The 14th and latest calf of the season was spotted Thursday off of Florida's Amelia Island, News4JAX reported.
"What a way to start the weekend - a new right whale!" the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Southeast announced on Twitter.
What a way to start the weekend - a new right whale! Known mom "Champagne" and her calf were sighted off Amelia Isl… https://t.co/xNSbur6V3k— NOAA Fish Southeast (@NOAA Fish Southeast)1611324692.0
Calf number 14 was born to a 12-year-old whale named Champagne and is her first known calf, the agency said.
The news came just two days after the 13th calf of the season was spotted off of Wassaw Island, Georgia, News4JAX reported. This baby was also born to a first-time mom who was 14 years old.
13 is lucky today! We have a new right whale calf - our 13th for the season! Mom and calf were sighted off Wassaw I… https://t.co/VjNacz4sxD— NOAA Fish Southeast (@NOAA Fish Southeast)1611189304.0
All of this is good news for the species, which ended 2020 on a low note. A NOAA report found that there were no more than 366 of the animals left alive. Then, the first known calf of the season washed up dead off the North Carolina coast in November.
However, things have begun to turn around. The species has so far had its best calving season in years, Defenders of Wildlife noted in a statement. Only 22 calves were reported between all of 2017 to 2020. The number of new calves this season is now more than half that total, and there are two months left during which scientists expect more babies will be born.
Despite the baby boom, conservationists noted that the species is not out of the woods. The whales have been undergoing an Unusual Mortality Event since 2017, with 32 whales dying in Canadian and U.S. waters and 14 sustaining non-survivable injuries. The leading causes of these casualties were vessel strikes and entanglements in fishing lines. In January, a right whale was seen entangled in fishing gear off the Georgia coast.
"While these births are an encouraging sign, the continued threats underscore that we still have to redouble our efforts to protect these vulnerable babies and their mothers," Defenders of Wildlife senior attorney Jane Davenport said in the statement.
The same week as the 13th and 14th births were announced, NOAA released a report finding that vessels were ignoring both suggestions and requirements to slow down in areas where right whales might be present. This has prompted conservation groups to call for more protections.
"NOAA agrees that more needs to be done to protect North Atlantic right whales from vessel strikes," Oceana campaign director Whitney Webber said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. "Now it's time for the federal government to act. Voluntary speed restriction zones must be made mandatory, and the current mandatory speed restriction zones must be expanded and enforced. Oceana calls on NOAA to update the shipping regulations to protect these rare whales before it's too late."
Defenders of Wildlife also acted by joining with other conservation groups Jan. 13 to sue NOAA over its failure to expand slow-down zones for the whales.
"Right whales face a daily gauntlet of fishing ropes and speeding vessels, which together have caused the deaths of more than 200 right whales in the last decade alone," Davenport said in the Defenders of Wildlife statement. "We're killing right whales far faster than they can reproduce. Unless we move quickly to abate these threats, we're running out of time to save the species from extinction."
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By Leilani Chavez
Knowledge of the Philippine pangolin, the only pangolin species in the country, is scant. Sightings of the animal are rarer still. But unlike other pangolin species around the world that teeter on the brink of extinction, a new study suggests that with the appropriate conservation measures, the Philippines' endemic pangolin still has a shot at bouncing back.
In a study published last December in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation, researchers conducting a comprehensive survey found that Philippine pangolins (Manis culionensis) have been spotted in 17 of the 24 municipalities in Palawan, the island province that's the only place on Earth where this species occurs.
"This is promising for the Philippine pangolin and suggests it is not too late to establish conservation efforts across the species' range," lead author Lucy Archer, from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), tells Mongabay.
An Enigmatic Species
So little is known about the Philippine pangolin that even as the IUCN considers the species to be critically endangered, there is no accepted estimate for its baseline population. The scientific literature suggests the species was never common, and interviews with Indigenous communities carried out in 2018 suggest it has been in sharp decline since the 1980s, the IUCN notes.
However, the newly published survey gives reason for optimism.
Similar comprehensive surveys assessing locals' knowledge of pangolins, done in West Africa for the giant pangolin (Smutsia gigantea) and in China and Vietnam for the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla), show that locals strongly believe that their pangolin species are extinct: sightings are rare or non-existent. This isn't the case with the Philippine pangolins: locals are still seeing them, albeit very rarely, and the number of areas where they can be found is high.
"Compared to similar studies on pangolin species elsewhere, these results suggest that Philippine pangolin populations may not have reached the critical levels shown by Chinese pangolins in China and Vietnam, or by giant pangolins in Benin," Archer says. "This provides some hope for the species."
The survey ran from January to June 2019 and helps establish the species' distribution area based on residents' sightings. Locals call the animal balintong, which means "somersault," in reference to its habit of rolling away to hide from danger.
The Philippine pangolin was until 1998 thought to be a separate population of the Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica), which occurs across much of Southeast Asia, but not the Philippines. Its recognition as its own species coincided with a local poaching boom: high demand for pangolin scales in China and Vietnam, combined with increased enforcement on known Sunda pangolin trafficking routes, saw traffickers turn their attention to the Philippine pangolin.
Range of the four Asia pangolin species: the Chinese, Indian, Sunda and Philippine pangolins. A mix of colors within the maps indicates an overlap in the different species' distributions. The species' ranges are based on the IUCN Red List assessments (IUCN 2014). Note: The distribution maps are currently being updated by the IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group. Image courtesy of University of Adelaide / TRAFFIC. Image courtesy of University of Adelaide / TRAFFIC
Local conservationists also link an increase in Chinese projects in the Philippines to growing demand for pangolin meat in restaurants in Manila catering to the influx of Chinese workers and visitors. In a span of two years, Philippine pangolins became one of the most trafficked species in the country, pushing them to critically endangered status both on the IUCN and the national red lists.
Initial trafficking seizures often turned up shipments carrying both pangolins and various turtle species. But since 2018, Philippine authorities have been intercepting shipments consisting solely of pangolin parts. In September 2019, authorities in Puerto Princesa City, the capital of Palawan, made the largest-ever seizure of Philippine pangolin scales: 1,154 kilograms (2,545 pounds), for which at least 3,900 pangolins would have been killed.
From 2018 to 2019, local authorities seized 6,894 Philippine pangolins, according to a recent report released by wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC. The figure is alarming, conservationists say, because there are no clear estimates for how many of the animals remain.
But while researchers are racing against time to save the local pangolin population, studies are limited by the pangolin's peculiar and cryptic habits. Pangolins are solitary, nocturnal, non-vocal and semi-arboreal. While these traits haven't been enough to protect them from poachers, they make it very difficult to study the species in the wild, Archer says.
"Imagine walking through a forest at night and trying to find something that makes little noise and might be found alone up a tree," she says. "It would take a lot of time and effort!"
These cryptic behaviors result in low detection probabilities, meaning the chances of spotting one, even if it's nearby, is "very small," Archer adds.
"General biodiversity surveys therefore rarely record pangolins and so specific targeted monitoring methods are needed," she says. "However, such methods are still in development for pangolins so we don't yet have accepted or standardized monitoring methods... partly because they are so difficult to find which therefore makes the development of such methods difficult!"
Locals Offer Clues
This is where the study by Archer and her team comes in. It adds to the existing knowledge base by drawing from what's called local ecological knowledge (LEK), a type of data that builds on first-hand observations or interactions of locals in an area where a species can be found.
"LEK is based on the premise that local people can often hold more information and provide important information and knowledge on rare species that utilize the same environments as them," Archer says. "It is clear from this result that local people hold a wealth of important knowledge on wildlife in their local areas — they are the real experts."
