Florida panther, ©Connie Bransilver/USFWS

Wildlife Weekly Wrap-Up

Written by Melanie Gade with contributions from Courtney Sexton and Haley McKey

Construction of Major Dam on Yellowstone River Temporarily Halted: The pallid sturgeon, a critically endangered North American fish with ancestors dating back to the time of dinosaurs, may die out in a few years without access to prime spawning habitat if river dam operations in the upper Missouri River are not changed. In response, earlier this year, Defenders and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against three federal agencies demanding that the agencies fix their dam operations that threaten the existence of wild pallid sturgeon. Instead, the agencies decided in April to build a new dam that would make the situation even worse. But, last week, a federal court in Montana ruled in our favor and granted our motions for a preliminary injunction blocking constructioPallid sturgeon, © Katie Steiger-Meister/USFWSn of the dam! This ruling creates a temporary “time out” on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ dam construction on the Yellowstone, giving the Court additional time to review their plan and determine whether it complies with federal law. We hope this “time out” gives the agencies a chance to rethink options for the pallid that result in guaranteed passage. This is a victory worth celebrating! We’ll keep you updated here as the case continues to evolve.

Victory in Alaska! We have been fighting for a long time to protect Izembek National Wildlife Refuge near King Cove, Alaska, and this week we had another win – pushing back against those who want to build a destructive road through this irreplaceable wilderness and wildlife habitat. Despite meddling from Senator Murkowski, just this week the U.S. District Court of Alaska upheld Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s decision to reject the proposed road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and wilderness, holding that Jewell followed the law in all respects. The federal government has repeatedly studied a proposed land swap and road through the heart of the refuge, and consistently rejected the project because of its negative impacts on Izembek’s internationally recognized wetlands and congressionally designated wilderness. Forcing construction of a road through existing wilderness in the middle of a wildlife refuge would set a devastating precedent that threatens protections for all of our country’s wildlife refuges and wilderness areas. Hopefully officials can now focus on continuing to improve health care and transportation in King Cove while also protecting the refuge and the wildlife it supports!

orca and calf, © NOAAWelcome to the World, New Orca Calf! We know you’ll be thrilled by this news! This week, the highly endangered population of southern resident orca living off of the Washington and Oregon coasts welcomed a new calf to one of their pods, L-pod. Researchers spotted the calf “L122” on Monday this week swimming next to its mother L91, a 20 year old orca. It’s wonderful to see this orca population continue to expand, but this group remains highly imperiled by two major threats: high levels of pollution in the waters in which they live and in the species they eat, as well as a dramatic reduction in available food. Their primary food source, the Chinook salmon, has declined by over 80 percent from historic numbers. Put simply, we can’t continue to restore this orca population without also without also restoring the salmon. Defenders is working to protect this endangered orca population by reducing toxins in the orca’s home waters and food sources, increasing or restoring Chinook salmon habitat so that more fish can spawn and thrive, and making sure orca watching regulations are enforced to keep orcas in Puget Sound healthy and safe!

We’re Expanding in the Southeast! Defenders of Wildlife has opened a new regional office in Asheville, North Carolina! Our new Southeast Program Director Ben Prater will spearhead Defenders habitat and species conservation work in the region, building on our conservation efforts in Florida and expanding our conservation footprint further into North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. We’re looking forward to having Ben on our team and continuing the fight to protect red wolves, sea turtles, Florida panthers and other iconic species that call the American Southeast home.

Keri Road panther crossing, © Eric Myer

A New Focus on Florida Panthers: Florida panthers are endangered by habitat loss, collisions with vehicles and humans’ lack of tolerance for large predators. Last week, our Senior Florida Representative Elizabeth Fleming testified at the September meeting of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), where the agency approved a position paper that will help guide its priorities for Florida panther recovery. The position statement was recently revised to contain a number of positive provisions, most notably, FWC’s intention to strengthen cooperative panther conservation and recovery efforts rather than reduce its crucial role. However, we still have concerns about a few areas. For example, the statement appears to want to revise panther recovery criteria on whether they are achievable based on social tolerance (acceptance) by people, rather than biological and conservation needs of the subspecies. We urged FWC to engage with the Florida Panther Recovery Implementation Team in their process to determine criteria necessary to recover the panther. We also recommended that FWC work with other partners to increase the acreage of protected habitat for panthers. Both FWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service need to work together to protect more habitat on public and private lands, reduce human-panther conflicts as well as panther mortality on roads and restore panthers to their historic range in north Florida and beyond.

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