Tag Archives: Canada lynx

Spring? In Vermont, Think Again.

It’s still winter in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, and with three feet of snow on the ground, the only way to get around the Nulhegan Basin division of the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge is on snowmobile.

In the basin, winter temperatures sometimes fall to -30 degrees, but for dedicated refuge biologists it’s just another chilly day at work.

This past February, two interns (myself included) from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Regional Office in Hadley, Massachusetts, bundled up and headed north to brave the weather and experience the remote refuge life for a week.

From the rear passenger seat of the zooming snowmobile, half enthralled, half terrified (I was, at least), we saw the expanses of the refuge, covering many miles in a single day.

Stretching over 26,000 acres, the refuge is open for the public to explore during all seasons, either on foot or via a network of groomed snowmobile trails that act as a backwoods highway of sorts.

Through stunning spruce-fir forests we caught glimpses of red squirrels, ruffed grouse, moose and even a lone bobcat as it bounded across the trail in front of our snowmobiles.

At the very southern periphery of the boreal forest, the Nulhegan basin is home to species found nowhere else in Vermont except within these dense northern forests that stretch to meet Canada.

Species like the boreal chickadee, spruce grouse, and even the elusive Canada lynx are sustained by the thick conifers and pristine wetlands that define the boreal forest.

Only one lynx has been confirmed in Vermont since 2014, though the nation’s largest population of lynx resides in the state of Maine. That lone Vermont lynx made its home in the Nulhegan basin.

One of the best ways to identify Canada lynx, especially when compared to similar looking species like the bobcat, is by taking a look at its hind legs and paws. Canada lynx have distinctly long back legs.

Interestingly enough, lynx’s hind legs nearly match the hind legs of their primary prey, the snowshoe hare.

In the frigid north, these long back legs and wide feet allow both species to navigate through deep snow and hunt (or run away) more efficiently.

Here on the refuge, we followed UMass Amherst PhD student Alexej Siren as he tracked snowshoe hare using radio telemetry and camera traps that take photos when they are triggered by movement.

Earlier in the year, Alexej and his team fitted snowshoe hares with radio collars so that they could track the signal that the collars emit, detecting the location of the animal and gauging how the population is doing.

Not only did we get to see the incredible work being done by Service biologists and state and university partners every day on the refuge, we got to learn a thing or two about how to identify different wildlife tracks.

And at the end of a long winter’s day, who wouldn’t want this view from their office?

The Atlantic puffin is already at the southern end of breeding range. Photographed at Green Lake National Fish Hatchery. Credit: Fred Yost/USFWS

Climate change and the future of Maine’s wildlife

Today you’re hearing from Bob Houston, a biologist and GIS specialist in our Gulf of Maine Coastal Program. He’s one of the authors of the report, Climate Change and Biodiversity in Maine, released today. The report identifies 168 vulnerable species of fish, plants, birds and other wildlife that could experience large range shifts and population declines in Maine as a result of climate change by 2100.

Today you’re hearing from Bob Houston, a biologist and GIS specialist in our Gulf of Maine Coastal Program. He’s one of the authors of the report, Climate Change and Biodiversity in Maine, released today. The report identifies 168 vulnerable species of fish, plants, birds and other wildlife that could experience large range shifts and population declines in Maine as a result of climate change by 2100.

Photo courtesy of Bob.

What will happen to the animals, plants and habitats for which we work so hard to protect? Will their environment change so much in the coming century that they will face hardships they can’t tolerate?

These and other questions were on my mind as I sat at a table with other scientists to discuss the future of ducks, seabirds, shorebirds and other bird species.

I have been very lucky to be a part of Maine’s Beginning with Habitat team from its early beginnings. The partnership, which includes state and local agencies and non-government organizations, was formed to share important information about plant and animal habitats with towns and land trusts to inform decisions about town planning and open space conservation.

The program has been a great success. But now we wrestled with questions about climate change and sea-level rise: How would it affect the plants and animals that are the focus of the Beginning with Habitat program? What will happen when the temperatures increase, rainfall and snowfall patterns change, non-native pests and plants expand their invasion, and the sea rises?

A sub-team of the partnership was formed to try to answer these questions and investigate the impact of climate change on Maine’s priority plants, animals and habitats. Led by Andrew Whitman of Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, the team decided to rely on the expert opinion of many scientists throughout Maine and the Northeast.

More than 100 scientists contributed their expert knowledge and opinions to the process through an in-depth online survey and an intensive one-day workshop. It was at this one-day workshop that I found myself at a table with other wildlife biologists who have spent their lives researching and conserving all types of birds and their habitats.

