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Genetically Unique Yellowstone Bison Deserve Endangered Species Status

Montana should stop killing wild bison that venture beyond park boundaries

A number of environmental organizations, Western Watersheds Project, The Buffalo Field Campaign, and Friends of Animals, have petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Yellowstone bison under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Some may be baffled why any bison deserve listing under the ESA when there are at least 500,000 bison found in North America.

 two bison at YellowstonePhoto by Jitze CouperusThe Yellowstone Park sub-population of bison has been subjected to severe slaughter and culling as part of an effort to prevent transmission of brucellosis, a bacterial infection, to cattle.

Here’s why. The Yellowstone Park sub-population of bison has been subjected to severe slaughter and culling as part of an effort to prevent transmission of brucellosis, a bacterial infection that can sometimes cause cattle to abort their first calf post-infection. There is a lead wall (made of bullets) that attempts to bottle bison up in Yellowstone Park when they migrate to lower elevations outside of the park in search of food during harsh winters.

In addition to the direct killing of animals by Montana Department of Livestock, park rangers, and hunters, bison have also been captured and slaughtered.

In recent years, more than a thousand bison have been killed near the park borders as the bison attempted to migrate out of the park.  In 1996-1997, culling of Yellowstone bison removed 57 percent of the entire northern subpopulation and 20 percent of the central subpopulation.

Genetically Unique

The proposed listing would use a feature of the ESA called a Distinct Population Segment (DPS) designation. DPS permits the FWS to protect unique populations of a species that may have special conservation significance.

In the case of the Yellowstone park bison, its conservation value is both significant and unique. The bison in Yellowstone Park are free of cattle genes. Most other bison herds have some degree of hybridization with domestic livestock.

Furthermore, Yellowstone’s bison are the only known bison population that has been continuously wild (though for a few years they were fed hay in the Lamar Valley to build up their numbers). This is particularly important as Bozeman wildlife biologist Jim Bailey argues in his book American Plains Bison—Rewilding an Icon, Yellowstone’s bison are genetically unique.

There are only four sources of bison without cattle genes, the Henry Mountains of Utah (the bison here were originally transplanted from Yellowstone), a private herd in New Mexico and in Canada. However, the largest cattle-gene-free bison herd is in Yellowstone.

Despite this …more

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A Nigerian Superhighway Project Threatens a Critical Rainforest and Its People

Indigenous Ekuri Fight to Protect Ancestral Forests Amid Push for Development

The road to the Ekuri forest community in southern Nigeria is calm and serene, with lush green leaves, blooming flowers and giant trees. This calm betrays no signs of an embattled people and their endangered ancestral forests, farmlands and wildlife.

Forest road in NigeriaPhoto courtesy of Rettet den Regenwald e.V. (Rainforest Rescue) The superhighway would cut through several protected forests reserves and abut the western boundary of the Cross River National Park.

Amidst protests, bulldozers backed by armed, rampaging soldiers stormed one of Africa's largest surviving rainforests last spring and cut down trees — all in pursuit of the newly elected government's agenda for rapid development. Within a space of a few hours, large expanses of forests and green areas, which were natural habitat for certain wildlife species along the Okokor village, had been torched and reduced to bare earth and red mud.

This episode marks the beginning of a fierce and protracted crisis with political undertones, diplomatic intrigues and international interest.

It started last year in Nigeria’s Cross River State, which boasts more than 50 percent of the country’s rainforest, when Governor Ben Ayade unveiled his ambitious infrastructure plan for the region: a $3.5 billion, 260-kilometer, six-lane so-called Superhighway that would link a yet-to-be-built Bakassi deep-sea port in Calabar farther down south to Benue state up north. The highway would cut through several protected forests reserves and abut the western boundary of the Cross River National Park.

To drum up support for the plan, the governor invited the newly sworn-in President Muhammadu Buhari to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for his proposed roadway. According to the state, this highway would become the first in Nigeria with first class satellite antenna and fiber optic cable to deliver unlimited internet access. It would also bring with it 24-hour ambulance service, motels and gas stations.

Ayade’s critics have accused him of stifling dissent over the roadway, failing to consult with the Ekuri and not undertaking  the required Environmental Impact Assessment (EIM) before commencing a project of this magnitude. The environmental assessment is now completed, but the environmental ministry in Nigeria’s capital Abuja has said that it falls short of international standards. The project is currently on halt.

Protests against the Superhighway have rocked the typically calm and tourism-friendly Cross River State, as the  people of Old Ekuri and Young Ekuri villages (that are collectively known as the Ekuri Community), led by their village heads, have marched to register their grievances. "This is a nonviolent struggle…in the …more

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How “Cheap Talk” Helped Environmentalists and Water Managers Find Common Ground

Book Excerpt: Water is for Fighting Over and Other Myths about Water in the West

Sid Wilson, one of Arizona’s senior water managers, thought Jennifer Pitt was some sort of crazy tree hugger. Pitt, who worked on Colorado River issues for the Environmental Defense Fund, imagined Wilson as something akin to Genghis Khan. But until they set out on a boat trip together down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the spring of 2004, the two had never actually met. The first night, Wilson, standing on a sandbar, kicked off the relationship by explaining why he didn’t trust environmentalists.

Colorado River Mile 53 from the The Anasazi GranaryPhoto by Andrew LangdalThere is something about nights in the depths of the Grand Canyon — the quiet water, the sliver of star-speckled sky between upraised cliffs, a beer shared on sandbars overlooking the river — that changes people.

It’s remarkable what a river trip will do. There is something about nights in the depths of the Grand Canyon — the quiet water, the sliver of star-speckled sky between upraised cliffs, a beer shared on sandbars overlooking the river — that changes people. When Pitt and Wilson emerged from the canyon, the politics of Colorado River water management had changed with them. A fragile bond had been forged, one that would strengthen during the coming years into collaboration.

“Maybe it was that we were wearing shorts and drinking beer, or maybe it was the magic of the river itself,” Pitt later explained.

The river trip, organized by one of the federal government’s senior water managers, brought together federal officials, state water managers, and Pitt (the token environmentalist). There also was an air of theater about it. In the midst of growing drought, the feds invited five of the most prominent journalists covering water in the western United States. The goal was to get the basin’s key decision makers together in one place to talk about solutions to their shared problems. Bennett Raley, the Bush administration assistant interior secretary who organized the expedition, recognized that the issues were deep and that remedies handed down by the federal government were unlikely to work. Best to get the players onto the river, organize daily seminars, run some rapids, ply them with alcohol, and see what happened. “They will come up with a much more durable solution than we could by imposing one on them,” Raley said.

The trip on the Colorado River came at a pivotal moment. Lake Mead, full as recently as 1998, was dropping fast. In the …more

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‘Trump’s Promises Are Empty:’ Energy Experts Lay Waste to His Proposals

From making coal great again to ‘cancelling’ the Paris accord, industry analysts say Trump's ideas are farfetched

Donald Trump’s energy agenda — which includes pledges of “complete energy independence,” making coal great again and ditching the Paris climate deal — is drawing bipartisan fire from industry analysts, former members of Congress, and even one coal mogul.

All of them, to varying degrees, fault the billionaire’s basic premises and call his promises farfetched and at times contradictory.

caimanPhoto by Gage Skidmore Republican presidential candidate Donald trump has referred to climate change as a hoax.

They say the Republican presidential candidate uses faulty math to tout his vision of America’s energy independence, fails to understand energy economics in his pledge to revive the coal industry, and is peddling a big myth by claiming that global warming is a hoax.

Some energy analysts also observe that Trump’s energy prescriptions, including big regulatory cutbacks that have long been industry wishes, are politically expedient and unrealistic. In making his promise to “save the coal industry,” for instance, Trump has backed slashing environmental rules, taking that message to West Virginia earlier this year, when he pledged that the state’s miners, as well as those in Ohio and Pennsylvania, “are going to start to work again, believe me.”

