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...
Trump Administration Proposes Allowing GE Crops on Thousands of Acres of National Wildlife Refuges

Trump Administration Proposes Allowing GE Crops on Thousands of Acres of National Wildlife Refuges

SOURCE: Center for Biological Diversity DATE: March 20, 2020 SNIP: The Trump administration has proposed to approve genetically engineered crops on national wildlife refuges throughout the southeastern United States, a step likely to increase use of glyphosate and other pesticides known to harm wildlife. The Obama administration acted in 2014 to phase out GE crops on all national wildlife refuges following a successful decade-long campaign by the Center for Food Safety and others. The Trump administration reversed that decision in 2018, prompting a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety challenging the action in September 2019. The proposal released this week opens the door to escalating uses of GE crops and harmful pesticides across the Southeastern Region of the refuge system, which includes 131 refuges in 10 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “Only the Trump administration would aggressively promote the use of crops genetically engineered for pesticide tolerance on wildlife refuges,” said Hannah Connor, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s a no-brainer that this kind of pesticide-intensive agriculture shouldn’t be allowed on public lands that are critical to wildlife conservation and preservation of the unique ecosystems of the southeastern U.S.” National wildlife refuges are federal public lands specifically designated to protect fish and wildlife. The Southeastern Region is comprised of almost 4 million acres of refuge lands and waters that provide vital habitat for dozens of endangered species known to be imperiled by pesticide use — including bats, birds, freshwater mussels, and fish like the pallid sturgeon and Alabama cavefish. Genetically engineered corn and soy are typically designed...
Conservationists Say Salmon Fishing Plan Imperils Whales

Conservationists Say Salmon Fishing Plan Imperils Whales

SOURCE: Courthouse News Service DATE: March 18, 2020 SNIP: The government allowed salmon fishing in Alaska at rates its own reports said will push endangered Southern Resident killer whales closer to extinction, environmental groups claim in a lawsuit filed Wednesday. Salmon born in the rivers and streams of Oregon, Washington state and British Columbia migrate to the Pacific Ocean and through the Gulf of Alaska, home to a major troll fishing fleet. In southeast Alaska, 97% of the Chinook salmon fishermen harvest were born elsewhere. The fish they take never make it back to their home waters, where they could have been dinner for the 72 remaining Southern Resident killer whales – a genetically distinct group of orca that are starving due to a lack of their main prey. “It is reckless and irresponsible for NOAA to approve this harvest, these salmon don’t belong to Alaska, they belong to Southern Resident killer whales, indigenous peoples, and fishing communities down the coast,” Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy’s executive director, said Wednesday in a press release. The whales live in three extended, matrilineal families called pods. Their numbers never fully rebounded since aquariums that later became SeaWorld captured a third of them in the late 1960s. After that, they climbed to a high of 98 in 1995 before plunging again. In 2018, a mother whale from J pod refused to let the body of her dead calf sink to the sea floor, instead carrying it on her nose for 17 days. Three more died last year, and a fourth disappeared this spring. Their decline is due to three main factors: water...
Joshua Tree issues plea after vandals strike again

Joshua Tree issues plea after vandals strike again

SOURCE: USA Today DATE: February 26, 2020 SNIP: Joshua Tree National Park is requesting the public’s help in finding the person or persons responsible for recent acts of vandalism. Since January, spray-painted graffiti has appeared on rock features in several areas within the vast Southern California park. They include Rattlesnake Canyon, the Geo Tour Road, and Skull Rock Natural Trail. Additionally, Joshua trees have been toppled or damaged. “Joshua Tree National Park belongs to all of us,” David Smith, park superintendent, stated in a news release issued Tuesday. “Using paint or chisels on rocks and trees destroys the beauty we are trying to protect in our parks. “It is our hope that anyone with knowledge of these incidents will come forward so that we can eliminate future problems. It is illegal deface any of the resources in the park.” The park requests that anyone with information about the recent vandalism report their observations via email at jotr_graffiti@nps.org. The park also is seeking volunteers for various tasks, including graffiti cleanup and patrols. Vandalism is an ongoing problem for the sprawling desert park. During the partial government shutdown that began in late December 2018, several of the park’s signature Joshua trees were destroyed or removed by vandals. [Ed note: why are humans so consistently...
‘They won’t survive’: Trump gas wells would block pronghorn migration route

‘They won’t survive’: Trump gas wells would block pronghorn migration route

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: February 24, 2020 SNIP: The Path of the Pronghorn is a 170-mile migration route that the antelope-like creatures have traveled annually for 6,000 years. It is one of North America’s last remaining long-distance terrestrial migration corridors. And it is at risk. This week conservation groups filed a legal petition challenging the Trump administration’s plan to allow 3,500 new gas wells in south-western Wyoming that would block the route. The petition alleges that the government approved the wells without properly analyzing the potential harm to pronghorn and the greater sage grouse, a chicken-like bird that requires vast, intact landscapes for habitat, from well pads, roads, pipelines and other infrastructure. The frack-field expansion would prevent access to winter ranges that pronghorn need to survive. Migration memory is passed from parent to offspring among ungulates, said the conservationist Linda Baker, the director of the Upper Green River Alliance. “If we cut off their migration route, that memory is lost and not likely to be regained in the life of a pronghorn. This area is a high cold desert, so they survive on sagebrush. If they can’t get to traditional winter ranges on these pathways, they won’t survive.” The migrating animals belong to the the Sublette herd, which has already declined by 40% in the past decade. About 300 animals from this herd live in a summer range in Grand Teton national park in north-western Wyoming and travel the Path of the Pronghorn to their winter range in the Upper Green River Valley in south-east Wyoming. The northern portion of their route is protected as the nation’s first national...