recipient: Thailand Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment
One of the most amazing things about Earth is the rich biodiversity that exists across it. From dense tropical rainforests to dramatic, arid deserts, our planet is literally teeming with life — and some of that life just happens to be simply adorable. Weighing on average less than .07 ounces, the bumblebee bat falls into this category. But the tiny species is at risk, and we must encourage the Thai government to protect this exceptionally cute creature before it is too late!
Sign now to demand Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment work to increase conservation efforts of the bumblebee bat and protect the species from extinction!
The aptly-named bumblebee bat — also known as Kitt’s hot-nosed bat — is the smallest bat in the world, and has the smallest skull size of any mammal on earth. These tiny creatures are on average 1.14 inches long, so short and tiny that they could be easily confused with a bumblebee if you didn’t know what you were looking for. In fact, bumblebee bats typically weigh less than a penny! In this case, while their size makes them extra cute for us humans to observe and appreciate, it also puts them at heightened risk for ecosystem changes and habitat loss. And like so many other species, this adorably small creature is at high risk because of human activity. The IUCN, the international body which monitors population changes of species, tragically lists the bumblebee bat as threatened. Scientists have recommended that governments improve the protection and management of the bats’ roosting caves, as well as increased protection for other habitats the species relies on, including foraging areas. These changes could immediately be implemented in Thailand, averting the extinction of the smallest bat on the planet!
Scientists are literally giving us the blueprint for how to save one of the tiniest mammals on Earth, and it is time we heed their calls. Sign the petition now to put pressure on Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to increase protections for this tiny, beloved creature! We must work quickly before the bumblebee bat is lost forever!
Fishermen in Florida have set up a shark fishing tournament – and they’re claiming this tournament is somehow actually for research. That seems unlikely since the whole event is aimed at making money and convincing the general public that there are supposedly “too many” sharks around (a claim that experts have proven is false).
Anyone wanting to be involved in the shark-fishing event must have a boat or join a team on a boat, and pay $100 per vessel. Flyers advertising the event promise participants that they could receive cash prize rewards if they successfully catch one of the heaviest sharks.
How is this about research, exactly?
Sign the petition to demand Florida authorities shut down this event now and in the future, because it will hurt vulnerable shark populations!
Technically, under current Florida law, each person is only allowed to catch one shark, and each boat is only allowed to catch two (even if there are many people on a boat). But it seems unlikely that tournament participants will want to stick to those rules – seeing as they have every incentive to break the rules. After all, there’s money at stake for them!
Fishermen organized the event because they believe they’re seeing more sharks in the water, and they think this is interfering with their fishing efforts. But sharks are supposed to eat fish. That’s what they do. And we don’t have the right to massacre a whole species just because some fishermen got annoyed with them!
As Raven Lynette, a diver and shark campaigner, has said: “This is mainly a money-making scheme, similar to ‘legal’ trophy hunts in Africa. The people who pay for these permits are mainly fishermen that are uneducated on the importance of sharks or simply think that the sharks are the enemy competing with their catch. They are not interested in ‘research.'”
Even worse, she makes clear that: “No observer is required for these tournaments, making it easy for fishermen to kill and sink protected species. Also, there is ZERO reason to kill sharks, regardless of their protected (or not) status. As a whole, they are rapidly declining.”
Shark researchers, environmentalists, and local divers have all testified that this shark-fishing event would be bad for the local shark population. And since sharks are incredibly important for the overall ecosystem, it could throw everything out of balance. These apex predators help preserve a healthy food web structure. Without them, Florida’s waters – and the rest of the ocean beyond! – could see horrifically damaging consequences.
We need sharks. And sharks need our help. The ocean is their home! We have no right to go on mass murder missions, just because sharks also eat fish and swim where we want to go boating. That’s no reason to hurt these crucial living beings. Even worse, their populations have been dwindling for decades – we need to protect them now more than ever.
Florida authorities should never have allowed this tournament to begin with. Demand they shut this operation down, and never allow it to happen again in the future! Sign the petition to help the sharks!more
SAN FRANCISCO—A federal court has ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally withdrew its proposal to list the bi-state sage grouse as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley on Monday vacated the agency’s 2020 withdrawal of the bird from the proposed listing, reinstated the 2013 proposal to list the birds as threatened and ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a new final listing decision.
“These rare dancing birds have a shot at survival thanks to this court decision,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ve watched for more than a decade as these sage grouse have continued to decline. Without the Endangered Species Act’s legal protection, multiple threats will just keep pushing these grouse toward extinction.”
The bi-state sage grouse is a geographically isolated, genetically distinct population of greater sage grouse, which are famous for their showy plumage and mating dances, during which the males make popping sounds with large, inflated air sacs. They live only in an area along the California-Nevada border and face multiple threats. Population declines are particularly acute at the northern and southern ends of the birds’ range.
The court found that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2020 decision to withdraw the bird’s proposed listing failed to consider the small overall population of the bi-state sage grouse and the significance of the potential loss of subpopulations most at risk of being wiped out.
“These unique sage grouse populations in the Eastern Sierra are heading toward extinction from numerous threats, including livestock grazing, cheatgrass invasions, raven predation and extreme droughts,” said Laura Cunningham, California director at Western Watersheds Project. “They deserve a chance to thrive with legal protection.”
The birds were originally proposed for listing as threatened in 2013, but the Fish and Wildlife Service abandoned the proposal in 2015. In 2018 a federal court found the Service had wrongly denied Endangered Species Act protection to the bi-state sage grouse and required the agency to re-evaluate the bird’s situation. The bird was again proposed for protection, but in March 2020 the Trump administration withdrew the proposal.
“The court’s decision is a win for the bi-state sage grouse, which deserve Endangered Species Act protections,” said Joe Bushyhead, endangered species attorney with WildEarth Guardians. “The Fish and Wildlife Service must address the threats to these birds and their habitat, as well as the failure of existing efforts to halt their decline.”
Sage grouse populations in California and Nevada are isolated from other sage grouse by unsuitable habitats and former habitat that has been heavily developed. The bi-state sage grouse populations together are estimated to be no more than 3,305 birds, far below the 5,000-bird threshold that scientists consider the minimum viable population.
“The decision reinforces important legal principles for endangered species: that agencies must base their decisions on the best available science, fully explain their decisions, and carefully consider the status of an imperiled species, especially segments that are small and vulnerable,” said Daniel Ahrens, a law student with the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, which represented the conservation groups in court.
Stanford law student Zach Rego, who also represented the conservation groups, said the court was right to hold that the Service “must do more to show that conservation measures, like the removal of invasive cheatgrass, will be effective in preventing the bi-state sage grouse’s extinction.”
Efforts to protect the birds, including placing markers on barbed-wire fencing in cattle and sheep operations to reduce collision deaths and vegetation treatments, have failed to stem their decline. Federal scientists predict localized extinctions in the north and south ends of the range. Scientists also estimate occupied habitat has decreased by more than 136,000 acres over the past 11 years.
Bi-state sage grouse are found on lands originally inhabited by the Washoe and Paiute peoples.
The conservation groups that successfully challenged the withdrawal include Desert Survivors, the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians. The groups are represented by attorneys from the Center and the Stanford Law Clinic.
The bi-state sage grouse lives only in an area along the California-Nevada border and faces multiple threats, including grazing, mining and habitat loss. Photo by USFWS.
SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO—Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a proposed rule to list a rare subspecies of silverspot butterfly (Speyeria nokomis nokomis) as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). WildEarth Guardians petitioned to list the butterfly in 2013 due to threats from habitat loss, insecticides, and climate change.
Silverspots live in scattered populations in the desert Southwest and rely on the bog violet (Viola nephrophylla), a flower that provides the exclusive food source for silverspot larvae. The habitats for both the butterfly and the flower—seeps, springs, wet meadows, and other riparian oases—have been decimated by water diversions, housing developments, mining, livestock grazing, drought, and climate change.
“Listing offers silverspots a much-needed lifeline,” said Joe Bushyhead, endangered species attorney with WildEarth Guardians. “We’re hopeful the ESA can provide a path to both recover the butterfly and safeguard its vanishing habitat.”
Recent research has shown the range of silverspots to be more limited than previously thought. Genetic analysis now indicates that the butterfly, previously known as the Great Basin silverspot, lives only in east-central Utah, western and south-central Colorado, and north-central New Mexico–well east of the Great Basin region.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting comments on its proposed rule from tomorrow until July 5, after which the agency will finalize its listing decision.
Wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation is warning that time is running out to save some of Britain’s best-loved insects, with the latest Red List assessment of butterflies published today, revealing a 26% increase in the number of species threatened with extinction.
Using data gathered by volunteers through the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme and Butterflies for the New Millennium recording scheme, scientists from Butterfly Conservation have put together the new Red List, which assesses all the butterfly species that have bred regularly in Great Britain against the rigorous criteria of extinction risk set out by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The new Red List is published today in the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity.
Of the 62 species assessed, four are extinct in Britain (Black-veined White, Large Tortoiseshell, Large Copper, and Mazarine Blue) with 24 (41% of the remaining species) classed as threatened (8 Endangered, 16 Vulnerable) and a further five (9%) as Near Threatened.
Large Copper (female/upperwing) – Tamás Nestor
Head of Science for Butterfly Conservation, Dr Richard Fox, says: “Shockingly, half of Britain’s remaining butterfly species are listed as threatened or Near Threatened on the new Red List. Even prior to this new assessment, British butterflies were among the most threatened in Europe, and now the number of threatened species in Britain has increased by five, an increase of more than one-quarter. While some species have become less threatened, and a few have even dropped off the Red List, the overall increase clearly demonstrates that the deterioration of the status of British butterflies continues apace.”
While land-use change remains the most important driver of decline, the impact of climate change on butterflies is also evident in the new Red List, with all four British butterflies with northerly distributions, adapted to cooler or damper climates, now listed as threatened (Large Heath, Scotch Argus, Northern Brown Argus) or Near Threatened (Mountain Ringlet).
Both the Large Heath and the Grayling have moved from Vulnerable to Endangered, and seven species have moved from Near Threatened to threatened, including the beautiful Swallowtail and Adonis Blue. Two new species have been added for the first time, Scotch Argus, which is listed as Vulnerable, and Dark Green Fritillary, listed as Near Threatened.
Large Blue – Sam Ellis
The focus of concentrated conservation efforts
It isn’t bad news for all butterfly species though, with some improvement in status for those that have been the focus of concentrated conservation effort, offering hope for other species.
Dr Richard Fox adds: “Where we are able to target conservation work, we have managed to bring species back from the brink, but with the extinction risk increasing for more species than are decreasing, more must be done to protect our butterflies from the effects of changing land management and climate change. Without action it is likely that species will be lost from Britain’s landscapes for good, but Butterfly Conservation is taking bold steps to improve key landscapes for butterflies and reduce the extinction risk of many threatened species.”
The production of the new Red List of British butterflies has been led by Butterfly Conservation with input and funding from Natural England, and the full scientific paper can be found here: https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12582
U.S. Congress – Ban trophy hunting imports and end elephant slaughter. Support the CECIL and Protect Acts
The Botswana government announced it will restart elephant hunts this year. A quota has been issued of 272 killings starting in April and will go through September during their dry season when the bush is thinner and elephants are easier to locate.
Foreign hunters will be allowed to kill 202 of the elephants and 70 will be reserved for local people. Most of the hunters that go to southern Africa are from the U.S. The average cost for a foreign trophy hunter the right to shoot an elephant is anywhere between $21,000-$60,000 or more.
Now is the time to pressure the U.S. government to take action to prevent the pending elephant slaughter.
