LB2C. Stay Current—The Trail Back from Near Extinction
Staying current for Chapter 2
2023-01-10. Where the Bison Could Roam. [https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/10/science/bison-prairie-grassland.html] By Jim Robbins, The New York Times. Excerpt: MALTA, Mont. — Around 200 chocolate-brown bison raise their heads, following the low growl of a pickup truck slowly motoring across the sagebrush-studded prairie. …This knot of bison — colloquially referred to as buffalo, though they are not the same species — is part of a project to rebuild a vast shortgrass prairie not only to return large numbers of bison here, but also to eventually restore the complex and productive grassland ecosystem the animals once engineered with their churning hooves, waste, grazing and even carcasses. …Between 30 million and 60 million bison once roamed parts of the United States, primarily in the Great Plains. They were a “keystone” species in a complex ecological web, creating a cascade of environmental conditions that benefited countless other species. Intact grasslands are very productive for biodiversity. In part because of the loss of bison and other megafauna, intact grassland biomes are now among the most endangered in the world, and the numbers of many species that depend on them have collapsed. …The primary task here now, researchers and managers say, is to increase the number of bison and acres. In 2008, more than two dozen ecologists and experts, in a paper known as the Vermejo Statement, estimated that to foster a functioning prairie ecosystem at least 5,000 bison would need to be able to migrate freely on some 450,000 contiguous, fenceless acres. “In virtually every ecosystem currently grazed by bison, all of the grassland songbirds are lining their nest with bison hair,” said Mr. Olson, the co-author of the book “The Ecological Buffalo,” which details the many ways bison are connected to grassland ecosystems. “It insulates and increases chick survival and egg survival by up to 60 percent.”…
2022-08-08. A bigger home on the range for Montana bison. [https://www.science.org/content/article/bigger-home-range-montana-bison] By Katherine Irving, Science Magazine. Excerpt: As BLM opens public land to the animals, ranchers object, whereas ecologists see a boon for biodiversity. For the first time in more than 15 years, Montana bison will roam new grazing grounds on public land. After 4 years of review, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on 28 July granted a request by the nonprofit American Prairie to release its bison herd onto more than 24,000 hectares in central Montana. This is the largest land approval BLM has given American Prairie. Many ecologists are celebrating the expansion, part of American Prairie’s effort to restore Montana’s prairie ecosystems and return the U.S. national mammal to its former glory. …Grasslands, especially tallgrass prairies, are some of the most endangered and least protected ecosystems in the world, and they have received relatively little restoration. Some former prairie is difficult or impossible to restore, such as that converted to cropland or urban development. But there’s hope for land used for cattle grazing, notes American Prairie spokesperson Beth Saboe. “The biodiversity that can exist there is astonishing.” Just a few bison can aid the rebirth. Although all grazing animals can improve grassland diversity if carefully managed in small numbers, no species does it quite like bison, says University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, ecologist Joseph Bump. Bison are less reliant on water sources than are cattle, which means they can travel farther from rivers to graze. As a result, they are less likely to trample riparian plants, allowing fish and amphibian diversity to recover.…
2022-07-18. Wild bison return to UK for first time in thousands of years. [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jul/18/wild-bison-return-to-uk-for-first-time-in-thousands-of-years] By Damian Carrington and Nicola Davis, The Guardian. Excerpt: Early on Monday morning, three gentle giants wandered out of a corral in the Kent countryside to become the first wild bison to roam in Britain for thousands of years. The aim is for the animals’ natural behaviour to transform a dense commercial pine forest into a vibrant natural woodland. Their taste for bark will kill some trees and their bulk will open up trails, letting light spill on to the forest floor, while their love of rolling around in dust baths will create more open ground. All this should allow new plants, insects, lizards, birds and bats to thrive. The Wilder Blean project, near Canterbury, is an experiment to see how well the bison can act as natural “ecosystem engineers” and restore wildlife. The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. …European bison are the continent’s largest land animal – bulls can weigh a tonne – and were extinct in the wild a century ago, but are recovering through reintroduction projects across Europe.…
2022-04-01. Indigenous people are leading effort to bring caribou back from brink of extinction. By Warren Cornwall, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Strategies by First Nations peoples triples size of dwindling herd. In early March, Naomi Owens-Beek sat bundled against the cold, as her sled whizzed through the snow in the mountains of central British Columbia. In her hands, she clutched precious cargo: a sedated caribou—one of 114 of a herd facing extinction. The caribou—a female belonging to the Klinse-Za herd—and 18 others will spend 5 months in a mountain enclosure known as the maternal pen. Here, they’ll be safe from wolves, bears, and other predators as the pregnant cows give birth and begin to rear their calves. The work is part of an unusual, costly, and labor-intensive experiment led by two First Nations to bring one of Canada’s many dwindling caribou herds back from the brink. New research suggests it’s working. Since 2013, the Klinse-Za herd has tripled in size. The results point to what it could take to revive the fortunes of ailing caribou elsewhere on the continent—some of the last herds of large, migratory mammals in the Americas (also known as reindeer). The work is not for the faint of heart. It has included killing hundreds of wolves, expensive coddling of pregnant caribou cows, and hard-won protections for land in mountainous central British Columbia covering an area larger than the state of Delaware.… [https://www.science.org/content/article/indigenous-people-are-leading-effort-bring-caribou-back-brink-extinction]
