Defenders of Wildlife Blog
19 September 2017
Walling Off Wildlife
Posted by: Bryan Bird
The Trump administration pushes forward with plan to wall off wildlife.
While the president continues his bombastic border wall talk and the administration and Congress argue over funding for this monstrosity, construction equipment is already moving in, land is being cleared and people and wildlife are being displaced in the borderlands of California and Texas.
By Hook or by Crook
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has already waived a host of environmental and other laws in order to expand the border wall along a 15-mile stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego, California. Defenders, along with a coalition of national conservation groups, sued to stop this unlawful overreach of the authority provided by Congress in the Real ID Act of 2005.
Similarly, in Texas the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have started clearing land, taking soil samples and conducting tests in areas where they plan to build new border wall – often without even notifying the landowners or the public of their actions. This was the case when the managers of the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, discovered industrial mowers stripping vegetation from their land and imperiling more than 200 species of butterflies.
Now, CBP is trying to conceal efforts to build a 60-mile extension through the area that includes two national wildlife refuges and important habitat for the endangered ocelot and jaguarundi.
In a letter recently sent to a select group of stakeholders earlier this month, CBP requested comments on the proposed construction of 60 miles of border wall that would cut through parts of the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the National Butterfly Center and the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. The letter appears to be a dubious ploy to claim that the agency is fulfilling its obligation to “seek public comment,” while not actually making the public aware of their plans. Perhaps even they realize what a terrible idea it is to construct a barrier through these sensitive habitats and critical wildlife corridors that support countless species of wildlife, including more than 500 species of birds, 300 butterfly species and 1,200 plant species.
A Tale of Two Refuges
Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
Few places in the Western Hemisphere exhibit such a diversity of flora and fauna as the lower Rio Grande Valley in south Texas, home to the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. While small in size, the Santa Ana Refuge contains an abundance of neotropical songbirds, raptors, mammals and reptiles, including the nine-banded armadillo, Texas tortoise, Mexican free-tailed bat. It is also home to more than 400 bird species, more than 300 species of butterflies –half of all butterfly species found in North America – and more than 450 varieties of plants.
The refuge also provides habitat for at least eight species protected under the Endangered Species Act, including the highly-imperiled ocelot and jaguarundi. With fewer than 50 left in the United States, the refuge is essential to ocelot recovery.
Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Comprising several units along the Rio Grande, the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge helps protect a crucial link between coastal and river wildlife corridors. The various refuge units are located at the nexus of four climate zones – tropical, temperate, coastal and desert – and at the confluence of the Mississippi and Central flyways, making the region one of the most diverse conservation areas in North America. The Lower Rio Grande Valley is home to more than 700 vertebrate species, 300 species of butterfly and at least 18 threatened or endangered species, including the highly-endangered ocelot and jaguarundi.
The Lower Rio Grande Valley refuge complex conserves Mid-Delta Thorn Forest, a rare forest type that provides habitat for an array of small mammals and birds and serves as a key hunting ground for the ocelot. As the thorn forest has continued to diminish over the years, ocelots have been forced to cross open fields and been exposed to more dangers from vehicular traffic and predators. Further degradation of this crucial habitat from wall construction could prove devastating to the dwindling U.S. population of ocelots.
A Decisive Blow to Wildlife
The construction of an impenetrable wall through these refuges would fragment riparian habitats, block migration corridors for rare migratory birds and imperiled species, degrade and destroy habitat, and disrupt nesting, breeding and foraging by countless birds and other wildlife. Levee walls, which are proposed for at least 28 miles along this route, can trap wildlife and drown animals during severe flooding events.
Both refuges serve as important migration corridors for animals like the ocelot and jaguarundi, who travel back and forth from Mexico to the U.S. These rare cats would be cut off from crucial habitat affecting their dispersal and their potential to establish new resident populations in the U.S. The noise from increased vehicle traffic and lighting along the border wall could also greatly impair these animals’ ability to hunt and alter the behavior of their prey.
No Longer the “Land of the Free” for Wildlife
A border wall offends our core American values – freedom, equality, justice and the preservation of our natural heritage. For wildlife in the borderlands, a wall would set back decades of conservation success in the region.
We are the guardians of these imperiled animals and at Defenders we are fighting to make sure they have a voice and can continue to recover and prosper in our country. The illicit and secretive actions by the current administration would have disastrous consequences for wildlife.
Tell the administration you won’t stand for any attack on our refuges or our wildlife. Stand up for imperiled wildlife in jeopardy because of the border wall.
Stand up for wildlife now!
Tell CPB and the administration that you oppose any border wall construction that would destroy vital wildlife habitat on our national wildlife refuges and public lands.
