US Fish and Wildlife Service relies on taxonomical shenanigans to appease wolf haters
The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent announcement that it is beginning the process for removing gray wolves across the country from the protection of the Endangered Species Act surprised no one. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s mid-1990s reintroduction of gray wolves — a species virtually extirpated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries — into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho marked a triumph for conservationists and ranks as one of the most striking fulfillments of the Endangered Species Act. But as I have reported here and here, the wolves quickly met enemies.
Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service
By the early 2000s a loose coalition of hunters’ groups, outfitters, and ranchers — along with the many disaffected men embracing militia groups, local “sovereignty” and states rights, particularly rights to use public lands without federal regulation — coalesced around the idea that wolves represented icons of the hated federal government. The wolves, they all-but-screamed, constituted lethal threats to deer and elk, livestock, and ultimately, people. The long, bitter wolf war reached its climax in the summer of 2011, when Congress took the unprecedented act of removing the wolf populations of the Northern Rockies from the endangered species list. In May 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service, weary of the many problems involved in wolf management (or, rather, public relations management), delisted gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes states, where some 4,400 wolves resided. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming subsequently initiated hunts and the use of government marksmen to reduce wolf numbers from around 1,700 to a much lower level.
The FWS’s proposed delisting of gray wolves across the country is simply the continuation of the agency’s long retreat in the face of wolf hater intimidation. Still, it’s important to understand how the FWS legitimizes its abandonment of wolves. A close examination of the FWS’ proposed rule change is a case study in the politicization of science. The FWS report excels at cherry picking, choosing certain scientific studies while rejecting others. It’s also an excellent example of bureaucratic hand-waving, simply dismissing long established facts whenever they become inconvenient. The final result is like a weird game of …more
To save reefs we need to first fix the quality of our air and water
In June 2012 author and illustrator Liz Cunningham visited the Turks and Caicos Islands – a tiny crescent of windblown, handkerchief-sized coral islands just north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic – to research her upcoming book on ocean conservation, Ocean Country. While she was there, she witnessed a dramatic coral bleaching event in less than a week's time. That month NOAA documented record-breaking temperature highs for the North Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. This excerpt, from the chapter “The Truths of the Islands,” describes what Cunningham experienced.
I loved mornings, the metallic clank of dive gear being attached to aluminum tanks, the thwap-thwap air-bursts of regulators expelling air when tested, the roll call on the boat. Each diver’s named was called out, followed by a loud and bold answer, “Here!”
The dive boat chugged out into the sleek waters of Grace Bay to a site called Boneyard. Oh, I loved that place! I remembered how a year before, we’d motored out on a calm August day. The water was so crystal clear that when we leaned over the bow we could see the contours of the ocean bottom.
I sat on the upper deck of the boat and remembered the last time we were there, just the week before. It was a series of deep sand channels, densely populated with finger and staghorn coral. The finger coral were shaped like protruding stubby thumbs and the staghorn coral, like the large antlers of a deer. Hence its name, Boneyard.
The degree to which it teemed with life was staggering. Each cluster of coral colonies ranged from 20 to a 100 “thumbs” and “staghorns,” densely packed together. That coral armature gave the fish what seemed like infinite possibilities for spawning and resting and hiding. It was like some ancient and intricate Italian city, with streets that kept branching into smaller and smaller, narrower and narrower ones. And each street had its own intricate micro-life, a hidden bistro with no sign out front, a vespa-repair shop, an art gallery, a gelateria, a bustling grocery store, laundry strung across a narrow walkway.
It was hard sometimes to even fully see the coral mounds, because …more
Northern spotted owl and Pacific fisher succumbing to rat poison used by illegal marijuana farms
The story is what you could call, um, an evergreen: As folks have reported here, here and here, illegal marijuana farms on public lands in California often cause serious environmental damage. Tresspass growers, as they are called, have been known to clear cut forest groves, trash wild areas with irrigation equipment and human waste, and use large amounts of chemical pesticides. Now illegal pot growers are being blamed for another environmental impact – killing rare species like the Pacific fisher and the northern spotted owl through their indiscriminate use of rat poisons.
