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New Report Highlights Ten American Species Our Children May Never See

 Monarch Butterflies Have Declined by More Than 90 Percent

 

Washington, D.C. – Our children are less likely to see monarch butterflies, a bumblebee, and a host of other once-common wildlife species due to farm pesticides, declining ocean health, climate change and dirty energy production, according to a new report by the Endangered Species Coalition. The report, Vanishing: Ten American Species Our Children May Never See, highlights ten disappearing species and the causes of their dramatic population declines. Additionally, the report identifies everyday actions that people can take to help slow the disappearance of our nation’s iconic wildlife. The report can be viewed and downloaded from the website: vanishingwildlife.org 

“With each passing day, our children are less and less likely to experience the full beauty of nature and see the kind of wildlife that baby boomers, Gen Xers, and even Millennials experienced,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “We owe it to our future generations of Americans to protect our vanishing wildlife and the special places they call home.”

According to the report, up to a billion monarch butterflies used to color our skies each summer, yet only about 33 million remain – a decline of more than 90 percent. Additionally, the once-common little brown bat has been decimated by the fungal disease, White-nose syndrome, and is now virtually extinct in the Northeast United States. Finally, the rusty-patched bumblebee, an important pollinator, has disappeared across 87 percent of its range, and diseases are thought to be responsible.

Coalition member groups nominated wildlife species in the report. A committee of distinguished scientists reviewed the nominations, and decided which species should be included in the report. “Scientists agree that climate change is a huge threat in many direct and indirect ways to species diversity and survival,” said Dr. Jan Randall, Professor Emeritus of Biology at San Francisco State University, and chair of the scientific advisory committee for the report.

“As the situation for many species grows ever more dire, our direct actions are able to rescue some of them from extinction,” said Dr. Peter Raven, President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden. “This list should inspire hope and at the same time lead us to devote full attention to the species most in need.”

The ten species in the report are the mountain yellow-legged frog, monarch butterfly, North Pacific right whale, great white shark, little brown bat, whitebark pine, rusty patched bumblebee, greater sage-grouse, polar bear, and the Snake River sockeye salmon.

“Snake River sockeye are among the highest and farthest migrating salmon on the planet – climbing 6,000 feet in elevation and 900 miles against the current to return to their spawning grounds,” said Sam Mace, Inland Northwest Program Director for the Save Our wild Salmon Coalition. “We are the last generation that can save these extraordinary fish from extinction.”

“The monarch butterfly is a part of almost every child’s summer experience,” said Sarina Jepsen, endangered species program director at the Xerces Society. “The loss of such a widespread butterfly suggests that we are changing our landscape at an unprecedented scale.” 

“When species like monarch butterflies and whitebark pine are in trouble, that means we’re all in trouble, because they’re leading indicators of the health of the planet,” said Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “By acting now to conserve these animals and plants for future generations, we will also be restoring our natural heritage and creating a safer, healthier world for all.”

“This report does a great service by calling attention to the fact that species are vanishing before our eyes, including species like the little brown bat, which are underappreciated and, despite their small size, are of enormous value to our ecosystem,” said Cathy Liss, President of the Animal Welfare Institute.

The Endangered Species Coalition has also produced a slide show to accompany the report, featuring stunning photos of each of the ten species in the report. The Coalition produces a “Top 10” report annually, focusing on a different theme each year. Previous years’ reports are also available on the Coalition’s website.

The Ten American Species Our Children May Never See:

 

Mountain yellow-legged frog

Ninety-five percent of the Sierra Nevada and Southern California mountain yellow-legged frog populations have gone extinct due to human degradation of their habitats. Lakes we’ve stocked with trout are devoid of tadpoles, and pesticide contamination causes mutations, sterility, and death. More than 1,800 species of frogs currently face extinction.

Contact: Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity, 928-522-3681, tcurry@biologicaldiversity.org                  

 

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterflies are totally dependent on milkweed for survival, but the wide-spread use of pesticides is killing off milkweed across millions of acres of the monarch’s core summer habitat. Climate change and illegal logging in their Mexican winter refuge further imperils the monarch’s survival.

Contact: Sarina Jepsen, Xerces Society, 971-244-3727, sarina@xerces.org

 

North Pacific right whale

The North Pacific right whale is the most endangered whale on Earth; there may be as few as thirty remaining in U.S. waters. Lack of genetic diversity and diminishing food sources due to climate change are major threats, but human activities—oil spills, ship strikes, and the Navy’s live sonar testing—may be sounding the death knell for this marine mammal.

Contact: Bill Rossiter, Cetacean Society, 203-770-8615, rossiter@csiwhalesalive.org                  

 

Great white shark

Only about 350 adult great white sharks remain off the coasts of California and Mexico. Hunting these sharks is illegal, but hundreds of young sharks are inadvertently caught in fishing nets and die each year. Great white sharks are the largest predatory fish and are important to maintaining balance in their ocean ecosystem.

Contact: Amelia Vorpahl, Oceana, 202-467-1918, avorpahl@oceana.org

 

Little brown bat

Little brown bats are in peril due to white-nose syndrome, an illness caused by a deadly fungus from Europe. These bats are virtually extinct in their core Northeast range, and up to 99 percent have died in affected areas. Weakened immune systems due to pesticide exposure and human disturbance in their caves are also factors in their demise.

