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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Rescuing Rare Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Chicks, Fledgling from Flooding

Florida grasshopper sparrow chicks
The three Florida grasshopper sparrow chicks found floating in flood waters are healthy and eager to be fed. Photo by Mary Peterson/USFWS

 

Mary Peterson, a biologist in our South Florida Ecological Services Office, tells us about a team effort to save some Florida grasshopper sparrows from heavy rains.

An unpredicted, freak rain event on May 4 flooded nearly all of the first Florida grasshopper sparrow nests of the season, prompting the Service and its partners from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to carry out an emergency rescue of chicks and eggs when the second round of seasonal nesting attempts was threatened by  heavy rains last week.

After the first round of storms, FWC field crews paid increased attention to nests at Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area and a private ranch where these highly endangered sparrows are being studied. Late on the evening of May 17, these crews became increasingly concerned about the approaching rain storms and decided to check nests they knew had chicks or fledglings.

Three 1-day-old chicks were found alive floating in water while the female continued to try to incubate them. One 9-day-old fledgling was also found alive. The birds were collected and cared for overnight. Just before sunrise the next morning crews checked all the known nests and found all of them to be either flooded or in danger of being flooded, with another round of storms on the way. In consultation with FWC, we collected 30 eggs from all the nests at both sites.

We took the eggs and young birds collected to the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation (RSCF) in Loxahatchee, Florida., to be part of the Florida grasshopper sparrow captive propagation program—where just a few days earlier, the first captive-bred Florida grasshopper sparrow chicks had hatched.

Of those 30 eggs, 20 were still viable and at various stages of development. They’re currently being incubated at RSCF. Some of the more developed eggs may begin hatching any day now. The young birds are also being cared for at RSCF and doing well as of May 23.

The effort to save the Florida grasshopper sparrow is truly a team effort. The rescues May 17 and 18 wouldn’t have been possible without the talented and dedicated field crews and Dr. Erin Hewett-Ragheb of FWC’s Florida Wildlife Research Institute. Hats off to Florida grasshopper sparrow technicians Lindsay Wagner, Neil Pearson, Annie Meyer, Conor Eagan, Alison Fox and Michael Maples, and University of Maryland Baltimore County Ph/D. student and expert nest-finder, Archer Larned. They’re all true conservation champions.

Although these floods couldn’t have come at a worse time for the sparrows, this species has been known to re-nest as many as five times and produce as many as three successful broods during a single nesting season. So, fortunately, the reproductive potential is still there to produce young in the wild during this breeding season. All Florida grasshopper sparrow nests found across all sites are being protected with predator fences, which are nearly 100 percent effective. If water levels recede and dry patches of habitat become available, these sparrows could begin building new nests by late May.

Saving Lives in Paradise: 2015 Valor Award Recipient Gabriel T. Cruz

Fish and Wildlife Officer Gabe Cruz, stationed at Guam National Wildlife Refuge, stands with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor in Washington, D.C.

On May 9, Officer Cruz received the Department of the Interior Valor Award in recognition of his highly courageous action involving great personal risk that resulted in the rescue of two individuals.  “The quick thinking and heroic action of Officer Cruz prevented that day from ending in tragedy,” said Pacific Regional Director Robyn Thorson. “Officer Cruz is a credit to the Service and the National Wildlife Refuge System Division of Law Enforcement.” 

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Partners 'Connect the Connecticut'

It started two years ago as an experiment in combining big data with a big conservation vision for the 11,250 square-mile Connecticut River watershed. Today the experiment has evolved into Connect the Connecticut, a collaborative effort among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative and more than 30 partner agencies and organizations to conserve a network of lands and waters that sustain wildlife and people for generations to come.

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Endangered Species That Are More Than Their Silly Names

Some endangered species receive time in the limelight just for being cute and fluffy. This isn't a blog post for them. This post introduces some species that don't often get the spotlight, but should. And not just for their ridiculously entertaining common names. Get to know these amazing, yet troubled, species facing real threats. Join us in sharing their stories!

