Tag Archives: species

Wildlife refuge releases snowy owl rescued from smokestack

A snowy owl rescued from a downtown Green Bay smokestack has been released after weeks of rehabilitation at a local wildlife refuge.

Wildlife biologists from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources used a long net to rescue the owl last month after it was found stuck inside an unused smokestack at Titletown Brewing Co. The owl, which was given the nickname “Reggie,” was taken to the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary in Green Bay, where it regained weight and strength.

Reggie was released earlier this week and was last seen flying east over the bay of Green Bay.

Wildlife experts expect Reggie to spend the winter in northeastern Wisconsin and find hunting grounds along the bay or venture inland into agricultural areas.

For the birds: Christmas Bird Count is critical for Wisconsin species

They don their holiday apparel and accessorize — fleece jackets, knit caps, hiking boots, scopes and binoculars.

Thousands of citizen scientists, most of them avid birders, flock together in December and early January to celebrate a holiday pastime: the Christmas Bird Count.

The National Audubon Society count begins on Dec. 14 and continues through Jan. 5. In its 116th year nationwide, the count is the longest-running wildlife census in the world, providing decades of data for researchers to identify trends and for conservationists to take action.

“People who watch birds are seeing changes,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society. “By recording all those observations, they’re contributing the information that’s needed to make a difference. I couldn’t be prouder of the volunteers who contribute each year.”

The first count in Wisconsin took place 100 years ago in Milwaukee. Today, more than 1,000 volunteers are involved in more than 100 counts in the state.

Wisconsin isn’t the most populated state in the country and it isn’t the largest geographically, but participation in the Christmas Bird Count is extremely high.

“What’s really cool is Wisconsin is just second in the nation to California,” said Carl Schroeder of Kiel. He and Kyle Lindemer co-lead the count in Wisconsin in a combined effort of Audubon and the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. “It’s really phenomenal. Wisconsin is really, really active in birding in general and in doing this kind of organized, citizen-science activity.”

Counting counters

Ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer with the Audubon Society, gets the credit for founding the Christmas Bird Count. At the time, people engaged in a tradition known as the Christmas side hunt, a contest in which the hunter who collected the largest pile of feathered or furred quarry won.

Chapman was among the early conservationists concerned about declining bird populations. On Dec. 25, 1900, he and 27 other birders conducted 25 counts. Fourteen years before the once common passenger pigeon went extinct, the first Christmas counters observed 90 species of birds.

This year, the National Audubon Society expects more than 72,000 volunteers from 2,400 locations across the Western Hemisphere to participate in the count. The counts will occur in circular areas about 15 miles wide in all 50 states, as well as the Canadian provinces and about 100 locations in Latin America. The birders in the circles will tally every bird they see or hear.

In 2014, volunteers counted more than 68 million birds and 2,106 species.

Schroeder, in addition to his role as a co-coordinator, participates in one or two counts every year.

“I have pretty much my whole life, since I was 9 or 10 years old,” said the 61-year-old manager of new product development for Kohler Co.

He traces his enthusiasm for birding to his ninth birthday, when his Grandma Been gave him a Petersen’s Field Guild, the birder’s bible.

“I don’t know what made her think I might be ready for it, but she took me out … and we found a peewee,” Schroeder said, recalling that his grandmother taught him how to use the guide to identify the bird.

“It took hold of my imagination,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wow. That’s really cool. There’s these little treasures out there that you can find.’ It was like a treasure hunt. And it just grew on me.”

By age 12, Schroeder was going out on his own to observe birds.

Today his “life list,” a listing of the birds he’s observed over the years, is at 604 species for the lower 48 states. “I just topped the 600 mark just this past summer,” Schroeder said. “I was driving cross-country with my grandson.” His 600th bird? A Virginia’s warbler.

Most of those who volunteer for the Christmas Bird Count share Schroeder’s passion for birding.

“I count Christmas Bird Counts like other people count Grateful Dead shows,” said birder Mary Khoo, who’s participated in counts in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Florida. “We all contribute to the greater good, and this is one way to blend passion and cause.”

In recent years, coordinators have shaped some counts to draw children into the circles. The first kids’ count in Wisconsin was in 2012 at the Woodland Dunes Nature Center and Preserve in Two Rivers.

