Endangered Science


As Americans enjoy this long weekend of remembrance, many will find their way to a national or state park hoping to see wildlife in their natural habitats. Last year over 300 million people visited the national parks alone, the highest number on record. Tourists photographed bears and bobcats, bison and moose, foxes, wolves, prairie dogs, coyotes, eagles, owls, and more.

What most visitors didn’t see is the work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure that our wildlife is protected, and species on the brink of extinction don’t disappear. Project Coyote is just one of many organizations committed to protecting our public lands and public trust, ensuring that the wild animals visitors hope to see receive the protections they deserve, as outlined in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) decades ago.

One of the fundamental requirements of the ESA is that decisions about protecting wildlife are based on the best available science. This sounds obvious, but in order for science to be credible, it must be independent, which means free of political or commercial interests.

Unfortunately, respect for independent science within wildlife management ranks is as endangered as the animals we try to protect. One of many examples includes the Department of Interior’s alarming decision in 2014 to declare gray wolves recovered nationwide because the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) claimed the wolves occupied most of the remaining suitable habitat in the U.S. In truth, nearly two-dozen states in the historic range were, and still are, vacant. The FWS declared them unsuitable on grounds that human tolerance for wolves was low there and that wolves would be poached by citizens or killed by government agents seeking to protect livestock interests. This is the same year we witnessed wolves returning to their native home of California where they had not been seen since 1924. If FWS policy had been implemented, California might not have seen this important and historic return.

The fact is that none of the available science supported the FWS claim, and what evidence there was actually showed that tolerance for wolves was even higher outside their current range.

According to the ESA, our federal wildlife managers are supposed to address threats that may push a species to extinction, not circumvent the threat by redefining “suitable habitat.” It is required to combat threats and recover listed species, as the ESA states, “across all or a significant portion of range.” (ESA 16 USC § 1531)

Instead, FWS pointed to a non-peer-reviewed analysis suggesting the northeastern U.S. was not gray wolf habitat because a new species had lived there. The criticism that followed eventually led to an independent scientific review process that “unanimously decided that the FWS’s earlier decisions were not well supported by the available science.”

Project Coyote Science Advisory Board members Adrian TrevesJeremy BruskotterJohn Vucetich, and Michael Nelson co-authored this study refuting these assumptions, and there are more examples of FWS ignoring science, including the department’s recent delisting decisions about wolverines and grizzlies that not only omitted independent scientific review, but rejected the recommendations of agency biologists.

If we look at the history of decisions about carnivores under the ESA, we see similar disregard for the best available science. Since 2005, the FWS has lost nearly a dozen federal court cases trying to remove protections for wolves, grizzly bears, and wolverines. In each case, the courts sided with plaintiff’s claims that the Department of the Interior misinterpreted the ESA or did not follow the ESA mandate to base its decisions on the best scientific data available.

Which is why the recent Endangered Species Day was the perfect occasion for me to join with members of Project Coyote’s Science Advisory Board in collaboration with the Union of Concerned Scientists, to compel Interior Secretary Jewell and Commerce Secretary Pritzker to enforce the ESA and serve the public trust by using the best available science. We submitted a petition with the signatures of nearly 1,000 US scientists and scholars, and our request was simple: respect the law and put the independent scientific community back in charge of determining the best available science.

All Americans can be proud of the cooperative vision that produced the Endangered Species Act in 1973, and protects the abundance of wildlife and beautiful landscapes that our federal agencies are charged to steward. Let’s not be the generation that allowed standards to slip so far that, for some species, it’s beyond recovery. When independent science is threatened, so are our keystone species, and the healthy ecosystems we all depend on to survive and thrive.

Learn more about the ways scientists are working for wildlife by visiting Project Coyote’sScience and Stewardship Program and Notes from the Field blog.


Man Falls Prey To High Voltage Wire Set As Trap By Poachers


Kalahandi: A man was killed while another was injured after being electrocuted after coming in contact with high voltage wire laid by poachers as trap for wild animals at Thuamal Rampur block in Bhawanipatna.

