Wildcats ‘to return to England’ after long absence

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-england-devon-50522462/wildcats-to-return-to-england-after-long-absence

Scottish wildcats were bred at a special facility in Devon over the summer.

It is believed they became extinct in England when one was shot in the North in 1849.

They last record of wildcats in southern England was in the 16th Century, said the Devon Wildlife Trust.

If the breeding project continues successfully they could be returned to the English countryside.

Silencing the Songbirds: Southeast Asia’s illegal and unsustainable trade is pushing a multitude of songbird species towards extinction.

  

By Chris R. Shepherd –

Having birds around is something most Canadians take for granted. Spring, especially, is full of bird songs as the migrants return and mating season’s singing rituals commence. However, in some parts of the world, these songs are being silenced by the illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade.

Black-winged starlings are in high demand in Indonesia, and as a result, very few are left. Enforcement efforts in the bird markets are needed to end the trade in these Critically Endangered birds. Photo: Chris R. Shepherd / Monitor

Globally, the illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth between US$7 billion and US$23 billion annually. While its clandestine nature makes accurate valuation impossible, it is considered the fourth most lucrative global crime after drugs, humans, and arms. It is recognized as a major threat to biodiversity, often acting in concert with habitat loss and hunting, compounded by unchecked demand, weak legislation, lax enforcement, public indifference, and widespread corruption—and it is pushing a multitude of birds towards imminent extinction.

At current rates of over-harvesting and habitat conversion, it is estimated that one-third of Southeast Asia’s bird species will be extinct by 2100, with at least 50% representing global extinctions. Of the approximately 850 species of bird native to Southeast Asia, more than 50 are assessed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Bird markets are found in most towns and cities throughout Indonesia, with thousands of birds being openly traded daily. Photo: Jordi Janssen / Monitor

Birds are traded for meat, for their parts used in traditional medicines, and as cagebirds. Among the birds in trade are the songbirds. Desired for their remarkable singing abilities, colourful plumage, and increasing rarity, Southeast Asian songbirds are trapped in the millions from the wild and traded on both a national and international scale.
Despite many species being afforded legal protection by national laws and regulatory policies in some countries, enforcement efforts are often lacking, allowing the songbird trade to continue unhindered. Enforcement takes a backseat, often because the authorities lack the necessary knowledge and awareness. Although sellers are often found to be aware of the illegality of their actions, they are not deterred by any threat of prosecution.

The fascination with songbirds is deeply ingrained in various Asian cultures and involves hundreds of species. Throughout the region, particularly in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore, songbird competitions, where birds are judged on their singing abilities, are highly popular. Songbirds, especially rare species or those extraordinarily attractive, are also frequently kept as status symbols.

Indonesia is at the centre of this conservation crisis, having more species of songbirds threatened by illegal and unsustainable trade than any other country. Already, many endemic species have been pushed to the edge, with only a mere handful of individuals left in existence, such as the Black-winged myna Acridotheresmelanopterus, the Javan green magpie Cissathalassina, the Rufous-fronted laughing thrush Garrulaxrufifrons, and the Niashill myna Gracularobusta. Some species, such as the Javan pied starling Sturnus jalla, are believed extinct in the wild and remain only in the hands of collectors and traders.

Javan Green Magpies, like this one photographed in a conservation breeding program in Indonesia, are all but extinct in the wild thanks to the illegal bird trade. Photo: Chris R. Shepherd / Monitor

In 2015, the Southeast Asian Songbird Crisis Summit was heldin Singapore, gathering experts to address the crisis with utmost urgency. The summit saw the formation of the Southeast Asian Songbird Working Group, which would devise a Southeast Asian songbird action plan. In 2016, the Conservation Strategy for Southeast Asian Songbirds in Tradewas launched, which included a list of high priority species and necessary actions to stave off their extinction—some of these numbered fewer than 100 individuals. In 2017, the IUCN SSC Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group (ASTSG) was formed to further elevate efforts. Made up of experts from conservation organizations, academia, zoological institutions, and enforcement agencies,it is tasked with conducting research on the taxonomy and wild populations, monitoring trade, lobbying for enhanced protection and effective enforcement, establishing and expanding ex situ assurance and breeding colonies, and developing education and community outreach. In early 2019, the ASTSG met for the first time since its formation to identify immediate priorities for the more than 40 species listed as priority species that will likely vanish if actions are not taken.