But while it has been used in conservation, particularly in community-led conservation efforts, locals' knowledge of their environments remains a largely underutilized data source. "Its benefits lie in being able to collect lots of information over wide geographical areas over a relatively short time frame and at low costs — this study took place over 6 months," Archer says.
"Hopefully, studies like this will aid the development of such methods as new monitoring methods can be trialed in areas where we at least know the species exists. We can also use local knowledge to target specific habitats and places where people have recently seen the species," Archer says.
Eighty-seven percent of respondents in the Palawan survey could identify and provide information on the Philippine pangolin, but said sightings are rare or very rare, even compared to other threatened species. This points to an urgent need to establish localized conservation initiatives, the study says. And the survey notes a high level of general local support for wildlife protection, particularly of the pangolin.
"With high knowledge levels and high willingness to be involved in conservation efforts reported by respondents in this study, I think local people are really well placed to help guide and develop conservation efforts," Archer says.
The study forms the basis for ZSL's conservation action and community engagement in the municipality of Taytay in northern Palawan, one of the identified conservation priority areas. Archer says a second phase involves using camera traps to monitor the species, which will hopefully aid in creating a community conservation area.
"We hope this will provide a useful body of information that local governments and conservation organizations can use to inform conservation efforts, and which future research can be compared to in order to track trends in species status and threats," she says.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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Throughout Texas, there are a number of solar power companies that can install solar panels on your roof to take advantage of the abundant sunlight. But which solar power provider should you choose? In this article, we'll provide a list of the best solar companies in the Lone Star State.
Our Picks for the Best Texas Solar Companies
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Sunpro Solar
- Longhorn Solar, Inc.
- Solartime USA
- Kosmos Solar
- Sunshine Renewable Solutions
- Alba Energy
- Circle L Solar
- South Texas Solar Systems
- Good Faith Energy
How We Chose the Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
There are a number of factors to keep in mind when comparing and contrasting different solar providers. These are some of the considerations we used to evaluate Texas solar energy companies.
Different solar companies may provide varying services. Always take the time to understand the full range of what's being offered in terms of solar panel consultation, design, installation, etc. Also consider add-ons, like EV charging stations, whenever applicable.
When meeting with a representative from one of Texas' solar power companies, we would always encourage you to ask what the installation process involves. What kind of customization can you expect? Will your solar provider use salaried installers, or outsourced contractors? These are all important questions to raise during the due diligence process.
Texas is a big place, and as you look for a good solar power provider, you want to ensure that their services are available where you live. If you live in Austin, it doesn't do you much good to have a solar company that's active only in Houston.
Pricing and Financing
Keep in mind that the initial cost of solar panel installation can be sizable. Some solar companies are certainly more affordable than others, and you can also ask about the flexible financing options that are available to you.
To guarantee that the renewable energy providers you select are reputable, and that they have both the integrity and the expertise needed, we would recommend assessing their status in the industry. The simplest way to do this is to check to see whether they are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified or belong to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other industry groups.
Types of Panels
As you research different companies, it certainly doesn't hurt to get to know the specific products they offer. Inquire about their tech portfolio, and see if they are certified to install leading brands like Tesla or Panasonic.
Rebates and Tax Credits
There are a lot of opportunities to claim clean energy rebates or federal tax credits which can help with your initial solar purchase. Ask your solar provider for guidance navigating these different savings opportunities.
Going solar is a big investment, but a warranty can help you trust that your system will work for decades. A lot of solar providers provide warranties on their technology and workmanship for 25 years or more, but you'll definitely want to ask about this on the front end.
The 10 Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the 10 best solar energy companies in TX.
SunPower is a solar energy company that makes it easy to make an informed and totally customized decision about your solar power setup. SunPower has an online design studio where you can learn more about the different options available for your home, and even a form where you can get a free online estimate. Set up a virtual consultation to speak directly with a qualified solar installer from the comfort of your own home. It's no wonder SunPower is a top solar installation company in Texas. They make the entire process easy and expedient.
Sunpro Solar is another solar power company with a solid reputation across the country. Their services are widely available to Texas homeowners, and they make the switch to solar effortless. We recommend them for their outstanding customer service, for the ease of their consultation and design process, and for their assistance to homeowners looking to claim tax credits and other incentives.
Looking for a solar contractor with true Texas roots? Longhorn Solar is an award-winning company that's frequently touted as one of the best solar providers in the state. Their services are available in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, and since 2009 they have helped more than 2,000 Texans make the switch to energy efficiency with solar. We recommend them for their technical expertise, proven track record, and solar product selection.
Solartime USA is another company based in Texas. In fact, this family-owned business is located in Richardson, which is just outside of Dallas. They have ample expertise with customized solar energy solutions in residential settings, and their portfolio of online reviews attests to their first-rate customer service. We love this company for the simplicity of their process, and for all the guidance they offer customers seeking to go solar.
Next on our list is Kosmos Solar, another Texas-based solar company. They're based in the northern part of the state, and highly recommended for homeowners in the area. They supply free estimates, high-quality products, custom solar designs, and award-winning personal service. Plus, their website has a lot of great information that may help guide you while you determine whether going solar is right for you.
Sunshine Renewable Solutions is based out of Houston, and they've developed a sterling reputation for dependable service and high-quality products. They have a lot of helpful financing options, and can show you how you can make the switch to solar in a really cost-effective way. We also like that they give free estimates, so there's certainly no harm in learning more about this great local company.
"Powered by the Texas sun." That's the official tagline of Alba Energy, a solar energy provider that's based out of Katy, TX. They have lots of great information about solar panel systems and solar solutions, including solar calculators to help you tabulate your potential energy savings. Additionally, we recommend Alba Energy because all of their work is done by a trusted, in-house team of solar professionals. They maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and they have rave reviews from satisfied customers.
Circle L Solar has a praiseworthy mission of helping homeowners slash their energy costs while participating in the green energy revolution. This is another company that provides a lot of great information, including energy savings calculators. Also note that, in addition to solar panels, Circle L Solar also showcases a number of other assets that can help you make your home more energy efficient, including windows, weatherization services, LED lighting, and more.
You can tell by the name that South Texas Solar Systems focuses its service area on the southernmost part of the Lone Star State. Their products include a wide range of commercial and residential solar panels, as well as "off the grid" panels for homeowners who want to detach from public utilities altogether. Since 2007, this company has been a trusted solar energy provider in San Antonio and beyond.
Good Faith Energy is a certified installer of Tesla solar technology for homeowners throughout Texas. This company is really committed to ecological stewardship, and they have amassed a lot of goodwill thanks to their friendly customer service and the depth of their solar expertise. In addition to Tesla solar panels, they can also install EV charging stations and storage batteries.
What are Your Solar Financing Options in Texas?
We've mentioned already that going solar requires a significant investment on the front-end. It's worth emphasizing that some of the best solar companies provide a range of financing options, allowing you to choose whether you buy your system outright, lease it, or pay for it in monthly installments.
Also keep in mind that there are a lot of rebates and state and federal tax credits available to help offset starting costs. Find a Texas solar provider who can walk you through some of the different options.
How Much Does a Solar Energy System Cost in Texas?
How much is it going to cost you to make that initial investment into solar power? It varies by customer and by home, but the median cost of solar paneling may be somewhere in the ballpark of $13,000. Note that, when you take into account federal tax incentives, this number can fall by several thousand dollars.
And of course, once you go solar, your monthly utility bills are going to shrink dramatically… so while solar systems won't pay for themselves in the first month or even the first year, they will ultimately prove more than cost-effective.