Sign this petition asking our members of Congress to support two bills that are moving against trophy hunting elephants from Botswana and ask for lawmakers to defund trophy hunting import permits sold here in America:
CECIL Act H.R. 2245; Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies This will restrict the import and export of trophies of any species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Protect Act, H.R. 4804; Prohibiting Threatened and Endangered Creature Trophies Prohibit trophy hunting of ESA species in the US and import of any trophy of a species listed under the ESA. Lastly there is an Appropriations Bill For Fiscal Year 2021
The appropriation bill is a spending bill that authorizes the expenditure of government funds. We would like to see language for the Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2021 to defund U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s trophy import permits of elephants from Botswana.
To help make a bigger impact, you can call your House of Representative asking him/her to support the Cecil and Protect Acts as well as the Appropriations Bills for Fiscal Year 2021. To find your House of Representative, go to http://www.house.gov
How did we get here?
One hundred years ago, the global elephant population was approximately 3-5 million. After decades of poaching and hunting, the current elephant population is estimated at 415,000. Elephants are critically endangered and protections for them in certain regions, like Botswana, has recently diminished.
In 2014, the government of Botswana put a trophy hunting ban in place. Due to this ban, elephants from bordering countries such as Namibia and Angola came to Botswana seeking refuge. Today, one third of the African elephant population reside in Botswana.
In 2019, the government made another decision to lift the hunting ban on elephants. Last year, there were 358 elephant hunting permits allotted and a further 386 elephants were poached. Such a large- scale loss of bull elephants in what was once their greatest refuge is unsustainable.
Elephant hunting only hurts us in the big scheme of life. In fact, since the elephant is a keystone species that actually supports ecosystems, their sheer existence helps to maintain biodiversity that supports the health of our planet. We actually benefit from the elephants’ presence without even realizing it.
Elephants contribute more to the ecosystem per capita than we do. Elephants are known as the Gardeners of the Forest. Elephants spread the seeds from the plants they have eaten which helps to disperse the plant life to other areas. This new plant life gives off oxygen for us to breathe. Elephants dig water holes in dry river beds that other animals use as a water source as well as creating trails that serve as fire breakers.
To take this one step further on how detrimental commercial elephant hunting and poaching is, we are currently in the world’s sixth mass extinction. The first 5 mass extinctions were all-natural phenomena. This current extinction is almost exclusively due to humans. Dozens of species are going extinct every day and it is predicted by 2050, 30-50% of all species will be extinct. Losing species at this rate will break down ecosystems that we rely on for the health of the planet. This is another reason why it is critical we help conserve and protect the elephants and all wildlife.
Elephants also help the local economies through eco-tourism. According to an article by All Africa research indicates eco-tourism is a $2 billion-dollar industry and reintroducing hunting contributes to only 1.9% of tourism.
Please sign and share this petition to help end trophy hunting and protect elephants and other incredible wildlife.
Recently Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland visited the isolated Aleut community of King Cove on the Alaskan Peninsula southwest of Anchorage, Alaska, to see and hear firsthand whether to approve the construction of a road across the Izembek Wilderness and National Wildlife Refuge. Recently, a federal court approved a Trump Administration land exchange proposal to facilitate the road right of way through the refuge.
The Izembek Refuge is one of the blue areas is on the Alaskan Peninsula which connects the Aleutian Islands to the main part of Alaska.
The debate about a road pits Alaskan Aleuts against the legal mandate of the Wilderness Act to preserve wildlands and protect wildlife. The 315,000-acre Izembek Wildlife Refuge is a critical stopping ground for migratory waterfowl. Its eel grass lagoons are considered of International Importance.
The road would connect the King Cove community to an all-weather airstrip (built during WW11) 37 miles away in Cold Bay, Alaska. The airport was initially operated as a military base before being transferred to the state of Alaska.
The 10,000 foot airstrip in Cold Bay was built by the Army and can easily service jets. Photo American Airlines
Currently, access to the Cold Bay airport is either by air from a strip in King Cove or by boat.
Roads are prohibited in wilderness areas. The Izembek Refuge Wilderness was designated in 1980 as part of the expansive Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).
Henry Mack, the major of King Cove, Stanley Mack, the mayor of Aleutian East Borough, and Della Trumble, a member of the King Cove Corporation and Agdaagux Tribal Council, suggests in an editorial Anchorage Times, opponents put wildlife ahead of humans.
As they wrote in a commentary about opposition to the road by former Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt and former Fish and Wildlife Service Director Jamie Clark, “It’s easy for highly paid former federal officials like Bruce Babbitt and Jamie Clark to pretend that the lives of nearly 1,000 indigenous Aleuts in King Cove, Alaska don’t really matter.”
Some 98 percent of all black brant spend part of the year feeding among the eelgrass lagoons of the Izembek NWR.
Izembek is particularly important for Pacific Black Brant; 98 percent of those small geese spend part of the year there, slurping up the world’s most extensive eelgrass beds, their dietary staple. The area also supports about half the world’s Emperor Geese and a substantial percentage of the threatened Steller’s Eider population. The refuge supports one of the denset population of grizzly bears on the Alaskan Peninsula, as well as wolves, foxes, caribou, and even walruses.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that allowing a road through the refuge would “degrade irreplaceable ecological resources.” It also would jeopardize the global survival of a migratory sea goose, called the Pacific black brant, and the emperor goose and other waterfowl.
A 2013 Record of Decision on a Final EIS that reviewed the potential impact of the road concluded: ” Construction of a road through the Izembek NWR wouild lead to significant degradation of irreplaceable ecological resources.”
The document went on to note that the proposed land trade between the Aleuts and federal government would compromise the ecological integrity of the refuge. “The Service has determined that increased acreage would not compensate for the overall values of the existing Izemeck REfuge lands and Wilderness that would be removed. Nor would the offered lands compenstate for the anticipated impacts that the proposed road would have on wildlife and the habitat that surround the road corridor.”
Therefore, in 2013 Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell decided to preclude road construction from protecting the wildlife and wilderness values of the area. But the Trump administration, under the Secretary of Interior, approved a land exchange between the Aleut natives of King Cove and the Department of Interior that would permit the road construction to proceed.
Jewell found ” Increased human traffic and noise, changed hydrology of the wetlands, pollution runoff, and introduced contaminants and invasive species would despoil the isthmus.” She further concluded there were other modes of transportation available to address emergency medical transportation and pledged to work to implement them.
The King Cove villagers contend they need the proposed road for “medical emergencies.” Although King Cove has an airport, planes and helicopters cannot operate in extreme weather, which frequently closes the King Cove facilities. The Cold Bay airport can operate in more inclement weather. A road connecting the two communities would also permit villagers to fly more frequently to Anchorage and other destinations for shopping and other purposes.
The mountains along the Alaskan Peninsula in an unusually good weather day. Photo George Wuerthner
I have some sympathy for the situation of the villagers. I have experienced the horrific weather typical to the Aleutian Islands and Alaskan Peninsula. I was once trapped for days without food other than the fish I caught while camped at Ugashik Lake because aircraft could not fly to pick me up. Other times I was delayed for days by bad weather while trying to fly out of the villages of Port Moller and Meshik. I’ve been out numerous times on trips to the Alaskan Peninsula in the rain with 50 mile per hour winds, so I know how difficult the weather can be at times.
Villagers have latched on to the idea that a road would provide safe passage between King Cove and Cold Bay. However, a doctor who oversaw medical evacuations in King Cove for 15 years said traveling almost 40 miles on the gravel road during 60 mph winds and blinding snowstorms would be “suicidal” for patients and rescue teams.
“Should the road happen, I foresee all sorts of calamity,” said Dr. Peter Mjos, who was the Eastern Aleutian Tribes’ medical director until 2002. He retired from practicing medicine in 2015.
The original justification for the road was more pecuniary. “In 1994, King Cove passed a resolution saying the road would “link together two communities having one of the State’s premier fishing ports/harbors (including North America’s largest salmon cannery) in King Cove with one of the State’s premier airports at Cold Bay.”
But twenty years later, the justification was changed to the medical emergency rationale.
Izembek NWR. Photo Audubon.
To find an alternative to the road, the federal government contributed $37 million (a taxpayer subsidy of over $56,000 per King Cove resident) for an improved medical clinic in King Cove and the purchase of a hovercraft and improved dock facilities that could link both communities by water. The hovercraft only operated for three years before the Borough shut it down, arguing it was too expensive to operate and failed to work in high winds. However, during the three years it operated, the hovercraft successfully transported 22 medical evacuations.
In addition, of the original $37 million allotted by Congress for the hovercraft purchase and operation, villagers chose to spend $26 million to construct part of the road they hope will eventually link the two communities. In other words, they spent $26 million on a road to nowhere which could have paid hovercraft and other alternative transportation like Coast Guard transport for many years.
Community leaders admitted they used part of the federal grant to construct a partial road because they believed it would make it harder for the federal government to deny its completion.
However, some suggest the real purpose of the road is related to money. The Peter Pan Processing plant in King Cove is Alaska’s biggest salmon and seafood processing operation. The route would make getting workers in and out of King Cove easier. But it would also reduces costs for shipping fish. Currently, Peter Pan must load fish on a boat, transport it by sea to Cold Bay, where it is loaded on another truck to be transported to the airstrip.
The transport of fresh fish to markets is another justification for the road. However, the land exchange approved by the Trump Administration has specific language that precludes large companies like Peter Pan from using the road to transport fish.
The agreement says explicitly: “The road shall be used primarily for health, safety and quality of life purposes (including access to and from the Cod Bay Airport) and generally for non-commercial purposes. The commercial transport of fish and seafood products, except by an individual or small business on any portion of the road shall be prohibited.”
The term “generally”and “small business” opens a big loophole. Not surprisingly, the local Aleut leaders of King Cove all support road construction. Since they own fishing boats, including in 2019, the mayor of King Cove and five out of six city council members, all considered small business owners, would not be prohibited from using the road to transport fish.
It is important to note that the US Small Business Administration defines a firm engaged in “seafood product preparation and packaging” to be a small business if it has no more than 750 employees. Though Peter Pan is owned by a fortunte 500 Maruha Nichiro Corporation in Japan. The Peter Pan currently operates with 500 employees. So all Maruha would have to do is spin off as a separate company, and it would qualify as a “small business.”
Another important issue is that such an exemption to Wilderness Act prohibition against roads could easily become a precedent for new roads in other parts of Alaska where many villages are not part of any road network. In this instance, apparently, the Izembek Refuge is not part of the traditional “sacred” lands of the Aleut.
Many villages in Alaska have no road access to year-round air service. People choose to live in these places. While I might support the road if I thought there were no other viable alternatives, as former Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell concluded, viable (if not expensive) alternatives do exist including emergency transport from the U.S. Coast Guard. It seems to me that “medical emergencies” is a red herring. While there may indeed be a few times when alternative means of transport are not available, I do not believe this is the real reason for the road. The main motive is to create economically viable alternatives for seafood transport. This is about advancing economic desires rather than satisfying the “needs” of King Cove residents.
Many Alaskan communities face the same limitations on transportation due to weather, terrain and other constraints. People choose to live in these places. While the Indigneous Aleuts living at King Cove have other alternatives, the Indigenious wildlife that depends on the Izembek Refuge lands do not.
Secretary of Interior Haaland has stated she wants to represent the interests of Indigenous people. It will be interesting to see whether she agrees with the conclusion of former Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell that other options exist to meet the desires of King Cove residents while protecting globally significant wildlife and wilderness values.
The Sonoran desert tortoise is found south and east of the Colorado River, in the central and western parts of Arizona, and into northwestern Mexico. The habitat of this rare reptile is threatened by invasive species, livestock grazing, increased fire risk, housing developments, off-road vehicles, and increased predation facilitated by human activities.
In 2015, WildEarth Guardians and allies challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ (USFWS) decision not to protect the Sonoran desert tortoise under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As a result of that lawsuit, in August 2020 USFWS agreed to reconsider the tortoise for ESA protection.
USFWS must now go back and take a new look at the imperiled animal’s status in Arizona and has 18 months to make a new determination about the status of the species. Sonoran desert tortoise are known for moving slowly, but without full federal ESA protections, they will continue racing toward extinction. Please raise your voice today!
