Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wood storks nesting in restored S. Ga. wetland

For more than 70 years, nearly 90 acres of a Mitchell County bottomland lay mostly dry, drained by a shallow ditch that cut through the heart of the cup-shaped tract.

Yet in 2003, owners James and Sue Adams applied to enroll the site in a federal wetlands restoration initiative called the Wetlands Reserve Program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service approved a permanent conservation easement. The ditch, dug in the 1930s to fight mosquitoes and malaria, was plugged in 2006. Water soon flooded the tall grass and cypress trees.

And this year, like last, endangered wood storks joined a growing throng of cattle egrets, anhingas and little blue herons that have adopted the reborn wetland as a rookery.

Earlier this month, Natural Resources Conservation and Georgia Department of Natural Resources workers eased small boats across shimmering green duckweed and around cypress trees crowded with stick nests and white chicks. One pond cypress no more than 25 feet tall held seven wood stork nests. In the tree, nine storks, their black heads bowed, eyed the boats. Across the pond, adult and young birds squawked and clucked in the afternoon heat turned thick by thunderstorms roaming the horizon.

DNR Nongame Conservation Section employees estimate the site has 125 wood stork nests. The count is part of an annual spring survey of the imperiled birds in Georgia. Biologists discovered the new Mitchell County nest site after a stork the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was tracking by satellite transmitter in Florida moved to south Georgia.

James Lee Adams Jr. is pleased. The former engineer retired from farming in 2000, the same year he was named Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year. But he still deals in land and has long kept close tabs on agricultural programs. Adams said it was obvious to him and his wife the property, part of a larger intact wetland covering about 200 acres and surrounded by cropland, should “never have been put into production.”

The Wetlands Reserve Program allowed them to take it out.

For wetlands degraded by urbanization and intensive farming, the voluntary program offers financial incentives for permanent or 30-year conservation easements, as well as cost-share agreements for restoration. Wetland protection and restoration are established as the main land-use for the duration of the easement or agreement. Wildlife benefit, and landowners still control access.

Commonly called WRP, the Wetlands Reserve Program had 2 million acres enrolled as of 2009. The goal is another 1 million in five years.

Keith Wooster, state wildlife biologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said Georgia has about 16,500 acres in 45 sites, all in the southern part of the state. Wooster rates the Adams’ property, owned largely by the couple’s AA Land Co., as the top “two or three site in southwest Georgia.”

James Tillman Sr., the agency’s state conservationist, said Georgia has “enjoyed tremendous success” helping landowners install wetland conservation practices through the WRP. The help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and its partners continues after the habitat is restored, Tillman said.

“This assistance may be in the form of reviewing restoration measures, clarifying technical and administrative aspects of the easement and project management needs, and providing basic biological and engineering advice on how to achieve optimum results for wetland-dependent species.”

The option for permanent protection helped attract the Adams. “I think we have a responsibility No. 1 to look after the land,” James Adams said. “… We’re just holding this land in trust.”

Controlling access and receiving a financial return also proved important. James sees public support through programs like WRP as vital so small landowners can afford to set aside land for conservation.

Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan, a strategy that guides Wildlife Resources Division and DNR efforts to conserve biological diversity, emphasizes such technical and financial assistance, Nongame Conservation Section Chief Mike Harris said. “One of our top five areas of focus is working with private landowners, and I think this is a good example of a program that restored some valuable habitat,” Harris said.

What was a prairie-like field that soil conservation technician Dan Baker said “you could walk across” is now wet, rich habitat for a variety of wildlife, from eastern kingbirds and black-bellied whistling ducks to common gallinules and American bullfrogs.

Plus a lanky wading bird struggling to regain its foothold in the U.S.

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International Whaling Commission Fails to Find a Way Forward for Whales

/PRNewswire/ -- Dr Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group, issued the following statement today in response to the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) Annual Meeting concluding without any results from the three-year effort to reconcile the impasse between pro-whaling and anti-whaling countries.

"We are deeply disappointed that the governments present here, after more than 3 years of intense work, could not reach a solution that will benefit whale conservation. In particular, the lack of sufficient flexibility shown by Japan to phase out its whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary prevented a decision from being adopted. Continuation of the impasse here may retain the whaling moratorium on paper, but unregulated whaling outside of IWC control, by Japan, Norway, and Iceland, will now be able to continue.

"We had hoped that for the first time since World War II, the waters of the Southern Ocean--the fragile waters off of Antarctica--would finally be free of high seas whaling vessels. The key reaching that positive outcome at this meeting was always in Japan's hands--and now only Japan can decide if the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary will exist in reality, or only on paper.

