Thursday, January 29, 2015
So far, only a handful of documented cases of Florida Pumas swimming across the Caloosahatchee River to attempt to stake out new territory outside of Southwest Florida.........Hemmed in by the "engineered" and difficult to cross fast flowing river, the Pumas are at carrying capacity in their artificially confined southern tier habitat.......While 3 males have made it across the river, no documented females have accomplished the feat..........They of course, are the key to a reproducing 2nd colony of the big cats in the central region of Florida.............Three criteria must be met before the federal government considers removing the Florida panther from the endangered species list................... First, there must be a population of at least 240 panthers— that’s the number geneticists have deter- mined as providing enough biodiversity to sustain a healthy population................... Second, the population of 240 must be sustained for 12 years, which is two full panther generations................... Finally, the population must be present in two distinct areas..................... This ensures that in the event of a natural disaster, at least one group would likely survive............ Getting panthers north of the river is the key to fulfilling this third requirement...........................While many residents in this currently unoccupied Puma region are leery of the Cats taking up residence there, biologists feel strongly that eventually a female will make it there and that she and her kittens will slowly begin to fan out through Charlotte, Glades, DeSoto and Sarasota counties................ One generation at a time, they’ll reclaim the lands they roamed freely a century ago.................... From Southwest Florida they’ll travel northward until they meet their next big hurdle: I-4, the river of concrete.............Lets get to this next hurdle and subsequently overcome it by installing wildlife culverts under and over the I 4 so as to one day have Pumas branching out again over the whole of the southeastern states
Photo by Brian Hampton
There was a time when the Caloosahatchee was a mild-mannered river, twisting through Southwest Florida like a blue satin ribbon spooling off a roll. Back before September of 1881, when the first dredging machines arrived in Fort Myers, back before the dykes and the locks and the canals, back before humans decided we could engineer the Caloosahatchee better than the river could. Before all of it, panthers paddled back and forth with ease.
In those days, everywhere was panther territory. The big cats roamed as far west as Texas and as far north as Arkansas. But along came the dredger. And with it came the cold-weather pilgrims: believers that sun in January would be their salvation. As the human population grew, the panther population dwindled. And as the dredgers turned the Caloosahatchee into a deep, swift river with steep banks, panthers stopped crossing it. By the early 1990s, only 20 to 30 Florida panthers remained in the wild, all of them marooned on the single spit of still-undeveloped land south of the river.
Twenty years later, the cats have made a comeback. It’s estimated there are somewhere between 100 and 180 Florida panthers inhabiting our corner of the state.
Unfortunately, their recovery is stalling. “We may be at or near habitat-carrying capacity in Southwest Florida,” says Dawn Jennings, the Florida Panther Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Big cats need big space—an adult male usually has a home range of between 150 and 200 miles. But there is no more space. If anything, development in eastern Collier County means there’s less room than there was two decades ago.
So, young panthers cross I-75 and other major roadways as they search for a bit of unoccupied territory to call home. If they accidentally stumble onto the land of another male panther, they risk being killed in a fight; intra-species aggression is the second-most common cause of death for a panther. And if they wander far enough, they eventually reach the Caloosahatchee River. On its steep banks the cats must make a decision: try and cross or risk life on the overcrowded side.
The Caloosahatchee isn’t just a decision point for the panthers, though. Humans involved with the recovery of the Florida panther all agree that getting the animals to cross the river is pivotal to the subspecies’ continued recovery. But exactly how to get them across—and how to get residents north of the river to welcome an apex predator—is more complex.
In the past few years, biologists and wildlife officials have confirmed that at least three male cats have already taken the plunge. “Panthers definitely can swim. They don’t have an aversion to it,” says Dr. Jennifer Korn, a Florida panther specialist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “They’re not like tigers where they love the water.” But they’re also not like housecats. “The thing is, if you’ve seen the Caloosahatchee, you know it’s pretty formidable.”
Given that male panthers are naturally inclined to roam, it’s no surprise that they’ve been the first across the river. But what researchers are really waiting for is the day when that first female ventures across. “The females have a tendency not to move very far from their den sites,” Jennings says. “So they’re kind of going to creep along [getting] closer and closer to the river. We’re assuming the females will eventually cross and that then the males will be very happy,” she adds.
If they don’t cross, biologists may decide to “assist” them. However, assisted migration is an issue that makes most biologists just a bit queasy; it’s interventionist in a way scientists prefer not to be. “We’d much rather see them disperse and expand on their own than try to relocate them,” Jennings says. “If the cats can find their own way, it’s just a much better situation for them.”
