New research from the report indicates that, between 2008 and 2011, over 23 million acres of viable wildlife habitat were converted into cropland, particularly in areas of the Midwest and Great Plains. The loss of these wetlands and grasslands now pose a significant risk to the long-term survival of songbirds and waterfowl, as well as several at-risk species, such as swift fox, mountain plover, sage grouse, and lesser prairie chicken. The secondary pollution effects of crops in these areas with the use of chemicals and fertilizers has also been observed, leading scientists to worry that pressure on these species will only increase.
Much of the conversion from wildlife habitat to cropland has occurred as a result of crop insurance subsidies. Because these subsidies lower farmers’ risks of plowing crops in certain vulnerable wetlands and grasslands, they provide greater incentives for farmers to work there and eliminate prime areas of wildlife survival. Further, these crop insurance subsidies are not currently subject to payment limits and conservation requirements.
Sage grouse are one of countless species that rely on private farm land for their survival.
With the release of this report, Defenders and EWG are hoping to influence Congress to make changes in regards to adding conservation requirements as they prepare to outline legislation for the 2012 farm bill. New “conservation compliance” provisions could require growers to implement basic elements of environmental protection as part of an agreement to receive crop insurance subsidies. While there is much work still to be done, it is the hope that this report will highlight the vulnerability of wildlife and allow for genuine impacts on the upcoming farm bill.
Like most wild animals, panthers need space to survive. And thanks to a recent land purchase along the Caloosahatchee River in Florida, they now have a little more room to roam.
Several entities ranging from government agencies to non-government organizations to private and corporate donors all teamed up to purchase the American Prime property that provides panthers a dispersal zone from south to central Florida and beyond.
Prior to the economic downturn, the parcel was slated to become a new subdivision. Once the owners had to sell, preserving this panther corridor became an important priority as it is still in a relatively natural state while other lands along the river are developed. Without this linkage panthers would have no crossing point to travel north.
“We have supported efforts to protect and restore this land for years so that panthers can expand their range,” said Laurie Macdonald, Florida programs director. “And since a mother panther with kittens was recently documented just south of this area – north of where females have been confirmed in the last 30 years – I am feeling optimistic.”
“We are pleased that the dedicated effort by many organizations and individuals, particularly the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resource Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Wildlife Refuge Association, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Walmart, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and private donors, has finally secured this crucial habitat corridor,” stated Macdonald. “Defenders will continue to work with partners in south Florida and other parts of the state to improve safe passage through habitat protection as well as road improvements like wildlife crossings, roadside sensors and speed zones for wide ranging species such as panthers and bears, as well as motorists.”
I know you are inspired by young people making a difference for wildlife as much as I am. So when I heard from Jada Den Herder of KPMG about the Junior Achievement Academy Company, Pin.Co, I had to share their story. Recently, these students from several Boston area high schools launched a campaign to raise awareness for endangered wildlife. They decided to design and market buttons to high school students with the proceeds going to Defenders of Wildlife.
“The design process for the pins started when we discussed which charity we would like to support,” said pin designer Skyeler Rauch-Delva of Prospect Hill Academy. “We chose Defenders of Wildlife because of its strong efforts to protect endangered species and to educate the public about animal extinction. Essentially, we wanted [the pins] to show a message of love and care… and what would be better than the beloved polar bear & the adorable sea otter?”
Their efforts were a great success, raising $200 for Defenders of Wildlife. Thanks to all of you at the Junior Achievement Academy and Pin.Co! You are making a difference for wildlife.
These days it isn’t often that you see Democrats and Republicans doing anything together, let alone raising a glass in celebration. But that’s exactly what happened last week as Defenders and other conservation groups gathered at a local Washington, DC watering hole to pay tribute lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for their role in last summer’s defeat of the “extinction rider.”
Rewind to last July. The House leadership had attached to the bill funding the Department of the Interior numerous anti-conservation riders — unpopular policy changes that get tacked onto funding bills. Among the host of bad riders on this bill was a particularly nasty one that would have blocked any and all new species from being added to the endangered species list. Oh, species could still come off, but no new listings could happen, a longstanding goal of Big Oil, Big Developers and other special interests.
