Friday, February 24, 2017

Declining birth rate signals uncertain future for North Atlantic right whales

            Just three North Atlantic right whales were born this winter, a precipitous decline in its birth rate that has scientists concerned for the future of one of the rarest whales on Earth. With four whales killed by human causes last year, the birth rate is now below the mortality rate, signaling a population decline from which the animals may have difficulty recovering.
            The endangered whales give birth off the coast of Georgia and northern Florida, and the three calves born this winter is the lowest total since 1999. An average of 24 calves were born
Right whale mother and calf by Cynthia Browning
each year during the 2000s, and the average for the 2010s had been 13.
            “We had an increasing trend from 1982 to 2009, when we had a record 39 calves born, but since then it’s been going in the other direction steeply,” said Robert Kenney, a marine mammal expert at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography who manages the sighting database for the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium. “I’m more worried about the animals than I was the first time we had a drop in calf numbers in the 1990s.”
            The prior decline quickly reversed itself, but Kenney doesn’t see the present decline in birth rate improving any time soon.
            “The most obvious reason for the decline is that something has disturbed the predictability of their food supply,” Kenney said. “There’s something about the warming water or the timing of the spring plankton bloom or something else – the food is just not where the whales expect it to be in the abundance and concentrations they expect. They still go to their traditional feeding grounds, but they don’t stay because the food isn’t there.
            “They’re spending more time hunting for food, and looking for food is energetically expensive because they have to travel,” he added. “The more they travel, the more chance they have of running into fishing gear and becoming entangled.”
            Entanglement in fishing gear is the leading cause of mortality for right whales, followed by ship strikes.
            According to Kenney, the decline in the right whale birth rate can be directly attributed to the extra energy the animals must exert looking for food.
            A healthy female right whale gives birth every three years, he said. They are pregnant for a year, they nurse their calf for a year, and they take a year to recover and regain their fat stores so they can become pregnant again.
            “But if she can’t get find enough food to put on that fat, she’ll skip a year,” Kenney said. “So that resting period between pregnancies gets longer as they become more and more energy stressed.”
            In recent years, female right whales have doubled the interval between pregnancies from 3-4 years to 6-7 years, which lowers the overall birth rate.
            “Survival and mortality haven’t changed,” said Kenney. “The change in their population trajectory is because of a decline in the birth rate. Not enough babies are being born to replace those that are dying.”
            Scientists believe that only about 524 right whales are known to exist, up from about 400 a decade ago, but Kenney said the population has declined slightly in recent years.
            “With the way the climate and oceanography is changing, we don’t know if the population can adapt to it and rebound,” he said. “They’ve adapted multiple times through their history, so they might be able to do so again. But before, they weren’t getting drowned in fishing gear and run over by ships with the same frequency.”
            Mortality from ship strikes is no longer increasing, despite significant growth in the shipping industry, thanks to regulations imposed in 2008 requiring ships to decrease their speed to 10 knots in areas where the whales are known to spend time during certain periods of the year. Just one right whale per year, on average, is killed by being struck by a ship.
            About four or five right whales are known to die each year as a result of becoming entangled in fishing gear, however, and it’s likely that others die but are not recovered.
            “If a healthy right whale is killed by a ship, it floats and is apt to wash up on a beach, so we know about it,” Kenney explained., “But when a whale becomes entangled, it often takes a long time to die – they starve to death or eventually succumb to their injuries – so they are much more likely to have lost much of their fat and they sink and we never know about it.”
Despite years of fishing regulations aimed at limiting whale entanglements, mortality rates have not declined. Four out of every five right whales have scars from being entangled at least once.
            “There is nothing we can do in the short term about the changes in the ocean affecting the whale’s food supply. We can only stand by helpless and watch it happen,” Kenney said. “Where we can make a difference is on the human mortality side of the equation. We really need to get a handle on entanglements. It’s happening way too frequently.”
            Unfortunately, Kenney said, the future looks bleak for right whales.
            “Given the expectation that changes in the ocean are going to be continuous and are going to get worse, the handwriting could be on the wall.”

This article first appeared on on February 24, 2017.

