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






West Nile Kills Eagles in Utah

bald_eagle utahA Utah Division of Wildlife Resources press release says that West Nile virus killed over 20 bald eagles near the Great Salt Lake in Utah last month.

The eagle deaths are unusual in several ways. First, West Nile virus tends to be most active in the summer months when infections are spread by mosquitoes. Second, while West Nile virus is typically spread by mosquitoes, Utah wildlife officials think that this time the eagles got infected after eating eared grebes that had made a migration stop on the Great Salt Lake. (About two million eared grebes visit the lake during migration.)

The smart money was on avian cholera or even avian vacuolar myelinopathy causing the deaths, but testing in two different labs, including the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisc., showed that neither of these diseases was the cause.

The press release quotes a state epidemiologist saying that there is “no risk” to human health from the outbreak because humans typically get West Nile from mosquito bites, and mosquitoes aren’t active in Utah at this time of year.

Read the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources release, here.
Find a list of media coverage of the mortality event and the West Nile diagnosis, here.

Photo: A bald eagle in Utah. Photo by Lynn Chamberlain

Western Wildlife Agencies Request Delay on Wolverine Listing

WolverineSnowWestern states are “feeling that climate change models are not a reason to list species under the Endangered Species Act,” said Bill Bates, wildlife section chief for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) in an article in the Salt Lake City Tribune last week.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proposed listing the wolverine as threatened in the lower 48 states, where they are dependent on having snow on the ground between January and May, their denning season. Climate change puts that snow coverage at risk.

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies has asked the USFWS to extend its comment period by three more months.

Read the Salt Lake City Tribune article here. It includes a nice map.
Read the Associated Press article in the Missoulian, here. It includes a photo of adorable wolverine cubs.

Photo: Wolverine. Photo Credit: Steve Kroschel

Thousands of Grebes Crash in Utah Desert

eared grebe utahSome 5,000 eared grebes mistook pavement for water at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, the Salt Lake City Tribune reports. Hundreds of the birds died after their hard landing. Because the birds cannot take flight from dry land, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources personnel collected the living birds and transported them to nearby ponds.

Other birds were treated for their injuries or euthanized, the Tribune article says. The article also notes that the night was foggy, the pavement was wet and the grebes were on their spring migration to the Great Salt Lake.

The article also notes that 17 months ago migrating eared grebes crashed in a Wal-Mart parking lot, where about 1,500 of the grebes died.

Read the Salt Lake City Tribune article here.
Check out the slide show with the article, which includes beautiful grebe photos and state wildlife staffers at work.
Read a Utah DWR newsletter on loons and grebes.

Photo Copyright Nicky Davis. Eared grebe in happier times. Photo used courtesy of the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources.

Lots o’ Legislation

Gray_wolfI know, you are trying to focus on science and have no interest in the political scene. And I know that lots of bills get passed, but few of them become laws. Every once in a while, it is worth mentioning the gears of law, though. In this case it is worth mentioning because both the Idaho and Utah legislatures were very busy in late February creating new laws about endangered species.

The Associated Press reported that a bill that passed the Idaho Senate “would make it against state policy for federal officials to introduce or reintroduce any threatened or endangered species in Idaho without state approval.”

But there’s not much more than that on the bill. Read it the brief piece on The Oregonian website, here.

Utah was extra busy. They’ve got three bills in the works. One House bill would, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune, “allow county assessors to reduce a property’s tax burden if its value is impacted by designation as critical habitat for threatened or endangered species.”

Another House bill, “asks the federal government to not designate any private land in San Juan County as sage grouse habitat,” says the Salt Lake City Tribune. And a Senate bill which, “endorses Iron County taking over recovery of the Utah prairie dog” from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Utah legislature also put $300,000 in its budget to prevent the federal government from reintroducing the gray wolf into the state, another Salt Lake City Tribune article says. The article says that federal officials deny that any such reintroduction is planned.

Read the Salt Lake City Tribune article on the wolf payment here.

And props to Brian Maffly, the Salt Lake City Tribune reporter on both of those stories for making dull legislative news lively and easy to understand.

Photo: gray wolf by Gary Kramer, used courtesy USFWS

New Wildlife Resources Director in Utah

greg sheehan utahIn Utah, Greg Sheehan has been named as the new director of the Division of Wildlife Resources, according to a recent press release from the division.

Sheehan, a department employee with 20 years’ experience, has been the DWR’s Administrative Services chief since 2002. The release quotes Mike Styler, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources as saying that “Greg brings a business background to the position, but he’s much more than an MBA.”

Read more about Sheehan in the Division’s press release, here.

Not Eager for Beavers

Garfield County, Utah has said “no thank you,” to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources’ offer to transplant nuisance beavers from other parts of the state to the county to help restore high elevation wetlands, the Salt Lake City Tribune reports.

Although, if they had actually said “no thank you,” you probably wouldn’t be reading about this. What they did say was that they were afraid the beavers would become a tool for the environmental community to use against against cattle.

Utah DWR says that they’ll make the offer again another time.

Read the whole story in the Salt Lake City Tribune, and make sure to keep scrolling down past the ad, because there is more text after it.

(Thanks to Mountain West News for literally calling this story out with a quote at the top of their homepage, even though the story was a small one, on the second page.)


State Biologist Profile: Utah’s Frog Lady

Paula Trater has been monitoring frogs near Utah’s Provo River since 1992. As this article in the Salt Lake Tribune notes, her business card says biological technician for the Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission, but folks on the river have come to call her “the Frog Lady,” a title that, she admits, is easier than her official one.

Find out about Paula Trater’s work, including a 3+ minute video and a slide show in the Salt Lake Tribune, here.

Note about video: There will probably be an ad. Sorry about that. It’s YouTube’s ad, not mine, though.

Scent Marking Won’t Keep Coyotes Away

Coyotes are territorial and mark their territories with urine. There are plenty of studies that show predator urine keeps prey away (such as keeping deer away from a garden with coyote urine). And using territorial marking has worked in repelling African wild dogs. But the trick doesn’t appear to work with coyotes.

A study reported in the last issue of The Wildlife Society Bulletin found that using coyote urine to mark off an area to keep other coyotes away, not only didn’t repel them, but only served to have coyotes linger in the area.

Read the article in Wildlife Society Bulletin. (Subscription of fee required, but the abstract pretty much tells you all you need to know.)

A Ph.D. student of that paper’s lead author did a similar study a few years ago, with captive coyotes, and got a similar finding. Read her doctoral thesis, with references to the predator/prey studies and other background info on the general concept — here.

Coyote photo by Steve Thompson, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Utah Has No Money for Fish Advisories

The Salt Lake City Tribune reported last week that the state health department has not posted signs at boat launches about the danger of eating fish with high levels of mercury because they do not have the money to pay for the $15 signs created in state prisons.

That actually sounds reasonable, a problem of our recessionary age, if you consider that there could be thousands of boat launches that need to be posted. But there are only 16 boat launches on waterways with high mercury levels that need the signs.

Does anybody have $240 for Utah. Anybody?

Read the article here.

Some duck species in Utah are also under a consumption advisory for mercury. Read information from the Utah Department of Health here.

Photo: This sign is posted in Delaware. I’m not sure if having the warning in two languages makes it more expensive. Courtesy of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.