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Posts Tagged ‘Endangered Species’

How much is a Kirkland’s Warbler worth?

What is the monetary value of a California Condor?

Once of the significant changes that is being made by the current presidential administration to the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) is to take the economic considerations of a project or a impacted species into account. This will mean that if a particular project could generate a lot of money, it might be able to move ahead even if it destroyed an endangered species. Also, if measures to save a particular species are expensive, they may be ignored in favor of a profitable project.

This is a terrible change.

Protecting a species should be undertaken simply for its own right. If that is expensive, so be it. If it is difficult, so be it. If it is unprofitable, so be it!

Economic considerations have no place in deciding which species to save and whether or not some species to go extinct. Period.

If economic considerations do become part of the endangered species conservation decision making process, we will all have to answer the two questions that I began this post with. Many industries will be working hard to put dollar amounts on species, and to make sure those values are as low as possible.

Here is a short video from Beau and the Fifth Column, a youtube content creator I like, on the subject.

Let’s talk about the Endangered Species Act, Chickens, and Painters….

And here is a link to written testimony by Dr. Jane Goodall to the U.S. House of Representatives on the value and importance of the Endangered Species Act.

Dr. Jane Goodall to the U.S. House of Representatives

One result of adding economic considerations into conservation decisions will be more extent species. And this during an ongoing extinction crisis.

 

 

 

 

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Delta Conservancy Logo 3I have been working at the Delta Conservancy for just over two years, now. In that time, one of the major projects I have been working on is our Proposition 1 Grant Program. Proposition 1 was a water bond passed by voters in 2014. Among many other things, it allocated $50 million dollars for the Delta Conservancy to give out to fund projects that would restore habitat, improve water quality, and/or support sustainable agriculture within the legal boundary of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A large part of my role here has been to help our Program Manager and higher ranking staff to form the competitive process by which organizations can submit proposals for projects, the process of reviewing and ranking those proposals to determine which will be funded, and then the management of the specific grant awards to successful projects.

In 2015, just before I began working here, the Delta Conservancy received its first round of project proposals, in the fall of 2016 we received our second round of proposals, and we are currently reviewing our third round of proposals as I write this (there will be subsequent rounds in the fall of 2018, and 2019). I am very involved in reviewing these proposals and scoring them to determine which would go on to be awarded funding. We have now gone through the entire process of reviewing the proposals, recommending the most qualified proposals to our board of directors for approval, and then writing the actual grant agreements, two (-and-a-half) times. This is the exciting part because it now means we are able to move forward with giving funds to get projects accomplished.

I thought it might be interesting to introduce you to those projects as they get underway. I am going to be the grant manager for two of the projects from our 2015 batch of proposals and all four from the 2016 batch. The first to begin was the Lower Marsh and Sand Creek Watershed Riparian Restoration Planning Project that I wrote about here. The most recent grant funded project to be signed is one called the Restoration of Priority Freshwater Wetlands for Endangered Species at the Cosumnes River Preserve Project. It will restore about 110 acres of high priority wetlands in the Horseshoe Lake unit of the Cosumnes River Preserve. The main focus is to remove water primrose from Horseshoe Lake and build up the banks of the lake to provide habitat for Giant Garter Snakes. It is the one I will focus on in this post.

The Restoration of Priority Freshwater Wetlands for Endangered Species at the Cosumnes River Preserve Project was proposed by a the Sacramento County Parks Department. The site of the project is an area in an area of the Cosumnes River Preserve just east of CA-99 and a little north of Galt, CA in Sacramento County. This area of the Preserve is close to one of the largest remaining populations of Giant Garter Snake, which is a federal and state listed endangered species. The project area also has a large egret, heron, and cormorant rookery, and also provides habitat for many other species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

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Project site in the Cosumnes River Preserve showing extensive growth of invasive Water Primrose.

The project will remove thousands of pounds an invasive, aquatic plant called Water Primrose (Ludwigia peploides) that is currently clogging the lake and surrounding waterways. By removing this vegetation, a large area of open water will be created that will improved the water quality and habitat quality of the lake. All the removed plant mass will be piled along parts of the lake sides. This will decompose and increase the elevation of these areas making them into uplands habitat that Giant Garter Snakes need for when they go dormant in winter. Some of these raised areas will also be planted with oak tree to increase the area of the rookery.

Over the next three years that the Delta Conservancy will be funding this project. It will be amazing to see this habitat come into being.

PrintThis project has a budget of $942,631 awarded from the Proposition 1 Grant Fund by the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy.

As of this writing, we are in the midst of our third cycle of proposals, and are discussing the fourth. I am looking forward to seeing what projects are proposed and which are successful and will be funded by the Delta Conservancy.

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I have written about the conflict between Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis) and Barred Owls (Strix varia) a couple of times before (here and here). The basic situation is that Barred Owls (generally native to eastern North America) have been expanding their range into the range of the Spotted Owl (western North America) for the past 40 years or so. The Spotted Owl has been declining for a long time and two of the three subspecies are federally listed as Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The intrusion of Barred Owls is now a big problem for the Spotted Owls for several reasons.

