Category Archives: Wildlife

Activists fight to protect prairie dog colony threatened by mall development

By Ashley Michels / Fox 31 Denver

Castle Rock will soon be home to one of the biggest malls in the country, but a local group is trying to push the project back to save the prairie dogs that live there.

The Castle Rock Promenade is scheduled to open by the end of 2015 near I-25 and Meadows Parkway. It will be one of the biggest shopping complexes in the country. While it is expected to bring a major economic boost to the region, several residents have serious concerns.

“I live here because of the open spaces, the topography,” explains long-time resident Linda Vannosdrand. “It is absolutely gorgeous and they are ruining it.”

Several Castle Rock residents stood in protest of the mall Tuesday because the area where it will be built is home to one of the biggest prairie dog colonies in the state. Many worry they will die with the development.

“There are thousands of prairie dogs out here and their lives are just as meaningful as mine is to me,” says prairie dog activist Deanna Meyer.

Protesters are asking Alberta Development Partners to push back their timeline until June.

“There is a way to do it right. The problem with that way is they need to wait until June because all the females are pregnant right now and when they do that they don’t come out of the burrows,” Meyer explains.

Alberta Development has hired a pest control company to begin placing traps over the prairie dog holes. It is not clear if they are being used to exterminate or relocate the animals. Attempts to contact the development company Tuesday were not successful.

From Fox 31 Denver: http://kdvr.com/2015/02/24/group-protests-trapping-of-prairie-dogs-at-huge-castle-rock-shopping-development/

Paiute Nation Protests Forest Service Clearcutting of Pine-Nut Trees

By Max Wilbert / Deep Green Resistance Great Basin

Members of the Paiute nation living in northeastern Nevada are angry after the Forest Service clearcut more than 70 acres of pine nuts trees that have been used by the tribe for thousands of years, until the modern day.

According to the Forest Service, the trees were cut “by mistake” as part of a federal plan to improve habitat for the Sage Grouse (a story that Deep Green Resistance Great Basin has previously covered). Tribal members disagree, stating that clearcutting these forests will not help the Sage Grouse and should not be done without consultation and approval from the native people.

Here at Deep Green Resistance, we are all too aware of the long history of “destruction disguised as restoration”. It’s a pattern that the Forest Service has been guilty of in the past, when it has used the cover-story of “forest health” to justify extensive clearcutting — including cutting old growth forests — in the Pacific Northwest.

More information about this situation is documented in the book Strangely Like War by Derrick Jensen, which begins with a quote from the logging industry:

It was strangely like war. They attacked the forest as if it were an enemy to be pushed back from the beachheads, driven into the hills, broken into patches, and wiped out. Many operators thought they were not only making lumber but liberating the land from the trees.
— Murray Morgan, 1955

Dewey and others in the Paiute Nation protests group have set up a website, www.Tubape.org, to address the issue further. Here is an excerpt from the website:

“The local Tribal governments and Indigenous people of Nevada and California are aware of the Carson City District resource management plans to conserve, enhance, and/or restore habitats to provide for the long-term viability of the Greater Sage-grouse Bi-state Distinct Population Segment. This action is needed to address the recent “warranted, but precluded” Endangered Species Act (ESA) finding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) by addressing needed changes in the management and conservation of the Bi-state Distinct Population Segment habitats within the project area to support overall greater sage-grouse population management objectives within the states of Nevada and California.

However, we disagree with your proposed action and request that you CEASE and DESIST immediately! Your agency’s are destroying our fishing, hunting and gathering sites as well as sacred sites within the Sweetwater Range and all areas within your DEIS. We have pictures and video’s taken by tribal members from the local areas. We demand that you comply with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that specifically states your agency is legally bound to comply with Executive Order 13175 and your Trust Responsibility to the Tribes.

You have intentionally destroyed our Pine trees (Tu’ba’pe) forests in Sweetwater (Pehabe Paa’a), Desert Creek (Pazeeta Nahu Gwaytu), Sand Canyon (Kiba Mobegwaytu), the territory of the Paiute (Numu) people and all of the Pinenut (Tu’ba’pe) trees and cedar (Wapi) trees in the Great Basin.”

Read more at www.tubape.org

Local news coverage in the Reno Gazette-Journal: http://www.rgj.com/videos/news/2015/02/07/23049559/

From Deep Green Resistance Great Basin

Wildlife Conservation Efforts Are Violating Tribal Peoples’ Rights

By Stephen Corry / Survival International

Twenty years ago, fundraising publicity for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) posed a very odd question: whether to send in the army or an anthropologist to stop indigenous people destroying the Amazon rainforest. Equally bizarre, it claimed that the media was “inundated with appeals to save native peoples” and asked, “Do they really deserve our support?” The world’s leading conservation organization went on by saying that tribes had learned many things from outsiders, including “greed and corruption.” WWF’s answer to this apparent dilemma was thankfully not the army, but for concerned people to give it more money (its daily income is now $2 million) so it could “work with native peoples to develop conservation techniques.”

At Survival International, we were dismayed, and so were tribal organizations when we showed them the advertisement. For WWF to blame “duped” tribespeople for deforestation was serious enough (giving the impression they trumped conservationists in attracting more funding was laughable), but even mentioning soldiers in the same sentence as conservationists uncomfortably echoed the latter’s dubious roots in colonialist ideology.

However, WWF’s assertions are likely to have raised more eyebrows with its supporters than with many tribal people, for whom big conservation organizations have long been considered in the same bracket as development banks, road and dam builders, miners and loggers. All, they would say, are outsiders bent on stealing tribal lands.

