New drone, underwater footage of orcas stuns researchers, gives intimate look at killer whales’ family life

Who knew orcas were so playful, so full of affection, so constantly touching one another?

New footage taken by drone as well as underwater stunned researchers who spent two days with the southern resident orca J pod off the British Columbia coast, including with the newest baby, and more time with northern resident killer whales in B.C.’s Johnstone Strait. The footage taken during three weeks in August and early September was filmed in collaboration with the Hakai Institute, a science research nonprofit.

“It took our breath away,” said Andrew Trites, professor at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries Department of Zoology and director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Trites is co-lead researcher on a study that over five years is taking a close look at resident killer whales and their prey.

Researchers are comparing the hunting of northern resident orcas like these with the behavior of endangered southern residents. Footage of the whales shot by drone and underwater is opening new understanding of orcas’ lives in the wild. (University of British Columbia / Hakai Institute)
Researchers are comparing the hunting of northern resident orcas like these with the behavior of endangered southern residents. Footage of the whales shot by drone and underwater is opening new understanding of orcas’ lives in the wild…. More 

The drone footage was gathered non-invasively, with the camera hundreds of feet above the whales, who did not seem to even know it was there, Trites said. Combined with underwater microphones, tracking devices used to follow adult chinook, and underwater footage, a spectacular new look into orcas and their day-to-day life in the wild is emerging.

The big standout so far is just how much the orcas touch one another, something not as visible from a boat.

“We like to think we are hardened research scientists, but it tugged at our heart strings,” Trites said, “Especially the mum and calf.”

“These drones are opening up avenues of their lives we have never seen before,” Trites said. “The same way we hug our kids and hug our friends, touch furthers those bonds. That’s the power of touch, and here we have killer whales reminding us of that — who would have thought?”

J pod’s newest baby, here swimming with her mother, carried a salmon in her mouth for two days this summer near the Fraser River in British Columbia, even though she is 3 months old and feeding on her mother’s milk. Was she teething? Learning how to be a big killer whale some day? (Andrew Trites / University of British Columbia)
J pod’s newest baby, here swimming with her mother, carried a salmon in her mouth for two days this summer near the Fraser River in British Columbia, even though she is 3 months old and… (Andrew Trites / University of British Columbia) More 

J pod’s new baby whale, J56, also was seen near the mouth of the Fraser River toting a salmon around in her mouth for two days, even though she is only 3 months old and entirely feeding on her mother’s milk. Is she teething? Or learning how to how to act like a grown-up killer whale?

The core question the investigators are exploring is whether southern residents can get enough chinook salmon — their preferred prey — to eat in the Salish Sea. Data could help answer the question of why for the past three years the southern residents have not been coming back as usual to their core foraging areas in San Juan Island and B.C.

Hostile Waters: Orcas in Peril

ABOUT THIS SERIES “Hostile Waters” exposes the plight of Puget Sound’s southern resident killer whales, among our region’s most enduring symbols and most endangered animals. The Seattle Times examines the role humans have played in their decline, what can be done about it and why it matters.

The southern residents also are thinner on average than the northern residents and have been steadily declining in population, to just 73 animals, while northern residents have been slowly growing in population to more than 300. Like the southern residents, the northerns eat only fish, preferable chinook, but their core habitat while far smaller has more abundant fish runs, and cleaner, quieter water.

By observing both populations and their prey, researchers hope to compare their foraging conditions and hunting behaviors and learn whether it is more difficult for the southern residents to capture prey. “One of the conclusions is, yes, there is a food problem,” Trites said. “But we have to be able to answer that with not just an impression or belief, but with data.”

A southern resident killer whale swims past a school of salmon last August at the Fraser River delta in British Columbia. Fraser chinook have been in decline and sightings of the southern residents in their traditional summer foraging grounds near the San Juan Islands also have become scarce. (Keith Holmes / Hakai Institute)
A southern resident killer whale swims past a school of salmon last August at the Fraser River delta in British Columbia. Fraser chinook have been in decline and sightings of the southern residents in… (Keith Holmes / Hakai Institute) More 

To learn more about the presence, abundance and quality of the orcas’ prey, co-lead Scott Hinch, director of the Pacific Salmon Ecology and Conservation Lab at the University of British Columbia, is capturing and tagging chinook, probing where the big fish are, and examining nutritional quality of the fish.

“We are putting all these pieces together to see what is going on,” Trites said.

The $1 million project is part of the federally funded Whale Science for Tomorrow initiative by the Canadian government, with additional funding and support from other sources.

Florida authorities bust trafficking ring smuggling thousands of native turtles

By Alaa Elassar, CNN

Updated 4:30 PM ET, Sat October 19, 2019

Thousands of wild turtles were being captured and sold illegally in Florida.

(CNN)Two men have been charged for poaching thousands of Florida turtles and
selling them illegally, according to the
<> Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission.

The “charges represent the state’s largest seizure of turtles in recent
history,” the FWC said in a statement on Friday.

More than 4,000 turtles comprising a range of native species were illegally
captured and sold over six months, the commission said. The turtles were
worth $200,000 on the black market.

“The illegal trade of turtles is having a global impact on many turtle
species and our ecosystems,” said Eric Sutton, the FWC’s executive director.

Two suspects have been charged for smuggling thousands of turtles and
selling them illegally.

After receiving a tip in February 2018, the FWC launched an undercover
investigation where they discovered a ring of traffickers who were selling
wild turtles to reptile dealers and distributors.

The suspects had taken so many turtles from targeted habitats that
populations were depleted, the commission said.

“Wild turtle populations cannot sustain the level of harvest that took place
here,” said Brooke Talley, the FWC’s reptile and amphibian conservation
coordinator. “This will likely have consequences for the entire ecosystem
and is a detriment for our citizens and future generations.”

Investigators served a search warrant on August 12, during which they found
hundreds of turtles and the skull and shell of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle,
the <>
most endangered species of sea turtles.

The skull and shell of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the most endangered
species of sea turtles, was found in possession of the suspects.

The suspects sold the turtles for cash and marijuana products, the
commission said. Both suspects face a variety of poaching-related charges.

While the turtles were sold in Florida, they were sold to buyers who shipped
them overseas, specifically in Asia where they were bought as pets.
Depending upon the species, the commission said the poached turtles sold
wholesale for up to $300 each and retailed for as much as $10,000 each in

“Over 600 turtles were returned to the wild, two dozen were quarantined and
released at a later date, and a handful were retained by a captive wildlife
licensee since they were not native to the area,” the commission said.

“We commend our law enforcement’s work to address the crisis of illegal
wildlife trafficking,” said Sutton.

CNN’s Melissa Alonso contributed to this report.

Park Service looks to solve mystery deaths of Isle Royale wolves> SCIENCE AND

Mark Romanski, division chief for natural resources at Isle Royale, said at
this point the Park Service doesn’t have many answers.

Written By: Evan James Carter / Detroit News | Oct 6th 2019 – 1pm.



A wolf from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is released on Isle Royale in
September 2019. The island now has 17 wolves, up from two a year ago. Photo
courtesy National Park Service.

ISLE ROYALE – One year into its effort to reestablish the wolf population on
Isle Royale, the National Park Service and its partners have a problem: Some
of the new wolves died and nobody knows why.

Since the Park Service began its relocation efforts in September 2018, 19
wolves have been transplanted from Minnesota, Ontario, Canada and Michigan’s
Upper Peninsula. Three of the wolves have died, the most recent on Sept. 15.
Another wolf left the island for mainland Ontario on an ice bridge in

The number of wolves on the archipelago in Lake Superior is now 17: nine
males and eight females. Before the repopulation efforts began in fall 2018,
there were only two island-born wolves left roaming the island.

As the Park Service follows the progress of the newly relocated wolves, it
is also trying to ensure more wolves don’t die so soon after being
transported to the island.

Mark Romanski, division chief for natural resources at Isle Royale, said at
this point the Park Service doesn’t have many answers.

When dealing with wild animals, Romanski said it’s not unexpected that some
will die after being transported because the process of capturing and
relocating the animals can be stressful for them.

“And although we do everything we can to quickly handle the animal and get
them out to the island, of course, each animal is different,” Romanski said,
“and so they handle stress differently or maybe their capture event was
different or different combinations of circumstances.”

The Park Service has now changed its procedures so that the time between the
capture of a wolf and its release on the island is less than 24 hours,
instead of 36-48 hours when the effort began, Romanski said.

Dean Beyer, Wildlife Research Biologist with the Michigan Department of
Natural Resources, helps capture wolves that would make good candidates for
the move.

Beyer said that wildlife capture and relocation is something that scientists
can’t totally control and that death is sometimes part of the process. He
said it is important to minimize risk for animals when they’re captured and
handled by members of the DNR.

“We do everything we can do on the front end,” Beyer said. “So we develop
capture plans and all the people involved in the work have gone through
extensive training in terms of how to capture and handle animals and how to
chemically immobilize them.”

He also said that all the DNR’s plans are reviewed by wildlife

One possible factor in the deaths may be a phenomenon called capture
myopathy, a complex physiological process that involves high levels of
stress resulting in damage to muscle tissues. The breakdown in the muscles
can release toxins in the bloodstream which may result in shock, or damage
to organs such as the kidneys.

Michelle Verant, a veterinarian for the National Park Service stationed out
of Fort Collins, was tasked with monitoring the wolves while they were
transported to Isle Royale.

She said that there wasn’t evidence of capture myopathy in the first wolf
that was tested by the Park Service, but said that doesn’t necessarily rule
it out.

“And then this final wolf, thankfully we were able to collect that carcass
pretty quickly and it is currently at the National Wildlife Health Center
getting a full necropsy,” Verant said. “And we may get some evidence there
to suggest whether capture myopathy was involved.”

Here’s what the National Park Service knows about the death of three wolves
transported to Isle Royale:

The first wolf, a male from northeast Minnesota, died in October 2018, about
one month after being transported to the island. The Park Service wasn’t
able to retrieve the carcass until a week after the wolf died because it
didn’t have personnel on the island.

The carcass of the wolf was sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in
Madison, Wis., where they performed a necropsy. The lab determined the wolf
died of pneumonia, but the Park Service doesn’t know how the wolf contracted
the illness.

The second wolf, a male from mainland Ontario, likely died in early April
2019, after being transported to Isle Royale in late February. The Park
Service wasn’t able to retrieve the carcass from the swamp it was in until
May, at which point the carcass was too far decomposed to send in for

Romanski said there wasn’t external evidence of the wolf getting into some
kind of fight, though the Park Service doesn’t ultimately know what happened
to him.

The third wolf, a female from the Upper Peninsula, likely died on Sept. 15
when a mortality signal was sent from its collar. It had been moved to the
island on Sept. 13 and was recovered by Park Service staff on Sept. 17.

The carcass was submitted to the National Wildlife Health Center for
necropsy Sept. 24.

Group collects 168,000 signatures to put gray wolf restoration initiative on Colorado ballot

PROMO 64J1 Animal - Gray Wolf - USFWS
Published Saturday, October 12, 2019

By Derek Draplin | The Center Square

A group seeking voter approval to reintroduce gray wolves in Colorado says it has collected around 168,000 signatures to get the question put on the ballot.

That number is more than the 124,000 signatures needed to make the ballot, a spokesman for  the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, the primary backer of the initiative, told The Center Square. The group is aiming for 30,000 more signatures before it needs to submit them to the Secretary of State’s Office for verification by mid-December.

The Colorado Restore Gray Wolf Population Initiative would require the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission (CPW) to create and execute a plan to restore gray wolf populations on designated lands west of the continental divide.