As other groups discussed plants, fish, mammals, amphibians and reptiles and invertebrates (such as beetles and dragonflies), our group discussed the future of birds. I quickly found that we had no definite answers. The uncertainties were overwhelming at times.

The Atlantic puffin is already at the southern end of breeding range.  Photographed at Green Lake National Fish Hatchery. Credit: Fred Yost/USFWS

The Atlantic puffin is already at the southern end of its breeding range. Photographed at Green Lake National Fish Hatchery. Credit: Fred Yost/USFWS

For instance, Atlantic puffins nest on Maine’s coastal islands and feed on herring and other fish in the Gulf of Maine. But they also spend a considerable amount of time outside the Gulf of Maine – in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Labrador Sea and other areas along the Atlantic coast. It is difficult to predict the effects of climate change on their food base in the Gulf of Maine, much less all the other areas that puffins rely on in a typical year.

We discussed these and many other questions that day. In the end, we identified 168 vulnerable species that could experience large range shifts and population declines as a result of climate change in Maine by 2100. They include Atlantic salmon, Blanding’s turtle, least and roseate terns, Atlantic puffin, red knot, saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow, American oystercatcher, piping plover, moose and Canada lynx.

The eastern moose may be vulnerable to outbreaks of moose ticks that survive mild winters well and can cause stressful hair loss and increased calf mortality. Credit: David Govatski/USFWS

The eastern moose may be vulnerable to outbreaks of moose ticks that survive mild winters well and can cause stressful hair loss and increased calf mortality. Credit: David Govatski/USFWS

We found that many of our existing habitat conservation efforts should succeed despite climate change. We also found that we might need new adaptive strategies—ones that put even more emphasis on connected habitats to allow plants and animals to respond to changing climate.

While only time will confirm our assessments, we hope this report will support decisions and actions that ensure a strong future for Maine’s natural heritage.

See the results of the vulnerability assessment.

Happy 40th, Endangered Species Act!

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We know… 40th birthdays are branded as “over the hill.”

But when it comes to the Endangered Species Act, we just don’t agree (that’s not saying we agree that other 40th birthdays are over the hill, either!). With much of its work just getting started, the Endangered Species Act is much more “40 and fierce.”

Endangered species recovery is complex and difficult work, often requiring substantial time and resources. Just as it takes a long time for species to reach the brink of extinction, it takes a long time to bring them back. Many of the endangered species that have fully recovered were the original species protected under the ESA.

Forty years of hard, dedicated work by federal and state agencies, state and local governments, conservation organizations and private citizens have reaped much success for threatened and endangered wildlife.

We’ve got a lot to be proud of. As we near the anniversary on Friday, we’re celebrating the wildlife that has benefited from the protection of one of the world’s most important conservation laws.

Here are some Northeast state-by-state snapshots (click the links for stories).

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Endangered roseate terns. Habitat for northeastern U.S. roseate terns has been greatly reduced by human activity and development on barrier islands, predation and competition from expanding numbers of large gulls. Credit: USFWS

CONNECTICUT provides homes to nearly 20 imperiled species, from the roseate tern to the bog turtle and Indiana bat. A portion of Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge has protected threatened tiger beetles (and migrating songbirds); restoration of Long Beach West returned the barrier beach to the threatened piping plover and other shorebirds; and a team is watching over one of the last remaining healthy populations of the endangered dwarf wedgemussel, found in the Lower Farmington River.

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A loggerhead hatchling emerges from its nest and begins its seaward journey. The greatest cause of decline and the continuing primary threat to loggerhead turtle populations worldwide is incidental capture in fishing gear, primarily in longlines and gillnets, but also in trawls, traps and pots, and dredges. Credit: USFWS

DELAWARE provides homes to over 15 imperiled species, from the swamp pink lily to the shortnose sturgeon and nesting loggerhead sea turtles. Biologists translocated endangered Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrels to Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, and just last year, our analysis showed the species has recovered and suggested removing it from the endangered species list! The Delaware Bay is arguably the most important spring stopover for one of the longest-distance migrants in the entire animal kingdom, the red knot. We proposed to protect the knot as threatened under the ESA, and the Delaware conservation community is out to ensure the Bay continues to provide that crucial place for resting and feeding.

