SOME CONSERVATION NEWS
A couple of recent news items caught my eye, one with profound conservation implications, the other without. The Department of Interior has been considering listing the Greater Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus - above) under the Endangered Species Act, and last Friday it announced its decision. Beyond their spectacle and interesting biology, Sage Grouse are notable for being completely dependent on the sagebrush steppes that covered much of the western United States until recently. As livestock grazing, development and extractive industries degraded these communities, a population of around 16 million birds has dwindled to well under 5% of that number today. Halting the grouse decline means maintaining healthy, virgin sagebrush habitat and disallowing the practices, essential to continual economic growth, that destroy them. The situation is a microcosm of the global conservation situation: meaningful conservation and the paradigm of continued economic growth are incompatible. This incompatibility is the metaphorical elephant in the sitting room of public conservation discourse. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar's limp-wristed decision last Friday, to assign the Sage Grouse “warranted but precluded” status (meaning essentially that the bird deserves protection, but won't get it, although its status will be re-reviewed annually), is a clear sign that moneyed interests will continue their reign and the DOI intends to continue denying that elephant. For more on sage brush ecology and conservation, see here, here, here, and here.
The second story describes the rediscovery of the “extinct” Australian Yellow-spotted Bell Frog (Litoria castanea – above), which hadn't been seen since 1980. Six tadpoles were collected and transferred to the Taronga Zoo near Sydney, where a captive propagation effort will be implemented. This species and several close relatives, all found in the southeastern quadrant of the continent, are rather hard to untangle taxonomically. The whole complex has seen a rather steep population decline in recent years, the causes of which are not clear, although chytridiomycosis has been implicated, as have chemical pollutants and invasive Gambusia fish. The Yellow-spotted Bell Frog's small range in the highlands of SE Australia is not well-studied, and contrary to the popular press implication, it was never declared extinct because the possibility of this news has always been considered very real. The discovery of this population, and the hope it represents for survival of this species, while happy news, tells us nothing about the broader picture of worldwide frog decline.
upper: WINTER SAGE GROUSE (1989) acrylic 14" x 14"
lower: Photo of Litoria castanea by AP, lifted from the Internet