Mexican spotted owls benefit from low-severity fires

Massive wildfires are harmful to Mexican spotted owls, but frequent, low-severity fires benefit them, researchers found. The finding suggests that returning the historical fire regime to the landscape can benefit the owls while reducing the risk of catastrophic fires.

“We have very little hard data showing us how Mexican spotted owls respond to fire, which is a need-to-know piece of information for managers in the Southwest,” said Gavin Jones, a research ecologist with the Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station and the lead author of the study published in Fire Ecology.

The Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) is a threatened species that inhabits forests and canyonlands in the southwestern United States. These owls often live in forests that are at high risk of stand-replacing fire. Yet conservationists have been concerned that efforts to reduce wildlife risk—like thinning or prescribed fire—could alter the forest characteristics the owls depend on for their survival.

Jones and his co-authors collected and analyzed eight years of monitoring data from Mexican spotted owl breeding pairs. They found owl pairs occupied sites at higher rates when these sites experienced more frequent fires in the previous three decades.

In contrast, they found owl pairs persisted at lower rates at sites that experienced more extensive, high-severity fire.

The research suggests that management activities intended to reduce megafire risk—like prescribed burning and mechanical thinning— will likely promote both Mexican spotted owl conservation and more resilient forest landscapes.

“Mexican spotted owls appear to be well-adapted to historical frequent-fire regimes,” Jones said. “If we can get that type of fire back on the landscape, it should bode well for the species and its recovery.” 

Wyoming identifies new deer herd

Wildlife managers in Wyoming have identified a new mule deer migration route without officially designating it. This move, the first of its kind, means that special protections and regulations in place due to a recent governor’s executive order won’t apply to the newly dubbed Upper Wind River Mule Deer Migration Corridor. This new mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) route spans about 90 miles, moving from the Wind River Basin lowlands into the Shoshone and Bridger-Teton national forests. “It seemed apparent to all of us that the threats and the risks to the functionality of the corridor just weren’t there to justify designation,” said Jill Randall, big game coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Read more at WyoFile.

Wildlife Vocalizations: Geriann Albers

Understanding people is key to wildlife management and conservation. This feels like it is becoming cliché—we may have even sailed right past cliche at this point.

I know so many people, me included, who entered wildlife management because they care about wildlife. I still regularly hear from younger professionals and college students some variation of the old gem, “I don’t want to talk to people, so I’m going to work with wildlife.” This is a fallacy. 

In North America, we manage wildlife in the public trust. You can’t manage wildlife in the public trust if you don’t want to engage with the public. I just read an article that my colleague, Mitch Marcus, sent me about the demise of the prairie chicken in Indiana (Jones 1992). It features this biologist’s recollection: “In 1958, one high state official—I won’t tell you his name—told me: ‘Madden, shoot a cock and a hen, mount them, put them in the state museum, if people want to see a prairie chicken.’”

Credit: Adam Murkowski

We don’t have prairie chickens in Indiana anymore—we lost them in the 1960s. If people don’t care, they won’t waste their valuable time and energy conserving, managing or supporting wildlife. This means many, many jobs in this profession must center on people to be effective at managing and conserving wildlife.

I feel like my education was set up for wildlife, though, and not people management. I took courses on mammalogy, environmental chemistry, aquatic and terrestrial habitats, statistics and GIS. But where were the human psychology classes? How am I supposed to engage people if I don’t know how to research or communicate with people? How do I learn to be a good supervisor so my team can be as effective as possible? Where were those courses?

I had one agricultural economics course during undergrad, and it didn’t teach me about microeconomics. In fact, the only thing I remember from that class was that two of the teaching assistants were from New Zealand and smoking hot. I don’t need to know about GDP (gross domestic product) for this profession. But in the years since that course, I’ve learned how helpful it is to learn about microeconomic principles and how to predict human behavior in the context of managing wildlife in the public trust. 

Geriann Albers checks the heart rate of a chemically immobilized coyote (Canis latrans) being tagged and collared for urban coyote research in New York. Courtesy of Geriann Albers

How do you collect adequate social data? How do human brains take and process information? Where are the lines between what education can help us achieve and when we need to leverage marketing techniques to change behavior? These are all things I’m learning now, 15 years into my career. It would have helped me to learn at least some of it sooner, or at least open my mind to considering these questions.