Contact: Katie Gilles, 512-327-9721, Bat Conservation International, kgillies@batcon.org; Amey Owen, Animal Welfare Institute, 301-706-1390, amey@awionline.org.

 

Whitebark pine

Whitebark pine forests used to be plentiful high in the Rockies, but climate change has allowed beetle infestations and fungal disease to destroy these trees. More than 100 species depended on this pine for shelter and food, and the pine’s shading limbs regulated snow melt well into summer.

Contact: Sylvia Fallon, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202-513-6246, sfallon@nrdc.org

 

Rusty patched bumblebee

The rusty patched bumblebee is a critical pollinator. Its “buzz pollination” produces tomatoes that are consistently larger and sweeter than those produced by other pollination techniques. The rusty patched bumblebee is threatened by diseases from commercial bumble bees. All bumblebees face threats from the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on plants that can even make their nectar and pollen toxic.

Contact: Sarina Jepsen, Xerces Society, 971-244-3727, sarina@xerces.org

 

Greater sage-grouse

The greater sage-grouse’s habitat once encompassed nearly 300 million acres, but their range has declined dramatically as humans have moved in to graze livestock and drill for oil and gas, without regard for sage-grouse habitat needs. Hundreds of miles of roads have fragmented sage-grouse populations, which are in peril due to aggressive degradation of their habitat.

Contact: Steve Holmer, American Bird Conservancy, 202-888-7490, sholmer@abcbirds.org; Mark Salvo, Defenders of Wildlife, msalvo@defenders.org

 

Polar bear

Polar bears are entirely dependent on ice for fishing, and a large adult requires an average of 4 to 5 pounds of seal blubber every day just to maintain its weight. But as climate change alters their habitat, they are being forced inland for denning, breeding, and feeding.

Contact: Contact: Shaye Wolf, Center for Biological Diversity, 415-632-5301, swolf@biologicaldiversity.org

 

Snake River sockeye salmon

Federal dams block the lower Snake River, making it almost impossible for these salmon to migrate to their spawning grounds high in the Rocky Mountains. These are the most endangered salmon in the world, but scientists agree that they can make a comeback if the river is unblocked so they can complete their life cycle by migrating to and from Redfish Lake.

Contact: Sam Mace, Save Our Wild Salmon, 509-863-5696, sam@wildsalmon.org

 

For more information please contact Derek Goldman, dgoldman@endangered.org (406) 721-3218 or Tara Thornton, tthornton@endangered.org (207) 268-2108.

 

 

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Red Wolf Recovery at Critical Junction

This is a guest post from conservation biologist Justin Bohling. The USFWS is currently evaluating the future of the Red Wolf Recovery Program and is accepting public comments. Please take action to support the continued operation of the program here.

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We have reached a critical junction in the recovery of the critically endangered red wolf (Canis rufus). The story of the red wolf is a complicated one, which has likely contributed to its anonymity. Historically distributed across the southeastern United States, the species was extirpated from much of range due to habitat loss and overharvest. Remnant populations then became threatened by hybridization with coyotes, which expanded in range as the red wolf disappeared. In the 1970s biologists identified only 14 remaining wild red wolves in the species’ last stronghold in a coastal region on the Texas-Louisiana border. Those individuals were transported to Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, WA and the species was declared extinct in the wild in 1980. 

Just inland from the famed Outer Banks, the five-county Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula in eastern North Carolina was selected as the location for the first red wolf reintroduction program. At the time, there were no coyotes present in this area. The first wolves were released in 1987 and the population grew slowly. Soon coyotes rapidly colonized the state and in 1993 the first hybridization event between a red wolf and coyote was documented. In response, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and scientists developed an aggressive management strategy to prevent the red wolf from disappearing once again. Since the management program was implemented in 2000, the red wolf population has grown to 80-100 individuals and hybridization with coyotes has been limited.

 Despite these successes, the program has suffered recent setbacks. Hunting of coyotes in North Carolina is relatively unrestricted. Although it is illegal to purposefully kill a red wolf, it is allowable to claim a defense of mistaken identity. Red wolves are similar in appearance to coyotes and consequently are occasionally killed. Recently the state allowed the hunting of coyotes at night, which likely exacerbates this problem. Deaths of red wolves from gunshot have increased over time. Not only does this reduce the red wolf population, but it may facilitate hybridization with coyotes by disrupting stable breeding pairs.

 Several conservation organizations have sued the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission over its approach to coyote management, which they argue threatens red wolf conservation. A federal judge recently issued an injunction restricting coyote hunting in the five-county recovery area. In response, the state submitted a request to the US Fish and Wildlife Service to evaluate the red wolf program and determine the future of recovery efforts. This includes the possibility of terminating the program.