“The Christmas Bird Count harnesses all this passion in an effort to gather information that can be used to look for trends,” Schroeder said. “Are populations increasing or decreasing? Are birds shifting geographically? This might give clues to changes in the weather or climate or other factors. The data have become very valuable.”

Counting cardinals & other species

From analyzing Christmas Bird Count information, researchers have produced more than 200 peer-reviewed articles and papers, including a groundbreaking report released in 2014 showing 314 species in North America are threatened by global warming.

This month, findings gleaned from the Christmas Bird Count are being shared at the global climate change conference in Paris.

While the president and leaders of 194 other countries are gathered for the COP21 summit, Schroeder, Lindemer and others are making final arrangements for the count.

Prior to the count, state leaders are sharing dates and making certain a coordinator is assigned to each circle.

As the circle counts take place, tallies will be entered into a database, which Schroeder will review for accuracy and errors. 

“A lot of time goes into checking,” he said.

After the last count is submitted and verified, Lindemer will begin an analysis, looking at species counts and other information.

Others also will begin studying the details, looking for local, state, regional, national and international trends.

Questions linger from last year’s count. 

Researchers, for example, will be looking to see whether numbers continue to decline for Northern bobwhite, American kestrels and loggerhead shrikes — all species affected by habitat loss and diminished food supply due to pesticides.

Another focus will be on snowy owls, a species observed in 2014 in above-average numbers and a record number in Ontario. Researchers will be looking to see what happens this year as snowies begin to make early winter visits to the Midwest. 

In Wisconsin, will counters again see increasing numbers of cardinals in the southern part of the state? Is the species pushing north? If so, why?

“I love the idea that my observations can be useful,” Schroeder said of the information gathered in the count. 

And, he encouraged, the count always can benefit from more counters.

“The circles are never completed in terms of having too many people,” Schroeder said. “Some people are out looking on foot, some by car. We have a large number of birdfeeder watchers. It’s all good.”

And it’s all for the birds.

On the Web…

For more information about the Christmas Bird Count in Wisconsin, visit the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology at wsobirds.org/christmas-bird-count. Also, go to the Audubon Society at audubon.org.

Letters to the Future: The Paris Climate Project

Leaders from 190 countries convene in Paris this year for the United Nations climate talks. Many agree this global summit is humanity’s last chance to address the major crisis of our time. Will the nations of the world finalize a global treaty aimed at reducing the most dangerous impacts of global warming?

Wisconsin Gazette joined the Association of Alternative Newsmedia newspapers and the Media Consortium in a project led by the Sacramento News & Review. Letters to the Future invited people — some famous, some living around the corner — to think about future generations and predict the outcome of the Paris talks.

Some participants were optimistic about what is to come — some not so much. Find more of their visions of the future at letterstothefuture.org and www.wisconsingazette.com.

Read letters by Tom Hayden, Donnell Alexander, Michael Pollan, Jim Hightower, Rhea Suh, Bill McKibben, Geraldine Brooks and more. 

Brief opportunities 

Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer 

Dear great-great-granddaughter,

Do you remember your grandmother Veronica? I am writing to you on the very day that your grandmother Veronica turned 7 months old — she is my first grandchild and she is your grandmother. That is how quickly time passes and people are born, grow up and pass on. When I was your age — now 20, I did not realize how brief our opportunities are to change the direction of the world we live in. The world you live in grew out of the world I live in, and I want to tell you a little bit about the major difficulties of my world and how they have affected your world.

Read more …

Green global new deal

Tom Hayden, political activist and author 

Dear future generations, At the time I write this, the greatest fissure in global politics is between the affluent white North and the suffering and devastated victims of floods, fires, blazing temperatures, deforestation and war from the Global South. Writ large, the global crisis between rich and poor is the background to environmental and economic injustice.

Read more

The home office

Donnell Alexander, journalist and author 

Good day, my beautiful bounty. It probably feels redundant to someone rockin’ in 2070, a year that’s gotta be wavy in ways I can’t imagine, but. …

Your great, great-grandpappy is old school.

