All posts by DanaMichaels2013

California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Marketing Specialist

Deadly Bat Fungus Detected in California

The fungus that causes White-nose Syndrome (WNS), a deadly disease of bats, has been detected in low levels in California for the first time. Fungal DNA of Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) was detected in samples collected this spring from bats on private land in the Plumas County town of Chester. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have been preparing for possible detection of the fungus with partner organizations since 2009. While there is currently no indication the disease itself is affecting bat populations in California, the lab tests suggest Pd is here.

WNS awakens bats during hibernation, causing them to use energy reserves needed to survive winter, when insects they rely upon for food are not available. The fungus was first detected in New York in 2006 and spread incrementally. Bats that have contracted the disease have now been confirmed in 33 states and seven Canadian provinces. Including the recent California discovery, the fungus alone has now been detected in a total of five states.

WNS has killed millions of bats in the U.S., including more than 90 percent of the bats in some hibernation colonies. Since bats usually produce only one offspring per year, it could take decades for some populations to recover from a major die-off.

“WNS is considered one of the deadliest wildlife diseases, having killed over six million North American bats since it was discovered,” said CDFW Wildlife Veterinarian and Epidemiologist Dr. Deana Clifford. “WNS doesn’t affect human health or pets, but the ecological impacts of bat die-offs may indirectly impact agricultural systems through loss of the natural pesticide effect and nutrient cycling of bats.”

Until spring 2016, the westernmost occurrence of Pd was in eastern Nebraska. In March of that year WNS was confirmed in Washington State—1,300 miles west of the nearest known location of the fungus. How it got there is unknown; Pd spreads through physical contact with an infected bat or Pd in the environment. Because spores are persistent, people can also spread the fungus from infected areas to non-infected areas on their shoes, clothes or gear.

Surveillance for WNS has been supported by a national program administered by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin in collaboration with FWS, Northern Arizona University (NAU), and Bat Conservation International (BCI). CDFW has worked with the National Park Service Klamath Network (NPS KLMN) and others to collect swab samples from bats around California since 2016. The samples tested for the DNA signature of Pd were negative until 2018, when one sample from a little brown bat maternity colony in Chester suggested the fungus may be present at low levels. In 2019, the same site and another in Chester yielded three bats with similar low-level detections.

Dr. Alice Chung-MacCoubrey of the NPS KLMN, who led the surveillance work at Chester and several other northern California sites, said, “The detection of Pd at Chester, even at these low levels, is troubling. It has now been detected in two successive years at two different sites and with testing by both the NWHC lab and the NAU lab. In other parts of North America affected by WNS, low-level Pd detections preceded detection of the disease itself by one to four years.”

“Detection of Pd at the levels reported in Chester are possible thanks to advanced tools and surveillance networks in place today that we did not have in the years right after WNS was discovered,” said Jeremy Coleman, National White-nose Syndrome coordinator for the FWS, which leads the national response to the disease. “These very early indications that Pd is present allow for a more proactive response by local partners than what has been possible before. Just how long we’ll have before WNS emerges in California’s bats is a big unknown.”

CDFW leads the California WNS Steering Committee, a multi-agency scientific research group that has been monitoring WNS nationally since 2009. The Committee includes the FWS, NPS, U.S. Forest Service, USGS, BCI, California State Parks, U.S. Department of Defense and National Speleological Society (NSS). They developed a WNS response plan for California that outlines actions to be taken if the fungus or disease arrives in California.

“It is critically important for CDFW and our partners to follow up on these detections,” said CDFW Wildlife Ecologist Dr. Scott Osborn. “In the coming months and years, we will intensify surveillance for WNS, monitor impacts on bat populations, and assist with research on disease management. We hope disease treatment and prevention techniques currently in development will be available soon.”

Meanwhile, Osborn asks all Californians to be vigilant and cooperate with management actions that may be taken to slow the spread of WNS. People can assist with surveillance by reporting unusual behavior they see in bats. Sick or dying bats observed during winter in the colder regions of the state should be reported to CDFW at www.wildlife.ca.gov/conservation/laboratories/wildlife-investigations/monitoring/wns/report.

