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White House Invites Pollinators to Its Garden

The White House has for six years planted a garden on the South Lawn, first planted in 2009 to promote a nationwide conversation about healthy eating. This year marks the inauguration of an addition to the garden that we hope will spur a conversation about bees, butterflies, and other vital yet imperiled species: a pollinator garden.

Nearly two-thirds of the foods we often consume are pollinated by bees, so we rely on bees for much of our food. — The White House Blog

The White House has kept bees for several years but this is the first year that they have included plants designed to attract native pollinators. The garden includes 2 species of milkweed, a plant necessary to the survival of monarch butterflies. Monarchs are in rapid decline, plunging to their lowest winter population level since record-keeping began in the 1990s.

Monarchs are facing multiple threats including climate change and substantial habitat loss both in this country and in Mexico. But, the largest known reason for the decline is the loss of milkweed. The decline in the overwintering population of monarchs has been tied to the use of the herbicide Round Up and the associated increased planting of genetically modified corn and soybeans. The larvae of monarch butterflies eat only milkweed, so it is vital to their survival.

Monarchs migrate annually from the U.S. and Canada into Southern California and Mexico and rely on overwintering and stopover sites along the way. The current threat is serious enough that President Obama and the leaders of Mexico and Canada met in February and pledged to seek solutions to preserve their migration.

In response to these threats, the IUCN has designated the monarch migration an endangered biological phenomenon. The Mexican government has helped to protect monarchs by creating the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the late 1980s. It now includes 217 square miles of forests in the Sierra Madres where monarchs overwinter.

Endangered Species Coalition member group NRDC has worked with the group Monarch Watch to increase the planting of milkweed by helping to provide what they call “monarch waystations” along the monarch’s migration route.

You can help by asking the EPA to ban pesticides that are killing pollinators. You can also take a cue from the White House and plant milkweed!

You can watch First Lady Michelle Obama speak about the importance of the new pollinator garden here:

Killing Wolves: A Hunter-Led War Against Science and Wildlife

In this post from his blog, From the Wild Side, long-time backcountry hunter and western outdoor writer David Stalling strongly criticizes recent state-sponsored wolf-killing programs in Idaho.

“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, 1949

We Americans, in most states at least, have not yet experienced a bear-less, eagle-less, cat- less, wolf-less woods. Germany strove for maximum yields of both timber and game and got neither.”  — Aldo Leopold, 1935

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”– Aldo Leopold, 1949

2014: Idaho Fish and Game recently hired a bounty hunter to try and eliminate two packs of wolves in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, one of the largest wilderness areas in the United States. Idaho hunters have organized wolf-killing competitions and killer co-ops to pay trappers to kill wolves. The state legislature and governor declared wolves a “disaster emergency” and have allocated $2 million to killing wolves. More recently the department conducted secretive aerial shootings of wolves from helicopters with no public knowledge or input and spent $30,000 to kill 23 wolves. Idaho Fish and Game is doing this and more in an ongoing effort to appease many ranchers and hunters to protect livestock and maintain artificially high and unhealthy numbers of elk for hunters to shoot at.

One of the cornerstones of our “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation” — which hunters and hunting-based organizations love to tout and claim to support — is that wildlife, all wildlife, be managed based on good, sound science.  That good, sound science shows that the return of wolves to much of the western United States has resulted in significant overall, long-term benefits to wildlife and the habitat that sustains them — including the species we love to hunt. (Check out: “How Wolves Change Rivers.”)

Credit USFWS

Credit USFWS

Elk populations are increasing in most of the West. In Idaho, the fish and game department is expanding elk hunting to reduce elk populations while simultaneously killing wolves under the guise of protecting and boosting elk numbers. Where elk populations do appear on the decline there are plenty of factors to consider in addition to wolves: Changes in habitat; the previous existence of artificially high elk populations at levels beyond the viable carrying capacity of the land; lack of mature bulls and low bull-to-cow ratios in herds (often resulting from early season hunting and too much hunting pressure on bull elk) which influences the timing of the rut and breeding behavior, the timing of spring calving, and often results in increased vulnerability of elk calves to predation; influence of other predators including mountain lions, black bears and grizzlies; unanticipated impacts of various hunting regulations and hunting pressure, and changes in behavior and habitat use by elk in the presence of wolves. And more.

