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Army Corp of Engineers Ordered Police to Arrest Standing Rock Water Protectors

Police deployed pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets in 'standoff with protestors'

The US army corps of engineers ordered North Dakota police to arrest Native American protesters and destroy a bridge that activists built over a creek at the center of the increasingly tense Dakota Access pipeline demonstrations.

Woman in headdress holding up a fistPhoto by Sara Lefleur-VetterPaddlers arrive at the shore on the edge of the Standing Rock Reservation in September. On Wednesday, police deploted pepper spray and teargas on water protectors on the banks of Cantepata Creek.

The Morton County sheriff’s office announced on Wednesday that police were in a “standoff with protesters on the banks of the Cantapeta Creek” while activists said they were engaged in a peaceful water ceremony.

Police claimed that the protesters — who have for months been attempting to block construction of the $3.8 billion oil pipeline that they say threatens sacred lands and their water supply — were trying to gain access to private property known as the Cannonball ranch. The group had built a “handmade wooden pedestrian bridge” across the creek, the sheriff said in a statement.

“Officers responded and ordered protesters to remove themselves from the bridge and notified them that if they cross the bridge they would be arrested.”

Police, who deployed pepper spray and teargas, said the activists were “violating numerous federal and state laws,” including the Clean Water Act and the Safe River and Harbors Act.

An army corps spokesman said the agency had given police permission to enter the federal property “to prevent further campsites from developing and threatening public safety.”

Protesters eventually retreated, and the sheriff’s office said late Wednesday afternoon that police had arrested one individual who was “aiding in illegal activity by purchasing canoes and kayaks to be used for crossing the waterway.”

The activist, who police did not name, was arrested for “conspiracy to commit obstruction of a government function.”

Police also admitted to using “less-than-lethal ammunition to control the situation.”

The standoff comes hours after Barack Obama said in an interview that the army corps was exploring ways to reroute the controversial pipeline project around sacred Native American lands.

Some activists said the announcement was too little too late, noting that construction of the pipeline had come very close to the Missouri river, which the Standing Rock Sioux tribe said could be contaminated by the project.

Danyion LeBeaux, an 18-year-old protester at the standoff, said he got hit in the ribs by some kind of rubber bullet and saw …more

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A Prayer on Life On the Day of the Dead

Heavy pesticide use in Central Valley means the nation’s breadbasket is far too familiar with death

The Day of the Dead is a somber holiday marking the middle of autumn in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Last week the first rain in close to a year fell on Fresno. The dust that had been collecting on the leaves of Valley Oaks and tacky landscaping plants that line the strip malls was finally washed to the earth. Around this time in 2014, through the passage of October and the advent of November, a major historical event went unmentioned in the US. The name Warren Anderson likely does not trigger a response in the majority of Americans, considering that according to his obituary he died in obscurity in a senior home in Florida, but for thousands of people around the world, and here in California, his name has had an immeasurable impact

Indian women protesting inaction on Bhopal tragedyPhoto courtesy of Bhopal Medical AppealA massive leak of gases used to produce the pesticide Carbaryl, or what American farmers would know as Sevin, on December 2, 1984, has killed more than 25,000 people in Bhopal, India to date and permanently debilitated more than three generations of residents. Sevin is banned in many countries but continues to be used in the US.

Anderson was the CEO of Union Carbide, subsidiary of Dow Chemical, during the single largest environmental disaster in history – a pesticide gas explosion in Bhopal, India three decades ago that has killed over 25,000 people to date. On the night of December 2, 1984, a toxic cocktail of gases leaked from a ruptured pipe at the Carbide plant. The toxic cloud loomed over all of the residences in the vicinity, sending people into violent convulsions and respiratory attacks as the effects hit their systems. They were reacting to concentrated amounts of byproduct gases used in production of the pesticide Carbaryl, or what American farmers would know as Sevin. Sevin is an insecticide that kills every insect it touches, including bees and butterflies, and is banned in most countries that have the wherewithal to regulate their pesticide industries including the UK, Denmark, Sweden, and Iran. Of course it is used widely in the US, the mother nation of such technology, and is one of the most commonly applied chemicals in food production as well as landscaping. In addition to immediately killing over 5,000 people, the gas leak permanently debilitated more than three generations of residents in Bhopal.

Anderson was never tried, and no charges were ever filed against …more

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Security Firm Running Dakota Access Pipeline Intelligence Tied to US Military

TigerSwan has been involved in US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq

TigerSwan is one of several security firms under investigation for its work guarding the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota while potentially without a permit. Besides this recent work on the Standing Rock Sioux protests in North Dakota, this company has offices in Iraq and Afghanistan and is run by a special forces Army veteran.

FX8A9979chuck holton/FlickrCivil-rights groups have criticized the militarized response to peaceful pipeline protesters in North Dakota.

According to a summary of the investigation, TigerSwan “is in charge of Dakota Access intelligence and supervises the overall security.”

