tagged w/ Wildlife Biology
Los Angeles Times...
Environmental news from California and beyond
Newhall Ranch developers must not harm California condors, feds say.
June 7, 2011 | 6:12 pm
CALIFORNIA CONDOR NEWHALL
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday said it would not tolerate the harm or killing of an endangered California condor during construction of a proposed Newhall Ranch community of 60,000 residents along the Santa Clara River.
In a long-awaited, 178-page opinion, the agency also said, however, that it would allow the developer to capture and relocate one condor over the next 25 years, if necessary, according to agency wildlife biologist Rick Farris.
“We anticipate that there might some occasion over the 25 years in which a California condor may become attracted to some human activity such as construction of a house,” Farris said. “If it can’t be hazed off the property without hurting it, then they will have to capture it.”
“Additional condors that become habituated to such activities, however, would not be covered by the exemption."
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has questioned whether the Army Corps of Engineers, which is set to permit the development's construction 35 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, has adequately considered its impacts on an array of rare and endangered plants and animals.
The corps is expected soon to issue a Clean Water Act permit authorizing the developer, Newhall Land, to use 20 million cubic yards of excavated soil to fill in wetlands in areas to be developed over the next 20 to 30 years on the 12,000-acre ranch.
Of particular concern to the EPA are plans to fill in much of Potrero Canyon, which includes roosting and foraging grounds for condors.
Adam Keats, spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “I’m pretty happy to hear that the agency will is not going to let them harm one of these magnificent birds.”Los Angeles Times...
Environmental news from California and beyond... more
A Homecoming for Bighorn Sheep in Colorado
Matthew Staver for The New York Times
Photo: Heather Halbritter, a biologist for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, released three bighorn sheep on Wednesday in an area of the Pike National Forest that was devastated by a fire in 2002.
By KIRK JOHNSON
Published: February 18, 2011
SEDALIA, Colo. — The mechanics were simple. A trailer latch popped, a gate swung open and three wild bighorn sheep — two females, presumably pregnant, and a year-old lamb, definitely frisky — trotted up the rocky slope of Thunder Butte under a pale afternoon sun.
It is the back story of the animals’ release this week by wildlife biologists here in the mountains southwest of Denver that can stagger the mind with its complications of coincidence, historical accident, devastation and hope.
A truck breakdown on a highway in February 1946 played a role, believe it or not, as did the biggest Colorado wildfire in memory, the Hayman, in June 2002. The fire roared through the cliffs in the Pike National Forest with flames hundreds of feet high, scouring the land of trees across 138,000 acres.
Human intervention, from the mining boom in the late 1800s, when timber was cut by the trainload for fuel and construction, through the bighorn reintroduction program in the Hayman burn area by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, begun last year, completed the circle of natural and wild that brought the bighorns home. They were last seen in this area in the mid-1960s.
However the pieces fit, biologists and land managers say a bighorn homecoming to the Hayman is a powerful reaffirmation of hope in the West for a creature that has long symbolized the ideals of sure-footed survival in the high lonesome aeries where they evolved and still persist. Sheep restoration began here last year with the first 12 animals and continued with 12 more this month.
“We’re back,” Janet George, a senior biologist at the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said as the animals peered around at their new home (their eyesight is excellent, which is why they stake out rocky perches, the better to spot approaching predators). “This was historically bighorn range, and then it couldn’t sustain a sheep herd any more,” Ms. George said. “And now nine years after the fire, it can again.”
But back to that truck accident. In early 1946, state wildlife managers were hauling 14 bighorns near Colorado Springs, intending to start a herd of transplants near Pikes Peak. When the truck broke down, the animals were instead released right where they were. The 14 pioneers — 10 ewes, 2 rams and 2 lambs — drifted north and established vibrant herd from which the Hayman group was drawn for release.
The accidental but successful herd created the gene pool, and the Hayman fire restored a habitat of treeless rock that bighorns love, and where they seek shelter from predators who cannot match them in cliff-side clambering.
Their agility is partly due to unique hooves that have evolved specifically for climbing rocks, with a hard outer wall and a soft inner wall for traction. Combined with iron-lunged endurance, they can even sometimes evade mountain lions, which are fierce and fast but quickly winded.
It is a life and a niche in the high rocky places, where — crucially — humans usually do not build ranches or mansions, that has allowed the bighorns’ numbers to hold strong along the spine of the Rockies from Colorado through Wyoming, Montana and into Alberta, Canada, each of which has bighorn populations estimated at 7,000 animals or more.
But the Hayman burn site is as much a character in this saga as the animals, and the healing from its giant scar has been slow. On June 8, 2002, a United States Forest Service employee named Terry Barton said that she burned a letter from her estranged husband at a campground, and that the fire spread. Ms. Barton ultimately pleaded guilty to arson and spent six years in prison.
Hayman was also calamitous for Denver’s water system, which has spent millions of dollars rebuilding and cleaning a reservoir in the burn area that became clogged with sediment from eroding soils that were no longer held in place by grasses and trees.
Ms. George, the state biologist, said it would take decades before Thunder Butte became reforested. That is very good news for the sheep, which have survived in part by avoiding forests, where predators like lions can drop from above.
But that is also assuming that the historical cycle of rebirth and growth repeat in the same way. With climate change and planetary warming in the decades to come, Ms. George said, the next-generation forest here might be very different from the one that was erased by Hayman.
Meanwhile, as the three new residents disappeared up into the rocks, another biologist with the Division of Wildlife, Heather Halbritter, was tracking the nine sheep released earlier this month from that same post-1946 group, using the radio-beacon collars they had been fitted with.
