Rachel Carson warned us; you thought it was just DDT?

March 21, 2018

Two hummingbirds in Europe in 2017; will these birds go extinct, soon, due to agricultural use of potent pesticides that kill the insects birds need to live? AFP image via The Nation.

Two hummingbirds in Europe in 2017; will these birds go extinct, soon, due to agricultural use of potent pesticides that kill the insects birds need to live? AFP image via The Nation.

Bird populations appear to be collapsing across France, after insect populations crashed last year.

Neonicotinoid Pesticides generally get the blame.

France? You mean where “deja vu” is the native language?

It’s a serious problem.

Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said.

Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France.

“The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies.

Some policy makers and scientists appear to have been caught off-guard by the dramatic decline in birds — but anyone watching to environmental news last year probably isn’t surprised. In 2017, scientists and farmers noted the crash of insect populations, the food of the birds.  ‘Where have all the insects gone?’ asked a news story from Science Magazine.

Of the scant records that do exist, many come from amateur naturalists, whether butterfly collectors or bird watchers. Now, a new set of long-term data is coming to light, this time from a dedicated group of mostly amateur entomologists who have tracked insect abundance at more than 100 nature reserves in western Europe since the 1980s.

Over that time the group, the Krefeld Entomological Society, has seen the yearly insect catches fluctuate, as expected. But in 2013 they spotted something alarming. When they returned to one of their earliest trapping sites from 1989, the total mass of their catch had fallen by nearly 80%. Perhaps it was a particularly bad year, they thought, so they set up the traps again in 2014. The numbers were just as low. Through more direct comparisons, the group—which had preserved thousands of samples over 3 decades—found dramatic declines across more than a dozen other sites.

Insect declines were written about in Yale e360, and in news reports from Science. In 2017 scientists and others pondered causes for the decline, with research tending to point at new pesticides used in farming. Severity of the decline was alarming, but few sounded the alarms about birds last year.

Chart showing the decline of insects worldwide, from Yale e360: "According to global monitoring data for 452 species, there has been a 45 percent decline in invertebrate populations over the past 40 years. DIRZO, SCIENCE (2014)"

Chart showing the decline of insects worldwide, from Yale e360: “According to global monitoring data for 452 species, there has been a 45 percent decline in invertebrate populations over the past 40 years. DIRZO, SCIENCE (2014)”

These events are tragedies predicted by ecologists for years; it’s a replay of the “silent spring” Rachel Carson warned us of in her 1962 book — but the effects are much deeper, and moving much more quickly than almost anyone feared.

Can anyone devise a plan to stop the insect and bird decline, and get it up and operating in time to save Europe’s birds?

What if no one can?

More: 

Tip of the old scrub brush to Guardian Environment.

 


Audubon Christmas Bird Count issue: Eagles did not prosper during the ‘time of DDT’

August 26, 2015

Still photo captured from the film, “Christmas Bird Count,” by Chan Robbins; photo shows a group counting birds, probably in the 1940s or 1950s. Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count got its start in 1900.
Still photo captured from the film, “Christmas Bird Count,” by Chan Robbins; photo shows a group counting birds, probably in the 1940s or 1950s. Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count got its start in 1900.

In the notoriously wrong and misleading “100 things you should know about DDT” posted by pro-DDT, anti-wildlife Steven Milloy of “Competitive Enterprise Institute” and Fox News fame, based on the foggy rant of Dr. Gordon Edwards, we get these two misleading claims:

69. After 15 years of heavy and widespread usage of DDT, Audubon Society ornithologists counted 25 percent more eagles per observer in 1960 than during the pre-DDT 1941 bird census. [Marvin, PH. 1964 Birds on the rise. Bull Entomol Soc Amer 10(3):184-186; Wurster, CF. 1969 Congressional Record S4599, May 5, 1969; Anon. 1942. The 42nd Annual Christmas Bird Census. Audubon Magazine 44:1-75 (Jan/Feb 1942; Cruickshank, AD (Editor). 1961. The 61st Annual Christmas Bird Census. Audubon Field Notes 15(2):84-300; White-Stevens, R.. 1972. Statistical analyses of Audubon Christmas Bird censuses. Letter to New York Times, August 15, 1972]

99. The Audubon Society’s annual bird census in 1960 reported that at least 26 kinds of birds became more numerous during 1941 – 1960. [See Anon. 1942. The 42nd annual Christmas bird census.” Audubon Magazine 44;1-75 (Jan/Feb 1942), and Cruicjshank, AD (editor) 1961. The 61st annual Christmas bird census. Audubon Field Notes 15(2); 84-300]

100. Statistical analysis of the Audubon data bore out the perceived increases. [White-Stevens, R. 1972. Statistical analyses of Audubon Christmas bird censuses. Letter to New York Times, August 15, 1972]

Those claims are false with regard to bald eagles.

The careful citations offered by Milloy and Edwards simply do not exist; if the source exists, the source does not say what is claimed by these guys.  (Don’t take my word for it; go see for yourself.)

Audubon never suggested, in any forum, that their famous Christmas Bird Count had shown increases in eagles. Most other species showed no increases, either. I spent a couple of days at the library of Southern Methodist University reviewing every issue of Audubon Magazine from 1941 through 1974, and found not a single article suggesting anything other than declining eagle populations in the lower 48 states (Alaska eagles were not untouched by DDT, but were not so seriously affected; and as you will see below, the first counts of Alaska’s eagles did not occur until after 1950, so the addition of numbers from Alaska counts do not indicate an increase in U.S. population of eagles.)