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Police are looking for a missing teen girl who told her friend she was being followed on her way to school Monday morning.
15-year-old Saige Stiles was last seen walking to school this morning in the area of SW Darwin Blvd/SW Belmont Cir. She never arrived to school and is considered to be missing and endangered.
Police say Saige was talking to a friend on the phone while walking to school and told her friend she was being followed by someone. The friend called 911 after becoming concerned for Saige and provided her location.
Officers arrived on scene and located Saige’s backpack and cell phone on the sidewalk to the Panther Trace Community on Tulip Blvd.
Officers began searching the area and requested the assistance of the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Helicopter and Okeechobee Blood Hounds. During the canvass, Officers located a camera system in the area which showed at 7:30am, Saige was walking southbound behind houses in the Panther Trace Community and did not appear to be in any immediate danger or distress at the time.
“This is still a fluid situation and we are actively searching the area and attempting to find Saige,” police said. “We have spoke to Saige’s friend and father who are cooperating with the investigation. We urge the community that if you see Saige, please contact police immediately.”
Saige is 5’5, 120lbs, and has brown hair. She was last seen wearing jeans and a long sleeve gray shirt.
WildEarth Guardians and our allies scored a major legal victory for gray wolves on February 10, 2022 when a federal court restored Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the gray wolf across the lower 48 states after they were eliminated by Trump in 2020.
Unfortunately, the ruling does not apply to wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains because a 2011 Congressional rider stripped this wolf population of ESA protections and even stipulated the rider “shall not be subject to judicial review.”
Guardians and wolf advocates have filed an emergency petition to relist Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves under the ESA, but the Biden administration has refused to take action. Please write the Biden administration today, then share this action alert with your friends, family, and networks to have the biggest impact for wolves.
Photo Credit: Gray wolf photo by Jacob W. Frank/NPS; graphic element added by Gus O’Keefe
Lack of action puts the Sonoran desert tortoise on a collision course with extinction
TUCSON, ARIZONA—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that the iconic Sonoran desert tortoise does not warrant the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Conservation groups remain concerned that the habitat of Sonoran desert tortoise is degraded by invasive species, livestock grazing, increase fire risk, housing developments, off-road vehicles, habitat fragmentation, and increased predation facilitated by human activities. Residential development has created artificial barriers to the tortoise’s movement and its natural genetic mixing. Continuous overgrazing in the desert has depleted the vegetation on which the species depends. Cattle are also known to trample and crush tortoises in their burrows.
“A decision to forego ESA listing must be based on the best available science, and we will make sure the Service complied with that duty here,” said Joe Bushyhead, Endangered Species Policy Advocate for WildEarth Guardians.
“It’s hopeful news that the Service thinks the future is rosy for the Sonoran desert tortoise based on the agency’s modeling scenarios, and we certainly hope they are right,” said Cyndi Tuell, the Arizona and New Mexico director for Western Watersheds Project. Tuell expressed her concerns about the 12-month finding that the tortoise is not warranted for protection. “For those of us who have visited Arizona’s public lands, we can clearly see that the species’ habitat is still gravely threatened by livestock grazing, off-road vehicles, abandoned mines, invasive species, and fires.”
The Service’s announcement asserts that 29 percent of the species’ range in Arizona is on publicly-owned lands managed specifically “for the benefit of wildlife.” This includes the Sonoran Desert National Monument where the Bureau resisted conducting a thorough or adequate analysis of the impacts of livestock grazing on natural values, including the tortoise, and simply forged ahead to authorize expanded livestock use in 2020. The Service failed to acknowledge the many uses of most public lands that will continue to affect the species habitat. The Service also relied on predictive modeling and other information not yet available to the public.
More than 8,500 square miles (over 5 million acres) of tortoise habitat is managed by the Bureau of Land Management for livestock grazing and over 77 percent of those grazing allotments have 10 year permits that have been renewed at least once without any analysis of the impacts to species like the tortoise. “We worry that the Service has put the tortoise on a collision course with extinction by minimizing the threats from livestock grazing throughout the tortoise’s habitat,” said Tuell.
Timeline of Sonoran desert tortoise protection efforts:
2008 Western Watersheds Project (WWP) and WildEarth Guardians (Guardians) file a petition to list the species under the Endangered Species Act
2009 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues a 90-day finding that the tortoise should be considered as a Distinct Population Segment (DPS)
2010 Service determines that listing is warranted as a DPS, but precluded by higher priority species
2011 Service reaffirms this finding
2012 Service reaffirms this finding and determines the Sonoran desert tortoise is a separate species, which moves it up the priority list for the Service
2013 Service reaffirms this finding
2014 Service reaffirms this finding and starts preparing the proposed listing rule (formal process for listing the species under the Endangered Species Act)
2015 Service enters into a voluntary “candidate conservation agreement” with state and federal agencies to theoretically protect the tortoise and reaffirms in this agreement that the tortoise warrants listing under the Endangered Species Act
2015 Service uses a “very coarse model” based on elevation, vegetation type, and slope to assess the status of the tortoise.
2015 Service reverses its previous findings and issued a “not warranted” determination on the petition to list the tortoise and concludes the tortoise does not qualify for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
2019 WWP and WildEarth Guardians file a lawsuit seeking to overturn the “not warranted” determination as arbitrary and capricious and for failing to use the best available science in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
2020 Service agrees to revisit the 2015 “not warranted” determination.
2022 Service issues a “not warranted” determination for Sonoran desert tortoise.
Gray wolves in the Northern Rockies still face brutal slaughter
OAKLAND, CA—Today, a federal court restored Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf after they were eliminated by the Trump administration in 2020. The ruling orders the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to resume recovery efforts for the imperiled species. Today’s decision redesignates the gray wolf as a species threatened with extinction in the lower 48 states with the exception of the Northern Rockies population (map), for which wolf protections were removed by Congress in 2011.
The most recent data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its state partners show only an estimated 132 wolves in Washington state, 173 in Oregon (with only 19 outside of northeastern Oregon), and fewer than about 20 in California. Nevada, Utah, and Colorado have had a few wolf sightings over the past three years, but wolves remain functionally absent from their historical habitat in these states. In 2020, Colorado voters directed the state to reintroduce wolves by 2023.
“The nation has witnessed the brutality that happens when ‘management’ of wolves is returned to anti-wolf states like Montana and Idaho, which have implemented an aggressive eradication agenda, including surrounding Yellowstone National Park,” said Lindsay Larris, Wildlife Program director at WildEarth Guardians. “Restoring federal Endangered Species Act protections for wolves is essential to their recovery throughout their historic range, so while we are thankful for this ruling we also call on Secretary Deb Haaland to issue emergency relisting protections for the Northern Rockies wolf population to halt the senseless slaughter taking place.”
“The science is clear that gray wolves have not yet recovered in the western U.S. By design, the Endangered Species Act does not provide the federal government the discretion to forsake western wolf recovery in some regions due to progress in other parts of the country,” said Kelly Nokes, Western Environmental Law Center attorney. “Today’s decision will bolster recovery of western wolves – a keystone species wherever they exist – and improve ecosystem health more broadly.”
From the decision: “…the Service did not adequately consider threats to wolves outside of these core populations. Instead, the Service avoids analyzing these wolves by concluding, with little explanation or analysis, that wolves outside of the core populations are not necessary to the recovery of the species… In so concluding, the Service avoided assessing the impact of delisting on these wolves.” Opinion at 11.
In delisting wolves, the Service ignored the science showing they are not recovered in the West. The Service concluded that because in its belief there are sufficient wolves in the Great Lakes states, it did not matter that wolves in the western U.S. are not yet recovered. The Endangered Species Act demands more, including restoring the species in the ample suitable habitats afforded by the wild public lands throughout the western U.S. Wolves are listed as endangered under state laws in Washington and California, and only occupy a small portion of available, suitable habitat in Oregon.
“This ruling is a huge win for wolves in states like California, Oregon, and Utah where they have yet to achieve stable, robust populations,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director with Western Watersheds Project. “We are relieved to have staved off premature delisting with this case, but there is still a huge amount of work ahead to protect wolves in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming where they face some of their biggest threats.”
The conservation groups have long been active on wolf recovery issues in the western U.S., including working with western states to develop science-based wolf management plans, mounting cases to rein in rogue federal government wolf-killing programs, promoting recovery efforts in the Southwest for critically imperiled Mexican gray wolves, and working with local governments and landowners to deploy non-lethal tools that prevent wolf-livestock conflicts.
“Over the past two winters, we lost icons of wolf recovery when OR-7 and his mate OR-94 passed away in southern Oregon’s Cascades. These two wolves represent the first generation of wolves in western Oregon in nearly a century,” said Michael Dotson with the conservation group Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center based in southwest Oregon. “Delisting is premature and obviously politically driven.”
“Wolves are an integral part in the health and resilience of western ecosystems,” said Adam Gebauer, Public Lands Program director at The Lands Council. “Local land managers, state wildlife offices and the federal government must work together and rely on science and not politics to ensure their recovery. Wolves are our allies in the conservation of wildlands.”
“Today’s victory injects hope and resources into ongoing efforts to restore wolves across their historic range,” said Bethany Cotton, conservation director for Cascadia Wildlands. “We look forward to engaging with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure wolf management is guided by sound science, not prejudice.”
“The politically driven delisting of wolves in the Northern Rockies by Congress incorrectly included all of eastern Washington, east of US Highway 97. It was an arbitrary decision then and it still is today,” said Timothy Coleman, director of Kettle Range Conservation Group and former member of the Washington state Wolf Advisory Group. “Eighty-five percent of wolves killed in Washington were from the Kettle River Range, where unfortunately the gray wolf is still at risk despite the court’s excellent decision. And though Washington has kept state endangered species protections for wolves, that clearly provides little protection. Had wolves retained federal Endangered Species Act protection, entire wolf families would not have been slaughtered and could have dispersed into unoccupied areas of the state with excellent habitat such as southwest Washington, Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park.”
“California’s wolves are just starting to return home,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director at the Environmental Protection Information Center. “Today’s decision means these animals will have the help of federal wildlife managers to establish a true foothold in their historic habitat in the state.”
“We must learn to coexist with gray wolves. These highly intelligent and social animals play a key role in balancing entire ecosystems,” said Kimberly Baker of the Klamath Forest Alliance. “Federal protection is paramount to safeguarding this nation’s rightful heritage.”
Unfortunately, today’s decision will do nothing to stop the ongoing slaughter of wolves in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming—including surrounding Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park. These states removed wolves’ endangered species protections via federal legislation. The current war on wolves in the northern Rockies shows the stark reality of what happens when “management” is turned over to states hostile to wolves.
In just the past few months, at least 23 Yellowstone wolves—more than 20% of the park’s entire wolf population—have been killed outside the park, causing widespread outrage and condemnation from Yellowstone National Park’s supervisor, wolf researchers, and wildlife professionals. Hunters in Montana and Idaho can lure wolves out of Yellowstone with bait, strangle them with snares, and shoot them at night on private land.
Both states have established wolf bounties and in Idaho it’s legal to run down a wolf with ATVs and snowmobiles. While celebrating today’s positive ruling for wolves, the groups also call on the Biden administration to immediately issue emergency relisting protections for the Northern Rockies population of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act.
The coalition of western wildlife advocates involved in this legal challenge includes WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, Cascadia Wildlands, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), The Lands Council, Wildlands Network, Klamath Forest Alliance, and Kettle Range Conservation Group, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center.
Maggie Howell is the executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center.
Wolves are being slaughtered with a zeal that goes beyond the typical thrill of the hunt. Last month, Oregon state police asked for help and nonprofits offered a reward of nearly $50,000 for leads in identifying the criminals who poisoned two wolf packs, killing eight of these noble creatures in one of the slowest, most horrific ways possible.
