Tag Archives: fish and wildlife

Bald eagle, migratory birds poisoned near Rhinelander, feds investigating

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is  working to apprehend those responsible for the illegal poisoning of an American bald eagle and other migratory birds near Rhinelander in Oneida County.

A reward of up to $5,000 is being offered for information leading to a conviction of the person or persons responsible for killing a bald eagle and two ravens.

The birds were discovered on the shoulder of Pine Lake Road north of Haven Lake in July.

The eagle was found lying next to a dead raccoon and the ravens were found in the adjacent ditch.

All three birds and the raccoon were sent to our National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon.

The forensics lab determined the raccoon carcass was laced with the pesticide carbofuran and the birds ingested the carbofuran while scavenging on the raccoon.

Carbofuran is an agricultural pesticide used to kill insects, mites and nematodes and is often marketed under the trade names Furadan and Curaterr.

Carbofuran is extremely toxic to birds, fish and bees.

Bald eagles and ravens are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Additionally, bald eagles are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Violations of these statutes carry maximum criminal penalties of up to $100,000 and/or one year in federal prison.

Anyone with information concerning these birds is asked to call the Office of Law Enforcement in Madison, Wisconsin at 608-221-1206, ext. 15.

7 Hawaii bee species listed as endangered, a 1st in U.S.

Federal authorities have added seven yellow-faced bee species — Hawaii’s only native bees — for protection under the Endangered Species Act. This is a first for any bees in the United States.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the listing after years of study by the conservation group Xerces Society, state government officials and independent researchers.

The Xerces Society says its goal is to protect nature’s pollinators and invertebrates, which play a vital role in the health of the overall ecosystem.

The nonprofit organization was involved in the initial petitions to protect the bee species, said Sarina Jepson, director of endangered species and aquatic programs for the Portland, Oregon-based group.

Jepson said yellow-faced bees can be found elsewhere in the world, but these particular species are native only to Hawaii and pollinate plant species indigenous to the islands.

The bees face a variety of threats including “feral pigs, invasive ants, loss of native habitat due to invasive plants, fire, as well as development, especially in some for the coastal areas,” Jepson told The Associated Press.

The bees can be found in a wide variety of habitats in Hawaii, from coastal environments to high-elevation shrub lands, she said. The yellow-faced bees pollinate some of Hawaii’s endangered native plant species. While other bees could potentially pollinate those species, many could become extinct if these bees were to die off entirely.

Hawaii-based entomologist Karl Magnacca worked with Xerces on much of the initial research. It has taken almost 10 years to get to this point, he told the AP. “It’s good to see it to finally come to fruition,” he said.

The bees “tend to favor the more dominant trees and shrubs we have here,” he said. “People tend to focus on the rare plants, and those are important, that’s a big part of the diversity. But the other side is maintaining the common ones as common. (The bees) help maintain the structure of the whole forest.”

Magnacca added that there are a lot more rare insects that deserve protection. “It may not necessarily be appropriate to list them as endangered, but we have this huge diversity that we need to work on and protect here in Hawaii,” he said. “There’s a huge amount of work that needs to be done.”

The bees are critical for maintaining the health of plants and other animals across the islands, said Gregory Koob, conservation and restoration team manager for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Honolulu.

There is no designated critical habitat attached to the listing, he said, but the protection will allow authorities to implement recovery programs, access funding and limit their harm from outside sources. All federal agencies must consult with the Fish and Wildlife service when interacting with endangered species.

“As an animal, it can’t be taken or harmed or killed by individuals,” Koob said. “Any research that is done needs a permit from Fish and Wildlife Service unless it’s done by a state agency.”

Koob said that if the bees were removed from ecosystem, the plants that they pollinate would likely not survive.

“Those plants are not only food and nesting habitat for the bees, but they also provide habitat for other animals,” he said. “It’s the web of life.”

Friday’s listing finalized the protection of 10 animal species in Hawaii, the seven bees along with the band-rumped storm-petrel, the orangeblack Hawaiian damselfly and the anchialine pool shrimp. It also added 39 species of plants native to Hawaii.

The rusty-patched bumble bee, found widely across the continental United States, is also being considered for protection.

On the Web

Documents from FWS.

Climate change may be turning gulls into cannibals

By TRISTAN BAURICK, Kitsap Sun

Jim Hayward slips on a hard hat and pops open an umbrella before stepping into a storm of angry gulls.

Hayward, a seabird biologist based on Protection Island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, is making his evening rounds through the largest gull nesting colony in the Puget Sound region. He’s been monitoring this site since 1987, so he’s used to the shrieking, the dive-bombing, the frequent splatterings of gull poop, and the pecking at his head, hands and feet.

What he’s not accustomed to is the cannibalism, reported the Kitsap Sun. It’s hard to watch: A fluffy chick straying a few yards from its nest is suddenly snatched up by its neck. Another hungry gull swoops in and bites at the chick’s leg. The mother intervenes but is outnumbered. Her baby disappears under a frenzy of flapping and pecking.

Over the last decade, the gulls have shown a growing taste for their neighbors’ eggs and chicks. The trend appears linked to climate change.