I also reviewed each bird count, usually published in a separate booklet with the March issue of Audubon in that time. While raw numbers increased, that was clearly due to increases in people observing. At no point did any ornithologist or Audubon member suggest eagles were in recovery, from 1941 through 1972.

That’s a long explanation, unsuitable for quick discussion on blogs, and wholly too much for a 140-character Tweet. My experience with Milloy and his followers is that they will say my analysis somehow errs, though they cannot offer any real analysis from any other source that isn’t just a misreading of the raw bird count.

I wrote the Audubon Society, and asked them to respond to the claim. At first the press office thought the claims so bizarre that they didn’t think a reply necessary.  I sent them a half-dozen links to other documents that cited Milloy and Edwards.  Delta Willis at Audubon took the claims to officials of the bird count.

Geoff LeBaron, Director of Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count sent the following reply (posted without correction).

See also the footnote from Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham appended to the end of the e-mail.

LeBaron, Geoff

Sent: Friday, May 10, 2013 10:21 AM

To: Willis, Delta; Langham, Gary; Dale, Kathy

Subject: RE: DDT and effects on birds, and Audubon Christmas bird count

Hello Delta,

From the 1930s through 1970s there was a tremendous growth in the number of Christmas Bird Counts, from 203 total counts in the 30th CBC to 1320 counts in 80th CBC.  The number of observers on those counts rose from 679 in 30th to 32,322 in the 80th Count.  That is a tremendous increase in effort as well as geographic coverage, and more people in more areas are going to count more Bald Eagles, even if the populations are [were] declining.

A second major factor is that during that period many CBCs were started with the specific goal of censusing wintering Bald Eagles.  Thus we were targeting the areas where eagles were wintering, and thus tallying a much greater percentage of the total population.

Thirdly, there were only two individual CBCs conducted in Alaska prior to the late 1950s.  Bald Eagle populations never suffered dramatically in Alaska [from DDT?], and their numbers were always much higher there.  Since the late 1950s there has been a tremendous growth in the number of counts in Alaska—again, with some of these counts targeting areas where wintering eagles congregate even in the thousands.  These counts added in Alaska can contribute greatly to the total number of Bald Eagles in each season’s CBC.

Thus even while Bald Eagle populations were plummeting in the lower 48 states (outside of Florida) CBC [Citizen Science] efforts were greatly increasing, and in fact targeting monitoring Bald Eagles.  That is why both the raw number of eagles and the numbers when weighted for observer effort went up when you pull CBC data for Bald Eagle during the decades of heavy DDT use.

It’s still educational to look at raptor numbers in CBC data in the years following the banning of the use of DDT in the US.  Many species of raptors show a rapid rebound in numbers after the mid-1970s…and Bald Eagles also dramatically increased.

Per Dr. Gary Langham, Audubon Chief Scientist:   Audubon scientists are careful to include levels of participation and geographic coverage in all analyses. Fortunately, we have tracked both of these aspects since the CBC was started and so it is straightforward to adjust for their impacts.

Bird counts do not show that eagles were out of trouble during DDT years, roughly 1946 through 1972; especially they do not show that bald eagle populations increased.

More:

Explanation of the Christmas Bird Count in four minutes, by Chan Robbins.

Chandler Robbins, founder of the Audubon Christimas Bird Count, screen capture from Audubon film
Chandler Robbins, founder of the Audubon Christimas Bird Count, screen capture from Audubon film “Christmas Bird Count.”

Nota bene: Yes, this has sat in my “to be published” box for too long. It was scheduled for publication, but it appears I had not hit the “publish at scheduled time” button. My apologies to readers, and especially to Audubon’s scientists and press people.


Another conservation success: Bearded vulture returns to the Alps

May 31, 2014

Do conservation efforts pay off?  Yes, they do.

Film comes from the European-based Vulture Conservation Foundation.

Since the film, more of these majestic animals have been released.  Here are photos from the release on Friday, May 30:

Workers and volunteers from the Vulture Conservation Foundation, climbing the Alps to release to the wild another captive-raised bearded vulture.

Workers and volunteers from the Vulture Conservation Foundation, climbing the Alps to release to the wild another captive-raised bearded vulture. (We might assume the vulture is in the box.)

One must respect these volunteers, climbing such tors simply to watch a bird fly away.

The line of hiking Vulture Conservation Foundation volunteers stretched across an alpine mountain for a release on May 30, 2014.

The line of hiking Vulture Conservation Foundation volunteers stretched across an alpine mountain for a release on May 30, 2014.

You can tell

Not ready for his (her?) close up, this bearded vulture may be wildly happy, or sad to leave those who raised it.  Vultures, it may be said, are often inscrutable.  Vulture Conservation Foundation photos.

Not ready for his (her?) close up, this bearded vulture may be wildly happy, or sad to leave those who raised it. Vultures, it may be said, are often inscrutable. Vulture Conservation Foundation photos.

Tip of the old scrub brush to bird conservationist Amanda Holland.


Signs of life: Endangered squirrels

May 13, 2014

From jbendery (Jennifer Bendery) --  I learned today that there are endangered squirrels, and apparently they have ginormous tails. (h/t @kate_sheppard) pic.twitter.com/Uu4QxiDa5M

From jbendery (Jennifer Bendery) — I learned today that there are endangered squirrels, and apparently they have ginormous tails. (h/t @kate_sheppard) pic.twitter.com/Uu4QxiDa5M

A lot of punchlines possible, e.g., ‘if the squirrels weren’t slow, maybe they wouldn’t be endangered.’

