Facebook icon Twitter icon Flicker icon You Tube icon

Open Spaces

A Talk on the Wild Side.

Saiga Antelope, Sea Cucumbers, Parachute Spiders and Pancake Tortoises Get U.S. Support at CITES

  saiga antelope on a beachA saiga antelope. Photo by Andrey Giljov/Creative Commons

This month, delegates from around the globe will meet for the world’s leading forum to debate and discuss issues related to international wildlife trade. The 18th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP18) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, will run from August 17 to 28 in Geneva, Switzerland. This meeting was initially scheduled to take place from May 23 to June 3 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, but was postponed and re-located due to security and other concerns after the heinous bombings of three churches and three hotels in Colombo on April 21.

The United States began its public process to gather and evaluate information related to species involved in international trade and improving implementation of the convention more than two years ago, culminating in the submission of 11 documents we advanced or co-sponsored to be considered by CITES member countries at the meeting. We considered all input as we evaluated documents submitted by other countries and developed negotiating positions on the full agenda of CoP18.

Not sure what CITES is or how it works? Visit our website for a quick overview, or to view each of the documents we submitted or co-sponsored.

Here is an overview of our goals going into CoP18 this year, and a discussion of some of the species that are part of the agenda:

Combating Wildlife Trafficking by Strengthening Protections for Species Vulnerable to Illegal International Trade

Saiga antelope are a species native to Central Asia that live in steppe or grassland habitats. They migrate in large herds that can contain up to 1,000 individuals. Unfortunately, their populations have declined more than 80 percent in the past 30 years. In addition to disease and harsh winters impacting their populations, illegal and unsustainable trade in saiga threatens its survival. Male saiga are targeted and killed for their horns, which are smuggled to other countries and sold  for use in traditional Asian medicine. Thanks to the efforts of Mongolia with support from the United States, the CITES Parties will consider transferring saiga antelope to Appendix I, which would provide the species with the greatest level of CITES protection.

  pancake tortoise in small crack in rockA pancake tortoise. Photo by Thomas Leuteritz/USFWS

At the last meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties, the United States achieved increased CITES protections for six African and Middle Eastern softshell turtle species, by working with Burkina Faso, Chad, Gabon, Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, Nigeria and Togo. Following on these successes, the United States will co-sponsor a proposal with Kenya to transfer Pancake tortoises to Appendix I. This species gets its name from its flat and flexible shell, which in addition to its speed, allows it to hide and rest under rock crevices. Decreasing availability of suitable of habitat for pancake tortoises and their value in the pet trade are the key threats to their survival. Evidence shows that when protections for freshwater turtles and tortoises are strengthened in one region, demand in other regions for unprotected species increases. The United States supports a strategic, global approach to freshwater turtle and  tortoise conservation, to stay ahead of this trend and curb this boom-and-bust cycle.

The United States will also consider providing Appendix I protections to other species such as several Asian species of otters, black crowned-cranes, several butterflies, and a variety of reptiles, including lizards, geckos and turtles.

Following the successful uplisting of pangolins to Appendix I at CoP17, the United States  continues to support improved implementation of the Appendix I protections, including actions that further conservation of pangolins in range countries and combating  trafficking in pangolin scales. Similarly at CoP18, the United States will strive to maintain and improve implementation of strong protections for other species impacted by wildlife trafficking including elephants, rhinos, cheetahs, eels, coral, sharks and rays, great apes and jaguars, among others. The United States supports efforts to combat wildlife trafficking through a variety of strategies, including law enforcement, financial assistance, behavior-change and awareness-raising initiatives, and capacity-building.

Ensuring Animals and Plants are Legally and Sustainably Traded to Benefit  People  for Generations to Come

  blck sea cucumber  with white spots on ocean floorOne of the species of sea cucumber proposed for inclusion in CITES Appendix II. Photo by Lesley Clements/Creative Commons

Sea cucumbers have been harvested from oceans for hundreds of years as food. They are an important source of nutrition in Asia and their derivatives are also sometimes incorporated into medicinal products. They have an important ecological role,  too, which is similar to that of earthworms. You might describe them as recyclers for the ocean. Their economic value and the ease of collecting them from the ocean floor without needing complex fishing techniques or expensive equipment makes them vulnerable to over-collection. Despite local protections and legal fishing seasons and limits, in some parts of the world illegal fishing has led to depleted populations of sea cucumbers. There are more than 1,700 species worldwide. Three species found in the Indo-Pacific region, known as teatfish, are distinguished by protrusions from their bodies that make them easier to identify. Available data indicate that they are among the sea cucumber species most threatened by increasing trade and demand in the past 25 years. The United States is co-sponsoring a proposal with the European Union, Kenya, Senegal and the Seychelles to add these three species to Appendix II, to bring the strength of the global community to the task of ensuring these sea cucumbers are only internationally traded if it is legal and sustainable.

