Feds to air-drop toxic mice onto Guam jungles

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam » Dead mice laced with painkillers are about to rain down on Guam’s jungle canopy. They are scientists’ prescription for a headache that has caused the tiny U.S. territory misery for more than 60 years: the brown tree snake.

Most of Guam’s native bird species are extinct because of the snake, which reached the island’s thick jungles by hitching rides from the South Pacific on U.S. military ships shortly after World War II. There may be 2 million of the reptiles on Guam now, decimating wildlife, biting residents and even knocking out electricity by slithering onto power lines.

More than 3,000 miles away, Hawaii environmental officials have long feared a similar invasion — which in their case likely would be a “snakes on a plane” scenario. That would cost the state many vulnerable species and billions of dollars, but the risk will fall if Guam’s air-drop strategy succeeds.

“We are taking this to a new phase,” said Daniel Vice, assistant state director of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services in Hawaii, Guam, and the Pacific Islands. “There really is no other place in the world with a snake problem like Guam.”

Brown tree snakes are generally a few feet long but can grow to be more than 10 feet in length. Most of Guam’s native birds were defenseless against the nocturnal, tree-based predators, and within a few decades of the reptile’s arrival, nearly all of them were wiped out.

The snakes can also climb power poles and wires, causing blackouts, or slither into homes and bite people, including babies; they use venom on their prey but it is not lethal to humans.

The infestation and the toll it has taken on native wildlife have tarnished Guam’s image as a tourism haven, though the snakes are rarely seen outside their jungle habitat.

The solution to this headache, fittingly enough, is acetaminophen, the active ingredient in painkillers including Tylenol.

The strategy takes advantage of the snake’s two big weaknesses. Unlike most snakes, brown tree snakes are happy to eat prey they didn’t kill themselves, and they are highly vulnerable to acetaminophen, which is harmless to humans.

The upcoming mice drop is targeted to hit snakes near Guam’s sprawling Andersen Air Force Base, which is surrounded by heavy foliage and if compromised would offer the snakes a potential ticket off the island. Using helicopters, the dead neonatal mice will be dropped by hand, one by one.

U.S. government scientists have been perfecting the mice-drop strategy for more than a decade with support from the Department of Defense and the Department of the Interior.

To keep the mice bait from dropping all the way to the ground, where it could be eaten by other animals or attract insects as they rot, researchers have developed a flotation device with streamers designed to catch in the branches of the forest foliage, where the snakes live and feed.

Experts say the impact on other species will be minimal, particularly since the snakes have themselves wiped out the birds that might have been most at risk.

Monsanto Fund Donates $20,000 for Molokai Watershed Protection

Monsanto Fund Donates $20,000 for Molokai Watershed Protection

Monsanto Molokai News Release

The Monsanto Fund awarded a $20,000 grant to The Nature Conservancy (TNC) of Hawaii for watershed protection at Kamakou Preserve on Molokai. Since 2006, the Monsanto Fund has contributed a total of $130,000 to TNC’s protection and restoration efforts of critical watershed and fragile ecosystems on Molokai.

Located high in the mountains of East Molokai, the 2,774-acre Kamakou Preserve is a rainforest like no other on the planet. This magnificent natural treasure not only shelters hundreds of native plants and animals, but also serves as an important source of water for the island and its people.

TNC’s work at Kamakou Preserve, in collaboration with the public and private landowners of the East Molokai Watershed Partnership, is focused on invasive animal and weed control.

“Molokai’s forested watersheds today are under constant assault from established and new invasive species,” said Ed Misaki, TNC’s Molokai Program Director. “Feral ungulates (hoofed animals) like wild pigs, goats and deer are steadily eroding fragile topsoil. Once this soil disturbance occurs, invasive plants that did not evolve here, like blackberry and strawberry guava, steadily displace our native forests and watersheds. Once lost, they may be impossible to fully restore at any price.”

Feds want to add 15 Hawaii species to endangered list

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing protecting 13 Big Island plants, a picture-wing fly and a shrimp as endangered species.

The agency said Wednesday invasive plants, agriculture, urban development and feral animals like pigs, sheep and goats are threatening the plants and animals by destroying their habitat.

It’s accepting comments on the proposal through Dec. 17.

More than 400 species around Hawaii are already listed as endangered or threatened.

The agency says its proposal is part of a court-approved work plan to resolve a series of lawsuits over the agency’s listing of species.

The agency says the agreement aims to reduce work driven by lawsuits.

Feds want to add 15 Hawaii species to endangered list – Hawaii News – Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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Maui Nui Seabird project lauded

The Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project has been singled out as one of 111 Harvard Bright Ideas.

The recognition program is administered by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

It cited the Maui project for engaging the community in the protection of endangered seabird colonies.

Among the winners were school districts, federal, state, city and county agencies and public-private partnerships, that were evaluated and selected by a team of policy experts from academic and public sectors.

On the ‘Net:
http://mauinuiseabirds.org/
http://is.gd/HarvardMaui2012

Maui Nui Seabird project lauded – Hawaii News – Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Conservationists upset that sheep shuttled to Maui

HONOLULU – A helicopter pilot is pleading guilty to illegally flying deer from Maui to the Big Island, shedding light on a mystery that has been bewildering Hawaii: how did axis deer, an animal that can’t swim across the ocean, get to another island?

But now federal authorities say the people behind the scheme also took several mouflon sheep from the Big Island and flew them to Maui.