Over the last 20 years, some conservation groups have at least cleaned up their language: Their policies now make claims about working in partnership with local tribal communities, about consulting them and about how much they apparently support UN standards on indigenous rights. There are undoubtedly many in the conservation industry who believe all this, and who realize that tribal peoples are – as a broad principle – just as good conservationists as anyone else, if not considerably better.

Even those who disagree do at least recognize that alienating local people – whether tribal or not – eventually leads to protected areas being opposed and attacked. It’s one reason why the conservation industry makes much, at least on paper, of bringing local communities on board. But apart from written policies, how much have things really changed in the last 20 years? Tragically for many, the answer is “not much”; in some places, they’re getting worse.

“Voluntary Relocation” From Tiger Reserves

For example, the WWF-inspired tiger reserves in India are increasingly used to expel tribes from their forests so they can be opened up to tourism. The people are bribed with a fistful of rupees to give up the land, which has sustained their families for countless generations. More often than not, promises are broken and they’re left with empty pockets and a few plastic sheets for shelter. Whether any financial incentives materialize or not, they are backed up with threats and intimidation: Tribes are repeatedly told that if they don’t get out, their homes and crops will be destroyed and they’ll get nothing. When they finally cave in to this pressure, the conservationists call it “voluntary relocation.” Needless to say, it’s illegal.

It might surprise people to know there’s evidence that tigers thrive in the zones where tribal villages remain – the people’s small open fields encourage more tiger prey than in the enclosed forest. When they’re kicked out, their old clearings give way to roads, hotels and truckfuls of gawping tourists. Studies show animal stress behavior increases with tourism. In other words, if you want happy tigers, then it’s much better to leave the tribal people where they’ve always been. They are surely the best eyes and ears to report any poaching activity anyway; Baiga villagers from the famous Kanha reserve respect the big cats as their “little brothers.”

Hunters or Poachers?

Guards in tiger reserves intimidate and beat tribespeople found on land that was once their ancestral forests. But at least they stop short of the torture to which the Baka “Pygmy” people in Cameroon are subjected by anti-poaching forces. To return to the advertisement: Conservation is sending in soldiers, just as it always has. Heavily armed, government paramilitary squads accompany “ecoguards,” which are equipped using WWF funds. They beat those thought to have entered the protected areas, which are in fact Baka ancestral homelands. Tribespeople are assaulted even if they’re merely suspected of knowing those who have gone in. Meanwhile, their land is logged and mined, including by WWF partners. A Baka man told us, “They beat us at the WWF base. I nearly died.” WWF seems incapable of stopping these abuses. It has known about them for years, but is scathing about those who denounce them: Survival’s “absurd” campaign to draw attention to them would, it claimed, help the “real” criminals.

Tribal victims are invariably accused of “poaching,” a term which now means any sort of hunting, including for food, with which conservationists disagree. That certainly doesn’t encompass all hunting. Many conservation organizations, including WWF, don’t oppose fee-paying big game hunting. On the contrary, they profit from it, even quietly whispering that it’s a vital ingredient in conservation.

Senior environmentalists are not averse to having a shot themselves. The former president of WWF-Spain – the previous king of Spain – was recently photographed in Botswana with his elephant kill. The resulting scandal forced him to step down, but only because the picture was leaked. Kings can hunt elephants, which we’re told are threatened, but Bushmen can’t hunt to eat, not a single one of the plentiful antelope they’ve lived off sustainably since time immemorial. If they’re even suspected of it, they’ll be beaten and tortured like the Baka. This has been going on for decades, as the president of Botswana, Ian Khama, has tried to force all Bushmen out of their Central Kalahari region. In 2014, he banned hunting throughout the country – except for paid safari hunting of course. It was another illegal act in the guise of conservation.

Conservation and Diamond Mining

An avid environmentalist himself, and board member of Conservation International (CI) no less, General Khama claims he wants to clear the zone so that the wildlife will be undisturbed. This is decidedly odd because the fauna has been much disturbed over the last 20 years, but not by the remaining tribespeople: Mining exploration continues apace and you will soon be able to buy a diamond mined from inside the so-called game reserve. Due to go on sale around Valentine’s Day, these expensive love tokens now play a part in the destruction of the last hunting Bushmen in Africa.

In March, Khama is due to host the second United for Wildlife meeting – a consortium of the world’s major conservation organizations, including WWF and CI. A British royal will doubtless turn up and join the cry against “illegal poaching.” The assembly of conservationists, who routinely violate the law in their treatment of tribal peoples, will be hosted by a president guilty of trying to eradicate Bushmen hunters. No doubt the hypocrisy will be lost in the sanctimoniousness with which the press will accord the photo ops. The first United for Wildlife meeting, in London, was also hosted by Princes William and Harry – both had returned the previous day from hunting in Spain.

A couple of years ago, to the southwest of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve diamond mine, another Bushmen community was going to be thrown off their land because they had the temerity to remain where CI had tried to establish a new “wildlife corridor.” CI apparently has good policies, including having to consult the locals, so Survival International asked how it went about consulting with the Bushmen of Ranyane during its long, expensive Botswana study. Although the village is an easy four-hour drive from the nearest big town, CI admitted there had been no attempt to consult at all.

Conservation as a Feel-Good Commodity

If this handful of examples surprises anyone, it’s because the industry has poured enormous resources into gaining a place among the world’s most trusted brands. This long PR exercise has involved blurring and hiding (rather than honestly confronting) conservation’s colonial, indeed racist, past. Conservation has become a commodity, raising enormous sums of money, and rewarding supporters with an equally large feel-good factor, one that is nowhere near as straightforwardly apolitical as we are led to believe. Those who suggest “conservation” might not really be as holy as some claim are routinely denigrated as blasphemers and apostates.

