Friday, July 31, 2009

Call of the Pika

In the first part of our series on the President's Report on Climate Change, we discussed the potential negative effects of temperature change on the polar bear. Another species at great risk due to climate change is the North American Pika.

The North American Pika is a hamster-like relative of rabbits and hares, ranges from 3-5 inches in length and has a densely furred coat that it does not shed and, as such, it can not dissipate heat easily. Its range includes the mountains and foothills of the Western United States and Canada. They're primarily solitary creatures, but they'll often live near each other in talus fields. Hikers may recognize the pika from the shrill whistle it sounds as a warning when potential predators approach. It's an herbivore that eats grasses and other types of vegetation. It does not hibernate, surviving winter by eating vegetation that it has sun dried and stored for later use.

The pika is thought to be the "canary in the coal mine" for global climate change related impacts because they are especially heat sensitive and susceptible to even minor changes in temperature. The pika's normal body temperature is roughly 104 degrees Fahrenheit and even a short exposure of less than an hour to temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit can be fatal. Because of this, pikas seek higher ground as the temperature rises, leaving some previously populated areas locally extinct.

The Journal of Mammology recently published a study showing that pika have disappeared from 9 of the 25 colonies it observed. Further, biologists have observed that of the remaining pika colonies in the Western U.S., they are on average 900 feet further upslope. Because of this and efforts by conservation groups, the USFWS is conducting a status review to determine whether to add the pika to the Endangered Species List. The decision came as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice seeking protection for the species. The USFWS will announce its decision regarding species protection by February 1, 2010.

To find out more about climate change and it's effect of species as well as what you can do to help, please visit the ESC website at

Friday, July 24, 2009

Endangered Species Act Scientific Consultation Process Under Review

Earlier this year, the Obama Administration overturned the Bush Administration's last-minute changes to the rules implementing consultations under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. When the Department of Interior repealed the rule changes in April, they initiated a public comment period to consider any new ideas for changes.

The scientific consultation provision requires federal agencies to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure that their actions don't harm endangered species or their habitat.

The consultation process has worked quite successfully since its implementation by the Reagan Administration in 1986. The current system has proven itself to be timely and is a major reason that 99 percent of listed species have successfully avoided extinction. An audit by the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service found that self-governed action agencies violate the Endangered Species Act 62 percent of the time. This clearly demonstrates that when expert agency scientists are removed from the consultation, accurate evaluations are unlikely to occur. Only the wildlife agencies have the personnel and expertise to evaluate the biological impacts of land use actions. Therefore, the federal government must maintain a strong oversight and a system of checks and balances to review federal projects that may have any negative impact on a protected species

Comments can be submitted at:

The Endangered Species Coalition is circulating a petition to the Obama Administration supporting a strong Endangered Species Act.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Victory for Spotted Owl, Marbled Murrelets and Ancient Forests

Administration Announces Withdrawal of Old-Growth Logging Plan

The Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced July 17 that the Bureau of Land Management will withdraw a controversial logging plan affecting federal forests managed by the Bureau of Land Management in Oregon. The Secretary also announced that decisions by the previous administration to reduce designated critical habitat and establish a recovery plan for the Northern Spotted Owl were also being reversed. A new Northern Spotted Owl recovery plan will now be developed.

These are important steps forward toward conserving Northern Spotted Owls, Marbled Murrelets and other threatened species. This is a big win for conservation groups, the environment, and the global climate. The decision assures that the vast storehouse of carbon contained in these mature and old-growth forests will be not be released into the atmosphere had they been logged.

The Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR) would have tripled old-growth logging on federal forests in Oregon managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), reducing habitat for the threatened Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet, as well as impacting threatened wild-salmon stocks. An estimated 680 known Spotted Owl sites and 600 Marbled Murrelet sites would have been eliminated over the course of the plan’s implementation.

This decision highlights the importance of Endangered Species Act consultation and of using the best available science in decision-making, free of political interference. The WOPR did not undergo consultation under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, whereby the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service would review the plan’s impacts on endangered species. As a result, the Secretary announced that the WOPR was legally indefensible and must be withdrawn. The Secretary also cited political interference in the development of the owl recovery plan as a major factor in that plan being withdrawn and redone.

The importance of mature and old-growth forests as a carbon storehouse was underscored by a new National Academy of Science study which found that the forests of the Pacific Northwest hold a globally significant carbon store that should be preserved. The study affirmed that “Conserving forests with large stocks of biomass from deforestation and degradation avoids significant carbon emissions to the atmosphere.”

