6 October 2009

Tonight we will be looking at endangered species. Our guest is Alvin Powell, Senior Science Writer at the Harvard University News Office who has written a book called The Race to Save the World’s Rarest Bird (Stackpole 2008).  It’s about the Hawaiian Po’ouli, and it has implications for endangered species everywhere.

Background and News on Endangered Species

As background, we’d like to bring you some background info on endangered species, as well as several alarming stories about wolf hunting in Montana and Idaho.

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the agency that–along with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration—administers the act, comes this brief history of the Endangered Species Act:

[A precursor to the ESA was the] Endangered Species Preservation Act [passed by Congress] in 1966, providing a means for listing native animal species as endangered and giving them limited protection. […]  A 1973 conference in Washington, D. C. led 80 nations to sign the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which monitors, and in some cases, restricts international commerce in plant and animal species believed to be harmed by trade.

[With the strong support of the Nixon administration] Later that year, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act of 1973. It

* defined “endangered” and “threatened” […]

* made plants and all invertebrates eligible for protection […];

* applied broad “take” prohibitions to all endangered animal species […]

* provided funding authority for land acquisition

[…]; and

* implemented [the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)] in the United States.

Congress enacted significant amendments in 1978, 1982, and 1988, while keeping the overall framework of the 1973 Act essentially unchanged, [Our editiorial comment: but not without efforts from various groups to blunt its effects.]

[For example, in 1978: The Act was weakened by] allowing Federal agencies to […] remove jeopardize listed species if the action [was] exempted by a Cabinet-level committee convened for this purpose; [and by allowing for] economic and other impacts of designation […]  to be considered in deciding on boundaries,

[In other words, in the 1978 revision, economic factors were allowed to enter into the equation, creating lots of room for arguments over whether the economy or endangerment were more important—for example, the Snail Darter and the Spotted Owl, which have slowed dam building in Tennessee and lumbering in Oregon.]

[However in] 1982 [the economic factor was removed, so that]:

Determinations of the status of species were required to be made solely on the  basis of biological and [international] trade information, without consideration of possible economic or other concerns.

[This meant, essentially, that science would supposedly rule over economic concerns.]

In 1988: [new elements were introduced] including

provision for monitoring recovered species, subjecting recovery plans to public review, and cost estimates for federal intervention.

But in 2004 [under the Bush administration] :

A “National Defense Authorization Act […] exempted the Department of Defense from critical habitat designations [under certain conditions].

[War, we have to note, is unhealthy for humans and other living things.]

You can get detailed statistics on endangered species listings at http://www.fws.gov/Endangered/wildlife.html.  We’ll read just a few paragraphs from our guest, Alvin Powell’s book, summarizing some of the main impacts of the act over it thirty-five year history.  [Read highlighted text pp. 207-9)]

A few of the many conflicts that have grown out of the Endangered Species Act is over the Grey Wolf out in the northwest. Originally on the Endangered Species list, its populations rebounded so much that it was   removed from the  list by the Bush administration. Lawsuits have ensued, but in Montana and Idaho, there is now a wolf hunting season.

We’ll read from three recent news stories about wolf hunting in Idaho. An official wolf hunting season opened October 1, with permits granted to 30 hunters to bag the grey wolf.

In the Idaho Statesman Journal, Robert Klavins argues against the hunt and says that “Protecting wolves promotes a healthy landscape”

After eliminating wolves from […] most of the west, the species has begun to make a comeback. Now, without protections as an endangered species, many have a bullseye on their backs. In Idaho, scientists and conservationists are fighting anti-wolf interests in court to stop a state-sponsored slaughter after the species was removed from federal protection. […] Though Idaho claims to be undertaking the hunt to “manage” the wolf population, history suggests otherwise. In 2001, Idaho passed a law calling for the eradication of wolves “by any means necessary” and have already sold over 10,000 hunting tags. Idaho’s Fish and Game Commissioner stated last month that there’s going to be “either a state-authorized [hunt] or an illegal one.”

[Klavins editorializes:] Either he can’t do his job, or has chosen not to.

[He concludes] The decision to kill an endangered species should not be taken lightly (imagine a hunt to reduce bald eagle numbers by one-half).


KREM-TV news in Spokane reported on October 1 that the “Fight over wolf hunt[ing] continues as Panhandle hunt opens”

The Idaho Panhandle Region joined the rest of the state and today, opened wolf hunting season. Hunters are allowed to kill 30 wolves in the Northern part of the state, but the battle over the controversial hunt may not be over.

“If I get a wolf, that’d be like winning the lottery,” said Carl Zmuda. Zmuda’s pickup truck is dotted with wolf hunter stickers. He doesn’t plan to actively look for wolves, but if he sees one he won’t hesitate.  “Wolf hunting should be part of the management program that fish and game has. I think there’s enough for hunters and people that think we should have wolves,” said Zmuda.

People like Stephen Augustine with North Idaho Wolf Alliance, the group that protested outside fish and game in August, have a different opinion. “We are […] saddened that this is happening,” said Augustine.

