The Przewalski’s horse has rebounded from near extinction. There were once only 12 of these pony-sized wild horses remaining in the entire world. Even just a few years ago, all the existing Przewalski’s horses lived in captivity, and the species was listed by the IUCN as “extinct in the wild.”
Now, thanks to a captive breeding program, there are over 2,000 of them worldwide, with about 350 living in the wild in Mongolia. These little horses are the last truly wild horse species in the world. The American mustang and other well-known “wild horses” are actually feral rather than wild — they descended from domesticated horses that got free and chose to live in the wild rather than go back to captivity.
The Przewalski’s horses are not out of the woods. There are concerns about their survival in the age of climate change should Mongolia begin to experience unusually harsh winters. And it is possible that they may interbreed with feral horses, diluting their bloodline so that they would no longer be a distinct species. But the Przewalski’s horse seems to have avoided the biggest threat to species recovering from near-extinction — a lack of genetic diversity leading to inbreeding and health problems.
More good news from northern Colorado! I recently posted a story about the return of wild bison to Colorado for the first time in over a century. Now, 30 black-footed ferrets, an endangered species once so rare that only 18 of them remained in the wild, have been returned to a 1,300 acre prairie dog colony north of Fort Collins.
They will join the over 500 other ferrets that have been reintroduced into the wild since they almost went extinct in the 1960s. They are still critically endangered, but they are on the rebound!
A century ago, Norway’s forests were overharvested and on the decline after centuries of logging for firewood and timber (much of it exported to other European nations). Now, the forest has three times the trees it did 100 years ago, and Norway’s annual tree growth offsets 60% of its carbon emissions (as trees are nature’s best carbon dioxide filters). How has Norway accomplished this? By smart forest planning.
The nation harvests only 50% of its annual tree growth each year. This means that the forests are increasing in size. New policies such as preventing livestock from grazing in harvested areas, which prevents regrowth, as well as an aggressive tree-planting scheme, have contributed to the success.
Challenges remain. Critics complain that Norway is not managing its forests for biodiversity, but is treating them like tree plantations instead. Only a very small percentage of Norwegian forests are protected in national parks and so forth. In addition, far northern climates like Norway’s are among the fastest-warming in the new global climate era. It remains to be seen how well Norway’s trees will adapt to a warmer climate.
This is my favorite kind of story — when wildlife are allowed to return to habitats they used to live in before being hunted nearly to extinction. Last week, on National Bison Day, 10 bison were reintroduced to northern Colorado, where they haven’t roamed free for more than 150 years.
The National Wildlife Federation worked to bring brucellosis-free bison to a 1000-acre parcel of open space owned by the city of Fort Collins and Larimer County. Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that can cause female bison to miscarry. Because it is possibly transmissible to domestic cattle, ranchers have long fought the reintroduction of bison in areas where their cattle might come into contact with them. The 10 bison released in Colorado last week were bred using a new technique that should guarantee they are free of brucellosis. The eventual goal is to have a herd of hundreds of bison roaming about 10,000 acres. Bison from this large herd could go on to repopulate other areas or provide fresh bloodlines to other bison herds.
Only a few bison were left in the U.S after the herds of 30 million were reduced to just a few individuals by the late 1800s. Ten bison is just a small start, but someday large herds could roam parts of Colorado again.
I recently wrote about the Pacific Northwest’s endangered orca baby boom. Last time I checked, the Puget Sound orca population (off the Washington coast) had welcomed six newborns, with all appearances indicating that more female whales are pregnant. Woohoo! But, not to be too much of a downer, orcas need salmon to thrive. And salmon can’t thrive without free-flowing rivers and good habitat for breeding.
For over 10 years, the federal courts have ordered federal agencies to consider tearing down four dams in particular that are preventing the recovery of the salmon population in this area. These four dams block the lower Snake River. If they were removed, it would be a great help to the endangered salmon.
The really nice HuffPost article linked below tells you everything you need to know about this issue.
The Peninsula Open Space Trust is working with a really great organization called Rediscovering Horses to restore habitat and reduce wildfire risk, while providing a healthy life for unwanted horses. Capitalizing on horses’ natural herding instinct, land managers can direct them with movable fencing to graze on overgrown or poor-quality range.
By eating up invasive species or overgrown brush, the horse herds participate in ecological restoration. Unlike cattle, horses have evolved to eat and thrive on what might be considered “low-quality” forage, like weedy or woody plants. It’s a win-win!
The Columbia Land Trust has made significant headway toward removing an eight-mile road along the banks of southern Washington’s Klickitat River. Part of the Columbia River watershed, this river is being restored to provide better salmon habitat under the direction of the Yakama Nation Fisheries agency.
Thanks to many years of hard work by the Sonoma Land Trust, 1000 acres of farmland are being restored to tidal marshes. This land, bordering the San Francisco Bay, was historically marshy but was drained and converted to farmland over 100 years ago. Now, in an effort to create habitat and further buffer the landscape from sea level rise, more and more former marshes are being returned to their natural state.
The video shows the first step: breaching the levee so the ocean can rush in to fill the tidal basin. Next step: revegetation and restoration. Future plans include adding a new segment of the Bay Trail along the old levee top and incorporating the property into the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
This is great news for birds, marine life, and nature lovers!