Rhode Island birds in peril from climate change

            During a quiet mid-winter walk through Audubon’s Fisherville Brook Wildlife Refuge in Exeter, Scott Ruhren pointed out evidence that numerous creatures were still active despite the cold, evidence that would have been easy to miss if he hadn’t been paying close attention. A mouse had scampered across the trail and drew a straight line in the fresh snow as it dragged its tail. A deer had dug into the leaf litter beneath towering white pines in search of acorns or vegetation to nibble on. And a yellow-bellied sapsucker had recently drilled holes in the bark of a red pine, hoping for a meal of sap.
            Ruhren, Audubon’s senior director of conservation, then noted a small group of chickadees calling in the distance, followed by the tapping sound made by a hairy woodpecker, and the distinctive nasal yank-yank call of a white-breasted nuthatch.
            The nuthatch, a common backyard bird dressed mostly in gray-blue and white plumage, may no longer be so common in a few decades. In fact, it may even disappear from much of
White-breasted nuthatch
Rhode Island during the breeding season by the last quarter of this century. And the same is true of the hairy woodpecker, which is already an uncommon species but one that birdwatchers in Rhode Island can usually find in the state’s abundant forests. If these species do disappear from the Ocean State in summer, the cause will likely be climate change.
            That’s the prediction made in a 2016 report by the National Audubon Society, which found that 314 bird species in North America – including 50 that call Rhode Island home for at least part of the year – will experience a shrinking and shifting of their breeding and wintering ranges, threatening nearly half of the country’s birds. Using data from hundreds of thousands of bird observations and a sophisticated climate model, the report predicted how bird populations will react to the changing climate. And the results were grim.
            The white-breasted nuthatch, for instance, which is now found throughout most of the U.S. and Canada, is predicted to lose 79 percent of its summer range by 2080. It will no longer breed anywhere in the South and in few places in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic States, except at high elevations in the Appalachian Mountains. The woodpecker is also expected to lose more than three-quarters of its breeding range. The reason, in both cases, is that the climatic conditions in which they prefer to breed – along with much of their preferred breeding habitat – will shift northward considerably as the Earth continues to warm. And that’s expected to be true for hundreds of other bird species as well, threatening many of them with extinction.

            The changing climate, due largely to a build-up of carbon dioxide and other gases contained in industrial emissions, is expected to cause dramatic changes to the global environment. And it’s already happening. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Rhode Island has already warmed more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, and extreme precipitation events are on the rise. What’s more, sea level has already risen more than 9 inches since 1930, faster than the global average, and it is projected to increase another 1 to 4 feet by 2100.
            These changes are certain to lead to considerable damage to the human built environment, as homes and businesses become flooded, destroyed by storms, or fall into the sea as the coastline erodes. The impact on wildlife, especially migratory birds, will be equally devastating.
            Shifting and shrinking ranges aren’t the only impact that local bird populations will experience, however. According to ornithologist Charles Clarkson, who serves on the ASRI board of directors and coordinates the Rhode Island Breeding Bird Atlas, the changing climate is already causing what he calls a “phenological mismatch” between birds and the food they need to survive and reproduce.
            “Birds go through an annual cycle of carefully timed events – when they breed, when they molt, when they migrate – which defines their phenology,” he explained. “The timing of these events is set by environmental cues that are now rapidly changing.”
            Most birds feed on insects, he said. Because they are cold-blooded, insects emerge and become active each year based largely on the temperatures in the local environment. Birds, on the other hand, are warm-blooded and rely more on daylight length to trigger migration. But what happens when warming temperatures change the timing of the emergence of insects in Rhode Island and the birds wintering far to our south don’t get the message? Those birds may show up too late to take advantage of the insect abundance they need to fuel their breeding activities.
            Clarkson said that short-distance migrants, like American robins and red-winged blackbirds, which mostly winter in the southern U.S., are probably able to fine tune the timing of their migration by picking up on local environmental cues. As a result, many of these species are arriving on their breeding grounds in Rhode Island earlier and earlier.
            “They’ll be better able to acclimate to the more variable temperature regime, since they don’t move huge distances during the non-breeding season,” he said. “They’re able to shift the timing of migration so they’re not behind the curve on temperature and insect availability. They’re predicted to do better in the face of climate change.”
            But long-distance migrants that winter in Central and South America will find that more difficult. They’re too far away to realize when Rhode Island is experiencing a warm winter or spring and shift the timing of their migration accordingly.
            “If those birds are still en route to Rhode Island and miss the peak abundance of insects or fruiting and flowering plants, then they’ll be met with energetically expensive things like nest building, egg laying and feeding young but won’t have the energy to accomplish these things,” Clarkson said. “They’ll be out of step with the resources they rely on.”
            He points to the cerulean warbler as a prime example. The population of this elegant Neotropical migrant is declining throughout its breeding range in the Great Plains, Midwest and
Cerulean warbler
Northeast, and studies have shown that its reproductive success is tied to the abundance of soft-bodied caterpillars.
            “We know that the caterpillar bloom is coming earlier each year,” he said. “Knowing that they are so tightly tied to that resource, some of their population decline could be attributed to this phenological mismatch.”
            Those bird species that succeed in avoiding the mismatch may actually benefit if they extend the length of their breeding season by a week or two by arriving earlier and departing later, providing them with greater opportunities to raise their broods.
            A 2011 study by University of Rhode Island ornithologist Peter Paton, a member of the ASRI board of directors, found that some birds are already delaying their southbound migration in response to the changing climate. Based on data from birds captured between 1960 and 2007 at the Kingston Wildlife Research Station – which is owned by ASRI and operated by URI – he found that half of the short-distance migrants he analyzed and 38 percent of the long-distance migrants had delayed their migration by an average of 3 days per decade.
            Beyond the warming temperatures and the concurrent shifts in bird ranges and migration timing, climate change is delivering other climate anomalies that are placing bird populations at additional risk. Melting glaciers and the thermal expansion of warming waters is causing sea levels to rise, for instance, reducing shoreline habitat and flooding salt marshes where numerous species have already been dwindling in number due to the loss of nesting habitat. (This topic will be examined in greater detail in the next issue of Audubon Report.) And the increasing severity of storms, particularly in the summer, has the potential to destroy a wide range of habitats and cause nesting failures from strong winds and heavy rains.
            “Hurricanes come during biologically active periods of the year, so they have more of an impact because they happen during the breeding season and can wipe out entire nesting seasons,” explained Clarkson. “They can also destroy nesting habitat in one fell swoop that may be critical for the successful breeding of particular species. That habitat loss could be more damaging to a bird population than the failure of one nesting season.”