Defenders is committed to protecting human communities, wildlife and habitat threatened by a border wall. We have joined a diverse coalition of conservation, human rights, civil rights, religious and other groups to mount substantial opposition. Please join us in this important fight.
Bryan Bird, Southwest Program Director
Bryan oversees Defenders work in the Southwest, where he has spent 23 years working on wildlife conservation. His efforts are focused on maintaining and enhancing vital wildlife habitat, and on protecting imperiled species, such as Mexican gray wolves, jaguars, desert tortoises and California condors, in the face of a changing climate, drought, and increasing development.
Categories: border wall, Habitat Conservation, habitat conservation, jaguarundi, Lower Rio Grande, Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, migration corridor, ocelot, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Take Action, Trump administration, Wildlife
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Washington, DC 20036
©2017 Defenders of Wildlife
Wind power is on the rise and with it is an uptick in bat deaths.
Developing renewable energy is critical to minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing climate change. Wind energy is an important source of American renewable energy and the success of this industry is crucial to our green energy future. However, like all energy types, wind energy is not without its challenges. In the early 2000s, researchers realized that wind turbines were killing bats at record rates.
A Fatal Attraction
Findings from the last decade reveal that wind turbines kill more than half a million bats each year in the United States. The overwhelming majority of the bats killed are migratory bats that are not affected by white-nose syndrome, the pathogenic fungus causing precipitous declines in hibernating bat species.
Wind turbine blades disproportionately strike these migratory bats as they pass through wind farms to forage or migrate. It’s unclear why there are so many collisions, but bats are well-known to be curious creatures and have been documented to change course to check out turbines. Although there’s no scientific consensus on why bats are attracted to turbines—theories range from mistaking turbines as trees for roosting, to seeking out insect prey that congregate near turbines—this behavior puts them at increased risk for collision with the spinning blades.
Bat Numbers Give Us Cause for Pause
As more information becomes available about the interaction of bats and wind energy production, scientists are growing increasingly concerned. Bats are long-lived mammals (many bats live more than a decade, and at least one Brandt’s bat lived for 41 years!) that reproduce slowly, meaning that bat populations are very sensitive to losses of breeding-age adults.
A recent study led by UC Santa Cruz professor Winnifred Frick, whose findings were published in Biological Conservation earlier this year, set out to identify whether mortality from wind turbines could cause bat populations to decline. Professor Frick and her colleagues focused on the bat species most commonly killed by wind turbines: the hoary bat.
The hoary bat, named for its silver-tipped fur that resembles hoar frost, is a wide-ranging, migratory bat found throughout the United States, into Mexico and Canada. Hoary bats are solitary animals, spending their days roosting in trees until sunset. As it gets dark, these charismatic critters emerge to feed, foraging over great distances as they search for moths and other insects.
Unfortunately, hoary bats seem particularly susceptible to wind turbines, representing over a third (38 percent) of all bats killed at wind energy facilities. Professor Frick and her colleagues sought to determine whether the high mortality rate for hoary bats at wind facilities was sustainable.
Their results were alarming. According to the best available estimates for population size and growth rate, they projected hoary bat populations would decline by 90 percent in the next 50 years due to mortality at wind turbines. If wind energy development continues at expected rates and nothing is done to decrease bat mortality, the fate of the hoary bat will only become more dire.
Unfortunately, the hoary bat is not alone in facing such a bleak future – other migratory bat species may also be at risk. While hoary bats are the hardest hit bat species, other species of migratory bats are also frequently killed by wind turbines. Hoary bats, eastern red bats, and silver-haired bats collectively account for almost 80 percent of all bats killed at turbines. Future research is needed to determine whether there are population-level impacts to eastern red bats and silver-haired bats from wind energy.
What Can Be Done?
Fortunately, there are techniques that the wind industry can adopt so that we do not have to choose between wind energy and these important bat species. Wind industry leaders have stepped up and are proactively working with researchers and government agency staff to create technological solutions to overcome these bats’ fatal attraction to turbines. Technologies to deter bats from approaching turbines, such as playing high frequency noises, lighting the blades with ultraviolet light, using textured turbine coatings, are in development and being tested at pilot sites. We are optimistic that these technologies will be commercially available within the next five years or so, but continued funding and research are needed.
Until these technologies are available, operational changes, such as “feathering” turbine blades so that they don’t spin at low wind speeds (when bats are most active) during important migration periods, can drastically reduce bat deaths. These operational changes can be adopted immediately, but they come with a catch: they reduce the amount energy being produced from each turbine.
It’s not that wind facility operators don’t want to do the right thing–most are aware of the problem and want to minimize bat kills. However, until there is industry-wide adoption, any wind facility that does implement operational curtailment (by strategically feathering turbine blades) is at a competitive disadvantage because it would be producing less energy than a comparably-sized facility that’s not endeavoring to protect bats. In addition, some facilities are contractually obligated to produce a certain amount of energy that leaves little room for seasonal curtailment to protect bats.
