Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sea Turtles in Nova Scotia & increasing strandings

During a trip across Canada and down the east coast earlier this fall, we discovered a sea turtle organization in Nova Scotia near Halifax and had an informative conversation with a young marine biologist there. It was a surprise to me and apparently until recently, for marine biologists working with the species that large numbers exist this far north. Huge leatherback turtles roam the area and were unknown to scientists until they listened to local fishermen. Jellyfish fuel these giants traveling great distances in the ocean. Most of the work done up north now focuses on education and monitoring leatherback movement.

Strandings of these long distance travelers is known throughout their range but is especially a problem in the Cape Code area they pass through. It seems there is another increasing problem causing strandings beyond the fisherman nets and plastic pollution known now.

Cape Cod appears to act as a trap for sea turtles due to geography and water temperature patterns. Increasing numbers of migrating sea turtles are being found stranded in this area due to "Cold-stunning effects". The long term effects of these large events or flying survivors down to Florida or holding many young turtles in tanks until sea temperatures rise later in the year are hard to predict. Most sea turtle research effort goes into monitoring nesting now. Clearly much more is needed as well as how all of this is being affected by climate change.


Cape Cod Mystery: A Surge of Stranded Turtles -

The New York Times

Volunteers are waging a rescue effort after finding almost 1,200 turtles washed ashore since mid-November, far more than in the previous record year.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Picking up after your dog is more than a courtesy; it’s conservation!

Have you ever had the experience of stepping in dog waste left behind by others?  Unfortunately, it’s a common experience these days when one is outside home, elsewhere in the city, or other places wherever there is a concentration of human activity. Unfortunately, one of these areas is Sutter’s Landing Park in the vicinity of river access and the nearby parking lot.

Is it important to clean up after your dog in such places? There are local regulations that require this in public places. What about when you are in nature? Wildlife certainly don’t clean up after themselves. There are situations where it is necessary to do so when it affects human health and safety. A local example of this may be the pond at McKinley Park where water quality has declined due in part to larger numbers of waterfowl concentrating and human feeding occurs.

It seems clear that such areas exist in the American River Parkway and other local areas based on current dog recreation activities. Identifying these areas is an important step in taking action. The following Nature Conservancy article gives a good overview of the problem, a tool the public can use to identify these problem areas and encourage people to come up with solutions.  Picking up after your dog is more than a courtesy; it’s conservation.


By Lisa Feldkamp, senior coordinator, new science audiences, The Nature Conservancy

What is PooPower!?

Remember the last time you stepped into a pile of dog excrement? Chances are, it’s not a pleasant memory.

Now think about that stinky, smelly mess – in your drinking water.

It’s a BIG problem. In America, pet dogs produce about 10 million tons of poo each year.

If that poo doesn’t get properly scooped and disposed of, it ends up going untreated into our stormwater and from there it can end up in drinking water.

That’s not just a big mess; the bacteria in dog waste could have serious implications for the environment and human health.

“The problem is universal and the simple act of cleaning up after your dog has environmental benefits as well as personal health benefits.  Yes, the environmental benefits of reduced pollution in our parks, streets and waterways are apparent, but many people are unaware that the bacteria in dog waste are potentially a hazard to us as well,” says Duncan Chew, Project & Community Engagement Manager of PooPower.

PooPower! is a project that started in Australia using citizen science to map dog poo ‘hotspots’ and encourage people to come up with solutions.

They are working to transform the poo problem into an energy solution with biogas made from doggy doo.

Why is PooPower! Important?

Dog feces has a lot of bacteria, more even than human feces. The EPA has many resources on best practices for disposing of waste and reasons to do so. One fact sheet notes “a day’s waste from one large dog can contain 7.8 billion fecal coliform bacteria, enough to close 15 acres of shellfish beds.”

Excess nutrients in the water from dog waste could also contribute to algal blooms that are bad for fish, other aquatic life, and our drinking water.

“In extreme cases eutrophication [excess nutrients] will deplete the waterway of its oxygen and impact the health of plants and animals,” Chew explains.

Picking up after your dog is more than a courtesy; it’s conservation.


A responsible dog owner disposing of poo. Photo © Lisa Parker/Flickr.

Recommended disposal options for dog poo (flushing, trashing, and burial) are often imperfect. Flushed dog stool can overwhelm the sewage system and with both trash and burial there is still a chance that the feces will wash out into the water system.

That is why projects like PooPower! are working on using dog poo for biogas. This solution keeps the poop out of the water system and provides an alternate, renewable energy source.

PooPower! also taps the potential of dog feces to get kids excited about science.

Dog poop is part of our every day lives, easy to find, and it ties in to many science and social science topics.