PROMO Animal - Wolves Hunting Elk Wolf - NPS

Wolves hunting elk in the Rocky Mountains. Courtesy National Park Service.

“When we succeed in safely restoring wolves to their home in Western Colorado, we will have closed the missing link and restored the gray wolf’s historical range from the High Arctic to Mexico,” RMWAF says on its website.

If passed, implementing the initiative would cost (CPW) over $344,000 in fiscal year 2021-22 and over $467,000 in fiscal year 2022-23, according to a legislative fiscal impact statement.

The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, a parallel group to the action fund that educates on wolf restoration in the state, is backed by the Sierra Club Colorado, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Endangered Species Coalition, among other environmental groups.

The Stop the Wolf Coalition, which is made up of several farming, livestock and hunting groups, opposes the initiative, citing potential damage to livestock and wildlife, diseases, and overcrowding in the state.

“Forced wolf introduction is not only a disastrous idea that will impact our wildlife, livestock and Colorado’s growing population,but it’s also not fair to the wolves,” the coalition’s website says.

“A forced introduction of wolves to Colorado would cost untold amounts of taxpayer dollars, redirect already limited wildlife management resources and would have a significant negative economic impact to the state,” said Blake Henning, chief conservation officer for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “In Colorado, you are dealing with about a third of the land mass of the Northern Rockies’ states but almost double the human population. A forced reintroduction would trigger the potential for real issues in the state.”

Michigan man receives permission to import body of rare black rhino he paid $400K to hunt

A 4-year-old Female black Rhino, runs (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)


A 4-year-old Female black Rhino, runs (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)


A Shelby Township man who paid $400,000 to hunt rare black rhino Namibian national park in May 2018 will be allowed to import the rhino’s body, according to the Associated Press.

The Trump administration announced this week that it will issue a permit to the trophy hunter — identified as Chris D. Peyerk of Shelby Township — to import the skin, skull and horns of the rhino. Peyerk Applied for the permit through the Fish and Wildlife Service to import animals protected under the Endangered Species Act.

He did not respond to AP efforts to reach him by phone.

The rhinos are considered extremely endangered with approximately 5,500 remaining in the wild. Nearly half of those are located in Namibia. Under law, five male black rhinos a year are permitted to be killed by hunters who pay for the right to hunt them.

“Legal, well-regulated hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” said Laury Parramore, spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

For many years federal regulators denied hunters the rights to bring the body back to the U.S., however as population have increased, the regulations have scaled back. Still, animal rights organizations have been critical of permits allowing for the animals to be brought back to the U.S.

“We urge our federal government to end this pay-to-slay scheme that delivers critically endangered rhino trophies to wealthy Americans while dealing a devastating blow to rhino conservation,” said Kitty Block, the head of the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International. “While we cannot turn back the clock to save this animal, the administration can stop the U.S. from further contributing to the demise of this species by refusing future import permits of black rhino trophies.”

Proposal to open up rhino horn trade rejected Countries voted against eSwatini and Namibia’s proposals to loosen restrictions on the trade in live rhinos and rhino parts.



GENEVACountries have voted against decreasing protections for southern white rhinos at the 18th Conference of the Parties for CITES, the wildlife trade treaty, underway in Geneva, Switzerland. International trade in rhino parts has been banned since 1977, but at this year’s conference, eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) and Namibia proposed loosening restrictions for their respective countries. The vote still needs to be finalized at the plenary session at the end, when all appendix change proposals passed in committee are officially adopted.

“I was encouraged and relieved to see parties resoundingly reject the proposal calling for legal international trade in rhino horn,” says Taylor Tench, a wildlife policy analyst for the Environmental Investigation Agency. “Rhino populations remain under immense pressure from poaching and illegal trade, and legalizing trade in rhino horn would have been disastrous for the world’s remaining rhino populations….Now is simply not the time to weaken protections for rhinos.”

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Other countries, including Kenya and Nigeria, worry that legalizing the trade would undermine the survival Africa’s wild rhinos.

“Humankind can do without rhino horn,” said a representative from Kenya during the debate. “It is not medicine.”

Thought to be extinct in the late 1800s, the southern white rhino is classified today as near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which determines the conservation status of species. There are about 18,000 in protected areas and private game reserves today, almost all in South Africa, according to the IUCN. Black rhinos, which are smaller and have a hooked rather than square lip, are classified as critically endangered, with only about 5,000 remaining. They’re found mostly in Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya.

In 2005, eSwatini allowed the noncommercial trade in live rhinos and hunting trophies but not rhino horn. The country put forward a failed proposal to open the commercial rhino horn trade at the last CITES Conference of the Parties, in 2016. eSwatini’s white rhino population reached 90 in 2015, but following one of the country’s worst droughts in recent history, it had fallen to just 66 by December 2017. This year, the country re-upped a proposal to allow for commercial trade in their rhinos, including horn and parts. In a 25-102 vote by secret ballot, this measure was defeated.

Meanwhile, Namibia proposed that CITES downlist its southern white rhinos from Appendix I to Appendix II, with an annotation allowing for trade in live rhinos and export of hunting trophies. Though this move would technically weaken protections, conservationists said it wouldn’t have any significant implications in practice, since Namibia is already allowed noncommercial trade in live rhinos and hunting trophies under the Appendix I listing.

In the proposal, Namibia argued that its population no longer warrants the highest protection under CITES and that the restriction preventing export for “primarily commercial purposes” has held the country back from generating revenue for conservation. From 2008 to 2018, Namibia exported 27 white rhinos to Angola, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Africa. Namibia’s proposal anticipates creating “access to a far larger market for white rhinos,” especially with its primary trading partner South Africa. The country has nearly a thousand rhinos, and according to the CITES secretariat, the population is “increasing.”

“We are deeply concerned that unjustified trade restriction on the Namibian white rhino population, if not removed, will only deprive Namibia of their required resources to manage its populations effectively,” said a representative from Namibia during the debate.