If the movement is to have any chance of achieving its stated objectives – which I, for one, pray it will – it’s vital that it’s scrutinized, questioned and exposed: For conservation casts an ideological opposition of nature versus people that is profoundly damaging to our real relationship with our environment. By doing so, it harms both people and ultimately the environment, too; conservation destroys those who’ve nurtured their surroundings for timeless generations – people who have actually fashioned what we now mistake as natural. It works too often in direct opposition to its own goals.

When experts and researchers point this out, and criticize the industry, its common reaction is to try and silence them. For example, when award-winning German filmmaker and journalist, Wilfried Huismann, conducted a two-year investigation into the WWF, the film he produced, The Silence of the Pandas, was initially blocked through legal injunctions. You can read his book, PandaLeaks, though you won’t find it in mainstream bookstores. WWF’s legal team is very quick off the mark.

But many critics are committed environmentalists themselves. They too want to prevent the world’s most beautiful and diverse regions from being overrun by the industrialization that has destroyed so much and reduced so many people to poverty and dependency. The problem is that the conservation industry is not only failing to achieve this; it can be working in the opposite direction. According to Huismann, WWF is turning a blind eye to the destruction of huge areas in Southeast Asia and South America for biofuel cultivation, requiring millions of gallons of toxic pesticides and herbicides.

Tribal Peoples Are the Best Conservationists

If the conservation conglomerates really are to start preventing the further industrialization of these vital ecosystems, they surely must first remove giant polluters like Monsanto and BP from their own boards. Conservation has to stop the illegal eviction of tribal peoples from their ancestral homelands. It has to stop claiming tribal lands are wildernesses when they’ve been managed and shaped by tribal communities for millennia. It has to stop accusing tribespeople of poaching when they hunt to feed their families. It has to stop the hypocrisy in which tribal people face arrest and beatings, torture and death, while fee-paying big game hunters are actively encouraged.

The WWF publicity concluded, “Enough is enough” – I agree; it’s time for change. It’s obviously too late for those peoples whom conservation has killed, but what’s still going on today is illegal, immoral and does not deserve public support. Conservation has to wake up to the fact that tribal peoples are better at looking after their environment than anyone else.

Despite the millions pouring into the conservation industry daily, the environment remains in deepening crisis. It’s time to realize that there is a better way. Firstly, tribal rights have to be acknowledged and respected – are they not people too? Secondly, they have to be treated as the best experts at defending their own land. Thirdly, conservationists must realize it’s they, themselves, who are the junior partners here, not the tribespeople.

The real creators of the world’s national parks are not the ideologues and evangelists of the environmental movement, but the tribal peoples who fashioned their landscapes with knowledge and understanding accumulated over countless generations.

From TruthOut: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/28888-wildlife-conservation-efforts-are-violating-tribal-peoples-rights

The ‘Nation’s Biggest Mall’ Slated to Kill One of the Largest Prairie Dog Colonies on Colorado’s Front Range

By Deanna Meyer / Deep Green Resistance Colorado

Recently I heard the news that our county was getting one of the nation’s biggest malls. The news simultaneously sunk my heart and angered me. Why the hell do we need another mall? To consume the world? Then my mind raced to the location of the mall, and the prairie dogs that live there. I had been worried about this colony before, about the strong possibility that the remaining colonies comprising hundreds of prairie dogs would be destroyed for some kind of development. After all, a Lowe’s store, an outlet mall, a housing project, and a tire store had occupied their territory and had already killed thousands of these dogs in the name of “development.” And this was the final solution for the 3,000 to 8,000 remaining burrows: complete annihilation of the prairie dogs for a shopping mall set to cover 170 acres in concrete.

Once the news sunk in, I called the town of Castle Rock, where the new mall is slated to be developed and spoke with the government official in charge of the construction. I was then given the contact information of the individual working with Alberta Development (the development company constructing the mall) on the prairie dog “problem.” She was kind and helpful, as developers are trained to be when it comes to dealing with the “pesky environmentalists” and let me know that the current plan for the prairie dogs was to cage them, kill them, and send them off to the nearest raptor farm to feed the birds. All of them. Hundreds of prairie dog families sucked up out of their only homes, caged, killed, and fed to the raptors. She informed me that they had tried to find new places for them to be relocated, but had no success, so this was the only possibility left for the prairie dogs. She extended an invitation to help her find relocation areas with assurances that if we found a place, they would cover the costs for the relocation and support us in any way they could to make that transfer happen. All I needed to do was find private land owners within Douglas County who were willing to have prairie dogs on their land. I knew that in our county, it would not be easy to locate these land owners. Ranchers and conservatives have a long history of deep stemmed hatred for these animals as they perceive prairie dogs as a nuisance and a threat to their cash herds and crops. Landowners by and large are perfectly willing to accept prairie dog extermination as good business practice.

Grabbing my camera, my next plan of action was to go and visit these prairie dog families and spend some time with them to witness what was happening in this area with the development of the mall. As I drove through the thousands of burrows, my heart was racing and sadness pulsated through me. I found a good spot to pull over and started to listen and watch as I walked among the dogs. The individual scouts were sitting on top of their burrows chatting away, relaying information to their families below. People studying prairie dogs have found that the colonies have their own distinct languages and dialects and have different words for coyotes, hawks, snakes and humans. They even distinguish between the different colors of shirts that people are wearing. As I watched them chatting, I was imagining what it was they were communicating to each other. I assumed they were sharing that a scary person holding a strange contraption was encroaching on their homes and they were taking their necessary precautions. After all, it was just a couple weeks before when Alberta Development created a rock crushing area that destroyed hundreds of homes and buried their neighbors alive.

