Archive | July, 2011

A fair scale for mitigation

A fair scale for mitigation

Compensatory mitigation projects that fully offset development-incurred losses are, unfortunately, far and few.  When it comes to biodiversity, species decline continue.  ‘Restoration at multiple trophic levels’ (2003), by Deborah French McCay and Jill J. Rowe, laid out a novel approach to compensatory mitigation, based on the North Cape oil spill, presenting a new framework for estimating the appropriate scale of restoration: primary production, across multiple trophic levels.

Aerial view of the January 19, 1996 North Cape oil spill, with the tug boat Scandia in the upper portion of the photo, and the tank barge North Cape in the lower portion. An estimated 828,000 gallons were spilled, resulting in hundreds oiled birds and large numbers of lobsters, surf clams and sea stars found dead on the beach. The North Cape oil spill is considered to be an important legal precedent since it was the first major oil spill to occur after the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, passed in the wake of the devastating Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. Photography by E.R. Gundlach.

Having concluded that species impacted by the North Cape spill would benefit especially from habitat restoration, McCay and Rowe’s model “builds upon food chain energetic and habitat equivalency analysis, […] convert[ing] losses of production of multiple species to an energetically equivalent single trophic level so that the scale of necessary compensatory restoration can be computed.”  So, food webs and trophic energy efficiencies can be used to pinpoint the level at which restoration appropriately compensates for the total spill-related injury; trophic level dynamics would then ensure that the system would return to a normal balance.  Additionally, McCay and Rowe correct for the delay between injury and restoration by considering the biomass directly lost plus that not produced at a 3% annual discount rate, as recommended by NOAA.  Thus, they came to the conclusion that restoration of around 20 acres of highly productive eelgrass beds, combined with ongoing recovery activities, would sufficiently compensate for spill injuries with no net loss.

McCay and Rowe are the first to admit that their model presents shortcomings linked to the uncertainty that lies in estimate-driven modeling, and the use of primary production as a proxy for multiple ecosystem processes.  Nonetheless, they argue that “[u]sing production as the scaling metric also allows for differences in body size and growth rate between the individuals killed and the ones added by restoration while still achieving equivalence and thus compensatory replacement.”  While conceding their model has room for improvement, they assert that they have opened up new paths for research – a different ecosystem function may be a more suitable vector for evaluating restoration benefits, and needs only to be discovered.

Example of trophic pyramid, from National Park Service. In McCay and Rowe's model, development incurred-loss of consumers (herbivores and carnivores) can be appropriately offset through primary production.

While this approach, as interpreted for an oil spill, lacks the advantage of species specificity, it presents an exciting venue for compensatory mitigation and endangered species incidental take permits (ITPs).  Rooted in sound understanding of species and habitat interactions, mitigation could compensate for take of listed species to a standard that sustains ecosystem processes and adequately offsets the loss caused, without being arbitrary or punitive to the developer.  The current incidental take calculation process is far from perfect, and the adoption of objective and appropriate mitigation scaling could bring ITPs one step closer to their intended purpose: to strike a balance between development interests and species recovery efforts.

Posted in Imperiled Wildlife, Paying for Conservation, Uncategorized0 Comments

Climate Change and National Wildlife Refuge Planning

The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 directed every refuge to create a comprehensive conservation plan (CCP), a 15-year management plan to ensure the long-term conservation of fish, wildlife and habitats in accordance with the purpose of the refuge and the mission of the System. Secretarial orders issued in 2001 and 2009 made clear that climate change impacts should be include in refuge planning. Defenders of Wildlife analyzed the most recent CCPs as of June 2011 from each of the FWS regions to assess how comprehensively each is taking climate change into consideration.

All eight refuges are at some stage of incorporating climate change into their planning – completing an average of 60% of the criteria — but the level of comprehensiveness varied considerably.

The results, and description of the criteria, are summarized here.

The results of our analysis show that the FWS needs to provide refuge planners with guidance on how to include climate change into refuge CCPs to better prepare refuges, and the wildlife and habitat they protect, for the impacts of climate change.

Posted in Climate Change, National Wildlife Refuges0 Comments

Tongass

Bills to “give away” public lands move forward despite harms to wildlife and water

Congressman McCarthy’s Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act seeks to give away some of the last best places on our public lands, and allow private industrial development to move forward in these valuable areas.  The bill would reverse protections on up to 55 million acres of Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs) in National Forests and 6.7 million acres of Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs).