Such slaughters have ramped up since the Trump administration removed the gray wolf from the endangered species list in October 2020. The change took effect in January 2021, leaving a patchwork of state regulations and wolf populations vulnerable not only to newly sanctioned hunting but to poaching, or illegal hunting, as well.
Meanwhile, states like Montana and Idaho have green-lit baiting and trapping and allow hunters to use vehicles — like ATVs and helicopters — to chase down wolves. In Idaho, hunters can use packs of dogs and shoot wolf pups in their dens. To encourage wolf hunting, the state will even reimburse hunters for as much as $2,500 in costs for each wolf killed, essentially offering a bounty. Though these types of hunting practices are banned for certain species, state governments have perplexingly decided to allow them for wolf hunts — policies that swiftly followed Trump’s removal of wolf protections, all led by Republican legislatures.
Opposition to protecting wolves tends to come from ranchers and some hunters, who see the wolves as threats to livestock and game. As Idaho State Senator Van Burtenshaw put it, “There’s a wave of wolves coming in, and we just want to slow that wave down, minimize our costs, and bring back the ranching family.” But data show that wolves can easily coexist with cattle, sheep, and other animals. There are many options for non-lethal wolf management, like erecting flags around cattle pens to scare off wolves. And the reality is that wolves are not a major threat: Studies show they are responsible for just 1 percent of livestock deaths (dogs are responsible for more losses than wolves). Meanwhile, ethical hunters who understand ecology appreciate wolves because they make deer and elk populations stronger by selecting for weaker members of the herd.
Unfortunately, wolf management is no longer simply a debate among farmers, ranchers, and wildlife conservationists. Wolves have become politicized. After Montana Governor Greg Gianforte illegally slaughtered a wolf last spring, Vox reporter Benji Jones noted that “The wolf debate doesn’t seem to have much to do with science-based management. Instead, it comes down to how people view wolves … and how their politics inform those views.”
What’s driving hunters to kill as many wolves as possible in the most torturous ways possible is another facet of our bitterly divided country. Gianforte trapped and killed a banded wolf that had wandered across the border from Yellowstone Park — he was in violation of a licensing requirement but received only a warning letter. This fall, he expressed his frustration with the federal government reconsidering wolf protections, tweeting, “We don’t need Washington coming in” to manage wolves. U.S. Representative Liz Cheney complained about “Efforts from the radical environmentalist left to re-list the Gray Wolf.” Wolves seem to have become a focal point for those railing against big government, a symbol of coastal elitism encroaching on rural values. When I talk to hunters from my home office in Westchester, New York, they will offer a version of “how would you feel if we put wolves in Central Park?”
In the wilderness, however, wolves are what’s called a keystone species, meaning they have a disproportionately large impact on their entire ecosystem. It only takes a few of these apex predators to effectively manage populations of deer, elk, and bison, which in turn ensures a healthy level of vegetation to sustain smaller animals like beavers, songbirds, and fish.
Prior to the 1900s, roughly a quarter of a million wolves thrived throughout the lower 48 states. Without really understanding the ecological consequences, settlers nearly killed them all by the mid-20th century, reducing their range to a small portion of the Great Lakes region. Thankfully, with the Endangered Species Act of 1973, we began giving this animal opportunities to recover.
When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, scientists found they rejuvenated the landscape. Freed from predation for 70 years, the elk and bison populations had exploded. The aspen trees, willows, and cottonwoods were stripped bare, leaving nothing for the smaller animals, and the landscape degraded. Without the structure that trees and plants offered, the soil lost its integrity and riverbanks collapsed, redirecting waterways. Countless other animals vanished when the food they had depended on had been overgrazed. The return of the top predator kept those big herbivores moving, allowing habitats to rebound.
Each year, Yellowstone draws an estimated $35 million from people who visit specifically to see the wolves. Yet hunters have killed 23 during this winter’s hunting season; just 91 remain within the park.
The current anti-wolf frenzy is not based on economics, and it’s not based on science. It’s driven by something deeper and darker. Some of my peers have received anonymous emails with graphic photos of slaughtered wolves, and such pictures with celebratory comments are not uncommon on social media. Former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Dan Ashe, who supported lifting wolf hunting restrictions but has since called on Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to authorize an emergency relisting, said, “What is happening in Idaho and Montana is not hunting. It is pure, unbridled cruelty.”
There was no valid scientific reason for delisting the gray wolf in the first place; it was purely a political move to mobilize Trump’s base days before the 2020 election. Biden can easily reverse this by emergency order. We don’t even need to wait for the year-long review being undertaken by U.S. Fish & Wildlife — the inhumane trophy hunting can be temporarily halted tomorrow.
The larger challenge will be helping people see the wolf as an ecosystem guardian rather than a fairytale villian. If people feel that the government is encroaching on their freedom, taking out anger on our country’s majestic animals won’t solve it.
The views expressed here reflect those of the author.
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Sea turtles appear to fly as they swim beneath ocean waves. With long, gray-green flippers that move like slow wingbeats, they glide through the water as birds do through the sky. Actually flying through the air, though, at 10,000 feet above the ground, the reptiles seem anything but graceful.
Inside the airplane, 120 sea turtles, 118 of which are juvenile Kemp’s ridleys (Lepidochelys kempii), shift uncomfortably among beach towels inside stacked Chiquita banana boxes, their crusty eyes and curved pearlescent beaks peeking through slot handles. The windowless metal cabin vibrates with the sound of propellers as the pilots work to keep the plane aloft and the internal air temperature at a turtle-friendly 22 degrees Celsius (72 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s December 2020, and outside, the cold air above New England slowly gives way to balmier southern temperatures. The pilots are taking the turtles on a 2,900-kilometer (1,800-mile) trip from Massachusetts to Texas’s Gulf Coast.
Eight hours later, they’re nearly there. “We’re coming into Corpus Christi,” says Mike Looby, a pilot with a sea turtle rescue organization called Turtles Fly Too, as airport runways come into view among the sprawling buildings below. Looby and co-pilot Bill Gisler, both from Ohio, will visit four different locations in Texas to offload the animals. This is the largest number of turtles the organization has transported to date.
Charles Yanke, a volunteer pilot with Turtles Fly Too, helps load boxes of recovering sea turtles onto his plane in Marshfield, Massachusetts, for transport to rehabilitation centers outside the state.
Once the plane is on the tarmac, staff and volunteers from several aquariums and marine rescue facilities crowd around. The pilots gently slide each box of turtles toward the cargo door, and the group lines up to carry them to vans parked nearby.
“What happened to these guys?” someone asks.
“They were found stranded on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts,” says Donna Shaver, chief of the division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore, as she grabs a box.
In the summer months, the waters in the Gulf of Maine where Cape Cod is located are warm, calm, and full of food, serving as a natural nursery for 2- to 4-year-old Kemp’s ridleys, the smallest and most endangered sea turtle in the world. Migrating loggerheads (Caretta caretta), green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), and the occasional leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) also visit Cape Cod Bay. But as water temperatures plummet in November, December, and January, the cold-blooded turtles must migrate out or perish. Many lose their way and wash up, cold-stunned, on the inside edge of the hook-shaped Cape, which curls into the ocean like a flexing arm, forming what some locals call “the deadly bucket.”
The phenomenon is the largest recurring sea turtle stranding event in the world. While it’s natural — local records of sea turtle bones date back centuries — the scale is new and may, paradoxically, be a product of successful efforts to recover Kemp’s ridley populations, in addition to the effects of climate change.
The hook at the outermost tip of Cape Cod spirals back into the bay toward the cape’s southern coastline, creating a challenging obstacle for young sea turtles seeking the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico when fall temperatures plummet. Photo made possible by LightHawk
“This area is increasing in water temperature faster than 99 percent of water bodies in the world,” says Kate Sampson, sea turtle stranding and disentanglement coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who helps coordinate turtle transport. “Because of that, it seems like it’s drawing more sea turtles.”
Fortunately for the turtles, hundreds of volunteers and several staff members organized by the nonprofit Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary stand at the ready to patrol every inch of the 105-kilometer (65-mile) stretch of beach lining the inner Cape, twice a day, from November through December, no matter the weather. When they find a turtle, the animal begins a logistically complex journey from rescue to rehabilitation and, eventually, to release. Saving each flight’s worth of little lives involves approximately five vans, 1,000 miles, four organizations, and 50 people. Without this monumental collaboration across North America’s Eastern Seaboard, other efforts to save the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle from extinction might be futile.
Why turtle strandings are on the rise
Three weeks before Looby and Gisler’s departure with their precious herpetological cargo, Nancy Braun and her border collie Halo walked a stretch of Great Hollow Beach, near Cape Cod’s outermost tip. The unrelenting wind blew hard and Braun’s cheeks were rosy with cold, her hair frantically trying to escape from beneath a fuzzy winter hat. Every so often, she raised binoculars to her eyes to scan the sand and any promising-looking lump of seaweed. A resident of nearby Truro and a Mass Audubon volunteer, Braun was on the lookout for turtles.
Walking quickly, she passed small cottages in the dunes with window shutters closed tightly against the elements. Brightly colored beach chairs lined the shore like memorials to summers past. Along the way, Braun saw a group of people gathered around something in the distance, and she broke into a run in their direction, Halo bounding by her side. When she arrived, there they were: four sea turtles, clearly in need of care. As the group waited for the arrival of a Mass Audubon vehicle to take the turtles for initial processing, Braun and the others covered them with seaweed to protect against the wind chill.
Truro resident Nancy Braun, her dog, and a few others stand watch over four stranded sea turtles on Great Hallow Beach on Cape Cod in November.
“This is so cool,” said Richard Lammert, a visitor from New York. “We were just walking the beach and came across these turtles. I had no idea that sea turtles even came up this far. I’ve never seen one up close, let alone helped to rescue it.”
While the mood was light, there was also a sense of urgency among the group. “I called Mass Audubon to let them know what we found,” said Michael Weinstein, another Truro resident. That’s exactly the type of response turtle rescuers hope for and why rescuers prioritize educating the community in addition to recruiting and training volunteers, according to Carol “Krill” Carson, president and founder of the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance and a volunteer with Mass Audubon. Without a clear understanding of why the turtles are stranded in the first place, some well-intentioned people might think they should throw the animals back into the ocean. “Anyone can walk the beach and find a sea turtle,” Carson says. “It’s what that person does when they find a turtle that is critical.”
Former director of Mass Audubon Bob Prescott started the sea turtle rescue program back in 1979. At the time, Prescott says he would find only a handful of turtles each year. The number has since skyrocketed. In 2014, volunteers found a record-breaking 1,242 turtles stranded on Cape Cod beaches. In 2020, there were 1,045, the second-highest number on record.
Carol “Krill” Carson, president and founder of the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance and a volunteer with Mass Audubon, drags a sled as she searches for stranded sea turtles along a Cape Cod beach near her home.
The most common species found is Kemp’s ridley, which nests in only two places in the world: a stretch of beach in Mexico and one in Texas. Between the late 1940s and the mid-’80s, Kemp’s ridley populations plummeted from more than 40,000 nesting females to fewer than 300, due to entanglement in fishing gear and the harvesting of adults and eggs for human consumption. Today, Kemp’s ridleys still face a wide variety of threats, including habitat loss, coastal development, ship strikes, plastic waste, and climate change. With so few ridleys left, “every life counts in the survival of this species,” says Prescott, which makes the turtle rescue effort that much more important. “It’s all hands on deck.”
Connie Merigo, executive director of the National Marine Life Center, in Bourne, Massachusetts, agrees. “You hear a lot in biology, ‘Why are you interfering? Shouldn’t you just let nature run its course?’ In this case, a lot of these threats are not under control. So, if we let thousands of these turtles die every year in a cold-stunning event, the population is that much smaller.”