As I walked into their colonies, their alert calls became louder and several of them sat on top of their burrows with tails wagging in tune to their chattering warning calls. As I watched, they started to get used to me and stopped being on high alert. I could see them stretching out on the top of their homes and several of them were in pairs and were hugging and kissing each other while they were basking in the sun. One of the dogs wobbled towards me in a brave and playful manner until he lost his bearings and decided to race back to his friend for comfort. As I watched these families and friends rolling, eating, singing and calling out warnings, there were trucks, heavy equipment and one car after another racing around them with deafening roars. It didn’t require much imagination to understand how stressful and terrifying it must be to live in this chaos and danger every day, to be forced to witness friends and family being smashed by giant, smoking machines, to be evicted to far corners of their world, the only places left to survive, constantly uprooted by the encroachment of a “civilized” human world where malls and parking lots take priority over the living biomes of multitudes of diverse lives. This is what is left for all of them, despite their ability to thrive on the land for generation upon generation.

Prairie dogs are an essential component of the health and biodiversity of the prairies and are considered keystone species, meaning they are essential to the balance of life in the prairies. The biodiversity that exists in these biomes cannot remain in healthy balance without their existence. There are at least 170 known species that are dependent on the prairie dogs for their survival and when the prairie dogs are removed from these areas, those other species can no longer survive and the prairies lose their biodiversity. Prairie dog colonies are the preferred grazing areas for ungulates because of the nutrient dense plants that grow there as a result of the dogs digging up nutrients that become readily available for the plants to absorb. Contrary to the myths, there has never been one documented case of an animal being so ignorant as to step into their burrows.

Before the rise of the consumerist culture on this continent, prairie dogs were densely populated throughout the prairies. The largest known colony covered 25,000 square miles and was home to perhaps 400 million prairie dogs. The total range was about 150,000 to 200,000 square miles and the population of the prairie dogs was well over a billion. The colony here in Douglas County is now one of the largest on the Front Range, and consists of between 3,000 and 8,000 burrows covering approximately 150 acres. The prairie dogs are now reduced to three percent of their range and less than one percent of their population and are truly an endangered species, but are not labeled as such because of their inappropriate status of “pest.” Such labeling makes it easy for otherwise squeamish developers to do the dirty work associated with their elimination, and to sell this practice to the uninformed.

After my visit with the prairie dogs, I contacted the developer to inquire what my timeline was for finding a relocation spot. The developer informed me (in late November) that we had to find a home for them no later than late March. However, in working with the Prairie Dog Coalition of the Humane Society of the United States, I learned that relocating prairie dogs any time before June is problematic and carries a lower success rate. Female prairie dogs spend the better part of the fall and winter preparing for their babies by building a nesting room in their burrows. After months of working on these nests, they get pregnant in January and February. After giving birth, females tend to stay down inside their burrows until April to May once their babies are mature enough to come out of their nests. If the colony is disturbed after they have had their babies between March and May, the babies and the mothers will get buried alive because they do not leave their nest area. This is why Colorado Parks and Wildlife doesn’t give permits for relocation until June 1st.  In addition, the ground is cold and often times frozen in Colorado at this time of the year with little vegetation, making the chances for success even slimmer. Add to this the trauma families and friends experience from being sucked out of their burrows and spewed into cages and further transported to an unfamiliar area leaving all these vulnerable animals terrified, traumatized and separated from their relatives which is alone enough to kill them. Further, they face the dangers of being buried alive in burrows, crushed under the wheels of construction machinery, or being killed for sport by bored workers, spectators, or trespassers. Prairie dog relocation is harsh enough in a “good” time of the year, but in March the chances for their survival are bleak indeed. If these prairie dogs are to be given any reasonable chance to live, our priority is to convince Alberta Development to wait until June so we have time to find a relocation spot where they will have a chance to survive.

I once again head back to the remaining remnant of what was once a vibrant prairie dog colony to contemplate the next steps I should take to ensure their survival. I see the thousands of burrows and hundreds of dogs spread across the landscape, surviving against the odds of a culture hell bent on destruction. The sun beams down on their homes and they start to chatter and run back and forth to their burrows across the ground. All around them I see the construction starting to take place: the large dirt mounds, the huge trucks rolling back and forth, the rock crushing area that recently buried hundreds of them alive. What words did those families share with each other as their world turned dark, as they desperately sucked in their last breath of air as the oxygen left their burrows? What will the remaining families communicate as the machines of death dump concrete over their only homes? Will they have words for their holocaust? What words will they use if they are sucked up into cages only to be euthanized and fed to raptors? How will the mothers deal with the loss of their children from whom they are separated in transport, if in fact they are not killed along the way? All these thoughts race through my head and continue to do so.

All for a shopping mall. A mall we don’t need and don’t even pretend to. But life wants to live and these dogs need this land. They need a place that will sustain them and future generations. And the prairies need these animals. The hawks need them, the coyotes, the fox and the black-footed ferret. We need these animals, whether or not we choose to see it. We need private landowners who are willing to bring these creatures onto their land, not as a work of charity or penance for sins imagined or real, but to improve the biodiversity of the prairies. We need to fight for the prairie dogs, because they cannot fight against the machines paving their homes with concrete to erect more malls that are continuously failing in our current economy. The fate of these dogs rests with us, and it is not enough to stand by, wringing our hands as we witness yet another tragedy. We must stand together and put pressure on Alberta Development to, at the minimum, put off construction of “the nations biggest mall” until June in order to give these prairie dogs a chance at survival. And then we need to wake up to the understanding that prairie dogs are a keystone species on our prairies and begin to welcome them back home.

From Deep Green Resistance Colorado

Industrial civilization forcing 41% of amphibians, 26% of mammals to extinction

By Robin McKie / The Observer

A stark depiction of the threat hanging over the world’s mammals, reptiles, amphibians and other life forms has been published by the prestigious scientific journal, Nature. A special analysis carried out by the journal indicates that a staggering 41% of all amphibians on the planet now face extinction while 26% of mammal species and 13% of birds are similarly threatened.

