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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Could the Northeast be getting a new wildlife refuge?

US Fish and Wildlife Service responds to wildlife decline with proposal to conserve land in Dutchess County
Agency invites feedback on draft land protection plan and environmental assessment
Over the past century, many shrublands and young forests across the Northeast have been cleared for development or have grown into mature forests. As this habitat has disappeared from much of the landscape, the populations of more than 65 songbirds, mammals, reptiles, pollinators, and other wildlife that depend on it have fallen alarmingly.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state wildlife agencies, private landowners and dozens of conservation organizations have responded to this urgency by restoring and protecting shrublands and young forest throughout the landscape of New England and New York. Despite significant progress, conservationists have determined that more permanently protected and managed land is needed to restore wildlife populations and return balance to northeast woodlands.

To address this need, the Service is proposing to establish Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge--dedicated to managing shrubland habitat for wildlife to benefit New York residents and visitors. Through coordination with conservation partners, the Service has determined that areas of eastern Dutchess County could provide important habitat for shrubland wildlife and help connect existing conservation areas. Additionally, the agency identified nine areas in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

“This proposal was developed through extensive coordination with our conservation partners, and would enhance our ongoing commitment to conserve species like the New England cottontail, monarch butterfly, and American woodcock that rely on shrublands and young forest,” said Refuge Manager Michael Horne of Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. “Stakeholder input will ensure we direct our conservation efforts where they can make the most difference for wildlife and local communities.”

“We’ve had incredible success in restoring New England’s only native rabbit and its habitat. Yet our work is far from done,” said Rick Jacobson, New England Cottontail Executive Committee chair and Connecticut Department of Environmental and Energy Protection Wildlife Division Director. “We need to preserve and manage more land as shrublands and young forest to continue to advance conservation for the cottontail. But this isn't just about a rabbit. It's about American woodcock, ruffed grouse, golden-winged warblers, monarch butterflies and a whole suite of wildlife that depend on this habitat.”

Other wildlife that would benefit include several turtle species, including the threatened bog turtle, whippoorwill and blue-winged warblers.

A land protection plan and environmental assessment is an early step in a public process that examines whether the Service can establish a national wildlife refuge. The draft Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge Land Protection Plan explains the need for land conservation, complements existing conservation activities, and describes each of the 10 focus areas across the six states. At this stage in the process, the Service invites public comment on the draft plan, which will shape our final decision.

“As landscapes and land use patterns change, one of the most important roles that conservation efforts like this one can play is to maintain a mosaic of habitats that support the greatest diversity of wildlife,” Horne said. “A quick visit to nearby wildlife refuges like Shawangunk Grasslands and Wallkill River demonstrates this approach. The best part of all is that we work closely with our neighbors and partners to achieve these goals.”

“A new federal wildlife refuge in Dutchess County is a welcome step to protect New York’s New England cottontail habitat and conserve an important forested area that is home to a variety of fauna and flora,” said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos.  “In addition to DEC lands and State Park properties, this refuge dedicated to providing wildlife habitat for this uncommon rabbit would help secure the future of the unique species.  We look forward to working with our federal partners to manage more lands for New England cottontails and other wildlife species dependent on young, regenerating forest habitat and making these habitats accessible to the public.”

If the plan is approved after the public comment period, the agency could begin working with willing and interested landowners in Dutchess County to acquire up to 1,500 acres through a combination of purchasing conservation easements and buying land, from willing sellers only. Current refuge staff would manage all acquired lands using existing resources.

This process would take decades, as the Service works strictly with willing sellers only and depends on funding availability to make purchases. Lands within an acquisition boundary would not become part of the refuge unless their owners sell or donate them to the Service; the boundary has no impact on property use or who an owner can choose to sell to.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is the largest network of lands in the nation dedicated to wildlife conservation, with 563 national wildlife refuges – at least one refuge in every state – covering more than 150 million acres. A hundred years in the making, the refuge system is a network of habitats that benefits wildlife, provides unparalleled outdoor experiences for all Americans, and protects a healthy environment. Wildlife refuges provide habitat for more than 2,100 types of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish, including more than 380 threatened or endangered plants or animals. Each year, millions of migrating birds use refuges as stepping stones while they fly thousands of miles between their summer and winter homes.

National wildlife refuges don’t just provide a boost to wildlife. They are strong economic engines for local communities across the country. A 2013 national report Banking on Nature found that refuges pump $2.4 billion into the economy and support more than 35,000 jobs.