Three criteria must be met before the federal government considers removing the Florida panther from the endangered species list. First, there must be a population of at least 240 panthers— that’s the number geneticists have deter- mined as providing enough biodiversity to sustain a healthy population. Second, the population of 240 must be sustained for 12 years, which is two full panther generations. Finally, the population must be present in two distinct areas. This ensures that in the event of a natural disaster, at least one group would likely survive. Getting panthers north of the river is the key to fulfilling this third requirement.
Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle for getting female cats across the river may not actually be the river. “It’s really as much of a people issue as it is a panther recovery issue,” Jennings says. In 2013, the FWC hired Korn specifically to keep an eye on this new, north-of-the-river population. While she has a Ph.D. in wildlife science and a master’s degree in wildlife ecology, right now she has to spend a lot of time just being the panthers’ public relations consultant. “Once you get north of the Caloosahatchee, most of the land is private land,” she explains. “People south of the river are used to living with panthers, but people north of the river aren’t.”
Because panthers are so crowded in their current habitat, more and more human-panther interactions are occur-ring. And those interactions draw lots of media attention. People north of the river hear what’s going on and think, “Not in my backyard.”
Even those who have coexisted with panthers for years don’t necessarily love it. Aliese “Liesa” Priddy is a commissioner for FWC, but she also owns a commercial cattle ranch just a few miles from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. As a commissioner, she understands the importance of maintaining Florida’s unique ecosystems. As a rancher, she knows losing even a single calf can cost her thousands of dollars.
Technically, the federal government should reimburse Priddy whenever a panther depredation occurs on her land. Panther attacks, however, are sometimes hard to prove. “Usually the prey is dragged into very thick vegetation and it’s covered up and there’s very little of it remaining. And unless you can prove you lost an animal to a panther and it’s confirmed, you won’t be reimbursed,” she says. Plus, it’s not always easy to tell if you’re short one calf on a commercial ranch. “It’s not like a hobby farm in Golden Gate Estates where one day you have four goats and the next you have three.
“It’s not that we don’t like panthers; it’s that we don’t like panthers killing our calves.” Really, what Priddy wants is for the cats to recover to the point where they’d be removed from the endangered species list. That would mean regulations would loosen. “Right now you can’t harass them in any way,” she says. “With bears, you can do hazing by shooting a beanbag near them, but with panthers that would be considered harassing them.”
Fears of increased government regulation—beyond not being able to deal with nuisance panthers—is one of the biggest sticking points Korn is running into. “Some of the landowners here have an overall bad taste in their mouths already with government, and that’s totally understand- able,” she says. “But what they need to know is that we’re not going to come and take their land. It’s just not going to happen. We don’t have that kind of funding. I think working lands are great lands; we want you to keep working your lands. We just don’t want you to turn them into concrete.”
She and her partners at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are plotting out incentives for landowners—some of which involve cash. And progress is happening. In the past year, Korn has installed 32 remote cameras across 10 counties—most on private property.
“I try not to cold-call people. I try and meet people through other people; I go to a lot of Rotary Club meetings,” she says.
Whether ranchers are ready for the arrival of the first female panther or not, researchers promise she’s coming. After she fords the river, she and her kittens will slowly begin to fan out through Charlotte, Glades, DeSoto and Sarasota counties. One generation at a time, they’ll reclaim the lands they roamed freely a century ago. From Southwest Florida they’ll travel northward until they meet their next big hurdle: I-4, the river of concrete.
Prior to 1995, the Florida panther population had become so small and inbreeding was so rampant that the kitten mortality rate was incredibly high. Conservation biologists had to make a choice: bring in new genetics by introducing a different subspecies or watch as the tiny population continued to languish. They chose the former, importing eight female pumas from Texas. “I think it was the best choice they could have made,” says Dr. Melanie Culver, a U.S.G.S. geneticist at the University of Arizona. At the time, Culver was mapping the genetic ancestry of Puma concolor for her doctoral dissertation. Though her research was not concluded when the Texas pumas were selected, it would ultimately show Texas pumas were about the closest relative Florida panthers had. In fact, it’s believed that before modern civilization took hold in the Southeast, Texas pumas and Florida panthers regularly interbred.
