Frontline Dispatches – March 2021 Vol. III, No. 3
VIDEO: Colorado Parks and Wildlife helicopter survey of elk in Larimer County, where the Cameron Peak fire raged last year. As the pilot maneuvers to split off small groups of elk, carefully avoiding running them into fences or across dangerous ground, the biologist notes herd compositions. This population count, the first here since 2006, will be used to help manage the elk in the wake of the fire.
Bringing back the ‘most endangered bird’ in the US. After a long and stressful recovery, the Florida grasshopper sparrow is on the rise again, reported NatGeo.com in January. Recovery involved captive egg hatching and breeding, surrogate parenting and a slow reintroduction into the prairies of central Florida. An intestinal parasite and fast-shrinking wild populations were overcome, providing hope for other endangered bird species as well.
Human-black bear interactions are growing across the US. In California, a bill to ban bear hunting was opposed by the timber, agriculture, bee-keeping, livestock, hunting and conservation communities, prompting its withdrawal, MeatEater writes. In Colorado, the Summit Daily reported last month, Parks and Wildlife urges the public to take “all precautions” in hopes of reducing bear problems. Colorado officials have euthanized 592 bears since 2015, 120 of them in 2020.
VIDEO: More grizzlies + more humans = more conflict. Grizzly bear numbers are expanding in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho; so are their interactions with humans, especially as the pandemic created new outdoor “recreators” with varying levels of bear awareness. NatGeo.com reports that bears often are killed even for innocent behavior. The screen grab is from a video of a rancher describing his attack by a mother grizzly: “It really wasn’t the bear’s fault.”
A redwood forest for $24.7 million. That was the price of a 14,000-acre (5,600 ha) parcel that Save the Redwoods turned into three conservation easements in California’s Anderson Valley, reported The Mendocino Voice last month. The land will be selectively logged but protected from subdivision and development. Another 1,000 acres, including old-growth redwoods and stream habitat, will become a reserve and remain unlogged. The money came from private donors and state and federal agencies.
Interior Dept. cancels policy on conservation purchases. A Trump Administration directive that gave local and state officials the power to block purchases of land and water for conservation was removed in February, according to AP News. The directive was controversial and acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega received bipartisan support to remove it.
Squeaks’ excellent adventure. A young mountain lion named Squeaks traveled 558 miles last summer, tracked by his GPS collar from New Mexico to Colorado, where he was “captured” by a Parks and Wildlife trail camera. (According to a MeatEater report, in 2019 another collared mountain lion killed and ate 24 badgers, one mouflon sheep, one feral dog, two porcupines, eight beavers and nine coyotes in a 15-month period—as well as two mule deer, two antelope and 17 elk, nine of which were calves.)
Lawmakers want inquiry into owl-habitat decision. The Wildlife Society reports that senators from Oregon, Washington, California and Arizona have asked for a review of the Secretary of the Interior’s August 2020 decision to reduce critical habitat for the threatened northern spotted owl by 205,000 acres.
Mountain West voters care about conservation. Colorado College’s annual poll found that voters from eight Western states are even more concerned about climate change, wildfire and habitat loss than about pandemic-related unemployment; and two-thirds want all energy to be produced from clean sources over the next 10 to 15 years. The survey also found—according to a February 8 US News & World Report article—that worry over wildfires and climate change have increased. (US News /Getty image)
The Pando aspen clone in Utah—a single male quaking aspen thought to be the largest living organism on Earth, weighing 5.8 million kilograms (13 million lbs) with 20,000 kilometres (12,500 miles) of interconnected roots—blurs the difference between individuals and communities. Reporting in Earth Island Journal, researchers are working on conservation of superorganisms that contrasts with single-species preservation.
VIDEO: ‘The Last Free Rhinos’ was filmed in Namibia, a leader in effective community-based conservation. See how rangers, wildlife managers, scientists and local people (screen grab above) work in partnership to conserve (among many other species) Namibia’s growing black rhino population.
Namibia’s Albatross Task Force is also celebrating a major conservation success. BirdLife International reports that seabird deaths in the country’s groundfish longline fishery have been reduced by 98%. That’s 22,000 birds saved every year.
Elephants living around the Masai Mara in Kenya are raiding farmers’ crops more often now, at least partly due to climate change. This reduces local support for conservation, as those communities currently receive few benefits from living with wildlife, says a new study led by the Durrell Institute of Conservation & Ecology.
Meanwhile in Gabon, forest elephants are hungry. In Lopé National Park, they’ve shown a 11% decline in body condition since 2008. These elephants feed mostly on forest fruit, which has collapsed perhaps because of temperature variations linked to climate change. The findings are on TheConversation.com.