The Service will accept comments through March 4, 2016 by:
  • Email northeastplanning@fws.gov with "Great Thicket LPP" in the subject line
  • Mail to Beth Goldstein, Natural Resources Planner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, MA; 01035-9589
  • Fax to 413-253-8480
The draft plan and all related documents are available at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/refuges/planning/lpp/greatthicketLPP.html.
Direct links to more resources:

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws.gov/. Connect with our Facebook page, follow our tweets, watch our YouTube Channel and download photos from our Flickr page.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Intersex Prevalent in Black Bass Inhabiting National Wildlife Refuges in Northeast

Eighty five percent of male smallmouth bass and 27 percent of male largemouth bass tested in waters in or near 19 National Wildlife Refuges in the Northeast U.S. were intersex, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service researchers.

Intersex is when one sex develops characteristics of the opposite sex. It is tied to the exposure of fish to endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can affect the reproductive system and cause the development of characteristics of the opposite sex, such as immature eggs in the testes of male fish. Intersex is a global issue, as wild-caught fish affected by endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been found in locations across the world.

Estrogenic endocrine-disrupting chemicals are derived from a variety of sources, from natural estrogens to synthetic pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals that enter the waterways. Examples include some types of birth control pills, natural sex hormones in livestock manures, herbicides and pesticides.

“It is not clear what the specific cause of intersex is in these fish,” said Luke Iwanowicz, a USGS research biologist and lead author of the paper. “This study was designed to identify locations that may warrant further investigation.  Chemical analyses of fish or water samples at collection sites were not conducted, so we cannot attribute the observation of intersex to specific, known estrogenic endocrine—disrupting chemicals.”

This prevalence of intersex fish in this study is much higher than that found in a similar USGS study that evaluated intersex in black basses in nine river basins in the United States. That study did not include river basins in the Northeast.

"The results of this new study show the extent of endocrine disrupting chemicals on refuge lands using bass as an indicator for exposures that may affect fish and other aquatic species," said Fred Pinkney, a USFWS contaminants biologist and study coauthor. "To help address this issue, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service encourages management actions that reduce runoff into streams, ponds and lakes -- both on and off of refuge lands.”

The journal article, Evidence of estrogenic endocrine disruption in smallmouth and largemouth bass inhabiting Northeast U.S. National Wildlife Refuge waters: a reconnaissance study,” by L.R. Iwanowicz, V.S. Blazer, A.E. Pinkney, C.P. Guy, A.M. Major, K. Munney, S. Mierzykowski, S. Lingenfelser, A. Secord, K. Patnode, T.J. Kubiak, C. Stern, C.M. Hahn, D.D. Iwanowicz, H.L. Walsh, and A. Sperry is available online in Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety.

Look for El Niño Surprises During the Great Backyard Bird Count

El Nino map

With the El Niño weather phenomenon warming Pacific waters to temperatures matching the highest ever recorded, participants in the 2016 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), may be in for a few surprises. The 19th annual GBBC is taking place worldwide February 12 through 15. Information gathered and reported online at birdcount.org will help scientists track changes in bird distribution, some of which may be traced to El Niño storms and unusual weather patterns.

“The most recent big El Niño took place during the winter of 1997-98,” says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Marshall Iliff, a leader of the eBird program which collects worldwide bird counts year-round and also provides the backbone for the GBBC. “The GBBC was launched in February 1998 and was pretty small at first. This will be the first time we’ll have tens of thousands of people doing the count during a whopper El Niño.”

“We’ve seen huge storms in western North America plus an unusually mild and snow-free winter in much of the Northeast,” notes Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham. “And we’re seeing birds showing up in unusual places, such as a Great Kiskadee in South Dakota, as well as unseasonal records like Orchard Oriole and Chestnut-sided Warbler in the Northeast. We’re curious to see what other odd sightings might be recorded by volunteers during this year’s count.”

Northern Cardinals by Michele Black, Ohio, 2015 GBBC
Northern Cardinals by Michele Black, Ohio, 2015 GBBC
Though rarities and out-of-range species are exciting, it’s important to keep track of more common birds, too. Many species around the world are in steep decline and tracking changes in distribution and numbers over time is vital to determine if conservation measures are needed. Everyone can play a role.

“Citizen-science projects like the Great Backyard Bird Count are springing up all over the world,” says Jon McCracken, national program manager at Bird Studies Canada. “More and more, scientists are relying on observations from the public to help them gather data at a scale they could never achieve before. The GBBC is a great way to get your feet wet: you can count birds for as little as 15 minutes on one day or watch for many hours each day at multiple locations–you choose your level of involvement.”

Learn more about how to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count at birdcount.org. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada and is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Susquehanna North Branch Named Pennsylvania’s 2016 River of the Year

Steeped in historical and recreational value, the freeflowing Susquehanna River North Branch in northeastern Pennsylvania has been voted the 2016 Pennsylvania River of the Year following a five-week public voting period.

