Toxin Kills Endangered Birds

  • A poisoned seagull on a Lake Erie Beach. Type-E botulism is spreading up the food chain and killing birds on the endangered species list. (Photo by Lester Graham)

A toxin that has killed tens of thousands of shorebirds throughout
the Great Lakes is back. Type-E botulism is spread up the food
chain by invasive species. And as Bob Allen reports, the toxin
recently killed four birds on the endangered species list:

Transcript

A toxin that has killed tens of thousands of shorebirds throughout
the Great Lakes is back. Type E botulism is spread up the food
chain by invasive species. And as Bob Allen reports, the toxin
recently killed four birds on the endangered species list:


There are just 60 pairs of piping plovers known in the Great
Lakes. Many of them breed along the shores of Lake Michigan.


Wildlife officials protect nesting plovers by putting up fences to
keep predators away, but they can’t keep the tiny shorebirds from
eating insects as they skitter up and down the beach. The insects
can pass on Type E botulism to the endangered birds.


Biologist Ken Hyde says the toxin gets into the food chain
through fish – primarily round gobies – that feed on algae and the
invasive zebra and quagga mussels.


“Yeah, we’ve got some pretty good evidence that it’s this cycle of
the algae and then the mussels and the gobies feeding on them
and then primarily gobies coming to the surface that our native
water birds are feeding on.”


Wildlife officials expect to see a lot more dead shorebirds as
the summer progresses.


Type E botulism is not a threat to humans.


For the Environment Report, I’m Bob Allen.

Related Links

Could Humans Get Chronic Wasting Disease?

  • A deer wasting away from Chronic Wasting Disease. (Photo courtesy of Michigan's Department of Natural Resources.)

A disease that infects deer and elk has been alarming wildlife officials and hunters for years. But now it seems the disease could be more dangerous than previously thought. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley reports:

Transcript

A disease that infects deer and elk has been alarming wildlife officials
and hunters for years, but now it seems the disease could be more
dangerous than previously thought. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Christina Shockley reports:


Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, affects the brain tissue of deer and
elk. Sponge-like holes form in the brains of sick animals. The deer
begin to waste away, become weak, and then die.


Since CWD was discovered in Colorado nearly forty years ago, wild deer
in nine other states have tested positive for the disease. Little is known
about CWD – including how to stop it.


What scientists do know is that the infectious proteins-called prions –
thought to cause CWD are found in the brain and spinal cord areas of
infected animals, but officials still don’t have the answer to the big
question.


Judd Aiken is a professor of Animal Health and Biomedical Sciences at
the University of Wisconsin.


“The ultimate question is whether venison from infected animals, CWD infected
deer, poses a risk to humans. Clearly the first question that needed to be
asked and addressed was whether there was infectivity in muscle.”


Recent findings say there is.


Researchers at the University of Kentucky injected muscle from an
infected deer into the brains of genetically altered mice. The mice
displayed signs of CWD. This is the first time the infectious proteins
blamed for CWD have been found in deer meat.


The finding raises questions about whether eating venison is safe.
Researchers including Aiken say the study is important, but has limits.
For example, he says it doesn’t replicate what would happen in real life.
Plus, he says it’s probably unlikely humans can even get CWD. He says
studies suggest it’s difficult for the disease to jump to other species. Still,
he urges caution. Hunters should get the meat tested before they eat deer
from an area where CWD has been found.


“I, in no way, can advocate the consumption of infected deer, and indeed,
I would suggest due to the limitations of the CW tests, I don’t advocate
the consumption of deer obtained from a CWD endemic area.”


Even if the test comes back negative, Aiken says a negative result isn’t
always accurate, and infected animals in the beginning stages of the
disease can look and act normal.


(Sound of sporting goods store)


John White is a deer hunter from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He’s in the
hunting section of a nearby sporting goods store. White isn’t too
concerned about Chronic Wasting Disease.


“Not a whole lot of people are worried about it. I mean, when it first
came out, some people were a little leery about it and didn’t want to hunt
that year, but they kinda got over it. I’m not really worried about it being
in the meat at all, because by the time the test comes back I’ll probably
have the deer eaten already and then it’s already too late.”