“They’re in those rocks, up along the ridgeline,” she said, waving the tracking device and pointing in the very direction the newcomers were going. A herd reunion might be in the offing.
Then the two ewes and their tag-along lamb stopped on a cliff. As if posing for a picture, or assessing the strangely beautiful moonscape of the Hayman, they stood in silhouette.
“That’s what sheep do,” Ms. George said. “They climb out on a rock and look.”A Homecoming for Bighorn Sheep in Colorado
Matthew Staver for The New York Times... more
By Tom Foreman, CNN
June 23, 2010 10:43 a.m. EDT
Fairhope, Alabama (CNN) -- Mark Castlow and Jimbo Meador have a solution for saving the oil-covered birds in the Gulf of Mexico. However, they also have a problem.
I saw the solution firsthand during a quick ride through a Gulf inlet, near Meador's home of Fairhope, Alabama, about a 20-minute drive outside Mobile.
The two co-owners of Florida-based Dragonfly Boatworks have been working at a breakneck pace for weeks to modify the design of their shallow draft fishing boats, turning them into mobile triage units for pelicans, seagulls, and pretty much any kind of critter caught in the catastrophe.
Their concern on the 65th day of the underwater gusher is deep rooted. Castlow, who says he has "salt water in his blood," grew up surfing off Miami and the Keys. Meador, a former shrimper, was raised along Alabama's Gulf shores.
They're keenly aware that each day adds to the death toll of birds and other animals dying in pockets of oil that invade their natural habitat.
"We have to do everything we can to take care of them," said Meador, who said he has a serious interest in the "birding world." "We want to do try to do what's right to help them because they can't help themselves."
Unlike more traditional boats, which have deep keels that bog down when they push into shallow marshlands, the custom Dragonfly boats can operate in less than a foot of water.
Their broad hulls create very little wake that might further alarm wildlife; and they've even been painted a light green color to blend better with their surroundings.
On board, Castlow and Meador have added a whole set of tools to help wildlife rescuers: a large, skid-proof worktable for crews to handle animals, an adjustable shade canopy which can be easily lowered to slip beneath bayou tree branches, fine mist nozzles to cool the scorching summer temperatures for workers and critters. The oil won't hamper the boat's engines, thanks to a special cleaning solution.
The men consulted wildlife biologists and other scientists as they rushed to make the improvements, and they've found big donors, like Florida musician Jimmy Buffett, who are willing to help them make the boats available to rescuers free of charge.
The vessels will be outfitted with wireless Internet access, and plans are in the works to team up with Google Earth to enable anyone to track the boats online in real time. Onboard Web cameras donated by a group in Houston, Texas, will allow classrooms or anyone else to watch rescuers in action.
So far, Buffett has funded construction of one prototype boat, according to the duo. The plan is to produce a new boat every seven days from here on out. After the cleanup, the animal rescue groups will be allowed to keep the boats for use in research projects.
No one will make money off of the deal, but the animals could benefit immensely, including brown pelicans, a species native to the eastern Gulf which has fallen victim to the oil. Brown pelicans spent almost 40 years on the endangered species list until last year.
Salvaging just a few of the birds is so vital to the survival of the species, said Lee Hollingsworth, a wildlife adviser with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Wales. "Something has got to be done, and of course, it's worth saving the bird."
Every day adds to the death toll of the region's birds and other animals. According to a June 22 report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, rescue officials have collected 1,746 birds along the coastline from Louisiana to Florida. Of those, 749 were alive and "visibly oiled." Another 997 were found dead, and 265 of those were visibly oiled. Birds that were found alive and then euthanized numbered 143. The report states BP's Deepwater Horizon spill is not responsible for all dead birds.
Although the vessels have been praised by wildlife experts, including marine biologists at the University of Southern Mississippi, Castlow and Meador say they've run into dead ends trying to get their boats into the hands of animal rescuers.
They've called federal authorities and BP too, but they say no one seems able to willing to tell them how and when the boats might be put to work.
Castlow and Meador call their support network the DEA, the Dragonfly Environmental Army, which is made up of those who have extended a helping hand, which include suppliers, donors and volunteers. They're hoping the combined forces of their group can break through the bureaucracy and get their boats in the hands of animal rescuers.
It is frustrating to both men, but they say they've been so encouraged by wildlife experts who have universally praised their innovation, that they're pressing on, convinced that no less than the lives of thousands of birds are at stake, and the future of their beloved Gulf too.
"And we're going to get all of these people, and we are going to break that ceiling," said Castlow. "And we will go through it -- because it's our livelihood."
CNN's Katie Ross and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this reportBy Tom Foreman, CNN
June 23, 2010 10:43 a.m. EDT
Fairhope, Alabama (CNN) -- Mark... more
All along the Oregon coast over the last month, hundreds of brown pelicans have turned up dead, starving or begging for food.
As many as 1,000 of the gangly seabirds failed to make their annual fall migration to California, many instead winding up at Oregon's rehabilitation centers.
Those that did head south, leaving the Pacific Northwest winter behind, were battered by California's recent storms. Shelters in San Pedro and the San Francisco Bay Area are also full of emaciated pelicans.
Researchers, at a loss to explain the casualties, are looking at unusual ocean currents and the depletion of fish stocks -- as well as warmer temperatures, toxic runoff and algae blooms -- as possible causes.
Meanwhile, pelicans are sitting listlessly on beaches and scavenging outside restaurants and canneries.
"In one parking lot, there were people in cars surrounded by pelicans asking for food. We have never seen that before," said Roy Lowe, project leader for the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex. "These birds literally have lost all fear of humans."