Tag Archives: species

Record number of eagle and osprey nests in Wisconsin

Wisconsin wildlife officials say they’ve counted a record number of occupied eagle and osprey nests this year.

Aerial survey results released Tuesday show 1,504 occupied eagle nests, which is 39 more than last year, and 558 occupied osprey nests — 16 more than last year, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

“The recovery of bald eagles in Wisconsin is a great conservation success story and one that more Wisconsin residents are seeing up close as eagles expand into new territories,” said Drew Feldkirchner, director of the natural heritage conservation program for the state.

The state’s osprey population dramatically declined between the 1950s and the early 1970s as shoreline habitat was developed.

Today, 75 percent of state osprey nests are built on platforms erected on utility poles, cellphone towers and other tall structures.

“We’re also very pleased to see osprey numbers continue to climb and appreciate our partnership with utility companies and other partners to provide artificial nesting platforms for these birds,” Feldkirchner said.

State Department of Natural Resources pilots conducted the survey in March and April.

The state said it didn’t conduct a second aerial survey as in past springs to gauge reproductive success because the populations are healthy and growing and resources are being shifted to survey other non-game species, the State Journal reported.

 

Global wildlife meeting approves ban on trade in pangolins

The pangolin is described as the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world. The nocturnal, ant-eating animal got a much-needed boost this week at a U.N. wildlife conference that approved a ban on trade in all eight species of Asian and African pangolins.

The small creature is heavily poached for its meat and scales that are used in traditional medicine in parts of Asia. There is also a market for pangolin products in Africa.

Delegates approved a ban on trade in seven pangolin species by consensus at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.

Debate on trade in one of the Asian species of pangolin went to a vote, and only Indonesia objected. China, a major consumer of pangolins, as well as Oman, Japan, Namibia and Madagascar, abstained.

The pangolin decision is expected to be approved at a plenary session next week.

The meeting of CITES, which regulates wildlife trade, ends Oct. 5. About 180 countries are participating in the conference.

CITES previously required controls on any trade in Asian pangolins in an effort to ensure their survival. The new decision effectively prohibits virtually all commercial trade, allowing it only in what CITES calls “exceptional circumstances.”

Pangolins are the most “heavily trafficked mammal in the world,” said Colman O’Criodain, an expert with the WWF conservation group. He said the next step is for countries to implement the ban on trade, as well as move against illegal trafficking in pangolins.

More than one million pangolins have been slaughtered in the past decade, according to some estimates.

Pangolin scales are made of keratin, a protein also found in human fingernails.

Nearly 20 tons of pangolin scales were seized from illegal shipments originating from Africa between 2013 and this year, according to U.S. officials. They said the scales came from as many as 39,000 pangolins.

The CITES meeting seeks to protect “iconic” species such as the lion and elephant, but it also debates the survival of lesser-known species such as the pangolin, said Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“There are literally dozens to hundreds of species being considered here that you or I would probably not even recognize,” Ashe said in an interview with The Associated Press. “That’s the magic of this convention.”

Poachers target rare bird’s ‘ivory’ beak in Southeast Asia

Some call it “ivory on wings,” part of the bill of a critically endangered bird in Southeast Asia that is sought by poachers and carved into ornaments for illegal sale to Chinese buyers.

The helmeted hornbill isn’t getting as much attention as the beleaguered African elephant at a global wildlife conference this week in South Africa.

But the killing of elephants by the tens of thousands for their tusks is intertwined with a surge in the slaughter of the rare bird whose beak part is a coveted substitute for ivory.

“It’s all part of the rising demand for ivory,” said Richard Thomas, spokesman for TRAFFIC, a conservation group based in Britain.

Poaching of the helmeted hornbill has soared since around 2010, particularly in Indonesia. The timing roughly coincides with an increase in elephant poaching that has caused a sharp drop in elephant populations. Last year, the helmeted hornbill was designated as critically endangered on an international “red list” of threatened species.

Delegates are discussing protections for elephants, helmeted hornbills and other vulnerable wildlife at a meeting in Johannesburg of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES . The 12-day meeting of the U.N. group, which regulates wildlife trade, ends Oct. 5.

