Posts Tagged ‘Wildlife Policy’

The United Nations (UN) announced last Friday, the 10th of May, 2019, that almost every country on earth has agreed to a legally binding plastic waste pact. This agreement will mean that several thousand different types of plastic waste will be tracked. This means that countries will have to monitor and keep track of plastic waste within and beyond their boarders.

Related imageThis agreement sends a strong message to governments, industries, and consumers that the issue of plastic waste cannot be ignored. This is a good thing since plastics in the environment have become a huge problem. There are gigantic rafts of plastics floating in the oceans of the world (at least one is the size of the state of Texas). There is plastic scattered along every road, in every river, on every beach. A recent dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench (the deepest dive by a submarine ever) even found some pieces of either metal or plastic trash as the sub scanned to bottom.

Image result for plastic in the oceanWe humans need to stop flinging our trash all over the world. The wide-spread agreement on this need as evidenced by the wide-spread by-in to the plastic waste pact is encouraging. Unfortunately, one of the few countries that did not agree to the pact was the USA. I very much hope that my country will turn around on this stance.


Read Full Post »

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.


Read Full Post »

I just received the latest Time Magazine and was interested to read the cover article by David Von Drehle entitled “America’s Pest Problem: Why the rules of hunting are about to change.”  The article discusses how the populations of several species of North American wildlife have expanded in recent history to the point where they are now doing ecological damage and entering human dominated landscapes leading to damage and difficulties there.  Overall, the message of the article was that humans have caused these population increases, and so now need to play a more involved role in wildlife management to correct them, and that hunting should be a prominent part of that role.

I agree with this overall message, and it is one of the  major reasons I started hunting a few years ago.   The other possibilities for controlling wildlife populations generally fall into one of two categories: contraceptives or aversion training.  The idea behind treating animals with contraceptives is to reduce the birth rates of these species and so slowly reduce the population level.  However, this involves the sometimes quite difficult task of injecting the animals with the hormones by either capturing them and injecting them directly, or shooting them with drug loaded darts.  Either method of delivery is time consuming, usually results in a relatively small number of animals being treated, and is expensive.  Furthermore, the drugs usually do not work well, if at all.  Aversion training is when animals are disturbed by flashing lights, sirens, fireworks, lasers, rubber bullets, or other non-lethal devices frequently enough that the animals decide that they need to leave a particular area and go elsewhere.  This does not work for several reasons.  One is that in many cases the animals quickly learn that the lasers and loud noises don’t actually do anything, and so the animals simply ignore them.  Another reason is that human environments are so attractive to some species that they are worth suffering through some pretty serious annoyances to get to.  A third reason why aversion training does not work is that it assumes that there is empty habitat for these animals to move into.  In many cases, this is a very bad assumption, and the animals have no choice but to come back to the human dominated landscapes.  So, removing animals, permanently, from the population is one of few effective methods: a.k.a. hunting.

But, while I agree with the article overall, I was troubled by some points, and also the way in which some of those points were made.  First off, the subtitle “Why the rules of hunting are about to change” implies…well, that the rules of hunting are about to change.  Now, it is true that some cities scattered across the nation have changed ordinances that relate to hunting, but that does not mean that we are on the precipice of some major change in hunting laws at the state level or above.  Another, major, issue I take with the article is how the author mixes what should be viewed as good wildlife interactions in with troublesome wildlife interactions.  For example, in one paragraph, the author sympathizes for the plight of retail employees in Florida having to deal with alligators at their doorsteps (which could be quite dangerous) and office workers in New York who have a hawk nesting on the side of a skyscraper (which is a wonderful thing that has no detrimental effects on humans).  These are not the same category of wildlife encounter, and it seems misguided to lump them together.  Another worrying aspect of the article is that it plays into the commonly held fears about top predators.  Part of the article discusses how the increasing populations of prey species is allowing the populations of predators such as Grey Wolves, Grizzly Bears and Mountain Lions to increase as well.  The author states that hunting to reduce the prey populations will help to reduce the amount of human-predator interactions and so avoid “an invasion of fangs and claws.”  This kind of fear mongering is simply not appropriate.  The numbers of humans injured or killed by wild predators is ridiculously low.  Here are some rough estimates of deaths from large predators in all of North America since 1900: Black Bears = about 70, Grizzly Bears = about 70, Mountain Lions = about 20 people (which is fewer than the number of people killed by lightening strikes), Gray Wolves =  just 3.  A final issue that I take with the article is that is lumps native species and invasive species, and basically treats them the same.  One of the figures depicts the increases in population size of 10 species since the mid-1900s.  The caption for the figure says that these are 10 species that have come back from the brink of extinction; however, two species are Wild Pigs and Wild Turkey.  Wild Pigs are a non-native and highly invasive species that really should not be on this continent at all and have never been close to extinction, and Wild Turkeys are increasing in number partly because they were introduced to the western U.S. and are flourishing in this new habitat.  The management goals for these species are very different from, say, Beaver or White-tailed Deer or any of the other native species in the figure.