Still a rather unique sign, no?

I wonder where it is?  This sign marks habitat in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge  in Maryland for the Delmarva fox squirrel.

Update:  Well, maybe not wholly unique; World Wildlife Fund has this one — again, without a note about location.

Slow - squirrel crossing sign © Michael Mallet

© Michael Mallet


Insta-Millard: Look alive, kids, Fuego is lurking!

May 12, 2014

One way to get the kids out of their sleeping bags in the morning, no?  Just alert them to the passing California condor, looking for something that doesn’t move, to eat.

USFWS PacificSouthwest:

USFWS PacificSouthwest: “Now that is up close and personal! Melissa Galieti snapped this picture of #Condor 470 ‘Fuego,’ May 5 in Big Sur, California. pic.twitter.com/QKvURadqaV

Only way to get closer to these majestic birds is to do what our cousin Amanda Holland did, and work with the Condor recovery project.

Might be a life’s work in there somewhere.

 


Sen. Cruz and Sen. Lee, Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee, poke fun at dead tigers

April 28, 2014

Ted Cruz, demonstrating that he is of the Not Ready For Honorable Service Club, posted this photo on his Facebook page, ridiculing the Endangered Species Act and the plight of tigers everywhere (I’m not a good enough Panthera tigris expert to identify which subspecies* this one is; they are all threatened, and trade in the skins of tigers is proscribed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)).

Cruz said:  “Did a little shopping for the office with United States Senator Mike Lee in Houston today.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said: "Did a little shopping for the office with United States Senator Mike Lee in Houston today."

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said: “Did a little shopping for the office with United States Senator Mike Lee in Houston today.” [This is a replacement copy of the photo, which Sen. Cruz, perhaps wisely, seems to have taken down from his Facebook site. 01/28/2015]

I posted this on Facebook with little comment — it’s just disgusting that public officials would be so cavalier about U.S. law and responsible citizenship like this.  Oddly, someone took offense claiming that we shouldn’t impinge on the First Amendment rights of conservatives.

Shooting threatened and endangered species is not covered by the First Amendment. (YIAAL).

In discussions on my Facebook timeline, I wrote this to those taking offense at criticisms of these two yahoos:

We cannot hope to know the anguish in the hearts of Ted Cruz and Mike Lee that this majestic, endangered, animal was slaughtered.

But we can note that this photo was a genuine lapse in judgment, and we should question whether either of these men is fit to serve you coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, let alone fit to sit in Congress and wreak destruction in our names.

Our national policy is to protect endangered species. Partly that’s done out of respect for creation and our inability to recreated such magnificent things once they are gone. Partly it is done out of the real understanding that as endangered species go, so go we. We do not know, cannot know, which species are the critical ones that make it possible for us to survive on this planet. We shouldn’t be in the business of experimenting with the wiping out of the human race the penalty paid if we goof.

Protecting endangered species produces huge benefits. Not only did we bring back from the brink of extinction the bald eagle, osprey, peregrine falcon and brown pelican when we banned DDT use on crops, we discovered that we’d endangered several species of bats that, now they’ve recovered from DDT, keep our cities free from disease carrying mosquitoes — much cheaper than even DDT at the acme of its cheapness.

And then there are the other benefits. Digitalis to treat heart disease came from a threatened species in tropical climes. Because we’d protected habitat for the spotted owl, when the National Institutes of Health put out the call for massive amounts of Pacific yew, from which to extract a chemical that had shown promise to cure cancers, we had enough of the trees to answer the call right away — and tamoxifen was tested and found very useful, and is today out there fighting cancers.

So what if these two clowns want to jab at environmentalists? Isn’t that allowed, even when they have to urinate on our national symbols to do it?

Sure, it’s allowed. But people who do that? They’re not qualified to be called leaders. Such a lapse in judgment is enough that, in a just world, they’d be asked to resign immediately.

Martin Luther King, Jr., promised that someday the words of the prophet Amos would come true, and justice will roll like a mighty river.

That day is not today. Today we have Mike Lee and Ted Cruz, proving true the words of the prophet Jagger: “Let’s think of the wavering millions// Who need leaders but get gamblers instead.”

Gambling like that does dishonor to this establishment we call the USA.

_____________

They make Anthony Weiner look chaste and noble.

If you’re on Facebook, perhaps you’d like to join in discussion there; I’d like to have your thoughts here.

More: 

Interesting update: Meanwhile, back in Sane America, which is far away from these two guys, The National Zoo/Smithsonian teamed up with Portugal. The Man to release a very rare piece of music, to raise money to help rescue the Sumatran tiger, of which only 400 remain alive.

The Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park and Conservation Biology Institute teamed with agency DDB New York to put the dwindling tiger population in perspective on Earth Day. They enlisted Portugal. The Man to record an exclusive song, then pressed 400 copies on degradable vinyl, so that with each play the record would diminish until the song disappeared, not unlike the dire situation facing our striped feline friends from Sumatra.

Can you get a copy to listen to?  Though there are only 400 copies, I’ll wager it’s easier to listen to this song than it is to get a straight answer about endangered tigers from the Senate offices of these two senators pictured above.

Update #2: Here’s an infographic that suggests why it’s important to keep tigers alive.  They are canaries in our coal mine we call Earth.  Lee and Cruz appear to be cheering on the destruction of all humanity.