2020-10-16. Double whammy doomed Madagascar’s giant birds and mammals. By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Madagascar was once home to towering elephant birds, giant tortoises, and even giant lemurs. Today no animal heavier than a car tire exists, and researchers have long debated whether humans or climate change were to blame. Now, a study of cave deposits on another Indian Ocean island has helped provide an answer: Unusually dry conditions did make life hard for these giant animals, but humans were the straw that broke the elephant bird’s back. Sitting 425 kilometers off the southeastern coast of Africa, Madagascar was long thought to be among the last places humans settled. But 2 years ago, researchers discovered butchered elephant bones dating back 10,500 years, suggesting people and giant animals coexisted for millennia there before these megafauna went extinct some 1500 years ago…. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/10/double-whammy-doomed-madagascar-s-giant-birds-and-mammals]
2019-07-15. Hungry elephants fight climate change one mouthful at a time. By Eva Frederick, Science Magazine. Excerpt: African forest elephants can eat up to 450 kilograms of vegetation a day as they plow through the rainforests of West Africa and the Congo Basin. But all this munching actually leads to forests with more plant mass, according to a new study, and it could be good for climate change. …they munch trees and plants with stems smaller than 30 centimeters in diameter—a little wider than a basketball—often damaging or killing them. Researchers used a model to predict what a forest might look like after years of elephants eating down these smaller plants. The bottom line: Slow-growing, shade-tolerant trees thrive with less competition for water and sunlight. The resulting forest has fewer, taller trees with denser wood, and the overall mass of vegetation above the ground is higher, meaning more carbon is stored, the team reports on today in Nature Geoscience. …as elephants disappear—which they are doing at an alarming rate—those same forests will be less able to help fight climate change. Elephants’ effects on forest ecosystems may also explain why rainforests look different from continent to continent. A walk through the elephant-free Peruvian Amazon, for example, is a much different experience than a trek through a rainforest in the Republic of Congo, which has smaller, more tightly packed trees despite similar climate and soil conditions…. See also https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/19/science/elephants-climate-change.html
2019-01-17. The contiguous United States just lost its last wild caribou. By David Moskovitz, Science Magazine. [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/01/contiguous-united-states-just-lost-its-last-wild-caribou] Excerpt: The last caribou known to inhabit the contiguous United States has been removed from the wild. This week, a team of biologists working for the Canadian province of British Columbia captured the caribou—a female—in the Selkirk Mountains just north of the U.S.-Canada border. They then moved it to a captive rearing pen near Revelstoke as part of a controversial, last-ditch effort to preserve highly endangered herds. The female caribou is believed to be the last member of the last herd to regularly cross into the lower 48 states from Canada. …In about a month, the British Columbia biologists plan to release the caribou—along with two other animals from another endangered herd—back into the wild, into a larger and more stable Canadian herd. The ultimate fate of these animals, however, is unclear. They are mountain caribou, a distinct ecotype of caribou found only in a forested swath of northwestern North America, which have become endangered because of habitat loss and other factors. Conservation efforts have failed to reverse population declines or prevent the complete extirpation of some herds at the southern end of the mountain caribou’s range, where they inhabit inland temperate rainforests. And biologists can’t say whether any caribou will again inhabit the contiguous United States….
2017-02-03. Fossil and genomic evidence constrains the timing of bison arrival in North America. By Duane Froese et al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Abstract: The arrival of bison in North America marks one of the most successful large-mammal dispersals from Asia within the last million years, yet the timing and nature of this event remain poorly determined. Here, we used a combined paleontological and paleogenomic approach to provide a robust timeline for the entry and subsequent evolution of bison within North America. We characterized two fossil-rich localities in Canada’s Yukon and identified the oldest well-constrained bison fossil in North America, a 130,000-y-old steppe bison, Bison cf. priscus. We extracted and sequenced mitochondrial genomes from both this bison and from the remains of a recently discovered, ∼120,000-y-old giant long-horned bison, Bison latifrons, from Snowmass, Colorado. We analyzed these and 44 other bison mitogenomes with ages that span the Late Pleistocene, and identified two waves of bison dispersal into North America from Asia, the earliest of which occurred ∼195–135 thousand y ago and preceded the morphological diversification of North American bison, and the second of which occurred during the Late Pleistocene, ∼45–21 thousand y ago. …After their invasion, bison rapidly colonized North America during the last interglaciation, spreading from Alaska through continental North America; they have been continuously resident since then. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/03/07/1620754114.abstract See also New York Times article A Start Date for the Bison Invasion of North America by Nicholas St. Fleur.
