Saturday, December 13, 2008

Herb the sea turtle heading for warmer sanctuary

Herb the sea turtle heading for warmer sanctuary

12/13/2008, 10:50 a.m. EST The Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — His name is Herb, he's 75 pounds with a chestnut brown shell, and when the sea turtle was discovered on a Cape Cod beach earlier in the month, he was very, very cold.

Luckily, the volunteers from the Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary at Wellfleet Bay who found Herb alerted officials, who transported him to the New England Aquarium in Boston.

Veterinarians and rescue biologists slowly warmed Herb about five degrees each day. When he was found on the Truro beach on Dec. 3, his body temperature was in the 40s. It's now a stable temperature in the low 70's.

That means Herb is ready to make another voyage — this time to the Riverhead Foundation in Long Island, a nonprofit dedicated to the rehabilitation and release of seals, whales, dolphins, and sea turtles.

Herb was the largest of the hypothermic sea turtle rescued from Cape Cod during the fall.

Most hypothermic sea turtles found on Cape Cod that survive are discovered before Thanksgiving. Herb's larger size helped protect him. Larger turtles lose heat more slowly than smaller turtles.

Herb is one of six loggerhead turtles that washed up late this season. They averaged about 50 pounds, and all have survived. Herb is still a a relatively young turtle, probably between 4 and 7 years old. As an adult, he will weigh 200 to 250 pounds.

Unfortunately many other sea turtles that wash ashore have not survived.

Rapidly dropping temperatures have caused a high number of endangered sea turtles to wash ashore dead on Cape Cod beaches.

© 2008 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

New Rules Endanger Cape Species

Experts: New rules endanger Cape species

December 13, 2008 6:00 AM

Animal advocates say they are worried about the Bush administration's decision this week to loosen regulations protecting endangered species, including the large whales.

The changes, which would reduce the involvement of federal scientists and block the use of the Endangered Species Act to combat global warming, go into effect in about 30 days and were completed in four months.

They will eliminate some of the mandatory, independent reviews that government scientists have performed for 35 years on dams, power plants, timber sales and other projects, which developers and other federal agencies have blamed for delays and cost increases.

The rules also prohibit federal agencies from evaluating the effect on endangered species and the places they live from a project's contribution to increased global warming.

Current rules require biologists in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service to sign off on projects even when it is determined that they are not likely to harm species.

Interior Department officials described the changes as "narrow," but acknowledged that the regulations were controversial inside the agency.

Federal agencies still could seek the expertise of federal wildlife biologists on a voluntary basis, and other parts of the law will ensure that species are protected, they said.

"Nothing in this regulation relieves a federal agency of its responsibilities to ensure that species are not harmed," Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said in a conference call with reporters.

But others said the federal Act was gutted.

Among the animals in the Cape and Islands region protected under the Endangered Species Act are large whales, sea turtles, plovers, terns and more, said Robert Prescott of the Massachusetts Audubon Society in Wellfleet.

There would be less oversight of local projects, such as the expansion of seaports, construction of outfall pipes and the relocation of international shipping lanes, local advocates for animals said.

"The problem is, we are all working in the endangered species field with a precautionary principle," said Charles "Stormy" Mayo, a whale expert with the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. "If you're going to make an error, you should make it on the side of caution. It's very clear that the changes that have been made do not add to the caution."

Between 1998 and 2002, the Fish and Wildlife Service conducted 300,000 consultations. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which evaluates projects affecting marine species, conducts about 1,300 reviews a year.

In the Northeast, there are about 200 to 300 formal and informal consultations annually, said Teri Frady of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Members of Congress, including Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., sent a letter in early September to Kempthorne and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez objecting to the "weakening" of the long-standing consultative roles of the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service.

The representatives questioned whether an agency such as the Department of Homeland Security would hire qualified biologists to assess the effects of a project on endangered species.

"The people who are doing the consulting are the same people doing the work," said Jake Levenson of the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Yarmouthport. "The review can be less critical."

President-elect Barack Obama has said he would work to review the changes. But because the rule takes effect before he is sworn in, he would have to restart the lengthy rule-making process. A House leader pledged to overturn the regulations using the Congressional Review Act after consulting with other Democratic leaders. The rarely used law allows Congress to review new federal regulations.

In a related development, the Interior Department also finalized Thursday a special rule for the polar bear, a species that was listed as threatened in May because of global warming. The rule would allow oil and gas exploration in areas where the bears live, as long as the companies comply with the Marine Mammal Protection Act.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Blitz for Bog Turtles

Massachusetts: A Blitz for Bog Turtles

By Kate Frazer

"Just look for the places you’d go if you were a turtle," explains restoration specialist Angela Sirois as she leads the group deeper into the wetland. Surveying the maze of small streams, mounds of matted vegetation and twisted trees in the muddy valley, the task of finding a tiny bog turtle seems easier said than done.

Luckily, we have technology on our side.

Sirois is using her telemetry kit to track turtles whose shells have been outfitted with small radio transmitters. She walks carefully, pointing the giant antenna toward the ground to pick up a signal. It’s like she’s taking the pulse of the land.

Before long, the series of beeps gets faster and louder. Her hand disappears into a subterranean tunnel, then emerges with a squirming turtle.

A Familiar Face

The turtle stretches out its neck and grasps Sirois’ finger with its tiny scaled hand. The location of a small notch in its shell reveals its identity.

"This is L4R1," says Sirois. “She’s especially exciting to find because we’ve been tracking her since 1990, when she was just a hatchling. She’s 18-years-old now. We’ve followed her to a nest and have watched her lay eggs. The fact that she’s been recruited into the breeding population is a good sign that this wetland is providing the right habitat.”

