Wildlife in the news

Lawsuit seeks protection for Kirtland’s snake

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) – An environmental group that works to expand the federal government’s lineup of protected plants and animals filed a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of a Midwestern wetland snake.

The Center for Biological Diversity wants the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to add the Kirtland’s snake to the endangered and threatened species list. The agency missed a deadline four years ago for making a decision on the reptile, said Collette Adkins Giese, an attorney and biologist with the nonprofit organization.

“This is an extremely imperiled animal,” Giese said. “We’re running out of time to save it.”

The Kirtland’s snake previously inhabited more than 100 counties in eight states, but in recent decades there have been only scattered sightings in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. Many are in vacant lots near streams or wetlands – remnants of once-abundant prairie wetland habitat shrunken by farming and urban development. Some of the snakes have been collected for sale as pets.

Small and nonpoisonous, they feed on earthworms, slugs and leeches. The species is listed as endangered in Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania and threatened in Illinois and Ohio.

Threatened bird leads feds to block some drilling

DENVER (AP) – The federal government this week declared more than 400,000 acres in southwestern Colorado and eastern Utah off-limits to energy exploration or any other kind of development to protect the Gunnison sage grouse, a precursor to a much larger fight over another species of the bird that ranges across 11 Western states.

The Bureau of Land Management directive released last Monday formalizes protections the government had already implemented to preserve the Gunnison grouse. A decision on whether to list it as an endangered species is due in November.

BLM spokesman Steven Hall said that the protected land falls in 800,000 acres that have been identified as the bird’s general range.

The Gunnison sage grouse only lives in a small sliver of Colorado and Utah and the estimated 4,500 animals remaining are about one-tenth of its original population. Because it is so depleted, Hall said, its habitat has to be aggressively protected.

Tenn. agency investigating deaths of ducks

MOUNT JULIET, Tenn. (AP) – The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is investigating after more than 20 ducks died in a 24-hour period around Old Hickory Lake.

Agency officials told WTVF-TV that they are sending the carcasses to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia where they will be tested.

Michele Desirey, who has lived on the lake for more than 40 years, said she and her husband began finding dead ducks on their property on Sunday. She says they are anxious to know what’s causing the deaths.

TWRA officials say lab results should be back by next month.

Study looks at threats to rare Wyoming loons

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) – Researchers are trying to determine why the loon population in Wyoming is dwindling and what can be done to stop it.

Loons are the rarest nesting birds in Wyoming, and only 14 pairs remain in the state’s northwest corner, The Casper Star-Tribune reported last Monday.

The next closest population is 220 miles away in Montana, and a few others live in Idaho and Washington.

The Biodiversity Research Institute of Maine and state and federal agencies are participating in the five-year study, which is entering its second year and includes loons in Minnesota and Massachusetts.

“We’re trying to stabilize the population and identify threats,” said David Evers, executive director of the Biodiversity Research Institute.

“Loons are very poor colonizers. If you lose your population, even though it’s good habitat, it could be a long, long time before you see more loons breeding here,” he said.