2016-10-18. People are hunting primates, bats, and other mammals to extinction. By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science. Excerpt: The passenger pigeon was hunted to extinction in North America in the 19th century—and hundreds of mammals are now headed for the same fate. That’s the conclusion of ecologists who are taking the first look at the effects of hunting on land mammals around the world. Some 301 species—including 126 primates, 26 bats, and 65 ungulates such as deer and wild pigs—could be on their way out, the scientists report today…. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/10/people-are-hunting-primates-bats-and-other-mammals-extinction
2016-10-03. America’s Gray Ghosts: The Disappearing Caribou. By Jim Robbins, The New York Times. Excerpt: BONNERS FERRY, Idaho — The only caribou left in the contiguous United States are here in northern Idaho where they number about a dozen and live deep in the forests of the jagged Selkirk Mountains, near the Canadian border. Because they are so rarely seen, the caribou — America’s version of reindeer — are known as gray ghosts. …For decades, the forest has been fragmented by clear-cutting, road building, oil development and mining. Where the forest has grown back, it is dominated by willows and other small trees favored by moose, deer and elk. In 2009, wolf numbers began surging in southern British Columbia, northern Idaho and northeastern Washington, drawn to the abundant prey. The population of mountain caribou dived, including the Selkirk herd, which then numbered about 50. Wolves focus primarily on moose and deer, but in the last two years, wolves have killed two caribou in the Selkirks; cougars killed another one. Yet another was killed by a car on Highway 3 in Canada, where salt on the road lures wildlife…. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/04/science/endangered-caribou-idaho-british-columbia.html
2016-02-04. Bison go from seasonal outlaws to year-round residents in a large swath of Montana. By Alisa Opar, onEarth, NRDC. Excerpt: The preferred breakfast companions of Karrie Taggart in springtime are bison. Taggart lives on Horse Butte Peninsula, …about 10 miles northwest of Yellowstone National Park. …Hundreds of bison migrate to low-elevation habitat outside the park in search of food during the winter, moving onto surrounding public lands and private property (like Taggart’s yard). But when spring comes, the enormous herbivores become fugitives in these parts, and wildlife officials round them up and force them back into the park. …Montana’s governor, Steve Bullock, announced in December that his administration will be granting bison year-round access to 250,000 acres along Yellowstone’s western border. …The agencies that manage bison, including the National Park Service and the InterTribal Buffalo Council, still have to adopt the change, but the plan is expected to go forward. …“This is a huge deal,” says Matt Skoglund, director of NRDC’s Northern Rockies office (disclosure). “It puts in place a foundation for year-round bison habitat in Montana, which is a great step in the right direction.” The move is timely, as it comes amid the early stages of revising the Interagency Bison Management Plan. That plan, set in place 16 years ago, calls for hazing bison outside the park due to fears that the animals will transmit brucellosis, a disease that can cause cattle to abort their pregnancies. …A lot has changed since then, says Sam Sheppard, a regional supervisor with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. First, research hasn’t found any case in which cattle have contracted brucellosis from wild bison (in fact, elk may pose a bigger threat). …In the meantime, however, bison will likely continue to be slaughtered; this winter, a near-record-high 600 to 900 of the animals face culling. Scientists say that if the bison weren’t killed, the population would increase to nearly 6,000 by the end of the winter—twice the limit put forth in a 2000 court-mediated agreement…. http://www.onearth.org/earthwire/yellowstone-bison-roam-year-round-montana
2015-12-22. Governor issues decision on year-round bison habitat. By Michael Wright, Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Excerpt: …Gov. Steve Bullock proposed Tuesday to expand a year-round tolerance zone for bison on the west side of the park from the Horse Butte area north to the Taylor Fork area and let bull bison to stay north of the park to Yankee Jim Canyon year-round. “This decision is a very modest expansion of the conditions under which bison may remain outside of the park,” Bullock said in a statement. “While at the same time I am confident our livestock industry is protected.” …The decision would get rid of the annual dates when state officials chase bison back into the park, but won’t eliminate that practice entirely. Hazing could still be used to keep bison within the borders of the tolerance zones, the document says, and would be used to prevent “imminent or anticipated conflict,” like if a bison is getting too close to cows or might damage private property. …cows and bison won’t be allowed to co-mingle, something that stems from rancher concerns about the spread of brucellosis. …Some bison advocates hailed the decision as a step forward, while others said it doesn’t go far enough. …Glenn Hockett, of the Gallatin Wildlife Association, said he was disappointed that …the decision seemed to prioritize cattle over wildlife on public lands by explicitly saying that bison and cattle couldn’t co-mingle. On the other side, Jay Bodner of the Montana Stockgrowers Association said his organization had concerns that the decision didn’t tie closely enough to reducing the number of bison in Yellowstone. Right now, there are about 5,000 bison there, and Bodner worries that if the number isn’t decreased “that there will just be this continuing need to expand tolerance zones.”…. http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/environment/governor-issues-decision-on-year-round-bison-habitat/article_3f907cf0-0b5e-5530-a925-f05793625b9a.html
