Utah prairie dog, © James Phelps

Wildlife Weekly Wrap-Up

Protecting California’s endangered species in Panoche Valley
On Monday, Defenders and our partners, The Sierra Club and Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, brought a lawsuit in California state superior court to challenge California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife’s approval of the Panoche Valley Solar Project. The project is massive renewable energy development in an irreplaceable area of significant ecological importance critical to the survival and recovery of highly endangered species, including the blunt-nosed leopard lizard and the giant kangaroo rat. With this lawsuit, Defenders and our partners are working to protect some of California’s most endangered wildlife and ensure that the Panoche Solar Project never drives a single solar panel into this unique valley floor. Renewable energy projects should not be built on the last remaining intact habitat of critically endangered species.

Wolf, © ODFW

Fighting for Wildlife in Grand Teton
On Wednesday, Defenders, Earthjustice and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates filed a legal challenge to the National Park Service’s 2014 decision to give the state of Wyoming wildlife management authority on private and state-owned inholdings inside Grand Teton National Park. The decision has already led to the killing of bison within park boundaries and exposes a host of park wildlife, including coyotes and foxes, to unregulated killing as vermin under state law. This unprecedented decision potentially exposes wildlife residing in Grand Teton—including (in the event of endangered species delisting) grizzly bears and wolves—to state-authorized hunting, baiting, and trapping. It also sets a dangerous precedent for the numerous other national parks that contain private or state-owned inholdings. The law is clear that wildlife is protected within national parks even where there are private or state lands located within a park. Defenders and our partners are asking a judge to enforce the law to protect Grand Teton and to prevent this terrible precedent from spreading to other National Parks across the country.

Florida panther, ©Connie Bransilver/USFWS

Biodiversity on the map
The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund has named Florida an official biodiversity hotspot, one of 36 hotspots declared around the world. Specifically, the hotspot includes a huge swath of the United States called the North American Coastal Plain, which stretches from Texas to Florida to New England. This low-lying land supports 
thousands of species, many of them endangered, and Florida has plenty of them: the Florida panther, gopher tortoise, Florida grasshopper sparrow, sea turtles, beach mice, eastern indigo snake and more are all found in the diverse ecosystems in Florida. “Florida, in term of endemic species, such as the Florida scrub jay, is the hottest spot within the Coastal Plain,” said University of Central Florida professor Reed Noss, one of the lead authors on the study that led to the hotspot designation. Florida is the richest area biologically in the hotspot, but also the most threatened. “We are suffering the highest rate of habitat loss because we have the highest rate of human population growth within the region.” Defenders of Wildlife and a coalition of scientists and organizations are calling for the resumption of meaningful funding for the Florida Forever water and land conservation program to protect a statewide wildlife habitat network. Learn more about our work in the Southeast here.

Coexistence in China
A new study in Biological Conservation revealed that livestock depredation losses in Qomolangma (Mt. Everest) Nature Reserve in China only accounted for 1.2% of total livestock loss – in other words, predators had a relatively small effect on livestock in the reserve. The study was unique in that it also included conflict reports and interviews with local officials and nearly 100 residents to get their views on human-predator interactions and whether they thought they were fairly compensated for their losses. Most of the people interviewed thought that their losses were due to an increase in predators in the area (lynxes, wolves and snow leopards), and researchers found the compensation process to be highly flawed. To enhance wildlife management, the researchers recommended a new coexistence approach that better addressed the complex social and economic aspects of conflicts between people and wildlife. These types of studies are important, because they help inform and improve the approach to coexistence in other parts of the world as well. Learn about our coexistence work with ranchers and wolves here.

Fisher, © John Jacobson/WDFWFishers get Back to Nature
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has released a whopping 23 Pacific fishers this year: 11 females and 12 males! These members of the weasel family aren’t just cute and clever-they’re also an important part of the Northwest ecosystem. Fishers are mesocarnivores-they eat smaller animals in their habitat, but also like to feast on tasty fruits and mushrooms. Unfortunately, fishers, like other forest carnivores such as lynx, wolverine and marten, are declining across North America. These fisher releases help restore our natural heritage in the Northwest-and provide an incredible opportunity for people to see these elusive creatures in real life. We’ve been working hard to get fishers the protection they deserve, and in February the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced they would consider a petition we filed with our conservation allies to give the Northern Rockies fisher protection under the Endangered Species Act. Check out our video here to learn more about fisher releases, and read our blog on the listing consideration here!

For wolves in Yellowstone, opposites attract
A study published in Evolution has found a strong correlation for what is called negative-assortative mating among wolves in Yellowstone. Put simply, black wolves and gray wolves tend to pair up with each other, instead of wolves of the same color. This fascinating finding leads to plenty of follow up questions: is negative-assortative mating a phenomenon among all wolves, or just the wolves of Yellowstone? Why does it occur? Does it have an effect on wolf survival? Do these color cues it help wolves avoid inbreeding? We may not know the answers just yet, but what we do know that the Yellowstone wolves are an American success story 21 years after the first wolves released into the park-and they still need our help. Read here about the 20th anniversary of the Yellowstone wolf release!

black tailed prairie dogs, © Rob EnglehardtVictory for prairie dogs!
On Monday, the Colorado House committee on state affairs voted to table HB-1010, which included onerous requirements that would have essentially ended nonlethal control of prairie dogs in Colorado. The action effectively kills this bill for this legislative session-while it may appear in the future, for now, prairie dog conservation efforts are unhindered by its harmful roadblocks. Defenders of Wildlife worked with our conservation partners and helped lobby and frame the policy response to the bill. The hearing took nearly 3 hours and over 50 people testified. Learn more about our work to protect prairie dogs here!