Finding the Right Solar Energy Companies in TX
Texas is a great place to pursue solar energy companies, thanks to all the natural sunlight, and there are plenty of companies out there to help you make the transition. Do your homework, compare a few options, and seek the solar provider that's right for you. We hope this guide is a helpful jumping-off point as you try to get as much information as possible about the best solar companies in Texas.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
By Brett Wilkins
Wildlife advocates on Monday accused the Trump administration of "willful ignorance" after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act after 45 years of protection, even though experts say the animals are far from out of the proverbial woods.
USFWS announced the rule change — one of over 100 regulatory rollbacks recently pushed through by the Trump administration — in October. The move will allow state authorities to treat the canines as predators and kill or protect them according to their laws.
In South Dakota, for example, hunters, trappers, landowners, and livestock producers are now permitted to kill gray wolves after obtaining the necessary paperwork, which includes a predator/varmint, furbearer, or hunting license. Landowners on their own property and minors under the age of 16 are exempt from licensing requirements.
In neighboring Minnesota, gray wolves will retain a higher level of protection in the northern part of the state — owners of livestock and other animals can kill wolves that pose an "immediate threat" — while in the southern two-thirds of the state people can shoot wolves that they believe pose any threat to livestock, as long as they surrender the carcass.
In Oregon, on the other hand, "wolves remain protected throughout the state," according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Hunting and trapping of wolves remains prohibited statewide."
Last September, Common Dreams reported that an analysis of deregulation in some Western states revealed that a record-breaking 570 wolves, including dozens of pups, were brutally killed in Idaho over a recent one-year period.
"Tragically, we know how this will play out when states 'manage' wolves, as we have seen in the northern Rocky Mountain region in which they were previously delisted," Samantha Bruegger, wildlife coexistence campaigner for WildEarth Guardians, said in reaction to Monday's delisting.
Bruegger cited the Idaho killings, as well as the situation in Washington, where last year "the state slaughtered an entire pack of wolves due to supposed conflicts with ranching interests," as proof that "without federal protections, wolves are vulnerable to the whims and politics of state management."
Monday's delisting comes despite the enduring precarity of wolf populations throughout much of the country. According to the most recent USFWS data, there are only 108 wolves in Washington state, 158 in Oregon, and 15 in California, while wolves are "functionally extinct" in Nevada, Utah, and Colorado.
"These meager numbers lay the groundwork for a legal challenge planned by WildEarth Guardians with a coalition of conservation groups to be filed later this month," said Bruegger.
Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement that "the delisting of gray wolves is the latest causality of the Trump administration's willful ignorance of the biodiversity crisis and scientific facts."
"Even with [President Donald] Trump's days in office dwindling, the long-term impact of illegitimate decisions like the wolf delisting will take years to correct," Larris added. "Guardians is committed to challenging this decision in court, while working across political channels to ensure wolves receive as much protection as possible at the state level in the interim."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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USO / Getty Images
By Rocky Kistner
Despite their massive size, African forest elephants remains an elusive species, poorly studied because of their habitat in the dense tropical forests of West Africa and the Congo.
But the more we learn about them, the more we know that forest elephants are in trouble. Like their slightly larger and better-known cousins, the bush or savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana), forest elephants (L. cyclotis) face rampant poaching for their majestic ivory tusks and the growing bush meat trade. More than 80% of the population has been killed off in central Africa since 2002.
Today fewer than 100,000 forest elephants occupy their dwindling habitat. Conservationists worry they could soon head toward extinction if nothing is done.
Richard Ruggiero / USFWS
And now a new threat has emerged: A study published this September found that climate change has resulted in an 81% decline in fruit production in one forest elephant habitat in Gabon. That's caused the elephants there to experience an 11% decline in body condition since 2008.
But other research, also published in September, suggests a possible solution to both these crises.
Elephants and Carbon
It all boils down to carbon dioxide.
Forest elephants play a huge role in supporting the carbon sequestration power of their tropical habitats. Hungry pachyderms act as mega-gardeners as they roam across the landscape searching for bits of leaves, tree bark and fruit; stomping on small trees and bushes; and spreading seeds in their dung. This promotes the growth of larger carbon-absorbing trees, allowing forests to sequester more carbon from the air.
A July 2019 study by ecologist Fabio Berzaghi, a researcher at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences in France, estimated that if forest elephants disappeared African forests would lose 7% of their biomass — a stunning 3 billion-ton loss of carbon.
And they're not unique in this oversized role, although the closest equivalent lives in an entirely different type of habitat.
Last year a team of researchers led by Ralph Chami, an economist and assistant director at the International Monetary Fund, published a groundbreaking report on the monetary value of great whales, the 13 large species that include blue and humpback whales. The study accounted for whales' enormous carbon-capturing functions, from fertilizing oxygen-producing phytoplankton to storing enormous amounts of carbon in their bodies when they die and sink to the seafloor. After also including tourism values, Chami's study estimated each whale was worth $2 million, amounting to a staggering $1 trillion for the entire global population of whales.
Kaitlin Thoreson / National Park Service
"It's a win-win for everyone," Chami says of his economic models, which place a monetary value on the "natural capital" of wildlife, including the carbon sequestration activities of whales and elephants. "By allowing nature to regenerate, [elephants and whales] are far more valuable to us than if we extract them. If nature thrives, you thrive."
Soon after the publication of Chami's whale study, Berzaghi called and asked if the economist could run the numbers on forest elephants too. Chami agreed, and this September they published the results. The elephants, they calculated, are worth about $1.75 million each due to their forest carbon sequestration value alone.
Even more importantly, they found that if forest elephants were allowed to rebound to their former populations, their carbon-capturing value would jump to more than $150 billion.
And as climate change worsens, Chami says forest elephants will become even more valuable in terms of their carbon sequestration role — and as individuals. "The loss of their habitats has the impact of causing them more stress and to have fewer babies," he says.
Turning Numbers Into Action
Despite these stunning, if theoretical, numbers, the researchers knew they needed a financial plan that could be implemented and sustained in the real world.
That starts with keeping elephants alive.
Poachers receive pennies on the dollar for elephant tusks that, once they finally reach consumers, can fetch prices of up to $40,000 on the illegal ivory market.
Gavin Shire / USFWS
Chami says that pales in comparison to the $1.75 million an elephant could be worth for its carbon sequestration services, an amount that works out to roughly $80 a day over an elephant's 60-year average lifetime.
But how do you deliver that value to the people who live near elephants, including people who perhaps currently poach the animals? Chami turned to worldwide carbon markets, which encourage countries or companies to offset their greenhouse gases by investing in restorative measures in other parts of the world.
To activate that proposed value, Chami brought together a group of conservation, business technology and economic experts to develop a pilot project that could promote the protection of forest elephants in Africa. Together, they aim to create a legal framework and a secure financial distribution system that would use of carbon markets to pay local communities to protect forest elephants. Individual elephants would be tracked using satellite technology to ensure their safety. As long as the elephants remain alive, communities could receive regular payments from a carbon market funded by corporations, individuals and governments to offset their pollution. Elephants could become "living assets" for countries that protect them.
Those assets could add up. Chami says the population of 1,500 elephants in Gabon's Loango National Forest would provide $2.4 million in annual revenue.
"We need to build a market around living elephants," Chami says. "The poachers can become the caretakers."
That's an exciting concept to wildlife experts, who have already had some success empowering communities through tourism. But for elephants that live in remote areas of African forests, tourism is less of an option. A market that places a value on elephants for their global carbon sequestration and climate contributions opens a new opportunity for support.
"It potentially changes how people think of the value of elephants," said Ian Redmond, a renowned African conservationist who's working with Chami and others to fund forest elephant protection efforts.
Redmond says he's thrilled about this new plan because it incentivizes locals to protect their natural resources, not exploit them.
"It's a gamechanger, not just for its ecological benefits, but for poverty reduction," he says. "It's a mechanism of change for people in the forest for people who before now only get money if they kill something. Now there's an economic incentive to protect the elephants and their carbon-rich habitat so everyone benefits, locally and globally."