According to Osborn, caving organizations like the NSS have helped collect important information about California’s underground bat roosts. People who enter caves and mines should follow decontamination protocols at www.whitenosesyndrome.org/static-page/decontamination-information, and do not transfer clothing or gear between certain sites.

Details about WNS and Pd are at www.whitenosesyndrome.org.

For photos and B-roll video, visit the White-nose Syndrome National Response Team newsroom at www.whitenosesyndrome.org/static-page/news.

Information about bat conservation is available at www.batcon.org.

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Featured image (above): Hibernating, healthy little brown bat by Ann Froschauer/USFWS

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Media Contacts:
Scott Osborn, CDFW Nongame Wildlife Program, (916) 324-3564
Catherine Hibbard, USFWS National WNS Response Team, (413) 531-4276
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420

CDFW Celebrates Earth Day

Monday, April 22 is the 49th annual Earth Day and the 2019 theme is “Protect Our Species.” The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) works to protect our state’s native species every day of every year.

CDFW performs and oversees wildlife habitat conservation and restoration to maintain healthy ecosystems throughout the state. No matter where a native plant, fish or animal lives—in a marine, brackish or fresh water environment, on land, in trees or underground—all living things need clean, healthy habitats.

Some people see a wetland, grassland, desert or any undeveloped landscape and think, “There’s nothing there.” But there are numerous plant, animal and fish species living there, hidden underwater, underground, under rocks and in rock crevices. Those “unused” spaces are home to many species that are part of the elaborate web of life on which all living things depend.

In the past, people thought natural resources—like fresh, potable water—were unlimited. We know better now, yet still produce millions of tons of garbage each year and often dispose of it in ways that harm wildlife. With more than seven billion people on the planet, such a careless lifestyle causes irreparable damage to the very ecosystems all forms of life need to live.

It’s easy to reduce, reuse and recycle the products we use each day. And when we do, our behavior benefits wildlife as much as it does ourselves.

Californians have been celebrating Earth Day with festivals, learning opportunities, and activities such as trail and habitat clean-up and restoration since 1970. It’s a day to think about how each of us affects our world’s limited natural resources, and what we can do as individuals or as groups to tread lightly on the Earth, make up for past damage and restore what we can.

For links to environmentally healthy living suggestions, Earth Day festivals and other activities throughout California, please visit CalRecycle’s Earth Day webpage.

CDFW staff will participate in Earth Day activities around the state, and would be pleased to discuss ways we can conserve wildlife with you at any of these events.

Saturday, April 20
Newport Beach: Upper Newport Bay Earth Day event, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Peter & Mary Muth Interpretive Center. CDFW ecological reserve Science Discovery booth.

Fresno: Earth Day festival in Radio Park. Booth with animal mounts and information about CDFW and volunteering. Live music, green vendors, EV test drives, food, kids’ activities.

April 22 and 23
Rancho Cordova: The Nimbus Hatchery preschool story time program, Tot Time, will feature an Earth Day theme.

Sunday, April 28
Sacramento: Earth Day Festival at Southside Park. CDFW will have hands-on children’s activities and the Salmon Wheel of Fortune.

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Media Contact:
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420

Plentiful Precipitation Pumps-up Rodent Populations

CDFW Issues Reminder to Avoid Harmful Poisons

The winter of 2018-19 brought ample rainfall and snowpack—good news for drought-weary Californians. The bad news is that the vegetation growth that follows abundant rainfall can lead to abounding rodent populations that some people try to control with poisons. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) reminds people that rodenticides can also kill non-target wildlife, and even pets and children.

Most populations of native rodents, like voles, deer mice and squirrels, are kept in check by predators such as raptors and snakes. An important part of the natural food web, native rodent populations drop back to normal levels after a population boom due to increased predation and the return to typical food supplies. In the short term, to keep native rodent species from overwhelming your home and garden, use habitat modification as an effective, safe and inexpensive way to reduce the number of native voles, deer mice and squirrels on your property. For example, voles like tall grass for cover. Mowing your grass to no more than two inches tall makes it less appealing to them. Like most animals, rodents go where food is available and they feel safe. The easiest way to discourage rodents, both native and non-native, in and around homes and businesses is to remove or modify anything that could make them comfortable.

