The Giant Panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, is the national animal of China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Who doesn't love pandas? It's national news when a newborn dies or is stillborn at the National Zoo (Washington Post). The WWF uses a giant panda as its logo. I'll never see one in the wild, but I am glad to know that around 1600 of them live in the bamboo forests of western China. The fragments of forest in which they survive occupy only a tiny fraction of its historic range (map).
There are also around 300 giant pandas living in captivity as part of a captive breeding program involving zoos around the world. Some conservationists argue that the millions of dollars spent on these programs is money well spent. They argue that the opportunity for people to see them in zoos engages them and enhances support for conservation, and possibly expansion, of their wild habitat.
Others point out that very few pandas have been reintroduced in the wild from captive breeding programs. They argue that captive breeding does no good unless the animals bred in captivity have a place to return to in the wild and that the money spent on captive breeding would be better spent on protecting the habitat that remains. Some have even argued that it's too late for giant pandas and that we should stop trying to save them. Here's what Chris Packham of BBC2 had to say several years ago:
"Here's a species that of its own accord has gone down an
evolutionary cul-de-sac. It's not a strong species.
"Unfortunately, it's big and cute and it's a symbol of the World Wildlife Fund
- and we pour millions of pounds into panda conservation.
"I reckon we should pull the plug. Let them go with a degree of dignity." (source)
You read that right. Even though there was serious debate about whether it was worth it to try and prevent California condors from going extinct, they're now a pest in Bear Valley Springs, California.
Flocks of California condors have descended upon Bear Valley Springs.
Residents, who are allowed to do little to chase them away, say the
huge birds peck off roof shingles, damage air conditioners and leave
porches coated in droppings. And although the majestic birds, with a
wingspan of nine feet, are widely admired, the gated community of about
5,200 about 80 miles north of Los Angeles has seen enough of them.
"A lot of people used to think seeing a condor was amazing," local
realtor Beth Hall told FoxNews.com. "After seeing the damage they have
done, they have become less popular with people, myself included." (source)
If Google Maps is showing me the right Bear Valley Springs, there are two reasons why I'm really interested.
First, I spent a lot of time in this area (when there were very few California condors alive). The only known localities of Clarkia tembloriensis subsp. calientensis are in the vicinity of Caliente, just a little north of Bear Springs. There were no California condors in the area when I was working there, but it's nice to imagine seeing one soaring overhead if I ever get back for a visit.
Second, when I was in graduate school there were so few California condors in existence that I remember serious debates among scientists and policy makers who cared deeply about preventing extinctions of endangered species about whether it was worth the time, effort, and money that was being spent to try to save them. It was a reasonable debate to have, and I have to confess that I leaned toward the "It's not worth it side", but it's nice to look back 30+ years later and think that even though the California condor is still endangered it's become a bit of a pest in one tiny piece of its former range.
The Los Angeles Times reported two days ago that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service plans to remove all Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves in the lower 48.
Federal authorities intend to remove endangered species protections for all gray wolves in the Lower 48 states, carving out an a exception for a small pocket of about 75 Mexican wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico, according to a draft document obtained by The Times.
The sweeping rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would eliminate protection for wolves 18 years after the government reestablished the predators in the West, where they had been hunted to extinction. Their reintroduction was a success, with the population growing to the thousands.
Individual states would be left to decide how to manage wolf populations within their borders. Populations in the northern Rockies and Great Lakes seem to be robust (except for those on Isle Royale: source). Those in the Pacific northwest are on less secure footing.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, the former director of the Fish and Wildlife Service and now the president of Defenders of Wildlife, said the decision "reeks of politics" and vowed that it will face multiple legal challenges.
"This is politics versus professional wildlife management," Clark said. "The service is saying, 'We're done. Game over. Whatever happens to wolves in the U.S. is a state thing.' They are declaring victory long before science would tell them to do so."
The rule that would de-list gray wolves is still in draft. FWS is expected to publish the rule in the Federal Register in the next few weeks. Once it does, there will be a comment period. The final rule will probably be published in less than a year.
The northern spotted owl is in danger of extinction. Not only has much of its habitat been destroyed by logging, but the larger, more aggressive barred owl is muscling in on its turf and threatening to displace it (source). In response, the government of British Columbia has decided to put its thumb on the scale and tip the balance back towards the northern spotted owl.
The B.C. government has approved the shooting of one species of owl
in a last-ditch effort to save their endangered cousins, as the number
of northern spotted owls continues to decline decades after they became
the mascot of the "War in the Woods" over old-growth logging.
Northern spotted owls are on the brink of extinction in Canada, with
only 10 birds remaining in the wild in southwestern B.C., according to
The situation is so grave that over the past five years the
provincial Forests and Lands Ministry has relocated 73 and authorized
the shooting of 39 barred owls, the larger and more aggressive bird
encroaching on the spotted owls' limited habitat. (source)
Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the rediscovery of black-footed ferrets in the wild. Now Mike Gutzmer, an Ohio-based biologist with New Century Environmental LLC, reports finding three black-footed ferrets during a survey in South Dakota. They could be members of the first wild colony found since the original rediscovery near Meeteeste, Wyoming in 1981.
The nocturnal surveys started Oct. 1. It took nearly a month to spot a
ferret on the more than 80 acres of land housing 200 prairie dog towns.
Ferrets depend on prairie dogs for food and use their burrows for
On early Halloween morning, a black-footed ferret was spotted. Two more were found the following day.
said the chances that those three ferrets -- one adult and two juveniles
-- were part of a reintroduced colony are slim. The closest
reintroduction sites are 50-100 miles away. (source)
That's very good news, and I'm delighted to share it.