Wolf hunting season in Idaho only started after a federal judge in Montana allowed it to happen. The grey wolf had been on the endangered species list, but its population has rebounded.  Fish and game hopes hunters will keep the predators under control, allowing elk and deer populations to stabilize.  “Now that [the hunt is] here, there’s not much we can do from a legal standpoint. But we are recommitted to doing it again and trying to influence the population around us,” said Augustine.

The alliance points again to the federal judge in Montana, even though he allowed the hunt to begin, he believes the animal was delisted illegally. So, while legal action looms, hunters look to take advantage.

“Sometimes I think they’re just another group of people that don’t want to see anybody hunting,” replied Zmuda.


And from the Associated Press comes this story about a rogue wolf hunter in Idaho: “Idaho parachutist shot at wolves from sky”  Associated Press – October 1, 2009 6:34 PM ET

BOISE, Idaho (AP) – A shotgun-wielding motorized parachutist fired on a pack of wolves earlier this year from the eastern Idaho sky, something forbidden even under a state permit that allows aerial gunning of foxes and coyotes.  Carl Ball, a sheep rancher, was flying his [motorized parachute] June 5 near St. Anthony above a 160-acre sheep pen when he saw at least four wolves, according to an Idaho Department of Fish and Game law enforcement report.  Ball reported he believed one animal outfitted with a radio collar had been killed, though state and federal wildlife officials who arrived hours later never found a carcass. Even though the federal government earlier this year lifted Endangered Species Act protections from more than 1,000 wolves in Idaho and Montana and both states have a legal hunting seasons, that’s only for people shooting from the ground or trees.  Blasting wolves from the sky remains off limits – because they’re considered big game animals by state wildlife managers, not predators like foxes or coyotes.

Idaho Fish and Game has dropped an investigation, however, citing lack of a wolf carcass.

And of course, we can’t help recalling that former Alaska Governor [Sarah Palin endorsed aerial wolf hunting in her state. http://www.slate.com/id/2199140/]

The controversies over endangerement extend to California as well, which is second only to Hawaii in the number of species on the endangered list, Jeanne Cooper, reports that “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently counts 330 imperiled species in Hawai’i, with California the closest at 309.”

In a recent LA Times story, Bettina Boxall reports on disputes over the Sacramento Delta, with President Obama, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and our own Governator weighing in.  She writes:

In a bow to a summer of angry complaints about water cutbacks to Central Valley farms, the Obama administration said Wednesday [September 30 that] it would invite the National Academy of Sciences to examine the environmental measures restricting some water shipments from Northern California. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he would ask the academy to conduct an independent review of the science underpinning federal pumping limits imposed under the Endangered Species Act to protect smelt and salmon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. In a letter to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who had requested the review, Salazar said he was confident that the fish protections were “scientifically sound.” But he said he would like the academy to determine if there were other actions that could be taken that would have less of an effect on water supply.

[So on the surface, this move would simply be in the spirit of good science.  But, reading the lines and between the lines of Boxall’s story, we learned that]:

The delivery cutbacks have hit agribusiness on the west side of the valley the hardest because they have junior rights in the huge federal irrigation project that supplies much of the region. State water officials say most of the delivery cuts from the delta are the result of drought – not the fish protections – but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Central Valley congressmen have repeatedly denounced the endangered species restrictions as placing fish above people.

[Boxall continues:]  Responding to similar rhetoric […]  Salazar said it was wrong to blame California’s water problems on environmental regulations.  “Labeling this as a man-made disaster, a regulatory drought, ignores the real issues,” he said.

Cynthia Koehler, senior consulting attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, which is active on delta issues, said she did not interpret Salazar’s academy request as an attempt to undermine the federal reports.


We will continue to cover this story—fish against agribusiness, politicians and economists versus science—on Ecotopia.  And one question we have for our guest, Alvin Powell is about evidence from his book that there are often political pressures placed on scientists as they research endangered species.

Our Questions for Alvin Powell

Our guest today is Alvin Powell, Senior Science Writer for the Harvard University News Office. His book is called The Race to Save the World’s Rarest Bird: The Discovery and Death of the Po’ouli. (Poh-oh-OO-li)

Part I: The Story of the Po’ouil

  • Your book basically covers a period of thirty years, in which a previous unknown bird is discovered in Hawaii, and it is immediately recognized as endangered.  First please tell us a little about the Po’ouli and how you became interested in it.
  • How does the story unfold?
    • The original discovery
    • Endangered species listing
    • Banding the birds in the ‘90s
    • Capture success and failure
  • Hanawi (Ha-nah-VEE) Reserve is a wild, mountainous, wet, foggy area. Have you visited it?
  • Your book is especially interesting because you discuss the complexity of ways in which the Po’ouili was threatened. Perhaps you could tell us about some of these threats:
    • habitat loss
    • the pigs, cats, and rats
    • malaria

Is it even possible to identify a “cause” of the Po’ouli’s fate?

