Don Barnes wins 2023 TWS Jim McDonough Award

Don Barnes has been selected to win the 2023 Jim McDonough Award for years of service and participation in various levels of The Wildlife Society.

Barnes first became a member of TWS in 1974, and a member of the Canadian Section since 2007. He became president of the Ontario Chapter in 2021, a year when he also became a TWS Fellow.

In his career, he worked for decades at Lakeland University in Thunder Bay, Ontario in their natural resources faculty. During his time there, he worked with students, including in a Native Access Program that collaborated with First Nations students.

Don Barnes

“Don Barnes has met all of the criteria as a candidate for receiving the Jim McDonough Award,” wrote Merlin Shoesmith, a Certified Wildlife Biologist and the 2014 recipient of the award, in his nomination letter. “He has been involved in many roles and activities at the Section and Chapter level in TWS. Most apparent in all of this is his strong support and push for an approach that works for professional certification of wildlifers in Canada.”

During his time at Lakeland, Barnes was also key in the establishment of the university’s student TWS chapter—he still serves as their TWS liaison.

Now retired, Barnes remains an active trapper—he serves as the current director of the Northwestern Ontario Fur Trappers Association and a member of various other hunting and trapping organizations.

The award is an annual recognition created in honor of Jim McDonough, who conducted years of research on cottontail rabbits and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in Massachusetts. The award winners have to be members of TWS—both the national organization and the local chapter where they live—as well as Certified Wildlife Biologists. Award winners are recognized for involvement in the Society as well as being a “true professional.”

USDA program combats raccoon rabies by air

Every year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture takes to the sky, scattering 9 million baits filled with rabies vaccines to be gobbled up by raccoons (Procyon lotor). On the ground, staff members tuck baits into bushes and restaurant dumpsters. 

“Any area that looks like a raccoon habitat, we stop there,” Kathy Nelson, a wildlife biologist at the USDA, tells Undark.

Since the first case of raccoon rabies was detected in Florida in 1947, the virus has spread across the eastern U.S. Biologists say the bait program has reduced rabies infections in raccoons, but now the virus is on the rise in bats. In 2021, bats had the most frequently reported cases of rabies in wildlife, and the risk of people getting bitten by rabid bats is on the rise.

Read more from Undark.

Biden vetoes efforts to strip protections for lesser prairie-chickens, northern long-eared bats

President Joe Biden vetoed two joint resolutions Tuesday that would have stripped Endangered Species Act protections from the recently listed lesser-prairie chicken and northern long-eared bat.

Each measure “would overturn a science-based rulemaking that follows the requirements of the law, and thereby undermines the ESA,” Biden said in announcing the vetoes.

S.J.Res. 9 sought to remove ESA protections from the lesser-prairie chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus). The GOP-backed resolution passed the Senate on May 3 with a 50-48 vote. The vote fell mostly along party lines, with a swing vote from West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin. The resolution passed in the House in late July with a 221-206 vote, including four votes from Democrats in states with lesser prairie-chicken populations.

Once occupying 100 million acres across the U.S., the lesser prairie-chicken has dwindled by 97%, mainly due to habitat loss and fragmentation. With fewer than 30,000 individual birds remaining in the wild, mostly in Kansas, the lesser prairie-chicken was listed as endangered in late March. The listing decision faced an immediate backlash, with Kansas lawmakers leading the push to reverse it.

“The lesser prairie-chicken serves as an indicator for healthy grasslands and prairies, making the species an important measure of the overall health of America’s grasslands,” President Biden said in his statement

On May 11, the Senate passed S.J.Res. 24, which would have stripped ESA protections from the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis). Also a GOP-led resolution, S.J. Res. 24 passed a Democratic Senate with a 51-49 vote, with votes from Democrats Joe Manchin and Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota. The House passed the resolution in late July with a vote of 220-209, including two Democrats voting in favor. During a hearing, Rep Ralph Norman, R-S.C., said he hoped white-nose syndrome “wipes them all out.”

The fatal fungal disease has decimated northern long-eared bat numbers, reducing their numbers by 97%. The species’ endangered listing status was finalized in late March following a USFWS decision to reclassify the species from its previous threatened status in late 2022.

“Bats are critical to healthy, functioning ecosystems and contribute at least $3 billion annually to the United States agriculture economy through pest control and pollination,” Biden said in a separate statement.

“If enacted,” Biden said, the resolution “would undermine America’s proud wildlife conservation traditions and risk extinction of the species.”

Biden’s move follows up on his announcement in May that he intended to veto both resolutions. Since the two measures lack the votes to override a presidential veto, ESA protections for the species will likely remain for the foreseeable future, although opposition to the listings is expected to continue.

Wildlife Vocalizations: Tammy Colt

Wildlife Vocalizations is a collection of short personal perspectives from people in the field of wildlife sciences.