The helmeted hornbill is a bird of lore, featuring in an ancient belief that it sits by a river between life and death. Its feathers have been used in traditional ceremonies. During breeding, the female is sealed into a nest, relying on the male to provide food.

The call of the helmeted hornbill is an intermittent, honking sound that slowly builds in tempo until it ends in what resembles, for some listeners, shrieks of laughter. Loud and long, the call helps poachers locate their prey.

In a CITES document , Indonesia asked for more collaboration among law enforcement agencies from countries where helmeted hornbills live, as well as “end market” nations — a reference primarily to China.

China, the world’s main ivory consumer, has already said it plans to close its domestic ivory market.

A large lump on top of the beak of the helmeted hornbill is made of keratin, a protein also found in rhino horn and other animal and human parts. It has a red tinge is softer than elephant ivory, making it an attractive material for carvers who have fashioned belt buckles, snuff boxes, pendants and images of Chinese deities from it over many centuries.

The upper part of the bill, also known as a casque, is solid, unlike the hollow casques of other hornbill species. Its price on the illegal market is higher than that of elephant ivory. A casque weighs up to 350 grams (0.7 pounds); the average weight of an elephant tusk is five kilograms (11 pounds), though a big male’s tusk can weigh 10 times as much.

At least 2,170 heads and bill parts of helmeted hornbills were confiscated from the illegal trade in Indonesia and China between 2012 and 2014, TRAFFIC said.

Investigators found helmeted hornbill products being sold openly in Laos, a major transit point for wildlife traffickers that borders China, according to a TRAFFIC report released this month. Sale locations included a luxury hotel and convention center in central Vientiane, the capital, it said.

Indonesia said it has arrested more than 20 people in the helmeted hornbill trade and sentenced most of them. Penalties include up to five years in jail and a heavy fine.

On Saturday, rangers in Indonesia’s Gunung Leuser National Park arrested a suspected helmeted hornbill poacher with a rifle and silencer, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, or WCS, a group based in New York. The suspect had just entered the forest and did not have any bird parts.

“This species needs to be on people’s radars,” said Elizabeth Bennett, vice president of species conservation at WCS.

Illegal logging in Indonesia is shrinking the habitat of the helmeted hornbill. Conservationists fear poachers will focus on the Malaysian population once supply dries up in Indonesia.

The call of the helmeted hornbill is an intermittent, honking sound that slowly builds in tempo until it ends in what resembles, for some listeners, shrieks of laughter. Loud and long, the call helps poachers locate their prey.
The call of the helmeted hornbill is an intermittent, honking sound that slowly builds in tempo until it ends in what resembles, for some listeners, shrieks of laughter. Loud and long, the call helps poachers locate their prey.

 

Genetic ‘extinction’ technology raises concerns at World Conservation Congress

As thousands of government representatives and conservationists convene in Oahu this week for the 2016 World Conservation Congress, international conservation and environmental leaders are raising awareness about the potentially dangerous use of gene drives — a controversial new synthetic biology technology intended to deliberately cause targeted species to become extinct.

Members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, including NGOs, government representatives and scientific and academic institutions, overwhelmingly voted to adopt a de facto moratorium on supporting or endorsing research into gene drives for conservation or other purposes until the IUCN has fully assessed their impacts.

Yet, scientists and environmental experts and organizations from around the globe have advocated for a halt to proposals for the use of gene drive technologies in conservation.

Announced this week, a long list of environmental leaders — including Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, genetics professor and broadcaster Dr. David Suzuki, Dr. Fritjof Capra, entomologist Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, Indian environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva and organic pioneer and biologist Nell Newman — have lent their support to the open letter: “A Call for Conservation with a Conscience: No Place for Gene Drives in Conservation.”

The letter states, in part: “Gene drives, which have not been tested for unintended consequences, nor fully evaluated for ethical and social impacts, should not be promoted as conservation tools.”

“Gene drives are basically a technology that aims for a targeted species to go extinct,” explains ecologist and entomologist Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, president of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility. “While this may appear to some conservationist professionals to be a ‘good’ thing and a ‘silver bullet’ to handle complicated problems, there are high risks of unintended consequences that could be worse than the problems they are trying to fix.”