"This year has seen the failure of international efforts to guarantee the future of Atlantic bluefin tuna, several species of sharks, coral species, and now whales, at the CITES meetings earlier this year, and now IWC. Japan, the country with the most active role in defeating all of these marine conservation measures, is hosting the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity this October. The conference will give Japan the opportunity to finally reverse course and show leadership in marine biodiversity conservation."

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

As Interest In Backyard Poultry Grows, So Does Need For Healthy Birds

(NAPSI)-Raising "backyard poultry" has become increasingly popular all over the U.S. these days. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reminds both new and experienced poultry owners it's important to keep your birds healthy by practicing backyard biosecurity.

While "biosecurity" may not be a common household word, for poultry and bird owners it can spell the difference between health and disease. Practicing biosecurity can help keep disease away from farms and backyard pens and keep birds healthy. By using biosecurity practices, poultry owners can help reduce the chances of their birds being exposed to infectious poultry diseases such as avian influenza.

According to Dr. Fidelis Hegngi, senior staff veterinarian with USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, backyard biosecurity means doing everything needed to protect birds from disease--similar to what people do every day to protect themselves from human infections--essentially good hygiene.

"That's what protects us from germs-we wash our hands, avoid contact with people who have colds and flu, and we cover our mouths and noses when we sneeze," says Dr. Hegngi. "If you follow basic hygiene activities with your birds, you'll go a long way to keeping your birds safe from disease."

By taking a few simple steps, you can protect your birds. Dr. Hegngi recommends bird owners wash their hands thoroughly with soap, water and disinfectant before and after handling birds. When you're through working with your birds, disinfect your shoes and equipment. Cages, food and water should be cleaned daily. Poultry owners should remove feed from bags; place it in clean, sealed containers; and throw the bags away. Finally, bird owners should not borrow or share bird supplies. If they must, items should be cleaned and disinfected before being brought home.

Be sure to isolate new birds you bring in from your other birds for at least 30 days. You should restrict access to your birds, especially from people who own birds that are housed outside. Keep your birds away from other birds whenever possible.

Look your flock over regularly so you can watch for signs of illness or unexpected deaths among your birds. Report sick birds or die-offs to the local cooperative extension office, a veterinarian, State Veterinarian, State animal diagnostic laboratory or USDA Veterinary Services toll free at (866) 536-7593.

For additional recommendations, poultry owners are encouraged to visit the USDA's Web site at http://healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dog-Fighting DNA Database Breaks New Ground in Crackdown on Animal Cruelty

/PRNewswire -- The nation's first criminal dog-fighting DNA database has been established by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), The Humane Society of Missouri (HSMO) and the Louisiana SPCA (LA/SPCA), and will be maintained at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. Known as the Canine CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), the database is designed to help the criminal justice system investigate and prosecute dog fighting cases and address the growing problem of dog fighting using 21st century technology.

"Dog fighting is a multi-million dollar criminal enterprise that leads to the cruel treatment and deaths of thousands of dogs nationwide every year," said Tim Rickey, the ASPCA's Senior Director of Field Investigation and Response. "This database is an unprecedented and vital component in the fight against animal cruelty and will allow us to strengthen cases against animal abusers and seek justice for their victims."

Rickey, the former Animal Cruelty Task Force Director at HSMO, Kathryn Destreza, the ASPCA's Southeast Regional Director, Field Investigation and Response and formerly Director of Humane Law Enforcement for the Louisiana SPCA, and Dr. Melinda Merck, the ASPCA's Senior Director of Veterinary Forensic Sciences and the nation's premier forensic veterinarian, collaborated to create the database, working with Dr. Randall Lockwood, the ASPCA's Senior Vice President of Anti-Cruelty Initiatives and Training.

"This database will connect investigations across the country and internationally, creating multi-jurisdictional collaboration," said Ms. Destreza, who presented on the Canine CODIS at the recent Veterinary Forensics Conference in Orlando, Fla. "It's another tool we can use toward the elimination of dog fighting."

Dr. Merck, who testifies as a forensic veterinary expert for animal cruelty cases around the country, added, "Juries expect forensic science to support the evidence that's presented to them, and animal cruelty cases are no exception. This database breaks new ground in supplying that evidence for dog fighting investigations."

The Canine CODIS contains individual DNA profiles from dogs that have been seized during dog-fighting investigations and from unidentified samples collected at suspected dog-fighting venues. The HSMO provided the 400 original and initial samples of dog DNA collected from dogs that were seized last July during the nation's largest dog-fighting seizure ever, a multi-state raid led by Mr. Rickey that followed an 18-month investigation by federal and state agencies.