Many species are already critically endangered and close to extinction, including the Sumatran elephant, Amur leopard and mountain gorilla. But also in danger of vanishing from the wild, it now appears, are animals that are currently rated as merely being endangered: bonobos, bluefin tuna and loggerhead turtles, for example.

In each case, the finger of blame points directly at human activities. The continuing spread of agriculture is destroying millions of hectares of wild habitats every year, leaving animals without homes, while the introduction of invasive species, often helped by humans, is also devastating native populations. At the same time, pollution and overfishing are destroying marine ecosystems.

“Habitat destruction, pollution or overfishing either kills off wild creatures and plants or leaves them badly weakened,” said Derek Tittensor, a marine ecologist at the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge. “The trouble is that in coming decades, the additional threat of worsening climate change will become more and more pronounced and could then kill off these survivors.”

The problem, according to Nature, is exacerbated because of the huge gaps in scientists’ knowledge about the planet’s biodiversity. Estimates of the total number of species of animals, plants and fungi alive vary from 2 million to 50 million. In addition, estimates of current rates of species disappearances vary from 500 to 36,000 a year. “That is the real problem we face,” added Tittensor. “The scale of uncertainty is huge.”

In the end, however, the data indicate that the world is heading inexorably towards a mass extinction – which is defined as one involving a loss of 75% of species or more. This could arrive in less than a hundred years or could take a thousand, depending on extinction rates.

The Earth has gone through only five previous great extinctions, all caused by geological or astronomical events. (The Cretaceous-Jurassic extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago was triggered by an asteroid striking Earth, for example.) The coming great extinction will be the work of Homo sapiens, however.

“In the case of land extinctions, it is the spread of agriculture that has been main driver,” added Tittensor. “By contrast it has been the over-exploitation of resources – overfishing – that has affected sealife.” On top of these impacts, rising global temperatures threaten to destroy habitats and kill off more creatures.

This change in climate has been triggered by increasing emissions – from factories and power plants – of carbon dioxide, a gas that is also being dissolved in the oceans. As a result, seas are becoming more and more acidic and hostile to sensitive habitats. A third of all coral reefs, which support more lifeforms than any other ecosystem on Earth, have already been lost in the last few decades and many marine experts believe all coral reefs could end up being wiped out before the end of the century.

Similarly, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles and a seventh of all birds are headed toward oblivion. And these losses are occurring all over the planet, from the South Pacific to the Arctic and from the deserts of Africa to mountaintops and valleys of the Himalayas.

A blizzard of extinctions is now sweeping Earth and has become a fact of modern life. Yet the idea that entire species can be wiped out is relatively new. When fossils of strange creatures – such as the mastodon – were first dug up, they were assumed to belong to creatures that still lived in other lands. Extant versions lived elsewhere, it was argued. “Such is the economy of nature,” claimed Thomas Jefferson, who backed expeditions to find mastodons in the unexplored interior of America.

Then the French anatomist Georges Cuvier showed that the elephant-like remains of the mastodon were actually those of an “espèce perdue” or lost species. “On the basis of a few scattered bones, Cuvier conceived of a whole new way of looking at life,” notes Elizabeth Kolbert in her book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. “Species died out. This was not an isolated but a widespread phenomenon.”

Since then the problem has worsened with every decade, as the Nature analysis makes clear. Humans began by wiping out mastodons and mammoths in prehistoric times. Then they moved on to the eradication of great auks, passenger pigeons – once the most abundant bird in North America – and the dodo in historical time. And finally, in recent times, we have been responsible for the disappearance of the golden toad, the thylacine – or Tasmanian tiger – and the Baiji river dolphin. Thousands more species are now under threat.

In an editorial, Nature argues that it is now imperative that governments and groups such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature begin an urgent and accurate census of numbers of species on the planet and their rates of extinction. It is not the most exciting science, the journal admits, but it is vitally important if we want to start protecting life on Earth from the worst impacts of our actions. The loss for the planet is incalculable – as it is for our own species which could soon find itself living in a world denuded of all variety in nature. As ecologist Paul Ehrlich has put it: “In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches.”

From The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/14/earth-faces-sixth-great-extinction-with-41-of-amphibians-set-to-go-the-way-of-the-dodo

Ivory traders have killed 65% of world’s forest elephants in 12 years

By Jeremy Hance / Mongabay

Forest elephants have suffered unprecedented butchery for their ivory tusks over the past decade, according to new numbers released by conservationists today in London. Sixty-five percent of the world’s forest elephants have been slaughtered by poachers over the last dozen years, with poachers killing an astounding nine percent of the population annually. Lesser-known than their savannah cousins, a genetics study in 2010 found that forest elephants are in fact a distinct species, as far removed from savannah elephants as Asian elephants are from mammoths. These findings make the forest elephant crisis even more urgent.

“At least a couple of hundred thousand forest elephants were lost between 2002-2013 to the tune of at least sixty a day, or one every twenty minutes, day and night,” says Fiona Maisels, a researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) who headed the research. “By the time you eat breakfast, another elephant has been slaughtered to produce trinkets for the ivory market.”

The analysis adds new data from 2012 and 2013 to a landmark study last year, showing that despite some stepped-up conservation efforts poaching continues apace.

Forest elephants are found primarily in Central and West Africa, largely inhabiting—as its name suggests—the Congo Rainforest. However, this means that it’s not only more difficult to monitor populations hidden by great forests, but also that it’s easy for poachers to kill them and getaway with immunity. Many of the countries in which they are found are also beset by poverty, instability, and corruption, making forest elephant conservation incredibly challenging.

For example, forest elephants used to have their biggest stronghold in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but relentless poaching means that the country has lost many of its forest elephants.

