WHY HAS BEES BEEN DECLARED AS THE MOST VALUABLE LIVING BEING ON OUR PLANET?
According to a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, If the bees disappear, humans would have 4 years to live.
According to a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, If the bees disappear, humans would have 4 years to live.
Life in the United States — the richest country in world history — doesn’t need to be like this. This country’s endless wars, deaths of despair, rising mortality rates and out-of-control gun violence did not come out of nowhere. In this second installment from an exclusive transcript of a conversation aired on Alternative Radio, public intellectual Noam Chomsky discusses the roots of gun culture, militarism, economic stagnation and growing inequality in the U.S. Read the first installment of this interview here: “Noam Chomsky: Trump Is Trying to Exploit Tension With Iran for 2020.“
David Barsamian: Do you ever make the connection between the external violence of the U.S. state and what is happening internally with all the shootings and mass murders?
Noam Chomsky: The U.S. is a very strange country. From the point of view of its infrastructure, the U.S. often looks like a “Third World” country…. Not for everybody, of course. There are people who can say, “OK, fine, I’ll go in my private jet or helicopter.” Drive around any American city. They’re falling apart. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the U.S. regularly a D, the lowest ranking, in infrastructure.
This is the richest country in world history. It has enormous resources. It has advantages that are just incomparable in agricultural resources, mineral resources, huge territory, homogeneous. You can fly 3,000 miles and think you’re in the same place where you started. There is nothing like that anywhere in the world. In fact, there are successes, like a good deal of the high-tech economy, substantially government-based but real.
On the other hand, it’s the only country in the developed world in which mortality is actually increasing. That’s just unknown in developed societies. In the last several years, life expectancy has declined in the U.S. There is work by two major economists, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who have carefully studied the mortality figures. It turns out that in the cohort roughly 25 to 50, the working-age cohort of whites, the white working class, there is an increase in deaths, what they call “deaths of despair”: suicide, opioid overdoses, and so on. This is estimated at about 150,000 deaths a year. It’s not trivial. The reason, it’s generally assumed, is the economic stagnation since Reagan. In fact, this is the group that entered the workforce right around the early 1980s, when the neoliberal programs began to be instituted.
That has led to a small slowdown in growth. Growth is not what it was before. There is growth, but very highly concentrated. Wealth has become extremely highly concentrated. Right now, according to the latest figures, 0.1 percent of the population holds 20 percent of the country’s wealth; the top 1 percent holds roughly 40 percent. Half the population has negative net worth, meaning debts outweigh assets. There has been stagnation pretty much for the workforce over the whole neoliberal period. That’s the group that we’re talking about. Naturally, this leads to anger, resentment, desperation. Similar things are happening in Europe under the austerity programs. That’s the background for what’s misleadingly called “populism.” But in the U.S., it’s quite striking. The “deaths of despair” phenomenon seems to be a specific U.S. characteristic, not matched in other countries.
Remember, there is no country in the world that has anything like the advantages of the U.S. in wealth, power and resources. It’s a shocking commentary. You read constantly that the unemployment rate has reached a wonderful level, barely 3 percent unemployed. But that’s pretty misleading. When you use Labor Department statistics, it turns out that the actual unemployment rate is over 7 percent. When you take into account the large number of people who have just dropped out of the workforce, labor force participation is considerably below what it was about 20-30 years ago. There are good studies of this by economists. You have roughly a 7.5 percent unemployment rate and stagnation of real wages, which have barely moved. Since the year 2000, there has been a steady decline in just median family wealth. As I said, for about half the population, it’s now negative.
In terms of guns, the U.S. is an outlier. We have 4 percent of the world’s population with 40 percent of the globe’s guns.
There is an interesting history to that, very well studied. There’s a recent book by Pamela Haag called The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of American Gun Culture. It’s a very interesting analysis. What she shows is that after the Civil War, the gun manufacturers didn’t really have much of a market. The U.S. government market had declined, of course, and foreign governments weren’t much of a market. It was then an agricultural society, the late 19th century. Farmers had guns, but they were like tools, nothing special. You had a nice old-fashioned gun. It was enough to chase away wolves. They didn’t want the fancy guns that the gun manufacturers were producing.
