May is American Wetlands Month. In honor of these critical life support systems that protect our natural, cultural and economic resources, we bring you this inspiring video that highlights the incredible value and beauty of our natural world.
A Talk on the Wild Side.
May is American Wetlands Month. In honor of these critical life support systems that protect our natural, cultural and economic resources, we bring you this inspiring video that highlights the incredible value and beauty of our natural world.
Wildlife biologist Clint Wirick, of our Partners for Fish & Wildlife Program in Utah, tells us how a community and conservationists are proving cattle to be a useful tool for recovering an endangered plant.
In Utah’s rural Garfield County, a 44-acre preserve lies amongst wet meadows, pastures and livestock along the Sevier River. The preserve was purchased nearly 27 years ago by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) as a safe haven for one of the last known populations of an endangered wildflower, autumn buttercup.
In 1989 we listed the plant as endangered because data told us it was on the brink of extinction. The plant is endemic to the area, meaning it is found nowhere else in the world.
Not a whole lot is known about the plant’s life history, and when the preserve was purchased, grazing was discontinued. Over the next 27 years, the preserve drastically changed, and with that change autumn buttercup became nearly non-existent on the preserve, even with reintroduction efforts in 2007 and 2010.
|The grazing gets rid of a dense understory of old plant litter. To the right of the fence, the grazed side, it's green; the ungrazed side is brown. Photo by USFWS|
What happened during that time period was the preserve’s vegetation had become thick with a dense understory of old plant litter.
In 2011 a team, consisting of our Partners for Fish & Wildlife and Ecological Services programs, TNC, Utah Association of Conservation Districts, Utah State University Extension, local landowners, Weber State University and the Natural Resource Conservation Service visited private property where a landowner reported a large population of the endangered buttercup. The field visit was eye-opening.
|Grazing has created open wetland habitat. Photo by USFWS|
The plant was thriving in concert with grazing. The endangered buttercup appeared to prefer growing on the small hummocks, or mounds, created by cattle’s hooves. The team also concluded that grazing may be limiting competition with other plants for resources. It was kind of an “ah-ha” moment.
So the team formulated a grazing plan for the preserve and recruited a local livestock producer. With that, grazing began with a goal to restore autumn buttercup to the preserve. The plan had an experimental design – grazing half the preserve while leaving the other half ungrazed.
A lot of locals have taken notice of the cows on the preserve after decades of no grazing. The Excells, who run a cow-calf operation in Panguitch, Utah, have gotten a lot of questions since they began grazing the preserve and have been happy to provide answers.
|Team members and local volunteers planted about 300 plants. Photo by USFWS|
After initiating the grazing, team members and local volunteers planted about 300 plants grown out from collected seed in 2013. Michele Skopec from Weber State and her students have been monitoring the plants, and data have shown that the plants on the grazed side are surviving much better than those on the ungrazed side of the preserve. Also plant diversity and production have greatly increased on the grazed portion.
The project is much bigger than just one rare plant, it’s about biodiversity, ecosystem health and community-based conservation.
The results of the project are driving development of a long-term grazing plan, a stark contrast from management on the preserve for the last 27 years. The project has been an out-of-the-box approach to endangered plant management and recovery, and it is a great conversation piece when approaching landowners for other habitat work. Results from the data collected have been presented at local, state and national levels, and a publication is in the works.
Now the future looks a little brighter for this discrete yellow flower. More reintroduction plantings are scheduled and our biologists are working with partners to do a larger scale survey on the privately owned wet valley bottom that the buttercup prefers. We hope to find populations that have been unknown because of limited access in the past. This project might be just the tool needed to start the conversation and open access with private landowners.
Story and photos by Peter Pearsall, an employee at Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge, who wrote this during his trip to Death Valley for the “super bloom,” earlier this spring.
In the sun-blasted scrublands and alkali sinks of California’s Death Valley National Park, a glorious transformation is taking place. The sere hills, alluvial fans and rocky washes are ablaze with color, an ephemeral glow brought forth by the blooms of myriad wildflowers. This so-called “super bloom”—acres and acres of efflorescence—is a rare phenomenon made all the more spectacular by the density of desert annuals, species that appear in abundance only in wetter years.
