Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sierra Nevadas Strained by Changing Climate

The four hundred mile long, sixty mile wide Sierra Nevada Ecosystem is historically one of our nation's most resilient ecosystems. This majestic landscape was treasured by our 26th President, Teddy Roosevelt, and inspired John Muir to help found America's modern conservation movement.

The aptly named "Range of Light" has survived clearcuts of it's forests, encroaching development of all sorts,the impacts of rapid population growth and changing land use--all while maintaining one of the world's most diverse ecosystems.

Roughly 570 vertebrate species inhabit the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem. In addition, the  few are escaping the impacts of it's greatest threat to date.

Climate change is causing the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem to rapidly warm. Increased winter rains instead of snow are causing an earlier snowmelt and less snowpack, critcal to the ongoing survival of numerous species.

The decline in snowpack and resultant snowmelt has been calamitous for amphibious species such as yellow-legged frogs. The frog relies on the snowpack to provide enough water to keep ponds from freezing in winter and drying in summer. The disappearing snowmelt has confined the frogs to a mere 7 percent of their range.

The majestic Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep is suffering as tree lines move higher in warmer weather, depleting it's mountain meadow habitat. Sierra Nevada bighorns had come back from the brink of extinction, numbering barely more than 100 in 1995. It was the first species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act this century and, while slowly recovering, is highly vulnerable to climate change wrought habitat loss.

The American pika, a hamster-like species with a very small temperature window, has already become locally extinct in some lowlying areas as a result of climate change. Unable to withstand the increased temperatures in the summer and lacking vital snowpack for its insulative properties, the pika are pushed further upslope--a terminal destination.

The lack of snow melt is taking a toll on salmon runs in mountain streams as well. Many of California's threatened and endangered fish depend on rivers that start in the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem. As the headwaters decrease and temperatures rise, endangered fish species such as the Delta smelt will suffer the result.

Again, the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem is one of our nation's most resilient and enduring landscapes. With the initiation of mitigation and adaptation strategies, the ecosystem will once again thrive.

Reducing or eliminating external impacts such as invasive species, logging, excessive grazing,and mining are essential. Landscape efforts including the restoration of mountain meadows will aid in the recovery of endangered species such as the Sierra Nevada bighorn and contribute to a healthier, more resilient ecosystem.

Lastly, global climate change must be addressed on the national and international level. Without binding limits on the amounts of carbon released into the atmosphere, the planet's surface will continue on a warming path leading to increased devastation of wild places and the species that depend upon them. 

To find out more about climate change and it's effect on endangered and threatened species and what you can do to help, please visit the ESC website at www.stopextinction.org

Friday, February 18, 2011

Stop the Congressional Attack on Wildlife and Wilderness

The House of Representatives is voting as early as TODAY on a Continuing Resolution (CR) bill that is intended to keep the federal government running for the remainder of the fiscal year.  

Unfortunately, this bill is being exploited by some Members of the House as an opportunity to reward Big Oil, Big Coal and other corporate polluters at the expense of our nation's wildlife and wilderness.

Among the more than 700 amendments to the bill, are provisions that would slash crucial programs that protect our wildlife and environment. If this massive bill passes as written, life-saving Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for the nearly extinct Mexican gray wolf will be slashed, citizens will be inhibited from going to court to hold the government accountable for protecting wildlife, and critical funding for the listing and recovery of our nation's most endangered species will be gutted.  

Some of the anti-wildlife amendments in particular would:
  • Undermine critical science-based protections for endangered fish and estuaries in California
  • Remove important Endangered Species Act protections for still recovering gray wolves, especially the struggling Mexican Gray wolf in Arizona and New Mexico 
  • Prohibit wildlife biologists from implementing important programs to help fish and wildlife adapt to climate change 
  • Inhibit citizens from going to court to force the government to follow its own laws protecting wildlife, public lands, clean air and clean water; 
These amendments are not about controlling the federal deficit. Many of the targeted programs are already paid for and do not come out of tax dollars. Further, many of these proposals would actually make our federal deficit worse in the long run by making it harder to protect imperiled species before they need Endangered Species Act listing and guaranteeing higher costs from air and water pollution. 

We owe it to future generations to be responsible stewards of our nation's rich natural resources. This bill does the opposite.  Please act NOW to tell Congress to vote no on CR1.  

Sunday, February 13, 2011

America's Everglades is in Hot Water

By Caitlin Leutwiler
Communications Associate
Defenders of Wildlife

America’s Everglades boasts an impressive resume, from its rich mosaic of habitats – including sawgrass prairies, freshwater marshes and cypress forests – to its diverse range of native species – among them five kinds of sea turtles, the red cockaded woodpecker and the critically endangered Florida panther. A peninsula surrounded by three seas, it is the only place in the world where both alligators and crocodiles reside. It’s easy to see why the region has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site in Danger.

But for the Greater Everglades, climate change could not be more immediate, or frightening. A low-lying region, the Everglades is considered one of the most vulnerable parts of the world to sea level rise. And with projected rises of three feet or more over the next century, the risk that the ecosystem will be submerged under water is very real. The outlook gets worse - climate change will very likely bring stronger storms, higher water temperatures, salt-water intrusion, beach erosion, changing species ranges and new invasive species. It’s a threatening vision of the future, and for the 67 federally listed threatened and endangered species and more than 600 rare or imperiled Florida species, these disruptions could be devastating. 