Starting from dog poo, teachers can lead into discussions of watersheds, bacteria, social systems and much more. 

How Do You Get Involved in PooPower!?

Get started finding dog poo hotspots in your area with the iPhone app.

“People have the best sense of humour when it comes to dog poo and the Poo Power! iPhone app is the best example of that.  Citizen scientists around the world are quite happy to take photos of dog poo to be publicly published and GPS-tagged on our map,” says Chew.

Then learn more about the options for disposing of dog waste in your area. If you’re not satisfied with currently available options, go to your city government with ideas for improvement.

Don’t be afraid to educate your neighbors (politely).

“What people can do is support each other in improving the cleanliness of our parks and streets. If you’re out walking the dog and see someone who doesn’t clean up after them, offer them one of your dog poo bags as a gentle reminder to do the right thing,” Chew advises.

You might get some strange looks when you’re taking pics of dog poo, but give it a try. It may lead to some very productive conversations.

More recent research on how our canine companions impact local ecology.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Watching a Mountain Beaver at work

The Mountain beaver (Aplodontia rufa) is the most primitive known living rodent species. It is a semi-fossorial secretive species in it’s own family and thought to be ancestral to squirrels. I’ve been interested in the species for a long time now and put together a journal of sorts on it.

Direct observation of the mountain beaver is uncommon but here’s a recent video clip from the “Camera Trap Codger” that gives a view into the life of this unique species.


Little Earthmover

Ever wonder what a mountain beaver does outside of its burrow?


I guess I'm not surprised. 

Well, have a look anyway.

Here's some footage of a mother and her offspring taken during last summer's Camera Trapping Workshop in the northern Sierra Nevada.

There's not much to say.

Mountain beavers are just like big pocket gophers when it comes to moving earth. 

Nov 23, 2014 3:05 AM


My Mountain Beaver Journal

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mono Lake at 20 Past, Present, and Future

Monday I attended an all day conference on the Mono Lake decision 20 years ago held at the Byron Shear Auditorium in the CalEPA building.

The pre-meeting looked like a who’s who of the major players for this landmark and the day promised to be one filled with lawyers, judges and policy wonks of a higher caliber. I expected to find much to reflect on and draw from now looking ahead into a very uncertain future. A climate cloud hangs over the Mono Basin like the rest of the state and west. A few previews have been seen already in the form of this drought that grips everyone and everything tightly now. Who will look out for the lake, its resources and the rest of the state and lead us into these uncertain times?

I made it through the full conference except for the reception afterwards. All 4 sessions were informative and thoughtful. My cold became more of a distraction as the day progress and I stayed more in the background as a result. I took notes on my iPad and reviewed them later for tasks and follow-up activity.

I left glad that I attended, reassured that progress is being made and that Mono Lake case history remains one that informs state leaders of issues and more complex challenges that need to be addressed with climate change and the current drought as strong motivations. No clear solutions were offered and there was a mix of optimism and doubt of how the Public Trust foundation can work through the conflicts between water diversion and environmental needs elsewhere in California. Clearly, more can be done if there is a move from conflict to cooperation as was the case with Mono Lake.

Mono Lake seems in relatively good shape with some built in conditions that will likely kick in next year reducing the diversion of water to Los Angeles. Water quality, available supply and increased evaporation remain serious issues in the Mono Basin requiring close attention. The city of Los Angeles has made much progress in reducing water consumption and intends to lower needs by another 20% in the future. The rest of the state lags far behind. Water allocation reductions must apply to all users, not just fish and wildlife. What is reasonable? There is enough water for reasonable uses. We just have to care enough to make the hard choices. Instead, we will likely next see an attempt by some in Congress to roll back environmental and wildlife laws in the name of the drought across the west coast. Here we go again.



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Re: The pending Greater Sage-grouse listing and it's future

The following is a good summary of the issues and efforts regarding sage-grouse. Perhaps this species is a classic example of one that is conservation reliant. Whether or not the species is ultimately listed, ongoing efforts will be required to manage it. Recovery to former, historic, status is unlikely but ongoing extensive conservation actions will be required in any case.


Steppe it up – Solving the Greater Sage-grouse Controversy

Nov 07, 2014 01:52 pm

Ashley Tuggle, M.E.M.


A male Greater Sage-grouse. Photo courtesy of Bill Schiess.

At stake: 31,000 jobs and up to $5.6 billion in annual economic activity.

First it was the Northern Spotted Owl in 1990, then it was the Delta Smelt in 1993, now the next great Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing controversy is underway over a squat, chicken-like bird called the Greater Sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus).