The two, however, are considered separate subspecies, which means they have slightly different physical and genetic characteristics. But how different are they? That’s something we may know more about next year. Currently, Culver has a graduate student who is sequencing the DNA of both a Texas puma and a Florida panther. “A year from now we’ll know exactly how much of the Florida genome was retained and how much Texas was retained,” she says. She adds that the two will likely be more than 99 percent identical. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t differences between the two. Humans and chimps share 98 percent of the same DNA, and while we’re different species, not subspecies like the Texas puma and the Florida panther, it’s a good example of how small amounts of variation in DNA can translate to big differences.(NOTE THAT MOST RESEARCHERS CONSIDER
THE PUMA TO BE A SINGLE SPECIES--F.CONCOLOR--REGARDLESS OF WHERE FOUND IN THE AMERICAS!!!!!!!!)
Posted by Rick Meril at 10:24 PM
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
The small, remnant Sierra Red Fox that inhabits northern California got a public relations "visiblitiy boost" with a lone "Sierra Red" spotted via a camera trap in Yosemite National Park on January 4...........This is the first verified sighting of this endangerd canid in Yosemite in the last 100 years!...........Never thought to be abundant(From 1940 to 1959, 135 pelts were taken by trappers and that number shrunk down to 2 pelts a year by the 1970's), the "Sierra Red" historically was found in alpine dwarf-shrub, wet meadow, subalpine conifer, lodgepole pine, red fir, aspen, montane chaparral, montane riparian, mixed conifer, and ponderosa pine habitat................ Jeffrey pine, eastside pine, and montane hardwood-conifer also saw usage by this fox species.................. These Foxes exisited alongside the marten and wolverine in these forest types. ..............This fox at one time inhabited the northern California Cascades eastward to the northern Sierra Nevada and then south along the Sierran crest to Tulare County.............Thought to be exterminated a century ago due to logging and cattle grazing destroying their preferred habitat, in 2010, a small population of these foxes(at most 15 individuals) were verified to be alive in the Sonora Pass region, north of Yosemite............Park Researchers will begin work with other conservation organizations to seek to give the "Sierra Red" every possible chance to re-wild successfully across it's historical terrain
Sierra Nevada red fox (Vulpes vulpes necator)
The Sierra Nevada red fox is distinguished from members of the introduced lowland population of red foxes by its slightly smaller size and darker colored fur. Red fox fur was sought after by trappers during the early part of last century because it was softer than California's grey fox. Sierra Nevada populations have been reduced by grazing in meadows, which reduces prey populations, and by trapping, logging, and recreational disturbances. Human activities of any significant degree in areas of core habitat will certainly put pressure on this highly endangered species. Given the low numbers of the Sierra Nevada red fox and the increase of non-native red fox population, particularly in the Central Valley of California, competition from this non-native species is increasingly a concern for the Sierra Nevada subspecies.
The range of the Sierra Nevada red fox is limited to the conifer forests and rugged alpine landscape of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges between 4,000 feet and 12,000 feet. Preferred habitat for the Sierra Nevada red fox appears to be red fir and lodgepole pine forests in the subalpine zone and alpine fell-fields of the Sierra Nevada. Open areas are used for hunting, forested habitats for cover and reproduction. Edges are utilized extensively for tracking and stalking prey. The red fox hunts in forest openings, meadows, and barren rocky areas associated with its high elevation habitats. Found mostly above 6,000 feet in the summer months, Sierra Nevada populations were historically found in a variety of habitats, including alpine dwarf-shrub, wet meadow, subalpine conifer, lodgepole pine, red fir, aspen, montane chaparral, montane riparian, mixed conifer, and ponderosa pine. Jeffrey pine, eastside pine, and montane hardwood-conifer also are used. This species is known to inhabit vegetation types similar to those used by the marten and wolverine. The range of the Red fox is from the northern California Cascades eastward to the northern Sierra Nevada and then south along the Sierran crest to Tulare County.
The current range and distribution of Sierra Nevada red fox is unknown. Because of this and the scientific certainty of its hazardously low numbers, greater research is needed to ascertain the full extent of the red foxes range. Recent research conducted in the vicinity of Lassen Peak, has begun the process of understanding exactly how rare the native Sierra Nevada red fox is. This research conducted in the late 1990's estimated that only 10-15 individuals were likely present in the Lassen Peak area--a number certainly low enough to cause concern over the possibility of localized extinction and highly endangered status throughout its historic range. Other historical evidence related to the Sierra Nevada red fox has led scientists to believe that it likely never occurred in large numbers. From 1940 to 1959, 135 pelts were taken by trappers and that number shrunk down to 2 pelts a year by the 1970's. It is possible that red fox numbers were declining before these statistics were collected but in either case the Sierra Nevada red fox has certainly been in serious trouble for a very long time. The State of California banned red fox trapping in 1974.