If wind facilities trying to protect bats go out of business, that’s a losing scenario for both wildlife and the climate. Thus, saving these bats can’t solely rest on industry – energy consumers need to value wind operators who take measures to protect bats.
It’s a rare opportunity to be able to protect a species before it’s on the verge of extinction, but in order to do any good, we must act swiftly. Allowing hoary bat numbers to continue to decline at a precipitous rate isn’t just bad for bats, it’s bad for industry, too. Protecting bats through preventative solutions available to us now will help keep these species off the Endangered Species List, at which point options may be limited to more expensive conservation measures.
Unlike Vampires, Bats Don’t Live Forever (Plus Vampires are Fake)
Time is of the essence and we cannot afford to delay action. The wind industry, conservation organizations, academia, government, and energy users need to work together to find solutions. Defenders of Wildlife is fully committed to a strong wind energy future while conserving bats. We are working to educate corporate buyers about the importance of purchasing wind energy from responsible operators, while simultaneously advocating for federal, state, and private investment to advance and commercialize technical solutions to reduce the industry’s impacts on wildlife. Tackling this issue now is critical to securing a strong future for the wind energy industry and bats.
Follow us on social media to stay up-to-date on the latest developments concerning wildlife from Capitol Hill and other news important our work. Don’t forget to sign up for our emails where you will get all the latest news and action alerts to support wildlife.
Pasha Feinberg, Renewable Energy & Wildlife Research Associate
Pasha Feinberg is a research associate for the Renewable Energy and Wildlife team, providing scientific research in support of the team’s efforts to ensure that renewable energy development does not occur at the expense of wildlife. Prior to joining Defenders, Pasha earned her B.S. and M.S. in environmental science from Stanford University and conducted ecology research in Mexico, Australia, Tanzania, Kenya, and the United States to better understand the relationships between biodiversity, human health, and other ecosystem functions and services.
Categories: Bats, bats, hoary bats, Living with Wildlife, Renewable Energy, renewable energy, wind power, wind turbines
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©2017 Defenders of Wildlife
The War on the Wild: Alaska at the Forefront
21 September 2017
Posted by: Mary Price |
The administration’s war on the wild zeroes in on Alaska
There has been a steady drumbeat from the Trump administration and many like-minded members of Congress who are pushing to wring every last available resource out of America’s wildest frontier – Alaska.
This fervent pursuit of profits above all else on our public lands and waters has put our wildlife and wild places at greater risk than ever before. It is clear this administration has little regard for the health and future of wildlife and our natural heritage, and Alaska has become a favorite target in its war on the wild.
Selling Out Alaska
Just this past week, The Washington Post revealed that the Trump administration is secretly pushing oil and gas exploration in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—the crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The contentious battle to open the refuge to drilling has been raging for decades, but has gained renewed momentum from an administration eager to profit from every last drop of oil they can bleed from our public lands and waters. In this case, the Trump administration is even willing to illegally alter regulations that have prohibited oil and gas exploration in the refuge for more than 30 years.
The Coastal Plain is the biological heart of the Arctic Refuge, home to some of America’s most iconic and imperiled species, including polar bears, caribou, and hundreds of migratory bird species that migrate from all 50 states and six continents. Drilling could forever destroy this delicate ecosystem. While full-blown oil development on the Coastal Plain still requires an act of Congress, the Trump administration’s effort to allow harmful exploratory activities in this wildlife haven is the first step to drilling. And Congress could get in on the action: the House FY2018 budget resolution currently under consideration is an opportunity for the legislative branch to authorize oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge.
The Trump administration’s unprecedented move against the Arctic Refuge should come as no surprise given the president’s directives targeting Alaska last spring. Specifically, the “America First Offshore Energy Strategy” would rewrite the country’s five-year development plan that guides the lease sales for oil and gas development in federal waters offshore. The current plan excludes lease sales in the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Trump’s executive order would put those “off-limits” areas back on the auction block. In addition, it seeks to fast-track harmful seismic testing and roll back safeguards for marine wildlife like dolphins, porpoises, whales and other creatures who can suffer devastating impacts from seismic testing.
Rescinding the Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule
Just months into the new administration, Congress and the president revoked the Obama-era Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule that prohibited extreme hunting practices on refuges in Alaska. The elimination of the regulation could allow the state of Alaska to pursue its unscientific predator control policy on these federal public lands that sanctions killing mother bears with cubs, killing wolves with pups during denning season, and baiting, snaring and scouting bears from the air for hunting.
