Tag Archives: Wildlife

New US ivory law gives elephants stronger protection against poachers

Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) ranger stands guard next to illegal stockpile of elephant tusks and ivory figurines before their destruction
Source: Lawyer Herald
New ivory trafficking regulations issued on Thursday by the Obama Administration will make the import and sale of African elephant’s ivory much more difficult in the United States. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) reports:

It is clear that the status quo wasn’t doing enough to protect elephants from American trade: The US market has consistently ranked among the world’s largest – an (up until now) largely unregulated, multi-million-dollar black box where ivory could be bought and sold with almost no oversight, whether it was old or freshly poached. We believe that the new rules are a crucial step towards bringing the poaching crisis under control, though much still depends on the unglamorous next steps: implementation, enforcement, and diplomatic follow-through to ensure that this momentum doesn’t stop at America’s borders.

While the changes are a big improvement, they’re not perfect. The regulations still permit sales of documented antiques and certain older items with a small amount of ivory. But the documentation requirement is only loosely defined, putting pressure on FWS (and groups like IFAW) to ensure that ivory buyers and sellers uphold the spirit and the letter of the law. We also have to make sure that law enforcement agents get the tools and funding they need to keep illegal imports from slipping into the black market.

Additionally, the rule limits trophy hunters to importing “only” two dead elephants (per hunter) annually. IFAW lobbied hard to close this loophole even further and we will continue to press the issue, especially as new studies call the conventional wisdom on trophy hunting further into question. However, even this represents an improvement, as there had been no numeric limit on trophy imports at all prior to the change.

The third element I mentioned above – diplomatic follow-through – is just as important as what we do here at home. Other major ivory-consuming countries like China and Vietnam have begun to steer their ivory laws in the right direction; US/China negotiations have already resulted in a pledge from President Xi Jinping to shut down the Chinese ivory market, although tangible progress has been slow in coming and it remains vital that the US continue to set an example.

The New York Times reported on the rule-making process:

In accordance with the rule-making process under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service opened the proposed changes for public comment, and it became the second-most-commented-on rule in the agency’s history. People wrote letters, children drew pictures and thousands of petition signatures rolled in — mostly in support of the more restrictive law.

The next phase of the fight against ivory poaching will happen next week, when a delegation from the United States goes to Beijing for a round of strategic and economic talks with Chinese officials, who have also agreed to further restrictions on the ivory trade.

if you buy ivory you kill people
Source: Elephant Advocacy League
Elephants are being slaughtered for their ivory at the rate of 96 per day. Do you know that the ivory trade is a people killer too?

Lead graphic from the Lawyer Herald.

 

Want your tax dollars spent to kill 2.7 million wild animals again this year?

refugeweek97-with TrumanNew data from the highly secretive arm of the U.S. Agriculture Department known as Wildlife Services reveals it killed more than 2.7 million animals during fiscal year 2014, including wolves, coyotes, bears, mountain lions, beavers, foxes, eagles and other animals deemed pests by powerful agricultural, livestock and other special interests.

Despite increasing calls for reform after the program killed more than 4 million animals in 2013, the latest kill report indicates the reckless slaughter of wildlife continues, including 322 gray wolves, 61,702 coyotes, 580 black bears, 305 mountain lions, 796 bobcats, 454 river otters, 2,930 foxes, three bald eagles, five golden eagles and 22,496 beavers. The program also killed 15,698 black-tailed prairie dogs and destroyed more than 33,309 of their dens.

“It’s sickening to see these staggering numbers and to know that so many of these animals were cut down by aerial snipers, deadly poisons and traps,” said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These acts of brutality are carried out every day, robbing our landscapes of bears, wolves, coyotes and other animals that deserve far better. Wildlife Services does its dirty work far from public view and clearly has no interest in cleaning up its act.”

Agency insiders have revealed that the agency kills many more animals than it reports.

