Monday, January 19, 2009

Week of January 19, 2009

Updated 1/23

Help on way for New England cottontail

By DAVID BROOKS Staff Writer, Nashua Telegraph

The cutest endangered species in New Hampshire is getting some federal help – which is good, because the New England cottontail needs all the help it can get."

This is one of our top priorities," John Kanter, the state's endangered-wildlife program coordinator, said of the elusive bunny.

As recently as the 1960s, the New England cottontail was found from the Hudson River through southern Maine and also thrived in New Hampshire. Today, officials know of only 10 places where the species is found at all, mostly in a few flooded areas along the Merrimack River south of Concord and in the Seacoast.

The New England cottontail, like many species, has suffered from changes in habitat.

It likes brushy land in transition between field and forest, with lots of brambles and low bushes where it can hide and find food. That sort of thicket was common when New Hampshire was filled with farms. Today, however, the state mostly consists of mature forests, which don't have much undergrowth, or developed land, which has even less.

Adding to its problems are invasive plants, such as multiflora rose, honeysuckle bush and autumn olive, that drive out the rabbits' preferred cover and food, plus the increase in whitetail deer, which compete with the cottontail for food.

Finally, there's the Eastern cottontail, which is a distinct species of rabbit despite the fact that it looks so similar that most people can't tell them apart; only by sampling DNA from fecal pellets can scientists be sure.

The Eastern cottontail was introduced into the Northeast in the first half of the 20th century, largely by hunting clubs, and is doing fine, largely because it seems better at spotting predators, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Link


Invasion of the Blobs

By Lily Whiteman, National Science Foundation

Although the moon jellyfish is currently widely distributed throughout the world, scientists believe that this jellyfish was probably transported and introduced to many of its current habitats by ships.

How do ships introduce non-native species of jellyfish to new habitats? For one thing, young jellyfish, known as polyps, travel with ships after clinging to their hulls. In addition, ships take on ballast water needed for stability in originating harbors, and then dump this water along with accompanying organisms, including jellyfish, into destination harbors.

Ships currently transport millions of gallons of ballast water around the world annually. Largely because of this phenomenon, 15 to 25 percent of all marine species that are currently found in global sea ports are non native.

Once non-native jellyfish are released from ships into new habitats where conditions suit them, they may colonize these habitats. And if these invasive jellyfish face few or no predators to control their numbers, their populations may explode into large swarms. Large jellyfish swarms may consume large numbers of commercial fish and thereby damage the fishing industry.

Invasions of non-native species of jellyfish have wreaked havoc on many ecosystems, including the Gulf of Mexico, the Sea of Japan, the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean. The costs of resulting ecological problems to the tourism and fishing industries have been staggering.

How do scientists distinguish native from invasive species of jellyfish? By using DNA analyses. Native species that have had a long history in a particular ecosystem have had time to diversify, while specimens taken from recently introduced species show more similarity with each other.

In addition, scientists are currently poring over records of worldwide marine life that were fastidiously maintained by some early explorers. Such analyses will help scientists map the natural distributions of jellyfish species before large-scale shipping introduced non-native species to new habitats. Link


Drawdowns at Candlewood Lake could use study

Annual drawdowns at Candlewood Lake, Connecticut, to kill invasive watermilfoil plants could use more study

By Robert Miller, Staff Writer,

By now, there's a wide ring of ice and snow encircling Candlewood Lake. Unless there's a serious thaw, that wintry crust may stay in place until February.

"It's actually very nice,'' said Michael Calandrino, a member of the Danbury Common Council who lives on the lake and has walked and cross-country skied around its perimeter when the lake water is low. "We've had some good times out there.''

In February the season of the lake's deep drawdown will end, and Candlewood will gradually start rising. By spring it should be back to about 427 feet above sea level -- 8 to 10 feet higher than this winter's low.

FirstLight Power Resources, which owns the lake, manipulates its level. For the past 20 years, FirstLight and its predecessors -- Connecticut Light & Power Co., then Northeast Generation Services -- dropped the lake down deep every couple of years, the better to kill off Eurasian watermilfoil, the invasive plant that befouls the lake in summer.

In 2008 the watermilfoil was especially thick and noxious. Therefore, the news of a deep drawdown was welcome. Freezing winter weather can kill the exposed plants, leaving the lake a little less tangled for a year or two.

But that doesn't always happen. Sometimes, even after the lake has been low, the watermilfoil comes back strong.

That has led Larry Marsicano, the executive director of the Candlewood Lake Authority, to ask: When the drawdown doesn't work, what are we doing wrong?

"We've had years when we've had limited success, even when we've had back-to-back-to-back drawdowns,'' he said.

Working with the New Fairfield-based Candlewood Watershed Initiative, Marsicano has looked at the rise and fall of the lake over the past 20 years.

He's found that in recent years the owners have not dropped the lake as low as they had in the past. For example, in 1985 the lake fell below 419 feet for more than half of the two-month drawdown. In 1995 it fell below 418 feet for 21 days.

In comparison, in the last deep drawdown, January through March 2007, the lake was only below 419 feet for two days.

But Marsicano said what he and other researchers need to do is to match that data with weather records for the same year. A blanket of snow around the lake may act as a blanket, insulating rather than killing the watermilfoil.

"You need the cold,'' he said. "But you also need a dissicating dryness to kill them.''

Greg Bugbee, an assistant scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, is now studying watermilfoil on Candlewood Lake. He admits, somewhat ruefully, there's been little research on the weather's effect on the plant -- what conditions kill it, what conditions help it survive.

Given that watermilfoil is a problem in lakes throughout the continental U.S. and parts of Canada, he said, this lack of research is "kind of shocking.''