The deceased has been identified as Kabi Nayak.


According to reports, both Kabi and his son had gone to nearby field and while returning both of them came in contact with the electric wire yesterday.

Following the incident, both Kabi and his son were immediately rushed to Thuamul Rampur hospital by local villagers. Later, Kabi died at the hospital while the condition of his son is still critical.


Disasters for Us Are Disasters for Wildlife in the Modern World


Published 09/08/17

Zapata RailImage: Zapata rail
Drawing by Allan Brooks

One of many videos of the flooding in Texas resulting from Hurricane Harvey shows a herd of deer looking disoriented as they move through the water. As I was watching that, in the background, the radio was reporting on Hurricane Irma. The location of Irma’s landfall is still a guessing game, with such places as Puerto Rico, Cuba and other islands, southern Florida, and anywhere up the east coast, clearly at risk. Friends of mine in British Columbia were being warned to be ready to evacuate at short notice due to raging wildfires, the largest such fire in its history.

It all paled in compared to the news from Sierra Leone, where floods and mudslides killed over a thousand people, the damage exacerbated by deforestation and lack of infrastructure. In southern Asia, the death toll from flooding and other ecological disasters was over 12,000 people!

It’s hard for many to muster concern for animals amid such staggering amounts of human misery, but there was that photo of a dead tiger killed by floods in India, and of an Indian rhinoceros swimming in floodwaters at the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam, on August 17. I’ve been asked several times these last few weeks about how wildlife copes with such disasters. I believe the short answer is that plants and animals evolve within their environments, independent of the kind of technological infrastructure humans depend upon. Individual animals will be killed, but the populations, and the species to which they belong, usually will survive… until now.

Now, so many other factors are at work, including the increasing incidence of such events, and warnings by scientists about climate change. In British Columbia, there is an effort to put a moratorium on at least bear hunting, as much of the range of the brown bear has gone up in flames. As I write, Hurricane Irma threatens the Florida Keys, home of the unique, pint-sized Key deer, which has already had its population severely reduced by collisions with cars. In the thousands of years those animals lived in the Keys they must have endured many very powerful storms, but not while also facing motor traffic and development.

In Cuba, there are 28 bird species found nowhere else in the world. Some, like the critically endangered Zapata rail, are found only in a small region—in its case, the marshes on the Zapata peninsula of southern Cuba. There are numerous other species of animals in the West Indies with similarly restricted ranges, like the beautiful little Montserrat oriole, with a population comprised of, at most, a few hundred birds found only in a small part of Montserrat, in the Lesser Antilles. Critically endangered, the Montserrat oriole has already lost much of its essential habitat from Hurricane Hugo, in 1989, and from the smothering effects of ash from volcanic activity between 1997 and 1997. The pretty little Barbuda Warbler, found only on the tiny island of Barbuda, may have ceased to exist last week when Irma’s full might swept the island.

Add in the talk of nuclear weapon proliferation and the increasing number of stories of so many forms of pollution, and it becomes clear that we must do all we can to protect both people and animals—and the world that supports us all.

Portland bans the display of wild and exotic animals


The City Council votes unanimously to reject the use of big cats, elephants and a wide range of other animals in circus acts.

Soon, the display of wild and exotic animals will no longer be allowed in Maine’s largest city.

The Portland City Council voted unanimously Monday to ban the use of big cats, elephants and a wide range of other circus animals because of “cruel” training and handling practices.

Portland joined over 100 municipalities nationwide to pass a ban on the display of wild and exotic animals, but is the first in Maine to do so, according to animal rights groups.

City Councilor Brian Batson first introduced the ordinance back in June. It was referred to the council’s Health and Human Services Committee, where it received a unanimous recommendation to the full council.

“We can all recognize the fact these practices are outdated,” Batson said. “They are not only cruel – they are inhumane.”