Interestingly, though, the success of ongoing conservation efforts is likely one of the factors driving the increased need for rescues. That’s because there are simply more turtles around to strand. Conservation efforts on nesting beaches in Mexico, strict regulations on pollution, and new technological advancements in fishing equipment have all helped, as have new nest sites developed in Texas since the 1970s. Today, there are an estimated 5,500 Kemp’s ridley females nesting in Mexico and 55 in Texas.
Although this is a good sign, the current population is still critically low. According to NOAA, the number of nests grew steadily until 2009 but has fluctuated since then, underscoring the importance of ongoing monitoring and conservation. “Endangered species recovery is the long game,” says Shaver, who leads the Kemp’s ridley nesting program in Texas. “It’s so heartwarming to work with people who have the same mission at heart to try and give back to preserve and sustain this population.”
Boxes of cold-stunned sea turtles sit in a cool room at Mass Audubon in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Rehabilitators slowly bring the turtles’ body temperatures back up to normal to avoid shocking the animals.
The other likely factor contributing to turtle strandings is the warming of the Gulf of Maine. Climate change has caused the water here to warm earlier each year and to stay warm for longer, keeping young Kemp’s ridleys in the fertile shallows of Cape Cod Bay later each fall. But the temperatures of the outer Cape and the North Atlantic still plunge as summer comes to a close. When fall arrives and the turtles attempt to navigate northward around the cape’s hook, they hit a disorienting wall of cold and turn around in search of the warmer water of their southerly ocean habitats.
This leads them back to the shallow flats inside the bay, where they encounter land instead of the open ocean. When the waters inside the cape reach a consistent 50 degrees Fahrenheit, any turtles still there will become hypothermic and eventually die unless they get help. Given the compounding factors, there’s no obvious end in sight to the trend.
“We are going to continue to see an increase of cold-stuns on Cape Cod,” says NOAA’s Kate Sampson.
New England Aquarium interns Kristen Luise, right, and Lauren Jaeger listen to the heartbeat of a hypothermic Kemp’s ridley sea turtle at the aquarium’s rehabilitation center in Quincy, Massachusetts.
That increase has only heightened the need for collaboration. In 2010, the New England Aquarium built a sea turtle rehabilitation facility in Quincy, Massachusetts, to meet demand. And with the high stranding numbers in 2020, breaking the record for live admitted turtles at 754, and limited staff due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the National Marine Life Center in Bourne, Massachusetts, also opened its doors to help with triage of incoming turtles, on top of the rehab services it already provided.
In addition to being hypothermic, Kemp’s ridleys usually arrive at these facilities with pneumonia or develop the condition within the first week or two of their arrival. Turtles also sometimes show up with traumatic injuries like broken bones and cracked shells from ocean waves tossing their bodies repeatedly into rocks, jetties, and seawalls when the animals are too cold to swim out of the surf.
Initially, when the turtles arrive, the goal is simply to assess their injuries through physical examinations and X-rays and to stabilize them. Rehabilitation staff members give the turtles fluids to rehydrate them and antibiotics to treat infections. They also work to slowly bring the animals’ internal body temperatures back up.
Gabbie Nicoletta, a coordinator at the National Marine Life Center, watches a previously stranded sea turtle as it continues its recovery in a tank at the rehabilitation center in Bourne, Massachusetts, in December.
Still, the two Massachusetts facilities can only care for so many turtles. At some point, the animals, including those that Braun and the others found on Great Hollow Beach, must be transported to other aquariums and facilities to complete their rehabilitation and ready them for release back into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. In total, 29 additional rehab facilities are prepared to take in sea turtles for long-term rehabilitation. And flying, it turns out, is the fastest, least stressful, and safest way to transport the animals. That’s where Turtles Fly Too and its team of dedicated volunteer pilots come in.
The first — and only — US operation permitted to airlift sea turtles
On a frigid, clear December day, the early morning sun peeks over the horizon as four vans pull onto the tarmac at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Massachusetts. Yawning, their breath turning into clouds before them, Kate Sampson of NOAA, Connie Merigo of the Marine Life Center, and a handful of other turtle rescuers from the New England Aquarium, pour out of the vehicles to meet with pilots Looby and Gisler. They strategize about the loading process to get dozens of turtles into the air as quickly and safely as possible. And that’s just one phase of the process.
Among the myriad details that must be worked out are how many turtles the rehabilitation facilities need to move, what planes are available and their capacity, where the pilots are coming from, where they’re going, and who will be on hand for pickup — all right up to the moment when the turtles arrive at their destination.
Adam Kennedy, a biologist at the New England Aquarium, closes the lid on a container holding one of many previously stranded sea turtles bound for rehabilitation facilities outside New England.
The service that Turtles Fly Too provides is unique. Besides the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which has the authority to move any endangered animal, “we have the first and only permits in the nation to fly sea turtles,” says Leslie Weinstein, the organization’s president. Turtles Fly Too got its start in 2014, the record-breaking year of strandings. Weinstein was running an aviation parts manufacturing company full time and had just transported a green sea turtle successfully to a facility in Dubuque, Iowa, that summer. In November, when cold-stranded sea turtles began washing up, turtle rescuers put Weinstein in touch with Sampson and Merigo, who was then directing the New England Aquarium’s Rescue Rehab Program. And thus, Turtles Fly Too was born.
Weinstein found the organization’s first pilot through a volunteer group called Pilots N Paws that transports domestic animals. A full-time dentist in New York, Ed Filangeri’s assignment was to fly eight turtles from Massachusetts to Baltimore, Maryland. Filangeri was immediately hooked, and the two joined forces. These days, Filangeri doesn’t hesitate to cancel dental appointments, because, he says, “the turtles can’t wait” and the clients understand. The organization now counts more than 350 pilots among its ranks and provides emergency transport to other species too, including sea otters, pelicans, and seals.
The flights vary in cost from $1,500 to $100,000 depending on the plane used, the number of drop locations, and the number of turtles on board. According to Weinstein, the average ticket price comes in at about $1,000 per turtle. Public contributions to Turtles Fly Too help cover that, as do airfields that waive landing fees or provide discounts on fuel. One Christmas Eve, when Filangeri had a mission to Virginia, he showed up in a Santa hat, and he and the crew named each of the eight traveling turtles after a flying reindeer. “I thought it was funny that they were flying with a man with a white beard on Christmas Eve,” Filangeri laughs. But, joking aside, “We do what’s necessary. We are the turtle movers,” adds Weinstein. “You can’t put a value on one Kemp’s life.”
After months spent healing from injuries, being treated for their illnesses, and regaining their strength, the turtles that Looby and Gisler transported in December are ready for release. “These guys come in chronically ill, and it takes time to get them healed,” says Joe Flanagan, senior veterinarian at the Houston Zoo. On the appointed day in March 2021, the beaches of Galveston, Texas, are warm, and the spring sun reflects off the light-colored sand. Boxes filled with Kemp’s ridley sea turtles gathered from the New England coastline sit in the shade of a small tent. Several beach-goers line up behind strips of bright pink tape wafting in the wind, marking a safe corridor for the turtle parade. Aquariums and rehabilitation centers coordinate with each other to combine their releases and allow the public to attend. “We’ll probably not see these guys ever again, I hope. But if we do it would be nice to see them nesting,” says Flanagan.
A rehabilitator with the Sea Life Aquarium holds one of approximately 85 endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles released at Galveston Beach in Texas in March.
Staff and volunteers carefully grasp the small Kemp’s ridleys just behind their front flippers and carry them one by one down the sandy strip toward the ocean. The people gathered to watch cheer, clap, take selfies, smile, and wave as the animals complete the final leg of their strange, human-assisted migration. “Goodbye, little one! Good luck!” someone yells. “Look at how cute they are,” says another bystander. The sea turtles seem equally enthusiastic, waving their flippers wildly as if in anticipation of the swim, longing for the embrace of warm water, at last, eager to once again fly beneath the waves.
“Oh my god, he is so ready to go!” says one of the turtle rehabilitators as she places a small pale-green Kemp’s, named Hagrid, slowly into the water. With several fast pumps of his flippers, the young turtle disappears into the Gulf of Mexico.
This story originally appeared in bioGraphic, an online magazine about nature and solutions powered by the California Academy of Sciences.
In Pakistan, a snow leopard in captivity highlights the plight of her species.
Our 4×4 truck bumps over boulders and splashes through streams as it drives further into the deep forest of Naltar Valley in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region. This area is popular for its alpine ski slopes, mountain glaciers, green meadows, and vibrant lakes. But today, our guide has promised us a view of one of the Himalaya’s more hidden natural wonders.
We’re on our way to see a snow leopard.
Our bumpy ride comes to a halt in a clearing of trimmed grass scattered with pine cones. Tall trees cast shadows on the hot summer day and wave in an intermittent breeze.
We get out of the car, stretch our limbs, and make our way to a caged enclosure, where a bearded man named Ghulam Rasool greets us. He then turns toward the cage, makes kissing noises, and calls out, “Meri Lovely (My Lovely.)” Lovely, known locally as Lolly, looks away uninterested, her spotted black and white back towards the crowd. “She’s well fed at the moment,” says Rasool. “She growls and responds when she wants food. She’s a good girl.”
As more tourists arrive and the chatter gets louder, Lovely lets out a low rumble. It’s a faintly audible growl from deep within her body — nothing like the roar seen and heard in popular media. She turns her head and briefly scans the commotion, opens her mouth to show sharp canines, and then looks away again, back into her own world.
Lovely is a nine-year-old snow leopard who spends day and night alone, with no other animals of her kind. The only change in her life are her two habitats. In the winter, when snow blankets the valley and snow leopards look for food and mates, their fur keeping them warm and broad paws working as snowshoes, Lovely is kept in a cage near a ski resort. When the snow melts away, she’s brought into the lush green valley where tourists visit her. She has never hunted or mated. Nor will she be able to.
“Lovely’s only utility at the moment is recreation,” said Hussain Ali regional program manager of the Snow Leopard Foundation. “Since she didn’t receive the early days training of hunting and survival from her mother her chances of survival on her own are nil.”
As I watch Lovely in her cage, I’m struck by the paradox this big cat represents. Snow leopards belong in the wild, but Lovely’s captivity affords tourists the ability to see a snow leopard up close, to learn about this predator’s plight. This cage is also her blessing, in a region where snow leopards are losing habitat and the mountains they call home are becoming more and more inhospitable. As Ali says, without her captivity, Lovely would likely be dead.
Snow leopards populate the mountain ranges of 12 countries across Central and South Asia. Scientists estimate that fewer than 6,400 snow leopards inhabit an estimated area of 1.8 million square kilometers. Their habitat is threatened by development and land degradation. Snow leopards are also killed by pastoralists who see the big cats as predatory threats to their livestock. According to a report from the World Wildlife Fund, an estimated 450 snow leopards are killed each year.
In Pakistan, as part of a recent habitat sampling, it has been estimated that there could be as few as 40 snow leopards, far fewer than previous estimates of around 420 cats. However, experts believe that more than 70 percent of the world’s snow leopard habitats are still unknown — and many of these habitats may be situated in Pakistan. Either way, saving and conserving every snow leopard is important.
But in Lovely’s case, saving her meant taking her from the wild. In December 2012, volunteers from the Khunjerab Villagers Organization (KVO), a community-based nonprofit working for wildlife conservation, were on a routine stroll around Khunjerab National Park, more than 100 kilometers from Lovely’s present location. Upon reaching the Khunjerab River, the volunteers spotted a female snow leopard perched against the backdrop of the snowy mountains, gazing into the far distance.
The volunteers instantly took out their camera and began to film. After all, these elusive big cats rarely showed themselves. In the footage shared by the volunteers, the snow leopard sits still, her translucent gaze mirroring the breathtaking views around her. She looks below the line of the camera facing her and then switches her gaze upward on her left. Then, for a split second, she looks squarely into the lens of the camera.