Meet the aardwolf, a member of the hyena family, along with the spotted hyena, the brown hyena and the striped hyena. From Africa Geographic’s comprehensive February 8 story.
Pilanesberg National Park ranger killed by a lion. Kobus Marais, a veteran of the South African park’s anti-poaching K9 unit, left his vehicle to lay a trail for his dog. When other rangers nearby heard screaming, they found Marais with a lion on him. They shot the lion, but Marais died at the scene. Reported by The Citizen, February 8.
FAO & AFD have launched a €3.5 million project to improve sustainable wildlife management and food security in KAZA TFCA. That’s $4.26 million; the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization and the French Development Agency; and the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, a protected zone larger than Germany and Austria that spans parts of Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana and includes 23 national parks. Under the Sustainable Wildlife Management Program, this will support wildlife and ecosystems as well as local communities that rely on them for food and income.
Angola’s herds of giant sable continue to grow. In Cangandala National Park, most of the Palanca negra are inside a 4,400-hectare (10,900 acres) fenced area, relatively safe from poaching, but the five free-ranging herds in Luando Reserve face more poaching pressure, says Pedro vaz Pinto in an emailed report with excellent photos of the parks’ fauna and flora.
Rhinos should fly upside-down, say veterinarians from Cornell University (in the February Journal of Wildlife Diseases), who found that hanging tranquilized black rhinos in Namibia by their feet from a helicopter during translocation is better for their breathing and circulation than moving them horizontally by truck or sledge.
VIDEO: Africa’s Great Green Wall, running west to east for 5,000 miles (8,000 km) through 11 countries, will require 11 million trees in a 10-mile-wide belt, planted to halt the spread of the Sahara Desert and rebuild local economies and agriculture. NGOs and African nations are funding the project, expected to become the largest living structure on Earth, three times the size of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. (The BBC video was shot in Senegal, where the Wall is most advanced, in 2017.)
Can the Green Wall really save Sub-Saharan Africa? Yes, concludes this February ScienceMag.org article—if it learns from mistakes made elsewhere. The massive undertaking, revitalized by a new pledge of $14 billion, must “address fundamental social and ecological issues” by asking communities what kinds of trees they want, by planting native trees and by helping the saplings survive. Tree-planting is more than digging a hole, said one scientist. “I have traveled the breadth of Africa and seen it everywhere. Trees are planted, but they are not taken care of and so they never grow.”
VIDEO: Stark difference between hunting and non-hunting areas in Tanzania is clear in biologist (and Conservation Frontlines contributor) Karen Seginak’s aerial photo. The clearcut zone on the left was removed from hunting in 2014; the virgin bush, still populated with wildlife, is on the right.
The world’s smallest reptile, this half-inch-long Madagascan chameleon sits comfortably on a fingertip. Newly described, Brookesia nana debuted on Smithsonianmag.com last month.
VIDEO: To bring back the northern white rhino, BioRescue uses stem-cell technology to create embryos, which are transferred to southern white rhino surrogate mothers to create northern white rhino offspring.
SOUTH & CENTRAL AMERICA
The Gran Chaco, South America’s second-largest forest, is home to rare and threatened species, especially birds. Now, Argentina’s Traslasierra National Park will add 17,000 hectares (42,000 acres) to its existing 27,000 hectares to expand protection of the Chaco, reported Birdlife International.
VIDEO: Fewer than 1,500 pampas deer remain in Uruguay. Recent efforts to conserve the deer and their grasslands habitat by encouraging local participation have been recognized by the Whitley Fund for Nature.
Harpy eagles, among the planet’s most spectacular birds, are “near threatened” by deforestation, suggest researchers from the University of Plymouth (UK) in Ecology and Evolution. But harpy eagle populations are expected to remain stable in the central Amazon, Guyana, eastern Colombia and Panama. In this January article (source of the talons photo), ati.com called the birds “flying velociraptors.”
Brazil’s “Adopt a Park” program is being slammed as a way for the government to offload conservation costs onto the private sector, instead of the prioritizing the environment itself. The analysis is on Phys.org.
VIDEO: Deep in the remote Peruvian Amazon a road is cutting through a UNESCO World Heritage Site—the Manu Biosphere Reserve. For some indigenous communities the road brings hope. This documentary, a platform for the communities, explores why many indigenous people want it built, their expectations for it and what the realities are likely to be, for them and for this globally important forest.
In Vietnam, tiger products are illegal, but the black market for bones, claws, skin and teeth from both tigers and lions is thriving, as South East Asia Globe reporters found by infiltrating trafficking rings. Part 1 describes the markets (with gruesome images); part 2 looks at cross-border trade from Laos to South Africa.
