News Article | February 21, 2017
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC - The health of fish and aquatic insects could be significantly affected by withdrawals of fresh water from the rivers and streams across North Carolina according to a new scientific assessment. A series of studies were conducted by a team of researchers, led by Jennifer Phelan, Ph.D., a senior ecologist at RTI International, to understand the relationships between changes in streamflow and the diversity of fish and richness of aquatic insects. The studies quantified how changes humans make to streams by withdrawing water impact the ecological health of aquatic systems. "We were able to show that man-made disruptions in natural flow patterns contribute to reductions in both the abundance and diversity of fish and insects," Phelan said. "The equations derived from our analysis can be used by water resources managers to better predict how a proposed water withdrawal or other alteration to natural stream flow will affect the health of downstream fish populations." The research was conducted in collaboration with the Ecological Flows Science Advisory Board that was formed in response to 2010 North Carolina state legislation (NC Session Law 2010-143) directing the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to identify the river flows necessary to maintain the ecological integrity of each of the 17 major river basins in the State. RTI staff worked closely with several of the Board members including the Environmental Defense Fund, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Geological Survey, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, and The Nature Conservancy to develop a scientific basis for establishing the prescribed ecological flows. "Notably, the findings of this research show that, for most fish species, any amount of flow reduction, no matter how small, will likely lead to some decrease in population," said Sam Pearsall, Ph.D., formerly with the Environmental Defense Fund and a key member of the Scientific Advisory Board. "This significant body of work represents a model example of science informing policy and lays the groundwork for future considerations of ecological flows within the state's long term efforts for protecting the health of its vital water resources." The research team used RTI's Watershed Flow and Allocation Model, WaterFALL®, to estimate streamflows under both pre-human development conditions and current conditions, reflective of today's land and water use by North Carolina communities. "The ability of WaterFALL to simulate water flows within individual, small segments of rivers and streams was pivotal in enabling the study team to develop statistically significant correlations between changes in streamflow and biological diversity and richness at each of the locations where biological inventories had been prepared by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality," said Michele Eddy, lead developer of the WaterFALL® model and member of RTI's study team. According to Robert Dykes, senior director for RTI's Water and Ecosystems Management Center, there is a growing need worldwide to better quantify the river flow patterns necessary to ensure adequate functioning of aquatic species, particularly fish and other important food sources. "The methodologies that RTI pioneered in performing our assessments have broad relevance beyond the State of North Carolina and represent a significant advancement in the science of defining ecological flows," Dykes said. This body of work is published as a featured collection in the February 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association.
News Article | February 15, 2017
A Senate hearing to “modernize the Endangered Species Act” unfolded Wednesday just as supporters of the law had feared, with round after round of criticism from Republican lawmakers who said the federal effort to keep species from going extinct encroaches on states’ rights, is unfair to landowners and stymies efforts by mining companies to extract resources and create jobs. The two-hour meeting of the Environment and Public Works Committee was led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who said last month that his focus in a bid to change the act would be “eliminating a lot of the red tape and the bureaucratic burdens that have been impacting our ability to create jobs,” according to a report in Energy and Environment News. In his opening remarks, Barrasso declared that the act “is not working today,” adding that “states, counties, wildlife managers, home builders, construction companies, farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders” have made that clear in complaints about how it impedes land management plans, housing development and cattle grazing, particularly in western states, such as Wyoming. Barrasso’s view is in lockstep with the Trump administration, which wants to cut regulations that impede business, particularly energy cultivation. Last week, the Interior Department under President Trump delayed the start date of protections for the endangered rusty patched bumblebee, which has lost an estimated 90 percent of its population in the past two decades. The department said it is reviewing rules set by the Obama administration only weeks earlier, triggering a lawsuit from a nonprofit conservation group that called the delay and the review illegal. At least one Republican has vowed to wage an effort to repeal the Endangered Species Act. “It has never been used for the rehabilitation of species,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said, according to an Associated Press report. “It’s been used to control the land. We’ve missed the entire purpose of the Endangered Species Act. It has been hijacked.” The Endangered Species Act is a 43-year-old law enacted under the Nixon administration at a time when people were beginning to understand how dramatically chemical use and human development were devastating species. It has since saved the bald eagle, California condor, gray wolves, black-footed ferret, American alligator and Florida manatee from likely extinction. But members of the hearing said its regulations prevented people from doing business and making a living. In a comment to a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director who testified at the hearing, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), repeated a point made by Barrasso that of more than 1,600 species listed as threatened or endangered since the act’s inception, fewer than 50 have been removed. That’s about 3 percent of the total, the chairman said. “As a doctor, if I admit 100 patients to the hospital and only three recover enough to be discharged, I would deserve to lose my medical license,” Inhofe said. There was no discussion on the committee about the stability of species that were listed and recovered as a result of the act, and also no discussion of continued human expansion into the habitats of hundreds of species as their numbers dwindle. Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) tried to make the point with a question to five members of a panel called to testify about the act: Former Wyoming governor David Freudenthal, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Executive Director Gordon Myers, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President James Holte, Defenders of Wildlife chief executive Jamie Rappaport Clark and Association of Zoos and Aquariums chief executive Daniel Ashe. Referring to research published in the journals Science and Conservation Biology that the rate of extinction across species is 1,000 times the rate before human expansion, Carper asked the panelists whether they believed the finding that Earth is on the verge of a sixth mass extinction. Each panelist who testified the act should be significantly changed — Freudenthal, Myers and Holte — said they weren’t qualified to answer such a question. Rappaport and Ashe, the most recent directors of Fish and Wildlife under presidents who are Democrats, emphatically answered yes. Amid the din of criticism of the act, Carper asked why it was needed in the first place: Weren’t states that manage their individual animal populations aware that some species were disappearing? Why didn’t they act faster to save them before federal officials brought regulations? Freudenthal took a stab at a reply. “Only in the last 15 years have state game agencies shifted to species management,” he said. “Now agencies have a much broader mission.” In the years that states were less engaged, according Freudenthal, the total number of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, among others, have declined by half, Ashe said. He added that the act could use tweaking, but hardly needs an overhaul. “The Endangered Species Act is the world’s gold standard” for government conservation, Ashe said. “It’s not perfect. It can be better. Your goal is to make it … stronger and better.”
News Article | February 15, 2017
On the eve of a Senate hearing Wednesday to consider “modernization of the Endangered Species Act,” an environmental conservation group sued the Trump administration for halting implementation of federal protections for the first bumblebee in history placed on the endangered list. The Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service it oversees for delaying protections for the rusty patch bumblebee from Feb. 10 until at least mid-March without allowing public comment or hearings. The bee’s status as an endangered species was finalized in early January under the Obama administration. [This bumblebee was everywhere. Now it’s the first bee ever on the endangered species list.] “The Trump administration broke the law by blocking the rusty patched bumblebee from the endangered species list,” the NRDC said in a statement announcing its suit filed at a federal court in New York. “The science is clear — this species is headed toward extinction, and soon. There is no legitimate reason to delay federal protections for this bee. Freezing protections for the rusty patched bumblebee without public notice and comment flies in the face of the democratic process.” The striped black and yellow pollinator with a long black tail “once flourished in 28 states and two Canadian provinces,” the NRDC said. “But the bee’s population and range have declined by approximately 90 percent in the last 20 years.” Officials at the Interior Department declined to comment on the lawsuit, but a department spokeswoman, Heather Swift, said the agency “is working to review this regulation as expeditiously as possible and expects to issue further guidance on the effective date … shortly.” Last week the agency announced that it published a notice of the delay in the Federal Register, overstepping procedures that involve notices of public hearings, the hearings themselves and comment from the public that can take up to a year. Wildlife conservation groups described the delay and the upcoming Senate hearing led by Republicans as attacks on the 43-year-old Endangered Species Act. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee did not define what “modernization” meant, leaving one conservationist to offer her own definition. “Modernization of the Endangered Species Act is code for gut and weaken,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and chief executive of Defenders of Wildlife. “The Endangered Species Act works. It has stopped extinction of 99 percent of listed species.” Clark is one of two leaders of conservation groups scheduled to testify at the hearing. The other is the recently departed Fish and Wildlife director under Obama, Dan Ashe, who is now president and chief executive of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Others scheduled to testify include David Freudenthal, the former governor of Wyoming, a state that successfully fought a proposed federal threatened or endangered listing for the greater sage grouse. That chicken-like bird’s population plummeted as the western sage brush was developed, grazed by hundreds of thousands of cattle and opened to mineral mining and natural-gas drilling that drove the birds from their habitat. Gordon S. Myers, executive director and president of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, is also scheduled to testify. The commission resisted a federal Fish and Wildlife program to restore critically endangered red wolves by establishing a population in North Carolina. It issued a resolution calling on the agency to remove them from private lands in the red wolf recovery area near the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. [The government was letting residents kill nearly extinct wolves. A court put a stop to it.] Last September, a federal district court in North Carolina issued a preliminary injunction barring the Fish and Wildlife Service from capturing and removing red wolves in the state or issuing permits that allowed private landowners to kill the animals when they stray onto their property. Following a lawsuit filed by several nonprofit environmental groups, Judge Terrence W. Boyle of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina ruled that Fish and Wildlife was “enjoined from taking red wolves, either directly or by landowner authorization without first demonstrating that such red wolves are a threat to human safety or the safety of livestock or pets.” Any other decision would ignore that Congress had mandated the program to prevent the extinction of red wolves, the judge said. Scientists say the government’s new plan to save red wolves is backward The world just agreed to the strongest protections ever for endangered species The horn and ivory trade is obliterating elephants and rhinos