The trick, the experts say, is getting money dispersed fairly and securely to local communities. Chami's team says the revolution in new secure financial networks such as blockchain, the building block of digital monetary systems like Bitcoin, can help establish a monetary system that can be more efficient and transparent than traditional banking systems. Africa's ahead of the curve when it comes to dealing in these new digital monetary technologies, which, though not perfect, can be a positive anti-corruption tool in the murky world of international carbon markets and debt swaps sometimes linked to fraud and influence peddling.
Walid Al Saqqaf, a startup founder and technology expert who produces the weekly podcast Insureblocks, is working closely with Chami and conservationists like Redmond to tap into global carbon exchange markets and create a framework for local funding efforts. Al Saqqaf says the secure nature of blockchain technology can attract international governmental agencies as well as private sector banks and insurance companies who will increasingly want to offset carbon footprints by investing in carbon-sequestering natural resources. "We take a toxic asset such as carbon and transform it into carbon for social good," Al Saqqaf says.
The group is setting up technology, legal and science working groups to develop a cohesive plan that could go into effect next year, although the conservation team says it's too early to announce specifics of the pilot program. They say they are in early discussions with African governments hoping to protect their elephants as well as private enterprises interested in offsetting carbon emissions.
A Ticking Clock, But Forward Motion
Meanwhile the threats from both climate change and poaching continue. A study published this June found that, despite efforts to reduce the ivory trade, elephant poaching rates remain "near their peak and have changed little since 2011."
The rapidly growing risks of extinctions, fueled in part by climate change, have pushed the team to quickly get their ground-breaking plan up and running. "We are in a race against time," Al Saqqaf says.
While the work on elephants remains on the drawing board, Chami's earlier study on the economic value of whales has already started generating real-world action. A G20 working group recommended this year that member countries take whales into account for their climate mitigation and ecosystem values. In Chile a national initiative is using Chami's economic model to help design a project called the Blue Boat Initiative, a sophisticated satellite and sea-based plan supported by the Chilean government to protect whales from ship collisions.
"The valuation of ecosystem services is very relevant because it allows us to show the oceans are not only a raw material," says Patricia Morales, general manager of Fundacion Cortes Solari, a private foundation that supports the Blue Boat Initiative and other climate and environmental issues. "We need to move from the current paradigm to the blue economy."
Chami says the positive global response to their work is rewarding, but it's far from complete. His team — which plans to apply this methodology to other species — knows the dire state of the natural world, and the challenges of creating new international funding and conservation models are huge. But Chami and his colleagues say that by "translating science into dollars," researchers can build a powerful market-based mechanism that can reverse society's incentive to destroy the natural world.
"We need to learn to live in balance with nature," Chami says. "Our sustainability depends on protecting our ecosystems."
Rocky Kistner is an environmental journalist and a former broadcast television and radio reporter and producer. He writes for a variety of online publications and lives near DC, raising two daughters and a beagle named Wilma.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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One city in New Zealand knows what its priorities are.
Dunedin, the second largest city on New Zealand's South Island, has closed a popular road to protect a mother sea lion and her pup, The Guardian reported.
"We've closed John Wilson Ocean Drive to vehicles for the next month to allow some special residents to use the road safely - a New Zealand sea lion and her pup have taken up residence at the golf course next door and are regularly crossing the road to get to the beach," the Dunedin City Council wrote in a Facebook Post Monday.
The council said that residents could still walk or ride bikes in the area, but should stay at least 20 meters (approximately 66 feet) away from the sea lions at all times and keep any dogs on a leash.
The mother sea lion, named Hiriwa, was first spotted on the Chisholm Links golf course about a week ago and is now nesting with her pup in a bush near the 13th hole, Radio New Zealand reported.
This is her fifth pup, Department of Conservation (DOC) coastal Otago biodiversity ranger Jim Fyfe said.
"She has come up John Wilson Drive and into the golf course to have her pup in some bushes there," he told Radio New Zealand.
Fyfe also told the New Zealand Herald that the pup was born Thursday, Jan. 7 and immediately made its presence known by making lots of noise.
The mother and pup will now spend about a month nesting before heading out to sea, Fyfe explained. During that time, the mother will need to walk 500 meters (approximately 1,640 feet) to the beach each day to feed. On these journeys, she will think to avoid male sea lions, but she won't be thinking about cars, people or dogs. That is why the road closure is so important, Fyfe explained.
Local residents have responded favorably to the council's decision, The Guardian reported.
"Awesome! Love our little country in this way," one commenter wrote on Facebook.
The golf course has also welcomed its new residents.
"We're lucky to have marine mammals on our coastline and we need to share the space with them, as this is what makes our coastal Links and Dunedin's coastline so unique!" it wrote in a Jan. 5 Facebook post.
New Zealand sea lions are an endangered species and one of the rarest species of sea lions in the world, the city council noted. There are around 12,000 left in the world, according to DOC figures reported by CNN. Killing one can bring a penalty of up to two years in prison or a fine of up to $178,000.
Dunedin's 120,000 residents are used to road closures to protect wildlife, but usually these closures last for a day rather than a month, The Guardian explained. The city is also used to welcoming breeding sea lions since 1993, and their numbers in the city have increased since conservation efforts intensified.
Despite this, the overall breeding population of New Zealand sea lions is still falling. The main threats to the species are fishing, disease, human activity and lack of food.
Still, this is shaping up to be a good year for sea lions in Dunedin.
"This year we expect 20 sea lions around Dunedin to give birth. This is going to be a record number for us," Fyfe told Radio New Zealand. "New Zealand sea lions are a threatened species that is just recovering on the mainland coastline, so it's really good news."
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A lungless worm salamander, an armored slug and a critically endangered monkey were a few of 503 new species identified this year by scientists at London's National History Museum.
"Once again, an end of year tally of new species has revealed a remarkable diversity of life forms and minerals hitherto undescribed," Dr. Tim Littlewood, executive director of science at the museum, told the National History Museum. "The Museum's collection of specimens provide a resource within which to find new species as well as a reference set to recognize specimens and species as new."
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the museum was closed to the public for part of the year. Yet, scientists, researchers, curators and associates continued to study the species' forms and structures and share their findings with the rest of the scientific community, Ken Norris, head of life sciences at the Natural History Museum, told CNN.
"You're asking whether or not that new specimen is sufficiently different from anything else that's been seen before to be regarded as a new species," he said. "So you're describing it for the first time."
"In a year when the global mass of biodiversity is being outweighed by human-made mass it feels like a race to document what we are losing," he shared.
Since 1900, the abundance of native species in land-based habitats has decreased by at least 20 percent, according to findings outlined in a United Nations Report. Over 40 percent amphibian species, nearly 33 percent reef-forming corals and over a third of all marine animals are threatened.
"503 newly discovered species reminds us we represent a single, inquisitive, and immensely powerful species with the fate of many others in our hands," Littlewood added.
Among the hundreds of species identified was a monkey called the Popa langur, found on the extinct Mount Popa volcano in Myanmar. According to the National History Museum, the skin and skull of the monkey were collected over 100 years ago.
Scientists analyzed the coloration of the Popa langur's skin and bones and sampled its genetics to compare it to related species.
"Monkeys are one of the most iconic groups of mammals, and these specimens have been in the collections for over a hundred years," Roberto Portela Miguez, the senior curator in charge of mammals at the museum and involved in identifying the new species, told the National History Museum. "But we didn't have the tools or the expertise to do this work before."
The Popa langur is considered to be critically endangered with only 200 to 260 individuals remaining in the wild, according to The Guardian. As Myanmar rapidly develops, the monkeys are threatened by decreased forest habitats and increased hunting.
