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A Talk on the Wild Side.

9 Awesome Animals That Showcase Mexico’s Biodiversity

Today is Mexico’s Independence Day, and what better time to celebrate one of the country’s most fantastic characteristics: its biodiversity!

In fact, while Mexico makes up only 1 percent of the Earth’s land area, it is home to an amazing 10 percent of all of the species known to science. In the infographic below, you can learn about some of the species of wildlife we are working with local partners to protect across the country through our International Affairs Mexico Program, including jaguars, sharks, Mexican gray wolves, and scarlet macaws. Viva Mexico!

Click on image or here for larger pdf.

  Mexican species

Poplar Island:It was Rebuilt, and They Came!

  black swallowtail butterfly on purplish flowers Numerous pollinators, such as this black swallowtail butterfly, visit Poplar Island. Photo by Valerie Fellows/USFWS

Valerie Fellows of our Ecological Services Program visits a partly rebuilt Poplar Island.

I started my first real job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Chesapeake Bay Field Office in Annapolis, MD, in 2001. And it was during my very first week that I heard about a place named Poplar Island. I remember the buzz around the office on what a great opportunity it was to be on the early end of such a large-scale habitat restoration project, and how exciting it was for me personally to get to go to the island with my colleagues and work on various wildlife conservation projects there.

  Pete McGowan examines a young mallard  
Chesapeake Bay Field Office biologist Pete McGowan examines a young mallard exhibiting signs of stress. Photo by Valerie Fellows/USFWS

For those of you who haven’t heard of Poplar Island – it is AWESOME. It’s an island out in the Chesapeake Bay about 34 miles south of Baltimore. During the 1700s, it was a backdrop for Revolutionary War naval clashes and it even once supported a small town with a post office and a school. During the 1800s, it was about 1,000 acres in size.

But then it started to disappear. By 1990, erosion, subsidence, and sea level rise had cut the island into several island remnants less than 10 acres in total.

Which then begs the question, how does one rebuild an entire island?

Using sediment dredged from the Baltimore shipping approach channels, workers have been steadily rebuilding the island and restoring its habitat. When work on Poplar Island is complete in 2042, half the acreage will be turned into tidal wetlands and half, uplands – complete with trees, meadows and freshwater ponds. The island is a maze of smaller islands, ponds, channels and marshes. About 35 million cubic yards of dredge material is protected by 35,000 feet of containment dikes. And thanks to this incredibly successful restoration effort led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland Port Administration and Maryland Environmental Service, it has returned to 1,140 acres in size. An additional 570 plus acres are expected to be added beginning in late 2016.

Poplar island    with lots of birds overheadRich with plants and trees and shallow wetlands, Poplar island is teaming with wildlife. Photo by Valerie Fellows/USFWS

I was lucky enough to go back out to the island to join both FWS and the U.S. Geological Survey on their wildlife research and monitoring projects this summer. What was previously mud and water more than a decade ago, is now a haven for wetland dependent species. Rich with plants and trees and shallow wetlands, the island is teaming with wildlife. Shorebirds and wading birds galore, diamondback terrapins, deer, hundreds of pollinators including monarchs, and numerous other species now depend on the unspoiled resources the island offers.

I hope I don’t wait as long to get back out there, but I can’t wait to see what it looks like in another 10 years!  

Black-footed Ferrets Return to Ancestors’ Stomping Grounds in Wyoming

  A black-footed ferret looks out of an open carrierA black-footed ferret checks out its surroundings. Photo by Ryan Moehring/USFWS

One of the most meaningful and symbolic reintroduction efforts in the history of endangered species conservation occurred July 26 when the elusive and highly endangered black-footed ferret returned home to Meeteetse, Wyoming, where it was rediscovered 35 years ago. 

“Bringing the black-footed ferret home to Meeteetse is an extraordinary achievement. [It is] a source of pride not only for the citizens of Wyoming but for conservationists everywhere,” Service Director Dan Ashe said at the release event. 

The black-footed ferret was once a familiar sight on the prairies across 12 Western states, as wells as Canada and Mexico. By the 1950s however, habitat loss and disease decimated ferret numbers so severely that the world assumed that the ferret was extinct. In 1964, a small, dwindling population was discovered in Mellette County, South Dakota, and shortly after, the black-footed ferret was designated as endangered under the precursor to the Endangered Species Act in 1967. But it was too late. When the last ferret from the South Dakota population died in captivity in 1979, the world once again thought that the black-footed ferret was extinct. 