            Back at Fisherville Brook, which protects the headwaters of the Queen River and encompasses an impressive variety of habitats, Scott Ruhren continued to point out signs of wildlife activity, like beaver dams, turkey tracks and the frozen vernal pools where wood frogs and spotted salamanders breed each spring. He also noted the numerous bird houses scattered around the property that provide nesting sites for bluebirds, tree swallows, purple martins, American kestrels and other species.
As he did so, he explained the important role that Fisherville and all of the other Audubon refuges play in mitigating climate change and supporting the needs of the region’s birds as they strive to adapt to the rapid changes.
            “The most obvious thing we’re doing is managing the habitat where the birds live,” he said. “Without that habitat, there would be no birds.”
As a major landowner and land manager in the state, Audubon – through its refuges – helps to store carbon and other greenhouse gases by managing healthy forests and other ecosystems, reducing the buildup of the gases that are causing the climate to change. And the Society’s numerous wetlands not only protect biodiversity but also mitigate flooding during extreme storm events, which are expected to be more frequent in the years to come.
            “Wetlands act like kidneys by taking in large quantities of water and then slowly releasing it,” he said. “During big storms, they may get flooded, but the water quickly recedes without causing damage. Wetlands also filter out contaminants that may accumulate from roadway run-off.”
            Managing invasive species at Audubon refuges will also be increasingly important as the climate warms, particularly since few invasive plants and shrubs provide beneficial food or habitat for native birds.
            “We know that poison ivy thrives in an enhanced CO2 environment and creates super poison ivy plants,” Ruhren said. “The same is true of other pest species. We’ll continue to work to reduce the impact that these species have on the environment and our bird life.
            “Our eyes are also opening to what else to expect from climate change,” he added, “and we’re prepared to take whatever steps are necessary.”
            Although it may feel that there is little an individual can do to reduce the effects of the changing climate, Charles Clarkson says there are steps that all of us can take to help birds manage the changes they are facing.
            “Birds have three energetically expensive periods in their lives – molting, migrating and breeding,” he said. “Providing them with the resources to make any or all of those periods less costly is exceptionally important for a bird.”
            Offering food to birds throughout the year helps them to have the necessary energy to molt and grow better feathers, which translates into a more efficient migration. Providing nest boxes, nesting materials, protection from predators and safe areas to raise their chicks reduces the energy they need during the demanding breeding season. In addition to maintaining bird feeders, Clarkson recommends planting native plants that provide food, cover and nesting materials; removing invasive species that compete with native plants and provide little value to wildlife; and managing your property for a diversity of habitat types.
            “These are all things that will make the life of a bird easier,” he said. “Whether it translates into an easier breeding season or an easier molting period is irrelevant. If you can reduce their energy budget at any time in their lifecycle, you’re giving birds a leg up during these changing times and helping them be more successful.”
            It’s the least we can do.