However, a timely report from the Geos Institute shows that there is a great deal of value in protecting unroaded areas, like IRAs and WSAs, throughout our public lands.  The report indicates that the roadless areas in our national forests alone are responsible for approximately $490 million in water purification services.  These benefits go beyond the dollar value of clean water – they provide healthy aquatic ecosystems and vital habitat for endangered and imperiled species.

The Tongass National Forest is threatened by a new Alaska-specific bill.

Despite these benefits, McCarthy’s bill to undo protections on as much as 60 million acres of our public lands has been scheduled for a hearing this Tuesday, and it will be interesting to find out what arguments bill supporters use to try and explain away the vast reach of the bill.  No doubt their primary message will be that lands currently designated as Roadless and Wilderness Study Areas are “locked up” and cannot be used by industry.  This argument truly misses the mark, as I’ve discussed before, and as the Geos report indicates regarding water, just one of many valuable services provided by undeveloped lands.  Defenders of Wildlife has developed a Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act fact sheet with additional information on its potential impacts, as have some of our partners.

While McCarthy’s bill is attacking Wilderness Study and Inventoried Roadless Areas nationwide, some members of the Congressional delegation from Alaska have put forth their own, Alaska-specific bill that would exempt the Tongass and the Chugach National Forests from roadless protections.  This means that all of the designated roadless areas in Alaska would be released and be on the table for development.  Roadless areas in Alaska cover about 15 million acres and contain some of the largest intact areas of old growth temperate rainforest on the planet.  The radical move of exposing these vast areas to development would deliver a setback to the Tongass National Forest where a transition from damaging and controversial roadless and old growth logging toward more sustainable economic development promises to support communities and maintain the healthy and unique ecosystems of southeast Alaska.

Posted in National Forests, Public Lands0 Comments

Reforming Crop Insurance Subsidies – Good News for Conservation

Reforming Crop Insurance Subsidies – Good News for Conservation

American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has some creative ideas about how to make the 2012 Farm Bill less expensive and more efficient – and in some cases, that could also make the 2012 Farm Bill better for conservation. In its recently released series on the 2012 Farm Bill called “American Boondoggle: Fixing the 2012 Farm Bill,” AEI presents ideas on everything from consolidating conservation title programs to increasing support for agricultural research and development. Perhaps one of the best ideas for reform is on crop insurance.

In his paper for AEI, “Premium Payments: Why Crop Insurance Costs Too Much,” Vincent Smith lays out the history of crop insurance in the U.S. and how a once essential program to assist Dust Bowl farmers ballooned into an average of $5.6 billion per year in government subsidies. Most consumers understand the importance of insurance to protect assets and on its face, it makes sense that farmers who depend on selling their crops and livestock for their livelihood would want to insure these assets in case of natural disaster or higher than usual losses. Unlike the types of insurance that most consumers are familiar with like auto insurance or homeowners insurance, the government subsidizes the cost of farmers’ premiums AND the expenses that insurance companies accrue in selling crop insurance policies AND the amount that companies have to pay farmers for crop losses.

Why is this important to those of who care about wildlife? Current crop insurance policies promote a food production system that has many adverse environmental impacts. Crop insurance subsidies as they exist now create incentives to farm marginal cropland, which in turn can contribute to environmental degradation associated with soil erosion and run-off. They also have been shown to promote plowing of some of America’s last native prairies.

One reform that Smith recommends is to replace the complex products offered now with weather-based insurance products that would still cover farmers’ weather-related losses but through a simpler, less expensive system. This kind of reform would also minimize incentives for “moral hazard behavior,” such as planting on marginal cropland.

Finally, although Smith doesn’t mention it in his paper, the 2012 Farm Bill should reform crop insurance to include conservation compliance provisions requiring farmers receiving crop insurance subsidies to implement practices that prevent soil erosion and minimize wetland loss.

Posted in Agriculture0 Comments

Astrid-All aflutter about climate change

All Aflutter about Climate Change

Photo: Astrid Caldas

Climate change is among the most daunting environmental problems faced by the world today.  What with sea level rise, droughts, fires, and floods, it seems that the world is being taken by storm (pun intended).  Yet, the impacts of climate change on butterflies, and what we can do assist them, is still a fledgling field.