A Swinhoe’s turtle just found in a Vietnamese lake may be the only female left and the only hope for saving the species from extinction. In 2019, what had been the last known female Swinhoe’s died after an artificial insemination attempt at a zoo in China. The turtles can weigh almost 400 pounds, reach six feet in length and live for a century or more. The NY Times reported the story on January 25.
We can hear you, deer. In Japan’s Oze National Park, rangers are tracking sika deer with remote listening devices developed at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science. The new method is more accurate than using photos from trail cameras or drones. The solar-powered listening station synchronizes with a GPS satellite to precisely determine the location of a deer.
ASF now threatens 11 Southeast Asian wild pig species, according to a recent study in Conservation Letters. African swine fever disease hopped China’s borders and swept across Southeast Asia, where wild pigs are important ecosystem engineers and prey for endangered predators such as the Sumatran tiger and the Javan leopard. (George Schaller photo)
In Pakistan, Punjab urial numbers now exceed 4,000 compared to about 500 a few years ago, reported the Punjab Wildlife Dept. to The Express Tribune in January. For 2021, a hunting quota of 16 mature males (permit fee $18,000 each) has been authorized.
But in India’s Hirapora Wildlife Sanctuary, Kashmir markhor numbers are falling. Development (power lines and roads), overgrazing by domestic animals, poaching and fencing between India and Pakistan are responsible, according to a recent article in The Third Pole. [Ed. note: in neighboring Pakistan, markhor are increasing thanks to community conservation hunting programs.]
German Alpine chamois populations appear to be plummeting. Only 10,000 to 15,000 of these ungulates still roam the German Alps and the Black Forest. The downward trend has led to serious disputes between Bavarian State Forests, owner of 80% of chamois habitat, and hunters, who allied on this occasion with animal-welfare activists. Chamois, the symbol of Bavaria, suffer from climate change, tourism and the tendency of officials to reforest even the steepest rock faces, reported the Frankfurter Allgemeine in January. (Eric Dragesco photo)
From crowing roosters to the whiff of barnyard animals, the “sensory heritage” of France’s countryside will be protected by law. The law was passed in the wake of several high-profile conflicts between village residents and vacationers, or “neo-rurals,” looking for peace and quiet, according to a January article in The Guardian.
The Iberian wolf is now a Special Protected Wild Species in Spain, according to a February report in La Vanguardia. Most Iberian wolves live north of the Duero River, where controlled hunting was legal till now. Since the 1960s Spain’s wolf population has rebounded from a few hundred to an estimated 1,500 to 2,000.
And in Germany, Lower Saxony’s wolf population has reached 350. Now one female wolf has been shot, reported the German Hunting Association. Since 2018, wolves have killed about 500 sheep in the territory of the pack to which the “problem wolf” belonged.
In the UK, the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting continues to raise money to “save” animals. However, “The Rise of the Eco-Greenshirts” (in Country Squire) reports that no animals appear to be saved and the highly profitable campaigns of this privately owned and registered NGO do more harm than good.
Koalas don’t need our help, says a former senior New South Wales Forestry Commission professional in a February article in The Spectator. There is more koala habitat, with more koalas, than before Europeans arrived, he writes; the species is not threatened. He concludes, “were they not so cute, koalas would be called a pest species.” (The Spectator/Getty image)
Gray whales are starving in the eastern North Pacific. This started in January 2019 and so far has resulted in 378 confirmed gray whale deaths, with possibly many more unrecorded, according to a January 22 article in ScienceDaily.
The world’s oldest-known banded wild bird, a Laysan albatross named Wisdom, has appeared again on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, where millions of albatrosses return annually to breed. Wisdom is at least 69 years old, according to USF&WS. Jon Brack’s photo shows her incubating her newest egg.
VIDEO: The incredible story of how degraded gorse-infested farmland has been regenerated back into a beautiful New Zealand native forest over the course of 30 years.
Shark populations have crashed by more than 70% since 1970, mainly due to overfishing (for meat, fins and traditional Chinese medicine). Globally, three-quarters of oceanic shark species now face extinction with a “very small window” to avert disaster. The report appeared in January in Nature; The NY Times expanded on it.
Humans vs. wildlife, continued: It’s called “anthropogenic resistance”—humans and animals fighting for the same patches of landscape. Animals and humans both need habitat and movement corridors, but when there’s a dispute, animals often lose. A German research team recently recommended (in One Earth) that social and natural scientists work together on such conflicts, which are growing especially in Europe as large predators are re-established.
Ever wonder about wastewater treatment? The good news is that now about 50% is being treated—much more than the previous estimate of 20%. The bad news is that the other half of global wastewater is still not being cleaned before release. Utrecht University and the UN published the findings last month in Earth System Science Data.
