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 | September 13, 2016
FILE - This Aug. 17, 2005 file photo provided by the US Geological Survey/Princeton University shows an American pika. Federal officials have rejected a petition to give greater protections to the rabbit-like American pika, which researchers say is vanishing from mountainous areas of the West due to climate change. (Shana S. Weber/USGS, Princeton University via AP,File) BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Federal officials on Tuesday rejected greater protections for four species including the rabbit-like American pika, which researchers warn is disappearing from areas of the Western U.S. as climate change alters its mountain habitat. The pika's range is shrinking across southern Utah, northeastern California and in the Great Basin that covers most of Nevada and parts of Utah, Oregon, Idaho and California, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study released last month. Exposure to ambient temperatures of 78 degrees or higher can kill the mountain-dwelling mammals, wildlife officials say. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in documents released Tuesday that pika adapt to warmer temperatures by seeking refuge beneath rock fields in the summer. As a result, surface temperatures may not be the best predictor of population declines, the agency said. The agency also said the most severe effects of climate change are felt at elevations below 8,200 feet (2,499 meters), which is near the lower limit of the pika's range in the West. That suggests pika habitat "has not experienced the more substantial changes" of reduced snowpack due to climate change, the wildlife service said. Last month's Geological Survey study was not available when a student from New York petitioned the wildlife service in April to protect the animal under the Endangered Species Act, agency spokesman Brian Hires said, meaning its findings were not considered. "We always try to use the best available science for our decisions," Hires said. The government denied a prior request for pika protections in 2010, saying not all populations were declining. President Barack Obama mentioned the plight of the pika this summer when he spoke at Yosemite National Park about the damage inflicted by climate change. He said the pika was being forced further upslope at Yosemite to escape the heat. The Fish and Wildlife Service is unlikely to pursue further action on pikas on its own, officials said, citing a heavy workload of other imperiled species. Wildlife advocates will file a new petition in coming months to grant protections based on the Geological Survey study, said Noah Greenwald with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The pace of determining whether species need protections is just not adequate to the task," Greenwald said. Wildlife officials also rejected petitions Tuesday to protect the Wyoming pocket gopher, a Caribbean iguana and the Fourche Mountain salamander of Arkansas. Further details on those decisions were not immediately available. Officials declined to downgrade protections for two bird species in Alaska — the spectacled eider and Steller's eider — and said the status of four species merit further review. They are the Florida scrub lizard; the Joshua tree of Arizona, California, Utah and Nevada; an amphibian known as the lesser Virgin Islands skink; and the Lassics lupine, a flowering plant found at high elevations in the North Coast mountains of California. For those four, the wildlife service invited scientists and others to submit information that could help the agency in its decision. This story has been corrected to show two bird species in Alaska retained protections.
News Article | April 5, 2016
A wolverine walks across the snow in this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) photo taken March 16, 2009. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013 proposed an endangered species listing for the estimated 300 wolverines believed to still inhabit the Lower 48 states, most of them in the snowy peaks of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The Interior Department agency said then that human-caused global warming was lessening mountain snows needed by wolverines for building dens and storing food. But the Fish and Wildlife Service abruptly reversed itself in 2014, deciding against special protections for wolverines on grounds that it lacked sufficient evidence that climate change was harming the animals. Conservationists challenged the decision in court and accused the agency of ignoring scientific data that supported a listing for the wolverine, a large cousin of the weasel known for a feisty disposition and ferocious defense of its young. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen on Monday sided with conservationists, finding the Fish and Wildlife Service decision unlawfully "arbitrary and capricious" and ordering the agency to reconsider. "No greater level of certainty is needed to see the writing on the wall for this snow-dependent species standing squarely in the path of global climate change," Christensen wrote. He added that the nation's landmark wildlife protection law demands action early to prevent further loss of biodiversity, noting: "For the wolverine, that time is now." The judge said resistance by states such as Idaho likely played a role in the federal agency's decision not to protect wolverines. Listing would have banned trapping of wolverines, which are prized for their fur, and imposed restrictions on such winter activities in the high country as snowmobiling. Christensen pointed to "immense political pressure brought to bear on this issue, particularly by a handful of Western states," and added: "The listing in this case involves climate science, and climate science evokes strong reaction." The Fish and Wildlife Service, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday, has a year to re-examine the climate-based threats to wolverines and issue a new decision. "Wolverines are incredibly tough animals, but they will need our protection to survive climate change," said Bethany Cotton of WildEarth Guardians.