Butterflies and moths are members of the order Lepidoptera, and provide an array of what we call ecosystem services, including pollination.  They are also excellent indicators of environmental quality, and have an important aesthetic value, being enjoyed by people around the world.  Climate change is likely to affect Lepidoptera in many ways.  Most commonly, species will experience changes in range, distribution, and population sizes.  Another way that Lepidoptera may respond to climate change is through phenological changes Species are already shifting ranges due to climate change, usually moving to higher latitudes or elevations.  Species are emerging earlier in the spring due to warmer temperatures.  There are many instances of disruption of essential interactions with food plants and prey.  And other effects of climate change are yet unknown.

The most recent issue of the Journal of Insect Conservation was dedicated exclusively to Lepidoptera conservation, but only a small fraction of the papers dealt with climate change.  When we consider all the real and potential impacts of climate change on Lepidoptera, the number of studies addressing butterfly conservation under a changing climate is worrisome.  One article did a literature review of all papers in leading journals published on ISI Web of Science between January 2005 and December 2009 about climate change and/or biodiversity. Only 9 out of 73 papers that showed a link between climate change and declining biodiversity studied insects, 8 of which dealt with Lepidoptera. According to the author, these few papers clearly showed Lepidoptera to be very sensitive to climate change: butterflies in Europe and North America have shifted their distributions due to recent warming, species in temperate regions have been showing phenological changes related to an earlier onset of spring, and bioclimate models of the distributions of 69 butterfly species in Mexico, South Africa and Australia contributed to the estimates of extinction risk from climate change for 1,103 species in total. 

My own search on climate and Lepidoptera in the Web of Science just last month (done without a set time frame) yielded about 50 papers.  Although that is not a comprehensive search, it is certainly not impressive!  Below is a breakdown of the focus of the papers:

Focus of paper Number of studies
Review article focusing on CC     9
Predictions under CC    15
Effect of CC on single species    11
Effect of CC on assemblage    16
Effects of CC on species interactions     6

 

I recently attended the Annual Meeting of The Lepidopterists’ Society with a call to action: Lepidoptera researchers should be leaders in documenting phenological changes of butterflies and moths in response to climate change.  Specifically:

  • Include climate-relevant information in the society’s Season Summary publication of field observations.  In addition to range extensions, host plant associations, and population dynamics, I proposed that they make an effort to include consistent first sightings of species known for a long time from specific locations.  Also, include any changes in host plant association, phenology disruption, or other change in a known pattern that can be related to a warmer climate.
  • Leverage these phenological observations by participating in the National Phenology Network, a national-level effort to monitor the impacts of climate change on plants and animals in the US.  It currently has only 12 Lepidoptera species on its list, so I urged the society to become a partner and increase the number of species in that list.  They would bring specialized input to the network, whose capabilities would be of much value to conservationists. 

If we are to keep enjoying butterflies and moths for years to come, we need more climate change-related studies.  We need to be aware of climate change-induced changes in Lepidoptera.  We may need reintroductions and managed relocation of species whose populations are declining and that have adequate, available habitat that could sustain a viable population under a warmer climate.  The time to act is now – otherwise we may lose some of the most beautiful creatures ever to flutter on earth 

Posted in Climate Change, Imperiled Wildlife0 Comments

oil and gas drilling

The push to “un-reform” oil and gas leasing reform

After taking office the Obama administration took common sense steps to reverse the Bush administration’s unbalanced approach to developing oil and gas on our public lands.  The administration rightly recognized that a “drill baby drill” policy posed a significant threat to wildlife, water, wild places and western values, and was leading to more and more conflict over every lease.  In an effort to reduce the conflict in the leasing process and balance out resource considerations, the Department of Interior provided a number of reforms through Instruction Memoranda.  Reforms from these memos require the Bureau of Land Management to do things like:

  • Standardize oil and gas lease stipulations that protect wildlife and other resources by setting a baseline of protections that have to be incorporated into any drilling project
  • Incorporate new adaptive management features that allow adjustments to be made as more information is gained on how drilling is impacting the natural environment
  • Establish local “Master Leasing Plans” throughout the west to facilitate thorough environmental review of potential drilling impacts BEFORE offering leases in areas with high energy potential and high risk of environmental conflicts
  • Get rid of policies that previously reduced the amount of environmental review required for oil and gas leasing

BLM’s fact sheet on the reforms is here and a chart comparing the old and the new is here.

These reforms were an important step in streamlining and modernizing the process by fully taking into account all resources affected by leasing and by pushing leases into lower conflict areas.  However, as is the case with many of the common sense policy changes initiated on our public lands, these reforms are under attack in this Congress.  Despite the fact that recent reports show onshore oil and gas drilling at a twenty year high even with these reforms in place, a bill introduced in the Senate would reverse the administration’s reform agenda along with a number of other important progressive actions taken by the Obama administration to improve oil and gas leasing.