Neither axis deer nor mouflon sheep are native to Hawaii and don’t have natural predators here. Their presence has damaged fragile native ecosystems and farms on the islands where they’ve become established.

The alleged animal smugglers took the sheep to a Maui hunting ranch, and apparently didn’t release them into the wild. Even so, the sheep’s arrival on Maui for the first time deeply concerns conservationists who fear that the animals could escape or give others the idea to bring over more.

“Some of our most endangered dry forest community on Maui would definitely be negatively impacted if sheep got established on Maui. They’re already being impacted by the deer. The sheep would just be one more thing that was contributing to their demise,” said Chuck Chimera, a botanist on Maui involved in efforts to fight invasive species.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Song said helicopter pilot Thomas Leroy Hauptman flew four axis deer from Maui, where the animals were introduced in the 1950s, to the Big Island where they’re not established. He brought back about a dozen mouflon sheep with him to Maui from the Big Island.

Hauptman on Monday entered a plea of guilty in federal court to one misdemeanor count of illegally transporting wildlife,

IKEA’s ‘sustainable’ logging faces criticism

Karelia, Russia – These forests of pine, spruce and birch trees on Russia’s north-west frontier with Finland stretch in every direction to the horizon. When the sun shines, the dazzling green is fragmented by lakes of sky-blue water.

Yet the impact of humankind is everywhere. Tracks criss-cross the woodland, accommodating logging vehicles – diggers with robotic chainsaws and trailer trucks. At road intersections, ribbons tied around trees signpost areas earmarked for clearing.

Swedwood Karelia LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Swedish furniture giant IKEA, owns a logging concession of around 300,000 hectares here. Its factory on the edge of the town of Kostomuksha processes logs into planks. Eventually, they will end up as flat-packs in hundreds of IKEA’s stores worldwide.
Swedwood is active in the Karelia Forest, one of the
last old-growth forests in Europe [Yulia Shcherbina/Al Jazeera]

For IKEA, Russia is a prime territory for expansion. Not only are two of its top three globally performing stores located in Moscow, but the country’s vast boreal or taiga forest belt is a source of high-quality timber.

Yet IKEA’s logging in Karelia has raised uncomfortable questions about its reputation for sourcing sustainable wood. And attention has also brought into focus wider problems associated with commercial forestry in northern Europe and Russia.

In April, environmental NGOs held protests outside eight IKEA stores in Sweden to raise awareness of a study conducted into IKEA’s activities in Karelia by Protect the Forest and Friends of the Earth Sweden.

The NGOs claim that IKEA, through Swedwood, is helping to destroy ecosystems that are home to endangered species by clear-cutting already depleted old-growth forests.

Hawaii bird-watching: A land of unusual, and often endangered, species

Bundled against the chill of a dewy morning, we settled on the lower slopes of Mauna Loa volcano, a landscape interrupted on Hawaii’s Big Island. Around us was a forest that had grown up over a centuries-old flow, but for half a mile in either direction were cindery stretches of bare lava from more recent events. In the greens and grays of the woods, little molten explosions brightened the ohi’a trees, whose brilliant red blossoms feed several species of endemic Hawaiian honeycreepers, small nectar-feeding forest birds.

Even before we’d spotted a single bird, we knew that we were in the right place, thanks to the ear of Jack Jeffrey, a former biologist with the State of Hawaii who now guides birding and photography tours. Just a few minutes from the parking lot of the Puu O’o Trail, he began identifying call after call. There were twittery trills, raspy kazoo blasts and what could have been R2-D2 chirps and beeps straight off the “Star Wars” soundtrack.

Jeffrey explained that recent research has traced the ancestry of nearly 60 species of nectar-loving Hawaiian honeycreepers back to a flock of finches from Asia that arrived nearly 6 million years ago (even before all the islands had formed). Of those 60 species, only 18 remain today. The honeycreepers, along with many other native animals and plants, have suffered pressures from development and from introduced predators and diseases. With so many unique species facing extinction, Hawaii is often described as the endangered species capital of the world.

Photographer Kim Hubbard and I spent eight days in Hawaii in December, mixing birding on Oahu and the Big Island with other sightseeing. We found that bird-watching served as a lens on the islands, allowing us to meet locals who were passionate and expert enough to share their insights and help us step off (or in one case very much onto) the beaten path.

Nearly 7 million bats may have died from white-nose fungus, officials say

More than five years since the deadly white-nose fungus was first detected in a New York cave where bats hibernate, up to 6.7 million of the animals are estimated to have died in 16 states and Canada, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday.

The estimate, drawn from surveys by wildlife officials mostly in Northeastern states where the disease thrives, confirmed the worst fears of biologists who have been counting dead bats covered in the powdery fungus in mines and caves every winter and worrying whether the little brown bat, the northern long-eared bat and the tri-colored bat will survive.

“We’re watching a potential extinction event on the order of what we experienced with bison and passenger pigeons for this group of mammals,” said Mylea Bayless, conservation programs manager for Bat Conservation International in Austin.

“The difference is we may be seeing the regional extinction of multiple species,” Bayless said. “Unlike some of the extinction events or population depletion events we’ve seen in the past, we’re looking at a whole group of animals here, not just one species. We don’t know what that means, but it could be catastrophic.”

Bats are a top nocturnal predator, picking off night-flying insects that feed on agricultural crops and forests.