Birds, like these White-rumped Munias, are crammed into cages for sale in the bird markets. Mortality rates are extremely high in conditions like these, further fueling the demand for more wild-caught birds. Credit: Jordi Janssen, Monitor

The Monitor Conservation Research Society (Monitor), established in 2017, has joined this effort to protect songbirds from extinction. Through its Asian songbird programme, Monitor aims to put the Southeast Asian Songbird Conservation Action Plan into motion by concentrating on trade, legislation and enforcement. By continuing extensive research in key countries within Southeast Asia, Monitor seeks to gather much needed trade data—the lack of evidence and information is the greatest obstacle to legally protecting these species. Finally, to ultimately eliminate or significantly reduce the illegal and unsustainable trade in songbirds, government buy-in in the countries in question is essential. Monitor and partners will use evidence obtained through research on the trade to assist and lobby governments in key countries to increase their enforcement efforts, improve existing laws and policies and provide effective protective measures to commercially traded species. Through these efforts, it is hoped the songs of all Southeast Asia’s songbird species will be heard in the wilds forever.

Dr. Chris R. Shepherd is a vice-chair of the IUCN SSC Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group and is the executive director of the Monitor Conservation Research Society (Monitor). Having worked on wildlife trade issues for more than 25 years, Dr. Shepherd focuses largely on lesser known species and species groups threatened by trade, such as the songbirds.

If Politicians Can’t Face Climate Change, Extinction Rebellion Will

A new movement is demanding solutions. They may just be in time to save the planet.

By David Graeber

Mr. Graeber is an anthropologist and activist.

 Extinction Rebellion members during climate protests in London last week.CreditFrank Augstein/Associated Press
Image
 Extinction Rebellion members during climate protests in London last week.CreditCreditFrank Augstein/Associated Press

On April 15, thousands of activists from a movement called Extinction Rebellion started occupying several sites in central London, shutting down major roads and demanding the country’s politicians take immediate, drastic action in the face of climate change.

For more than a week, the streets were awash with an infectious sort of hope. Beyond the potent symbol of popular power represented by their presence in the heart of the city, activists and passers-by had the chance to experiment with collective politics. Yes, there were camera-worthy stunts and impossible-to-ignore disruptions of business as usual. But people also assembled, broke into discussion groups and returned with proposals. If the government wasn’t talking about the climate, Extinction Rebellion would lead by example.

The action was the crest of a wave that arguably began with the high school walkouts over the climate that had been sweeping Europe since late last year, and it was remarkable for including thousands of citizens — many from small towns with no experience of radical politics — who were willing, sometimes even eager, to risk arrest.

Their demands were, and are, simple. First, that the government declare a state of emergency and “tell the truth” about the global situation — that thousands of species are in danger of extinction, that there is a very real possibility that human life itself may eventually follow. Second, that Britain set a goal to eliminate all carbon emissions by 2025, and third, that the specifics of this emergency program be worked out not from above, but through the creation of citizens’ assemblies.

Amid simmering public anger over dissatisfaction with government inaction on the climate, the protests changed the public conversation so quickly and so widely that politicians have been forced to take notice and meet with activists they could once have safely ignored.

The apparent paralysis of the forces of order in the face of what looked a lot like a nonviolent uprising merely echoes the paralysis of the government itself. For months now, Parliament has largely abandoned the business of government entirely, unable to resolve the question of how and whether Britain will leave the European Union, yet at the same time seemingly unable to seriously discuss, let alone legislate, anything else. But the squabbling and endless recriminations in Westminster are just a particularly farcical version of a global phenomenon. The world’s political classes are, increasingly, rendering themselves almost completely irrelevant in the eyes of their constituents.

