Bald Eagles

The Good, The Bad, The In-Between (Wildlife Welfare Check) – High Country News – Know the West

The Good, The Bad, The In-Between (Wildlife Welfare Check) - High Country News - Know the West

On April 7, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced that her department would “continue work on wildlife corridors” with a focus on “conserving and restoring wildlife corridors and habitat connectivity in a way that supports results.” preservation”.

The federal initiative includes $2.5 million in grants for seven states and three tribal nations to fund 13 projects, ranging from increasing climate-resilient habitat for big game at a ranch in New Mexico owned by the Pueblo de Sandia, carrying out fire restoration work in California. . There is also $250,000 to establish a conservation easement on the Twin Eagle Ranch in western Wyoming to avoid potential residential development and protect the so-called Path of the Pronghorn, which runs through the area.

The Path of the Pronghorn is a 6,000-year-old, 150-mile-long migration corridor in northwest Wyoming that iconic ungulates follow north each spring to higher pastures in the Tetons and then back down. south in the fall. The Twin Eagle (née Carney) Ranch sits right in the middle of it, making its preservation a victory for the pronghorn.

However, just two days before Haaland’s announcement, the hallway suffered a major blow when, as first reported WyoFile, a federal judge cleared the way for Jonah Energy’s 3,500-well normal-pressure natural gas drilling project to advance on 140,000 acres of mostly public land — right on Pronghorn Road. When the Bureau of Land Management approved the project in 2018, conservation groups sued, claiming the agency failed to properly consider impacts to pronghorn and sage-grouse. But on April 5, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl dismissed their challenge.

Now, it seems that even if the pronghorns were guaranteed free passage through the Twin Eagle Ranch, the groundwork was being laid for an industrialized obstacle course that they would have to navigate one day.

The set of back and forth epitomizes the good, the bad and the bad for wildlife in the West in the spring of 2022, as setbacks are followed by breakthroughs – and vice versa.

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GOOD

MONARCH IS BACK? : In the spring of 2021, it looked like the monarch butterfly was doomed. The company Xerces, which does an annual count centered on California, has documented a 99% decline in monarch populations since the 1980s, possibly caused by climate change, increased use of the herbicide glyphosate, industrialization and residential development of agricultural land. So it was a welcome surprise this winter when California skies fluttered orange and black wings: Xerces’ Thanksgiving count down 250,000 monarchs, against only 2,000 the previous year.

RETURN PUPFISH: Fish biologists drank the bubbly (figuratively speaking) after counting a huge 175 Devil’s Hole Fish this spring. This may not seem like much, especially since it constitutes the entire wild population of the species. But it’s the most seen in 22 years in the tiny little fish habitat, which includes the top 80 feet of a water-filled cavern in an isolated unit of Nevada’s Death Valley National Park. Prior to the 1990s, the Devils Hole pupfish – one of the rarest fish in the world – consistently numbered around 200, but the population dropped to less than half before this recent rebound.

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THE BAD

WIND ENERGY VS. BIRDS: ESI Energy, a subsidiary of renewable energy giant NextEra, killed at least 150 golden and bald eagles at its wind farms in eight states since 2012 without applying for accidental take or accidental murder permits, according to federal prosecutors. The company was fined more than $8 million and given five years probation after pleading guilty to nine of those murders in Wyoming and New Mexico. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power requested

for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit to cover the incidental take of up to two free-flying California condors and two associated eggs or chicks over 30 years old at its Pine Tree Wind Farm in the Tehachapi Mountains. The utility breeds birds in captivity in hopes of replacing killed vultures. The California condor is the largest land bird in North America, and although it has been brought back from the brink of extinction, it remains in peril (See the story).

TAKE OUT THE LEAD (OF THE EAGLES): The first population-level study of lead poisoning in bald eagles and golden eagles was published this winter. The news was not good: out of more than 1,200 eagles sampled, nearly half showed signs of repeated exposure to lead, most likely from fragments of ammunition ingested after hunters have dressed game in the field. Bald eagles aren’t affected as much because their numbers are increasing at a rapid rate, researchers say. “In contrast, the golden eagle population is not as stable and any additional mortality could tip it into decline,” said Brian Millsap, national raptor coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service and co-author of the study.

PAUCITY OF PINYON JAYS: Pinyon Jays – often social corvids called camp thieves, because of their tendency to snatch snacks from campers – are essential parts of the piñon-juniper forests of the southwest: they harvest the piñon nuts and bury them to eat them later, leaving some of the buried seeds germinate and grow into new piñon trees. Now the birds are disappearing at an alarming rate; over the past five decades, the population has reduced by 85%. Suspected culprits include thinning or clearing of pine forests and the impact of climate change on habitat. In April, Defenders of Wildlife called on the Biden administration to protect the bird under the Endangered Species Act.

THE UGLY ONE

SOME FOR THE WOLVES: Following the colonial invasion of the western United States, local and state governments, ranchers, and individuals set out to exterminate the gray wolf. They almost succeeded, practically extirpating it from the Lower 48. But Federal Endangered Species

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Species law protections helped bring it back, enough to cause federal protections to be lifted in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming in 2011. Today, wolves are hunted in the Northern Rockies too. greedily than they were in the 1800s. In 2019, the Trump administration delisted gray wolves in the remaining states, potentially opening up those sparser populations to the same treatment. But a federal judge overturned that decision earlier this year. Mexican wolves remained protected, and in March the US Fish and Wildlife Service reported that the population increased by 5% last year, reaching a total of 196 animals.

SOURCES: US Department of Interior, Jonah Energy, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA, WildEarth Guardians, Xerces Society, US Justice Department, Defenders of Wildlife

IMAGE CREDITS: Black Bear, Mark Raycroft/Minden Pictures. Wyoming Pronghorn, Shattil & Rozinski/Minden. Monarch, Sean Crane/Minden. Pupfish, Olin Feuerbacher/USFWS. Golden Eagle, Chris and Tilde Stuart/Minden. Pinyon Jay, Alan Murphy/Minden. Beaver, Nicole Mays/CC via Flickr. Wolf, John Shaw/Minden. Page design: Luna Anna Archey / HCN

We welcome letters from readers. Jonathan Thompson is editor of High Country News. He is the author of Sagebrush Empire: How a remote Utah county became America’s public land battlefront. Email him at [email protected] or send a letter to the editor. See our Letters to the Editor Policy.

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