While the volunteers watched her make these repeated motions, they heard a low cat-like whimper from below. They looked down to find a cub by the riverbank, its foot stuck in the icy slush. The cub, hardly a month or two old, appeared to be frozen.
“The mother snow leopard was watching the cub from atop,” said Mubat Karim Gircha, office manager at KVO. In the video, the mother snow leopard starts climbing up hill, looks one last look behind, and disappears from sight. “The mother was crossing the river along with her two cubs. One of the cubs made it across and went its way climbing up. The other one, Lovely, was left frozen along the bank,” he said.
After the mother left, torn between her concern for the two cubs in opposing directions, the volunteers, along with representatives from the provincial wildlife department, took the cub to a nearby wildlife check post. A small fire was lit and goat’s milk was fed to the cub.
The next evening, officials from the Snow Leopard Foundation, including Hussain Ali, visited the site and inspected the snow leopard’s condition. “It was in good health,” said Ali. “We scanned the area and tried locating the tracks of the mother. The cub [inside the cage] was left outside for four to five hours in the hopes that the mother may come looking for her,” he said, adding that it didn’t work. “The local community and volunteers were extremely anxious that the cub would die if left on its own in the wild. Hence, there was no option but to keep it in captivity inside a sanctuary.”
Lovely isn’t the only case of a captured snow leopard living a lonely life. One prominent case is Leo, who currently resides in the Bronx Zoo in New York City. In 2005, Leo was recovered from a shepherd in Naltar Valley and moved temporarily to New York as part of a memorandum of understanding signed between the World Conservation Society and the Gilgit-Baltistan administration.
Another case is the tragic tale of snow leopard, Sohni, who died in captivity three years ago in a zoo in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Sohni was originally gifted to the son of Shahbaz Sharif, brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and had been living a life of isolation and neglect.
Lovely isn’t neglected, but she could be taken care of in a better way. If anything, her presence is a reminder that we have work to do when it comes to learning how to coexist with these big cats. As excited kids poke their fingers through the cage to get a reaction from Lovely and adults gather against the enclosure to pose for a selfie with her in the background, one can’t help but think about how circumscribed this beautiful creature’s life is here. When the numbers of her species are depleting for so many reasons, and little is known about those very numbers due to unchartered areas of research, Lovely stands as a reminder of the wild leopards we should strive to protect.
Haniya Javed is an independent reporter from Pakistan covering the environment, human rights, and labor migrations. She tweets @haniyajaved1.
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New Hampshireinvestigators are ramping up their efforts to find missing 7-year-old Harmony Montgomery alive and pleading for the public’s help with any information that could help them locate her.
“Quite frankly, enough is enough,” Manchester Police Chief Allen Aldenberg said during a news briefing Monday evening. “This 7-year-old girl — let’s find her. “
The visually impaired little girl from Manchester was reported missing last week — two years after she was last seen when police responded to a home in the city in October 2019. Police described her absence as “very concerning.”
“As you know, more than two years has passed since Harmony was last seen,” Aldenberg said. “And the public’s help, the public’s help is greatly needed.”
He said police learned of her absence just last week after they were alerted by the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families. It’s unclear what her family knows about her last whereabouts, and the chief declined to share details.
“At one point, Harmony was seen at that address, and that’s why he had some interest,” Aldenberg said. “And if we need to continue to have interest in that address, we will.”
Two New Hampshire businessmen and the Manchester CrimeLine have chipped in for a $12,500 reward for information in the case.
Harmony is described as being about four feet tall and weighing 50 pounds. She has blonde hair and blue eyes and should be wearing glasses. She’s also blind in her right eye and has unspecified ties to Massachusetts.
Goal: Label the Atlantic humpback dolphin as an endangered species to ensure their survival.
You have likely never heard of the Atlantic humpback dolphin, and unfortunately, it’s for a horrible reason. This little-known dolphin is on the brink of extinction, with less than 3,000 left in the wild. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is considering listing them as protected under the Endangered Species Act, but for now, they are still in the midst of a status review, meaning they still don’t get any federal safeguards. We must apply pressure until these dolphins are officially protected.
It’s no secret among conservation groups that this species is struggling – the NMFS status review stems from a petition by the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity, and VIVA Vaquita asking for help for the Atlantic humpback dolphin. In fact, these marine mammals are listed as critically endangered internationally, just not protected under the U.S ESA.
We need your help to get them there. A big part of conservation is achieving a higher profile, and name recognition for species in peril. Without public knowledge, it’s wildly difficult to get the financial, legal, and political assistance that conservation efforts need. Because global awareness of the Atlantic humpback dolphin’s fate has been lacking while human activity has been threatening them, their numbers have gotten incredibly low.
One of the largest issues affecting these dolphins is a phenomenon called “bycatch”. Fisheries use massive nets to catch the fish species they can sell, but often other species get trapped and killed, too; including the Atlantic humpback dolphin. Dying as bycatch is horrible – since they are mammals, these dolphins drown when they become tangled in nets and cannot surface to breathe. The netting can also cut into their flesh, causing wounds and infection.
In addition to the threat of bycatch, other human activities threaten the Atlantic humpback dolphin, which lives exclusively in shallow, coastal waters, at risk of human interaction. Coastal development depletes their habitat and noise pollution inhibits their ability to communicate, travel, and can cause injury and death.
The good news is that because these threats are all human-related, regulations and policies will make a major difference in the fight for these dolphins’ survival. But that’s only if we can get the right protections for these vulnerable creatures.
Please, sign the petition telling the NMFS to protect Atlantic humpback dolphins before it’s too late.
Dear Mrs. Coit,
The NMFS is currently reviewing the status of the Atlantic humpback dolphins under the Endangered Species Act based on petitions from the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity, and VIVA Vaquita. There are less than 3,000 of these animals left in the wild, due mainly to human influence.
This letter is to let you know that I support the petitions put forward by the aforementioned groups, and urge you to include these dolphins in the ESA. Because these creatures are being hurt by human influence, regulations and policy changes will make a major difference in their survival.
Please, follow through on these petitions and ensure the Atlantic humpback dolphins’ survival.
American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and partners are following the migratory journeys of three Swallow-tailed Kites to gather data that will help inform conservation measures across this bird’s range, to help assure a brighter future for the kites and their southeastern forest habitats. Photo by David Spates
(Washington, D.C., September 17, 2021) Swallow-tailed kite is one of North America’s most beautiful birds of prey, with distinctive black-and-white plumage, narrow wings spanning four feet, and a forked, elongated tail. Although the U.S. population of this migratory raptor is considered stable, it is much-reduced from numbers of the past. American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and partners are following the migratory journeys of three Swallow-tailed Kites to gather data that will help inform conservation measures across this bird’s range, to help assure a brighter future for the kites and their southeastern forest habitats.
ABC collaborated in June with International Paper and the Avian Research and Conservation Institute (ARCI) to successfully capture, tag, and release the three kites near Georgetown, South Carolina. Other partners included Resource Management Service, Forest Investment Associates, and White Oak Forest Management.
Each bird was fitted with a GPS transmitter that will track its movements throughout the year. Swallow-tailed Kites are long-distance migratory birds, spending their spring and summer months in the southeastern U.S. and wintering in Central and South America.
“Since early spring, these kites were roosting, feeding, and nesting within the same working forest landscape where International Paper and other forest companies produce and procure the wood fiber that goes into many of the products we use every day,” says Emily Jo Williams, ABC’s Vice President for the Southeast Region.
“The data these birds provide will help us ensure that these sustainable working forest landscapes provide society with renewable forest products and critical habitat for Swallow-tailed Kites and a host of other wildlife species,” Williams says. ”We look forward to what the kites can tell us about their wintering grounds over the next few months, and to learn more when they return to the southeastern U.S. in spring 2022.”
A map of the tracked flight paths for three Swallow-tailed Kites that were successfully captured, tagged, and released through ABC’s collaboration with International Paper, Avian Research and Conservation Institute, Resource Management Service, Forest Investment Associates, and White Oak Forest Management.
Over the past two months, the team has been “watching” the three tagged birds, each carrying the name of its nesting location along with its GPS transmitter. As of September 2, all three kites departed breeding areas in South Carolina, traveled through Florida, and successfully crossed the Gulf of Mexico.
According to ARCI, the timing and tracks across the Gulf for these Swallow-tailed Kites are shaped by the prevailing winds of hurricanes and tropical storms that were active in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico at the time. These birds apparently can sense related changes in the atmosphere and respond by using favorable tailwinds to cross the open water as fast as possible.
“Despite all the tropical storm activity in late August and early September,” says Williams, “we have witnessed ‘textbook’ migration pathways used by our tagged Swallow-tailed Kites that have carried them across the Yucatán Channel and western Caribbean.”
The bird known as Carver’s Bay left Florida on August 13, crossed the Gulf for an astounding 41 hours before landing in southern Belize, and last checked in from Honduras on September 5. Big Branch left Florida on August 17, stopped over in Mexico, and is currently also in Honduras. Peters Creek was the last to leave South Carolina on August 30, traveling over Naples and the southern tip of Florida, stopping for a night in western Cuba, and then crossing to the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, where he arrived on September 2 and remains for now. As the birds continue into South America, they will have to traverse the Andes Mountains to finish their journey to wintering areas in Brazil and Bolivia.
You can follow along and keep track of these Swallow-tailed Kites at ARCI’s blog or on their Facebook page.
Read more about ABC’s and partners’ work with Swallow-tailed Kites here.
American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).
The colorful, reclusive Agami Heron is a coveted sighting for birders visiting flooded lowland forests and slow-moving waterways of Central and South America. This long-billed, medium-sized heron is so distinctive that it occupies its own genus, Agamia. Its species name, “Agami,” comes from a Cayenne Indian word for a forest bird.
In Brazil, the Agami is sometimes called Soco beija-flor, “hummingbird heron,” for its vivid plumage. It’s also commonly known as the Chestnut-bellied Heron.
The Agami Heron’s retiring nature and preference for dense vegetation makes the species difficult to study, and its total population is still unknown. Although resident throughout its range, it moves seasonally, abandoning nesting areas for deeper forest after the breeding season.
This heron specializes in fishing from river banks or branches overhanging the water. Its long neck and dagger-like bill — the longest of any New World heron’s — gives the Agami a significant striking range, while proportionally short legs confine the bird to shallow water. Agami Herons rarely wade in the open, preferring to forage for small fish, snails, and insects while stalking along under dense cover.
Unusual for birds, both male and female Agami Herons flaunt colorful courtship plumage during the breeding season. Both sexes also show heightened color in the lores (the fleshy area between the base of the bill and front of the eyes), which turn an intense red during displays.
The Agami’s spectacular courtship display begins when a male chooses a display site, then starts to “dance” with shaking plumes, rocking movements, and bill-snapping. An interested female will approach the site and perform similar displays until the male accepts her presence. This process may go on for several days, as the male may aggressively repel the female at first. After some persistence on the female’s part, the birds form a pair-bond, mate, and begin to build a nest.
Agami Heron in its swanky breeding plumage. Photo by Kyle C. Moon
Recent fieldwork has found that Agami Heron, like Reddish Egret and many other waterbirds, nest in colonies. The birds hide their nests, a loose platform of sticks, within the forest canopy.
Giant Sequoia trees in the western Sierra Nevada range in California have been severely damaged and estimates have said somewhere between 2,261 and 3,637 sequoia trees have been lost this year, alone.
This has been a bad year but last year was even worse as an estimated 7,500 to 10,400 trees were lost to wild fires, according to the Associated Press. That means the lightning strikes in California have destroyed nearly 20% of all giant sequoias in the last two years. The giant sequoia is the Earth’s largest trees and are native to about 70 groves in the western Sierra Nevada range in California.
These giant sequoia trees were once considered nearly fireproof, but are being destroyed in wildfires at rates that are alarming experts. Fires in Sequioa National Park and the surrounding national forest that also bears the trees’ name tore through more than a third of the groves in California in the last two years.