So, what happened was, the first major, huge advertising campaign that was a kind of a model for others later. An enormous campaign was carried out to try to create a gun culture. They invented a Wild West, which never existed, with the bold sheriff drawing the pistol faster than anyone else and all this nonsense that you get in the cowboy movies. It was all concocted. None of it ever happened. Cowboys were sort of the dregs of society, people who couldn’t get a job anywhere else. You hired them to push some cows around. But this image of the Wild West and the great heroes was developed. Along with it came the ads, saying something like, ‘If your son doesn’t have a Winchester rifle, he’s not a real man, If your daughter doesn’t have a little pink pistol, she’ll never be happy.’
It was a tremendous success. I suppose it was a model for later on, when the tobacco companies developed the “Marlboro man” and all this kind of business. This was the late 19th, early 20th century, the period in which the huge public relations industry was beginning to develop. It was brilliantly discussed by Thorstein Veblen, the great political economist, who pointed out that in that stage of the capitalist economy, it was necessary to fabricate wants, otherwise you couldn’t maintain the economy that would generate great profit levels. The gun propaganda was probably the beginning of it.
It goes on, pushing up to the recent period since 2008, the Supreme Court Heller decision. What they called Second Amendment rights have just become holy writ. They’re [considered by some] the most important rights that exist, our sacred right to have guns, established by the Supreme Court, overturning a century of precedent.
Take a look at the Second Amendment. It says, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Up until 2008, that was interpreted pretty much the way it reads, that the point of having guns was to keep a militia. Scalia, in his decision in 2008, reversed that. He was a very good scholar. He’s supposed to be an originalist. He would pay attention to the intentions of the founders. If you read the decision, it’s interesting. There are all kinds of references to obscure 17th century documents. Strikingly, he never mentions once the reasons the founders wanted the people to have guns, which are not obscure.
One reason was that the British were coming. The British were the big enemy then. They were the most powerful state in the world. The U.S. barely had a standing army. If the British were going to come again, which in fact they did, you’ve got to have militias to fight them off, so we have to have well-regulated militias.
The second reason was, it was a slave society. This was a period where there were slave rebellions taking place all through the Caribbean. Slavery was growing massively after the revolution. There was deep concern. Black slaves often outnumbered whites. You had to have well-armed militias to keep them under control.
There was yet another reason. The U.S. is maybe one of the rare countries in history which has been at war virtually every year since its founding. You can hardly find a single year when the U.S. wasn’t at war.
When you look back at the American Revolution, the textbook story is “taxation without representation,” which is not false, but far from the whole story. Two major factors in the revolution were that the British were imposing a restriction on expansion of settlement beyond the Appalachian Mountains into what was called “Indian country.” The British were blocking that. The settlers wanted to expand to the West. Not just people who wanted land, but also great land speculators, like George Washington, wanted to move into the Western areas. “Western” meant right over the mountains. The British were blocking that. At the end of the war, the settlers could expand.
The other factor was slavery. In 1772, there was a very important and famous ruling by a leading British jurist, Lord Mansfield, that slavery is so “odious,” his word, that it cannot be tolerated within Britain. It could be tolerated in the colonies, like Jamaica, but not within Britain. The U.S. colonies were essentially part of Britain. It was a slave society. They could see the handwriting on the wall. If the U.S. stays within the British system, it’s going to be a real threat to slavery. That was ended by the revolution.
But that meant, going back to the guns, you needed them to keep off the British, you needed them to control the slaves, you needed them to kill Indians. If you’re going to attack the Indian nations — they were nations, of course — you’re going to attack the many nations to the West of the country, you’re going to have to have guns and militias. Ultimately, it was replaced later by a standing army.
But take a look at the reasons you had to have guns for the founders. Not a single one of them applies in the 21st century. This is completely missing not only from Scalia’s decision, but even from the legal debate over this. There is a legal literature debating the Heller decision, but almost all of it is about the technical question of whether the Second Amendment is a militia right or an individual right. The wording of the amendment is a little bit ambiguous, so you can argue about it, but it’s completely beside the point. The Second Amendment is totally irrelevant to the modern world; it has nothing to do with it. But it’s become holy writ.
So, you have this huge propaganda campaign. As a kid, I was affected by it. Wyatt Earp, guns, “kill Indians,” all that. It’s spread all over the world. In France, they love cowboy movies. A totally fabricated picture of the West, but it was very successful in creating a gun culture. It’s now become sanctified by the reactionary Supreme Court. So, yes, everybody has got to have a gun….
Talk about the First Amendment and press freedom and journalism, a trade which has come under attack from the self-styled “extremely stable genius” in the White House as “the enemy of the people.” Talk about that and also about the Assange case.
The First Amendment is a major contribution of American democracy. The First Amendment actually doesn’t guarantee the right of free speech. What it says is that the state cannot take preemptive action to prevent speech. It doesn’t say it can’t punish it. So under the First Amendment, literally, you can be punished for things you say. It doesn’t block that. It was nevertheless a step forward in the environment of the time that the U.S. in many ways did break through. With all of its flaws, the American Revolution was progressive in many respects by the standards of the time, even the phrase “We the people.” Putting aside the flaws in implementation, the very idea was a breakthrough. The First Amendment was a step forward.
However, it wasn’t really until the 20th century that First Amendment issues really came on the agenda, at first with the dissenting opinions of Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Louis Brandeis in cases around the First World War, a little bit later. It’s worth looking at how narrow these dissents were. The first major one, in the Schenck case in 1917, was a case of somebody who published a pamphlet describing the war as an imperialist war and saying you don’t have to serve in it. Support for free speech under the First Amendment was very narrow, as Holmes’s dissent and then support for punishment showed. The case was a complete scandal, but even Holmes went along.
In fact, the real steps toward establishing a strong protection of freedom of speech were actually in the 1960s. A major case was Times v. Sullivan. The State of Alabama had claimed what’s called sovereign immunity, that you can’t attack the state with words. That’s a principle that holds in most countries — Britain, Canada, others. There was an ad published by the civil rights movement, which denounced the police in Montgomery, Alabama, for racist activities, and they had sued to block it. It went to the Supreme Court. The ad was in [The New York Times]. That’s why it’s called Times v. Sullivan. The Supreme Court for the first time, basically, struck down the doctrine of sovereign immunity. It said you can attack the state with words. Of course, it had been done, but now it became legal.
There was a stronger decision a couple years later, Brandenburg v. Ohio, in 1969, where the Court ruled that speech should be free up to participation in an imminent criminal action. So, for example, if you and I go into a store with the intent to rob it, and you have a gun and I say, “Shoot,” that’s not privileged. But that’s basically the doctrine. That’s a very strong protection of freedom of speech. There’s nothing like it anywhere, as far as I know.
In practice, the U.S. has not a stellar record, but one of the better (maybe even the best record) in protection of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. That is indeed under attack when the press is denounced as the “enemy of the people” and you organize your rabid support base to attack the press. That’s a serious threat.
And Julian Assange?
The real threat to Assange from the very beginning, the reason he took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, was the threat of extradition to the U.S., now implemented. He has already been charged with violations of the Espionage Act; theoretically he can even get a death sentence from it. Assange’s crime has been to expose secret documents that are very embarrassing for state power. One of the main ones was the exposure of the video of American helicopter pilots about how much fun they were having killing people.
Yes. But then there were a lot of others, some of them quite interesting. The press has reported them. So, he’s performing the journalistic responsibility of informing the public about things that state power would rather keep secret.
It seems to be the essence of what a good journalist should be doing.
And what good journalists do. Like when [Seymour] Hersh exposed the story of the My Lai massacre, and when Woodward and Bernstein exposed Nixon’s crimes, that was considered very praiseworthy. The Timespublished excerpts from the Pentagon Papers. So, he is essentially doing that. You can question his judgment — should he have done this at this time, should he have done something else; lots of criticisms you can make — but the basic story is that WikiLeaks was producing materials that state power wanted suppressed but that the public should know.
This is a lightly edited transcript of an interview that was aired on Alternative Radio.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the global authority on the conservation status of wild animals and plants, announced Thursday that Masai giraffes, a subspecies spread throughout Kenya and Tanzania, are now endangered, primarily because of poaching and changes in land use.
There are an estimated 35,000 Masai giraffes remaining, but their population has fallen by nearly 50 percent in the last three decades. Africa’s overall giraffe population has decreased by up to 40 percent in that same timeframe.
There are 35,000 Masai giraffes left in the wild today. Their population has fallen by nearly 50 percent in the last 30 years.