 gray  and blue gecko with orange spots and big eyes A tokay gecko. Photo by Marcus Budak/Creative Commons

Tokay geckos are colorful lizards native to Asian countries. They are frequently traded for use in traditional Asian medicine and as pets. They get their names from their territorial call, which sounds like “tok-ay.”To ensure that trade can be sustainable in the long term for these geckos, the United States is co-sponsoring a proposal with the European Union, India and the Phillipines to include them in Appendix II, which would provide CITES protections to regulate the trade.

tan spider withelectric bluelegs with splashes of yellow  A parachute spider. Photo by William Foster/Creative Commons

Ornamental / Parachute spiders are a type of arboreal tarantula native to Sri Lanka and India.   Some of the spiders parachute down from trees with their silk, giving them their name.  They are often large and beautiful colors, making them a popular animal for pets and collectors, and are therefore, targeted by traders. To date, the international trade in this group of spiders has largely been unregulated, which combined with habitat loss, constitutes the main threat to the survival of these species. The United States and Europe are key importers of the spiders. Sri Lanka submitted a proposal co-sponsored by the United States to list all 15 species of ornamental parachute spiders in Appendix II to ensure these spiders are internationally traded legally and sustainably.

Other proposals for CoP18 would move species to Appendix II, so they would receive some new protections or go to a lower level of protection due to recovery of species populations. Some of the higher-profile documents and topics that the United States will follow include proposals to list giraffes, several species of trees and the wooly mammoth. While the wooly mammoth is an extinct species, its remnant tusks are traded and some speculate it could be used to launder elephant ivory.

  GIRAFFE AMID TREESA giraffe in South Africa. Photo by Danielle Kessler/USFWS

Giraffes – of which there are nine subspecies – live in at least 18 African countries, and are now extinct in at least five African countries. Giraffes have a low reproductive output, making them vulnerable to overexploitation. Females become sexually mature at three to four years of age, but the average age at first birth is 6.4 years. In the wild, giraffes can live to about 25 years. While international trade may not be the primary cause of decline in wild giraffe populations, it may have an additive effect when combined with the main causes of habitat loss, civil unrest, poaching for bushmeat--- and ecological changes.

A proposal submitted by the Central African Republic, Chad, Kenya, Mali, Niger and Senegal would include giraffes in Appendix II. By doing so, CITES would provide a mechanism to regulate and monitor trade in giraffes, while generating - for the first time - the data needed to ensure that this trade is not detrimental to the survival of the species.

Improving the Way CITES Works

 class poses Participants in a recent cohort of the CITES Masters Course. Photo by International University of Andalusia Baeza

In addition to listing species in CITES Appendices, the United States and other countries will discuss documents and proposals aimed at implementing CITES more effectively. Among them is a document submitted by the  United States that calls for increased transparency, accountability and effectiveness in CITES capacity-building efforts.  It proposes a three-year process for development of a  framework for capacity-building, which will assist the Convention in prioritizing and monitoring progress of investment in countries targeted for improved CITES capacity.  CITES is only as effective as each country’s ability to administer it.  The needs are significant and CITES authorities often lack adequately trained personnel  and tools to effectively ensure legal and sustainable international trade. For the United States, improving global CITES implementation is key to our efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, recognizing that if CITES is the global framework for legal and sustainable international trade is strong, trading wildlife illegally will be harder.  We have partnered with the International University of Andalucia (UNIA) in Spain to strengthen CITES authorities in Africa, Central America and the Caribbean through the CITES master course, which provides conservation professionals with practical training in CITES.  The impact of the course is demonstrated by the extensive network of graduates who hold key leadership positions in the CITES community.

  stacks of  lumberConfiscated rosewood that was destined for illegal non-permitted shipment. Photo by Wildlife Conservation Society

The United States is supportive of changes to species protections at CoP18 that maintain conservation benefit while reducing the regulatory burden on businesses. For instance, there are a number of documents focused on amending commodities subject to CITES controls under the current timber listings to reflect sensible policy for large groups of species such as rosewood, which is used in a variety of wood products including musical instruments, furniture,and even pet coffins. This year, a proposal to list Spanish cedar will need to be considered such that it balances conservation for the most threatened species of these trees with a more practical understanding of the potential permitting demands it could create.

Along these lines, the United States has also co-sponsored documents with several countries that reflect an ethos of “smart regulation.” Documents for frankincense, marine ornamental fish and songbirds are intended to collect data through CITES and countries so that it can be ascertained whether species currently in trade need to be listed. Finally, seahorses are listed in CITES Appendix II, and the United States has co-sponsored a document with Monaco to present a road map on how to improve CITES implementation that ensures sustainable trade in seahorses.