 Along with returning a rare species to the wild, the program has been an inspiration for the recovery of other endangered species worldwide. Given the precarious nature of the red wolf, field and zoo biologists had to experiment with novel techniques to facilitate the preservation of this species. Managers at the Point Defiance Zoo utilized ground-breaking techniques in captive breeding and reproductive biology to manage the small population that are now commonplace in zoos. The red wolf program is one of the first efforts to reintroduce a species into the wild using individuals bred in captivity. Biologists honed techniques such as soft-releases and acclimation periods. Another strategy was the release of captive-born red wolves to isolated islands along the coast of the Southeast US. These islands, which are relatively free of human disturbance, provided wolves the opportunity to learn ‘how to be wild’ while ensuring their safety.

The management strategy itself is an incredible achievement. Combining field surveys with genetic monitoring to limit hybridization is a revolutionary approach. Non-invasive genetic sampling, which involves collecting DNA from biological material such as feces, has been instrumental to monitoring efforts. Researchers using genetics reconstructed the pedigree for the wild wolf population, a feat that provided unprecedented information on the life history of these animals. The Fish and Wildlife Service also experimented with sterilizing coyotes they captured to serve as territorial “placeholders” that would exclude fertile coyotes from colonizing the region. To provide the population with a boost of genetic diversity, federal biologists place captive-born pups into wild litters, a process known as “cross-fostering”. This practice has been adopted by other endangered species recovery programs.

 The red wolf program provided a template for the reintroduction of wolves to the western US. Recovery of this species involved a collaborative effort involving federal agencies, wildlife biologists, private landowners, the zoo community, academic researchers, conservation organizations, and additional partners. The recovery program should be trumpeted not only for its achievements in advancing red wolf restoration but inspiring similar efforts across the globe.

 As part of the review process, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has requested the public to submit comments regarding their thoughts on the red wolf program. The comment period is open until September 12th and several public meetings will be held. Canceling the program would give the red wolf the dubious distinction of being the first species declared extinct in the wild twice. Twenty-seven years of recovery and innovation have demonstrated the value of this program and it is critical that these efforts be continued.


Justin Bohling is a conservation biologist interested in advancing conservation strategies addressing the threats posed by hybridization and genetic introgression. His PhD dissertation received from the University of Idaho focused on red wolf biology and recovery. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Université Montpellier 2 in France.

New Zealand Government Willfully Allowing Extinction of Native Dolphins

Zoe Helene Interviews World Expert Scientist Dr. Elisabeth “Liz” Slooten

This is a guest post from animal rights advocate Zoe Helene (@zoehelene), who interviewed world expert scientist and New Zealander Dr. Elisabeth “Liz” Slooten.

This iconic shot of a beautiful little leaping New Zealand dolphin is by marine scientist Will Rayment

The New Zealand government is willfully allowing the extinction of their own native dolphin species, the endangered Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori) and the critically endangered Maui’s Dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui). New Zealand marine scientist Dr. Elisabeth “Liz” Slooten  is doing everything she can to stop it.

A member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Cetacean Specialist Group  and former New Zealand representative on the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission  and the Otago University Marine Mammal Research Group, Slooten is a tireless researcher and the world’s leading expert on New Zealand’s native Maui’s dolphin, whose population has plummeted from 2,000 in 1970 to about 50 today. That perilously low number means the species could go extinct at any moment; the only two classifications worse than “critically endangered” are ”extinct in the wild” and “extinct.” Period. End of story. At this critical moment in history, the world needs to wake up quickly and pressure New Zealand do something before it’s too late.

Slooten is waking up the world with indisputable science about how shockingly unsustainable gill and trawl net fishing methods, which catch the dolphins in nets and kill them as “bycatch,” are pushing the dolphins into extinction. “What is it about the words ‘critically endangered’ that the decision-makers don’t understand?” she says. “This extinction is totally avoidable.”

Because the current government in New Zealand refuses to protect the dolphins, the nation’s upcoming 2014 General Elections on September 20 will be a critical moment for the their survival. Animal rights activist and correspondent Zoe Helene talks to Slooten about what’s at stake.

Is it true that the powers-that-be in the New Zealand government are knowingly supporting the extinction of New Zealand’s only endemic species of dolphin? And that they’ve been fully aware of the rapid decline since 1970?

Yes. The population is declining rapidly. There were 140 in 1985, 111 in 2004. Right now there are only about 50 left—some 20 breeding females!

When did the crisis first come to light?

We first started to realize this was a problem in the 1970s. By the mid 1980s it was abundantly clear that Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins were declining rapidly due to bycatch. The first draft of a recovery plan for Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins was written in the 1990s.

Roughly, what are the statistics of decline?

Hector’s dolphins have declined from around 30,000 individuals in 1970 to fewer than 8,000 today. Maui’s dolphins have declined from around 1,000 individuals to fewer than 80 individuals today (the latest population estimate is 50).

There are only two classifications worse than “critically endangered,” and they are “extinct in the wild” and “extinct,” full stop. Could the species go extinct?

The Maui’s dolphin could go extinct at any moment and certainly within a decade or two if we keep killing them in fishing nets. Hector’s dolphins would continue to slide from “endangered” to “critically endangered.” Several Hector’s dolphin populations (e.g. on the north and south coasts of the South Island) are already in the same situation as Maui’s dolphin.