Masai giraffes are iconic, says Tanya Sanerib, international legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity. Given that they’re one of the largest subspecies of giraffes, they’re the “quintessential” animal you likely think of when you think giraffes. For this subspecies to be declared endangered is a wake-up call, Sanerib says.
“This was devastating news…It really sounds the alarm bell,” she says. “It really indicates that we need to be doing more for giraffes internationally and with whatever tools are available.”
This is the first time the Masai subspecies (Giraffa camelopardalis ssp. tippelskirchi) was assessed on its own—previously, it was included as part of the IUCN Red List’s general giraffe listing (Giraffa camelopardalis), which considers giraffes “vulnerable,” a step further away from extinction than “endangered.” Of the nine subspecies of giraffes, Masai and reticulated giraffes are endangered, and Nubian and Kordofan giraffes are critically endangered.
Related Slideshow: Close to extinction – Critically endangered animals (Provided by Photo Services)
Hunting giraffes is illegal in both Kenya and Tanzania, but they are poached for their hide, meat, bones, and tails. An estimated 2 to 10 percent of the population is hunted illegally every year in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, according to the IUCN. Poaching has increased because of civil unrest and emerging markets for giraffe parts, including tail-hair jewelry and bone carvings. There’s even a belief among some that giraffe bone marrow and brains can cure HIV and AIDS, Tanzanian media have reported. (Learn more about how giraffes in central Africa are being poached for their tails.)
Giraffe deaths have also increased because human populations have grown and expanded into what used to be wildlands, leading to increased incidents of crop damage and vehicle strikes. Hunting for bushmeat is also a threat.
Giraffes historically have been understudied compared to other threatened species. While thousands of scientific papers have been written on white rhinos, only about 400 cover giraffes, according to giraffe researcher Axel Janke. There are fewer giraffes than elephants left in Africa.
“They’re the forgotten megafauna, so to speak,” says Julian Fennessy, co-director and co-founder of the nonprofit Giraffe Conservation Foundation. “They’ve sort of slipped away, sadly, while more attention has been given to elephant, rhino, lion, and other species.” (See more photos of how scientists are working to save giraffes.)
We have so much to learn about giraffes, Sanerib says, it would be a shame to lose them. For example, they have complex circulatory systems that could have implications for understanding human’s high blood pressure. Researchers have also found that they hum at night, and they have no idea why.
“We have this species that’s going extinct, and we have these phenomenal, really fascinating things about them that we don’t know the answers to,” she says enthusiastically.
Although for years there’s been a consensus that there’s one species of giraffe with nine subspecies, evidence of genetic differences has emerged in recent years, suggesting that there are actually four species of giraffe and that the Masai is its own species. Though Masai giraffes aren’t widely recognized as a unique species, Fennessy says categorizing them as their own could reap more conservation benefits. For example, the United States’ Endangered Species Act grants protections to animals at the species level, which means giraffes are not considered endangered by U.S. standards, even though several subspecies clearly are.
But overall, Fennessy says this new assessment shines a light on the plight of these animals.
“By identifying that they are endangered, hopefully now collaboratively with governments and partners, we can turn the tide before it’s too late,” Fennessy says.
She never had a chance.
The man who shot and killed a mother red wolf knew he could slay her and no one could stop him. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) gave him the permit to shoot her!
At the time she was one of only 10 breeding female red wolves in the wild. It’s likely she was nursing pups the day she was shot. Pups who likely starved to death after their mother was gunned down.
That killing was only one of the many outrages that have occurred on FWS’s watch. Red wolf recovery was once widely celebrated as a success story – but now the FWS is neglecting these wolves to the point that they’re about to go extinct.
Each time Defenders has taken the FWS to court to protect red wolves, the court has ruled in the wolves’ favor. And now the FWS is continuing to let red wolves die by not implementing a desperately needed recovery plan.
Enough is enough. Just last week, Defenders filed a formal notice of intent to sue the FWS and force them to protect red wolves. Your gift will help this fight by giving us the resources to go to court as many times as it takes, until red wolves are finally safe.
Once, red wolves roamed all over the southeastern U.S. Then they were all but exterminated as vermin. Today, there are as few as 18 red wolves clinging to survival in a remote area in eastern North Carolina.