In addition to the bill, a recent letter from Republican Senators attacked the BLMs leasing reforms.  In response to this letter, former head of the BLM Mike Dombeck said: “It is disappointing to see members of Congress, presumably at the request of industry, attempting to roll back such common sense policies on the land that belongs to ‘we the people.’”

A halt to the Master Leasing Plans (MLPs) currently under development, in particular, would be a huge loss.  These innovative plans provide a new and powerful opportunity to avoid and minimize wildlife and other environmental conflicts that could result from poorly planned oil and gas leasing before a project is sited and investments are made.  This type of “smart from the start” planning results in a win-win because it has the potential to resolve conflicts prior to the siting and development of oil and natural gas wells, thus avoiding costly controversies that always seems to end up in court.  A law that gets rid the MLP process would stop this good policy in its tracks.

Posted in Energy, Fossil Fuels, Public Lands, Smart from the Start1 Comment

Eastern massasauga rattlesnake, one of over 260 candidate species.

House Republicans Launch Wholesale Attack on Endangered Species

The current House Interior Appropriations Bill for 2012 is perhaps the most sweeping attempt in recent years to devastate the Endangered Species Act.  From halting the listing of any new species to gutting EPA’s ability to protect wildlife from pesticides, the bill and its amendments would eliminate many years of conservation progress.  This facts sheet discusses the three bill provisions that most affect the ESA.  In brief:

1.  U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service spending cap.  This “Extinction Rider” is the most sweeping attempt in recent history to gut the Endangered Species Act, paralyzing our nation’s ability to protect hundreds of species of imperiled wildlife.  The rider prevents the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service from spending any money to implement some of the most crucial sections of the Act: § 4(a) to list new species; § 4(b) to designate habitat critical to a species’ survival; § 4(c) to upgrade the status of any species from threatened to endangered; and § 4(e) to assist law enforcement by protecting species that resemble listed species.  As a result, the Service could not immediately list and protect any of the over 260 “candidate species” under the Act – species that the Service has already determined warrant this protection.

2.  Calvert amendment to make ESA pesticide consultations meaningless.  Representative Ken Calvert successfully added an amendment that would largely eliminate the ESA’s ability to protect imperiled species from pesticides.  The amendment prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from using any funds to “modify, cancel, or suspend” the registration of pesticides in response to any ESA biological opinion.  For example, if a biological opinion restricts a pesticide from being sprayed over sensitive wildlife habitat, those restrictions would be considered “modifications” to the pesticide’s registration.  And as a result, EPA could not implement the restrictions.

3.  Provision to shield gray wolf delistings from judicial review.  This provision exempts from judicial review any final rule that delists gray wolves in Wyoming and any states within the range of the Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment of gray wolves (including Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin), provided that FWS has entered into an agreement with the state for it to manage wolves.  The provision undercuts one of the most important checks and balances built into the ESA – public participation through the ability of citizens to request judicial review of delistings.  Of most concern are the Wyoming wolves, as the state has refused to even create a wolf conservation plan.  Should the Service delist these wolves without using the best available science, it would be important for citizen groups to have the option of asking a court to review that decision.

Eastern massasauga rattlesnake, one of over 260 candidate species.

Posted in Imperiled Wildlife, Uncategorized0 Comments

A National Plan to Combat White-Nose Syndrome

A National Plan to Combat White-Nose Syndrome

Cluster of hibernating Indiana bats (Photo: Andrew King, FWS)

In May, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a national plan for the management of white-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease that is currently devastating bat populations in the Northeastern U.S. and quickly spreading. WNS, thought to be caused by the fungus Geomyces destructans, is believed to disrupt the bats’ hibernation, generally resulting in their starvation and death. The new plan is meant to allow for coordination among the many state and federal agencies, tribal governments, NGOs, and research institutions necessary to respond to the rapidly spreading disease. The plan emphasizes the need to minimize human transmission of the fungus by closing caves and enforcing decontamination protocols. It also advocates for the creation of uniform research standards, a secure database of information to aid collaboration, sufficient laboratory capacity, and application of epidemiological science in the study of WNS. At present, the national plan is still a mere framework; a forthcoming implementation plan will be carried out by state and tribal agencies.