The general public was invited to vote online Nov. 13-Dec.14, choosing from among five waterways nominated across the state. Results were announced jointly today by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pa. Organization for Waterways and Rivers (POWR).

Four other rivers were nominated finalists: the Kiski-Conemaugh River in the southwest; Lackawanna River, northeast; Lehigh; east; and Ohio, southwest.
“Shaping countless community lifestyles in the past while emerging as a recreational treasure of the future, the North Branch of the Susquehanna — like all waterways nominated for 2016 — highlights how Pennsylvania is blessed with a wealth of rivers and streams, and a core of dedicated folks who fight to protect them,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn.
“Through planned River of the Year celebrations, public awareness of the river’s value will be increased and major initiatives along this section of the river will be underscored. Economic revitalization of river-town communities will enhance access to the river; increase tourism; and provide additional land and water-based recreational opportunities for local residents and visitors alike.”
DCNR and POWR will work with the Endless Mountains Heritage Region (EMHR) to create a free, commemorative poster celebrating the Susquehanna River North Branch as the 2016 Pennsylvania River of the Year. EMHR, the applicant nominating the waterway in close cooperation with the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership, will receive a $10,000 Leadership Grant to help fund year-long River of the Year activities.
“The Susquehanna River North Branch is a national treasure in our own back yard and we’re grateful for this opportunity to raise awareness of the river’s historical and recreational value and environmental significance,” said EMHR Director Annette Schultz. “We’re making plans to celebrate the Susquehanna River’s newest designation throughout the year with educational kayaking sojourns, river festivals, educational forums, and River Town designations and support. This year will be a banner year for the river.”
“The Susquehanna connects us to one another and the natural world. Its waters rejuvenate us and provide us with power, and its landscapes inspire us to be better stewards,” said Susquehanna Greenway Partnership Director Trish Carothers. “This honor belongs to the river and the many people who care about this very special part of our heritage. We must conserve, connect and enjoy the Susquehanna to ensure a healthy future for our region.”
In cooperation with DCNR, selection of public voting choices also was overseen by POWR, an affiliate of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.
“POWR would like to commend everyone across the commonwealth for their support for the nominated rivers,” said POWR Vice President Janet Sweeney. “The River of the Year program is a wonderful opportunity to showcase all of the nominated rivers and the great work being done in Pennsylvania communities on these valuable resources.”
A 15-mile stretch of the Susquehanna River North Branch flows from New York into Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier, and continues south 166 miles to join the river’s West Branch at Shikellamy State Park in Northumberland County. The Susquehanna River North Branch is a prominent regional feature, running through Susquehanna, Bradford, Wyoming, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Colombia, Montour, and Northumberland counties. Once a major transportation corridor, the entire waterway still is navigable by kayaks and canoes, even during dry seasons.

POWR administers the River of the Year program with funding from DCNR. Presented annually since 1983, the 2015 River of the Year designation was awarded to Conewango Creek in northwest Pennsylvania.
The River of the Year sojourn is just one of many paddling trips supported by DCNR and POWR each year. An independent endeavor, the Pennsylvania Sojourn Program offers a dozen such trips on the state’s rivers. The water-based journeys for canoeists, kayakers and others raise awareness of the environmental, recreational, tourism and heritage values of rivers. For more information about the sojourn program, visit www.pawatersheds.org.

To learn more about the River of the Year program, the nominated waterways, and past winners visit pariveroftheyear.org. To learn more about DCNR’s Rivers Program, visit dcnr.state.pa.us (click on “Rivers”).

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Study Paints Portrait of the Occasional Angler; Access, Fishing Quality and Convenience Must Improve to Keep Them Coming Back Year After Year

Young anglers, female anglers and fishermen in urban areas are most likely to go years without fishing regardless of where in the country they live, a follow-up report commissioned by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) has revealed. The report, developed from a study on angler churn rates performed by Southwick Associates, does however highlight some regional differences in today’s anglers.

• Fishing participation is growing in roughly one-third of all states. Between 2004 and 2013, 17 states saw angler numbers climb, while the rest experienced declines or remained steady.
• More people travel to the West to fish, with 29 percent of non-resident angling licenses sold.
• Anglers in the Northeast and Midwest are more likely to remain active, with more than 20 percent of anglers buying a license 5 out of 5 years.
• Regionally, the rate of not renewing fishing licenses is highest in the Southeast (53 percent) and lowest in the Midwest (28 percent).

