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Trapped Mountain Lions Plot Daring Escape From LA

Network of wildlife corridors planned to ease big cats’ genetic bottleneck

Earlier this month an obscure Los Angeles area regional public lands agency — the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority — announced the first stages of a five-year plan to build one of the largest wildlife corridors in the world. The goal is to create a natural looking bridge that will allow a small cougar population in the Santa Monica Mountain National Recreation Area the chance to escape north into much larger public lands, while at the same time allowing northern mountain lions the chance to move south and help out the badly inbred and lethally infighting Santa Monica cougars.

cougar cubPhoto courtesy of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation AreaAlthough a young female from the Santa Monica Mountains, P33, did successfully cross  Highway 101 in March this year, her escape north is a rare event.

The proposed bridge will leap over Highway 101, an eight-lane, east-west freeway in LA’s northern suburbs that sees 175,000 car trips a day. The bridge will be built at Liberty Canyon in the suburb of Agoura and when completed will be 200 feet-long and 165 feet-wide. It will be landscaped to blend in with the brushy hills, and sound walls along the edge of the bridge will “mitigate traffic noise and block light in order to make the crossing more conducive to wildlife,” says the project study report. The bridge will extend beyond the 101, reaching over an access road south of the highway, necessitating the construction of a tunnel. Estimated cost of the entire project: about $57 million.

Despite the report’s dull bureaucratic language — mountain lion sex is blandly described as “the exchange of genetic material“ — at its heart the proposed Liberty Canyon wildlife corridor represents an astonishing effort to reverse decades of suburban sprawl and fragmentation of the region’s surviving open spaces.

The campaign’s iconic poster boy is the famous “Hollywood lion,” also known by its wildlife ID number, “P22.” In 2012, P22 crossed two major freeways and migrated roughly 40 miles from the Santa Monica Mountains along the coast to Los Angeles’s 4300-acre Griffith Park on the city’s eastside. There he took up residence, feeding on the park’s mule deer, and soon became a national celebrity of sorts.

Cougar P22Photo by Crystal/Flickr P22, the only young …more

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By Protecting the Big, Famous Critters, We Can Preserve Biodiversity as a Whole

New paper says focus on charismatic megafauna has a positive ripple effect

For many years now, a debate has raged within wildlife advocacy organizations and among conservation biologists about whether the popular focus on charismatic megafuana distracts from the larger goals of protecting landscapes and preserving biodiversity. The argument goes like this: Big, often furry, and adorable-looking animals get all of the love and attention from the public and the media, while the needs of other critters fall by the wayside. For example, Cecil the lion gets shot and the Internet goes ballistic; meanwhile a slow and steady extinction crisis is hammering the world’s amphibians, and barely anyone notices. Often, the infatuation with charismatic megafauna isn’t good science, some critics say. A flagship species isn’t exactly a keystone species; if large, fuzzy critters disappear from their environments, the ecosystem doesn’t necessarily collapse.

giant panda on a tree limbPhotos courtesy of Duke UniversityThe researchers examined the Chinese government’s substantial investments in giant panda conservation and found that protection of that cuddly creature has a had positive ripple effect that benefits other species.

A new study released today in the journal Conservation Biology offers a rebuttal of sorts to the now-common critique of species-focused conservation. Duke University researcher Stuart Pimm and a Chinese colleague, Binbin Li, examined the Chinese government’s substantial investments in giant panda conservation and found that protection of that cuddly creature has a had positive ripple effect that benefits other species. The panda has become a kind of “umbrella species”: In trying to protect the panda, the Chinese government has established a network of nature reserves that are also home to many other threatened or endangered amphibians, birds, and mammals. “Investing in almost any panda habitats will benefit many other endemic [species],” the paper concludes.

“The obvious questions is: Does it do good for other species [to focus on charismatic megafauna]?” Professor Pimm said to me in an interview Wednesday. “That’s exactly why we did this study — it’s exactly to answer that question. And it's a very good question. For someone like me who is concerned about biodiversity as a whole, we wanted to address the issue. … The answer broadly is that it protects a lot of other species, it protects biodiversity broadly.”

deerBlue sheep are among several species that have benefitted from habitat …more

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Letter from the Shores of the Salish Sea

OR: What I witnessed on my summer vacation — fire and drought in the Pacific NW

As we came in for a landing at the small airport in Bellingham, Washington, I could tell that something was wrong. The landscape appeared unfamiliar to me. The pastures and fields that surround the small city just south of the US-Canada border looked faded: not the soft green, or even yellow, of late summer, but something closer to brown or beige. The view of Mount Baker was even more disconcerting. The glacier atop the peak had shrunk noticeably, and the skirts of ice were closer to the summit than I had ever seen them before. This did not seem like the place I had long known.

