Monday, August 17, 2015

The Opossum in California

I came across an April 10, 1915 reprint "The Tennessee Possum Has Arrived in California" from the Calif. Dept. of Fish and Game recently. This caused me to think about how well the introduction of the only marsupial found in North America into California was known and whether it can shed light on more recent introductions of nonnative wildlife? 

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 now 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's 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, traffic speed and wider 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.

The species has spread widely and exists in Large numbers in California about 110 years since it arrived here. 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 update this article when I have further thoughts, information, or discussion.


Friday, August 14, 2015

My encounter with a feral cat Archdruid on the Parkway

July 31, 2015

I met him along the bike trail in Discovery Park near the archery range this evening. He looked somewhat like a field biologist. Baggy sweats, a gray kaki long sleeve shirt and a broad brimmed camo hat turned to the side. He had a large bag of cat food in one hand and a jug of water in the other. His late model maroon SUV was parked nearby with the back open and loaded with similar gear.

He was filling containers on the ground at an opening on the side of the trail with thick cover. I rode past but circled back to tell him it was illegal to feed cats or wildlife in the park. He snapped back that it was illegal to kill or harm cats here. That started a debate that lasted well over an hour debating the knowledge and skills of wildlife biologists when it came to feral cats and their interactions with wildlife versus those who strive to save cats wherever they may end up. He also told me that universities and agencies like California a Fish and Game were overrun with people who thought and acted like Walter "Howdy" Howard who was famous for his heavy handed approach that killed many animals as pests or predators while at UCD. I challenged his knowledge and facts and asked for proof. He postured that he had better data and observations but offered no references or proof, just arrogance.

He remained secretive about his affiliations, background and intent but claimed to have played a high level role in state matters dealing with state Fish & Game enforcement previously, land acquisition recommendations and other subjects. He referred to an academic background and being overlooked by others with less skill and knowledge. He had little tolerance for the efforts of others, and the misdeeds he claimed he saw. He seemed to have a chip on his shoulder about not being recognized as the smartest guy in his academic peer group, referring to his "dumb" students who couldn't overcome what their grandfathers had taught them about nature, wildlife and other matters.

It was clear that his passion was all cats, he said he had 10 at home now and couldn't take more but worked to gain the confidence of cats, especially like the kittens he was feeding before capturing by live trap and matching up as pets for the right person. He indicated he had live traps now but wouldn't use them just yet. I told him trapping was illegal in the Parkway but he didn't respond.

As we broadened our debate to the health and management of the Parkway he opened up more and told stories of the dangers and stupid things he had seen done by others who knew less. His general solution was for others to buy lots more habitat and enforcement where necessary. I listened closely trying to figure out who he was and what background he had. He spoke in hushed tones and played with the brim of his hat nervously. I tried to imagine what it would take to change his thinking or at least mute his efforts. How many others shared his attitude and behavior in the Parkway or County? We agreed about the problem of off-leash dogs and some other subjects and he listened more intently when I spoke of things occurring across the entire Parkway and beyond.

I headed back not sure what to make of this guy and what he represented. He might have been sizing me up like I was him for more debate later. He admitted he hadn't shared data he claimed to have collected which proved the cats he was concerned for caused no harm. He claimed to know all there was when it came to cats outdoors. I told him that would do little good unless made available for debate, analysis, and application. He tended to be bombastic, ill at ease, and narrowly focused on the welfare of homeless cats above all else.

Some general thoughts about this encounter and other recent articles and local activities related to feral cats.

I want to learn more about him including his name, background, pattern of activities, and similar details. At this point he reminds me of other outspokenness "experts" on special niche areas like captive breeding of herps, ferrets, and the like who turn out to be amateurs trying to pass off as scientists with a history of being in disagreement with regs and opinions that clashed with theirs.

The County seems intimidated and not enforcing regs regarding feral cats release and feeding in regional parks due to pressure and passion from those against any harm to these former domestic pets.

Requiring a regional parks permit with approved study plan including methodology, data collection and sharing, removal of "study" cats at the end of the permit and a final report could help regulate his activities and others like it. Live trapping could also require a state scientific collecting permit due to likely encounters with wildlife captures.

August 2, 2015 Update

I passed through the same area in the early afternoon. I saw and photographed the food and water containers he left behind empty now. Later in the evening I returned I recognized his vehicle and spotted him lurking on one on the trails. I'm not sure if he was observing or trying to trap cats at this location. The feeding containers weren't visible. I got a photo of his vehicle and am pondering whether or not to file a report with regional park rangers.

I'm still shaking my head after this encounter. I more than held my own but by no means changed his position or achieved any compromise. This reminds me how intense feral cat defenders are and how spotty information is on their actions. The unanswered questions I recently asked about the "barn cat"* program currently promoted by the County seems another example promoting feral cats in open space and habitat. Even a local land trust was recently caught in the act using this program illegally in the Parkway. Clearly, we have our work cut out for us to make changes for better policies and management of feral cats in the County.

* The barn cat program being promoted by the County and local media doesn't provide any data on the effectiveness of such programs including the health of those cats released, wildlife encounters or any diseases that could result. Does the program help reduce feral cat numbers or just add to the list of "justifications" used by those who dump unwanted cats and other animals thinking others will care for their needs? Is there any technical oversight by professional biologists and animal health specialists? I contacted those identified with the program with these questions but haven't heard back yet. The clarification Sacramento Valley Conservancy just sent out regarding using barn cats at Camp Pollock indicates there are others who see this problem.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Something worth howling about!

Exciting news and sooner than we thought it would happen. California should release a draft wolf management plan soon. CDFW thought they had more time and as usual with politically charged wildlife issues, the review process takes longer too. 

