News Article | May 25, 2017
Mark Pokras, V84, an associate professor emeritus of infectious disease and global health at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, conducted research on lead poisoning in loons that led to several state bans on lead fishing tackle. He talked with Tufts Now about the rollback of protections at the federal level, and what it means for wildlife. Tufts Now: How are wild animals exposed to lead in the first place? Mark Pokras: It depends on the species, but ammunition and fishing weights are the primary source of lead poisoning. Scavengers such as bald eagles, California condors and foxes ingest lead when dining on carcasses of deer, ducks, squirrels or other animals shot with lead projectiles. Other species mistakenly eat lead shotgun pellets, because the little round pieces are about the same size as some seeds and grit that birds eat. Lead fishing weights can be ingested when birds catch fish. Also, species such as loons may ingest the weights because they are similar to stones that they eat to help grind up food in their gizzards. Although estimates vary on exactly how much lead enters the U.S. environment through shooting and fishing, one conservative tally puts it at 25,000 tons each year. It's easy to see why. Most bullets, shot and fishing weights used in the U.S. are still lead. No U.S. state has completely banned lead fishing weights, and no state has outlawed lead salt-water fishing gear. And although the percentage of the U.S. population that engages in hunting is shrinking, greater numbers are shooting at targets and clay pigeons—activities that both expose people to lead and pump a lot of lead into nature. What happens to wildlife with lead poisoning? The clinical signs are mostly related to how this heavy metal poisons the neurological system. Although it's safe to assume most wild animals with lead poisoning die without ever being brought to a veterinary clinic for testing or treatment, Tufts Wildlife Clinic sees a couple of cases of lead poisoning each week. Typically, we receive these cases when someone spots a wild animal that's unable to stand, bumping into things, and panting as it tries to draw a good breath. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that lead poisoning kills between 10 million and 20 million birds and other animals—including more than 130 species—each year. Is the idea of banning lead ammunition in our national parks new? No. People have been debating the issue of lead in wildlife for well over 100 years. George Bird Grinnell first raised the alarm about ducks, geese and swans dying from lead poisoning in 1894. However, we didn't see any legislation addressing the millions and millions of birds dying from lead poisoning until almost a century later. In 1991, the United States passed a federal law prohibiting the use of lead shot for hunting waterfowl, because of the risk of lead poisoning to federally protected migratory birds, especially bald eagles. The just-overturned federal ban was hardly a novel concept. Canada has banned the use of lead in national park lands and wildlife refuges since 1997, and it nationally eliminated lead for hunting waterfowl in 1999. Are there alternatives to lead sporting products? Many nontoxic options exist for fishing gear, which can be made from ceramic, steel, tungsten, tin composites, natural stones and even recycled plastic bottles. Replacing lead bullets also is not a difficult technological fix. The Department of Defense is working hard to develop non-lead bullets, because the government has spent tens of millions of dollars to clean up lead contamination in the soil and water. And it turns out that an awful lot of police and law enforcement personnel get low levels of lead poisoning from exposure at shooting ranges. When the 1991 law passed, the sporting community worried that nontoxic ammunition either wouldn't work as well for hunting, or that the replacements for lead would be so much harder that they would actually damage guns. Neither problem has turned out to be a major issue. Nontoxic alternatives do cost slightly more, but economic studies have shown that they increase the average sportsperson's annual expenses by less than 1 percent. So where is the opposition coming from? Manufacturers prefer to make bullets from lead because it's a pretty cheap metal to acquire, and it has that low melting point, which makes it easy and inexpensive to work with. Most other materials will cost the manufacturers more. But the outlets that sell ammunition and fishing gear—both tiny bait shops and large sporting chains—argue that they put lead alternatives out on their shelves, and the non-lead stuff doesn't sell well. There is no doubt that improvements in education and marketing are needed. And unfortunately, one of the biggest opponents is the National Rifle Association, which has invested heavily in opposing measures to eliminate lead ammunition. The NRA appears convinced that the lead issue offers a toehold for the government to begin regulating or even limiting the Second Amendment, and that once lawmakers get a handle on the lead issue, they'll want to limit gun owners' activities in other ways. But this is just not the case. We simply want to protect the health of people, animals and the environment. Is limiting lead in the environment worth the political effort? Have we seen any results from the existing U.S. and state laws? Absolutely. Fewer waterfowl and eagles are dying from lead, and there are some signs that lead poisoning in loons may be starting to decrease. But there is still a lot to do. Explore further: Lead shot and sinkers: Weighty implications for fish and wildlife health
News Article | February 23, 2017