Until this summer (2010), the only known current population has been in the vicinity of Lassen Peak in Lassen Volcanic National Park, and also within Lassen National Forest. Periodic sightings have been reported by inexperienced observers throughout the rest of the Sierra Nevada but have not been documented by experts. In August, Forest Service biologists retrieved photographs from a bait station trail camera near Sonora Pass. DNA retrieved from saliva found on the tooth punctures in the bait bag was then analyzed by canid researchers Ben Sacks and Mark Statham at the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. Sacks and his colleagues confirmed that the DNA was from the rare Sierra Nevada red fox.
The Sierra Nevada red fox is genetically very distinct from red fox populations in coastal lowlands, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. These red foxes are derived from introduced foxes from the eastern United States (and Alaska). The Sacramento Valley subspecies is a genetically distinct native species, however.
The Sierra Nevada red fox is so uncommon that the California Fish and Game Commission declared it threatened in 1980 and it is considered critically endangered by the California Department of Fish and Game. The U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station lists the Sierra Nevada red fox as a sensitive species.
According to a UC Davis press release, research from Sacks and his colleagues includes these findings to date:
- There are native California red foxes still living in the Sierra Nevada.
- The native red foxes in the Sacramento Valley (V.v. patwin) are a subspecies genetically distinct from those in the Sierra.
- The two native California subspecies, along with Rocky Mountain and Cascade red foxes (V.v. macroura and V. v. cascadensis), formed a single large western population until the end of the last ice age, when the three mountain subspecies followed receding glaciers up to mountaintops, leaving the Sacramento Valley red fox isolated at low elevation.
Aubry, K.B. 1983. The Cascade's red fox: Distribution, Morphology, Zoogeography, and Ecology. PhD. Dissertation, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington. (1.26MB PDF)
Benson, J.F., et.al. 2005. Use of cover and response to cover type edges by female Sierra Nevada red foxes in winter. Western North American Naturalist 65: 127-130. (428KB PDF)
Perrine, J.D., 2005. Ecology of Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) in the Lassen Peak Region of California U.S.A. Ph. D.Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley. 251 pp. (3MB PDF)
Perrine, J.D., et.al. 2007. Genetic evidence for the persistence of the critically endangered Sierra Nevada red fox in California. Conserv. Genetics. In press. (406KB PDF)
California Department of Fish and Game Natural History Information (URL) --This California state website contains rather limited and old information but is a good basic background composite for the species. Choose from a drop-down list to select the animal you are interested in.
Posted by Rick Meril at 10:44 PM
When everyone first started to do email back in the late 90's, I used TREEMAN as my email address ..............For me, while the desert, prairie and ocean all have their greatness, the forest has always been my place for relaxation, exploration, recuperation and solitude...............Thought many of you would enjoy looking at some of the 19th century maps depicting the forest cover of the USA in 1884, when 75% off the woodland that blanketed the forested regions of our Country had already been converted to other uses................At this point in time, forest cover is a full 30% less than in 1630, with resulting adverse impacts for our suite of carnivores and prey species of animals
Posted by Rick Meril at 8:35 AM
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
John Laundre's LANDSCAPE OF FEAR comes to mind as new research from U. Of California Researchers have determined that female Pumas who have their territories close to human habitation tend to kil 36% more deer and Elk than those who do not........Seems that the "Cats" concern of being hunted and persecuted by us causes them to abandon kills faster and leave them only partially consumed..............The article below seems to convey that this is a bad thing as more prey animals get killed than otherwise would............I pose this question: Is it really so bad that this occurs based on the fact that deer densities are ungodly high in close to human settlement?.............On the other hand, if indeed the female Pumas are "stressed" because of poor eating habits and therefore having compromised litters of kittens, then indeed the "landscape of fear" as it relates to us humans putting all types of stress(hunting, trapping/habitat alteration, etc) on these big cats is a bad thing
Fear of Humans May Drive Pumas Towards 'Wasteful' Hunting
Jan 26, 2015 12:24 PM EST
We all know that human activity can influence the lives of nearby animals,
especially those top predators that now have to play second fiddle to our ever-expanding interests. However, a new study has shown that not only do our actions impact them, but also our mere presence may cause majestic killers like pumas to grow so fearful that they change their hunting habits for the worse.
