U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Pacific Southwest RegionCalifornia, Nevada and Klamath Basin

Pacific Southwest Highlights

A solitary monarch in Goleta Butterfly Grove in Goleta, Calif. Recent monarch population estimates are a mere fraction of the 1.2 million monarchs recorded annually in the late 1990s.  Credit: Lisa Hupp/USFWS

Monarch overwintering numbers remain low in the West despite increased conservation efforts

Monarch butterflies are an astonishing insect, especially in the winter. They migrate to Mexico and the coast of California, form dense clusters high up in the trees and hunker down until spring.

In 1997, a few scientists and volunteers in California, inspired by these orange and black clusters, began an organized effort to estimate the number of butterflies wintering along the central California coast, and the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count was born.

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Known for its tule elk and wildlife habitat, the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge has been a part of the San Joaquin Valley since 1967. Credit: Meg Laws/USFWS

50 Years Later: A Community Still Invested

An avid birder and photographer, Rick Lewis is a regular at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge in Los Banos, Calif. On weekends and holidays, he makes the 100-mile trek south from Alameda, Calif., to explore the refuge. 

“It’s [the refuge] spectacular,” Lewis said. “I don’t know what it looked like 100 years ago, but as a birder and photographer, the refuge is paradise.”

Known for its tule elk and wildlife habitat, the refuge has been a part of the San Joaquin Valley since 1967. Authorized 50 years ago through the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, the refuge’s original size conserved 7,360 acres in the valley.

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A close up of the Quino checkerspot butterfly larvae (caterpillars). Credit: Tammy Spratt/San Diego Zoo

Once vanished, rare butterfly reintroduced on San Diego National Wildlife Refuge

A team of biologists from the San Diego Zoo, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, San Diego State University and the Conservation Biology Institute released 742 larvae of the endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha quino) onto the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge last December, the first-ever captive-rearing attempts for this butterfly species.

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Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge staff and volunteers recently rebuilt a six-foot fence to help protect nesting California least terns. “Without the fence we probably wouldn’t have any tern productivity, and all the eggs or chicks would likely be eaten by either ground or avian predators,” said refuge manager Kirk Gilligan. Credit: John Fitch/USFWS

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors: When Survival Depends On Keeping Predators Out

It’s not easy being a tern in southern California.

Due to habitat loss from development and human use of beaches during nesting season, endangered California least terns are left nesting in small areas, making them highly vulnerable to predators.

At the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, south of Los Angeles, Calif., staff and volunteers recently rebuilt a six-foot chain-link and electrified fence to help protect the birds from ground predators.

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Combner, the green sea turtle

A male green sea turtle washed ashore on Vancouver Island, British Columbia last winter. Luckily, he made a full recovery and was released back into the ocean off the coast of southern California. Credit: Jen R/FlickrCC

Lucky Sea Turtle Returns to Its Pacific Ocean Home

In the midst of winter, a green sea turtle suffering from severe hypothermia washed ashore at Combers Beach, located in Canada’s Pacific Rim National Park. Parks Canada staff discovered the ailing and nearly lifeless turtle, and quickly transported him to the nearest marine mammal rescue facility.

“Comber,” named for the beach of its rescue, is the only sea turtle found stranded as far north as Canada, to undergo rehabilitation and survive.

While Canada is an unexpected place for a sea turtle to land, the closest rescue facility, the Vancouver Aquarium, had the capacity and expertise to provide Comber a perfect place to recover.

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To the keen observer, Smith’s blue butterflies can be seen fluttering the coastal dunes or perched upon buckwheat plants around Monterey Bay from the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge southward to Sand City.
Credit: Diane Kodama/USFWS

A Silver Lining for Rare Smith’s Blue Butterflies

With a wingspan of only one inch, Smith’s blue butterflies are a challenge to spot with the naked eye.

Despite their small size and rarity, the attractive bright blue coloring of the males and bright orange and brown coloring of the females never fails to catch the attention of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service senior fish and wildlife biologist Jacob Martin.

Martin, based in Santa Cruz., is a native Californian and works to help recover threatened and endangered wildlife. He has studied the butterfly for more than 10 years.

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Juvenile Delta smelt sampling locations. Credit: Jon Myatt/USFWS

Biologists See Slight Rise in 2016 Juvenile Delta Smelt Numbers, Though Still Below 2012 Estimates

For the first time, Service scientists are able to estimate the number – or abundance – of juvenile smelt throughout the estuary using the State’s surveys and new mathematical modeling. Not only are the scientists estimating current numbers, but they are also able to go back in time and estimate past population sizes. For example, they now estimate that there were 16.4 million juvenile Delta smelt in the estuary in 1996.

Using the State of California’s June Delta smelt surveys, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there were nearly 114,000 juvenile smelt in the estuary this past summer. This is up from an estimate of 63,000 juveniles in 2015, but still considerably down from 2012 estimates of 5.2 million.

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Sacramento River Fish Screen

A cultured delta smelt image inlcuded in the marking study. The study compared the natural markings identification performance of photo recognition software versus human eye indentification. Credit: USFWS

Delta Smelt Markings Study One of Many Highlights at 2016 Bay Delta Science Conference

SACRAMENTO (Nov. 15, 2016) – The feasibility of using natural external marks such as spots and scars to better study cultured Delta Smelt will be the basis of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Gonzalo Castillo’s presentation at the 2016 Bay Delta Science Conference that began today. The conference runs Thursday, November 17.

Castillo’s presentation, “Identification of Individual Cultured Delta Smelt Using Visual and Automated Analysis of Natural Marks,” is one of several featuring USFWS scientists over the conference’s three days (full list below). The popular bi-annual conference provides a forum for presenting technical analyses and results related to the Delta Science Program and to provide new information to the broad community of scientists, engineers, resource managers, and stakeholders working on Bay-Delta issues.

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In southern California, mountain yellow-legged frogs once numbered in the thousands, inhabiting streams like Pacoima Creek in Los Angeles County and Pauma Creek in San Diego County. Credit: Adam Backlin/USGS.

Precious Cargo: Brighter Future For 100 Juvenile Mountain Yellow Legged Frogs, Tadpoles

As I drove up the curving road heading into the San Jacinto Mountains, much of the landscape was dry and yellowed, reflecting the current drought conditions.

After reaching the rendezvous point, I met the group of partners that would be releasing more than one hundred endangered mountain yellow-legged frogs into their natural habitat. The researchers included a mix of federal, state, and local agencies and organizations, all with one designated purpose that day – to help further recovery of an endangered species.

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