This extinction is totally avoidable. We don’t even need to do anything complicated like habitat protection, supplementary feeding or anything like that. All we need to do is stop killing these dolphins in fishing nets. 

It’s incredibly urgent to allow the Maui’s dolphin population to recover to at least several hundred individuals as soon as possible. Every day that they remain at the dangerously low population size where they are now is another very serious risk. They could disappear at any time, without further warning.

This extinction would set a precedent. New Zealand would go down in history as the first nation to extinguish a marine dolphin.

The Maui’s dolphin would be the first marine dolphin to go extinct at the hands of humans. Even during the great whaling era, humans didn’t quite manage to completely wipe out any whale or dolphin species.

New Zealand is already infamous for wiping out the Moa (Dinornis robustus) and the Haast’s Eagle (Harpagornis moorei). The Maui’s Dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) would be the third human-caused extinction in New Zealand. As a New Zealander, how does that make you feel?

Ashamed. Many international marine mammal scientists are looking to New Zealand to do the right thing. Really, if we cannot protect a critically endangered species that is found only here in New Zealand, then we might as well all go home and give up.

Is this extinction avoidable?

This extinction is totally avoidable. We don’t even need to do anything complicated like habitat protection, supplementary feeding or anything like that. All we need to do is stop killing these dolphins in fishing nets. We don’t even need to stop fishing. Selective, sustainable fishing methods are already available. Making the transition to these dolphin-safe fishing methods would benefit not only dolphins but also seabirds, sharks and fish. Within a few years this would actually bring economic benefits to the New Zealand fishing industry. They are just stuck in denial and thinking only about short-term profits rather than the long-term survival of their own industry.

Are there ways to fish without harming the dolphins?

Yes, absolutely! Many alternative fishing methods are available. These include fish traps and a range of hook-and-line methods. These are already being used around New Zealand and in other parts of the world. The vast majority of marine recreational fishers (a ministry of fisheries study estimates more than 90 percent) do not use gillnets. Changing to selective, sustainable fishing methods will benefit not only dolphins, but also seabirds and fish stocks. This will be in the long-term economic interests of the fishing industry.  

The last time the New Zealand government put significant protective measures in place, the SeaFood Industry Council (SeaFIC) New Zealand’s coalition of seafood industry corporations, sued for “loss of revenues.” For a remote island country with just shy of 4.5 million citizens, SeaFIC seems like an overwhelming force. Do you feel free to speak openly to national and/or international media?

Sure, I speak out openly. As a scientist, I base my comments on the biological reality of the situation. The problem is that the decision makers are not really interested in the science. 

In an ideal situation, what protection measures need to be in place to save both the Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins?

Every relevant group of scientists in New Zealand and internationally has now supported protection for Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins out to the 100-meter depth contour.

Does the government understand this?

The current government has ignored advice from the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission, (200 international whale and dolphin experts), the IUCN and the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group(about 100 members) the Society for Marine Mammalogy (2,000 members) and the New Zealand Marine Sciences Society  (about 250 members). All of these scientists agree that Maui’s dolphins and the species as a whole (Hector’s dolphins) range offshore to the 100-meter depth contour. The scientific consensus is that Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins should be protection to the 100-meter depth contour (or at least to 20 nautical miles offshore).

New Zealand’s SeaFood Industry Council’s positioning statement is basically, “we simply don’t have enough good independent data on the dolphins.”

After more than 30 years of research on Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins, there’s more than enough scientific data showing their population number and reasons they’re in rapid decline. The Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (http://www.iwc.int/scmain) recommended last year that there should be no more research done on Maui’s dolphins. They repeated the same advice this year. The New Zealand government has totally ignored the IWC recommendations.

In fact, we have much more data on this conservation problem than for almost every other dolphin in the world. Dr. Andy Read, a marine mammal scientist from Duke University, visited New Zealand a few years ago and said exactly that. In a talk to New Zealand decision makers, he said the Hector’s dolphin was an “exceptionally well-studied species” and the time had come to act and protect these dolphins. Likewise, the Society for Marine Mammalogy, in a letter to the New Zealand government in January 2013, said that, “Scientists from New Zealand and elsewhere have provided an exceptionally strong scientific basis for managing fisheries to prevent the extinction of Maui’s dolphins.”This is not the time to continue to call for “more research.” This is the time to put in place effective protection measures.

How does echolocation work and why can’t dolphins use it to detect nets? 

Dolphins use echo-location to locate their prey – it’s like seeing with sound. Dolphins send out a stream of high-frequency clicking noises, and when the sound strikes an object it bounces back and the dolphin can tell by listening what the object is—what kind of fish it is, how far away it is and how fast it’s moving. In familiar areas, their echo-location is turned off, which means they cannot always detect dangers.

What happens when a dolphin drowns in one of these nets?

Unlike humans, dolphins actively decide to breathe. When humans are knocked unconscious, they keep breathing. An unconscious dolphin stops breathing. They usually just don’t breathe and run out of air. Drowning is not a nice way to die. A dolphin caught in a net struggles madly to try to escape. At the end of this struggle, the dolphin suffocates. It would take up to five minutes or so to die.

