Trump officials rush to auction drilling rights to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Trump officials rush to auction drilling rights to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

SOURCE: Seattle Times, Washington Post DATE: November 16, 2020 SNIP: The Trump administration has called for oil and gas firms to pick spots where they want to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as it races to open the pristine wilderness to development and lock in drilling rights before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. The “call for nominations” to be published Tuesday allows companies to identify tracts to bid on during an upcoming lease sale on the refuge’s nearly 1.6-million-acre coastal plain, a sale that the Interior Department aims to hold before Biden takes the oath of office in January. The move would be a capstone of President Donald Trump’s efforts to open up public lands to logging, mining and grazing — something Biden strongly opposes. A GOP-controlled Congress in 2017 authorized drilling in the refuge, a vast wilderness that is home to tens of thousands of migrating caribou and waterfowl, along with polar bears and Arctic foxes. The administration is pressing ahead with other moves to expand energy development and scale back federal environmental rules over the next few weeks. It aims to finalize a plan to open up the vast majority of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to drilling, as well as adopt a narrower definition of what constitutes critical habitat for endangered species and when companies are liable for killing migratory birds. At the Energy Department, officials may weaken energy-efficiency requirements for shower heads before Inauguration Day. Gwich’in Steering Committee executive director Bernadette Demientieff, whose people have traveled with the caribou on the refuge for thousands of years, said in a statement: “Any company thinking about...
The world’s largest wetlands are on fire. That’s a disaster for all of us

The world’s largest wetlands are on fire. That’s a disaster for all of us

SOURCE: CNN DATE: November 13, 2020 SNIP: The world watched as California and the Amazon went up in flames this year, but the largest tropical wetland on earth has been ablaze for months, largely unnoticed by the outside world. South America’s Pantanal region has been hit by the worst wildfires in decades. The blazes have already consumed about 28% of the vast floodplain that stretches across parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. They are still not completely under control. The fires have destroyed unique habitats and wrecked the livelihoods of many of the Pantanal’s diverse indigenous communities. But their damaging impact reaches far beyond the region. Wetlands like the Pantanal are Earth’s most effective carbon sinks — ecosystems that absorb and store more carbon than they release, keeping it away from the atmosphere. At roughly 200,000 square kilometers, the Pantanal comprises about 3% of the globe’s wetlands and plays a key role in the carbon cycle. When these carbon-rich ecosystems burn, vast amounts of heat-trapping gases are released back into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect. Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research (INPE) has detected more than 21,200 fires in the Pantanal biome so far this year, a figure that is already 69% higher than the full-year record from 2005, when INPE recorded roughly 12,500 fires. There were 8,106 fires in September alone — more than four times the historic average for the month. The Pantanal’s distinctive habitats rely on what scientists call the “flood pulse.” During the wet season between November and March, three quarters of the plain gets flooded, only for much of the water to...
Government turning a blind eye to wildlife crime

Government turning a blind eye to wildlife crime

SOURCE: Yorkshire Bylines DATE: November 8, 2020 SNIP: The UK is known as a nation of animal-lovers, yet it’s a terrible place to be a wild animal (or plant or fungus). For ours is one of the most nature-deprived countries on the planet, the “green and pleasant land” a pure fiction. Chief responsibility for that lies with the supermarket and multinational-dictated food system that’s seen farmland turned to green desert, and the damage done by a decade of austerity to the support systems that are supposed to protect nature – Natural England seeing two-thirds of its funding slashed in that time. But a significant proportion of the damage being done isn’t just metaphorically criminal, but legally so. That fact was brought vividly to life last week, by the launch of what’s become (since 2017) an annual report on wildlife crime in England and Wales, by Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL), a coalition of 57 organisations that between them represent eight million members. I, and MPs and other peers, heard a succession of experts tell a tale of abuse, destruction, and government failure. It’s easy to get exercised about individual actions: the horror tales of badger baiting and hare coursing, or the wanton destruction of crucial habitat by cynical developers in pursuit of windfall profits. But the message that came through loud and clear last week was that it is government failure that’s allowing many of these crimes to occur, and certainly ensuring that they are very, rarely punished. There’s also concern that much wildlife-related crime is being enabled, or committed, online, with the report this year for the first...
Humans pushing North Atlantic right whale to extinction faster than believed

Humans pushing North Atlantic right whale to extinction faster than believed

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: October 30, 2020 SNIP: Humans are killing the endangered North Atlantic right whale far faster than previously thought, and experts say the window to act is quickly closing. According to new modelling from the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, only 356 of the whales remain in the world — a significant decline from the 409 logged last year. Of the remaining whales, only about 70 breeding females survive. Without decisive action, experts fear females could disappear in the next 10 to 20 years. “It’s not just numbers. These are individuals that we’ve seen grow up as calves,” said Philip Hamilton, a researcher at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life. “To see them turning up dead or even worse, entangled in ropes where it takes a year to slowly die, is just gut-wrenching.” While human-caused deaths remained low this year, researchers now realize the 17 fatalities recorded in 2017 vastly underestimated the scope of destruction. They now believe 42 whales died that year. There is still room for optimism, said Hamilton, who first started working with the whales in the mid-1980s, when the population was less than 350. “The numbers have been this low before,” he said. “But we have to stop killing them – we’re killing them at an alarming rate.” And to survive, the whales will have to adapt to a rapidly changing ocean ecosystem, where changes to their feeding locations present a “double whammy”, said Hamilton. “Managing environmental change, while also having their reproduction reduced, is just untenable,” he said. While many people will never glimpse the graceful mammals that can reach...
Poaching of wild songbirds so lucrative criminals are monitoring nests

Poaching of wild songbirds so lucrative criminals are monitoring nests

SOURCE: Irish Times DATE: October 26, 2020 SNIP: The poaching of wild songbirds has become so lucrative that criminals are monitoring nests in a bid to circumvent the law, according to a senior garda. A sealed ring on a songbird traditionally suggested it was born in captivity and could legally be sold. But according to Supt Martin Walker, poachers have started stalking birds in the nest and ringing the young birds before they fledge in a bid to get around the law. “It’s very lucrative. A pair of bullfinches, for example, can sell for up to €200,” said the specialist in wildlife crime. He said that during nesting season, poachers monitor two or three nests at a time, waiting for birds to hatch so that they can ring the young thus avoiding prosecution. Niall Hatch of Birdwatch Ireland said he was aware of this practice, noting also that “the stress of being captured and handled by humans could lead to the death of some songbirds”. “While much wildlife crime is local, we should not underestimate the dangers involved in investigating it, as many perpetrators have links with other more serious crime,” the Minister pointed out. He highlighted a report in the past week which showed that from 2007 to 2019 there were 338 incidents involving birds of prey which were killed, the majority by poisoning or shooting. The figure was described as “just the tip of the iceberg” by Mr Hatch who said thousands of birds had died over this period with the vast majority going undetected and unrecorded. Revelations about the poisoning of 23 buzzards on farmland in...