But Charles Ebinger, a senior fellow at Brookings for energy security and climate issues, told the Guardian that “coal jobs aren’t coming back and for Mr. Trump to say they’re coming back is erroneous and fanciful.” Noting that cheap natural gas has been the primary driver behind years of decline for the coal industry, Ebinger added that Trump seems to be “pandering to coal miners.”

Other analysts concur. “Donald Trump’s promise to revive the US coal sector can only be realized by reining in hydraulic fracking,” said Jerry Taylor, the president of libertarian thinktank the Niskanen Center.

“That’s because low-cost natural gas (courtesy of fracking) has done far more to shut down coal-fired power plants and, correspondingly, reduce demand for US coal than has EPA regulations. Given that he promises exactly the opposite — moving heaven and earth to increase US natural gas production — Trump’s promises are empty.”

Even Trump backer and coal mogul Bob Murray, who runs Murray Energy, which has given $100,000 to a pro-Trump Super Pac, says that the coal industry won’t ever be great again. “I don’t think it will be a thriving industry ever again,” Murray told an energy publication this year. “The coal mines cannot come back to where they were or anywhere near it.”

Likewise, Trump used …more

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Will the Aviation Sector’s Planned Carbon Offset Scheme Help Curb Emissions from Air Travel?

Critics say focus on offsets rather than reductions gives the industry license to continue polluting

Some may have noticed aviation’s conspicuous absence from the Paris climate negotiations last December. Worldwide, the aviation industry accounts for approximately 4.9 percent of anthropogenic global warming. It is also the fastest growing emitter, with some estimates expecting it to become the number one driver of global warming by 2050. Despite this, aviation emissions were unaccounted for in the Paris Agreement, leaving, what Lou Lenard of World Wildlife Fund called a gaping hole in the plan “big enough to fly an airplane through.”

airplane with contrail Photo by Aero PixelsThe aviation industry accounts for approximately 4.9 percent of anthropogenic global warming. It is also the fastest growing carbon emitter.

Negotiators are now scheduled to take up the issue during the UN International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) meeting that kicked off in Montreal yesterday. Here, they hope to sign the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), a first of its kind global, sectoral emissions  plan. 

Supported by the UN, governments across the world, and the aviation industry itself, this plan may stand a pretty good chance of actually being implemented. But it also has many NGO’s crying foul, claiming that its focus on emissions offsets rather than reductions, as well as its lack of transparency and its voluntary nature will give individuals and the aviation industry a license to continue escalating their emissions instead of actually reducing them.

What is it?

In its current draft form, the CORSIA will seek to mitigate international aviation’s emissions by using a “basket of measures” to achieve net carbon neutral growth from 2020 levels. In other words, it will set a cap on emissions at 2020 levels, and all emissions that exceed this cap will need to be offset. While this basket of measures will include incentives for efficiency improvements and alternative low CO2 fuels, a Global Market Based Measure (GMBM) will take on the bulk of aviation’s CO2 emissions growth. The market in this case is a carbon market, and the commodity traded is emissions units. The GMBM will employ two main types of emissions units, trading allowances between sectors and purchasing offset credits to achieve net carbon neutral growth.

Critics of this scheme say not only is its level of ambition  well below what is required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, but the proposal’s ability to even meet its own targets is dubious as well.


To begin with, CORSIA is not comprehensive. Most developing …more

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Long Journey to a More Righteous Shore

IUCN’s recognition of Indigenous peoples’ contributions to conservation was long overdue

Boats from Maui arrived offshore at dawn, when winds, swell, and currents were expected to be at their calmest. On board were Indigenous sacred site guardians from around the world, seeing their first glimpse of uninhabited Kaho‘olawe: a rough and revered island, recovering from military target use, alive once again as the spiritual and ecological heart of the Hawaiian renaissance.

woman wading in the sea helped by two companionsPhoto by Toby McLeodAltantsetseg Tsedendamba of Mongolia, one of the brand-new swimmers, being helped by her companions. A group of Indigenous leaders from across the world and their allies met on Kaho‘olawe island in Hawaii ahead of the IUCN conference.