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A subadult Spotted Owl (photo by USF&WS)

One reason is that the total Spotted Owl population is smaller than the total Barred Owl Population, and small populations are more at risk of declines and extinction. Another reasons is that the Barred Owls are bigger and more aggressive than Spotted Owls and push the Spotted Owls out of nesting territories. Sometimes the Barred Owls are big enough and aggressive enough that they eat the Spotted Owl. Yet another issue is that the two species of owl are so closely related that they can hybridize and produce so called Sparred Owls. This genetic mixing has much more profound implications for the long term persistence of the Spotted Owl than the Barred Owl due the much smaller population size of the the former.

The primary solution that has been proposed to save the Spotted Owl from extinction has been to alter logging practices and set aside the old-growth forests that the Spotted Owls depend on. However, this has not been enough to halt the Spotted Owl decline. An additional plan that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has been pursuing is the lethal removal of Barred Owls from areas where Spotted Owls are nesting or have nested in the recent past. From 2009 to 2013, USF&WS scientists killed approximately 90 Barred Owls. This had a marked effect on the Spotted Owl population. In areas where Barred Owls were removed, Spotted Owl population levels did not change any more than in areas where Barred Owls had never been observed. Also, territories that were held by the removed Barred Owls were fairly quickly re-occupied by Spotted Owls.

This result is a surprise to me. In my past posts, I was quite critical of the plan, and was skeptical that the removal of Barred Owls would actually benefit Spotted Owls. The results of the removal study suggest that this strategy might work to preserve Spotted Owls. But there are still problems.

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An adult Barred Owl (photo by Ashley Hockenberry)

Spotted Owls respond well to the removal of their Barred Owl competitors. But how will these removals be maintained? Shooting Barred Owls takes a fairly considerable effort, so there is no way that this process can be enacted over the whole range of the Spotted Owl. It will not be possible to even do it over large areas. Instead, the only way that this plan will be able to be put into practice will be on very small areas of core Spotted Owl habitat. The other problem is one of time. To be effective, these core areas will have to be patrolled regularly, forever. New Barred Owls are perfectly capable of re-invading areas where the earlier Barred Owl inhabitants had been shot, and they will do so in short order.

So, much of my skepticism and critiques from my earlier posts still stand. I do not think that killing Barred Owls is a long-term solution for Spotted Owls on really any scale that will be useful for the survival of the species. It will simply require more time, effort, and money than anyone has to devote to the issue. That having been said, the fact that killing Barred Owls made any impact on Spotted Owls at all is more than I thought would happen.

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There are currently ten state conservancies operating in California. Each of these state agencies was established to promote and protect a certain part of the California landscape that was deemed by the California legislature to be of particular importance. All the state conservancies operate within the California Resources Agency. Each conservancy is under the guidance of a board of directors that is comprised of a range of individuals who represent federal, state, and local agencies and NGOs that advise each conservancy’s staff on how to accomplish their core mission. Since I started working for one of these conservancies a few months ago, I thought it might be interesting to introduce the whole set. So here they are, in order of when they were created, the California State Conservancies.

1. The California Coastal Conservancy was founded in 1976. It’s mission statement is “…to preserve, protect, and restore the resources of the California coast, ocean, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Our vision is of a beautiful, restored, and accessible coastline, ocean and San Francisco Bay Area.” This agency is tasked with managing the 1,100 miles of coastline that runs from Oregon to Mexico. In 2014, their operating budget was around $8 million.

2. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy was founded in 1979. It’s mission statement is “…to strategically buy back, preserve, protect, restore, and enhance treasured pieces of Southern California to form an interlinking system of urban, rural and river parks, open space, trails, and wildlife habitats that are easily accessible to the general public.” To accomplish this, the SMMC owns or manages thousands of acres from the Mojave Desert to the Pacific Ocean.

3. The California Tahoe Conservancy was founded in 1984. It’s mission is “…to restore and sustain a balance between the natural and the human environment and between public and private uses at Lake Tahoe.” Since its founding, it has acquired over 6,500 acres in the Tahoe Basin, and has worked to control invasive species, improve water quality, and restore forests and wetlands in the Tahoe Basin. In 2014, their operating budget was approximately $9.5 million.

4. The Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy was founded in 1991. It’s mission statement is “…to protect the natural and cultural resources of the Coachella Valley: the scenic, wildlife, cultural, geologic, and recreational resources that make this such a splendid place for people and all the other life forms with which we share this special place.” With only limited staff and funds, this conservancy has ensured the conservation of over 46,200 acres.

5. The San Joaquin River Conservancy was founded in 1995. It’s mission includes, “…develop and manage the San Joaquin River Parkway, a planned 22-mile natural and recreational area in the floodplain extending from Friant Dam to Highway 99. The Conservancy’s mission includes acquiring approximately 5,900 acres from willing sellers; developing, operating, and managing those lands for public access and recreation; and protecting, enhancing, and restoring riparian and floodplain habitat.”

6. The San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy was founded 1999. It’s mission is “…to preserve open space and habitat in order to provide for low-impact recreation and educational uses, wildlife habitat restoration and protection, and watershed improvements within our jurisdiction.” The area covered by this conservancy is across eastern Los Angeles County and western Orange County.