“It doesn’t seem like a lot, but a one-tenth of a degree change in seawater temperature correlates to a 10 percent increase in (the odds of) cannibalism,” said Hayward, a professor at Andrews University in Michigan.

Over the past 60 years, ocean temperatures have increased about 15 times faster than any other time over the past 10,000 years. As temperatures rise, plankton drops into deeper, colder water. Fish that feed on the plankton also drop lower. The surface-feeding gulls, which depend almost entirely on fish while nesting on Protection Island, can’t find enough to eat.

“So they resort to feeding on their neighbors,” Hayward said.

Bird paradise

Protection Island is a high-cliffed and nearly treeless swath of land near the mouth of Discovery Bay about five miles west of Port Townsend.

More than 70 percent of the region’s seabirds nest on Protection — a fact that led to its status as a national wildlife refuge in 1982. The 380-acre island is home to the third largest colony of rhinoceros auklet seabirds in North America and one of the last two breeding sites in the Salish Sea for tufted puffins, which nest in holes burrowed into sandy cliffs.

The island’s ecological value and the fragility of its habitat make it off-limits to the public.

Protection’s only full-time resident is a caretaker employed by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. Hayward and his wife, mathematician Shandelle Henson, also of Andrews University, spend two months each summer studying the vast glaucous-winged gull population.

High temps, high cannibalism

It was Henson who answered the cannibalism question.

Taking decades of Hayward’s data, she fed it into a computer model loaded with a range of climate and other environmental factors.

“We found that, over the last eight years, there’s a 100 percent correlation between hot years and high cannibalism,” she said.

She also found that gulls are beginning to synchronize egg-laying, possibly in response to cannibalism.

“On one day, we’ll see a ton of eggs. The next day — hardly any,” Hayward said.

Henson’s hypothesis: “If there’s a lot of eggs available all at once, there’s less chance your own eggs will be taken,” she said.

Gulls aren’t picky eaters. They’ll pluck a meal from a dumpster just as readily as a beach at low tide. But during nesting, their range is greatly reduced. They can’t be gone for long from their nests and must rely on whatever the immediate area provides. Increasingly, the region’s marine waters simply aren’t providing.

Forage fish such as herring and sand lance — key food sources for salmon, birds and other marine animals — are in decline. Fish accustomed to warmer water are moving in, but they pack less of a nutritional punch.

“Essentially, they’re getting junk food,” said Scott Pearson, an avian ecologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The region’s puffins haven’t resorted to cannibalism but climate change appears to be making them less committed parents.

During periods of high sea temperatures, Puffins tend to abandon their nests, fail to incubate their eggs or skip the nesting routine altogether. That’s probably because they’re so busy and exhausted from food hunting that they can’t invest time or energy into raising the next generation, Pearson said.

While puffin populations are struggling, a visit to any Puget Sound beach makes clear that gulls are anything but endangered, despite the rise in cannibalism.

But what happens with gulls may be happening or may soon happen with other species that aren’t as easy to study, Henson said. Gulls have long been a favorite species for scientists investigating how environmental changes affect animal behavior.

“They’re big, easy to see and easy to find,” Hayward said. The fact that they nest on the ground in densely-packed colonies makes data collection fairly simple. Hayward strolls through each day, counting and measuring eggs and noting the occurrence of chicks or broken eggs in about 300 nests marked with numbered stakes.

“They’re a good indicator species, like canaries in the coal mine,” he said.

Meade Krosby, a research scientist with the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group, agrees.

“There’s no doubt climate change has already negatively impacted species around the world,” she said. “We know the oceans are getting warmer, so we can expect more cannibalism.”

Scientists have recently documented climate-related upticks in cannibalism among other species.

As ice recedes in the Arctic, polar bears are finding it harder to hunt seals and other marine mammals. In response, hungry males have been spotted hunting down smaller bears and cubs.

In 2013, warming waters off the coast of Maine sparked a lobster population explosion. With lobsters suddenly the most plentiful food source around, the opportunistic eaters began dining on each other.

“They kind of ate themselves out of business,” Krosby said.

Super cannibals

Cannibalism has been noted in about 1,300 species, including humans. Usually, animals resort to cannibalism as a stopgap measure during periods of food scarcity. Once food is plentiful again, cannibalism ceases.

But what if conditions don’t improve, as appears to be the case with climate change? It could give rise to what Hayward calls “super cannibals.” These are gulls that have largely given up on fish foraging and are instead specializing in hunting their own kind.

“You can tell them because they have scads of egg shells around their territory,” he said. “You see them slowly flap around the colony, and suddenly they drop when they see an unattended nest.”

They also take advantage of the panic caused when an eagle soars overhead. Most gulls begin flying frantic circles, but the super cannibals seize the opportunity, raiding eggs and plucking away chicks.

Cannibal gulls often eat two or three eggs a day — more than enough to meet their caloric needs. Hayward has recorded some of these gulls eating up to 80 eggs in a month.

“For a species, cannibalism is not a good long-term strategy,” Hayward said. “If there’s no food, it can get you across a bad year.”

