Northern Spotted Owl

NSOs are competing for territory and sometimes breed with the much more adaptable Barred owl, so this species is a part of the program's studies as well. Here, a Barred owl gets a gentle check-up. 

NSOs are competing for territory and sometimes breed with the much more adaptable Barred owl, so this species is a part of the program's studies as well. Here, a Barred owl gets a gentle check-up. 

I discovered The Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program on Instagram when we continually "hearted" each others' posts. Shortly thereafter I began a dialog with this beautiful group of people in Langley, BC. Their mission is to bring the Northern spotted owl back from the brink of extinction. NSOs are one of three subspecies, including the Mexican and California spotted owls. There are only 20 left known in the wild. 

Life History and Reproduction: 
Northern spotted owls are monogamous and usually mate for life. Each pair of spotted owls needs a large territory of its own for hunting and nesting. Nests are often constructed in snags (dead standing trees) that have hollows large enough for the owls. Females lay eggs in early spring, and the males bring their partners food while they brood the young.

Conservation Status: Northern spotted owls were federally listed as threatened in 1990. Unfortunately, the old-growth forests preferred by the owls are also preferred by the timber industry. Once a forest is logged, it can take decades to grow back to the level at which it can sustain northern spotted owls. Therefore, management plans have been put into effect to protect some of the northern spotted owl’s habitat (National Wildlife Fed).

Lesson Learned: 
Approximately 36 football fields worth of trees are lost every minute. An estimated 18 million acres of forest, which is roughly the size of the country of Panama, are lost each year (United Nations' Food and Agriculture Org). Not only does deforestation mean the loss of hundreds of wildlife species, but it is also one of the main contributing factors to climate change. So what can we do in our everyday life to help counter this problem?
Beginner Level: Plant a tree. Go paperless/plasticless and buy recycled products. Look for Forest Strewardship Council (FSC) on wood and wood products.
Intermediate Level: Follow and donate to the Northern Spotted Owl Program. Volunteer at similar wildlife rescue and conservation groups. 
Expert Level: Eat vegetarian meals as often as possible. Aside from the timber industry that provides us with wood and paper products, most deforestation in Northern America is due to clearing land for livestock. In addition to this, livestock accounts for 14% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. That is roughly equivalent to emissions from the transportation sector (Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations, 2013).

It's Not Easy Being Green

After working with Christina Akins, Wildlife Specialist at Arizona Game & Fish, in conjunction with The Phoenix Zoo's head-starting program for the Chiricahua leopard frog, I learned a lot about our amphibian friends. What I found most interesting is that frogs have permeable skin- they can exchange liquids and gases through their skin. Because of this, frogs are what biologists call an indicator species, meaning we can tell what is happening with water and air quality by how well frog populations are doing.
So how are frog populations doing? 

Quoting the World Wildlife Planet Report for 2016: Freshwater habitats are challenging to conserve as they are strongly affected by the modification of their river basins as well as by direct impacts from dams, pollution, invasive aquatic species and unsustainable water extractions. Further, they often cross administrative and political boundaries so they require extra effort for collaborative forms of protection. Several studies  (Collen, et al., 2014; Cumberlidge et al., 2009, the freshwater LPI 2016) agree that on average the abundance of populations monitored in the freshwater system has declined overall by 81 % between 1970 and 2012. That's an average annual decline of 3.9%.

My photoshoot with the charming Chiricahua leopard frog. 

My photoshoot with the charming Chiricahua leopard frog. 

"Cowabungaaa!"   Akins releasing the federally threatened Chiricahua leopard frog in Southern AZ.

Akins releasing the federally threatened Chiricahua leopard frog in Southern AZ.

When we hear discouraging news like this, I hope the next question is "Why?"  
The most common threat to declining populations is habitat loss and degradation. Freshwater habitat loss because of humans can occur through direct intervention, for example through excavation of river sand or interruption of a river’s flow. But it can also occur through indirect effects. For example, deforestation can increase river sediment load, leading to more erosion of the river’s bank (Dudgeon et al., 2006) with subsequent changes in the water quality and flow.
For amphibians, invasive species and disease represents the second most prevalent threat after habitat loss. It is cited as a threat in 25% of cases, potentially reflecting the impact of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a species of fungus responsible for chytridiomycosis, a disease of amphibians. This pathogen is implicated in the steep decline or extinction of more than 200 species of amphibians (Wake and Vredenburg, 2008) and threatens many more (Rödder et al., 2009). Furthermore, the rapid global spread of the disease has been linked to climate change (Pounds et al., 2006). The amphibian trade is likely to have contributed to the original spread of the pathogen (Weldon et al., 2004) and can still facilitate introduction into new regions (Schloegel et al., 2009).

Lesson Learned:
I want to leave you with something real you can do to help our environment in connection with what I learned from these frogs.
Beginner level: Do not release aquatic life into the wild. Do not collect or move aquatic life you find in the wild. 
Intermediate Level: Donate or volunteer for a wildlife or conservation group. I have linked some groups I trust here
Expert Level: Stop using pesticides and purchasing products grown with pesticides. Freshwater habitats – such as lakes, rivers and wetlands – account for only .01% of the world’s water and covers approximately .8% of the Earth’s surface (Dudgeon et al., 2006). But it provides a habitat for almost 10% of the world’s known species. Everything that goes into the earth, goes into the water. It is impossible to poison just one or two species. We are all connected.