Police officers on April 17 carrying away an Extinction Rebellion protester who was blocking Oxford Circus in central London. CreditNeil Hall/EPA, via Shutterstock
Image
Police officers on April 17 carrying away an Extinction Rebellion protester who was blocking Oxford Circus in central London. CreditNeil Hall/EPA, via Shutterstock

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of climate change. Scientists agree that humanity faces an existential threat. The global public overwhelmingly agrees with them. Young people even in rich countries like America and Britain, terrified of what the world will look like when they are in their 50s and the current governing elites are safely dead, are increasingly willing to embrace extraordinary measures. In both countries, more young people are questioning or rejecting capitalism itself.

To many of us, pretty much anything seems better than carrying on as usual, unto disaster. If ever a time called for grand visions, this is it. Yet politicians almost everywhere seem unable to think beyond the next election. The kind of vision in public works and collaboration that no more than a few generations ago created the United Nations, welfare states, space programs and the internet now seems inconceivable to the richest and most powerful governments on earth, even if the very fate of the planet depends on it.

The last 30 years or so have seen a kind of war on the very idea of visionary politics. Where ’60s rebels called for “all power to the imagination,” the consensus of the opinion makers who took over as those social movements sputtered has been precisely the opposite: The very idea of unleashing the human imagination on political life, we are consistently told, can lead only to economic misery, if not the gulag.

And as left and right both look to the past — the one toward midcentury welfare states and the other, darkly, toward xenophobia and nationalism — the collapsing center warns us to fear political passion of any sort. It’s all so much irrational “populism” — a term now used to tar anyone who objects that all key decisions affecting their lives should be made by technocrats trained in neoclassical economic theory. Yet the technocrats have so far proved utterly incapable of addressing the climate crisis.

If real passion and vision are necessary, they will have to come from outside the system. The activists who assembled and debated in London recognized that the goal of zero emissions in six years would require huge social and economic dislocation. But the very daunting nature of the task seemed to call out creative solutions.

These took many forms, from new mass transport systems to four- or even three-day work weeks, green industrial revolutions, spiritual awakenings and the replacement of the discipline of economics and its exhortations toward endless growth with a new science based on principles that rise to the challenges of a changing climate. Many of these ideas might seem ridiculous. Some no doubt are. But with scientists warning us we may have precious little time before rates of planetary warming lead to irreversible consequences, the one thing that seems clear is that refusal to engage in this kind of imaginative exercise is the real danger.

Threatened with irrelevance, some politicians have started to respond. In Britain, the opposition Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has now proposed that the first of Extinction Rebellion’s demands, a national state of climate emergency, be put to a vote in Parliament as early as Wednesday. Whether the motion is successful or not, it represents a previously difficult-to-imagine acknowledgment of the crisis.

It’s just barely possible that Britain, the nation that ushered in the Industrial Revolution and its explosive carbon emissions, might also be the first to make a serious effort to undo the damage.

But if the government can’t bring itself to do so, the people will have to. With any luck, they’ll be just in time to save the planet.

Fossil ‘mother lode’ records Earth-shaking asteroid’s impact: study

AFP.

Washington (AFP) – Scientists in the US say they have discovered the fossilized remains of a mass of creatures that died minutes after a huge asteroid slammed into the Earth 66 million years ago, sealing the fate of the dinosaurs.

In a paper to be published Monday, a team of paleontologists headquartered at the University of Kansas say they found a “mother lode of exquisitely preserved animal and fish fossils” in what is now North Dakota.

The asteroid’s impact in what is now Mexico was the most cataclysmic event ever known to befall Earth, eradicating 75 percent of the planet’s animal and plant species, extinguishing the dinosaurs and paving the way for the rise of humans.

Researchers believe the impact set off fast-moving, seismic surges that triggered a sudden, massive torrent of water and debris from an arm of an inland sea known as the Western Interior Seaway.

At the Tanis site in North Dakota’s Hell Creek Formation, the surge left “a tangled mass of freshwater fish, terrestrial vertebrates, trees, branches, logs, marine ammonites and other marine creatures,” according to Robert DePalma, the report’s lead author.

