Federal Proposal to Protect the Hyacinth Macaw Under Endangered Species Act
The striking, brilliant blue hyacinth macaw, like many other parrots in Central and South America, is facing an uphill battle. With an already naturally low reproductive rate, this macaw is also suffering from habitat loss, reduced growth of new forest, hunting, predation, disease, competition, and the effects of climate change. These stressors have put the hyacinth macaw at a further risk of decline, prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to propose protecting the bird as threatened under the Endangered Species (ESA).
At one time, hyacinth macaws were widely distributed in South America, occupying large areas of Central Brazil and to Bolivia and Paraguay to a lesser degree. However, the species is currently limited to the Pará, Gerais, and Pantanal regions of Brazil. For the past decades, native forests have been replaced by crops and cattle ranching, reducing suitable habitat and creating a shortage in nesting sites. In turn, this increases competition amongst the species’ individuals and results in a reduction in population size. The loss of habitat has also reduced the availability of food resources, which is particularly damaging considering that its specialized diet cannot be substituted for other food sources. In total, it is estimated that there are 6,500 hyacinth macaws left in the wild.
Currently, the imports of parrots into the United States are already tightly controlled by the Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA). Furthermore, the species is globally protected in trade by the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Despite this, there is still a demand for parrot feathers to be used in local crafts, contributing to its decline.
This is not the first proposal FWS has made considering the status for this blue bird. In 2012, it proposed to list the hyacinth macaw as an endangered species. But based on the current information of that time, FWS found that the overall rate of deforestation decreased from the 2012 projections. As such, it argued that the species’ risk of extinction is not as imminent as predicted. However, because many of the threats have continued to plague the bird, FWS has once again proposed to reassess listing the species as threatened under the ESA.
In assessing the conservation needs of the hyacinth macaw, and in light of the protections provided to it under CITES and the WBCA, the Service is proposing to add the hyacinth macaw to an existing 4(d) rule for parrots that will allow the import and export of certain captive-bred hyacinth macaws and will allow domestic commercial activity across state lines to continue. While the 4(d) rule requires a permit under the ESA for “take” (including harming and harassing) of a covered species, “take” does not include generally accepted animal husbandry practices, breeding procedures or provisions of veterinary care that are not likely to result in injury to the species. Hence, adding the parrot to this rule will not impact those activities.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a notice on the Federal Register on November 28, 2016 and will be open to comments for the next 60 days, on or before January 27, 2016.
Dams in the American West Scheduled for Deconstruction to Restore Rivers
Throughout the 20th century, Americans built dams across the nation. Especially between 1920s and 1980s, hundreds of billions of dollars was pumped into projects to dam rivers all over the country for a variety of reasons.
However, the dams’ financial, environmental, and social costs have become less acceptable with the practice becoming unpopular. Particularly in the past 10 years, there’s been a nationwide push to dismantle obsolete, crumbling dams and restore rivers to their natural states. Rightfully so, only 3% of dams in the country are used for electricity. The rest no longer serve their intended purposes.
According to nonprofit American Rivers, 1,300 have been removed from 1912 to 2015, with removals increasing significantly in the past decade. The only obstacle stopping from more being taken down is funding. Despite the dam-building boom had massive federal funding behind it, funding for removal is a lot harder to find, even when there’s public will.
Which was why the Hewlett Foundation created the Open Rivers Fund to support dam removal projects in the American West over the next 10 years. Operated by Resources Legacy Fund and overseen by a nine-member advisory committee made up of academics, consultants, and legal experts, the new $50 million fund will help communities remove “deadbeat dams.”
According to Hewlett, it is the largest such fund dedicated entirely to dam removal and is unique in its broad geographic focus. He describes the nonprofit, which worked on dam removal projects in the West before, as a “donor-driven conservation.” Foundations come to the Resources Legacy Fund with their goals and then the organization carries it out.
The grants are meant to jumpstart projects, removing upfront financial barriers and getting other funding mechanisms moving and is not intended to bankroll entire projects. Hewlett also points out that the aim is not to steer communities toward dismantling their dams. Rather, the money is distributed when there is widespread community support but a lack of support.
“The idea is to build community, not just give money,” says Scott. “We are not going to be funding advocacy efforts to try to take out dams, we are looking for places where the community has already come together and decided to remove a dam but they need a little extra help in getting it done.”
So the fund will identify regions where there is already a well-established local backing and collaboration. Its first projects include the Matilija Dam in California, the Rogue River Basin in Oregon, and the Nelson Dam in Washington.
Dam removal projects that will provide significant ecological benefits are prioritized, which was why the Nelson Dam was selected. Standing eight-feet high, the dam sits upstream on the largest tributary of the Yakima River, which flowers into the Columbia River. Built in the 1920s, the now unneeded dam blocked the movement of salmon through the area, choking off the ecosystem’s lifeline. Once the dam is taken out, fish and nutrients will be able to flow downstream again. It will also reduce the risk of flooding the area. Michael Scott, acting director of the environment program of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation says that the “removal of the dam will actually increase the water and climate resilience of the area.”
Another deadbeat dam that will likely be demolished soon, thanks to the Hewlett fund, is the 168-foot-tall Matilija Dam in California’s Ventura County, which was featured in the documentary DamNation with graffiti of scissors cutting it apart. Built in 1947 along a tributary to the Ventura River, the dam is so silted in that it no longer can effectively store water for agriculture, its original purpose. It will be the largest dam removal in California history, eclipsing the recent San Clemente project.
“The Matilija is right in Patagonia’s backyard and it needs to come down,” says Lisa Pike Sheehy, vice president of environmental activism at Patagonia, the Ventura-based outdoor clothing and gear company, one of the partners of the project. “We want rivers to be free.” Free for fish and other organisms, she adds—but also for anglers, rafters, and paddlers.
The third dam site the Hewlett Foundation’s fund is targeting is actually a series of small dams and other impediments in the Rogue River Basin in southwestern Oregon. The river’s main stem flows free for 150 miles, earning the federal designation of Wild and Free. But other barriers in the drainage system block fish and movement of nutrients, while no longer serving useful functions.
The foundation is working with the Rogue Basin Partnership and the Rogue River Watershed Council to put together a plan to remove up to 50 dams and impediments over the next ten years.
New Study Reveals the Melting of Ice will be the Death of the Ivory Gull
With global warming on the rise, the ongoing decline of sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic has threatened many species. This week, University of Burgundy’s Olivier Gilg, lead researcher, and his team published a new study that finds the already threatened ivory gull is highly reliant on the thickest sea ice for breeding, which is quickly melting away. Until now, it was difficult to study these tiny Arctic seabirds.
“They live in some of the most remote regions of the Arctic,” says Olivier Gilg with the University of Burgundy. Researching the species requires traveling to areas that are bitterly cold, dizzyingly high, and often dangerously full of hungry polar bears.
But that hasn’t stopped Gilg and other scientists from studying these beautiful birds. They used satellite transmitters to track 104 ivory gulls originating from Canada, Greenland, Svalbard-Norway, and Russia between 2007 and 2013. The data they collected reveals that ivory gulls rely almost exclusively on the thickest, most concentrated sea ice for breeding. That also happens to be the same type of ice that is becoming rarer due to the effects of climate change.
The study also revealed that the gulls, which feed almost exclusively on the ice edge, had to travel as much as 100 kilometers (62 miles) from their breeding colonies to find food. The distance required to feed every two days or so is costly on the bird’s energy. “It’s not like a big marine mammal that can fast for a few weeks,” Gilg says.
The news follows an August study which found that the Canadian population of ivory gulls has fallen 80 percent over the past 30 years and two studies from 2015 which found potentially dangerous levels of methyl mercury in the birds’ systems, including the highest levels of the toxic metal in the eggs of any Arctic bird species. Arctic gulls often scavenge large carcasses left by polar bears, leaving them particularly vulnerable to toxins that travel up the food chain into top predators.
Given the strong links between ivory gull, ice-edge and ice concentration, its conservation status is unlikely to improve in the current context of sea-ice decline which, in turn, will allow anthropogenic activities to develop in regions that are particularly important for the species. Gilg, who is also president of Groupe de Recherche en Ecologie Arctique, says he wonders what may happen to the species over the next 20 to 50 years. “They may disappear,” he admits.
Although the birds are considered endangered in most of the countries in which they are found, international bodies such as the IUCN still consider them to be “near threatened.” Gilg says he suspects that may change in the coming year. What comes after that will require more study—something that will remain difficult, but which suddenly feels much more important.