Accounting for Individual Animals and Animal Welfare in the Anthropocene

GR: This article by Brandon Keim includes calls on people to apply the concept of animal welfare to wild animals. Applying animal welfare doesn’t mean that animal needs are more important than human needs. However, it does mean that we should not cause animals unnecessary pain or death and that we should treat animals as humanely as convenient. Go here for more on animal welfare and animal rights, the idea that animals have rights equalling ours.

Matt Reinbold (CC 2.0)

“When land is converted to human use, the environmental impacts are typically measured in terms of pollution and populations and species. Unless they’re endangered, the fate of individual animals doesn’t enter the discussion. They’re practically invisible. Given the vast scale of human development and the care given to domestic animal welfare, it’s a big inconsistency.

“Development’s consequences are not limited “to impacts on the environment and biodiversity,” says Hugh Finn, an environmental law professor at Australia’s Curtin University. “The concept of harm should include harm caused to the welfare of individual wild animals.” Writing in the journal Wildlife Research, Finn and Nahiid Thomas, a wildlife pathologist at Murdoch University, call for animal welfare to be included in environmental impact statements.

 

“The welfare of wild animals, however, is still a niche issue, though not for the animals themselves. As Finn and Thomas point out, animals are frequently killed by machinery, earth-moving and vegetation-clearing. Those who survive often find themselves without homes, competing in a radically transformed landscape that’s been stripped of food and laid open to invasion. They experience physical pain and psychological distress. In the Australian states of Queensland and New South Wales alone, Finn and Thomas estimate that converting habitat to human use kills 50 million mammals, birds and reptiles each year. Globally those numbers hit the billions.

“By the standards applied to domestic animals, these are clearly welfare issues, and ignoring that “is an act of wilful blindness,” write Finn and Thomas. They urge governmental bodies “to require decision-makers to take animal welfare into account when assessing land clearing applications.” –Brandon Keim (Continue reading: Accounting for individual animals in the Anthropocene | Anthropocene.)

Here’s Who’s Getting Paid to Destroy the Endangered Species Act (ESA)

GR: The 1973 U. S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) should have been a first step on the path to effective nature conservation. If the corporatists hadn’t been in charge of our country, the Act would have formed the core of a true nature conservation program. Instead, the Act has always been too subject to political influence to be very effective. It only protects a small percentage of truly endangered species.

The leaders in the impending attack on the ESA aren’t the only members of congress receiving money from the extractive industries; they’re just the ones that were chosen to lead the attack. However, they top the list of nature’s enemies. And by extension, they are the enemies of us all. Here’s a link for ideas on removing them from positions of power. 

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY.), Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industries.

“A small yet vocal group of congressmen are gearing up this summer to dismantle the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Campaign finance records of these lawmakers reveal that they have all taken significant money from extractive industries frustrated by the law’s protection of critical habitat for endangered species.

“The ESA has proven to be a powerful, effective conservation safeguard. More than 99 percent of species that have been designated for federal protection continue to exist in the wild today, including the bald eagle, grizzly bear, the leatherback sea turtle and the Florida manatee.

“But the work of the ESA has only grown more urgent as many scientists agree that the planet is either on the cusp of or already experiencing a sixth mass wave of extinction. A study last week by Stanford scientists found that a significant number of plant and wildlife populations are growing dangerously thin.

Earthjustice is working with coalition partners to oppose efforts on Capitol Hill to weaken protections for endangered species. The public can also make a difference in this fight—despite the big money from fossil fuel industries funding opponents of the ESA—by contacting their Congressional offices (use this call-in tool to reach your Senator).

The Anti-ESA Effort and the Money Behind It

“The assault on the ESA comes in the form of dozens of legislative proposals and amendments tacked onto spending bills. One bill that’s expected to be introduced in a matter of weeks is the handiwork of Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.” –Rebecca Bowe (Continue: Here’s Who’s Getting Paid to Destroy the Endangered Species Act.)

Why delisting of grizzly bears is premature | The Extinction Chronicles

GR: As the world’s wildlife species fade out of existence, government agencies responsible for their protection push them back to allow tourists to cover the land and for-profit companies to fill their place with domestic livestock. The political pressure on heads of government agencies comes from companies that give money to our elected representatives. And of course, almost all of our representatives are there dancing up and down with their little hands stretched out like beggars in a Calcutta alley. Here’s an excellent article from George Wuerthner that exposes the government lies. (Link to more about grizzlies)

Yellowstone Grizzlies (Daisy Gilardini -Getty Images)

“The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has decided to delist the Yellowstone grizzly bears, removing them from the protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). And state wildlife agencies in Wyoming and Montana are anxious to start sport hunting the bears.

“If you follow environmental politics, it is very clear why industries like the oil and gas industry, livestock industry and timber industry and the politicians they elect to represent their interests are anxious to see the bear delisted. Without ESA listing, environmentally destructive practices will have fewer restrictions, hence greater profits at the expense of the bear and its habitat.