Some of the fish fossils were found to have inhaled “ejecta” associated with the Chicxulub event, suggesting seismic surges reached North Dakota within “tens of minutes,” he said.

“The sedimentation happened so quickly everything is preserved in three dimensions — they’re not crushed,” said co-author David Burnham.

“It’s like an avalanche that collapses almost like a liquid, then sets like concrete. They were killed pretty suddenly because of the violence of that water. We have one fish that hit a tree and was broken in half.”

The fossils at Tanis include what were believed to be several newly identified fish species, and others that were “the best examples of their kind,” said DePalma, a graduate student and curator of the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History in Florida.

“We look at moment-by-moment records of one of the most notable impact events in Earth’s history. No other site has a record quite like that,” he said.

“And this particular event is tied directly to all of us — to every mammal on Earth, in fact. Because this is essentially where we inherited the planet. Nothing was the same after that impact. It became a planet of mammals rather than a planet of dinosaurs.”

The paper is to be published in the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Court Victory: Wild Red Wolves Get a Chance at Survival

https://www.southernenvironment.org/news-and-press/press-releases/court-victory-wild-red-wolves-get-a-chance-at-survival

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina today issued an order declaring that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in its rollback of protections for the world’s only wild population of red wolves living in eastern North Carolina.  On behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, the Animal Welfare Institute and the Red Wolf Coalition, the Southern Environmental Law Center initiated the lawsuit in 2015.

Examining the agency’s decisions to allow private landowners to shoot and kill non-problem red wolves, to end releases of red wolves, and to end active management of coyotes, the court found that “taken together, these actions go beyond the agency’s discretion and operate to violate [the Service’s] mandate to recover this species in the wild.”  The court also made permanent its September 29, 2016, order stopping the service from capturing and killing, and authorizing private landowners to capture and kill wild red wolves.

“For four years now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been dismantling one of the most successful predator reintroductions in U.S. history,” said Sierra Weaver, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The service knows how to protect and recover the red wolf in the wild, but it stopped listening to its scientists and started listening to bureaucrats instead.  The law doesn’t allow the agency to just walk away from species conservation, like it did here.”

The groups brought the federal court action over the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to allow red wolves that were not causing any problems to be shot and killed by private landowners, at the same time as it rolled back conservation measures that had helped red wolves grow from four pairs released in 1987, to over 100 animals in eastern North Carolina from 2002-2014. Since those management changes were made, the red wolf population has plummeted over the past four years to as few as 24 known red wolves in the wild today.

“Support for red wolf protection has been overwhelming,” said Jason Rylander, Senior Staff Attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “But, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has ignored public support and moved forward with a proposal that will doom the species to extinction. Today’s decision by the court to protect red wolves from being shot and killed offers a glimmer of hope for species recovery and new energy to make this program successful once again.”

USFWS attempted to avoid a ruling in Conservation Groups’ lawsuit by proposing on June 27, 2018, a new rule to restrict wild red wolves to one National Wildlife Refuge and a bombing range in eastern North Carolina, while allowing the immediate killing of any wolves that live on or wander onto non-federal lands in what previously had been a designated 1.7 million acre five-county Red Wolf Recovery Area.

Conservation groups opposed this proposal, arguing instead for an alternative that would reinstate previous successful management measures.  “Rolling back protections is the opposite of what this species needs,” said Kim Wheeler, executive director of the Red Wolf Coalition. “The court’s ruling today makes clear that the USFWS must recommit to red wolf recovery and resume its previously successful management policies and actions.”

The USFWS proposal would reduce the recovery area by almost 90 percent, eliminating protections for endangered red wolves from 1.5 million acres.  In 2016, a group of 30 scientists condemned such a scenario because the limited area proposed by USFWS could not support a viable population of red wolves and its proposal was inconsistent with the best available science.