Rock Gnome Lichen - One of two lichens on the federal list of threatened and endangered species, rock gnome lichen is primarily limited to vertical rock faces. As you can imagine, this lichen gets trampled, so please be careful while climbing! 

Rock Gnome Lichen, USFWS

Snuffbox Mussel - The snuffbox is a small-to-medium sized mussel with a squarish shape. Dams and pollution are threatening these animals. 

Snuffbox Mussel, Photo by G. Thomas Watters, Ohio State University

Dudley Bluffs Bladderpod - Dudley Bluffs bladderpod is a small, cushion plant species in the mustard family. The Dudley Bluffs bladderpod is only known to occur in the Piceance Creek area, of Rio Blanco County in western Colorado. The good news we're working to create guidelines that help minimize disturbance to these plants, their habitats and their pollinators.


Rough Pigtoe 
-  Reproduction for this mussel requires a stable, undisturbed habitat and a sufficient population of host fish to complete the mussel's larval development. This makes it rough to make it to adulthood. 


Shortnose Sucker - Early records indicate that shortnose suckers were once widespread and abundant in the upper Klamath Basin of Oregon and California. Although they are facing a number of obstacles, habitat degradation is the big issue that faces this poor sucker. However, it's closely related species the Modock sucker was recently delisted from the ESA due to recovery, so there’s hope yet for this fish.

Shortnose Sucker


Devils Hole Pupfish - 
This short-lived species (only about a year) is limited to living in a place called Devils Hole, hence how it earned its somewhat disturbing name. In a recent 2015 count found there was a 22% increase in the population from the previous year and was double the 2013 count. 
Devils Hole PupfishDevils Hole Pupfish, Olin Feuerbacher

Get to Know Endangered Species Near You!

Learn more about the endangered species near you and how you can help

Supporting Monarch Butterfly Conservation in Mexico

Monarch on purple coneflower
A monarch sits on a purple coneflower. Photo by Jim Hudgins/USFWS

In February, we proudly joined our Mexican and Canadian partners in Mexico City to celebrate that the 2015-16 eastern monarch butterfly population was overwintering in an area totaling approximately 10 acres. While it might sound like a small area, the estimate reflected a 255% increase in the overwintering habitat occupied by monarchs  from the previous year! While this is great news, our mission to protect monarchs and their migratory route from Canada to Mexico continues.

Working Together for Monarchs

This week, collaborative efforts to protect monarchs are among the topics to discuss at the 21st annual meeting of the Canada/Mexico/US Trilateral Committee for Wildlife and Ecosystem Conservation and Management.  Taking place this year in Ottawa, Canada, the Trilateral Committee has addressed monarch conservation consistently since its inception in 1995. In what was a highlight of last year's meeting, participants joined local Girl Scouts to plant milkweed for monarchs.

 Girl scouts
Girl Scouts were excited to help plant milkweed at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge and protect monarch habitat during last year’s Trilateral meeting. Photo by Kayt Jonsson/USFWS

Despite the recent good news, monarchs are still facing many threats, and collaboration to protect this butterfly is needed more than ever. In comparison to the 20-year average, monarch estimates from last year showed that the population has dropped more than 90 percent. This year’s increase, though encouraging, is still far away from the goal of 225 million monarch butterflies (or nearly 15 acres of overwintering habitat) by 2020,set by Canada, Mexico and the United States. We are encouraged by this year’s increase in population but worry that a late winter storm might have hurt the overwintering population on monarchs in Mexico. The total impact is not yet certain.

Magic of the Monarch

Service Director Dan Ashe, after a recent trip to Mexico, wrote: “I had the privilege of visiting one of world's most beautiful places - the Piedra Herrada Monarch Sanctuary near Valle de Bravo - to see one of the world's most incredible phenomena. All around us, on every leaf, branch and tree, were millions of monarch butterflies - spending their winter as they have for millennia, sheltered in the mountainous forests of Mexico. As long as I live, I will never forget the sight.”

