Regional News & Recovery Updates

Regional News & Recovery Updates

Regional endangered species contacts have reported the following news briefs:

Region 1

Multiple Species Conservation Program Plan This regional plan, recently approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), is designed to balance urban growth and the conservation of multiple species and their habitats within a 582,000-acre (235,000-hectare) planning area in southwestern San Diego County. Implementation of the plan will result in a system of habitat preserves needed to ensure the long-term survival (and allow for the recovery of) numerous threatened, endangered, and rare species in this rapidly developing and biologically rich comer of southern California.

The FWS is contributing to implementation of the Multiple Species Conservation Program, in part, by completing acquisition of lands within the authorization boundaries of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. CDFG intends to use land acquisition funds to help implement the plan. One of the first pieces of land targeted for acquisition by the State is Rancho Jamul, with over 2,000 acres (810 ha) of coastal sage scrub that supports a number of sensitive species, including two listed birds–the threatened coastal California gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica californica) and the endangered least Bell’s vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus). The FWS so far has obligated $2.75 million and the Wildlife Conservation Board, an agency within CDFG, has obligated $1.5 million toward the purchase of Rancho Jamul.

Reported by LaRee Brosseau of the FWS Portland Regional office.

Region 2

Sea Turtle Strandings After 3 years of a steady decline in strandings, the number of dead sea turtles found on the beach at Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast took an ominous upward turn in 1997. As of September 1, a total of 47 carcasses had been found. This upsurge in strandings may suggest that: a) conservation efforts are paying off with more sea turtles in the nearshore waters, although still in a hazardous environment; b) regulatory efforts are inadequate and, consequently, the reservoir of sea turtles is still dwindling; c) sea turtles are having more encounters with a greater number of shrimp trawlers; or d) some combination of these factors:

Over recent years, regular surveys of the 38-mile (61-kilometer) beach on Matagorda Island have established a consistent stranding pattern. Strandings increase in April and May as water temperatures warm, then sharply drop to zero from mid-may to mid-July, coinciding with the seasonal closure of the Texas Gulf waters to shrimping. A spike in strandings occurs during the 2 weeks following the reopening of the Gulf to shrimping, when 300 to 500 shrimp boats congregate nearshore. Strandings gradually lessen as the fleet disperses along the coast. Occasional strandings continue until the water temperatures begin to drop in November and December. In 1997, the strandings followed this time line but the numbers increased.

The last issue of the Endangered Species Bulletin reported good news about the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii); the number of females using their native Mexican beaches is increasing and several “headstarted” females have returned to nest on their foster beach at Padre Island, Texas. Unfortunately, adult Kemp’s ridleys still compose about one-third of the strandings on Matagorda Island (15 in 1997). If the Matagorda Island beach strandings are a valid indicator of Kemp’s ridley sea turtle fatalities in the Gulf, we face a long, hard road in the recovery of this species despite the recent nesting successes.

Mexican Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) When the recovery plan for the Mexican spotted owl was released in December 1995, the recovery team recommended formation of interagency and interdisciplinary “Recovery Implementation Working Teams” to oversee the plan’s implementation. Six Working Teams, representing each recovery unit outlined in the recovery plan, were formed by the FWS in coordination with the recovery team. The Working Teams, which have been meeting regularly for the past year, consist of representatives of Federal and State agencies, conservation groups, local governments, the timber industry, and other interested stakeholders. Their diverse membership has al lowed varying views to be discussed and allowed local interested parties to participate in recovery plan implementation.

Gooddings Onion (Allium gooddingii) The FWS and U.S. Forest Service are nearing completion of a cooperative agreement for the conservation of Goodding’s onion on four national forests in Arizona and New Mexico. The conservation strategy outlined in the agreement is designed to prevent the need to list this species under the ESA. Goodding’s onion occurs in moist forest habitats at elevations from 7,500 to 12,250 feet (2,290 to 3,735 meters). Effective conservation will require maintaining enough forest canopy to prevent excessive drying of sites and avoiding direct impacts on the plants from new developments (such as the construction of roads and stock tanks). Overall, Goodding’s onion can be effectively conserved by maintaining good ecosystem health in its conifer-forest habitat.

