April 11, 2011 | 4
Sometimes there are so many stories about endangered species that not all of them can be covered in depth by this blog. Here are some quick updates on stories previously covered in Extinction Countdown.
Wolves still being targeted
Even though conservation groups had proposed a compromise to keep gray wolves (Canis lupus) protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), lawmakers have continued to press ahead to lift those protections. The latest federal budget agreement may have avoided a government shutdown, but it added riders to remove wolves in the Northern Rockies from the ESA, circumventing the act and the science on which it is based.
All of this happened on April 8, a day before a federal court ruled it would not approve the compromise agreement (pdf). The court’s decision would actually keep the existing higher levels of protection for wolves in place, but may prove itself useless if the budget rider passes.
Preceding all of this, the Idaho senate passed a bill on April 6 declaring wolves to be a “state of emergency disaster,” which would give the state’s governor broad powers to do pretty much whatever he wants to curb Idaho’s wolf populations if he were to declare that they threaten people or livestock.
In other wolf news, the few wolves living in Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park face extinction from a different threat: There aren’t enough females to go around. The island park is home to just 16 wolves, only two of which are female.
More danger for bats
The bat-killing fungus known as white-nose syndrome has spread to Ohio and New Brunswick, Canada. It can now be found in a total of 17 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces. More than one million bats have been killed by the fungus since it was first observed in 2006.
Why does this matter? A new study published in the April 1 issue of Science shows that bats are essential for healthy agriculture and are worth at least $3.7 billion a year in the U.S. alone.
Rescue work continues to save the northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) threatened by last month’s oil spill on the remote Tristran da Cunha archipelago in the South Atlantic. The first 24 penguins were released back into the wild from a rehab center on Tuesday, although more than 3,600 remain. A five-person specialist team from the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds arrived on Wednesday, bringing essential equipment, vitamins and medicines to help aid the remaining oiled penguins.
No room for Florida panthers
Even though the Florida panther (Felis concolor coryi) has been on the endangered species list since 1967, the federal government has never taken the important step of declaring critical habitat for the species. Why? The establishment of critical habitat was not required until 1978. A lawsuit seeking to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to declare that critical habitat was dismissed on Wednesday. Florida panthers continue to lose their lives on the state’s roadways as their habitat disappears and human development continues at a record pace.
Tiger counts up (kind of)
After years of what could only be called government neglect, India’s tiger population is on the rise. A March census counted 1,706 animals, well above the 1,411 counted in 2007. But that year’s count did not include one reserve where 70 tigers were found this year, so the rise isn’t quite as encouraging as it would seem at first glance.
Saving a sea horse
The world’s smallest sea horse, the dwarf sea horse (Hippocampus zosterae), risked extinction from last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This week, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition to protect the sea horses under the ESA.
Otter die-off continues
California, or southern, sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) have continued their mysterious population decline. The latest count showed a 3.6 percent decline, but it’s even worse for otter pups, which were down 11 percent. A few otters have died after being bitten by great white sharks—which do not normally prey on or attack otters—but otherwise healthy adults are being found dead from heart failure. The underlying cause of the die-off remains unknown.
Photo: Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) via Wikipedia