Thanks to Lars for pointing out that all tigers are one species, and the different populations are subspecies.


Nene, once again more than just a crossword answer

March 26, 2014

Caption:  USFWS Refuge System ‏@USFWSRefuges -   Nene hatchings on Jas Campbell #Refuge are 1st in Hawaii in centuries http://bit.ly/1jBxFrT  pic.twitter.com/PK2l9PVa3v

Caption: USFWS Refuge System ‏@USFWSRefuges – Nene hatchings on James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge are first in [Oahu] Hawaii in centuries http://bit.ly/1jBxFrT pic.twitter.com/PK2l9PVa3v (this photo taken on Kaui, at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge). Photograph by Brenda Zaun/USFWS/Flickr Creative Commons

These great looking geese, known as Nene,  are thought to have descended from Canada geese blown off course; once they were common on many of the Hawaiian Islands, but by 1952 there were only 30 left.

Bones found on Oahu show they once thrived there.  A few birds — blown off course again, or looking for more territory? — moved to Oahu a few months ago, and have raised young.  Scientists are watching to see how it works out.

With short name featuring only two different letters, “Nene” is a popular crossword answer, and clue.  Some ornithologists half-joke that the familiarity among crossword enthusiasts was a huge aid in getting aid for the wild populations of the bird, and in getting the Endangered Species Act passed into law.

More:

 


Eagles! We reduced DDT, and the eagles recovered

January 28, 2013

Love this photo, from the great folks at Yellowstone National Park:

Chris Daniel photo of a bald eagle in Yellowstone National Park, in the snow

From the Yellowstone NP Facebook site: An adult bald eagle perched along the Firehole River on New Year’s Day, near a trumpeter swan that it had either killed or was scavenging. Adult bald eagles usually remain in or near their nest territory throughout winter provided they have access to sufficient prey. Photo courtesy of Chris Daniel. (kd)

It’s a reminder of progress we’ve made in environmental protection.

While bald eagles may not have been the most endangered animal protected under the Endangered Species Act, or any other law, they became the most famous.  In the late 18th century Congress voted to designate the bald eagle as our national symbol.  At the time, the continent was still lousy with the creatures.  But from the arrival of Europeans after 1492, eagles had been hunted mercilessly.  By the early 20th century it was clear the animal was bound for extinction, like the great auk and other species (see here for technical information on the auk).

Ben Franklin complained the eagle was a dirty carrion eater, in a smart and funny polemic favoring the American turkey as the national bird.  Franklin couldn’t know how hunting and in-breeding would suck the nobility out of even wild turkeys over the next 200 years, until species protection laws and hunters pushed governments to invigorate stocks of wild turkeys again.  Compared to the eagle’s troubles, though, the turkey’s genetic torpor and limited habitat was almost nothing.

Americans tried to save the eagle.  After 1890, and during the run on great bird feathers that excited the fashion world and led to the senseless slaughter of millions of America’s most spectacular birds, we passed a federal law against hunting and shooting eagles for sport or no reason.  It was a toothless law, and the decline of eagle populations begun in the early 16th century continued unabated. Migratory bird treaties, providing more legal heft to bird protection, didn’t help the eagles either — not enough of them crossed borders, at least not that hunters and law enforcement could see.  The Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, kicking into action in 1941, provided teeth to eagle hunting restrictions, and hunters stopped shooting them so much.  Between 1940 and 1950, eagle populations stabilized, with a good bunch in Alaska, and a few nesting pairs spread from Oregon to Maine, Lake of the Woods to Florida Everglades.  There were so few eagles, and they were spread so far apart, that most Americans could not see one without major effort and travel.

Bird watchers noticed trouble in the 1950s.  Young eagles stopped showing up for the Audubon Christmas bird count, and at the Hawk Mountain migration counts.  Adults went through the motions, migrating, hunting, building nests, laying eggs for all anyone knew, and hatching young that had been seen, sometimes, to fledge — but then the young birds died.  Between leaving the nest, and returning to mate up and breed, the young birds simply disappeared.

Research showed deeper trouble.  On careful observation the birds were seen to be frustrated in hatching and raising chicks.  Sometimes the eggs wouldn’t hatch.  If they did hatch, the chicks died.  The few who lived to fly out, died soon after.

Rachel Carson called attention to the trouble in her 1962 claxon call on pesticide and chemical pollution, Silent Spring (50 years ago in 2012).

Doctor Science at Obsidian Wings wrote a paean to seeing bald eagles in the wild, with a brief and kind mention of this blog. You should go read it there.

Protecting birds?  The Steve Milloys, CEIs, AEIs, Heritage Foundations, CATO Institutes and other dens of smug cynicism and bad citizenship have it all wrong.  It’s not about power for environmentalists.  It’s nothing so cheap or mean.  Heck.  Often it’s not even about protecting the birds so much.

It’s about protecting our own dreams, and places we have to inspire those dreams.  Frederick Jackson Turner postulated that there is something mystical and magical in a frontier that helped form the American character and make us hard-working, smart, and noble.  He was right, of course.  Those frontiers are not simply frontiers of settlement in the wilderness anymore.  We have to work to find them, to declare Alaska the “Last Frontier,” or government reform and Cold War enterprise as the “New Frontier.”  But we still need frontiers.

Eagles still soar there.  Wherever eagles soar, in fact, we find those frontiers, those places to dream and inspire.  The Endangered Species Act isn’t about saving animals and plants.  It’s about saving our own souls.

