Tag Archives: fish and wildlife

Eastern puma is declared extinct

The eastern puma is extinct, declared so by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week.

The federal agency announced the puma’s demise as it removed the eastern puma from the list of protected wildlife and plants under the Endangered Species Act. 

The eastern puma was a subspecies of the animal also known as cougar or mountain lion, which is still widely distributed across the West. It once roamed as far north as southeastern Ontario, southern Quebec and New Brunswick in Canada, south to South Carolina and west to Kentucky, Illinois and Michigan.

The eastern puma’s range contracted from the 1790s to the 1890s due to human persecution abetted by the extirpation, through hunting, of its primary prey, white-tailed deer. The last three eastern pumas were killed in 1930 in Tennessee, 1932 in New Brunswick and 1938 in Maine.

“The extinction of the eastern puma and other apex carnivores such as wolves and lynx upended the ecology of the original colonies and beyond,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Over a century after deer went extinct in the Northeast, they have returned with a voracious vengeance, and botanists lament the disappearance of formerly abundant plant communities. We have forests that have lost the top and the bottom of the food chain.”

The eastern cougar was extinct well before it was protected under the Endangered Species Act, as was the case with eight of the other 10 species that have been delisted for extinction. Overall the Endangered Species Act has been 99 percent successful at saving species from extinction.

A different subspecies of the puma, the Florida panther, survives in a small, isolated and precarious population at the rapidly urbanizing southern tip of Florida.

These animals, too, were once widespread, from their namesake state north to Georgia and west to Arkansas and eastern Texas. Cougars from the mountainous West have reclaimed lost habitat and currently reproduce as small populations in North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska.

Individual Florida panthers and midwestern cougars that have traveled long distances have been hit by cars, shot by hunters or killed by authorities in recent years throughout the Midwest and East, but there is no breeding population in the historic range of the eastern puma.

“Through public and civic tolerance and through reintroduction at the state level, pumas could be returned to the East to play their ancient role in controlling deer herds,” said Robinson. “This is a somber moment to think about what the land under our feet used to be like, and what roamed here. It should also be a clarion call to recover pumas and all of our apex predators to sustainable levels to help rebalance a world that is out of kilter.”

Captive and wild chimps listed as endangered under Endangered Species Act

Captive and wild chimpanzees are now listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The increased federal protection of captive chimpanzees is expected to curb the use of the animals in invasive biomedical research, interstate trade as pets and use by the entertainment industry.

The new listing from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in response to a 2010 legal petition by the Humane Society of the United States and other groups.

Under the Endangered Species Act, a permit for any activity that would involve harming, harassing, killing or the use of chimpanzees in interstate commerce is required.

Habitat loss and poaching, driven in part by the exploitation of captive chimpanzees, has led to a drop of more than 65 percent in populations of wild chimpanzees.

Fish and Wildlife previously recognized wild chimpanzees as endangered, yet captive chimpanzees did not have the protection. This “split-listing,” enacted in 1990, facilitated the exploitation of captive chimpanzees in the United States, according to the Humane Society. The new listing effectively ends the split-listing. 

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the HSUS said on June 12, “Combined with NIH’s decision two years ago to phase out the use of the vast majority of chimps in invasive experiments, today’s action signals a rather extraordinary commitment by this Administration to protect chimpanzees at home and abroad. These intelligent, beleaguered animals deserve these concerted, multi-pronged efforts to protect them.”

Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and U.N. Messenger of Peace, issued a statement. She said,  “This change shows that many people are finally beginning to understand that it is not appropriate to subject our closest relatives to disrespectful, stressful or harmful procedures, whether as pets, in advertising or other forms of entertainment, or medical research.  That we are beginning to realize our responsibilities towards these sentient, sapient beings, and that the government is listening.”

The HSUS petition, which contained scientific evidence in support of upgrading the status of captive chimpanzees, spurred an official FWS status review of chimpanzees under the Endangered Species Act. The review led to the 2013 proposed rule to protect all chimpanzees, which has now been finalized.

As a result of the final listing, FWS will evaluate each permit application to determine whether the proposed action would promote conservation of the species, as required by the ESA.

The petition was filed by a coalition of organizations, including the HSUS, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Jane Goodall Institute, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, the Wildlife Conservation Society, The Fund for Animals and Humane Society International. The project involved the generous support of the Arcus Foundation.

The petition was prepared by lawyers with the HSUS’s animal protection litigation section in consultation with the Washington public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal.

PETA sues U.S. wildlife service, accuses it of ‘pay-to-play’

An animal-rights group has sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop a policy it says allows trophy hunters, circus acts and others dealing with threatened species to skirt the Endangered Species Act by making token donations to conservation groups.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria by Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, alleges that the wildlife service is sanctioning a massive loophole in the Endangered Species Act. The law allows exceptions in the import or export of endangered species when granting a permit aids the species’ survival. PETA says the agency is granting exceptions for applicants making donations as small as $500 to conservation groups.

A Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman said the agency can’t comment on active litigation.

An auction earlier this year of a permit to hunt an endangered black rhino in Namibia is an example of how the policy has run amok, PETA says. Hunter Corey Knowlton bid $350,000 last year to win an auction conducted by the Dallas Safari Club to hunt and kill a rare black rhino in Namibia. The Fish and Wildlife Service granted Knowlton an exception allowing him to import the carcass back to the U.S. as a trophy, under the theory that the money paid to Namibia will help that country carry out its preservation efforts.

More often, though, said PETA Foundation Counsel Delcianna Winders, circus acts take advantage of the loophole to be able to move tigers and elephants across U.S. borders. Winders said PETA does not know exactly how many times applicants have obtained permits by making donations.

It cites another example of a circus being granted a permit to take two endangered elephants from the U.S. into Canada for performances there by making a $500 donation to a group called Asian Elephant Support.

Winders said the exception in the law is designed to allow importation or export for circumstances like releasing an animal into the wild or supporting a breeding program. Instead, she said the donations amount to a pay-to-play scheme that perverts the intention of the law.

“It’s almost like auctioning off a child on the black market and saying it’s OK because the some of the money is going to an anti-trafficking group,” Winders said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service had previously said it permitted the importation of the rhino trophies because Namibia has a comprehensive strategy in place to protect black rhinos, and the money paid to that country will support those efforts.

The safari club’s executive director was traveling and unavailable for comment Friday. The club said the money helped conservation efforts and that targeted hunting of a small number of older male rhinos can actually help the overall herd.

According to the lawsuit, the Wildlife Service used to be even looser in granting exceptions. Up until 2011, PETA says the Wildlife Service would grant import and export exceptions on the theory that merely exhibiting the animals in question, like in a circus, would increase awareness about the need for conservation. The wildlife service then began telling applicants that raising awareness by exhibiting animals was insufficient, and began implementing the policy requiring donations to conservation groups, according to the suit.

Reward offered after throats of 14 pelicans are slashed, 10 die

Two national organizations — the Humane Society of the United States and The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust — are offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for slashing the throat pouches of 14 brown pelicans in South Florida, leaving 10 dead and another four injured.

This adds to existing rewards totaling $6,000 offered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and a local construction company. FWC is investigating the incidents, which occurred in January.

Over a period of a few weeks, the pelicans began turning up on Cudjoe Key and in areas from Sugarloaf Key to Big Pine Key. Officers believe the injuries were intentionally inflicted on the birds with a sharp knife. Slitting the throats of pelicans, who use their pouches to skim the water and collect fish, causes them to suffer agonizingly slow deaths from starvation. 

Kate MacFall, Florida state director for The HSUS, said, “The particularly gruesome and malicious nature of the attacks on these pelicans, who pose no threat to anyone, is heartbreaking. Whoever is serially mutilating these animals must be caught and severely punished. We are so thankful to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for their determination to find those responsible.”

Pelicans have suffered from a rash of violence in Florida, including two other attacks in January. A local bird rescue found 18 pelicans near Jacksonville that were beaten and suffering from severely broken wings.

In a separate incident in Fort Lauderdale, a teenager faces criminal charges for allegedly torturing a pelican with vapor from an electronic cigarette and suffocating the bird to death. In 2013 and 2014, at least 10 pelicans were victims of throat-slashing.

Pesticides, trophy hunting and mass killing by fishermen decimated brown pelican populations in the early 1900s. While their century-long recovery effort is considered by many to be a major conservation success story, they still face serious threats from oil spills, habitat destruction, entanglement in fishing lines, and the disappearance of major food sources.

Brown pelicans were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2009 but remain protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and as a State Species of Special Concern by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.

Harming a brown pelican is punishable by fines and jail time.

Poaching:

• Wildlife officials estimate that nationwide, tens of millions of animals are poached annually.

• It is estimated that only 1 percent to 5 percent of poached animals come to the attention of law enforcement.

• Poachers injure or kill wildlife anytime, anywhere and sometimes do so in particularly cruel ways. Wildlife officials report that poachers often commit other crimes as well.

• The HSUS and The Trust work with state and federal wildlife agencies to offer rewards of $5,000 for information leading to arrest and conviction of suspected poachers.

Wisconsin congressman introduces measure to remove wolves from endangered species list

Wisconsin Congressman Reid Ribble has introduced legislation that would remove gray wolves in those states from the “endangered” species list.

This legislation comes on the heels of two recent court cases that placed wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming back under federal protection due to overreaching state management programs that jeopardized wolf recovery. It is the first of several bills expected to be introduced this Congress seeking to weaken protections for wolves and to subvert a series of federal court rulings that determined that the federal government has too narrowly segmented wolf populations and that the states had overreached in their trophy hunting, commercial trapping and hounding programs.  

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said, “This legislation is an end-around a series of federal court rulings that have determined that state and federal agencies have acted improperly in acting to delist wolves. This bill is just a the latest act of political bomb-throwing and gamesmanship, and lawmakers who want balance on the wolf issue should reject it.”

In November, Michigan citizens voted overwhelmingly to increase protections for wolves and to put a stop to plans that would have allowed trophy hunting and commercial trapping of wolves.

And earlier this year, The HSUS and 21 animal protection and conservation organizations offered an alternative to congressional delisting and a path to national recovery by petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act as threatened throughout the contiguous United States, with the exception of the Mexican gray wolf which remains listed as endangered.

If adopted, the proposal would continue federal oversight and approval of wolf management efforts, but would also provide more  flexibility for state and local wildlife management to address specific wolf conflicts, including lethal control for depredation of livestock.

Earlier this year, a Washington State University peer-reviewed study revealed that wolf control efforts often trigger effects that result in more livestock depredation by breaking up packs and stimulating reproduction by survivors.

Coalition seeks U.S. endangered species protection for elephants

A coalition of wildlife groups has filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to uplist African elephants from threatened to endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Since the African elephant was originally listed as threatened in 1978, the species’ population has declined by about 60 percent, primarily due to poaching for the ivory trade. Habitat destruction and unsustainable trophy hunting also contributed to the decline. Scientists say elephant mortality is outpacing the natural birth rate, fixing the species in a pattern of ongoing decline.

The coalition includes the International Fund for Animal Welfare, The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International and The Fund for Animals.

“African elephants are in very real danger of disappearing from the wild,” said Jeff Flocken, North American regional director for IFAW. “U.S. policy for elephants needs an update to reflect the current crisis and declining status of the species. As one of the world’s largest ivory markets and home to many elephant trophy hunters, the U.S. can end our contribution to the slaughter with an endangered listing.”

He added, “It is the best tool in our domestic policy toolkit to stop our role in elephant deaths and bring global awareness to the crisis.”

The coalition, in a news statement, said the current regulations for African elephants under the threatened listing fail to adequately protect the species from unsustainable trade. An endangered listing would institute restrictions on both domestic and international trade in African elephant parts — including ivory, hunting trophies, skins and other products — and would expand public oversight of such activities.

It is generally prohibited to engage in the import of or interstate commerce in endangered species and their parts, except in limited circumstances that clearly benefit the species, such as for scientific purposes. An analysis in the petition shows that between 2003 and 2012, parts from about 50,000 elephants crossed borders worldwide in legal trade, including over 40,280 whose ivory and tusks were legally traded, and over 10,240 elephants whose parts were imported as trophies into the United States.

The uplisting petition comes at a significant milestone. One year ago, the White House announced a National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking, which called for new rules to restrict the domestic ivory trade.  The Petitioners will continue to support the Fish & Wildlife Service’s efforts to implement the National Strategy.

“Now is not the time to give up on these iconic, majestic creatures,” said Teresa Telecky, director of wildlife for Humane Society International. “The United States has a chance to shutter one of the world’s largest elephant ivory, skin and trophy markets. The positive potential impact of an endangered listing cannot be overstated.”

Monarch butterflies may need endangered species protection

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said on Dec. 29 that Endangered Species Act protection may be warranted for monarch butterflies. The agency will conduct a one-year status review on monarchs, which have declined by 90 percent in the past 20 years.

The announcement from the feds was in response to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower.

“The Endangered Species Act is the most powerful tool available to save North America’s monarchs, so I’m really happy that these amazing butterflies are a step closer to the protection they so desperately need,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Our petition is a scientific and legal blueprint for creating the protection that the monarch so direly needs, and we are gratified that the agency has now taken this vital first step in a timely fashion,” added George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety.  “We will continue to do everything we can to ensure monarchs are protected.”

The butterfly’s dramatic decline is being driven in large part by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born.

The vast majority of genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food.

The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in Midwestern corn and soybean fields. In the past 20 years it is estimated that these once-common iconic orange and black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds. 

The population has declined from a recorded high of about 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to only 35 million butterflies last winter, the lowest number ever recorded. The overall population shows a steep and statistically significant decline of 90 percent over 20 years.

In addition to herbicide use with genetically engineered crops, monarchs are also threatened by global climate change, drought and heat waves, other pesticides, urban sprawl and logging on their Mexican wintering grounds.

Scientists have predicted that the monarch’s entire winter range in Mexico and large parts of its summer range in the states could become unsuitable due to changing temperatures and increased risk of drought, heat waves and severe storms.

Monarch butterflies are known for their spectacular multigenerational migration each year from Mexico to Canada and back. Found throughout the United States during the summer months, in winter most monarchs from east of the Rockies converge in the mountains of central Mexico, where they form tight clusters on just a few acres of trees. Most monarchs west of the Rockies migrate to trees along the California coast to overwinter.

The size of the overwintering population in Mexico is expected to be up this year due to favorable spring and summer weather, but even with the expected one-year population increase, the monarch population will only be a fraction of its historical size.

Monarchs need a very large population size to be resilient to threats from severe weather events and predation. Nearly half of the overwintering population in Mexico can be eaten by bird and mammal predators in any single winter; a single winter storm in 2002 killed an estimated 500 million monarchs — 14 times the size of the entire current population.

The Fish and Wildlife Service must next issue a “12-month finding” on the monarch petition that will propose protection under the Endangered Species Act, reject protection under the Act or add the butterfly to the candidate waiting list for protection.

Settlement requires federal review of pesticides’ impact on endangered species

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must examine the impact of five common pesticides on endangered animals across the nation under the terms of a settlement with an environmental advocacy group.

The FWS must review carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, malathion and methomyl. These pesticides are toxic to wildlife and may threaten human health, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

“We don’t think these chemicals should even be in use, but at the very least, measures to protect endangered wildlife should have been put in place when these chemicals were first approved,” said Collete Adkins Gieske, an attorney with CBD.

U.S. law — the Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act — authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to review and approve pesticides for commercial use. However, according to CBD, the EPA routinely fails to consult on the potential impact of those pesticides on endangered species with Fish and Wildlife.

The environmental group previously sued the EPA for failing to consult with Fish and Wildlife on the impact of pesticides on California red-logged frogs and secured an injunction restricting pesticide use until such consultation took place.

However, in 2013, when the government still had not completed the consultation, the CBD filed another complaint.

In a settlement agreement announced on this week, Fish and Wildlife said it would complete the review within five years.

In addition, FWS will look at the impact of the pesticides on all endangered species in the United States, not just the red-legged frogs.

CBD says that in the United States more than a billion pounds of pesticides are used, but most of the pesticides with EPA approval were not evaluated for impacts on wildlife.

“Governmental agencies have a legal and moral duty to ensure that harmful chemicals aren’t sprayed in the same places where vulnerable wild animals are trying to survive,” said Adkins Giese. “Pesticides found in endangered species habitat can also contaminate our drinking water, food, homes and schools, where they pose a disturbing health risk.”

At least 4 wolves killed in first day of Wisconsin hunt

Hunters shot and killed at least four wolves in the opening 24 hours of Wisconsin’s first organized wolf hunt, the state Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday.

The first reported killing – a male – took place at 7:15 a.m. Monday in Rusk County, according to the DNR website. Another hunter in Vilas County took a female at 8:30 a.m.

A third hunter killed a female at 4:30 p.m. in Iron County and a fourth killed a male at 6:15 p.m. in Eau Claire County.

The hunt opened Monday morning, but hunters aren’t required to report kills for 24 hours. As of mid-afternoon Monday the DNR hadn’t received any kill reports.

The hunt is scheduled to end Feb. 28, but it could close sooner because the DNR has set a statewide limit of 116 wolves with zone-specific limits.

As of Tuesday morning, hunters could still kill 31 wolves in the far northwest, 19 in the far northeast, 17 in the mid-northwest, 22 in the central, five in the mid-northeast and 18 in the south.

The DNR has awarded 1,160 wolf licenses through a computerized lottery, although little more than half of the winners had purchased one by Monday morning.

Wildlife officials estimate as many as 850 wolves roam Wisconsin and 3,000 more live in Minnesota. Farmers have complained about wolf attacks on livestock.

Federal officials opened the door to hunting in both states when they removed Great Lakes wolves from the endangered species list earlier this year.

Legislators in Wisconsin and Minnesota quickly passed laws establishing hunts, and hunt legislation is pending in Michigan.

The hunts are a flashpoint of contention.

Animal welfare advocates insist wolf populations in both Minnesota and Wisconsin are too fragile to support hunting.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Howling for Wolves have asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to halt that state’s hunt before it begins on Nov. 3.

On Monday, the Humane Society of the United States and The Fund for Animals notified federal wildlife official they plan to sue to force Great Lakes wolves back on the endangered species list. The groups allege the states are mismanaging the species.

Georgia Parham, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Midwest region, said in a statement Tuesday the agency doesn’t comment on pending legal action.