This article first appeared in Audubon Report in February 2017.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The bird feeding conundrum

We are often encouraged to refrain from feeding wild animals because they quickly lose their fear of humans and begin to view people as sources of food. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s newsletter Wild Rhode Island recently made the point that feeding wildlife does more harm than good. And they’re right, of course.
            People who feed coyotes, for instance, are helping to increase an already abundant population of the animals and making them behave in unnatural and unpredictable ways, sometimes placing people and pets in harm’s way. The same is true when we leave our trash cans uncovered and accessible to bears, raccoons, skunks and other mammals. They can become a serious nuisance.
            When these animals find suburbia – and even urban areas – to their liking, they are much more likely to become roadkill or be legally killed as nuisance animals. So feeding wild animals clearly does little to benefit them.
            But what about feeding songbirds in our backyard? Why does it appear to be less of a concern when the wildlife we are feeding has wings and feathers rather than fur and four legs? An entire industry has even sprung up to support those, like me, who enjoy attracting and feeding the wild songbirds that live in their neighborhoods.
            Some communities around the country have enacted ordinances against feeding birds to discourage them from becoming a nuisance or from attracting pests like rats. But other than prohibiting the feeding of waterfowl for health and safety reasons, Rhode Island hasn’t taken that step.
The appropriateness of bird feeding is a question I’ve pondered quite a bit lately – and not just because I only recently discovered how much I was spending. But I haven’t yet taken down my feeders, and I probably won’t.
An informal survey of several biologists I know raised modest concerns about bird feeding.  They noted that songbirds that come to feeders are at greater risk of death from accidentally flying into windows; they can more easily spread diseases when birds congregate at feeders; and bird-eating hawks find feeders an easy place to grab a meal. The biologists also questioned the nutritional value of the food we offer. But not one advised against bird feeding in winter, and all of them maintain bird feeders in their own yards.
            A recent analysis of the issue by Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology found clear benefits to feeding birds. Based on 30 years of data from its Project FeederWatch citizen science program, researchers found that almost all of the regular feeder visitors, like cardinals, chickadees and downy woodpeckers, are quite common and their populations are healthy. If feeding them were harmful, the opposite would likely be true.
            Unfortunately, those bird species that are in most need of conservation action are species that seldom, if ever, come to bird feeders – mostly insect-eating birds that migrate to the Tropics in winter. So while feeding them may not be harming your backyard birds, it also isn’t helping those that need it most.
            But that’s not a reason to avoid feeding songbirds. Maintaining bird feeders is one of the easiest ways to remain connected to the natural world. And those who feed birds often become interested in other wildlife and environmental issues, which ultimately leads to more support for conservation programs. That’s exactly how I got started writing about wildlife.
            So grab a bag of sunflower seed and share it with your backyard birds this winter. Although they don’t really need the supplemental food to survive, they’ll probably appreciate the free buffet. 

This article first appeared in the Independent on February 16, 2017.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Carving out a career

