Low Lead in Arizona Condors

Condor_bloodwork_webIt’s been a good year for lead levels in condors in Arizona and Utah. While last year saw the second worst levels on record, this year saw the lowest level in a decade, says a press release from the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

“The ups and downs of lead poisoning over the years demonstrate that any single season does not make a trend, but our test results are encouraging,” said Eddie Feltes, field manager for The Peregrine Fund’s condor project in the release. “If this ends up being the beginning of a trend, we hope it will continue.”

Arizona Game and Fish, as well as the Peregrine Fund, which also distributed the release, believe that voluntary lead ammunition measures in the two states has contributed to the lower lead levels in condors there. Another factor may be the unseasonably mild winter, the release says.

In an article in the Salt Lake City Tribune, Chris Parish, condor program coordinator for The Peregrine Fund is quoted as saying, “The half life of lead in blood is a very short period. That gives us a relatively good indication of where and when exposure may have happened.”

The Tribune article also says that 78 percent of hunters in condor country who were contacted were voluntarily using non-lead ammunition. In 2011 the number was 10 percent.

More details in the Arizona Game and Fish press release here. (Halfway down the page.)
The same press release is here on its own page at the Peregrine Fund website.
The Salt Lake City Tribune article is here.

Photo: Courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department

 

 

 

 

Lyme Ticks Don’t Harm Mice

cary institute mouse taggingThe ticks that carry Lyme disease, black-legged ticks or deer ticks, do not appear to harm their white-footed mice hosts, a paper in press in the journal Ecology says. In fact, the research found, a larger tick load correlated with a longer life in male mice.

The mice are a reservoir for Lyme disease, a report on the study in Entomology Today notes. “Deer and other mammals can spread tick populations, [but] they do not carry the disease,” the report says. “Instead, ticks mainly pick up Lyme pathogens from white-footed mice.”

In a press release from the Cary Institute, paper co-author Shannon LaDeau, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute, says, “From a human health perspective, the indifference that white-footed mice have to black-legged ticks…. signals a positive feedback loop that favors the proliferation of parasites.”

Lots of details in the Cary Institute press release, here.
And in the Entomology Today article, here.

Photo: The study drew on 16 years of white-footed mouse mark-and-recapture data collected at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y. Photo credit: Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies/Sam Cillo.

Idaho Receives Permit to Kill Ravens

Raven“The Idaho Department of Fish and Game will conduct lethal control actions on ravens in three study areas in southern Idaho beginning this spring, and evaluate whether the removal improves sage-grouse populations,” a department press release says. Sage-grouse are a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, the press release notes.

A Reuters article that ran in the Chicago Tribune points out that the department has ranked predation 12th out of 19 causes of the sage grouse’s decline. The Reuters article also notes that because ravens are protected under federal law, the state needed, and received, a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Department for the lethal control study.

The Reuters article also notes that Nevada has already killed thousands of ravens in recent years in an attempt to save the sage grouse.

The Idaho press release says that raven populations have risen dramatically in the West. It also says that it will “work with landowners and land management agencies to implement non-lethal control of raven populations into the future. The goal will be to limit the ability of ravens to nest on artificial nesting structures, such as water towers, old buildings and transmission structures, and reducing or eliminating attractants such as dead livestock and garbage.”

Read the Idaho Department of Fish and Game press release here. It contains a link to a map of the study area.
Read the Reuters story in the Chicago Tribune here.

Photo: Raven, by Gary Stolz, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Toilet Vent Screens Save Birds

owl toiletA vault toilet is a more or less a permanent porta-potty, used in places without running water. Many state and federal agencies are fond of them. I’m fairly certain that I’ve used one in a National Forest recently.

The problem is small, cavity nesting birds. They see that pipe, think it’s a cavity, slide down into the pit and are unable to get out. At particular risk are western screech and northern saw whet owls, says a recent USDA blog post.

Recently, the Forest Service’s Wings Across America gave an award to the Teton Raptor Center for its Poo-Poo Project. According to the project’s website: “In 2010, Teton Raptor Center initiated a community driven project to install 100 screens on the ventilation pipes of toilets throughout Grand Teton National Park, as well as the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee National Forests.”

Problem solved. Are the vault toilet vents in your state capped?

The Poo Poo project sells the screened vent caps for about $30 each, including hardware and shipping and handling. They offer a bulk rate too. The order form is here.

Here’s the US Forest Service blog post.
Here’s the Poo Poo Project website.

Photo: This is what an owl stuck in a vault toilet looks like. USDA Forest Service photo.

Elk Update

More Cervid Contraception: GonaCon and ElkIn February, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission collared 11 elk for a study in north-central Nebraska. There are a few more details in this brief KOLN-TV report.

A new elk study in Montana got more coverage. There, 45 cow and 20 bull elk were fitted with tracking collars. Five of those were traditional radio collars, the rest were GPS collars. The two year study will investigate elk movement patterns and food. Read about it in the Ravalli Republic.