If I could go back to my undergrad days, I think I would have tried to incorporate a few courses on human psychology and microeconomics, maybe even one on marketing. It would have given me a foundation that would serve me well. If you’re already out of school, though, it’s not too late to add these topics to your ever-growing knowledge bank. Books by Daniel Kahneman; the Planet Money 2020 summer school podcast series; the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team; or taking an evening political polling class can all help build that foundation in any point of your career. The better we are with people as wildlife professionals, the more successful our profession will be with wildlife management and conservation.

A landowner, Christof Janko (top left), and Geriann Albers (right) inspect a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) trap in a backyard of a small German town near Ammersee. Courtesy of Geriann Albers

Wolves have minimal impact on deer in Washington state

A growing wolf population in Washington state isn’t having a big effect on white-tailed deer numbers there. Human persecution caused wolves to become extirpated from the state in the 1930s. But the canids returned as a result of conservation efforts by the early 2000s. Since then, populations have grown. Researchers wondered how white-tailed deer, the wolves’ primary prey, has responded. In a study published in Ecological Applications, researchers radio-collared white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), wolves (Canis lupus), cougars (Puma concolor), coyotes (Canis latrans) and bobcats (Lynx rufus) from 2016-2021 and noted body condition, age, whether females were pregnant, and causes of mortalities. The team found that deer were stable or slightly declining, but the reason was not wolves. The biggest factor responsible for the deer population size was habitat quality, followed by cougar presence. “Studies like this provide valuable insights about the complexity of these systems and how managing predator and prey populations is challenging and dynamic,” said co-author of the study Melia DeVivo, a research scientist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It’s important to continue evaluating these systems to understand the impacts of management decisions. Prior to this study, one might have expected that relying solely on wolf management strategies would result in a booming deer population, when it is clearly more complex than that.” 

Read the study in Ecological Applications.

Feral pigs may usher nonnative plants into Hawaii

The forest disturbance that foraging feral pigs cause on Hawaii’s Big Island may be helping nonnative plants take root.

“Areas that have higher pig density and soil disturbance tend to have a greater abundance of nonnative species,” said Michael Peyton, a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Native Hawaiians first introduced pigs to Hawaii when they colonized the archipelago from Polynesia between the years of 400 and 1100. Explorer James Cook and subsequent visitors introduced European pigs starting in the 18th century. The hybridized descendants of these breeds uproot native plants and damage infrastructure.

In a study published recently in Functional Ecology, Peyton and his colleagues wanted to see how different densities of feral pigs (Sus scrofa) affected the disturbance of native plants on the Big Island of Hawaii.

They set up trail cameras in different parts of the Pu’u O Umi Natural Area Reserve in the north of the island—an area with a high degree of contiguous native forest. With help from land managers, they identified four areas with differing densities of pigs. After capturing images from these areas, they confirmed population densities with statistical modeling.

Researcher Michael Peyton surveys plants. Credit: Gael Granados

To get a good idea about the type of vegetation growing in areas with different numbers of pigs, the researchers conducted various types of analyses. In areas with camera traps, they recorded understory plant species and their abundance.

They categorized plant species on a spectrum based on whether the plants produced short-lived leaves with rapid growth, or hardier, long lived leaves with a slow growth rate.

Peyton and his team found that areas with more pig disturbance typically had a higher proportion of plants that produced lighter leaves more quickly.

Nonnative plants were better positioned to take advantage of areas that feral pigs had disturbed. Credit: Michael Peyton

Those are usually nonnative plants. Native Hawaiian plants are more often the type that produce hardier, heavier leaves.

While some fast-growing native plants grew in disturbed areas, it seemed that pig disturbance was correlated more with nonnative plants. These nonnative, fast growing plants are well positioned to take advantage of the disturbance from the swine.

“Native and nonnative species are responding differently to [pig] abundance,” Peyton said.

While further research would be needed to confirm this, Peyton speculated that sunlight availability may be one reason why certain plants do better than others, especially when there is a lot of disturbance.

“The scale of disturbance matters for how these species are responding to light,” he said.

Special JWM issue highlights Indigenous wildlife research and management

Indigenous people have lived in North America and collected knowledge on wildlife for time immemorial. That knowledge is important to tap into when it comes to conserving and managing wildlife.

The latest special issue of The Journal of Wildlife Management recognizes this by sharing a number of journal articles focusing on the ways Tribal entities are working on wildlife conservation and management on and off Tribal lands.

Articles within the special issue tackle topics from the state of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in the wildlife management profession, to habitat use of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in the Pueblo of Santa Ana, New Mexico, to Indigenous co-stewardship of North American moose (Alces alces). This diversity of work touches on policy issues, Tribally driven research, management activities and Indigenous knowledge.