When former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that sweeping federal plans designed to save the greater sage grouse had been finalized less than a year and a half ago, she hailed it as an "epic conservation effort" that took years to complete. The Republican governors of Nevada and Wyoming and the Democratic governors of Colorado and Montana stood next to Jewell at the September 2015 ceremony. She revealed that the mottled-brown bird would not be listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, in large part because of the federal plans. But the election of President Trump just over a year later has federal and state officials, conservation groups, and others expecting big changes in how the plans are carried out — if they are ever fully implemented. Trump has not publicly addressed the federal sage grouse plans. But Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), Trump's nominee for Interior secretary, has been a vocal critic, comparing them at one time to Obamacare and saying he wants "state-driven solutions" for managing grouse. Trump cannot simply dismiss the blueprints, which amended 98 Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service land-use plans to incorporate protective measures covering nearly 70 million acres of sage grouse habitat in 10 Western states. Amending land-use plans requires a lengthy analysis and public comment period. But some observers foresee the Interior and Agriculture departments reopening the land-use plan amendment process to revise the sage grouse plans — an effort that would take years and likely stretch well past Trump's first term in office. "Obviously, they could restart the planning process tomorrow," said Sarah Greenberger, who as one of Jewell's top counselors helped develop the plans. In the short term, the Trump administration is expected to scale back implementation measures, observers say, initially by removing funding for grouse conservation efforts from the president's fiscal 2018 budget request. And the administration could curtail efforts defending lawsuits against the federal plans. Congress is already moving to block the plans and give states more control. House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) last month filed a bill, H.R. 527, that would give governors the authority to bar any provisions in the federal plans that do not conform to state-approved grouse conservation strategies (Greenwire, Jan. 16). Western states are likewise pushing the new administration for greater flexibility in how the plans are implemented. Colorado, Utah and Wyoming want federal plans to more closely align with state grouse strategies on issues like mitigation and oil and gas leasing near sensitive grouse breeding grounds, called leks. "I think we're fairly hopeful that we can work with the new administration and new secretary of the Interior, when he's confirmed, to maximize flexibility," said John Swartout, a Republican who is a senior adviser to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and a member of a federal-state sage grouse task force. It's not clear what specific steps Zinke might take as Interior secretary. Representatives with the Interior Department did not respond to a request to comment on this story. Derrick Henry, a BLM spokesman, said the agency has not been told to change its approach to sage grouse management. "Right now, we're operating under the current [grouse management] plans," Henry said. But all the uncertainty has some of the principal architects of the federal plans concerned about the fate of the grouse. Because sage grouse occupy such a vast range across most of the Great Plains, a rangewide plan is needed to restore the bird and protect its habitat, said Greenberger, who is now vice president for conservation at the National Audubon Society. The plans established primary habitat management areas and general habitat management areas where new oil and gas drilling, some large transmission line projects, and livestock grazing are prevented or limited. The plans focus conservation measures in specific areas that are most important to the grouse, while still allowing oil and gas and renewables development. "This was an attempt to step in on the front end and do something strategic," she said. Greenberger said she understood there were going to be "growing pains" in implementing the plans. "I think on the ground in the West, there are certainly some frustrations," she said. "But there also continues to be a sense that people were really working together for something important and trying to solve a problem in a very pragmatic way." She added: "If you unravel it, we're going to be in court." The federal grouse plans already face numerous legal challenges by a wide variety of groups, including the states of Utah and Nevada, the Western Energy Alliance, and North Dakota Petroleum Council, mining companies and several counties in Nevada. If the Trump administration dismantles the federal plans, one of the first places the effort will show up is in the government's defense of these lawsuits, according to legal experts. While some have suggested the administration could order the Justice Department to quit defending the cases in court, that's not likely, observers say, because each of the lawsuits challenges some aspect of the federal government's ability to regulate activities on federal land. "It would be very hard to take a position not to defend the cases that question your authority to manage federal lands," said Nada Culver, senior counsel and director of the Wilderness Society's BLM Action Center. Instead, DOJ may work to settle the lawsuits, agreeing to make specific revisions to the grouse plans, perhaps by a certain deadline. "I would think there would be a very good opportunity to talk in settlement negotiations between the plaintiffs and federal defendants, and to really listen and resolve and revise," said Kent Holsinger, a Denver natural resources attorney who has represented the energy and agricultural industries in litigation involving sage grouse. Pat Parenteau, senior counsel at the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at the University of Vermont, agrees this is a plausible scenario. But revising the plans would be complicated, he said. That's because they amended dozens of federal land-use plans, meaning Interior and USDA would have to open a new rulemaking process that would mandate additional studies and analysis, hearings and opportunities for the public to submit comments. "You don't just snap your fingers and they're gone," Parenteau said. Complicating matters is the fact that a number of environmental groups have intervened on the side of the Interior and Agriculture departments in a handful of the lawsuits. While