Researchers – many sponsored by The Nature Conservancy – have been studying the movements of the threatened bog turtle in the Berkshires’ calcium rich wetlands for nearly three decades. This region is one of the few places on Earth with the long-term data necessary for understanding the habitat needs of these long-lived creatures.

Protecting Turtles, Protecting Wetlands

After weighing and measuring the turtle and inspecting her shell and her radio, we return L4R1 to the mucky tunnel and continue our search.

"This is a perfect world for bog turtles," says Sirois. The wetland unfolds at the foot of a mountain. The streams run down the rocky slopes collecting calcium, then braid through tall grasses in the valley. During a time of year called spring emergence, turtles use these rivulets like roads as they cruise around in search of mates and nesting areas.

But development in and around wetlands like this one has left the bog turtle population extremely fragmented. The two distinct populations of bog turtles in the Eastern U.S. are separated by a 250-mile gap, with Northern bog turtles occurring in fewer than 200 sites in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. The fact that these populations cannot mix, decreases their genetic variability and, potentially, the longevity of the species.

Small Creatures, Big Hopes

"What we learn about bog turtles here can help us protect the wetlands they use throughout the entire region," explains Sirois. "We’re finding that maintaining the right hydrology and diverse native plant communities is essential."

That is why the Conservancy couples its research efforts with restoration projects. For years, the tri-state Berkshire Taconic Landscape program has deployed teams of interns each summer to control invasive plants like Phragmites that invade bog turtle habitat and destroy basking and nesting areas.

Sirois, who began her conservation career as an intern in this program, admits that tackling invasives is monotonous work. "It has taken years of control by intern crews to create the kind of wetland that bog turtles seek for nesting," she explains. "This kind of work is never really done. But each year, it gets easier to maintain the open habitat these turtles need."

With her eyes still scanning the ground for turtles, Angela points out a group of nice hummocks that once was a patch of Phragmites. "We recently found a bog turtle nesting here," she says. "While it’s not direct proof, it is one very hopeful sign that our restoration work is making a real difference."

Kate Frazer is a Nature Conservancy conservation writer based in Boston.
Photo © Tony Gola/MassWildlife (Bog Turtle)


Acquisition of two properties facilitates the connection of the Taconic and Rudd Pond State Parks

The Nature Conservancy’s Mount Riga Land Acquisition Completes the South Taconic Trail along the Berkshire Taconic Ridge

Albany, NY — December 10, 2008 — Today The Nature Conservancy's Eastern New York Chapter announces the acquisition of 621 acres along the Berkshire Taconic Ridge. The land exchange will fill in a long sought missing piece of the South Taconic Trail between these popular sections of New York's Taconic State Park at Copake Falls and Rudd Pond, providing the alignment for an estimated five miles of new, public trails, and expanding the park by some 250 acres. The proposed trail route traverses high elevations along the western side of the ridge offering spectacular views of the Harlem Valley and the Catskill Mountains in the distance.

The transaction, which involves New York State, The Nature Conservancy and a private corporation, results in the permanent conservation of 621 acres along the New York State side of the Berkshire Taconic Ridge. “The Nature Conservancy was interested in brokering this deal because it will protect the Taconic Ridge’s intact, healthy forests along the Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York border. The Mount Riga properties, the largest remaining private holdings available for development within the Berkshire Taconic landscape, are very important to conserve,” explains Katie Dolan, executive director of the Conservancy’s Eastern New York Chapter (ENY).

“This deal represents one of the most complicated transactions ever undertaken by the ENY Chapter and marks the completion of a project that began nearly thirty years ago,” says Mark King, director of land protection programs. “New York State has, for many years, wanted to extend the Taconic trail system and sought to purchase missing link parcels along the Ridge. The Conservancy was interested in helping out, since the wetlands at the base of the Ridge include habitats for bog turtles and other rare species.”

The success of the project resulted from the willingness of the three parties, The Nature Conservancy, Mount Riga Incorporated and New York State Parks, to stay engaged long enough to craft an exchange of interests that met each of their goals.

“The key leverage making this multi-faceted deal come together was a generous donation of a 320 acre property along the ridge to the Conservancy in 2003. Mount Riga Inc. wanted to acquire part of the lands donated and as a result, agreed to encumber a portion of their property with conservation easements and sell other lands to New York State. In exchange the Conservancy conveyed a portion of the donated property, restricted by a conservation easement, to Mount Riga,” adds King.

"Since the end of the 19th century, the families that own Mount Riga Incorporated have protected over 4,000 acres of the Berkshire Taconic Plateau. We continue to believe that responsible private ownership is an important part of land conservation. We are pleased to cooperate with our neighbors, the ENY Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and New York State Office of Parks and Recreation who understand that our intense and locally focused interest in Mount Riga contributes to the protection of a larger ecosystem," says spokesman Robert O'Brien. "Enhanced recreational opportunities for hikers and conservation of environmentally significant land offer benefits that will continue for centuries into the future."

"The Nature Conservancy will continue to look at other property easements along the New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut borders,” adds Dolan, “to complete its overall forest block preservation goal of 30,000 protected in the Berkshire Taconic landscape.”

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. The Eastern New York Chapter (ENY), the Conservancy’s first chapter, owns and manages 43 nature preserves, encompassing over 15,000 acres. ENY works across six landscape-scale sites from the Catskills to the Berkshires and from the Hudson River to the shores of Lake Champlain. To learn more, visit