Do other dolphins try to help the dolphin that’s caught in the net? 

If there are other dolphins around they will often try to release the entangled dolphin. We’ve seen one dolphin that had died in a gillnet that was covered in fresh toothrakes, many of which were bleeding. It seems that the other dolphins in the group tried to get this dolphin out of the net and failed. We have also seen a dolphin calf that was caught in a net with a lot of toothrakes on it, indicating that the mother had tried to get her calf out of the net. That was such a sad sight.

“The calf needs a couple of years with mum, to learn how to use its sophisticated echolocation system, find fish, avoid sharks, the social rules of dolphin society and other important survival skills. These are very sophisticated animals in terms of their biology, communication system and social organization. Like humans, much of this information is learned.” - Liz Sloten

What happens to an orphaned baby dolphin when his or her mother drowns in a net?

Usually an orphaned calf dies.

Many—maybe even most—people don’t understand that other species teach their children, just like we do. 

The calf needs a couple of years with mum, to learn how to use its sophisticated echolocation system, find fish, avoid sharks, the social rules of dolphin society and other important survival skills. These are very sophisticated animals in terms of their biology, communication system and social organization. Like humans, much of this information is learned. 

The New Zealand Department of Tourism is funded and controlled by the National Party, the current party in power in Parliament, led by Prime Minister John Key. Key is also the (self-appointed) Minister of Tourism. In light of the readily available information around this issue, his “100% Pure New Zealand”  international advertising campaign seems painfully hypocritical and intentionally misleading. How long do you think it will take for intelligent tourists to wake up to this?

Many tourists are already waking up to this. I think this will start to hurt the tourism industry within a few years, unless the government gets serious about protecting its endemic dolphins. If we lose our reputation as a clean, green, sustainable country, this will also make people overseas reluctant to buy any New Zealand products. 

Strictly from a savvy business/brand perspective, it seems rational to flip the situation around and not only protect the dolphin but promote the dolphin as a treasure found only in New Zealand?

Absolutely. We are looking to green business leaders to help with this.

Does pressure from outside of New Zealand help?

So far, international pressure has had a much stronger effect than local pressure. It’s partly to do with New Zealand’s desire to become a member of the United Nations Security Council. New Zealand is very sensitive to any criticism from other countries but almost completely insensitive to the wishes of its own citizens.

People outside New Zealand can write to prominent politicians (and/or newspapers, blogs, Facebook sites, etc.) to say that if New Zealand doesn’t immediately protect its endangered, endemic dolphins, then they will cancel their next holiday to New Zealand and stop buying New Zealand fish and other New Zealand products.

Why don’t more New Zealanders know about their own endemic dolphin? Why isn’t this common knowledge, and something to be proud of? Why isn’t it taught in schools? What’s the disconnect—really?

That’s a good question. There certainly are a lot more people who know about them now. The book Dolphins Down Under: Understanding the New Zealand Dolphin has helped, and there’s a lot of discussion online and lots of public talks. But still, a surprising number of people don’t seem to know about New Zealand’s own dolphin.

What can New Zealand citizens do to help?

Please vote!!!

From the dolphin’s perspective, how important is the general election on September 20?

This election is extremely important. TheNational Party has made it very clear that it will do nothing more to protect Maui’s or Hector’s dolphins. Therefore, if they get back into government, there will be no progress. Hector’s dolphins may be sufficiently large to cope with another three years of population decline. Maui’s dolphins would be very unlikely to make it.

If we get a change of government, that would change everything. We will either end up with a continuation of the current, right wing government dominated by the National Party or we may end up with a left-wing government that includes the Labour Party and several smaller parties including the Green Party, Maori Party and Internet Mana Party. Labour Party politicians have put in place 94 percent of the protection for Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins.

Young Kiwi voters could rock the vote in the upcoming Elections!

Only about 50 percent of young people in New Zealand vote. If we can get them to register to vote (ASAP) and then to actually vote (on 20 September), that would make a huge difference.

What about eating fish?

Provide information outside your supermarket or fish shop. Also, when you buy fish, ask how it was caught (and don’t buy it if you don’t get a sensible answer or the answer is “in a net”).

You’ve tirelessly focused on this issue for decades. Do you still have hope?

Absolutely! Things would have been much worse without the protection measures that have been put in place in the last 30 years. All we need now is one more push to ensure Maui’s dolphins are not lost forever and Hector’s dolphins don’t keep sliding toward the same fate.


ONLINE RESOURCES:

New Zealand Whale & Dolphin Trust (http://www.whaledolphintrust.org.nz)

Resources for Helping to Save New Zealand’s Native Dolphin (http://www.cosmicsister.com/nzdolphin)

Photo of New Zealand Mother and Calf by Steve Dawson

Photo of New Zealand Dolphin Jumping Will Rayment

Zoe Helene (zoehelene.com) is a media correspondent and advocate for women, wildlife and wilderness. She spent 10 influential years growing up in Aotearoa, the Maori word for New Zealand, which means The Land of the Long White Cloud. Zoe works with leading activists, scientists and environmental organizations across the globe to save species such as the critically endangered Maui’s Dolphin and endangered Hector’s dolphin from extinction. Hector’s and Maui’s are New Zealand’s only native dolphins. Zoe, like the native Maori, considers them taonga, a treasure to protect and cherish.