And when my old-school ass thinks about how the backdrop to your existence changed when the Paris climate talks failed, it harkens to the late-20th century rap duo Eric B. & Rakim. Music is forever. Probably, it sounds crazy that the musical idiom best known in your time as the foundation of the worldwide cough syrup industry could ever have imparted anything enlightening. You can look it up though—before the Telecommunications Act of ’96 such transformations happened not infrequently.

Read more …

Shift the food system

Michael Pollan, teacher and author 

Dear future family, I know you will not read this note until the turn of the century, but I want to explain what things were like back in 2015, before we figured out how to roll back climate change. As a civilization, we were still locked into a zero-sum idea of our relationship with the natural world, in which we assumed that for us to get whatever we needed, whether it was food or energy or entertainment, nature had to be diminished. But that was never necessarily the case.

Read more … 

Political boneheads

Jim Hightower, writer and radio commentator

Hello? People of the future? Anyone there? It’s your forebears checking in with you from generations ago. We were the stewards of the Earth in 2015 — a dicey time for the planet, humankind and life itself. And … well, how’d we do? Anyone still there? Hello.

Read more …

I’m fighting for you

Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council 

Dear grandchildren, I can only imagine the wonderful world you are growing up in. I think of that world — your future — almost every day. I think about how to make sure it is a place where all your hopes and dreams can come true.

A long time ago, my parents traveled across the world from Korea to the United States in search of a brighter future for me and my sisters.

Read more …

Seize the moment

Bill McKibben, author and activist 

Dear descendants, The first thing to say is, sorry. We were the last generation to know the world before full-on climate change made it a treacherous place. That we didn’t get sooner to work slowing it down is our great shame, and you live with the unavoidable consequences.

That said, I hope that we made at least some difference. There were many milestones in the fight — Rio, Kyoto, the debacle at Copenhagen. By the time the great Paris climate conference of 2015 rolled around, many of us were inclined to cynicism.

Read more …

This abundant life

Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer 

I just flushed my toilet with drinking water. I know, you don’t believe me: “Nobody could ever have been that stupid, that wasteful.” But we are. We use air conditioners all the time, even in mild climates where they aren’t a bit necessary. We cool our homes so we need to wear sweaters indoors in summer and heat them so we have to wear T-shirts in mid-winter. We let one person drive around all alone in a huge thing called an SUV. We make perfectly good things — plates, cups, knives — then we use them just once, and throw them away. They’re still there, in your time. Dig them up. They’ll still be useable.

Read more …

Good morning Earth

Logan McDermott, Conservationist, Milwaukee 

Friend,

Time is relative and even though my body has already decayed, my actions are still eternal. As humans, trapped on one planet together, we constantly battle over resources and ideologies. I’m certain even you are familiar with war and greed. We rarely take the time to collectively worship Earth; this entire ball of space dirt should be our sanctuary.

Read more …

Which path?

Kerry Schumann, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters executive director, Madison 

Dear great, great-grandchildren,

As you look back on my generation, I hope you are thanking us. I hope we are remembered as having come to the brink of disaster, but turned back just in time to leave this planet in a better place for our children, for our children’s children, for you.

Read more …

I hope you can do better

Leonard Sobczak, real estate, Milwaukee 

To the children of the future: we tried.

I was heartened when President Jimmy Carter was promoting and modeling fuel conservation. I was horrified when President Ronald Reagan dispensed with that message and heralded the era of gas-guzzling SUVs and other use of fossil fuels with disregard of the consequence.

Read more …

We have hope

Staff and supporters of Clean Wisconsin, environmental advocate, Madison 

We do not know how you will look in the next 50 or 100 years … but our world leaders will have a hand in determining that in Paris next month.

Read more … 

The stories they will tell

Beth Esser, stay-at-home mom and activist, Monona 

As I write this, I picture my two young children at a time in their lives when they are older than I am now. They are enjoying life with their children and grandchildren (and maybe even great-grandchildren). They are preparing for the annual recognition of the historic time 85 years earlier when the world came together to turn the tide on the biggest threat to civilization that ever existed — climate change. Miles and Ila, now 91 and 88, retell the stories of our world leaders pledging to keep fossil fuels in the ground, invest in clean energy and create a truly sustainable future. 