“The District Court’s ruling today makes it clear that USFWS’s recent management decisions have failed to protect the red wolf population,” said Johanna Hamburger, wildlife attorney for the Animal Welfare Institute.  “Scientists have warned that if USFWS continues to ignore the recovery needs of the red wolf, these animals may once again be extinct in the wild by 2024. The court has ruled that this is unacceptable and that USFWS has a duty under the ESA to implement proactive conservation measures to achieve species recovery.”

According to the conservation groups, 99.9 percent of the 108,124 comments that the agency received on its proposed rule supported red wolf recovery in the wild.  Only 19 comments—with 13 of these coming from a single real estate developer—supported USFWS’s proposal to restrict red wolves to only federal lands in Dare County.

The red wolf recovery program served as a model for reintroduction efforts and was widely celebrated as a success for 25 years before the service began ending its successful conservation actions.  Once common throughout the Southeast, intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat drove the red wolf to extinction in the wild in the late 1970s. Later, red wolves bred in captivity were reintroduced on a North Carolina peninsula within their native range in the late 1980s.

###

About the Red Wolf Coalition
The Red Wolf Coalition (www.redwolves.com) advocates for the long-term survival of red wolf populations by teaching about the red wolf and by fostering public involvement in red wolf conservation.

About the Animal Welfare Institute
The Animal Welfare Institute (awionline.org) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild.

About Defenders of Wildlife
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.

About the Southern Environmental Law Center
For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

Six caribou in North Idaho and Washington – the last in the continental U.S. – will be relocated to Canada

Sat., Nov. 3, 2018

 (Shutterstock)
(Shutterstock)

Caribou, the Grey Ghosts of Idaho and Washington’s forests, will no longer roam the Lower 48.

After decades of work reintroducing the large ungulates into Idaho and Washington, Canadian wildlife officials decided to relocate the six remaining survivors in the United States farther north into Canada.

There, Canadian biologists hope to breed the animals in captivity at a pen north of Revelstoke, British Columbia, deep in the Canadian brush, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported Friday.

Bart George, a wildlife biologist for the Kalispel Tribe, hopes the breeding project is successful and that the caribou population grows to a point where it could “spill over into the U.S.”

In 2009, George said the South Selkirk caribou herd had 46 animals and was “climbing at a pretty good rate every year.”

But wolves started to filter onto the landscape about that time, George said.

“That’s been our primary source of mortality that we’ve known about,” George said.

Logging roads and increased snowmobiling access also played a role . But in terms of direct mortality, cougars and wolves were the primary culprits.

“Predation is obviously the No. 1 factor,” George said. “That was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back at this point. All those other issues are concerns, but we don’t really understand how snowmobiling would affect the animals in the long term, other than we know it disrupts animals in the winter.”

He added, “Of the six collared animals that we collared in 2013, two were killed by wolves, one killed by cougars and one by an unknown mortality.”

In April, an aerial survey of the South Selkirk Mountain caribou herd found only three surviving members, all female. Over the summer one of those animals was killed by a cougar, George said.

Biologists and managers have known the animals were in trouble since 2012, George said. However, little was done.

“We really didn’t mobilize until it was too late,” he said.

Other herds in the range have “blinked out” in recent years. Full-scale recovery efforts began only recently, with Canada starting to control its wolf population in 2014 and maternal pen projects and population augmentation efforts starting only a year ago.

Canadian wildlife agencies have removed about 20 wolves since 2014.

Deep snow delayed the Kalispel Tribe’s maternal pen project and the enclosure was never used.

“We could potentially use that site in the future as a release site,” George said.

Although mountain caribou were listed as an endangered species in the U.S. in 1983, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the states of Washington and Idaho are not actively involved in the maternal pen project or controlling the caribou predators even though the caribou range extended south into Idaho and Washington.

“This is what extinction looks like, and it must be a wake-up call for wildlife and habitat managers in both Canada and the United States,” said Joe Scott, Conservation Northwest’s international programs director, in a news release. “While it comes as no surprise given the long decline of the only caribou herds that still roamed into northeast Washington and northern Idaho, today’s news marks the tragic end of an era.”