Nobody testified against the proposed ban, but more than a dozen supporters urged the council to adopt it, in hopes the state would follow suit.

“Tonight you have the opportunity to create history that Portland can be proud of,” said Melissa Gates of Animal Rights Maine, a group founded in Portland in 2009.

The ordinance will apply to a wide variety of animals. Prohibited animals include lions, tigers, zebras, giraffes, monkeys, elephants and kangaroos, as well as crocodiles, seals, walruses and sharks, among others.

The resolution explaining the ordinance cites the treatment and “draconian training that can be cruel and inhuman” toward the animals. It also describes how some exotic animals have escaped from their cages and “roamed in cities, threatening the safety of the residents and presenting a dangerous challenge to the police officers who must respond.”

It notes that two companies – Carson & Barnes Circus and Vincent Von Duke’s big cat act – that have been fined over their handling of animals have also been to Portland.

Violations of the city ordinance can result in a $500 fine.

The ordinance was supported by Animal Rights Maine, The Humane Society of the United States, and the Maine Animal Coalition.

Nearly two dozen people attended a rally prior to the meeting, including one person dressed as a tiger and another as an elephant.

According to the groups, four states and more than 125 municipalities have passed restrictions governing the use of wild animals in circuses and traveling shows.

Rep. Kim Monaghan, D-Cape Elizabeth, proposed a bill in the Legislature that would have banned the use of elephants in traveling animal acts in Maine, but it failed in May.

Monaghan presented a letter to the council from legislators who were disappointed that the state bill did not pass.

“We are pleased to see the city of Portland taking the lead on this issue,” she said.

Val Giguere, a member of the board of directors of the Maine Animal Coalition, applauded the council’s action. “We are hopeful that the passing of this ordinance in the City of Portland is the beginning of a trend towards ending the cruelty and exploitation of animals for entertainment in traveling acts throughout Maine,” she said in a statement.

Last spring, animal rights advocates staged protests outside the Cross Insurance Arena during the 64th annual Kora Shrine Circus, which uses elephants, lions and tigers in public performances. The Kora Shrine Circus defended the practice of using wild animals, arguing that their animals are not mistreated.

In May, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus held its final performance, blaming the closure on declining attendance caused by its being forced to eliminate elephant acts.

Wildfires Are Big Trouble For The Northwest’s Lynx, Pygmy Rabbits And Other Creatures


The Eagle Creek Fire takes spreads through the Columbia River Gorge, September 4, 2017.

The Eagle Creek Fire takes spreads through the Columbia River Gorge, September 4, 2017.

Courtesy of InciWeb

As wildfires rage across the Pacific Northwest, more than just people are displaced from their homes. Animals in the wild are also feeling the effects of the flames.More and more, wildfires are changing conservation strategies for threatened and endangered animals in the region, especially as a warming climate lengthens fire season.

“We essentially assume that we’re going to have earlier fire seasons. They’re going to last longer. And they will typically be more severe,” said Jeff Krupka, field office manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Central Washington.

Northern spotted owl, Canada lynx, bull trout. Just a few in a long line of listed animals. Not to mention rare and endangered plants.

Canada lynx

Canada lynx


It’s still to early to know what’s species are threatened by the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge, as firefighters are working to save people and homes.

But resilient ecosystems have a better ability to recover from natural disasters, said Rachel Pawlitz, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman.

“We believe we’ve taken good care of the underlying ecology of this area in the last 30 years since we were created,” she said. “That will be a factor to help the natural system regenerate itself.”

Pawlitz said, although many people want to help, it’s important that they don’t take a go-it-alone approach with restoration efforts. Volunteers should work with the Forest Service or other experts once the fire is out.

A fire earlier this summer near Quincy, Washington, swept through pygmy rabbit habitat. The rabbits are federally listed as endangered in the state — the hilly sagebrush landscape in Central Washington is their only home.

Biologists are now trying to breed pygmy rabbits in the wild. So far biologists have found around 90 burrows this winter. Penny Becker says the DNA samples have shown more than 40 individual rabbits.