Monarch Butterflies cover trees in Mexico’s Piedra Herrada Monarch Sanctuary. Photo by Ann Marie Krmpotich/USFWS
Monarch Butterflies cover trees in Mexico’s Piedra Herrada Monarch Sanctuary. Photo by Ann Marie Krmpotich/USFWS

Protecting the monarch magic that Director Ashe referenced requires collaboration from Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Research indicates that there are three primary threats to monarchs: 1) deforestation and degradation of the overwintering grounds in Mexico because of illegal logging, 2) loss of breeding habitat in the United States due to land-use changes and decrease of the butterfly’s larval food plant – native milkweed plants -associated with the use of certain pesticides, and 3) periodic extreme weather conditions throughout their range, especially storms in their overwintering.  Other threats include land management practices such as insecticide use, mowing, and increased levels of disease and parasites.

Monarch Conservation in Mexico

While the Service has made monarch conservation a priority in the United States, we also support activities in Mexico that protect these charismatic butterflies and their habitats. Since 1995, the Service’s International Affairs Mexico Program has been working with Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) and the Mexican group Alternare, A.C., to protect the wintering habitat of the monarch butterfly in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR). 

Over the past 18 years, Alternare, A.C. has been one of the primary recipients of funding from the Service’s Mexico Grants Program.  The goal is to promote the long-term conservation of monarch habitat by implementing an innovative, comprehensive training program on how to manage the forest for future generations.  Thanks to this program, a Training Center on Sustainable Natural Resource Management is fully operational in the reserve.

More than 72 community extension workers have graduated and trained an additional 2,000 subsistence farmers on topics such as community planning and governance, sustainable agricultural production, soil and water conservation, reforestation and forest protection, domestic amenities construction (wood-saving stoves, composting toilets, plaster floors, cisterns, adobe bricks), health and nutrition, and solid waste management. The majority of the communities where Alternare, A.C. works have voluntarily created fire prevention brigades as well as citizens’ brigades to monitor illegal logging activities, while simultaneously reforesting more than 90 hectares of core habitat.

Recently senior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff, including Director Dan Ashe, met with Mexican park rangers, monarch experts, and young leaders who are helping to protect monarchs in Mexico. Photo courtesy of José Ignacio Mijares/CONANP

An additional project that the Service has recently supported through a partnership with Geoconservacion, A.C. and CONANP was to train 15 young leaders to monitor butterflies and ecosystems in the MBBR. As part of the project, the young leaders visited several biosphere reserves and were given nature guides, training manuals, and environmental monitoring equipment.

This year, in addition to the continuing work with Alternare, A.C. and the Mexican government, the Service will work with the organization Ecosistemica, A.C. to develop an environmental education and awareness program for elementary school teachers, students, non-profit organizations and citizens in four Mexican states that span across the migratory route of monarchs (Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas). 

If you want to see what the magic of monarchs is like in Mexico, we encourage watching the video you can find here (Includes subtitles in Spanish).

It’s also possible to get involved in the conservation of monarchs. Check out our resource page to learn more about how you can participate.

Story by Amanda Gonzales and Levi Novey

Happy World Fish Migration Day


When you think about migration, your mind probably goes to birds -- the rufa red knot stops every spring in Delaware Bay to eat horseshoe crab eggs to give it needed energy as it  flies thousands of miles from the coasts of southern Chile and Argentina to breed in the Arctic -- maybe an insect -- the monarch butterfly, with its famous migration over thousands of miles and many generations from Mexico across the United States to Canada --  or even a mammal -- the Pronghorn antelope, one of the longest mammal migrations in the lower 48 states.

Fish Have Impressive Migration Routes

lake sturgeon
An underwater view of three Lake sturgeon. Photo by Eric Engbretson


But did you ever think about lake sturgeon? They will travel hundreds of miles annually from their homes in lakes to the rivers where they were born to spawn in fast, flowing water. Or how about Atlantic salmon, which migrates more than 6,000 miles annually to reach the rivers where it was born to spawn new generations of salmon. 

CELEBRATE!
  • World Fish Migration Day is on May 21.

