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

Critical Habitat Assessment Tool for Lesser Prairie Chickens

lesser prairie chickenFrom a press release issued by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Kansas Biological Survey:

In cooperation with the five state fish and wildlife agencies that fall within the range of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken (LEPC), and the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), the KARS program has launched version 2.0 of the Southern Great Plains Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (SGP CHAT). The online map viewer hosts the SGP CHAT, which is the spatial representation of the LEPC range-wide conservation plan, and a tool that prioritizes conservation actions while assisting with the siting of industry development.

For the press release, click here.
For the tool itself, go here.

Photo: courtesy of the NRCS USDA

New Tech: Ground Penetrating Radar

Texas researchers used ground penetrating radar to study pocket gophers. The researchers were able to map the pocket gopher’s tunnels to a depth of over a foot. They were also able to spot animals within the tunnels and differentiate between and underground pipeline and the pocket gopher tunnels. They wrote about it in a paper in the peer-reviewed journal Wildlife Society Bulletin.

While pocket gophers are a nuisance in places like Washington State, the subspecies studied is a species of concern for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The research took place on a naval base.

The researchers feel that ground penetrating radar can be helpful in other wildlife management applications.

Read the Wildlife Society Bulletin paper, here. (Fee or subscription required for full text.)

Salamander Summit

salado salamanderThis is the first time I’ve heard endangered species news through a city business journal, but perhaps I’m just reading the wrong publications.

The Austin Business Journal reports that US Fish and Wildlife director Dan Ashe has agreed to meet with stakeholders in Williamson County, Texas to discuss the possible listing of four salamander species.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife’s Ecological Services website, these salamanders are: Austin blind salamander (Eurycea waterlooensis), Jollyville Plateau salamander (Eurycea tonkawae), Georgetown salamander (Eurycea naufragia), and Salado salamander (Eurycea chisholmensis).  All four salamander species are entirely aquatic and depend on water from the Edwards Aquifer to survive.

The USFWS information says that these salamanders are totally aquatic, with no known terrestrial form.

A press release from US Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) says that he set up the summit.

Read the Austin Business Journal article here.
Read the USFWS Texas salamander page here, with lots of links to Federal Register listings and other info.
Read Sen. Cornyn’s press release here.

Photo: Salado salamander by R.D. Bartlett, courtesy of USFWS

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

Chagas Disease in South Texas Wildlife

chagas bugChagas disease, spread by kissing bugs or reduviid bugs is a scourge in South America, has the potential to cause heart failure. The symptoms can be chronic and go on for years.

Until recently, the disease and the insects that carry it were rare even in northern Mexico, but recently, says a report on the KABB Fox News TV station in San Antonio, Texas, the number of the kissing bugs found in south Texas has increased sharply.

More to the point, the piece says, a recent survey by Texas A&M researchers found that 60 to 80 percent of the mammals trapped on public land have been found to be infected by the disease. The animals trapped include feral hogs, white-tailed deer, wood rats, rabbits and raccoons.

Watch or read the piece on the KABB website, here.

More on Chagas disease at PubMed Health, and
probably more than you want to know, unless you have it, from the Centers for Disease Control

Photo: A kissing bug of the type that carries the parasite that causes Chagas disease, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control

Water Users v. Cranes in Texas

whooping cranes at Aransas NWRIn 2009, 23 federally endangered whooping cranes died because of a drought. A recent court ruling says that this is an illegal take of a federally-endangered species, and that the federal law has precedence over Texas state law, which says that water is doled out on a first come, first served basis, says an article in Bloomberg.

The Texas state agencies will appeal the ruling, the article says.

The whooping crane flock in question is the world’s only self-sustaining wild flock, the article says, migrating from Canada to Texas. The article also implies that what was once “an isolated stretch of Texas coastal marsh,” where a tiny flock of whooping cranes survived unnoticed at a time when the species was thought to be extinct, is now home to the “world’s largest concentration of refineries and petrochemical plants.”

Read the Bloomberg article here.

Photo: Whooping cranes at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, by Steve Hillebrand, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.


Salamanders Shrink in Texas Drought

220px-Eurycea_tonkawae_IMG_3631Nathan F. Bendik of the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department and Andrew Gluesenkamp, the state herpetologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, were not surprised when the tails of an endangered salamander, Eurycea tonkawae, were thinner when measured during a drought.

Their mark-and-recapture survey was able to compare measurements of individuals, not just the population as a whole of this spring-dwelling salamander. They knew that the salamanders store fat in their tails, and that when times are tough, the tails are thinner.

It was a surprise, however, that the total length of the salamanders shrank during the drought. Once the water flow in the spring resumed, however, the salamanders grew again.

Their observations are now an article in the Journal of Zoology. Read the abstract here. The full article requires a subscription or fee.

Photo by Piers Hendrie of a Jollyville Plateau Salamander (Eurycea tonkawae), Travis County, Texas. Used through Wikimedia Commons.

Cervid Disease Update

Add New Jersey and South Dakota to the list of states reporting an epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) outbreak in white-tailed deer this year. Find more info here:

New Jersey
South Dakota

Bluetongue has been reported in Missouri by CBS News. Bluetongue is another virus closely related to EHD, and is also spread by midges, a biting insect. However, some say that only cattle get bluetongue. Others say deer do too, but very rarely.

In Nebraska, the state veterinarian is saying that cattle in the state are getting EHD, which again is considered to be a rare occurrence. He is seeking more information from cattle owners whose animals are experiencing EHD symptoms (which are virtually identical to bluetongue symptoms, which is common in cattle). Read the press release here.

In Washington, hunters have been finding limping elk with deformed hooves since the 1990s. Now the disease is spreading, and Oregon Public Broadcasting has the story.

Finally, in Texas, officials had set up a containment zone when chronic wasting disease (CWD) was detected in deer on the border with New Mexico. However, the latest news from the San Angelo Standard-Times says that the new rules will be delayed until the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission on November 7-8. According to the Austin Statesman, that’s after the archery season and a few days after the start of the standard deer season.

The Austin Statesman article has the most detail. Read it here.
The Standard-Times article is a re-print of the Texas Parks and Wildlife press release. Read the press release here.
An Outdoor Life blog also had a few words to say about the restrictions, putting them in national context. Read that here.


Feds Announce State Wildlife Grants

Oregon vesper sparrow and Mazama pocket gopher; mountain plover, burrowing owl and McCown’s longspur; the palila, a rapidly-declining Hawaiian honeycreeper; Karner blue butterfly, grasshopper sparrow, Henslow’s sparrow, and northern harrier; and white-tailed, Gunnison’s, Utah, and black-tailed prairie dogs are among the non-game species to benefit from this round of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s State Wildlife Grants.

The competitive federal grants focus on large-scale, cooperative conservation projects for Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) that are included in State Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Plans (also known as State Wildlife Action Plans — what would government be without changing terminology?).

Seven projects will take place in 12 states: Washington (2), Oregon, Idaho, Nebraska, Colorado, Hawaii, Michigan, Alabama, Arizona, Montana, Texas, Wyoming (and also British Columbia, Canada).

Read about the projects in the USFWS press release, here. Don’t bother to follow the link in the press release for more information about individual projects. It takes you to information about the grants that hasn’t been updated in years.

Photo: Black-tailed prairie dog, by Gary M. Stolz, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service