Removing food and cover is the first step to controlling rodents. Any attempt to remove rodents will be ineffective if you do not first take away their food and cover – other rodents will replace the ones you remove. These actions will help:

  • Keep your home and yard neat and clean.
  • Be aware that pet food, chicken feed and bird feeders will attract rodents.
  • Remove objects and plants that rodents can hide under, such as wood piles, debris, construction waste, dense vegetation and ground-covering vines like ivy.
  • Pick up fruit that has fallen from trees as soon as possible.
  • Secure your garbage in a tightly sealed can.
  • Seal water leaks and remove standing water that may attract unwelcome animals. Standing water is also where mosquitoes breed.

Target non-native rodents (house mice, Norway rats and black rats) in your home attic, walls or garage, by setting traps in secluded areas where the rats or mice have been seen or are likely to travel: close to walls, in dark corners, behind objects, on ledges, shelves, pipes and rafters. In areas where children, pets, birds or other non-target wildlife might have access, secure the trap inside a small box or other barrier for their safety. Check traps daily and wear disposable gloves when removing rodents. Place dead rodents in a sealed plastic bag and then into your garbage bin for weekly collection. Wash your hands after handling traps or rodents, even when using gloves.

Seal the places where rodents can get into your buildings: openings where cables, wires and pipes enter buildings, and cracks or holes in the foundation, walls and roofs. Non-native house mice can squeeze into holes as narrow as ½ inch diameter. Use hardware mesh and concrete, plaster or metal whenever possible. At the very least, stuff stainless steel or copper pot scrubbers, or copper mesh wool into the spaces behind the openings and fix it in place with expanding foam. These items can be purchased online and at hardware and dollar stores. You can also find pest control businesses that specialize in rodent-proofing homes and businesses.

Next, let nature help you control both native and non-native rodents around your home. Rodents’ natural predators include raptors such as owls and hawks. If you actively protect them and their habitat, you won’t need to spend money on poisons and put wildlife, pets and children at risk of accidental poisoning. Planting tall trees like conifers and pines that raptors favor will encourage these birds of prey to hang around your yard and remove rodents for you.

Most raptors use the same nest for many years and some even pass from one generation to the next. Raptors like Cooper’s hawks, red-shouldered hawks, white-tailed kites, great horned owls and barn owls often nest in or adjacent to residential areas and will gladly feed on rodents. That makes them excellent long-term controllers of rodent populations in the area near the nest.

During the breeding season, a family of five barn owls can eat as many as 3,000 rodents! You can encourage them by hanging a nest box on your property, but only if you and your neighbors are not using anticoagulant rodenticides. Remember that poisoned rodents can poison the predators, scavengers and pets that eat them!

Despite some restrictions on the most toxic and persistent anticoagulant rodenticides, wildlife are still being poisoned. In addition to the raptors, scavenging animals such as turkey vultures, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, bears and even feral cats and dogs can be poisoned by eating a smaller animal that ate rat poison. More than 90 percent of mountain lion carcasses collected by CDFW in 2016 and 2017 tested positive for anticoagulant rodenticides and most had been exposed to three or more different anticoagulants.

You can protect non-target animals and children from rodenticide poisoning by using sanitation, exclusion, traps and nature’s rodent predators to control rodents at your home or business. For more information, please visit the rodenticides page on CDFW’s website.

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Photo by Dries Gaerdelen

 

Media Contacts:
Stella McMillin, CDFW Wildlife Investigations Lab, (916) 358-2954
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420

Time’s Running Out for Your Tax Return and Endangered Wildlife

The deadline is looming… how many days left until April 15? Never enough. But you’ll get it done. And when you do, you can support California’s rare, threatened and endangered wildlife species. As you near the end of your California Individual Income Tax Form 540, look for the Voluntary Contributions section. Enter any amount you would like to donate to the California Sea Otter Fund (line 410) and/or the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Program (line 403).

Any amount you contribute will support state programs that benefit California species at risk of extinction. For most people, donations are tax-deductible the following year.

The Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Program (RESP), has funded work benefiting California’s native at-risk plants, wildlife and fish since 1983. California taxpayers’ donations to this fund have enabled CDFW to obtain grant money from the federal government and collaborate with many other organizations to conserve native wildlife.

For example, CDFW is currently working on projects to save San Francisco garter snakes, tricolored blackbirds, salamanders, mountain yellow-legged frogs, Mohave ground squirrels and California condors.