Read more …

The world I know

Lisa Neff, Journalist, Anna Maria, Florida 

Dear future,

I wish you could know the magnificent world I know. I grew up in a place romanticized in fiction as Greentown and, as an adult, I lived on the rocky seacoast of New Hampshire, along the mighty Mississippi, in the shadow of the Continental Divide in Montana, on the great lake in Chicago and just feet from the white sandy beaches of an island paradise in Florida.

Read more …

Editor’s note: More letters will be posted. In addition, you can read and post letters at letterstothefuture.org.

We have hope | Letters to the future: The Paris Climate Project

Dear Earth,

We do not know how you will look in the next 50 or 100 years … but our world leaders will have a hand in determining that in Paris next month.

But we do know how you have changed. … The burning of fossil fuels has changed your landscape. It’s made your air more difficult to breathe, impacted your waters and endangered plants and wildlife. It has affected people of all ages, families and homes, cities and states. It has affected economies, whole industries.

Despite this, we have hope for you. … At Clean Wisconsin, we know the Clean Power Plan can be a win for Wisconsin, reducing health costs and slashing dangerous emissions. The plan presents a tremendous opportunity to lower electricity bills while creating good-paying jobs, developing clean sources of energy such as solar and wind power and making our homes and businesses more energy efficient.

For your future, Earth, we need to stop sending $12 billion out of Wisconsin to import dirty coal and other fossil fuels each year. Instead, we must seize the opportunity to lead the nation in innovation, job creation and health protections by developing a strong implementation plan immediately.

We want to remember 2015 as the year our world leaders — and state leaders — listened.

Editor’s note: World leaders convene in Paris soon for the critical U.N. climate talks. In fact, December of 2015 may be humanity’s last chance to address the crisis of our time.

Will the nations of the world finally pass a global treaty aimed at reducing the most dangerous impacts of global warming … or will we fail at this most crucial task?

Here and on letterstothefuture.org, find letters from authors, artists, scientists and others, written to future generations of their own families, predicting the success or failure of the Paris talks and what came after. Read these letters and write one of your own. The letters will be sent to targeted delegates and citizens convening at the Paris talks.

9 species climate change is impacting

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. We are already seeing its effects with rising seas, catastrophic wildfires and water shortages. These changes are not only having a dramatic impact on diverse ecosystems but also on the wildlife that call these places home. Here are nine species that are already being affected by climate change.

If we don’t act on climate now, this list is just the tip of the iceberg of what we can expect in years to come. Future generations shouldn’t just see these animals in history books — we owe it to them to protect these creatures and their habitats.

1. Moose

Rising temperatures and booming parasite populations are expected to cause this cold-weather species that calls the northern United States and Canada home to move farther north. That’s because milder winters and less snow can lead to higher numbers of winter ticks. Tens of thousands of these parasites can gather on a single moose to feed on its blood — weakening the animal’s immune system and often ending in death, especially the calves. Photo by National Park Service.

 

2. Salmon

Salmon require cold, fast-flowing streams and rivers to spawn. Changing stream flows and warming waters in the Pacific Northwest are already impacting some salmon species and populations. Higher temperatures have also led a harmful salmon parasite to invade Alaska’s Yukon River. So while salmon might currently be on the menu, climate change is expected to impact major commercial and recreational fishing industries in the coming years. Photo by Bureau of Land Management.

fish in water

 

3. Snowshoe Hares

To help hide from predators, this North American rabbit has evolved to turn white in winter to blend in with the snow. With climate change, snow in some areas is melting earlier than the hares have grown accustomed to, leaving stark white hares exposed in snow-less landscapes. This increased vulnerability might cause declines in hare populations that could lead to implications for other species. Snowshoe hares are critical players in forest ecosystems. Photo by National Park Service.

snowshoe hare

 

4. American Pikas

About the size and shape of a hamster, the American pika typically lives at high elevations where cool, moist conditions prevail. Research by U.S. Geological Survey has found that pika populations are now disappearing from numerous areas that span from the Sierra Nevadas to the Rocky Mountains. Populations within some areas are migrating to higher elevations likely to avoid reduced snowpacks and warmer summer temperatures. Unfortunately, pikas are strongly tied to rocky-talus habitat that is limited and patchily distributed. This gives them few options as temperatures continue to rise. Photo by Jon LeVasseur (www.sharetheexperience.org).

pika with leaves in mouth

 

5. Sea Turtles

Various populations of sea turtle species and their nesting sites are vulnerable to sea-level rise, increased storminess and changing temperatures — all impacts of climate change. These factors may result in current nesting and foraging sites becoming unsuitable for federally threatened and endangered turtle species — especially loggerhead sea turtles. Photo by USGS.

turtles on a beach

 

6. Puffins

These colorful-billed birds that look like miniature penguins are experiencing population declines in the United States and elsewhere. In the Gulf of Maine, puffins are having difficulty finding their major food sources of white hake and herring. As the sea warms, the fish are moving into deeper waters or further north, making it harder for puffins to catch a meal and feed their young. Adult puffins are compensating by feeding their young butterfish, but young puffins are unable to swallow these large fish and many are dying of starvation. Delayed breeding seasons, low birth rates and chick survival are all affecting the reproductive ability of these birds. Photo by USFWS.

puffins

 

7. Alaskan Caribou

Caribou are always on the move — it’s not uncommon for them to travel long distances in search of adequate food. But as temperatures increase and wildfires burn hotter and longer in Alaska, it could considerably change the caribou’s habitat and winter food sources. Ultimately, this will affect subsistence hunters who rely on caribou for nutritional, cultural and economic reasons. Photo courtesy of Jacob W. Frank.

caribou

 

8. Piping Plovers

The piping plover is an iconic shorebird that breeds and nests along the Atlantic Coast, the Great Lakes and the Great Plains. Increased human use of their beach habitats, including intense coastal development, as well as rising sea levels and storm surges associated with climate change threaten the species. Photo by USFWS.

birds on a beach

 

9. Polar Bears

Polar bears in many ways have become the symbol of climate change. In 2008, they were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act — the first species to be listed because of forecasted population declines from the effects of climate change. The primary cause of their decline: loss of sea ice habitat attributed to Arctic warming. Polar bears need sea ice to hunt seals — a main source of food — as well as to move across the large home ranges they need for foraging habitat. Polar bears aren’t alone in feeling the effects of shrinking sea ice. Walruses and other Arctic species are facing similar challenges as summer sea ice continues to retreat. Photo by National Park Service.

polar bear jumping in water

Have questions about what climate change is doing to wildlife? Join the Department of Interior for a Twitter chat on Nov. 18 at 1 pm ET. Submit your questions on Twitter or Facebook using #askInterior.

Courtesy the U.S. Department of Interior

Dear future: Answering a national call for letters on climate change

The Paris Climate Project has launched “Letters to the Future,” a national effort to encourage authors, scientists, artists, activists and citizens to write letters about climate change to six generations hence.

The letters will be presented to U.S. delegates and others attending the Paris Climate Talks in December.

“‘Letters to the Future’ invites everyone, young and old, to write their future offspring, community, friends — what was it like to be alive when this most consequential summit on climate change occurred? … What do you wish to say, from your heart or your head, to those who weren’t yet here to speak for themselves, as you are?” Welsh notes.

Letter writers to date include Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists Jane Smiley and Geraldine Brooks; Penn/Faulkner award-winner T.C. Boyle; 350.org founder Bill McKibben; U.S. Sen. Harry Reid; Hugo award-winner Kim Stanley Robinson; activist-journalist Michael Pollan; former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and NASA astronaut Stephen Robinson.

And this is just the beginning: People from all walks of life are encouraged to submit a letter and join the conversation. 

The project was envisioned and organized by Melinda Welsh, founding editor of the Sacramento News & Review. Other partners in the project include the Association of Alternative Newsmedia and many member newspapers, including the Wisconsin Gazette. The project also involves the Media Consortium, a network of leading progressive media outlets, such as Mother Jones, Grist, The Nation, Texas Observer and Democracy Now. 

Letters — 400 words in length along with author photos — can be submitted to www.letterstothefuture.org by Nov. 13 in order to be considered for publication in WiG and other newspapers and magazines, in mid-November — before the Paris Climate Talks begin. All letters will be published online. 

On the Web …

To participate in the project, go to www.letterstothefuture.org. And please, also share your letter directly with WiG.

Email Lisa Neff at

WiG will publish letters in print editions in November and online at www.wisconsingazette.com.

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.


Study: Grassland birds losing habitat to frenzied North Dakota oil drilling

Many grassland birds are losing habitat to drilling activity in western North Dakota’s oil patch and more needs to be done to prevent further displacement, a new federal study says.

“Lot of things go away when birds go away — the whole ecosystem gets topsy-turvy,” said Douglas Johnson, one of four federal scientists who authored the study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The three-year study completed in 2014 and released this month looked at 69 oil well sites and nearby gravel roads in seven of the state’s oil-producing counties. Most oil well sites in the study had “numerous tall structures, were surrounded by barbed wire fencing, had brightly burning natural gas flares, generated relatively minor chronic noise, and were visited frequently by large trucks,” the study said.

The study found that some grassland birds such as the as the chestnut-collared longspur and the Baird’s sparrow avoided those areas by more than a quarter mile. Two species of grassland birds — clay-colored sparrows and brown-headed cowbirds — “were tolerant of oil-related infrastructure,” researchers said.

“Some of the birds not deterred by oil development were birds that like to sit on fences,” said Johnson, who is based in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Sprague’s pipit, which is a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act, showed “reduced density” within about 1,150 feet of some oil wells, the study found.

North Dakota’s oil producing region along with those in nearby Montana and Canada is home to “a particularly high density and diversity of grassland bird species that are declining across North America,” researchers said.

The frenzy of drilling activity in North Dakota’s oil patch over the past decade has resulted in more than 10,000 new oil wells. Up to 55,000 additional wells are forecast in the state over the next three decades, state officials say.

Johnson said the additional wells will exacerbate the problem that already is “very, very concerning.”

The study suggests combining numerous wells in a single area and putting them near existing roads to minimize the impact on the birds.

Kari Cutting, vice president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said the state already requires that to be done to reduce the impact of oil development.

“The development has not been haphazard. It’s been very well planned out by the state and industry,” said Cutting, whose group represents more than 550 companies. Lessening the footprint of oil wells “maximizes use for agriculture, sportsmen and critters.”

North Dakota has not done its own study on the impacts of oil development on grassland birds though studies are underway to determine the impact on other species, including waterfowl, said Sandra Johnson, a conservation biologist with the state Fish and Game Department.

1st wolf pack in decades seen in northern California

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

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

They were named the Shasta pack for nearby Mount Shasta.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cecil’s death spotlights damage of trophy hunting

Large animals have always held humans in thrall. Cave drawings, among the earliest examples of human art, commonly feature figures of bison, horses, aurochs (an extinct wild ox) and giant deer. Nature TV programs and zoos are more popular than ever, and the biggest and rarest animals are always the star attractions.

Lions, elephants and other “charismatic megafauna,” as they are known, draw nature tourists from all over the globe to Africa, where they pump millions into economies that badly need it.

But there’s a dark side to human interest. The majority of megafauna that inhabited the world when humans appeared has gone extinct.

Early humans needed the flesh and skins of large animals to survive. But now such hunts are thrill kills, such as the brutal slaying of Cecil, a black-maned lion that was not only the star attraction at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, but also part of an Oxford University study to save African lions from extinction.

In fact, Cecil’s fate was discovered by the GPS device on the collar he wore as part of that project.

Hit with the double whammy of habitation loss and wealthy hunters who’ve paid up to $1 million for the privilege of killing rare, exotic animals, African lions are in steep decline. Only about 20,000 of them remain in the wild today, down from 200,000 in the 1960s. Activists are pressuring the U.S. government to place the African lion on the endangered species list.

Elephants and rhinos are faring even worse than lions. There is only one male great white rhino left in the world, and he’s under 24-hour guard.

Unfortunately, in the world of trophy hunters, the rarer a species becomes, the more hunters are willing to pay for the thrill of killing it.