Where I hunt, the growing presence of wolves has changed the behavior and habits of elk. Elk bunch up more for safety, and move around more to evade and avoid wolves. They are a lot more wary. I have adapted and adjusted to these changes and have no problem finding elk.This is part of the beauty and value of hunting within wilderness — to adjust, adapt and be part of the landscape; to be, as my friend David Petersen put its, part of the “bedrock workings of nature.”  We render the wilds a diminished abstract when we alter it to suit our own needs and desires and, in the process, make it less healthy and whole. There are those who espouse the virtues of backcountry hunting and yet seem apathetic or supportive towards the destruction of backcountry integrity. Those who understand the wilds know how critically important predators are to the health of the land; to remain silent about the nonscientific, politically-based killing of wolves in the wildest of places is to be complacent towards the degradation of what we claim to cherish.Yet hunters, in general, hate and blame wolves for pretty near anything and everything including their own lack of skill, knowledge and effort in hunting elk. Science is shunned and ignored. David Allen, the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation,  a national hunter-based conservation organization, claims wolves are “decimating” elk herds and calls wolves the “worst ecological disaster since the decimation of bison” despite research funded by the organization that shows otherwise. Most of what many hunters claim to know and understand about wolves and wolf and elk interactions is based on myths, lies and half-truths; they rapidly and angrily dismiss logic, facts and science as coming from “anti-hunters,” “wolf-lovers” and “tree-huggers” from “back East.” Most hunter-based conservation organizations and state agencies avoid the topic for fear of being pegged “one of them.” Many actually help perpetuate the lies and half-truths to boost and maintain membership. Some try to come across as reasonable by stating that they think wolves should be managed just like other wildlife, such as elk.

Credit NPS

Credit NPS

But wolves are not elk; being a top predator they have altogether different, and self-regulating, reproductive and survival behaviors and strategies. “Other” wildlife, such as elk,  are managed based on science — based on what we know about behavior, ecology, breeding behavior, habitat use and selection and other factors. Wolves are being managed purely based on politics driven by ignorance and hate.  Many hunters and others in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho long advocated for the delisting of wolves from the Endangered Species Act and turning management over to the states. It happened. And now these states — particularly Idaho — are doing what they can to kill as many wolves as possible, science be damned.

Idaho is proving over and over that their state cannot handle the scientific, sustainable management of wolves. No public agency should have the power to decide such things as Idaho Fish and Game is doing with so little public accountability and oversight. They are acting on behalf of a small, but politically-influential segment of our population based on pure politics, lies, myths, misconceptions and half truths about wolves and ignoring what we do know about wolf biology, ecology, behavior and interactions with and impacts to elk.

Credit NPS

Credit NPS

As an avid and passionate hunter in Montana (who has killed and eaten 26 elk over the years) I am absolutely disgusted that no hunter-based conservation organization — most of which claim to support and defend sound, science-based management of wildlife — are speaking out against this slaughter which is a clear violation of the North American model of wildlife management these organizations claim to uphold. At best, many hunters and hunting-based organizations are remaining silent for fear of being ostracized; at worst, most hunters and hunting organizations are supporting this. More and more I feel like an anti-hunter who hunts. It’s embarrassing, appalling and outrageous.

Even groups I support and respect, including Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and National Wildlife Federation are ignoring and avoiding this clear violation of science-based wildlife management and our North American Model of Wildlife Conservation they claim to uphold and defend — I can only assume as to not upset their membership base. As Aldo Leopold so aptly put it more than 50 years ago: “The sportsman has no leaders to tell him what is wrong. The sporting press no longer represents sport; it has turned billboard for the gadgeteer. Wildlife administrators are too busy producing something to shoot at to worry much about the cultural value of the shooting.”

I am growing increasingly disgusted and angry towards my so-called fellow hunters, and most hunter-based organizations, for continually talking “Aldo Leopold” and the “North American Model” out of one side of their mouths while ignoring or even supporting this sort of political, nonscientific “management” of a critical keystone, umbrella wildlife species that plays a critical role in shaping, maintaining and influencing healthy wildlife and wildlife habitat for all species — including the species we love to hunt and the habitat that sustains them.

