Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
Zebra Mussels, because of the way they change the biology of lakes they invade, should be of concern to birders.
Fishermen, boaters, lakeshore owners, conservation officials, and elected officials are not the only people who should give thought to this problem. The lakes that birds use today are used because those lakes meet particular bird needs. It’s unlikely that those needs will change as quickly as the mussels spread.
And spread they will.
Tom Nelson is president of the Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations. He writes on today’s (Friday) StarTribune editorial page about invasive species, focusing on Zebra Mussels. He calls “generally dismal” the response of Minnesota boaters to a request for compliance with laws intended to halt or at least limit spread of the invader from lake to lake.
he DNR recently announced that three more Minnesota lake chains now have Zebra Mussels. That brings the total number of infected lakes to something over 160.
In 2011 I interviewed a biologist very familiar with the incredible, massive invasion of Lake Michigan by Zebra Mussels. Thomas Nalepa works at the Great Lake Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In our conversation I asked him to estimate the number of Zebra Mussels that cover the bottom of Lake Michigan shore to shore.
He had done some quick math on this, multiplying known per-square-yard concentrations of the mussel by the area of the lake. He came up with 900 trillion mussels. And that number was three years old when we visited three years ago. “Now?” he said. “What’s the number that comes after trillion?”
Then I asked him about the potential spread of the mussels in Minnesota. “It would not be surprising to me,” he said, “if they colonize all the lakes in the state.”
Mussels can’t fly or walk, so they need the assistance of humans to move from lake to lake. Obviously, Nalepa wasn’t optimistic about our chances of getting into a successful prevention program.
Mr. Nelson, of the lake associations, said personal responsibility, i.e. asking boaters to comply with regulations, isn’t enough. He’s right. Laws with punch and authorities willing to enforce those laws are needed.
Nalepa had one piece of sort-of good news. To get into all of our lakes could take the mussels hundreds of years. Long time, but let’s hope that this isn’t another environmental problem discussed to the point of paralysis by politicians. Climate change, Asian carp – the problems get worse while possible solutions remain under consideration. Or ignored.
We really ought to be raising hell about this.
The appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) being proposed by House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies would gut wildlife conservation in the country for years to come.
If enacted, the proposed funding and riders would:
· Cut the overall funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by 27 percent (and if the 27 percent cut was evenly distributed to all Service programs, the Refuge System will fall from $502.8 million in FY10 to $331.2 million in FY14, a 34 percent cut in four years!)
· Eliminates all funding for conservation easements and land acquisition under the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a program established in 1995 that uses a small portion of royalties from off shore drilling to support conservation of other resources.
· Eliminates all funding for the State Wildlife Grants Program, which helps states keep species from becoming endangered.
· Eliminates all funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which funds wetland restoration on refuges.
· Eliminates all funding for Landscape Conservation Cooperatives that are forums for federal, state, tribes, organizations, and groups to work together to support conservation.
· Eliminate funds for establishment of refuges and boundary expansion.
The House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee will vote on the bill, Tuesday, July 23, and the House Appropriations Committee will vote Thursday, July 25. You might want to contact your Congressional Representative about this. The number for the Capitol switchboard is 202-224 -3121.
Coyotes can be a bird's best friend. Sounds strange, I know. I learned why in an article in a recent issue of the Delta Waterfowl magazine. As you might remember from previous blogs, most of my conservation money goes to game-bird organizations that practice habitat conservation. Delta Waterfowl is one of those. Save a duck or a pheasant and you save many grassland and wetland non-game bird species. Now about coyotes: they're mammal hunters. Surely they are opportunistic and take eggs or birds when found. But, according to the article, they focus on the mammals that actively hunt for birds and eggs. Red Fox, for example, is listed as the number-one predator of ducks nesting in the grassland surrounding prairie potholes. Coyotes will kill or drive fox from coyote territories. Save a duck and you save a blackbird or meadowlark. Our Orono neighborhood has coyotes. They walk through our yard. We hear them howl at night. We've had fox, too, but rarely, and not for some time. Ditto opossum. They made an appearance, then disappeared. Perhaps we can credit the coyotes for that. They own this territory, and that's OK with me. I just wish they paid more attention to squirrels and raccoons. This coyote was found in a wooded area in eastern Orono.