Now Congress is taking aim at similar protections on National Park Service preserves in the state. The Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, deceitfully dubbed the SHARE Act, is anything but generous to wildlife, as it threatens to allow the same objectionable practices on Alaska’s national preserves. Through the SHARE Act, the House is doubling down on this attack since, as part of the FY2018 Interior Appropriations bill, it passed a separate measure that does the same thing.
Clearcutting “America’s Rainforest”
Alaska is home to our nation’s largest national forest and the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. The vast Tongass National Forest spans 17 million acres and contains the largest remnants of intact old-growth forest habitat in North America. Sadly, it is still logged on an industrial scale – in fact, it is the last forest in the country where old-growth clearcutting is allowed.
In 2016, the U.S. Forest Service made plans to transition away from this outdated practice, but the new administration is putting that progress in reverse.
Now the Forest Service, operating under the Trump administration, is proposing to log an estimated 200-million board feet of old-growth forest on the Tongass over the next decade, in what would be the largest sell-off of old-growth forest the U.S. has experienced in decades. This colossal forest liquidation would destroy thousands of acres of high-quality wildlife habitat, threaten the persistence of Alexander Archipelago wolves, Sitka black-tailed deer, and northern goshawks, and potentially spell disaster for countless other species dependent on these unique and irreplaceable old-growth forests.
Bulldozing Wilderness in Izembek
For years, there has been spurious debate over proposals to build a road through wilderness wetlands in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, bisecting the refuge and destroying essential wildlife habitat. The dispute has now resurfaced with new potency.
The King Cove Road Land Exchange Act, which was recently passed in the House and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in the Senate, would trade away globally important habitat in the heart of the Izembek Refuge to allow construction of this destructive and unnecessary road.
If enacted, the bill would irreparably damage an internationally recognized conservation area, threaten the survival of imperiled species, like the Steller’s eider, and set a precedent that would undermine our nation’s bedrock environmental laws and jeopardize the integrity of wildlife refuges and wilderness protections on public lands across the country.
The proposed road would cost taxpayers tens of millions of additional dollars to solve a “problem” that the federal government previously addressed with a more effective, less destructive, transportation solution.
Mining for Trouble in Bristol Bay
Every year, tens of millions of wild salmon return to the Bristol Bay, Alaska, where they join an incredible diversity of wildlife ranging from Pacific walrus and beluga whales to brown bears. Despite the incalculable value of these species and the clear, clean water of the bay, or the very tangible value of these resources to the regional recreation and tourism economies, this administration is threatening to jeopardize it all to allow the permitting process to proceed for a Canadian company to open a massive gold and copper mine. This decision overturns a robust, public Obama-era review that declined issuing a permit to the company.
Mining in the bay’s watershed would require massive earthen dam construction, development of a 100-mile road through important salmon habitat, and diversion of nearly 35 billion gallons of water a year from salmon streams and rivers. These activities will expose all manner of species to habitat loss, increased vehicular and vessel traffic in Cook Inlet, which could impact endangered Cook Inlet belugas, and the potential for the mine’s massive earthen wall to collapse that would forever ruin this vital ecosystem.
Tribulations for Teshekpuk Lake
The area around Teshekpuk Lake in Alaska is incredibly important for wildlife – polar bears make their dens there, migratory birds spend their summers along the shoreline and tens of thousands of caribou call it home.
Teshekpuk Lake is located inside the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPRA) – an Indiana-sized expanse covering much of the western Arctic. Despite its name, the NPRA is required to be managed both for conservation of its remarkable wildlife values and oil and gas development. In 2013, after a lengthy robust planning process involving numerous local, regional and national stakeholders, the Bureau of Land Management finalized a management plan that allows oil and gas development on over 11 million acres in the area, but protects the important habitat around Teshekpuk Lake by designating it “unavailable for leasing.”
Unfortunately, this successful resource management plan could be short-lived. In May, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed an order requiring a review of the Obama administration’s plan for managing this area, but rather than holding a transparent and public process, and expedite the opening of Teshekpuk Lake up for exploitation by oil and gas interests.
Fighting for “The Last Frontier”
The Trump administration and some in Congress have a keen interest in Alaska, so do we – but for very different reasons. We and most Americans, want to enjoy and preserve Alaska’s wildlife, lands and waters, while current leadership is driven by greed, unfazed by what they could ruin in pursuit of their objectives.
Help us fight back against this administration’s relentless attacks against our wildlife and wild places.
Mary Price, Digital Copywriter
Categories: Alaska, Alaska, Arctic, Arctic, Arctic drilling, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, bears, imperiled wildlife, Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Public Lands, Trump administration, Wildlife, wolves
1130 17th Street NW
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©2017 Defenders of Wildlife