2015-10-25. Wanted: Bison Herders for an Annual Roundup in Utah. Tenderfoots Welcome. By Julie Turkewitz, The New York Times. Excerpt: …Antelope Island is a rugged, salt-ringed expanse just an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City, and its eastern shore faces the city’s twinkling skyline. The island’s bison are the descendants of 12 animals transported by boat to the island in 1893 by frontiersmen who sought to protect a few of the endangered animals — and turn a profit — by creating a hunting reserve for the wealthy. By 1926, it cost $300 to shoot one of the animals — the equivalent of about $4,000 today. Today, about 775 bison are on the island, making them one of the oldest and largest publicly owned bison herds in the nation. And the island is now a state park teeming with native creatures, including pronghorn antelope. Park rangers began the roundup and auction in 1986 to ensure that the animals did not overrun the island. Pulling a move from Tom Sawyer, officials billed the task as entertainment, and began inviting the public to help…. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/26/us/wanted-bison-herders-for-an-annual-roundup-in-utah-tenderfoots-welcome.html
2015-06-29. Poland Wants Bison to Multiply, but Others Prefer Subtraction. By Rick Lyman, The New York Times. Excerpt: BIALOWIEZA NATIONAL PARK, Poland — …Last month, Piotr Otawski, Poland’s deputy minister of the environment and chief nature conservator, announced a plan to codify and streamline government efforts to protect and grow the country’s herds of bison, an effort that might seem as uncontroversial as a government action can get. Yet many farmers see the bison as a hazard to their fields and crops. The officials in charge of the country’s national forests do not always welcome the idea of more such creatures in the wild. Some business interests worry that too many new environmental rules will hobble the country’s economic expansion. Even those who support protecting the bison cannot agree. One group of scientists thinks there are too many of them in some places and chafes under government regulations that prevent culling. Another group says the problem is not too many bison but too much human interference in their care. “People are the biggest problem,” Dr. Krzysiak said. “By far.”… http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/30/world/europe/poland-wants-bison-to-multiply-but-others-prefer-subtraction.html
2014-07-30. U.S. advances plan to reintroduce wild bison herds outside Yellowstone. Excerpt: New herds of genetically pure wild bison may once again roam vast expanses of the American West where the iconic animal has been absent since the end of the 19th century, under a tentative plan federal officials advanced on Wednesday. The proposal, for which Yellowstone National Park officials have begun seeking public comment, is almost sure to draw staunch opposition from ranchers concerned about disease, competition for grass and property destruction from straying bison. Yellowstone is now home to more than 4,000 bison, or buffalo, constituting the bulk of the country’s last pure-bred population of the animals. Dozens from the Yellowstone herd have been relocated to two Montana American Indian reservations in recent years. …A recent U.S. Interior Department report on bison concluded they could potentially be reintroduced to swaths of public lands it manages in states such as Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nebraska and South Dakota, without posing a risk to livestock. The chief concern is brucellosis, an infection that causes stillbirths in cows and may have been transmitted to roughly half the bison in Yellowstone from exposure to cattle. Park wildlife managers are eyeing a plan that would start by quarantining dozens of bison for several years to prevent them from contracting the disease. Those animals shown to be free of brucellosis could then be considered for relocation to establish controlled herds elsewhere, said David Hallac, chief of Yellowstone’s science and research branch. …Millions of the powerful, hump-shouldered animals once roamed the plains west of the Mississippi until systematic hunting drove their numbers to the fewer than 50 that found refuge in Yellowstone in the early 20th century…. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/31/us-usa-bison-yellowstone-idUSKBN0G001E20140731. By Laura Zuckerman, Reuters.
2014-05-21. Return of the European Bison. Excerpt: …the first European bison about to set their hooves in this remote Romanian valley in the southern Carpathian mountains for two centuries, wait in the shadows of a huge trailer. The forest, already home to bears and packs of wolves, is the final destination for 17 of Europe’s largest land mammal, some of whom have been travelling hitched to lorries for five days from as far as Sweden. It will be their first time out of captivity. The release of the animals into the wild is one of the biggest in Europe since reintroductions began in the 1950s, establishing wild populations in Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Belarus, Russia, Lithuania, and Kryygzstan. More will be reintroduced each year, with an aim of having 500 in the mountains eventually. Bison bonasus was driven to extinction in the wild across Europe in 1927 after decades of decline from hunting and habitat loss. But it has become that rare endangered species: a conservation success story. There are now thousands in the wild, all descended from the 54 individuals in captivity when the last wild one was killed in Poland’s Bialowieza forest. …There are over 5,000 European bison, with about 3,200 in the wild…. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/21/-sp-european-bison-europe-romania-carpathian-mountains – By Adam Vaughan, The Guardian.
2014-02-13. Yellowstone Bison Slaughter Begins. Excerpt: Yellowstone National Park transferred 20 bison to a Montana Indian tribe for slaughter on Wednesday, marking the first such action this winter under a plan to drastically reduce the size of the largest genetically pure bison population in the U.S. …Five more bison that had been captured were to be turned over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday for use in an experimental animal contraception program, said park spokesman Al Nash. Yellowstone administrators plan to slaughter up to 600 bison this winter if harsh weather conditions inside the 2.2-million-acre park spur a large migration of the animals to lower elevations in Montana. It’s part of a multiyear plan to reduce the population from an estimated 4,600 animals to about 3,000, under an agreement between federal and state officials signed in 2000. …James Holt, a member of Idaho’s Nez Perce tribe and board member for the Buffalo Field Campaign, said the park’s population target was an arbitrary number that threatens to infringe on treaty hunting rights held by his and other tribes … historically depended on them for food and clothing. …But Montana’s livestock industry has little tolerance for bison because of concerns over disease and competition with cattle for grass…. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/yellowstone-bison-slaughter-begins-22487724. Matthew Brown, Associated Press.