Last year, the RESP voluntary donations helped provide endangered species protection for the tiny coast yellow leptosiphon (Leptosiphon croceus), which is only known to exist in San Mateo County; the beautiful Lassics lupine (Lupinus constancei), known from only two populations in the remote Lassics mountains of Humboldt and Trinity counties; the uniquely colonial tricolored blackbird (Agelaius tricolor), which is restricted almost entirely to California; and the Humboldt marten (Martes caurina humboldtensis), a small forest carnivore.

Contributions to the California Sea Otter Fund are split between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the State Coastal Conservancy to benefit our Southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) population. The smallest marine mammal once lived in nearshore waters all along California’s coast and in estuaries such as Humboldt, Tomales, San Francisco and Morro bays. Now only 3,000 sea otters occupy a much smaller range. They are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and state regulations.

CDFW uses Sea Otter Fund donations for scientific research on the causes of death in California’s sea otters to help inform management actions to protect them.

The Coastal Conservancy uses most of your donations for grants supporting research and conservation actions that facilitate sea otter recovery. Some of that research has investigated factors limiting population growth and opportunities for range expansion to facilitate population recovery.

If someone else prepares your state tax return, please let him or her know you want to donate to the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Program on line 403 and/or the California Sea Otter Fund on line 410. If you use TurboTax, step-by-step instructions to help you find the California Contribution Funds are posted on the CDFW website.

CDFW biologists have achieved important recovery milestones and protected vulnerable species, thanks to California taxpayers. More information about how CDFW uses donated funds is at www.wildlife.ca.gov/tax-donation and at www.facebook.com/seaotterfundcdfw.

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Media Contacts:
Jeb Bjerke, CDFW Native Plants Program, (916) 651-6594
Esther Burkett, CDFW Nongame Wildlife Program, (916) 531-1594
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420
Laird Henkel, CDFW Sea Otter Program, (831) 469-1726

Wildlife Conservation Board Funds Environmental Improvement and Acquisition Projects

At its March 7 quarterly meeting, the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) approved approximately $8 million in grants to help restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat throughout California. Some of the 21 approved projects will benefit fish and wildlife — including some endangered species — while others will provide public access to important natural resources. Several projects will also demonstrate the importance of protecting working landscapes that integrate economic, social and environmental stewardship practices beneficial to the environment, landowners and the local community.

Funding for these projects comes from a combination of sources including the Habitat Conservation Fund and bond measures approved by voters to help preserve and protect California’s natural resources.

Funded projects include:

  • A $680,000 acquisition in fee of approximately 32 acres of land as an expansion to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Battle Creek Wildlife Area for the protection of terrestrial and aquatic habitats supporting salmonid species, to enhance habitat linkages and connectivity, and to provide future wildlife-oriented public use opportunities near Anderson in Shasta County.
  • A $440,000 grant to CDFW for a cooperative project with California State Parks to improve the parking lot, provide an ADA-accessible viewing platform, and install a new ADA-accessible toilet at North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve, eight miles north of the Oroville, in Butte County.
  • $1.3 million for two grants to The Trust for Public Land to acquire approximately 1,415 acres of land for the protection of threatened and endangered species, preservation of desert springs with year-round surface water and a riparian corridor, and provide future wildlife-oriented public use opportunities near Lake Isabella in Kern County.
  • Two grants for a total of $480,000 to the Transition Habitat Conservancy to acquire in fee approximately 120 acres of land from two separate owners for the protection of deer and mountain lion habitat, to maintain a migration corridor for the deer herd, and to provide future wildlife-oriented public use opportunities in the hills northwest of Portal Ridge, in Los Angeles County.
  • A $757,000 grant to the Natural Communities Coalition for a cooperative project with CDFW, Orange County Parks and California State Parks in Crystal Cove State Park and Laguna Coast Wilderness Park – both in Orange County. The project will construct 16 seasonal pools and restore approximately 15 acres of adjacent upland coastal sage and cactus scrub habitat that will provide breeding and foraging habitat for the western spadefoot toad.

For more information about the WCB please visit https://www.wcb.ca.gov.

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Media Contacts:
John Donnelly, WCB Executive Director, (916) 445-0137
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420