“But every year,” added Henson, “could be a bad year with climate change.”

A tufted puffin. The region’s puffins haven’t resorted to cannibalism but climate change appears to be making them less committed parents.
A tufted puffin. The region’s puffins haven’t resorted to cannibalism but climate change appears to be making them less committed parents.

Bogus guide, client from Wisconsin guilty of poaching in Canada

Two Wisconsin men were found guilty of illegal guiding and poaching across the border in Canada and it’s partly because of their own Facebook posts that they were caught.

U.S. Attorney Gregory J. Haanstad of the Eastern District of Wisconsin announced the two Milwaukee-area men pleaded guilty in federal court for violating the Lacey Act and lying about it to a federal officer. The violations are related to the unlawful importation of wildlife into the United States that had been killed in Ontario, Canada, in violation of Canadian law.

In late 2013, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry conservation officers looked into complaints relating to the illegal hunting activities of Reid Viertel, of West Allis,  and various associates, including Terry Schmit, of Franklin. The complaints partly were based on public Facebook posts by Viertel and Schmit in which they bragged about their successful hunting trips in Canada.

As a part of their investigation, Canadian officials reached out to a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to interview the men. Together, with assistance from wardens with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Law Enforcement, the agent learned this was much more than a hunting trip.

At the time of the interviews, Viertel was suspected of operating an illegal guiding service in Ontario to hunt for wolves, bear and white-tailed deer and was also suspected of poaching on those trips.

Viertel, a medically-retired firefighter, was doing business as Hero Driven Outfitters during this time, a self-described nonprofit whose mission, as noted on the group’s Facebook page was “to take disabled firefighters, law enforcement officers, and military personnel to the woods hunting and fishing.”

Schmit was one of those clients.

As a part of this scheme, Schmit was suspected of killing a black bear illegally during his trip in Ontario and allegedly used a bear license from a mentally disabled Canadian resident to make his black bear look legitimate.

“Wildlife crime knows no borders and I commend our Canadian counterparts, Wisconsin’s conservation wardens and our special agents for a solid investigation,” Edward Grace, deputy assistant director for law enforcement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, stated in a news release.

Along with Canadian law enforcement agents, the Wisconsin-based investigative team determined that Viertel shot and killed a timber wolf in February 2012 without having an Ontario license.

The team also determined that in August 2013, Schmit traveled to Ontario with Viertel, where Schmit had shot and killed a black bear, also without a license. Schmit used a bear license from a Canadian resident to make his bear kill look legitimate. In both instances, Viertel falsified export documents from Ontario for the purpose of illegally importing the animal carcasses into the United States.

“This case illustrates the partnership that takes place among conservation agencies,” stated Todd Schaller, chief warden with the Bureau of Law Enforcement in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

In June, Schmit pleaded guilty to a single count of violating the Lacey Act, and was sentenced to a $1,000 fine, the forfeiture of the black bear, and a ban on hunting, fishing, and/or trapping in North America until Jan. 1, 2019.

Following this verdict, Viertel pleaded guilty to two offenses and was sentenced to three years of probation, to include at least 25 hours per year of environmental community service, forfeiture of the wolf and black bear, and a ban on hunting, fishing, and/or trapping in North America until Jan. 1, 2021.

Viertel also was ordered to serve the 2016 deer gun season from Nov. 19 through Nov. 27 in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and to pay the cost of his incarceration.

In the court proceedings, Haanstad said “the prosecution of offenders who intentionally violate wildlife laws helps protect and preserve natural resources both within and outside the United States.”

The prosecution was handled by assistant U.S Attorney Paul L. Kanter.

The court case follows the Canadian proceedings from December 2015, when Viertel and Schmit were convicted and collectively fined a total of $11,000 for a number of infractions.

In addition to these fines, Viertel lost his Canadian hunting privileges for 15 years and Schmit’s lost his for five years.

The Lacey Act

The Lacey Act is a federal law enforced by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service that makes it illegal to knowingly transport or sell wildlife taken in violation of state, federal, tribal and foreign laws or regulations. The act defines the sale of wildlife to include the sale of guiding services for the illegal taking of wildlife. When the act was passed in 1900, it became the first federal law to protect wildlife. It enforces civil and criminal penalties for the illegal trade of animals and plants. Today, it regulates the import of any species protected by international or domestic law and prevents the spread of invasive, or non-native, species

U.S. charity loophole enabled trading of 1,300 endangered animals

Last year, after a Minnesota dentist sparked an uproar by killing a popular lion named Cecil while on safari in Zimbabwe, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service placed similar African lions on the endangered species list, making it illegal to import them as trophies to the United States.

But for African lions and other threatened and endangered species, there’s an exception to this rule: Hunters, circuses, zoos, breeders and theme parks can get permits to import, export or sell endangered animals if they can demonstrate that the transactions will “enhance the survival” of the species.

Often, records show, this requirement is met in part by making a cash contribution to charity — usually a few thousand dollars. The practice has angered both animal-rights activists who say it exploits wildlife and exhibitors who describe the process as unfair and arbitrary.