More:


More misunderstanding of the case against DDT

December 21, 2011

Well-meaning but misinformed dog breeder Terrierman (a guy who goes by the handle PBurns, too)  is just the latest to fall victim to false and nearly false claims about DDT and its effects on birds.

One of the claims made by pro-DDT and anti-environmental protection, anti-science groups is that DDT is not the bad guy in bird deaths.  The late DDT-nut Gordon Edwards said DDT had nothing to do with eagle deaths, and pointed to the 300-year decline in eagle populations from the time European settlers began shooting at them.  This idea has been touted by the chief junk science purveyor, Steven Milloy, and by many others over the years.

So, in one of his several posts slamming eagle conservation efforts that include stopping the use of DDT, Terrierman said:

What’s the story? Simple: that Bald Eagles and Osprey were pushed to the edge of extinction by DDT.

Not True.

Actually, that is true.  Terrierman got it wrong.  DDT was, indeed, threatening the very existence of the bald eagle.  While it is true that there were other pressures, some long-standing, it is also true that once those problems were cleared, DDT still barred the recovery of the eagle, plus other species like osprey, peregrine falcons, and brown pelicans.

What is the story?  The story is that eagles have been under assault since Europeans found America.  By 1900, eagle populations across North America were dramatically and drastically reduced.  A federal law in 1918 made it illegal to shoot eagles, but it had little effect.  A tougher law passed in 1940 finally got some traction.

But eagle recovery didn’t take off.  In the late 1940s and early 1950s bird watchers, and bird counters like those volunteers who contribute to the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count, noticed that young eagles disappeared.  Simply, adult, breeding eagles were not able to produce young who survived to migrate, mature, and breed later.

The culprit was DDT.  DDT kills young eagles in three ways, known in the 1960s.  It poisons them so they cannot grow in the egg.  It poisons them so they die after a period of growth.  It poisons them so they are unable to eat and digest properly, so they die shortly after they hatch.

DDT can also screw up the sexual organs of young birds, so they are unable to breed — perhaps a fourth way DDT kills young, by simply preventing their creation.

Then, in the 1970s, we found another way DDT kills species:  DDT makes the eagle hens unable to form competent eggshells.  The young die because the eggs cannot survive incubation.

DDT also kills adult eagles, especially migrating birds.  DDT accumulates in fat tissues, those fats that migrating birds burn.  When the birds migrate, the DDT comes out, and it can literally stop the heart or brain of the bird in flight.  (It kills bats the same way.)  Birds lost in migration rarely get found for necropsy.   The bird count simply falls, the population sinks one individual closer to extinction.

Does the dog breeder know all of this?  I can’t tell — I tried to correct his errors at his blog site, but after I provided a link to an article that showed DDT appears to be harming California condors as well — in a post he has censored in moderation and which will never see the light of day at Terrierman, I predict — it’s clear he’s not up to gentle correction.

One more blog from which I am banned from telling the facts.

PBurns, if you’re bold enough to comment here, your comments won’t be censored (so long as not profane).  We need robust discussion, and I encourage it.

Below the fold — my final post to Terrierman, which he won’t allow through moderation.

Read the rest of this entry »


Plan to save the spotted owls

August 2, 2011

A lawyer complains in the Wall Street Journal that the plan from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) intended to help the endangered spotted owl should be dismissed because, well, the spotted owl is still endangered, and after all, didn’t the spotted owl personally shut down the entire lumber industry in the Northwest?

Well, no, the owl didn’t shut down the mills.

But before we discuss, can we at least read the shorthand version of what USFWS has to say?  Here’s the press release on the plan:

Plan Marks New Route for Recovering Northern Spotted Owl and Promoting Healthy Northwest Forests

Contact:
Janet Lebson
503-231-6179
janet_lebson@fws.gov


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a final revised recovery plan for the threatened northern spotted owl, stepping up actions that so far have helped stem but not reverse the old-growth forest raptor’s decline. The revised plan identifies three main priorities for achieving spotted owl recovery:  protecting the best of its remaining habitat, actively managing forests to improve forest health, and reducing competition from barred owls, a native of eastern North America that has progressively moved into the spotted owl’s range in Washington, Oregon, and northern California.

“For more than 20 years, northern spotted owl recovery has been a focal point of broader forest conservation efforts in the Pacific Northwest,” said Robyn Thorson, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Northwest Regional Director. “This revised recovery plan is based on sound science and affirms that the best things we can do to help the spotted owl turn the corner are conserving its habitat, managing the barred owl, and restoring vitality to our forests.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will use the recovery plan to work with land managers in the Pacific Northwest such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, as well as other federal and non-federal landowners, to advise them on habitat management activities that can benefit the spotted owl and contribute to improved forest health.

Because about 20 million acres of U.S. Forest Service lands and about 2 million acres of Bureau of Land Management lands are potentially affected by recovery plan recommendations, the three agencies worked together on key recommendations related to forest management. Both agencies provided formal letters of support for the plan’s recovery goals.

“This recovery plan is a welcome update to the state of the science surrounding the northern spotted owl,” said Cal Joyner, Deputy Regional Forester for the Pacific Northwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service. “The plan will help us implement a mix of actively managing and protecting habitat to best contribute to conservation and recovery.”