Be sure to check back for other CITES news and topics of interest in the coming weeks.

Taking Care of Our Own

man in uniform with black dog  Federal Wildlife K-9 Gino and Federal Wildlife Canine Officer (FWCO) Darrin Speegle. All photos by USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes care of those who provide public safety on the lands and waters it manages – and that includes its four-legged corps. 

shaggy black dog lookiing at camerra with ears up and  mouth open

When Federal Wildlife K-9 Gino — partner to Federal Wildlife Canine Officer (FWCO) Darrin Speegle — had a spinal stroke in March, he was rushed to a top veterinary hospital in Georgia. The 83-pound German shepherd went through weeks of rehabilitation to overcome the paralysis of his hind legs, but he suffered more strokes and eventually passed away in June, having served nearly nine years as a Federal Wildlife Canine (FWC).

The loss was as personal as it was professional. “We traveled all over the Southeast together, on wildland fires, on Operation Border Support in Arizona, finding lost kids and sometimes lost hunters,” Speegle says. “Even though canines are a law enforcement tool, they are so much more. I probably spent more time with him than with my family. Gino always had my back.”

The Federal Wildlife Law Enforcement Canine program, now composed of nine units, accepts only 1 percent of eligible canines. Canines complete 420 hours of rigorous training with their handlers because FWCs perform a much broader range of responsibilities than most working dogs: They help locate people, evidence, contraband and wildlife. They must be friendly ambassadors with the public. They are rarely kenneled — as most law enforcement canines are — but instead are with their handlers 24/7.  The FWCO motto is, “Wherever we go, they go.”

  officer and dog look at back of pickup in aa gravel lot

FWCO Speegle, with the Service since 1989, has been a canine handler since 2003. He grew up just seven miles from Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, where he has served his entire career.  His first FWC was Jax, with whom he gained invaluable experience. Then came Gino, who was “over the top enthusiastic about doing the job.”

officer and dog in woods; dog has front paws on tree

Speegle and Gino served not only Wheeler Refuge, but the greater Southeast region to provide security at wildland fire responses, special law enforcement operations, hunting and fishing safety checks, and routine patrols.

During a routine hunting stop, the two encountered a man who decided to run rather than go through the routine safety check. He turned himself in the next morning because he said, “Every time I closed my eyes, I saw that dog.” The man had several outstanding warrants for methamphetamine production and distribution.

On another patrol, Speegle stopped a group of men who were illegally night hunting on Panther Swamp Refuge  in Mississippi. Gino became fixated with the bottom of their truck. “What in the world is wrong with this dog,” Speegle thought. Outcome? Gino found drugs — a rock of crack cocaine about the size of a #2 pencil eraser — that the men had thrown under the truck. These men also had outstanding warrants for their arrest.

Gino helped ensure that Darrin would come home every night to his wife and four children, including son Jack, who formed a special bond with the FWC after difficult surgeries when he was a young boy.

Beyond fighting wildlife crime, Darrin and Gino were community assets. For example, they annually visited a garden club, where they perform an obedience and scent discrimination tracking demonstration. One garden club member was so impressed, she offered to buy a FWC for the Service. Gino and Darrin also worked annually at Wheeler Refuge’s Summer Day Camps for ages 8-13 and were highly visible as they traveled as partners in the K-9 truck with its special logos.

“Darrin and Gino were true ambassadors for the Service,” says Federal Wildlife Canine Coordinator Adam Rawlinson. “From talking to families and kids as they traveled from refuge to refuge, to catching the bad guys, they exemplified what it means to be public servants. Gino had an outstanding career and will be long remembered.”

Atlantic Sturgeon Reproducing in the James River, Virginia

   man all bundled up holding a fishAlbert Spells, Virginia Fisheries coordinator for the Service, didn’t believe Atlantic sturgeon were gone from the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Photo by USFWS

Many believed the Atlantic sturgeon were gone from the Chesapeake Bay watershed. They hadn’t been sighted in rivers that fed the bay for decades. But a few experts, including Albert Spells, Virginia Fisheries coordinator for the Service, thought otherwise, and they worked to recover this fish, engaging concerned citizens, scientists, commercial watermen, state and federal agencies, nonprofit groups, educators, graduate students and volunteers.

Conservation, however, takes commitment to playing the long game, especially when the species you wish to restore is long-lived and doesn’t reproduce until it’s at least 10 years old. But, winning is possible with great partners, a lot of volunteers and dedication to solving unknowns.

fish swim underwater   Atlantic sturgeon are coming back in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Photo by Ryan Haggerty/USFWS

Atlantic sturgeon, one of the oldest and largest fish on earth (growing upward of 14 feet long and weighing more than 800 pounds) were once found in huge numbers along the Atlantic Coast and coastal rivers from Canada to Florida. They were an important food for indigenous peoples along the coast and likely saved Jamestown colonists from starvation.

