Can you find the snake? A Burmese python peeks out from its hiding place in Florida. APHIS Wildlife Services experts are developing new tools to help track and remove this invasive species. Photo by Lori Oberhofer, National Park Service
How do you find something that doesn’t want to be found – something that has evolved to be cryptic, elusive, and stealthy? That is the question asked of APHIS geneticist Dr. Antoinette Piaggio. She and others at the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) – the research arm of the APHIS Wildlife Services program – are investigating new ways to track and locate invasive Burmese pythons.
Burmese pythons have made a home in Florida competing with and feeding on native wildlife. Experts agree that new tools and techniques are crucial to monitoring and controlling the spread of this elusive snake.
“Burmese pythons are semi-aquatic and can be very hard to detect given their elusive nature and cryptic coloration,” states Piaggio. “We’ve developed a new detection method that uses environmental DNA, thereby eliminating the need for seeing or handling snakes.” Read more »
A captive horned lark is offered lettuce seedlings treated with a bird repellent. Photo by USDA Wildlife Services
California is the “bread basket” of American agriculture. In 2012, California’s 80,500 farms and ranches produced a record $44.7 billion in produce, dairy, and meats. With more than 400 crop varieties grown in the State, California produces nearly half of all U.S. grown fruits, nuts and vegetables.
To help ensure this basket stays full, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) partners with APHIS Wildlife Services (WS) to address wildlife damage issues to agriculture. Some of the more recent work involves the development of repellents to protect crops from birds. Read more »
Invasive feral swine have spread rapidly across the United States as a result of natural range expansion, illegal trapping and movement by people, and escapes from domestic swine operations and hunting preserves.
Wild boar, razorback, feral hog, wild pig — these are just some of the names we attribute to one of the most destructive and formidable invasive species in the United States. Feral swine adapt to just about any habitat, have few natural enemies, and reproduce at high rates. As such, their population is growing rapidly nationwide. At 5 million animals and counting, feral swine are now found in at least 39 States and cause approximately $1.5 billion in damages and control costs each year. Their damage is diverse and includes destroying native habitats and crops, eating endangered species, and spreading disease. Natural resource managers, researchers and academics nationwide are grappling with how best to address the challenges of feral swine management.
Feral swine are hunted by the public in some States for recreational purposes; but hunting will not solve our country’s feral swine problems. Read more »
USDA airport biologist Bobby Hromack holds his first captured short-eared owl. Although it weighs no more than 16.8 ounces, the species can pose an aviation safety hazard due to its 33-43 inch wingspan and low, rolling flight style.
Seeing a short-eared owl in November on the Pittsburgh International Airport, where I work as an airport wildlife biologist, was a unique occasion. However, as the number of owls grew to eight, I recognized the challenge ahead: Like all birds of prey, short-eared owls are a recognized potential aviation hazard. Their low rolling flight and difficult-to-disperse reputation means they pose an aviation safety threat. From 1990-2012, short-eared owl strikes with aircraft in the United States caused over $1 million in damage, and often are fatal to the birds. Convincing them to leave would be difficult but important.
The task would be harder because short-eared owls are listed by the State as an endangered species. Common in many areas globally, Pennsylvania is the southernmost edge of their breeding range. These owls likely migrated from Canadian breeding grounds to winter in Pennsylvania. Read more »
Earlier this year (see July 31 blog), the USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center’s (NWRC) field station in Millville, Utah, agreed to house two orphaned black bear cubs as part of a collaborative rehabilitation effort with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (Division).
The bears did well in captivity gaining enough weight to be re-released into the wild in early November. The young bears arrived at the facility weighing approximately 30 pounds and left weighing over 120 pounds. The two young male bears were fed bear chow (similar to dog food), fish, nuts, and fresh fruits and vegetables donated from a local grocery store and farmers. In addition to being well-fed, the bears had plenty of enrichment opportunities in their pen including a tire swing, climbing trees and logs, and a mini swimming pool. Read more »
Ben Hofer, Rockport Colony Secretary, with a Kangal. NWRC researchers are studying the potential of these livestock guard animals for use where large predators include wolves and grizzly bear. The Kangal breed is gentle and trustworthy with their people or animals, but if the need arises they can become very protective. (USDA Photo by Under Secretary Edward Avalos)
USDA plays an important and vital role in supporting rural communities throughout the country. On my recent trip to Montana, I saw firsthand how the work, services and programs provided by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) directly impact stakeholder day-to-day operations.
After a listening session in Cut Bank, I was invited to the Rockport Colony, by Ben Hofer, the Secretary for the Hutterite community near Pendroy, Montana. This impressive communal farming/ranching operation includes sheep, cattle, hog and poultry production, a dairy, and meat-processing facility, as well as fruit, vegetable, and grain production. I quickly learned USDA is an important partner, providing support for water lines, fencing, and wildlife damage management. Read more »