“The current number and distribution of elephants is mind-boggling when compared to what it should be,” said Samantha Strindberg, also with WCS and co-author of the paper. “About 95 percent of the forests of DRC are almost empty of elephants.”

Today, Gabon holds the most surviving forest elephants with about 60 percent of the global population.

Despite the 2010 study showing that forest elephants are a distinct species, this has yet to be recognized by the IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature). The group currently lumps forest and savannah elephants together and lists them as Vulnerable. However that listing hasn’t been updated for nearly six years.

Governments are beginning to respond. Just yesterday, the Obama Administration released an ambitious new strategy for tackling global wildlife crime, including toughening restrictions on ivory and shutting loopholes. Many countries, including most recently France, have begun to destroy their ivory stockpiles. Although much of this comes years too late for many of the crippled populations of forest elephants.

“These new numbers showing the continuing decline of the African forest elephant are the exact reason why there is a sense of urgency at the United for Wildlife trafficking symposium in London this week,” John Robinson, WCS Chief Conservation Officer and Executive Vice President of Conservation and Science with the WCS, says. “The solutions we are discussing in London this week and the commitments we are making cannot fail or the African forest elephant will blink out in our lifetime.”

From Mongabay: “Ivory trade’s shocking toll: 65% of world’s forest elephants killed in 12 years (warning: graphic image)

Jonah Mix: Why I Fight — A Personal Essay

By Jonah Mix / Deep Green Resistance Salish Sea

Their blind gaze, the diminutive gold disc without expression and nonetheless terribly shining, went through me like a message: “Save us, save us.” I caught myself mumbling words of advice, conveying childish hopes. They continued to look at me, immobile; from time to time the rosy branches of the gills stiffened. In that instant I felt a muted pain; perhaps they were seeing me, attracting my strength to penetrate into the impenetrable thing of their lives. They were not human beings, but I had found in no animal such a profound relation with myself. The axolotls were like witnesses of something, and at time like horrible judges.

-Julio Cortázar, Axolotl

I want to talk to you about axolotls, but in a way I can’t. They have to be seen. I’ve only seen one in my life, at an aquarium 2,831 miles away from their ancestral home at Lake Xochimilco in Central Mexico. There is one other lake where axolotls once lived, Lake Chalco, but it no longer exists. I’ll get to that soon.

There’s something in the face of an axolotl that is blessedly human – or, perhaps, there is something in the face of human beings that reflects the beauty of axolotls. Their neotonic bodies and knowing expressions transcend any notion of age or era. Ominously primordial, with their slow gait and mournful gaze, axolotls feel less like animals and more like manifestations of the Earth itself, incarnations of the rivers and lakes of their perpetual youth.

I first learned of them through Julio Cortazar’s story quoted above. I encourage everyone I know to read it. It’s a beautiful piece, full of incredible prose and disquieting sensuality. It’s also a requiem for these little salamanders. Even in Cortazar’s time they were dying, being found more in aquariums and fish tanks than the bodies of water where they had lived for millennia. The ancient lake Chalco, once the center of early Mesoamerican culture, is gone now, drained to prevent flooding in new housing and business developments. Xochimilco is a shadow of its former self, existing mostly as canals and shallow, oil-slicked pools. Pollution, urban sprawl, and encroaching industrial development will rid the world of wild axolotls soon. Look into the face of an axolotl. It carries the judgment that we deserve.

In Nahuatl, the intricate and beautiful language of indigenous central Mexicans, axolotl means “river monster.” And now the Nahua people are being slaughtered, exported as modern-day slaves and driven off their land. The axolotl is dying with them.


I know this because I was the child of a mother who dedicated her life to the plight of migrant workers. A white woman herself, she learned Mexican Spanish while living in Tucson, Arizona. When she moved with my father to the Seattle area, she ignored the complaints of religious patriarchs and helped lead a church for immigrant families. Through her efforts, and through the kindness and generosity of those who she introduced me to as a child, I developed a deep and abiding interest in Latin American culture. My mother was the one who first introduced me to Julio Cortázar, Laura Restrepo, Elvia Ardalani, Jorge Luis Borges, and Ángeles Mastretta. She taught me about Cesar Chavez and Che Guevara. She called me mi amor – she still does, sometimes, when I call home after too long an absence – and she taught me that things don’t have to be this way.

Being the child of an activist is often like sailing in a glass-bottom boat – you see down into the dark and the cold, but you stay above it, dry. You see the brutality swirling beneath you, held back by the shield of your youth and privilege, the loving barrier my mother erected to keep me from seeing clearly at such a tender age. Under the pretense of visiting a friend or helping a neighbor, she would disappear for a night and be back for breakfast. It was always clear to me how tired she was. I could see it in her face, even as a child. Regularly I would come along with her to visit brown-skinned strangers and listen as they exchanged hushed whispers in Spanish. My mother told me to play with my father while they spoke, and I did. Once or twice I remember waking up at home to find them folding their blankets and pillows after a night on our couch. I know now that if I could see those scenes in my mind as they really were, and not as a child saw them, I would recall the scars, the bruises, the hollow stomachs and weary eyes.

Of course, I learned later that these were not house guests but refugees, battered by husbands or hunted by boyfriends. I discovered, years after the fact, that my mother’s midnight visits to the mobile homes and shacks outside the dairy farms were not for pleasure. She was delivering medicine. She was translating for emergency services. She was begging a mother to take her children and hide for one night in a motel. I never had to witness the suffering she dealt with daily. My mother guarded me, as did my skin and my wealth and my gender. I escaped the violence. My mother didn’t.