One of the Sunshine state’s most iconic creatures – the Florida panther – also happens to be one of its most imperiled. With little more than 100 individuals in the wild, panther populations still hang in the balance. Increased development and habitat loss are already major threats to these wide-ranging cats - a single panther can roam as far as 200 miles. Losing the Everglades, home to the only breeding population of Florida panthers, could make it impossible for the species to ever recover.

So what can we do to protect this sinking hotspot of biodiversity? Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently announced the proposal to create a new national wildlife refuge and conservation area that would help conserve the headwaters and fish and wildlife of the Everglades. In addition to improving water quality, these 150,000 acres would protect important habitat for 88 federal and state listed species, including the Florida panther. The proposal holds much promise – but it won’t be enough. We must take advantage of existing measures to restore and conserve the Greater Everglades ecosystem as well as coming up with new strategies to buffer the unique region from the oncoming storm. By taking action now, we just might be able to keep this American treasure and the diversity it holds from being swallowed by the sea. 

This post is a guest post by Defenders of Wildlife as part of our occasional series from Endangered Species Coalition member organizations.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The San Francisco Bay-Delta Watershed – Change is on the Horizon for California

photo credit Dan Blanton

By Dr. Mark Rockwell
V.P. Conservation

Pacific Coast Representative
Endangered Species Coalition

The S.F. Bay-Delta is the largest fresh & salt water estuary in the west coast of the Americas.  It covers an area of approximately 1,100 square miles, and extends from Stockton in the South, Sacramento to the north, and to the S.F. Bay to the West.  If we want to include the entire watershed, we would have to include all of the western flank of the Sierra Nevada, the southern reaches of the southern Cascades and the eastern flanks of the Coastal range that borders both the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys.  This is an area bigger than many states.  As a watershed it is immense, and as such, is home to many threatened and endangered species. 

Development of this estuary/watershed began in the 1800’s and continues today.  Water is its most important resource for California.  Most of southern California is arid, and cannot provide enough water to serve the 10s of millions of residents there.  Starting in the early 1900’s California began to use water from the Bay-Delta for agriculture, and by the middle of the century began to dam and divert the watershed to access more of its aquatic resources.  Today, approximately 24 million Californians are dependant upon the Bay-Delta for water, and the federal Central Valley Project (CVP), and the state water project (SWP) are the largest water conveyance projects in the country.  These two systems move water from as far north as the Trinity River in northwestern California to as far south as San Diego, and many points in between.   

photo credit Jerry Neuburger
Over the years increasing amounts of water have been diverted from the system, with diversions during the past 10 years being more than 50% of total inflows.  During this same period the ecosystem of the Delta was characterized as crashing, with historic low numbers of both pelagic (in-Delta) and anadromous (trans-Delta) fish species.  Some of the species affected are: Chinook salmon, Steelhead, Green Sturgeon, Striped Bass, Delta Smelt and Splittail Smelt among others.  This crash includes the plankton and other food sources they need for survival.   Several of these are listed as either threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

In 2009, because of continued conflict over what to do, the state legislature made the decision to create a new state entity to solve the problems (SBX7-1, Chapter 5), and created the Delta Stewardship Council.  They are tasked with creating a Delta Plan that protects, restores and enhances the Bay-Delta ecosystem, and provides a more reliable water supply for California (co-equal goals).  This has to be completed by January, 2012.   The council is currently taking recommendations for alternative strategies to be evaluated under the Environmental Impact Statement for the Delta Plan. 

Many groups and people in California recognize this as an opportunity to finally change the way California manages water.  On January 25, 2011 a group of 30 environmental, environmental justice and fishing groups (including the Federation of Fly Fishers and Endangered Species Coalition) submitted detailed recommendations to the Council on two primary areas of the Plan – Water Resources and Restoration.  These recommendations are to provide effective and manageable methods to achieve enough water for California, both today and in the future, as well as recover and restore the Delta watershed.  They feel it is essential to find ways to answer the needs for water without more damage to the watershed, its fisheries and the many disadvantaged communities affected by poor water quality.  They also feel there is no way to recover the many species now listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) unless the state moves in a new direction with water management. 

California currently stands as a focus for ESA conflicts because further degradation of the watershed in the Delta will cause more restrictive actions to protect fish and wildlife.  Only by reducing the demand for water from the Delta, and providing needed restoration can we stop the decline of fish and wildlife.  It is essential that the state find the balance required under the legislation, but it can no longer rely on managing water like it has for the past 75 or more years.  We are in a new era, with new challenges, and new constraints.  This requires new thinking, taking a different path to water reliability, and the political will to push for methods that reduce Delta demands.  We encourage the Delta Stewardship Council to resist the old pressures for the status quo, and push for new and innovative strategies on water management. They will need to work through the impacts on business and communities so the changes happen over time, and allow for everyone to adapt successfully.  This is an 88 year plan, so the changes can be phased over years, and the impacts mitigated responsibly. 

To view the recommendations made to the Delta Stewardship Council by the 30 state groups:  http://www.ewccalifornia.org

To contact the Delta Stewardship Council go to: www.deltacouncil.ca.gov. If in California, you can submit comments online through the ESC action page or email the council directly at terry.macaulay@deltacouncil.ca.gov

To view the Endangered Species Coalition top 10 report, It’s Getting Hot Out There: Top 10 Places to Save for Endangered Species in a Warming World, go to: http://www.itsgettinghotoutthere.org/

This is a guest post by NCCFFF, as part of our occasional series from Endangered Species Coalition member organizations