Last Saturday at 8:04pm PDT a 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck off on Moresby Island in the Haida Gwaii archipelago.1 The quake spawned tsunami warnings along the Pacific coast from northern California to southern Alaska and in Hawaii. Fortunately, the waves were small and caused little damage.
On Hot Spring Island, the quake shifted the underground flow of water to the springs.
"The pools are completely dry. There is no sign of any water at the source. So there's three or four pools there and, yeah, completely dry," Mr. Gladstone said Thursday. "The rocks are cold to touch." (Gladstone is the field superintendent of Gwaii Haanas National Park. source)
What does any of this have to do with an endangered bat?
Keen's myotis (Myotis keenii) narrowly distributed along the Pacific Coast from southern Alaska to Puget Sound (Bat Conservation International). It is rarely seen, and little is known about its status. It is thought to roost in tree cavities in old-growth forests, but one population is known from rock crevices warmed by the hot springs on Hot Spring Island.
"These bats come to the island every summer to have their babies and
the roosts at hot springs are one of only two maternal colonies that's
right now known in the entire range of the species," said Carey Bergman,
an ecologist in Gwaii Haanas.
It's uncertain whether the bats will return to Gwaii Hanaas now that the hot springs are gone.
"The roosts that they choose are quite special. They're actually
heated up above ambient temperature by the water that flows under the
island," Bergman said. (source)
Polar bear populations are declining. The IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group provides an interactive visualization showing which subpopulations are stable, which are declining, which are increasing, and which have too little data to project. Their assessment is that only the McClintock Channel subpopulation is increasing.
Last Tuesday, the Zoological Society of London and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature released Priceless or Worthless?, a list of the 100 most endangered plants, animals, and fungi in the world.
If some smidgen of bacterial goo was found on a faraway asteroid, it
would be the discovery of the year, perhaps the century. Life on Earth
would not be alone! Yet when it comes to the life that surrounds us,
people can be remarkably cavalier, even downright callous: What's
another frog species more or less? What's it do for us, anyways? (Wired)
In his introduction to the report Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission has this to say:
The future of many species is going to depend on reconciling the needs of people and nature, and ensuring economic development and conservation do not undermine each other.
If society believes that all species have a right to exist on the planet,then why are 100 of the most threatened species on the planet receiving so little funding or attention? At a time when thousands of species are truly on the edge of extinction, it is time to ask society to take a stand - to declare that the 100 species in this book, and millions of others like them, have the right to exist on this planet.
Head over to the IUCN website for more information and to download a PDF copy of the report for yourself.
I've been involved with the New England Plant Conservation Program almost since the beginning, long enough that I was a member of the Regional Advisory Council when the first version of Flora Conservanda was published in Rhodora.1
I'm pleased to report that a new version of Flora Conservanda has just been published - this time on the web.
Written from a regional perspective, Flora Conservanda: New
England 2012 is the New England Plant Conservation Program (NEPCoP) list of
plants in need of conservation. The list contains plants growing in New England that are globally rare, regionally rare, and
locally rare. It also lists plants that are considered historic to New England
(though they may exist elsewhere in the U.S. or world) and plants whose
status in the region is yet undetermined but are believed to be rare. More
research is needed to properly categorize these latter species.
WASHINGTON - As a result of unprecedented commitments
to voluntary conservation agreements now in place in New Mexico and
Texas that provide for the long-term conservation of the dunes sagebrush
lizard, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the
species does not need to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.
State-led voluntary conservation efforts to protect existing shinnery
oak dune habitat and greatly reduce the impact of oil and gas
development across the species' range now cover over 650,000 acres in
New Mexico and Texas, totaling 88 percent of the lizard's habitat. These
measures also minimize the anticipated impacts of other threats, such
as off-road vehicle traffic, wind and solar development, and increased
predation caused by development.
After a careful analysis of the scientific data and the protections
provided by the voluntary conservation efforts, Service biologists
determined the lizard is no longer in danger of extinction, nor likely
to become endangered in the foreseeable future.
The Service will closely monitor the conservation measures to ensure
they are being implemented and effectively address identified threats.
The Service can reevaluate whether the dunes sagebrush lizard requires
Endangered Species Act protection. (from the press release, Department of the Interior, 13 June 2012)
A year ago, John Cornyn (R-TX) and Steve Pearce (R-NM) tried to stop listing of the dunes sagebrush lizard. In December, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service delayed its final decision for 6 months. I hope that the Service's decision reflects scientific evidence indicating that because of the conservation agreements reached, the lizard is no longer in danger of extinction.
The final determination (PDF) doesn't make me rest easy. The first peer review comment pointed out that the narrow range and specific ecological requirements make the lizard particularly susceptible to extinction. The Service's response:
While having a small geographic range and specialized habitat may make a species more susceptible to threats, we have determined the dunes sagebrush lizard does not meet the definition of an endangered or threatened species because the previous threats have been alleviated. (emphasis added)
The question isn't whether the previous threats have been alleviated. I'm willing to believe the Service when they tell me they have been. The question is whether the species is in danger of extinction, because of its narrow geographical range and specialized requirements. I can't say whether it is or it isn't, because I don't know anything about the lizard, but I worry that the Service's decision depends on shifting the baseline, taking the status quo as OK when it may already represent a degraded condition in which the lizard is likely to go extinct.