In the rolling hills of the Columbia Basin in central Washington, a tractor kicked dust from a wheat field as an early May breeze filtered down from the Cascade Mountains rising in the west. In a patchwork of sagebrush and bunchgrass, Jon Gallie searched for the newest generation of North America’s smallest rabbit, the state and federally endangered Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit.
When not moving by memory through this reclaimed farmland, Gallie, an endangered species project leader for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, traced his footsteps to dots on his phone marking den sites. In a city, he could easily pass for a Pokémon Go player, chasing fictional creatures in an imaginary digital realm. But the grapefruit-sized animals he was seeking are real, though elusive; after more than two hours of searching, all we found were empty burrows and an abundance of scat.
Still, the salmon egg-sized droppings were an encouraging sign. That’s because a century of farming, development and increasingly frequent and intense wildfires has fractured the habitat of the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit; by the late 1990s, just a handful were left. In 2001, biologists captured 16 of the last few dozen rabbits. Nearly two decades of direct human intervention followed, a multi-pronged effort that saved the animals from being banished to stories, screens and natural history textbooks. Pygmy rabbits now number in the hundreds in the Columbia Basin — but they remain far from a resilient and healthy population.
The rabbits have shown that they can rebound, however, as long as they have enough habitat to call home. The efforts to save these diminutive mammals illustrate a hard lesson: Even when scientists can breed an endangered species back to healthy numbers, protecting land and building bridges between dispersed populations remains a continuing challenge for recovery. For central Washington’s pygmy rabbits, humans have been the agents of both destruction and salvation. Now, the challenge is to also play the role of nurturer, giving the rabbits — and other endangered species — the space they need to reclaim a place on the landscape.
WE LIVE IN AN AGE OF EXTINCTION, driven by human contributions to climate change and habitat destruction. Facing these crises has meant making compromises that save some species, but also change them. Hundreds of vertebrates have blinked out in just the last century. When biologists captured the last known wild Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits in 2001 to start a captive breeding program, they hoped to keep the species from joining their ranks. And in a sense, they’ve succeeded, as the burrows and scat in the sagebrush show.
But early on, inbreeding produced sickly offspring and low reproductive rates. In 2004, the scientists — part of a collaborative effort between universities, zoos and state and federal agencies — had to breed them with a closely related population, the Great Basin pygmy rabbit. This was a matter of “genetic rescue,” explained Stacey Nerkowski, a University of Idaho doctoral student who leads a team studying pygmy rabbit genetics.
The new genes staved off the complete loss of the population. While the last pure Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit died in 2008, unique genes that arose over millennia live on in the rabbits now munching sagebrush in central Washington. On average, about 25% of each rabbit’s genome comes from the wild rabbits collected in 2001. Nerkowski said the resilience of those genes — they continue to show up, generation after generation, because they help the rabbits survive there — shows the value of recovering local rabbits, rather than simply transplanting other pygmy rabbits into the Columbia Basin. “This isn’t just a rabbit we picked up in Wyoming; it has the unique genetics of this area,” Nerkowski said.
AFTER TROMPING THROUGH UNFENCED stands of sagebrush for most of the morning, Gallie and I hopped in his truck and headed south to another rabbit recovery area, in the Beezley Hills west of Ephrata, Washington. Here, sagebrush and bunchgrass, flourishes of wildflowers, wheat fields and the dreaded invasive cheatgrass all intermix. In the Beezley Hills, land protected by The Nature Conservancy and a private landowner who has dedicated his property to pygmy rabbit conservation provide habitat for reintroductions.
Biologists have been trying to re-establish the rabbits on the landscape since 2007, when wild reintroductions failed. After that unsuccessful attempt, the recovery team turned to semi-wild enclosures in 2011, to ease the transition from captivity to the starker realities of the rabbits’ natural habitat. Solid fences, irrigation systems, artificial burrows and supplemental food provided the animals the amenities project leaders thought they needed to survive. The rabbits proliferated, but then, in the confined and artificial space, disease did as well, and in 2016, reproduction in the enclosures dropped by about 75%.
For the last two years, the recovery team has been using different enclosures, more mobile and spartan in nature, both to avoid disease transmission and better prepare the rabbits for life outside the fences. No supplemental feeding is offered, and other than some water laced with medicine to fight off an intestinal disease, the sagebrush-blanketed hillside is left in its natural state. As we walked through the main enclosure at Beezley Hills, both adults and baby rabbits scattered in blurs of fur, zig-zagging through the chest-high sagebrush. When caught against a fence line, the rabbits froze, blending into the gray bushes and light brown soil.