This is one of the flaws of our current and mostly good system of wildlife management in which states generally have full authority over managing their wildlife. State fish and game departments, such as Idaho Fish and Game, are overseen and controlled by state politicians and game commissioners (who are often ranchers and hunters) appointed by politicians — and the hunting and ranching industries have more influence over state decisions than others. Aldo Leopold, widely considered the “father” of modern wildlife management, warned against such things more than 50 years ago. A recent report about the flaws of the North American Model summed it up this way: “The scientists also express concern that the interests of recreational hunters sometimes conflict with conservation principles. For example, they say, wildlife management conducted in the interest of hunters can lead to an overabundance of animals that people like to hunt, such as deer, and the extermination of predators that also provide a vital balance to the ecosystem.”

It needs to change.

More than half a century ago Leopold wrote: “I personally believed, at least in 1914 when predator control began, that there could not be too much horned game, and that the extirpation of predators was a reasonable price to pay for better big game hunting. Some of us have learned since the tragic error of such a view, and acknowledged our mistake.”

We still haven’t caught up to Leopold.

If we hunters truly believe in sound, science-based wildlife management, the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, and the ideas and principles preached and promoted by the likes of Aldo Leopold, then it is time to speak up.


You can read more of David’s writings at his blog, From the Wild Side.

Power in Numbers

This March, we reached a milestone in organizing. There are now more than 50,000 people taking action. More than 50,000 people that are committed to protecting wildlife, wild places, and the noble, moral law that keeps them safe: the Endangered Species Act. Thank you!

 

Nearly 500,000 More Americans Speak Out Against Federal Plan to Strip Wolves of Protections

California Wolf Center * Cascadia Wildlands * Center for Biological Diversity * Defenders of Wildlife Earthjustice * Epic-Environmental Protection Information Center * Endangered Species Coalition Humane Society of the United States * Klamath Forest Alliance * Living with Wolves * National Parks Conservation Association * Natural Resources Defense Council * Northeast Oregon Ecosystems Oregon Wild * Project Coyote * Sierra Club * Western Watersheds Project
WildEarth Guardians * Wildlands Network * Wolf Conservation Center

 

For Immediate Release, March 31, 2014

 

Contact:            Leda Huta, Endangered Species Coalition, (202) 320-6467
Melanie Gade, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0288
Kierán Suckling, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 275-5960
Josh Mogerman, Natural Resources Defense Council,  (773) 531-5359
Sean Stevens, Oregon Wild, (503) 283-6343 x211
Kari Birdseye, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2098
Maggie Howell, Wolf Conservation Center, (914) 763-2373

Nearly 500,000 More Americans Speak Out Against Federal Plan to Strip Wolves of Protections
 Scientific Peer Review Questioning Wolf Proposal Prompts Many to Write Administration

 

WASHINGTON—More than 460,000 Americans filed official comments calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to scrap its controversial proposal to remove federal protections from the gray wolf and instead work to advance wolf recovery in the United States.  A scientific peer review released in early February 2014 unanimously concluded that a federal plan to drop protections for most gray wolves was not based on the best available science.

These new comments and the results of the scientific peer review follow on the heels of the submission of approximately one million comments in late 2013 requesting that FWS continue to protect gray wolves. These comments represent the highest number of submissions ever to FWS on an endangered species, showing America’s overwhelming support for the charismatic wolf.

“When it comes to taking the wolf off of the endangered species list, Secretary Jewell told the public, ‘It’s about the science. And you do what the science says.’ It’s now time to stand by both her stated commitment to follow science and the will of the American people. She must immediately rescind the wolf delisting rule,” said Leda Huta, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “As the top official in charge of wildlife and wild places, Secretary Jewell should ensure that gray wolves have the chance to fully recover wherever there is suitable habitat. Policy decisions about wolves and other wildlife should be based on the best science, not politics.”

“Science should be the lynchpin of every species listing decision and science should be the most significant factor guiding decisions on what ‘recovery’ looks like for our nation’s imperiled plants and animals,” said Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark.  “The Fish and Wildlife Service should withdraw the delisting proposal for wolves and instead put science first to chart a sustainable recovery path for wolves throughout the U.S.”

“It’s time for the Obama administration to acknowledge what a growing number of Americans and our top scientists see very clearly — America’s gray wolves still need federal protection,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “That’s what the public comment period and scientific peer review is all about – to make sure we get it right when it comes to protecting our most imperiled species. Now the only question is whether the Obama administration will follow the science or the politics.”