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This photo of a Canada lynx kitten is from den surveys conducted by our agency and Maine Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in the boreal forests of northern Maine. Credit: USFWS

MAINE also provides homes to over 15 imperiled species, from the Furbish’s lousewort plant to the Canada lynx and spawning Atlantic sturgeon.  Maine’s only cottontail, the New England cottontail, is a candidate under review for endangered species protection, and Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, along with other partners and private landowners, is restoring its young forest habitat. Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery has cultured Atlantic salmon for over a century, and partnering organizations are working on restoring the free-flowing rivers, such as the Penobscot, on which endangered salmon depend.

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The greatest threats to the bog turtle are the loss, degradation and fragmentation of its habitat from wetland alteration, development, pollution, invasive species and advanced plant growth. The species is also threatened by poaching—collection for illegal wildlife trade. Credit: USFWS

MARYLAND provides homes to more than 25 imperiled species, from the Maryland darter to the sandplain gerardia plant and Kenk’s ampipod. Landowners have partnered with our agency and the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service to improve their wetlands for North America’s tiniest turtle, the threatened bog turtle. In 1967, when the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel was listed, it could be found in only a handful of counties in the state, and after officials closed the hunting season and re-introduced it to several large farms, populations began to thrive! The Puritan tiger beetle has only four populations, one which is on eroding cliffs in Calvert County and another along the Sassafras River. An interagency team and federal grant funding has made substantial progress in meeting the needs of landowners while promoting the species recovery.

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Piping plovers were common along the Atlantic Coast during much of the 19th century, but nearly disappeared due to excessive hunting for the millinery trade. Following passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, numbers recovered to a 20th-century peak in the 1940s. The current population decline is attributed to increased development and recreational use of beaches since the end of World War II. Credit: Diane Fletcher, Friends of Ellisville Marsh

MASSACHUSETTS provides homes to 20 imperiled species, from the northern red-bellied cooter to the roseate tern and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Friends of Ellisville Marsh have provided a community model to protect piping plovers, and volunteers like Judy Besancon on Newbury Beach keep an eye on plover nests. Every year, volunteers scan the Cape Cod beaches to save stranded, endangered sea turtles. Populations of the state’s only native rabbit, the New England cottontail, have dwindled as its young, regenerating forest habitat has disappeared. Experts are using controlled burns to restore this early stage of forest in places like Mashpee.

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The Karner blue butterfly, an endangered species, is a small butterfly that lives in oak savannas and pine barren ecosystems from eastern Minnesota and eastward to the Atlantic seaboard. Habitat throughout the range of the Karner blue has been lost through human activity to suppress wildfire, cultivate forests and develop communities. Credit: USFWS

NEW HAMPSHIRE provides homes to nearly 15 imperiled species, from the northeastern bulrush to the Karner blue butterfly and red knot. A strong partnership to protect habitat and rear seeds in captivity kept the quarter-sized Robbins’ cinquefoil flower from extinction and ensured its future on the slopes of the White Mountains. In areas across southern New Hampshire, efforts are underway to conserve the natural habitat of the region’s only native rabbit, the New England cottontail. Much of the life history of the endangered small whorled pogonia remains a mystery, but recent efforts in New Hampshire have clued biologists in to this rare woodland orchid’s specific habitat needs.

Tagged red knot. Mispillion Harbor, Delaware. Credit: Gregory Breese/USFWS

Some red knots migrate up to 9,300 miles one way, from the southern tip of South America, along the U.S. coast and up to the Canadian Arctic. Changing climate conditions are already affecting the bird’s food supply, the timing of its migration and its breeding habitat in the Arctic. The shorebird also is losing areas along its range due to sea level rise, shoreline projects, and development. Credit: Gregory Breese/USFWS

NEW JERSEY provides homes to over 20 imperiled species, from the Hirst brothers’ panic grass to the red knot and the Knieskern’s beaked-rush plant. In 1993, biologists confirmed a newly discovered colony of endangered Indiana bats in an abandoned mine near Hibernia, and surveys at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge have helped us understand the impacts of white-nose syndrome on the species. New Jersey almost lost its bald eagle population by 1980, but state and federal wildlife agencies creatively put the eagle on the road to recovery. Law enforcement have helped protect threatened bog turtles through investigation of ESA violations, and partnerships with private landowners and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service have improved and protected their unique wetland habitat.