Haze SunsetPhoto by Jason MarkAs the sun dropped to the horizon, the haze thickened, turned the sunset into something you’d expect in the desert Southwest: thick bands of burnt orange, and the sea like a puddle of pink

I’ll admit that the scene wasn’t exactly a surprise. I had read the reports about the Pacific Northwest’s hot, dry summer — the freakishly long stretch of 90-degree days without any rain. On Twitter, I had watched the posts from Seattle go from delighted to dire as the heat wave stretched into weeks. I knew that Washington’s governor had declared a drought emergency in several countries, and I had heard about the wildfires on the Olympic Peninsula. Fires even in the rainforest — it was a bad omen, everyone agreed.  

Still, there’s nothing like seeing something for yourself. A few hours after landing, I took a short walk in the woods and was shocked by what I found there. The forest, I could tell, was suffering. The sword ferns were prostrate, as if they’d been ironed flat by the heat. Many of the bracken and the lady ferns were dead or dying. The hemlock, fir, and cedar that form the region’s iconic plant palette showed no obvious signs of stress, but the big leaf maple clearly were in bad shape. Their leaves had turned yellow or brown, and many had already dropped to the forest floor. It looked as if autumn had arrived ahead of schedule.

Washington’s unofficial nickname is “The Evergreen State.” Looking around the weirdly arid northwest woods, I had to wonder if “forever” has a half-life, too.

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In Mexico’s Guerrero State, a Battle Is Underway between Indigenous Communities and Drug Cartels

An inside look at the conflict between Native Peoples and narcotraffickers in Mexico's most dangerous state

Mexico’s southwestern Guerrero state is home to the nation’s highest murder rate, and it’s where 43 student teachers went missing last fall. As is the case in many parts of Mexico, the violence is tied directly to the drug trade. In Guerrero, the dry, cool climate of the Sierra Madre del Sur – the mountain range the runs through the heart of the state – provides ideal conditions for poppy cultivation. At least 60 percent of all opium and heroin produced in the country comes from the remote region. The fallout from so much black-market activity is predictably deadly: More than a half-dozen cartels are currently engaged in vicious turf wars for control of valuable trade routes and production centers in Guerrero.

This article is part of our series examining the Indigenous movement of resistance and restoration.

Guerrero’s largest Indigenous group, the Nahuas, maintains a strained, love-hate relationship with the drug trade. Traditionally, the Nahuas have grown staples such as corn and avocados, but low market prices and poor transportation routes make illicit crops increasingly attractive. For many indigenous farmers, planting poppies and harvesting the sticky goma (gum) is the only means to escape desperate poverty. Meanwhile, other Native communities have banded together to fight narcotics production and trafficking at the source. They’ve armed themselves as best they can and have taken the law into their own hands in an attempt to establish a degree of security and human rights that the Mexican government either can’t – or won’t – provide for them.

I was recently invited to visit one such Indigenous-based security group: the United Front for Security for Security and Development of Guerrero (FUSDEG). The following photos provide a vivid look into the lives of Indigenous communities on the front lines of Mexico’s drug war.

photo of a man working poppiesAll photos by Jeremy Kryt. Click or tap this photo or any other to view larger.
A farmer extracts opium gum from his poppy plants, high in the Sierra Madre del Sur in Guerrero state. The goma, which is produced by the bulb at the center of the flower, can be harvested every three to four months. A single kilo of …more

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Conversation: Michael Preston, Winnemem Wintu

I first met Michael Preston, a war dancer, Indigenous rights activist, and son of Winnemem Wintu chief Caleen Sisk, in 2008. Back then he was a student at UC Berkeley, and was in the process of evolving into a fierce advocate for his people. The Winnemem Wintu, one of the several Wintu-speaking tribesphoto of a young man, lived for thousands of years in Northern California’s McCloud River watershed. Archeologists estimate the tribe once numbered close to 14,000. Today their population has been whittled down to about 125. The Winnemem lost most of their land during the Gold Rush and through construction of the Shasta Dam in 1945. The only land the tribe now owns is a 42-acre village near Redding, where about 33 tribal members live.

The Winnemem are currently embroiled in a protracted battle against the federal government’s proposal to raise the Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet – a retrofit that they say would submerge or damage many of their remaining sacred sites. Their efforts are hamstrung by the fact that the federal government doesn’t recognize the Winnemem as a tribe. This limits their legal standing to oppose the project and also deprives them of many other cultural and economic rights and privileges granted to tribes recognized by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

I recently spoke again with Preston, now 31, about the Winnemem Wintu’s quest for federal recognition and the various challenges facing his tribe and their ancestral lands.

When did you make a decision to become a public advocate for your people?

I was born into it. I was born into some of these things that are going on – with Mount Shasta and them trying to develop ski resorts and my people fighting against that. I went to a lot of meetings growing up, and kind of naturally fell into it; I always thought I was going to help later on in life. I didn’t start getting into it really, though, until I moved to the Bay Area and started attending rallies and different protests and learning “the ways of the activists.” I had always fought for my people, but now I’m starting to become a leader. It’s time to make things happen.

When did you start connecting with …more

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The Human Rights Era of Federal Indian Law:  The Next Forty Years

The human rights of Indigenous peoples must be restored

Today we stand on the brink of a new era of US federal Indian law, the human rights era. For more than four decades, Indigenous advocates have been operating under a policy of Indian self-determination. When first announced in 1970, this policy represented a decisive break from destructive practices of the past, and ended years of government termination, assimilation, and paternalism of Indian tribes. However, the self-determination framework is now outdated. Although it is protective of Indigenous rights, it is also tainted by nefarious doctrines derived from the law of colonialism that have anti-Indigenous functions. Native America cannot reach the Promised Land under this approach.

Yellow Bird Apache Dancers Perform in Human Rights Council Chamber at UN Meeting on Rights of Indigenous PeoplesUS Mission Photo by Eric BridiersYellow Bird Apache Dancers perform in Human Rights Council Chamber at UN Meeting on Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2011. The 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples defines the obligations of nations toward their Indigenous peoples and provides guidelines for interpreting and implementing the standards.

Among federal Indian law’s many shortcomings, the most debilitating is the fact that it is currently bereft of the human rights principle. In this shortcoming, Indian law is unique. The human rights principle can be found throughout American history, and deeply informed the Bill of Rights, the abolitionist movement, the slavery debates, the Civil War, the women’s movement, and the civil rights movement of the twentieth century.

Human rights precepts have also been used extensively by the courts throughout judicial history. Unfortunately, while federal courts are conversant with human rights, federal Indian law is not. Indian law is a strangely amoral body of law that stands in stark contrast to the profound commitment to remedial justice found elsewhere in American legal culture. When wrongs to Indians and their rights are concerned, the federal courts don the robes of the “courts of the conqueror,” to borrow Chief Justice John Marshall’s language in 1823 in Johnson v. M’Intosh, and they cannot resort to “principles of abstract justice” nor engage in debates about morality when defining Indian rights. This remained the Supreme Court’s stance for the rest of the 19th century, during which time the Court insisted that justice had no place in formulating the foundational doctrines of federal Indian law.

This …more

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There’s No Hierarchy in the Family of Living Things

An excerpt from Voices in the Ocean: A Journey Into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins by Susan Casey

“Ah, these dolphins are sick. They’re really sick.” Makili examined the Kokonut Café photos I’d shot, scrolling through them on my camera. He looked up. “They saw you taking these?”

“Maybe they did,” I said. “But they were face-down by five o’clock. We got away clean.”

tourists at a dolphinariumPhoto by Armin Rodler Tourists get to hang out with dolphins at The Palm Jumeriah in Dubai. The Solomon Islands were notorious among conservationists as a source of live dolphins for sea aquariums in China and Dubai.

“Yeah,” Turner agreed. “That kava must be pretty strong.”

We sat on Turner’s boat in the early evening, drinking yet more Solbrews. It was my last night here, so Turner had invited Makili and me over for dinner. We lounged on the bow, accompanied by Turner’s Portuguese water dog, Sal.

I wasn’t the only one leaving. Turner planned to weigh anchor in a few days and Makili had a flight in the morning to Ghizo, an island in the Solomons’ western province. His fiancée awaited him there, and he had unfinished dolphin business in the area as well. He had referred to this before—and I knew there was something personal in the account— but now I asked him for the entire story. “Ah, nobody cares about it,” Makili said, shaking his head.

“Yes we do,” Turner said. “Do you need another beer?”

Makili chuckled. “One thing I want to tell you. Don’t ask a Solomon Islander if they want a beer. Just give one. They’ll drink.”

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Leaning back against a red buoy, Makili began his tale. Not long before I came to Honiara, he had learned that a village on Kolombangara Island, Ghizo’s next-door neighbor, had captured a pod of bottlenoses. “They have a cove,” he explained. “It’s much bigger than Gavutu. The dolphins swim in naturally, that’s what they do. Now the villagers have realized that dolphins are worth a lot of money. This dolphin trade business—they’ve heard about it. So when this pod came in they closed off the entrance. And they held them there for almost a month, captive. When I heard about that, I straight away went down there.”

Makili arrived at Kolombangara and found 14 dolphins, only half alive. Others had …more

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