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EPA Faces Pesticides, Endangered Species Lawsuit

Environmental conservation groups filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of lax pesticide regulations that caused the poisonings of over 200 endangered and threatened species.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North America said in the filing that the EPA has failed to consult officials with the Fish and Wildlife service regarding pesticide use.

“For decades, the EPA has turned a blind eye to the disastrous effects pesticides can have on some of America’s rarest species,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “This lawsuit is intended to force the EPA to follow the law and ensure that harmful chemicals are not sprayed in endangered species habitats.”

The litigation claims that the pesticides pose a critical threat to 214 species around the country that need protection, including the California condor.

Plaintiffs also named the western snowy plover, northern spotted owl, San Joaquin kit fox, giant garter snake, light-footed clapper rail, California tiger salamander and several Northern California butterflies, rats, snakes, fish, rodents and insect species as vulnerable to lead poisoning and other chemicals in pesticides.

The EPA currently performs a number of tests on pesticides but rarely discusses findings with the Fish and Wildlife Association.

“The ecological risk assessment does not consider the cumulative or synergistic effects posed by multiple pesticides on wildlife or the environment, nor does it address delayed effects of pesticides, referred to as ‘lag effects,”‘ the suit filed in San Francisco federal court alleges.

“Since 1993, there have been only a few completed consultations with the (Fish and Wildlife) Service regarding pesticide impacts to listed species, other than those imposed by court orders,” it added.

18,000 pesticides are registered with the EPA for approved use in the United States.

Posted in Animals, Chemicals, Policies, Toxic Substances0 Comments

“Aflockalypse” Mapped on Google

The recent string of mass animal deaths that the Washington Post and some bloggers have taken to calling “the aflockalypse” can now be monitored on Google Maps.

The regularly updated resource pinpoints mass animal kills all over the world with blue arrows, tracking the die-offs from Dec. 2010 to the present.

All the fuss began last week when 5,000 red-winged blackbirds mysteriously dropped dead in the small town of Beebe, Ark. When more birds rained down on a Louisiana stretch of highway and thousands of drum fish washed up along the Arkansas River, people began to connect the dots.

Since then, as Google’s tool confirms, a slew of significant die-offs have cropped up all over the world–from crabs to penguins to manatees.

While many express religious or environmental concerns over the cause of the kills, the scientific community remains firm in saying these events are unrelated and not all that uncommon.

Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson says these incidents normally pass under the radar, and that advances in technology are to blame for a perceived connection.

“This instant and global communication, it’s just a human instinct to read mystery and portents of dangers and wondrous things in events that are unusual,” Wilson told The Associated Press on Thursday. “Not to worry, these are not portents that the world is about to come to an end.”

Posted in Animals, Birds, Ecosystems, Fish, Mammals0 Comments

Dead Crabs Litter U.K. Shores; Officials Point to Global Warming

Thousands of dead crabs have washed up on U.K. shores, the latest in a recent slew of mass animal die-offs around the world.

Scientists say prolonged cold weather is what caused more than 40,000 Velvet swimming crabs to wash up along Britain’s east coast in the county of Kent. Britain has endured its coldest December in 120 years, which caused sea temperatures to drop below average, the Daily Mail reported Wednesday.

The country’s largest swimming crabs, also known as devil crabs, may have moved closer to the shoreline due to warmer weather caused by climate change, coastal warden Tony Sykes told the newspaper.

“We believe the sudden temperature drop causes the crabs to suffer from hypothermia and die,” he said.

Coast Project Manager Tony Childs said there was no cleanup planned, and that officials would let nature run its course.

“As happens with the circle of life in nature, we expect the crabs to be naturally dispersed from our shores very quickly by our local seagulls,” he said.

Posted in Animals, Aquatic Life, Oceans & Coastlines0 Comments

Yellowstone National Park Takes on Long-Term Bison Study

Yellowstone National Park’s American bison are truly a sight to behold. The only population of free-ranging buffalo in the lower 48, they number over 4,000 strong and remain a powerful tourist draw. Bison were famously pushed to near-extinction in the 19th century, and only recently sprang back to healthy numbers.

But the rapidly increasing size of Yellowstone’s bison population has some worried about the long-term stability of the park’s grasslands. Syracuse University biologist Douglas Frank, who has examined the effects of climate change and herbivores on Yellowstone’s grasses for two decades, plans to embark on an extensive study to assess the bison’s impact.