Officials said the overall rising temperature of the planet in addition to a historic series of droughts in California, along with decades of fire suppression tactics have allowed such intense fires to ignite that it could cause the destruction of so many of the trees, many of which are thousands of years old.
Over the centuries the giant sequoia has adapted to have a bark thick enough to protect itself from the lower intensity of fires that were commonly ignited by lightning strikes in the region previously.
The lower intensity fires even help the trees, clearing other vegetation so the great sequoia can continue to grow and the fire will open the cones, causing the tree to release seeds. However, due to the dry and hot environments, the fires of the past several years have burned too hot for the seed to grow, endangering the areas where the most trees were burned.
California has seen its largest fires in the past five years, with last year setting a record for the most acreage burned. So far, the second-largest amount of land has burned this year.
Superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks said, “The sobering reality is that we have seen another huge loss within a finite population of these iconic trees that are irreplaceable in many lifetimes. As spectacular as these trees are, we really can’t take them for granted. To ensure that they’re around for our kids and grandkids and great-kids, some action is necessary.”
Black-footed Albatross map, NatureServeThe Black-footed Albatross is the only one of its kind commonly seen off the North American coastline. It’s rather small as albatrosses go, but still impressive, with a six-foot wingspan. Its species name, nigripes, derives from two Latin words, niger meaning “black,” and pes meaning “foot.”
Although drift nets and longline fisheries remain constant threats, the Black-footed Albatross faces a gauntlet of newer challenges: invasive predators and introduced plants on nesting islands, ingestion of plastics, and climate change.
More than 95 percent of the world’s population of Black-footed Albatross nests in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, with the largest colonies on Midway Atoll and Laysan Island. (Laysan is also home to the recently introduced Millerbird.) Although these islands are protected, they are vulnerable to the effects of sea-level rise and increased storm intensity.
Life over the Ocean
Black-footed Albatrosses are beautifully adapted for a life at sea and can remain airborne for hours, landing only on the water to rest or feed. Their specialized tubular noses (found among many seabirds, including Hawaiian Petrel and Newell’s Shearwater) filter salt, allowing the birds to drink seawater and giving them an excellent sense of smell.
This keen sense helps the albatross locate its prey over vast expanses of ocean. Favored foods include flying fish (both eggs and adults), squid, crustaceans, and offal thrown from ships.
They forage by seizing prey at the surface, up-ending to reach underwater, or diving short distances with wings partly spread.
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Like other albatross species, including Laysan and Waved, this bird is slow to mature, not breeding for until five years or older. It also has a low reproductive rate and mates for life.
Males are the first to arrive on the breeding grounds, where they re-claim the nest site that the bird and its partner may have used for many years. The strong pair bond shared by these birds is established and maintained through elaborate displays, including bowing, mutual preening, and head-bobbing.
The Black-footed Albatrosses’ nest, rebuilt each year, is a simple scrape in the sand, usually at or above the high-tide line in an open or sparsely vegetated area. Both birds build the nest and take turns incubating their single egg. If this egg is lost—whether to a predator or some other threat—the birds will not attempt to breed again until the following year.
Black-footed Albatross, Greg Lavaty
Black-footed Albatross in flight, showing its impressive six-foot wingspan. Photo by Greg Lavaty
For about 18 to 20 days after hatching, one parent broods and guards the nestling while other forages for food, switching off every day or two. The chick is fed by regurgitation by both parents until it fledges, at four to five months old. Advocating for Black-footed Albatross
The Black-footed Albatross is included on the Watch List in the State of North America’s Birds 2016 report, which highlights species most in need of immediate conservation action.
ABC continues to advocate for Black-footed Albatross and other seabirds impacted by commercial fisheries. We also support legislation to ratify the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) by the United States. And we recently launched an interactive web-based tool to help fisheries avoid accidentally catching seabirds: fisheryandseabird.info.
ABC has also collaborated with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other partners to secure predator-free breeding habitat for seabirds on islands in Hawaii.
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Here’s something I don’t want to report and you probably don’t want to read: So far this year, 24 endangered Florida panthers have died — 18 of them on roadways — an average of more than one a week. Remember that only an estimated 120 to 230 adult Florida panthers exist on Earth, all of them in southwest Florida. Just in the last week of September, three endangered panthers were killed on roadways in Lee and Collier counties — a kitten just 3 to 4 months old, a three-year-old male and a female that was 10 to 12 years old.
It’s hard to process this ongoing tragedy along with all the other things in the world. But we can’t let our despair at seeing so many panthers killed by vehicles obscure the fact that there are concrete actions we can insist our government leaders take to change the future for panthers.
And we have a special opportunity right now.
Floridian Shannon Estenoz was tapped by President Joe Biden to be assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, in charge of the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Estenoz (formerly with the Everglades Foundation) is among top U.S. officials in charge of protecting endangered species. How significant it would be to witness a Floridian in the federal government work to save the panther, our official state animal.
Here are a few key actions we should insist that local and federal officials like Estenoz take to stop these spiraling panther deaths:
Strengthen federal protections for Florida panthers under the Endangered Species Act to make sure they aren’t harmed by the new roads and traffic that will come with massive housing and commercial developments now planned in panther habitat.
Revisit the ill-conceived decision to open the 25,560-acre Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge to more people. Allowing turkey hunting, new hiking and biking trails, boardwalks and more infrastructure would only put Florida panthers in further peril.
Deny permits that threaten panthers, including wetlands destruction and oil drilling permits that are now being sought in the Big Cypress National Preserve near Everglades National Park, one of the last wild places panthers call home.
Return federal wetlands permitting authority to the federal government rather than allowing Florida to give developers a free pass to harm endangered species, including Florida panthers.
Our state animal has never been in greater danger, and the constant toll of panther deaths on highways is heartbreaking evidence that we are not doing enough. It’s painfully clear that now is the time to double down on protections for Florida panthers and ensure these magnificent animals survive and thrive.
It was devastating to see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently declare 22 birds, fish and other wildlife on the endangered species list as extinct. Isn’t it our clear duty to future generations to make sure the Florida panther doesn’t meet the same fate?
Today, the Senate approved removal of a rider that had stifled conservation efforts for rapidly declining Greater Sage-Grouse. Photo by Vivek Khanzode
(Washington, D.C., October 18, 2021) The Senate FY 22 Interior Appropriations bill released today excludes a provision exempting protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the once-abundant but now rapidly declining Greater Sage-Grouse. The House of Representatives has already passed an Interior bill without the rider. Conservation groups are urging that the rider remain out of the final spending agreement.
“Our thanks to Senators Jeff Merkley and Patrick Leahy for showing exemplary conservation leadership by excluding the sage-grouse rider from the Interior bill,” said Steve Holmer, Vice President of Policy for American Bird Conservancy (ABC). “This exemption has been in place for nearly seven years. It’s time to once again give the grouse the possibility of ESA protection and the safety net it deserves.”
The Greater Sage-Grouse is the keystone species of sagebrush habitat in the American West. Conserving the grouse also supports 350 other species of conservation concern, including the Pronghorn, Pygmy Rabbit, Mule Deer, native trout, and nearly 200 migratory and western bird species.
As many as 16 million Greater Sage-Grouse once occurred across 297 million acres of sagebrush grasslands in the West. Today, the sagebrush biome and grouse populations continue to decline. Sage-grouse habitat is less than half of what it once was, diminished by invasive species, roads, overgrazing, mining, energy development, agricultural conversion, and fires. The grouse’s populations have declined 80 percent range-wide since 1965 and nearly 40 percent since 2002.
“A recent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study provides an excellent resource to understand the magnitude of Greater Sage-Grouse loss, as well as the likelihood that grouse populations will continue to decline,” said Holmer. “It also shows that the species’ range will continue to contract absent substantial new conservation measures.”
The USGS report indicates that current management plans and other regulatory mechanisms are not sufficient to arrest the grouse’s ongoing decline, and that additional conservation measures are needed to stabilize the population.
“Efforts to revive the National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy can best be accomplished, and will have a greater chance of success, if the Endangered Species Act listing moratorium is ended,” said Holmer.
American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).
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A critically endangered Sumatran Tiger was found dead after being caught in a trap on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, authorities said on Monday, in the latest setback for a species whose numbers are estimated to have dwindled to about 400.
The female Tiger, aged between 4 and 5 years, was found dead Sunday near Bukit Batu Wildlife Reserve in the Bengkalis district of Riau province, said Fifin Arfiana Jogasara, the head of Riau’s conservation agency.
Jogasara said an examination determined the Tiger died from dehydration five days after being caught in the snare trap, apparently set by a poacher, which broke one of its legs.
She said her agency will cooperate with law enforcement agencies in an investigation.
Sumatran Tigers, the most critically endangered Tiger subspecies, are under increasing pressure due to poaching as their jungle habitat shrinks, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It estimated fewer…
This pro-hunting council defends his decision here. Watch or listen you be the judge but he sounds very excited as if it was all, rather thrilling to me. As for this ‘council’ describing mountain lions/cougars as overpopulated is just ludicrous.😒@SARA2001NOOR@LiftForever67pic.twitter.com/YfanonsAQg
MISSOULA, MONTANA—Today, as the wolf hunting season begins in Montana—and Idaho continues its year-round slaughter of up to 90% of the states’ roughly 1,500 wolves—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced positive initial findings on two petitions filed seeking Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves in the western U.S.
According to a press release from the agency, USFWS determined that “the petitions present substantial, credible information indicating that a listing action may be warranted and will initiate a comprehensive status review of the gray wolf in the western U.S.” A copy of the two petitions are here and here.
“We are encouraged that the relentless pressure of the conservation community and the public has resulted in a response from USFWS on petitions to relist wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains and beyond,” said John Horning, Executive Director of WildEarth Guardians. “It’s tragic—and perhaps not coincidental—that this finding comes on the same day that the state of Montana has unleashed hunters to kill hundreds of wolves throughout the state, including on the edge of Yellowstone National Park.”
“We now need USFWS to not just issue this statement of intention, but to take swift action in moving forward with the relisting process in order to prevent wolves from being pushed back to the brink of extinction,” explained Horning.
Last month, Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission finalized rules to expand hunting season, eliminate a cap on the number of wolves that can be killed in hunting and trapping zones bordering Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park and allow individuals to kill up to 10 wolves per season. In July, Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission implemented new hunting regulations – in line with state legislation – to allow a new year-round wolf hunting season, which would enable 90% of the states’ population to be slaughtered through various cruel methods such as traps, snares and even with snowmobiles.
“On the day that Montana opened rifle hunting season on wolves, the USFWS has finally taken their head out of the sand and recognized the tremendous threats to wolves across the West,” said Sarah McMillan, Montana-based Conservation Director at WildEarth Guardians. “Unfortunately, it’s unconscionable that the USFWS thinks a commitment to make a decision in 12 months—when the agency is on full notice that up to 1,800 wolves will be killed in Montana and Idaho in the next few months alone—is an adequate response to what is clearly an emergency situation.”
WildEarth Guardians issued a separate press release earlier today regarding the start of the general wolf hunting season in Montana, which is available here.
Gray wolf in winter in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Sam Parks.
Show captionA white-lipped tree frog. Scientists are trying to unravel the cause of thousands of frog deaths in eastern Australia. Photograph: Liam Driver/Newspix / Rex FeaturEnvironmental investigations
After asking for public help with their investigations, scientists have received thousands of reports and specimens of dead, shrivelled frogs
In the middle of Sydney’s lockdown, scientist Jodi Rowley has been retrieving frozen dead frogs from her doorstep.
Occasionally one will arrive dried and shrivelled up in the post.
She’ll pack them in ice in an esky to be taken to her lab at the Australian Museum, where even more samples – green tree frogs, striped marsh frogs and the invasive cane toad among them – are waiting in a freezer for genetic testing.