2013-10-26. Vision of Prairie Paradise Troubles Some Montana Ranchers. Excerpt: MALTA, Mont. — On fields where cattle graze and wheat grows, a group of conservationists and millionaire donors are stitching together their dreams of an American Serengeti. Acre by acre, they are trying to build a new kind of national park, buying up old ranches to create a grassland reserve where 10,000 bison roam and fences are few. …“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said George E. Matelich, the chairman of the conservation group, American Prairie Reserve, …. The trouble is many ranching families here in northern Montana say it is not a project for them. As the reserve buys out families and expands its holdings — it now has about 274,000 acres of private ranches and leased public lands — some here are digging in their heels and vowing not to let their ranches become part of the project. …Officials at the American Prairie Reserve say they have done everything possible to be good neighbors and have not foisted their vision on anyone. They have installed electric fences to ensure that their 275 bison do not roam onto other people’s property. They allow hunting on the land. They lease back some of their land to allow ranchers to graze their cows. …The reserve’s goal is to revive a landscape that existed when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark passed through in the early 1800s. They have taken down 37 miles of fence. They have replanted some tilled ground with native grasses. They have pulled down barns and sheds and cleared away heaps of trash…. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/27/us/vision-of-prairie-paradise-troubles-some-montana-ranchers.html. Jack Healy, The New York Times.
2013-10-01. Rhino poaching hits new record in South Africa. Excerpt: The number of rhinos killed by poachers has hit a new annual record in South Africa, …. By the end of September, 704 rhinos had been killed by poachers in South Africa, exceeding the annual record of 668 set in 2012, …. If the trend continues at its current pace, more than 1,000 rhinos could be killed in 2014, putting the species on the brink of a population decline that the ministry has said could lead to the end of wild rhinos in about a decade. …The greatest threat to the estimated 22,000 rhinos in South Africa comes from those trying to cash in on the black market value of their horn, which sells at prices higher than gold…. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/01/rhino-horn-poaching-south-africa. Reuters, The Guardian.
2013-06-19. Montana Supreme Court says bison transfer legal. Excerpt: BILLINGS — The relocation of Yellowstone National Park bison to tribal lands in Montana can resume, under a Wednesday ruling from the state’s Supreme Court that could revive a stalled conservation initiative for the animals….. http://www.greatfallstribune.com/viewart/20130619/NEWS01/306190013/Montana-Supreme-Court-says-bison-transfer-legal. Matthew Brown, AP, Great Falls Tribune.
2013-03-13. German Prince Plans To Put Bison Back In The Wild | Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR. Excerpt: A small herd of European bison will soon be released in Germany’s most densely populated state, the first time in nearly three centuries that these bison — known as wisents — will roam freely in Western Europe. The project is the brainchild of Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg. He owns more than 30,000 acres, much of it covered in Norwegian spruce and beech trees in North Rhine-Westphalia. For the 78-year-old logging magnate, the planned April release of the bull, five cows and two calves will fulfill a decade-old dream. But the aristocrat’s neighbors aren’t all thrilled about his plan to release wisents, which have been living in an enclosure on his property for three years. They are slightly taller than their American cousins and weigh up to a ton. Questions remain about who will foot the bill if the European bison damage property or injure someone. …European bison are not the first animals Prince Richard has brought back to the region. His estate is rife with gray geese and ravens, which he says he reintroduced at the request of the German government. Herds of red and roe deer, as well as wild sheep and boar, also abound on his property. …. See full article at http://www.npr.org/2013/03/11/174037372/german-prince-plans-to-put-bison-back-in-the-wild?ft=1&f=1025.
2012-10-22. Campaign helps European bison roam on the Russian range again. By Kathy Lally, Washington Post. Excerpt: ARKHYZ, Russia — Four startled bison backed out of their traveling crates here, looked around suspiciously for a moment, then strolled contentedly across the field. Finally, they were home, home on the range where they had been declared nearly extinct. The big and shaggy 2-year-olds, who look much like the American buffalo, had been driven 1,000 miles from a nature reserve in the Moscow region to southwest Russia, where the European bison had roamed for centuries in the woodlands of the North Caucasus mountains.They had been raised by the World Wildlife Fund, known as WWF in Russia, and brought here on a rainy day in October in yet another attempt by man to undo damage he has done to the world around him. The European bison disappeared here in 1927, was brought back in the 1970s, then killed off again in the 1990s when the people of this region, called the Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia, were thrown into poverty after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This bison meat is no gift to the palate. But people were hungry. Only 13 bison remained here in the Teberdinsky Nature Reserve, said Igor Chestin, director of WWF Russia. At that number, the bison will not breed, he said. But the four just released, and another four brought here in September, are expected to provide enough choice of mates to get some serious courting underway. Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/wwf-brings-russian-bison-back/2012/10/21/43c40a2e-149a-11e2-ba83-a7a396e6b2a7_story.html
2012-04-26. As Bison Return to Prairie, Some Rejoice, Others Worry | by Nate Schweber, The New York Times. Excerpt: WOLF POINT, Mont. — Sioux and Assiniboine tribe members wailed a welcome song last month as around 60 bison from Yellowstone National Park stormed onto a prairie pasture that had not felt a bison’s hoof for almost 140 years. …The bison’s return has been welcomed by American Indians, but some ranchers are less pleased. That historic homecoming came just 11 days after 71 pureblood bison, descended from one of Montana’s last wild herds, were released nearby onto untilled grassland owned by a charity with a vision of building a haven for prairie wildlife. Some hunters and conservationists are now calling for bison to be reintroduced to a million-acre wildlife refuge spanning this remote region. … Many farmers and ranchers fear that bison, particularly those from Yellowstone, might be mismanaged and damage private property, and worry that they would compete for grass with their own herds. …When the explorer Meriwether Lewis followed the Missouri River through this region in 1805, he came across bison herds he described as “innumerable.” Just eight decades later, a young Theodore Roosevelt noted that all that remained were “countless” bleached skulls covering the Montana badlands. Scientists estimate that tens of millions of bison once roamed America, but by 1902 there were only 23 known survivors in the wild, all hiding from poachers in a remote Yellowstone valley. For decades, attempts to transplant bison from the rebounding Yellowstone herd were thwarted, despite requests from tribes to steward some of the animals. …But some say the bison on the ranches do not pose the threat that the wild ones do….