The 2013-14 duck stamp is now on sale at a post office near you. The stamp is officially known as the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation stamp. Costing $15, funds raised by stamp sales are used to purchase or lease land for national wildlife refuges (NWR) and waterfowl production areas (WPA).
The cost of the stamp is a small but important element in wildlife and habitat protection. Waterfowl hunters must buy a stamp to hunt legally. Everyone who enjoys wildlife, however, should buy a stamp, maybe two. Far more non-game bird species use both refuges and WPAs than do game species. Non-hunters benefit far more than hunters, yet hunters have historically carried the weight in this preservation effort. Birders -- anyone who enjoys wild lands -- need to contribute.
Minnesota has 12 national wildlife refuges, one just below the southern approach to the Twin Cities International Airport. It’s one of the few urban refuges in the country. All of the refuges are excellent places to see birds and hundreds of other plant and animal species.
Less well known but equally important when it comes to conservation are the federal waterfowl production areas. Minnesota has about 700 WPAs totaling more than 125,000 acres. They’re scattered throughout 28 counties in the western part of the state. All belong to you. They’re open for birding, hiking, photography, and most non-motorized outdoor activities. They too are home to hundreds of species of animals and plants. Three of the WPAs area are as close to the Twin Cities as Scott and Carver counties. You can find a map at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/maps/compass.html. This map also shows all public state and national recreation land – parks, wildlife management areas, scientific and natural areas …. everything. It’s a very useful map.
You can find a list of 266 bird species that have been recorded on the national waterfowl production areas at http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/birds/chekbird/r3/mnwpa.htm
Nationally, there are nearly 7,000 WPAs preserving more than 675,000 acres of habitat. Most of the land is grassland, wetland, ponds and potholes, land in traditional waterfowl areas, land suitable for breeding and nesting. Minnesota and the Dakotas account for almost all of these WPAs. This land is but two percent of the prairie pothole region, but accounts for 23 percent of waterfowl production. The number of non-waterfowl birds of various species produced on this land is so large as to be uncountable.
Most post offices sell duck stamps. So do many sporting goods stores. Fifteen dollars, 98 percent of which is used for land purchase or lease. No kidding. This is probably the most fiscally efficient government program ever. Buy a stamp for yourself. Buy one for a birding friend or relative. Show it off. I stick mine to the cover of my Sibley field guide. The new stamp carries an image of a Common Goldeneye painted by artist Robert Steiner of San Francisco.
You can learn more about the stamp and help promote its purchase at www.friendsofthestamp.org.
Whooping Cranes are back on their Wisconsin nesting grounds. As of April 3, 84 cranes were confirmed arrivals in central Wisconsin. The cranes are part of the reintroduction project centered at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) about two hours east of our Wisconsin border.
Noteworthy is the return of two chicks wild-hatched in Wisconsin last year. They migrated with their parents to wintering grounds in southern Indiana last fall, and now have returned. This marks the first complete migration cycle for wild Wisconsin chicks.
Wild-hatched means they were raised by their crane parents with no human assistance. The flock has been built with birds hand-raised and tended by humans through their initial fall migration.
The crane project is managed by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), an international coalition of public and private groups that is reintroducing the birds to eastern North America. Decades ago this species was extirpated from this part of the continent.
Cranes from this flock sometimes are seen in Minnesota, but I know of no such reports this spring. WCEP asks anyone who encounters a Whooping Crane in the wild to give them the respect and distance they need. Observers should not approach birds on foot within 200 yards. Observers should remain in their vehicle, and no closer in the vehicle than 100 yards. Observers should remain concealed and not speak loudly enough that the birds can hear you. Observers should not trespass on private property in an attempt to view or photograph the cranes.
Whooping Cranes sometimes can be seen at Necedah NWR. Beginning in 2011, cranes also were released at Wisconsin’s White River Marsh State Wildlife Area. These photos of adult Whoopoing Cranes was taken at Necedah in October 2010. Attached to the birds’ legs are radio transmitters that allow the birds to be tracked. In the lower photo a Sandhill Crane is in the foreground.
Complete information on this project can be found at http://www.bringbackthecranes.org/technicaldatabase/index.html
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