There were once up to 2 million gray wolves living in North America, but the animals were driven to near-extinction in the lower 48 states by the early 1900s. After passage of the federal Endangered Species Act in 1973 and protection of the wolf as endangered, federal recovery programs resulted in the rebound of wolf populations in limited parts of the country. Roughly 5,500 wolves currently live in the continental United States — a fraction of the species’ historic numbers.

“Instead of restoring wolves to their rightful places from coast to coast — as it did for bald eagles – the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to abandon wolf recovery before the job is done,” said Marty Hayden, Earthjustice vice-president for policy and legislation. “More than a million people have now told FWS to go back to work and protect our wolves.”

Last year the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across most of the lower 48 states. The Obama administration’s proposal would remove protections for wolves everywhere except Arizona and New Mexico, where the Mexican wolf is struggling to survive with just 83 wolves in the wild.  This proposal would abandon protections for wolves in places where recovery remains in its infancy, such as Oregon and Washington, and would prevent wolves from recovering in places where good wolf habitat has been identified, including northern California, the southern Rocky Mountains and the Northeast.

Nicole Paquette, vice president of wildlife protection for The Humane Society of the United States said: “After the federal government prematurely gave up its duty to protect wolves, the states of Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming all rushed to hold hunting and trapping seasons. Thousands of wolves have been barbarically killed over bait, with hounds and cable neck snares. The Service’s proposal puts politics over its obligation to use the best available science, and threatens wolves with the risk of being driven back to near extinction.”

“Oregon wolves have taken the first tentative steps towards recovery in the last few years,” said Sean Stevens, executive director with Oregon Wild. “If the Obama administration takes away the strong protections of the Endangered Species Act, we pull the rug out from the fragile success story here on the West Coast and leave the fate of wolves in the hands of state agencies in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming who have proven incapable of balanced management.”

“We have unique opportunities and challenges here in the Northeast,” said Maggie Howell, Wolf Conservation Center. “The Northeast Wolf Coalition is working together using the most current peer reviewed science to raise awareness and increase public understanding about wolves.  A broad base of public support is necessary for wolves to recover and we remain committed to ensuring that stakeholders become active stewards in that regard. There are biological, economic and ethical reasons to facilitate wolf recovery  and the Coalition is eager to work with area residents, organizations, and state and federal agencies  to promote the wolf’s natural return to our region.”
“More than one million American’s have made their views clear to the Service: A large majority of the public want wolves back on the landscape and it’s too premature to hand over management to states where the trap and bullet still define predator management,” said Camilla Fox, Project Coyote founder & executive director.  “It’s time that the Service employ best science and not allow special interests to dictate wolf management in this country.”

“Removing protections from the wolf makes it difficult for national parks like Olympic and Crater Lake to be as wild and wonderful as they should be,” said Rob Smith, Northwest Regional Director for National Parks Conservation Association.  “The parks need wolves and visitors want them there.”

When a young person asked Interior Secretary Jewell about wolves in a public forum in June 2013, Jewell replied, “[The removal of Endangered Species Act protections] is not something I actually have a choice (sic). It’s about science and you do what the science says.” See the video here:  http://www.endangered.org/its-about-science/

The group Kids 4 Wolves followed that with their own amazing video, http://www.endangered.org/kids-to-secretary-jewell-follow-the-science/.  The video features children from across the country urging Sec. Jewell to follow the science and keep wolves protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The independent scientific peer review released in early February was commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and conducted by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.  The panel of independent scientists concluded unanimously that FWS’s national wolf delisting rule does not currently represent the “best available science.”  In light of these findings, FWS’s proposed delisting rule contravenes the Endangered Species Act, which mandates that protection decisions must be based on the best available science.

“The effort to cut legal protections for wolves ran headlong into actual science and lost”, said Andrew Wetzler, Director of Land and Wildlife Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It is time for the Fish & Wildlife Service to rethink their effort. And this new flood of comments shows the public will be watching the Obama Administration and expect the science to end this delisting campaign”.

In addition to the nearly half a million comments submitted by the American public in recent weeks, ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee Peter DeFazio (D-OR) released a bipartisan letter co-signed by 73 House members urging Secretary Jewell to continue protections for gray wolves and rescind the proposed delisting rule immediately.

