A Wild Success: A Systematic Review of Bird Recovery Under the Endangered Species Act

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The Endangered Species Act is the world’s strongest law protecting animals and plants on the brink of extinction. In fact, 99 percent of species protected under the Act have avoided extinction. For the Center’s third in-depth report on the Act’s efficacy, A Wild Success: A Systematic Review of Bird Recovery Under the Endangered Species Act — the most exhaustive analysis of its kind — we examined how well the Act is recovering species by determining the objective, long-term population trends of all 120 bird species that have been listed as threatened or endangered under the Act since 1967. Drawing on more than 1,800 scientific population surveys, our study used scientifically vetted data points to determine (1) if bird populations increased, decreased or stabilized after being protected by the Act, (2) the magnitude of population changes, (3) whether recovery rates are consistent with rates projected in federal recovery plans, and (4) how endangered birds fared in comparison to more common birds. Twenty-three of the birds we examined had no Endangered Species Act population trend because they likely went extinct prior to being protected, were delisted for reasons not related to population trends, or were protected under the Act for fewer than 10 years. Our trend analyses were based on the remaining 97 species. On average our datasets spanned 83 percent of the time each species was protected by the Act; thus they represent a true picture of the Act’s long-term effect. We found that the Endangered Species Act has been extraordinarily successful in recovering imperiled birds:

  • Eighty-five percent of bird populations in the continental United States increased or stabilized while protected by the Act.
  • The average population increase was 624 percent.
  • Birds from the Pacific Islands (Hawaii, Guam, Palau and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianna Islands) recovered less robustly, with 61 percent either increased or stabilized.
  • On average birds have been protected under the Act for 36 years, but their federal recovery plans estimate they need 63 years to fully recover; thus, few birds were expected to have recovered by 2015.
  • Birds are recovering at the rate expected by federal recovery plans.

The feds want to launch peanut butter drone strikes to save endangered ferrets

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Black-footed ferrets are America’s ferrets, the only ones native to this country — and they’re in trouble. What better way to help save them than with one of America’s favorite contraptions, the drone?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to use unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones, to rain peanut-butter pellets down on northeast Montana. The tasty ammunition is laced with a vaccine against the plague. The targets are prairie dogs that are commonly afflicted with the disease.

Getting those rodents to scarf down the drone-fired bait would keep them healthy, which in turn would help the ferrets, because black-footed ferrets eat prairie dogs. Prairie dogs, in fact, make up 90 percent of the diet of the carnivorous ferrets, which also live inside the prairie dogs’ abandoned burrows. Black-footed ferrets are, in other words, entirely dependent on prairie dogs.

‘Ecosystem canaries’ provide early warning signs of catastrophic changes to ecosystems

Read the full story from the University of Southampton.

New research, led by the University of Southampton, demonstrates that ‘ecosystem canaries’ can provide early warning signals of large, potentially catastrophic, changes or tipping points in ecosystems.

Like canaries that coal miners used to check for poisonous gasses deep underground, ‘ecosystem canaries’ species that are often the first to disappear from a stressed ecosystem. Their vanishing can be linked to changes in the functioning of ecosystems, which can serve as a warning that a tipping point is approaching.

Weathered Oil From Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill May Threaten Fish Embryos and Larvae Development

Read the full story from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

A research team led by scientists at the University of California, Riverside and the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science have found that ultraviolet light is changing the structure of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil components into something more toxic, further threatening numerous commercially and ecologically important fishes. The DWH oil spill, in which more than three million barrels of crude oil got released in 2010 into the northern Gulf of Mexico, is the worst oil disaster in US history, contaminating the spawning habitats for many fishes.

“Ours is the first experiment evaluating the effects of DWH oil on the genetic responses of mahi-mahi embryos and larvae,” said Daniel Schlenk, a professor of aquatic ecotoxicology, who led the study published in Environmental Science and Technology.  “It is also the first experiment of this nature on a lifestage and species that was likely exposed to the oil.  We found that the weathering of oil had more significant changes in gene expression related to critical functions in the embryos and larvae than the un-weathered oil. Our results predict that there are multiple targets of oil for toxicity to this species at the embryonic life stage.”

Longest study of Great Lakes region birds finds populations holding steady

Read the full story from the National Forest Service.

A new USDA Forest Service report documenting an unprecedented effort to inventory birds in the western Great Lakes region and analyze changes in bird populations over the past quarter of a century found that across a trio of national forests, most birds are doing well in terms of both species diversity and population.