Marijuana growers who operate in remote areas have a serious pest problem. Rats and other rodents, it seems, like to eat cannabis plants, especially when they’re young and tender. Here’s how Terry Klemetson, the news director of Humboldt County’s KMUD radio, explains it: “When people grow weed, the baby plants are tasty and yummy for rats and they just try to eat them.” Growers who cultivate pot for the state’s legal medical marijuana dispensaries don’t have to worry about this as much, since their operations are usually secured behind fences. The illegal growers who operate in the backcountry, however, often have their plants out in the open. “In the wildlands and on public lands, the growers out there aren’t on private property, so there aren’t fences out there,” Klemetson says.
To protect their plants, the trespass growers rely on vast quantities of rodenticides. But the rats aren’t the only victims. Wildlife often ends up as collateral damage. According to an organization called Wildcare, the rodenticides also kill or sicken a long list of birds and beasts. Wild rodents such as opossums, skunks, and raccoons often take the bait and die. Raptors or other carnivores that prey on mice and rats often die from eating animals that have consumed anti-coagulant rat poisons. That list includes grey foxes, barn owls, Cooper’s hawks, red tail and red shouldered hawks, and great horned owls.
“This is super lethal stuff,” says Lisa Owens Viani, co-director of an Earth Island Institute-sponsored project called Raptors Are the Solution that is trying to bring attention to the dangers of anti-coagulant rat …more
Move indicates a growing understanding that cetaceans are ‘nonhuman persons’
The Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests’ decision to ban dolphin captivity within India has been making waves around the world. The unprecedented decision is particularly significant because it reflects an increasing global understanding that dolphins deserve better protections based on who – rather than what – they are.
The decision, outlined in a circular released by the Central Zoo Authority, states that because dolphins are by nature “highly intelligent and sensitive,” they ought to be seen as “nonhuman persons” and should have “their own specific rights.” It says that it is “morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purposes.”
"This opens up a whole new discourse of ethics in the animal protection movement in India," Puja Mitra from the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO), the group leading the campaign to ban dolphinariums in India, said after the environment ministry announced its decision last month. The move came after months of protests against a proposed dolphin park in the southern state of Kerala and plans for several other marine mammal parks in other parts of the country.
Animal welfare groups have long been arguing that dolphins ought to be considered nonhuman persons, but to many people the concept of personhood remains unclear. It is therefore useful to understand precisely what personhood implies, why it is featured so prominently in the Indian announcement of a ban on dolphinariums, and how it is increasingly relevant within discussions of cetacean welfare.
The concept of nonhuman personhood is grounded in the distinction between who and what. These two broad categories encompass everything on (and off) the planet – humans are persons (who), while things (what) include all nonhuman life and all inanimate objects, from bacteria to monkeys to stars.
As Dr. Thomas White explains in his book, In Defense of Dolphins (2007), for something to be classified as a person, it is recognized as having certain characteristics, such as self-awareness, emotions, cognitive complexity, and other attributes we associate with humans. Having these characteristics means that the organism has basic needs that must be satisfied in order for it to live a fulfilled, healthy life, and that when these needs are not met, it results in suffering. Society bestows certain rights unto persons in order …more
Greens can learn a lot from the successes of missionary religious movements
Since the early years of the environmental movement, some voices within the movement have pointed out that fighting power plants, dams, deforestation, mining, and roads is a game of defense, one that can never be won. As the late environmentalist Peter Berg used to say, such fights are “like running a battlefield aid station in a war against a killing machine that operates just beyond reach, and that shifts its ground after each seeming defeat.” In the 30 years since Berg uttered those words, this reality has only gotten worse. The killing machine has grown in size and power; meanwhile the environmental movement has mostly failed to evolve its tactics to go on the offensive.
It is time (long past time, in fact) to create a deeper environmentalism – one that can provide a vision of a sustainable future in which human well-being is achieved while restoring Earth’s biocapacity. This will mean an environmental movement that crafts a multi-century strategy, not just annual campaign goals; that doesn’t go hat-in-hand every year to foundations and affluent individuals whose wealth is derived from the very system that needs to be torn down; that builds community and fellowship among its supporters. We need a movement that can take some lessons from the most successful movements in history: missionary religious philosophical movements.