The Morton County, North Dakota, Sheriff's Department also recently concluded that another security company, Frost Kennels, operated in the state while unlicensed to do so and could face criminal charges. The firm's attack dogs bit protesters at a heated Labor Day weekend protest.

Law enforcement and private security at the North Dakota pipeline protests have faced criticism for maintaining a militarize presence in the area. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and National Lawyer's Guild have filed multiple open records requests to learn more about the extent of this militarization, and over 133,000 citizens have signed a petition calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene and quell the backlash.

The Federal Aviation Administration has also implemented a no-fly zone, which bars anyone but law enforcement from flying within a 4-mile radius and 3500 feet above the ground in the protest area. Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer on the scenes in North Dakota with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said on Facebook that “DAPL private security planes and choppers were flying all day” within the designated no-fly zone.

Donnell Hushka, the designated public information officer for the North Dakota Tactical Operation Center, which is tasked with overseeing the no-fly zone, did not respond to repeated queries about designated private entities allowed to fly in no-fly zone airspace.

What is TigerSwan?

TigerSwan has offices in Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, India, and Latin America and has headquarters in North Carolina. In the past year, TigerSwan won two U.S. Department of State contracts worth over $7 million to operate in Afghanistan, according to USASpending.gov.

TigerSwan, however, claims on its website that the contract is worth $25 million, and said in a press release that the State Department contract called for the company to “monitor, assess, and advise current and future nation building and stability initiatives in Afghanistan.” Since 2008, TigerSwan has won about …more

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White-Haired Goldenrods Are Thriving Again in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge

Decades-long conversation effort struck the right balance between visitor use and habitat protection

The Red River Gorge in eastern Kentucky has a reputation of being one of the most beautiful places in the southeastern United States. This canyon system has over 100 natural sandstone arches, scenic waterfalls, high cliffs, and rock shelters, making it a popular destination for hiking, camping, and, especially for rock climbing.

photo of white-haired goldenrodPhoto courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region The white-haired goldenrod only grows in the cracks and crevices of sandstone cliffs in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge.

It is also the only place in the world where the white-haired goldenrod grows. This perennial plant’s habitat is restricted to cracks and crevices of the sandstone cliffs in the Gorge. It can also be found in the floors and ceilings of rock shelters, but only in partial shade behind the dripline. The white-haired goldenrod was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1988 due to habitat destruction from activities like rappelling, rock climbing, hiking, and camping. Conservation efforts by Daniel Boone National Forest, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission successfully restored the plant’s population, and in 2015, it was proposed that the white-haired goldenrod be taken off the Endangered Species List.

The proposed delisting for the white-haired goldenrod is a significant accomplishment for conservation. According to the Environmental Conservation Online System managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, there are a total of 2,339 species of plants and animals listed as threatened or endangered. Not counting species that were delisted because of extinction or a data error, only 29 listed species have ever been delisted due to recovery.

“I consider the white-haired goldenrod to be synonymous with the [Red River] Gorge because it’s the only place on Earth where it grows, so it is very satisfying to see the plant doing well there and to know that its chances for continued survival are very good,” says Michael Floyd, a fish and wildlife biologist whose focus is the listing and recovery of endangered and threatened species at the USFWS.

Tara Littlefield, a rare plant botanist at the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, closely monitored the white-haired goldenrod populations during the recovery effort, and says finding new populations in more remote areas with less recreational impact is gratifying.

“Protecting these populations not only protects the white-haired goldenrod, but the whole natural community within these rock shelters, as well …more

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Beast of Contention

The polar bear as conservation emblem and political pawn

Today, no animal except perhaps the wolf divides opinions as strongly as does the polar bear, top predator and sentinel species of the Arctic. But while wolf protests are largely a North American and European phenomenon, polar bears unite conservationists — and their detractors — worldwide.

In the new millennium’s politics, polar bears play the part whales played in the 1980s. From a theatrics-as-protest perspective, their shape lends itself better to impersonation than that of a rainforest or whale. Activists take advantage of this. Dressed as polar bears, they show up in the most unlikely places — the Kremlin, or Ottawa’s Parliament Hill — as nonhuman “climate refugees. In an act billed as “part protest, part performance,” Greenpeace paraded a mechanical polar bear the size of a double-decker bus through central London, as part of its Save the Arctic campaign. Fifteen puppeteers operated Aurora the bear, which had an articulated head and neck, a mouth like an ice cave, and the real bear’s “slightly lazy” ambling gait.

Photo of Activist dressed as polar bearPhoto courtesy of Elizabeth Dalziel/Greenpeace A Greenpeace activist dressed as a polar bear visits London’s Mounted Household Cavalry. The bear’s shape and behavior make it particularly suited for impersonations as part of political “theater.”

When climate change became a pressing political issue, zoos that had closed polar bear exhibits or were planning to do so because of their high costs reversed course, making sure polar bears were on hand. In part, this reflected zoo visitors’ growing interest. But zoos also stepped up their breeding programs when the species was listed as threatened — many of their bears were well past the reproductive age. They soon increased their holdings also with abandoned cubs and “problem” bears removed from the Arctic.

Ice Bear book cover

Like captive breeding programs and reintroduction efforts in general, science-assisted interventions in the field raise the question of what constitutes wildness, or the bearness of polar bears. One of several emergency actions proposed to relieve starving bears has helicopters airlift food to the “most accessible” ones — at a cost of thirty-two thousand dollars per day. (Similar programs already exist for intensely managed animal species and populations such as the California condor, black bears in Washington, and brown bears in Eastern Europe.) Other last-ditch efforts biologists suggest include relocating bears farther north, where sea ice will last longer; moving more bears to zoos; and even euthanizing those unlikely …more

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The Vaquita Are Vanishing On Our Watch

International Whaling Commission adopts US-led emergency proposal to save the world’s most endangered cetacean (UPDATED 2:50 p.m.)

The vaquita, the smallest member of the porpoise family, is facing imminent extinction due to the inability of the international community to address critical threats to its survival. There are fewer than 60 of these critically endangered cetaceans left today.

a photo illustration of two vaquita in the oceanPhoto illustration courtesy of Save the Vaquitas There are fewer than 60 of these critically endangered cetaceans left today.

Also known as La Cochina (the Little Cow of the Sea) to people living in the Gulf of California in Mexico, the vaquita (Phocoena sinus) has the most limited geographical range of any marine cetacean species and is endemic to a mere 30-mile radius in the upper Gulf. According to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), its population has declined by more than 92 percent since 1997.  

"The situation of the vaquita is now in its critical phase," Justin Cooke of the International Union for Conservation of Nature told delegates to the IWC's annual meeting in Portoroz, Slovenia, on Tuesday, according to an Agence France Press report. “If the decline is not stopped then by the time we next discuss it... in two years' time, it will be already too late to save the species," he said while making a plea to stop illegal gillnet fishing that’s been killing vaquitas.

On Wednesday, the commission adopted an emergency proposal introduced by the United States to save the world's most threatened cetacean. The proposal, which was backed by the European Union and several other countries including Mexico, recognizes "the urgent need to strengthen enforcement efforts against illegal fishing in Mexico and totoaba smuggling out of Mexico and into transit and destination countries; the urgent need to remove active and ghost gillnets from the range of the vaquita; and the need to maintain the acoustic more effective monitoring of the ban on gillnet fishing." It also calls on IWC members to offer Mexico expert support to enforce the ban as well as financial aid to help compensate the fishermen affected and replace old fishing nets with safer alternatives.

Scientists have warned for decades that the vaquita is facing extinction due to its unique geographical restriction, mortality via accidental entrapment in the gillnets, and genetic vulnerability due to the population’s dwindling size.

 Vaquita Population Decline graph According to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the vaquita's population has declined by more than 92 percent since 1997.

A 2014 …more

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Oilfield Wastewater Used to Grow Food in California May Contain Toxins

Chemicals present include 16 the state classifies as carcinogens or reproductive toxicants, says EWG report

Did you know that some of the fruits and veggies out on supermarket shelves are grown using wastewater from oil and gas operations? For the past several years, many drought-stricken farms in California’s Central Valley, which produces 40 percent of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, have been increasingly irrigating their crops with wastewater — a practice the US Department of Agriculture does not restrict.

 Field being watered by sprinklers Photo by David Kosling/USDA Crops being watered in southeastern Joaquin Valley, Kern County. While use of oilfield waste water is cause for concern, it doesn’t mean that we should stop eating produce from California, researchers say.

Now a new report by the Environmental Working Group says that this wastewater is possibly tainted with toxic chemicals, including chemicals that can cause cancer and reproductive harm. Farmers in Kern County have irrigated some 95,000 acres of food crops with billions of gallons of oil field wastewater, according to the report, which is based on an analysis of state data.

Actually, oil companies have been quietly selling wastewater for irrigation in California for decades, but it’s only in recent years that the matter has become public knowledge. In the past, the state required regular testing for only a handful of pollutants to satisfy permit requirements for use of wastewater on agriculture. This is the first time we are getting a detailed look at the makeup of the toxic cocktail that could be lurking in the water.

According to state data, oil companies operating in California have reported that recycled wastewater sold to Kern County irrigation districts since 2014 contained more than 20 million pounds and 2 million gallons of dozens of toxic chemicals. These chemicals included 16 that the state classifies as carcinogens or reproductive toxicants. Levels of the chemicals were not measured and a full assessment of what exactly is in this water is pretty much impossible because the companies have withheld the identity of almost 40 percent of the chemicals as so-called trade secrets.

Currently, the lightly treated wastewater is blended with fresh water and then applied to almonds, pistachios, and citrus trees, as well as to grapes, carrots, beans, tomatoes, and potatoes grown in the Cawelo, North Kern, Jasmin, and Kern-Tulare Water Districts in Kern and Tulare Counties. According to an earlier EWG report, in some of these places the water can even be used as drinking water for livestock and for farmed fish.

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