Bugbee said it makes sense that a layer of thick, fluffy snow would protect the watermilfoil. It's not clear that a shelf of ice would do the same.

Marsicano said if the region is undergoing climate change, that might also affect how the drawdown works. "There are so many variables to consider."

He said it may be that the drawdowns should start earlier -- in early December -- to expose the watermilfoil to winter cold without snow protection. Dropping the lake a foot or two lower may also help. Link


New York farm fights starling flock


HILLSDALE--Bill Carney, 56, bends down in his backyard Friday and picks up a dead black bird with his bare hands and throws it away in the garbage. There are three European starlings on the ground around his home on Anthony Street.

"I noticed the one dead and didn't think anything of it," he said. "I came back later and there were two more. I'm upset about this whole scenario."

Residents in the area are discovering dead birds on their property, and while officials say there is no threat of disease from the birds, Mr. Carney wants some answers.

Last week officials with the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services program visited a farm in Copake at the request of the farmer and applied a chemical called DRC-1339, a federally restricted pesticide. They were using it for what they call a "controlled baiting" of the non-native invasive species, which is not protected by federal law. The chemical kills the birds.

"We are focusing on the starlings for the feed consumption disease threats... with dairy farms," said Kenneth Preusser, a Craryville native who works for the USDA office on Route 9 in Castleton.

One example he cited was the possibility that the birds would spread salmonella.

The state Department of Conservation says that because DRC-1339, which has as its active ingredient 3-Chloro-4-methyl-benzenamine hydrochloride, is classified as a "Restricted Use Pesticide" it is "for use only by USDA personnel trained in bird control or persons under their direct supervision."

"The main issue is when they are actually feeding on the farm, they are going for high protein. They also impact milk production, and take high protein rations from the cattle, an economic loss to the farmer as well," said Mr. Preusser.

Mr. Preusser would not divulge the name of the farmer, but said the department supplied the farm with 500 pounds of "pre-bait," and then applied the pesticide via bait. He said officials observed as roughly a thousand starlings ate the bait. He also said the officials made sure no cardinals, blue jays or other species were in the area. If any other birds flew on the farm during the controlled baiting the officials scared them away.

Mr. Preusser said that the pesticide is metabolized and excreted by the birds, which he said eliminates the threat of secondary poisoning to pets or other wildlife. The birds succumb to the pesticide within 24 hours after the application of DRC-1339.

"There are no secondary hazards," he said. "It is mainly targeted to the starlings."

Farmers who would like the pesticide administered may apply during January and February, when the starlings tend to congregate on dairy farms and cause damage by consuming and contaminating feed and potentially transmitting diseases to livestock. The fee is $700-$800, which covers the pre-bait, bait, salary and vehicle use.

Anyone with questions may dial the USDA at (518) 477-4837 and (518) 495-4735 on the weekends. Link


Move to make firewood transport ban permanent

By BRIAN NEARING, Staff writer,

ALBANY, NY — To fight the spread of invasive pests, the state is moving to permanently bar the movement of untreated firewood from one part of the state to another.

Temporary emergency rules that ban moving firewood more than 50 miles from its source have been in place since June 2008, State officials hope the ban will prevent the spread of such invasive species as the emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle and sirex wood wasp through infested wood.

The regulations do not affect homeowners cutting wood on their own property for use on that same property. They also do not affect firewood being transported through New York for sale and use in another state.

"Invasive pests and diseases damage both the environment and the economy," said Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis. "By taking proactive measures, we can reduce the risks of the inadvertent introduction of invasive and destructive pests and further protect our forests, woodlands and urban trees."

Under the regulation, only firewood cured by heating to a core temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit for 75 minutes can be moved without restriction.

A public comment period on the proposed permanent rules ends Feb. 9. Comment may be sent via e-mail to, or by writing to Bruce Williamson, NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, 5th Floor, Albany, NY 12233. Link


Comments sought on draft invasive species plan


A draft plan that targets more than 180 invasive species threatening Georgia’s rich variety of native wildlife is available for public comment.

The Georgia Invasive Species Strategy describes the complex scope of problems posed by non-native plants, animals and disease-causing organisms and proposes ways to lessen the impacts in a state ranked sixth in the nation in biological diversity.

Jon Ambrose, assistant chief of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section, said the strategy provides a framework that will help communicate and coordinate invasive species management priorities.

Copies are available at (click the “Conservation” tab to reach the link) or from the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division office in Social Circle (770-761-3035). A public comment meeting is set for 5:30-7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at the Wildlife Resources Division’s Conservation Center in Social Circle. For directions, go to

The deadline to submit comments is Feb. 16. Send written comments to or Jon Ambrose, Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, 2070 U.S. Highway 278 S.E., Social Circle, Ga.30025.


North Carolina officially bans vitex, "kudzu of the coast"

By Gareth McGrath, Staff Writer,

A plant that was first promoted by North Carolina has now been outlawed by state officials.

Rules to ban the sale, transport and possession of beach vitex by nurseries, garden shops and private property owners passed their final regulatory hurdle on Thursday.

The plant will be officially added to the state’s “noxious weed” list on Feb. 1.

Fast-growing, salt-tolerant, disliked by animals and sporting a beautiful purple flower during the summer, vitex was marketed as a coastal landscaping plant by N.C. State University in the 1980s.

But vitex started worrying researchers earlier this decade when it began overtaking dunes, crowding out the native sea oats and sea grasses.

Beach vitex has been found all along the North Carolina and South Carolina coasts, including on most barrier islands in Southeastern North Carolina.

It also has been reported in Virginia, Georgia and along the Gulf Coast.

For more information about the invasive plant or to report an infestation, go to



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