“The recovery plan provides space to develop ecological forestry principles and to actively manage our public forests to achieve the twin goals of improving ecological conditions and supplying timber,” said Ed Shepard, Oregon/Washington State Director for the Bureau of Land Management. “We look forward to continuing our close cooperation with the Fish and Wildlife Service as we put the science from the recovery plan to work in our planning, in evaluating proposed timber projects, and in improving forest health.”

Overarching recommendations in the revised plan include:

  • Conservation of spotted owl sites and high-value spotted owl habitat across the landscape. This means the habitat protections provided under land use plans on federal land will continue to be a focus of recovery, but protection of other areas is likely needed to achieve full success (including some of the lands previously slated for potential timber harvest on federal lands, and possibly non-federal lands in certain parts of the owl’s range where federal lands are limited).
  • Active management of forests to make forest ecosystems healthier and more resilient to the effects of climate change and catastrophic wildfire, disease, and insect outbreaks. This involves an “ecological forestry” approach in certain areas that will restore ecosystem functioning and resiliency. This may include carefully applied prescriptions such as fuels treatment to reduce the threat of severe fires, thinning, and restoration to enhance habitat and return the natural dynamics of a healthy forest landscape. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends this approach in areas where it promotes ecosystem function and is in the best long-term interest of spotted owl recovery. The agency also strongly affirms adaptive management principles to continually evaluate and refine active forest management techniques.
  • Management of the encroaching barred owl to reduce harm to spotted owls. Most of the recovery actions the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has carried out since finalizing the spotted owl’s 2008 recovery plan deal with the barred owl threat. A major part of this is developing a proposal for experimental removal of barred owls in certain areas to see what effect that would have on spotted owls, and then to evaluate whether or not broad scale removal should be considered. This portion of the 2008 plan was not significantly revised.

“While the new recovery plan has been refined and improved from the 2008 version, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to implement the most important recommendations,” said Acting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Rowan Gould. “We have begun to address the barred owl threat, improved survey protocols, and developed incentives for private landowners to voluntarily participate in recovery actions. We look forward to expanding conservation partnerships to contribute to the spotted owl’s recovery.”

Since the northern spotted owl was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) 21 years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and recovery partners are benefitting from far more information on what factors most affect its survival and productivity. This includes a broader body of scientific knowledge on the species itself and forest ecosystem dynamics — including variables such as climate change and the role of natural disturbances such as wildfire. Recovery partners also are taking advantage of new science and technology to develop more precise tools for analyzing how different strategies can contribute to recovery.

In addition, land managers have made significant strides in advancing active forest management techniques to promote the health and resilience of forest ecosystems. The recovery plan emphasizes the concept of adaptive management to apply new knowledge and science to those techniques on an ongoing basis. This is a more mainstream approach today than in 1994 when the Northwest Forest Plan was created to address the needs of several forest-dependent species, including the spotted owl, and the region’s timber industry.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a final recovery plan specific to the spotted owl for the first time in 2008. As the agency and recovery partners moved forward in implementing many recommendations in the 2008 plan, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated a targeted scientific revision to some portions of that plan after facing legal challenges and critical reviews from leading scientific organizations in the conservation community.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tapped the knowledge and perspectives of public and private sector experts over the last two years in developing this revised plan, the draft of which was released in September 2010. The agency held more than 30 workshops and meetings with public and private partners throughout the spotted owl’s range to share information, evaluate options, and incorporate valuable input during the revised plan’s development. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accepted public comments on the draft revised plan for a 90-day period and received more than 11,700 comments. In April 2011, the agency released an updated Appendix C, relating to a new habitat modeling tool, for an additional 30-day public comment period and received about 20 public comments.

The revised recovery plan does not include recommendations from the 2008 plan for a new habitat conservation network of “Managed Owl Conservation Areas.” Rather than creating a potentially confusing new land classification, the plan identifies the scientific rationale and parameters for habitat protection and will revise the spotted owl’s designated critical habitat to reflect the latest scientific information about areas essential for the owl’s recovery. Identifying this habitat through the critical habitat process — as the ESA intended — will be more efficient and provide land managers and the public with additional opportunities for review and comment.

For a recovery timeline, Frequently Asked Questions, related information, and the recovery plan itself, visit www.fws.gov/oregonfwo.

America’s fish, wildlife and plant resources belong to all of us, and ensuring the health of imperiled species is a shared responsibility. The Service is working to actively engage conservation partners and the public in the search for improved and innovative ways to conserve and recover imperiled species. To learn more about the Service’s Endangered Species program, go to http://www.fws.gov/endangered/.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov. Connect with our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfws, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwshq, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwshq.

-FWS-

Stay tuned for the response, and my response to the response.

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Oooooh, bonus!  Story in the Daily Astorian says saving the spotted owl habitat also ties up carbon, helping out with the fight against global warming.


Debunking Junk Science’s hoax “100 Things You Should Know About DDT”: #14, William Ruckelshaus’s bias

February 17, 2011

Another in a continuing series, showing the errors in JunkScience.com’s list of “100 things you should know about DDT.” (No, these are not in order.) In the summer of 2009, the denialists have trotted this error out again.

At the astonishingly truthfully-named site “Junk Science,” Steven Milloy creates a series of hoaxes with a page titled “100 things you should know about DDT.”  It is loaded with hoaxes about DDT, urging its use, and about Rachel Carson, and about EPA and the federal regulation of DDT, and about malaria and DDT’s role in the ambitious but ill-fated campaign to eradicate malaria operated by the World Health Organization (WHO) from 1955, officially until 1969.  Milloy knows junk science, and he dishes it out with large ladles.