“During the late 1980s, similar concerns were raised about the size of the park’s elk herd and whether the herd was negatively impacting grasslands,” says Frank, according to Syracuse University’s website. “Rather than having a negative impact on the grasslands, we found that increases in elk grazing actually stimulated plant growth.”

Frank, a professor in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Scientists, plans to spend three years on the project. He will work with the National Park Service to monitor the herds’ grazing habits, using research methods he developed in his 20 years studying the park’s grasslands.

“Fossil records indicate that prior to the industrial revolution, the Earth’s grasslands and large herds of migratory herbivores coexisted for millennia,” Frank says. “These systems were stable, despite having sustained very intense levels of grazing. My work in Yellowstone explores why and how this happens.”

In Frank’s previous work on elk grazing habits, he found that several factors contributed to plant growth. For one, elk feces and urine in grazing areas provided ample fertilizer for plants. The intensive feeding also stimulated plants to grow new shoots and leaves, enhancing the overall health of the grasslands.

“Heavy grazing also increases the amount of nitrogen in the leaf material, which increases the quality of material that falls to the ground,” Frank says. “The high-quality litter is quickly broken down by soil bacteria, which in turn enriches the soil around grazed plants.”

Regardless of the outcome, the study will provide scientists with further insights into Yellowstone’s ecosystem.

“We also intend to use this opportunity to better understand the complex and fascinating ways in which the interactions among plants, herbivores, and soil organisms foster the stability of grassland systems,” Frank says.

Posted in Animals, Ecosystems, Land & Soil, Mammals0 Comments

Contaminated Ducks Euthanized in Canada

Ducks in various locations around Canada have had to be euthanized recently after landing in polluted oil tailing ponds, Canadian authorities reported.

Officials stated that roughly 230 birds landed in a Syncrude tailing pond in Alberta on Monday, and came in contact with toxic extraction byproducts which necessitated euthanizing them.

Similar incidents occurred on Tuesday in facilities owned by Shell and Suncor.

A “small number of oiled birds” were euthanized on the advice of Alberta fish and wildlife authorities, Suncor officials announced, while Shell reported finding two dead birds and two other oiled birds in its tailing pond.

“We are cooperating fully with regulators and are working to minimize waterfowl losses,” Scott Sullivan, Syncrude president and CEO, said in a statement. “This is very unfortunate, especially given the significant efforts we have taken to improve our deterrent system.”

The deaths of the ducks at Syncrude’s pond came just days after Syncrude agreed to pay a $3 million penalty for the deaths of 1,600 ducks in another tailings pond in April 2008, CBC News reported.

A spokesman for Greenpeace said the industry should stop using tailings ponds.

“The fact is that these toxic tailings lakes pose an ongoing threat, not just to bird populations but to animals and to downstream communities as well,” Greenpeace Alberta campaigner Mike Hudema said.

Source: UPI

Posted in Animals, Birds, Oil & Petroleum0 Comments

Seals Help Map Ocean Floor

SANTA CRUZ, Calif., Oct. 7 (UPI) — Seals diving deep in the ocean for food near Antarctica are helping provide extremely accurate data for use in mapping the sea floor, oceanographers say.

Seals, walruses, whales and other large marine creatures have helped oceanographers before, as scientists have glued sensors to the animals’ bodies that measures factors like temperature and salinity, ScienceNews.org reported.

The new work with elephant seals is the first to extract information on the shape of the seafloor — known as bathymetry — from new sensors, glued to the animals’ heads, which can measure pressure and hence depth.

“You can actually map the ocean floor,” Daniel Costa, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, says.

The data came from 57 elephant seals tagged by Costa’s group during five summers at the U.S. Antarctic Marine Living Resources camp in the South Shetland Islands. As the animals swim, the tags record information every few seconds, then relay it via satellite once the seals surface.

About 30 percent of the time seals dive all the way to the bottom to forage for food, so by studying enough dives for each animal — about 200,000 dives in all — researchers can create a map of the sea floor.

And the seals do it all for a fraction of the cost of traditional seafloor mapping done from ships, scientists say.

“It gives you a much denser picture of what the water depth is than anything you can conceivably do with ship tracks,” says oceanographer Laurence Padman, a coauthor of an upcoming paper in Geophysical Research Letters describing the technique.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Animals, Other0 Comments

Global Warming Affects Tropical Life More

SEATTLE, Oct. 7 (UPI) — Global warming is greatest in the Northern Hemisphere but its impact on life could be much greater in the tropics, a U.S. study says.