Both the leading developers of the technology and also those concerned about gene drives will be attending this week’s Congress and holding events to raise awareness, hype promises or highlight the potential hazards of gene drives.

One near-term gene drive proposal, promoted by U.S.-based non-governmental organization Island Conservation, intends to release gene drive mice on islands to eradicate them.

Another led by the University of Hawai’i would develop gene drive mosquitoes for use in Hawaii to combat avian malaria which affects honeycreeper birds.

The debate around gene drives is likely to resurface later this year at the negotiations of the United Nations Biodiversity Convention in Cancun Mexico in December.

“Gene drives, also known as ‘mutagenic chain reactions,’ aim to alter DNA so an organism always passes down a desired trait, hoping to change over time the genetic makeup of an entire species,” said Dr. Vandana Shiva of Navdanya. “This technology would give biotech developers an unprecedented ability to directly intervene in evolution, to dramatically modify ecosystems, or even crash a targeted species to extinction.”

“Genetic extinction technologies are a false and dangerous solution to the problem of biodiversity loss,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. “There are real, sustainable, community-based conservation efforts that should be supported. We are concerned that genetic extinction technologies will allow new destructive agricultural practices and even use by the military. Speculative conservation claims are at best an unfounded diversion or smokescreen. We support those in the IUCN who recognize the gravity of irreversible and irresponsible technologies such as gene drives.”

Signatories of the letter, which include indigenous organizations and legal experts, raised legal and moral questions, citing an “ethical threshold that must not be crossed without great restraint.”

“From military testing to GMO crops, and now gene drives, Hawai’i should not be treated as a test zone for risky and experimental technologies,” said Walter Ritte, Native Hawaiian activist and hunter. “What happens in Hawai’i must be discussed with residents, not decided from a lab on the other side of the continent. Hawaiians should decide what is best for Hawai’i.”

Eastern gorillas critically endangered, nearing extinction

Illegal hunting in Democratic Republic of Congo has wiped out 70 percent of Eastern gorillas in the past two decades and pushed the world’s biggest primate close to extinction, a Red List of endangered species showed on Sunday.

Four of six species of great apes are now rated “critically endangered”, or one step away from extinction, by threats such as hunting and a loss of forests to farmland from West Africa to Indonesia, according to the annual list by wildlife experts.

Eastern gorillas, revised from a lesser category of “endangered”, join their sister species, the Western gorilla, and both species of orangutan which were already on the list as critically endangered.

The other two species of great apes, chimpanzees and bonobos, are rated endangered.

“To see the Eastern gorilla – one of our closest cousins – slide towards extinction is truly distressing,” said Inger Andersen, director general of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) which compiles the Red List.

Millions of people died in fighting in the mineral-rich east of Democratic Republic of Congo from 1996 and 2003 and militias and miners often hunted gorillas for food.

The main population of Eastern gorillas, the biggest primates weighing up to about 200 kg (440 lb), tumbled to an estimated 3,800 animals in 2015 from 16,900 in 1994, according to the report issued at an IUCN congress in Hawaii.

A smaller branch of the Eastern gorilla family – the mountain gorilla – has fared better with the population rising to 880 from perhaps 500 in Rwanda, Uganda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Chimpanzees were most able to adapt to a loss of forest habitats to oil palm plantations or other farms, while gorillas and orangutans were less flexible.

“Chimps get by even if there is only a remnant of a forest,” Elizabeth Williamson, of the IUCN species survival commission for primates, told Reuters. “They can raid crops and steal fruit from farms – gorillas and orangutans don’t.”

Among other changes, the IUCN said the population of plains zebra in Africa had fallen to about 500,000 animals from 660,000, also because of hunting for their meat and stripy skins. That put the species on a watchlist as “near threatened” after being of least concern.

Feds must decide whether to protect monarch butterflies by June 2019

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now legally bound to determine whether to protect imperiled monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act, according to the terms of an agreement reached conservation groups.

The agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety requires the agency to decide by June 2019 whether the butterflies will receive federal protection. The two conservation groups and allies petitioned in 2014 for protection of the species, which has declined by 80 percent over the past two decades.

“An 80 percent decline points to extinction if we don’t act fast. Protecting monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act is essential to their survival, and will provide a roadmap for safeguarding their habitat and ensuring their recovery,” said George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety senior attorney and counsel in the case.