  • Your book is equally rich in details about the efforts to save the bird. Please talk about how these fit together, including:
    • just finding them in the first place
    • banding and tracking the birds
    • alternative strategies for rescue
      • bringing the three birds together
      • saving the habitat—the fence project
      • captive breeding
  • The book also talks a good deal about bureacracy—problems with overlapping agencies, costs, private and public agency competition.  How did those elements affect the Po’ouil’s fate?
  • Chapter 16 is called “After 11 Weeks” and describes the fate of the captive bird. What happened?  As you say, a new set of protocols kicked in after the bird died.  What were they?
  • We’ll talk more about endangered species after the break, but this question comes up with the Po’ouli and many endangered species cases—Spotted Owl, Snail Darter: Was it worth it?

Part II: Implications for Endangered Species and the ESA

  • [ Continuing from before the break—In general, what is the value of preserving endangered species?}
  • Your book begins with the discovery of the Po’ouli  in the early 1970s, just about the time that President Nixon signed the initial Endangered Species Act.  Toward the close of your book, you do an extensive and even-handed review of the successes and failures of the ESA.  Please tell us a little about those:
    • success rate
    • funding
    • loopholes
    • “popular” species (grizzlies, wolves)
    • competing preservation theories
    • political pressures
    • business pressures
    • good science and skewed science
  • If you were in charge of the Endangered Species Act and its implementation and enforcement, what steps would you take to strengthen or alter it?
  • There is a lot of interest in going green and sustainability at the moment. (Even the oil companies are trying to create the impression that they are green.) Do you think this movement bodes well for endangered species? 
  • What’s your next project?

Thank you Alvin Powell, author of The Race to Save the World’s Rarest Bird. It’s published by Stackpole Books—they’re on line at www.stackpolebooks.com

Do-It-Yourself: Saving Endangered Species

We come now to the Do-It-Yourself part of the program, and we’d like to share just a few of the wealth of resources available to listeners who are concerned about Endangered Species. As Alvin Powell pointed out, the causes of species decline and salvation are complex; thus we think the issue calls for systematic, Ecotopian solutions

Steve: An especially good site on this topic is endangeredspecies.com

It’s designed mainly for kids, but extremely useful for adults as well.  Some if its recommendations for do-it-yourself include:

Make Space For Our Wildlife, even in your backyard.

Recycle, Reduce, And Reuse

Plant Native Plants That Are Local To The Area

Control Introduced Plants and Animals

Join or Start a Conservation Organization

Make Your Voice Heard by writing to legislators, writing for the local paper, and spreading the word among family and friends.

Especially for kids they recommend:

Drawing Pictures of endangered species in your area and drawing  pictures of the biggest threats to their survival.

Making Masks based pictures of endangered species, Costumes – Based

Making Puppets.

[As time permits, let’s talk a little about the Parade of Species in Olympia]

Making A Storybook – Select a single, or many, endangered species that interest you. Write and illustrate a storybook and share it with others.

Doing Personal Reading – Read and learn as much about endangered species as you can

Their recommended additional info sources include: Sources of Information: Greenpeace Canada, WWF Canada, Geocites, and Environment Australia

The US Fish and Wildlife Services also has excellent info and resources.  http://www.fws.gov/ Their site includes such topics as:

Coastal areas [ocean-based endangered issues are the province of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which also has an excellent web site, though without a great deal of info on endangered species]
Congressional/Legislative Affairs
Conservation Partnerships
Contracting and Facilities Mgt.
Duck Stamp
Environmental Contaminants
Fisheries and Habitat Conservation
Human Capital
Import / Export
International Affairs
Invasive Species
Law Enforcement
Migratory Birds
Native American Issues
Office of the Chief Information Officer
Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program
Planning / ABC
Policy and Directives
Public Access Civil Rights
Volunteer  Opportunities

In California, The Planning and Conservation League Foundation focuses on regional issues http://www.pclfoundation.org/index.html and has an excellent summary of resources and issues in Butte County, including a “grassroots directory”and a CONSERVATION STORY “Volunteers with Big Chico Creek Watershed Alliance Defend Against Invasive Weeds–the Spanish Broom weed.”

Finally: We want to remind you that coming up in November is the Sustainability Now Conference sponsored by Chico State and Butte College, at CSU November 5-8, 2009. This whole conference is dedicated to issues of sustainability and thus to endangered species as well.  They have an information page website, and they are now accepting preregistration for the conference.  The fee is $25, but there are discounts available for students and others.


Playlist for Ecotopia #54: Endangered Species

Supernova    4:42    Liquid Blue     Supernova

Blue Hawaii  2:35    Elvis Presley   Blue Hawaii

The Rape Of The World      7:08    Tracy Chapman    New Beginning

Hawai’i Aloha           1:57    Israel Kamakawiwo’ole     IZ in Concert – The Man And His Music

Trophic Cascade      4:12    Ronn Frye     Endangered Animals (Environmental Jenga)

Weave Me the Sunshine   4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary     The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

Blackbird       2:18    The Beatles    The Beatles (White Album)

Little White Dove      4:06    Voices On The Verge   Live In Philadelphia