The South Selkirk caribou herd was the only one living in both the United States and Canada. It ranged through the high country along the crest of the Selkirk Mountains near the international border. The remaining 14 or so herds are all in Canada. It’s estimated that fewer than 1,400 mountain caribou are left in North America.

Known as Grey Ghosts because of how rarely they are seen, the South Selkirk caribou differ from caribou that wander the tundra farther north. These caribou use their wide feet to stand on top of deep snow and eat lichen that grows high in old-growth forests.

The mountain caribou have struggled as old growth forests have been thinned by logging and other industrial activities, George said. With thinner forests, the caribou have become more susceptible to predation.

Thinned forests have led to other problems, including vehicle strikes on Highway 3 in British Columbia.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrote its first recovery plan for mountain caribou in the early 1980s and it was reworked in 1994. Working with Canadian agencies and First Nations, caribou from other regions were trapped and released in the area with some positive results.

But those positive results didn’t last, and, despite the Kalispel Tribe’s efforts, starting in 2012 the population has only declined.

“We talked about it, and we did a bunch of hand-wringing for the next six years until we ended up this position,” George said.

They’re fighting for their lives…

 

Right now bulldozers are clearing a tiny speck of rainforest where Earth’s last 800 Tapanuli Orangutans cling to survival.

It’s all to build a hydropower dam that could push them to extinction.

But Indonesia’s President can still cancel the dam, and he wants to be seen as the people’s president. So if we build a massive campaign and get huge media coverage — he could do it! Wildlife experts are meeting him in days and will deliver our call — so add your name to the petition below with one click before the diggers destroy their home!

Save the Last Tapanuli Orangutans

To the Indonesian government and President, Joko Widodo:
“As citizens from across the world, we urge you to save the last 800 Tapanuli Orangutans from extinction by cancelling the Batang Toru hydropower dam. The fate of this entire species rests in your hands.”

Save the Last Tapanuli Orangutans — Sign Now!

The Tapanuli Orangutans were only discovered months ago, and with fewer than 800 left, they instantly became the world’s most endangered great ape species. Their only home is one shrinking patch of rainforest in Indonesia — and this hydropower dam would be built right in the middle of where they live! No wonder major development banks won’t touch it.

Orangutans are basically family — we share 97% of our DNA. They laugh at jokes, cry when they’re sad, and can clearly tell what it means when the chainsaws arrive. We can’t leave them to face that alone and be wiped out forever. So we have to stop this — together!

Let’s build a giant campaign to make them famous, help journalists expose the destruction, and take out media ads to push Indonesia’s President to scrap the dam and save these desperate orangutans. Sign now and tell everyone!

Scientists say we’re living through the sixth mass extinction, and it’s mostly caused by humans. But at the same time, we’ve never been more able to respond to the crisis, and there’s no other global movement on earth that can do it quick enough, loud enough. So let’s save them!

With hope and determination,

Mike, Bert, Lisa, Sarah, Spyro, Elana, Samir and the whole team at Avaaz

More information:

World’s newest great ape threatened by Chinese dam (The Guardian)
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/radical-conservation/2018/apr/23/worlds-newest-great-ape-threatened-by-chinese-dam

Scientists urge Indonesian president to nix dam in orangutan habitat (Mongabay)
https://news.mongabay.com/2018/07/scientists-urge-indonesian-president-to-nix-dam-in-orangutan-habitat/

Chinese companies backing megadam threaten survival of new orangutan species (Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation)
https://www.leonardodicaprio.org/chinese-companies-backing-megadam-threaten-survival-of-new-orangutan-species/

Sighting of Tapanuli orangutan twins raises hope for saving species (Jakarta Morning Post)
http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2018/07/11/sighting-of-twin-baby-tapanuli-orangutans-brings-conservation-optimisms.html

The First Week of Summer Tells of the Catastrophe Unfolding

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA’s Canadian Representative

07/03/18

Ring-billed gull.
By Crisco 1492 [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Hundreds of baby ring-billed gulls tumbled from rooftops, facing certain death, just as summer arrived. An intense heatwave arrived too, with projections by meteorologists that 2018 would be the hottest year on record. A new study came out reporting that bad news for anther gull species, the Heermann’s gull. Finally, a friend of mine, a bear biologist, had his paper outlining declines in the southernmost population of polar bears published.The same week all of this was happening, I was still hearing how the American president remained in denial about global climate change. We call it that because the deniers can’t get their heads around the idea that global “warming” does not mean that there are no cold days or record-breaking cold spells. I suspect the only polar bear Donald Trump may have seen would be in a zoo or maybe in his son’s trophy room, and yet he says they’ve never been in better shape. Of course, he lies – continually, I know – but why do people believe him?