During the great “Caviar Rush” or “Black Gold Rush,” in the late 1800s, Atlantic sturgeon became a highly prized fishery. Harvest peaked at 700,000 pounds in Chesapeake Bay waters alone in the late 1890s with a total of 7 million pounds in landings from all East Coast states. By 1989, a mere 400 pounds were reported in all of the United States, with few records of them returning to the Chesapeake Bay. Within a hundred years, a species that had lived on the planet for hundreds of millions of years had been overfished.

But Spells and Jim Owen at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) didn’t think it was gone. “You know,” Owen said to Spells one day “they’re catching sturgeon on the James and the York [rivers], but the watermen aren’t gonna tell you about it unless you put something in it for them.” Spells agreed and began cobbling together pots of money from the Service, Virginia, Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) to implement a reward program, “so we could verify if sturgeon were returning to our rivers and tag them,” Spells says. “In 1997, a $100 reward (later $50) administered by VIMS was offered to commercial watermen who caught an Atlantic sturgeon in Virginia and kept them until the Service could tag and release the sturgeon back into the rivers. In less than a year, they had caught 303 fish, including 2-and 3-year-old fish,” he adds.

  small sturgeon in clear box that is sitting on a ruler Young Atlantic sturgeon. Photo by Matt Balazik

“We learned that there was a larger population of sturgeon using Virginia waters than previously realized, and we had evidence of successful spawning. Our efforts encouraged others to start looking for sturgeon in the bay.”

The reward program in Virginia ended after two years, but the coast-wide tagging program that began in 1992 with more than 31 participating agencies from Maine to Georgia continues. Coordinated through the Service’s Maryland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, the program allows the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to delineate migratory patterns and learn where sturgeon may be spawning successfully.

Besides overfishing, other factors were impacting the sturgeon’s survival — pollution, loss of spawning grounds due to heavy siltation, bycatch (fish caught in fishing gear targeting other commercial species) and ship-strikes.

 sturgeon breaching  Atlantic sturgeon breaching in the James River. Photo by Don West

In 1998, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission called for a moratorium on sturgeon fishing, and all 15 states complied. The goal was to protect sturgeon for 20 years, allowing them to reproduce and their populations to grow. Then in 2012, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries listed four populations of Atlantic sturgeon as endangered, one of which was the Chesapeake Bay.

“Our coast-wide tagging program helped us learn where sturgeon go, but we still weren’t finding evidence of spawning or young of year fish,” fish born in that year, says Spells. Finding these super young, less than a year-old fish is significant because it indicates where the adults have been spawning.

   two men in boat netting a fishThe Service’s Albert Spells (left) and Matt Balazik, with the Engineer Research and Development Center for the Army Corps of Engineers, collect sturgeon. Photo by Charles Frederickson/James River Association

Matt Balazik, biologist with the Engineer Research and Development Center for the Army Corps of Engineers, and his team with the Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) Rice Rivers Center, collected 153 young of year Atlantic sturgeon in the James last fall. “This was the first finding of young of year that anyone can recall since…March 2004,” Balazik says. Before that, “the last time we had evidence of sturgeon spawning in the James was 1979,” he says.

“Through Matt’s research, we learned a lot” Spells says. “For example, we discovered that the sturgeon spawn in the fall, when everyone thought they only spawned in spring.”

“There’s no way, however, we would have learned all that we know now if not for the many partners advocating and working to save this species.”

Whether it was a researcher developing fishing gear to reduce bycatch but keep striped bass fishing effective, partners building spawning reefs or finding better sturgeon sampling techniques, Spells says, “It took univer­sities (VIMS, VCU, University of Maryland), NGOs (CBF, James River Association), the states, Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA, Virginia Sea Grant, and many volunteers working together to find and recover Atlantic sturgeon.”

Atlantic sturgeon may have been pulled from the brink, but they aren’t recovered yet. It may take decades for them to rebuild their populations. But through science, environmental regula­tions, improvements to spawning grounds and outreach, we are saving this amazing prehistoric fish, just as it once saved Jamestown.

CATHERINE GATENBY, Fish and Aquatic Conservation, Northeast Region


Fish & Wildlife News  
  • This article is from the summer issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

Boaters Keep Washington Waters Clean, Safely Disposing of Nearly 11 Million Gallons of Sewage

 :  man on boat hooking up a tube  A boater uses a free public pumpout facility at the Port of Olympia-Swantown Marina, which was constructed with funding from the Washington Clean Vessel Program. Photo by Washington State Parks

With funding from the Service’s Sport Fish Restoration Clean Vessel Act Grant Program, pumpout stations help divert sewage from coastal and inland waters throughout the country by giving recreational boaters a place to offload their sewage quickly and safely, preserving water quality.