State wildlife officials say… that’s not a good idea. They recommend that
if you hunt deer in areas where the disease has been found, get the deer
tested before eating it. That message hasn’t changedā€¦ since learning the
prions could be in the meat. Some argue… it should change.


John Stauber is with a government watchdog group in Wisconsin, and
is co-author of “Mad Cow USA: Could the Nightmare Happen Here?”
He says officials are keeping quiet about the risk of CWD so they don’t
lose revenue from hunting licenses.


A large portion of state conservation agency budgets are dependent on
fees from hunting licenses. He says all deer that die should be tested for
the disease. Stauber also says CWD is a major human health concern.


“The biggest risk might not be the people who would die from
eating venison, but rather, the people who would die from the
contamination of the blood supply. This is a problem that would unfold
not in days or months or years, but even over decades.”


Stauber says it’s just a matter of time before Chronic Wasting Disease
spreads to peopleā€¦ he says some might even have the disease already,
and not know it.


But researchers like Judd Aiken from the University of Wisconsin say
people shouldn’t over-react.


“People should be concerned, but I don’t want people to panic, either. If
you think you may have consumed venison from infected animals, I don’t
think it’s likely that you’ll ever develop a human prion disease.”


But, Aiken says there’s too much we don’t know about the disease, and
since studies can take years to complete, we might be in the dark for a
while longer.


For the GLRC, I’m Christina Shockley.

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Poachers Snared by ‘Robo-Deer’

Deer hunting season is coming to an end across the region. But some people keep shooting deer despite the laws telling them not to. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Syth reports, these poachers might want to pay close attention to what they’re shooting at:

Transcript

Deer hunting season is coming to an end across the region, but some
people keep shooting deer despite the laws telling them not to. As the
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Syth reports, these poachers might
want to pay close attention to what they’re shooting at:


Wildlife officials throughout the region are using robotic deer to catch
poachers. The deer’s head and tail move by remote control. When a
hunter attempts to shoot the deer, wildlife officials move in.


Robo-deer are made from polyurethane foam and real hide. The latest
version is known as the “Stomper.” It retails for 17-hundred dollars, and
comes standard with a stomping front leg.


Brian Wolslegel is owner of Custom Robotic Wildlife, Incorporated. He
says these deer definitely work.


“Some guy was telling me about a guy that shot a decoy. They took his
gun, fined him – I think it was $2,000 and moved their operation a mile down
the road, and two hours later the same guy came back and shot at it again with
a different gun.”


Conservation officials in Wisconsin report that one robo-deer can rack up
to 30-thousand dollars in collected fines for the state.


For the GLRC, I’m Erin Syth.

Related Links

Bears Cause a Scare in Midwest City

  • Alison Clarke shows how high the bear in her yard reached. Her bird feeder is more than 8 feet tall. Photo by Chris Julin.

The black bear population is growing throughout the upper Great Lakes region. Most of those bears live where you’d expect – in the woods. But now, a few bears have decided to move to town. And that’s making some people anxious. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Julin has this report:

Transcript

The black bear population is growing throughout the upper Great Lakes region. Most those bears
live where you’d expect – in the woods. But now, a few bears have decided to move to town.
And that’s making some people anxious. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Julin has
this report:


Alison Clarke lives in northern Minnesota in the city of Duluth. She has big windows that look out on her
backyard. There’s a pair of binoculars on the dining room table. And there’s a list of birds she’s
seen in the yard. Actually, she has more than birds on her list.


“Let’s see. March 16th was the first observation of bears this year. Grabbed the neighbors’ suet
that was hanging out there. That was probably the 300 pound or so sized one.”


Alison Clarke records a bear sighting every two or three days – sometimes in the middle of the
afternoon.


(sound of outdoors)


Out in her yard, she points to a bird feeder sitting on top of a wooden post.


“It’s eight and a half feet from the ground to the base of the feeder. The largest bear that we’ve
known can reach with its claws and nose up to the base of that feeder.”


This is the middle of town, but the yards are full of pine trees. Creeks and rivers wander all
through the neighborhood on their way to Lake Superior. And they make great thoroughfares for
bears. Bears have always walked through Duluth – on occasion. Now, about 10 bears have taken
up permanent residence in town.


