World Gone Wrong: an Environmental Diary of 2019

World Gone Wrong: an Environmental Diary of 2019

SOURCE: CounterPunch DATE: January 3, 2020 The ultimate Faster Than Expected (or perhaps Worse Than You Can Possibly Imagine) list to sum up the awfulness of 2019. READ IT! A sampler: + There are fewer North Atlantic Right Whales left in the world than sitting members of Congress. They may well go extinct in our lifetimes. + The Arctic is now warming so quickly that 14,000 tons of melted ice is gushing into the oceans every second. + At least 305 wolves were killed in Montana in 2017-18, nearly 36% of the entire population. Now a pair of bills offering bounties to encourage people to kill even more wolves. + In 2018, USDA’s Wildlife “Services,” mercenaries for Big Ag, killed 22,000 beavers, 515,000 red-winged black birds, 19,000 mourning doves, 17,000 black tailed prairie dogs, 552 great blue herons, 357 wolves, scores of owls and much more. + At least 500,000 Texans live in communities with contaminated ground water. + 45 million gallons: the amount of water Nestle takes each from the San Bernardino National Forest. + $0: the amount of money Nestle pays for taking 45 million gallons of water each year from the San Bernardino National Forest. + By 2070, Joshua Tree National Park won’t have any Joshua trees and Glacier National Park won’t have any glaciers. But there’ll still be cannonballs and headstones at Gettysburg–if they don’t build condos over them + The loss of the reflective cover provided by Arctic Sea will accelerate the pace of global warming by at least 25 years: “Losing the remaining Arctic sea ice and its ability to reflect incoming solar...
Water-guzzling demands of Trump’s border wall threaten fish species

Water-guzzling demands of Trump’s border wall threaten fish species

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: December 29, 2019 SNIP: The survival of eight endangered and threatened species, including four kinds of endemic fish, is in doubt in Arizona, as massive quantities of groundwater are extracted to construct Donald Trump’s border wall. The 30ft-high barrier is under construction on the edge of the San Bernardino national wildlife refuge in south-eastern Arizona, where rare desert springs and crystalline streams provide the only US habitat for the endangered freshwater Río Yaqui fish. The region’s water reserves are already depleted due to prolonged drought and record high temperatures linked to the climate crisis. The expansion of water-intensive crops such as alfalfa and pecan farms is also draining aquifers in the arid region. Now, experts fear that construction of this 20-mile stretch of Trump’s wall, which began in October, has reduced spring flow and groundwater levels in San Bernardino which provide scarce habitat for the Yaqui topminnow, chub, beautiful shiner and the most vulnerable, the Yaqui catfish. “There’s good reason to believe that the Yaqui fish’s only US habitat is drying up as a result of tens or hundreds of thousands of gallons of groundwater being pumped to build the border wall,” said Laiken Jordahl, a borderlands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity who recently visited the area. In September, the Trump administration pledged to erect 450 to 500 miles of the wall by the end of 2020, an ambitious undertaking to be partially funded by $6bn previously earmarked for defense and counter-drug programmes. Construction in Arizona and New Mexico is under way, despite multiple ongoing lawsuits challenging the constitutional basis of Trump’s executive...
A Trump Policy ‘Clarification’ All but Ends Punishment for Bird Deaths

A Trump Policy ‘Clarification’ All but Ends Punishment for Bird Deaths

SOURCE: New York Times DATE: December 24, 2019 SNIP: As the state of Virginia prepared for a major bridge and tunnel expansion in the tidewaters of the Chesapeake Bay last year, engineers understood that the nesting grounds of 25,000 gulls, black skimmers, royal terns and other seabirds were about to be plowed under. To compensate, they considered developing an artificial island as a safe haven. Then in June 2018, the Trump administration stepped in. While the federal government “appreciates” the state’s efforts, new rules in Washington had eliminated criminal penalties for “incidental” migratory bird deaths that came in the course of normal business, administration officials advised. Such conservation measures were now “purely voluntary.” The state ended its island planning. The island is one of dozens of bird-preservation efforts that have fallen away in the wake of the policy change in 2017 that was billed merely as a technical clarification to a century-old law protecting migratory birds. Across the country birds have been killed and nests destroyed by oil spills, construction crews and chemical contamination, all with no response from the federal government, according to emails, memos and other documents viewed by The New York Times. Not only has the administration stopped investigating most bird deaths, the documents show, it has discouraged local governments and businesses from taking precautionary measures to protect birds. In one instance, a Wyoming-based oil company wanted to clarify that it no longer had to report bird deaths to the Fish and Wildlife Service. “You are correct,” the agency replied. In another, a building property manager in Michigan emailed the Fish and Wildlife Service to note...
Seahorse black market devastates Italy’s coast

Seahorse black market devastates Italy’s coast

SOURCE: Oxpeckers DATE: December 19, 2019 SNIP: Every night dozens of wooden boats loaded with fishing equipment pass under the Punta Penna bridge and into the protected waters of the Mar Piccolo, a unique saltwater lagoon in the southern Italian port city of Taranto. Trawling nets, cage traps and even homemade bombs are deployed into the moonlit waters by those in search of lucrative prey. “It’s like my father picking lemons and making limoncello at home,” says Luciano Manna, a local activist who has been monitoring the illegal activity for five years. “It’s too easy.” The lagoon is so rich in biodiversity – with long-snouted seahorses, prized mussels, rare seaweeds, greater pipefish and loggerhead sea turtles among its native species – that marine biologists call it a “living eco-museum”. But an organised illegal wildlife trade with links to China is quietly devastating the Mar Piccolo and many other coastal habitats across the Puglia region, with experts warning that endangered marine species are being pushed to the brink of extinction. Michele Gristina, who works for Italy’s Institute for Coastal Marine Environment, has been studying the seahorses in Taranto for nearly 20 years. Once one of the largest concentrations in Europe, the seahorse population collapsed between 2016 and 2017. The only explanation, he says, is poaching. “We tried to explain it [the decline] with environmental reasons such as the spread of pollution, water temperature or oxygen depletion, but it wasn’t the reason,” says Gristina. “People have seen there are a lot of seahorses and that money can be made, and they have begun to hunt them. In my opinion, seahorses along...
Rhinos on the brink as poachers run riot in Botswana

Rhinos on the brink as poachers run riot in Botswana

SOURCE: The Times (UK) DATE: December 18, 2019 SNIP: Botswana’s tiny population of rhinoceroses is being “hammered” towards extinction by poachers in a surge of slaughter that is being left unchallenged by the government, conservationists have said. Their warning came after the deaths of two southern white rhinos were reported yesterday. Their carcasses were found last week, minus horns, on Chief’s Island in the northern Okavango Delta, home to the country’s fewer than 400 rhinos. Conservationists say 17 other rhinos have been illegally killed since April for their horns, which can fetch $50,000 a kilogram. The poaching rate had been about one a month. The rise in killings threatens to destroy Botswana’s efforts to reintroduce the animals, which had been wiped out there until a herd was imported at the turn of the century. Poaching has soared since the election of President Masisi in October. He lifted a five-year hunting ban on elephants, saying that the population needed to be controlled. Ross Harvey, an independent economist in South Africa who specialises in wildlife, said that drought and the failure of Mr Masisi’s government to stop the poachers had created a “perfect storm” that threatened a new extirpation. “Rhinos are being hammered in Botswana,” he said. “Their reintroduction was a major win but the Masisi government appears to have intentionally undermined those efforts. Wildlife is no longer being managed and the risk-reward ratio for poachers has changed. “In the absence of law enforcement we are losing rhinos but also the profound effort to reintroduce them. Chief’s Island was well protected and surrounded by water but much of that is gone...