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Petrel Paradox

news_petralA rare sea bird will not be designated endangered
The fate of a rare sooty-brown sea bird now hinges on dueling survey techniques.  A petition to list the Ashy Storm Petrel as an endangered species was denied on Aug. 18, following a 12-month review process headed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The decision relied on an incomplete and selective use of the science,” says Shaye Wolf—a biologist who studies the petrel, and helped draft the petition for the San Francisco-based Center for Biologic Diversity. “This pushes the species one step further towards extinction,” she says. 

Flocks of Petrels frequent the Monterey Bay during late fall, and San Francisco’s Farallon Islands serve as a critical breeding habitat, along with other small islands along the coast of Central California.

Yet most petrel habitats are over-run with non-native rats and stray cats, which eat young birds and eggs, says Wolf. Non-native mice provide food for predatory owls, which no longer migrate due to continual source of food. Along with the owls, exploding gull populations devour petrels. Lights from squid fishing boats also lure the birds, killing hundreds of the nocturnal petrels each year.

Along with raising ocean temperatures and acidity levels, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized these many menaces in their decision. “But these threats will not result in significant cumulative impacts to the species,” says Randy Brown, Acting Field Supervisor at the Arcata Fish and Wildlife Office.

Population estimates are also controversial. Studies indicate Ashy Storm Petrels will face near extinction within 50 years unless non-native predators are removed, and abnormally large populations of native predators are reduced. Estimates of population declines have ranged widely, with a recent study indicating 76 percent declines.

Yet Brown is hesitant to jump to conclusions. He says the numbers of Ashy Storm Petrels went up during a two-year span in the late 1990s. The birds later diminished, but only to levels observed before the population spike. It’s indeed a paradox, but the petrel population remained relatively consistent during the survey, says Brown, even despite the statistical declines.

These types of debates are all too common when it comes to endangered species classification, says Wolf, and variation is not a good reason to deny protection. Other species have been listed despite similar population data. The Xantus’ Murrelet—a small sea bird that also nests on California’s islands—was offered protection in 2004 when accounts of a 30-70 percent decline were presented to U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Wolf also believes the Ashy Storm Petrel decision is reminiscent of flawed Bush Administration policies. “The Bush Administration tried to stall a lot. Environmental groups had to go to court at every step,” says Wolf.

To keep the petrel decision moving forward, the Center for Biologic Diversity filed two lawsuits. Wolf says her team has not yet decided whether it will challenge the final decision, but other cases are in motion over animals denied protection.

According to an Inspector General’s Report released in December, political interference was identified in 20 former imperiled species decisions—most made by Julie A. MacDonald, former deputy assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks under the Bush Administration.

An average of eight species per year were granted endangered classification during the George W. Bush Administration, in contrast to 50 species during the Clinton and senior Bush administrations.

Brown says Fish and Wildlife will continue monitoring petrels. He also refers to the more progressive stance taken by the newly confirmed agency director Sue Hamilton. In a recent e-mail to staff members she writes: “At the turn of this new century, we find our fish and wildlife resources pushed to the breaking point from such stressors as habitat fragmentation, genetic isolation, invasive species, unnatural wildfires … Added to this is the overarching threat posed by climate change … My expectation is that we as a Service will respond boldly to these challenges … In so doing, we must ground our actions and decisions in science …  and we must collaborate with four partners in the public and private sectors.”

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written by LT Jaeger, July 22, 2010
It might have been nice if your accompanying photo had actually been of an Ashy Storm-petrel (a bird smaller than an American Robin) instead of depicting a Southern Giant Petrel, which has a wingspan approaching 8 feet.

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Heart Me Up

In defense of Valentine’s Day

 

“be(ing) of love (a little) more careful”—e.e. cummings

Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

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