The sage-grouse is dependent on the sagebrush steppe ecosystem to survive with subsistence and ceremonial importance to Native American tribes in the western United States. Their diet consists primarily of soft sagebrush leaves (up to 98% during the winter months) and they rely on large, open flats surrounded by sagebrush called leks for space to perform their curious and iconic courtship displays. Birds tend to use the same leks and associated nesting sites year after year. As a result of this reliance on lek-sites, sage-grouse are particularly vulnerable to habitat alterations and disturbances to lekking habitat. Population trends have historically mirrored the percent cover and areal extent of sagebrush habitat. With alterations to the rangelands of the west though the years, Sage-grouse have been reduced to 56% of their historic range. Conservation efforts in the last 15-20 years have slowed the rate of population decline, but many populations of grouse are still shrinking, all the same.


A map of the historic and current ranges for Greater Sage-grouse.     Photo courtesy of The Wildlife News.

Impacts of Sage-grouse Listing

With a range stretching across approximately 165 million acres in 11 states, the economic impact of a potential ESA listing for the sage-grouse is staggering. Plans calling for the strictest conservation measures under the ESA could result in the loss of up to 31,000 jobs, up to $5.6 billion in annual economic activity, and more than $262 million in lost state and local revenue per year in the 11 states with sage-grouse habitat according to a widely cited 2013 study by the Law Offices of Lowell E. Baier. This presents a two-fold challenge for states, which typically fund conservation efforts on public lands through user fees. First, it reduces major revenues currently generated from energy development and ranching in the region. Second, with much of the land in question closed to public access if the sage-grouse is listed, generating the fees to fund conservation will likely be difficult.

Historical Sage-grouse Rulings

This issue has been brewing since 2005 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) declined to list the Greater Sage-grouse as threatened. Several environmental groups sued and the FWS reevaluated the available evidence. In 2010, the sage-grouse was once more passed over for listing in favor of higher-priority species. However, the FWS noted that listing was “warranted, but precluded.” Again, environmental groups rallied and in 2011, the FWS agreed to reconsider a listing for the species by September 30, 2015. With the potential ESA listing less than a year away, an unlikely coalition of developers, ranchers, state regulatory agencies, and even some environmental groups have banded together to develop voluntary, incentive-based strategies to conserve sage-grouse habitat and protect this iconic species.


A male Greater Sage-grouse displaying for a female. She will choose her mate based on courtship displays. Photo courtesy of Bill Schiess.

Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar invited states to develop sage-grouse conservation plans in 2009 in the belief that successful landscape level planning and management will require effective coordination between the state and local governments as well as private landowners. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has made efforts toward developing a more comprehensive and consistent sage-grouse management strategy to ensure a landscape level approach to the conservation issue. Current Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has continued this initiative and noted that all states must show good faith efforts to find an effective conservation strategy and if one does not, it may jeopardize the survival of the sage-grouse.

However, there are concerns that special interest groups will use their lobbying power to weaken sage-grouse protection in certain states if they’re allowed to develop their own protection regulations.

Even though governors and congressional leaders of affected states have attempted to sway the Interior Department, state land and wildlife managers almost uniformly believe that the FWS will rule in favor of listing the sage-grouse as threatened. The issue has grown to the point that Republican lawmakers in both houses of Congress have introduced legislation that would specifically block listing for the sage-grouse under the ESA.

Status Today

June 2014 paints a more cooperative and less contentious view of the sage-grouse issue. The BLM has adopted Wyoming’s plan to conserve sage-grouse habitat, signaling that the sage-grouse may not be listed. Secretary Jewell’s recent tour of the western states and her praise for the voluntary efforts of ranchers in the Wyoming region indicate that a shift may have occurred. However, the ultimate decision for listing still lies with the FWS.


A map of Wyoming with the current sage-grouse distribution in gray and Core Population Areas in green. Photo courtesy of WyoFile

Whether it’s federal ESA listing or state conservation programs, Wyoming’s plan has become the model for the region and for public-private partnerships. Adopted in June 2014, the Plan updates the Lander Resource Management Plan, a 27-year-old document covering 3.5 million acres of Wyoming. The provisions limit new development activities within designated Core Population Areas for sage-grouse unless project proponents can prove that there will be no detriment to sage-grouse populations. This can be done on a project-specific basis or through compliance with general and industry-specific land use stipulations geared toward restricting surface disturbance (particularly around leks) and surface occupancy during sensitive times of the year.