As reported here on February 15, ring-billed gulls are in decline in Ontario. They often nest on flat rooftops, but don’t jump off! The gulls were from one to four weeks old. Toronto Wildlife Center sent out a distress call for help as they were overwhelmed with baby gulls. The wildlife rehab community responded, but why was it happening in the first place? The roofs were so hot that the birds were being burned alive.

Burning baby gulls are a symptom of a world in trouble.

Heermann’s gulls are beautiful gray gulls with white heads that are found along the California and Mexican coastlines. Researchers analyzed their population growth using models employing “normal” and high oceanic sea surface temperature (SST) conditions. Normally, there was about a 4% population growth rate, but with increasingly warm SST events, the predicted population growth goes down to a negative 15%. The gulls do fine even though there are high SSTs every four or five years – the historic figure – but now that warm SSTs are dramatically increasing, more gulls will die than are hatched, which is a route to endangerment.

That’s a tad esoteric, but then there is that study of the world’s most southerly polar bears, intensely surveyed over many years. It found that the number of bears in James Bay and the southern end of Hudson Bay has declined 17% – from 943 to 780 – in the past five years. That’s a trend, and it supports all of the other news emerging, especially here in Canada, for the simple reason the higher the degree of latitude the more pronounced the effects from climate change.

My point is that this happened only in the first week of summer. How long can the deniers remain in denial? I hope it’s not until their own feet burn and, like those baby gulls, they have nowhere to go, because unlike those gulls, rescue will not happen.

Marijuana farms are driving this adorable forest creature to extinction

A furry, cat-size carnivore called the Humboldt marten is struggling to survive in an area sprouted with marijuana farms, and now California wants to protect the adorable creature by declaring it an endangered species.

The state’s declaration would apply only within state lines and wouldn’t offer federal protections.

A member of the weasel family, the Humboldt marten (Martes caurina humboldtensis) lives deep inside the redwood forests of the Pacific Northwest, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The elusive animal was once thought to be extinct, but it was rediscovered in 1996. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that 95 percent of the marten’s habitat has disappeared due to deforestation. [In Images: 100 Most Threatened Species]

There are two populations of Humboldt martens remaining: a group of about 100 in Oregon, and another group of about 200 in northern California, right where cannabis cultivation is booming, The Guardianreported. In Humboldt County, California, where the martens are found, there are an estimated 4,000 to 15,000 cannabis cultivation sites, The Guardian reported. That’s in addition to the illegal operations and “trespass grows” on public or tribal lands, The Guardian reported.

Cannabis cultivation is likely the biggest reason for the Humboldt marten’s decline, The Guardian reported. Not only are forests cleared to make room for farming, but many cannabis farmers also use rodenticides that make their way into the forest food chain, killing anything that eats rodents, including the martens. Live Science reported on a similar story in January about spotted owls (Strix occidentalis) in this same region of California that are dying after eating prey killed with toxic rodenticide left out by marijuana farmers.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) reviewed a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the California-based Environmental Protection Information Center asking the state to list the animal as endangered. The marten is currently classified by California as a species of special concern, but a status review from the CDFW found that listing the species as endangered is warranted, The Mercury News reported. The final determination is expected to be made in August, The Mercury News reported.

Original article on Live Science.

