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Archive for October, 2012

A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B found that in the case of marine animals, geographic range is the key determinant of a species’ extinction risk.

The study was led by Paul Harnik of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, and along with Carl Simpson from the Museum für Naturkunde and Jonathan Payne of Stanford University. Together, they studied over 6500 marine animal fossils from 500 million years ago, looking for common factors in extinction rates. They found a pattern among the fossils indicating that marine species with narrow ranges are more likely to go extinct than other species.

The study challenges common assumptions that rare species are most likely to face extinction. The term ‘rare’, the study found, could be applied to a number of factors, including population size, geographic range, or the animal’s tolerable habitat range (that is, where they are capable of surviving outside of their established range). In fact, animals with both a narrow geographic range and a small range of habitat were six times more likely to go extinct than animals with healthy populations and adequate ranges.

The significance of this study lies in its relevance to the impact of climate change and human development on oceans and ocean animals. The article cites global warming, ocean acidification, and overfishing as three main factors affecting marine animals’ ranges. Global warming, in particular, directly affects ocean ranges by causing marine areas to warm up, decrease in size, or change in other measurable ways. As these changes occur, a species’ range becomes more narrow, increasing the species’ risk of extinction.

Thus, climate change has a more significant affect on marine wildlife than what was perhaps initially understood. While ocean acidification and overfishing directly impact a species’ population numbers, it is the range of that species that determines its chance of survival. Therefore, the erect-crested penguin, found in healthy numbers but along only a small section of New Zealand coast, could be as at-risk as polar bears, whose numbers are small but whose range is significantly larger than that of the  penguin’s. Combating climate change and its affects on wild species is a two-part battle: we must protect the species that are declining in population as well as those species who seem to be thriving, but have small, restrictive geographic ranges.

Links:

EurekaAlert Article

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Boulder’s Teller Lake #5 has officially dried up, leaving hundreds of fish left struggling to survive in the small puddles of water that remain. The lake, which is managed by Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, was hit hard by the year’s extreme drought. Low snow levels and runoff throughout the year left little water for the 120 people with junior water rights to the lake.

Water rights in Boulder are based on seniority,  meaning those with senior water rights have access to water before those with junior rights. Sufficient snow levels and early runoff are crucial for junior water storage lakes like Teller Lake #5, because spring melts allow the lake to fill early in the season, leaving ample water for those with junior rights. When snow levels and summer rains are low, senior rights use up a higher percentage of the available water, leaving less for those with junior status. And in this case, that means eventually, there is no water left to fill the lake.

Teller Lake #5 is Boulder’s only lake to completely dry up this season, says Jim Reeder, Division Manager for OSMP. However, water levels in all of the county’s lakes and ponds were down 50% or more this year.  Given the year’s low snow levels and drought, Boulder County will be especially hard-hit if this year doesn’t see improvements. Another winter without early and sufficient snowfall could have a serious impact on the region’s lakes and agriculture.

Fortunately for Boulder County residents and those with junior water rights, snow is expected to hit late tonight, with some areas receiving up to two inches. While it is too early to know if snowfall will continue throughout the winter and into the early spring, when snow melt is most important, the hope is that it will.

As for the fish who are dead or dying in Teller Lake #5, the city is leaving it up to scavengers such as seagulls to clean up the mess.  Don D’Amico, ecological systems supervisor and wetlands ecologist for the city’s open space department, said relocating the low-value fish is outside of the city’s capabilities.

Link:

Daily Camera

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On October 11th the Brazilian Government introduced a new task force designed to ensure continued surveillance of deforestation in the Amazon. The Environmental Security Force will be jointly monitored by the Brazilian Army, the Federal police, and the Brazilian Environmental Institution (IBAMA). “Environmental crime is becoming increasingly sophisticated,” said Izabella Teixeira, Brazil’s Minister of Environment. “To fight it, we are modernizing our control system.”

The new task force was created in response to a spike in deforestation this August. 522 square miles of rain forest were cleared in that month alone, a 220% increase compared to deforestation rates from August 2011. The number of square miles cleared in August is the highest recorded since July 2009, when 836 square miles of rain forest were cleared. According to Teixeira, factors contributing to the rise in deforestation include high commodity prices and drought. Furthermore, an increase in corn and soy products has boosted agricultural development, a main cause of deforestation in the region.

While the creation and implementation of the new task force is a win for environmentalists, it is a small step in a long journey. Of the Amazon’s 2.5 million square miles, 60% is located within Brazil. It will take more than the task force to ensure the protection and conservation of the Amazon, both now and in future years.

Links:

Brazilian Government Press Release

 

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The Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act, known simply as the Duck Stamp Act, has been a critical part of wetland conservation since the program began in 1934. Ninety-eight cents of every dollar from stamp sales goes to purchase or lease wetland habitat to be protected by the National Wildlife Refuge System. To date, more than $750 million have been raised, and 6 million acres have been purchased and protected through this program.

Hunters over the age of 16 who hunt migratory waterfowl must purchase the $15 stamp every hunting season. Birders, hikers, and conservationists purchase the stamps each year to gain free access to national wildlife refuges. The stamps are also a popular collectors item, and increase in value over time.

The program is crucial for the protection and conservation of wetlands and the species that rely on those habitats. By protecting these areas, migratory waterfowl have reliable and undisturbed environments to utilize as they migrate throughout the year. Protected wetlands also support other species such as fish, amphibians, mammals, other birds, and many at-risk species. The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that as many as one-third of threatened and endangered species utilize wetland refuges protected by the National Wildlife Refuge System. Wetland conservation also helps support erosion control, water quality, and soil quality, making fishing and farming in areas near these wetlands more productive.

This year’s winners were announced on October 6th. The winner of the Duck Stamp Contest was Robert Steiner, an artist from San Francisco, California. His acrylic painting of a common goldeneye will be turned into the 2013/2014 Duck Stamp.

Links:

USFWS Duck Stamp Office

USFWS Announcement of Winners

About Duck Stamps

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In September, the US Forest Service (USFS) reported that tree mortality caused by the Mountain Pine Beetle in national forests has declined for the second straight year. Out of 750 million acres of national forest, 3.8 million acres were lost in 2011 due to beetle kill, down from 6.8 million acres in 2010. However, the news in the report is not all positive. This 3 million acre deficit is not reflected throughout forest areas; some counties are reporting unchanging or increasing numbers of trees lost to beetle kill. In particular, the Front Range is still experiencing a Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic. Tree mortality in Boulder and Jefferson counties did not change from 2010 to 2011, and tree mortality increased in Larimer county. The report also recognizes the lack of lodgepole pines as one reason beetle kill declined in 2011. This means that beetles are not necessarily declining in numbers; only that the trees they prefer are becoming increasingly scarce.

There are several reasons for the stagnated or increased levels of beetle kill in certain Colorado counties. Drought and warm winters are two factors that promote beetle epidemics, and Colorado has experienced both of these in recent years. Droughts dry out trees and make them more susceptible to beetle infestation. Dry summers followed by warm winters exacerbates the issue. Because beetle larvae burrow under tree bark in the winters, warm winter temperatures may allow more larvae to hatch come springtime. These factors create ideal conditions for a beetle epidemic, like that which is currently affecting Colorado forests.

While the overall reduction in beetle kill in 2011 is positive news, this generalized decline is not the end of the story. There were still 3.8 million acres of forest lost in 2011, which amounts to .5 percent of all forest land in the US. Of those 3.8 million acres, 0.8 million were in Colorado (See graph). Furthermore, this 3.8 million acre loss reflects only trees killed due to mountain pine beetles–the USFS Conditions Report states that altogether, insects killed 6.4 million of forest in 2011. Other insects affecting tree mortality include the spruce beetle and the fir engraver beetle.

 

References:

USFS Report Summary

USFS Conditions Report

USFS Bark Beetle FAQ

FWS Bark Beetle Damage: Article

City of Boulder Mountain Pine Beetle Fact Sheet

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Most people are used to seeing some wildlife around town, but urbanites might start seeing a new critter in their backyards. According to a study highlighted at the October 5th EcoSummit in Columbus, Ohio, coyotes are becoming increasingly common in urban areas. The study, led by Stanley Gehrt of Ohio State University, pointed to a small coyote population living just 5 miles from Chicago O’Hare International airport as one example of the species’ increased prevalence inside city limits. The coyotes have inhabited a 1/3 square-mile range for the last six years, and seem to be not just living, but thriving.

There are several reasons coyotes easily adapt to urban areas, says Gehrt. A lack of common diseases has increased pup survival rates–they are five times more likely to survive in cities than in the wild. “None of the diseases they’re exposed to really impact them at all,” Gehrt said. Instead, cars have taken over as the leading cause of death. Food and water are also far more accessible in cities than in the wild, making it possible for coyotes to survive within much smaller ranges than they require in wild areas. But the ease with which coyotes adapt to city life might encourage an increase in other, larger carnivores entering urban areas. As coyotes become more common in cities, they may make it easier for mountain lions, wolves, and bears to enter and thrive in city limits.

Thoughts

Sitting at the edge of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is already home to an abundance of coyotes, among other wildlife species. But even here, where coyote warning signs are posted on most open space trails and coyote sightings are common, if not expected, the migration of larger predators into the city has been an issue. This year alone, several mountain lions have made their way into Boulder–one was even found in an apartment pool area nearly two miles from the nearest open space. Bears, too, are making themselves more comfortable in Boulder’s streets. Neighborhoods skirting Boulder Open Space are familiar with bears–tipped over trash cans and scat in alleys are daily occurrences, but recently bear sightings have been reported further into the city, and sightings are becoming increasingly common.

Admittedly, I’m still fairly new to this area. Maybe the urban presence of mountain lions and bears isn’t abnormal at all; it’s just more than what I’m used to. Or perhaps the increase in wildlife within city limits is the result of our especially bad fire season–maybe, as small mammals and herbivores have come into the city searching for vegetation,  the animals that prey on them followed suit.  But it seems like Boulder, being one step ahead of other urban areas’ coyote populations,  is setting an example to support Gehrt’s theories about coyote communities leading to increased predator presence in cities.

Links:

CNN News Blog

Watch Out Urbanites, Here Come the Carnivores

OSU Research News

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On October 1st, the Supreme Court reinstated the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, rejecting several challenges filed against it during the Bush Administration. The rule, more commonly known as the ‘roadless rule’, is a regulation set by Clinton in 2001, and was designed to protect 58.5 million acres of national forest from road development. Supporters of the rule claim roadless areas are critical to habitat conservation. Roads, traffic, and development in an area can contribute to habitat fragmentation, and put threatened or endangered species at further risk. Roads also increase erosion in riparian areas and watersheds, and can negatively impact aquatic species in areas near road construction.

Critics such as the U.S Forest Service point to increased fires in roadless areas as just one reason to reverse the rule. Without roads, firefighters can’t access sections of national forest to clear out beetle kill and dead vegetation,  both of which act as kindling during fire season. Increased road development would allow firefighters to better manage fire-prone areas. Critics also point to the restrictions the rule imposes on the logging and coal industries–logging and coal development cannot happen without roads.

* * *

Honestly, I can appreciate both sides of this argument. On one hand, as a Colorado resident, I witnessed firsthand the devastation of this past fire season.  Over 100,000 acres burned, and more than 700 homes were lost, not to mention the impact the fires had on the state’s wildlife and ecosystems. I can’t help but wonder, if we had more roads leading firefighters into our national forests, would the fire season have been as bad as it was? On the other hand, as an environmentalist who values the protection of wildlife, I can easily understand the perspective of those proponing the rule. Threatened and endangered species are put at an even greater risk when roads are developed in their habitat, and for already struggling species road development  can severely hinder or even prevent their recovery. But, of course, what good is this protection if these habitats are destroyed by excessive fire?

One thing is certain: this situation is an excellent example of the struggle between society and nature.

Links:

Defenders Blog

Media Trackers

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