Many groups and individual activists were involved in bringing about these policy changes. Activists on the ground monitoring and challenging harmful projects; analysts reviewing plans and preparing comments; organizers getting members to send comment letters and calling lawmakers; lawyers and plaintiff groups who brought two separate legal challenges; and advocates in DC urging that the administration to the right thing. Our thanks to the administration for doing the right thing for the Northern Spotted Owl, Marbled Murrelets, salmon and the global climate, and to everyone in our community who helped make this happen including the Endangered Species Coalition and its members who supported the effort.

Steve Holmer
American Bird Conservancy

Part of an occasional series of guest blog posts from the member organizations of the Endangered Species Coalition. For more information about our coalition members, visit

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Victory for Bull Trout and Science

This week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it would revisit critical habitat protections put in place for Bull trout by the Bush administration. This decision was in response to a lawsuit by environmental groups asserting the Bush Administration had illegally made cuts in the amount of Bull trout habitat protected under the designation. The Bush administration had reduced by 80 percent the amount of critical habitat proposed for protection by agency scientists.

The is only the latest in the saga of Julie MacDonald, a former Deputy Asst. Secretary at Interior who resigned in 2007 after an internal investigation found that she “bullied” scientists within her own agency and improperly interfered with their recommendations for protections in more than a dozen endangered species decisions. The investigation also found that Ms. MacDonald improperly provided internal department information to industry lobbyists.

Ms. MacDonald’s fingerprints were also on the Bull trout. In 2007, the Endangered Species Coalition organized a scientist fly-in. I and the other field organizers found a handful of scientists from around the country who were willing to fly to Washington and tell members of Congress and their staff what they knew about the lack of scientific integrity at Interior.

I enlisted the help of John Young, a man who had recently retired from a 30-year career as a federal biologist, and was the former Bull trout recovery coordinator for the USFWS. John was initially reluctant to go to D.C. because during previous trips to the nation’s capitol, he felt that members of Congress seemed disinterested during meetings with him and other constituents. In the end, I was able to convince John to come anyway.

While in DC, Young and I visited with Congressional offices on both sides of the capitol. Young spoke about how Ms. MacDonald—in spite of objections raised by USFWS staff—directed the exclusion from critical habitat of all reservoirs, without any analysis of the operations plans of individual reservoirs or the effect of those plans on survival and recovery of bull trout. According to Young, Ms. MacDonald may have also been involved in the burying a 5-year status review and recovery plan for the threatened salmonid as well.

DOI interference in Bull trout protection and recovery may have been even broader than just MacDonald’s influence. In 2004, the Missoulian reported that the economic benefits of Bull trout recovery mysteriously disappeared from the final analysis prepared for the critical habitat designation.

I am pleased to hear that the new Department of Interior, led by former Senator Ken Salazar, is finally revisiting the tainted bull trout decision. This is a good start. But there is more work to do, including at least a dozen other endangered species decisions in which science was pushed aside for political purposes. After the last eight years of Bush-Cheney malfeasance, it will take time to clean up the mess they left at Interior and give imperiled wildlife the protections they deserve.

Derek Goldman
Northern Rockies Field Representative
Endangered Species Coalition

Support Derek's work to protect bull trout, gray wolves, lynx and other endangered species in the west by donating to the Endangered Organizer Fund.
Derek can not continue to protect wildlife and wild places and advocate for scientific integrity without our support. Please adopt Derek today!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Prognosis for Polar Bears: 75 Years

The recently released Presidential Report on Climate Change addresses the significant risk to several species of climate change related population loss or extinction. Among the most vulnerable is the polar bear.The report projects that two thirds of the world's polar bears could be gone by 2050 and there could be no wild polar bears in Alaska by 2085 unless immediate action is taken to address climate change.

According to the White House report Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, "about two-thirds of the world’s polar bears are projected to be gone by the middle of this century. It is projected that there will be no wild polar bears left in Alaska in 75 years."

As the polar bear depends on sea ice for hunting and foraging, any ice loss effect them immediately and adversely. NASA has found that perennial sea ice is melting at a rate of 9% per decade and could disappear entirely within the century. Without sufficient sea ice on which to hunt, the bears are faced with few good options. They can either turn inland to forage and face the consequences of human interaction or confront the likelihood of starvation or drowning.

Climate change effects polar bears by impacting their prey species as well. Less snow can result in inadequate snow cover for seals to construct birth lairs, reducing seal reproductivity and by extension, the ability of polar bears to sustain themselves and their cubs.

