Emu underpass planned for Australia’s Pacific Highway

Australian road officials have proposed building emu underpasses beneath the east coast Pacific Highway so that a population of endangered flightless emus can safely cross one of Australia’s busiest and most dangerous roads.

But wildlife experts say the emu, the world’s third largest bird, which can run as fast as 30mph, is unlikely to use the underpasses.

“Emus are big birds with little brains,” said Gary Whale of Birdlife Australia.

The New South Wales state roads authority said it was working on a plan to minimise the impact of a Pacific Highway upgrade on the small emu population on Australia’s east coast.

Between 20 and 40 people have died on the road each year over the last decade, prompting authorities to spend hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading the highway to eliminate accident “black spot”.

But Birdlife Australia said the suggested new route of the highway would bisect emu foraging and breeding areas and endanger the lives of emus in Clarence Valley.

“It could see the extinction of the coastal emu,” said Whale.

Special pathways to “provide safe passage under bridges” were being considered as part of an environmental impact statement, said a spokesperson for the New South Wales Roads and Maritime Service.

“There are also four dedicated underpass structures designed for the emus, three 5.5 metres (18ft) high and the other 4 metres (13ft) high,” said the spokesperson.

Emus can stand up to 2 metres (6.6ft) tall.

Grave threat of pesticides to bees’ billion-pound bonanza is now clear

How valuable are bees? In the UK, about £1.8bn a year, according to new research on the cost of hand-pollinating the many crops bees service for free. If that sounds a far-fetched scenario, consider two facts.

First, bees are in severe decline. Half the UK’s honey bees kept in managed hives have gone, wild honey bees are close to extinction and solitary bees are declining in more than half the place they have been studied.

Second, hand-pollination is already necessary in some places, such as pear orchards in China, and bees are routinely trucked around the US to compensate for the loss of their wild cousins.

The new figure comes from scientists at the Reading University and was released by Friends of the Earth to launch their new campaign, Bee Cause. Paul de Zylva, FoE nature campaigner, said: “Unless we halt the decline in British bees our farmers will have to rely on hand-pollination, sending food prices rocketing.”

So what’s the problem?

Saving desert tortoises is a costly hurdle for solar projects

Stubborn does not come close to describing the desert tortoise, a species that did its evolving more than 220 million years ago and has since remained resolutely prehistoric.

Its slowpoke take on biological adaptation has exposed modern vulnerabilities. The persnickety reptile is today beset by respiratory infections and prone to disease. Its only defenses are the shell on its back and the scent of its unspeakably foul urine.

At the $2.2-billion BrightSource Energy solar farm in the Ivanpah Valley, the tortoise brought construction to a standstill for three months when excavation work found far more animals than biologists expected.

BrightSource has spent $56 million so far to protect and relocate the tortoises, but even at that price, the work has met with unforeseen calamity: Animals crushed under vehicle tires, army ants attacking hatchlings in a makeshift nursery and one small tortoise carried off to an eagle nest, its embedded microchip pinging faintly as it receded.

History has shown the tortoise to be a stubborn survivor, withstanding upheavals that caused the grand dinosaur extinction and ice ages that wiped out most living creatures. But unless current recovery efforts begin to gain traction, this threatened species could become collateral damage in the war against fossil fuels.

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.

Endangered songbirds reintroduced to Laysan atoll – Hawaii News – Staradvertiser.com

Federal officials have taken two dozen endangered songbirds from Nihoa in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and moved them to Laysan 650 miles north in the hope they will establish a new population there and prevent the extinction of the species.

Nihoa Millerbirds are currently only found on Nihoa, where there is a population numbering between 500 and 700. A related subspecies once lived on Laysan but went extinct there after introduced rabbits destroyed the island’s vegetation.

Officials hope establishing a new population will reduce the chances a hurricane or disease outbreak at Nihoa will wipe out the species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its public and private partners moved the birds earlier this month. Officials said Monday the project took five years to plan and cost about $850,000.

Endangered songbirds reintroduced to Laysan atoll – Hawaii News – Staradvertiser.com

Deal aims to save rare species

The agreement would add 20 plants and three insects to the endangered list
Four plants that are among the “rarest of the rare” in the world are now being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act, along with three Hawaii damselflies and 16 other plants that can be found on Oahu.

An agreement announced Monday between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based, nonprofit environmental organization, would add to the 437 species currently listed as threatened and endangered by the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Service Office in Hawaii, home to some of the rarest and most endangered species on earth.

It a federal offense to harm any plants, or kill or harass any animal, on the list.

Qatari sheik takes endangered macaw under his wing

AL-SHEEHANIYA, Qatar — Cobalt-plumed and flapping, Jewel, a young Spix’s macaw, hops into a plastic bowl. She’s well trained in the routine. Her handler, Ryan Watson, sets the bowl on a scale. He’s pleased. The 4-month-old parrot is growing.

If Jewel continues to thrive, Watson will soon move her and a companion — a second young macaw shrieking at the far end of the pair’s long enclosure — to a larger aviary, where they will flock with others of their kind.

Though the distance of the move will be short, it has far-reaching implications: It will foster fledgling hope that this rarest of parrots can be saved. Just 76 of the handsome blue birds — endemic to northern Brazil but unseen there in 11 years — are known to exist, all in captivity. Watson was hired by a member of Qatar’s royal family, Sheik Saoud bin Mohammed bin Ali al-Thani, to rescue the species from the edge of extinction and send it soaring back into the Brazilian jungle.

It’s an audacious plan in an improbable locale, this oil-and-gas-rich kingdom on the Arabian Peninsula. With no signs marking it in the flat, arid landscape, a fenced private wildlife compound extends across 1.6 square miles about 20 miles west of the capital, Doha.

Al-Wabra Wildlife Preservation began as a private menagerie with a questionable past. But it has been transformed into an intensive conservation operation.

‘Shocking’ state of seas threatens mass extinction, say marine experts

Fish, sharks, whales and other marine species are in imminent danger of an “unprecedented” and catastrophic extinction event at the hands of humankind, and are disappearing at a far faster rate than anyone had predicted, a study of the world’s oceans has found.

Mass extinction of species will be “inevitable” if current trends continue, researchers said.

Overfishing, pollution, run-off of fertilisers from farming and the acidification of the seas caused by increasing carbon dioxide emissions are combining to put marine creatures in extreme danger, according to the report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (Ipso), prepared at the first international workshop to consider all of the cumulative stresses affecting the oceans at Oxford University.

The international panel of marine experts said there was a “high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”. They said the challenges facing the oceans created “the conditions associated with every previous major extinction of species in Earth’s history”.

“The findings are shocking,” said Alex Rogers, scientific director of Ipso. “As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean, the implications became far worse than we had individually realised.

Book Excerpt: ‘Intelligent Tinkering’ By Robert Cabin | Audubon Magazine Blog

Book Excerpt: ‘Intelligent Tinkering’ By Robert Cabin

* Animals * Birds * Nature * Plants * Reviews * Travel * Wildlife

By Alisa Opar

Hawaii is home to one of the world’s last dry tropical forests. In their prime, these magnificent ecosystems were bastions of biodiversity. Now, only 10 percent of the state’s original dry forests survive. In Intelligent Tinkering, Robin Cabin, an associate professor of ecology and environmental science at Brevard College and a former restoration ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service, draws on his own experience in doing restoration work in the few remaining Hawai’ian dry forests.

Below is the excerpted first chapter from Intelligent Tinkering, by Robert Cabin. August 2011, Island Press.