In March, the groups filed a lawsuit to force the agency to set a legally binding deadline for a decision on the petition. Under today’s agreement the agency must propose protection for the monarch, deny protection or assign it to the “candidate” waiting list for protection by June 30, 2019.

“The monarch’s future is bleaker today than ever before,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “On top of the loss of milkweed in its summer grounds, logging of its winter home in Mexico has increased, a severe winter storm this spring killed millions of monarchs, and a mine now threatens the Monarch Biosphere Reserve. Endangered Species Act protection can’t come soon enough for this beautiful but beleaguered butterfly.”

In March, a study by the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that there is a substantial probability that the eastern monarch butterfly population could decline to such low levels that they face extinction. Researchers estimate that there is between 11 percent and 57 percent probability that the monarch migration could collapse within the next 20 years. In April Cornell researchers published a paper indicating that in addition to loss of summer milkweed, monarchs are threatened during the fall migration by multiple factors including habitat fragmentation, drought and insecticides.

The butterfly’s catastrophic decline has been driven in large part by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs hatch. 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 source.

The dramatic surge in Roundup use and “Roundup Ready” crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in midwestern corn and soybean fields. It is estimated that in the past 20 years these once-common 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.

Federal rule would permit deaths of thousands of eagles

The Obama administration is revising a federal rule that allows wind-energy companies to operate high-speed turbines for up to 30 years, even if means killing or injuring thousands of bald and golden eagles.

Under the plan announced earlier in May, wind companies and other power providers could kill or injure up to 4,200 bald eagles a year without penalty — nearly four times the current limit. Golden eagles could only be killed if companies take steps to minimize the losses, for instance, by retrofitting power poles to reduce the risk of electrocution.

Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said the proposal will “provide a path forward” for maintaining eagle populations while also spurring development of a pollution-free energy source that’s intended to ease global warming, a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s energy plan.

Ashe said the 162-page proposal would protect eagles and at the same time “help the country reduce its reliance on fossil fuels” such as coal and oil that contribute to global warming.

“There’s a lot of good news in here,” Ashe said in an interview, calling the plan “a great tool to work with to further conservation of two iconic species.”

The proposal sets objectives for eagle management, addresses how bird populations will be monitored and provides a framework for how the permitting system fits within the agency’s overall eagle management, Ashe said.

Wind farms are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning rotors as wide as a passenger jet’s wingspan. Blades can reach speeds of up to 170 mph at the tips, creating tornado-like vortexes.

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are about 143,000 bald eagles in the United States, and 40,000 golden eagles.

It’s unclear what toll wind energy companies are having on eagle populations, although Ashe said as many 500 golden eagles a year are killed by collisions with wind towers, power lines, buildings, cars and trucks. Thousands more are killed by gunshots and poisonings.

Reporting of eagle mortality is voluntary, and the Interior Department refuses to release the information.

Wednesday’s announcement kicks off a 60-day comment period. Officials hope to issue a final rule this fall.

The plan was developed after a federal judge in California blocked a 2013 rule that gave wind energy companies a 30-year pass to kill bald and golden eagles.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh ruled last August that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to follow environmental procedural requirements in issuing the 2013 directive. The agency had classified its action as an administrative change from a 2009 rule, excluding it from a full environmental review.

The agency adopted the 30-year rule as a way to encourage the development of wind energy, a key source of renewable power that has nearly tripled in output since 2009. A previous rule allowed wind farms to apply for renewable five-year permits.

Golden and bald eagles are not endangered species but are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The laws prohibit killing, selling or otherwise harming eagles, their nests or eggs without a permit.

The permits would be reviewed every five years, and companies would have to submit reports of how many eagles they kill.

David Ward, a spokesman for the American Wind Energy Association, said wind power helps conserve eagles by mitigating climate change, a major threat to the birds. “While unintentional take of eagles can occur from wind energy production, it is relatively uncommon and our industry does more than any other to find ways to reduce that small impact,” Ward said.

