Friday, September 24, 2010

Arctic habitat could be opened to Big Oil

The Western Arctic Reserve or National Petroleum Reserve-Arctic (NPR-A) is a largely pristine tract of land that is home to one of the nation’s largest caribou herd, millions of migratory birds and America’s last remaining polar bears.
The Reserve was created in 1923 by President Warren Harding as a Naval Petroleum
Reserve during a period when the Navy was transitioning it's fleet from coal to oil. In 1976 Congress transferred management authority of the Reserve from the Navy to the Department of the Interior (DOI) calling for "maximum protection" of wildlife in "special areas" within the Reserve.
These Congressionally protected areas include Teshekpuk Lake, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon, and the Utukok River Uplands.
  • The Teshepuk Lake region provides vital habitat for birds from six continents and is the main calving ground for the 67,000 animal Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Herd.
  • The Colville River Delta is habitat for 3 species listed under the Endangered Species Act (Spectacled Eider, Steller’s Eider, and polar bear) and has been identified by USFWS as the most productive river delta in northern Alaska .
  • The Kasegaluk Lagoon area provides important habitat for waterfowl,shorebirds and spotted seals, denning habitat for polar bears and serves as birthing habitat for beluga whales.
  • The Utukok River Uplands provides critical habitat and calving grounds for the nearly 500,000 animal Western Arctic Caribou Herd. Additionally, it has the highest density of grizzly bears in the Western Arctic.
The government agency that oversees the leasing of land to oil companies is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In July, 2010 the agency began a planning process for the Reserve. This new plan will guide all future land management.

We are asking BLM to provide maximum protection to the above areas. The Reserve already has millions of acres of land set aside for oil and gas development, making this a key opportunity to provide balance in protecting at a minimum these key special areas.

You can make a difference on behalf of polar bears, bowhead whales, caribou, waterfowl and the other wildlife that depends on the Reserve for habitat by submitting a comment to BLM online.

Visit our Western Arctic Reserve action page and take action today.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

FWS Publishes Species Specific Spill Data

Following a Freedom of Information Act request by National Wildlife Federation, USFWS has released a report detailing the known consequences of the BP Oil spill on individual bird species. Until now, the daily collection reports separated the data into 3 categories: birds, sea turtles and marine mammals with no further designation of the impact on individual species.

With this new information, an accurate measure of the effect of the crisis on particular species of birds is more visible. Laughing gulls (1885), brown pelicans (568) and Northern gannets (391) are among the species hardest hit by the spill, according to the recently released data.

NWF notes in their related blog entry that the new spreadsheet lists only 4,676 birds while the consolidated fish and wildlife daily collection report lists 8,009 total collected as of September 15th. The cause of the discrepancy is yet unclear.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Brown Pelican

As part of our efforts to continue awareness of the impacts of the BP Oil spill on Gulf wildlife, we're profiling impacted Gulf species. Familiar to most anyone following the coverage of the crisis is Louisiana's state bird, the brown pelican.

The big billed bird can grow to have a wingspan of up to 8 feet and weigh in at 8 to 12 pounds. It's a large bird but the smallest of the 8 species of pelicans. It's also unique in that it dives into the water from up to 30 feet above to capture it's prey. After it snatches its lunch and a bill-ful of water along with it, it tips its bill downward to drain the water before swallowing the fish.

This method of diving is naturally a liability in oil covered waters. When the brown pelican dives into the sea while foraging, its feathers can become saturated with oil threatening it's ability to insulate. The pelican's feathers serve as a wetsuit maintaining it's internal body temperature. When exposed to oil, open holes develop in that vital barrier that the feathers produce. With the barrier compromised, water can seep in against the birds' skin and heat loss can occur. Since birds have normal body temperatures between 103° F (39.4°C) and 106°F (41.1°C), such heat loss in the water can be fatal.

The spill came at an especially inopportune time for the brown pelican as it had only recently recovered sufficiently to have been removed from the endangered species list. Like the bald eagle, it was nearly driven to extinction by the presence of the chemical DDT in the tissue of fish on which they feed. DDT was banned in 1972, leading the way to the pelican's now somewhat threatened recovery.

Nearly six thousand birds have been collected dead in the spill zone to date and the brown pelican has become the public face of that disastrous toll. Yet, that number may be a fraction of total number of birds killed or oiled. Inexplicably, no birds have been collected oiled or dead offshore and experienced wildlife rescue organizations such as Save Our Seabirds (saveourseabirds.com) and International Bird Rescue Research Center (ibrrc.org) have been completely shut out of rescue efforts by BP and USFWS. This has potentially led to birds and other wildlife mired in oil needlessly going without rescue and prevented an accurate count of impacted species. The latter is important not just to get an idea of the scope of the disaster but because BP's total liability will be determined in part through the counting of protected species killed as a result of their actions.

To find out more about the ongoing crisis in the Gulf, listen to podcast interviews with experts working in the region and take action on behalf of oiled wildlife, please visit our site oilspillwildlife.org.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

USDA Proposes Draconian Wolf Kill

Undeterred by a recent court decision that reinstated Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in coordination with the state of Idaho has issued an environmental assessment that calls for the killing of up to 80% of the area's wolves.

This extreme USDA Wildlife Services proposal will even go so far as to include gassing defenseless wolf pups in their dens, pursuing and shooting wolves from helicopters and sterilization of breeding pairs of wolves.

USDA Wildlife Services is the agency responsible for exterminating wolves during the last century. Now that wolves have been restored to the Northern Rockies, they want to begin killing them again, ostensibly to protect domestic livestock and big game animals. Wildlife Services claims in the proposal that such drastic action is needed to address livestock predation as well as elk herd declines. Yet, according to a recent report by Idaho Fish and Game, elk are within or above management objective in 23 of 29 elk management areas. Additionally, there are many nonlethal steps ranchers can take to effectively prevent livestock loss to wolves.

The now closed public comment period for the USDA Wildlife Services proposal has produced substantial opposition. Secretary Vilsack needs to intervene to stop this senseless slaughter before it begins.

Go here to tell Secretary Vilsack you oppose this inhumane proposal.