Readers may notice some of these papers may not have the typical introduction, methods, results and discussion organization common in other scientific articles. This represents the fact that Indigenous knowledge is different from the traditional approach of Western science. Other journal articles represent the traditional Western science approach but include research on Tribal lands and in collaboration with Tribal institutions.

“Indigenous knowledge provides information that has been collected over lifetimes, and the use of [Indigenous knowledge] and Western science together will yield more comprehensive information about wildlife species than either method alone,” wrote Jonathan Gilbert and Michel Kohl, who authored an editorial about the special issue.

Read the special issue: Indigenous Wildlife Management in North America here.

Credit: Daniel Bird (Kewa Pueblo)

Watch: First ever footage of Amazon weasel

Citizen scientists have captured the first footage ever of the rare Amazon weasel in a sustainable coffee plantation in Bolivia. Coffee producers took the video of this small mustelid species on shade-grown coffee plots. The footage also marks the first time the Amazon weasel (Neogale Africana) has ever been confirmed in Bolivia—about 900 kilometers from the nearest known range in Peru and about 1,500 from the nearest known range in Brazil. The authors of research posted about the new sighting on Check List, the journal of biodiversity data, said that “current gaps in its distribution are attributable to the low detectability and rarity of this mustelid.”

Read more at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Climate poses greatest threat to North American birds

A number of factors put birds at risk, from pesticides to pollution to habitat loss, but none have as great an effect as climate change, researchers have found.

In a recent study published in Global Environmental Change Advances, researchers found climate change plays the greatest role in ongoing bird declines in North America. That’s particularly true for specialist birds with specific habitat and diet needs.

“Many studies try to attribute causes like climate or land use change to bird population decline based on field-level observation. However, there has been no large-scale statistical analysis that puts together historical data on biodiversity and climate for North America,” said study co-author Luoye Chen, an assistant professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Chen completed the research during his doctoral work at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The study relies on data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, which gathers field observations of more than 400 bird species across the continent each spring. Pairing population trends between 1980 and 2015 with climate data from the same timeframe, the researchers found a modest but significant dip in the number and diversity of birds overall, and a larger drop for specialist and migratory groups. The analysis also projects scenarios for the years 2095 to 2099, with still greater declines.

“Even after controlling for a lot of other things, we see that climate change has a significant negative impact on birds,” said co-author Madhu Khanna, director of the Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment at Illinois. “This is just one more reason we need to make serious efforts to mitigate climate change as soon as possible.”

Researchers found common birds, like sparrows, generally declined about 2.5% in the past 35 years, with projected declines between 1 and 3% by century’s end.

Specialist species like the red-cockaded woodpecker (Leuconotopicus borealis), considered endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the spotted owl (Strix occidentalis), two subspecies of which are considered threatened, have more specific habitat and diet requirements, putting them at greater risk in a changing environment. The study found climate was responsible for about 5% of their decline between 1980 and 2015, with losses up to 16% projected by 2099.

Specialist species also include some migratory birds that may have trouble keeping up with a changing environment. “These birds have generations-long patterns of migration,” Khanna said. “They’re going to migrate no matter what, and they don’t know what’s waiting at the other end. It may be too hot or dry for them.”

Isolated turtle population receives federal listing

The Pearl River map turtle will be federally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act as it faces habitat loss and degradation, illegal collection and climate change. Habitat projections also suggest the turtle populations are becoming more isolated, with only an estimated 21,000 Pearl River map turtles (Graptemys pearlensis) left in the wild. Other species, including the Alabama, Barbour’s, Escambia and Pascagoula map turtles, will also be listed as threatened due to similarity of appearance. These listings will alleviate state and federal law enforcement officers from having to tell the turtles apart during illegal collections. The listing decision will become effective on Aug. 12.

Read more at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

2024 TWS election results are in

Members of The Wildlife Society have voted for Evelyn Merrill as the new Vice President after the 2024 election results have been tallied.

Al Arsenault was elected as the Canadian Representative while Lisa Muller was elected as the Southeastern Representative. Kathy Granillo was elected as the Southwest Representative.

The Wildlife Society would like to congratulate all candidates who ran for a position this election cycle, including Adam Ahlers, Dennis Brannen, Eric Pelren, and Erika Nowak.

Read more about our incoming VP and Council members below.