“I remember newspaper headlines announcing, ‘Black-footed Ferret Extinct; Gone from the Planet,’ and how sad that was,” recalls Kimberly Fraser, who has been with the Service’s Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center as a volunteer and outreach specialist for the past six years. It seemed as if only a miracle could bring the species back. 

In 1981, a well-known story nothing short of miraculous turned the situation around. One summer night at the Hogg family ranch in Meeteetse, Wyoming, Shep, the family dog, scuffled with an unidentified long, slender mammal. The next morning, the Hoggs took the carcass to the town’s taxidermist where they discovered that the creature was none other than the supposedly extinct black-footed ferret. The area was sustaining the planet’s final, dangerously tiny population of black-footed ferrets. 

The world’s last 18 black-footed ferrets were caught and placed in a captive-breeding program. Over the course of the next 35 years, federal, state and local partners joined forces to enable the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret throughout the West. There are now hundreds of wild black-footed ferrets at 28 reintroduction sites in eight Western states, Mexico and Canada. And now, one of those reintroduction sites is at the very place where the last known wild ferrets were found and captured. 

  A black-footed ferret looks out of an open carrierShould I stay or should I go? Photo by Ryan Moehring/USFWS

The Endangered Species Act provides a phenomenal structure for this kind of cooperation, setting high standards for conservation, while simultaneously allowing flexibility to suit the needs of local communities. For instance, the designation for an experimental population, such as the one in Meeteetse, protects landowners from any harm they might accidentally cause to a black-footed ferret. Safe harbor agreements, another example, allow landowners to voluntarily conserve critical habitat with assurance that the government won't further restrict land use in the future, creating a mutually beneficial agreement for both interested landowners and the black-footed ferret. Partnerships with zoos and captive-breeding centers around the nation are expanding research capacity, and the state natural resources departments play a crucial role in reintroduction.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service could not have accomplished this alone. We need all of our partners in the recovery effort,” says Fraser. 

Indeed, it is a story of a committed team drawn together by a national conservation framework to a common purpose: to reestablish the black-footed ferret as more than a shadow, a ghost on the prairie, but as an essential part of a rich and dynamic prairie ecosystem that both wildlife and humans call home.

By Lynnea Shuck, intern, Headquarters

Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The fall issue is due out in mid-October.

Documentary Looks at Duck Stamp Contest

Think you have what it takes to craft a beautiful 7x10-inch piece of waterfowl art? Oh yeah, it has to also work on a canvas of less than three inches square. Winning the annual Federal Duck Stamp Contest, the only juried art contest sponsored by the government, is not for the faint of heart.

James Hautman sure has what it takes. He just won the 2016 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest and his painting of Canada geese will be made into the 2017-2018 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or “Duck Stamp.”

He’s won five times. So has his brother Joseph, whose art appears on the 2016-2017 Federal Duck Stamp. Brother Robert has also won several times.

If you want to get an inside look at the contest, documentary The Million Dollar Duck airs tonight at 9 pm ET on Animal Planet. The film, which won the Audience and Jury awards for Best Documentary Feature at the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival, features cameos by several Fish and Wildlife Service folks.

Monarchs: North America’s Butterfly

 2 monarchs on a tree branchFor decades, many hundreds of millions of monarchs flooded the continental United States and southern Canada each spring and summer after wintering in Mexico. Their population has decreased by as much as 90 percent in recent years. Photo by AnnMarie Krmpotich/USFWS

The monarch butterfly is a treasured North American species – and an amazing creature. But monarchs are in trouble. And you can help.

RELATED: Am I Going to be a Monarch Dad or Brother?

This week’s National Wildlife Refuge System feature story, Monarchs: North America’s Butterfly,  looks at the monarch butterfly’s amazing migration route, generational life cycle, biology and metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult.

 lifecycleOver a period of 28 to 38 days, a monarch completes its life cycle from egg to larva (caterpillar) to pupa (chrysalis) to adult. USFWS photos by Courtney Celley, Tina Shaw and Joanna Gilkeson

The story touches on why monarch butterflies are in trouble and how you can join many thousands of Americans in efforts to save them.

The story also includes links to a video or two that might entertain or amaze you or your children.

 2 monarchs on a flowering plant against the skyMonarch butterflies at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. Photo by Keenan Adams/USFWS

“Monarchs: North America’s Butterfly” is part of the Refuge System’s series of weekly online stories that use photos to highlight the conservation work and visitor opportunities at national wildlife refuges, wetland management districts and marine national monuments. A new story is posted on the Refuge System homepage each Wednesday.

Am I Going to be a Monarch Dad or Brother?

  Monarch caterpillar on milkweedA monarch caterpillar on a gnarly milkweed plant.