In the last five years, the vast majority of the estimated 1,375 endangered species permits granted by the Fish & Wildlife Service involved financial pledges to charity, according to agency documents reviewed by Reuters.

For a $2,000 pledge, the Fish & Wildlife Service permitted two threatened leopard cubs to be sent from a roadside zoo to a small animal park. After a $5,000 pledge, the agency approved the transfer of 10 endangered South African penguins to a Florida theme park.

An application now under final consideration would permit a South Carolina safari park operator to send 18 endangered tigers to Mexico to participate in a multimillion-dollar movie – for a $10,000 donation to charity.

Craig Hoover, a senior Fish & Wildlife Service official, said his agency considers many factors before granting an endangered species permit – among them, a species’ biological needs, threats and population size.  Charitable contributions to conservation programs are just one factor in granting permit evaluations, and not a requirement, he said.

“It’s not necessarily all that is considered,” said Hoover. “There may have been an education component, an outreach component, a captive breeding component.”

“INDIRECT BENEFITS” TO WILDLIFE

Under the Endangered Species Act, exception permits may be granted only “for scientific purposes or to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species.”

According to a recent Fish & Wildlife Service document reviewed by Reuters: “Very few of the Endangered Species Act permits that we issue have direct benefits to the species in the wild. Most applicants provide an indirect benefit, such as monetary support, to meet the enhancement requirement.”

Late Friday, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat who serves on the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees, asked the agency to halt the practice.

Boyle said exemptions to the endangered species law are intended for humanitarian or environmental purposes, such as providing medical attention to a wounded animal, not commercial uses. He said the charity pledges are “unreliable at best and amount to an empty promise in exchange for an exemption to our bedrock species conservation law.”

The agency usually does not try to independently confirm that donations are actually made or that the charities, often located overseas, are worthy, an agency document says. “Typically, we rely on the applicant,” the document notes. Hoover said applicants supply this information through annual reports and agency grant programs.

‘PAY TO PLAY’ FOR ELEPHANTS

Last year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued the Fish & Wildlife Service over a 2014 endangered species permit issued to Tarzan Zerbini Circus of Webb City, Missouri. The permit allowed Tarzan Zerbini to take two elephants, Shelly and Marie, on a Canadian circus tour — on the condition that it pledge $15,000 annually to an elephant charity and raise another $50,000 annually from patrons.

“We call it ‘pay-to-play’ because that’s what exactly what’s going on, allowing these people to promise money in exchange for being able to harm endangered animals,” said PETA general counsel Jeff Kerr. “The Fish & Wildlife Service is actively conspiring and cooperating with people to violate the Endangered Species Act through this program.”

The agency defended itself against PETA’s claim that the process is illegal, but the lawsuit apparently triggered a government investigation of Tarzan Zerbini’s financial pledge. Records show the service determined that the circus had only contributed half the amount promised and had raised little, if anything, from patrons. On April 21, the permit was suspended. Last week, PETA withdrew the lawsuit.

Larry Solheim, a Tarzan Zerbini consultant who served as general manager for 26 years, said the circus made good-faith efforts to comply with its pledges. He said honest mistakes and misunderstandings caused the other half of the money to be contributed late and said technical issues hampered efforts to raise the $50,000 from patrons.

Solheim said the concept of requiring conservation efforts is a good idea. But he described the permit process as too focused on foreign donations. He called it “a game” that can resemble “political extortion.”

“You’re just essentially buying a permit if you pay this conservation fee,” he said. “It’s just totally subjective – if they want to have this kind of requirement, they need to have clear guidelines.”

John Cuneo, whose Hawthorn Corp leases endangered animals to circuses and is often criticized by PETA, said he has lost business for failing to promise to make the charitable payments.

“It makes me so mad,” Cuneo said. “It feels like a scam.”

Hoover, the agency official, said PETA and the animal exhibitors are wrong.

‘TIGER ISLAND’

“We would deny any form of ‘pay to play policy’ is in place, formally or informally,” Hoover said. He added: “We would deny that we tell people they must” make charitable contributions, “but if they are engaging in activity where the import or export isn’t contributing to conservation, then there must be some other means by which they must be contributing conservation.”

The permit application to send 18 tigers to Mexico for a Hollywood movie was filed by Bhagavan Antle, who operates the Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina. Antle declined to name the people behind the movie, which is tentatively titled “Tiger Island.” The plot revolves around tigers living on an abandoned island, and a group of children who end up shipwrecked there.

The permit is still pending, but records show that Fish & Wildlife officials directed that Antle confirm a pledge of $10,000 to charity and a promise that the movie will have a conservation theme. He has agreed to do so, and said he thinks the agency’s process is good because it helps endangered animals. Antle said $10,000 is a fair contribution for the right to use 18 tigers on a multimillion-dollar motion picture.

“The movie company thinks it’s a hardship – to spend $10,000 for what used to be free,” Antle said. But he added, “If it becomes a big hit movie, that will change more hearts and minds than a $10 million contribution to conservation.”

PENGUINS TO MIAMI

Last year, the Fish & Wildlife Service approved the sale of 10 African penguins from a California theme park to the Miami Seaquarium.

“We are thrilled that our guests will be able to observe these fascinating creatures and at the same time learn about this endangered species and what we can do to help preserve our feathered friends,” Andrew Hertz, the Seaquarium’s general manager, said in a press release in February. A spokeswoman said Hertz wasn’t available for an interview.

The sea park built a new exhibit for the birds called “Penguin Isle,” a spectacle that includes a 9,000-gallon pool with an acrylic underwater swimming tunnel, allowing visitors to come “face to face” with the penguins, the release says. The Seaquarium, which averages about 600,000 customers a year, charges $99 for a family of four.

As part of the endangered species permit approval, the seller agreed to make an annual contribution for five years to a South African charity that rescues penguins soiled by oil spills.

The annual pledge: $1,000.

Poll: Majority oppose removing protections for grizzly bears

A new national poll shows that the majority of voters oppose the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to remove grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the list of federally threatened and endangered species.

Majorities across all demographics, party affiliations and geographic regions of the United States oppose the proposed delisting, which would hand over management of GYE grizzlies to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The states have signaled they will open up trophy hunting seasons on bears.

The FWS estimates around 700 grizzlies live in the ecosytem and that there may be as few as 800 to 1,000 in the entire lower 48 states, in contrast to the 50,000 grizzly bears historical estimates suggest once roamed North America.

The poll, announced by The Humane Society of the United States, showed that more than two-thirds of Americans oppose opening up a trophy hunting season on grizzly bears in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Also, a two-thirds majority supports the idea of a five-year moratorium on trophy hunting to ensure the full recovery of the grizzly bear population.

The poll  also shows that an even larger majority of American voters — 80 percent —oppose allowing state managers to use certain trophy hunt methods, like hounding— where packs of radio-collared dogs chase bears into trees — and baiting — where piles of rotten and junk foods are used to lure bears in for an easy kill.

Nicole Paquette, vice president of wildlife protection of The Humane Society of the United States said in a statement released this week, “These polling results demonstrate that most Americans believe Yellowstone’s grizzly bears should not be killed for trophies. Not only is there no scientific justification for this premature proposal, there is no public appetite. Grizzly bears are far from recovered and face a range of threats including the loss of critical food sources like white bark pine. We don’t want trophy hunting added to that list of threats.”

“The prospect of a hunt is especially troubling, but we were pleased to see that even 50 percent of hunters nationwide oppose delisting of grizzlies, compared to only 33 percent who support it,” added Kent Nelson, executive director for Wyoming Wildlife Advocates. “It’s also gratifying to see that a full 62 percent of hunters support a five-year moratorium on delisting, while just 33 percent support it. This is telling.”

Both groups urged the FWS to reject the proposal and they are encouraging supporters to submit comments by May 10 asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to maintain ESA protections.

 

About the poll

The poll, conducted by Remington Research Group on behalf of The HSUS and WWA from April 7-9, surveyed 3,087 voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.2 percent, with a 95 percent level of confidence.

The questions

Q: The grizzly bears of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are found in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton areas, situated on the borders of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, and are considered the most famous bears in the world. Each year millions of tourists travel to the parks from all over the world for the chance to see these animals.  Do you agree or disagree that grizzly bears are a valuable part of the Yellowstone area?
Agree: 81%
Disagree: 9%

Undecided: 10%

Q: What is your opinion of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?
Favorable: 54%
Unfavorable: 17%
No opinion: 29%

Q: Grizzly bears once ranged from northern Mexico to Alaska—perhaps as many as 50,000 in the lower 48. In 1975, after decades of being driven to near extinction due to habitat loss and hunting, grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem were granted federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. Currently, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population is roughly 2% of its historic range, and the bears are still vulnerable due to a host of threats, including habitat loss and loss of food sources.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed to delist Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears from the Endangered Species Act.   Do you support or oppose removing federal Endangered Species Act protections?
Support: 26%
Oppose: 55%
Undecided: 19%
Q: If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removes Endangered Species Act protections from grizzly bears who live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, management of these bears will revert to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.  These wildlife managers have already stated they intend to open trophy hunting seasons as early as 2017.  Do you support or oppose opening up trophy hunts on Yellowstone area grizzly bears?
Support: 20%
Oppose: 68%

Undecided: 12%

Q: Should Yellowstone’s grizzly bears lose their Endangered Species Act protections, management of these animals revert to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming who have stated they will open up a trophy hunting season.  Do you agree or disagree that there should be at least a 5-year moratorium on trophy hunting to ensure that the population is fully recovered?