Naming the species, Miguez thinks, will help in its conservation. "The hope is that by giving this species the scientific status and notoriety it merits, there will be even more concerted efforts in protecting this area and the few other remaining populations," he told the National History Museum.
"It has been a good year for discovering more amphibian and reptile species," The Guardian reported, noting the scientist's identification of a crested lizard from Borneo, two new species of frog and nine new snakes.
"At the moment we think that as a basic guess maybe 20% of life has been described in some shape or form," Norris told CNN, expecting to identify hundreds of new species in the new year.
"Our understanding of the natural world's diversity is negligible and yet we depend on its systems, interconnectedness and complexity for food, water, climate resilience and the air we breathe," Littlewood told the National History Museum. "Revealing new and undescribed species not only sustains our awe of the natural world, it further reveals what we stand to lose and helps estimate the diversity we may lose even before it's discovered."
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By Daniel Raichel
While many know Chicago as the "Second City," the old stomping grounds of Michael Jordan or Al Capone, or perhaps even still as "Hog Butcher to the World," I doubt many think of it as a home for endangered wildlife.
However, as a recent Chicago Tribune article shows, that's exactly what it is for one of our very favorite endangered pollinators—the rusty patched bumble bee.
For the better part of a decade, NRDC has fought for the rusty patched bumble bee's survival, and we are now suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the fourth time—this time, to reverse a Trump-Era decision not to designate federally protected "critical habitat" for the bee.
That's why it was particularly sweet to learn that a couple of rusty patched bumble bees were spotted foraging near the Rogers Park Metra stop, not far from the Honeybear Cafe and some of my old foraging grounds growing up.
"Rogers Park Metra Community Garden" by LN is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Although the article provides a fun "work meets life" moment for me, it also underscores the importance of our lawsuit. As Abby Shafer of the Evanston Native Bee Initiative notes, one patch of native habitat can be meaningful, but what's most needed is a network of interconnected habitat so that the bee's populations can recover and once again thrive.
By refusing to designate "critical habitat" for the bee, the Fish and Wildlife Service effectively scuttled any plan for such a federally protected habitat network—breaking the law and putting this magnificent and vulnerable bee one step closer to extinction. That's why we'll keep fighting in court until we (yet again) secure the protections that the rusty patched bumble bee deserves.
Who knows, if we're successful, maybe you'll see the rusty patched bumble bee in your neighborhood too.
"The Lurie Garden in Chicago's Millennium Park" by UGArdener is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Reposted with permission from NRDC.
The Trump administration said Tuesday that federal protection for monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act is still a few years away. The reason? The administration cited 161 vulnerable species that are already waiting in line ahead of monarchs.
Monarchs will likely have to wait until 2023 to be added by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Reuters reported. The federal agency oversees listing endangered species.
"Protection for monarchs is needed — and warranted — now," said George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety, Reuters reported.
Monarch butterfly populations have exponentially decreased in the past decade, mostly due to habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change. For example, North America's Eastern monarch butterflies traditionally migrate up to 3,000 miles every year from the eastern U.S. to Mexico to spend the winter, but migration numbers are falling.
Overall, the Western monarch population declined by more than 97 percent to fewer than 30,000 between 1997 and 2019, Reuters reported, while the Eastern U.S. population declined 84 percent during the same period.
"We conducted an intensive, thorough review using a rigorous, transparent science-based process and found that the monarch meets listing criteria under the Endangered Species Act," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith told CBS News. "However, before we can propose listing, we must focus resources on our higher-priority listing actions."
Monarch butterflies may not have the time to wait.
"Forty-seven species have gone extinct waiting for their protection to be finalized," Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, told CBS News. "This decision continues the delay in implementing a national recovery plan which monarchs desperately need."
A decline in milkweed plants partly explains the falling monarch numbers. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed, but the plants are being killed off thanks to farmers spraying Roundup, a common herbicide, on their crops, The New York Times reported. Milkweed generally grows in between crops and cannot survive Roundup. It doesn't help that affected farmland is also prime monarch breeding ground.
In the meantime, there are numerous environmental groups and citizen efforts working to protect the species, including farmers paid by the federal government to maintain pollinator habitats. As adults, monarch butterflies pollinate many types of wild flowers. However, monarchs will have to wait for federal protection before herbicide use is regulated in their habitats. This is key to saving monarchs from extinction.
"One, we restore a lot of habitat," Chip Taylor, founder and director of Monarch Watch, told the New York Times.
"And two, we try to convince our fellow citizens and particularly our politicians that we have to do something about greenhouse gases."
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By Claire Wordley
The rancher peers at an enormous bird high in the treetops. Reining in his horse, he squints upward. It's not moving; maybe it will still be there when he gets back. An hour later, he returns with a gun. The huge animal is still there, motionless. Taking aim, he fires, and the heavy body comes crashing to the ground. He picks it up, marveling at its size and the incredible crest of feathers around its head. He strokes the soft gray and white plumes, perhaps feeling a sudden pang of sadness that the proud head is now lolling lifeless, as he puts the carcass over his saddle to show his family.
This scenario and others like it are impacting harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) populations across Central and South America, according to a scientific paper recently published in the Journal of Raptor Research. Despite being the largest raptor in South America and the national bird of Panama, scientists know little about the extent to which the species is persecuted by humans.
In the study, the researchers found a total of 132 documented cases where a harpy eagle was killed or captured between 1950 and 2020, including 21 cases from Colombia and Panama that had never before been published in scientific journals.
"This story can be used to repair what has been done to this magnificent species over the last seven decades," said Helena Aguiar-Silva, of the University of São Paulo and Projeto Harpia, Brazil, one of the scientists who compiled the persecution data set.
The harpy eagle's range stretches from Guatemala and Belize in Central America, down into South America to Bolivia and Paraguay. Occasionally the birds are noted as far north as Mexico or as far south as Argentina.
Aguiar-Silva said there probably used to be stable harpy eagle populations in both those countries, but they have been driven locally extinct by the expansion of hunting and farming, as they were in El Salvador.
While the species' range spans more than half a continent, that doesn't mean it's abundant. Surveys show that it is never locally common. The bird is slow to reach sexual maturity, raising just one chick per pair every two or three years, and the number of harpy eagles is decreasing.
Aguiar-Silva said the declines and local extinctions, combined with the evidence that it is frequently persecuted, should serve as a basis to reanalyze the global conservation status of the species. While the harpy eagle's current conservation status on the IUCN Red List is "near threatened" at the international level, individual countries have placed it in more critical categories: it is classified as vulnerable in countries including Brazil, Peru and Venezuela, and critically endangered in Nicaragua.
Why People Kill Harpy Eagles
A female harpy eagle's wingspan can reach 224 centimeters (7.3 feet) and they can weigh up to 9 kilograms or 20 pounds in the wild, making them an impressive sight. Dietary analyses, including by Aguiar-Silva, have shown that harpy eagles mostly eat wild animals that live in trees. Sloths are by far their most important food source, but monkeys also make a popular meal.
Harpy eagles' role in killing leaf-eating animals and omnivores like capuchin monkeys are important in maintaining the rainforest ecosystem. According to the research so far, harpy eagles only occasionally eat livestock, probably in part because they carry their food to trees to eat. Even females, which can be double the weight of a male, rarely prey on animals heavier than 5 kg (11 lb).
Harpy eagle chick in its nest. Everton Miranda
However, the rarity with which the eagles carry off farm animals has not stopped people from hunting them. Everton Miranda, a Brazilian scientist affiliated with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, has studied why people hunt harpy eagles in Brazil. His research, investigating more than 180 harpy eagle killings over two years in the state of Mato Grosso, will soon be published in the journal Animal Conservation.
