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Michigan DNR lauds federal announcement on comeback of Kirtland’s warbler


Cutline: The Kirtland’s warbler, which lives in northern Michigan’s jack pine forests, is one of our state’s biggest wildlife conservation success stories. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed in early April 2018 to remove the songbird from the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes removing the bird from the Endangered Species list

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources applauded the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to potentially remove the Kirtland’s warbler from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. The proposed delisting now enters a 90-day public comment period. A final decision is expected within a year. 

“This is a great day for conservation and for Michigan,” said DNR Director Keith Creagh. “This decision recognizes over 50 years of dedication and commitment to Kirtland’s warbler conservation by many agencies, organizations, industries, and individuals in our state and beyond. Together we have been able to benefit local economies while at the same time providing necessary nesting grounds for this species. The decision by our federal partners marks a significant wildlife success story.” The Michigan Department of Natural Resources today applauded the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to potentially remove the Kirtland’s warbler from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. The proposed delisting now enters a 90-day public comment period. A final decision is expected within a year. 

“This is a great day for conservation and for Michigan,” said DNR Director Keith Creagh. “This decision recognizes over 50 years of dedication and commitment to Kirtland’s warbler conservation by many agencies, organizations, industries, and individuals in our state and beyond. Together we have been able to benefit local economies while at the same time providing necessary nesting grounds for this species. The decision by our federal partners marks a significant wildlife success story.”

Forty years ago, the Kirtland’s warbler was on the brink of extinction. Today, the yellow-breasted songbird, which lives in northern Michigan’s jack pine forests, has made a comeback. The bird rebounded from a population low of about 350 in 1987 to more than 4,000 today. The Kirtland’s warbler population continues to grow and has for the past 16 years exceeded population recovery goals. Once thought confined to northern Michigan, the bird species has since been found in Wisconsin and Canada. 

“Kirtland’s warblers were one of America’s rarest birds, but today they represent the power of partnership to recover imperiled wildlife,” said Tom Melius, Midwest Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

The Kirtland’s warbler was among the first animals to gain federal protection in 1967 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act, a precursor to the Endangered Species Act. The species started to rebound once agencies and their partners began to implement long-term efforts to conserve young jack pine. Large areas of jack pine of a certain age class are essential for Kirtland’s warbler nesting. Also essential to a thriving Kirtland’s warbler population is control of brown-headed cowbirds. The brown-headed cowbird is a nest parasite that knocks eggs out of Kirtland’s warbler nests and replaces them with its own. 

The Kirtland’s Warbler Breeding Range Conservation Plan was developed in 2015 by the Michigan DNR, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service. The plan is now the guiding management strategy for the species. Additionally, funding and other commitments to habitat management and cowbird control are in place to ensure continuation of conservation actions in the absence of Endangered Species Act protections. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will receive comments on the proposed delisting through July 11, 2018. 

To submit comments electronically visit www.regulations.gov (available starting Thursday, April 12) and enter FWS–R3–ES–2018–0005 in the search box. To submit a hard copy, submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R3–ES–2018–0005, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC; 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.

More information about the Kirtland’s warbler and the proposal to remove Endangered Species Act protections is available at:  https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/birds/Kirtland/index.html

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Showcasing the DNR 


 

Studying Michigan’s massasaugas, the state’s venomous rattler

By Bob Gwizdz, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

The massasauga rattlesnake is Michigan’s only venomous snake. It is protected as a federally threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Photo by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

If any creatures ever needed better public relations, it would be snakes.

They have been vilified since the earliest of Bible tales, and their overall reputation hasn’t improved markedly since.

But there are plenty of people who have more respect for snakes—especially those species not well-regarded.

In fact, Michigan has become an important laboratory for the study and preservation of one of them, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, the only venomous viper that inhabits the state.

Massasauga rattlesnakes were listed as a federally threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 2016 and are thereby protected animals.

By rattlesnake standards, massasauga rattlers are small, averaging about 2 feet long as adults, reaching a maximum of about 30 inches.