Missionary religions have rooted themselves across a variety of geographies, eras, and cultures, and today have billions of adherents. Religious philosophies offers something fundamental that the environmental movement has so far failed to provide: a way to understand the world and humans’ place in it, as well as how to behave in that world. Just as important, religious movements build committed communities of adherents – celebrating together, mourning together, sharing with and helping each other – and draw their resources and power directly from these communities.
Why haven’t environmentalists done the same? We need to create and then communicate ecophilosophies that offer humanity an ethical code to live by. We need to provide an explanation of suffering (theodicy in religious terms). And we must be able to …more
Communities with strong ethics of the commons most resilient to disasters
Following the hugely destructive earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, communities along Japan’s northeastern coast faced a major challenge of social organization: People who had lost everything needed to decide, often together, how to rebuild. They had to work through complex issues of property rights, urban planning and emotional connection to the land. Some communities quickly came to a consensus about what to do, but others – particularly those in urban areas – remain divided more than two years later.
Why the gap? Hokkaido University sociologist Taisuke Miyauchi believes the answer has to do with what scholars call “the commons”: resources belonging to the community as a whole rather than being controlled by an individual, a corporation, or a government body. Shared grazing land and fishing grounds are classic examples of commons. But information, air, water, and language can fit the definition, too (or at least the contemporary version of it).
Miyauchi studied a group of fishing hamlets in Kitakami, Miyagi prefecture whose residents had a long history of cooperatively managing fishing grounds and seaweed beds. Although the tsunami nearly obliterated the hamlets, residents smoothly and quickly reached a consensus on how to rebuild. Meanwhile, a number of urban neighborhoods that lacked commonly managed resources became mired in disagreement over the reconstruction. Miyauchi argues that the community cohesion created by managing the commons was critical in helping the fishing villages bounce back from the tsunami.
There’s a bigger lesson here, especially as the globe enters the era of climate change: Communities with a strong ethic of the commons will likely be more resilient to the impacts of extreme weather and natural disasters.
That may be an oversimplification, but at a international conference where Miyauchi presented his research last week, academics and policy-makers offered many other examples of how common property systems help people overcome disaster. The research is particularly relevant because land grabs and resource exploitation by multinational corporations continue to errode commons around the world, destroying a key source of resilience just when we need it the most.
“In an unpredictable environment, the complex of commons, livestock, and agriculture provides stability,” says Rahul Chaturvedi of India’s Foundation for Ecological Security. The organization was involved in a 2010 study of how 3,000 households in 100 villages throughout India use …more
Canadian oil producers seeking to expand existing pipelines to get tar sands oil to the US market
The battle over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline continues to rage as both sides dig into their strategic playbooks for the Hail Mary pass that might tip the contest in their favor. The stakes, of course, are high. The multi-billion dollar project would see hundreds of thousands of barrels of diluted bitumen piped every day from Alberta across the border into the United States and to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.
Each side’s arguments are well known by now. Pipeline supporters promise jobs and North American energy security. Environmentalists warn of a climate change time bomb and oil spills, and argue that now is the time to end reliance on fossil fuels altogether and commit to a renewable energy future.
As the Keystone battle continues to grab all the attention, Canadian oil producers are quietly seeking to expand existing pipelines so they can boost exports to the US and other countries.
There is no shortage of new pipeline and pipeline expansion projects in development. The projects are in various stages – from initial concept phase to application process to those close to approval. Combined, the proposed projects would, if completed, dwarf Keystone XL in terms of how much petroleum they would move.
Houston-based Kinder Morgan is seeking to triple the amount of crude oil that currently moves through the 60-year-old Trans Mountain pipeline that runs from Alberta to British Columbia. The $5.4 billion expansion would pump 890,000 barrels per day from the tar sands mines to an expanded Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, BC. (Keystone XL, by comparison, would move 830,000 barrels daily.) Once it reaches the ocean, the crude would have to be placed on oil tankers to get it to markets in the US or Asia. According to The Council of Canadians, approval of the Kinder Morgan project would "add up to 360 oil tankers per year in the Burrard Inlet and the Strait of Georgia.” Last week Kinder Morgan filed preliminary plans for the expansion; a formal application will be filed later this year with Canada's National …more