Wildlife refuges suffer under budget cuts and staff shortages

Wildlife refuges suffer under budget cuts and staff shortages

SOURCE: High Country News DATE: November 20, 2019 SNIP: The Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge is nestled between the boggy wetlands and glistening ponds of Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. Inside, near a cluttered display of taxidermy birds — a tall American white pelican with a bright orange beak and an osprey caught in midflight — Frances “Wa” Correia greets visitors. The 92-year-old has been volunteering here for 15 years, fielding questions, answering the phone and keeping the kiosk outside filled up with pamphlets. It’s work she enjoys doing. Still, as the number of full-time professional staff dwindles, volunteers like Correia are forced to take on even more tasks, while other important projects are left undone. The refuge once employed 13 people to manage and study its land. Now, it has only three full-time staffers and one seasonal worker. Consequently, key jobs — such as bird migration surveys, weed management and prescribed wildfires — are being left unfinished. This is a problem plaguing the entire National Wildlife Refuge System, which has suffered from a string of budget cuts and a shrinking staff for the last decade or more. That means that refuges nationwide have fewer scientists, reduced law enforcement and a lack of habitat restoration. As a result, one of the system’s central responsibilities — to protect and restore wildlife habitat — is falling by the wayside. The National Wildlife Refuge System, a branch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, protects more than 850 million acres of land and water. From the marshy Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Florida to arid landscapes like the Desert National Wildlife...
Why did the turtles cross the highway? They didn’t, but they still might be impacted

Why did the turtles cross the highway? They didn’t, but they still might be impacted

SOURCE: Science Daily DATE: November 6, 2019 SNIP: Roads define the very fabric of our civilization, and very few places in North America remain road-less. As an integral part of the landscape, roads and their vehicle traffic also have unintended consequences for wildlife: many animals die as a result of vehicle strikes, and some strikes pose a risk to human lives. Think about the consequences of hitting a moose, bear or deer on the highway at 70 mph. These types of events capture a lot of attention, and management agencies work hard to minimize the chance of wildlife-vehicle strikes through mitigation structures such as wildlife fences and overpasses. However, the effects of roads are not limited to animals dying on roads. Roads may affect the way animals use their habitat. They may bisect important connections between habitats and populations, or they may deter animals altogether and increase their stress levels because of traffic noise, light or vibration. These types of effects are what former Ohio University Biological Sciences graduate student Marcel Weigand in Dr. Viorel Popescu’s Conservation Ecology Lab sought to investigate and have recently been published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research. With a passion for reptiles, Weigand asked how new high-traffic roads affect the ecology, behavior and physiology of Eastern Box Turtles, a species of concern in Ohio, threatened by road mortality. Weigand found the perfect study setting, the new Nelsonville Bypass (U.S. 33), cutting through Wayne National Forest, and opened to vehicle traffic in 2013. Several other wildlife studies have been under way in the same location, investigating the success of mitigation structures to reduce...
Swarm of sea urchins wreaks destruction on US West Coast

Swarm of sea urchins wreaks destruction on US West Coast

SOURCE: AP DATE: October 24, 2019 SNIP: Tens of millions of voracious purple sea urchins that have already chomped their way through towering underwater kelp forests in California are spreading north to Oregon, sending the delicate marine ecosystem off the shore into such disarray that other critical species are starving to death. A recent count found 350 million purple sea urchins on one Oregon reef alone — more than a 10,000% increase since 2014. And in Northern California, 90% of the giant bull kelp forests have been devoured by the urchins, perhaps never to return. Vast “urchin barrens” — stretches of denuded seafloor dotted with nothing but hundreds of the spiny orbs — have spread to coastal Oregon, where kelp forests were once so thick it was impossible to navigate some areas by boat. The underwater annihilation is killing off important fisheries for red abalone and red sea urchins and creating such havoc that scientists in California are partnering with a private business to collect the over-abundant purple urchins and “ranch” them in a controlled environment for ultimate sale to a global seafood market. “We’re in uncharted territory,” said Scott Groth, a shellfish scientist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The explosion of purple sea urchins is the latest symptom of a Pacific Northwest marine ecosystem that’s out of whack. Kelp has been struggling because of warmer-than-usual waters in the Pacific Ocean. And, in 2013, a mysterious disease began wiping out tens of millions of starfish, including a species called the sunflower sea star that is the only real predator of the ultra-hardy purple urchin. Around the...
Turkey’s Dam-Building Spree Continues, At Steep Ecological Cost

Turkey’s Dam-Building Spree Continues, At Steep Ecological Cost

SOURCE: Yale e360 DATE: October 3, 2019 SNIP: From the vine-draped veranda of Yolgecen Hani, a café in the Turkish town of Hasankeyf, one can still catch the scent of the free-flowing Tigris River below, which courses through the country’s rugged southeast and then the length of Iraq before emptying into the Persian Gulf. The sun-baked mountains, verdant riverbanks, and jagged gorges, which lay at the heart of ancient Mesopotamia, today are home to unique ecosystems rich in endemic flora and fauna. Yet, in a matter of months, a massive hydroelectric plant and impoundment dam located about 35 miles downstream will obliterate much of this splendor. The waters that will soon back up behind the Ilisu Dam will transform nearly 90 miles of the Tigris and another 150 miles of its tributaries into a vast reservoir that will submerge nearly 200 villages and displace an estimated 80,000 people. The drowned settlements will include the pearl of Hasankeyf, whose cultural heritage — ancient churches, caves, and tombs — attests to the presence of some of the first large human communities 10,000 years ago. The flooding, as well as the surge of water releases downstream, also threatens endangered species such as the Eurasian otter, the marbled duck, and the red-wattled Lapwing, say experts. The dam will further imperil many of the Tigris’ native fish species, already battered by overfishing, industrial pollution, and sewage discharges. And experts say the impacts of the Ilisu Dam will be felt hundreds of miles downstream across large parts of the Tigris-Euphrates Basin, which includes Syria, Iraq, and Iran, exacerbating water shortages that will affect irrigation, biodiversity,...
‘We know they aren’t feeding’: fears for polar bears over shrinking Arctic ice

‘We know they aren’t feeding’: fears for polar bears over shrinking Arctic ice

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: September 29, 2019 SNIP: This year’s annual minimum of the Arctic sea ice tied with the second-lowest extent on record, a mere 1.6m sq miles, and badly affected polar bear populations that live and hunt on the north slope of Alaska, plus those that live on the ice floes in the Bering Sea. “Now the ice has gone way offshore we know that the bears aren’t feeding, and the bears that are forced on to land don’t find much to eat. The longer the sea ice is gone from the productive zone the tougher it is on the bears,” said Polar Bears International’s Steven Amstrup. In 2015, the group reported that the polar bear population in the Beaufort Sea had declined by 40% over the previous decade. “We can only anticipate that those declines have continued,” Amstrup said. The loss of sea ice this year was so pronounced early in the season that tagging crews from the US Geological Survey (USGS) concluded that the sea ice offshore in the western arctic was too thin and unstable to be able to conduct their studies – the first time the team have pulled their studies because of safety issues. That’s a far cry from the two decades to 2010 when Amstrup did two two-month field studies a year. In recent years, the spring season has also been severely hampered by open water, fog and bad weather. This year, the trends were repeated. Amstrup said: “The ice in the spring … was really tough this year. What ice was there was thin and rough this year. That’s part...