 

USFWS Moving to Delist Grizzlies

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced this week  that it was moving forward with work to delist the grizzly bear. According to FWS, we could see the removal of Endangered Species Act protections for the Yellowstone grizzly by the end of the year.

FWS’s next steps are to conduct an analysis of threats to grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region, prior to making any decision to remove important Endangered Species Act protections for the bears.

Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for USFWS said the Service will determine – based upon the threat analysis – whether or not it should draft a proposed rule to “delist” the bears by the end of the year, and would make a final decision following a public comment period as called for by law.

Grizzly bears have by some accounts rebounded successfully in the Yellowstone region, including a record-high 58 females with cubs counted in the Yellowstone ecosystem this year. However, as 00156we’ve written before, bears in Yellowstone have yet to connect naturally to other populations of bears in Montana – something that is important for long-term genetic health. Part of FWS plan for recovering bears includes trucking them from region to region in order to ensure genetic diversity, in the event that natural connectivity has not occurred by the year 2020. ESC strongly advocates that bear populations have natural connectivity—that different populations have wildlife corridors enabling them to reach each other.  Additionally, independent scientists have not yet had a chance to peer-review much of the data and studies the Service is using to inform their decision.

The rebound in the Yellowstone grizzly bear population from a low of about 150 bears to around 700 today is a huge testament to the success of the Endangered Species Act in protecting and recovering wildlife from the brink of extinction. We want to make sure that FWS is careful to continue this success. We must not slide backwards. We will monitor developments, and assess potential threats to the bears, and we will post more information about the proposal as it becomes available.

Kids to Secretary Jewell: Follow the Science

Last week we posted a video reply from the young person  Secretary Jewell referenced in a public appearance in Washington, DC. She asked Secretary Jewell to follow the science and to keep wolves protected. The group Kids 4 Wolves followed that with their own amazing video. Watch:

You can speak out for wolves and ask Secretary Jewell to follow the science .

 

The Wolf of Main Street

By Beth Stewart

China = pandas. India = Bengal tigers. Every continent has their share of beloved endangered species. But what about us? One of the world’s most beautiful and endangered animals lives right here in the good ole U.S.A. Head to Yellowstone and you’re practically guaranteed a sighting of this classic American icon – the gray wolf.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Beth Stewart

Unfortunately, the wolf is not universally revered like the panda. Instead, it’s one of the most polarizing animals in this country. The debate about whether or not it should remain on the endangered species list has been raging for years. But one thing that cannot be disputed is the important role wolves play in balancing our ecosystem.

Hunted to near extinction by the mid 1930’s, wolves now occupy only 8 percent of their historic range. For 70 years wolves were absent from Yellowstone leaving the unchecked elk and deer populations free to eat most of the vegetation down to nothing. When wolves were finally reintroduced in 1995, the effect they had on the park was nothing short of miraculous.

elksilhouette

The overpopulated elk herds declined allowing trees and groundcover to rebound bringing back songbirds, insects and beavers. Beaver dams created habitat for reptiles, trout, otters and amphibians.  Out-of-control coyote populations decreased which increased rabbit and mouse numbers bringing in more hawks, foxes and badgers. Even the bears couldn’t complain because their favorite berries grew back in abundance on regenerating shrubs.

blackbear

All this healthy vegetation keeps rivers from flooding. Less flooding means richer soil that’s better able to sequester carbon. Less carbon helps slow climate change. This is all happening, thanks to the wolf.

Scientists from around the world have flocked to Yellowstone to study the effect wolves are having on the ecosystem. In the few other areas of the country where wolves have been allowed to thrive, habitats are thriving there too. We should be protecting these valuable ecosystem engineers – not spending millions of taxpayer dollars (like Idaho is proposing) to eliminate more than 500 of their state’s 680 wolves.

Living with large carnivores isn’t always easy. But it can be done. The Grazerie, Canada’s first certified predator-friendly ranch, employs a number of successful strategies to reduce livestock losses. The owners are committed to ranching with methods that protect predators because they recognize the value they bring to our planet and our economy. But perhaps more importantly they recognize that wildlife belongs to the public.

The wolf is the people’s predator. It doesn’t belong to any special interest groups. It belongs to you and me. And it should be the pride and joy of this country.

You actually have a say in this: Until March 27, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting comments on this matter. Click here to tell them what you think.