2011 December 15. Bison-to-S.D. plan hits bump. By Peter Harriman, The Argus Leader. Excerpt: Almost every winter, bison wander from Yellowstone National Park to nearby U.S. Forest Service land in Montana that was their historic winter range. They are sent to slaughter because ranchers with Forest Service grazing leases fear the bison will spread brucellosis among their cattle….
…It’s a waste of a valuable genetic resource, and the Department of the Interior, Badlands National Park and the state of South Dakota are in the early stages of investigating whether some of those Yellowstone bison that left the park… [that are brucellosis-free] can be relocated to South Dakota….
…But Montana’s colorful Gov. Brian Schweitzer is blocking the scheme. While Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar wants to move some of Montana’s approximately 150 brucellosis-free Yellowstone bison to Badlands National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, Schweitzer…wants Interior to use the Yellowstone bison to restock the National Bison Range Wildlife Refuge near Moiese, Mont….
…The ultimate goal would be to establish genetically pure bison in the Badlands National Park’s southern unit on Olgala Sioux Tribe reservation land. It would lend momentum to efforts to have the first tribal national park established there….
…But in addition to overcoming Schweitzer’s opposition, [Badlands National Park Superintendent Eric] Brunnemann said he, the South Dakota Board of Animal Industries and the Oglala Sioux Tribe must be convinced the Montana bison are indeed free of brucellosis before Bandlands National Park would ever accept them….
2010 May 22. Scientists debate ‘magic number’ of wolves needed for species’ survival. By Rob Chaney, The Missoulian. Excerpt:The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took the gray wolf off the endangered species list in 2009, with the caveat that at least 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs endure in each of the three states in the northern Rocky Mountain population (Montana, Idaho and Wyoming). Recent surveys found at least 1,700 wolves in that area – more than enough to justify delisting.
But a coalition of environmental groups sued the government, claiming those numbers were wrong. To survive and thrive, they argued, the population needed at least 2,000 and preferably 5,000 wolves.
FWS biologists said they used the best available science to pick their number. Coalition members cited the well-established rules of conservation biology to justify their threshold. While the scientists dueled, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy decided the case on a technicality and Congress reversed him with a budget rider. Wolves in the Northern Rockies are now delisted, but almost nobody’s happy.
2010 May 19. Waterlily saved from extinction. By Pallab Ghosh, BBC News. Excerpt: …A scientist based at the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has prevented the world’s smallest waterlily from becoming extinct.
…Two years ago, this delicate bloom went extinct in the wild due to over-exploitation of its habitat.
…Although scientists are working hard to bring many endangered plants back from the brink of extinction, they’re fighting what is currently a losing battle.
…A recent study showed that world governments won’t meet the internationally-agreed target of significantly curbing the loss of species by this year.
…According to James Beattie, another horticulturist at Kew, there’s now a more holistic approach to preserving habitats that has been shown to work.
…”If you lose that diversity, you risk losing the chances we have of surviving on this planet as things like climate change comes into play”.
2010 March 5. No Endangered Status for Plains Bird. By John M. Broder, NY Times. Excerpt: WASHINGTON — The Interior Department said Friday that the greater sage grouse, a dweller of the high plains of the American West, was facing extinction but would not be designated as an endangered species for now.
Yet the decision in essence reverses a 2004 determination by the Bush administration that the sage grouse did not need protection, a decision that a federal court later ruled was tainted by political tampering with the Interior Department’s scientific conclusions.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a conservative Democrat from a Colorado ranching family, sought to carve a middle course between conservationists who wanted ironclad protections for the ground-hugging bird and industry interests and landowners who sought the ability to locate mines, wells, windmills and power lines in areas where the grouse roam….
As a compromise measure, he said, the bird will be placed on the list of “candidate species” for future inclusion on the list and its status will be reviewed yearly.
The middle-ground decision is typical of Mr. Salazar’s stewardship at the Interior Department, where he has tried to mediate between competing energy and environmental interests. Like many previous decisions, including compromises on oil drilling in Utah and habitat protection for the polar bear in the Arctic, Mr. Salazar’s action left both sides somewhat disgruntled.
Residential building and energy development have shrunk the sage grouse habitat over the past several decades, causing its population in 11 Western states to dwindle from an estimated 16 million 100 years ago to 200,000 to 500,000 today….
2010 February 1. Saving Tiny Toads Without a Home. By Cornelia Dean, NY Times. Excerpt: This is a story about a waterfall, the World Bank and 4,000 homeless toads.
