U.S. wildlife doesn’t
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2000:
North American people are better
buffered against calamities associated with
global warming than Asians and Africans––
but reminders were abundant during the summer
that technological advances helping
humans to keep water, food, and fuel flowing
where needed are not necessarily able to
save animals, even when the effort is made.
On July 28, for instance, after
nearly nine months of legal maneuvering, a
tentative agreement was announced among
the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, ranchers holding water
leases, Defenders of Wildlife, Forest
Guardians, and the Middle Rio Grande
Conservancy District over the allocation of
Rio Grande water needed by both corn and
alfalfa growers and the endangered Rio
Grande silvery minnow and Southwest willow
flycatcher (a small bird).
As the wrangling dragged on, however,
the stretch of river south of San Acacia,
New Mexico, where an estimated 95% of the
minnows live ran almost completely dry. A
Fish and Widlife Service crew rescued about
80 of the endangered minnows from isolated
pools, but were driven away from the vicinity
of the San Acacia Diversion Dam on July 27
by a mob of about 100 irate ranchers.
The outcome was likely to be that
the farmers will lose their crops with significant
economic consequence, while the minnows
lose their lives and perhaps their existence
as a species.
Biologists are still assessing the
harm to wildlife caused by the wildfire that
roared through 47,000 acres surrounding Los
Alamos, New Mexico, in early May.
Most of the elk, deer, wild turkeys,
and pumas in the area are believed to have
been able to flee to safety north and east of the
fire. Small mammals and reptiles might have
escaped harm by burrowing deep into the
earth. But the fire destroyed countless birds’
nests, and destroyed an estimated 95% of the
two known Mexican spotted owl territories in
the Santa Fe National Forest.
University of Alaska at Fairbanks
wildlife biologist Alan Springer and Fish and
Wildlife Service marine mammal division
office at Anchorage chief Rosa Meehan
warned in July that the northern polar icecap
is now retreating so far north that Alaskan
walruses and polar bears are having to swim
unusually far to reach their summer food
sources. The walruses seem to be losing
weight and raising fewer calves.
But a positive effect of the warming
trend––or at least of the summer drought––
was that the “dead zone” in the Gulf of
Mexico created by nitrogen-rich farm field
runoff into the Mississippi River shrank from
a record 7,728 square miles in mid-1999 to
just 1,700 square miles this year. The zone
was expected to expand up to 5,000 square
miles in August, but that would still be smaller
than the 15-year average.
News of the “dead zone” shrinkage
was overshadowed in Louisiana media by the
Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge
going totally dry. The normally marshy
refuge could be refilled from Lake
Pontchartrain, but only at cost of admitting
salinity which would affect some of the
native wildlife as adversely as the drought.
An estimated 10,000 herons who formerly
nested at the refuge were forced to nest elsewhere,
or not at all.
Along the Gulf Coast of Florida,
lack of runoff meant unusually clear water––
bringing fish in closer to shore than usual,
including bull sharks, who at least three times
in one week attacked people and small boats.
Alligator habitat dried up from
Gainesville to Orlando, bringing more cannibalism
than usual among gators who were
forced to share uncomfortably small water
holes––and more roadkills of gators who went
looking for better habitat.
Other species also suffered. Wildlife
Rehabilitation Center of Central Florida
codirector Ron Hardee said he rescued more
birds and other animals in May than in any
other month since the center opened in 1992.