Alison Clarke is on the lookout for bears. She keeps her garbage in the garage. She doesn’t leave
her windows or her sliding door open unless she’s nearby. But one time she walked around the
corner of her house and came face-to-face with a mother bear and her cubs.


“They’re not going to eat me, but if I were to surprise them, it’s
a significant potential danger.”


The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources put a trap in the yard a couple years ago. They
didn’t catch anything. The bears are so wise to the ways of people that one of them would stick
his head in the trap to check out the bait, but he never stepped into the cage.


So Alison Clarke wants the city of Duluth to get rid of the bears that live in town. That means
killing them. The Department of Natural Resources says there’s nowhere to relocate the bears.
Minnesota’s woods are full of bears. And besides, they say bears come right back if you catch and
release them.


Some people in the neighborhood want the bears removed. Some of the neighbors want the bears
left alone. And some of them aren’t sure.


(sound of Kirstin & Kyra)


Kirstin Peterson is digging in the garden with her four-year-old daughter, Kyra. They don’t come
out in the backyard after dusk. And Kyra isn’t allowed to play in the yard alone.


“I’m conflicted. I don’t know if I want the bear to be killed by humans just because we’ve entered
their territory. Or I’m not sure if they’ve entered ours. (Kyra: “Bears are scary.”). When it comes
to threatening my child, I get to be myself a mother bear. (Julin: “So what do you want to have
happen?”). For it to go away (nervous laugh).”


That probably isn’t going to happen. Martha Minchak is the state’s wildlife manager in Duluth.
She says the bears are comfortable in the city. She says the state will bring in professional
trappers to catch bears that are persistent trouble-makers – but that’s a last resort.


“If we do have really chronic problems, where folks have tried everything else they can do to
clean up the situation – remove the bird feeders, gas grills, pet food, that kind of thing – and the
bears continue to come back, then we’ll try to get the contract trappers out wherever we can set up
the traps and try and remove some of these bears.”


Last year in Duluth, a bear took a swipe at a 10-year-old boy on a bicycle. Martha Minchak says
people are lucky that no one’s gotten hurt yet. She wants the city of Duluth to bring in sharp-shooters, or have an archery hunt. But she says state and city budgets are so tight that nothing
like that will happen this year.


City hall is getting some phone calls about bears, but the city has no plans to take any action.


Some bear activists from Minneapolis are planning a workshop in Duluth. They want to
demonstrate guns that fire bean bags, and other “non-lethal” methods to chase bears away. State
wildlife managers say they’ll go to the workshop, but their number one priority is to get people in
Duluth to lock up their garbage and pet food and quit tempting the bears.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Chris Julin.

Whoopers Make Spring Migration

A test flock of whooping cranes is winging its way north from Florida to Wisconsin this month. That makes wildlife officials who are trying to restore the flock very happy. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Transcript

A test flock of whooping cranes is winging its way north from Florida to Wisconsin this month.
That makes wildlife officials who are trying to restore the flock very happy. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:


The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is setting up the only migrating flock of whoopers in
the Eastern U.S. Almost two dozen birds are taking part and wildlife officials hope to teach
flying skills to another 20 crane chicks this summer.


Beth Goodman is whooping crane coordinator at the Wisconsin Department of Natural
Resources. She says the numbers show the experiment is on track.


“It underscores we set a goal that seems reasonable, and our goal is establishing 25 breeder pairs
and 125 migrating birds in the eastern migratory flock by the year 2020.”


The whooper was at its greatest danger of extinction sixty years ago when there were only 15
birds counted in the wild. The new flock already has exceeded that number. Goodman says one
of the tougher tasks this year will be raising enough private money to keep the project going
strong.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.

Cougars Still Stalking the Region?

For many years, state and federal wildlife officials have considered the cougar extinct in the Great Lakes region. However, many people claim to have seen the large predatory cat long after it supposedly disappeared. Conservationists debate whether these sightings are real and if they are, they wonder whether the cougars are wild or merely escaped pets. Investigations are underway in many states, including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and in Canada. Now, a wildlife biologist in Michigan says he has proof that a breeding population of wild cougars is living in the Upper Peninsula. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Gretchen Millich reports: