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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Researching the Reproductive Health of Ozark hellbenders

   Ozark-Hellbender. Jeff Briggler
Ozark-Hellbender. Photo by Jeff Briggler

The federally endangered Ozark hellbender is a large salamander that spends its life under large rocks or in crevices in clear, cool spring-fed streams in southern Missouri and northeast Arkansas. Drastic declines have occurred in populations of the Ozark hellbender since the 1970s, and experts are still working to understand reasons for the salamander's decline.

One factor potentially contributing to hellbender population decline is the sperm health of male hellbenders. Endocrine disrupting compounds, which have been shown to alter normal reproductive development in various aquatic species, have been detected in streams occupied by Ozark hellbenders. Biologists wondered if these compounds could interfere with the reproductive cycle of this species.

To address this question, Service biologists captured Ozark hellbenders during the breeding season and assessed the rates of motility (percentage of moving cells), viability (percentage of live cells), and concentration of sperm samples. Preliminary results indicate that Ozark hellbenders are producing healthy sperm, with viability and motility rates approaching 100 percent in some instances. This bodes really well for captive breeding efforts and natural reproduction in the wild. 

Learn more about other amphibian conservation and research projects at http://1.usa.gov/1HOIIwM 

Non-natives Threaten Colorado River's Endangered Big River Fish

smallmouth bass
A smallmouth bass that has eaten a native bluehead sucker on the middle Green River. Photo by Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

One hundred years ago, 13 native fish species flourished in the Upper Colorado River and its tributaries. Today, they have been joined by more than 50 non-native species. Predation and competition by non-native fish species is considered the primary threat causing the decline of native fish, and it’s also one of the most difficult to manage.

There are currently four endangered fish in the upper Colorado River – the bonytail, humpback chub, Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker. And to help bring these four species of endangered fish back from the brink of extinction, the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program (Recovery Program) was created. 

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Celebrating our Independence - Tips for Watching out for Wildlife

Photo: National Park ServicePhoto by National Park Service

Celebrating Independence Day is, and should be, a lot of fun. Barbecues, beaches, parades and fireworks can be great ways to celebrate our country’s tremendous journey since the Continental Congress made that declaration July 4, 1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident... “ But please remember that those bright colors and thunderous explosions can have a real impact to wildlife. Here are a few ways you can help mitigate the harm to wildlife and their habitats while you celebrate the Fourth of July.


Pangolins Benefit as United States, Range States Gather to Plan Critical Conservation

Temminck's ground pangolin. Photo by Maria Diekmann/Rare and Endangered Species Trust

Delegates came away from the first Pangolin Range States Meeting, which was co-hosted by Vietnam and the United States and organized by Humane Society International, with growing hope that their efforts will conserve imperiled pangolins, thought to be among the most trafficked mammals in the world.

Fourteen Asian and 17 African pangolin range countries gathered together with the United States, pangolin experts and representatives from the CITES Secretariat and nongovernmental organizations June 24-26 in Vietnam to develop a unified action plan with recommendations to protect all eight pangolin species.

Right before that, we organized an informal technical roundtable discussion with partners interested in Central African pangolin conservation as a side event to the 2015 Congo Basin Forest Partnership meeting in Yaoundé, Cameroon, to share information about current pangolin conservation activities and compile regional data in preparation for the first Pangolin Range States Meeting

But wait a minute, you say, what’s a pangolin?

Pangolins, or scaly anteaters, are mammals with bodies  covered in overlapping scales made of keratin, the same protein that forms human hair and finger nails, and rhino horn. Found in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, pangolins are used in traditional Asian medicine and considered a luxury food in many cultures. Like most wildlife pangolins are also threatened with habitat loss. (You can learn more on our pangolin page.)


Growing up Outdoors

Fishery Biologist Dan Magneson, the assistant hatchery manager at Quilcene National Fish Hatchery in Washington, remembers his youth.

tackle box
Tackle box or time machine? All photos courtesy Dan Magneson

You often hear of how so many kids today find their recreation mainly behind an electronic screen, but when I am on the beaches at nearby Port Townsend, Washington, I witness some hold-outs against a life dominated by technology. I observe a number of kids out beachcombing, especially for bits and chunks of highly prized sea glass, almost every time I am out there. 