Spring is in full bloom most everywhere, and Dan Magneson, a fishery biologist at Quilcene National Fish Hatchery in Washington state, has an idea for adventurous sweet-tooths.
In the 1960s, I remember reading an article in one of those little magazines (Parade?) found inside the Sunday newspaper that had to do with making violet blossoms into syrup. It was unusual enough that it stuck with me, although I now understand violets are a fairly common food ingredient in Europe.
Violets are one of my favorite spring flowers, and when you pluck the flowers from a plant, you usually are basically pulling off its reproductive organs. So I came pretty close to not writing this piece - because I didn’t want to advocate anything that affected the ability of this plant to perpetuate itself.
But then I read that the violet’s purple blossoms are quite expendable – the plant’s true seed-bearing ability is instead borne from a much more nondescript type of flower. So one can pick the purple ones with a clear conscience.
It takes some effort to gather enough violets to make syrup and you would be wise to enlist as many helping hands as you can. But especially after a chilly, damp and dark winter spent mostly indoors, the opportunity to get outside on those warm and sunny spring afternoons is a pleasant experience for just about everyone.
The actual process of turning the violet blossoms into syrup is pretty simple and straightforward and you will need only minimal kitchen skills and equipment. The internet lists many recipes, which vary a bit from one to the next. The most basic simply calls for boiling water and the addition of sugar. Others advise adding lemon juice, or substituting honey for the sugar. You can also make an elixir by adding brandy into the concoction.
Besides the taste of the syrup produced, another part of the appeal lies in the neat color generated by the purple blossoms. Pouring the syrup onto pancake or waffles, over vanilla ice cream and adding it into iced drinks are among its more popular uses.
And if you are the type who likes to experiment in the kitchen, there are other recipes out there for using violet blossoms to manufacture jelly or to candy the violet blossoms themselves.
|Brown pelicans. Photo by David Pereksta for USFWS|
When I picture the California brown pelican eating sardines, I imagine the bird rolling back a tin of the little fish. For anchovies, I imagine birds ordering a pizza. But that’s not quite their style.
|Info on the study|
The brown pelican is known as a plunge-diving bird. They dive steeply into the water – submerging completely or partly depending on the height of the dive — and come up with a mouthful of fish, often sardines or anchovies. That’s awesome!
But in recent years, populations of the pelican’s key forage species have collapsed, raising concerns about the health of the subspecies. And that’s where you come in.
We are partnering with the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology to launch the first ever citizen science survey for California brown pelicans across the Pacific Coast. The May 7 count will help scientists understand how potential threats from changes in weather patterns, prey availability, habitat or contaminants, could impact California brown pelican populations over the long term.
We won’t give up on the brown pelican, and let’s remember it’s a tough species.
Like the more famous bald eagle, the brown pelican was decimated by the unregulated use of the pesticide DDT in the middle of the 20th century. DDT and other pesticides in the environment got into water and contaminated fish, and pelicans (eagles, too) ate contaminated fish. This caused the birds to lay eggs that had shells so thin they broke during incubation.
In 1970, under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973, we listed the brown pelican as endangered. And in 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency banned nearly all uses of DDT.
Again, like the eagle, pelicans recovered and were removed from the federal endangered species list in 2009.
If you live on the Pacific Coast, consider helping out with the survey for California brown pelicans on May 7. And hopefully you’ll see a 10.0 dive.
Matt Trott, External Affairs
In five months, delegates from around the globe will meet for the world’s leading forum to debate and discuss issues related to international wildlife trade. The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, will run from September 24th to October 5th in Johannesburg, South Africa. Nearly two years ago, the United States began its public process to gather and evaluate information related to species involved in international trade. Two years of hard work culminated yesterday in the submission of 11 documents and the co-sponsorship of several others to be considered by CITES member countries at the meeting. In the coming months, we will continue to engage the public as we evaluate documents submitted by other countries and develop negotiating positions on the full agenda of CoP17.
|Pangolins, or scaly anteaters, are covered with overlapping scales made of keratin, the same protein that forms human hair and finger nails. Photo by Tikki Hywood Trust|
Pangolins hold the unfortunate title of most heavily trafficked mammal in the world, with more than 1 million poached from the wild in the last decade alone. The silver, or shall we say scaly, lining is that countries where pangolins can be found are leading the charge to protect their native species. Thanks to the combined efforts of Vietnam, India and the Philippines, all four Asian pangolin species will be considered for transfer to Appendix I, which provides the greatest level of CITES protection. Similarly, Nigeria and Senegal, along with other African countries, have proposed transfer of all four African pangolin species to Appendix I. If adopted, these proposals would halt commercial trade in these species. The United States has co-sponsored all of these proposals and will work hand-in-hand with these countries to gain support for these uplistings, a critical step in stopping the illegal trade in pangolins.
The African grey parrot – a highly intelligent bird that is popular as a pet – has experienced significant population declines in the wild. In Ghana, where African grey parrots were once common and widespread, populations have declined between 90 and 99% since the early 1990s. Over the past 25 years, exports of more than 1.5 million wild birds from 18 range states (a range state is where a species is normally found in the wild) have been reported, making African grey parrots one of the most traded of all CITES-listed parrots. Gabon, a range country, has submitted a proposal to transfer the African grey parrot to Appendix, I which will stop the unsustainable commercial trade in wild birds. The United States is proud to offer our support and co-sponsorship to achieve this goal.
|Wild African grey parrots take flight in Lobeke National Park, Cameroon. Photo by Dirck Byler/USFWS|
At the last meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties, the United States achieved increased CITES protections for three native turtle species and 44 species of Asian freshwater turtles, by working in collaboration with China and Vietnam. Following on these successes, the United States will co-sponsor, along with several African range states, a proposal submitted by Togo to include six species of African and Middle Eastern softshell turtles in Appendix II, which ensures legal and sustainable trade in these species. These species are traded mainly for consumption in East Asia. Evidence shows that when protections for freshwater turtles are strengthened in one region, demand in other regions for unprotected species may increase. The United States supports a strategic, global approach to freshwater turtle conservation, to stay ahead of this trend and curb this boom-and-bust cycle.
Chameleons, in demand for the pet trade, are also susceptible to a boom-and-bust pattern and the United States has put forward a proposal to include 21 species of African pygmy chameleons in Appendix II. If successful, this proposal will bring all chameleons under CITES protection.
The chambered nautilus, with its beautifully intricate shell and exquisite coloring is traded in large quantities, mostly as jewelry and shell products. The United States has long been concerned about the impact that this trade may have on the seven species in the nautilus family , as have some ambitious young conservationists (learn more here and here). Nautiluses are slow to reproduce, leaving them particularly vulnerable to overfishing. The United States, Fiji, India and Palau have put forward a proposal to include the nautilus family in Appendix II to ensure its survival in the wild.
The chambered nautilus is a slow-growing, long-lived animal that can take up to 15 years before being able to reproduce. Photo from the Flickr stream of Klaus Steifel shared under Creative Commons licensing.
Another marine species – the devil ray – is in demand for its gill plates, which are thought to have medicinal properties. The United States has co-sponsored a proposal submitted by Fiji to include devil rays in Appendix II.
So far, we’ve only touched on the animal proposals, yet we can’t overlook the importance of CITES protections for plant species. In fact, of the more than 35,000 species protected under CITES, nearly 30,000 are plants! The United States has put forward a proposal to transfer three species of fishhook cacti, collected for the horticulture trade, from Appendix II to Appendix I. Documents on agarwood and holy wood were also put forward by the United States for consideration.
In addition to our animal and plant proposals, the United States, along with South Africa, has put forward a document to encourage youth participation in CITES. Youth engagement is a powerful tool to generate new and innovative ideas while educating and connecting the next generation of conservation leaders. As a partner on the Youth Forum for People and Wildlife, the United States is committed to engaging youth in CITES and wildlife trade issues.
Aligning with the President’s Executive Order, the United States has submitted a document on global efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, including a recommendation that CITES member countries close their domestic ivory markets. The United States and China have agreed to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory and it’s now time for the rest of the international community to join that effort. In a similar vein, the United States submitted a document focused on reducing demand for illegal wildlife products with a draft resolution that, if adopted, would urge countries to implement campaigns that would raise consumer awareness of the impact of illegal wildlife trade on wild populations and influence purchasing decisions.
Perhaps of equal interest to those documents we submitted are those we did not. The United States did not submit a document on musical instruments, as we consulted with the European Union and its Member States on their submission. We will work with countries at CoP17 to ensure that permitting for musical instruments is streamlined and widely used. Regarding polar bears, though we remain concerned about the commercial use of polar bear hides as an additional threat to the species, we are not pursuing increased CITES protections at this time. We are putting our resources into working in collaboration with other polar bear range states to address climate change and mitigate its impacts on the polar bear as the overwhelming threat to the long-term future of the species.
Be sure to check back for other CITES news.
|Henry with a Henslow's Sparrow. Photo by Ross Ketron|
Open Spaces features regular posts by Student Conservation Association (SCA) interns working to promote, protect and study wildlife on public lands all over the United States. Since 1957, SCA has been connecting young people from all backgrounds with life-changing, career-making conservation service opportunities. Learn how you can get involved at www.thesca.org. Today, Henry Woolley, an SCA wildlife intern at Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge checks in.
I leave the office at 5:30 in the morning, and drive through the pre-dawn mist to the blind. Once on the refuge, I turn off my headlights so as not to disturb the cranes. The federally endangered Mississippi Sandhill crane nests in ponds and wetlands from early spring through early summer, and I am participating in my first early-morning observation. We need to find as many nests as we can in order to track where cranes are nesting and find out which pairs are successful in creating the new generation. With only around 125 cranes left in the population, the success of each nest is critical.
I silence my cell phone and exit the truck, making sure the door doesn’t slam. The blind overlooks a pond and the adjacent wet pine savanna, ideal crane habitat. Historically, non-migratory Sandhill cranes inhabited much of the Gulf Coast, but loss of habitat due to timber farming and wildfire suppression has mostly confined the Mississippi Sandhill crane to the 19,300 acres of the refuge. Crane monitoring has been conducted here since before the refuge was founded in 1975, and is currently led by Fish and Wildlife Service biologists Scott Hereford and Angela Dedrickson.
|A nesting Sandhill crane. Photo by Scott Hereford/USFWS|
I climb up into the blind, set up my spotting scope and look at the leg band combination sheet to find the colors on the cranes who have used this pond to nest in the past. I am looking for 434, who was captive-reared and released on the refuge, and his wild-hatched, unbanded mate. Observing them together would indicate they have not yet nested, while observing one without the other would suggest they have a nest nearby. 434 and Unbanded typically nest early in the season. If the first nest is destroyed by flooding, predation, or some other unforeseen disaster, the pair will typically renest.
It’s starting to get light out, so I raise my binoculars and begin to scan the foggy toothache grass and longleaf pine saplings along the pond’s edge. After maybe a minute, I see a flash of red and white through the mist – a crane lying in the grass by the edge of the pond about 50 yards from the blind. Interesting, because cranes roost standing up in water. The crane is alert and looking around. I can’t see a nest because of the dense fog and vegetation, and I can’t identify the crane because it’s lying down. I make a note of the crane’s location and keep scanning.
|Banded Sandhill cranes. Photo by Henry Woolley|
After about five minutes I see another crane about 100 yards south of the reposing crane, slowly walking through the grass and fog. It’s too far, too foggy, and there’s too much vegetation to make an ID, and I lose sight of the crane in the fog. I still don’t know who I’m looking at. I don’t even know if the two cranes I’ve observed are connected.
Ten minutes later, I see an unbanded crane emerge from the fog and tall thick dry grass only about 25 yards from the blind. Based on its location, I believe this is the one I saw walking earlier. Since I am able to confirm it is unbanded, it could mean the crane lying down is 434 on a nest, but I need to make sure so I keep watching.
|Mates 434 and Unbanded. Photo by Angela Dedrickson/USFWS|
The crane lies still for almost three hours, not responding to cranes calling in the distance or flying overhead, not budging when a great egret wades close by hunting. I keep watching in hopes of getting an ID or maybe even a glimpse of a nest, while at the same time keeping an eye out for any other crane activity I need to record.
|MORE INTERN ADVENTURES|
Finally, the crane suddenly stands up! I can see the band combination on its leg – it’s 434! He pokes around at something by his feet, turns to face the opposite direction, and sits right back down in the same spot. Even though I still can’t see a nest, this is nesting behavior and enough evidence to positively mark it as an active nest. The crane I saw earlier must have been his unbanded mate, foraging until it’s time for her to take her turn incubating. It’s my first time doing early-morning crane observation and it’s the first observed nest of the season!
Three years ago, while working as a wilderness monitor with Americorps in Nevada, I realized that I wanted to go to graduate school for wildlife biology. My undergraduate coursework, however, was in environmental science, meaning that I needed experience conducting wildlife field research before I would be eligible for a graduate assistantship. This opportunity to intern with the Fish and Wildlife Service through the Student Conservation Association and Americorps has allowed me to finally achieve my goal of going to graduate school. This fall I will be starting a Ph.D. program studying Mississippi Sandhill cranes, and that would not have been possible for me without the SCA!
|Jenny Marek: "Seeing those beaches covered with oil was quite a shock." Photo by USFWS|
Betsy Painter, working in our Ecological Services Program, talks to contaminants biologist Jenny Marek.
In sunny California, along the southern and central coast made up of mountain ranges and beaches, Jenny Marek and team work to support a bright future for both people and wildlife. Marek is based in our Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office. She coordinates responses to oil spills and provides analysis and consultation on pesticide issues and their potentially adverse impacts on endangered species. This past year, Marek has given the majority of her time and attention to the Refugio Oil Spill.
The spill May 19, 2015, occurred when a pipeline ruptured near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, releasing around 140,000 gallons of oil that flowed through a creek to the ocean. The Service, along with many other agencies, were on site within the first days of the incident, cleaning up the area and capturing birds and other wildlife to bring them to treatment facilities for rehabilitation.
Service biologists and environmental contaminants staff document wildlife and natural resource impacts after the spill. Photo by USFWS
But the restoration work had only just begun.
Working cooperatively with the responsible party, and in partnership with other federal and state partners, we collected and analyzed evidence of impacts to natural resources and wildlife as part of a Natural Resource Damage Assessment. This involved evaluating and monitoring the status of fish, birds, marine mammals, sandy beach ecosystems, rocky intertidal systems, subtidal habitats and recreation.
Now, a year into the response effort, Marek and team are getting ready for the next steps. "We are gearing up to collect data around the anniversary of the spill to help us understand how the injured habitats are recovering," says Marek. "The anniversary will mark a turning point in the case where we will shift from collecting data to understand how the environment was injured, to determining what restoration projects are necessary to compensate for that injury."
Beaches in coastal California experience a seasonal pattern where winter storms pull sand off the beaches. During the spring and summer, the sand accumulates again. Spill response teams regularly check the beaches after storms to discover any uncovered oil and analyze the "fingerprint" of the oil to see if it matches that of the Refugio Oil Spill. No Refugio oil was found on the most recent after-storm outing, suggesting that the cleanup process may be complete. The hope is that the anniversary sampling will have similar results, and restoration projects will then be determined and set up for success.
|Biologist Jenny Marek speaks with community members about the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process at an open house in Santa Barbara this January. Photo by Ashley Spratt/USFWS|
One possible restoration project will benefit the California brown pelican. The species was removed from federal protection in 2009 following recovery, and the U.S. Channel Islands off California are home to the only breeding population in the United States. The restoration project would remove two invasive plant species, Russian thistle and cape ivy, on Middle Anacapa Island to make room for a new pelican nesting habitat. This is just one of the many proposals for restoration projects that will be developed, analyzed, and then taken to the public for their approval.
Oil spills can have a tremendous impact on the environment, but it's people like Marek and the team at the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office that rise to the occasion to minimize damage and restore the land for the benefit of wildlife and local communities.
"When I was a kid, we would camp at El Capitan State Park almost every year and explore the beaches between El Capitan and Refugio,” Marek says. “It's one of my favorite places on earth, so seeing those beaches covered with oil was quite a shock. I am grateful that our staff has the training and experience to jump in and work side-by-side with the unified group of responders to clean up the spill, assess the environmental damage and conduct restoration to bring the resources back."
The noteworthy restoration efforts achieved so far are an example of how oil spill responses go far beyond the initial cleanup—it takes time, dedication, and cooperation to fully restore an environment affected by a spill to its original, healthy status. We look forward to when the restoration process is complete, and Marek and crew can look out over the thriving beach ecosystems and enjoy with pride their hard work and dedication to the wildlife, habitats and communities along the southern and central coast in California.
Editor's note: An update on the Refugio Beach Oil Spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment can be viewed on the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office website.
What should you do if you see a turtle crossing the road?
This time of year many wildlife, like turtles, are on the move. Whether it's for new territory, breeding or a simple quest for food, it's possible that they will wander near or onto roads. Please keep a lookout for wildlife while you're driving.
These tips should help us all be aware and keep turtles safe this season.
1. Be very careful when moving the animal (it could be injured or it could bite you depending on what species). If possible, sometimes it is best to just stand guard as the animal crosses the road on its own.
2. Always keep your own safety in mind – watch out for oncoming vehicles, signal properly when pulling over and recognize your surroundings first before working to help save an animal.
3. If the animal does need to be moved, put it down on the other side of the road in the same direction it was going.
4. Do NOT take it with you - please only focus on helping it get safely to the other side.
5. Get involved with roadside restoration and transportation projects: We're working to make our roads and roadsides work for transportation and the environment. Some of the projects include restoring a place for vernal pools and or even planting milkweed along highways.
6. Learn more about wildlife laws in your state. Contact your State and Territorial Fish and Wildlife Office to verify what is legal for your state and ways you can get involved. You also are always welcome to contact your closest National Wildlife Refuge to learn more about what species to look out for.
Slowing down is one of the most effective ways to share the road with wildlife.
Tiger Salamander, Photo by Caitlin Smith, USFWS
Dan Magneson, a fishery biologist at Quilcene National Fish Hatchery in Washington state, remembers a little invertebrate that first caught his attention as a kid. He still keeps an eye on jumping spiders -- he took these photos.
Jumping spiders are small but often have very colorful, and even iridescent, markings. They don’t spin webs and wait to ensnare prey but instead actively patrol for food.
They love the sunshine and are very commonly seen prowling the outdoor walls of buildings. Their movements are quick and irregular, as though you are viewing them under a strobe light.
Their vision is among the very best in the invertebrate world; the front pair of eyes are greatly enlarged and provide excellent binocular vision, crucial to accurately judging distance. Sensing prey, they will slowly stalk closer in a cat-like manner, and once within leaping range, can jump many times the length of their own body. They first secure a silk thread, a sort of safety line, before the actual leap. The actual jump itself is extremely fast, so much so that your eye probably won’t even register a blur.
Their legs are tipped with hundreds of tiny hairs, each of which is further sub-divided into hundreds more even tinier hairs, each with a tiny foot at the end. This enables them to climb virtually any surface, and they will even climb straight up a vertical window, thanks to the traction gained from the microscopic imperfections in the surface of the glass.
They seem to be curious and to possess an awareness of being watched. They’ll respond by turning to face you and raise their head to in turn study you. They may back up to maintain a comfortable distance, but tend not to flee, but instead keeping facing you.
Males signal females by raising and waving their front legs in a sequence unique to the species; it reminds me of the guy who waves the orange flashlights to the pilot backing the plane out from the gate at the airport.
As kids, we’d use our approaching hand to back up zebra jumping spiders, a very common species, into an open jar, and quickly put the lid on. We’d then catch a housefly and put that in the jar. While I had expected the spider to wait until the fly landed and was thus stationary, I was both surprised and amazed when they would leap up and catch the fly right out of the air. They must have some sort of ability to mentally calculate the speed and trajectory of the target and then accordingly launch themselves on a path to intercept the fly. The fly would be flying around the jar in circles. You’d see the spider watch the fly buzzing about overhead, then seem to cock by its body back as though compressing an internal spring, and the next thing you knew the spider would have the fly locked in a death-grip on the bottom of the jar.
I’ve never tried this method, but I understand that jumping spiders will also chase the dot from a laser pointer, helpful if you are squeamish about using your hand to back them up into a waiting jar.