studied a population of Icelandic black-tailed godwits for two decades. During that time, the flock advanced the end of its spring migration by two weeks.

The scientists found that a younger generation was pushing up the schedule. “We found that birds hatched in the late 1990s arrived in May, but those hatched in more recent years are tending to arrive in April,” said lead researcher Jenny Gill. “So the arrival dates are advancing because the new youngsters are migrating earlier. 

“Climate change is likely to be driving this change because godwits nest earlier in warmer years and birds that hatch earlier will have more time to gain the body condition needed for migration and to find good places to spend the winter, which can help them to return early to Iceland when they come back to breed.”

One of the most significant studies on the subject, “Birds and Climate Change — Ecological Disruption in Motion” from the Audubon Society, examined 40 years of data collected by citizen scientists in the organization’s annual Christmas Bird Count.

Each year, the citizen scientists, most of them avid birdwatchers, go out on a specific date in December or January and count birds, noting the species and their number. The data are collected and used by Audubon scientists to identify patterns and trends over time.

An analysis of the counts provided evidence that climate change is seriously impacting natural systems, especially influencing migration. The co-author of the Audubon study, Greg Butcher, wrote, “Birds are showing us how the heavy hand of humanity is tipping the balance of nature and causing ecological disruption in ways we are just beginning to predict and comprehend.”

The Audubon research was focused on North America and showed a strong correlation between shifting ranges and winter temperature trends. Birds are found further north in warmer winters than they are in colder winters. Also, many birds are moving away from coastal areas, where oceans help moderate temperatures, and are being seen farther inland as temperatures rise.

The birds, according to Audubon, are following the biological imperative to move into areas with suitable climate. Over the 40-year period, the red-breasted merganser has moved 317 miles north and the green-winged teal, 157 miles north. The pine siskin has moved 288 miles north and the spruce grouse, 316 miles north.

The data also showed that:

• Twice as many bird species moved north as south.

• Twice as many species moved inland as moved coastally.

• There is a high correlation between the rate of winter population change for species in states and the winter temperature in those states.

While some species appear to be adapting — moving north, shifting inland — other species are at risk. Grassland birds, for example. Their habitats have been so decimated by human overuse that there are few places to go to find a more suitable habitat.

Audubon also has concerns for the fate of ice-loving birds, such as the Ivory and Ross’s gulls, Arctic-breeding shorebirds such as the American golden-plover and coastal birds such as the piping plover.

“Common sense dictates that we act now to curb the causes and impacts of global warming to the extent we can, and shape our policies to better cope with the disruptions we cannot avoid,” according to Butcher.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants, many of which are coal-fired, by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

The announcement was well received in environmental circles.

Audubon’s Yarnold said, “Cutting carbon pollution is the single most important thing we can do to protect birds — and ourselves — in a changing world. Sure, energy companies are going to howl, but they can’t get a free pass to dump harmful waste into our air any longer, and they’re fully capable of innovating their way to solutions.”

Birdwatchers who participate in the Christmas count also welcomed the announcement, but said more must be done by everyone.

“I’d like everyone who reads this to go outside. Take a look around. Listen,” said bird enthusiast Ginny Manzerik of Milwaukee. “There’s a good chance that the wildlife that you see and hear will be birds. Listen to that warbler and then think about what you can do to minimize your impact.”

Additional research shows:

• Lowland and foothill bird species in Costa Rica have extended their ranges up mountain slopes.

• Breeding birds in the United Kingdom extended their ranges north by 12 miles in association with warming temperatures.

• Warming ocean temperatures contributed to a 90-percent decline in the population of sooty shearwaters on the west coast of the United States.