The term “massasauga” means “great river mouth” in the Ojibwe language and was likely given to these snakes because of the places the pit vipers are found.

They inhabit wetlands and feed upon small mammals such as mice and voles, frogs, and other snakes. They are ambush predators, remaining motionless and striking when they detect prey through heat, sound, motion or odor. They inject venom that destroys tissue and incapacitates the prey.

Eastern massauagas range from southern Ontario to Missouri and from central New York to eastern Iowa. There are a couple of subspecies found in the American southwest and into Mexico.

“Massasaugas are rare in Michigan, though more common than in most other parts of their range,” said Tom Goniea, a fisheries biologist and herptile expert with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “There are records of their existence in every county of the Lower Peninsula.

“They’ve never been found on the mainland of the Upper Peninsula, though they have been found on Bois Blanc Island, which is in Mackinac County,” Goniea said. “Like all reptiles and amphibians, they were once more widespread and numerous throughout the state than they are today.”

Habitat destruction and persecution have led to their decline.

“They’re really rare; very few people will ever encounter these animals in the wild,” Goniea said. “They’re pretty docile, not a particularly aggressive animal. In my 14 years as herptile specialist with the DNR Fisheries Division, I’ve averaged being notified of less than one bite a year.”

Rattlesnake bites, while rare in Michigan, can and do occur. Many bites are the result of people handling them, though people walking though tall grass in rattlesnake habitat near and around wetlands without adequate footwear or long pants could potentially be bitten.

Snakebites are less likely to occur when following some basic safety precautions (find out more at http://mnfi.anr.msu.edu/emr/safety.cfm). Anyone who has been bitten should seek immediate medical attention.

“They can only strike about one-third to one-half their body length, which for a typical Michigan rattlesnake is 8 to 15 inches, so a person has to get really close to be in any danger,” Goniea said. “They are not going to lunge out and bite you from several feet away.”

There are no records of fatalities in Michigan since the post-World War II era that Goniea knows about.

Other snakes are often misidentified as massasaugas.

“Probably 95 percent of the calls we get from people who are sure they have a massasauga are verified with pictures as something else,” Goniea said.

Much of the focus of massasauga rattlesnake study in Michigan is at the Edward Lowe Foundation property in Cass County, where a viable population of the creatures inhabits the wetlands.

Mike McCuistion, vice president of physical resources at the foundation in Cass County, said staffers have found dead rattlesnakes on the roads of the property over the years, and because “conservation is part of the foundation’s charter,” the foundation decided to investigate them.

The foundation engaged a student studying reptiles to survey the area. He found one.

Later, a graduate student’s research involved studying how fire—such as controlled burns—impacted the snakes. He used the Lowe property as his control (non-burned) area, and he found a number of the rattlesnakes.

That information allowed the foundation to conduct controlled burns without affecting the snakes.

“We know where the snakes are and we know where the hibernacula (hibernation locations) are,” McCuistion said. “We can burn when the snakes are hibernating.”

The presence of the rattlesnakes inspired the foundation to get involved with the snake’s Species Survival Plan. The plan, largely a function of zoos and aquariums, is sort of an insurance policy for species—should they ever disappear.

Zoos that have massasauga rattlesnakes have been selectively breeding them for genetic diversity. These zoos would have a population of the snakes available.

The Lowe foundation agreed to host the annual meeting of the Species Survival Plan nine years ago in exchange for team’s cooperation in surveying the grounds annually for the snakes.

“The nice thing about this population is that it’s centrally located in massasauga range,” McCuistion said.

Over the course of the last seven years, the surveyors have identified more than 800 individual massasaugas on the property, with a stable population of about 150 adults.

Specimens are collected, aged, sexed, measured, weighed and photographed. Adults are implanted with PIT (passive integrated transponder) tags and all are returned to where they were found. The tags identify the snakes individually.

Penny Felski, herptile manager at the Buffalo Zoo and a member of the Special Survival Plan team, has been on every survey at the Lowe property since they started.