Drones in conservation, continued. This photo, composed of almost 600 drone images, helps scientists gauge biomass, land cover and ecosystem productivity (here in prairie restoration in Illinois). Satellite images often allow only broad analyses, but drones get close enough to see ecological or agricultural changes at fine scale. The findings appeared last month in Applications in Plant Sciences.
But don’t count out satellites, either. Global Forest Watch monitors distant tropical forests, reported US National Public Radio on February 15. GFW’s online platform provides near real-time information about where and how forests are changing around the world, even under clouds. Computers sift satellites images about once a week; the removal of just a single tree can be detected.
Ten golden rules for planting trees to curb global warming and habitat loss have been proposed, reported BBC.com in January. Forests are home to three-quarters of the world’s plants and animals, soak up carbon dioxide and provide food, fuels and medicines. But 15,500 square miles (40,000 sq km) of tropical forest are lost every year. The “golden rules” include protect existing forests first; put local people at the heart of tree-planting projects; maximize biodiversity recovery to meet multiple goals; and select the right area for reforestation. The wrong tree in the wrong place can do more harm than good.
More trees can actually warm the planet, according to new research from Clark University in Massachusetts. Forests soak up CO2, but they are also darker than other surfaces, so they absorb sunlight and retain heat. Without considering this, large-scale tree-planting programs like Canada’s 2Billion Trees Initiative and The Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees campaign could be counterproductive. “It’s all about putting the right trees in the right place.” (The US alone loses a million acres of forest each year; 15 years of this amounts to about 17% of a single year of US fossil-fuel emissions.)
Diverse forests with small clearings hinder the spread of wildfires, say researchers from the US’s Los Alamos National Laboratory. Their new and novel 3D computational model reveals how forest structure affects fire behavior.
Shell Oil believes a Brazil-size forest has to be planted to suck enough CO2 out of the atmosphere in the second half of this century to ensure that global warming “returns” back to 1.5°C by 2100 after an “overshoot” to 1.7°C (as reported by CarbonBrief.org last month).
Earth’s ice is melting faster. The findings (The Cryosphere, January 25) also reveal that the Earth lost 28 trillion tons of ice between 1994 and 2017—equivalent to a sheet of ice 100 metres (330 feet) thick covering the whole of the UK.
All the world’s COVID-19 virus particles together would not half-fill a Coke can, calculated a math lecturer at the University of Bath, per a February 10 article in The Conversation. [Ed. note: Another example of E.O. Wilson’s “little things the rule the world.”]
New Additions to the Conservation Frontlines Library March 2021
|Shah Sonia (The New Yorker)||2021||Animal Planet: An ambitious new system will track scores of species from space — shedding light, scientists hope, on the lingering mysteries of animal movement||Conservation & Wildlife Management|
|Victoria Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning||2020||Victorian Deer Control Strategy||Sustainable Use, Species Assessment|
|National Deer Association||2021||Deer Report 2021||Species Assessment|
|Ausilio G, Sand H, Månsson J, Mathisen KM & Wikenros C||2021||Ecological Effects of Wolves in Anthropogenic Landscapes: The Potential for Trophic Cascades Is Context-Dependent||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Species Assessment|
|Doherty TS, Hays GC & Driscoll DA||2021||Human disturbance causes widespread disruption of animal movement||Conservation & Wildlife Management|
|Fountain Henry & Mather Peter (NYT)||2021||They’re Arctic Survivors. How Will They Adapt to Climate Change?||Species Assessment|
|Deutsche Wildtierstiftung & Miller Christine||2020||Die Gams in Europa – Situation und Handlungsbedarf im Alpenraum||Species Assessment|
|Benton TG, Bieg C, Harwatt H, Pudasaini R & Wellesley L||2021||Food System Impacts on Biodiversity Loss: Three levers for food system transformation in support of nature||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Wild Foods|
|Nelson F, Harris A, Hazzah L & Lohmann LG||2021||Transforming conservation in times of crisis and opportunity||Conservation & Wildlife Management|
|van Tighem Kevin (MOJO)||2021||No, Human Development Does Not “Create” Wildlife Corridors||Conservation & Wildlife Management|
|Quammen David (NYT)||2021||And Then the Gorillas Started Coughing||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Wildlife Diseases|
|New Scientist||2021||Our impact on Earth’s ecosystems and biodiversity – in graphics||Conservation & Wildlife Management|
|Chance Ashley (NFF Artemis)||2020||Squirrel Pot Pie||Wild Foods|
|Chance Ashley (NFF Artemis)||2020||The Hog Blog||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Species Assessment|
|Stoddard Ed||2021||Land reform and conservation meet on the banks of the Selati River||Conservation & Wildlife Management, Rural Communities|
|Cernansky Rachel||2021||New funds could help grow Africa’s Great Green Wall. But can the massive forestry effort learn from past mistakes?||Conservation & Wildlife Management|