Stephen Hawking Was Right to Worry About Our Impending Doom

Stephen Hawking
Photo: AP

Physicist Stephen Hawking died today at the age of 76. In the latter stages of his illustrious career, Hawking devoted a considerable amount of time and effort to issuing warnings of future threats—from the perils of climate change and nuclear war through to artificial superintelligence and alien invasions. And for this he was often ridiculed. But here’s the thing: Hawking was right—and it would be incumbent upon all of us to heed his advice.

When Hawking wasn’t talking about Euclidean quantum gravity, naked singularities, or radiation seeping from black holes, there’s a good chance the Cambridge Lucasian Professor of Mathematics was doing his best Chicken Little impersonation, telling a global audience that the sky above would soon give way, should we choose to keep ignoring it.

For Hawking, there was no shortage of ways in which the sky could fall. Early in his career he warned us about comets and asteroids, but by the mid-aughts he began to focus his attention on self-inflicted wounds. In 2006, at the age of 64 and with virtually nothing left to prove, Hawking posed the following open question online: “In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?” Over 25,000 people chimed in with their own opinions, with many asking Hawking for his own advice. “I don’t know the answer,” he replied. “That is why I asked the question.”

That same summer, and in another sign of his mood shift, Hawking told a news conference in Hong Kong that life on Earth “is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of.” This time around, however, he volunteered an answer to the problem: colonize other planets or perish.

Hawking’s view of humanity had turned grim, and by 2010 he was warning of alien invasions, saying, “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.” In her 2012 book, Stephen Hawking: His Life and Work, author Kitty Ferguson wrote about the physicist’s view of computer viruses and why he thought they were a new form of life. “Maybe it says something about human nature, that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive,” said Hawking. “Talk about creating life in our own image.”

More recently, Hawking began to voice his concerns about artificial intelligence. In 2014, he famously said that AI was our “worst mistake in history,” and he signed an open letter warning of AI risks, alongside like-minded public figures including SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, physicist Sir Martin Rees, and biologist George Church. “One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand,” he wrote in an Independent op-ed with computer scientist Stuart Russell and physicists Max Tegmark and Frank Wilczek. “Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.” A year later, he added his name to an open letter calling for a ban on autonomous killing machines.

By this point in his career, Hawking began to sound like a droning bell. His repeated calls for off-world colonization in the face of such risks as “climate change, overdue asteroid strikes, epidemics and population growth” began to sound monotonous, and people began to tune him out—Gizmodo included. Except for the tabloids, of course, who cheerily repeated his dire warningswithout pause.

Doom fatigue aside, Hawking’s death provides us with an opportunity to reflect on his warnings. As someone who has written extensively about the many ways humanity could end its tenure on Earth, I have very little to complain about when it comes to the late physicist’s views.

It sucks to hear, but he was right. We’re in big trouble. And we need to do something about it.

Last year, for example, Oxford’s Global Priorities Project listed asteroid impacts, global warming, artificial intelligence, and global pandemics among humanity’s most pressing near-term risks. With the shifting geopolitical climate, we have no choice but to worry—yet again—of nuclear war. Hawking’s view of malevolent aliens may have violated popular conceptions of friendly extraterrestrial visitors, but he was right to be terrified. At the same time, there’s no shortage of potential existential risks in our future, whether it be from a poorly programmed artificial superintelligence, a nanotechnology-powered apocalypse, or a retreat into a dystopian totalitarian dark age.

Of course, Hawking didn’t come up with these threats from thin air, nor was he the only one making such warnings. He just happened to be exceptionally vocal about it, and because of his extraordinary reach, he was able to communicate his message to a large global audience. That’s why he got branded as a Chicken Little, and why we became so inclined to associate these doom-and-gloom scenarios exclusively to him.

The best way to honor Hawking’s legacy, in my opinion, is to take inspiration from his admonitions and his persistency. He may have sounded misanthropic at times, but his warnings came from a good place. Despite the physical hardships he had to endure for so many years, Hawking never gave the impression that he gave up on his own life, and by virtue of his ceaseless warnings, he never gave up on humanity either.

Yes, the future looks scary—but as Hawking reiterated time and time again, the worst thing we can do when threats appear on the horizon is to plant our heads firmly in the ground.