When I was growing up in Northern Virginia, in the same area I live now, I remember seeing butterflies regularly. But until my employer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, started focusing on the plight of monarchs and other pollinators, I hadn’t realized I had not seen a butterfly around the yard recently, although I had noticed other losses -- bats, bees, birds that aren’t sparrows. 

I went right out and bought some seeds for some milkweed, the only plants monarch caterpillars eat. The seeds didn’t grow. 

RELATED: North America's Butterfly

My mom, who lives next door and is an infinitely better gardener than I, bought me four butterfly weed plants and planted them in a box with good soil. This type of milkweed did great but alas, no butterflies. 

This spring, mom and I got six swamp milkweed plants, and each took three. 

  milkweedMy milkweed, which is now spreading seeds.

Along with the returning butterfly weed, my milkweed looks awesome. It has grown, produced lots of leaves, even a few flowers. Mom didn’t have such good luck. Two of her milkweed plants died; the other was all dry and scrawny. 

Still, we had a butterfly or two, even a monarch. And milkweed helps other pollinators, too. 

  milkweedMom's milkweed.

Take a guess where we saw the first monarch caterpillar (the one in the top photo). That’s right. A female monarch chose to lay one of her eggs on one of my mom’s pathetic plants. 

Mom actually removed the stalk from her caterpillar-bearing plant, cut off a few stalks from one of my plants, with its tasty leaves, and brought them onto her porch because it didn’t look like the caterpillar would have enough leaves on her sad-looking plant. 

  Monarch caterpillar on milkweed
The caterpillar that got my hopes up.

I figured I’d be a monarch sibling at best. Until a few days later! 

I was out playing with my dog when mom came over and looked at my little plot. There was a big caterpillar on my milkweed. And he was big. It looked like he’d already eaten several leaves. 

Grow, little guy, grow, then turn yourself into a beautiful butterfly, I thought. But then, a few hours later, he was gone. Vanished, to who knows where? Did he just go somewhere we can’t see? Did he become a late-morning snack for something? Did our efforts to “grow” butterflies actually amount to something for the monarch in the end? 

Hard to say, and we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, we’ll keep growing milkweed and hoping he’s OK. Parenthood is stressful.


Matt Trott, External Affairs

Partnering with Google Cultural Institute Brings Endangered Species to Life

  Karner blue butterfly/African elephant/Hawaiian monk seal From left to right, photo credits in parentheses: Karner blue butterfly (Joel Trick/USFWS), African elephant (Michelle Gadd/USFWS), Hawaiian monk seal at Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge (James Watt).

If you believe that everyone should have access to the world’s cultural and natural history in this digital age, then check out the Google Cultural Institute where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service presents more than 90 striking images and fascinating wildlife stories and facts. Our treasure trove of endangered species materials came to life online September 13 as a part of the Google Cultural Institute’s Natural History Collection.

The Google Cultural Institute started in 2011 with the goal of partnering with organizations to bring the world’s cultural heritage online. Millions of items, including photos and video, are online.

Google’s new Natural History Collection includes an exhibit dedicated to the stories of threatened and endangered species from around the globe. Our contribution paints a picture of the threats facing plants and animals around the world, while also highlighting the inspiring conservation work that is helping some of them recover.  Users will discover stories of unknown and lesser-known species, learn about the magnificent places where one can find these plants and animals, and be inspired to conserve our shared natural treasures. People can experience the California condor, manatee, leatherback sea turtle and red knot, and we will continue to expand the online exhibit.

This exhibit offers people new access to the diversity and fragility of nature, giving them compelling reasons to work on behalf of conservation for the world’s natural resources. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works collaboratively with partners to conserve the most imperiled species facing a suite of unrelenting challenges: Habitat loss, climate change, invasive species and an expanding worldwide human population are all stressing the natural environment at an unprecedented rate. People from all around the globe will have to work together to address these issues. We hope that this inventive platform and particular exhibit will enlighten, engage, and inspire more people to protect the unique natural history that surrounds us all.

Feeding Time at Maine's Goosefare Brook

 Juvenile common tern on the sand with beak open  A juvenile common tern begs for food. Photo by Brian Harris/USFWS

Plover intern Meaghan Lyon and plover technician Katrina Amaral got an eyeful of bird behavior one day and they tell us about it.

The mouth of Goosefare Brook opens to the Atlantic Sea at Ferry Beach in Saco, Maine. Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge owns a large section of salt marsh that Goosefare Brook flows through on its way to the sea. Refuge staff also monitors the adjacent beach and dune habitat for nesting piping plovers. Beyond plovers, shorebirds and seabirds of all types frequent this area, and that was especially true one late July morning. Herring gulls, ringed-billed gulls, common terns, least terns and piping plovers could be found along the river’s edge, indulging in breakfast treats or relaxing in the early sunshine.

The gulls mostly stared at their webbed feet, tilting their heads sideways as the seawater dripped from their bills. The terns flew in sporadic circles around each other, calling noisily with every slight motion. Every so often, a tern would make a sharp turn downward, plunging into the flowing water and popping to the surface and into flight again in a single motion. The piping plovers fed along the intertidal area, poking and prodding their blunt bills into the sand.

Many of these birds were accompanied by juveniles. The young gulls foraged for themselves, while the newly fledged tern chicks begged incessantly on the sandy shore. With their mouths hanging open, they called and waited for their parents to bring in fish. The piping plover chicks – hatched only two weeks earlier - foraged independently, observed by their parents. They would briefly pause to practice their flight, running along the sand and flapping their downy wings like maniacs.     

 Goosefare Brook Goosefare Brook. Photo by Katrina Amaral/USFWS

Mornings like this one illuminate the differences in bird feeding behaviors and highlight differences in adaptations of shore- and seabirds. It is especially important during this time of year to understand the importance of this feeding behavior. Many species are fueling up in preparation for the migration season.

Gulls move relatively short distances and are a common sight year-round in the Gulf of Maine, but some banded piping plovers whose nests have been monitored by refuge staff have been observed wintering down in South Carolina and the Bahamas.

Terns are longer-distance migrants, traveling down to South America for the winter. Some common terns observed on refuge beaches sport orange flags, indicating that they were banded in Argentina. During the summer, refuge staff saw a large number of migrating terns, including 22 individually banded roseate terns and a juvenile Forster’s tern (an uncommon species for the area).

Staff also participated in the International Shorebird Survey, which provides important data on stopover sites for migratory shorebirds.

This year marks the Centennial of the First Migratory Treaty, which was the first international agreement in American history to protect migratory birds wherever they live, breed and rest. Thanks to people like the staff at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, the first 100 years of the treaty have been a success. Here’s to many, many more.

A History of the Federal Duck Stamp

  Canada geese paintingCanada geese by James Hautman

On Saturday, we named Minnesota artist James Hautman the winner of the 2016 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. The painting will be made into the 2017-2018 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or “Duck Stamp,” which will go on sale in late June 2017.

The win is his fifth, tying him with his brother Joseph, whose art appears on the 2016-2017 Federal Duck Stamp. Brother Robert placed third. Rebekah Knight of Missouri, who previously won the National Junior Duck Stamp Contest, placed second.

The Federal Duck Stamp is the nation’s oldest and most successful waterfowl/bird conservation effort.  For every dollar spent on Federal Duck Stamps, 98 cents goes directly to purchase vital habitat or acquire conservation easements for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Since 1934, more than 5.7 million acres have been acquired using Federal Duck Stamp revenues. More than 300 national wildlife refuges were created or have been expanded using Federal Duck Stamp dollars. At least one refuge in nearly every state has benefitted from Duck Stamp dollars.

Read about the history behind the stamp

Crawfish or Crayfish?

  crayfish Lagniappe crawfish. Photo by Susan Adams/U.S. Forest Service

Crawfish vs Crayfish:  What’s the difference anyway?  An expert once said you study crayfish, and you eat crawfish.  So we'll refer to them as crayfish in this story.  

Of the nearly 500 species of crayfish found in the world, approximately 350 are found in the United States, that’s nearly 70 percent of the world’s crayfish fauna - most of which is concentrated in the Southeast. Crayfish can be found in a variety of habitats from streams, lakes, and rivers, to springs, swamps and even underground caves. Crayfish that live entirely underground are referred to as troglobitic species. Lacking the benefits of the sun, troglobitic species lack any external pigmentation and tend to be white (mostly translucent) and blind. Although the ecological benefits of crayfish are vastly unknown, we do know that they serve as the primary food source for numerous fish and bird species as well as most mammals that forage around water.  They tend to be very hardy animals that can tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions.  

Alabama may very well harbor the greatest diversity of crayfishes in the country. Currently, there are an estimated 93 different species (and growing annually) reported within Alabama, which slightly exceeds Georgia and Tennessee.  In fact, the first statewide inventory was completed in 2006, and identified an astounding 85 species. 

Learn more about what our Alabama Ecological Service Field Office is doing to build partnerships and conserve aquatic species in the state: http://bit.ly/2c7ZY4L 

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