USFWS Announces 90-Day Finding on Petition to List the Western Pond Turtle

In recent years, the western pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata) has shown signs of decline along the Pacific Coast, especially at either end of its range in Washington and Oregon to the north, and in southern California. Among the threats currently facing the species today include upland nesting and aquatic habitat loss/conversion; water diversion; drought; disease transmission and competition from invasive species like the red-eared slider; and predation from non-native species like the American bullfrog and large-mouth bass.

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In July 2012 the Center for Biological Diversity filed an Endangered Species Act petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, appropriately called the Petition to List 53 Amphibians and Reptiles in the United States as Threatened or Endangered Species Under the Endangered Species Act, including the western pond turtle as one of the 53 candidate species. After review as part of an (extended) 90-day Findings process to determine if there is enough information to warrant further review, on April 9, 2015 the USFWS announced in a proposed rule that there is sufficient evidence to suggest the western pond turtle’s situation warrants a formal status review, and will undergo the subsequent 12-month Findings process for consideration as a federally Threatened or Endangered species in all or portions of its range (see also the CBD’s press release, here).

Those individuals with scientific and commercial data or other information pertinent to the potential listing of the western pond turtle should submit all information on or before June 9, 2015 in accordance with the instructions provided in the proposed rule.

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Book Review: The Monochotomous Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Metropolitan San Francisco Bay Region – A Diagnostic Key

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The Monochotomous Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Metropolitan San Francisco Bay Region – A Diagnostic Key, by Skóla Per-Hús Degrasse, Feaux•Afield Guides (www.feauxafieldguides.com), 2015, 401 pages, $89.95

Over the centuries, traditional field identification keys have proven clumsy, confusing, and unreliable for everyday scientists. Especially in the herpetological community, the battle between diagnosticians and field biologists has proven especially messy. The surprising dearth today of keys in the field of herpetology stems from a long-pitched battle between proponents of the synoptic (taxonomic) and diagnostic key camps, and the appropriateness of dichotomous (bifurcating) versus polytomous (multifurcating) keys.

Take for example the following schema. When presented with a couplet offering two leads in the traditional diagnostic dichotomous key to California’s hodgepodge of slender salamanders, the operator is left stranded in a sea of keels and folds:

39.1-7a. Dorsolateral fold hirsute, marginal scales abruptly to gently keeled, axilla-to-groin interstice hourglass-shaped
39.1-7b. Dorsolateral fold naked to downy, marginal scales gently to abruptly keeled, axilla-to-groin interstice empire waist-shaped

And let’s face it – not every field biologist has the luxury of having a specimen in hand to count inguinal folds or nasolabial scutes. Recognizing the need for a linear identification key, Occidentalis College Professor Skóla Per-Hús Degrasse of western Fen’s lizard fame has developed the world’s first monochotomous key to San Francisco Bay Area herptiles. The basis of the Degrasse Monochotomous Key is the ‘Quid est Cascade’ – simply turn to the monochotomous key, ask yourself “What is it I saw?”, and work your way down the cascade of species names until you find the salamander or frog or lizard or snake or turtle you saw. When you come across the correct species, look to the right-hand side of the page for a page number. There, in line with the simplicity of the Degrasse Monochotomous Key, each resulting photo-profile includes four color photographs and the species’ common and scientific name. Look at the pictures and ask yourself, “Is it a _____ I saw?” If not, turn back to the start of the monochotomous key and start again. TOC Grab By implementing a schema no more sophisticated than a table of contents, this singular guide has already revolutionized the world of field diagnostics. Williams Harland, editor in chief at Feaux•Afield Guides, likens the Degrasse Monochotomous Key to the proverbial 7-Minute Abs. “You walk into a book store, you see 8-Minute Abs sittin’ there, there’s 7-Minute Abs right beside it. Which one are you going to pick? There’s something about marrying science and simplicity that makes this key so ingenious. Where other keys are tedious, laborious manuals that demand a meticulous understanding of anatomical minutiae, the Degrasse guide is like picking up a coffee table book.”

“The snakes in Degrasse’s guide, for example, key out with little more than a flip of the page,” says Harland, who has been watching Degrasse grow under his feat of taking the key from concept to completion. “Demand on Degrasse’s knowledge has shaped this guide into the real deal, a plausible book depository of all things herpetological.”

Printed on archival, heavy-stock 12′ x 19′ folio sheets, the final presentation of this exquisite hardbound guide includes decorative gilt boards, spine, and edges, a water-proof tooled Moroccan leather-bound presentation box (to protect it against the elements during field work), and ribbon marker. The Monochotomous Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Metropolitan San Francisco Bay Region – A Diagnostic Key is slated to hit bookshelves April 1st.

{APRIL FOOLS DAY POST 2015}

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Burrowing Owl Surveys at Warm Springs

52This April, the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO) is looking for volunteers to assist with western burrowing owl breeding surveys at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in south Fremont. The surveys will take place on the Warm Springs Unit of the refuge, a 700-acre vernal pool grassland home to special-status species like burrowing owls as well as California tiger salamanders, vernal pool tadpole shrimp, and Contra Costa goldfields.

The SFBBO, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is looking for 60 volunteers over three survey sessions (with priority given to current SFBBO members):

  • Session 1: Wednesday, April 15th – 5:00 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.
  • Session 1: Thursday, April 16th – 5:00 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.
  • Session 1: Wednesday, April 18 – 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Training will be provided on site beforehand to familiarize volunteers with survey techniques. Volunteers are cautioned to wear layered clothing; sturdy shoes/boots; and plenty of water.

To volunteer, send an email to SFBBO Habitats Ecologist Aidona Kakouros at akakouros@sfbbo.org with the subject line “BUOW surveys in Warm Springs”.

The application deadline is Friday, April 10.

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Count Your Blossoms at the Antioch Dunes (2015)

Throughout April and May this year, biologists at the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge will be conducting plant surveys for the endangered Antioch Dunes evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides howellii) and Contra Costa wallflower (Erysimum capitatum angustatum).

ADEPrimrose_IMG_9664_smThese two plants are exclusively found at the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge in Antioch, California, where years of sand mining at the Antioch Dunes has pushed these plants (and the Lange’s metalmark butterfly) nearer to extinction. That’s why refuge staff need your help counting plants to inventory the refuge’s populations. Plants counts are scheduled for the following dates:

  • Wednesday, April 22nd – 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Contra Costa wallflowers)
  • Thursday, April 23rd – 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Contra Costa wallflowers)
  • Wednesday, May 20th – 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Antioch Dunes evening primrose)
  • Thursday, May 21st – 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Antioch Dunes evening primrose)

Newcomers and veterans alike are welcome to participate, but participants must be 18 years or older. Volunteers are cautioned to wear layered clothing in anticipation of the unpredictable cold, wind, or listless heat; sturdy shoes/boots and long pants (jeans) for uneven terrain and spiky weed seeds; knee-pads; sun-protection (e.g. sunblock, sunglasses, hat) and plenty of water; and your lunch.

If you are interested in volunteering for the April/May plant counts, please contact Susan Euing (by email at susan_euing@yahoo.com or by phone at (510) 521-9716). If you leave a message, please leave your name, phone number and email address, and Susan will contact you as soon as possible to confirm.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that writing about the Lange’s metalmark butterfly and the Antioch Dunes for Bay Nature magazine in 2005 was the genesis behind my children’s book, Sardis and Stamm. You can read more about the book – and order a copy for your shelves – here:

http://www.sardisandstamm.wordpress.com/

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Elkhorn Slough: 2015 California Red-Legged Frog Workshop

CRF WorkshopThis spring the Elkhorn Slough Coastal Training Program is once again sponsoring the California Red-Legged Frog Workshop 2015 for the 15th year running with presenters Trish Tatarian and Greg Tatarian. The workshop, slated for May 21, 2015 at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in Watsonville, CA, will provide a comprehensive review of the species’ natural history and conservation efforts with both classroom lecture and a field training session. Among the topics covered are species identification, natural history, habitat requirements, management practices, habitat assessments, pond designs, equipment demonstrations, tadpole identification, and survey methodology, including a night-time training practicum in the field.

Space is limited, so act now! This year’s registration deadline is April 28th.

One of the pluses the Elkhorn Slough Coastal Training Program provides is free online access to workshop materials and related peer-reviewed papers. Make sure to check it out here!

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