The changes have produced kits that survive better in the wild, allowing the recovery team to distribute them across the landscape. That’s vital to bringing back the rabbit, with the risk of population-decimating fires haunting its future — and its recent past. In the summer of 2017, the 30,000-acre Sutherland Canyon Fire wiped out the majority of rabbits in the area. As strong winds pushed the blaze over ridges and through draws, Gallie and his team quickly reconfigured the irrigation system in the Beezley Hills enclosure. They were able to save about one-third of the hundred-plus rabbits living there. But the threat to each of the three recovery areas remains in the fire-prone sagebrush, showing how important maintaining a wider swath of habitat is for the animals.
FIRE DOESN’T JUST SCORCH pygmy rabbit colonies; it also imperils the ecosystem they depend on. Repeated fires that both propel and are fueled by the spread of invasive species like cheatgrass deliver a one-two punch of destruction to native species in sagebrush habitat.
Corinna Hanson manages more than 30,000 acres in central Washington for The Nature Conservancy with an eye toward preserving native habitat. That’s a constant challenge now, as summers get hotter and fires occur twice a decade instead of less than twice a century, the historical norm. “When I think about restoration, it’s almost like we can’t keep up,” she said. “But we’re not going to give up.” In talking about endangered species recovery, the focus is usually on the species itself. But, she said, “when you work to conserve a species, it always comes down to habitat management.”
Expanding open space to connect the reintroduction areas, which are spread over about 40 miles and divided by roads, fields, sheer cliffs and houses, would be the ultimate sign of success for the project, Gallie said. Tools to stitch together the fractured landscape include land preserved for habitat protection by The Nature Conservancy, and U.S. Department of Agriculture grant programs that pay farmers to take land out of production so wildlife can use it instead.
Gallie said communicating the goals of the recovery effort and building trust between people in town, farmers in the country, nonprofits and government partners is key to the program’s success. “You can have the best scientists and the best habitats and the best approach in the world, but if everyone out here is skeptical and oppositional, it’s going to make things very difficult.” When he appears at community events and at farmers’ doors, Gallie said, the familiarity and trust he’s built show locals that the pygmy rabbit program isn’t some big government overreach happening in a faraway office. “It’s just me, the same guy you wave to everyday, with the same dirt on my boots.”
COLUMBIA BASIN PYGMY RABBITS are far better off today than they were two decades ago, but their future remains tenuous. One fire could wipe out most of the population. And until they inhabit continuous corridors, where they can meet new mates and be less vulnerable to catastrophic fires, they’ll remain on the precipice of extinction.
Still, the species is gaining ground in a time when conservation is pervaded by stories of loss. The world is losing species. It’s losing habitat. And humanity is losing time to try to save the current biome from the worst impacts of climate change. But perhaps our biggest deficit, and greatest challenge, is our apathy toward that loss.
“When I get asked — ‘Why do we need pygmy rabbits?’ — I don’t always have the best answer,” Gallie said, as fine dust kicked up with each step we took through the sagebrush. “You either value biodiversity or you don’t, and if you don’t, there’s pretty much nothing I can say that’s going to make you go, ‘Oh, now I agree.’ ”
As a society, it’s often hard to agree on which species to save, which organisms are necessary to make an ecosystem whole, or if it even makes sense to try to prevent extinctions. In all of those debates, Gallie pointed out that we often forget the current moment is a blip in evolutionary history, and, regardless of human interventions, nature will continue to shape this landscape. In the end, he said, “Life always wins. It’s more our loss.”
There are 65 species of plants and animals living in the Credit River watershed that are at risk of extinction.
Earlier this month, United Nations (UN) agency Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a critical report assessing 1 million species threatened with extinction across the world. It was compiled by 145 experts from 50 different countries based on a review of 15,000 scientific and government sources.
The report blamed the stark rise of at-risk species on human land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species. It also made recommendations for governments to act in response to the “unprecedented” species extinction in human history.
“We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life worldwide,” IPBES chair Sir Robert Watson said.