“The Buffalo Zoo has been working with this species since the 1960s, but our first successful breeding was in 2012,” Felski said. “It took a while to figure out the husbandry.”

Essentially, when potential mates are selected, the snakes are introduced in the fall and kept together until breeding has been witnessed. Young are born live the next summer. The female at the Buffalo Zoo has produced 13 offspring over the years. All are now at other zoos.

Eric Hileman, who recently earned his doctorate degree from Northern Illinois University for his work on eastern massasaugas and is now a quantitative biologist at Trent University in Ontario, said roughly 70 percent of adult massasaugas survive annually, but only 38 percent of newborns (neonates) survive their first year.

“I think freezing over the winter is the big problem,” Hileman said. “They don’t know how to do it.”

Unlike many other rattlesnakes, massasaugas hibernate alone, often using crayfish burrows for hibernacula.

Hileman said massasaugas have been known to live up to 20 years in captivity, which is up to 30 percent longer than they live in the wild.

For more information on the threatened status of the massasauga or for frequently asked questions about the listing, please visit the US Fish and Wildlife Service massasauga information page at https://www.fws.gov/midwest/Endangered/reptiles/eama/index.html

Identification and life history information, as well as snake safety tips, can be found at the Michigan Natural Features Inventory massasauga rattlesnake information page http://mnfi.anr.msu.edu/emr/index.cfm.

To report sightings and learn more about the massasauga, please visit the Michigan DNR’s page on the species at http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10370_12145_12201-32995–,00.html.
Learn more by about Michigan’s snake species by watching our “60-Second Snakes” videos at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qz5W-co6itw&index=2&list=PLAt8-P23ZJgvCQGGbnCtdUfRYbqiws-F6.

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Nongame Wildlife Fund helps aid comeback success stories


 

Most of us recognize the American robin. With its cheery song bringing a welcome sign of spring, these red-breasted birds are a common sight in Michigan; so familiar and appreciated, in fact, that the robin was named the state bird in 1931.

But there was a time after World War II when robins had become less common due to the damaging effects of DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) and other pesticides.

Fortunately, robin populations bounced back after DDT use was banned in the United State in 1972. However, many other nongame species—meaning wildlife that isn’t hunted—have needed, and continue to need, help to protect them from becoming rare or even extinct. That’s where the Nongame Wildlife Fund comes in.

Mechanics and administration

The fund, which is coordinated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Division, assists with the division’s goals by identifying, protecting, managing and restoring Michigan’s biological diversity.

The Nongame Wildlife Fund is responsible for initiating, developing and implementing critical projects vital to the needs of Michigan’s endangered, threatened and nongame animals, plants and their habitats.

Since its inception, the Nongame Wildlife Fund has raised nearly $24 million in support of critical projects for nongame species, which includes more than 80 percent of Michigan’s wildlife.

“The fund aims not only to restore populations of endangered and threatened species but to maintain present populations of animals and plants and to promote appreciation of Michigan’s nongame wildlife,” said Hannah Schauer, a DNR wildlife technician.

Funds have been raised for these important management efforts through voluntary check-off contributions on state income tax forms (the check-off ended when the fund reached $6 million, as dictated by state law), sales of the wildlife habitat specialty license plates and direct donations.

Another component of this approach has been the Living Resources Patch program. Proceeds from the sale of these patches also are directed to the Nongame Wildlife Fund.

For more than 40 years, the patch program has raised awareness of Michigan’s nongame wildlife species. The 2016-2017 Living Resources Patch, which will be the final one issued in the series, features the American robin.

“The state bird seemed fitting for the final patch, since 2016 is also the centennial for the Migratory Bird Treaty, which has benefited the robin, as well as many other nongame bird species,” Schauer said.

American robin patches, along with several previous years’ patches, are available for purchase on the Michigan e-store website.

Kirtland’s warbler

The effort to bolster Michigan’s nongame wildlife has yielded some notable progress over the last few decades.