He told Mongabay that people usually shoot the eagles "out of curiosity."
"People see this large raptor — they frequently don't know what it is — and shoot it to have a closer look," he said. "One trait that makes harpy eagles unfortunately prone to being killed … is that they remain perched on a single tree for several hours or even a whole day."
This behavior gives the hunter the time to travel home for their gun and return to shoot the animal.
According to the interviews he conducted, most of the people who killed the eagles out of curiosity later expressed regret about it.
This surprising finding — that curiosity and a desire to see the birds close up could account for up to 80% of harpy killings in some places — echoes results from an earlier Brazilian study. According to Miranda's research, prevention or retaliation for livestock predation represented only 20% of harpy eagle killings in his study site.
Hunters with a dead harpy eagle. Everton Miranda
Of course, the reasons behind such killings are likely to vary over the harpy eagle's range.
Santiago Zuluaga, senior author of the paper in Journal of Raptor Research, told Mongabay that in his experience some people hunt harpy eagles for food, while others capture them live for illegal sale. A recent killing in Colombia was to sell the bird's feathers and claws on the black market.
"There is also a story of an eagle that was hunted to obtain one of the claws that is now used to baptize children, which is supposed to give them luck and strength for the rest of their lives," said Zuluaga, with the Colaboratorio de Biodiversidad, Ecología y Conservación (ColBEC), Argentina, and the Fundación Proyecto Águila Crestada-Colombia, Colombia. "However, it is a story and we have not confirmed it."
According to Mateo Giraldo-Amaya at EAFIT University, Colombia, who led the Journal of Raptor Research paper, the cases they found are "only the tip of an iceberg."
"I believe that many more eagles are being killed today in Colombia and the Neotropics, but that this information usually does not come to light because of the nature of the events and the people who perpetrate them," he added.
Notably, researchers found no records of raptor persecution in seven of the 18 countries inhabited by harpy eagles, including Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru. But this may not be the good news it appears to be. Researchers say the lack of hunting records is probably because there are no dedicated harpy eagle research or conservation programs in those countries, meaning there is nobody to document kills.
Zuluaga said that even in countries with harpy conservation programs, like Panama and Brazil, people still shoot the eagles.
In Panama, Karla Aparicio, another co-author on the paper, has been working to understand and conserve harpy eagles since 1994. In 2015, she set up the Fundación Naturaleza y Ciencia 507 to focus on researching and conserving birds of prey.
Following the lead of Aguiar-Silva at Projeto Harpia in Brazil, the 507 team, named after the international dialing code for Panama, set up the first camera traps to monitor harpy eagle nests in the country. As well as studying the species in the wild, they established a center for rescued birds of prey. Birds that can't be reintroduced to the wild become ambassadors for their environmental education program, #HarpyS-cool.
Aparicio said she's committed to teaching people about birds of prey. She knows better than most how, given the right opportunities, even harpy hunters can change their ways: her assistant of 20 years, Euriato Bainora, used to hunt harpy eagles but now works to conserve them.
Soon after Aparicio set up the 507 foundation in Panama, a chance event set Giraldo-Amaya on a path to replicate her work in Colombia.
As an undergraduate in 2016, Giraldo-Amaya had a run-in with a harpy eagle that stuck with him. At first, he was excited when his fellow students showed him a harpy eagle nest that they found with an Indigenous guide, Antonio Cunampia, while on a university field trip.
"A week later, we got the news that someone had killed the eagle and its left leg had been cut off," he said. "It was very sad, and we were all extremely anxious about the fate of the chick without its mother."
To check on the chick, the researchers needed a drone. And it turned out undergraduate Giraldo-Amaya had one.
"The greatest coincidence of life," as Giraldo-Amaya put it. "Sadly, the chick died … but this experience marked me."
His sense of loss over the death of the chick led him to seek out an internship with Aparicio in Panama, which in turn inspired him to co-found the initiative Proyecto Grandes Rapaces Colombia to do similar research and conservation work over the border in Colombia — the first project in the country to focus on harpy eagles.
Harpy Eagle Tourism
In Brazil, scientist and conservationist Miranda has established a collaboration with wildlife tourist company SouthWild, based around making living harpy eagles a valuable resource for locals.
The ecotourism project offers $100 to local people for each harpy eagle nest discovered. The project also hires locals to build platforms so that tourists can see the birds at eye level, and to take care of visitors' needs.
A harpy eagle chick with a tourist viewing tower in the background in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Everton Miranda
Miranda said his harpy protection model also conserves the surrounding forest, providing habitat for many other species. Thirty landowners have signed an agreement that includes protecting at least 320 hectares (790 acres) of forest surrounding a harpy nest.
"We pay the landowner $20 per tourist per day," Miranda told Mongabay, noting that this has stopped eagle persecution in those areas.
Miranda said protecting the forest is vital, as deforestation remains the other major threat to harpy eagles. He said habitat loss caused by beef and soy farming are harder to address than direct persecution. Making meat production deforestation-free (soy is mostly used to feed farmed animals) requires action at every level, according to Miranda, from local law enforcement to international legislation.
But his years of working with the iconic harpy eagle make him determined to give the birds a fighting chance.
"There are a few occasions when you feel deep inside you're doing the right thing," he said. "When I first recorded a harpy laying an egg on a camera trap — then I felt heart-warmed by that small light that poets call hope."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
The Trump administration announced on Thursday that gray wolves will no longer receive protection under the Endangered Species Act in the contiguous United States.
Gray wolves were on the brink of extinction when they were one of the first animals to receive protections under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. Their numbers had dropped to nearly 1,000 as farmers hunted and poisoned them since the wolves posed a threat to livestock, according to The Guardian. Now, the U.S. Department of the Interior believes the gray wolf has rebounded well enough that its protections should be left to the states and to tribes.
"Today's action reflects the Trump Administration's continued commitment to species conservation based on the parameters of the law and the best scientific and commercial data available," said Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt in a statement. "After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery. Today's announcement simply reflects the determination that this species is neither a threatened nor endangered species based on the specific factors Congress has laid out in the law."
In total, there are roughly 6,000 gray wolves living mostly in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. There are an estimated additional 1,800 present in other states in the West, according to The Washington Post.
Biologists contend that the wolves' comeback is not complete since they occupy a small portion of the land they once roamed. Large swaths of land in Utah, Colorado and Maine that were once habitat for wolves are now completely devoid of them.
Some critics see the move as a blatantly political maneuver by Trump to wrangle support in the upper Midwest, where polls show him trailing.
"Wolves will be shot and killed because Donald Trump is desperate to gin up his voters in the Midwest," said Brett Hartl, chief political strategist at the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, in a statement, as CNN reported. "Secretary Bernhardt's nakedly political theater announcing the end to wolf protections in a battleground state days before the election shows just how corrupt and self-serving the Trump administration is."
The final rule will be officially published on Tuesday, Election Day, and then go into effect 60 days after that.
One area of concern is that scientists, tasked with a mandatory independent review, alerted the Fish and Wildlife Services to objections they had about stripping protections from the gray wolves. Four out of the five scientists on the independent review panel raised serious concerns. One reviewer told The New York Times that the Fish and Wildlife Service ignored the genetic variations within the gray wolf species, which is crucial to their ability to adapt to threats like the climate crisis.
Another reviewer told The New York Times he was concerned that the decision did not take into account how many wolves would be killed by people.
"I predict that the consequence of the inaccurate risk assessment is that gray wolves are not secure in the Western Great Lakes," wrote Adrian Treves, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in a follow-up memo to the federal Office of Management and Budget, "and the federal government will have to re-list them again, either by federal court mandate or after another wolf population crash."