 


This post originally appeared on Bites @ Animal Planet: http://blogs.discovery.com/bites-animal-planet/2014/02/the-wolf-of-main-street.html

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Beth Stewart.

Beth Stewart is an Associate Creative Director for Animal Planet. She spends most of her spare time volunteering with animals, photographing animals, advocating for animals and generally being wrapped around her two cats’ little paws.

It’s about science — a 13 year-old responds to Secretary Jewell

Last month, we posted a video of Interior Secretary Jewell speaking at an event at the Center for American Progress.  During that event, she was asked a question about her proposal to eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for most of the nation’s gray wolves. In response, she recounted being asked by a young person in Rhode Island not to delist wolves.

The young person’s name is Alyssa Grayson and she recorded the a video reply to Secretary Jewell, once again asking her to do what the science says and maintain protections for gray wolves. Watch the video:

We now know that science does not support this plan. An independent peer review panel examined the proposal and unanimously determined that it is not supported by the best available science. Please ask Secretary Jewell to do what the science says and withdraw this proposal and resume the efforts to recover wolves across the country.

Driftnets: California’s Deadliest Catch

This post is a guest blog from Todd Steiner, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition member group Turtle Island Restoration Network. They are working with other conservation groups to support legislation in California that would put an end to the use of drift gillnets, a commercial fishing technique responsible for enormous amounts of bycatch and the death and injury of many marine species. You can view their factsheet here (.pdf)


CALIFORNIA’S DEADLIEST CATCH:

The Secret Driftnet Fishery for Swordfish and Shark Off Our Coast

Few Americans realize that a deadly driftnet fishery targeting swordfish and shark operates off the California coast with fatal consequences for ocean wildlife.

Photo credit NOAA

Photo credit NOAA

Driftnets, which have been described as “curtains of death,” were banned on the high seas by the United Nations in the 1994.  On the West Coast, Oregon and Washington have banned this deadly and unsustainable fishery, but unbeknownst to the public, these nets are still legal in California and plying our waters out of sight and out of mind.

In a recent expose entitled, “CALIFORNIA’S DEADLIEST CATCH: The Drift Gillnet Fishery for Swordfish and Shark,” author Teri Shore lays out the impact this fishery is having on the discarded catch of whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and scores of fish species and outlines a plan of action to end this destructive fishery.

Now, the secret is out and CA Assembly-member Paul Fong recently introduced legislation (AB 2019) to phase out CA driftnet fishery, but it will be an uphill fight due to the strong influence of the commercial fishing industry— without citizen action.

This fishery began in the late 1970s when harpoon and set-net fishers adapted large nets to target thresher shark. Within five years, thresher sharks were severely depleted in California waters.

This is not surprising considering thresher shark life-history characteristics include late sexual maturity and low reproductive output.  The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species now lists thresher sharks as  “vulnerable” due to their declining populations.  Due to the dramatic decline of thresher sharks, the fishery fleet became a ‘swordfish’ fishery and continues to wreck havoc on a wife array of marine life.

Credit Seaturtles.org

Credit Seaturtles.org

Collateral damage has included “takes” (captured and killed or injured) of four species of endangered and threatened sea turtles, 13 species of whales, eight species of dolphins and porpoise, three species of seals and sea lions and two species of seabirds.

Many schemes have been tried to limit the high collateral damage from this fishery to marine species — including adding acoustical pingers on nets to reduce entanglement of dolphins and porpoises, time-area closures to reduce turtle and shark catch, and lowering the net depth to try to reduce whale entanglements.

While some of the schemes have successfully reduced the impact of the fishery on a given besieged protected species, the unintended consequences have often resulted in new collateral on a different protected species.  Nonetheless, despite the many limiting conditions placed on this fishery, over the past decade more than 1,300 whales, dolphins, and sea turtles drowned after getting tangled in these large-mesh drift nets.

Additionally, over a hundred thousand giant ocean sunfish and ten thousand blue sharks were also caught and discarded during the last 10 years. Recently, an estimated 16 endangered sperm whales were fatally injured.

Photo credit NOAA

Photo credit NOAA

In total, more than 90 percent of the ocean life indiscriminately caught by these nets is neither swordfish nor shark, but dozens of other species that are caught and discarded overboard injured or dead.

