Celebrating Conservation Victories
Bet the Ranch
On Tejon Ranch, the biggest contiguous private property in the state with the biggest population (more than 36 million people), the California condor forages, wildlife crosses the San Joaquin Valley, and four distinct ecological regions collide in a landscape that includes everything from desert flowers and Joshua trees to oak woodlands and native grasslands. “I know of no other single property in North America where you’ve got such a diversity of species,” says Graham Chisholm, director of conservation for Audubon California, which in May, along with five other environmental groups, brokered a deal with the Tejon Ranch Company to safeguard about 375 square miles, or 90 percent, of the property. The rest of the ranch could be developed. The agreement, which it is hoped will avoid acrimonious conservation battles, includes provisions for public hiking trails, a state park, and an independent conservancy to manage and restore the land.
In the late 1950s, on small islets off Bermuda, wildlife managers found 18 nesting pairs of Bermuda petrels. It was a remarkable discovery, because the species had been presumed extinct for centuries (see “Seeking Higher Ground,” September-October 2007). Since then scientists have been working hard to restore the petrels. In 2003, after a hurricane decimated this relic species’ delicate habitat, scientists began transferring chicks to a safer home on Nonsuch Island. This year there were a record-high 85 active nesting pairs on the island. Even more exciting, four petrels that had fledged out to sea from Nonsuch returned, sooner than expected, to prospect for nesting locations. Hopes are high that these birds are the vanguard of a new nesting population and that more of the 101 chicks that have left Nonsuch will come home in future seasons.
Native Alaskans, sportsmen, and conservationists—plus a million or so migratory birds and tens of thousands of caribou—can breathe easier since the Bureau of Land Management granted them a 10-year reprieve from its plans to open the wetlands north and east of Teshekpuk Lake to drilling (see “Cry of the Loon,” March 2004). A lawsuit prompted a federal judge to block the lease sale in 2006 pending a more serious consideration of the cumulative environmental impacts. Although the lake is within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, where the BLM recently opened an additional 2.6 million acres for energy exploration, all administrations since Jimmy Carter’s have protected this ecologically rich area from drilling. Audubon and other groups will next seek legislation providing more permanent protection.
Winning the West
Score one for the sage-grouse, which is on the verge of an Endangered Species Act listing. Populations have plummeted in part because Wyoming’s unprecedented energy rush has fragmented their sagebrush habitat (see “Running on Empty”). Based on recommendations from Audubon Wyoming, the Bureau of Land Management recently decided to limit the number of coal-bed methane drill pads on leased land in northeast Wyoming’s Powder River Basin to one every 500 acres. The birds have been hit hard by power lines that become predator perches; access roads that bring dust, noise, and trucks; and wastewater ponds harboring mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus. “Business as usual will end with this bird being listed,” says Brian Rutledge, executive director of Audubon Wyoming. “It’s absolutely a move in the right direction.”
Kings of the Road
Monarch butterflies seize people’s imaginations across North America during their annual migration to and from their Mexican wintering roosts to breeding grounds as far north as Canada, up to 3,000 miles away. So it makes sense to take a continent-wide approach to preserving these magnificent animals, which are threatened by deforestation in Mexico and habitat degradation throughout the United States and Canada. This past June the governments of the three countries announced the North American Monarch Conservation Plan. The agenda details nearly 60 specific cooperative actions to aid these fragile insects. Some of the goals include exploring sustainable economic incentives to deter illegal logging and farming practices in Mexico and encouraging land-use practices that promote the growth of milkweed, the monarch’s host plant during breeding.
Piping Up for Plovers
This summer piping plovers, American oystercatchers, and loggerhead turtles nested a little easier on the beaches of North Carolina’s Outer Banks because of new restrictions on off-road vehicles (ORVs) on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, where ORVs have contributed to steep declines in the populations of imperiled birds. The new rules resulted from the settlement of a lawsuit blaming the National Park Service for its failure to protect beach wildlife from traffic. Although the legally binding compromise currently mandates ORV restrictions on only 18 percent of the 67-mile beach, some fishermen and other beach users are staunchly opposed to them. In fact, even as Chris Canfield, Audubon North Carolina’s executive director, has noticed an increase in nesting pairs, he is wary of federal legislation
recently proposed by three North Carolina lawmakers attempting to negate the deal. (For a video on piping plovers living in New York City’s Jamaica Bay, click here.)
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