Activists have successfully used the courts in the past to thwart previous attempts to delist the gray wolf and have vowed to do so again.
"This is no 'Mission Accomplished' moment for wolf recovery," said Kristen Boyles, an Earthjustice attorney, in a statement. "Wolves are only starting to get a toehold in places like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, and wolves need federal protection to explore habitat in the Southern Rockies and the Northeast. This delisting decision is what happens when bad science drives bad policy — and it's illegal, so we will see them in court."
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By John R. Platt
Most tourism sites use a common word to describe La Désirade Island in the French West Indies: "pristine." They rave about this 8-square-mile island's beautiful beaches, abundant wildlife, snorkel-worthy waters and healthy nature reserve.
In truth, this small rocky outcropping in the Guadeloupe Islands has seen its fair share of human-driven change since colonial settlers arrived. Once a haven for pirates hiding out from the law, the island served as a colony for lepers and lawbreakers for two centuries. The land, despite its modern reputation and protected status, was heavily cultivated and disturbed for much of that time — much like the other islands around it.
"There's no 'pristine' environment when it comes to the Guadeloupe Islands," says Corentin Bochaton, a postdoctoral researcher with Université de Bordeaux in France and the Max Planck Institute in Germany, who conducts studies in the archipelago. "These islands were all strongly impacted by European colonization starting in the 17th century. La Désirade is nowhere close to what it was before this period."
He points out that research published 15 years ago links that disturbance to several local extinctions — and now, thanks to his work, we can add one more to the list.
According to a paper published last month in the journal Zootaxa, La Désirade was once home to a unique lizard, a relative of the curly-tailed iguana-like lizards common to the West Indies. The authors, including Bochaton, have dubbed it Leiocephalus roquetus.
Long forgotten by science and the residents of La Désirade, the evidence of L. roquetus was hiding under our noses — and La Désirade's soil — for nearly two centuries.
The first line of evidence for this lost lizard's existence has sat on a shelf for most of that time — since 1835, in fact. And like La Désirade, it was far from pristine.
"Around 2015 we consulted on a very old and rather poorly prepared stuffed specimen of Leiocephalus indicated as originating from Guadeloupe," Bochaton recalls. The 10-inch-long taxidermied lizard came from naturalist named Théodore Roger, who deposited it at the Natural History of Museum of Bordeaux in France three years before his death in 1838. The original label has been lost to time, but a mid-20th century replacement identifies the specimen as Holotropis herminieri (a species named by scientists in 1837 and later moved into the Leiocephalus genus) from the vague location of "Guadeloupe."
Bochaton points out that L. herminieri, another extinct species last seen in the 1830s, lived on the island of Martinique, also in the West Indies. Despite the "Guadeloupe" label the specimen did, indeed, bear external anatomy suggesting it was the Martinique species. "Because of that, it was never studied in detail," he says.
It's easy to see why the specimen was ignored for so long. While previous research had indicated a need to reassess the species in the Leiocephalus genus, at least seven of the 24 previously known species are long gone and the supply of specimens or bones to study were, until recently, slim.
A northern curly-tailed lizard (Leiocephalus carinatus) on Cat Island, Bahamas. Photo: Trish Hartmann (CC BY 2.0)
That's where new archaeological evidence came into play. Bochaton and others have conducted numerous digs in the Guadeloupe Islands and uncovered hundreds of lizard bones from days gone by. The most successful excavation took place in 2018 at a cave on La Désirade, where they found what Bochaton calls "the largest assemblage of Leiocephalus bone so far in Guadeloupe."
Like the museum specimen, which the researchers examined through CT scanning, those newly uncovered bones contained enough common morphological differences to declare it a new species, one that hasn't been seen on La Désirade or any other Guadeloupe island since…well, no one knows when. Perhaps since Roger's time.
Exactly how and when this species went extinct remains a mystery, but the paper suggests it could have been a combination of "introduced mammalian predators, human-induced changes to landscapes and intensive agricultural practices."
And while we may not know what killed off the lizard, Bochaton says the evidence of its extinction has relevance to modern times.
"To me, this highlights the rapid damages modern societies and their agro-pastoral practices have caused to insular ecosystems and shows what might also happen in the long run in more resilient continental systems," he says. This could help us learn to prevent more extinctions in the future.
Meanwhile, he hopes it will help to inspire more research and protection in the region.
"There are still several questions that remain poorly explored in the Guadeloupe islands regarding its past fauna, especially for the periods preceding the arrival of human populations," he says. "I hope that this research will motivate the public and the government to do their best to save the remaining Guadeloupe and Lesser Antillean endemic reptile fauna by highlighting how fast and easy it is to lose and completely forget an endemic species that will never come back."
And speaking of short-term memories, La Désirade's official tourism site calls the island itself "The Forgotten" — a name that might now equally apply to the creatures we caused to vanish there before we even knew they existed.
John R. Platt is the editor of The Revelator.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By Tara Lohan
Atlantic salmon have a challenging life history — and those that hail from U.S. waters have seen things get increasingly difficult in the past 300 years.
Dubbed the "king of fish," Atlantic salmon once numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the United States and ranged up and down most of New England's coastal rivers and ocean waters. But dams, pollution and overfishing have extirpated them from all the region's rivers except in Maine. Today only around 1,000 wild salmon, known as the Gulf of Maine distinct population segment, return each year from their swim to Greenland. Fewer will find adequate spawning habitat in their natal rivers to reproduce.
That's left Atlantic salmon in the United States critically endangered. Hatchery and stocking programs have kept them from disappearing entirely, but experts say recovering healthy, wild populations will require much more, including eliminating some of the obstacles (literally) standing in their way.
Conservation organizations, fishing groups and even some state scientists are now calling for the removal of up to four dams along a 30-mile stretch of the Kennebec River, where about a third of Maine's best salmon habitat remains.
The dams' owner — multinational Brookfield Renewable Partners — has instead proposed building fishways to aid salmon and other migratory fish getting around dams as they travel both up and down the river. But most experts think that plan has little chance of success.
A confusing array of state and federal processes are underway to try and sort things out. None is likely to be quick, cheap or easy. And there's a lot at stake.
"Ultimately the fate of the species in the United States really depends upon what happens at a handful of key dams," says John Burrows, executive director of U.S. programs at the Atlantic Salmon Federation. "If those four projects don't work — or even if just one of them doesn't work — you could basically preclude recovering Atlantic salmon in the United States."
The best place for salmon recovery is in Maine's two largest watersheds.
"The Penobscot River and the Kennebec River have orders of magnitude more habitat, production potential and climate resilient habitat" than other parts of the state, says Burrows.
The rivers and their tributaries run far inland and reach more undeveloped areas with higher elevations. That helps provide salmon with the cold, clean water they need for spawning and rearing. Smaller numbers of salmon are hanging on in lower-elevation rivers along the coastal plain in Maine's Down East region, but climate change could make that habitat unsuitable.
"There's definitely concern about how resilient those watersheds are going to be for salmon in the future," says Burrows. "To recover the population, we need to be able to get salmon to the major tributaries farther upriver, in places where we're still going to have cold water even under predictions with climate change."
One of those key places is the Penobscot, which has already seen a $60 million effort to help recover salmon and other native sea-run fish. A 16-year project resulted in the removal of two dams, the construction of a stream-like bypass channel at a third dam, and new fish lift at a fourth. In all, the project made 2,000 miles of river habitat accessible.
Veazie dam on the Penobscot River is breached in 2013 as part of a river restoration project. Meagan Racey / USFWS
While there's still more work to be done on the Penobscot, says Burrows, attention has shifted to the Kennebec. The river has what's regarded as the largest and best salmon habitat in the state, especially in its tributary, the Sandy River, where hatchery eggs are being planted to help boost salmon numbers.