Nonetheless, says Tench of the EIA, Namibia’s rhinos are at risk from poaching, which has intensified since 2014. The proposal was narrowly rejected in a 39-82 vote.

Hundreds of rhinos are poached every year—an average of about three a day, according to Tench—mostly for their horns. Made of keratin (the same protein that makes up our hair and fingernails), rhino horn is often used as a cure-all in traditional medicine in China, Vietnam, and elsewhere in Asia. Because southern white rhinos are more abundant and live in more open habitat, they’ve borne the brunt of the poaching, Tench says. (Go inside the deadly rhino horn trade.)

eSwatini says it has nearly 730 pounds of stockpiled rhino horn, with a commercial value of $9.9 million. Funds from sales of that rhino horn, it contends in its proposal, would have helped conservation efforts.

“Money is at the very core of the matter,” said a representative from eSwatini during the debate. “If the finance is not available to protect them, rhinos will continue to die.”

Opening the commercial rhino horn trade could have had disastrous implications, Tench says. It could have spawned a parallel illegal market, stimulated new demand for rhino horn, increased poaching, and created an enforcement burden for officials, who would have been tasked with the impossible responsibility of distinguishing legal from illegal rhino horn. “It ultimately could just kick off a new wave of demand that would be met by increased poaching. And eSwatini—it’s not the country that even could hope to supply rhino horn internationally.
They have 66 rhinos.”

What’s more, the trade in rhino horn is illegal in China and Vietnam, where demand for rhino horn exists, leading conservationists to ask:
Who would have engaged eSwatini in the rhino horn trade?

Neither China nor Vietnam has declared any intention to legalize the trade, although China flirted with the idea last October, when the government announced that tiger bone and rhino horn could be used legally in medical research or for traditional medicine. Soon after, a senior official announced that China was postponing lifting the ban on rhino and tiger parts, pending further study.

“The suggestion that there’s value in the rhino horn that eSwatini has is kind of false anyway, because they’re projecting that based on a black-market value and an assumption that those legal markets would open up again,” says Matt Collis, director of international policy at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, an animal welfare and conservation nonprofit that does works to prevent rhino poaching.

Collis says it’s unclear what Namibia hoped to achieve with its proposal—since under current regulations, noncommercial trade in live rhinos and trophies is already allowed in the country.

So, he says, this could have been a first step toward liberalizing trade in the future, because the proposal would have moved Namibia’s rhinos to Appendix II.

“It’s not necessarily clear what the motivation is, unless it’s for something for the longer term,” Collis says.

Going forward, Collis says conservationists need to help countries who bear the burden of protecting these species find another way to fund their efforts. “It does need a concerted effort from the international community to offer alternative ways of financing,” he says.

Trump Escalates War on Species as We Face an Extinction Emergency

The Trump administration’s recent announcement of rule changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) will blow a hole through protections that have been crucial to preventing extinctions and to helping the recovery of many threatened species. The changes, announced by the Interior Department’s, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service, will take effect in September.

About 1,600 plant and animal species in the U.S. are listed under the ESA. It’s been estimated the ESA has prevented 227 species from going extinct. It has a 99 percent success ratio, meaning only 10 species ever listed have gone extinct. According to a recent study, 77 percent of once-endangered marine mammals and sea turtles protected by the ESA are now recovering. Without the ESA, it is very likely many iconic as well as many lesser-known species would have disappeared forever. Among others, the ESA is believed to have saved the bald eagle, the monk seal, the leatherback sea turtle, the grizzly bear, the gray wolf, the California condor, the snowy plover, and humpback and gray whales. It is also protecting plant, insect and other species that are vital parts of natural ecosystems.

These changes to the ESA will damage the act’s ability to protect species in a number of ways.

First, a blanket rule automatically extending endangered species protections to newly designated threatened species has been torpedoed. Only threatened species that have special rules set up for them will now receive the greater protections given to endangered species. States could now open hunting or trapping seasons or allow other means that kill off threatened species. Noah Greenwald, endangered species director of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), told Truthout that there is currently a backlog of around 500 species before the FWS under consideration for threatened status. As a result of the changes he said, “Threatened species really won’t have any protections at all” making threatened status an “almost meaningless designation.”

The new rules change the establishment of critical habitat that is crucial for the survival of threatened species.

If a species is impacted by climate change but not primarily by habitat destruction, the new rules won’t designate critical habitat, even though climate change-threatened species need more habitat protection, not less, Greenwald said. “The rules also make it harder to designate unoccupied habitat. So both of these things are very bad for climate change-impacted species because there’s a decent chance they’ll have to move.”

Unoccupied habitat is habitat not yet occupied by the species but that would be beneficial to a species and could help it survive if a species were forced to move, by say, climate change. Scientists have already documented the migration of species northward and to new habitats as a result of climate change, so the need for critical habitat designations isn’t just theoretical.

Greenwald pointed up the example of the wolverine. Only about 300 wolverines are estimated to be left in the wild in the U.S. They are dwindling, particularly as a result of climate disruption lessening mountain snowfall. Wolverines are currently up for a listing decision and are likely to be given threatened status but no designated physical habitat under the new rules. Greenwald says wolverines are affected by winter sports and things like ski resort development because they rely on spring snowfall at high elevations for denning. But since it’s hard to predict exactly how various habitats will be impacted by climate change, the animals are unlikely to be given critical habitat designation now by the FWS rule changes.

Environmental groups are also condemning the ESA changes because they remove language requiring that decisions on protecting species be based solely on science “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of determination.” The new rules allow economic calculations to be made in considering protection of species. This could open the door to weighing those costs against protecting a species. For instance, when deciding whether protecting a certain species threatened by logging of old growth forest is outweighed by the economic benefit of logging. FWS Assistant Director Gary Frazer insisted science would remain the sole basis of determining protections, but the whole attempt to weaken the ESA for many years (mainly by Republicans) has always sought to open the door to overrule protecting species in favor of big capitalist business interests like logging and fossil fuel extraction.