Among what must be 100 errors, Milloy makes this claim, I suppose to suggest that William Ruckelshaus was biased when Rickelshaus headed the Environmental Protection Agency:

14.  William Ruckelshaus, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who made the ultimate decision to ban DDT in 1972, was a member of the Environmental Defense Fund. Ruckelshaus solicited donations for EDF on his personal stationery that read “EDF’s scientists blew the whistle on DDT by showing it to be a cancer hazard, and three years later, when the dust had cleared, EDF had won.”

This is a false statement on Milloy’s site.  After finding no credible source for the claim that Ruckelshaus was ever affiliated with EDF in any way, I contacted Ruckelshaus’s office, and got confirmation that Ruckelshaus was not and never has been affiliated with EDF.  It should be a clue that this claim appears only at sites who impugn Ruckelshaus for his action in banning DDT use in U.S. agriculture.

 

Junk Science's oddly apt logo and slogan

Hiding the truth in plain view: Junk Science is a site that promotes junk science, an unintended flash of honesty at a site that otherwise promotes hoaxes about science. Note the slogan. Does this site cover its hoaxes by stating plainly that it promotes “all the junk science that’s fit to debunk?”

It is also highly unlikely that he ever wrote a fund-raising letter for the group, certainly not while he was a public official.  The implicit claim of Junk Science.com, that William Ruckelshaus was not a fair referee in the DDT case, is a false claim.

I asked Milloy to correct errors at his site, and he has steadfastly refused.

Here is what Milloy’s point #14 would say, with the falsehoods removed:

14.  William Ruckelshaus [was] the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who made the ultimate decision to ban DDT in 1972[.], was a member of the Environmental Defense Fund. Ruckelshaus solicited donations for EDF on his personal stationery that read “EDF’s scientists blew the whistle on DDT by showing it to be a cancer hazard, and three years later, when the dust had cleared, EDF had won.”

Below the fold:  William D. Ruckelshaus’s “official” biography, if you call him today, February 17, 2011.  You should note, there is no mention of any work with EDF.

Read the rest of this entry »


Adventures in Condor land: Moonrise over Hopper Ranch

June 8, 2010

Moon over Hopper Ranch, by Amanda Holland

Moon over Hopper Ranch, by Amanda Holland

Kathryn’s cousin Amanda Holland writes from her great adventure helping to rescue the California Condor, with this photo of the Moon, behind clouds and haze, over the mountains, from Hopper Ranch.

Here’s where I feel the pangs of leaving biology behind for rhetoric, then politics and law.  Probably the best part of research in biology was the places one had to go.  The best adventures involve getting to and back from the places researchers must go to get data or samples.

And now, with electronic cameras and cards that will easily accommodate 1,000 photos, images are easy to capture.

Some of the images I wish I could get back:  Moonrise over Shiprock*; the rattlesnake who liked to hide in the equipment box at the New Mexico Agriculture Experiment Station; the field of asparagus at the Experiment Station, poking up through the desert for the first time (I wonder if they decided to grow asparagus); thunderstorms at Shiprock and over Kimberly, New Mexico; sunrise in Huntington Canyon, Utah; looking nearly into Nevada through crystal air after a summer thunderstorm near Seeley Mountain.  There are a lot more, really.

Adventures past: We remember them warmly.  Getting out in the wild, doing the hard, grunt work necessary to learn about endangered species, or save them, or just improve conservation practices, is close to godliness, and among the greatest pleasures life can offer.

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  • See this photo of Shiprock and Moon, probably by a photography named William Stone; this photo of Shiprock and storm, by Radeka, is good, too; at one time my job was to drive from Farmington, New Mexico, past the Shiprock everyday, to get air pollution samples.  The Shiprock rivals Mt. Timpanogos in my personal pantheon of great mountains I grew up with.

Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds poisoned by DDT

May 24, 2010

You can read about it here, at Instapundit.

Reynolds wants DDT back because dengue fever showed up at Key West.  News for Reynolds:  We see it in Texas all the time, but usually among poorer people with Hispanic heritage who live along the Rio Grande.  (Funny how these conservative nutballs all worry about people, so long as they’re white, and rich enough to travel to tropical vacation spots; where’s Reynolds to worry about the people who supply his fruits and vegetables?)

One solution:  Improve health care to cure humans with dengue, and then mosquitoes that spread it have no pool of infection to draw from — mosquito bites become just mosquito bites.

Other preventives:  Drain mosquito breeding areas (tires, flower pots, potholes, etc.) within 50 yards of human habitation.  Mosquitoes don’t fly far, and if they can’t breed where people are, they won’t travel to find human victims.

Stupid, destructive solutions:  Spray DDT.  DDT kills insects, bats and birds that prey on mosquitoes much more effectively than it kills mosquitoes, and mosquitoes evolve resistance faster, and rebreed faster. DDT is especially deadly against brown pelicans — maybe Reynolds figures we don’t need to worry about them any more, since they’re under assault from the oil slick that threatens to kill the estuaries of Louisiana.  Were he concerned about the birds, surely he’d have realized his error, right?

So, why did Glenn Reynolds get stupid about DDT?  Why is he promoting DDT, instead of promoting ways to fight dengue?

____________

But, then, Glenn Reynolds has been a fool for poisoning (anyone but himself) for a long time:

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United Conservatives of Virginia swallow the DDT poison, too.  Don’t these people ever study history?