Fewer than 20 vessels are left in this fishery, providing few jobs and little income.  In comparison, businesses like whale watching and diving companies create recreational opportunities for tens of thousands of Americans, generating many more jobs and contribute much more to California’s economy.  Yet federal fishery managers, under pressure from a small group of individuals, continue to promote this destructive, unnecessary and unhealthy fishery.

What about food security? California’s drift net fishery target the ocean’s top predators–  swordfish and sharks that contribute to balanced and healthy ocean ecosystems.  These species also contain some the highest levels of  toxic mercury of any fish.  Both the EPA and FDA recommend women of child-bearing age and children not eat swordfish and shark.

We are launching an NGO sign-on letter, a scientist sign-on letter and have an email alert individuals can sign.

To learn how you can get your voice heard on this issue, visit www.SeaTurtles.org and/or contact Teri Shore at Tshore@tirn.net.

——-

Todd Steiner

Executive Director, Turtle Island Restoration Network (www.SeaTurtles.org)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellowstone Grizzly Bears – An Update from the Field

By Derek Goldman, Northern Rocky Mountain Representative for the Endangered Species Coalition

This past December marked the 40th anniversary of near-unanimous passage by Congress of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 – one of our nation’s most important wildlife conservation laws. Thanks to Act, Americans have the opportunity today to hear the calls of the bald eagle and peregrine falcon, catch a glimpse of an alligator in the wild, and hear the howl of the gray wolf throughout the northern Rockies region.

The Endangered Species Act carries a special significance here in the northern Rocky Mountains – home of the last of Lower 48’s largest species of bear: the grizzly. Although often thought of as carnivores, grizzly bears are actually omnivores.  They subsist on a wide variety of forest foods, including grasses, nuts, berries, insects, small mammals, fish, ungulates and carrion. Estimated at around 50,000 bears in the western U.S. in the early 1800s, the great bear was persecuted as settlers moved in. By the time grizzlies were protected in 1975, there may have been as few as 150 bears in and around Yellowstone National Park. Today, biologists estimate that between 600 and 740 bears inhabit the Yellowstone region, plus almost 1,000 bears along the Northern Continental Divide—an ecosystem in North-Central Montana contiguous with Canada. Indeed, thanks to the Endangered Species Act, the grizzly bears have been slowly recovering from the brink of extinction in these two “recovery areas.”

Photo credit NPS

Photo credit NPS

This rebound in the bear population is the result of concerted and laudable efforts by federal, state and tribal wildlife agencies, conservation groups, sportsmen, and landowners, who have worked to protect bear habitat and reduce human-grizzly bear conflict—the leading cause of bear mortality. These efforts have involved raising public awareness about how to live, work and recreate safely in bear country, while implementing important regulations designed to keep grizzly bears alive and provide secure habitat. The grizzly bear’s return from historic low numbers is a testament to the importance and effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act.

Not that the grizzly bear doesn’t face challenges. Indeed, it does. In the Yellowstone region, several important bear foods have been in decline for years, notably whitebark pine trees, whose nuts provide important nutrition as bears are fattening up for winter hibernation. And conflicts between bears and humans have been on the rise in recent years. Furthermore, the Yellowstone population of grizzly bears remains isolated and has yet to make a natural connection to the more robust populations of bears to the north.

Scientists on the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team suggest that, so far, these opportunistic omnivores are adapting to the changing food resources within their ecosystem. A series of papers presented at the December meeting of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) seem to indicate that bears are surviving, producing cubs, and continuing to expand their range into places they haven’t been seen in a long time.  Other scientists are concerned, because these same studies indicate that there has been a drop in cub survival, a slight decrease in body fat in females, and an increase in human-caused mortalities in some parts of the ecosystem.

Photo credit NPS

Photo credit NPS

At the December meeting, the IGBC recommended the Yellowstone grizzly bear be removed from the list of threatened and endangered species. In the coming year, we expect that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose to do just that.

Working with our member groups and allies in the region, the Endangered Species Coalition has been following these developments closely. In 2013, we carefully reviewed and commented on several draft plans that will guide future management of grizzly bears in the northern Rockies to ensure that states will be continue grizzly bear conservation efforts when and if the populations are delisted.

Rest assured, the Endangered Species Coalition will carefully review any delisting proposal – as well as grizzly bear population trends – to ensure that removal of federal protections will not jeopardize this magnificent animal and remarkable Endangered Species Act success story