Cecil’s slaughter

Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer reportedly paid two guides $55,000 to lure Cecil from the Hwange National Park — a preserve. Palmer, who did not have a license for the hunt, then shot Cecil with a crossbow. He tracked the wounded, suffering lion for 40 hours before shooting, decapitating and skinning it for “trophies,” the euphemism hunters use for remains of their quarry.

Cecil — large, exotically beautiful and bestowed with a human name — captured the world’s fascination. His clandestine killing by a rich American sparked global outrage. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said in a statement that he should be extradited to Zimbabwe, where he should be charged, tried, convicted and “preferably, hanged.”

Forced to shutter his dental practice and close his social media accounts, which featured numerous pictures of Palmer holding the corpses of large and sometimes endangered species, Palmer went into hiding. As of press time, Zimbabwe was trying to extradite him to face poaching charges. One man in Zimbabwe faces criminal charges for helping Palmer kill the lion and another was detained but later released.

The Safari Club International, which promotes big-game hunting, suspended Palmer’s membership and called for a full and thorough investigation. The organization, in a statement to the press, said, “Those who intentionally take wildlife illegally should be prosecuted and punished to the maximum extent allowed by law.”

There were calls for Minnesota’s board of dentistry to revoke Palmer’s license for conduct unbecoming his profession.

Protesters created a shrine for Cecil at the entryway to Palmer’s office and carried signs reading, “Let the hunter be hunted.”

“The man disgusts me,” said protester Jenna Blunt of Minneapolis. “I hope his life is ruined, that he’s miserable for the rest of his days.”

Cecil wasn’t Palmer’s first illegal kill. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to making false statements to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services after killing a black bear in Wisconsin outside the authorized hunting zone, according to court documents. Palmer was sentenced to probation for a year and ordered to pay a fine of nearly $3,000.

“It seems like Wisconsin let him off easy,” said Madison animal rights advocate James Harris, who has protested hunting in Wisconsin. “I think the state could do more to protect its wildlife and prosecute illegal hunting.”

Palmer had other ethical baggage. He paid $127,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by a woman who once worked as a receptionist for his dental practice. “Karma’s a bitch,” she said when asked by reporters about Palmer.

Good from tragedy

In the wake of Cecil’s slaughter, numerous airlines, pressured by petitions signed by hundreds of thousands of people, announced they would no longer transport the remains of big game animals.

President Barack Obama recently issued a ban on the importation of elephant ivory, and activists called on the United States to go further and ban bringing “big game trophies” into the nation.

But experts fear the killings are unstoppable. Shortly after Cecil’s slaughter, it was revealed that another American doctor — a gynecologist — had illegally slaughtered a lion on the Hwange preserve in April. The thirst for Western dollars in countries where money is hard to come by will always provide an entry point for rich, determined hunters.

Some African officials argue that the large fees paid by hunters to kill the animals are put back into local conservation efforts to save imperiled species. 

But in many such hunts, only the guides and landowners pocket money. And given the corruption in many African nations, only an estimated 3 to 5 percent of revenues from trophy hunting is shared with local communities, according to studies. What money does find its way back to the people pales in comparison to the renewable revenue brought in by wildlife enthusiasts who visit the continent to watch and photograph the animals. Those non-violent safaris bring billions of dollars to Africa in a sustainable way.

Kenya, for example, banned trophy hunting and saw a rise in ecotourism as a result. Kenya’s success encouraged Botswana to also change its trophy hunting policies.

Zimbabwe imposed a moratorium on lion hunts amid the outrage over Cecil’s death, but lifted it 10 days later.

Cecil’s death has not been in vain. It shined a spotlight on trophy hunting and helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to support Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Unit, whose researchers were tracking Cecil’s movements.

More than $150,000 was donated within 24 hours after Jimmy Kimmel made a tearful plea on his late-night TV show for funding to assist WildCRU’s conservation efforts. A pair of U.S. philanthropists vowed to help the Oxford researchers raise over 1 million in U.S. dollars.

Even plans to raise funds with a Cecil the lion Beanie Baby are in the works.

“We have to seize this moment where we can all make a difference,” American philanthropist Tom Kaplan said in a statement, adding that if the “death of Cecil can lead to the saving of many more lions, then some good can come from tragedy.”

WiG reporter Lisa Neff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

On the Web …

Read about the #MKE Lion here.