News Article | February 18, 2017
The annual survey released Friday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows at least 113 wolves are spread between southwestern New Mexico and southeast Arizona, marking an improvement over the 97 wolves that were documented the previous year. "We are encouraged by these numbers. But these 2016 results demonstrate we are still not out of the woods," Fish and Wildlife Service regional director Benjamin Tuggle said in a statement. More work needs to be done to ensure the population grows by about 10 percent each year, Tuggle said. The survey comes as the agency gathers comments on plans to release two packs of Mexican gray wolves in wilderness areas near the Arizona-New Mexico border this year in an effort to bolster a struggling population threatened by inbreeding. The Fish and Wildlife Service released details this week of its latest plan, saying it will submit the public comments along with a request to the state of New Mexico for a permit to release the animals. It will ultimately be up to New Mexico and a federal court whether the releases happen because the state and the agency are locked in a legal battle over the endangered predator, marking just the latest skirmish in a broader fight over states' rights and the Endangered Species Act. In a case before a federal appeals court, New Mexico and 18 other states argue that the law requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to cooperate with them on how endangered species are reintroduced within their borders. Federal attorneys contend the law allows the agency to go around a state, if necessary, to save a species. The court has yet to make a ruling, and until then releases in New Mexico are prohibited. New Mexico contends there's no way to determine whether the proposed releases would conflict with the state's own wildlife management because federal officials have yet to develop a comprehensive recovery plan for the wolves. The agency is under a court order to release a draft plan later this year. Federal officials say the releases are an important tool for avoiding a genetic bottleneck. Of the 70 or so Mexican wolves in the wild for which individual genetics are known, all but four males are descendants of the Bluestem Pack's breeding female. Without releases from the more genetically diverse captive population, "there is very little potential for natural pair formation among unrelated wolves in the wild now or in the future," wolf managers stated. Their plan also calls for more cross-fostering of pups, which involves placing captive-bred pups in the dens of wild wolves with the intention that the pack's adults would raise them as their own. Last year marked the first successful cross-fostering attempt with a litter in New Mexico. According to the survey, 50 wild-born pups survived in 2016 compared with half that the previous year. In all, officials reported a total of 21 packs with at least 50 wolves in New Mexico and 63 wolves in Arizona. A subspecies of the gray wolf, Mexican wolves nearly disappeared in the 1970s. The federal government added them to the endangered species list in 1976. The Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing the wolves in New Mexico and Arizona starting in 1998, but the effort has been hampered by everything from politics to illegal killings and genetics. The agency has been criticized for its management of the predators by both ranchers, who say the animals are a threat to their livelihoods, and environmentalists who want more captive-bred wolves to be released. Explore further: States argue in court for more say over endangered species
News Article | January 8, 2016
"We were thrilled to see the successful breeding of piping plovers on Lake Ontario this year," David Stilwell of the federal agency's New York office said on Wednesday. The agency said three adult plovers were spotted over the summer on New York's Ontario shore, including a breeding pair in Jefferson County that hatched two chicks. One chick survived to migrate south in August. The Fish and Wildlife Service, New York Department of Environmental Conservation, Audubon and other groups worked to protect the nest from disturbance. The piping plover is a robin-sized bird resembling a sandpiper that nests on beaches and is colored to blend in with sand and sticks. The Great Lakes population had fallen to 16 pairs in 1986, when the species went on the endangered list. All were in Michigan. Protection of nest sites and other conservation measures have increased the population to about 75 pairs across the region today, according to the wildlife agency. A separate piping plover population, the federally threatened Atlantic Coast population, breeds on coastal beaches from Quebec to North Carolina. The species' decline is attributed to habitat loss, disturbance of nest sites by people and pets, and predators such as foxes, gulls and crows. "The return of piping plovers to the eastern shores of Lake Ontario is a tremendous success story for birds and the environment," said Erin Crotty, executive director of Audubon New York. "That they're finding new and suitable habitat to successfully fledge chicks signals their recovery." It also emphasizes the need for habitat protection and restoration to benefit other vulnerable species, she said. In this July 1, 2015, photo provided by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, three piping plovers stand on the beach along Lake Ontario in Oswego County, N.Y. A pair of piping plovers successfully nested on New York's Lake Ontario shoreline for the first time in more than 30 years, which bodes well for the recovery of the endangered bird's Great Lakes population, according to biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Audubon New York. (Elizabeth Truskowski/New York Department of Environmental Conservation via AP)
News Article | February 19, 2017
FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2011, file photo, a female Mexican gray wolf at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in central N.M. There are now more Mexican gray wolves roaming the American Southwest than at any time since the federal government began trying to reintroduce the predators nearly two decades ago. The annual survey released Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows at least 113 wolves are spread between southwestern New Mexico and southeast Arizona, marking an improvement over the 97 wolves that were documented the previous year. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File) ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — There are now more Mexican gray wolves roaming the American Southwest than at any time since the federal government began trying to reintroduce the predators nearly two decades ago. The annual survey released Friday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows at least 113 wolves are spread between southwestern New Mexico and southeast Arizona, marking an improvement over the 97 wolves that were documented the previous year. "We are encouraged by these numbers. But these 2016 results demonstrate we are still not out of the woods," Fish and Wildlife Service regional director Benjamin Tuggle said in a statement. More work needs to be done to ensure the population grows by about 10 percent each year, Tuggle said. The survey comes as the agency gathers comments on plans to release two packs of Mexican gray wolves in wilderness areas near the Arizona-New Mexico border this year in an effort to bolster a struggling population threatened by inbreeding. The Fish and Wildlife Service released details this week of its latest plan, saying it will submit the public comments along with a request to the state of New Mexico for a permit to release the animals. It will ultimately be up to New Mexico and a federal court whether the releases happen because the state and the agency are locked in a legal battle over the endangered predator, marking just the latest skirmish in a broader fight over states' rights and the Endangered Species Act. In a case before a federal appeals court, New Mexico and 18 other states argue that the law requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to cooperate with them on how endangered species are reintroduced within their borders. Federal attorneys contend the law allows the agency to go around a state, if necessary, to save a species. The court has yet to make a ruling, and until then releases in New Mexico are prohibited. New Mexico contends there's no way to determine whether the proposed releases would conflict with the state's own wildlife management because federal officials have yet to develop a comprehensive recovery plan for the wolves. The agency is under a court order to release a draft plan later this year. Federal officials say the releases are an important tool for avoiding a genetic bottleneck. Of the 70 or so Mexican wolves in the wild for which individual genetics are known, all but four males are descendants of the Bluestem Pack's breeding female. Without releases from the more genetically diverse captive population, "there is very little potential for natural pair formation among unrelated wolves in the wild now or in the future," wolf managers stated. Their plan also calls for more cross-fostering of pups, which involves placing captive-bred pups in the dens of wild wolves with the intention that the pack's adults would raise them as their own. Last year marked the first successful cross-fostering attempt with a litter in New Mexico. According to the survey, 50 wild-born pups survived in 2016 compared with half that the previous year. In all, officials reported a total of 21 packs with at least 50 wolves in New Mexico and 63 wolves in Arizona. A subspecies of the gray wolf, Mexican wolves nearly disappeared in the 1970s. The federal government added them to the endangered species list in 1976. The Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing the wolves in New Mexico and Arizona starting in 1998, but the effort has been hampered by everything from politics to illegal killings and genetics. The agency has been criticized for its management of the predators by both ranchers, who say the animals are a threat to their livelihoods, and environmentalists who want more captive-bred wolves to be released.
News Article | January 8, 2016
The tubby, grayish brown marine mammals were listed as endangered almost 50 years ago, after being killed mainly due to overhunting and collisions with boats. "The manatee's recovery is incredibly encouraging and a great testament to the conservation actions of many," said Cindy Dohner, the Fish and Wildlife Service's southeast regional director. When aerial surveys began in 1991, officials counted 1,267 of them in Florida, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said. Now there are more than 6,300 in Florida alone, and the entire population is estimated at 13,000 manatees in its range which includes the Caribbean and the northern coasts of Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil. The Fish and Wildlife Service said "significant improvements in its population and habitat conditions and reductions in direct threats" have helped propel the population in Florida 500 percent higher in 25 years. Therefore, the agency has proposed downgrading the underwater grass-eaters to "threatened." Under federal law, an endangered species is "currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range." A threatened species "is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future," the FWS said. The proposal is open to public comments until April 7. Manatees feed on sea grasses and must come above water to breathe every 15 minutes or so. They can reach 13 feet (four meters) in length and weigh up to 1,300 pounds (600 kilograms). Their lifespan tends to be about 40 years. Some conservation groups, such as the Save The Manatee Club, oppose the idea of downgrading the creatures' status because they say many threats still remain, and death counts have been high in recent years. From 2010-2013, 2,441 manatees died in Florida waters, Save the Manatee Club said. Explore further: Though manatee population has grown, low diversity still a risk
News Article | July 15, 2016
