Border wall construction expands, despite pandemic, imperiling jaguars and other animals

Border wall construction expands, despite pandemic, imperiling jaguars and other animals

SOURCE: National Geographic DATE: March 30, 2020 SNIP: The Sky Island region of southern Arizona and New Mexico is a natural wonderland, one of the most biologically diverse parts of North America, where thousands of animal species live and roam across the U.S.-Mexico border. A patchwork of valleys, hills, and mountain ranges act as corridors to allow creatures such as jaguars, ocelots, black bears, bighorn sheep, and coati to move about the region. Hundreds of species are found here and nowhere else in the U.S., including jaguars, colorful birds called elegant trogons, lowland burrowing tree frogs, and brown vine snakes. But while the nation is focused on fighting the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration is working to expand the border wall through the region, cutting off critical animal migration corridors. The Department of Homeland Security this month paved the way to build more than 175 miles of new walls, much of it in remote, mountainous terrain. To start building the new sections, potentially within weeks or months, the Department granted waivers on March 16 to allow construction crews to not comply with 37 different laws, including the Endangered Species Act. Even as businesses have closed and workers told to stay home, wall construction continues, and review periods for environmentally sensitive projects, including oil leases on federal property, are not being postponed or extended. Besides the newly approved sections, more than 100 miles of wall are actively under construction elsewhere in Arizona, including in natural areas like Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It’s “an ecological disaster in the making” for jaguars and other species that need to cross the border...
Endemic rabbit threatened by weekend hordes of volcano gawkers

Endemic rabbit threatened by weekend hordes of volcano gawkers

SOURCE: Mexico News Daily DATE: February 13, 2020 SNIP: The critically endangered Volcano Rabbit lives only on 3 or 4 volcano mountain peaks in Mexico, inhabiting high elevation grassland and open forested habitats that are under myriad threats. Now social media-promoted treks to view a once year phenomenon involving three peaks appearing to be one as the sun rises is wreaking havoc with its habitat. The massive influx of tourists to a México state national park each February to observe a phenomenon that involves a trio of volcanic peaks represents a threat to the habitat of the highly endangered volcano rabbit, says the Natural Protected Areas Commission (Conanp). More than 3,500 people climbed Mount Tláloc in the Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatépetl National Park last weekend to view the phenomenon known as montaña fantasma (phantom mountain) in which for a period of just 15 minutes at sunrise, the Malinche volcano in Tlaxcala, the Pico de Orizaba volcano in Veracruz and the Sierra Negra volcano in Puebla appear to merge on the horizon to form one continuous mountain range. Visitor numbers to watch the montaña fantasma phenomenon from the peak of Mount Tláloc began to grow in 2012 and exploded in 2017 due to growing awareness generated by social media, the newspaper Milenio reported. After last weekend’s influx, Conanp said that the large number of visitors damaged alpine grasslands inhabited by the volcano rabbit, a species endemic to Mexico known also as the teporingo or zacatuche. The teporingo, the world’s second smallest rabbit after the pygmy, was declared extinct last year in the vicinity of the Nevado de Toluca, a volcano in México state....
Half-a-million insect species face extinction

Half-a-million insect species face extinction

SOURCE: Phys.org DATE: February 10, 2020 SNIP: Half of the one million animal and plant species on Earth facing extinction are insects, and their disappearance could be catastrophic for humankind, scientists have said in a “warning to humanity”. “The current insect extinction crisis is deeply worrying,” said Pedro Cardoso, a biologist at the Finnish Museum of Natural History and lead author of a review study published Monday. “Yet, what we know is only the tip of the iceberg,” he told AFP. The disappearance of bugs that fly, crawl, burrow, jump and walk on water is part of a gathering mass extinction event, only the sixth in the last half-billion years. The last one was 66 million years ago, when an errant space rock wiped out land-based dinosaurs and most other life forms. This time we are to blame. The main drivers are dwindling and degraded habitat, followed by pollutants—especially insecticides—and invasive species. Over-exploitation—more than 2,000 species of insects are part of the human diet—and climate change are also taking a toll. The decline of butterflies, beetles, ants, bees, wasps, flies, crickets and dragonflies has consequences far beyond their own demise. “With insect extinction, we lose much more than species,” Cardoso said. “Many insect species are vital providers of services that are irreplaceable,” including pollination, nutrient cycling and pest...
Will the Extinction of Delta Smelt Be Governor Gavin Newsom’s Environmental Legacy?

Will the Extinction of Delta Smelt Be Governor Gavin Newsom’s Environmental Legacy?

SOURCE: CounterPunch DATE: January 24, 2020 SNIP: The Delta smelt, once the most abundant species on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, continues its steep slide towards extinction. For the second year in a row, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in its annual fall midwater trawl survey in 2019 found zero Delta smelt during the months of September, October, November and December. Found only in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, the smelt is an indicator species that shows the health of the ecosystem. Decades of water exports and environmental degradation under the state and federal governments have brought the smelt to the edge of extinction. In spite of portraying their administrations as “green,” Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom have done nothing that reverses the smelt’s path towards extinction. Instead, the Schwarzenegger, Brown and Newsom administrations have overseen massive exports of Delta water to San Joaquin Valley corporate agribusiness operations and Southern California water brokers. Meanwhile, the Trump administration recently finalized a water plan that threatens the Delta smelt, salmon and other fish species even more than they already are by maximizing Delta water exports to agribusiness interests in the San Joaquin Valley. The Delta smelt, Longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail, striped bass, American shad and threadfin shad are are all victims of the Pelagic Organism Decline, first coined by federal state and scientists to document the steep decline of pelagic (open water) fish and zooplankton in 2005. Scientists have pointed to Delta water export operations, toxics, invasive species and pollution as the key factors in this decline. “Given the wet year we experienced in 2019, the...
Restricting trade in endangered species can backfire, triggering market booms

Restricting trade in endangered species can backfire, triggering market booms

SOURCE: The Conversation DATE: January 13, 2020 SNIP: Every year humans buy and sell hundreds of millions of wild animals and plants around the world. Much of this commerce is legal, but illegal trade and over-harvesting have driven many species toward extinction. One common response is to adopt bans on trading in threatened or endangered species. But research shows that this approach can backfire. Restricting high-value species can actually trigger market booms. On both the supply and demand sides, restricting international trade in high-value endangered species like rosewood can sometimes cause more harm than good. The main global treaty governing wildlife trade is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES. CITES members meet every two to three years to adjust trade restrictions on target species. In today’s speculative markets, CITES rulings can set off damaging market dynamics. Since the early 2000s, markets for certain high-value endangered species – elephants, rhinoceros, tigers and rosewood – have fundamentally transformed. Consumer purchases no longer trigger market booms. Speculative investments do. Investors are buying endangered species not to use and own, but in anticipation that their prices will rise. This shift explains why international trade restrictions often do not protect endangered species. China is a big player in the illegal wildlife trade and the primary destination for many trafficked species. The Chinese economy is also subject to rampant speculation that manifests in erratic housing and stock market prices. Rosewood and many other endangered species, it turns out, are subject to these speculative dynamics as well. Rosewood has been used for centuries to make traditional Chinese...