Many animals – especially wolves, coyotes and prairie dogs – were targeted and killed on behalf of livestock grazers or other powerful agricultural interests. Wildlife Services does not reveal how many animals were wounded or injured, but not killed.

The new data also show that hundreds animals were killed unintentionally including 390 river otters, as well as hundreds of badgers, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, jackrabbits, muskrats, raccoons, skunks, opossums, porcupines and 16 pet dogs.

The data show that the federal program has refused to substantially slow its killing despite a growing public outcry, an ongoing investigation by the Agriculture Department’s inspector general, and calls for reform by scientists, members of Congress and nongovernmental organizations.

“Wildlife Services continues to thumb its nose at the growing number of Americans demanding an end to business as usual,” said Atwood. “This appalling and completely unnecessary extermination of American wildlife must stop.”

Just since 1996 Wildlife Services has shot, poisoned and strangled by snare more than 27 million native animals.

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Birds & wildlife require native plants and their bugs

chickadeesIt’s a funny thing, but completely logical when you think about it. One strong environmental indicator that a polluted body of water is clearing up, is birds returning to spend time around it. Birds eat insects and fishies, which don’t thrive in heavily polluted waterways. So when those creatures return, birds are the next neighbors to move in.

Something similar happens in neighborhoods where native plants are present. I learned at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve that an insect automagically knows the difference between a native plant and an imported one (called an exotic) that look identical to us. Insects are able to eat plants that are native to their ecosystem but they cannot eat the pretty plant that looks the same but is from a different part of the world.

The result of planting native plants or fostering their growth, is an explosion in the bird and wildlife populations of your neighborhood. This lovely New York Times Op-Ed piece explains in very accessible language exactly why this is true. Contributor Douglas W. Tallamy makes a nice case for why we should care enough about this phenomenon to stop planting for aesthetics alone and instead, consider the overall ecological benefits of the plants we choose to nurture and introduce to our own local ecosystem – which they will make or break.

On a side note and of especial interest to journalists, take a look at the photo inset featured in my screenshot. This is the first time I’ve seen an inset be a link to a photo gallery – access it by clicking anywhere in the inset area.

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Too many deer, forest damage and Lyme disease

It’s worthwhile for people who are spending time out of doors to learn about ticks and Lyme disease. Northeast states share this problem, and there are two solutions for it: prevent tick bites in people and lower the population of infected ticks by controlling the population of animals that are the largest source of Lyme disease (mice, our region’s Lyme generation machines) and deer (which, because of their abundance and mobility carry them too far and too wide). Lyme is transmitted through infected ticks which attach themselves to the bodies of mice, deer and other warm mammals, like us. Mice produce the bacteria that cause Lyme disease in human, though; deer are just carriers.

In a healthy forest environment the balance of ecology provides homes to the many different species of plants, insects, bird and wildlife, and each species exists in proportionate and harmonious balance. But in our region woodlands have been destroyed, and deer are directly responsible for the very recent, rapid and sharp decline in their health. Because there are way too many deer – up to 4 times the number our forests can support – there are too many of them feeding on the low growing vegetation which makes up the forest understory. This loss of vegetation is the first step in a degenerative cycle of woodland habitat destruction that leads to the overgrowth of opportunistic, invasive species like mice, deer and the “mile a minute” ivy that’s literally choking the life out of thousands of our trees. These invasions are symptoms of an unhealthy ecosystem.

This is how the cycle plays out: when there are too many deer in a forest, they eat up all of the young tree growth, plants and bushes which collectively are known as the understory. This means the loss of insects living in, on and from these plants plus the loss of the berries, seeds and nuts that some of them produce. Birds, reptiles and some small rodents need these food sources to survive. Deprived of them, they either abandon their homes for “greener pastures” or their populations simply fade away. With less of those small creatures, predators which consume them – like foxes and hunting birds – can’t get enough to eat either, and their populations too begin to disperse or dwindle. Some experts advocate getting rid of deer in order to get rid of ticks. Others say that it’s mice we need to worry most about.