In Brampton and Mississauga, that might not appear to be the case at first glance, but assessments from the Committee of the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and confirmed by Credit Valley Conservation, show that there are a significant number of at-risk species in our own backyard.
Credit Valley Conservation ecologist Laura Timms says the numbers are higher than what’s expected for “baseline extinction” — species that go extinct because of natural processes.
“The number of species going extinct now is way higher because of human activity,” she said. “There’s a lot of evidence for it.”
An example from the watershed is the Jefferson Salamander. It’s a salamander that lives in the wetlands and forests that has been threatened by development and land conversion in Brampton and Mississauga.
“They’re a symptom of this problem of wetland loss,” Timms said.
She explained Ontario has lost around 85 per cent of its wetlands since European settlement and that the loss of wetlands not only threatens species, but flood attenuation.
“Wetlands are like sponges,” Timms said. “They soak up the water, collect it, and prevent it from spilling over and creating floods.”
With the rise of floods in cottage country this year, the threat of wetland loss is visible, she added.
Another example of an at-risk species in the watershed is the Bank Swallow. This bird, an aerial insectivore, is in decline, which inadvertently increases the number of mosquitoes — their prey. Timms added that there are indeed “more mosquitoes around these days.”
In the watershed, land development is the primary cause of creating at-risk species, Timms identified.
UTM associate professor of political science and geography Andrea Olive says the IPBES report coincides with new changes to the Endangered Species Act.
Olive says when it comes to environmental matters in the watershed, they’re a provincial responsibility.
“Ontario’s Endangered Species Act was seen as the best one in Canada,” Olive said. “But now, you can pay to get out of protecting a species.”
Olive is referring to changes to the act proposed through Bill 108, which would allow developers to pay a charge or a mitigation fee to build in areas where there are endangered species. The money would be collected into a fund that is intended to be used for conservation and other services.
“You can never pay enough,” she said. “You’ll never be able to replace the habitat.”
At-risk species in the Credit River watershed:
Blue-spotted Jefferson Salamander
Western Chorus Frog
American White Pelican
Lake Ontario Kiyi
Eastern Persius Duskywing
West Virginia White
Eastern Small footed Myotis (bat)
Little Brown Myotis
Eastern Flowering Dogwood
Midland Painted Turtle
Northern Map Turtle
Ali Raza is a reporter for Mississauga News and Brampton Guardian. Reach him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
KOTA KINABALU: The health of Malaysia’s last surviving male Sumatran rhinoceros is deteriorating, said Sabah’s Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Christina Liew on Sunday (May 19).
“Tam’s appetite and level of activity have dropped suddenly since the end of April, and he is now given medicine daily because some of his internal organs are not functioning well,” she added.
If Tam dies, it would leave Iman as the last surviving female Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia, after another female rhinoceros Puntung was euthanised in June 2017.
“Hopes to find a mate for him were dashed when Puntung was found to have multiple cysts throughout her uterus,” Ms Liew was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times.
“Iman, on the other hand, was found to have massive uterine fibroids,” she added.
Puntung was captured in 2011, while Iman was captured in 2014.
“These illnesses are a reflection of too few rhinoceros and insufficient breeding success during the last decades of the 20th century,” said Ms Liew.
Tam was captured by a wildlife team in August 2008 at the Kretam palm oil plantation in Tawau, which was previously a jungle area.
To gain his trust, the team from the Sabah Wildlife Department, SOS Rhino and WWF-Malaysia fed and befriended Tam for a week, before coaxing him into a crate, the New Straits Times reported. He was thought to be in his mid-20s when he was taken to Tabin Wildlife Forest Reserve, Ms Liew said.
Since 2011, Malaysia’ efforts to save rare animal species from extinction have been focused on reproductive technology, such as in-vitro fertilisation and collaboration with Indonesia, she added.
North Atlantic right whales are on the brink of extinction, and still President Trump’s administration recklessly authorized five companies to harm marine life while seismic airgun blasting – used to search for oil and gas deposits beneath the ocean floor – in the very waters where these whales give birth.
Seismic airguns shoot extremely loud blasts of air into the ocean floor as often as every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks on end. The blasting can disturb all marine life in its path from whales to zooplankton. Airgun blasts can impair whales’ ability to hear, communicate, search for food, ward of sickness and care for their young.