Michael Hutchins of the American Bird Conservancy said that unless the plan requires better tracking of bird deaths at or near wind turbines it is unlikely to succeed. Hutchins, whose group filed a lawsuit challenging the 2013 eagle plan, said officials must ensure that bird-death reporting is done by independent observers rather than by the industry, which he said treats such data as “trade secrets.”

“Mortality data should be transparent and open to the public,” Hutchins said. The group also is concerned that wind farms are not sited in migratory paths of eagles, he said.

Under the new proposal, companies would pay a $36,000 fee for a long-term permit allowing them to kill or injure eagles. Companies would have to commit to take additional measures if they kill or injure more eagles than estimated, or if new information suggests eagle populations are being affected.

Companies would be charged a $15,000 administrative fee every five years for long-term permits. The fees would cover costs to the Fish and Wildlife Service of conducting five-year evaluations and developing modifications, the agency said.

UW researchers find clues for saving state’s vanishing prairies

Grad student Amy O. Alstad’s research into southern Wisconsin’s prairie land led her not only to glorious patches of wildflowers but also to troubling findings about the rate of change for an iconic American landscape.

The new research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows human influence has accelerated the rate of species change in prairies.

Yet, Alstad emphasized, the research also offers clues about protecting prairies and the plant diversity within them.

Alstad, a UW zoology graduate student in her fifth year of research at Madison, is the lead author of “The pace of plant community change is accelerating in remnant prairies,” recently published in the journal Science Advances.

Alstad and her co-researchers’ work builds upon research that began just after World War II and is part of a legacy study in which historical data sets providing baseline records are revisited to document any changes. Between 1946 and 1956, renowned botany professor John Curtis and a team of colleagues and students surveyed 200 prairie remnants in southern Wisconsin.

In the United States, “prairie remnants” — virgin prairies rather than restored or constructed prairies — are largely areas not suitable for agriculture, which helps to explain why they haven’t been plowed over. The prairie remnants are found at old cemeteries, on hilly slopes and also along railroad right of ways.

For his “prairie relic study,” Curtis and his team walked each prairie remnant in its entirety and listed every plant species they found.

Thirty years later, UW researcher Mark Leach returned to the field with Curtis’s notes and maps to resurvey about 50 of the prairie remnants.

In 2012, Alstad and her team again returned to the field, in May, July and August. “What the original researchers did was walk back and forth,” she said. “They kept a list of every single plant species they found. … I replicated the original methods.”

THE FINDINGS

On these walks, Alstad said she observed a lot of change. “Things in 2012 are very different than they were in 1950,” she said.

The researchers documented the encroachment of invasive and non-native plants on prairie remnants — such species can crowd out native plants and dramatically alter a habitat. At some sites, non-native species accounted for 60 percent of the plants.

Additionally, the researchers documented the loss of prairie remnants. Three of the 50 sites surveyed in 1987 were not surveyed in 2012 because they could not be located or the prairie had been lost.

“Trying to find these sites, it was a little bit like a scavenger hunt,” said Alstad, who would arrive with a map and occasionally have to double-check her location. Where there once was prairie, the researcher found a mowed lawn. Where there once was another prairie, she found pavement.

“In some cases, I would roll up to a site and it would be seven hectares — huge and very diverse,” Alstad said. “In other cases, I would arrive at a site and think, ‘Am I in the right spot?’ I’d be looking at this piece of land that didn’t look anything like prairie.”

“It makes me really sad to be losing these habitat types that used to be so common,” Alstad said. “Less than 1 percent of the prairie that historically covered North America is left today. … And I’m finding that 1 percent that remains is changing — very fast.”

Perhaps the most important finding in the research is the rate of plant species loss had tripled since the 1950s to more than one species per year. And that rate of loss has accelerated.

“Annual rates of extinction increased by 214 percent between 1987 and 2012 relative to 1950–1987,” the researchers wrote in the journal paper.

While noting that total species richness at each site remained similar, the researchers said high rates of local extinction left some sites with fewer than 18 percent of the species detected in the 1950 survey.

“The species that are contributing to the fast extinction rate are really a lot of the species you think of as classic members of prairie species,” Alstad told WiG.

One such species is the big bluestem, a classic prairie grass found at about every site surveyed 60 years ago. “It’s gone through more than a 50 percent reduction,” Alstad said. “Fewer than half of the sites in 1950 have it today.”