They may be some of the marathoners of the fish world, but migration is not always about long-distance moves or spawning. Darters may need to move as little as a half mile for food; trout seek out deep water to overwinter.

But all of these fish and many others often can’t complete their amazing migrations because of barriers to fish passage – like dams, road culverts, low water levels and levees. In fact, there are more than 6 million barriers in the United States that stop fish from reaching their travel destination.

Helping Fish by Removing Barriers

This Hurricane Sandy resilience project removes the Centreville Dam in Centreville, Maryland, providing unimpeded passage for river herring and American eel to two miles of spawning habitat in Gravel Run, a tributary of the Corsica River. A local municipal building, evacuated several times in floods, will also be protected from future flooding. Photo by Jim Thompson/Maryland Department of Natural Resources


Since 1999, our National Fish Passage Program has been providing funding and technical assistance to reconnect aquatic habitats. In those 17 years, the program has removed 1,530 fish passage barriers, reopened 21,401 river miles, and reconnected more than 166,751 wetland acres that has benefitted more than 90 species of fish and mussels 

Oh, who cares about fish, you say. Um, surely, you jest. 

Fish are an important part of our natural heritage – here’s a picture of George Washington’s fishing tackle – and many of the fish that need to migrate can end up on your hook or even on your dinner plate. Think salmon or lake trout.

But I don’t fish or eat fish, you sneer. 

Why Help Fish Migration?

Fish are also an important link in our food web. They’re food for wildlife, like birds, bears and other fish. When fish die, their carcasses can even provide nutrients for plants.

Beyond the food issue, fish and free-flowing rivers are important to people (or at least they should be). 

Free-flowing rivers increase recreational opportunities for boating and wildlife viewing.   

Fish also tell us how well we are caring for our waters. When fish are abundant, water quality is good; when they are gone, something is wrong. By restoring wetlands we restore natural filtration, which keeps water quality high. 

And free-flowing rivers make surrounding communities more flood resilient by providing a place for the water to go during storms and wet years. 

Also, many of the barriers to fish passage, especially in the United States, are aging dams and poorly designed road stream crossings. These pose threats to communities should they fail.

Fish Migration Means $$$

Even from an economic standpoint, fish passage saves money and more. 

culvert fail
A road crossing failed to hold up over Johnson Brook in Vermont. Photo by USFWS


We have been building road-stream crossings with larger, fish-friendly channel-spanning structures, and when rains drenched Alaska a few years ago, almost all the new-style crossings survived the flooding. Roads that would have been under water were able to handle emergency response, commerce and transportation… all for fish’ sake. 

Local fisheries thrive or come back once fish passage is restored, too. So even if you don’t fish, others do, and if fish return, anglers usually follow. That can mean big bucks for local economies. 

But even with our work, there are still 5.99 million barriers out there. World Fish Migration Day on May 21 will create awareness on the importance of migratory fish and free-flowing rivers. 

So next time someone mentions migration, share some facts about the lake sturgeon or darter.

 

Matt Trott, External Affairs

New Technology Helps Conserve Vital Wetland Habitats in the Last Frontier

salmon in spawning stream

Half of the 150 million acres in the National Wildlife Refuge System are in Alaska. These lands contain vast areas of intact wetlands that support migratory waterfowl, endangered species and salmon, which are of great economic, cultural and biological value.

Alaska’s wetlands account for approximately 65% of all the wetlands in the United States. For nearly 35 years, the National Wetlands Inventory program has worked with other federal and state agencies to inventory and map these vast wetlands. Wetland mapping is a fundamental requirement for inventorying and monitoring on refuge lands and provides vital habitat information in support the Service’s conservation programs to assure that habitat protection activities are focused on the highest priority areas across Alaska. Learn more: http://1.usa.gov/24MCrep 

Celebrate International Migratory Birds

Cinnamon teals by Gary Kramer/USFWS
Cinnamon teal. Photo by Gary Kramer/USFWS

Gregory Hughes, the Chief of Migratory Birds for our Southwest Region, writes in Sporting Classics Daily about a sign of spring that lifts his soul. “As the northern hemisphere of our planet wobbles back into the spring season again, the increasing daylight signals waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds to move north as countless species have done since time immemorial.”