Waldrop T.,Clemson University |
Phillips R.A.,U.S. Department of Agriculture |
Simon D.A.,North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
Forest Science | Year: 2010
This study tested the success of fuel reduction treatments for mitigating wildfire behavior in an area that has had little previous research on fire, the southern Appalachian Mountains. A secondary objective of treatments was to restore the community to an open woodland condition. Three blocks of four treatments were installed in a mature hardwood forest in western North Carolina. Fuel reduction treatments included chainsaw felling of small trees and shrubs (mechanical treatment), two prescribed fires 3 years apart, a combination of mechanical and burning treatments, and an untreated control. Mechanical treatment eliminated vertical fuels but without prescribed burning; the mechanical treatment added litter (11%) and woody fuels (1 hour 167%; 10 hours 78%) that increased several measures of BehavePlus4-simulated fire behavior (rate of spread, flame length, spread distance, and area burned) for 5 years. Prescribed burning reduced litter mass by 80% and reduced all simulated fire behavior variables for 1 year but had no residual effect by the third year. The combined mechanical and burning treatments had hot prescribed fires (mean temperature of 517°C at 30 cm aboveground) during the first burn that killed some overstory trees, resulting in increased amounts of woody fuels on the forest floor. All active treatments (fire, mechanical, and combined) reduced simulated wildfire behavior, even after a severe ice storm that added fine fuels. Prescribed burning in combination with the mechanical treatment was the most effective in reducing all measures of fire behavior and advancing restoration objectives. Each of the active treatments tested must be repeated to reduce fuels and lower wildfire behavior, but prescribed burning must be repeated frequently.
Spear S.F.,The Orianne Society |
Spear S.F.,University of Idaho |
Groves J.D.,North Carolina Zoological Park |
Williams L.A.,North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission |
Waits L.P.,University of Idaho
Biological Conservation | Year: 2015
Isolation of environmental DNA (eDNA) is becoming a valuable tool for detecting presence of rare or secretive aquatic species. The recent use of quantitative PCR (qPCR) with eDNA sampling presents the possibility of using this method to infer population abundance and status. This approach would be especially useful for species such as the Eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis), a declining, secretive, aquatic salamander that requires intense field survey effort to study. In 2012, we conducted eDNA sampling at sites across the range of the species in North Carolina. Our objectives were to assess presence across 61 sites, test for a correlation of abundance and biomass with eDNA estimates at a subset of 23 sites, and sample at multiple spatial and temporal scales in three river systems. Overall, we detected hellbender eDNA at 33 sites, including all sites with 2012 hellbender records, 71% of all recent or historic sites with hellbender presence, and at nine sites that lack species occurrence records. We did not find a correlation between eDNA estimates and field survey counts of individuals or biomass. We detected a strong temporal increase in eDNA during the September breeding period, but no consistent evidence of a spatial relationship with eDNA. Overall, our results demonstrate the efficacy of eDNA for detecting hellbender populations. Furthermore, the potential utility of qPCR to assess population status in hellbenders requires further study and testing, although it may be promising for determining population reproductive status. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.
McCargo J.W.,University of Georgia |
McCargo J.W.,North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission |
Peterson J.T.,U.S. Geological Survey
Transactions of the American Fisheries Society | Year: 2010
Water regulation and use have been identified as important limiting factors influencing streamdwelling fishes. To develop effective water management strategies, fisheries biologists need tools for assessing the effect of reduced streamflows on fish communities. We studied fish assemblages in the lower Flint River basin, Georgia, during two drought years with very low streamflow (2001-2002) and two postdrought years (2003-2004) with average to above-average streamflow. Fishes were sampled and stream discharge was measured during the spring, summer, and winter of each year. Analysis of fish assemblage metrics indicated that fish species richness and total fish density were strongly and positively related to seasonal 10-d low discharge. However, the effect of discharge varied with stream size and geomorphic channel characteristics, which suggested that a single low-flow standard was unlikely to have the same effect across all streams in the basin. The effect of seasonal base flows also was greater in the spring and summer than in winter. Hierarchical occupancy models indicated that the fish species most sensitive to low base flows were those that were large bodied as adults, were intolerant to anthropogenic alterations, and occupied deep and fast current velocity habitats. When conducting environmental flow assessments at regional scales, managers should consider the effects of local stream reach characteristics on the response of fishes to streamflow alteration. © American Fisheries Society 2009.
Fisk J.M.,North Carolina State University |
Kwak T.J.,U.S. Geological Survey |
Heise R.J.,North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
Fisheries Management and Ecology | Year: 2014
A critical component of a species reintroduction is assessment of contemporary habitat suitability. The robust redhorse, Moxostoma robustum (Cope), is an imperilled catostomid that occupies a restricted range in the south-eastern USA. A remnant population persists downstream of Blewett Falls Dam, the terminal dam in the Pee Dee River, North Carolina. Reintroduction upstream of Blewett Falls Dam may promote long-term survival of this population. Tillery Dam is the next hydroelectric facility upstream, which includes a 30 rkm lotic reach. Habitat suitability indices developed in the Pee Dee River were applied to model suitable habitat for proposed minimum flows downstream of Tillery Dam. Modelling results indicate that the Tillery reach provides suitable robust redhorse habitat, with spawning habitat more abundant than non-spawning habitat. Sensitivity analyses suggested that suitable water depth and substrate were limiting physical habitat variables. These results can inform decisions on flow regulation and guide planning for reintroduction of the robust redhorse and other species. © 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Witt M.J.,University of Exeter |
Hawkes L.A.,Bangor University |
Godfrey M.H.,North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission |
Godley B.J.,University of Exeter |
Broderick A.C.,University of Exeter
Journal of Experimental Biology | Year: 2010
Marine turtles utilise terrestrial and marine habitats and several aspects of their life history are tied to environmental features that are altering due to rapid climate change. We overview the likely impacts of climate change on the biology of these species, which are likely centred upon the thermal ecology of this taxonomie group. Then, focusing in detail on three decades of research on the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta L.), we describe how much progress has been made to date and how future experimental and ecological focus should be directed. Key questions include: what are the current hatchling sex ratios from which to measure future climate-induced changes? What are wild adult sex ratios and how many males are necessary to maintain a fertile and productive population? How will climate change affect turtles in terms of their distribution? © 2010, Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.
Jeffrey Humphries W.,North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission |
Sisson M.A.,North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
Journal of Herpetology | Year: 2012
The Gopher Frog, Lithobates capito, is an endemic to upland, fire-maintained pine forests on the Southeastern Coastal Plain and requires open, isolated wetlands for breeding. This species has experienced drastic population declines because of habitat loss and degradation and now occurs only in scattered populations in the southern United States. We tracked the post-breeding movements and burrow use of 17 Gopher Frogs in the Sandhills of North Carolina using radio telemetry. Nine frogs were successfully tracked to summer refugia; the other eight frogs shed their transmitters or were killed by predators or fire during migration. Frogs traveled 0.5-3.5 km (mean = 1.3 km) between the breeding pond and a summer refugium. The 3.5-km movement is substantially longer than has been reported for Gopher Frogs before. Our results suggest that an area of 3,739 ha (9,239 acres) around breeding ponds is required to provide summer habitat for Gopher Frogs. Eight of nine frogs used holes associated with the stumps of longleaf pines for their summer refugia, and we documented fidelity to particular stumps, with one frog traveling long distances from breeding pond to the same summer refugium during two consecutive seasons. Frogs only made major movements during rainy nights. Prolonged presence on the forest floor during post-breeding migrations exposed frogs to prescribed fires conducted in the spring. Prescribed burning within several kilometers of Gopher Frog ponds should be conducted after mid-May to reduce adult mortality. © 2012 Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.
News Article | October 26, 2016
News outlets report that wildlife biologists are warning Upstate residents and tourists to stay away from a young bull elk that was seen in several places in Pickens County over the weekend. In response to social media posts showing people feeding the animal, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission biologist Justin McVey warned the public that the animal can cause serious injuries. The animals once were native to the Lowcountry but were wiped out in the Carolinas in the 1700s. The species was reintroduced to North Carolina in 2001 and officials say it's likely the young male was pushed out of mountain territory across the state border by older males.