7. The Baldwin Hills Conservancy was founded in 2001. It’s mission is… “to acquire open space and manage public lands within the Baldwin Hills area and to provide recreation, restoration and protection of wildlife habitat within the territory for the public’s enjoyment and educational experience.” The Baldwin Hills are a small area of unincorporated Los Angeles near Culver City about 450 acres in size.

8. The San Diego River Conservancy was founded in 2003. This Conservancy’s enabling legislation states that… “The agency’s mission, the restoration and conservation of the San Diego River Area, is accomplished by (1) acquiring, managing and conserving land; and (2) protecting or providing recreational opportunities, open space, wildlife species and habitat, wetlands, water quality, natural flood conveyance, historical / cultural resources, and educational opportunities.” One of the major goals of this Conservancy is to create a river-long park and hiking trail that will run from the river’s headwaters near the town of Julian to the Pacific Ocean.

9. The Sierra Nevada Conservancy was founded in 2004. It’s mission states that the “Sierra Nevada Conservancy initiates, encourages, and supports efforts that improve the environmental, economic and social well-being of the Sierra Nevada Region, its communities and the citizens of California.” The Sierra Nevada Conservancy operates throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains providing funding for projects that support it’s mission.

10. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy was founded in 2010. It’s mission is… “Working collaboratively and in coordination with local communities, the Conservancy will lead efforts to protect, enhance, and restore the Delta’s economy, agriculture and working landscapes, and environment, for the benefit of the Delta region, its local communities, and the citizens of California.” The Delta Conservancy operates throughout the legal boundary of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Suisun Marsh by providing funding, support, and project management to efforts that further it’s mission.

 

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The Tricolored Blackbird (Agelaius tricolor) is a bird both fascinating and beautiful. One of its unique characters is that it is found nowhere in the world except California and a small portion of Baja California. This alone makes it pretty special to anyone from California! The glossy, black male Tricolors can be identified by the thin slice of white just below the red on their shoulders. This distinguishes them from the similarly plumaged Red-winged Blackbird because the later has a slice of yellow below the red, or sometimes just red.

Tricolored Blackbirds form huge flocks of many tens of thousands of individuals. These are larger than any other bird species in North America today. They can get so big and so dense, that they blacken the sky. However, while these flocks are big, they only rank as the second largest flocks of North American birds ever. The Passenger Pigeon was another sky darkening bird which once formed even larger flocks. However, the Passenger Pigeon when extinct in 1914. There are actually several parallels to be drawn between the Passenger Pigeon and the Tricolored Blackbird. Some of these parallels may give rise to concerns about the long term survival of the Tricolored, but these parallels may also give us a chance to save the blackbird where we were unable to save the pigeon.

One of these parallels between the Tricolored Blackbird and the Passenger Pigeon is that they are both highly social and nest in huge colonies. Tricolored Blackbird nesting colonies sometimes get as large as 50,000 birds! This colonial breeding lifestyle is one the factors that is thought to have been the downfall of the Passenger Pigeon. Social cues can play very important roles in controlling when birds come into breeding condition. It may have been that Passenger Pigeons could only breed if they were surrounded by other Passenger Pigeons that were also breeding. As populations of Passenger Pigeon were decimated by market hunting, the colonies may have fallen below some critical threshold where even though there were many individuals left alive, there were not enough to trigger each other into breeding. This would have resulted in practically no young birds being hatched and the total collapse of what was the most numerous bird species in the western hemisphere. The fact that Tricolored Blackbirds also only breed in very large colonies suggests that they may also need the social cues of having many breeding neighbors in order to reproduce. This makes the Tricolored Blackbird at risk of the same fate as the Passenger Pigeon.

Another parallel between the two species, that goes hand in hand with large numbers required to breed, is that the breeding colonies occupy a fairly small area. All those birds pile in to relatively small patches of suitable freshwater marsh habitat in the central valley. These patches of habitat are more and more often agricultural lands such as rice fields and the feed fields for dairy cows. This high density in a small area is one of the reasons that Passenger Pigeons were so profitable to hunt. Market hunters could go to a colony and bring down tremendous numbers of birds in a very short time. While not hunted, small and concentrated breeding colonies is a problem for the Tricolored Blackbird because nestlings are usually not ready to fly when harvest time comes around. As many as 20,000 nests were destroyed when a single 10 acre rice field was harvested.

These characteristics have contributed to a dramatic decline in Tricolored Blackbird numbers over the last two decades including a particularly sharp drop in the last six years from an estimated population of 395,000 in 2008 to a population of 145,000 in the 2014 breeding season. This severe drop has led the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to grant this species temporary status as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This temporary listing, the first of its kind, means that the Tricolored Blackbird will be treated as a fully listed species but only for six months with the potential for a six month extension after that. This is to help protect the breeding colonies into and through the 2015 breeding season. If numbers respond well in 2015, it seems likely that this will provide impetus to list the species permanently.

Only time will tell if we have been able to learn the lessons taught by the Passenger Pigeon at so high a cost. The Tricolored Blackbirds surely hope that we have.

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