Northern Aplomado Falcon (Falco femoralis septentrionalis) The FWS, volunteer biologists working with Dr. Alberto Lefon and his graduate students from the Universidad Autonoma de Chihuahua, and local landowners have continued their grassroots research on aplomado falcons breeding on private ranches in northeastern Chihuahua, Mexico. This ongoing research revolves around monitoring reproductive success, measuring habitat characteristics, and surveying and monitoring grassland bird diversity and abundance.

The researchers are investigating how aplomado falcons have survived on large private ranches in Mexico while being essentially extirpated from primarily public land in the U.S. Determining nesting success in Mexico may help understand if natural recolonization of historic habitat in the U.S. is possible.

Research to quantify and monitor trends in grassland bird abundance as an index of prey abundance for breeding aplomado falcons was begun in 1997. That year, researchers located and monitored 24 territories, 17 with nesting pairs and 7 without. The FWS believes that a better understanding of aplomado falcon habitat requirements in Chihuahua will help identify specific recovery needs within the historically occupied Chihuahuan desert grasslands of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Reported by Larry A. Dunkeson of the FWS Albuquerque Regional Office.

Region 3

Winged Mapleleaf Mussel (Quadrula fragosa) A late summer/early fall 1997 survey brought good news for conservation of the winged mapleleaf mussel, a rare mollusk found only in a small area of the St. Croix River in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Biologists observed one- and two-year-old individuals, the first evidence of successful reproduction since the species was listed as endangered in 1991. In addition, one gravid female was observed. This find is of special interest because the gravidity period (the brooding period for glochidia or mussel larvae) previously was unknown, but was suspected to occur in spring or early summer rather than in late summer or early fall. The survey work was conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources with FWS funding.

Niangua Darter (Etheostoma nianguae) missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) biologists found four adults of this small fish while snorkeling in Brush Creek in Polk County, Missouri, last summer. Brush Creek had been identified as good habitat, but the darter had not been found there since 1981. The site is within the species’ designated Critical Habitat and part of the Brush Creek Earth Project, in which landowners in this area are participating in a cost-share program to improve stream habitat. Funding for the cost-share program comes from the Missouri Department of Natural Resource’s Soil and Water Conservation Program, with additional assistance provided by Quail Unlimited. The FWS and MDC have been working together since 1995 to provide additional cost-share opportunities–e.g., the Partners for Wildlife and Stream Incentives Programs–for habitat improvement in other areas of the darter’s range. Resource professionals feel confident that, with positive relationships with landowners and use of cost-share programs to restore stream habitats, this species can be recovered.

Reported by Kim Mitchell of the FWS Twin Cities Regional Office.

Region 4

West Indian (Florida) Manatee (Trichechus manatus) The FWS Manatee Rescue-Rehabilitation Program is preparing to send some of its captive manatees to new homes. For the first time in the program’s history, the FWS has approved the transfer of manatees to qualified facilities outside Florida. Currently, more than 50 manatees are being cared for at six Florida facilities authorized by the FWS. This number includes some of the 20 to 30 manatees rescued each year. Some are treated and released, others require long-term care, and still others have been classified as non-releasable.

The relocation of these animals will clear space for the critical care of injured, orphaned, and sick manatees and will improve our ability to respond to catastrophic events. It will also provide an excellent outreach and educational opportunity for the facilities and the manatee recovery program. Five zoos nationwide have shown a keen interest in the program. Sea World of San Diego will be the first to receive manatees, with its exhibit opening early in 1998. The next facilities likely to receive manatees are the Columbus Zoo and the Cincinnati Zoo upon completion of their exhibits.

Reported by Elsie Davis of the FWS Atlanta Regional Office.

Region 6

Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) On December 12, 1997, the U.S. District Court for Wyoming held that the FWS final rules establishing a nonessential experimental population of gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho and southwestern Montana are unlawful, and it ordered the removal of all of the reintroduced wolves and their offspring from the Yellowstone and central Idaho areas. However, the judge deferred the effect of his order pending the outcome of an expected appeal. The U.S. Government has appealed the decision. Pending the outcome of the appeal, the FWS will continue to manage the wolves according to the reintroduction plan approved in 1994.

Reported by Sharon Rose of the FWS Denver Regional Office.

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