My mother was raped, at least once. If there were other times, she’s chosen not to tell me. I was shocked when I first heard, but now realize how absurd my astonishment was. Around the world, there’s a one in three chance that a woman will experience sexual violence or domestic abuse. Double that for indigenous women, at least. Most female activists I talk to say even these estimates are too low. When my mother sat me down on her bed and told me about the man who raped her, I felt an overwhelming urge to find and kill him. I wanted to end his life. I’m proud to say that I still do. I don’t think I’ll ever lose my hate. I pray every day that I don’t.

Every two minutes in this country, a woman is raped, and I hope I don’t ever go two minutes without letting that fact overwhelm me with fury. Every day, tens of thousands of children starve on their own land while globalized corporations steal the fruits of their labor, and I hope I don’t ever take a bite without remembering that. Every step I take is on indigenous land. Every road I drive down is built on the mass grave of sixty million American bison. Every cell phone call I make disrupts the travel patterns of migratory birds. Every piece of clothing I wear is stitched by the weak to make money for the strong. For all of this, I pray I never lose my rage, but I pray for more than that. I pray that the rage I feel will propel me to fight. Every moment I sit by and despair, feeling sorry, the Earth dies a little more. If my mother taught me anything, it’s that we don’t have time for self-pity. We don’t have time to congratulate ourselves for our sorrow. It’s not enough to remember, to see clearly. What matters is action. The trees, the rivers, the animals, human and non-human, they don’t have time for us to sit and cry. So if we cry, and we will – we should – we have to cry while fighting on.


My path to activism began when I learned that axolotls were dying, when I learned my mother had been raped. I’ve discovered a lot since then, thanks to Andrea Dworkin, Leonard Peltier, Lierre Keith, and others. I know more now. But what keeps me going in this war against civilization is not scholarship or theory – it’s the twin curses of agonizing empathy and belly-deep hatred, the two beating hearts that keep every warrior alive. It’s the look on my mother’s face. So yes, I’m fighting for the Earth and every living creature on it. But sometimes, in the darkness and the despair, that’s too big. Sometimes I can’t bear the weight of the planet on my shoulders. It’s too much. It’s overwhelming. It’s scary and stressful and impossible to wrap my mind around. But the little stream I just found a few miles from my house isn’t, so I’ll fight for that. I’ll fight for David, the indigenous man I met last week who is homeless on his own ancestral land. I’ll fight for my mother, for the battered women who shared the living room floors and couches of my childhood. And I’ll fight for the axolotls. They need me, and I’m here.

A special thanks to my mother for allowing me to discuss her experiences. If you would like to share this essay, know that she encourages her story to be told.

From Deep Green Resistance Bellingham: http://dgrbellingham.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/why-i-fight-a-personal-essay/

Soco oil corporation planning to devastate Congo gorilla reserve

By John Vidal / The Guardian

The Virunga national park, home to rare mountain gorillas but targeted for oil exploration by a British company, could earn strife-torn DR Congo $400m (£263m) a year from tourism, hydropower and carbon credits, a WWF report published on Thursday concludes.

But if the Unesco world heritage site that straddles the equator is exploited for oil, as the Congolese government and exploration firm Soco International are hoping, it could lead to devastating pollution and permanent conflict in an already unstable region, says the conservation body.

Congo has allocated oil concessions over 85% of the Virunga park but Soco International is now the only company seeking to explore inside its boundaries. This year Unesco called for the cancellation of all Virunga oil permits.

Soco, whose board of 10 directors have wide experience with oil companies working in conflict areas including Exxon, Shell and Cairn, insist that their operations in Congo would be confined to an area in the park known as Block V, and would not affect the gorillas.

Soco chairman, Rui de Sousa, said: “Despite the views of WWF, Soco is extremely sensitive to the environmental significance of the Virunga national park. It is irrefutable that oil companies still have a central role in today’s global energy supply and a successful oil project has the potential to transform the economic and social wellbeing of a whole country.”

He added: “The park has sadly been in decline for many years officially falling below the standards required for a world heritage site. The potential for development just might be the catalyst that reverses this trend.”

However Raymond Lumbuenamo, country director for WWF-Democratic Republic of the Congo, based in Kinshassa, said that security in and around the park would deteriorate further if Soco went ahead with its exploration plans.

“The security situation is already bad. The UN is involved with fighting units and the M23 rebel force is inside the park. Oil would be a curse. It always increases conflict. It would attract human sabotage. The park might become like the Niger delta. Developing Virunga for oil will not make anything better.”

“The population there is already very dense, with over 350 people per sqkm. When you take part of the land (for oil) you put more pressure on the rest. Oil would not provide many jobs, people would flood in looking for work,” he said.

One fear is that the area is seismically active and another eruption of one of the volcanoes in the park could damage oil company infrastructure and lead to oil spills in the lakes. “Virunga’s rich natural resources are for the benefit of the Congolese people, not for foreign oil prospectors to drain away. Our country’s future depends on sustainable economic development,” said Lumbuenamo.

“For me, choosing the conservation option is the best option. We can always turn back. Once you have started drilling for oil there’s no turning back,” he said.

But Raymond accepted that while the gorillas were safe at present, the chances of the park generating its potential of $400m a year were remote. “It would be difficult to make the kind of money that the report talks of. Virunga used to be a very peaceful place and can be again. The security situation right now is bad. The UN is involved with fighting units. Its not as quiet as it used to be.”

Read more from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/aug/01/congo-mountain-gorillas-virunga-wwf

Dominican Republic bulldozing wildlife preserve for agriculture

By Jeremy Hance / Mongabay

Last Wednesday, bulldozers entered the Loma Charco Azul Biological Reserve (LCABR) in the Dominican Republic and began clearing vegetation for agricultural development. The move stunned local conservationists who had not been notified ahead of time of the project. Although Charco Azul Biological Reserve is home to a wealth of threatened species—including the world’s largest population of the Critically Endangered Ricordi’s iguana (Cyclura ricordi)—the destruction of the reserve was signed off by the Dominican Republic’s Minister of the Environment, Bautista Rojas Gómez.