Trump officials are trying to cover over their true intentions by speaking of “updating” or even “improving” the Act. Interior Department head David Bernhardt, a longtime ESA opponent and advocate for coal and oil interests, now claims to just make the ESA more “clear and efficient” to “ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal — recovery of our rarest species.”

Jacob Malcom of Defenders of Wildlife doesn’t buy it. “They’re going to make these arguments because that’s the only way they’re going to have any traction in trying to defend them, but they’re simply not true,” he told Truthout.

Greenwald concurs. “They say they’re going to rely on the best scientific information in making their decisions but what’s the point of doing the economic analysis?” he told Truthout. Greenwald said these changes will also create pressure by large monied interests to list species as threatened instead of endangered, because they will get less habitat protection. Republicans in Congress like John Barrasso,who have conducted a years-long attempt to undermine and do away with ESA protections, also see these changes as a “good start” and a gateway to even more drastic gutting of the Act, while claiming to “update” and “strengthen” it.

Facing criticism for the rule changes, Trump officials have simply doubled down on their assault on species, denying endangered protections to six more species on August 14.

CBD, Earthjustice and the attorneys general of California and Massachusetts have announced they will go to court to stop the rule changes.

Extinction and the Larger Ecological Crisis

The assault on the ESA happens at a moment of global mass extinction and climate crises. It will further that crisis unless prevented.

“When we’re seeing this kind of crisis … we should be strengthening laws we know are effective at saving species,” Malcom told Truthout. “Instead, the Trump administration is doing the opposite. They are weakening the rules, making it easier for harm to happen to these species and ultimately to drive species closer to extinction.”

In May, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) reported that up to 1 million species are threatened with extinction. The report said “nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely.”

According to the report, three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66 percent of the marine environment have now been significantly altered by human actions, and land-based habitats have fallen by 20 percent. Approximately 40 percent of amphibian species, 33 percent of reef-forming corals and a third of all marine mammals are threatened. Scientists have also been finding evidence of a collapse of insects in certain places, leading to fears of an apocalypse at the base of the food chain.

About one-fourth of the global land area is “traditionally owned, managed, used or occupied by Indigenous Peoples.” And areas with large concentrations of Indigenous Peoples and many of the world’s poorest people are now “projected to experience significant negative effects from global changes in climate, biodiversity, ecosystem functions and nature’s contributions to people.” IPBES Chair Robert Watson said, “We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

The gutting of the ESA happens against a backdrop of other human-caused catastrophes that has been escalating with shocking rapidity and scope, this summer especially.

This July ranked as the hottest month ever recorded. An intense heat wave scorched the northern hemisphere, causing between 12 and 24 billion tons of Greenland’s ice to melt in a single day. Scientists said the melt was reaching levels climate models hadn’t predicted until 2070. In the Arctic, extremely hot temperatures and resulting drought set off massive wildfires that are visible from space. In vast regions of Siberia, the smoke got so bad that, mixed with dark clouds, it caused the sun to “disappear,” as also happened last summer. Now residents talk about this as the sun “going off.” Waters are so warm in some Alaskan rivers that salmon are literally being killed off.

The increased warming of the Arctic is causing a feedback loop releasing even more greenhouse gases by melting frozen permafrost. “Arctic permafrost isn’t thawing gradually, as scientists once predicted,” reports National Geographic. “Geologically speaking, it’s thawing almost overnight.”

If fossil fuel burning isn’t dramatically altered, in a few decades, emissions of carbon and methane from melting permafrost will contribute as much to greenhouse emissions as that of China, currently the world’s largest emitter. Meanwhile, in the Bering Sea, warming ocean waters are triggering ecological disaster, killing off seabirds, seals, walruses and whales at rates not seen before. Rick Thoman, a scientist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, said at a public forum in Nome, Alaska, “We’re not approaching the cliff. We’ve fallen off it.”

Trump’s Multileveled and Criminal War on Nature

Given the cataclysm already engulfing the globe, emergency measures are needed to address the crisis.

Nothing like this is occurring, and in the U.S., Trump is instead barreling ahead in ways that will further destroy species and ecosystems to increase profitability for capitalism with what could rightfully be called life-destroying criminality.

A report in Scientific American details how the Trump administration is “torpedoing climate science.” Another report reveals that after meeting with Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Trump personally intervened with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force a withdrawal of opposition to the proposed Pebble Gold and Copper Mine that will likely devastate the habitat of the world’s richest and most pristine remaining salmon run, in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Trump’s Interior Department is also being exposed for suppressing science in an environmental assessment of drilling plans in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain. Government scientists warning of the likely damage to caribou, polar bears and Native communities are being disregarded.

And on another front, Trump’s EPA has continued to refuse to stop the use of dangerous pesticides that are killing endangered plants and animals, including important pollinators. In the case of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which has been shown to cause neurological and developmental damage to humans and animals, the EPA reversed a ban on its use even though the agency knew it could jeopardize the existence of almost 1,400 endangered plants and animals.

In July, Trump gave a speech on what he claimed were the great achievements of his government on the environment, including how under him, the U.S. has the world’s cleanest air and water. However, as Brett Hartl, government affairs director of the Center for Biological Diversity told Truthout, “Since he’s been elected, the air has gotten dirtier, the water has gotten dirtier, the amount of enforcement of our environmental laws has dropped off a cliff so polluters are getting away with much more, and they’re cutting the science and the staff to do the basic research to monitor the air and water.”

The CBD has filed 151 lawsuits to date challenging the Trump administration’s moves that would cause damage to the environment, species and people. The scope of the CBD lawsuits is remarkable, and reviewing them is an excellent way to take in the awful reality of what the regime is attempting to do and the legal attempts to stop this. Hartl said that a number of the lawsuits and legal actions filed by CBD and others have met with success; for instance, blocking Trump moves to open up Arctic waters for drilling, stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline for a time, stopping construction of an open-pit copper mine in Arizona, and winning protected status for a number of species.