Before Al Jordan was the preeminent bird carver in the Northeast; before his carvings were worth thousands of dollars and he’d won top prizes at the most prestigious wildlife art exhibits, there was just a boy, and his brother, and his dad watching birds on a picture-book autumn day.
“We’d sit on lookouts and watch hawks fly by,” he recalled. “What hooked me was when my brother and I were playing on the boulders at Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania while my dad
was counting birds, and a pair of golden eagles soared 20 feet above us. We just sat there as they watched us. Those birds could have easily dropped down and carried us away.”
He’s been attracted to raptors ever since.
As a young man, Jordan spent 15 years as a volunteer at a bird banding station along the shores of Lake Ontario, helping to capture and place identification bands around the legs of hundreds of hawks, falcons, and eagles.
“I’m a raptor guy,” he said of his favorite birds. “They’re at the top of the food chain, the boss, the king; they’re powerful, majestic, mighty. But they’re still very fragile animals.”
Jordan pursued a culinary career and worked as an executive chef at private country clubs for 25 years. In his off hours, to relieve stress, he carved wood. He carved his first bird when a friend commissioned a bufflehead decoy – a black-and-white diving duck. That carving went on to win every competition in which it was entered. It also set him on a new path in life, one that allowed him to eventually quit his day job and devote himself full-time to bird carving.
For Jordan and most other professional bird carvers, the days of using a sharp knife and
sandpaper to create life-like birds are ancient history. Today, almost everyone uses high-tech power tools with diamond bits that Jordan says remind him of the equipment used in a dentist’s office. He carved that first bufflehead decoy with one knife, but almost every bird he’s worked on since then has been carved with power tools.
His wood of choice is black gum tupelo, a southern species he obtains from a favorite vendor in Louisiana, where he says the best tupelo comes from.
“It’s a very soft wood, softer than pine, but it’s also very strong,” Jordan said. “It grows so slowly that its grain is very close together, which is what makes it strong. And it lends itself to power tool carving.”
He typically purchases a truckload of tupelo at a time, enough to last for several years, and he selects particular pieces that appeal to him. “I want the grain to be very close; I want the wood to be light weight; and when looking at it from the end, I want little or no curvature in the grain,” he said. “I want the grain to run straight through the wood, which makes it stronger and easier to carve.”
He collects other wood, as well – especially maple burls and cherry, both of which he uses as the bases of his carvings and for other elements in his compositions.
Although he describes himself as a bird carver, Jordan said that every project involves three very different art forms: the creative composition and design, including tree branches, leaves, and what the bird will be mounted on; the wood carving and sculpting; and the painting of the finished carving, a skill he learned as a child from painting his father’s collection of miniature metal soldiers.
Jordan begins the carving process by sketching the profile of the bird on one side and the overhead view of the bird on the top of a square block of wood. He then uses a band saw to roughly cut the shape. “At that point you basically have a square bird, but if you can see into the wood you can see where you’re going,” he said. “From there it’s a matter of rounding the corners to turn it into a three-dimensional object.”
The length of time required to complete a carving depends on both the size and detail desired in the finished product. If it’s going to be what Jordan calls a “slick” – a smooth figure without individual feathers carved – he can usually carve and paint it in about three days. “But to do the same bird in the same pose and have it highly decorated with every feather carved and all the details, that could take me two months,” he said.
This past winter and spring Jordan focused on the completion of a life-sized, short-eared owl that he entered into the Ward World Carving Championships. It placed third best in show in the master division, but took first place at several other competitions. Rarely, though, does he get this opportunity to carve something of his choice, as most of his work is done on commission or as part of carving classes he teaches.
He spends about half of his time teaching – either week-long classes of up to a dozen people or one-on one sessions that can last as long as two weeks. He typically polls the class members to determine what species they want to carve, and he carves the same bird right alongside them in order to demonstrate each step of the process.
One of his most popular carving classes takes place annually in Lake Placid, New York, and 80 percent of the students return year after year. Recent class carving projects have included carving a miniature great horned owl and a life-sized merlin. Jordan also regularly instructs a group from Canada that visits his studio for two days every month. They’re currently working on a screech owl. He is also finishing a red tailed hawk, which is the basis of a book he is writing about bird carving.
In addition to his work in the classroom and in his studio in Rochester, New York, Jordan frequently serves as a judge at carving competitions and exhibits his work at shows around the Northeast, all of which builds word of-mouth about his artwork and helps to market his carvings.
Years of carving and banding birds has yet to satisfy his interest in raptors, so Jordan has also become a master falconer. He owns three hawks that he takes out to fly and hunt every day during the falconry season. He says the intimate relationship he has developed with his birds is complicated. “For the bird, the relationship is all about food. They don’t care about you or love you or miss you. But I view it like any other pet owner, even though they’re not pets. I have a strong bond with them, and the feeling I get when they’re in action in the wild is really unbelievable.”
Although Jordan said that his time banding hawks along Lake Ontario helped to learn about bird anatomy, which improved his carvings, he admits that his falconry has played an even greater role.
“My carving is vastly improved since I became a falconer, mostly because I have birds in hand constantly and I can pick up nuances within feather groups and I can translate that to my carvings, even when I’m not carving raptors,” he said. “But, ultimately, my passion is for all things birds – carving them, looking at films of them, painting them, it doesn’t matter. I have a passion for the animal.”