Biologists are now trying to breed pygmy rabbits in the wild. So far biologists have found around 90 burrows this winter. Penny Becker says the DNA samples have shown more than 40 individual rabbits.

Flickr Creative Commons: USFWS Pacific

Biologists have worked since 2011 to breed and release hundreds of the palm-sized rabbits into the wild. They say the program has been a success.

But this June, the wind-driven Sutherland Canyon Fire killed about 70 rabbits in one breeding area. Biologists and firefighters were able to rescue 32 others that had escaped into burrows.

Matt Monda, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional wildlife manager, said many of the surviving rabbits were found the next day, huddled in a small patch of sagebrush surrounded by charred landscape.

Lead biologist Jon Gallie had retrofitted the irrigation system to keep that patch alive.

“The fire was a setback for our restoration program, but we can start making up for those losses next year,” Monda said. “Wildfires are a fact of life here in sagebrush country, which is a major reason why we don’t keep all of the rabbits in one place.”

Right now, the Jolly Mountain Fire is threatening spotted owl, bull trout, and steelhead habitat. It’s also burning near whitebark pine, which the U.S. Forest Service says needs protection but is not yet listed on the Endangered Species List.

Whitebark pines thrive in rugged mountain in environments.

Whitebark pines thrive in rugged mountain in environments.

Devan Schwartz

Farther north in Washington, there’s concern for what’s left of Canada lynxhabitat. The Diamond Creek Fire, which is still burning in Okanogan County, may have destroyed what’s left of the federally threatened wildcats’ habitat.

“That’s particularly disheartening because in the state of Washington, we have essentially one reproductive population of lynx, and that’s where they live,” Krupka said.

Lynx resemble bobcats with very furry paws and short tails. One resident population is known to live in Washington. The federal and state government designated critical habitat in Okanogan County.

“The Okanogan Lynx Management Zone taken a beating in the last decade (because of fires),” Krupka said.

Habitat fragmentation from wildfires, along with climate change, are considered the biggest threats to lynx in the state.

Conservation groups threatened to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because they were concerned there wasn’t enough lynx habitat set aside in the state.

Managers will be better able to assess damage once the fires are put out — and it’s safe for people to survey habitat areas.

But it’s not all bad — wildfires are a natural part of the landscape. Some animals may even thrive after a fire, said Michelle Dennehy, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman.

“Some animals will perish in the fire, some will evade it, but for the most part, populations will not be impacted long-term.  In fact, some populations may flourish and exceed pre-fire numbers with the positive ecological functions following a fire,” Dennehy said in an email.

She said most habitats require disturbance, like fires and floods, and without these periodic events the land really isn’t as good as it could be.

“Animals rely on a mosaic of habitats to complete their needs…. and the disturbance related habitat created by the fire, once recovered, will add to habitat complexity and provide a new type of habitat,” Dennehy said.

In Oregon, the Eagle Creek Fire forced ODFW to prematurely release 606,000 fall chinook salmon from fish hatcheries in the Columbia River Gorge.

Hatchery managers had marked and tagged the early releases, so they will be able to track and compare their survival rates.

Those fish are expected to do OK.

Looking ahead, there could be more concerns for other fish, including threatened and endangered salmon and bull trout.

If riparian areas on stream edges have been damaged, water temperatures could get warmer near spawning areas.

Fires often disturb the ground as well. There’s no vegetation left to hold in the soil — and so heavy rains could cause mudslides or excessive sediment in streams.

A silver lining: fallen trees could become good fish habitat later, Dennehy said.

Many animals that are able to move quickly will do so, said Ross Huffman, southcentral regional lands operations manager for WDFW.

“It depends on the species. Things like wolves are pretty highly mobile, as long as the fire’s not going super fast or has a really strong wind. They more than likely have the ability to escape, as long as there’s habitat nearby that they can move to. Spotted owls are highly mobile. The longer term (problem) would be the loss of habitat,” Huffman said.