The Trump regime is not only a threat to endangered species, but to all species — including our own. Preventing mass extinction and addressing the climate crisis is a global imperative, and time is short.

Group wants grizzly bears restored to more US states

The federal government should be looking at restoring grizzly bears throughout the Rocky Mountains from Arizona and California to Washington, according to a lawsuit filed by the Centers for Biological Diversity on Thursday.

And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must also update grizzly recovery plans it hasn’t touched since 1993, the suit alleges. The environmental group filed the case with U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula. Last fall, Christensen vacated the service’s attempt to delist grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from federal Endangered Species Act protection. The federal government has appealed that ruling to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“They just want to point to success in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, remove protections and wash their hands of grizzly bears,” CBD attorney Collette Adkins said on Thursday. “We’re saying you can only achieve true recovery if you look at these other areas and evaluate whether those are places grizzlies can recover. We want the Fish and Wildlife Service to take a look at least at the places it identified itself in the 1993 plan, and do what they promised — evaluate those additional areas.”

Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly recovery coordinator Hilary Cooley said the service had received the lawsuit, but had no further comment on Thursday.

The grizzly bear received threatened status under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. Before the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805, an estimated 50,000 grizzlies inhabited most of the states west of North Dakota and south to Mexico. Due to loss of habitat and predator-removal efforts, only a few hundred grizzlies remained on about 2% of their historical range by the 1970s in the lower 48 states.

Today, about 2,000 grizzlies roam remote parts of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, with most concentrated around Yellowstone National Park and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem between Missoula and Glacier National Park. The FWS 1993 recovery plan also monitors small grizzly populations in Montana’s Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem and Idaho’s Selkirk Ecosystem, as well as large swaths of the Bitterroot Ecosystem along the Montana-Idaho border and the North Cascades Ecosystem in Washington that have no known resident grizzlies.

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The CBD lawsuit claims that the 1993 plan stated the service would evaluate within five years the potential for grizzly recovery in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. In a 2011 update, the service stated “other areas throughout the historic range of the grizzly bear in the lower 48 states should be evaluated to determine their habitat suitability for grizzly bear recovery.” Those other areas included parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California, Nevada, Oregon and southern Washington.

The Fish and Wildlife Service created a plan to reintroduce grizzlies as an experimental population in the Bitterroots in 2000, but the project was never funded and drew opposition from both people who argued the bears threatened their safety and people who said the plan didn’t extend enough protection for the bears. A similar reintroduction plan is under consideration for the North Cascades Ecosystem.

The suit also alleges the Endangered Species Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to produce five-year updates on the grizzly’s recovery status, which the service hasn’t done since 2011. While CBD acknowledges the service updated its recovery plans for the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems in advance of attempts to delist those populations, the group maintains the service has to include the whole continental United States recovery area. Adkins said CBD petitioned the service to update the plan in 2014, but was refused.

“There are other areas in the West that fall in the historic range of grizzly bears where they could be reintroduced and do very well,” CBD attorney Andrea Santarsiere said on Thursday. “We know they’re important carnivores that have benefits on ecosystems, so if that reintroduction is successful, we would see some ecosystem benefits. It’s not like we’re proposing to introduce grizzly bears into city centers. We’re talking about wild landscapes where conflict is very low or nonexistent, and areas where they’ve survived in the past.”

Felicia’s Fate: The Trials of a Grizzly Bear Mom

June 26, 2019


David Mattson

Grizzly bears reside at a symbolic nexus that seems to relentlessly spawn conflict. Almost invariably, this conflict organizes around incidents that catalyze a mix of fear, anger, grief, and empathy—all inescapably configured by peoples’ mental constructs. There is the reality of bears, and then there are our contested inventions of who they are, what they should be, and what it all means. More complicating yet, grizzly bear-centric conflicts often arise from different ideas about how we should treat them and what that means for the institutions we create to manage ourselves.

Such seems to be the case with an incident unfolding around a grizzly bear called Felicia by her admirers, and #863 by those captive to the instrumentalizing impulses of wildlife management.

Who is Felicia?

Felicia is a tragic figure who could have easily been a character in classic Greek literature or a Victorian novel. She is a bear’s version of the young woman who got in trouble with the law and ended up a single mom in a rough neighborhood trying to scrape together a living while fending off predatory males. If that isn’t cause for Freudian psychological projection, I’m not sure what is.

Insofar as the facts of Felicia’s life are concerned, we know a few, but with ample scope for imaginative invention. We know nothing about her cub-hood, whether nurturing, traumatic, or indifferent. She first shows up in our human records as a (probably) newly-independent 2-year-old on the Shoshone National Forest wandering near human habitations eating human foods in an area with a long history of negligence on the part of human residents. In response, Wyoming Game & Fish (WGF) managers trapped her and a sibling, and then hauled them 75 miles as the crow flies to a location east of Grand Teton National Park. A year later she was trapped yet again by researchers roughly 20 miles east of where she was released the year before. So, by the time she was 3-years-old she had already been trapped, drugged, and handled by humans twice, and was probably not only tolerant of people, but also inclined to seek us out as a source of food. Not an auspicious start.

Felicia apparently lived out her remaining two adolescent years in or near the Blackrock Creek drainage on the Bridger-Teton National Forest below Togwotee Pass, probably never too far from Highway 26, the main connector between Moran Junction and points east. During winter of 2019 she gave birth as a 6-year-old to her first litter of cubs in the confines of a den, after which she emerged to face the considerable challenges confronting a first-time mom trying to keep two cubs alive in a neighborhood teeming with humans and other bears. By May she had lost her first cub. By early June she was being hounded by at least one male bear intent on breeding. For the boar, her surviving cub was at best an impediment to his purposes. By late June, she had apparently abandoned her last cub in the midst of on-going pursuit by these one or more males. When last seen, the cub was frantically trying to reunite with its mom—destined to starve or be killed by a predator if unsuccessful.

