Gray Wolf Sighted At Grand Canyon

Gray wolf country? | Photo: Jon Sullivan

For the first time in over 70 years, a gray wolf has been sighted roaming the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, according to conservation groups who viewed a photo shared with them by a visitor to Grand Canyon National Park.

Federal wildlife agencies have not authenticated the sighting, but a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says USFWS is attempting to locate and trap the wolf, which appears to be wearing a radio collar. If the sighting is confirmed the wolf, likely to have traveled hundreds of miles from the Northern Rockies, would be the first authenticated gray wolf in the area since the 1940s.

"I'm absolutely thrilled that a wolf managed to travel so far to reclaim the Grand Canyon as a home for wolves," said Michael Robinson, a wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. "This wolf's journey starkly highlights the fact that wolf recovery is still in its infancy and that these important and magnificent animals continue to need Endangered Species Act protections."

Report: Sacramento Delta 'No Longer a Delta'

In the Delta | Photo: Lisa Padilla/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A new report on the decline of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta says that development over the last 160 years has drastically changed how the state's largest wetland area functions. "A Delta Transformed," put together by the San Francisco Estuary Institute with funding from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, compares historical conditions in the 1,200-square mile estuary with those of the present day.

And though it's no secret that the Delta has been radically transformed for agriculture, urban development, and water supply, the report's conclusions are nonetheless startling. The most common habitat in the historic Delta has been almost eradicated, and the most basic ecological functions of the Delta have been engineered out of existence.

"The Delta no longer functions as a delta and is now a network of deep, engineered channels with declining abundances of native wildlife, particularly fish species, and increasing numbers of invasive species," said Bay-Delta expert Carl Wilcox of CDFW.

Breeding Program May Save Desert Rodent

Endangered Amargosa vole bred in captivity in Fall 2014 at UC Davis | Photo: Don Preisler/UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine

An adorable desert rodent once thought extinct is suffering from the state's extended drought, but a university's captive breeding program may just keep the critter around a while longer.

Once found in wetlands along a 20-mile stretch of the Amargosa River near Death Valley from Shoshone to the Amargosa Canyon, the Amargosa vole, Microtus californicus scirpensis, is now limited to a few small populations near Tecopa. Those populations are so small the vole was actually thought extinct in the 1970s. The voles' preferred habitat, open water vegetated by bulrush, is in very short supply in the California desert even in the best of years, and populations tend to die back as marshes along the Amargosa River dry up in summer.

In this drought year, the largest marsh hosting Amargosa voles started drying up earlier than usual, and biologists monitoring the subspecies feared that this summer's population decline might be steeper than usual. That's a problem: it's been estimated that the Amargosa vole is at risk of actual extinction in the next five years. The biologists' response: capture voles and allow them to breed in a protected setting at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. And that move seems to be paying off, with three of the ten breeding pairs producing four healthy baby voles.

Groups Sue Feds Over Failure to Protect Wolverines

Wolverine | Photo: Josh More/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Eight conservation groups today filed suit in Federal court to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its recent decision not to list the American wolverine as a Threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The wolverine (Gulo gulo), a rare and fierce predator in the weasel family faces an uncertain future as a warming planet reduces the deep mountain snowpacks the animal requires to dig its breeding dens. USFWS scientists studying the wolverine's prospects for survival unanimously agreed the carnivore merited protection as a Threatened species. The agency itself proposed listing the wolverine in February 2013.

But in May of this year, USFWS Regional Director Noreen Walsh quietly ordered her staff to drop work on listing the wolverine, citing "uncertainty" in climate change modeling. USFWS Director Dan Ashe made that order official in August with a formal withdrawal of the listing proposal. This week's lawsuit seeks to rescind that order and restart the listing process.

Group Seeks State Protection For Imperiled Tricolored Blackbird

A male tricolored blackbird | Photo: Alan Vernon/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Citing alarmingly steep declines in the species' population, a conservation group is asking the state of California to list the tricolored blackbird as Endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. The group also wants the state to take emergency action to prohibit plowing and harvesting on farmlands where the blackbirds are breeding.

The tricolored blackbird (Agelaius tricolor) breeds in massive colonies of up to 50,000 birds, and especially favors open fields in the Central Valley that have replaced the Valley's formerly extensive floodplain marshes. Agricultural activity such as harvesting crops when the birds are nesting can thus injure or kill tens of thousands of tricolored blackbird adults, eggs and nestlings in a single stroke.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed the petition to list the blackbird with the California Fish and Game Commission, the birds hit an all-time low count of 145,000 adults in the 2014 breeding season. That's down from almost 400,000 adults in 2008, and untold millions in the 19th century.

Rare Weasel May Get Federal Protection

Pacific fisher | Photo: USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that it may add Pacific fishers in three western states to the list of Threatened Species. The increasingly rare member of the weasel family has come under increasing pressure from loss of habitat, as well as from exposure to rat poisons used at illegal marijuana grow sites.

The West Coast population of Pacific fishers (Pekania pennanti) ranges from California's north coast and the Sierra Nevada through the Cascade Range into Oregon and Washington. The carnivorous fishers are rare in the best of times, making them especially vulnerable to population declines caused by human intervention in their habitat.

According to USFWS, one of the biggest threats to the fisher is widespread exposure to anticoagulant rat poisons, which are taking a toll on many other predator species across the U.S.

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