For some of the Indigenous guardians and interpreters — non-swimmers from an African desert, or land-locked Central Asia — the trip marked the first time they'd seen an ocean. After a permission chant, answered by voices chanting on shore, Native Hawaiians from the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) confidently and tenderly helped the newcomers swim through the surf and find their footing among the rocks, then join the brigade passing bags hand-to-hand from boat to shore. The joy and exhilaration of all present needed no translation.

The island journey was a pre-ramble, before 10 days in Honolulu among thousands of participants at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Conservation Congress that took place earlier this month. Days of ceremony and a night of shooting stars on the remote island energized the emissaries from Mongolia, Kenya, California, Kyrgyzstan, Borneo, the Russian republics of Altai and Buryatia, and Papua New Guinea.

The Indigenous peoples’ group, an informal delegation to the IUCN put together by their allies, followed Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli, whose occupation of Kaho‘olawe 40 years ago helped turn the public against the Navy's bombardment of Kaho‘olawe. Prof. Davianna McGregor pointed out rock shrines that wondrously survived the military era. The chanting of PKO members gave full voice to the story of the island's birth, a sacred red child of earth mother Papahanaumoku and sky father Wākea.

“Sacred sites are the oldest form of protected area on the planet," said Christopher “Toby” McLeod, project director of Earth Island Institute's Sacred Land Film Project, who led the effort to bring sacred site guardians together on the island. "Forty years ago, Indigenous people were in a very different place. It has been a huge struggle."

Aloha Āina, love the land: that has been the guiding principle of the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana. PKO member Craig Neff …more

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Drought Leaves Paraguayan Caimans in Peril

A wildlife crisis on the Pilcomayo River spurs “futile” rescue effort by citizens

They call it Agrophil Cemetery. A desiccated wasteland is all that’s left of a vast marsh that stretched along the Pilcomayo River in Paraguay. Now, dozens of dead and dying caimans lie mired in mud, bare earth extends to the horizon, and patient vultures perch in the branches of leafless trees.

Agrophil is at the epicenter of the worst drought the region has weathered in nearly two decades. As wildlife suffer and Argentina and Paraguay jockey for control of the river’s remaining waters, some activists have travelled to the river to take matters into their own hands: relocating the aquatic reptiles to wetter areas and demanding that the government drill wells for the surviving wildlife.

caimanPhoto by Dick KnightAs the drought in the region worsens, some wildlife activists have begun relocating caimans to wetter areas,

But the Pilcomayo is a dynamic river undergoing unprecedented change, and the activists’ actions have prompted debate and derision. Many fear their attempts to rescue wildlife are misguided, if not futile, and direct attention away from the root causes of the river’s plight.

Alberto Meza, president of the group Ya Estamos Cansados de Sus Leyes (which translates to “We’re Tired of Their Laws”), says his team of volunteers has helped rescue more than 130 animals over three trips to the river. And with every trip, he’s seen the situation on the Pilcomayo worsen. “Ninety percent of the animals still there are already dead,” he says. A nearby ranch owner told Meza that vultures were feasting on the dead and dying alike.

Ordinarily, the Pilcomayo supports an abundance of wildlife. Tens of thousands of caimans sun themselves along the river’s banks and hunt for frogs, fish and small mammals in its waters. (Caimans are closely related to alligators and crocodiles, though they are often smaller and have much narrower bodies). Capybara, one of the world’s largest and most adorable rodents, live along the shores, and sábalo and other fish migrate up the river to spawn.

Meza says “hundreds and hundreds” of caiman have already perished in the drought, along with fish, capybaras, and livestock. But the crocodilians bear the brunt of the drought because most other animals are more mobile and can seek water elsewhere when the river runs dry.

Officials from Paraguay’s Secretary of the Environment (SEAM) and the

Ministry of Public Works and Communications dispute Meza’s account. They say that only three large marshes, or bañados, have been severely impacted by the drought …more

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