The database is similar to the FBI's human CODIS, a computerized archive that stores DNA profiles from criminal offenders and crime scenes and is used in criminal and missing person investigations. DNA analysis and matching through the database will help law enforcement agencies to identify relationships between dogs, enabling investigators to establish connections between breeders, trainers, and dog-fight operators. Blood collected from dog fighting sites will also be searched against the Canine CODIS database to identify the source.

"The Veterinary Genetics Laboratory has one of the largest sample databases in the world," said Beth Wictum, Director of the Forensics Unit of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory in UC Davis' School of Veterinary Medicine. "This is important for estimating the rarity of a DNA profile. The Canine CODIS database is unique because it includes many more DNA markers than are normally tested, and that provides greater power when calculating match probability or assigning parentage."

"When these cases come to trial, it's important to make your strongest case," she adds. "DNA evidence not only establishes links between owners, breeders, and dog fighting sites, it tells a story. We can tie blood spatter on pit walls and clothing, or blood trails found outside of the pit, to a specific dog and tell his story for him. We become the voice for those victims."

How the Canine CODIS Database Works

DNA samples from animals have been used in forensics investigations for over 15 years to help solve criminal investigations. In some cases, the animal may be related to the suspect, the victim or the crime scene. In other cases, the animal itself is the victim or perpetrator.

In dog-fighting investigations, the dogs' inner cheeks are swabbed to collect DNA in their saliva at the time they are seized. These swab samples are then submitted to UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory for DNA testing. Law enforcement agencies also collect DNA at suspected dog-fighting venues in samples of blood, saliva, tissue, bones, teeth, feces and urine. These unidentified DNA samples can be submitted to the laboratory at UC Davis for analysis and archiving in the database.

When an agency submits a sample to the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, the DNA is analyzed and the Canine CODIS database is then searched for corresponding DNA profiles. In the event the database search locates a match for the submitted DNA, the lab will notify both the agency that submitted the new sample and the agency that submitted the existing sample. The Canine CODIS database is only available to law enforcement agencies; analysis is part of the cost of testing.

Dog Fighting Statistics

Although there are no official statistics, the ASPCA estimates that there are tens of thousands of people involved in dog fighting in the United States. Dog fighting is a federal crime, as well as a felony offense in all 50 U.S. states. For more information, visit http://www.aspcapro.org/dog-fighting-faq.php.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Willie B. Conservation Center Closed at Zoo Atlanta

On Sunday, June 13, 2010, Taz, a 20 year old male silver back gorilla at Zoo Atlanta charged a glass barrier at the Willie B. Conservation Center resulting in cracks in the panel. Taz exhibited this behavior most likely because he had undergone a routine medical exam the previous day and was concerned about the presence of veterinarians in the viewing area. “Gorillas often associate their veterinarians as the ones giving vaccinations and can react nervously – much like many people do with a visit to the doctor or dentist,” said Dr. Hayley Murphy, Director of Veterinary Services.

The animal management and veterinary teams immediately initiated safety procedures by quickly evacuating the Willie B. Conservation Center and bringing the gorilla group (including Taz) into their overnight holding area. “World-class animal care and the safety of our guests and staff are of the utmost importance at Zoo Atlanta,” said Raymond King, Zoo Atlanta President and CEO. “We have many drills to prepare Zoo staff for various incidents and that preparation allowed us to safely return Taz to his secure holding area with no injuries to either the public or to the animal.”

The gorilla exhibit is designed with a moat barrier with electric wire between the yard and the public viewing areas. The Willie B. Conservation Center where the incident occurred has several glass viewing panels that allow guests an unobstructed view. Neither guests nor staff was ever in any danger.

Taz was born at Zoo Atlanta in July 1989 and is the son of Shamba (age 51) and Rann (deceased). His surviving offspring are Kali and Kazi (age 4, by Kuchi); Macy Baby (age 4, by Kudzoo); Gunther (age 3, by Sukari); and a newborn male infant (3 weeks old, by Kuchi).

The Willie B. Conservation Center will remain closed until repairs have been completed.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Iams Cat Food Recalled for Possible B1 Deficiency

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin is alerting cat owners to the Proctor & Gamble recall of some of its Iams canned cat food because of possible low levels of thiamine.

The company issued the recall of all varieties of 3-ounce and 5.5-ounce cans of Iams ProActive Health Cat and Kitten Food with the dates 09/2011 to 06/2012 stamped on the bottom of the cans. Diagnostic testing indicated that the product might contain low levels of thiamine, Vitamin B1. Cats fed these canned products as their only source of food could develop signs of thiamine deficiency.