Warming temperatures also effect the ability of female polar bears to give birth to and raise their young. Bears build dens in dense snow pack to hibernate several months a year and to give birth to cubs. Warmer temperatures mean less snow in which to build dens and the possibility of den collapse or decreased insulative properties, resulting in lower litter survival rates. The cubs, who are born weighing only 1 pound, may quickly freeze to death or be crushed by collapsing ice.

There are some international cooperative efforts already underway to maintain polar bear populations. The International Union for Conservation of Nature Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) was formed in 1965 when representatives from Norway, Canada, Denmark, the United States and USSR met in Fairbanks to address polar bear conservation due to concern that populations were being over harvested. Members of the PBSG signed an agreement in 1973 to plan for the protection of the polar bear by mandating national research programs relating to the conservation and management of the species. The PBSG most recently met June 29th-July 3rd and once again recognized that the greatest threat currently facing polar bears is climate change.

The polar bear is one of many of species that is already being impacted by climate change. The report finds that "Climate change is already having impacts on animal and plant species throughout the United States." Wildlife, birds, fish and plants are going to need lots of help to adapt to a changing world.

With the American Clean Energy and Security Act (HR 2454) on its way to the Senate after passing in the House, and the U.N. Climate Change Conference coming up in December, the opportunity to effect change may never be better. An enforceable and bold annual reduction in carbon pollutants emitted into the atmosphere, as could happen under strong global warming legislation, would slow or stop the melting of sea ice and keep the polar bear from going extinct. That will require more agreement and initiative to confront the issue than has been previously shown in the Senate and on the international stage.

You can help by calling your Senators and asking them to support a climate bill with full wildlife adaptation funding intact. You can send a letter to your Senator and you can reach the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. To learn more about safeguarding endangered species in a warming world please visit the Endangered Species Coalition's website at

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Safeguarding Species in a Warming World

Two stories in Maine caught my eye this week that I think sum up why we're working hard to ensure that any global warming legislation coming out of Congress helps safeguard species at risk of extinction and all our natural resources.

Wednesday was the 10th anniversary of the removal of the Edwards Dam – a hydro dam on the Kennebec river north of Augusta. The removal of the dam opened up 17 miles of fish habitat and started helping restore the river and the towns that surround it. After that, the other benefits started to flow. According to the Kennebec Journal:
Then the birds, insects and other critters from the woods came back. So did oxygen, stirred up by the river flowing faster and over and around gravel bars, greatly improving water quality.

"This is the health of flowing, oxygenated water," Viles said. "The river smells great. The river attracts all sorts of life, including paddlers and fishermen and -women and those of us of all ages compelled to skip rocks.”

"The financial, natural and emotional value of the new river and the whole Kennebec watershed just goes up and up. I think this river, with friends like us, is going to be really healthy."
The other story comes from just the day before, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that $6.1 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would be used to help with dam removal on the Penobscot River, one of three rivers in Maine with populations of Atlantic salmon recently added to the Endangered Species List as endangered.

The investment will help local efforts to remove two dams and create a bypass at a third, which will add nearly 1,000 miles in fish habitat. Not only will it benefit imperiled salmon and other fish, but Village Soup also highlights these benefits:
Work to deconstruct the Great Works dam[the first dam], combined with predam removal scientific monitoring, will yield nearly $5 million in jobs for the region and is expected to employ nearly 155 people in restoration-related engineering and heavy construction jobs (the equivalent of 38 annualized jobs).

The work, over a 24-month project period, will create jobs for construction workers, technical experts including engineers and hydrologists, work for local businesses such as nurseries and contractors, as well as jobs related to scientific monitoring.

“In addition to the immediate jobs created by the projects, stronger and healthier coastal communities will boost our nation’s long-term economic health,” said Commerce under secretary of oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco.
So what does all this have to do with global warming? These are two examples of the benefits we could see not only for endangered species but for our communities as we implement efforts to safeguard species and our wild places from the impacts that we are starting to experience from global warming. Other types of projects might include rebuilding wetlands and coastal marshes, nourishing coral reefs, strengthening headwater forests, restoring natural floodplains, and protecting and connecting grassland and mountain corridors to serve as migratory paths for wildlife.

When the House passed their global warming legislation last month, our Representatives included important policy framework for protecting natural resources from the impacts of global warming, but the funding levels fell far short of the need. Now, the Senate needs to take this strong framework and support it with an adequate funding level of at least five percent of the potential pollution credit revenues. Please help make this happen by contacting your Senators today.

We know our nation's wildlife, fish and plants on the brink of extinction are facing an even harder path to recovery due to global warming's impacts. But, as the two stories from Maine demonstrate, we can help safeguard species and improve our lives at the same time. Sound good to you?