States acting to ban ivory, protect elephants

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took a strong stand for elephants and rhinos this month by signing into law a ban on ivory and rhino horn trafficking in the state. New Jersey’s location and ports allow it to be a hub of ivory trading, making this decision even more important. This law is one of the first of its kind in the country, and sets penalties for importing, selling or purchasing any ivory or rhinoceros horn product. This law also serves to close loopholes in federal law that allow a great deal of ivory product to be disguised and traded as antique.

The total population of African elephants is estimated to be only 420,000, down from 1.2 million in 1980, with poaching incidents decreasing that number daily. Although China, where ivory prices have tripled since 2010, is the largest retail consumer of ivory, the United States comes in a close second. The best way that the United States can work to protect these species is by completely banning ivory and rhino horn sales. International efforts to work with Thailand, China, and others to close their ivory markets are also vital. Without change, extinction could be imminent. Many organizations on the ground in Africa are also working to protect these species through the use of anti-poaching units and by rehabilitating and releasing orphaned elephants and rhinos (dswt.org).

black-rhinoceros-11282318477XvGOThe importance of protecting elephants and other native African animals cannot be disputed. Not only have elephants been shown to be sentient and empathetic beings, they also have an important niche in their ecosystems. They play a vital role in regulating vegetation and use their large footprints, tusks and trunks to create pools that serve as sources of water for many other species.  Non-consumptive wildlife tourism, such as photographic safaris, also brings a large and sustainable source of revenue to African communities. Studies show that a live wild elephant brings more revenue to a country in its lifetime than is made through its tusks or trophy hunting. This makes conserving rhinos, elephants, and other native animals even more important. 

Not only is this historic law a win for these endangered species, it is also an important matter of national security as the ivory trade has been strongly linked to terrorist activity. On World Elephant Day August 12th, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a similar, but less stringent, ban into law. The federal government is also seemingly taking action to protect elephants and rhinos, as they proposed new regulations earlier this year and reportedly may release stricter rules this summer. These are encouraging steps forward in the fight against poaching and wildlife trafficking.

Hopefully, states such as California, Florida, and Illinois with port areas and large populations will be the next to take strong and decisive action against the trade in ivory and rhino horn by enacting similar bans. This, along with steps taken by the federal government to eliminate the ivory trade could help prevent African elephants and rhinos from facing extinction in our lifetimes.

 


You can take action by asking President Obama to end the legal trade in all ivory.

Would Aldo Leopold support the FWS plan to delist wolves?

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.” -Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold was a scientist, author, and environmentalist known most widely for his book, A Sand County Almanac. Leopold’s works and his words made him one of the forefathers of the conservation movement and he was specifically influential in recognizing the ethical role that society has in conserving wildlife and wild places. His work at the time was visionary, and he continues to be a guiding force in conservation more than 50 years after his death.

USFWS Director Dan Ashe recently asserted in a conversation on twitter that Leopold is “his hero”:

And that he agrees with Leopold about the role wolves play:

In less than 140 characters, Director Ashe both endorses Leopold’s vision of wolves sustaining a healthy landscape and defends turning over management of wolves to “state partners.” The track record of state partners in conserving wolves in a manner in keeping with the above Leopold quote is unquestionably mixed.

While some states where wolves are still protected under federal law (California, Illinois) have taken it upon themselves to ensure that gray wolves are protected from being once again extirpated from within their borders, other states where wolves no longer have those protections have enacted policies that may not be in keeping with Leopold’s vision.

Idaho, specifically, has slaughtered entire packs of wolves in an attempt to bolster elk populations. It has gone so far as to pass a law creating what it calls a “Wolf Control Board” that will spend up to $2 million of Idaho taxpayers’ money to kill most of the wolves in state.

Is this what Director Ashe has in mind when he refers to “success w/state partners”? We asked (twice) and have yet to receive a reply.

As of today, the Service is still proposing to strip virtually all wolves in the lower 48 states of Endangered Species Act protections. Wolves in states where they have recovered are expanding, and need the protections that allowed previous generations to begin to thrive. Wolves have been spotted (and killed) in states like Iowa and KentuckyJourney and his pups are thriving in Western Oregon. Director Ashe proposes stripping all of these wolves of protections.

So would Leopold approve? Director Ashe again asserts strongly that his policies that have allowed Idaho to pay hired killers to go into national wilderness areas to trap and kill two entire packs of wolves  and Wyoming to make it legal to shoot wolves on sight throughout most of the state are successes.

Director Ashe boldly claims that Leopold would “celebrate this success too”:

We can’t know if that’s true. But we do know that the success that both we and Director Ashe agree on — the recovery of wolves in some states from local extinction — owes itself to the protections of the Endangered Species Act. It’s these protections that Director Ashe is seeking to strip from wolves in most of the United States. Until FWS state partners recognize and demonstrate that the protection of wolves is an important part of their mission—unlike Idaho which declared it intends to decimate wolves and their pups down to their lowest possible numbers—we and other conservationists will continue to call on Director Ashe to keep wolves on the endangered species list.

Technology joins the fight against poaching

Technology is bringing new options to combat poaching in Africa.

This is a guest post by Chris Solomon. The post originally appeared on the website Global Risk Insights.

Elephant poaching is on the rise, and the international demand for illegal ivory continues to grow. In China, the ivory trade is extremely profitable; a single elephant tusk weighing 6 pounds can go for $12,700. The business in China is undergoing a crackdown and has largely moved online. In the United States, it is estimated that 30% of the ivory on the market is illegal.

Tsavo Trust, a wild life nonprofit in Tsavo East National Park in Kenya, recently announced that the internationally famed elephant Satao, a tusker, was killed by poachers. Every year around 25-35,000 elephants in Africa are killed for their tusks. Rhinos are also a huge target: more than 1,000 were killed in South Africa alone.

The battle against poaching is becoming increasingly militarized, and the demand for ivory is making the jobs of park rangers in Sub-Saharan Africa extremely dangerous. In the Democracy Republic of Congo (DRC), there are allegations that the dreaded LRA rebel movement led by Joseph Kony is taking part in poaching to restock on food and weapons. US Marines are even being deployed to train rangers in Chad’s Zakouma National Park, and Interpol is expanding its operations in East Africa to tackle the growing problem.

But new innovation and technology is at the forefront of the fight to protect endangered animals. The Wildlife Conservation Society is testing the use of surveillance drones, but costs of $200,000, short flight times, and light payloads leave more to be desired.

David S. Wilkie, WCS Director of Conservation Support, hopes that older model drones obtained from militaries will soon prove useful. He said, “If we can deploy ex-military–style craft with long flight times, durable airframes and [radar-] capable payloads, we will see tangible evidence of drones’ utility for protecting the safety and lives of park and community guards, and increase poacher arrests and crime prevention.”

A project in Ol Pejeta Conservancy worked in conjunction with the US firm Airware to utilize surveillance drones from in in Central Kenya. Ol Pejeta’s Public Relations Manager Elodie Sampere explained, “To avoid the need for Ol Pejeta to employ full-time pilots and engineers, Airware has developed a simple digital mapping interface, meaning that even a technophobe with no pilot training should be able to control the drone from the ground station.”

She also noted that it would greatly enhance the park’s ability to accurately track the number of wildlife in the region. However, drones may not always be the best option. The project was blocked by the Kenyan government due to security concerns.

rhinosOther ideas may be better suited for the task. Rainforest Connection (RFCx), a Kickstarter pilot project based in San Francisco, is using recycled smart phones to create an anti-deforestation/anti-poaching detection system.

Teaming up with the Zoological Society of London, RFCx plans to use retired Android phones to send alerts in real-time to authorities when an illegal action is taking place.

Topher White, the head of RFCx, explained, “It’s clear that real-time awareness and intervention is a major missing piece in protecting the world’s last remaining rainforests. By using old smartphones and existing telecommunications infrastructure, we have built a system that we think could scale quickly enough to make a real impact.”

Just like the illegal drug trade, ivory smugglers are shifting tactics and routes. A large load of ivory was recently confiscated in Togo, a country with less than 65 elephants. Criminals are also turning to Mozambique’s airport in Maputo since Johannesburg is more activity patrolled.

Game Wardens in Sabi Sand, South Africa are turning to non-lethal pink dyes to protect rhinos. People who consume the rhino horn powder for traditional/religious purposes will become ill with nausea. The dye is also able to be detected by scanners in airports. However, criminals may not care about the consumers of rhino horns and could bleach the horns to continue selling them.

scalloped-hammerhead-shark-credit-barry-peters-wikimedia-commons-250Public awareness and education for the end-markets in Asia will also be crucial. Social media campaigns and celebrity outreach could make an impact. WildAid’s video campaigns have shown signs of curbing the consumption of shark fins, with the demand for shark fins in Hong Kong dramatically decreasing by 70% in 2012. Movie stars Jackie Chan and Jiang Wen have taken part in an ad campaign, “When the buying stops, the killing can, too.” Public opinion in China and the rest of Asia is progressing with the younger generation.

The struggle against the cruel ivory trade will be an uphill battle, but the combination of technological innovation, social media, and better trained patrolling has the potential to help protect Africa’s endangered wildlife.

 

More than 120,000 tell Congress to oppose Doc Hastings plan to weaken the Endangered Species Act

More than 120,000 people have signed a CREDO Mobilize petition started by the Endangered Species Coalition that asks Congress to oppose representative Doc Hastings’s efforts to weaken protections for wildlife.

docgraphic

Sign the petition at CREDO Mobilize

Four bills being pushed by Congressman Doc Hastings, who is Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee,  could severely weaken the Endangered Species Act if passed into law.

These bills would allow politicians — not scientists — to determine what is the best available science on endangered species listing issues. They would also force wildlife agencies to post the nesting and denning sites of imperiled species online – which could do easily facilitate poaching. They would also severely limit the ability of ordinary citizens to participate in the public process by putting road blocks in between them and the courts. (Bills HR 4315, HR 4316, HR 4317, HR 4318)

The House could vote on these bills as soon as the first week of July.

You can sign the CREDO Mobilize petition here.

You can email your U.S. Representative directly here.

Representative DeFazio speaks out for wolves

Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR), a strong Congressional advocate for wolves, spoke out for wolves in an Op Ed published in the Eugene Weekly.

428px-Peter_DeFazio,_official_Congressional_photo_portrait_2008In the piece, A Fight for Survival, Mr. DeFazio pushes back against the proposed delisting of gray wolves noting that,  “USFWS did not use the “best available science” and that they actively ignored data that conflicted with their own conclusions.”

The highly controversial plan was released byt the USFWS over a year ago and has generated nearly 1.5 million comments in opposition. As noted in the piece by Mr. DeFazio, the independent peer review panel tasked with its review found that science doesn’t support the plan.

For the USFWS, the survival of gray wolves isn’t about science, or their stated goal of species recovery. To them, this is about politics. They’ve been driven by the influence of Tea Party-led red states and powerful wolf-phobic special interests that want to drive wolves into extinction. – Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR)

Please read the entire piece and take action by signing his petition at: https://www.credomobilize.com/petitions/respect-science-and-maintain-endangered-species-act-protections-for-gray-wolves

Father’s Day first for OR-7!

By now, you’ve likely heard that the wandering wolf known to his legions of followers as “Journey” (and to the biologists that track his travels as OR-7) is a father! Biologists in Oregon came across pups in the area where they believe he and his new mate have built a den.

Photo credit USFWS

Top: Journey and mate’s pups. Bottom: OR-7/Journey Photo credit USFWS

They were able to take a few pictures of 2 of the pups while Journey’s radio collar indicated he was out hunting for a meal for his new family. They estimate that the pups are 5 to 6 weeks old and that there may be a number of others. Wolves often have as many as 6 pups so these two may have brothers and sisters that were out of sight.

OR-7 was born into the Imnaha pack in Northeast Oregon in April 2009 and was fitted with a radio collar in Oregon in 2011. From there, he undertook a truly epic journey that captured the attention of wolf lovers around the world.  We’ve written about Journey’s travels previously here and you can learn much more at Oregon Wild’s website.

He rightfully earned the name Journey during his thousands of miles of travel from Oregon, into California, and back.

Very good news came from Journey’s destination state of California last week when the California Fish & Game Commission voted to protect gray wolves under the state’s Endangered Species Act. Journey’s travels there marked the first confirmed wolf sighting west of the Cascades since the middle of last century.

By protecting wolves under the state’s Endangered Species Act, California is insuring that wolves that are expanding into their previous habitat have the needed protections to recover.  You can send an email thanking the commission for taking this crucially important step here.

The move was even more important with existing federal protections threatened by Secretary Jewell’s plan to delist wolves nationally. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued a proposal last year that would remove existing protections from virtually all of the gray wolves in the lower 48 states. With wolves being found in states like Iowa, Kentucky, California, and elsewhere they haven’t lived in decades, it’s essential that we continue to provide safeguards to insure their survival. We will continue to fight Secretary Jewell’s proposal and support state efforts to protect gray wolves.

We celebrate Journey’s first Father’s Day as a dad and hope that future Journeys in California and across the U.S. are granted the protections they need to continue to thrive.

Is a Wolf Stamp the Solution in Montana?

Last week, ESC member group NRDC announced they were working with the state of Montana to enact policy that would create what’s being billed as a “wolf stamp” that could be purchased to help fund wolf-related programs.

Montana Wolf Stamp coming soon?

Montana Wolf Stamp coming soon?

First, it’s important to note that the stamp is not final and that there could be changes to the plan in the rulemaking process. But, here’s what we know today: the proposal calls for the stamps to be offered for sale at $19 and the funds raised will be used in 3 ways.

  1. One third would be made available to Montana livestock owners to help pay for nonlethal ways to protect their animals from predators like wolves, bears and mountain lions. 
  2. One third would be used to pay for studying wolves, educating the public about wolves, and improving or purchasing suitable wolf habitat.
  3. One third would be used to hire additional Montana Department of Fish Wildlife & Parks (MDFWP) game wardens in occupied wolf habitat. 

ESC member group the Wolf Conservation Center sees potential risks but is cautiously optimistic that the stamp will be a very positive first step.

The Federal Duck Stamp program, on which this is loosely modeled, has been wildly successful in its 80 year history in allowing hunters and non-hunters alike to contribute to conservation. It has raised more than $800 million since its inception, which has been used to purchase or lease over 6 million acres of wetlands habitat. In a time when states’ budgets are stretched, wildlife often is shortchanged and programs like this are a potential source of both funds and a path to influence for non-consumptive users.

The Endangered Species Coalition will continue to evaluate the proposal as it goes through the state’s rulemaking process and will facilitate public comment when possible. We do view actions such as this as a positive first step. Hunters and trappers rule game agencies in some states because their license fees pay the agency budgets. Attempts to match this influence through voluntary contributions are challenging, but should they succeed could provide a long-sought seat at the table.