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Rhode Island's list of rare plants grows

            The official list of Rhode Island’s rare and endangered plants has been updated for the first time in a decade, and the picture is somewhat grim. A total of 81 species were added to the Rhode Island Natural Heritage Database – bringing the total to 414 – and 13 from the previous list were found to have disappeared from the state entirely.
Conversely, several species thought to have been extirpated were rediscovered, and a handful of others were found to be less rare than earlier surveys had indicated.
            “Things are changing rapidly with the climate, and there is ongoing development pressure that affects plants,” said David Gregg, executive director of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, which played a key role in updating the database. “New observations are being made all the time that change our opinion of the relative rarity of species.”
Purple milkweed
            The Natural Heritage Database categorizes rare plants as either endangered, threatened or of special concern in the state, and a fourth category called “historic” indicates those species that once grew in the state but are no longer present.
            Among the plants added to the database in the recent update are trumpet honeysuckle, a species common in the horticultural trade but which has declined in the wild; Canada dwarf-dogwood, also called bunch berry, which has struggled due to warming temperatures; and yellow blue-head lily, a northern species found more commonly on the mountain slopes of Vermont and New Hampshire.
            Orchids are in especially dire straits in Rhode Island. Seven orchid species were added to the database, including yellow ladies’-tresses, large whorled pogonia, and north wind bog-orchid. Of the 36 species of orchids native to the state, 33 of them are now on the rare species list, and 10 of those are considered historic. The only orchids native to Rhode Island that are not on the list are the pink lady slipper and two kinds of rattlesnake plantain.
            “Orchids are always rare on the landscape, but they’re also eaten by deer – they’re apparently really tasty – and they have very specific pollinator relationships and habitat specificity that make them at risk,” said Hope Leeson, a botanist for the Natural History Survey who participated in updating the database. “We’ve talked about adding the pink lady slipper, but it hasn’t made the list yet.”
            Leeson said that many of the changes to the database were the result of increased efforts by a large number of volunteer botanists like Rick Enser, Doug McGrady and Francis Underwood spending time searching for particular species. A population of waxy-leaved meadow-rue was discovered by volunteers in Westerly, for instance, and purple milkweed was found in West Warwick and South Kingstown. Both species had been considered historic but have been moved to the endangered category.
            Among the 10 species that volunteers were unable to find and, as a result, are now considered historic are lily-leaved wide-lipped orchid, dwarf burhead, three kinds of sedge, and budding pond weed, an aquatic plant that requires pristine water quality to survive.
            Just three species were removed from the list because their population status in the state improved. Five others moved down the list from endangered to threatened or threatened to concern because they were found to be in less danger of extinction than previously believed. One of those, tall beaksedge, is considered a conservation success story because it benefitted from active monitoring efforts and habitat protection.
            “We debated moving other species off the list entirely, but part of our reluctance was that even though we may have found more populations, they are still at risk from things that are going to continue happening in the future – climate change, habitat fragmentation, deer browse,” Leeson said. “Those are impacting rare species, and since rare species have such a specific habitat type that they have an affinity for, if you lose the habitat you lose the species.”
According to Gregg, the database is used in decisions by state and local environmental officials about land management and conservation, and by regulators and developers when properties are being considered for development. For instance, applications for permits to disturb wetlands must include a list of rare species found on the property. And electric utilities often seeks information about rare species found on their transmission corridors as they make upgrades to the power lines.
            Many groups and individuals were involved in the process of updating the list, including representatives from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Audubon Society of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Wild Plant Society, and the New England Wildflower Society. The updated list was included in the state’s 2015 Wildlife Action Plan, which was reviewed by scientists and the public and approved by DEM in late 2016.
            The database of rare animals in Rhode Island is in the process of being updated and should be completed by the end of the year.

This article first appeared on on February 12, 2017.