One of the most significant success stories—and one that’s unique to Michigan—stars a rare songbird called the Kirtland’s warbler, one of the original species to be listed as part of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Visitors come from all over the world to see these birds, which nest in just a few counties in Michigan’s northern Lower and Upper peninsulas, a few sites in Wisconsin and Ontario, and nowhere else on Earth.

The DNR and many partners manage the specific type of jack pine habitat that the Kirtland’s warbler requires by logging, burning, seeding and replanting on a rotational basis.

Trees aren’t cut down until they’re mature and large enough to be economically valuable, which helps maintain nesting habitat for the warblers while supporting the commercial harvest of jack pine.

Several million jack pine seedlings are planted each year. The birds have specific nesting requirements which include reliance on young jack pine trees.

“The population of the rarest warbler in North America has increased dramatically through management and protection of more than 150,000 acres of jack pine habitat in Michigan,” said Dan Kennedy, DNR threatened and endangered species specialist.

The annual Kirtland’s warbler census, which tallies the number of singing males, has shown a significant increase in the species’ population over the last 40 years, from approximately 200 singing males in 1972 to 2,300 this year.

“The recovery of the Kirtland’s warbler is a real success story for endangered species management,” Kennedy said. “This conservation effort has benefited Michigan’s economy, including jobs associated with tourism and timber products, and helped conserve our biological legacy.”

Michigan’s osprey population, once threatened, is making a comeback with support from the Nongame Wildlife Fund.

Michigan’s osprey population, once threatened, is making a comeback with support from the Nongame Wildlife Fund.

Osprey

Many of Michigan’s nongame wildlife conservation victories involve birds, more specifically birds of prey. One notable example is the osprey.

Once nearly absent from much of Michigan due to the effects of DDT, other pesticides and habitat loss, Michigan’s osprey population is making a comeback thanks in part to the DNR’s osprey reintroduction program.

Started in 2008 and supported by the Nongame Wildlife Fund, this reintroduction program removed chicks from active nests in northern Michigan and reared them in man-made towers in southern Michigan, a process called “hacking.”

In 2015, at least 60 active nests were identified in southern Michigan – a substantial increase from the single active nest reported in 2002.

“Each year we have new nests, and we have already exceeded our original goal of 30 active nests by 2020,” said Julie Oakes, a DNR wildlife biologist. “We have been able to remove ospreys from the threatened species list to a species of special concern and restore their numbers in Michigan.”

The DNR and several partner organizations monitor the revitalization of this species by outfitting osprey chicks with “backpack” GPS telemetry units and tracking their movements and migration patterns.

Anyone can follow along and find out where the birds have been by looking at the Michigan Osprey website, www.michiganosprey.org.

Falcons and eagles

Peregrine falcons, which had been virtually eradicated from eastern North America at one time, today are successfully nesting atop places like urban buildings and bridges.

Peregrine falcons, which had been virtually eradicated from eastern North America at one time, today are successfully nesting atop places like urban buildings and bridges.

Peregrine falcons and bald eagles—two other birds of prey whose populations were decimated by pesticides—also are on the upswing as a result of similar conservation efforts.

Peregrines, virtually eradicated from eastern North America by the middle of the 20th century, today are successfully nesting in urban centers of southern Michigan, on the most iconic bridges across the state and along the Upper Peninsula’s rocky Lake Superior shoreline.

In 2015, biologists recorded 33 active peregrine nests, which produced 73 wild chicks.

The bald eagle’s numbers declined dramatically in the 1950s and 1960s until there were fewer than 1,000 nesting eagles remaining in the U.S. by 1963. Today, the species has recovered to a point where its existence is no longer imperiled.

With over 800 active eagle nests in Michigan, eagles can be found in almost all of the state’s 83 counties.

Moose

 In an operation known as the “moose lift” in the mid-1980s, the DNR translocated 59 moose via helicopter from Ontario, Canada, to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

In an operation known as the “moose lift” in the mid-1980s, the DNR translocated 59 moose via helicopter from Ontario, Canada, to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

“Most of the mammal successes have been so successful that we have seasons on them: marten, fisher, deer and elk,” said Chris Hoving, adaptation specialist with the DNR Wildlife Division. “At one time, they were nongame, or at least not hunted.”