Enter Humans

Felicia has probably never been very far from people most of her life. She has been observed by a number of people on a number of occasions, which axiomatically means she’s been near people more often than she’s been seen. More important to this story, she has been near and even on Highway 26 since leaving her den this spring with cubs—literally walking down the highway centerline at times. As described by many, she has seemed “frantic” and “inexperienced.” Among other things, she has predictably incurred substantial risk of being killed by vehicles travelling at 65 mph along Highway 26, and may have even been hit by a car mid-June.

As predictably, she and her cubs have attracted great crowds of tourists, gawkers, photographers, and fans intent on seeing a grizzly bear, getting a killer photo of a grizzly, keeping track of her well-being, or just simply being part of the scene. The result has been emerging roadside mayhem—in the midst of cars and semis intent on making time between Dubois and Moran Junction.

Hence, with the certitude of a Greek drama, managers from Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WGF) arrived trying to “get on top of the situation.” The first apparent intervention by WGF was what, at best, could charitably be described as an ad hoc effort to haze her away from the highway. More helpfully, and thanks largely to the efforts of her advocates, Wyoming Department of Transportation (WDOT) rapidly deployed temporary signs that reduced the speed limit near where she was active to 40 mph—which could have saved her life if she was indeed hit by a car.

Since then, the crowds have grown, not diminished, at the same time that the comparative absence of people with authority to manage the situation, notably from WGF or the US Forest Service, has raised questions about motives, resources, and competence on the part of involved bureaus. Rumors have also surfaced about impromptu efforts by private individuals with suspect motives to haze Felicia and her surviving cub, while tensions mount along with odds of some additional tragic outcomes, not only for Felicia, but also for an over-aggressive photographer.

And, off stage, the passion, stridency, and even vitriol have mounted. Felicia’s partisans have promulgated passionate pleas for some sort of remedy. In response, Trumpian thugs have responded with profanity, video clips featuring their middle finger, and the message that most or all grizzlies should be killed. In some bizarre quadrant of it all, one of WGF’s putative public servants, an out-of-control Brian DeBolt, likewise accosts a photographer at a service station saying “f..k you photographers.” Little if any of this is about Felicia or her cub. Most is about human emotions and root symbolic stakes.

Sound like a Greek tragedy? Probably should.

A Classic Profile

Felicia fits a classic profile that typifies a non-trivial number of female grizzlies I’ve either personally known or have been acquainted with from afar. These females take up residence near people, probably as early as their adolescent years, largely because it is a space safe from the hazards and harassments of other bears, especially large potentially violent boars. This attraction to people, highways, and homes only strengthens with birth of their first cubs. Adult male grizzlies will kill cubs as means of triggering estrus in females that would otherwise be available for breeding only once every three years. Moreover, with prerogative to any resources they want, these males tend to preempt backcountry habitats and avoid annoying and potentially lethal humans.

The upshot is that areas near people become a figurative shield against predatory boars for females trying to find food and keep their offspring alive. These females then perversely incur the perhaps less obvious hazards of living near people and, in the process, become the centerpiece of a roadside circus, with unpredictable consequences for everybody involved, although predictable mounting exasperation for wildlife managers.

Roadside grizzly bear moms end up being between the proverbial rock and hard place, hemmed in by lethal boars and mobs of people. No wonder these mother bears often seem frantic, especially when tending their first cubs.

Variations on the Theme

Given this basic profile, there are variations on the theme, including the famous roadside dame of Grand Teton National Park—bear #399. Number 399 stands out as an individual who has figured out how to negotiate the human niche with considerable aplomb and minimal related hazards to the crowds of people who gather to collect photographic trophies or just simply stand awestruck. As a result, #399 has more-or-less successfully raised four litters of cubs, with a fifth currently in the nursery. (For more on #399 see this page and this page in Grizzly Times).

However, there are important differences between Felicia and #399. For one, #399 seems to be a much more grounded individual. And, yes, for those who resist the idea that animals are sentient beings with personalities, there are, in fact, enormous differences among individual grizzly bears, as between Felicia and #399. For another, #399 roams Grand Teton National Park where managers have a more benevolent mandate compared to the Forest Service, WGF, and WODT—all of which hold sway to some extent over the fate of Felicia and her remaining cub. Number 399 often has Park Service attendants focused on controlling traffic and crowds. Felicia does not.

And then there is the tragic tale of Bear #59, a roadside denizen of Yellowstone National Park with whom I worked closely during 1984-1986. Notably, # 59 and Felicia have some remarkable similarities. Number 59 could likewise have been called “frantic,” if not desperate. She likewise lost her first litter of cubs, followed by the loss of her second. She was likewise hounded by hordes of sight-seers and photographers who were, at that time, not closely tended by managers. Roadside viewing of grizzly bears was an emerging, even novel, phenomenon that Park managers were still scrambling to deal with. Of particular relevance to the developing situation with Felicia, #59 ended up killing a photographer named William Tesinsky. Tesinsky relentlessly pursued her while she was frantically digging roots in an attempt to remedy a profound deficit of body fat—with only a month to go until denning. Needless to say, she was subsequently killed by managers, despite the fact that all of the blame lay on Tesinsky’s shoulders.

A cautionary tale indeed.

What to Do?

All of this begs the question of what to do about Felicia and, more importantly, her surviving cub. Indeed, this question is on a lot of peoples’ minds. Perhaps more importantly, though, this challenge broaches the broader issue of what to do about increasing numbers of similar bears in similar situations—but where ultimate authority is held by dysfunctional and undemocratic state wildlife management agencies in a world overrun by humans.