“The current Minister of the Environment simply does not care about protected areas. Other Ministry technical staff had denied the permit, but he signed it off himself, yielding to pressure from the Agrarian Institute,” Yolanda Leon, a biologist and president of the local NGO Grupo Jaragua, told mongabay.com.

Grupo Jaragua, which focuses on conservation efforts in the southwestern portion of the Dominican Republic, has called on the government to immediately halt the clearing. Meanwhile the National Institute of Lawyers for the Protection of the Environment are preparing to take legal action over the destruction, arguing that the clearing of a protected area is illegal under national law, reports the Environment News Service. To date, around ten hectares have been cleared, but the government plans on clearing over a hundred hectares.

The agricultural project is reportedly a part of a relocation project for families that have been impacted by rising water levels in nearby Enriquillo Lagoon. However, Grupo Jaragua warns that the arid land around Loma Charco Azul Biological Reserve is little suitable for farming.

“Many other areas have been cleared nearby and no land has been allotted to local people, nor water systems have been installed, they remain fallow.”

However even if the clearing stops, the situation has already created conflict in the region.

“The nearby locals who’ve been promised the land are threatening […] violence against the ministry, environmental groups and any iguana they find unless they receive the land,” Leon notes.

Charco Azul Biological Reserve, which was only established in 2009, is notable for housing around 600 Ricordi’s iguana, a species which is down to just a few thousand individuals and is only found in the Dominican Republic. These iguanas are known for their blood-red eyes. In addition, the reserve is home to endemic species like the least pauraque (Siphonorhis brewsteri), the Hispaniolan racer snake (Haitiophis anomalus), and a tree cactus (Dendrocereus undulosus).

Most recently researchers have discovered the presence of the Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus) in the park as well. Listed as Endangered, the solenodon is one of the world’s most bizarre mammals: it is the only mammal to shoot venom out of its teeth like a snake. The solenodon is also a living fossil: virtually unchanged in the fossil record, solenodons ran underneath the feet of dinosaurs 75 million years ago. The Hispaniolan solenodon’s only living relative is in Cuba and is Critically Endangered.

The Loma Charco Azul Biological Reserve is apart of the UNESCO Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve.

From Mongabay: “Dominican Republic sends bulldozers to destroy wildlife reserve, home to endangered species

Climate change expected to devastate common plants and animals

By University of East Anglia

More than half of common plants and one third of the animals could see a dramatic decline this century due to climate change – according to research from the University of East Anglia.

Research published today in the journal Nature Climate Change looked at 50,000 globally widespread and common species and found that more than one half of the plants and one third of the animals will lose more than half of their climatic range by 2080 if nothing is done to reduce the amount of global warming and slow it down.

This means that geographic ranges of common plants and animals will shrink globally and biodiversity will decline almost everywhere.

Plants, reptiles and particularly amphibians are expected to be at highest risk. Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Amazonia and Australia would lose the most species of plants and animals. And a major loss of plant species is projected for North Africa, Central Asia and South-eastern Europe.

But acting quickly to mitigate climate change could reduce losses by 60 per cent and buy an additional 40 years for species to adapt. This is because this mitigation would slow and then stop global temperatures from rising by more than two degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial times (1765). Without this mitigation, global temperatures could rise by 4 degrees Celsius by 2100.

The study was led by Dr Rachel Warren from theTyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA. Collaborators include Dr Jeremy VanDerWal at James Cook University in Australia and Dr Jeff Price, from UEA’s school of Environmental Sciences and the Tyndall Centre. The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Dr Warren said: “While there has been much research on the effect of climate change on rare and endangered species, little has been known about how an increase in global temperature will affect more common species.

“This broader issue of potential range loss in widespread species is a serious concern as even small declines in these species can significantly disrupt ecosystems.

“Our research predicts that climate change will greatly reduce the diversity of even very common species found in most parts of the world. This loss of global-scale biodiversity would significantly impoverish the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides.

“We looked at the effect of rising global temperatures, but other symptoms of climate change such as extreme weather events, pests, and diseases mean that our estimates are probably conservative. Animals in particular may decline more as our predictions will be compounded by a loss of food from plants.

“There will also be a knock-on effect for humans because these species are important for things like water and air purification, flood control, nutrient cycling, and eco-tourism.

“The good news is that our research provides crucial new evidence of how swift action to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gases can prevent the biodiversity loss by reducing the amount of global warming to 2 degrees Celsius rather than 4 degrees. This would also buy time – up to four decades – for plants and animals to adapt to the remaining 2 degrees of climate change.”

The research team quantified the benefits of acting now to mitigate climate change and found that up to 60 per cent of the projected climatic range loss for biodiversity can be avoided.

Dr Warren said: “Prompt and stringent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally would reduce these biodiversity losses by 60 per cent if global emissions peak in 2016, or by 40 per cent if emissions peak in 2030, showing that early action is very beneficial. This will both reduce the amount of climate change and also slow climate change down, making it easier for species and humans to adapt.”

Information on the current distributions of the species used in this research came from the datasets shared online by hundreds of volunteers, scientists and natural history collections through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

Co-author Dr Jeff Price, also from UEA’s school of Environmental Studies, said: “Without free and open access to massive amounts of data such as those made available online through GBIF, no individual researcher is able to contact every country, every museum, every scientist holding the data and pull it all together. So this research would not be possible without GBIF and its global community of researchers and volunteers who make their data freely available.”

From University of East Anglia: http://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/2013/May/climate-change-warren-common-species