Wildife champion Rep. Norm Dicks
Passage of this crazy rider seemed almost assured. Almost. Because our longtime champion Rep. Norm Dicks had other ideas. He came to Defenders and other conservation groups and said, “I think we can do this! I think we can get defeat this thing!” And thus followed a vigorous push to yank the rider when it came to the House floor, with Rep. Dicks working the channels in Congress while conservation groups lobbied individual members and activated the grassroots.
Now, Rep. Dicks fighting the good fight for conservation is nothing new. Nor is it unusual for conservation groups to rally against a bad bill. But this time we had help from the other side of the aisle. Because part of the push in Congress involved outreach to moderate Republicans that we knew took their environmental stewardship responsibilities seriously. And that outreach was successful because in the end, 37 Republicans broke from their own leadership to support an amendment killing the species listing rider. Conservation groups, pro-environment Democrats and moderate Republicans had teamed up to stop the extinction rider. And we won.
So to reward those friends on the Hill who had worked so hard on behalf of endangered species, Defenders on other conservation groups gathered and presented to four key members plaques commemorating their principled stand.
Rep. Mike Thompson
First was Rep. Dicks, our long-time champion, who was recognized for volunteering to lead the fight and teeing up the battle in Congress. Then came Rep Thompson who stepped up and was crucial in bringing along moderate and conservative Democrats and Rep. Fitzpatrick who courageously broke party ranks and brought 36 other Republicans with him. And last but not least was Rep. Hanabusa, who eagerly stepped into the fray, even though she was only a freshman.
GOP Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick receives his award
These days, conservation successes in the House seem few and far between so it was nice to finally win one. And it was even nicer to be able to recognize with friends from both sides of the aisle as important to the effort because I think we can all agree that protecting our natural heritage for future generations shouldn’t be a partisan issue.
A healthy eastern hellbender at San Francisco State University. (www.joelsartore.com)
Last Monday we posted the first of Joel Sartore’s blog series detailing his visits to zoos all over the country as he uses his unique brand of photography to bring attention to the at risk animals living there for his Biodiversity Project. The goal of the Biodiversity Project is simple: to show what’s at stake and to get people to care while there’s still time to save these species.
Excerpt: It’s a gray, cloudy day at the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, Illinois. It’s early, with no cars in the parking lot. They won’t open for another hour or so. Even then they’ll have few visitors. The place is as quiet as a church at midnight. And though you’d never know it, they’re keeping quite a sad secret here.
When any animal in the world zoo population slips below 50 individuals, tough choices—life and death choices—have to be made. Can we get more of the species from the wild to bolster the genetics going forward? If so, is this a showy enough species that the public will pay to come and see it?
For three species in this building, the answer is no.
BRISTOL, Fla. – The state’s black bear management plan was the topic of discussion Tuesday night at a public workshop here. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says Florida black bear numbers have increased and the bear should no longer be on the state’s list of threatened species.
Unless the state creates habitat links between the small black bear sub-populations, she says, they face extinction threats, shrinking the overall gene pool and undoing their progress. She adds that any plan will take cooperation from the public and other state agencies which oversee public lands and enforce laws.
Ensuring that bear populations are not affected by development, Macdonald says, means identifying lands that could be used as habitat to link the bears rather than separating them.
“We want to be sure that populations are not isolated and that they remain very healthy in their connection with the other subpopulations of bears.”
Defenders' Florida director Laurie Macdonald
Macdonald believes another key to bear survival in Florida is preventing human-bear conflict by education and enforcing laws that deter people from feeding bears.
“But if they continue to do it – they know what’s right and they’re not doing it, they’re doing what’s wrong – and they’re causing a bear to be a bad bear, then law enforcement needs to step in and prosecute.”
Defenders of Wildlife says intentional and unintentional feeding and not enforcing the law can result in bears damaging property, which often results in the death of the bear.
Information on the draft bear management plan and the three remaining workshops are online at myfwc.com. The next workshop is Nov. 29 in Naples.