Are There Wolves in Maine?

Gray_wolfIt’s not news. Every once in a while someone sees something that either looks like a wolf or is proven to be a wolf in northern Maine. Sometimes this matters, such as when, as it did about 20 years ago, the US Fish and Wildlife Service kicks around the idea of returning wolves to Maine. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter. Most of the time, actually.

But now that the US Fish and Wildlife Service may remove all gray (aka timber) wolves from the federal endangered species list, it may matter if there are wolves in Maine. It may also matter if those wolves are gray wolves or eastern wolves (sometimes known as eastern Canadian wolves).

This column in the Bangor Daily News addresses the questions of whether there are wolves in Maine, whether the wolves that may wander into Maine occasionally are eastern wolves or something else, and why any of this matters.

A blogger for the Boston Globe tackled a similar set of issues back in September.

Read the Bangor Daily News story here.
Read the Boston Globe blog here.

Photo: A gray wolf. Not in Maine. Gary Kramer, USFWS

Western Wildlife Agencies Request Delay on Wolverine Listing

WolverineSnowWestern states are “feeling that climate change models are not a reason to list species under the Endangered Species Act,” said Bill Bates, wildlife section chief for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) in an article in the Salt Lake City Tribune last week.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proposed listing the wolverine as threatened in the lower 48 states, where they are dependent on having snow on the ground between January and May, their denning season. Climate change puts that snow coverage at risk.

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies has asked the USFWS to extend its comment period by three more months.

Read the Salt Lake City Tribune article here. It includes a nice map.
Read the Associated Press article in the Missoulian, here. It includes a photo of adorable wolverine cubs.

Photo: Wolverine. Photo Credit: Steve Kroschel

Lobbyist-fueled Lizard Monitoring in Texas

dunes sagebrush lizard“Comptroller Susan Combs’ office, of course, knows doodly squat about lizards,” says a Houston Chronicle editorial on the dunes sagebrush lizard, federally listed as a threatened species. The problem is that the Texas state comptroller’s office is in charge of monitoring the lizard population to make sure the stipulations of a free-market habitat conservation plan are being obeyed.

State law forbids the US Fish and Wildlife Service from so much as reviewing the state contractor’s paperwork, an August article in the Chronicle reported. Even stranger, the editorial reports, the comptroller’s office keeps the identities of the landowners participating in the habitat enhancement program a secret.

And of course, because this is Texas, the editorial mentions that independent oil producers are worried that the lobbyist group monitoring the lizards will favor large producers over the independents.

Read the whole editorial in the Houston Chronicle, here.
Read the news article about the lizard monitoring, in the Chronicle’s oil industry news section, here.

Photo: Dunes sagebrush lizard, courtesy USFWS

Fishers Not Found in Wyoming

FisherHabitat models say that there should be fishers in the Wyoming section of the Northern Rocky Mountains, says the Billings Gazette, but a search by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department of the Sunlight Basin, near the Beartooth Mountains, just to the east of Yellowstone National Park did not turn up any fishers.

“We didn’t find any (fishers),” the Billings Gazette article quotes Game and Fish nongame biologist Bob Oakleaf as saying. “What we did find is (pine) marten everywhere.”

It has been about 10 years since the last fisher sighting in the state, the article notes. The Northern Rockies population of fishers had been rejected for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. Further searches for the fisher will be conducted next year.

More details about the search, and the history of fishers in Wyoming, are available in the article. Read it on the Billings Gazette website, here.

Photo: Fisher taking bait in Pacific Northwest. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.



Burying Beetles and Goshawks Up

goshawk-259x300Here’s some good news for a Monday morning.

– Wildlife biologists with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have discovered Northern Goshawks successfully breeding in the State for the first time since 2006. Read the Maryland Department of Natural Resources press release, here.

– A second wild American burying beetle population now calls Nantucket, Massachusetts home, thanks to a successful captive breeding and reintroduction program, which began in 1996 at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island. Read this Endangered Species Act Success Story on the US Fish and Wildlife Service website, here. Lots of photos.

Photo: Can I tell you how lucky you are that I went with the goshawk and not the burying beetle grubs? Courtesy of the Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources.

NPR on Sage Grouse Initiative

Sage Grouse vs transmission linesOn Wednesday, NPR had a piece on the Sage Grouse Initiative in Montana. There are photos and audio (or you can just read the article).

The initiative was started by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the piece says. It was joined by The Nature Conservancy, universities and state wildlife agencies. The initiative’s key tools seem to be portable electric fences, and widely distributed watering sites. That’s because having cattle graze intensely in small areas, leaving the grass in other areas to grow tall, as the sage grouse like it, is the goal of the program.

While sage grouse are found in only a few states, the effort to keep the species off the federal endangered species list should be of interest to all wildlife managers, particularly those managing other species at risk. At what point should we take action to keep a species from being listed? At what point does the species need to be listed so the protections of the Endangered Species Act can kick in and save it from extinction?

Stay tuned.

Photo: Greater sage grouse by Stephen Ting. Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.

New Sierra Bighorn Herd in California

Sierra bighorn“Our recovery goals are both numeric and geographic,” said Tom Stephenson, California Department of Fish and Wildlife bighorn recovery program leader, in an article in The Los Angeles Times about the recent establishment of a new herd of federally endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep.

“This is the first reintroduction effort of a new herd of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep since 1988,” he said in a CDFW press release. The release explains:

During the week of March 25, 2013, ten female and four male bighorn sheep were captured from two of the largest existing herds in the Sierra Nevada and reintroduced to the vacant herd unit of Olancha Peak at the southern end of the range in Inyo County.

The newly created herd is the tenth herd of Sierra bighorn between Owens Lake and Mono Lake, the release says. Three additional herds are needed to meet recovery goals. There are now 500 Sierra bighorns, which as an increase from the low of just over 100 of them.

Read more in The Los Angeles Times, here.
Read the CDFW press release here.

Photo: A Sierra bighorn is released in a new area to create a new herd. Courtesy CDFW.

3rd Draft for Prairie Chickens

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAFive states submitted a plan for conserving lesser prairie chickens to the US Fish and Wildlife Service last week. It is the third draft for the plan, Lone Star Outdoor News reports. The five states are Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma. The multi-state conservation plan is a bid to keep the bird of the federal endangered species list.

The planning process began a year ago, in April 2012. The USFWS will make its final ruling on September 30, 2013.

Read the press release from the Kansas Department of Parks, Tourism and Wildlife here.
Read the same press release from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department here.
Lone Star Outdoor News adds a headline that mentions the third draft, here.

Photo: © Gerard Bertrand, courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

USFWS Turns ESA Take Permits Over to Florida

Florida_Scrub_JayLast year the US Fish and Wildlife Service quietly handed over the responsibility for issuing incidental take permits for species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Now, two environmental groups, the Center for Biodiversity and Conservancy of Southwest Florida, have given the US Fish and Wildlife Service 60 days to settle with them, or they will sue.

The Tampa Bay Times article notes that Florida developers were pleased with the switch to state control over the federal endangered species law. That may be because, the article says, two members of the eight member Florida commission are developers and a third is a paving contractor.

The feds turned over EPA enforcement to the Florida state government as well, the article notes.

Read the whole Tampa Bay Times article here.

Photo: Florida scrub jay, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

The Word on Birds

ovenbirdThe recent issue of The Auk (subscription or fee required to read full articles) has several articles of interest to state wildlife biologists:

It has long been assumed that early successional forests are important habitat for young ovenbirds. A paper by Andrew Vitz, now with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, tested that hypothesis experimentally. He found that the density of understory vegetation was a factor in the birds’ survival, but that the birds could do well in smaller patches of early successional habitat, such as microhabitats within mature forests.

Read the ovenbird paper here.

A paper on California spotted owls found that two is the magic number for a number of offspring. Owls that were part of a pair of nestlings had higher survival rates that onlies or triplets. The research also found that the number of young produced is a good indicator of habitat quality.

Read the spotted owl paper here.

Piping plovers hatched earlier in the season in the Great Lakes region had a higher survival rate than those born later in the season, another paper reported. Nest sites that were closer to trees also had lower survival rates. The older the plover chicks were, the more likely they were to live another day. Because the Great Lakes population of piping plovers is federally endangered (with other populations being threatened), these factors can help inform management strategies.

Read the piping plover paper here.

Photo: ovenbird, courtesy Wisconsin Division of Natural Resources