Evelyn Merrill

I started down The Wildlife Society (TWS) path in the 1970s and have never looked back. I have seen TWS evolve just like the ecosystems around me, and this is a strength of The Society. The current revision of the Strategic Plan reflects a blend of maintaining our core values while adapting to the realities of our future. I intend to support this direction with particular attention in: 1) strengthening policy engagement in North America while keeping science at the forefront and being proactive in developing effective partnerships, 2) fostering opportunities for students and new professionals (who will be our teachers and our legacy) along with seasoned mentors; 3) diversifying our community and expanding inclusiveness in creative ways that may take stepping outside of the box; and 4) by not losing sight of the financial solvency needed to support our staff and everyday efforts. The best steps forward for each of these may not always be clear and outcomes may not be immediate. But when weighing the options, we need to be transparent and communicate clearly the end-game, institute our decisions in an equitable manner, and learn from our mistakes. Martin Luther King was a leader because he had not only a plan but a dream. I aspire to help TWS stay relevant and to support our members and those around them to enjoy wildlife in sustainable and reverent ways that battle the malaise of emerging environmental grief, unites us in cause, and motivates us to step up. I am passionate about ensuring the same wonder and enthusiasm for the world of wildlife in the future that I have been fortunate enough to find in my life. I see my service to TWS as an important means for achieving that, and as an enduring legacy of my career.

Read Evelyn Merrill’s complete biographical sketch here.

Al Arsenault

Throughout my career as a wildlife biologist, I’ve remained committed to life-long learning and service to wildlife conservation and to TWS in whatever capacity I could as a member, at the working group, chapter, section, and parent society levels.  Professionalism and promotion of our organization is a means of demonstrating credibility of our trademarked professional designations (AWB® and CWB®) so that members with these designations are recognized by industry, academia, ENGOs, and governments at all levels as the preeminent authority on wildlife science, management, and conservation.  In service to TWS, I’ve strived to elevate recognition of TWS professional designations in Canada.  I envision TWS professional designations to be highly valued and sought after by wildlife professionals in our organization as a career goal to achieve, one that nurtures commitment to high ethical and professional standards in wildlife science, conservation, and management.  To this end, my goals are: 1) continued development of the Canadian Section and TWS Parent Society as an organization that serves an important and positive influential role in management and conservation forums in North America, 2) to foster significant and substantive contributions by our members that ensure sustainable wildlife populations in healthy ecosystems through professional collaboration, discovery, science-based management, and conservation; (3) to foster a TWS culture of lifetime continued learning and professionalism; 4) to encourage students and early career wildlife professionals to become active members and leaders of the wildlife profession; and 5) to recognize and celebrate the contributions and professionalism of our mid and late career members.

Read Al Arsenault’s complete biographical sketch here.

Kathy Granillo

I have been active in The Wildlife Society for over 30 years, with most of that time spent in the Southwest. The wildlands, wildlife and wildlife professionals of this area are near and dear to my heart. I am the current Southwest Representative to Council (2021-2024) and I am seeking a second term. I believe I have accomplished much in my first term and that it has prepared me to do even more in a second term. I am actively involved in crafting the new Strategic Plan for TWS and want to help implement that plan over the next few years. I have helped shape the future of TWS through my work on the Diversity Committee, the Position Statements Committee, and as Council Liaison to the IDEA Working Group and the Climate Change and Wildlife Working Group. I strive to represent the Southwest geographic area by attending and presenting at the Texas Chapter annual conferences, and the Joint annual meetings of the Arizona and New Mexico Chapters. I sit in on chapter and section board meetings and stay in touch with members via the various newsletters and through email and phone calls. My priorities include focusing on better communication between scientists and managers; involving youth and minorities in conservation and science, and encouraging wildlife professionals to stay engaged and educated about our rapidly changing world and the impacts on wildlife and the places they live.

Read Kathy Granillo’s complete biographical sketch here.

Lisa Muller

I have been involved with teaching and research in wildlife for many years.  I strongly believe it is important to give back to the profession and encourage current and future wildlife biologists to continue the great work of TWS.  I am passionate about including diverse voices as I know wildlife conservation issues faced tomorrow will require many different ways of thinking.  I know it is important to participate and for everyone to make their voices heard.  I want to promote communication and collaboration in the profession.  I also encourage wildlife professionals to engage the public and explain the science and thought that goes into management decisions. 

Solutions to conservation issues and progress in natural resource management will come from an informed and passionate membership.  I believe TWS provides many opportunities for professional growth and I will continue to advocate for education, training, and mentorship.  I have been very fortunate to have had great guides, colleagues, and friends at all levels of TWS.  I would like to be a part of the tradition and promote involvement.  I welcome interactions, ideas, and suggestions from all members. If reelected, I will do my best to continue to serve the Southeast Section.

Read Lisa Muller’s complete biographical sketch here.