To my 18-year-old self, and to other young people with an interest in the wildlife field, my advice is: don’t be held back by social constructs, by other’s ideas of what you can do and who you are supposed to be. Don’t think that your gender, race, economic status or background predetermines what you can do. And while mentors are great, don’t think that just because someone is older than you, or in some position of authority, that they know what is best for you.  Explore the options for yourself, gather experiences and find what you love to do. 

I was a straight-A student who loved biology (still do!). In my small, rural high school, the only advice I received from teachers and guidance counselors was that if I was refusing to study pre-med, then I should study pre-vet.  No one thought to include wildlife biology as a career choice—and certainly not for a girl.

Tammy Colt helps a colleague at the Pennsylvania Game Commission trap ducks one early morning in Westmoreland County, Penn., using rocket nets on a mud flat. Banding was part of USFWS monitoring of migratory waterfowl. Credit: Tom Keller

Well, I did it, and I graduated. But veterinary practice was just not my calling. In my junior year at Penn State, I asked my advisor to guide me into a research field instead. I had some ideas of what I was interested in, but he pretty much forced me into immunology. Well, I did that, too—I even got a “real job” in the field and have my name on some publications that have something to do with T-cells. I won’t go into the rest of my storied career past, but I can tell you it was a long and meandering path that brought me to wildlife biology—when I was almost 35.

That leads me to another point—don’t rush your decisions. I know you’re an adult now, and you feel like you need to figure it all out, choose the right major, get the right internships, and get the perfect job. But honestly, you have your whole life to do that. So before you choose your path, do some exploration, and decide where it is you really want to go.  I know, I know—your parents will hate this. The adults in your life will hound you about wasting time. But trust me, experience all you can.

Tammy Colt on an annual Easter hike in Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania with her daughter. Credit: Carly Colt

Don’t be afraid to try new things—there is no better time than now (and that goes for anybody!). But for young people without serious commitments (job, relationship, children)—now is the time to do it. And your college ID is your golden ticket to special rates—so travel, and try outdoor adventures even if they intimidate you. These skills may be useful in your future job, and even if not, you can say you’ve tried it. And finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions, to ask for help—I spent so much time being intimidated and lagging behind. In the world I grew up in, girls didn’t shoot guns, use power tools or drive tractors. I do all of those now—what hurdles will you overcome? You can do it!

Learn more about Wildlife Vocalizations, and read other contributions.

Submit your story for Wildlife Vocalizations or nominate your peers and colleagues to encourage them to share their story.

Housing shortage causes Antarctica research to wind down

The United States Antarctic Program is facing logistical challenges causing research in the continent to slow down. The National Science Foundation, which funds the research, canceled or curtailed 67 of the 131 projects funded for the 2023-2024 Antarctic summer. One main reason is a housing shortage, exacerbated by the pandemic stretching out renovation projects, which has made it difficult to house researchers and has driven up housing costs. These challenges are occurring at the same time Antarctica is facing extreme challenges from climate change. Read more in Science.

Birds experience lower nest survival near an Alaskan oilfield

The Prudhoe Bay oilfields of northern Alaska are negatively impacting the nest success of shorebirds, which may exacerbate declines experienced by shorebirds around the continent.

For a study published recently in the Journal of Avian Biology, Rebecca McGuire, who worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society at the time, tapped into a long-term research project to uncover how the oilfields have affected birds in the area.

For that ongoing project, which started in 2003, a research team set up 10 survey plots in Prudhoe Bay likely to have high numbers of shorebirds. In these plots, they monitored eggs until the adults abandoned them, the nests were predated, or they succeeded and hatched. They did this for five weeks every summer, then also surveyed the nesting habitat around these areas. They used GIS to see how close nests were to the Prudhoe oil fields and related infrastructure.

A technician from the Wildlife Conservation Society in the field in the Prudhoe Bay area in Alaska. Credit: Wildlife Conservation Society

For this paper, McGuire and her colleagues used data from the project collected from 2003 through 2019 to monitor 1,265 shorebird nests, 378 songbird nests and 231 waterfowl nests.

Some 25% of the birds nesting in these areas were Lapland longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus). Their research found that these birds have been declining in recent years around the oilfields. This may be part of a larger trend of declining songbirds across the continent, due to factors including the use of insecticides, habitat fragmentation and predation by cats.

All birds had a decline in nest survival. The most common shorebirds nesting in the area were semipalmated sandpipers (C. pusilla) and stilt sandpipers (Calidris Himantopus). These species may have driven the results to some extent, but the researchers didn’t pull apart the results for individual species.  

A technician measures greater white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons) eggs in Prudhoe Bay. Credit: Wildlife Conservation Society

Meanwhile, nest density increased for waterfowl close to the oilfields, as it has for waterfowl across northern Alaska. Increasing numbers of waterfowl like snow geese (Anser caerulescens) might be one of the reasons for a decline in shorebirds. The geese may degrade habitat, which affects the nesting preferences of the shorebirds.