Maybe the story will have a happy ending, and the bright-golden spray toads, each so small it could easily sit on a dime, will return to the African gorge where they once lived, in the spray of a waterfall on the Kihansi River in Tanzania.
The river is dammed now, courtesy of the bank. The waterfall is 10 percent of what it was. And the toads are now extinct in the wild.
But 4,000 of them live in the Bronx and Toledo, Ohio, where scientists at the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Toledo Zoo are keeping them alive in hopes, somehow, of returning them to the wild. This month, the Bronx Zoo will formally open a small exhibit displaying the toads in its Reptile House.
Meanwhile, though, the toads embody the larger conflicts between conservation and economic development and the complexity of trying to preserve and restore endangered species to the wild. Their story also raises questions about how much effort should go to save any one species….
2009 August 7. Cradle to grave: Study provides insight into evolution and extinction of vanished elephant seal colony. By Peter Rejcek, Antarctic Sun. Excerpt: An extinct southern elephant seal colony that once existed in huge numbers along sandy and rocky beaches in Antarctica has provided new insight into how quickly a species can respond to the emergence of a new habitat as climate changes — and just as quickly disappear.
That’s one of the findings in a paper published in the journal PLoS Genetics in July by scientists who studied DNA sequences from the organic remains of seals found along a nearly 300-kilometer stretch of coastline in Victoria Land, just north of the U.S. Antarctic Program’s McMurdo Station.
Mark de Bruyn , lead author of the study and now with Bangor University in the U.K, said the findings showed that a very large, genetically diverse breeding population of southern elephant seals existed in the Ross Sea region around 7,000 to 400 years ago.
…Climate change, the scientists say, allowed the colony to both thrive and later collapse.
It appears the ice sheet along the coast began to recede about 8,000 years ago as the interglacial climate warmed — the time period between ice ages, the most recent being the Holocene. In addition, the sea ice that would have blocked access to the beaches appears to have disappeared or declined enough for long periods of time each year to allow the seals to breed and molt on land, said Brenda Hall , a geologist with the University of Maine and a co-author on the paper.
The colony then began to decline about 1,000 years ago, according to the researchers, indicating yet another change in the climate.
“Our main conclusion is that things have cooled off in that part of the western Ross Sea over the last 500 to 1,000 years and the sea ice has re-expanded,” Hall said. “We also see some evidence of glacier re-expansion at that time as well.”…
2009 April 27. Eight cases of extreme species rescue. By Catherine Brahic, NewScientist. Excerpt: Swooping down in a last-ditch effort to thwart extinction, conservationists have airlifted 50 mountain chicken frogs from the Caribbean island of Montserrat.
While conservation biologists prefer to help a species survive in its natural environment, extreme cases like that of the mountain chicken (Leptodactylus fallax) call for extreme rescue measures. Here we present eight more novel attempts at species saving….
1. California condor
In 1987, the last remaining 22 California condors were brought into captivity and bred at the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo. The scientists removed the first-laid clutches to encourage females to produce more eggs, but this meant that roughly half the young had to be reared by humans. To make them as “wild” as possible, they were fed and reared using condor-shaped hand puppets.
The human effort didn’t end there. When young condors released into the wild electrocuted themselves on power lines, the scientists installed mock pylons in their cages, delivering mild electric shocks to any bird that perched on them.
Even still, the released birds did not behave “properly” – they congregated in urbanised zones and played with garbage. One researcher said it was like “putting teenagers together without adult supervision. They were behaving like a bunch of hooligans”. The researchers used the remaining captive wild birds to discipline the youngsters.
The scientists’ work to help the species paid off, with 322 condors known to be living with 172 in the wild as of April 2009….
2009 March 16. The Fall and Rise of the Right Whale. By Cornelia Dean, The NY Times. Excerpt: ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — The biologists had been in the plane for hours, flying back and forth over the calm ocean….
…And there, below, were a right whale mother and her new calf, barely breaking the surface, lolling in the swells.
The researchers, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Georgia Wildlife Trust, are part of an intense effort to monitor North Atlantic right whales, one of the most endangered, and closely watched, species on earth. As a database check eventually disclosed, the whale was Diablo, who was born in these waters eight years ago. Her calf — at a guess 2 weeks old and a bouncing 12 feet and 2 tons — was the 38th born this year, a record that would be surpassed just weeks later, with a report from NOAA on the birth of a 39th calf. The previous record was 31, set in 2001.
…Actually, it’s one of so many good signs that researchers are beginning to hope that for the first time in centuries things are looking up for the right whale. They say the species offers proof that simple conservation steps can have a big impact, even for species driven to the edge of oblivion.
North Atlantic right whales, which can grow up to 55 feet long and weigh up to 70 tons, were the “right” whales for 18th- and 19th-century whalers because they are rich in oil and baleen, move slowly, keep close to shore and float when they die.
They were long ago hunted to extinction in European waters, and by 1900 perhaps only 100 or so remained in their North American range…
Since then, the species’ numbers have crept up, but very slowly. NOAA estimates that there are about 325, though scientists in and out of the agency suspect there may be more, perhaps as many as 400….
But “over the last four or five months there’s been a tremendous amount of good news,” said Tony LaCasse, a spokesman for the New England Aquarium, a center of right whale research….