While a national plan is a step in the right direction, witnesses at a recent hearing held by the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs stressed that without implementation, this plan achieves nothing for the bats. They also stated unequivocally that a lack of funding has thus far hindered research needed to answer the many remaining questions about the disease. With a recent U.S. Geological Survey study estimating that bats provide pest-control services worth $12-$174 per acre per year to agriculture, failing to act could result in an increase in crop losses as the disease spreads to more agricultural areas, as well as lost tourism revenue, forestry losses due to insect pests, human disease spread by mosquitoes, and costs associated with having to list more bat species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Just this week, FWS announced a 90-day status review to evaluate whether the eastern small-footed bat and the northern long-eared bat warrant listing under the ESA due solely to losses from WNS.

Indiana bat (Photo: FWS)

Unfortunately, threats to bats abound. For example, a member of Defenders’ staff is participating in a project with the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders Program to minimize the effects of guano harvest in order to help preserve bat populations. White Nose Syndrome is perhaps the greatest threat, occurring at an intersection that includes endangered species policy, wind energy development, issues concerning recreational access to caves where bats hibernate, and more. Combating WNS will ease the cumulative impacts of these threats and allow more adaptability in all policy arenas concerned with bat survival today. At this point, increased funding for research is the key in the battle against WNS. Funding is necessary to determine bat and infection locations, the mechanism by which G. destructans attacks, and the fungus’ vulnerabilities. Only armed with that information can we move beyond defensive measures against the spread of WNS, to a solution.

Posted in Imperiled Wildlife, Public Lands0 Comments

habitat-trout-creek6_edit

Critical Habitat on the Cheap

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service have begun proposing reforms to the regulations and policies that implement the Endangered Species Act.  These reforms are part of the Department of Interior’s broader initiative to implement President Obama’s Executive Order 13563 of January 2011, which directs the agency to make its regulations more efficient and less burdensome on the public.  The Department currently proposes seven areas for ESA reform, including three that focus on critical habitat designations.

The Services recently issued a proposed rule on the first of these reform ideas – shifting from the use of lengthy text descriptions of critical habitat boundaries to the use of maps.  This proposal is expected to save the Fish & Wildlife Service alone approximately $400,000 per year (depending on how often it designates critical habitat) and to help landowners more easily identify areas of critical habitat – all without diluting the ESA’s ability to conserve wildlife.  It’s also likely to result in more precise boundary delineations for the simple reason that publishing long lists of latitude-longitude locations in the Federal Register is cumbersome.

This week, Defenders submitted a comment letter fully supporting the proposal and encouraging the Services to identify other similar reforms that are cost-effective and simple to implement.  One example we highlighted is abandoning the current policy of conducting a quantitative cost-benefit analysis when “taking into consideration the economic impact” of critical habitat designation, and instead evaluating the costs and benefits of designation qualitatively.  This proposal would not require amending the ESA or its implementing regulations, and could save the Service up to $100,000 in each critical habitat designation.

Trout critical habitat. Courtesy of USFWS.

Posted in Imperiled Wildlife, Uncategorized0 Comments

Ocelots in Arizona

Ocelots in Arizona

An ocelot that was found in Arizona, after being treed by dogs

An ocelot that was treed by dogs in Arizona. Photo from Arizona Game and Fish Department

Ocelots are a rare cat found throughout Latin America and that once occurred all the way north to Arkansas.  For example, Conservation International is focused on conserving ocelots in Ecuador and elsewhere.

More recently, U.S. ocelot populations have only been thought to exist in the very southern tip of Texas.  However, the good news is that there is increasing evidence that an ocelot population also exists in southeastern Arizona.   In 2009, the Sky Island Alliance documented a cat in Cochise County, and on February 9th, 2011 another cat was sighted.  In 2010, a dead ocelot was found on the roadside in Gila County.  This week the Arizona Game and Fish Department reported another documented sighting – from a hunter’s trail camera in the Huachuca Mountains.

The question of whether these ocelot sightings represent a previously undetected breeding population in Arizona or simply sightings of lone male animals dispersing from Mexico is a common question for rare and secretive animals. The absence of data often does not reflect the absence of the species but rather the absence of a valid sampling system to find them.

We believe the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently giving too little attention to the role that suitable Arizona habitat can play in the recovery of an ocelot population in the area (and is focused on Mexico instead).  Arizona habitats may have particular value because there are large areas lacking major roads (a primary cause of ocelot mortality) and large areas of protected public land.  The two additional ocelot sightings in Arizona since the agency published its draft recovery plan give additional weight to the idea that the final recovery plan should better describe a conservation strategy for Arizona ocelots.

