What do a Lake Erie watersnake, a bald eagle, and an American alligator have in common?
They've all rebounded from the threat of extinction and no longer require the protection of the Endangered Species Act.
The only place these snakes are found in the world is on the western edge of Lake Erie in Canada and Ohio.
The snakes were listed as threatened in 1999 because of habitat loss and because humans often killed them.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the tide has turned for the watersnake. The Service published a rule in the Federal Register today delisting the species. From a USFWS press release:
Recovery criteria include a combined population of at least 5,555 snakes on the U.S. islands, sustained for six years, and protection of key habitat.
Through continued habitat protection and public education, the Lake Erie watersnake population grew to about 11,980 in 2009, and has exceeded the minimum recovery level since 2002. About 300 acres of inland habitat and 11 miles of shoreline have been protected for the snake since it was listed.
The snake biologists don’t just look under rocks. They dive into the lake for snakes. They sneak up on piles of snakes and then grab the whole writhing mass.
The snakes bite. The researchers' arms are covered in snakebites. The bites aren't life threatening, but they're really, really bloody. And then it comes to the job at hand. The biologists are going to force the snakes' stomach contents out. They call it "barfing the snakes."
And what were they barfing up? Mostly round gobies - an invasive species. So here is a case where native species are taking a bite out of an invasive species' population.
The Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe did an episode on the job of a Lake Erie watersnake researcher in 2006 (the snakes poop, pee, bite, and release a musky smell when they're caught).
You can watch Rowe drop to his knees and get chomped on by a Lake Erie watersnake at about 6:20 in this video:
The snakes are still listed as endangered by the state of Ohio, so killing them is still illegal under state law... no matter how much they bite you.
Allen reported that the return of the gray wolf in the U.P. more than 20 years ago didn't cause concern, but that's changed in the last few years as some hunters are convinced wolves are decimating the white tail deer population.
Coyotes have been moving into a lot of American cities. Here in Michigan, you could potentially see coyotes almost anywhere. But researchers don't know a whole lot about the state’s urban coyotes.
A small research team from Wayne State University hopes to change that. They're trying to figure the animals out. They want to find out how many coyotes are living in cities. And they want to know what they’re eating, and how they survive.
A few weeks ago, one day just after dawn, I met up with the research team at the side of a road in Oakland County. We crossed the road to get to a grassy, undeveloped piece of land. The group fanned out to look for evidence of coyotes... that is: tracks, and scat.
The Michigan DNRE has been trying to reduce their population in the state for decades. By reducing Mute swan numbers, state wildlife officials hope to allow more room for native birds, such as Loons and Trumpeter swans (the USFWS says Mute swans were brought to the U.S. more than 100 years ago as "decorative waterfowl" for parks, zoos, and estates).
Barbara Avers is a waterfowl specialist with the DNRE. She says mute swans are not native to the U.S. – they were brought over from Europe in the 1800's. Basically, because they’re pretty.
“They’ve grown exponentially in Michigan. They’re kind of many times the bullies of the marsh.”
Avers says mute swans eat a huge amount of vegetation in lakes. They can push out native birds, such as the trumpeter swan. And she says mute swans can snap and charge at people.
“Routinely each year we get reports of mute swan attacks on land, and kayakers, people on jet skis, people out fishing in a boat, and what we see is as mute swan population grows so do the number of conflicts we see.”
Crews are still out on the Kalamazoo River cleaning up oil from last summer’s spill. More than 840,000 gallons spilled from a ruptured pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners, LP. Right now, crews are focusing on cleaning the contaminated soil.
It’s not clear what the long term impacts will be on wildlife.
After the spill, rescue teams collected more than 2,400 birds, mammals, fish and reptiles... and took them to a rehab center to have the oil cleaned off. Most of the animals brought into the center survived.
The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting "a bizarre scene evolving along the Chicago lakefront."
Geese and mallard ducks are apparently gulping down thousands of dead fish that are in the ice or floating in the open water around the ice.
The paper quotes Lake Michigan Program biologist Dan Makauskas who says:
"Gizzard shad are pretty sensitive. On the toughness scale, [they] are pretty soft."
Some biologists attribute the die-off to lower oxygen levels because of ice cover around the lakefront.
Former Muskegon Chronicle reporter Jeff Alexander wrote about a gizzard shad die-off on Mona Lake in Muskegon County back in 2008.
That die-off was attributed to a hard winter as well. From Alexander's report:
Gizzard shad die-offs are common in several area lakes. The fish often die during winter as ice cover decreases oxygen levels in the water; the fish also die from thermal shock when the lake warms up rapidly in the spring, said Rich O'Neal, a fisheries biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Gizzard shad are members of the herring family and are native to the Great Lakes.
Bear attacks are something we're used to hearing about out west or in Alaska, but in northern Michigan it can be rare just to see one.
The Detroit Free Press reports a hunter fought off a mother bear that was trying to climb into his tree stand.
Chad Fortune was bow hunting when two cubs tried to climb into his stand. He pushed them off, but the mother of the cubs put up more of a fight. Fortune was treated for his injuries at a nearby hospital. Wildlife officials say they plan to euthanize the bear.