"That's helped us go from zero salmon in the upper tributaries of Kennebec to getting 50 or 60 adults back, which is still an abysmally small number compared to historical counts," says Burrows. "But these are the last of the wildest fish that we have."
The Sandy may be good salmon habitat, but it's also hard to reach. Brookfield's four dams stand in the way of fish trying to get upriver.
At the lowest dam on the river, Lockwood Dam in Waterville, there's a fish lift — a kind of elevator that should allow fish that enter it to pass up and around the dam. But if fish do find the lift — and only around half of salmon do — they don't get far.
"It's a terminal lift," says Sean Ledwin, division director of Maine's Department of Marine Resources' Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat. "The lift was never completed. So we pick up those fish in a truck and drive them up to the Sandy River."
That taxi cab arrangement isn't a long-term solution, though, and was part of an interim species protection plan.
Only the second dam, Hydro Kennebec, has a modern fish passage system. But how well that actually works hasn't been tested yet since fish can't get by Lockwood Dam. As part of a consultation process related to the Endangered Species Act, Brookfield has submitted a plan proposing to fix the fishway at Lockwood and add passage to the third and fourth dams.
But federal regulators found it inadequate.
"Brookfield's proposal was rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee [which oversees hydroelectric projects] and all the [federal management] agencies," says Ledwin. The company now has until May 2022 to come up with a new plan.
State scientists aren't convinced Brookfield's plan would work either.
"We have really low confidence that having four fishways would ever result in meaningful runs of all the sea-run fish and certainly not recovery of Atlantic salmon," says Ledwin. "We don't think that it's going to be conducive to recovery."
In addition to considerations related to the Endangered Species Act, Shawmut Dam, the third on the Kennebec, is currently up for relicensing, which triggers a federal review process by FERC.
And at the same time the Maine Department of Marine Resources has drafted a new plan for managing the Kennebec River that recommends removing Shawmut Dam and Lockwood Dam. A public comment period on the proposed plan closed in March.
Brookfield isn't happy with it and responded with a lawsuit against the state.
It was good news to conservation groups, however, which would like to see all four of the dams removed if possible — or at least a few of them.
"There's no self-sustaining population of Atlantic salmon anywhere in the world that we know of that have to go by more than one hydro dam," says Burrows. He believes that having Brookfield spend tens of millions of dollars on new fishways will just result in failure for salmon.
Atlantic salmon parr emerging from a stream bed in Maine. E. Peter Steenstra / USFWS
It's partly a game of numbers. Not all fish will find or use a fishway. And if you start with a low number of returning fish and expect them to pass through four gauntlets, you won't be left with many at the end.
"If you're passing 50% of salmon that show up at the first dam, and then you've got three more dams passing 50%, that means you're left with only an eighth of the population you started with by the end," says Nick Bennett, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. "You can't start a restoration program where you're losing seven-eighths of the adults before they even get to their spawning habitat."
And getting upriver is just part of the salmon's journey. Juvenile salmon face threats going downstream to the ocean as well, including predation and warm water in impoundments. They also risk being injured or killed going through spillways or turbines. Only about half are likely to survive the four hydro projects.
Atlantic salmon, unlike their Pacific cousins, don't always die after spawning, either. So some adults will also make the downstream trek, too.
"Just looking at our reality, at least two dams need to go, hopefully three, and it would be amazing if all four would go," says Burrows.
The fate of Atlantic salmon hangs in the balance, but so do the futures of other fishes.
The Pacific coast of the United States is home to five species of salmon. And while the Atlantic side has just the one, it has a dozen other native sea-run species that have also seen their habitat shrink.
"Those dams are preventing other native species like American shad, alewives, blueback herring and American eel from accessing large amounts of historic habitat," says Burrows.
Ledwin says removing dams on the Kennebec could result in populations of more than a million shad, millions of blueback herring, millions of eels and hundreds of thousands of sea lampreys.
"The recovery of those species would actually help Atlantic salmon as well because they provide prey buffers and there are a lot of co-evolved benefits," he says.
Salmon are much more successful at nesting when they can lay their eggs in old sea lamprey nests, explains Bennett. "But sea lamprey are not good at using fish lifts and we've essentially blocked 90% of the historic sea lamprey habitat at Lockwood dam. We need to get those fish upstream, too."
Dam removal advocates don't have to look too far to find an example of how well river ecosystems respond when dams are removed.
The removal of the Edwards Dam on the lower Kennebec River in 1999 and the Fort Halifax Dam just upstream on the Sebasticook in 2008 helped ignite a nationwide dam-removal movement. It also brought back American shad, eel, two native species of sturgeon and millions of river herring to lower parts of the watershed.
Alewives returned by the millions after the Edwards and Ft. Halifax dams were removed. John Burrows / ASF
"We've got the biggest river herring run in North America now due to the dam removals," says Ledwin. "And the largest abundance of eel we've ever seen on the lower Kennebec."
The resurgence of native fishes helps the whole ecosystem. When they returned, so too did eagles, osprey and other wildlife.
"When people see all those fish in the river and the eagles overhead, it just kind of blows their minds because they never realized what had been lost for so long in our rivers," says Burrows.
Rebuilding key forage fish like herring also benefits species that live not just in the river, but the Gulf of Maine and even the Atlantic Ocean. The tiny fish feed whales, porpoises and seabirds. They're also used for lobster bait and can help rebuild fisheries for cod and haddock, which has economic benefits for the region, too.
"We have to rebalance the scales if we want to have marine industries and commercial fishing industries and if we want the ecological benefits of what sea-run fisheries do for us," says Bennett.
The Path Ahead
The process to determine whether any — or all — of the four Kennebec dams that stretch from Waterville and Skowhegan are removed will take years, a diverse coalition, financial resources and agreements to meet the concerns of communities and the dam owner.
"These things come down to compromise, so there may be situations where one of those dams might not be a candidate for economic or social reasons," says Burrows. "But it will be interesting to see if in the next couple of years we can get to a place where we can have meaningful conversations with federal agencies, the dam owner and continue to engage the communities about the potential of removal at some of these sites."
And if removal of the four dams did happen, it wouldn't open up the river all the way to its headwaters. Another nine dams still lie upstream in the watershed that obstruct fish passage.
"Some of those are major dams in terms of power, production and economics," says Burrows. "So we're not calling for those to be removed."
The four lower dams provide just 46 megawatts of power — enough to supply about 37,000 homes and 0.43% of the state's annual electricity generation. It's a small amount of power relative to the damage they cause sea-run fish, says Bennett.
"By comparison we expect to add 1,200 megawatts of solar generation in the next five years," he says. "So these four dams aren't particularly important in our climate fight." And removing them would open up substantial amounts of habitat to aid salmon recovery that seem worth the tradeoff in lost power.
That's not the case, he says, for the nine larger dams upstream.
"We need those dams. We need hydroelectric power in Maine," says Bennett. "But we made big mistakes in our past use of our rivers. And we went way overboard in favor of hydroelectric power at the expense of fish."
Outside of the rivers, Atlantic salmon still face a tough road. Climate change is warming ocean temperatures, changing salinity and altering food webs. But having so many unknowns in the marine environment in the coming decades provides more reason to focus efforts on restoring rivers where scientists already know what works, says Burrows.
And if that's done right, the benefits will extend far beyond salmon.
"It's not just about salmon — it's about these other native fish, it's about the wildlife, water quality, economic opportunity for ground fishermen and lobstermen, and more sustainable forms of recreation and community development," says Burrows. "If we remove a dam or two here and rebuild these fish populations to pretty big levels that really impacts a whole bunch of different parts of society. That's what we want to try to do here on the Kennebec."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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