For balance, I’d like to interject my friend Brenda Cummings’ comment about deer’s role in forest habitat destruction: “Unfortunately, humans didn’t really need much help from the deer while destroying the ecology of the planet.”

The mice will play!

What do the mice say? No predators? Wow! Fantastic conditions for growth of the versatile and highly adaptive mouse population. In a healthy ecosystem, native species either crowd out or eat up glutonnous invaders, but when there isn’t enough strength or numbers in the native ecosystem inhabitants to effectively combat opportunistic species’ intrusion and arrest their expansion, those species take advantage of symbiotic collaborations to expand rapidly. This is how ticks benefit from one such cycle:

Mice with their hot little bodies are great breeding grounds for ticks, and deer come into the tick encroachment picture as convenient conveyances for those little suckers. Due to a decline in natural predators from habitat destruction and hunting restrictions, the deer population has exploded. Ticks jump onto deer and catch free rides to the grassy fields and lawns where they wait to attach themselves to adults and children walking through – and infect a growing number of victims with Lyme disease. The presence of so many deer ensures that little understory vegetation will remain in forests: and this leads back to fewer insects, berries, nuts and seeds… Northern Woodlands Magazine tells us,

Foresters often have a front-row view of the damage “too many” deer can cause to the landscape. Wildflowers, such as trillium and showy lady’s slippers, can be especially hard hit. “Each adult white-tailed deer eats about 2,000 pounds a year,” says Charlie Fiscella, New York State chapter president of the Quality Deer Management Association “That’s one ton. Go out with clippers and see how long it takes you to clip one ton. It’s hard to do that, especially when the habitat is marginal.”

The Nature Conservancy is just finishing up a study finding that deer are one of the top threats to a healthy forest in New York State, and that oak and maple seedlings are a deer’s favored food source. Since woodlot owners and foresters are also fond of oaks and maples, the deer’s impact is deeply felt. As these commercially valuable hardwood species start disappearing, forest composition can be skewed to favor birch, beech, and hophornbeam.

When deer pressure is overwhelming, you get no seedling regeneration at all. This allows invasive species to fill the void and dominate the ecosystem. As the invasives grow, the deer continue to eat native plants and avoid the invasives, thus giving the invasives a perpetual advantage.

People who spend a lot of time in fields and woods understand how dangerous Lyme disease is and check for ticks carefully after each outdoor exposure, but suburban and city dwellers don’t know how important it is to do this. Lyme takes time to develop and doesn’t manifest itself right away, but it is a very serious illness with many long-term implications. Because ticks don’t move and their attachment doesn’t hurt, most people don’t know when one has attached to them until it’s become huge from eating, which can take a while. A tick should be removed before it has been attached for 24 hours, the time needed to infect a person with Lyme.

Bard College biology professor Felicia Keesing and scientist Richard S. Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, explain why mice are more dangerous in the tick transmittal cycle than are deer, and also why the most effective method for controlling the mouse population is promoting the health of a natural forest ecosystem and sufficient forest land.

… ticks are only dangerous if they are infected, and deer play no role in infecting ticks. Ticks become infected with the Lyme disease bacterium by feeding on small mammals such as white-footed mice, chipmunks, and shrews. And mice play the additional role of increasing tick survival — they are at the opposite extreme from opossums, which kill the vast majority of ticks they encounter. When our group compared the importance of deer, mice, and climate in determining the number of infected ticks over 13 years in southeastern New York State, mice were the winners hands down.

Other compelling reasons exist for controlling deer populations, such as reducing vehicle accidents and increasing forest regeneration. But, in many Lyme disease zones, reducing the deer herd is unlikely to substantially affect tick abundance. Reducing mice is more likely to be effective.