“Delisting is opposed by a number of environmental groups, including Center for Biodiversity, Western Watersheds, WildEarth Guardians, Alliance for Wild Rockies, Humane Society, as well as more than 100 tribal people. Conspicuously absent from the list of organizations opposing delisting is the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

“Proponents of delisting, including the FWS, argue that with as many as 700 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, thus ensuring the bears are now safe from extinction. Seven hundred bears may sound like a big number. But this figure lacks context.

“Consider that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is nearly 28 million acres in total area. That is nearly the same acreage as the state of New York. Now ask yourself if 700 bears spread over an area the size of New York sounds like a lot of bears?

“Many population ecologists believe 700 bears is far too small a number of animals to ensure long-term population viability. Rather than hundreds, we need several thousand bears.

“Keep in mind that the Yellowstone Grizzlies went through a genetic bottleneck when their population was reduced to an estimated 136 animals. Indeed, the Yellowstone grizzlies have the lowest genetic diversity of any bear population.

“This lack of diversity is exacerbated because dominant male grizzlies tend to breed with multiple female partners, further reducing the genetic diversity in the population.

“Add to this biological limitation is the changing food structure for the bear. Major food resources from elk to whitebark pine to spawning trout in Yellowstone have all declined, challenging bears to find new food resources.

“Plus, state wildlife management agencies are generally hostile to predators, seeing them hindering production of elk, deer, moose, and other animals desired by hunters.

“Without the protection of the ESA, and the loosening of restrictions on the killing of bears, more grizzlies will be killed for livestock depredations, as well as potentially by trophy hunters.

“Most predator biologists recognize that killing dominant animals, whether it is bears, wolves or cougars disrupts the social ecology of these animals, leading to more livestock depredation.

“In ecology, there is the “precautionary principle” which admonishes all of us to err on the side of caution. Instead of using the minimum estimates of what constitutes a “recovered” population, we should be careful and not rush to eliminate protections for an animal whose biological potential is low and is slow to recover from any declines.” –George Wuerthner (Why delisting of grizzly bears is premature | The Extinction Chronicles)

George Wuerthner is an ecologist who has authored 38 books, including “Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy.” He divides his time between Bend, Oregon, and Livingston, Montana.

Proposed Seismic Blasting Would Devastate Ocean’s Most Vital Organisms

GR: Creatures of the oceans are no threat to us, but we readily injure and kill them in our search for a chance to acquire material wealth. We behave as if the Earth has infinite capacity to produce and support life. Of course, we know it does not. (Trump’s position on seismic airgun blasting.)

Krill represent a vital food source for many marine predators, including large whales. In the study, seismic blasts completely wiped out krill larvae. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Seismic airguns exploding in the ocean in search for oil and gas have devastating impacts on zooplankton, which are critical food sources for marine mammals, according to a new study in Nature. The blasting decimates one of the ocean’s most vital groups of organisms over huge areas and may disrupt entire ecosystems.

“And this devastating news comes on the heels of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s proposal to authorize more than 90,000 miles of active seismic blasting. Based on the results of this study, the affected area would be approximately 135,000 square miles.

“In the study, scientists found that the blasts from a single seismic airgun caused a statistically significant decrease in zooplankton 24 hours after exposure. Abundance fell by at least 50 percent in more than half (58 percent) of the species observed. The scientists also found two to three times more dead zooplankton following airgun exposure compared to controls and, shockingly, krill larvae were completely wiped out.

“Listen to the sound of a seismic airgun blast: seismic_blast.mp4

Audiogram of a single seismic airgun. Seismic vessels in the Atlantic will tow up to 40 airguns at a time, which will all blast simultaneously every 10 seconds for months on end.

NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory VENTS Program

The scientists used sonar backscatter, a method that reveals where animals are in the water column using sound, to detect zooplankton. They describe witnessing a large “hole” opening up in the backscatter as zooplankton were killed. Food chains are surprisingly simple in the ocean and zooplankton help form the basis of them, underpinning the ocean’s productivity. Significant damage to zooplankton will have cascading effects on animals higher up. That includes fish and marine predators such as sharks, marine mammals and even seabirds. Adult krill provide an important food source for our largest marine animals: the great whales.

“These devastating impacts on zooplankton occurred up to three quarters of a mile from the airgun. This is more than two orders of magnitude higher than the expected range of impact based on the results of previous studies; laboratory experiments and modeling techniques have estimated that impacts would only occur up to 33 feet from the airgun. This new study demonstrates the importance of validating scientific findings in the field.

“However, these findings are based on the results from a single airgun with a volume of 150 cubic inches. The companies proposing to conduct blasting in the Atlantic will use vessels that will each tow an airgun ‘array’ comprising between 24-40 airguns, with a combined value of 4808-6420 cubic inches. The guns will all blast simultaneously, every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for months at a time. This means the proposed surveys could affect zooplankton over much larger areas.” –Francine Kershaw (Seismic Blasting Devastates Ocean’s Most Vital Organisms)