One day I encountered some kids on the Union Wharf, on their bikes and carrying fishing rods; one had a small green tackle box similar to the one I carried at about his age.

I’m nearly 57 years old now, but that sight was like looking in a sort of mirror, transporting me back in time to the days when I was about the age of these guys.


Conserving Monarch Butterflies with the States

A monarch butterfly perches on a New England aster at Sand Lake Wetland Management District in South Dakota. Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS

Our Director, Dan Ashe has joined Larry Voyles, President of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), in signing a joint memorandum promoting collaborative efforts to conserve the monarch butterfly and other native pollinators.

The memo, signed at the 2015 North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Omaha, Nebraska, urges state and territorial fish and wildlife agencies to be resourceful in helping to turn around the severe drop in monarch butterfly populations, which have declined by more than 90 percent within the past 20 years. 

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“In 1996, we saw populations of a billion monarch butterflies funneling down from all over the Unites States to overwinter in Mexico, but those populations have dwindled,” said Ashe during the memo signing.  “In 2013, we saw the lowest populations ever recorded – about 30 million monarch butterflies.” 

Weed control practices, particularly on corn and soybean fields, have impacted the availability of milkweed in North America. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed plants and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs.   According to Ashe, the key to conserving monarch butterflies is to put good habitat on the landscape. 


Thornton Creek Comes to Life


A few months back we shared the story of Service geomorphologist/hydrologist Paul Bakke, who, along with many partners, was restoring Thornton Creek in Seattle. A filmmaker documented the work and is telling the story, too.

Columbia Spotted Frog Conservation

Columbia Spotted Frog in Water 
The Great Basin population of Columbia spotted frogs, currently a candidate species for Endangered Species Act protection, is found in eastern Oregon, southwestern Idaho, and the northern drainages of Nevada. Spotted frogs live in spring seeps, meadows, marshes, ponds and streams, and other areas where there is abundant vegetation flooded throughout the year. The largest known threat to the Columbia spotted frog is habitat alteration and loss, specifically the loss of wetlands used for feeding, breeding, hibernating, and migrating.

Service biologists are working with our partners to monitor current spotted frog populations to assess population trends and distribution, and also improve and create habitat throughout the Great Basin to prevent the frog’s further decline.

For example, as part of a Conservation Agreement and Strategy for the Toiyabe Mountains and Northeast populations of Columbia spotted frogs, 36 ponds were created in central Nevada and all ponds have documented occupancy with 77 percent having breeding activity. And in Idaho, a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances was completed to improve breeding, foraging, dispersal, hibernating habitat, and migration corridors for Columbia spotted frogs at Sam Noble Springs while allowing continued livestock use on these state lands. In addition, 41 ponds were constructed or enhanced on private lands in Idaho to increase breeding habitat and connectivity between existing populations.

Active monitoring, research, and habitat improvement projects are occurring or are planned throughout the entire range of the Great Basin population of Columbia spotted frogs, which are increasing our knowledge of life history characteristics, population fluctuations, effectiveness of habitat improvement projects, genetics, and stressors to the species. Learn more about this species and other efforts to protect amphibians: http://1.usa.gov/1HOIIwM 

Chiricahua Leopard Frogs Battle Non-native Predators, and We're Helping

 Chiricahua leopard frog
Chiricahua Leopard Frogs have disappeared from much of their historical range in Arizona and New Mexico. Photo by Jim Rorabaugh/USFWS

The Chiricahua leopard frog is a threatened species found in streams, ciénegas, cattle ponds and other wetlands in the high valleys and mountains of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, and  eastern Sonora and western Chihuahua, Mexico.

The biggest threat to this frog right now is getting eaten by non-native, introduced bullfrogs, fish and crayfish.


The Ache of Lost Wings

Chuck Blanchard in our Division of Refuge Law Enforcement commemorated last week’s Pollinator Week with this poem:

I must look as if I am praying

as I kneel before the flowers

a brush and bloom in hand.

Little bits of yellow float up,

then down often settling in the flowers well.

Lovers who never touch

                should never have to rely

                upon such a ungraceful and rigid Cupid’s touch.


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