In the state of Washington, boaters diverted nearly 11 million gallons of sewage from coastal and inland waters last year. In recent years the number of pumpouts in Washington has increased as boater demand has risen, and more stations are planned. The newest Clean Vessel-funded pumpouts are set to be completed this summer at the Shaw General Store in the San Juan Islands.

WSFR logo

In addition to funding the construction and maintenance of more than 140 pumpouts, dump stations and floating restrooms across the state, the Washington State Parks Clean Vessel Program has been a key partner of Pumpout Washington — the public outreach program managed by Washington Sea Grant. Over the last decade, the Pumpout Washington team has engaged tens of thousands of boaters, explaining the importance of properly disposing their sewage. With support from the Clean Vessel Program, Pumpout Washington has distributed more than 10,000 pumpout adapter kits to boaters, making it easier for them to empty their boat’s head.

Improved sewage management has led to better water quality for fish and wildlife, a lowered illness risk to people recreating in the waters or eating locally caught fish or shellfish, and greater protection of public health. The improved water quality allowed the Washington Department of Health to remove shellfish harvest restrictions on nearly 700 acres of commercial shellfish beds, including portions of commercial shellfish areas around 20 Puget Sound marinas, deter­mining that they would no longer be classified as prohibited.

The Washington Clean Vessel Act program is part of the Clean Vessel Act of 1992 administered  by the Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration’s Program. Money for the grants comes from the Sport Fish Restoration Fund.

Fish & Wildlife News  
  • This article is from the summer issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

Curator’s Corner: Fearnow Pail, Painted Desk, Hatchery DIY, Curio No-no


Fish in a Pail

The Fearnow pail revolutionized the transportation of live fish when it was introduced by E.C. Fearnow in 1922. Milk cans had been used previously for moving fish, and the lighter Fearnows could carry twice as many fish as milk cans and took up half the space. The simple design of a recessed lid with holes in it aerated the water in the pail and served as an ice-holder that cooled the water. Fearnow pails were used by national fish hatcheries nationwide. The name of a hatchery and a unique identification number were stamped or painted on the side of pails, as seen on this pail from Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery in Louisiana. Hatcheries would load Fearnow pails brimming full of live fish onto fish rail cars and once the fish were stocked from the rail cars, the empty Fearnow pails were returned to their respective hatcheries to start the process all over again. (April Gregory)

 fold-down desk with Blue Goose painting

Blue Goose Flyer Extraordinaire

This desk was used at the Lake Ilo National Wildlife Refuge in west-central North Dakota. An Executive Order by President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the refuge in 1939 as a breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. This desk is typical of the period, factory-made in simple fashion of oak boards. What is extraordinary, however, is that a blue goose symbol, which had been designed by Jay N. “Ding” Darling, was stenciled on the front drop leaf of the desk, forever marking the desk as a Service family member! We have such  a great family, don’t we? (Jeanne M. Harold)


DIY at Hatcheries

This image is from the 1975 Alchesay-Williams Creek National Fish Hatchery Annual Report. It illustrates the ingenious work of the hatchery staff using materials they had on hand to improve feeding fish from a Cushman Truckster. They modified the hopper and engine to fit the frame of the Cushman flatbed and designed the chute to spread fish food into ponds. National fish hatcheries have been around since 1871, so we have numerous photos that document the creativity and adroitness of hatchery staff building their own tools or rigging equipment before the modern era of mass-produced fish culture supplies. The fact that the staff of Alchesay-Williams Creek chose to include it in their annual report suggests that they were quite proud of their invention. (April Gregory)


Be Careful What You Display Curios In

Visitors often admire a lovely black lacquered display or curio cabinet in our museum storage area. Service agents confiscated it at the Port of Baltimore several decades ago. They seized it because it contains mother-of- pearl inlay decorations that were manufactured with endangered mussel shells. Importation of materials from endangered species into the United States is, of course, illegal without the proper permit. Display cabinets of this sort have been popular in American parlors for the last century, often used to exhibit eclectic souvenirs from worldly travels. You must be careful about what you display or what you display things in, though. Be sure not to break the law, or you could lose your furniture! (Jeanne M. Harold)

Previous Curator's Corner

This is a series of curiosities of the Service’s history from both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Museum and Archives as well as the Service’s National Fish and Aquatic Conservation Archives. As the first and only curator of the museum, Jeanne M. Harold says the history surrounding the archives give them life. Jeanne retired in November but provided articles to keep Curator’s Corner going. This issue, we also welcome submissions from April Gregory, curator of the National Fish and Aquatic Conservation Archives.