Even with smaller increases in temperature in the world’s tropical zones, those regions could see greater impacts on life, ranging from shifting geographic ranges to species extinction, says Michael Dillon, an assistant professor of zoology and physiology at the University of Wyoming.

A study focused on ectothermic, or cold-blooded, organisms, those whose body temperature approximates the temperature of their surroundings.

Researchers charted temperature increases from 1961 through 2009, then examined the effect of those increases on metabolism. Metabolic changes are key effects of climate warming because a higher metabolic rate requires more food and more oxygen, study co-author Raymond Huey, a University of Washington biology professor, says.

“Metabolic rate tells you how fast the animal is living and thus its intensity of life,” Huey said.

Since metabolic rates for cold-blooded animals increase faster as temperatures rise, organisms in the tropics show greater effects from global warming because they start at much higher temperatures than animals in the Arctic.

Research has shown that small temperature changes can push tropical organisms beyond their optimal body temperatures and cause substantial stress, while organisms in temperate and polar regions can tolerate much larger increases because they already are used to large seasonal temperature swings, scientists say.

“Just because the temperature change in the tropics is small doesn’t mean the biological impacts will be small,” Huey said. “All of the studies we’re doing suggest the opposite is true.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Animals, Other0 Comments

Florida County in West Nile Virus Warning

STUART, Fla., Oct. 1 (UPI) — Health officials in Martin County, Fla., have issued a mosquito advisory after two more farm animals tested positive for the West Nile virus, authorities said.

The tests come after three animals tested positive earlier in the month, TCPalm.com reported Friday.

Health officials advised residents and visitors to take precautions, such as wearing clothes that cover most of their skin and applying mosquito repellent, against being bitten by mosquitoes.

Horse owners were urged to vaccinate their animals.

West Nile virus infection can cause mild to severe illness in humans, including headache, fever, pain and fatigue, health officials said.

Mosquitoes can spread the infection although human cases are rare, they said.

“We’ve never had a human case in this area,” Bob Washam, the health department’s environmental health director, said.

The county has been spraying mosquito-breeding areas along the coast and in western Martin County, mosquito control manager Gene Lemire said.

“We are expecting possibly an increase due to this rain that we’ve just had,” Lemire said.

“All summer long, we’ve been urging residents to take precautions against mosquitoes,” Renay Rouse, a Health Department spokeswoman, said. “The mosquitoes are here, they’re carrying the diseases.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Animals, Other0 Comments

Florida Country in West Nile Virus Warning

STUART, Fla., Oct. 1 (UPI) — Health officials in Martin County, Fla., have issued a mosquito advisory after two more farm animals tested positive for the West Nile virus, authorities said.

The tests come after three animals tested positive earlier in the month, TCPalm.com reported Friday.

Health officials advised residents and visitors to take precautions, such as wearing clothes that cover most of their skin and applying mosquito repellent, against being bitten by mosquitoes.

Horse owners were urged to vaccinate their animals.

West Nile virus infection can cause mild to severe illness in humans, including headache, fever, pain and fatigue, health officials said.

Mosquitoes can spread the infection although human cases are rare, they said.

“We’ve never had a human case in this area,” Bob Washam, the health department’s environmental health director, said.

The county has been spraying mosquito-breeding areas along the coast and in western Martin County, mosquito control manager Gene Lemire said.

“We are expecting possibly an increase due to this rain that we’ve just had,” Lemire said.

“All summer long, we’ve been urging residents to take precautions against mosquitoes,” Renay Rouse, a Health Department spokeswoman, said. “The mosquitoes are here, they’re carrying the diseases.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Animals, Other0 Comments

Anthrax Outbreak Reported in Russia

MOSCOW, Sept. 27 (UPI) — Russian authorities say they’ve declared a state of emergency because of an outbreak of anthrax in the country’s southern Krasnodar Territory.

Anthrax was detected in cows at a dairy farm and authorities reported at least two employees had contracted the potentially fatal disease, RIA Novosti reported.

At least 30 farm employees working around the sick animals were placed under medical supervision but their test results were negative.

The farm was placed under quarantine and veterinarians were checking to see if privately kept cows in the area contracted the infection.

“A state of local-scale emergency was declared on the territory of the Uspenskaya Village. The outbreak was localized and the disease was prevented from spreading,” said Alyona Vnukova, spokeswoman for the region’s governor.

Anthrax affects cattle that ingest or inhale the bacterial spores while grazing and humans can contract the disease if they are exposed to the blood or tissue of infected animals.

It can be highly lethal but in some forms responds well to antibiotics, RIA Novosti reported.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Animals, Other0 Comments

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