In Wyoming, the concern is the potential to spread of chronic wasting disease at the 22 artificial feeding stations run by the state and one at the National Elk Refuge. Read the opinion piece in the Jackson Hole News & Guide, here.

An opinion piece that is getting a lot of buzz ran in the New York Times recently. It says that wolves did not fix the Yellowstone ecosystem by preying on elk and allowing aspen to grow. No, the article says, the Yellowstone ecosystem is broken, and mere wolves can’t fix it. Read the article in the New York Times, here.

Photo of bull elk courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Asian Carp Head North

asian carp map 4-13“Asian carp have harmed the ecosystem, the economy, property, and boaters in the Mississippi River system. The diet of Asian carp overlaps with the diet of native fishes in the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, meaning the carp compete directly with native fish for food,” says the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee website.

That website, and other information on Asian carp, emphasize the danger to humans from the carp. The carp are large and jump as high as 10 feet out of the water when startled. Since passing boats startle the fish, they injure boaters.

The focus has been on keeping Asian carp, a term that includes both bighead carp and silver carp out of the Great Lakes, which already has enough invasive species, thank you, and where the carp are expected to do horrible things to the food chain.

This week, however, the bad news is that Asian carp have spread farther north in the Mississippi River. Their eggs have been found as far north as Lynxville, Wisc.

“This discovery means that Asian carp spawned much farther north in the Mississippi than previously recorded,” said Leon Carl, US Geological Survey Midwest Regional Director in a USGS press release. “The presence of eggs in the samples indicates that spawning occurred, but we do not know if eggs hatched and survived or whether future spawning events would result in live fish.”

Read the USGS press release with all the details, here.
Read an article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, based mostly on the press release here.
Another article, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, also leans heavily on the press release. Read it here.

Map: Asian carp distribution, as of April 2013. Map courtesy of Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee

Wolf-Coyote Hybrids

New Mexico Withdraws From Wolf Recovery ProgramWhat is an Eastern coyote? One theory holds that it is a wolf-coyote hybrid formed when Midwestern coyotes crossed through Canada and mated with Eastern wolves.

Recently, scientists from the US Geological Survey, the St. Louis Zoo, the US Department of Agriculture published a paper in PLoS ONE describing their successful attempts to breed Western wolves and Western coyotes.

The research has implications for the management of Eastern coyotes, and may also answer some questions about the taxonomy of North American wolves. The PLoS One paper offers an excellent backgrounder on the questions surrounding Eastern coyote and wolf genetics in its introduction.

Read a press release from the US Geological Survey, here.
Read the PLoS ONE paper here. It is open access.

Photo: A wolf pup. Not a hybrid.

Updated Prohibited Species List in Oregon

Some reptiles and amphibians are off, and two otter species are on. The Associated Press reported this week that the Oregon Wildlife Integrity Program has updated its list of prohibited species in a three-year long process. The Wildlife Integrity Program is part of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. In some states prohibited species are handled by the department of agriculture or the department of commerce.

The reptiles and amphibians taken off the list are not considered a risk of competing or surviving in Oregon if they escape. Three other amphibian species were kept on the list because they do pose a risk.

The two otters prohibited are the eastern subspecies of North American river otter, and the Asian small-clawed otter.

Read the Associated Press article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for the specific species.

Indiana Bats Need Forests

Bat_Indiana_A000A paper in the recent issue of The Journal of Wildlife Management says that Indiana bats can survive in areas with a high percentage of agricultural land, but that they strongly prefer both wooded and riparian areas. The paper says that they will fly more than a kilometer over open farm fields to reach a wooded area.

How small of a forest is too small for Indiana bats? The paper doesn’t cover that question, but it does raise the issue.

The Indiana bat is federally endangered species that is also threatened by white nose syndrome.

Read the abstract in The Journal of Wildlife Management here. The full paper requires a fee or a subscription.

Photo: Indiana bat, courtesy USFWS

Can Roadside Weeds Save the Monarch?

Monarch_butterflyThe number of monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico has plummeted in the last two years. Many factors are involved, but widespread use of glyphosate (an herbicide) is one cause that’s under human control.

The development of genetically modified plants that resist glyphosate is often sited as one of the causes of monarch butterfly decline. Because agricultural fields can now be liberally covered with the chemical, the little patches of milkweed that once thrived on on the edges of farm fields throughout the Midwest are now gone, taking the monarch caterpillar’s food source with them.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Natural Resources Defense Council has filed a petition with the US Environmental Protection Agency asking that glyphosate not be spread on highway margins and utility rights of way to allow milkweed to grow there, as long as human safety isn’t compromised. It also asked that farmers establish glyphosate-free zones in their fields.

Read the entire article in The Los Angeles Times, here.

Photo: Monarch butterfly, Mark Musselman, USFWS