It's no secret that some birds travel incredible distances during their annual migrations. Finding out which birds go where, though? That's always been a little harder. It's easy enough to determine that a widespread bird species spends its summers in Canada and the northern U.S., and winters in Mexico and Central America.
It's difficult, however, to get more precise detail about specific bird populations. If a migratory bird has summer populations in California, Alaska, and Montana, and winter populations in Baja, the Yucatan and Costa Rica, scientists have had little way to figure whether, say, all the Alaskan birds go to Baja and the Californians to Costa Rica.
And that's important, because migratory birds are in trouble across the continent. If a summer bird population in California is declining, knowing where those birds go in winter might offer hints as to the reason. The good news: a new study of a small migratory bird that passes through California might offer a way to fine-tune our understanding of bird migration.
The U.S. Forest Service has issued a tentative decision on its controversial plan to log tens of thousands of acres of forest burned in 2013's Rim Fire, and that decision will not please wildlife preservationists.
A Proposed Record of Decision on the Rim Fire Recovery Plan released Wednesday by Stanislaus National Forest Supervisor Susan Skalski would approve so-called "salvage" logging on 15,375 acres just west of the boundary of Yosemite National Park. Removal of "hazard trees" would cover another 17,706 acres.
In the proposal, Skalski describes the justifications for the project, which include "enhancing wildlife habitat" and reducing public safety hazards. First among those objectives, according to Skalski, is the Recovery Plan's intent to "capture economic value through salvage logging."
A federal agency started releasing more water from a reservoir Saturday in an effort to avoid another massive die-off of Chinook salmon in the Klamath River, but now a pair of powerful agricultural interests has gone to court to stop the release.
Prompted by drought conditions on the lower Klamath River similar to those that caused a die-off of more than 70,000 salmon in 2002, the federal Bureau of Reclamation announced Friday that it would release additional water from the Trinity Lake reservoir into the lower Klamath River from Saturday through mid-September. The release was hailed by local tribes who depend on the salmon both economically and culturally.
Water in Trinity Lake is divided between the Klamath basin and large farms in the Central Valley. BuRec said on Friday that the releases wouldn't affect this year's deliveries to Central Valley farms. But on Monday afternoon, the Westlands Water District and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority were in court seeking to block the releases anyway.
In a move that would have been nearly incomprehensible 20 years ago, environmental groups are asking the federal government to grant Endangered Species Act protection to a popular butterfly that was once one of North America's most common large insects. In a petition filed Tuesday with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, three conservation organizations and a leading lepidopterist are asking USFWS to declare the monarch butterfly a threatened species.
The petition is prompted by a staggering drop in monarch numbers over the last two decades; current estimates put that drop at 90 percent in the last 20 years. The groups cite a rise in use of the herbicide Roundup as a key factor in the monarchs' decline. Farmers using the herbicide have wiped out much of monarch's supply of milkweed plants across the continent; monarchs require milkweed in order to reproduce successfully.
"Monarchs are in a deadly free fall and the threats they face are now so large in scale that Endangered Species Act protection is needed sooner rather than later, while there is still time to reverse the severe decline in the heart of their range," said petitioner Lincoln Brower, who has been studying monarch butterflies since 1954.
More than 250,000 acres of Sierra Nevada forest land burned in the 2013 Rim Fire is turning out to be pretty good habitat for California spotted owls, and a group of wildlife protection organizations is asking the U.S. Forest Service to rethink plans to log the burned areas.
In the spring and summer of this year, USFS biologists found 33 breeding pairs of the diminutive owls in forests burned by the Rim Fire, along with six single owls. Most of the owls found were on land slated for salvage logging in the USFS's "Rim Fire Recovery" Project. The logging project would take out trees on about 30,000 acres of land, making it one of the largest salvage logging operations in USFS history.
USFS has long held that forest fires threaten owls, and that salvage logging is necessary to encourage regrowth of healthy trees that provide owl habitat. But in a letter sent to USFS on Thursday, the groups are saying USFS's position is based on obsolete science, and that spotted owls may actually prefer burned forests for hunting.
One of California's rarest wildflowers is being added to the federal list of Endangered species this week, reports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Vandenberg monkeyflower, an annual flowering herb found in just nine locations in Santa Barbara County, faces extinction due to competition from invasive plants, wildfire, and climate change, among other things.
Restricted to patchily vegetated areas of loose, sandy soil on Burton Mesa near the Vandenberg Air Force Base, the Vandenberg monkeyflower (Diplacus vandenbergensis) is especially threatened by invasive veldt grass, which threatens to fill up the bare soil the monkeyflower depends on for its seeds to germinate.