There were other losses documented.

Dewey Heights Prairie State Natural Area in Nelson Dewey State Park is located in Cassville, Wisconsin. Photo: Courtesy Amy Alstad/UW-Madison
Dewey Heights Prairie State Natural Area in Nelson Dewey State Park is located in Cassville, Wisconsin. Photo: Courtesy Amy Alstad/UW-Madison

Early surveyors found dozens of types of milkweed on the prairie remnants. “Almost all of those species have become much, much less common,” with the exception of common milkweed, according to Alstad.

CALL TO ACTION

When they examined the plant diversity from property to property, the researchers observed that acreage and fire were factors in the vitality of the prairies.

The largest sites experienced the fewest extinctions.

Also, the researchers noted, “Sites with frequent fires experienced conspicuously fewer extinctions.”

Disturbance by fire is an important driver of prairie ecosystems, which historically burned every one to three years, according to the researchers. Fire on prairies maintains structure and plant diversity and also prevents the expansion of woody species — invasives in particular.

One of John Curtis’ original data sheets from his 1950s prairie study. Photo: Courtesy Amy Alstad/UW-Madison/UW Archives
One of John Curtis’ original data sheets from his 1950s prairie study. Photo: Courtesy Amy Alstad/UW-Madison/UW Archives

A reduction in the frequency of fires on prairies began in the 1830s, with European settlement, and fires continued a dramatic decline over the years. But the latest research showed fire more common across all sites and especially frequent in some sites actively managed.

“I hope these results could be a call to action,” Alstad suggested.

Because the legacy study revealed the most successful prairie remnants today are larger sites that are actively managed with regularly scheduled fires, it points to a prescription for land managers and prairie advocates.

“We’re seeing this increased rate of change but it’s not too late,” she said.

As she emphasized the importance of protecting existing prairie remnants, Alstad also praised the practice of prairie restoration by private property owners and as well as The Nature Conservancy, Prairie Enthusiasts, Audubon Society chapters and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

A prairie site within Brady’s Bluff Prairie State Natural Area is marked with a star. The aerial photograph taken near La Crosse also shows the Mississippi River. Photo: Courtesy Amy Alstad/UW-Madison/UW Archives
A prairie site within Brady’s Bluff Prairie State Natural Area is marked with a star. The aerial photograph taken near La Crosse also shows the Mississippi River. Photo: Courtesy Amy Alstad/UW-Madison/UW Archives

There’s an active and vibrant prairie restoration movement in the state, bringing people to conferences and workshops on insects, controlled burns and sowing seeds, spurring lobbying at the Capitol and leading people outdoors to pull invasives and plant native species.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR PRAIRIES?

Alstad naturally progressed to participation in the legacy study. Her parents are scientists and, she noted, her mother’s research has focused on the plight of the monarch butterfly. Alstad’s grandfather, meanwhile, was involved in prairie restoration.

“I grew up with this appreciation of prairies,” the ecologist said. “I knew and loved them. And I knew I wanted to work on a project that was important. It really is a childhood passion.”

For her role, the grad student next plans to delve deeper into what’s happening with certain prairie species, including the big bluestem.

“Why are some species going extinct somewhat faster? Why are some species more resistant? That’s the next mystery,” she said.

 

ON THE READING LIST

“During every week from April to September there are, on the average, 10 wild plants coming into first bloom,” conservationist Aldo Leopold writes at the beginning of “Prairie Birthday” in A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There. “In June as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day,” he continues.

The cover of "A Sand County Almanac."
The cover of “A Sand County Almanac.”

This book, one of the seminal works of the environmental movement, is on WiG’s bookshelf beside the writings of Henry David Thoreau and John Muir.

We took the book down after working on this story and re-read “Prairie Birthday,” as well as the foreward penned by Leopold in Madison in 1948. He wrote, “There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.”

— Lisa Neff

REBOUND FOR BUTTERFLIES

Monarch butterflies have made a big comeback in their wintering grounds in Mexico, after suffering serious declines, investigators said earlier in March.

The Monarch is dependent on milkweed, a common prairie plant, for its survival.