Although moose are not an example of a species that has rebounded to the point where it can be hunted, one memorable nongame endeavor was the reintroduction of the species to Michigan in the Upper Peninsula.

Native to Michigan, moose disappeared from the Lower Peninsula in the 1890s and only a few scattered individuals remained in the Upper Peninsula.

In the mid-1980s, the DNR translocated 59 moose—using helicopters, in an operation remembered as the “moose lift”—from Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, and released them in Marquette County.

A 2016 moose population survey estimates a population of 323 moose in the western U.P.

Reptiles and amphibians

As for reptiles and amphibians, collectively known as herpetofauna or “herps,” ongoing projects include the Michigan Herp Atlas, which aims to collect data about Michigan’s native amphibians and reptiles in order to document their distribution and changes in their populations statewide, and the annual spring volunteer frog and toad survey.

“We have collected a large, valuable data set to help us evaluate Michigan’s frog and toad populations,” said DNR nongame wildlife biologist Lori Sargent. “We’re now able to start watching trends and thinking about how to slow down some of the species’ declines and, hopefully, increase awareness of their plight so that conservation efforts will be enacted in the future.”

Distinctions

Schauer said it’s important to remember that not all nongame animals are threatened or endangered species, or even species of special concern.

“Nongame also includes animals that aren’t harvested but aren’t necessarily listed as special concern, threatened or endangered—a good example of that would be the American robin,” she said. “One of the primary goals of the Nongame Wildlife Fund is to keep these common species common.”

Pitch in

Want to help Michigan’s nongame wildlife? There are several ways to contribute: by purchasing a wildlife habitat license plate or Living Resources patch or by making a tax-deductible donation.

Learn more about the Nongame Wildlife Fund at www.michigan.gov/dnr.

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Federal court order returns wolves to endangered species list


The gray wolf. Photo from the Encyclopedia Britannica online (Britannica.com)

The gray wolf. Photo from the Encyclopedia Britannica online (Britannica.com)

Ruling suspends Michigan’s lethal control laws and permits

A federal court judge has ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to immediately return wolves in the Great Lakes region to the federal endangered species list, making it illegal for Michigan citizens to kill wolves attacking livestock or dogs.

Under endangered species status, wolves may be killed only in the immediate defense of human life.

Two state laws allowing livestock or dog owners to kill wolves in the act of depredation were suspended by the ruling.

Additionally, lethal control permits previously issued by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to livestock farmers to address ongoing conflicts with wolves are no longer valid; permit holders have been contacted regarding this change.

The return to federal endangered species status also means DNR wildlife and law enforcement officials no longer have the authority to use lethal control methods to manage wolf conflict.

However, non-lethal methods—such as flagging, fencing, flashing lights and guard animals—may still be used and are encouraged. Compensation for livestock lost to wolves continues to be available through the DNR and Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Citizens in need of assistance with problem wolves should contact their local DNR wildlife biologist or DNR wolf program coordinator Kevin Swanson at 906-228-6561.
Friday’s federal court order came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Humane Society of the United States challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove wolves in the Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment from the federal endangered species list in January 2012. The ruling affects wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“The federal court decision is surprising and disappointing,” said Russ Mason, DNR Wildlife Division Chief. “Wolves in Michigan have exceeded recovery goals for 15 years and have no business being on the endangered species list, which is designed to help fragile populations recover, not to halt the use of effective wildlife management techniques.”
The DNR will work closely with the Michigan Attorney General’s office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine the full impact of this ruling on the state’s wolf management program and identify next steps.

“In the meantime, the Wildlife Division will continue updating the state’s wolf management plan, which includes the use of hunting and other forms of lethal control to minimize conflict with wolves,” Mason said. “Although the federal court’s ruling prevents the use of these management tools for the time-being, the Department will be prepared for any future changes that would return wolves to state management authority.”

For more information about Michigan’s wolf population and management plan, visit www.michigan.gov/wolves.

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