However, some environmentalists are concerned that the Plan lacks real teeth. Land use restrictions only apply to activities of, or authorized by, state agencies and not to private actions not requiring state agency approval. In other words, the conservation plan requirements are voluntary on private lands. Further raising concerns is a recent deal between Wyoming’s governor and Chesapeake Energy that allows continued horizontal drilling for oil wells in a Core Population Area of Converse County, Wyoming. In return, Chesapeake Energy has paid the state to improve conservation efforts in other Core Population Areas. The closed-door nature of the deal has embittered many looking to the state to stand firm on their conservation plan to prevent ESA listing.


A female Greater Sage-grouse with her chosen male. Photo courtesy of Bill Schiess.

No one across the 11-state range for the birds, public and private interests alike, wants another Northern Spotted Owl. The listing of this species remains controversial with industry analysts and conservationists at odds over the economic impact, though no one can deny that the northwest timber industry has declined in recent decades. However, if voluntary efforts are not seen as effective within the next 11 months, energy interests (renewable and fossil-fuel, alike), ranchers, and state wildlife management officials will need to prepare for sweeping restrictions as the FWS works to prevent the extinction of the Greater Sage-grouse and the destruction and fragmentation of its sagebrush habitat.

Original article

About the Author:

Ashley Tuggle is one of Great Ecology’s Ecologists specializing in biological surveys, geospatial and statistical analysis, and wetland ecology. She holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Management, with a Certificate of Geospatial Analysis from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Thermal Solar Plant Burning Birds in Flight

Birds catching fire in flight sounds like science fiction. The type of solar plant in question is different than common photovoltaics and concentrates reflect sunlight into powerful beams. The beams generate steam to run turbines. This impact wasn't adequately identified and addressed before the Ivanpah solar plant was built. The light generated may attract insects and draw in birds with a resulting greater impact. More consideration needs to be given to address the problem at the existing facility before allowing any further plants to be developed. This type of issue is difficult for state and federal agencies to manage given the political nature of the projects. Adequate monitoring is typically not built into the ongoing operation of energy facilities and the data generated is not often published. More on that later... Read on!

Ivanpah thermal solar power plant produces “death rays” torching many birds

The Wildlife News, Aug 24, 2014 2:43 PM by Ralph Maughan

Roast bird record at Mojave solar plant even worse than predicted?
Plant workers call them “streamers.” Birds that fly through the beams of concentrated sunlight at the massive Ivanpah solar plant near Primm, Nevada catch fire and fall from the sky, leaving a smoky trail as they burn and die.
This solar plant is not the typical solar plant made of photovoltaic cells. Photovoltaics are thought usually harmless to wildlife except for the cleared land. Photovoltaics are very scalable — they can be built in all sizes, shapes, and put on the ground, rooftops, parking lots, platforms at sea, etc.  The Ivanpah style plant instead uses many thousands of large mirrors (300,000 at Ivanpah). They concentrate reflected sunlight into powerful beams aimed at “power towers” — boilers that use the steam to turn turbines and generate electricity in the old fashioned way. Photovoltaics produce electricity directly.
The Ivanpah plant has been controversial from the start. At first it was because the land selected in the Ivanpah Valley was splendid habitat for many hundreds of desert tortoises. The land was also very near to the Mojave National Preserve. It is also on public (BLM) lands covering about 6 square miles from which all vegetation has been removed and the desert soil covered over.
As time went by it occurred to people that the solar beams with their temperatures up to 800ยบ F would be dangerous to anything that passed through them. In addition the flashes from the mirrors could carry a long way and be a danger to pilots. Now it is thought that the rows of mirrors reflecting light look like desert lakes to birds.  Moreover, the light from the mirrors attracts insects too, further attracting birds.
One formally reported incident of “flash glare” was reported in March this year. Extremely bright flash-glare from the mirror fields around the towers briefly blinded the pilots flying a corporate light 2 turbojet. It had passengers aboard.
There is no agreement how many birds are roasted, but a recent study made public by the California Energy Commission by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) indicates that the number is high. The report says “It appears that   Ivanpah may act as a “mega-trap,” attracting insects which in turn attract insect-eating birds, which are   incapacitated by solar flux injury, thus attracting predators and creating an entire food chain vulnerable to   injury and death.”
Unlike wind farms which seem to preferentially kill certain kind of birds, Ivanpah was “equal opportunity.”
The remains of 71 species were identified, representing a broad range of ecological types. In body size, these ranged from hummingbirds to pelicans; in ecological type from strictly aerial feeders (swallows) to strictly aquatic feeders (grebes) to ground feeders (roadrunners) to raptors (hawks and owls). The species identified were equally divided among resident and non-resident species, and nocturnal as well as diurnal species were represented. Although not analyzed in detail, there was also significant bat and insect mortality at the Ivanpah site, including monarch butterflies.
Collecting birds on the ground does not give a full accounting of bird death because not all “streamers” fall and die on sight. Birds were observed to fly through, catch fire and then perch, only to make a erratic flight off to die somewhere else.  CBD estimated that perhaps 28,000 birds die from what happens at the site each year.
BrightSource Energy runs the place. They estimate about a thousand birds a year dead, but last year federal investigators report they saw “streamers” about every 2 minutes during their visit to Ivanpah.
Right wing fossil fuel advocates are criticizing environmentalists using Ivanpah as an example of what alternative energy, which they misleadingly call “green energy,” is like. It is not green, and Ivanpah was opposed by a number of environmental groups from the start, including CBD and Western Watersheds Project, who sued to try to stop it. Back in 2011, we ran a number of stories in the Wildlife News about WWPs efforts to stop it. Excellent updates with photos on the project and other controversial solar projects can be found at Below are select articles from the News.
Despite the controversy over Ivanpah, BrightSource has applied to build another such plant in the middle of an important flyway where much larger birds, and larger numbers of birds are at risk. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reported to be trying to stop this project. This would be a 75-story power tower and mirrors. The tower would rise above the sand dunes and creek washes the run between Joshua Tree National Park and the California-Arizona border. The flyway is between the Colorado River and the Salton Sea.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tracking Opossums in California and Beyond