formal intervenors cannot block settlement agreements, they can review the terms and "object and argue to the court why the settlement cannot be approved," Parenteau said. "You can't get away with a backroom deal without public scrutiny and comment," he added. The wild card in such a scenario is the Fish and Wildlife Service, which could always reverse course and list the bird for ESA protection, said Bob Keiter, a University of Utah law professor who specializes in natural resources and public lands. "If the plans were substantially altered, that would open the door for a [ESA] listing, which most people, I think, believe would lead to more onerous protections for the bird," Keiter said. "There are a lot of things for the agencies to consider before jumping off and trying to scrap the plans wholesale." Western state leaders who want revisions to the federal plans say they're positioned to make them happen with the Trump administration. In Utah, thestate wants more time for its grouse management strategy to work before the federal plans are fully implemented, said Braden Sheppard, legal counsel for Republican Gov. Gary Herbert's Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office. Failing that, Sheppard said, the state wants to see the federal plans "significantly revised to allow for multiple-use on federal lands, or rescinded." Utah filed a federal lawsuit last year challenging the plans, arguing they undermine the state's sage grouse conservation efforts (Greenwire, Feb. 5, 2016). "We have worked really well with our federal partners to try and work within the plan," Sheppard said. "However, it's a one-size-fits-all decision, and it does not reflect the tremendous diversity of greater sage grouse habitat across the West and here in Utah." In Wyoming, which is home to nearly half the remaining grouse, the federal plan is modeled after the Cowboy State's core sage grouse area approach adopted in 2008 that identified habitat where conservation is prioritized and development discouraged. Gov. Matt Mead (R) has reaffirmed and expanded the state program through two subsequent executive orders, and he has expressed his support for the federal grouse plans. Still, the federal blueprint includes some significant differences from the state plan, including the type of mitigation requirements when disturbances do take place inside core areas. For projects in portions of the state where there's a checkerboard pattern of federal-state ownership, mitigation requirements can be different on parcels sitting side by side. "Wyoming would welcome more flexibility to implement the governor's core area sage grouse strategy," said Mike McGrady, Mead's policy adviser. "We'd like to see the mitigation standards BLM's applying better align with the core area strategy." Flexibility is also a buzzword in Colorado. Swartout said the state supports the federal grouse plans. "The goal is to try to make these plans work, and through implementation there's lots of options to make these plans work," he said. But he said Colorado wants to see some changes, including allowing oil and gas development in some cases closer to leks than the federal plans allow. Swartout said the federal strategy that the state worked out with BLM Colorado officials included a tiered-system approach to leasing near leks, where development is allowed as long as certain conditions were met for projects 3 miles from a lek, with different criteria for projects 2 miles away and 1 mile away. But when the draft plans were sent to BLM headquarters in Washington, Swartout said, the tiered system was removed. "We look forward to having a dialogue with the new people," he said. Swartout said Zinke's testimony during Senate confirmation hearings last month has state leaders feeling optimistic about the Trump administration's plans for grouse management. "He talks about appropriate balance. We need to get that balance right," Swartout said. "We actually are hopeful they'll have a greater understanding of what states need to make this work." Altering the plans, even in subtle ways, could lead to additional lawsuits from conservation groups to force the Trump administration to carry out the already approved mandates. "This was the biggest planning deal of my BLM career, and we got there with the states at the table," said Steve Ellis, the former BLM deputy director who, before retiring last year, helped craft instruction memorandums directing agency field offices how to implement the plans. "Did we always agree on all things? No," he added. "But we all agreed on the common goal, and that was to avoid a listing of the greater sage grouse." Pulling away from the federal grouse plans is tantamount to pulling away from that goal, Ellis said. "Priorities shift, but you still have to follow the plans in place or there are groups out there that will check you on that," he said. "That's where the judicial system comes in." In addition to lawsuits, environmentalists would likely start petitioning the Fish and Wildlife Service to list other species in the sagebrush steppe ecosystem that the grouse and roughly 350 other species depend on. "You start having other critters pop up with petitions for listing," Ellis said. If that happens, the dominoes will start to fall for an ESA listing of the sage grouse, he said, because the service must review the status of the bird every five years. "The Fish and Wildlife Service is going to have to take another look to see if these plans and the implementation of these plans has made progress in turning the population declines around. Basically, are the regulatory mechanisms we put in place working?" Ellis said. "That is something that, before you start dismantling the plans, you need to consider." The current status of the greater sage grouse is murky, at best, in part because grouse populations are cyclical and can change dramatically from year to year. In Wyoming, for example, officials with the state Game and Fish Department, federal agencies, private consultants, and volunteers last year visited nearly 1,700 sage grouse leks and counted more than 42,300 male sage grouse. Lek counts are good barometers of grouse health because most males in an area can be found at a lek during breeding season, allowing biologists to get accurate counts, said Tom Christiansen, sage grouse program coordinator for the Game and Fish Department. The average number of male grouse per lek last year was up 16 percent compared with 2015, which was 66 percent higher than 2014. But when biologists visited nesting sites in December, they measured what Christiansen described as "poor chick production" — a sure sign that "we are looking at a decrease in our lek counts this spring." The federal grouse plans include "triggers" for adaptive management techniques to kick in when grouse populations decline significantly. That's already happened in northwest Utah, where BLM this month announced it was alarmed about an isolated population of grouse that had suffered a "serious decline" in population (E&E News PM, Feb. 6). "We are going to be arguing to the new administration that it's in their best interest to keep their plans in place," said Steve Holmer, vice president of policy for the American Bird Conservancy. "We don't see a lot of room for them to maneuver and take the legs out from under this stool." Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2017. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net
News Article | November 1, 2016
Architects’ growing affinity for glassy buildings has given the world better views, more natural light, sexier skylines—and a lot of dead birds. The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates about 750 million birds perish annually flying into glass façades, which can be hard to distinguish from open airspace. The problem is so bad in some places that skyscraper owners hire workers to remove expired birds from the bottoms of their buildings. Guy Maxwell, a partner at New York-based Ennead Architects, is on a mission to mitigate this fowl holocaust. A bird lover his entire life, he first became aware of architecture’s deadly impact on avifauna 15 years ago, shortly after the completion of his firm’s Rose Center for Earth and Space at NYC’s American Museum of Natural History. The enormous glass cube afforded unimpeded views of the spherical Hayden Planetarium within, but was a deadly invisible barrier to birds. Maxwell has been working to protect feathered species ever since. Working with him is an informal circle of anti-collision advocates that includes members of the American Bird Conservancy, New York City Audubon, New Jersey Audubon, and the Bird Safe Glass Foundation. (“It really takes a gang of merry pranksters to pull this off,” says Maxwell.) Together, they’ve made progress on bird-safe research, bird-safe building regulations, bird-safe glass, and bird-safety awareness, spurring changes that have already had a large, ahem, impact. Among their recent accomplishments is the American Bird Conservancy’s creation of two avian research facilities—one at the Powdermill Nature Reserve, about an hour outside of Pittsburgh, the other inside a modified shipping container at the Bronx Zoo. (The Bronx tunnel’s design was overseen, in part, by Maxwell and his colleagues at Ennead’s research-intensive division, Ennead Lab.) Spearheaded by American Bird Conservancy Bird Collisions Campaign Manager Christine Sheppard, these testing tunnels are the only ones of their kind in the US, and allow researchers to investigate which glass treatments and lighting conditions birds will fly toward or avoid. They’ve learned, for instance, that birds won’t try to fly through vertical line patterns that are less than four inches apart, and that line patterns tend to be more effective at preventing collisions than dotted ones. Using this knowledge, Maxwell, Sheppard, and their confederates have consulted with glass manufacturers like Viracon, Guardian, Bendheim, and Arnold Glas to help produce products like ceramic frit patterns and UV coatings—treatments that are visible to birds and can alert them to the presence of dangerous physical barriers. The group’s biggest policy achievement came in 2011, when it partnered with the US Green Building Council to launch a LEED pilot credit #55 for incorporating “bird collision deterrence” into new buildings. The goal: Make buildings as visible to birds as possible, through glass technologies, exterior building treatments like screens and louvers, and decreased night lighting levels. Maxwell says it has since become LEED’s most popular pilot credit. Other victories include legislation (initiated by Golden Gate Audubon) in San Francisco, Oakland, and other Bay Area cities establishing citywide bird safe building standards. Mandatory and voluntary ordinances have been passed in New York, Minnesota, and Toronto, as well. Much of the team’s research is embodied in Ennead’s Bridge for Laboratory Sciences at Vassar College. The bridge-like classroom-cum-laboratory is a case study in bird-safe architecture. Vertical metal sunscreens cover its long, curving façade. Its windows are coated in Arnold Glas’s Ornilux, a UV coating visible only to birds, and various hues of ceramic fritting (the range of colors ensures that the lines are visible to birds from a variety of species). The concept of bird safety is changing architecture, Maxwell says. Exceptional bird-friendly designs have been completed across the country, from the fritted glass windows of Weiss Manfredi Architects’ Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Center, to AJC Architects’ Tracy Aviary Visitor Center in Salt Lake City, which is fronted by fractured metal screens that keep birds from flying into its windows. “There’s generally an awareness of this problem now,” says Maxwell. “You see architects considering this when before they had no idea it was even a problem.” The public is becoming more aware of the problem, too. New York City Audubon has even created an online portal, called D-Bird, where people can report building-related bird mortalities. Meanwhile, Maxwell and his band of bird advocates are seeking funding to ramp up their research and advocacy. They would like to build several more labs along the east coast, fight for more bird-safety legislation, and see bird-friendliness become an automatic consideration for architects. “I’m amazed that there are still many people who don’t realize the enormity of the problem,” Maxwell says.
News Article | September 6, 2016
The Oxitec mosquito developed by Intrexon is not technically a "gene drive," but cuts down on the population of mosquitoes by introducing altered males whose offspring cannot survive (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida) Honolulu (AFP) - Scientific techniques that can wipe out invasive species or alter mosquitoes' ability to carry disease are pushing ahead, raising concerns about the ethics of permanently changing the natural world, experts say. This fast-moving field of science -- which involves changing the biology of creatures by interfering with their DNA -- is increasingly being debated not only for human health purposes, but also in conservation circles. Perhaps the most controversial type of research is known as a "gene drive," which ensures that a certain trait is passed down from parent to offspring. It eventually leads to genetic changes throughout the entire species. Projects being considered include one to release altered mice on islands that will only bear male offspring, ensuring an end to future generations, scientists said at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress. Another idea is to save endangered birds on the Hawaiian islands by releasing altered mosquitoes that cannot carry avian malaria. The Oxitec mosquito developed by Intrexon is not technically a "gene drive," but cuts down on the population of mosquitoes by introducing altered males whose offspring cannot survive. Proponents of gene drive technology say it eliminates the need for polluting pesticides, and could offer a more effective remedy against invasive species than any tool on hand. But opponents fear the impacts of permanently altering life forms on Earth and its unknown -- and likely irreversible -- impact on creatures and ecosystems. Kevin Esvelt, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is among the first scientists to propose using gene-editing, or CRISPR technology, to alter species. He is also one of the most cautious voices on its potential uses. "As a scientist who worked on it, I am particularly concerned because we scientists are ultimately morally responsible for all the consequences of our work," Esvelt said at a panel discussion at the IUCN meeting in Honolulu. "It should be a requirement that no one gets to build a gene drive or any technology designed to alter the shared environment in a laboratory without making their proposals public first," he said. "If something goes wrong in the laboratory, it can affect people outside the laboratory," Esvelt added. "That means if you do it behind closed doors -- as is traditional in science -- then you are not giving people a voice in a decision that might affect them." He also said the current regulatory environment is "all based around release. And not really stringent enough, frankly, if you ask me." But others at the same panel called for quick action to preserve imperiled species before they disappear forever due to invasive species and diseases. "One of the scariest things of working in conservation in Hawaii is there is no way to save these birds from malaria," said Chris Farmer, Hawaii program director of the American Bird Conservancy. A total of 38 forest birds in Hawaii have gone extinct already due in large part to avian diseases, and 21 of the remaining 32 species are at risk, experts say. By not exploring new technologies, "we are choosing to let these species go extinct," Farmer said. Another speaker on the panel, Anthony James, professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine, said time is of the essence. "You have heard the urgency in the voices of my colleagues here worried about the birds and the trees," he said. "One of the key things that is going to be important for this technology is the ability to get these genes out in a very rapid way in the population." According to Floyd Reed, a scientist at the University of Hawaii who is working on a project to alter Culex mosquitoes which transmit avian malaria to birds, gene drive technologies are incredibly diverse. Some could theoretically spread from a single small release and genetically transform an entire species, he told AFP via email. "These should be treated extremely cautiously. And there are other types of population modification genetic technology that are safer, geographically self limiting, and reversible."
News Article | March 2, 2017
Arriving on horseback Thursday, newly minted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke pledged he would devote more resources to national parks, boost the morale of department employees and bolster the sovereignty of American Indian tribes. Zinke — who was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday by a 68-to-31 vote — rode with a nine-person mounted police escort to the Interior Department’s downtown headquarters on Tonto, an Irish sport horse. The horse, a bay roan gelding standing just over 17 hands tall, is normally kept in stables on the Mall and is owned by the U.S. Park Police. While the Park Police serve as the interior secretary’s regular security detail, officers are typically not mounted. Within hours of his arrival Zinke signed two secretarial orders, including one that overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s guidance to agency managers to phase out the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on national wildlife refuges by 2022. Several gun rights and hunting groups had objected to the policy, which was instituted just before Barack Obama left office, on the grounds that non-toxic copper and steel shot is somewhat more expensive. In the new directive, Zinke wrote, “I have determined that the Order was not mandated by any existing statutory or regulatory requirement and was issued without any significant communication, consultation, or coordination with affected stakeholders.” Advocates of the previous order, however, noted that it set in motion a five-year consultation process between federal officials and the states. Lead poisoning–which takes place when fragments of shot are consumed by scavengers or absorbed into the surrounding environment–is estimated to kill between 10 and 20 million birds each year, along with other species. George Fenwick, president of the American Bird Conservancy, criticized the move in statement, saying, “How shameful that this administration is casting science aside along with the welfare of wildlife.” Zinke’s second order aims to expand access to public lands for outdoor recreation and fishing; representatives from 15 organizations ranging from the Boone and Crockett Club to the National Rifle Association and Ducks Unlimited joined him as he signed the two directives. A fifth-generation Montanan, Zinke also sent an email to the department’s 70,000 employees telling them that he had spent years working on public lands issues and was dedicated to protecting America’s natural heritage. “I approach this job in the same way that Boy Scouts taught me so long ago: leave the campsite in better condition than I found it,” he wrote in a missive that was later posted on Medium. “I’m an unapologetic admirer and disciple of Teddy Roosevelt. I believe in traditional mixed use ‘conservation ethics’ doctrine laid out by [Gifford] Pinchot, but realize that there are special places where man is more an observer than a participant, as outlined by [John] Muir.” An employee with the Bureau of Indian Affairs from Montana’s Northern Cheyenne tribe played a veterans honor song on a hand drum as Zinke approached the department on C Street NW, while 350 employees waited outside to greet him. In his email, Zinke noted that he was “proud to be an adopted member of the Assiniboine-Sioux from Northeast Montana,” and that his commitment to respecting tribal sovereignty and the rights of U.S. territories “is not lip service.” Zinke is an avid outdoorsman, and the department’s home page boasts a large photo of him fly-fishing. His Medium post included a photo of him standing outside Glacier National Park with his wife, Lola. On Thursday he wrote about one of his favorite memories hiking on public lands, recalling that he suffered a painful mishap while trying to impress his future wife near the military base in California where he was training to become a Navy SEAL. “I was trying to show off some rock climbing skills I had just picked up training with the SEAL teams, but lost my hold and I broke my ankle,” he wrote. “I did what any guy would do in my situation: I stood up and kept on hiking, surely messing up my ankle a bit more. Lola and I finished the hike and I didn’t collapse in pain, but the bigger accomplishment was I won Lola’s heart.” [Trump is eager to undo tribal national monument in Utah, Orrin Hatch says] Although Zinke received much more bipartisan support than most of President Trump’s other Cabinet nominees, he also faces challenges mediating between some of Interior’s traditional supporters and conservative Republicans eager to make changes to how public lands are managed. Utah Republicans, for example, have asked Trump to unilaterally revoke national monument status for Bears Ears, a tribal site in southeastern Utah that Obama designated less than a month before leaving office. Zinke has said that reducing the $12.5 billion backlog in maintenance and operations for national parks is one of his and the president’s top priorities. But it’s unclear how much money the administration can devote to the task and other Interior Department programs, given Trump’s push to boost military funding while cutting other discretionary spending. Interior may face a budget trim of 10 percent to 12 percent, according to individuals briefed on the White House plans. These individuals asked for anonymity because no final funding decision had been made. In a sign of how contentious lands issues have become, an Instagram post this week by the Interior Department — accompanied with a quote from Zinke — attracted criticism as well as tens of thousands of likes. “I hope those jobs are filled by people focused on protection and preservation and NOT mining, logging and drilling!” one person wrote. “An attack on the sanctity of our national parks and monuments will face strong resistance!” Zinke made it clear in his note that he was adamantly opposed to selling off federal lands, as some congressional Republicans had proposed, but he wanted to give Interior employees more flexibility in how they operate. “We serve the people, not the other way around,” he wrote. “Washington has too much power. I think we need to return it to the front lines.” More from Energy and Environment: Humans have caused an explosion of never-before-seen minerals all over the Earth Antarctic ice has set an unexpected record, and scientists are struggling to figure out why For more, you can sign up for our weekly newsletter here and follow us on Twitter here.
News Article | November 5, 2015
Ten of Hawaii's beloved and endangered petrel chicks were transported via helicopter to a new predator-free zone in the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. The chicks were taken from their Kauaʻi's north shore breeding ground by scientists as part of a project 30 years in the making. Part of the Kaua'i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project's first class treatment included several teams venturing into the rugged mountains of Kauaʻi's to search for healthy petrel chicks living in holes in the ground. The petrel chicks were carefully scooped out by hand and placed in pet carriers before being carried to the mountain tops where a helicopter is waiting to pick them up. The teams took extra safety measures to ensure that the carriers were secured to avoid any injuries during the flight. "This translocation will establish a new, predator-free colony of the endangered Hawaiian Petrel to help prevent the extirpation of the species from Kauaʻi," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Michael Mitchell, the acting project leader of the Kauaʻi National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Invasive species and loss of habitat contributed to the endangered status of the Hawaiian petrels. Transporting the healthy chicks into a predator-free zone will ensure their survival and longevity for generations to come. Before arriving at their new abode, the petrel chicks made a stop at the Princeville Airport where they were examined. Also called ʻUaʻu, the Hawaiian petrel is one of the two seabird species that can only be found in Hawaii. Their mammal predators include pigs, rats and cats. These predators along with collision incidents with man-made structures during flight contributed to their decreasing numbers. Their new home is a 7.8 acre enclosed area at the Kauaʻi National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Surrounded by a 6.5 feet tall fine mesh, the enclosed pen has been designed to imitate natural burrows complete with native vegetation and nest boxes. American Bird Conservancy's vice president, Dr. George Wallace stressed the necessity of preservation tactics in Hawaii to solve the rampant increase of non-native predators which cannot be removed. For the Hawaiian petrels, the project is a big move in increasing its endangered population.
News Article | January 8, 2016
Every year, American farmers spray some 3.5 million pounds of neonicotinoid insecticides over 127 million acres of farmland. That’s according to official Environmental Protection Agency estimates, at least. But the bee-killing chemicals are present in crops on more than twice as many acres because, thanks to an EPA loophole a large swath of land planted with neonic-treated corn, soy, and other crops doesn't count as being treated with pesticides. The difference comes in the application, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by a coalition of beekeepers, farmers, and environmental and wildlife conservation groups: The EPA only regulates neonics as a pesticide when they are sprayed on fields. Meanwhile, farmers who use seeds pretreated with neonics—allowing the insecticide to be taken up in every part of the plant, from leaf to pollen—aren’t considered to be using a pesticide, and they aren’t regulated as such. The federal lawsuit filed seeks to change that. "EPA has created an exemption that is so big you could drive a Mack truck through it and allows this vast suite of environmental harms and bee kills and other sort of damage to occur without any oversight," Peter Jenkins, an attorney with the anti-GMO group Center for Food Safety, which is party to the suit, told Minnesota Public Radio on Wednesday. Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota beekeeper who is the lead plaintiff, says that dust from fields planted with treated seeds has drifted onto his hives, as might happen when a field is sprayed with pesticides, killing bees. Many have singled out neonics as the culprit in the troublingly high rates of bee die-offs observed in managed hives in recent years, while the science suggests that a host of pests, chemicals, and environmental influences are behind the losses. But even if bee death is more complicated than one chemical, the EPA itself is now saying that neonics harm bees. However, the agency's first assessment of the insecticides, released Wednesday, says the chemicals are only a risk to bees when applied to cotton and citrus, not corn and vegetable crops. The EPA has not commented on the new lawsuit. Other research, including studies conducted by the EPA, suggest that using pretreated seeds simply isn’t worth it. A 2014 EPA report concluded that seed treatment “provide[s] negligible overall benefits to soybean production in most situations.” A review of 19 papers on neonic treatments conducted by the Center for Food Safety found that 11 studies concluded that the insecticides had “inconsistent” benefits, while eight found that “neonicotinoid treatments did not provide any significant yield benefit.” The plaintiffs say the treated seeds do, however, excel at killing wildlife. “A single seed coated with a neonicotinoid insecticide is enough to kill a songbird,” Cynthia Palmer, director of pesticides science and regulation at the American Bird Conservancy, said in a press release. “There is no justification for EPA to exempt these pesticide delivery devices from regulation.” • For the First Time, the Government Says a Pesticide Harms Bees • Seven Reasons 2015 Was the Sweetest Year Yet for Saving Bees • The Decline in Bees Will Cause a Decline in Healthy Food
Slater G.L.,Ecostudies Institute |
Altman B.,American Bird Conservancy
Northwest Science | Year: 2011
Avian reintroductions are an important conservation tool, but landbird reintroductions are substantially underrepresented compared to other avian taxa, which hinders progress in improving the value and efficacy of landbird reintroductions. We document an ongoing reintroduction of Western bluebirds (Sialis mexicana) to their historic range in the prairie-oak ecosystem on San Juan Island, Washington. Further, we assess the success of preliminary reintroductions and discuss the feasibility of further landbird reintroductions in this threatened ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest. We released 80 adults and 26 juveniles from 2007 to 2010 using a variety of soft-release techniques, and we collected demographic data on the reintroduced population. The program achieved preliminary criteria of success: individuals were safely translocated to the release site, and released individuals established breeding territories; both translocated individuals and their offspring reproduced successfully; and the reintroduced population grew each year. Results reinforced the use of large aviaries and two to three week holding periods for reintroductions of the genus Sialia, and also showed, for the first time, that the reintroduction of a migratory landbird can be effective. Besides contributing to bird conservation, the reintroduction generated tangible accomplishments towards conservation of prairie-oak habitats through education and habitat protection. Reintroductions of Western bluebirds to former parts of their range and of slender-billed white-breasted nuthatch to south Puget Sound should be considered practical options for future avian conservation efforts in the prairie-oak ecosystem. © 2011 by the Northwest Scientific Association.
Altman B.,American Bird Conservancy
Northwest Science | Year: 2011
The loss and degradation of prairie-oak habitats has resulted in significant changes in bird species breeding distributions and populations. Among the 49 species highly associated with prairie-oak habitats, 21 have experienced extirpations, range contractions, and/or regional population declines. Three species have been regionally extirpated as breeding species since the 1940s, including Lewis's woodpecker, which historically occurred throughout the region. Eleven species have experienced local or ecoregional extirpations and/or range contractions. The predominant pattern of range contraction starts at the northern edge of a species range and moves southward. Nine species have relatively small regional populations, six with limited distribution in the Klamath Mountains ecoregion, and three with small and patchily distributed breeding populations throughout the region. There are nine species with significantly declining regional population trends with a high degree of confidence based on Breeding Bird Survey data, and five with similar declines using Christmas Bird Count data. Several other species may be declining based on a lower degree of confidence in the data or anecdotal observations. These include both endemic subspecies, streaked horned lark and Oregon vesper sparrow, which have regional population estimates of <2,000 and <3,000 birds, respectively. Six species have expanded their range in prairie-oak habitats in the last 50 years. The predominant pattern of range expansion starts at the northern edge of a species range and moves northward. Recommended actions to support prairie-oak bird conservation include range-wide and local inventories and monitoring to determine status, and evaluations and implementation of reintroductions or federal listings as appropriate. © 2011 by the Northwest Scientific Association.
News Article | December 14, 2016
FILE - In this May 9, 2013 file photo, Solomon, a golden eagle, perches on a branch at the Sulphur Creek Nature Center in Hayward, Calif. The Obama administration on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016, finalized a that lets wind-energy companies operate high-speed turbines for up to 30 years _ even if means killing or injuring thousands of federally protected bald and golden eagles.According to keepers, a wind turbine near the Altamont Pass severed a portion of Solomon's left wing in 2000 leaving him unable to fly or survive in the wild. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration on Wednesday finalized a rule that lets wind-energy companies operate high-speed turbines for up to 30 years — even if means killing or injuring thousands of federally protected bald and golden eagles. Under the new rule, wind companies and other power providers will not face a penalty if they kill or injure up to 4,200 bald eagles, nearly four times the current limit. Deaths of the more rare golden eagles would be allowed without penalty so long as companies minimize losses by taking steps such as retrofitting power poles to reduce the risk of electrocution. The new rule will conserve eagles while also spurring development of a pollution-free energy source intended to ease global warming, a cornerstone of President Barack Obama's energy plan, said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. "No animal says America like the bald eagle," Ashe said in a statement, calling recovery of the bald eagle "one of our greatest national conservation achievements." The new rule attempts to build on that success, Ashe said, adding that the Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to balance energy development with eagle conservation. Wind power has increased significantly since Obama took office, and wind turbines as tall as 30-story buildings are rising across the country. The wind towers have spinning rotors as wide as a passenger jet's wingspan, and blades reach speeds of up to 170 mph at the tips, creating tornado-like vortexes. The surge in wind power has generally been well-received in the environmental community, but bird deaths — and eagle deaths in particular — have been a source of contention. The birds are not endangered species but are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The laws prohibit killing, selling or otherwise harming eagles, their nests or eggs without a permit. It's unclear what toll wind energy companies are having on eagle populations, although Ashe said as many 500 golden eagles a year are killed by collisions with wind towers, power lines, buildings, cars and trucks. Thousands more are killed by gunshots and poisonings. Reporting of eagle mortality is voluntary, and the Interior Department refuses to release the information. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are about 143,000 bald eagles in the United States, and 40,000 golden eagles. The new rule is set to take effect in mid-January, days before Obama leaves office. President-elect Donald Trump could change the rule or scrap it, but the process would likely takes months or years. Ashe declined to be interviewed, but he said in a blog entry Wednesday the total number of eagles killed per year is likely to be in the hundreds, not thousands. "We can't eliminate human-caused eagle loss any more than we can eliminate risk from any other facet of modern life," Ashe wrote, but the new rule should reduce deaths and allow officials to better manage risks to bald and golden eagles. Michael Hutchins of the American Bird Conservancy said Wednesday that his group has "some serious concerns" that the new rule will not do not enough to sustain populations of threatened eagles. Still, Hutchins said, he is encouraged that the rule requires independent contractors to provide data on bird kills to the government, rather than allowing energy companies to submit the information. He also praised a requirement for greater public reporting of data on the numbers of birds killed by wind turbines. Permits issued by the government would be reviewed every five years, and companies would have to submit reports of how many eagles they kill. Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said the industry was still reading the final rule, but said wind companies "strongly support its core purpose — eagle conservation." Kiernan said the industry is working to further reduce what called its "minimal impact" on eagles in hopes of "maintaining healthy eagle populations for generations to come."