Transmission of Dengue Fever

Transmission of Dengue Fever

Help Glenn Reynolds recover from DDT poisoning, let others know the facts:

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Sage grouse non-listing: USDA offers $16 million to protect the birds

March 17, 2010

Remember the sage grouse? People groused because the U.S. Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife Service determined most populations of western sage grouse are threatened enough to earn listing as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act — but then refused to list the bird, because other plants and animals are even more threatened, and need attention sooner.  (I was one of those people complaining.)

It’s a new administration.  U.S. Department of Agriculture offered $16 million for projects to protect the bird’s habitat.  This ruling put increased pressure on state wildlife agencies, in an interesting if not unique twist of the issue of federalism, state vs. federal responsibility for wildlife and wild lands.  Wyoming wants $3 million right away, for projects mostly on private land.

In other words, the administration will sometimes find ways to do the right thing without doing the most difficult or controversial thing.  Ranchers and energy developers cheered by original decision are also happy about Ag’s proposed spending.  Environmentalists unhappy with the first ruling shouled be cheered by Ag’s action, too.  State agencies that worked hard to make the case for listing the bird may be cheered, also.

Sage grouse habitat threatened by deveolopment, in Nevada - Las Vega Sun graphic

Sage grouse habitat threatened by deveolopment, in Nevada - Las Vega Sun graphic

Readers of the Las Vegas Sun learned about the program last week — the Sun has covered the sage grouse as part of its coverage of alternative energy programs.  Much sage grouse habitat in Nevada overlaps wind energy and geothermal energy development zones.

Ranchers across the west are being offered millions of dollars in aid from the federal government to make their operations more environmentally sustainable and reduce their impact on the sage grouse the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today.

“USDA will take bold steps to ensure the enhancement and preservation of sage grouse habitat and the sustainability of working ranches and farms in the western United States,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Our targeted approach will seek out projects that offer the highest potential for boosting sage-grouse populations and enhancing habitat quality.”

The Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will soon begin accepting applications for two federal programs aimed at reducing threats to the birds such as disease and invasive species and improving sage-grouse habitat. The agency will have up to $16 million at its disposal for the programs.

The Wilderness Habitat Incentive Program provides up to 75 percent cost-share assistance to create and improve fish and wildlife habitat on private and tribal land.

Sage grouse face a difficult future.  State wildlife management agencies face a tough future, too, in trying to save the birds.  The nation needs energy resources found, often, where the sage grouse need lands to meet, mate and raise their young.  It’s a difficult balancing act.

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For sage grouse, not a nickel’s difference between Bush and Obama

March 9, 2010

Sage grouse don’t vote. If they did vote, they’d have a difficult time picking between Democrats and Republicans on their own life and death issues.

Of course, there aren’t enough sage grouse to make much of a difference on election day. That’s the problem.

Courting sage grouse - Gail Patricelli, UC-Davis

Courting sage grouse - Photo from Gail Patricelli, University of California - Davis

Last week the U.S. Department of the Interior released a decision on the fate of the sage grouse:  Near enough to extinction to merit protection under the Endangered Species Act, but too far down the list of endangered plants and animals to merit action on anything at the moment.

That means that the vanishing habitats of the little, magnificent bird, can be crushed by trucks making tracks across westerns prairies, deserts and mountains searching for oil.

Exxon-Mobil 1, Sage Grouse 0.  One might must hope that’s an early game score, and not the population counts.

Jim Tankersly explained the situation, more dispassionately, in The Los Angeles Times:

Reporting from Washington — The Interior Department declared Friday that an iconic Western bird deserves federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, but declined to offer that protection immediately — a split decision that will allow oil and gas drilling to continue across large swaths of the mountainous West.

The department issued a so-called “warranted but precluded” designation for the greater sage grouse, meaning that the bird merits protection but won’t receive it for now because other species are a higher priority.

My childhood was marked by rapidly plummeting bird populations all around us.  Stopping the use of DDT benefited some of them, the Endangered Species Act benefited others.  Conservation efforts of groups like Ducks Unlimited and the Audubon Society saved others, and helped all of them.  While I lived near a great river, a view of a heron, egret or crane is not what I recall from my childhood.  Our children know the birds well.

Land birds, like turkeys, are even more rare.  Turkeys, mostly in eastern forested areas, at least well out of the Mountain West, made dramatic recoveries with massive aid from state game commissions.  I recall one column from the Washington Post’s recently retired hunting and outdoors columnist, Angus Phillips, in which he confessed that with the aid of professional guides paid from the paper’s expense accounts, in more than 15 years of hunting he had heard, but never seen, a wild turkey. This was two weeks after we had come upon a flock just off the side of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, the first I’d ever seen.

I remembered Phillips’ confession a few months later as I sat in the cold, at dawn, in a field at the Land Between the Lakes preserve of the Tennessee Valley Authority with other staff and members of the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, when a guide summoned seven magnificent, lustful wild turkey toms to race across a field toward the lustful hen sounds the guide made with a part of a birth control diaphragm as a calling device.

In my years tramping the west for fun, in the months camping with the Scouts, in the professional tramping with the Air Pollution Lab and the Senate and the Utah Wilderness Commission, and just for fun, I’ve never seen a sage grouse.

Whether my children get such an opportunity, and their children, is a decision for the moment left to private interests, especially private groups with a financial stake in trampling out the nestings where the youth of grouse are grown.

Exxon-Mobil, will you and your colleagues go easy on the grouse, please?

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