Allowing companies to subject whales to this unnecessary harm in pursuit of oil and gas is wrong – plain and simple. We won’t stand for it. Along with our allies, we are suing the Trump administration to stop seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic,
After reading “The U.S. plans to lift protections for gray wolves” (March 10), I believe that the future for the gray wolves is bleak. Part of the reason gray wolves are endangered is that they were hunted and poisoned as if they were pests. Allowing them to be hunted once again will most likely put them back on the endangered species list.
Wolves eat deer, which are pests across the U.S. If the number of wolves were to decrease, the number of pests would most certainly go up. Even though the wolf population has improved, it is still not functional enough to live completely unprotected in the wild.
As a 12-year-old, I am concerned that many of the wonderful animals that are around now will not be when I am older. Truly when it comes to conservation, the impact of bad decisions can affect generations.
Cameron LeGros • University City
An extensive study of caribou herds across British Columbia and Alberta suggests a way to reverse a long and steady decline of the endangered species — kill more wolves and moose and pen pregnant cows.
“It’s go hard or go home,” said Rob Serrouya, a University of Alberta biologist and lead author of the study released Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Unfortunately, it’s that black or white.”
Another study released within days of Serrouya’s suggests another way. And wildlife advocates worry Serrouya’s findings could be misused, illustrating the complexity of what he calls the “toughest conservation challenge in North America.”
Serrouya and his colleagues looked at 18 caribou herds ranging over more than 90,000 square kilometres. At the study’s start in 2004, 16 herds were declining.
Restoring habitat damaged by oil, gas and forestry activity is too slow, said Serrouya. Herds don’t have the decades that takes.
The scientists compared four government-run management programs — killing wolves, protecting pregnant cows, moving caribou between ranges and culling moose that attract predators. Six of the herds were not managed.
By 2018, the unmanaged herds remained unchanged.
But eight of the 12 managed herds improved. Half of them had either stabilized or begun increasing. One almost doubled over three years to 67 from 36 animals.
“That’s almost unprecedented,” Serrouya said. “It doesn’t mean recovery, but it means some of these herds have turned around. It’s the first study to show management has turned around sharp declines of caribou on such a broad scale.”
Herds with the best growth rates were linked to both maternity pens to protect pregnant cows during calving and extensive wolf kills. Ranges with the best herd growth had the most intense cull.
Those five ranges saw a total of 144 wolves killed every year, mostly by aerial gunning and strychnine. A cull that large over the entire study area would result annually in nearly 650 carcasses, although Serrouya said that’s not being recommended.
Removing moose at the same time would allow managers to kill up to 80 per cent fewer wolves, he said. Still, moose numbers in any one range would have to be reduced by up to 83 per cent.
Jonah Keim, an independent biologist and consultant, offers a different solution. In research published in the British Ecological Society’s journal, he suggests caribou can be adequately protected by making it tough for wolves to get to them.
“What we need to do is reduce the encounters between wolves and caribou,” he said. “You can do that without reducing the number of wolves.”
Between 2011 and 2014, Keim studied what would happen if it weren’t so easy for wolves, deer and moose to follow cutlines and forestry roads into caribou habitat. Over an 800-square-kilometre area, researchers dropped 200 cubic metres of tree debris every 200 metres.
The rate at which wolves stopped using the paths dropped 70 per cent, the study found.
“It was unbelievably effective at reducing wolf use,” said Keim.
Serrouya applauded Keim’s paper, but questioned its practicality on a landscape with 350,000 kilometres of linear disturbance.
“To block 350,000 kilometres would take years and years,” he said. “What would happen in the meantime?”
Four herds vanished between 2004 and 2018.
Keim said efforts could be focused on where they’d do the most good. He suggested that snowmobile trails could be designed to draw wolf packs away from caribou. It wouldn’t be that hard, he said.
“That type of work can be done in the summer or winter by somebody on foot.”
Carolyn Campbell of the Alberta Wilderness Association fears Serrouya’s findings could be used to declare “a war on wildlife.”
“These findings could be used by industry and government to prolong unsustainable forest exploitation while endlessly harming wildlife species,” she said.
She urged governments to keep restoring habitat.
Serrouya said drastic measures will be needed into the foreseeable future.
“Society would have to change the way it values natural resources. Society would have to decide to reduce the rate of resource extraction.”