Ecotourism focused on ocelot is a feature of Earthwatch Institute’s programs – perhaps someday a healthy U.S. ocelot population will provide new revenues for Arizona landowners too.

Posted in Imperiled Wildlife, Southwest0 Comments

Bog Turtle

Saving America’s smallest turtle

Bog Turtle

Bog Turtle, Scienceray

Programs like the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wetlands Reserve Program rely on voluntary conservation measures, providing financial support to private landowner’s wetlands restoration and conservation projects.   The Federal government is able to obtain conservation easements with landowners, and provides cost-share payments for wetland rehabilitation practices and the implementation of conservation measures, like setting up fences around identified habitat.  The hope of making a small profit can do a lot to convince a cost-conscious landowner to take the steps necessary to protect endangered species on their property, demonstrating the great potential of incentives in species recovery on private lands.

Why is this important?

Because the majority of America’s endangered species depend on private land for their survival; indeed, private land comprises 80 percent of threatened and endangered species habitat (Crouse et al. 2002).  What’s more, most of these species need active habitat restoration and management, and not just protection, in order to thrive.  Consider the threatened bog turtle, America’s most diminutive turtle.

Infant bog turtle, from turtlesandmoreturtles.blogspot.com

Bog turtle distribution map

The bog turtle is found from Maryland to New York in small isolated wetlands at the headwaters of the region’s streams and rivers (see distribution map on the left).  We tried to catch up with bog turtles on a recent survey of wetlands in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with expert herpetologists, Jason Tesauro and Brandon Ruhe.

We had high hopes of seeing a lot of bog turtles, but instead found some fresh tracks, and happened upon three box turtles.  According to Jason and Brandon, prime viewing time for bog turtles actually occurs earlier in the spring, and in the fall.  In the summer months, they prefer to retreat into the underbrush and burrow into the mud, living off a healthy diet of slugs and other prey.  It is also possible that we simply did not spot them; wetland meadows, sunny but moist, are optimal habitat, but over the course of the years bog turtle habitats have turned into overly dense thickets often consisting of invasive plants – the dense vegetation made our search more difficult.

Example of agriculture-related development near bog turtle habitat.

Nearby agricultural activity and development has resulted in secondary impacts, most notably nutrient loading.  An enriched soil mineral content is a haven for invasive plants and may have caused the unnaturally productive growth of certain native plants, like maple trees, triggering succession and disrupting turtle microhabitats.  In stark contrast to what perfect turtle habitat should look like – low-lying vegetation, soft wet soil and plenty of sun exposure – some of the conservation easements we visited were grown over with tall grasses, invasive trees and woody thickets.  The disappearance of traditional or prehistoric grazers (bison, elk and mastodon) means that these turtles’ best hope is habitat protection and controlled grazing by farm animals like cows, goats and sheep, combined with the eradication of invasive species.  And since 95% of bog turtle habitat lies within private properties, landowner incentives and active management are crucial to bog turtle recovery efforts.

Conservation easement boundary indicator issued by the USDA on the first private property we visited.

Ideal nesting habitat for bog turtles consists of low-lying tussocks of grass, supported by a bed of soft mud.

Jake picking his way through cattails, ferns, sedges, rose bushes and skunk cabbage – a textbook example of overrun habitat.

In our conversations with Jason and Brandon, it became rapidly apparent that not only are bog turtles highly conservation-reliant, but our main tool for protection is the USDA Wetlands Reserve Program.  This program is critical to providing the funding to eradicate invasive plants, manage herds of grazers and protect and restore wetland hydrology in dozens of wetlands throughout Pennsylvania that are critical to the turtle’s survival.

We were lucky enough to find turtle tracks on this visit, but if we transition towards and strengthen voluntary active management measures to rehabilitate this conservation-reliant species’ habitat, maybe we’ll actually see some turtles next time we visit these swamps.

Bog turtle tracks, but no bog turtles this time around!

Jason Tesauro is the owner of Jason Tesauro Consulting; Brandon Ruhe is a co-founder of MACHAC and Aqua-Terra Environmental Ltd.  Both are United States Fish and Wildlife Service Qualified Bog Turtle Surveyors.

Co-authored with Jake Li and Tim Male.

DT Crouse, LA Mehrhoff, MJ Parkin, DR Elam, LY Chen. 2002. Endangered Species Recovery and the SCB Report: A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Perspective. Ecological Applications 12: 719-723.

Posted in Imperiled Wildlife0 Comments


dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.

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