An American golden plover. Credit: Wildlife Conservation Society

“Snow geese eat everything in sight,” McGuire said, adding that the geese may also attract more predators like glaucous gulls (Larus hyperboreus) and common ravens (Corvus corax) that prey on goose eggs. The predators may also opportunistically prey on those of shorebirds they come across. Ravens are possibly also using the infrastructure of the oil fields for perching and nesting—these features could help boost the population of these predators.

It’s unclear why the geese are increasing in numbers, but it could have to do with changing farming practices in their southern winter range that favor the waterfowl.

McGuire, who now works with consultancy company Alaska Biological Research, Inc., and her colleagues said that a better understanding of the relationship between the oilfields and the species breeding in their vicinity is critical to learn more about the impacts of infrastructure.

Radioactive wild boar mystery solved in Germany

Researchers have been stumped for years about why wild boars maintain high levels of radioactivity when other animals’ levels have been dropping decades after the Chernobyl nuclear explosion in 1986. Researchers analyzed the cesium-137 found in wild boars (Sus scrofa) and found that a large portion of the radioactive material in some of boar meat originated from earlier nuclear weapons testing in the 1960s rather than the Chernobyl explosion. They found that from 50 samples of boar meat, 88% were above the regulatory threshold for consumption in Germany. While radioactivity from Chernobyl was still present in some samples, the cesium from the bomb testing would have put some of the meat above the threshold even without the Chernobyl disaster. The boar have higher levels than other wildlife due to their penchant for digging up truffles buried in soil still rich in radioactivity from old testing.

Read more at The Washington Post.

Coyotes face the stress of the city

People aren’t the only ones feeling the stress of honking cars in traffic, bright lights and people everywhere you look. Coyotes are exhibiting high levels of the stress hormone cortisol inside cities, researchers found.

Coyotes (Canis latrans) are found in every city in the United States. They began expanding their range into large metropolitan areas in the 1990s and early 2000s. “It’s a relatively new phenomenon,” said Stanley Gehrt, a professor in wildlife ecology at Ohio State University.

Gehrt and his colleagues have been monitoring coyotes in Chicago for 20 years, learning how they’re adapting to the urban environment and trying to understand the benefits and challenges of living in the city. One of the factors they were interested in was stress, a subject that they found was understudied in urban carnivores. “It’s important for us to understand how urbanization might be influencing stress for them because they experience the urban landscape differently than many other species,” Gehrt said.

Gehrt is the senior author of a study published in Science of the Total Environment looking at if city coyotes were more stressed than others and if certain factors contributed to that stress. Katie Robertson led the study as part of her PhD work.

A coyote in Chicago. Credit: Courtesy Cook County Coyote Project

The team chose to look at cortisol, a steroid associated with stress. To test cortisol levels, Gehrt and his team detected the hormone in hair taken from coyotes’ rumps. Blood can also show cortisol levels, but that’s more suggestive of short-term stress, Gehrt said. Hair samples paint a better picture of chronic stress, since it shows cortisol levels over time.

Researcher Katie Roberston with a coyote pup. Credit: Courtesy Stanley Gehrt

The researchers took the sample from coyotes that they had previously captured and radio collared. “That was the advantage we had over other studies,” Gehrt said. “We could follow our animals. We know our animals intimately.” They looked at their place in social groups as well as the animals’ physical conditions. The team found the highest cortisol levels in pack leaders, which have the responsibility of keeping their packs safe, and loners, which have to protect themselves on their own.

Physical condition was also important. Coyotes with mange or in poor physical condition when captured—and sometimes recaptured—had higher stress levels.

But while levels varied among individuals, overall, coyotes in the most urban parts of the region had higher cortisol levels than those in more suburban or rural areas. That could have effects on urban coyote behavior “Stress might be one of the mechanisms that helps select bolder animals,” he said.

Kansas cancels fall turkey hunt

The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has canceled its fall turkey hunt due to years of declining numbers. Kent Fricke, the state’s small game biologist, told the Associated Press that fewer wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are reaching adulthood in Kansas. Other states are also seeing declining numbers of the game birds—Mississippi also canceled its fall hunt this year. These states and others are conducting studies to try to determine why the numbers are dropping, but it’s possible that habitat destruction from urbanization and extreme weather is playing a role.

Read more at the Associated Press.

Watch: Palm cockatoos craft their own drums

Some cockatoos don’t just sing. They also play drums, and researchers found, they make their own instruments.

Studying wild palm cockatoos (Probosciger aterrimus), which occupy parts of northern Australia and New Guinea, researchers found they seem to create their own instruments according to personal taste, rather than available materials. Using seedpods and objects like drumsticks, they use rhythmic drumming to attract mates. They published their findings in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“I think being really individual and being creative and being out there on your own is part of what the females are looking for,” lead author Rob Heinsohn, a conservation biologist at the Australian National University in Canberra, told Science News.

Read more in Science News, and watch the video below.