Great news to howl about!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund

It’s time for Congress to fully fund and permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Contact Congress and tell them to fully fund and reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). I have worked as a professional wildlife biologist for over 34 years and seen first hand the critical good work that can only be accomplished by these funds. I’ve also seen the increasing need for these funds as more human impacts to wildlife occur. I recently visited the latest oil spill in California where I live. Hundreds of volunteers worked for weeks to do their best to clean up after a pipeline ruptured spilling thousands of gallons of oil on state beaches and the ocean. Many marine mammals and sea birds as well as other organisms were impacted. This type of impact occurs more frequently and is one of the many reasons why LWCF funding is needed. As we continue to depend on oil/gas products for energy, wildlife are impacted in the extraction, production, management and use of this energy. Please support this legislation and see that the critical work funded by LWCF can continue.

Without action, this critical and popular law will expire at the end of September. Please tell Congress to support the bipartisan legislation that will permanently authorize and fund LWCF at its Congressionally-approved level, including HR 1814 in the House, and S 338 and S 890 in the Senate.

For fifty years, LWCF has helped safeguard America's cherished places. It has preserved lands in every county, supporting National Parks like the Grand Canyon, and protecting vital wildlife habitat, neighborhood parks, and historic places, while providing access to public lands for outdoor and wildlife-based recreation. As a constituent and supporter of bird conservation, I appreciate that LWCF funds have helped to protect bird habitat and provide greater opportunities to enjoy birdwatching.

LWCF is not funded from taxpayer dollars, but instead reinvests a small portion of federal offshore drilling fees into the long-term conservation of important natural places. While LWCF is authorized to spend $900 million every year, it has been chronically underfunded. More than $17 billion has been diverted away from these crucial projects.

Please support legislation to fulfill the promise of this landmark law and continue the bipartisan legacy of protecting our nation's open spaces and clean water for the benefit of people and wildlife everywhere.

For more information on things got to where they are now, read Ted Williams article. As always, Ted pulls no punches in telling things that need to be told and then fixed.

Stop Cheating Our Wildlife by Ted Williams July/Aug Audubon Magazine

Monday, June 29, 2015

Ninth Circuit Blows Hole in Habitat Conservation Plans

This is a much needed ruling because developers and local government have leaned too hard on locking down these terms for 30-50 years when in reality things are very likely to change over such a period of time. Now additional land can be protected. This mainly affects those "covered" species included in HCPs and those species that aren't included in such a plan can already have a change in listed status and/or critical habitat.

Ninth Circuit Blows Hole in Habitat Conservation Plans

Punching a hole in the faith local governments and developers in California have placed in habitat conservation plans, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that federal wildlife agencies retain the discretion to designate additional land as critical habitat even after an HCP has been approved.

The case is important because local governments and developers in California have relied heavily on the HCPs adopted in the 1990s for certainly in planning future development. The Ninth Circuit ruling reinforces the idea that the HCPs are not iron-clad and wildlife agencies can put protect additional land at their discretion, thus diminishing the certainty HCPs are designed to create. Adopted in 1999, the Western Riverside plan was one of the largest and most comprehensive HCPs.

Ruling in a case involving the Santa Ana sucker, a small fish that lives in the Santa Ana River, the Ninth Circuit upheld the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's 2010 decision to add some 1,400 acres (and possibly another 5,000 acres) to the fish's critical habitat pursuant to the federal Endangered Species Act. The court rejected the claim from a variety of local government agencies that the habitat designation was "arbitrary" because the wildlife agency should have waited for implementation of the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan before designating additional habitat.

By William Fulton on 29 June 2015 - 5:12pm

Friday, June 26, 2015

Study finds pet owners reluctant to face up to their cats’ kill count

The cartoons are the only thing that might be considered funny about this story...

Meanwhile on the local level, I came across a stretch of bike trail recently with cat food scattered along the pavement and several half gallons of curdled milk cut open so that they provided liquid refreshment for a colony of feral cats across the American river from Camp Pollock. 

Another illegal feral cat colony in the Parkway. I reported the location to County Park rangers. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Squirrelly encounters

I was out in the afternoon Wednesday enjoying a very rare light rain on the American River Parkway bike trail when I avoided the first of two suicide ground squirrels but the second got under my front tire and slammed me to the ground. I was riding my bike with larger 700 cc tires instead of my usual small 20 inch ones for anyone wondering. Previous squirrel encounters have been with smaller wheels and never resulted in me crashing.

I was moving in a straight line at moderate speed next to the golf course by CSU Sacramento when it happened. Admittedly, the rare rain had me a little distracted. My front wheel reversed and I went down on my left side pretty hard. It cracked my helmet and rung my bell but other than feeling woozy for a few minutes I mostly had minor bruises and a few scrapes. My helmet visor flew off as did my glasses, both survived but drew blood in the process. My wallet in the front pocket of my cargo shorts took a lot of the impact. Another rider saw the takedown and said it was impossible to tell what happened. I wobbled over to a bench and had a nice chat with an older dog owner before turning back for home.

The squirrel was not seen and apparently made it underground. This is the same spot I previously saw a Red-shouldered hawk grab an adult ground squirrel and make off with the limp prey until it came back to life, shook free and dropped to the ground. Maybe the same squirrel? The golf course has a large ground squirrel population to go with lots of Canada geese and other species present.

I’m still glad to have been out on the trail before the rain ended and happy I still bounce before breaking. Laurie went down on her bike coming from a meeting with a state legislator downtown earlier the same day. She got lots of attention and likewise only had a few bumps and bruises fortunately. Neither of us was too stiff the next morning and it’s always good to get a free safety reminder.

Enjoy & ride safe!