Fish & Wildlife News  
  • This article is from the summer issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

Urban Partnership in Houston Gets Students Out Hunting

 youth in orange vest and hat kneels and aims through a site atop a firearm as adult volunteer watches   A volunteer hunt guide oversees this first-time hunter. Photo by Julia Scruggs/USFWS

Thanks to a Service-led partnership, 16 high school students from Houston had two hunting adventures — and one experience of a lifetime.

The students, most of whom had never been hunting or even held a firearm, participated in a white-tailed deer hunt on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and/or a feral hog hunt on a private lands.

“I’ve been wanting to go for a long time, and this year I went twice already,” says Roland Yanez, a freshman at Furr High School: An Institute for Innovative Thinking. “It was my first time ever going.”

The Service’s Houston Community Partnerships and Engagement partnered with Furr and the Texas Youth Hunt Program (TYHP) on the pilot program to introduce urban youth to hunting, a sport they might not otherwise have access to. The hunts were conducted over two weekends and encompassed the full experience, including camping, cooking over a campfire and field dressing harvested animals.

“On Aransas we harvested white­tail deer, and I got a buck and a doe,” Yanez says. “I had a lot of fun cleaning them.”

When not sitting in a hunting blind, the youth hunters practiced on targets, reviewed safety and hunter ethics, and learned wildlife identification and natural history. They engaged refuge staff and private landowners, and saw first-hand how hunting is used as a land management tool to maintain wildlife populations and eradicate exotic species. In all, the young hunters were able to harvest four deer and two feral hogs.

During the school year, TYHP, an organization dedicated to creating the next generation of hunters, conducted two hunter education safety courses at the school certifying 19 students, four teachers and two parents. The group also provided firearms and ammunition for both hunts, a cook and volunteer hunting guides, one for each student. In order to participate, students had to successfully complete the hunter education safety class and maintain a certain grade point average.

The Service helped establish the partnership and coordinated hunt opportunities on Aransas Refuge and private lands.

The pilot program was such a success that Furr has committed to incorporating TYHP’s hunter education safety courses into the curriculum annually, and scheduling is underway for the two weekend hunts, on public and private lands.

Fish & Wildlife News  
  • This article is from the summer issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

Idaho Continues work on YY Males, an Approach for Eradicating Invasive Fish Populations

yellow gloved hands hold fish with red belly   YY-male brook trout broodstock. Photo by IDFG Hayspur Fish Hatchery

Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) fisheries researchers and fish hatchery staff continue research on developing monosex fish populations whose offspring can produce only male progeny.

Stocking these males, which have two Y chromosomes (YY) rather than the usual XY arrangement, into a body of water with an undesired fish population of the same species could change the sex ratio to all males within a few generations. The unwanted fish population would eventually fail to reproduce and therefore die off. Once accomplished, IDFG would stop stocking YY-male fish and fisheries managers would then restock that body of water with a more desirable fish species.

WSFR logoIn the West, non-native brook trout, introduced in the early 1900s, are difficult to eradicate and often threaten native salmonid populations. Brook trout were selected for the first YY project because they are short-lived and quick to sexually mature, which enable researchers to rapidly develop the hatchery broodstock and test the technique in a natural environment.

The YY technique begins in a hatchery, where young brook trout are exposed to low-doses of a naturally occurring female hormone, estradiol, which has no effect on female fish but causes male fish to produce eggs when they mature. The egg-producing males are crossed with standard males, which produces about 25 percent YY-male offspring. Those offspring are used to produce another generation that will theoretically produce exclusively male offspring when bred with any other brook trout. Brook trout produced in the program for stocking in the wild are not exposed to any hormones and appear like all other brook trout, but they carry two male chromo­somes instead of one male and one female.

IDFG researchers first presented what they called “proof of concept” findings for YY brook trout at the August 2016 American Fisheries Society national meeting in Kansas City. Those pilot study results, documenting successful reproduction of released YY males in the wild, generated much excitement in the fisheries science community. Since the pilot work, IDFG researchers Pat Kennedy and Kevin Meyer have ramped up the field research effort consid­erably, and Idaho is currently evaluating the efficacy of YY brook trout in controlling or eradicating undesired brook trout populations in six alpine lakes and seven small streams.

Last winter, staff of IDFG’s Hayspur Fish Hatchery, led by Kevin Kincaid, distributed YY brook trout eggs to three Western partner states for further evaluation of YY-male stocking for brook trout population control. An IDFG-led YY brook trout technical team has been conducting tri-annual coordination conference calls with personnel from the egg recipient states to ensure important remaining research questions are addressed and to prevent duplication of efforts.

Based on the promising early results on brook trout, IDFG has begun preliminary trials to develop the method for other species including undesired walleye, lake trout and common carp populations. Substantial progress has been made with key aspects necessary for development of YY broodstocks for all three species. Though much work remains, it is quite possible that a YY male broodstock for at least one additional species will become available for field research in the next five to seven years.

This work has progressed with funding support from the Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.

Fish & Wildlife News  
  • This article is from the summer issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

No Joke: Listen to our Podcast A Talk on the Wild Side

 Podcast Icon

A Talk on the Wild Side

A bald eagle, a sea turtle and an island fox walk into a bar …

It sounds like the beginning of a corny joke, albeit definitely a corny conservationist one. What on earth would these three disparate species even talk about?

   bald eagle in flightPhoto by George Gentry/USFWS

They actually have more in common than you might realize:

  • All have been negatively affected by human activity and have been helped by the Endangered Species Act.

  • People have played a major role in reversing these species’ declines and putting them on the road to recovery (although with sea turtles there is much more to do, so while the eagle and fox  talk about their awesome recovery stories, the turtle will just look non-plussed). 

   sea turtle hatchling on beachPhoto by Becky Skiba/USFWS

We know you love conservation stories, and in an effort to provide a new way to hear about wild things and wild places, we are pulling together experts in the field for our podcast A Talk on the Wild Side.

We recently talked to Jackie Sablan at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge about the issues affecting sea turtles and how people can help protect them. We also talked to Craig Koppie at the Chesapeake Bay Field Office about bald eagles and Cat Darst from the Ventura Field Office about island foxes.

   fox standing in brush looking at cameraPhoto by NPS

Take a listen.

You want to know the punchline to that joke? Wild animals don’t go to bars.

Hope Springs Eternal for Biologist Working to Recover Highly Endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrows

   bird with grasshopper in mouthA Florida grasshopper sparrow, oddly enough, eating a grasshopper. But this bird's name comes from the fact that its song sounds much like that of a grasshopper. Photo by Mary Peterson/USFWS

By Mary Peterson, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, South Florida Ecological Services Office

Back in 2012 (how is it that 2012 is both yesterday and a thousand years ago), a friend and co-worker gave me the heads-up about a potential opportunity to work on the Florida grasshopper sparrow recovery effort. Being a bit of a bird nerd, and having followed the plight of the Florida grasshopper sparrow since arriving to Florida in 2002, I said, “Sign me up!”

  bird lying face-up in open hand; bird's head held between finers A biologist displays the bands on the legs of one of the Florida grasshopper sparrows released into the wild on May 9, 2019. Photo Courtesy of FWCA biologist displays the bands on the legs of one of the Florida grasshopper sparrows released into the wild on May 9, 2019. Photo Courtesy of FWC

The Florida grasshopper sparrow is native to central Florida and is considered the most critically endangered bird in North America. In 2012 when I joined the effort, the number of Florida grasshopper sparrows in the wild had dropped so low that we knew something drastic needed to be done.

In consultation with our partners, the Service decided to collect some sparrows to begin captive breeding while continuing to implement habitat management and research projects to reverse the decline.

Talk about scary! No one had ever tried to captive-breed this species before. These are tiny birds – about the size of a balled-up Kleenex, and they have a life-span around 3-5 years. But, with an increasingly bleak outlook, we knew this was a necessary effort.

 2 people in grassland FWS Biologists Mary Peterson (left) and Sandra Sneckenberger checking out the Florida prairie, looking and listening for Florida grasshopper sparrows. Photo by Jen Brown/Into Nature Films FWS Biologists Mary Peterson (left) and Sandra Sneckenberger checking out the Florida prairie, looking and listening for Florida grasshopper sparrows. Photo by Jen Brown/Into Nature Films

It was a bit of a bumpy ride in those early years – health challenges; getting their diet right; figuring out how many birds could be housed together; what the size of the enclosure should be, etc. But, we believe we have cracked that code. We can now produce (lots) of healthy sparrows in captivity.

So, the question is, “Can we successfully release them back into the wild?” We still don’t fully know the answer to this, but just like in the early days of learning how to captive-breed them, we are now starting to learn how to best release them back onto the landscape.

  6 people stand in grassland; one holding a big antenna Here's the group of trackers showing off their gear shortly before captive-reared Florida grasshopper sparrows were released into the wild. From left Mary Peterson (USFWS), Ashleigh Blackford (USFWS), Karl Miller (FWC) Troy Hershberger (USAF), Rob Aldredge (USFWS/USAF liaison) and Jose Oteyza (FWC). Photo Courtesy of FWC

Thursday, May 9, 2019, was a seminal moment in our efforts to launch this species toward recovery. We joined with our partners at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to release the first-ever captive-reared Florida grasshopper sparrows onto their native dry prairie habitat at Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area.

 screened-in habitats  This is the "aviary on the prairie" where the captive-reared birds stayed for a couple of days before they were released. Photo Courtesy of FWC

Prior to their release, the birds spent two nights in the recently constructed aviary on the prairie to give them a chance recover from their trip from the breeding facility and to get them acclimated to being on the prairie.

   small black object in the palm of a handThis is one of the tiny tracking devices attached to each of the captive-reared Florida grasshopper sparrows released into the wild on May 9, 2019. Photo Courtesy of FWC

When panels were removed to allow the birds to exit the aviary, one bird eventually left on its own, but the others had to be gently ushered out a few minutes later. I was one of several biologists on site ready to track them on the initial phases of their new journeys via the small radio transmitters on their backs.

   bird singing  in prairieA male Florida grasshopper sparrow singing its heart out on the prairie. The Florida grasshopper sparrow is believed to be North America's most endangered bird; survey counts show fewer than 80 sparrows in the wild. Photo by Jen Brown/Into Nature Films

Everyone watched with nervous excitement as those first three sparrows left to explore their new home. More releases are planned throughout the summer and early fall. And now, we are all holding our collective breaths as we wait to see how this recovery strategy pans out.

This bird never ceases to amaze and inspire, and for me, hope springs eternal. Go sparrows, go!

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Jim Kurth, Much More Than ‘an Old Country Game Warden,' Retiring

  Man in New Mexico landscape

How do you pay tribute to the more than 40 year career of someone like U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Jim Kurth?

There are at once no right words and too many words – and maybe none can quite capture the subject. A recitation of Jim’s extensive resume and countless job titles would do a disservice to his colorful career, but there is no doubt that his path shaped not only the leader he is, but also the legacy he leaves behind at the Nation’s foremost conservation organization.

He loved his formative years with the Service from the “Crane Ranch” in Mississippi to the beaches of Rhode Island.  Along the way he met and worked with the people that would shape his outlook on wildlife conservation (and other things).  Jim refers to himself as “just an old country game warden” at heart and feels he worked among the best in the Service.  The combination of his many years in the field, particularly his time as a refuge manager at the iconic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and his time as the Deputy Chief and Chief of the Refuge System, gives Jim a level of respect and depth of experience that few can match. When Jim speaks, people listen and learn.  And he is one of the few, if not only, Service employees who is as comfortable walking into a refuge maintenance shop as he is the Secretary of Interior’s office.

 man holding big brown bird

Jim possesses a passion for history which translated into his encyclopedic knowledge of the many conservation heroes whose stories and faces line the walls of the National Conservation and Training Center. Don’t try to have a beer with Jim in the bar at NCTC without getting a conservation history lesson based on one or more of those photographs.  Many of his mentors taught him the value of knowing and understanding the historical perspective of conservation and the federal laws we are entrusted to uphold.  Jim loves to honor the legacy of those that walked the path of conservation before him and share their stories with any Service employee.

Jim is a student of Aldo Leopold’s pioneer writings in Sand County Almanac and firmly accepts and believes that land represents a community of life and we are at our best when we work to maintain the health of the land.  He loves to “save dirt” as he would put it. Jim found Leopold’s ideas as lessons told in a manner that removed the complexity of “classroom” learning and which were delivered from the heart in hopes of having a greater impact on society not only trained ecologists.  Jim followed in the footsteps of Olaus and Mardy Murie and their efforts to conserve the Arctic Refuge for its “wilderness” values alone.  But Jim also challenged the arrogance of “wildlife only” policies throughout his career, believing that human use must be balanced with wildlife conservation or the latter would be lost.

Jim draws his greatest inspiration from the dedicated men and women of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who get their hands dirty on a daily basis. Jim gives unselfishly of his time to the people. He never misses an opportunity to address the Service’s many leadership classes, the Refuge Manager’s Academy and his favorite, the Wage Grade workshops. Jim loves to tell the story of buying the first pitcher of beer at NCTC which perhaps foreshadowed the role he would play in developing Service employees and future leaders (and buying many more pitchers). More recently, Jim has led the way on improving the diversity of the workforce, believing it is critical to our mission and remaining relevant to the American public we serve.

In 2015, Jim was awarded the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award by the Department, the highest award for members of the SES and given to those recognized for sustained extraordinary accomplishment.  Last year, the National Wildlife Refuge Association presented Jim with its highest award, the Theodore Roosevelt Lifetime Achievement Award, for devoting his life to the protection and conservation of our nation’s wildlife and wild places, and for serving as a mentor and role model for new generations of conservationists throughout America.  With his retirement this week, Jim can be confident that he stands shoulder-to-shoulder with past and present conservation leaders.

Finally one could not spend any time with Jim and not know he put only two things before the Service, his faith and his family. And he was not uncomfortable sharing his love for both. Luckily for all of us, the Service was also family to Jim and that family will truly miss him.



Please feel free to share your thoughts and memories below about Jim.

More Entries