What they found was startling. In areas near a higher density of human housing, female pumas in particular were found to kill about 36 percent more large prey - mainly deer - than the more "rural" pumas.That's at least according to a new and fascinating study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, which details how, among pumas living in California, those living closest to humans were found to kill a lot more prey, but eat less of each kill, compared to pumas in more wild and secluded areas.
This was determined after a team of scientists from the University of California captured and tagged 30 wild pumas with GPS collars so they could track their movements. The territory and hunting grounds of these animals were then identified, breaking the pumas up into those that are living either near more rural or suburban human environments. The team also investigated kills, measuring just how much of each kill was eaten before a puma elected to slip away.
Strangely, it wasn't that the suburban pumas were hungrier. Instead, it appears that they are eating less of each kill - revisiting kill sites less frequently and spending less time taking their meals, compared to your average puma.
So what's driving these pumas to act so differently? Fear of humans, the researchers suggest, is likely the primary cause. Female pumas are generally more cautious when hunting and eating compared to their male counterparts, largely because they are expected to birth and raise cubs.
That, of course, leads them to making an effort to avoid humans, even if that means smaller meals.
Unfortunately, "the loss of food from decline in prey consumption time paired with increases in energetic costs associated with killing more prey may have consequence for puma populations, particularly with regard to reproductive success," the researchers report, saying that this extra caution may all be for naught.
Posted by Rick Meril at 8:17 AM
Sunday, January 25, 2015
Truly fine looking female Eastern Coyote found it's way into Manhattan Sunday morning and was corralled by Police, captured and then released into the woodlands of Ny's most northern Borough, The Bronx,,,,,,,,,,,where woodland exists and the Coyote can attempt to live on.................Even though Manhattan is an island, the Coyote once again showing that there is no boundary too big or too small to keep them from expanding their turf..............."If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,,,,NY, NY, NY"---Frank Sinatra
Coyote caught in Manhattan
Posted by Rick Meril at 7:50 PM
Two different Eastern Coyotes found their way into Manhattan over the past month..............The first one, below was humanely trapped in Upper Manhattan's Riverside Park and released into the woodland that straddles the Bronx and Westchester County..............Like Chicago and Los Angeles, the ever adaptable Coyote is doing it's best to live amongst us
Posted by Rick Meril at 7:27 PM
I periodically share Rachel Tilseth's teriffic blog, WOLVES OF DOUGLAS COUNTY with all of you as Rachel always illuminates with information about how we human animals are squandering our great and irreplaceable carnivore suite...................Today, Rachel focuses on trapping, the most painful and violent means of killing Wolves, Pumas, Bears, Coyotes, et al.............An important read below and one to act on with your elected Officials
From: Rachel Tilseth <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: January 25, 2015 at 12:12:13 AM EST
Subject: Trapping use of snares blog
CLICK ON LINK TO READ RACHEL'S FULL POST
Posted by Rick Meril at 7:10 PM
Saturday, January 24, 2015
We always applaud states that seek to rewild their open spaces with the preator/prey suite that existed at the time of colonization, circa AD 1500.............In this case, Wisconsin augmenting it's Elk release plan in the southern part of the state via animals obtained from the recovered 15,000 Elk herd found in Kentucky.........The only question that we pose for Wisconsin Game Officials is: Why not also relocate some Wolves from northern Wisconsin into your Rusk and Sawyer County Elk release sites so that some sort of predator/prey balance will occur.............You already of plenty of deer in southern Wisconsin,,,,,,,,,Elk simply put more pressure on forest herbivory, retarding regeneration of the widest dieversity of plant-stuffs................Coyotes cannot kill Elk(perhaps a % of fawns) in significant numbers so Wolves and Mountain Lions needed in your southern tier to create the "cogs and wheels" diversity that your native son Aldo Leopold wrote so passionately about
Read more: http://host.madison.com/sports/recreation/outdoors/jerry-davis-elk-reintroduction-shifts-south-to-jackson-county/article_86b7b99f-c489-5f0a-9af2-2b210e4792fa.html#ixzz3Pl49qUO0
Jerry Davis: Elk reintroduction shifts south to Jackson County
Read more: http://host.madison.com/sports/recreation/outdoors/jerry-davis-elk-reintroduction-shifts-south-to-jackson-county/article_86b7b99f-c489-5f0a-9af2-2b210e4792fa.html#ixzz3Pl49qUO0
Posted by Rick Meril at 9:16 AM