Felicia ended up in a niche that includes private land residences and a major US highway funneling virtually all of the east-west traffic from a swath 100 miles wide. Given the imperatives of commerce and communication, there are few options for affecting traffic speeds and volumes—unlike in a National Park. And it is an inescapable fact that bears are being increasingly killed by collisions with vehicles traveling at high speeds along heavily-trafficked highways.

Likewise, odds are high that someone will be injured under circumstances where mobs containing unknowledgeable, inexperienced people—or even people greedy for the next best photograph—have more-or-less unrestrained access to a roadside grizzly, especially one accompanied by cubs. No matter how judicious or habituated the bear may be, someone is guaranteed to cross a boundary out of rudeness, stupidity, or avarice.

Some Improbable Prospects

Perhaps most urgently, Felicia’s surviving cub requires attention. Yet, as one of a species protected by the US Endangered Species Act, the cub is subject to the authority of the US Fish & Wildland Service in the form of a person sitting at a desk in Missoula, Montana, 300 miles away, which de facto results in deferral of authority to WGF managers on the scene. Yet these officials as a matter of culture and policy are loathe to intervene in something deemed “natural,” especially when there is uncertainty about whether Felicia has completely abandoned the cub, and even more so when to do so would be tacitly at the behest of “bleeding hearts” they despise.

Indeed, most WGF officials seem to harbor unabashed animosity towards not only people who emotionally identify with individual bears, but also the roadside bears themselves. As Dan Thompson, Wyoming’s Large Carnivore Specialist, said: “Habituation towards people and the roadside bear situation, it’s not something that we’re supportive of…” Despite recent soothing sounds to the contrary, it seems unlikely that WGF officials will scoop up Felicia’s cub and send it to a sanctuary. More likely it will just simply disappear.

Hazing Felicia away from the highway and perhaps conditioning her to avoid humans likewise has very limited prospects of success. As someone who has been involved in and closely privy to research on and applications of aversive conditioning, the contingencies of success are so numerous and stringent as to debar practical application in a situation such as this one. Felicia does not have—nor does she probably perceive herself as having—any good options. The least bad option from her perspective would probably be to endure any pain or discomfort meted out in predictably haphazard ways by WGF officials rather than confront the more certain threat posed by bigger badder bears in the backcountry. I have seen bears in a similar plight literally allow themselves to be beaten to death at the hands of aversive conditioners rather than abandon a putative roadside sanctuary.

More Promising Possibilities

Which, again, begs the question of what can be done? WGF almost certainly considers bears such as Felicia and her cubs to be readily expendable, and so are probably not highly motivated. Setting such attitudes aside for the moment, there are at least two measures that could be taken with prospects of yielding future benefits, perhaps not for Felicia, but for bears in future similar plights.

Nearer-term, agencies with authority over roadsides and highways could institutionalize remedial measures. WDOT could reduce speed limits on a seasonal rather than ad hoc temporary basis for stretches of highway likely to be frequented by grizzlies. The US Forest Service and WGF could create teams of Bear Rangers on call to deal with roadside situations as they emerge, and trained to manage and educate the entailed crowds. The National Park Service in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks has perfected this method, based largely on employment of relatively low-cost volunteers. Given the passionate interest, considerable resources, and evident expertise of Grand Teton National Park personnel and nearby Jackson Hole residents, teams of bear rangers would seem an easy fix.

Longer-term, a comprehensive infrastructure of fencing and crossing structures could be installed with prospects of yielding considerable benefits for bears and other wildlife. Research in the Bow Valley of Banff National Park and along Highway 93 in the Mission Valley of Montana has demonstrated the efficacies of such measures. On the down side, this kind of infrastructure is expensive, needs to be comprehensive, and would, moreover, create an obvious visual and psychological barrier between people and the bears that are the object of their affection, interest, and perhaps avarice.

Tragedy But with a Future

Felicia’s prospects seem bleak captive as she is to a hazardous near-human niche and prey to the apathy and even outright hostility of Wyoming’s wildlife managers. Prospects for Felicia’s surviving cub seem bleaker yet. This young inexperienced bear has little buffer against lack of sustenance or vagaries of the world, and is likewise prey to indifference and platitudes on the part of those with authority over its fate. And none of this is likely to change any time soon given the politics of Wyoming and a culture of willful blindness in the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Yet there is hope in the long game. Bear Rangers can be assembled, trained, and effectively deployed. A comprehensive infrastructure of highway crossings and diversions can be built. Even more ambitious yet, state wildlife management can be reformed to better represent who we are becoming, and to even pioneer a more compassionate vision of how to treat wildlife.

But achieving such long-term and prospectively resource-intensive outcomes is contingent on a fundamental reorientation. Advocates for bears such as Felicia need to do what might seem unthinkable and shift focus from a perhaps unredeemable near-term situation to higher-order and longer-term goals. Energy and even outrage is often found in the moment, but meaningful gains predictably require sustained and strategic political engagement.

Even more fundamental yet, accommodation and care for bears such as Felicia will necessarily be rooted in a foundational reordering and realignment of societal priorities—away from the self-gratification of a local culture organized around thrill sports and entertainment of elites; away from a national obsession with the distractions of digital media and related indifference to the plight of other sentient beings; instead to a committed, humble, and deeply-felt obligation to help others without power or voice.

Federal agency hears testimony on fate of gray wolves

Minnesota DNR
Minnesota DNR

BRAINERD, Minn. – Federal officials are weighing testimony from the only public hearing in the country on the government’s latest attempt to take gray wolves off the endangered and threatened species list.

The proposal would return management of the wolves to the states, potentially subjecting them to hunting and trapping. In most states it’s illegal to kill a wolf unless it’s threatening a person.

Officials explained at the hearing Tuesday night in the east-central Minnesota city of Brainerd that they no longer consider gray wolves endangered. They’ve made a dramatic recovery since they were protected in 1974.

But supporters of the protections said removal is premature. While wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and the northern Rockies have rebounded, they haven’t fully recovered across their historic range.