I recently came across an April 10, 1915 reprint “The Tennessee Possum Has Arrived in California” from the Calif. Dept. of Fish and Game. This caused me to wonder how well the introduction into California of the only marsupial found in North America was known? The paper documented 2 live opossums captured in the wild on 2/25/1914 near San Jose. CDFG staff found that there had been several cases of importation and release of the species about 4 years before. At the time of the report, about 200 opossums had been documented as killed or captured and that the species was spreading and multiplying at a rapid rate. The author went on to say that trapping could be used to control its over-abundance and that it was not likely that the opossum would spread far beyond the thickly settled parts of the state where it can find a living around orchards, gardens and barns. How well did that forecast hold up?

A thoughtful discussion about the history of the opossum in California as well as some interesting documentation showing that the species isn’t limited to urban areas can be found in this Camera Codger post

More information is available in this paper on “The Opossum: Its Amazing Story” including more details on the introduction and status of the species in the western US. 

An article about the species in the LA Times a few years ago indicates it was first trapped in the Los Angeles area in 1906 and that about 600/year are treated by one wildlife rehab staff person there. The most common mammal brought into wildlife rehab facilities in California is the opossum and that has been the case for at least the last ten years. That gives some indication to the large numbers of opossums now found in at least urban parts of the state. As a non-native species, it seems inappropriate to use scarce wildlife rehab resources for the care of injured or found opossums. It is also inappropriate to move these animals around as they may carry diseases, parasites, or cause other problems with native wildlife. What types of issues are common with this species?

Managing Opossum Problems published in Santa Barbara County gives an idea of the type of conflicts that result from the presence of the species. Another example is seen in “Living with Wildlife: Opossums” from Washington state. The opossum is now known to have spread as far as southwestern British Columbia. The introduction and expansion of the opossum into other areas has increased the number of conflicts reported.  

Some legal considerations in California? “Outlawed Opossums Lack Legal Protection”.

The species does have fans as seen by the existence of the Opossum Society of the United States

Apparently some don’t think one species of Opossum in California is enough? “Legalize short tailed opossums in california”.

Opossums are commonly seen as roadkill and this is likely a substantial source of mortality for the species with the increase in vehicles, speed and paved roads. Opossums also commonly feed on roadkill carrion at night and provide a service by removing this source of disease. Feral dogs and cats and other predators are also reported to kill large numbers of opossums annually.  Large and frequent litters compensate for a high mortality rate and it’s estimated that only a small percent of weaned opossums survive more than one year.

The possible role of the opossum in reducing or diluting human infection from Lyme disease is an ongoing debate (“The Lyme Disease Debate”). Some work showed that opossums may reduce the presence and risk from the tick vector for this disease. These findings have been used by some to promote providing more protection for opossums. Meanwhile, there is still controversy with the Lyme disease dilution hypothesis and whether there is a benefit to having opossums in the environment and if forest fragmentation plays an important role in facilitating the spread of Lyme disease.

What does the future hold for the opossum in California and beyond? It seems that further expansion is likely with development and climate change. Elsewhere, climate change has been documented to facilitate dramatic northward movement of opossums in Michigan and “Opossums on the move: Climate change could be luring critters north”. This trend seems likely on the west coast too where it might include more movement inland and into higher elevations?

I may add or update this when I have more thoughts or information.