This is best accomplished by allowing natural predators like weasels, coyotes, foxes, and owls to do the job. And the best way to increase their numbers is to maximize the size of forest patches. A number of other ways of reducing risk are currently being tested by our group and others, including the use of natural products such as soil fungi to kill ticks without adverse environmental impacts and the use of vaccines against Lyme disease that can be delivered to wildlife.

The deer population is critical in New Jersey, where we have 40 deer per square mile in our forests. Rutgers University Cooperative Extension Agent Bruce Barbour explains, “When any woodland deer population exceed 20 deer per square mile, the forest become unsustainable. Deer denude the forests by eating away all of the understory vegetation, which includes young saplings that are meant to mature over time to replace aging or damaged trees in the forest canopy. The long term effect of understory destruction will be sparser forests, but the short term effect is immediate destruction of habitat for insects, birds and wildlife, and the health threat of an increase in Lyme disease.”
In the Dover, Massachussetts woods, 25 deer per square mile is enough to cause serious problems too. The Boston Globe reported,

In Dover, where the deer population is almost three times the levels recommended by state wildlife officials and cases of Lyme disease have increased sharply, officials last week lifted restrictions on bow hunting on some public land to begin the town’s first “deer culling.’’

The hunt is strictly regulated, and will probably harvest only about 50 deer. But in a region with limited affection for deer hunting, and doubts about its safety in well-traveled woods, it shows that personal health concerns are gaining the upper hand.

“Five years ago, we couldn’t have done this,’’ said Barbara Roth-Schechter, head of the town’s health board. “People would have shot it down. But there’s been an exponential increase in Lyme disease, and people are fed up.’’

Dover has expansive forests that have become overrun with deer, roughly 25 per square mile, and a surging rate of Lyme disease, a bacterial infection transmitted by tick bites.

Resources

Recommendations for avoiding tick bites from the Illinois Department of Public Health

Make your own, natural tick repellent with this recipe from eHow. But be careful, essential oils may not be healthy for cats, so check with your vet before using near them.

The Federal Government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tick information page offers lots of good tips on how to avoid contact with ticks. They also advocate the use of DEET, a chemical repellant which has potential dangerous side effects – so maybe ignore that part.

How to remove a tick!
Not recommended: touching it with a hot match. Rather, use pointed tip tweezers near the tick’s head – where it attaches to your body – and keep pulling until it lets go and becomes detached. Then freeze that bad boy in case you need to produce it later for testing. This how-to video is a little gross, but can be really helpful in time of need. Webmd.com offers detailed written instructions for removal.

Help protect national forests – sign petition

America’s national forests provide essential habitat for lynx, grizzlies and other wildlife — and clean water for millions of Americans. Yet new rules could threaten the sanctity of these special places, paving the way for more logging and more destructive development on our national forests. Help protect these special places. Sign the petition online at: http://dfnd.us/vYt93D

What We Don’t Know About Bear Hunting

Here’s the travesty of justice the New Jersey bear hunts represent. It begins with the fact that there were no bears left in New Jersey. The Fish and Wildlife Commission imported new bears and encouraged the population to grow so they could sponsor bear hunts a couple of decades later.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission. They’re the people who protect fish and wildlife in the state of New Jersey, right? Nope. They’re the people who make sure people who want to shoot or kill animals and fish have plenty of opportunity to do it: and in the process, they set the forest rangers up to collect beaucoup fees for the privilege of spreading blood and carnage around the forests and damaging the ecosystem of rivers and lakes. That’s done by replacing indigenous populations of fish with farm-bred versions that take over and make many amphibian species native to the area, permanently extinct. A few years ago, the state finally made room on the commission for a single animal rights advocate.

Then there’s the sad fact that baby bears grow pretty slowly, and need their moms for two full years. So yearlings whose mothers have been killed by hunters won’t be able to take care of themselves and they end up dying too before long, of mauling by predators or simple starvation.

There’s plenty about the New Jersey bear hunts that isn’t known, and should be. There must be a better solution to bear population control than the grief and destruction caused through hunting.

Much more information at