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has tapped the usage of drones in an effort to give an endangered species hope for survival. The endangered species in question is the black-footed ferret, which is affected by the declining population of prairie dogs. Prairie dogs are the main source of food for the ferrets, and the underground burrows that they dig out serve as shelter for the ferrets. However, the prairie dog population is likewise decreasing because of the sylvatic plague, which is a disease that is being propagated by fleas and rats. To counter the effect, biologists have developed and distributed a vaccine for the sylvatic plague. The vaccine, which is mixed in with bait and dropped in certain points along pre-determined routes, would help the prairie dogs develop immunity to the sylvatic plague. However, the process of walking through the routes by foot and dropping vaccine-laced bait by hand is very time consuming, with biologists only able to release about 150 to 300 doses every hour. This is where the drones come in. An environmental assessment (PDF) released by the Fish and Wildlife Service for the use of unmanned aerial systems in delivering sylvatic plague vaccines to prairie dogs stated that up to 10,000 acres of land will be covered by drones per year. The Fish and Wildlife Service will be providing the vaccine-laced bait and the perimeter boundaries of prairie dog colonies to a private contractor, which would be operating the drones to deliver the vaccines to the specified areas. To carry and deploy the vaccine, a "glorified gumball machine" has been devised to be used by the drones, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Randy Machett. The device will be fitted to the drones, which will be using GPS systems to dispense the vaccines at intervals of 30 feet in three directions. The vaccine will be injected in peanut butter, which will be smeared on M&M candies. According to tests, this treat is the one that prairie dogs are very attracted to, as a dye that has been added to the mix often shows up on the whiskers of the animals. The actual type of the drone that will be involved in the project has not yet been determined, as the proposal has not yet received the final approval. However, according to Machett, using drones is the cheapest and fastest way to distribute the vaccine, which should mean that it will soon be given the green light. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | November 29, 2016
The US Fish & Wildlife Service announced that it intends to prepare a draft environmental impact statement for proposed issuance of an incidental take permit (ITP) for the draft Oil & Gas Coalition Multi-State Habitat Conservation Plan that nine producers are developing for parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
News Article | February 27, 2017
Five wildlife rangers and three other men working in wildlife protection have lost their lives in four separate countries in the past month, highlighting the numerous hazards rangers and their colleagues face in protecting the world’s wild lands and species. “It’s a tough week when we lose eight of our ranger family; some to poachers’ bullets and some to the other dangers that come with the territory,” said Sean Willmore, founder and director of the Thin Green Line Foundation, which supports widows and children of rangers killed in the line of duty. “We are becoming accustomed to this sad reality. But we need the world community’s support to help provide training and equipment to prevent deaths and to support families left behind.” On 17 February, a young ranger with the Kenyan Wildlife Service was shot dead by elephant poachers in Tsavo national park. The ranger and a colleague were out on a de-snaring patrol when they came upon the tracks of known elephant poachers. The poacher ambushed the pair, killing one – officials have not yet released his name. The other ranger pursued the poachers and reportedly killed one of them. These particular poachers have become well known in Tsavo, which has one of the largest populations of savannah elephants in the world. A week earlier, the same group had shot and wounded an elephant, but abandoned it when they realised community scouts were on their tail. The elephant eventually perished from its wounds. Park rangers removed the animal’s ivory and sent it to Nairobi to keep it out of the black market. The slain ranger was in his twenties and leaves behind a young wife. He had only recently graduated from the Kenya Wildlife Service Field Training school in Manyani. “The threats [to rangers] are escalating and with that there is a corresponding need for increased support, which in many cases does not materialise.” said Chris Galliers, the chair of the Game Rangers Association of Africa and the International Ranger Federation African representative. He added that rangers in Africa are working under difficult conditions with “reduced capacity, fatigue, and possibly the need for additional skills.” “It creates a situation where cracks will begin to appear,” he noted. Not all ranger fatalities are at the hands of poachers. Three rangers also died last week in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when their speed boat capsized in Virunga national park. According to chief park warden, Jean Pierre Jobogo Mirindi, nine rangers were patrolling Lake Edward when a heavy wind capsized the boat. Local fishermen rescued six of the rangers, but three of them drowned after foggy conditions complicated the rescue: Bwambale Nyamikenge, Katu Mumbere, and patrol chief, Kasereka Mwana Zaire. Virunga national park is home to a quarter of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. But militias and political instability have also made it one of the most dangerous parks in the world for rangers: 150 rangers have been killed in the park during the last ten years. On 24 January two men working for African Parks law enforcement team died in a helicopter crash in Central African Republic. The pilot of the helicopter was also killed. The pilot, Shaun Barendsen was from National Airways Corporation, while David Fine, head of law enforcement, and sous-lieutenant Mbenga-Nzongomblo Ponce Pilate, assistant law enforcement manager, were African Parks employees based in Chinko. In a statement African Parks said: “The helicopter we had chartered in Chinko, Central African Republic, to assist with our law enforcement work, crashed killing all three on board. The helicopter crashed on approaching the landing strip and we are trying to gain a better understanding of the cause of the accident. We are devastated by this tragic news, for the enormous loss of three committed and passionate individuals, and for the loved ones they leave behind, to whom we send our heartfelt condolences.” Finally, in India, a 28-year-old forest ranger passed out while trying to stamp down flames in Bandipur national park. Officials say Murigeppa Tammangol died from asphyxiation, burns and brain damage. Tammangol leaves behind a wife and a three-month-old baby. The local press blamed the fires on “miscreants” from nearby communities. But Bandipur national park is also in the midst of a drought, with two years of unusually dry conditions. Three other people were injured in the blaze and are recovering in the hospital. The Thin Green Line estimates that around 100 rangers are killed in the line of duty every year – approximately two per week.