“We know the primary reasons why people fish is to have fun with friends and family in an outdoor setting,” Rob Southwick, Southwick Associates’ president said “This latest research shows that, with some regional differences, younger anglers, women and urbanites are more likely to find other ways to achieve these benefits besides fishing. If fishing participation is to grow, we need to ensure fishing provides these benefits conveniently and competitively.”

By identifying those groups most apt to sit out of fishing for a year or more, the opportunity exists to craft programs to get them re-engaged with fishing and/or improve their fishing experiences.

“I think the most important thing we’ve discovered is that our challenge may not be as much about getting people to take up fishing as it is keeping people fishing from year-to-year,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association. He noted that after buying a license one year, approximately 15 million people-almost half of all anglers-do not buy one the following year. Nussman noted how important it is for game and fish agencies, as well angling organizations, to work together to improve access, fishing quality and convenience in order to entice more anglers to buy a license every year.

In developing their findings, Southwick Associates examined 12 states across the country, selected for their regional representation, and looked at license purchase data over a 10-year period from 2004 to 2013 and a 5-year period from 2009 to 2013. The states selected to create a nationally representative portrait of anglers included Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Mississippi, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Utah and Wisconsin.

For copies of the executive summary or the full report, visit http://asafishing.org/facts-figures/angler-participation/u.s.-angler-population-their-lifestyles-and-license-buying-habits.

About Southwick Associates: Southwick Associates is a market research and economics firm specializing in the hunting, shooting, sportfishing, and outdoor recreation markets. Celebrating 25 years in 2015, Southwick Associates is renowned for delivering comprehensive insights and statistics assisting business and strategic decisions across the entire outdoor industry; from government agencies, industry associations and non-profit organizations, to affiliated businesses and manufacturers. Aside from custom market research, and economic impact studies, Southwick also provides syndicated participation, media consumption, and equipment purchase tracking studies utilizing their three proprietary sportsmen panels. Visit www.southwickassociates.com for more information.

Love for Outdoors Drives Anglers

The excitement of a suddenly taut line and the thrill of battling a fish in its element is an experience epically captured in print by Ernest Hemingway in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Old Man and the Sea. It is also a thrill experienced each year by millions of Americans—more than 33 million of them according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. But while the challenge and excitement of fishing leaves an indelible impression on those who experience it firsthand, neither the adventure nor the chance to eat their catch are the top factors motivating many of them to take to the water with rod and reel in hand. For most anglers, the simple opportunity to get outside and experience the outdoors is the biggest motivator, this according to a recent AnglerSurvey.com poll.

When asked to note all of the reasons they like to fish, 88 percent of survey respondents cited “I like to spend time outdoors.” It was the most selected response. That was followed by “I like to spend time on or near the water,” which was noted by 84 percent. The challenge experienced when fishing, selected by 80 percent of respondents even paled to simple “fun,” which was selected by 83 percent. Most see fishing as a social activity with 71% citing spending time with friends and family as a key motivator. Only 50% cited eating their catch as a primary reason to fish.

“Many people love to spend their free time on the water with friends and family,” says Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates, which designs and conducts the surveys at HunterSurvey.com, ShooterSurvey.com and AnglerSurvey.com. “Fishing offers a lot of recreational benefits, but one of the biggest is the chance to simply get outside and enjoy nature. Angling is the preferred way to achieve the overall outdoor experience.”

The expectation of catching fish is an overarching reason why fishing is chosen as the way to spend time on the water with friends and family. “Without a reasonable expectation of catching fish, people will turn to other outdoor activities such as kayaking, hiking and more,” Mr. Southwick reported. “Maintaining healthy waters and great fishing opportunities is critical if people are going to continue choosing fishing as their preferred recreation.”

For more insights into why people fish, recent trends, who fishes and boosting participation, check out new research recently released by the American Sportfishing Association and the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation.

To help continually improve, protect and advance hunting, shooting and fishing, all sportsmen and sportswomen are encouraged to participate in the bi-monthly surveys at HunterSurvey.com, ShooterSurvey.com and/or AnglerSurvey.com. Every other month, participants who complete the surveys are entered into a drawing for one of five $100 gift certificates to the sporting goods retailer of their choice.

About AnglerSurvey.com, HunterSurvey.com and ShooterSurvey.com: Launched in 2006, AnglerSurvey.com, HunterSurvey.com and ShooterSurvey.com help the outdoor equipment industry, government fisheries and wildlife officials and conservation organizations track consumer activities and expenditure trends. Survey results are scientifically analyzed to reflect the attitudes and habits of anglers and hunters across the United States. Follow them on Facebook at http://facebook.com/huntersurvey and http://facebook.com/anglersurvey or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/AnglerSurvey and https://twitter.com/#!/HunterSurvey.