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Monday, November 30, 2015

Count Birds for Science during Audubon’s Annual Christmas Bird Count

Now in its 116th year, the National Audubon Society’s  annual Christmas Bird Count will take place from December 14 through January 5. During the count, more than 72,000 volunteers from 2,400-plus locations across the Western Hemisphere record sightings of bird species with the data collected and submitted to Audubon for research on bird populations and environmental conditions.

For more than 100 years, Audubon's Christmas Bird Count, the longest-running wildlife census, has fueled science and conservation action. Each winter, citizen scientists gather in 15-mile-wide circles, organized by a count compiler, and count every bird they see or hear. Their hard work provides valuable insights into population trends for many species that would otherwise go unnoticed and undocumented.

“New tools, including apps, smartphones and map-based technologies, are making it easier than ever for anyone to be a citizen scientist,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold (@david_yarnold). People who watch birds are seeing changes. By recording all those observations, they're contributing the information that's needed to make a difference. I couldn’t be prouder of the volunteers who contribute each year.”

To date over 200 peer-reviewed articles have resulted from analysis done with Christmas Bird Count data. Bird-related citizen science efforts are also critical to understanding how birds are responding to a changing climate. This documentation is what enabled Audubon scientists to discover that 314 species of North American birds are threatened by global warming as reported in Audubon’s groundbreaking Birds and Climate Change Study.

Last year’s count shattered records.  A total of 2,462 counts and 72,653 observers tallied over 68 million birds of 2,106 different species. Counts took place in all 50 states, all Canadian provinces and over 100 count circles in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.  Four counts took place in Cuba and new counts in Mexico, Nicaragua and Colombia partook for the first time.

Snowy Owl numbers were once again above average, though mostly appearing north and west of the year prior with record highs for Ontario. It was the largest influx ever documented on the CBC in Canada, and very unusual for it to happen for four consecutive years.  Researchers are anxious to see what happens next as “Snowies” begin to make early winter visits in Minnesota and the Midwest this year. The tradition of counting birds combined with modern technology and mapping is enabling researchers to make discoveries that were not possible in earlier decades.
Northern Canada also noted record numbers of redpolls while Alaska recorded a Eurasian Siskin, a species normally found in the Eastern Hemisphere, for the very first time on Unalaska Island. On a less positive note, numbers of Northern Bobwhite, American Kestrels and Loggerhead Shrikes continue to decline in most regions. These are all species of hedgerows and shrub lands that require food negatively affected by pesticides—and are also affected by habitat loss across North America. Shrub land and grassland species are among the most rapidly declining worldwide, and CBC results can help track how these species fare over the coming decades in the Americas.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count began in 1900 when Dr. Frank Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore – which evolved into Audubon magazine – suggested an alternative to the holiday “side hunt,” in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most birds. 116 years of counting birds is a long time, but the program somehow brings out the best in people, and they stay involved for the long run. Remarkably the entire existence of the program can still be measured with the involvement of two ornithologists—Chapman, who retired in 1934, and Chan Robbins, who started compiling in 1934 and still compiles and participates to this day. The old guard may someday move on, but up-and-coming young birders will fill the ranks. And so the tradition continues.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is a citizen science project organized by the National Audubon Society. There is no fee to participate and the quarterly report, American Birds, is available online. Counts are open to birders of all skill levels and Audubon’s free Bird Guide app makes it even easier to chip in. For more information and to find a count near you visit www.christmasbirdcount.org.

The National Audubon Society saves birds and their habitats throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at www.audubon.org

Friday, November 27, 2015

Pennsylvania's 2016-17 Trout Management Plan

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) has opened a public comment period for individuals to submit comments on the agency’s draft 2016-17 Trout Management Plan.
The plan can be viewed online at http://fishandboat.com/troutplan.htm. Comments may be submitted online at http://fishandboat.com/promo/form/trout-plan2016.htm. Written comments may be submitted to Mackenzie Ridgway, PFBC, 450 Robinson Lane, Bellefonte, PA 16823.
Comments will be accepted through Dec. 31.
“The goal of the strategic plan is to ensure that adequate protection is afforded to wild trout resources and that fisheries provided through the management of wild trout and the stocking of adult and fingerling trout will continue to provide excellent angling opportunities in Pennsylvania,” said Jason Detar, Chief of the Division of Fisheries Management. 
“The plan includes input provided by a work group that consisted of commission staff, anglers affiliated with a variety of sportsmen’s organizations, and independent anglers not affiliated with a sportsmen’s organization,” he added.
As part of the plan, 22 priority issues have been identified encompassing four primary resource categories, which include:
  • management of wild trout streams,
  • management of stocked trout streams,
  • management of stocked trout lakes, and
  • trout management in Lake Erie.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Shortnose Sturgeon Return to Historic Habitat After 100 Year Absence

Endangered shortnose sturgeon have rediscovered habitat in the Penobscot River that had been inaccessible to the species for more than 100 years prior to the removal of the Veazie Dam in 2013. University of Maine researchers confirmed evidence that three female shortnose sturgeon were in the area between Veazie (upriver of the dam remnants) and Orono (Basin Mills Rips), Maine in mid-October. Researchers had previously implanted these sturgeon with small sound-emitting devices known as acoustic tags to see if they would use the newly accessible parts of the river.
Graduate student C. Johnston and Associate Professor J. Zydlewski implant a small tagging device into a shortnose sturgeon (ESA Permit #16036 compliant, photo courtesy G. Zydlewski).
Among the most primitive fish to inhabit the Penobscot, sturgeon are often called “living fossils" because they remain very similar to their earliest fossil forms. Their long lives (more than 50 years) and bony-plated bodies also make them unique. Historically, shortnose sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon (a related species also present in the watershed) had spawning populations in the Penobscot River as far upstream as the site of the current Milford dam, and provided an important food and trade source to native peoples and early European settlers. Overharvest and loss of suitable habitat due to dams and pollution led to declines in shortnose sturgeon populations and a listing as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1967. In 2012, Gulf of Maine populations of Atlantic sturgeon were listed as threatened under the ESA.
Today, a network of sound receivers, which sit on the river bottom along the lower river from Penobscot Bay up to the Milford Dam, detect movement and location of tagged fish. According to Gayle Zydlewski, an associate professor in the University of Maine School of Marine Sciences, the three individual fish observed were females. These fish have since been tracked joining other individuals in an area identified as wintering habitat near Brewer, Maine. Wintering habitat in other rivers is known to be staging habitat for spawning the following spring.
After measurement and implantation of a small tagging device, graduate student L. Izzo releases a shortnose sturgeon back into the Penobscot (ESA Permit #16036 compliant, photo courtesy G. Zydlewski).
“We know that shortnose sturgeon use the Penobscot River throughout the year, and habitat models indicate suitable habitat for spawning in the area of recent detection upriver of Veazie, although actual spawning has not yet been observed,” Zydlewski said.

Since 2006, Zydlewski has been working with Michael Kinnison, a professor in UMaine’s School of Biology and Ecology, and multiple graduate students, including Catherine Johnston, to better understand the sturgeon populations of the Penobscot River and Gulf of Maine. Johnston, who has been tagging and tracking sturgeon in the Penobscot for two years to study the implications of newly available habitat to shortnose sturgeon, discovered the detections of sturgeon upstream of the Veazie dam remnants. Each new bit of information adds to the current understanding of behavior and habitat preferences of these incredible fish.

“We’re very excited to see sturgeon moving upstream of where the Veazie Dam once stood, and into their former habitats,“ said Kim Damon-Randall, assistant regional administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries’ Protected Resources Division. “We need to do more research to see how they're using it, but it's a tremendous step in the right direction.”

Habitat access is essential for the recovery of these species. The removal of the Veazie Dam is only a portion of the Penobscot River Restoration Project, which, when combined with the removal of Great Works Dam in 2012, restores 100 percent of historic sturgeon habitat in the Penobscot. In addition to dam removals, construction of a nature-like fish bypass at the Howland Dam in 2015 significantly improves habitat access for the remaining nine species of sea-run fish native to the Penobscot, including Atlantic salmon and river herring.
“Scientific research and monitoring of this monumental restoration effort has been ongoing for the past decade,” said Molly Payne Wynne, Monitoring Coordinator for the Penobscot River Restoration Trust. “The collaborative body of research on this project is among the most comprehensive when compared to other river restoration projects across the country,” Wynne said.

NOAA Fisheries is an active partner and provides funding for this long-term monitoring collaboration that includes The Penobscot River Restoration Trust, The Nature Conservancy and others. These efforts are beginning to shed light on the response of the river to the restoration project. Restoration of the full assemblage of sea-run fish to the Penobscot River will revive not only native fisheries but social, cultural and economic traditions of Maine’s largest river.

Guilty Plea in Illegal NJ Black Bear Killing


A Passaic County man pleaded guilty today to illegally killing a black bear in New Jersey, transporting it across state lines to New York and veiling the crime by making false statements and staging a fake kill site.

Martin Kaszycki, 36, of Ringwood, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Leda D. Wettre in Newark federal court to two counts of violating the federal Lacey Act for unlawful transport of wildlife that has been illegally taken, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced today.

New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officers received the original complaint for the crime and conducted an intensive field investigation, evidence gathering and interviews before working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to bring the Lacey Act violations to court.

“We would like to extend thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for providing both legal and staffing support necessary to successfully prosecute this case as a Lacey Act violation,” said Mark Chicketano, Chief, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Bureau of Law Enforcement. “In complex cases such as this, where the violator has gone through extensive effort to conceal their violations, the added enforcement penalties provided by the Lacey Act serve as a valuable deterrent against those who would make such attempts to hide their crimes.”

According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court, Kaszycki killed a 450-pound, male black bear from an elevated tree stand in a wooded area in Newfoundland in Passaic County on Oct. 5, 2012, which is outside of the legal bear hunting season in New Jersey. Kaszycki set out bait for the bear within 300 feet of the stand and a used a bow and arrow for the kill, all in violation of New Jersey game code.

Kaszycki drove the bear to New York, where archery hunting was in season. He falsely told a New York weigh station employee that he had killed the bear in New York’s Sterling State Forest, resulting in the employee filing false information on a New York state Bear Data Form.

On Oct. 8, 2012, Kaszycki drove the hide and skull of the bear to a taxidermy shop in Pennsylvania for mounting of a trophy display.

After receiving a tip, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officers confronted Kaszycki about the bear on Oct. 10, 2012 at his place of business. Kaszycki informed the officers he had killed the bear in New York. Later that night, Kaszycki brought the entrails of the bear to Sterling State Forest and placed them in the woods to stage a fake kill site.

Kaszycki was interviewed again the next day by New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officers and he led them to the staged kill site, prompting further investigation. The officers also located the suspected kill site in New Jersey and confirmed it was the location through the testing of recovered DNA evidence by East Stroudsburg University.

“New Jersey has in place a Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy that manages the state’s bear population through a carefully monitored hunting season complemented by education and research efforts,” said New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Director David Chanda. “We will not tolerate activities that are not consistent with bear hunting regulations that are established within the framework of this management policy.”

The Lacey Act prohibits the interstate transport of wildlife taken or possessed in violation of any state law or regulation as well as the making of a false record for wildlife that has been or is intended to be transported in interstate commerce.

As part of his plea agreement, Kaszycki must pay a fine of $5,000 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lacey Act Reward Fund. He must also forfeit the skull and hide of the bear and pay $1,250 to the Woodlands Wildlife Refuge in Pittstown for the care and release of orphaned and injured black bears in New Jersey.

Kaszycki was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond with the condition that he not engage in hunting, pending sentencing, or renew any hunting license, permit or certificate. As a condition of bail, he was also ordered to surrender his current hunting license.

The charge to which Kaszycki pleaded guilty carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of $100,000. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 17, 2016.