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First Captive-Bred Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Chicks Hatched

Florida grasshopper sparrow and chicks.   Photo credit: RSCF/www.rarespecies.org

The Florida grasshopper sparrow “is teetering on the brink of extinction.  There are probably less than 150 left,” says Larry Williams, our State Ecological Services supervisor in Florida. That’s why it’s so important on May 9 the first captive-bred Florida grasshopper sparrow chicks hatched at the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation in Loxahatchee, Florida.

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Kansas Refuge Helps Keep Tabs on Migratory Waterfowl

Jim Dubovsky is the Central Flyway representative in the Division of Migratory Bird Management. Hunters have always been important to conservation, and Jim explains how they team up with biologists in a wingbee. 

 ducks
A mixed flock of ducks takes off from a wetland. Photo by Gary Kramer/USFWS


For the past quarter century, Flint Hills National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Kansas has played a pivotal role in keeping track of migratory waterfowl species across the nation’s midsection. Since 1992, the refuge has hosted the Central Flyway Wingbee, a waterfowl-monitoring effort coordinated by our Migratory Bird Program.

 wing
Gadwall wing with envelope. Photo by Jim Dubovsky/USFWS

A wingbee combines the eyes, ears and conservation ethic of hunters with the scientific expertise of wildlife biologists to assess the status and harvests of North American waterfowl. Wingbees are conducted in each of the four U.S. migratory bird flyways: Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific.

The U.S. portion of the Central Flyway stretches from Montana and North Dakota southward to New Mexico and Texas. Here, briefly, is how the Central Flyway Wingbee works.

The Migratory Bird Program asks hunters how many ducks and geese they shot during the most recent waterfowl hunting season. In addition, selected hunters are asked to send to a central location one wing from each duck they harvest, and the tail feathers and wingtips of each goose they harvest. From those waterfowl parts, and using waterfowl wing and tail-fan keys for guidance, biologists can determine the species, sex and age of each duck and species and age of each goose harvested.

Hunters from states in the Central Flyway send their wings and tails to the post office in Hartford, Kansas, where they are retrieved by Flint Hills Refuge biological technician Lyle Hancock. Lyle opens each envelope to determine the species, writes the species on the envelope, and then places each envelope containing the part(s) in a walk-in freezer at the refuge, where they are stored until the hunting season ends.

 wingbee
Biologists analyze waterfowl parts at the Central Flyway Wingbee. Photo by Jim Dubovsky/USFWS

Each February, about 40 biologists from federal, state and other agencies and organizations gather at the refuge for a five-day wingbee to examine the duck wings and goose tail fans and wing tips. With the support of Refuge Manager Jack Bohannon and refuge biologist Tim Menard, the 40 biologists examine all the wings and tails. The data are entered into an electronic file for later summarization and analyses. Reports that result from these efforts are available on the Migratory Bird Program’s Hunting Activity & Harvest and Flyways pages.

 Lyle Hancock
Lyle Hancock (left) accepts a plaque from Jim Dubovsky, as a thank-you to Flint Hills Refuge for 25 years hosting the Central Flyway Wingbee. Photo by Kammie Kruse/USFWS

By classifying the species, sex and age of up to 20,000 wings and tails each year, biologists can determine Central Flyway hunters’ harvests of adults and young for both males and females for each species of duck, and adults and young for geese. This information is used in population models and other decision-making tools to determine the appropriate level of harvest for the continent’s waterfowl, ensuring abundant ducks and geese for hunting, wildlife observation and other recreational activities.

Lyle has handled every waterfowl part that has come through the wingbee since Flint Hills Refuge began hosting it, about 525,000 parts. The refuge’s partnership in this effort has been paramount in the Migratory Bird Program’s success at providing critical information for the management of waterfowl in the Central Flyway and beyond.

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