2008 Nov 3. Asking ‘Why Do Species Go Extinct?’ By CLAUDIA DREIFUS, The NY Times–A CONVERSATION WITH STUART L. PIMM.Excerpt: ‘I realized that extinction was something that as a scientist, I could study. I could ask, Why do species go extinct?’ – Stuart L. Pimm
For a man whose scholarly specialty is one of the grimmest topics on earth – extinction – Stuart L. Pimm is remarkably chipper. On a recent morning, while visiting New York City, Dr. Pimm, a 59-year-old zoologist, was full of warm stories about the many places he travels: South Africa, Madagascar and even South Florida, which he visits as part of an effort to save the endangered Florida panther. Fewer than 100 survive in the wild. In 2006, Dr. Pimm, who holds the Doris Duke professorship of Conservation Ecology at Duke University, won the Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences, the Nobel of the ecology world.
Q. HOW DOES A PERSON MAKE EXTINCTION THE CENTERPIECE OF A PROFESSIONAL LIFE?
A. In 1978, I went to Hawaii, supposedly a tropical paradise. I am an enthusiastic birder, and I looked forward to getting into the lush forest to view the abundant flora and fauna the islands were famous for. Here you had this rich island chain, out in the midst of the Pacific, full of wondrous birds and plants – a place supposedly richer in natural diversity than even the Galápagos….
2008 Mar 23. Anger Over Culling of Yellowstone’s Bison By JIM ROBBINS, NY Times. Excerpt: GARDINER, Mont. – This was not the Yellowstone National Park that tourists see. …more than 60 of the park’s wild bison were being loaded on a semi-trailer to be shipped to a slaughterhouse. With heavy snow still covering the park’s vast grasslands, hundreds of bison have been leaving Yellowstone in search of food at lower elevations. A record number of the migrating animals – 1,195, or about a quarter of the park’s population – have been killed by hunters or rounded up and sent to slaughterhouses by park employees. The bison are being killed because they have ventured outside the park into Montana and some might carry a disease called brucellosis, which can be passed along to cattle.
The large-scale culling, which is expected to continue through April, has outraged groups working to preserve the park’s bison herds…. …The standoff has been made all the worse by the detection last year of brucellosis in several cattle elsewhere in Montana. Though experts believe the disease was transmitted by elk, not bison, the case has stirred passions among ranchers. Brucellosis …when detected, requires that the cattle be destroyed. If another incidence of brucellosis appears in Montana, the state would lose its brucellosis-free status, ….
“Our interest is having a brucellosis-free United States,” said Mr. Knight, the agriculture official. “The sole remaining reservoir is in the Greater Yellowstone. …the best solution would be a vaccine for bison, …. Park officials, however, say it is not known when a vaccine, which they are researching, will be available…. In the last few years biologists have discovered that Yellowstone’s bison are one of only two genetically pure herds owned by the federal government.
James Derr, a professor of genetics at Texas A&M who is studying the Yellowstone bison, said he feared that some behaviors or traits, including the propensity to migrate, could be lost with the killed bison. “The great-grandmother, grandmother, mother and daughter often travel together,” he said. Killing them “is like going to a family reunion and killing off all of the Smiths. You are affecting the genetic architecture of the herd.”…
13 February 2007. Sharing of Bison Range Management Breaks Down. By JIM ROBBINS, New York Times. Excerpt: MOIESE, Mont. – An effort to have two Indian tribes assist government officials in operating a federal wildlife refuge that is surrounded by their reservation has collapsed amid accusations of racism, harassment, intimidation and poor performance. But top federal officials say they are determined to resurrect it. …The Indian Self-Determination Act of 1975 allows tribal involvement in the management of federal lands, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, which have strong cultural links to bison, wanted the authority to manage the refuge. The Fish and Wildlife Service opposed ceding control over the bison range, and the Interior Department and tribal officials decided to split the mission…
2 November 2006. NASA SNOW DATA HELPS MAINTAIN NATION’S LARGEST, OLDEST BISON HERD. From NASA Earth Observatory. NASA satellite data and computer models are helping track bison in Yellowstone National Park as they migrate with the melting snowpack
13 January 2004. Groups fear for Yellowstone bison, By Becky Bohrer, Associated Press. BILLINGS, Mont. – With Yellowstone National Park’s bison population at its highest level in years, some environmentalists fear huge numbers of the beasts will wander into Montana this winter and be killed in the name of controlling disease. Fueling their concerns is a recent spell of harsh weather – hard winters historically have led to more bison leaving the park in search of food – and fears that officials will take a hard line against bison after a Wyoming cattle herd was found infected with brucellosis, a disease also present in the Yellowstone bison herd.
Spring 2003. Reclaiming the Modoc. Article by Jim McCarthy in Terrain magazine, Ecology Center. Wolves are migrating back to a northeast California county, “where the West still lives.” Ranchers may be waiting with rifles.
Fall 2002. Welcome to the Whoopee Lab (examples of endangered species), from OnEarth (NRDC), p. 11. Fourteen individuals away from extinction in the late 1970s, North America’s red wolves ran into each other so rarely that they began mating with western coyotes. With the species facing demise and conservationists facing few options, these last wolves ended up in a captive breeding program-in which wild species are placed in research facilities and mated under the supervision of biologists.
The 2000 redlist of threatened species — International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources