Archive for the ‘National Parks’ Category

Iraq Creates its First National Park

Early this month, Iraq’s Council of Ministers announced the designation of Iraq’s first National Park. The Mesopotamian Marshes, located in Southern Iraq, are a critical wetland that some consider to be the original Garden of Eden. However, during the Gulf War, then-president Saddam Hussein drained much of the area, reducing the marshes to less than 10 percent of their original size. Following Hussein’s downfall, re-flooding efforts were established with great success. Wildlife that utilized habitat pockets when the drainage occurred was able to fan out as the marshes expanded once again.

Current threats to the marshes include water politics and urbanization. Countries to the north are restricting water flows into the region, forcing Nature Iraq to build an embankment to increase water flows in the spring. Development, and road construction could also affect the park long-term, though this is a double-edged sword. More development could lead to an increase in tourism in the region, which could boost long-term success of the park. Success will also depend on an effective water-sharing strategy.

Deforestation Ban Working in Costa Rica

Researchers from Columbia University recently published their findings on the effectiveness of Costa Rica’s old growth conservation program. The  study, led by Matthew Fagan, found that since the program began in 1996, loss of old-growth forest to agricultural conversion has dropped 40 percent. The study found that the program has succeeded despite an increase in agriculture in the country, mainly in large-scale pineapple and banana exports.

The ban has been less successful in stopping conversion for cattle pasture, however. The researchers wrote, “”Our results suggest that deforestation bans may protect mature forests better than older forest regrowth and may restrict clearing for large-scale crops more effectively than clearing for pasture.” Because pineapple and banana exports in Costa Rica are primarily large-scale operations that are subject to environmental critique, owners are more inclined to adhere to the conversion ban. Cattle ranchers, however, are typically smaller-scale operations that produce meat for local consumption; ranchers see less incentive to adhere to the ban.

U.S. House Proposes Eliminating Funding for Conservation Programs

A proposal made by the House of the Interior’s Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee could eliminate funding to several key conservation programs. Put on the table by the Republican-led committee, the proposal suggests cutting off funding to the State & Tribal Wildlife Grants Program, North American Wetland Conservation Fund, Neotropical Migratory Bird Fund, Forest Legacy Program and Water Conservation Fund.

For contact information for the subcommittee’s chairman and ranking member, click on the link above.

World Elephant Day

August 12th marked the second annual World Elephant Day, a designation begun in 2012 to bring awareness to elephant conservation. Reviews of the past year’s elephant management strategies indicate that ivory poaching and trafficking continue in Asia and Africa, and urbanization, primarily in developing countries, remains a serious threat to elephants’ already reduced habitats.

An increase in public awareness is one positive trend the last year has seen, thanks to programs such as World Elephant Day and sharing through social media sites. However, awareness is the first step in a long process that is necessary to conserve elephants. Political leaders, NGOs, law enforcement officials, and stakeholders will all need to work together to enforce anti-poaching regulations and establish effective conservation policies.


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Bighorn Sheep (Photo Credit: NPS)

Bighorn Sheep (Photo Credit: NPS)

An outbreak of pneumonia is killing bighorn sheep in the Mojave National Preserve. The origin of the outbreak is unknown, but an angora goat was found in the vicinity of Old Dad Mountain. Goats can carry diseases like pneumonia that wild sheep have no natural defense against, though the goats may not present symptoms of the disease. Pneumonia has a 50%-90% mortality rate for bighorn sheep, and contact is not required for transmission. And because there are no treatment or vaccination options available, pneumonia outbreaks can eliminate entire herds.

A 2010 pneumonia outbreak decimated bighorn sheep populations in the western US. Surviving sheep become carriers of the disease, and pass it along to their offspring, making natural recovery nearly impossible. According to the NPS website, pneumonia outbreaks have reduced herds of bighorn sheep in western states by up to 90 percent.

Last week, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted a three-day survey by helicopter of regions where affected or potentially affected herds of sheep are found. the results are still being compiled.

NPS story here

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Credit: NPS.gov

Credit: NPS.gov

Last week, Montana State Governor Steve Bullock vetoed the remaining two bills that would have threatened the progression of wild bison reinstatement in Montana. Of the fourteen bills originally proposed, three made it through to be approved or vetoed by Gov. Bullock. The first of those three bills was vetoed in April.

The bills were part of a legislative effort to halt Montana’s efforts to restore free-roaming bison in areas around Yellowstone National Park and within the Fort Peck Reservation. The ‘anti-bison’ bills, including one that would have allowed farmers to shoot bison that wandered onto private property, could have derailed bison recovery efforts. Defeating these bills clears the path for ongoing and new bison recovery work, including management of the Fort Peck bison herd.


Defenders of Wildlife

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A new bill that would allow private landowners to shoot and kill bison found on their property is receiving mixed reviews form Montanans and wildlife supporters. The bill was created by Montana Republican legislator Alan Doane, and its main purpose would be to allow private landowners to shoot and kill bison found on their property. It would, by default, challenge elements of the recently overturned lawsuit between Park County Stockgrowers, et al and Montana Department of Livestock, et al.

Proponents of the bill point out that it protects landowners’ rights to manage their property and livestock, and that wild bison are dangerous and disease-ridden. Critics claim that the bill devalues native wildlife, and sets the precedence that killing wild animals is an appropriate solution to land conflicts.


The proposed bill brings up several valid arguments from both parties, those who support the bill and those who oppose it. While disease is an important and potentially devastating threat to ranching, one common criticism of this bill is that it fails to address elk, another wild animal that can transmit brucellosis to cattle. If the bill is primarily aimed at protecting cattle from disease, shouldn’t it account for both bison and elk? Nonetheless, it makes clear the importance of continued brucellosis research. Ranchers have a right and a reason to be worried about their cattle, their livelihood. However, there have been no documented cases of Yellowstone bison transferring brucellosis to cattle, so the weight of the bill’s argument seems unsupported. More research would help both bison advocates and ranchers understand the risks associated with the disease, and allow the two parties to come to an educated agreement regarding bison management.

Property damage is another argument found within the bill. According to residents in the area that the bill affects, bison cause significant damage to fences, land, and other property. They also create other disturbances, from congregating at a school bus stops to harassing horses and other livestock. There is no doubt that bison cause problems and create disruptions for local citizens. In fact, bison have become so disruptive that some residents are likening them to vermin. However, as the judge who dismissed the original lawsuit stated, Montana is a wild place, and those who live in the state must expect and be prepared to share their land and lives with wildlife.

Montana has done an excellent job in setting the precedence that native wildlife, especially bison,  is important. That being said, there are reasonable concerns in this bill that should be addressed, validated, and resolved. The common support of citizens of Montana will be key to the continued and progressive protection of bison. Although this bill is not likely to pass, I am curious to see what the next steps taken are to reach a balance between wildlife advocates and ranchers.


The Wildlife News


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Last week, a Montana judge dismissed the lawsuit filed against supporters of Montana’s Interagency Bison Management (IBMP), effectively permitting bison to roam on a 70,000 acre range outside of Yellowstone National Park boundaries.

The lawsuit was filed by the Park County Stockgrowers Association and the Montana Farm Bureau Federation in response to changes made to the IBMP in 2011, which included an addendum allowing bison to roam outside of park boundaries. The petitioners argued that allowing bison to roam on public and private land outside of the park would expose cattle in the area to brucellosis, a disease that causes cattle to abort their fetuses. Bison living within the park, along with elk and deer in the area, have tested positive for the disease, which can be transmitted to cattle through contact with an infected animal or the infected animal’s fluids.

According to the petitioners, the changes made to the IBMP failed to adhere to the Montana Environmental Policy Act and the Montana Code,  and that the changes violated the petitioners’ “right to a clean and healthful environment.”

Park County Attorney Brett Linneweber was dissapointed with the ruling, claiming that it failed to consider alternatives such as moving bison to Indian reservations. However, last year’s relocation of a herd of bison to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation has drawn heavy criticism from ranchers in the area.

The 78-page ruling, issued by District Judge E. Wayne Phillips, acknowledged the petitioners’ argument that bison pose a threat to people and cattle, but said that such a threat is part of co-existing with Montana’s wildlife. Judge Phillips concluded his report by saying, “In this case there is certainly a large potential of over-abundance of bison . . . That refusal, however, is beyond the purview or jurisdiction of a Montana District Court.”

The petitioners have 60 days to decide whether to appeal to the Montana Supreme Court.


Strange Bedfellows Hold Ground for Bison in Montana

Judge Upholds Montana’s Free-Roaming Bison Plan

Complete Ruling

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Burmese python

Burmese python

One month from today, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will implement the 2013 Python Challenge. The challenge was created with the goal of reducing Burmese python numbers in the Everglades National Park. A $1,500 grand prize will be awarded to the hunter who kills the most pythons during the challenge, which will take place from January 12 thru February 10. There will also be a $1,000 prize awarded to the hunter who kills the longest python.

The program is designed to involve the general public with python management. Registration for the competition costs $25, and includes a required online training program. The program will teach hunters how to locate the hard-to-track snakes, and how to humanely kill them. The park will be off-limits to any persons not participating in the challenge during the one month time span.


Python size relative to 6ft man

The Burmese python, an invasive species native to Asia, has been thriving in the Everglades for the last 33 years. Population numbers in the park are difficult to predict, but could range anywhere from 5,000 to 170,000. The python is thought to have been initially introduced to the Everglades through the exotic pet trade industry, when Python owners who could not manage the growing snakes released them into the park illegally.

The python, which can grow up to 23 feet long and weigh as much as 200 lbs, is decimating native wildlife species within the park. The snakes thrive on the warm, lush habitat and, because of their size, can prey on animals ranging in size from small rabbits to full-grown deer. They also commonly hunt the wood stork, a species of wading bird that is already classified as endangered.

The challenge is aimed at both reducing python numbers and educating the general public about the invasive species. Linda Friar, spokeswoman for Everglades National Park, says the program is designed to see if the public is interested in becoming actively involved with python management. “This is a pilot to see if it will gain public interest in areas that you can hunt so that they would be able to remove and capture these snakes.”

This innovative program could prove to be a successful management tool, should the public show interest through participation. Because pythons can lay up to 100 eggs at one time, infrequent or low-level hunting cannot effectively reduce population numbers. The challenge, should the program work, will be managing hunting around public access to the park, as hunting is not typically allowed in National Parks. Another challenge will be managing the public’s adherence to proper hunting and humane culling methods. Improper hunting could damage the already-fragile environment, and humane culling is necessary for a positive perception of the program.

Allowing the public to hunt pythons could help wildlife officials manage the species at a successful rate. Besides increasing the public’s awareness of invasive species and the damage they can cause, the program could also educate people about the risks associated with python ownership and trade. If the program fails, however, Florida wildlife managers will have to come up with another python management strategy that can surpass the snake’s population growth rate and successfully reduce python numbers in the Everglades.


Florida Tackling Python Problem with Hunting Contest

National Geographic Python Fact Page

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