Conservationists say delisting could push apex predator species back to the brink of extinction
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has drafted a plan to remove federal protection for grey wolves across most of the country — a move that would be a grave setback to nearly two decades of efforts to restore wolf populations in the United States.
Photo by courtesy USFWS
Earlier this month, in an effort to reach a compromise on the federal budget, House and Senate legislators added a bipartisan proposal to remove Endangered Species Act protection for grey wolves in most of the lower 48 states. The only exception, reports the LA Times, is a small cluster of about 75 Mexican grey wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. If passed, it would mean individual states would have to manage their wolf populations.
Environmental and wildlife conservation groups are dismayed, but not totally surprised, by the proposal. “There seems to be an all out war on carnivores in the last few years,” says Sharon Negri, director of Wild Futures, an Earth Island Institute project that works on carnivore and ecosystem protection. Negri, who’s been working with conservation groups across the country since the 1980s, says the proposal has more to do with politics than sound wildlife management. She says environmentalists haven’t yet managed to penetrate the “iron triangle” — a nexus of state and federal wildlife management agencies, state fish and game commissions, and hunters and anglers. “It doesn’t allow for a democratic decision-making process; our point of view is not considered,” she says.
In some ways the USFWS proposal seems an extension of the Congress’ February 2011 delisting of grey wolves in the northern Rockies from the Endangered Species Act protection, leading to renewed wolf hunts in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming even before the species had completely rebounded. (Read, “Cry, Wolf,” our Summer 2011 story on the politics behind the delisting.)
Before the 2011 delisting, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s reintroduction of wolves to the northern Rockies in the mid-1990s appeared to be one of the greatest conservation successes in the country. A key predator species, wolves once roamed freely throughout the United States. But by the early …more
Excerpts from Chapter 28 of State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible
Has the time come for a massive wave of direct action resistance to accelerating rates of environmental degradation around the world—degradation that is only getting worse due to climate change? Is a new wave of direct action resistance emerging, one similar but more widespread than that sparked by Earth First!, the first avowedly “radical” environmental group?
The radical environmental movement, which was formed in the United States in 1980, controversially transformed environmental politics by engaging in and promoting civil disobedience and sabotage as environmentalist tactics. By the late 1980s and into the 1990s, when the most militant radical environmentalists adopted the Earth Liberation Front name, arson was increasingly deployed. The targets included gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles, US Forest Service and timber company offices, resorts and commercial developments expanding into wildlife habitat, and universities and corporations engaged in research creating genetically modified organisms. Examples of such militant environmentalism can be found throughout the world, and they are increasingly fused with anarchist ideologies. Given this history, the question arises as to whether direct action resistance is becoming unambiguously revolutionary, or perhaps even purposefully violent.
People attending the Earth at Risk: Building a Resistance Movement to Save the Planet conference in Berkeley, California, in November 2011 might well have thought so. Some 500 people joined this conference, which called for a new “deep green resistance” movement in response to intensifying environmental decline and increasing social inequality. The format of the conference was a scripted dialogue, or what might be called political performance art, with the writer and activist Derrick Jensen posing questions to a series of environmental activists and writers, including, most prominently, the Man Booker Prize winner from India, Arundhati Roy.
The tone of the meeting was sober and its messages radical. Succinctly put, the speakers issued the following diagnoses: Electoral politics and lobbying, as well as educational and other reformist conversion strategies that give priority to increasing awareness and changing consciousness, have been ineffective. Such strategies do not work because for 10,000 years agricultures have been established and maintained by violence. This violence has foremost targeted foraging societies (and later indigenous and poor people), nonhuman organisms, and nature itself. Fossil-fueled industrial-agricultur-al civilizations …more
FracFocus doesn't satisfy the public’s right to information, states shouldn't use it as a regulatory tool, report concludes
Anti-fracking activists have long been saying that FracFocus — the voluntary chemical disclosure registry for oil and gas companies using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, technology — is seriously flawed. The very idea of Big Oil and Gas voluntarily ‘fessing up to the whole list of potentially toxic cocktail of chemicals they pump into the earth to extract fossil fuels, has always been kind of — I’ll be polite — improbable.
Photo by WCN 24/7/Flickr
And now we have a no less than a heavy-duty Harvard study weighing in on the matter and saying that the industry-backed registry is unreliable and “not an acceptable regulatory compliance method for chemical disclosures.” The study says the registry fails to satisfy the public’s right to information and that state governments shouldn’t be relying on it as a regulatory tool.
The study by Harvard Law School's Environmental Law Program, released on April 23, cites three key reasons why the database "fails as a regulatory compliance tool":
— It is hard to figure out when companies make disclosures (FracFocus does not notify a state when it receives a disclosure from a company operating in that state)
— The information disclosed isn’t reviewed and “that may encourage some companies to under-value careful reporting.”
— The companies get to decide what comprises a “trade secret.” Which means they can exempt themselves from disclosing critical information such as the exact proportions of the chemicals used in the drilling process.
"The Harvard study confirms what the public has been saying for some time now: that FracFocus continues to reflect its origin as an industry-generated attempt to avoid full disclosure of fracking chemicals,” says Bruce Baizle, energy program director at Earthworks, an extractive industry watchdog group. “As any of us who have tried to use FracFocus know, the data is difficult to retrieve, it is not checked for accuracy or timeliness and industry claims of exemption are not evaluated at all. In short, FracFocus lacks any accountability; it is not an appropriate tool for oil and gas fracking chemical disclosure."
FracFocus — which is managed by the Ground Water Protection Council, a nonprofit organization, and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission — was created in 2011 …more
Supersized genetically modified fish are ready for market – but is the market ready for them? And why is the firm hidden away in Panama?
It is hard to think of a more unlikely setting for genetic experimentation or for raising salmon: a rundown shed at a secretive location in the Panamanian rainforest miles inland and 1,500m above sea level.
Photo courtesy AquaBounty
But the facility, which is owned by an American company AquaBounty Technologies, stands on the verge of delivering the first genetically modified food animal — a fast-growing salmon — to supermarkets and dinner tables.
The US government this week enters the final stages of its deliberations on whether to allow commercial production of the GM fish, with a public consultation on the issue ending on Friday. Separately, a committee in Congress on Monday took up a bill that would outlaw GE salmon entirely – essentially destroying AquaBounty's commercial prospects in America.
If approved, the salmon could be the first of some 30 other species of GM fish under development, including tilapia and trout. Researchers are also working to bring GM cows, chickens and pigs to market.
In Panama City, government officials are upbeat about AquaBounty's prospects of getting its fish to market.
"From what we know it is very close to being approved. There have been tests for many years and the last thing we heard from the FDA is that there is a very good probability that it is going to be approved in the near future," said Giovanni Lauri, the director of the Aquatic Resources Authority of Panama, Arap.
AquaBounty must still overcome formidable opposition from supermarkets and consumer organizations, environmental groups and commercial fishermen to sell its fish, however.
The prospect of introducing GM fish into the food supply has generated enormous passions, with the FDA receiving 36,000 comments on the fish so far — most of them opposing the move.
But after 20 years, AquaBounty's efforts to bring GM animals to the table are getting closer to reality.
There was little outward sign of history in the making — or of the enormous controversy surrounding GM salmon at AquaBounty's remote Panamanian location on the banks of the Calderas river in the western highlands of the Chiriqui province.
At the premises, visitors can see a fading green …more
Final vote on this controversial issue is being made with no public input, say watchdog groups
Today, the Fort Collins City Council will once again discuss, and potentially vote on, the extremely controversial issue of banning fracking in Fort Collins.
Photo by Brent_KS/Flickr
In March, the city council passed a ban on fracking that grandfathered in the one driller that currently operates on eight well pads in northern Fort Collins. But three weeks later, in a quiet vote with no public input by citizens or the city’s boards and commissions, the city council passed an “agreement” with that driller allowing the company to drill and frack on two new square miles of land surrounding the Budweiser brewery in North Fort Collins.
Councilman Gerry Horak, who has been at the center of the fracking controversy, has flip-flopped his votes, voting for the ban and then voting for the agreement that effectively negated the ban. Now, the council is deliberating on a second reading of an ordinance to lift the moratorium and allow the driller to begin drilling and fracking in the expanded areas in northern Fort Collins. Horak also voted “yes” on the first reading to lift the moratorium.
“Gerry Horak has flip-flopped votes for the benefit of the drilling company. He only votes as his constituents elected him to vote when under significant public pressure–and even then, his attempts to do right are veiled deceptions,” said Rico Moore of Frack Free Fort Collins. “A ban means a ban, Gerry Horak. It’s time to represent the human and environmental health of Fort Collins.”
A week ago, April 16, when the second reading was considered by the council, the meeting devolved into confusion with competing motions and amendments by various councilmembers. The meeting ended with a majority vote to postpone the decision until April 23 and have a “worksession” on the issue followed by an “adjourned meeting.” At worksessions and adjourned meetings, citizens are not allowed to provide public comment. Further, last week, Councilmember Horak sent the city staff requests for even more resolutions and ordinances, but as of Monday morning, April 22, the only information available …more
Environmental issues remain one of the last wedges in the American culture wars
I never get tired of recalling the story of the original Earth Day. On April 22, 1970, millions of Americans spontaneously turned out for thousands of largely uncoordinated community actions to demonstrate their concern for our one and only planet. Some people planted gardens, others cleaned up local streams and beaches, many organized or attended teach-ins. In New York, more than one million people marched through the streets; an estimated one-in-ten Americans participated in some way or another. And all of it organized on a shoestring budget by a bunch of idealistic twenty-somethings and a US Senate backbencher. The outpouring of popular energy tapped into a deep uneasiness about the havoc we were wreaking on natural systems and galvanized political leaders to pass a raft of landmark environmental laws: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Protection Action. The first Earth Day and the legislation that followed represent the ideal of citizen activism.
Photo courtesy earthday2013funphotos.com
It’s hard for environmentalists not to look back on that success without a sense of poignancy. Would it be possible to pull off something similar today? And if not, then why not?
Nicholas Lemann grapples with that question in an essay in a recent issue of The New Yorker. Lemann, dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, starts with an assumption that few environmental strategists would argue with. “Today’s environmental movement is vastly bigger, richer and better connected than it was in 1970,” he writes. “It’s also vastly less successful.” Lemann goes on to offer what has become a common explanation (at least among grassroots environmentalists) for greens’ current lack of success: an overreliance on lawyers and DC policy wonks, too much attention on maintaining Capitol Hill access, an overabundance of professionalism and a deficit of passion. While I have huge respect for most of the Big Green groups, I’ve made this critique myself. It can often seem that too many environmental outfits dedicate too much attention to Washington’s “inside game,” at the expense of congressional district-by-congressional district on-the-ground organizing.
I wonder, though, if there’s not something more at work here. Perhaps greens are struggling to achieve their political goals because environmentalism remains one …more
Most people have lost faith the in the recovery process, says photojournalist Julie Dermansky
Three years after an explosion at British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers, injured dozens, and set off the worst oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, the waters along Gulf Coast seem almost back to normal. Much of the oil is gone. New Orleans-based photographer Julie Dermansky says there’s still a lot left. The oil, she says, is often hard to locate because it has a tendency to play hide and seek. Dermansky, who photographed the spill in 2010 “pretty much non-stop for four months," has been doggedly following the story for the past three years — reading up all the research she can lay her hands on, making trips out to the worst impacted areas in Louisiana every few months, and talking to people from affected communities. In the early days of the spill she was hired by several major publications, including The Times, London, The Washington Post, and Der Spiegel. But these days she travels without assignment, covering expenses on her own, since few publications hire photographers or reporters to cover what’s now an old news story. Last week, Dermansky again visited the beaches and marshes along the Louisiana and Mississippi coast — some of the worst hit areas where crews are still cleaning up tar mats and tar balls. I spoke with Dermansky via email and over the phone about her trip and her assessment of the situation in the Gulf Coast.
What did you find during your recent trip out to Grand Isle, Bay Jimmy in Louisiana, and the Mississippi coast?
There was oil sheen stirred up from the turbulence in the Bay Jimmy. PJ Hahn Plaquemines Parish director of coastal zone management, who I accompanied on an oil spotting trip, turned over some of the dead marsh grass and exposed roots covered in hardened oil. There was also hardened oil on top of some of the surface we walked on. With each step on the surface, an oil sheen spread around my boots. …more