Agree: 67%
Disagree: 20%
Undecided: 13%
Q: Once delisted, it is possible that state managers could allow Yellowstone area grizzly bears to be hunted by the following methods – hounding—where participants release packs of radio-collared dogs to chase bears into trees—and baiting, where piles of rotten and junk foods are placed in a certain location to lure bears for an easy kill at point blank range.  Do you support or oppose allowing trophy hunters to use these methods to kill Yellowstone area grizzly bears?
Support: 11%
Oppose: 80%
Undecided: 9%
Q: Do you identify as a hunter?
Yes: 27%
No: 73%
Q: Do you identify as an angler?
Yes: 34%
No: 66%
Q: Do you identify as a wildlife viewer?
Yes: 78%
No: 22%

US strengthens rules for captive tigers

The Obama administration this week took steps to strengthen protections for captive tigers held in backyards and private breeding facilities.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is finalizing a rule declaring that privately-owned “generic” tigers are no longer exempt from permitting requirements under the Endangered Species Act that apply to purebred tigers at large zoos. Generic tigers are animals of unknown genetic background or crosses between different subspecies of tigers.

Wildlife experts estimate as many as 5,000 generic tigers are being held in backyards, private animal parks and breeding facilities across the country — 10 times as many as reside in accredited zoos and other large institutions.

The new rule requires that anyone selling tigers across state lines obtain a permit or register under a federal wildlife registration program.

Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said the rule should help reduce illegal trafficking in tigers and promote tiger conservation.

“Removing the loophole that enabled some tigers to be sold for purposes that do not benefit tigers in the wild will strengthen protections for these magnificent creatures and help reduce the trade in tigers that is so detrimental to wild populations,” Ashe said, adding that the rule “will be a positive driver for tiger conservation.”

Wild tigers are under severe threat from habitat loss and the demand for tiger bones and other body parts used in traditional Asian medicines.

Once abundant throughout Asia, today there are only 3,000 to 5,000 wild tigers in small fragmented groups. Tigers are protected as endangered in the United States and internationally under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Most zoo tigers are pure subspecies such as Siberian or Bengal tigers, but thousands more are considered generic. Some animals are featured in traveling zoos and animal parks or used for photo opportunities with tiger cubs. The number of captive tigers in the United States likely exceeds those found in the wild, although exact totals are unknown.

While the new rule does not prevent individuals from owning generic tigers, extending the permitting or registration requirement to all tigers strengthens efforts to address illegal wildlife trade, both domestically and internationally, Ashe said.

Leigh Henry, senior policy adviser for the World Wildlife Fund, called the new rule a critical first step toward ensuring that tigers bred in the U.S. don’t fuel the illegal trade that drives poaching of wild tigers overseas.

“By tightening regulations around captive tigers, the U.S. is making it harder for captive-bred tigers to filter into and stimulate the black market that threatens wild tigers in Asia,” Henry said. The new rule “is another sign that the Obama administration takes wildlife crime seriously,” she added.

The final rule was set to be published in the Federal Register this week and take effect May 6.

Obama administration enacts protections for lions

The Obama administration’s decision to extend Endangered Species Act protections for two breeds of lions is a turning point for the lions now roaming Africa, advocacy groups say.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signaled in a document obtained by the Associated Press that it would classify the lion as threatened or endangered across its entire range in Africa. The agency has scheduled a noon conference call to discuss its findings.

The Humane Society of the United States projects that American trophy hunters imported 5,647 lions in the past decade. The group’s president and CEO, Wayne Pacelle, said he expects that the regulations will make it much harder to bring lion hides back to the U.S, thus removing a key motivation for hunters.

“If a particular hunt is not associated with a broader conservation program, it can’t come in,” Pacelle said.

The listings are accompanied by a directive that appears to touch on circumstances surrounding the killing of a well-known lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe earlier this year. The order states that the Fish and Wildlife Service will deny a permit to import a sport-hunted lion to anyone who has been convicted or pleaded guilty to violating federal or state wildlife laws.

Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, had pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear fatally shot in western Wisconsin outside an authorized hunting zone.

The Fish and Wildlife Service cautioned against linking the order with Cecil’s death, describing the action instead as a redoubling of efforts to ensure that violators of wildlife laws don’t reap future benefits from importing wildlife and wildlife products.

The administration signaled it would protect lions in Africa long before Cecil’s case caught the public’s attention. The Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule in October 2014 to list the African lion as threatened. After getting feedback, the agency revised its findings.

It determined that two subspecies of lions live in Africa. One group, found primarily in western and central countries, is more genetically related to the Asiatic lion. Only about 1,400 remain in Africa and India. The agency is listing that subspecies as endangered, meaning it risks extinction.

A second subspecies, numbering between 17,000 and 19,000 and found across southern and eastern Africa, will be listed as threatened.

The Endangered Species Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to list species as endangered or threatened regardless of the country where they live.

“If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the Africa savannas and forests of India, it’s up to all of us _ not just the people of Africa and India _ to take action,” said Dan Ashe, the agency’s director.

The listings will bring extra protection for both subspecies: A permit would be required before importing any live or sport-hunted lions. The bar for an import permit would be highest with the endangered group, with permits granted if importing the animal would enhance the species’ survival.

The permitting process for the threatened group would require the import to come from nations that have sound conservation practices and use trophy hunting revenue to sustain lion populations and deter poaching. Currently, sport hunters don’t need a permit from the U.S. to bring in a trophy lion.

Ashe said trophy hunting can and does contribute to the survival of species in the wild as part of a well-managed conservation program. The new permitting requirements in the U.S. will encourage African countries to improve their lion management programs. The agency said hundreds of sport-hunted trophy lions are brought into the U.S. each year.

The agency already has authority to deny an import permit to individuals who have violated federal and state wildlife laws. Ashe’s order essentially turns that authority into a requirement.

“Importing sport-hunted trophies and other wildlife or animal parts into the United States is a privilege, not a right, a privilege that violators of wildlife laws have demonstrated they do not deserve,” Ashe said.

The agency said its investigation into the Cecil’s killing is ongoing and declined to comment directly on the case.

Cecil was a major tourist attraction in Hwange National Park and was being monitored as part of an Oxford University study. Palmer said he shot the big cat outside the park’s borders, but it didn’t die immediately and was tracked down the next day.

Palmer said he would not have shot the animal if anybody in the hunting party has known of the lion’s status. Zimbabwe officials cleared Palmer of wrongdoing in October, saying he didn’t break the country’s hunting laws.

Operation Migration warns: FWS ‘visions’ end to ultralight guided release of whooping cranes

On Oct. 15 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service posted a document outlining its vision for the next five-year strategic plan for the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and the Eastern Migratory Population.

In their vision document, FWS proposed radical changes to the release methods used for the Eastern Migratory Population including ending the use of the ultralight-guided migration technique in favor of the Direct Autumn Release and other, as yet, untested methods. 

The reason is that the FWS feels the ultralight release method is “artificial” yet they have provided no data to back their claim that this is detrimental to the Whooping cranes. Alternatively, if you read our response, you will see that using data derived from the WCEP database, the UL method is the most successful thus far in terms of survivability, migratory behavior, and breeding success. 

In fact, the UL method most closely replicates the natural life history of the species in that, just as their parents would, OM teaches the young Whooping cranes a suitable migration route and cares for them until the following spring — just as their parents would.  

It is important to point out that, while the FWS is but one member of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, it has control over egg allocations each year. The FWS recommends prioritizing allocation of eggs for use in methods with shorter periods of captivity and more limited exposure to costumed humans.

A fact: Time spent in captivity and exposure to costumed humans is greater with other release methods.

Whooping cranes hatch at the captive breeding centers in May/June. The other methods involve holding cranes in captivity at the propagation centers until they are moved to the release sites in mid-September or later. The UL cranes are moved from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center to the White River Marsh at an average age of 46 days. From this point on, they are being exercised and learning important flight skills, just as they would with their natural parents. Cranes raised under the other release methods are not allowed to fly until such time as they are moved to the reintroduction areas in September or later.

Cranes held in captivity throughout the normal fledging period are at a disadvantage to their wild counterparts in that their flight muscles are not as well developed and they lack flying skills normally learned earlier in their life history. These skills are important to avoid predators, power lines and other obstacles. UL birds learn those skills and develop that endurance well before they encounter such dangers in the wild.

A fact: The UL method has resulted in higher first year and annual survival thereafter.

A fact: The only wild-produced crane colts in the Eastern Population which have survived to fledge resulted from ultralight/ultralight pairs.

Since the 2011 move to White River and Horicon Marsh, almost five years of work has been done by the non-profit WCEP partners.

In using only data from the first 10 years of this project to justify their Vision Document, FWS has painted the entire Eastern Migratory Population with a Necedah brush. It has ignored almost one-third of the available data and discounted all that has been invested in the Wisconsin Rectangle so far. The timing of their recommendation to end UL releases is even more short-sighted when one considers that Whooping cranes don’t typically breed until five years of age and, even then, don’t generally produce more than one offspring per season.

We are now on the cusp of determining if these cranes can successfully breed in the blackfly-free habitat of the Wisconsin Rectangle. Ending the UL program now is premature.

Heather Ray is the director of development for Operation Migration.

Get involved …

Operation Migration is on the Web at operationmigration.org.

Read WiG’s cover story on Operation Migration and the effort to rescue whooping cranes from the edge of extinction.


Efforts to save the monarch butterfly grow across Iowa and the nation

Overwhelmed by global warming? See no solution to dirty water?

Save the monarch butterfly.

The iconic black-and-orange butterfly has become nature’s celebrity and a rallying symbol of agreeable, grass-roots environmentalism after news spread over the past two years of a stark decline in its population — 90 percent in the last 20 years.

The growing number of campaigns to save monarchs range from initiatives launched by President Barack Obama to those by an eastern Iowa Facebook group, from university research scientists to Iowa farmers. Even bicyclists in the middle of their own zany migration on RAGBRAI got into the act on a recent Friday, The Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/1IqWLEB ) reported.

David Osterberg, professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa, helped mold milkweed seed balls to the size of a big marble for the Monarchs in Eastern Iowa group to hand out to RAGBRAI riders, who tossed them into ditches on the way out of Mount Vernon.

He said climate change involves complex layers of policy and deep social change, “but this is something we can do. We don’t see polar bears. The closest we get is a Coca-Cola advertisement. You’ve seen a monarch in your backyard; you’ve touched one.”

Monarchs danced in the breeze through our childhoods and inspired novels, documentaries and poetry. Their 3,000-mile migration from overwintering grounds in Mexico to the Canadian border and back again is a wonder of nature. But destruction to their overwintering grounds and habitat loss, especially along their migratory path through Iowa, has caused the decline. Along the way, monarchs lay eggs and dine upon several varieties of milkweed, largely eradicated from the row crop fields in Iowa, which cover two-thirds of the state.

Planting milkweed is seen as one answer to rally around. Efforts were mounted quickly on all levels.

The Obama administration launched a plan in March to increase the number of pollinators and monarchs by seeding habitat along the Interstate Highway 35 “monarch flyway” from Texas to Minnesota.

When it comes from the highest levels, says U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Doug Helmers, you know it’s a movement. As the private lands coordinator for the agency in Iowa, he has worked with Iowa landowners on a series of small patches of more than 10 acres of land to grow milkweed, using a $200,000 budget, half of it from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

He has seen more enthusiasm for the project than any he can remember.

“Whether you are urban or rural, people everywhere can identify with the monarch. You’ve seen them raised in school,” Helmers said.

Bicyclists played a part largely because Patty Ankrum of Mount Vernon remembers those childhood days.

“I went outside when I was in fourth grade. The trees were covered in orange and black,” she said. “I got a box and filled it with them. I laid the box on my bed and opened it. The whole room was filled with monarchs. It was 1963.

“Seeing a monarch now is an event, something you tell people about. There is a whole life in our countryside that just doesn’t seem to be there anymore because of lack of habitat.”

She started the Monarchs in Eastern Iowa Facebook group in March. It grew to 374 members. The group decided to enlist the bicyclists’ help by giving them 2,000 balls made of soil, compost and milkweed seed. She didn’t worry about farmers who had spent time and money for decades to get rid of it. “It’s not an issue for them anymore,” she said, citing crops genetically modified to resist weed-killing chemicals.

Farmers didn’t seem to mind.

“There is a place for everything,” said Tim Keegan, a farmer near Lisbon, where the riders passed after Mount Vernon. “We are always supportive of animals and insects like the monarch. We can manage things accordingly. Just so we know what we are dealing with.”

The monarch is even creating new factions of scientists, conservation and farm groups. Monsanto gives financial support for the milkweed seed distribution by Monarch Watch, the Kansas conservation organization that has galvanized the monarch movement. Several Iowa farm groups, including the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, have joined the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, established this year by Iowa State University Agriculture and Life Sciences and state agencies.

“It’s very unique, and other states are looking to emulate what we are doing here in Iowa,” said Sue Blodgett, an ISU entomologist.

The consortium grows nine different milkweed species at 12 ISU research farms to study their effectiveness for enhancing the monarch population. In general, common milkweed and swamp milkweed are two varieties suited throughout Iowa, but others may work depending on the location, such as butterfly milkweed.

“We want to make sure (the milkweed) is adapted to Iowa and we aren’t introducing something more suited for Massachusetts or Georgia. Botanists are concerned about those issues,” she said. “We need answers that are research based. It’s not just a matter of planting more milkweed, but how and where we plant it.”

Iowa is a critical area at the center of the migration, she said. Monarchs lay eggs on the plant and the caterpillar eats it. The adult butterflies also feed on the nectar from the flowers.

The monarch has become a de facto spokesman for pollinators in similar peril, such as bees vital to the web of plant reproduction, and as an indicator of our fragile relationship with nature.

Iowans hope to see the monarchs in greater numbers as they head back to Mexico in September. The number of overwintering monarchs did increase last year, according to Monarch Watch, but the recovery to prior decades would be a significant challenge.

That’s why Pella Wildlife Co. and other nonprofit groups have been busy distributing milkweed seeds to more than 1,200 people who signed up on its website to sustain monarchs and caterpillar adoption kits at its kiosk at Jordan Creek Town Center. It is also working with the Iowa Department of Transportation to establish 1,500 plants along I-35 and enlisting Iowa classrooms across the state to raise and release monarchs, said Ron DeArmond, the nonprofit’s chief executive officer.

The appeal of the monarch goes beyond science to art, said Iowa native Gwynedd Vetter-Drusch.

As a child in Manson she followed a flowing “butterfly highway” above her into the woods one day and shook the lower branches of a tree filled with them.

“Two hundred monarchs were dancing in the air around me,” she said.

Vetter-Drusch, 24, is a professional dancer today in New York City who started the nonprofit Moving for Monarchs. She has brought her program of dance and storytelling all along the migration path from Mexico to Iowa to relate the story of the imperiled monarch. She hopes people will submit their own dances inspired by the monarch and send them to her.

“The butterfly has always been a metaphor for dance,” she said.

In her presentations, people rise to dance like butterflies, a “cross pollination” to connect the monarchs’ story and our own.

“We don’t have time to wait for government,” she said. “This is a grass-roots movement, and we are acting as the catalyst.”