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The bald eagle holds the greatest endangered species success story, recovering from 417 nesting pairs in 1963 to more than 10,000 nesting pairs today. Credit: USFWS

NEW YORK provides homes to nearly 30 imperiled species, from the Houghton’s goldenrod plant to the clubshell mussel and (recently proposed for ESA protection) northern long-eared bat. Researchers are finding ways to cultivate the threatened American hart’s-tongue fern in the lab and plant them at suitable sites in New York, home to the largest population of this fern in the entire country! It’s not easy to love a rattlesnake (though we do!), but the eastern massasauga’s numbers here have dwindled. Biologists are returning what it needs most — a home. The Albany Pine Bush Preserve, National Grid, our agency and the state wildlife agency have come together to protect habitat for the endangered Karner blue butterfly (the Preserve releases captive-bred butterflies, too!). Last, certainly the tiniest and most difficult to pronounce but not least, is the Chittenango ovate amber snail. Partners are keeping an eye on the only known living population of this snail.

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Kind of looks like a face, right? The threatened small whorled pogonia is one of the nation’s rarest native orchids. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons, NC Orchid

PENNSYLVANIA provides homes to more than 15 imperiled species, from the Virginia spiraea plant to the sheepnose and snuffbox freshwater mussels. Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge was established, in part, to protect threatened bog turtles and their habitat; this year, a natural resource damages settlement helped add 90 acres to the refuge! Additionally, a voluntary program helps landowners restore their wetlands with bog turtle habitat. Our Northeast Fishery Center scientists are following endangered Atlantic sturgeon in hopes of protecting and restoring their habitat. Last year, we worked with Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and other folks to replace a bridge and transplant the protected mussels in Illinois, Ohio and West Virginia waters.

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The New England cottontail, New England’s only native rabbit, is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The species has declined primarily due to loss of its young forest and shrubland habitat. Credit: USFWS

RHODE ISLAND provides homes to nearly 15 imperiled species, from the sandplain gerardia plant to the shortnose sturgeon and foraging leatherback sea turtles. The Roger Williams Park Zoo runs captive breeding programs for both the New England cottontail and American burying beetle, whose last remaining wild beetle population in New England is on Block Island. Avalonia Land Conservancy, our agency and locals have found a way to balance recreational use and conservation of threatened piping plovers and other shorebirds at Sandy Point Island.

The Jesup's milk vetch. Credit: Lisa Mattei, New England Wild Flower Society

The Jesup’s milk vetch is found in only three locations along the Connecticut River in New Hampshire and Vermont. Credit: Lisa Mattei, New England Wild Flower Society

VERMONT provides homes to six imperiled species, including the dwarf wedgemussel, the northeastern bulrush plant and the (recently proposed for ESA protection) northern long-eared bat. What were threatened Canada lynx doing in Vermont last year? Biologists are surveying for these secretive creatures to understand the best ways to conserve the species. Ice, floods, drought, and invasions–and the endangered Jesup’s milk-vetch hangs on, thanks to a helping hand from wildlife agencies and partners. In 2001, biologists found that Indiana bats come from New York to summer in the Lake Champlain Valley; this information would become vital when white-nose syndrome hit years later.

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Endangered mussels bound for release in the Powell River. Credit: Gary Peeples/USFWS

VIRGINIA provides homes to more than 70 imperiled species, from the Virginia sneezeweed to the spruce-fire moss spider and Carolina northern flying squirrel. The yellowfin madtom was thought to be extinct here; after its rediscovery, biologists set out to ensure its future in the state, and its range in one river may now extend more than 60 miles! Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge has supported nesting sea turtles for 30 years on the shore of Virginia Beach. The Madison cave isopod isn’t cute and fluffy, but protecting this crustacean has meant safeguarding our water supply. In September 2010, biologists, students and other volunteers put on the largest release of endangered mussels to date in the eastern U.S. (and the work continues!).

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The entire range of the threatened Cheat Mountain salamander is 935 square miles, the approximate area of Kanawha County in West Virginia. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons, Kerry Wixted

WEST VIRGINIA provides homes to more than 20 imperiled species, from the shale barren rock cress plant to to the pink mucket mussel and Virginia big-eared bat. Remember those mussels that were moved to West Virginia from a Pennsylvania bridge project? They included the endangered northern riffleshell. We worked with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources to install a bat-friendly gate on Trout Cave, a hotspot for hibernating endangered Virginia big-eared bats. We’re also part of the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative, which continues to restore the high-elevation red spruce habitat needed by the threatened Cheat Mountain salamander and recovered West Virginia northern flying squirrel.

Whew! Like, we said, a lot to be proud of! And we’re gearing up for a whole suite of efforts in 2014.

Forty and fierce, definitely.