So, while I liked the message that hunting is a responsible and useful tool in wildlife management, I felt that the article was subtly misleading and definitely oversimplified, and such a portrayal is not in the best interest of hunting or wildlife management.

Read Full Post »

Spotted Owls have lots of big problems.  One is that their stands of old growth forests are dwindling due to the expansion of human development.  Another is the growing threat of catastrophic wildfires destroying what habitat has not been converted to human uses.  These two issues resulted in two of the subspecies of Spotted Owl being listed as federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act and the third to be listed as a Species of Special Concern.  But the Spotted Owl actually has a problem that is even bigger than those two.  It is the Barred Owl.  I have written previously about the conflict between Spotted Owl and Barred Owls (https://abirdingnaturalist.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/spotted-owl-vs-barred-owl/).  The basic problem is that Barred Owls are expanding their range westward into the range of the Spotted Owl.  Barred Owls are bigger and more aggressive than Spotted Owls, so when they compete for territories the Spotted Owls are driven out or even eaten.  And if the Spotted Owl is not deprived of the territory or eaten, Barred Owls sometimes breed with Spotted Owls, so they are losing their genetic uniqueness as well.

This is a developing situation that wildlife managers, ornithologists and birders have been watching since the 1960s, and there has been a lot of discussion on what, if anything, to do.  Ideas ranging anywhere from doing nothing to going out and shooting Barred Owls have been put on the table.  The idea of shooting Barred Owls started in 2009 when the US Fish and Wildlife Service first proposed the idea and started asking for public comment on it.  The idea was to send hunters out into areas that were known to have good populations of Spotted Owls.  If a Barred Owl was detected, the hunters would use recordings to attract the Barred Owl and shoot it.  There was a fair bit of public commenting on this idea, some for and some against, and then the idea dropped off the radar for most people. Well, just recently, there has been a new development.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service is going ahead with the plan to shoot Barred Owls.  They are proposing a four year trial period beginning in 2013.  During this period, each fall (the non-breeding season) hunters will be sent out into four areas, two in Washington, one in Oregon, and one is California.  The goal will be to kill 3,603 Barred Owls, and then see if Spotted Owl numbers increase.  Why 3,603 specifically?  I have no idea.

I have several problems with this plan, but let me get one issue that I do not have a problem with out the way first.  I am not, categorically, against killing Barred Owls.  I eat meat, I am even a hunter, so it is not the killing of animals that I take issue with.  I am sure that others do feel that it is somehow morally wrong to kill an owl, any owl, but that is not me.  From a population biology standpoint, the Barred Owl is doing really well as a species and so there is no danger at all of the species as a whole being damaged by some birds being killed.  Far more than 3,000 die each year due to starvation, disease, exposure to the elements, or flying into cars or buildings or antennas.

No, my biggest problem with this plan is that it is not going to work.  The Barred Owl population has been increasing in number and expanding in range pretty darn fast.  To think that killing a few is going to make any kind of difference is like thinking that if you beat at the ocean with a garden rake, you will be able to hold back the tide.  Every owl that is killed will be replaced by another from the expanding population.  To top that off, this four year trial is going to cost around 3 million dollars.  A much better use of that money would be to purchase 3 million dollars of land and set it aside as protected wilderness.  This trial will also waste a lot of personnel hours that, just like the money, could be much better spent elsewhere.  And that is just the money and personnel hours for the trial.

An even if this trial run is a success and does lead to a decrease in Barred Owl numbers and an increase in Spotted Owl numbers, this plan will still not work.  The only way that lethal removal works is if you kill  large number of individuals in a given area, and then keep doing it every year.  The constant level of effort that this would require for hunting Barred Owls is simply not sustainable.  To protect the Spotted Owl it would be necessary to remove Barred Owls from all, or most, of the Spotted Owl breeding areas (not just the four limited regions in the trial) and to continue doing so forever (since the moment the hunters stop, more Barred Owls will enter the protected areas).  This would require vastly more time and money than anyone is actually going to have.


Read Full Post »