The area covered by the orange-and-black insects in the mountains west of Mexico City this season was more than three and a half times greater than last winter. The butterflies clump so densely in the pine and fir forests they are counted by the area they cover rather than by individuals.

The number of monarchs making the 3,400-mile migration from the United States and Canada declined steadily in recent years before recovering in 2014. This winter was even better. — AP

 

U.S. hunters import 126,000 wildlife ‘trophies’ annually

U.S. hunters import about 126,000 “wildlife trophies” annually and killed about 1.26 million animals between 2005 and 2014, according to the Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States.

Trophy hunting is the killing of animals for body parts, such as the head and hide, for display or decor rather than for food and sustenance. A recent study examining the motivation for such hunts found that U.S. hunters glamorize the killing of an animal to demonstrate virility, prowess and dominance.

A report from Humane Society International/Humane Society of the United States titled Trophy Hunting by the Numbers: the United States’ Role in Global Trophy Hunting, uses an analysis of hunting trophy import data obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Some findings:

• Trophies are primarily imported from Canada and South Africa, followed by Namibia, Mexico, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Tanzania, Argentina, Zambia and Botswana.

• Trophy hunters most want to kill American black bears, impalas, common wildebeests, greater kudus, gemsboks, springboks and bonteboks.

• Trophy hunters highly covet the so-called “African big five” — lions, elephants, leopards, white rhinos and buffalo. All of these species, except the African buffalo, are classified as near threatened or vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

• The U.S. ports of entry that received the most wildlife trophies in the past decade were New York City; Pembina, North Dakota; Chicago; Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas; and Portal, North Dakota.

“This report clearly shows the dire impact American trophy hunters are having on wildlife in other countries,” said Teresa M. Telecky, director of the wildlife department at HSI.

She continued, “It’s outrageous that every year hunters take the lives of thousands of animals, many threatened with extinction, just to win a prize and show off. These animals need protection, not to be mounted on a wall. The fact that rare, majestic species are entering the U.S. in large and small ports of entry should alarm lawmakers and the public concerned about trophy hunting.”

Hunting groups promote the hunts, offering accolades and awards to club members. The largest of these groups, Safari Club International, recently concluded its convention in Las Vegas, where more than 300 mammal hunts for more than 600 animals were auctioned off, and other hunts were arranged privately on the exhibit floor. An African lion trophy hunt can cost $13,500–$49,000. An African elephant hunt can cost $11,000–$70,000.

SCI often uses the revenue from hunt sales to lobby against wildlife protection measures.

U.S. “trophy hunters” highly covet the African big five. The import numbers for 2005–14 are 17,200 African buffalo, 5,600 African lions, 4,600 African elephants, 4,500 African leopards and 330 southern white rhinos. Photo: GraphicStock
U.S. “trophy hunters” highly covet the African big five. The import numbers for 2005–14 are 17,200 African buffalo, 5,600 African lions, 4,600 African elephants, 4,500 African leopards and 330 southern white rhinos. Photo: GraphicStock

For certain species, including lions, elephants, leopards and rhinos, the U.S. is the largest trophy-importing country.

HSI and The HSUS, in a statement on the report, pledged to continue to seek new protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act for species that meet the criteria for listing.

The African lion is the latest species to receive ESA protection, after a multi-year effort by animal protection organizations, including HSI and The HSUS.

The groups are seeking increased ESA protections for species currently listed in a lower category of protection, as was recently done for the African elephant. HSI and The HSUS are also urging corporations — such as Swarovski Optik  — to end sponsorship of trophy-hunting advocacy organizations.

Illegal loggers clear-cut 24 acres of winter grounds for monarch butterflies

Studies found that illegal loggers clear-cut at least 24 acres in the monarch butterflies’ wintering grounds in central Mexico this year, a Mexican environmentalist said.

Writer and activist Homero Aridjis said the illegal logging went on unchecked between April and August and occurred in one of the most important areas of the reserve.

Earlier, Mexican officials had said that the reserve lost about 22 acres due to illegal logging in one area this year and that a number of arrests were made.

Illegal logging had fallen to almost zero in 2012. The butterflies depend on the pine and fir forests west of Mexico City to shelter them against cold and rain.

Aridjis called on authorities to stop all illegal logging in the butterfly reserve.