Early signs of thiamine deficiency may include loss of appetite, salivation, vomiting and weight loss. In advanced cases, signs may include ventroflexion (downward curving) of the neck, wobbly gait, falling, circling and seizures. Contact your veterinarian immediately if your cat is displaying any of these signs. If treated promptly, thiamine deficiency is typically reversible.

Consumers who have purchased canned cat food with these codes should discard it. For further information or a product refund call P&G toll-free at 877-340-8826 (Monday – Friday, 9 AM to 7 PM EST).
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Friday, June 4, 2010

As Hurricane Season Starts, The HSUS Urges Americans to Include Pets in Plans

With The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other forecasters predicting a fierce hurricane season this June to November, The Humane Society of the United States urges coastal residents to take some simple – but critical – steps to keep their pets safe and healthy in the event of disaster. More than 35 million people, many of them pet owners, live in areas threatened by Atlantic hurricanes.

With pets in more than 60 percent of American households, weathering a major storm requires an evacuation plan that includes pets. If it isn't safe for you, it isn't safe for them. If you are ordered to shelter-in-place (not evacuate), bring your pets inside with you. Make sure you have adequate supplies.

The HSUS Animal Rescue Team has seen a rapidly increasing number of calls for disaster animal rescue assistance during the past few years — rescuing more than 10,000 animals from natural and man-made disasters in 2009. Pet owners can reduce their animals' chances of being at risk during a disaster by following the suggestions below.

Things you can do right now:

Put a collar with visible identification on your pets, including indoor-only pets.
Keep pictures of your pets on hand for identification purposes.
Create a pet emergency kit (see below) and refresh the items every few months.
Talk to your neighbors about how they can help your pets if you are not at home when disaster strikes.
Create a list of hotels that allow pets. Plan on evacuating about 100 miles inland.
Pet emergency kits should include:

Three-or-more-day supply of food in airtight, waterproof containers, and drinking water.
Bowls for food and water.
Current photos and physical description of your pets, including details on markings.
Medications, vaccination records and first aid pet supplies.
Comfort items such as a toy and blanket.
Small garbage bags.
For dogs include: leash, harness and a sturdy carrier large enough to use as a sleeping area.
For cats include: litter and litter box and a sturdy carrier large enough for transport and for your cat to use as a temporary "apartment" for several days.

A Zogby International poll after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast found that 61 percent of pet owners will not evacuate if they cannot bring their pets with them. In 2006, Congress addressed this issue by passing the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, which requires state and local emergency management agencies to make plans that take into account the needs of individuals with pets and service animals in the event of a major disaster or emergency. It is crucial that all pet owners reach out to their local government to understand their community's existing human and pet evacuation plans. 

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fall Alligator Hunting Season Set; Permit Opportunities Increase to 850

For each of the past eight years, the number of applicants wishing to participate in an alligator quota hunt continues to grow. In 2009, almost 6,000 hunters submitted applications.  Beginning this year, 850 applicants will be selected to participate – an increase of 150 permits – in the 2010 alligator hunting season which runs Sept. 4-Oct. 3.

“The alligator is a renewable natural resource that scientific data indicates can sustain a regulated harvest on an annual basis,” says WRD Assistant Chief of Game Management John Bowers. “This population stability creates additional flexibility in the areas that can be hunted and the number of animals available for harvest. This has allowed our agency to periodically increase the number of permits available while continuing to ensure the long-term conservation of the alligator population.”

Interested hunters must complete and submit a quota hunt application online at www.gohuntgeorgia.com before midnight July 31 (the application period opens June 1, 2010). Hunters receive their selection status by e-mail and those selected get a temporary harvest tag and information packet by mail in early August.

All hunters have the opportunity to attend a voluntary training session. During these sessions, wildlife experts provide information on safety, capture and handling techniques, processing and more.

Alligators General

In Georgia, alligators typically live south of the fall line (which roughly traverses the cities of Columbus, Macon and Augusta), occupying a variety of natural wetland habitats including marshes, swamps, rivers, farm ponds and lakes. Male alligators can reach 16 feet in length, while female alligators rarely surpass 10 feet. Large alligators could weigh more than 800 pounds. Opportunistic carnivores, they eat small mammals, aquatic insects, crayfish, frogs, fish, turtles, water birds and more.

For more information on the 2010 alligator hunting season, visit www.gohuntgeorgia.com , contact a WRD Game Management Office or call (770) 760-3045.

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