Friday, October 29, 2010

Almost 200 countries agree on biodiversity goals

In Nagoya, Japan, delegates from almost 200 nations attending the 10th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed today to goals focused on ensuring species' survival. After two weeks of intense discussion, attendees eventually "came to a concensus to a 20-point strategic plan to protect fish stocks, fight the loss and degradation of natural habitats and to conserve larger land and marine areas."

They also agreed to protect 17 percent of land and inland waters and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas by 2020. Right now, 13 percent of land and 1 percent of oceans receive protection.

"Governments have sent a strong message that protecting the health of the planet has a place in international politics," said Jim Leape, director-general of conservation group WWF International.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rowe removes invasive plants in the Everglades

It's a dirty job, and Mike Rowe's giving the rest of America a peek into the work that goes into removing invasive plants from our ecosystems. That glimpse into habitat restoration will air on Oct. 26 on “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe” on Discovery Channel.

In "Wetland Warrior," Rowe visits Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge near Boynton Beach, Fla., to remove melaleuca, a non-native plant that negatively affects native plants. See a Flickr set from Rowe's April visit to the Everglades.

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Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded a $1.25 million contract in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds – popularly known as stimulus funds – to a private company, Aquatic Vegetation Control Inc., to remove melaleuca from about 90,000 acres at the refuge.

AVC employees pull some of the melaleuca out by hand and chop some of it down with machetes. They “girdle” larger plants by chopping around the stalk, then spray it with pesticides. When the plants are dead, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service firefighters set fire to them using prescribed burn techniques.

Rowe got to do a little of everything on his day in the swamp. “We have poisons, we have knives, we have flames!” he joyfully proclaimed to the cameras.

For the cutting portion of the job, Rowe joined a crew of four AVC workers: Bobby Bishop, Jovany Garces, Carlos Rodriguez and Luis Sanchez. For the prescribed burn portion, he worked closely with Jon Wallace, prescribed fire specialist for Loxahatchee and Keys refuges.

“When a new guy comes in, the first problem they have is walking,” said Geovany Esteban, an AVC crew supervisor. “You don’t know the terrain, and you think everything is solid. You’ll just fall right in a hole.”

Sure enough, when Rowe got off his airboat and waded into an island of melaleuca, he had trouble getting his footing. But as always on the show, he persevered: “I could have spent a couple more hours in there, to tell you the truth.”

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San Francisco considers bird-safe building standards

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Planning Department released the 38-page draft of "Standards for Bird-Safe Buildings," which is available for public comment through the end of the year. You can view it here before submitting comments to the Planning Commissioners via the commission secretary and the manager of legislative affairs.

The draft's acknowledgments included a hat tip to the cities of New York, Toronto and Chicago, whose guidelines informed the planning department's efforts. Golden Gate Audubon Society and American Bird Conservancy also played key roles in the draft's creation.

The easy-to-read document includes many photographs and explanatory captions, making the information very accessible. Consider reading it from an educational perspective.

The San Francisco Planning Commission might vote on the standards in early 2011, and you can keep tabs on the process.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Three Hawaiian seabirds at risk from utility cooperative

Three seabirds in the Hawaiian Islands prompted a utility cooperative on Kauai to submit a draft Habitat Conservation Plan and an Environmental Assessment for public review. The HCP and EA are part of Kauai Island Utility Cooperative's application for an incidental take permit for bird species protected under the Endangered Species Act. The public may review and comment on the documents until Nov. 29.

The three species are Hawaiian Petrel (endangered, right), Newell's Shearwater (threatened, below) and Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (a candidate for listing). According to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service:
The three seabirds breed on Kauai, feed in the open ocean and spend the majority of the year at sea. Adults generally return to their colonial nesting grounds in the interior mountains of Kauai beginning in March and April and depart beginning in September.

Fledglings – young birds learning how to fly – travel from the nesting colony to the sea in the fall. Both adults and fledglings are known to collide with tall buildings, towers, powerlines, and other structures while flying at night between their nesting colonies and at-sea foraging areas.

These birds, particularly fledglings, are also attracted to bright lights that disorient them. Disoriented birds are commonly observed circling around exterior light sources until they fall to the ground or collide with structures, resulting in possible injury or death.
KIUC has requested an incidental take permit because its lawful activities - generating and distributing electricity - will cause the occasional death of a bird during the operation and maintenance of its facilities during the next five years. The draft HCP describes KIUC's plans to "minimize, mitigate and monitor" incidental take.

For many more details about the draft HCP and EA, visit the link above.

Hawaiian Petrel, top, courtesy of Jim Denny/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Newell's Shearwater courtesy of Brenda Zaun/USFWS

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Minnesota artist wins Duck Stamp contest for the fourth time

James Hautman of Chaska, Minn., earned top honors again in the annual Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest with his painting of two Greater White-fronted Geese. The judging and announcement took place Saturday at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, Calif.

Hautman's work bested more than 230 entries and will appear as the 2011-12 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. He previously won the contest in 1989, 1994 and 1998.

Greater White-fronted Geese by James Hautman

The Duck Stamp sells for $15 and raises close to $25 million each year to provide funds that purchase wetlands and grasslands providing habitat for waterfowl and many species enjoyed by birders and other outdoor enthusiasts. Ninety-eight percent of the proceeds go to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund.

Greater White-fronted Goose by Robert Hautman

Hautman's brother Robert of Delano, Minn., earned second place in the contest with his painting of a Greater White-fronted Goose. Robert Hautman won first place in two previous Duck Stamp art contests.

An acrylic painting of two Brant earned third-place honors for Kip Richmond of Apex, N.C. Eligible species for this year’s Federal Duck Stamp Contest were Brant, Canada Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Northern Shoveler and Ruddy Duck.

Brant by Kip Richmond

The judges included former California Secretary of Natural Resources Mike Chrisman; waterfowl biologist and professor John Eadie; wildlife artist Joe Garcia; retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Jerry Serie; and wildlife biologist and duck stamp expert Carlo Vecchiarelli. The alternate judge was Gary Kramer, an outdoor writer and photographer -- and WildBird contributor.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Duck Stamp art contest begins in Berkeley

Today marks the first time that the Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest will take place on the Pacific Coast. That Bay Area bastion of liberalism, Berkeley, serves as the site for the two-day public event that focuses on a stamp that hunters must purchase each year to shoot legally.

During its 61-year history, sales of the federal Duck Stamp have generated more than $700 million to purchase at least 5 million acres of habitat throughout the United States. From the $15 purchase, 98 percent of the proceeds go to Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to purchase acreage for the National Wildlife Refuge System. The protected wetlands and grasslands benefit waterfowl and many other groups of birds enjoyed by birders around the country.

At the David Brower Center on Friday and Saturday, visitors can see the artwork submitted by 235 wildlife artists throughout the nation. The winning art will appear as the 2011-2012 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. Visitors to the center also can participate in a "Pick the Winner" contest and children's activities while observing a wood carving demonstration. With the center as a starting point on Friday, participants can join a bird walk on the U.C. Berkeley campus with Golden Gate Audubon Society or a two-hour bus tour of three restoration projects with Ducks Unlimited. (Seating is limited for the latter, so RSVP to

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Saturday's agenda includes more art viewing and judging, with a panel of art, waterfowl and philatelic experts serving as judges. The winner will be announced close to noon.

Before the announcement, visitors can join a bird walk at the Albany Mudflats and the Albany Bulb with Golden Gate Audubon Society or participate in a duck drawing workshop at Don Edwards NWR's Newark Slough Learning Center in Fremont.

Later events on Saturday will "Amazing Refuge Race II" at Don Edwards NWR Visitor Center in Fremont, where teams of five will use a GPS unit to reach sites with specific coordinates and perform certain tasks. Prior registration is required on Friday: 510-792-0222 ext. 363.

As part of National Wildlife Refuge Week, the schedule even offers a Sunday event: a birding picnic between 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Sacramento NWR with Altacal Audubon Society. The 2010 Duck Stamp gives you free entry; otherwise, you get to pay $3 per car. More details are available from Mike at 530-624-4777.

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

Restoration work resumes at Florida state park

Birds and other creatures visiting or living within Topsail Hill Preserve State Park near Destin, Fla., will benefit soon from better water flow, thanks to the resumption of a restoration project interrupted by response efforts to the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, the state park features more than 13 miles of shoreline and inland trails for birdwatching, and noted bird species include Snowy Plovers, Piping Plovers, Red-shouldered Hawks and Osprey.

Acting Fish and Wildlife Service Director Rowan Gould said the project's continuation creates not just environmental but economic benefits for Florida’s Gulf Coast. “This Recovery Act project is part of a long-range plan to restore Topsail Hill Preserve State Park to its natural state, restore the proper flow of water, and encourage plants and animals to return and flourish,” he said.

Located east of Pensacola and in Santa Rosa Beach, Topsail Hill Preserve State Park includes 14 communities such as wet prairie, scrub, beach dune and coastal dune lake habitats. The restoration work, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aims to re-establish the flow of surface and subsurface water.

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Secretary Bob Ballard said the state park "provides a direct economic impact of more than $7 million to the local community. This project will further enhance the valuable natural resources at Topsail Hill that attract Florida residents and visitors to the Santa Rosa Beach area.”

No doubt he meant the avian residents and visitors, too.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

NatGeo's 'Layers of Life' looks at BP's Gulf disaster

The October issue of National Geographic focuses on The Spill, the common yet misleading name for the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. More than a "spill," the Macondo well is thought now to have spewed 60,000 barrels a day for almost three months before engineers finally capped it. That means close to 5 million barrels of oil entered the waters -- and the majority likely has not disappeared.
But the commission staff said that the government’s own data did not support such sweeping conclusions. A number of respected independent researchers have concluded that as much as half of the spilled oil remains suspended in the water or buried in seafloor and coastal sludge.
We're left to wonder how all of that oil will affect the many ecosystems within the gulf-- and for how long will the oil's effects continue. NatGeo addresses some of those questions with an incredible interactive graphic, Layers of Life. You'll find a frame-filling illustration divided into four zones: coastal ecosystems, bright surface, twilight zone, dark and teeming. Birders will note immediately the variety of bird species highlighted in the coastal ecosystems zone: Clapper Rail, Tricolored Heron, Wilson's Storm-Petrel, Royal Tern and Magnificent Frigatebird.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel courtesy of Glen Tepke/New England Seabirds