Rowley and her team, along with scientists at the Australian Registry of Wildlife Health at Taronga zoo and a forensic unit in the NSW department of planning, industry and environment, are trying to solve the mystery of what is killing Australia’s frogs.
Since late July, they’ve collected 1,200 records of dead or dying frogs, about 70% of them in New South Wales and 22% in Queensland.
“I know we’re dealing with our own pandemic but frogs are also dealing with a pandemic and whatever is going on right now is awful,” Rowley said.
“It’s like nothing in my lifetime that I’m aware of.”
One of the shrivelled frogs Australia Museum researcher Jodi Rowley has been sent. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian
‘It’s really broken our hearts’
Rowley, a conservation biologist specialising in amphibians, is the lead scientist at the Australian Museum’s FrogID, a citizen science project that for the past four years has focused largely on recording the calls of Australia’s many frog species.
But its work shifted after Rowley did an ABC radio interview in late July to talk about dead green tree frogs that were being found around Scotts Head on the NSW mid north coast.
After that, Rowley started receiving emails about frogs in similar condition being found in other parts of the country.
A week later she and Karrie Rose, the head of Australian Registry of Wildlife Health, wrote a piece for the Conversation that asked people who spotted sick or dying amphibians to make a report through the FrogID email.
They received 160 emails in 24 hours. That’s grown to more than 2,000 since.
“It’s been quite devastating to be at the receiving end of some of these emails. I can only imagine how hard it is for the people out there who are seeing these frogs.”
Rowley at work in her lab. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian
One of those reports came from Yvonne Hulbert, who runs a bed and breakfast on an acreage on Macleay Island near Brisbane, where there is a thriving frog population.
Over the past few months they’ve found browning and dead frogs along their properties.
“They go a fawny beige colour then turn brown. They seem to get dry and they become emaciated and then shrivel and become skeletons,” Hulbert said.
“We recognise the same frogs and they just decline in health and size and eventually their eyes dull and they just die. It’s really sad.”
Gail Wilson-Lutter and her husband have lived in Meerschaum Vale in the NSW northern rivers for 36 years. Every night frogs would come into the kitchen via a gap in the roof.
“We keep what we call the frog-cuzzi, a little pool for them to swim in, and we love having them here because they kill spiders and pests.”
But in recent months, Wilson-Lutter noticed frogs were leaving loose skin in their little pool and others were changing colour or turning up dead.
“It’s really broken our hearts, because we love our frogs,” Wilson-Lutter says.
Too early to draw conclusions
Over the past two-and-a-half months, the scientists have collected reports of 31 different species affected in almost every state and territory.
Of those, 30 species are native – including endangered frogs such as green and golden bell frogs, southern bell frogs and the giant barred frog. The one invasive species is the cane toad.
Sixty per cent of the frogs found are green tree frogs, something likely explained by the fact they are a common species found in and around people’s homes.
The frogs that are found alive are often lethargic and emaciated, with red bellies and coloured patches on their skin.
When frogs die, they shrivel up quickly, so many have been found dark brown and withered.
Jane Hall at the Australian Registry of Wildlife Health at Taronga zoo. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian
“It’s exquisitely difficult to work with frogs because they decompose so quickly and are a cryptic species – meaning they’re difficult to find,” says Jane Hall, who works with Rose at the Australian Registry of Wildlife Health at Taronga zoo.
The two scientists have been conducting necropsies on frog carcasses at a pathology facility at Taronga zoo that acts as a morgue and a lab.
They dissect the frogs, looking for any indicators of disease, and take samples from their liver, kidneys, blood and stomach content if they have any.
Over at the Australian Museum, Rowley and her team are looking at the animals on a molecular level.
Much like a Covid-19 test, they swab the frogs – usually on their belly and legs – and also take a small skin sample. They then run DNA tests looking for pathogens that might indicate a virus or a fungus.
At present, the number one candidate for what has caused the mass mortality event is chytrid fungus, which has been responsible for declines of more than 500 amphibian species globally.
It is more likely to take hold during winter months, when frogs’ immune systems slow down.
Some of the tests have returned a positive result, but Rowley and Hall both say it is too early to draw conclusions.
Covid-19 lockdowns have also hampered the ability to do investigations in the field.
The freezer containing some of the samples Jodi Rowley has been sent. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian
The researchers are working with a network of vets around Australia, some of whom are storing frozen frogs until they can be delivered after the lockdowns.
Others will conduct a basic necropsy and keep the rest of the carcass in a fixative to be examined microscopically later on.
Friends and family members are also storing frozen frogs that have been dropped in mailboxes by people from their communities.
Separately, a forensic team is running toxicology tests looking for things like pesticides, heavy metals or other environmental toxins.
There has been widespread pesticide use as a result of the recent mouse plague. Hall says it is unlikely to be the cause, but it needs to be ruled out.
When the lockdowns end, the scientists will have more access to more samples and locations to expand their work, do targeted surveys, and build a larger syndromic picture to work out what the common threads are.
If it is chytrid fungus, Rowley says it would be the largest such mortality event in Australia in more than a decade.
“The question then becomes why would it be impacting so much more now?” she says.
“Whether it’s to do with climate, the very cold winter, or it’s interacting with another stressor such as not enough food or pollution. It could be a new strain or something from overseas.”
Hall says there is no better example of how a pathogen can change than the current pandemic.
“Pathogens are always looking for ways they can improve how they work and move in animals,” she says.
“Chytrid can change, so we want to see if it’s the chytrid our frogs are used to being exposed to or if it’s a different kind of chytrid.”
She says another important and still to be answered question is whether the animals are dying of or withthe disease – that is, if it is just a contributing factor and other environmental stressors of recent years such as droughts, fires and climate change have played a role. Alternatively, the cause could be something else entirely, like a novel pathogen.
“Once we get more of an understanding of these things we can go to the next level and see how far it’s spread and what long-term effect it might have on vulnerable amphibian populations across Australia,” she says.
“They’re probably the best indicator of environmental health. It’s important we don’t ignore them.
“They absorb the environment through their skin so if something is off … the frogs will let us know.”
Anyone who spots an unwell or dead frog is encouraged to contact the FrogID project email on email@example.com with the location and photos if possible.
Show captionThe Tasmanian devil is among 200 endangered species and habitats that would lose their recovery plan under Coalition proposal. Photograph: Michal Čížek/AFP/Getty ImagesConservation
The Morrison government has proposed scrapping recovery plans for almost 200 endangered species and habitats including the Tasmanian devil, the whale shark and the endangered glossy-black cockatoo populations on Kangaroo Island, one of the worst-affected areas in the 2019-20 bushfires.
Environment groups have decried the move as a backward step less than 12 months after a statutory review of Australia’s national environmental laws found successive governments had failed to protect the country’s unique wildlife.
Recovery plans are documents that set out actions needed to stop the extinction of species. Ministers are legally bound not to make decisions that are inconsistent with them.
Since changes were made to legislation in 2007 they have been increasingly replaced with what’s known as a conservation advice, a similar document but which does not have the same legal force under national law.
Guardian Australia has previously reported that fewer than 40% of listed threatened species have a recovery plan. A further 10% of all those listed have been identified as requiring a recovery plan but those plans haven’t been developed or are unfinished. Even more plans are out of date.
The federal environment department revealed last year it had not finalised a single recovery plan for threatened species in nearly 18 months and more than 170 were overdue. All listed species, including those requiring a recovery plan, have a conservation advice.
This year, the government asked the independent threatened species scientific committee (TSSC), which advises it on endangered wildlife, to review recovery plans for 914 threatened species and habitats to determine which should continue to have a recovery plan and which could just have a conservation advice.
The committee provided advice that 676 no longer required a recovery plan.
The government is responding to the committee’s recommendations in stages and on Friday published for public consultation the first tranche of 157 animals and plants and 28 ecological communities for which it proposes scrapping recovery plans.
They include the vulnerable green and golden bell frog and the spectacled flying-fox, which had its threat status upgraded to endangered after heatwaves in 2019.
Among the ecological communities is the critically endangered Cumberland plain woodland, one of the most under pressure woodlands in the country as a result of urban development in western Sydney.
It has been identified as requiring a recovery plan since 2009 but no plan has ever been finalised.
Labor’s environment spokeswoman, Terri Butler, said on Friday “Scott Morrison has given up on saving iconic Australian species.”
“The 2019-20 bushfires killed or displaced 3 billion animals and his response now is to cut 157 recovery plans.”
The Greens’ environment spokeswoman, Sarah Hanson-Young, said the government was seeking to rewrite its obligations and was “putting up the white flag on saving our wildlife and native plants”.
“Downgrading the level of obligation on the minister is downgrading the protection of our native animals and species,” she said.
“This is all about letting the minister off the hook – the Morrison government has dropped the ball on protecting our environment and wildlife and now they want to change the rules and responsibilities.”
Helene Marsh, the chair of the threatened species scientific committee, told Guardian Australia that the species and habitats the committee had assessed were those for which recovery plans had expired, were due to expire or were overdue.
She said the committee had carefully considered every plant, animal and habitat and determined that overall about 13% of the country’s wildlife required a recovery plan.
Marsh said recovery planning had been ineffective, with plans often unfunded and actions not implemented.
She said a conservation advice could be as detailed and useful a tool, could be developed more quickly, and rapidly updated after an emergency such as the bushfire disaster.
“We’ve looked at whether a recovery plan will make a difference or not and we’ve looked at every single one in great detail,” she said. “A conservation advice can be updated and in these times of fires and climate change is a much more nimble instrument.”
Marsh told Guardian Australia that the most important reforms the government could make for Australia’s wildlife would be to implement legally binding and detailed national environmental standards that were recommended by the former competition watchdog head, Graeme Samuel, in his review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
She said the committee’s recommendations on which species and habitats should not have recovery plans were based, in part, on whether they were regularly affected by development and therefore triggered the need for a development to be assessed under Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
She said the committee had recommended that species that regularly triggered the act retain a recovery plan.
However, the Cumberland Plain woodland, the golden sun moth and the striped legless lizard, which all regularly trigger the need for assessment under the act, all appear on the list of proposed habitats and animals that would no longer require a recovery plan.
Samantha Vine, of Birdlife Australia, said a conservation advice was a good foundational document but was not a robust plan to get species off the path to extinction.
The organisation is concerned about the 19 threatened birds that may no longer require a recovery plan, including the glossy black cockatoo populations of Kangaroo Island and South Australia, the northern masked owl and the Abbott’s Booby.
“We completely see where the threatened species scientific committee is coming from because they are overwhelmed,” Vine said. “But walking away from recovery plans because they’re not functioning as well as they should be is not the right approach in an extinction crisis.”
Brendan Sydes, a lawyer and policy adviser at the Australian Conservation Foundation, said recovery plans were not working as well as they should but the answer was not to abandon them all together.
“Conservation advices are not an adequate replacement for recovery plans, as they are much less rigorous in what they require and don’t have the same legal clout,” he said.
“To virtually give up on recovery planning would be a terrible admission that there is no political will to tackle Australia’s extinction crisis.”
A spokesperson for the environment department said the recommendations were based on “the best planning outcome for the individual threatened entity, and are subject to public consultation prior to any final decision being made”.
“This is the first tranche of public consultation which invites the public to provide feedback on proposed subsequent recovery plan decisions for 185 species and ecological communities,” the spokesperson said.
“Subsequent public consultation periods for lists of other species and ecological communities will be held.”
A spokesperson for the environment minister, Sussan Ley, said: “The proposed changes have been recommended by the independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee and are now available for public consultation.”
Despite @POTUS saying he is NOT going to protect wolves, the USFWS are considering it seeing the petitions, etc they’ve received & because Idaho & Montana’s new horrific regulations & planned hunts, threaten their populations. 🙏🏼 @USFWS protect them. https://t.co/3FCKLfoGEy
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