Looking forward, once more is know about what has really been lost, land managers are thinking about restoration efforts: stabilizing loose sediment, repairing roads, restoring trees and aquatic habitats.

And they begin to ask what else can be done. Should land managers do more?

Take the Canada lynx, Krupka said. Should they put in pre-suppression fire lines in the subalpine habitat? It’s not something that’s normally thought about.

“When you have a limited resource is that something that you should do?” Krupka said. “We ask these questions of ourselves, unfortunately sometimes after a tragedy of sorts. What can we learn from this? What can we do better?”

Melting Arctic Ice is Changing Whale Migration. How One Choice We Make Every Day Can Help

It seems that every day brings a new discovery regarding the impacts of climate change on our planet. From its contribution to the Sixth Mass Extinction to its threat to coral reefs worldwide, to its impact on animal migration patterns, the negative effects of a changing climate are being seen everywhere.

Not even the farthest reaches of the globe can escape climate change or the damage it brings with it. The melting of sea ice around the Arctic Circle may not exactly be news, but we are only now starting to understand just how destructive these changes can be to wildlife.

As ice disappears in the Arctic Circle, a passage is opening up where marine animals can move between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The warming Arctic Ocean is also inviting new species to the area. The full impacts of this phenomena may yet to be seen, but the prognosis is not exactly a good one.

A New Passage in The North

The Northwest Passage is a pathway through the Arctic Ocean, north of Canada, that passes between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Historically, it has been appealing to shippers and explorers as navigating the icy water could offer an alternate route around North America. However, given the strong presence of dangerous sea ice, the Northwest Passage has rarely been navigated. That is, until recent years.

Since the 1970s, Arctic sea ice has declined by 14 percent. And while the year 2012 set the most recent record summer low of sea ice levels in the Arctic, the region has been on an overall downward trend. November 2015 has shown a growth in sea ice. However, this is expected given the returned winter. The National Snow and Ice Data Center still reports that November 2015 data shows a rate of decline of sea ice at 4.7 percent per decade.

Melting Sea Ice Is Mixing Up WhalesNASA Goddard Space Flight Center/ Flickr
With the opportunity of ice-free sailing in this swath of the Arctic Ocean, 

With the opportunity of ice-free sailing in this swath of the Arctic Ocean, shippers are finding benefit in the unfortunate loss of our frozen habitat. And even a yacht race in the once frozen ocean has been proposed for 2017 based on the assumption the region will be hazard-free enough for the event. (Whaaaat?!)

Human activity around the Arctic Ocean is certainly changing along with the terrain, so it’s no wonder the animals in the region are also changing how they interact with their new environment.

Whales On the Move

The impact of climate change on Arctic sea ice has been pretty well documented over the last few years. The rising concern for loss of habitat for animals like polar bears and walruses has made the daily news on occasion, but these aren’t the only animals that are having their habitat changed under warming skies.

As the ice in the Northwestern Passage melts during the warmer months of the year in the northern hemisphere, the Passage is opening up. While an open sea lane free of thick ice may be appealing to shippers, marine mammals are also taking to exploring and utilizing the brand new path of ocean.

Take the gray whale, for instance. These animals went extinct in the Atlantic Ocean and were gone from sight 300- 400 years ago. Yet, in 2010, scientists documented a gray whale in the Mediterranean Ocean! A study released in the Marine Biodiversity Records the following year acknowledges that the chance that such an animal could go unnoticed by researchers for hundreds of years is pretty unlikely, and this animal most likely used the melting Northwest Passage to make its journey from the Pacific. Will more gray whales make this journey in the future? Will they reestablish a population of gray whales in the Atlantic Ocean?

Gray whales aren’t the only species of whale to show peculiar behavior changes as the result of melting Arctic sea ice. The altered habitat is inviting new visitors that compete with the Arctic’s year-round residents.

Bowhead whales make their home in the Arctic Circle all year. Not only would heavier ship traffic in the area be of concern, but new competition is also a worry as the sea ice in their homes melts away. Humpback and fin whales which tend to hang around the Arctic mainly in the summer may choose to stay longer, competing with bowhead whales for food.

Melting Sea Ice Is Mixing Up WhalesDay Donaldson/ FlickrAnd of concern to all baleen whales in the Arctic is the new presence of their natural predators: killer whales. The largest member of the dolphin family and a formidable threat to even large whales has been documented over recent years with increasingly frequent sightings in the cold waters of the Arctic. With the assistance of Inuit hunters in the area, scientists can confirm that killer whales are now appearing in the warming Arctic in numbers not ever seen before. Whereas their towering dorsal fin once made their navigation of icy waters difficult, the melting sea ice is now open territory for the animals to hunt. These charismatic black and white animals can now more easily prey on animals like bowhead whales, narwhals, and belugas in their new Arctic habitats.

The Take-Home Message

The fact that climate change is altering the habitats of animals not just in the Arctic, but all over the world is reason to be concerned. It’s also reason to take action!

Knowing what we do about the impact of climate change, it can be easy to feel defenseless or that this is a problem too large for us to even make a dent in. This, however, is hardly the case. While the carbon emissions of large industries like coal and oil need to be regulated, as an individual you have an incredible opportunity to start reducing your own carbon footprint. People are making small changes every day like choosing to walk or bike to work rather than driving, seeking out recycling bins for plastic waste, and even being mindful of the impact of their consumption choices. In keeping with this theme of doing small things, there is another solution that can have an enormously positive impact for the planet – and, it might just be the simplest one yet: changing the way you eat.

We all have the chance to lower our personal carbon footprints every time we sit down for a meal. By opting to eat fewer meat and dairy products in favor of plant-based alternatives, you can literally halve your own carbon footprint. How? Well, one of the largest drivers of greenhouse gas emissions is animal agriculture. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while other organizations like the Worldwatch Institute have estimated it could be as much as 51 percent.

As the leading organization at the forefront of the conscious consumerism movement, it is One Green Planet’s view that our food choices have the power to heal our broken food system, give species a fighting chance for survival, and pave the way for a truly sustainable future.

To learn more about how you can use your food choices to fight climate change, join One Green Planet’s #EatForThePlanet movement.

Click on the graphic below for more information



Camera-trap research paves the way for global monitoring networks

Why won’t the provincial government give injured animals a fighting chance?


Alberta Fish and Wildlife needs to seriously rethink how it manages injured and orphaned wildlife.

Last week, a woman in Sherwood Park had a young moose limp into her yard with a broken ankle. She tried to get Fish and Wildlife out to assess whether it could be rehabilitated and, if not, at least euthanized humanely.

Fish and wildlife did neither, and the homeowner watched in despair over 10 days as the moose slowly got weaker and died. Not exactly what you expect when you call government wildlife officers for help.

Then there is the story of the three bear cubs found in a bathroom in Banff.

READ MORE: Confusion over fate of 3 bear cubs found in Banff bathroom from government, rehab societies

They had to be shipped out to Ontario via BC, after it was revealed Alberta has a policy against releasing rehabilitated bears back into the wild. I guess we should be thankful the bears were found in a federal park. Presumably if mama bear was killed by hunters, or run over on provincial crown land, the official policy would be to just let her cubs starve to death.

I’ve also received several stories from listeners who report widely different responses when they’ve called in injured animal reports, mostly for deer.

READ MORE: Orphaned or injured wildlife

Typically they are told to “let nature run its course,” no matter how cruel that is. If the caller asks if they can put down the animal themselves, they are told no. If they want to call in a rehabilitation centre for help, the centres are forbidden to in most cases, with the threat of losing their permits to operate.

It didn’t always used to be this way. Alberta has seven rehabilitation centres and Clio Smeeton has been involved with operating the Cochrane Ecological Institute for over 50 years. She told me stories of the success they have had in saving and releasing moose and bears back to the wild. But starting in 2010 the rules changed.

WATCH BELOW: Bear encounter in Banff highlights issue of human activity in animal habitat

They are now forbidden from accepting for rescue and release bighorn lambs, mountain goats and pronghorn antelope kids, elk calves, grizzly bears, black bears, wolf fox, coyote cubs, lynx, bobcats, skunks, raccoons and cougar kittens. With all these exclusions, you have to wonder if the government wants to save any distressed wildlife at all.

Considering most animals become orphaned or injured due to human causes, it seems preposterous that these private agencies, who operate with no government funding, wouldn’t be allowed to give these animals a fighting chance to survive.

What can you do to get the government to change its policy? Listen to my full interview with Clio Smeeton to find out.


If you want to know know more about reporting injured wildlife in Calgary click here.


Border Wall May Negatively Affect 111 Endangered Species

Ben Callison, president of the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust

No matter where you stand on the issue of the border wall between the United States and Mexico, we can all agree that the deleterious harms a border wall could have on wildlife is not getting the attention it should. Barriers currently cut across roughly 40 percent of the nearly 2,000-mile long border. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 precipitated the addition of a variety of fencing types, concrete vehicle barriers and sensors.

Researchers found that where barriers are already in place, wildlife is impaired. Impacts include disrupting their migration patterns and limiting the dispersal of populations, which promotes inbreeding between subpopulations of a species.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predicts a wall may negatively affect 111 endangered species, such as jaguars, ocelots, jaguarundi and Mexican wolves, and 108 migratory bird species, including sparrows, warblers and hummingbirds. Four wildlife refuges, such as Lower Rio Grande Valley, Buenos Aires and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuges, and fish hatcheries could all be negatively impacted.

These protected species and all animals should be able to access food, water and safe habitat. Walls and fences already in place are destroying the habitat connectivity that wild animals depend upon to fulfill these basic needs. Essential migratory routes may span from country to country, as a means for animals to access appropriate habitats in different seasons. A herd of bison, for example, is known to visit a pond on Mexico’s side of a barrier—as it is the only year-round water in the area—and cross into the U.S. to feed on native grasses.

The ability to roam is important since access to mates and a healthy-sized population maintains genetic diversity. Walls and fences prevent animals from following natural migration patterns and divide healthy-sized populations, leading to inbreeding and a loss of genetic diversity. Resulting mutations can eventually weaken species, making them more vulnerable to diseases and disasters such as floods, fires and climate change.

North America’s cat species are among the species most imperiled by current and future barriers. Any hope for jaguars to repatriate part of their former U.S. range depends upon any remaining jaguars in the U.S. having access to jaguars in Mexico. Few ocelots still reside in the U.S., and a fence separates them from a larger, more genetically diverse population in Mexico. Jaguarundis have been protected in the U.S. since 1976, but the last known individual died on a Texas road in 1986. A population south of the border is the only hope for this species to again flourish in its former U.S. range.

Only around 100 Mexican gray wolves remain north of the border and a few dozen south of the border. Passing across the border is essential for the two populations to maintain genetic diversity. The ferruginous pygmy owl depends upon mating between populations in Arizona and Mexico, but only flies as high as 4.5 feet. The proposed height for a new wall would be impassable for many species.

Much is at stake for wildlife as well as the integrity and health of habitats situated on the borderlands. If it is decided that the expansion of the wall must happen, wildlife biologists and others must be consulted to guide the process so that any foreseeable harms to wildlife are minimal and habitat connectivity is preserved and restored wherever feasible. We need to explore creative options such as designing wildlife crossings, leaving gaps in barriers for small animals, and having removal barriers to allow for migration or breeding seasons.

When constructing national policy, there are many important issues facing decision makers, but we should take the needs of animals and conservation into account as well. Congress and President Nixon did as much in enacting the Endangered Species Act in 1973. “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us,” wrote Aldo Leopold. “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”