Wolf protection plan raises hackles in Southwest

The U.S. wants to ban most killing of wild Mexican wolves in New Mexico and Arizona, and expand the area where the animals can roam. But many see federal overreach.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to extend Endangered Species Act protections for an estimated 75 Mexican wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / January 25, 1998)

ALBUQUERQUE — In the small, rural community of Reserve, children waiting for the school bus gather inside wooden and mesh cages provided as protection from wolves. Parents consider the “kid cages” a reasonable precaution.

Defenders of the wolves note there have been no documented wolf attacks in New Mexico or Arizona. Fears of wolves attacking humans, they say, are overblown, and the cages nothing more than a stunt.

In 1995, the reintroduction of Canadian gray wolves into the northern Rockies ignited a furor.

In 1995, the reintroduction of Canadian gray wolves into the northern Rockies ignited a furor.

Such protections would make it illegal to kill wolves in most instances. The new federal plan would also significantly expand the area where the wolves could roam unmolested.

To many conservatives in the West, such protections are examples of government overreach — idealistic efforts by officials who don’t know what it’s like to live with wolves.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times

Monarch butterfly numbers drop to new lows

Few monarchs in eastern Canada this year

The number of monarch butterflies now on their migration to Mexico appear to to be at record lows. A monarch feeds on silky red milkweed, in a monarch way station as part of Monarch Watch, a continental effort to create backyard habitats for the butterflies along their migratory routes. (Steve Smedley/The Pantagraph/Associated Press)

Monarch butterflies appear headed for a perhaps unprecedented population crash, according to scientists and monarch watchers who have been keeping tabs on the species in their main summer home in Eastern and Central North America.

There had been hope that on their journey north from their overwintering zone in Mexico, the insects’ numbers would build through the generations, but there’s no indication that happened.

Only a small number of monarchs did make it to Canada this summer to propagate the generation that has now begun its southern migration to Mexico, and early indications are that the past year’s record lows will be followed by even lower numbers this fall.

Elizabeth Howard, the director and founder of Journey North, a citizen-scientist effort that tracks the migrations of monarchs and other species, says one indicator for the robustness of the monarchs is the number of roosts they form in late August and September, something Journey North monitors throughout the migration periods.

Read more at CBC News

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Overpopulation Is Still the Problem | Alon Tal

Overpopulation remains the leading driver of hunger, desertification, species depletion and a range of social maladies across the planet. Recently, a spate of op-ed essays have filled the pages of some of world’s top newspapers and blogs — from the Guardian to the New York Times — challenged this view, declaring that overpopulations is not, nor has ever been, a problem. To make progress in the most recent round of the age-old debate between technological optimists and Malthusian realists, it’s important to establish criteria and characterize consequences.

On what basis are these newest cornucopian assurances made? In the New York Times piece, for instance, Ellis Erle asserts that after studying the ecology of agriculture in China and talking to archaeologists, he reached the conclusion that technologies have always been able to overcome any anticipated exceedance of carrying capacity. A key corroboration marshaled for this view refers to a retrospective assessment of Chinese farming by archaeologists. It purportedly claims that new and more efficient technologies invariably enabled local farmers to overcome any anticipated exceedance of carrying capacity.

On what basis are these newest cornucopian assurances made? In the New York Times piece, for instance, Ellis Erle asserts that after studying the ecology of agriculture in China and talking to archaeologists, he reached the conclusion that technologies have always been able to overcome any anticipated exceedance of carrying capacity. A key corroboration marshaled for this view refers to a retrospective assessment of Chinese farming by archaeologists. It purportedly claims that new and more efficient technologies invariably enabled local farmers to overcome any anticipated exceedance of carrying capacity.

Conservative estimates report that China’s most recent food crisis, between 1958 and 1961, led to the starvation of over twenty million people, in part due to the erosion of China’s natural capital. Uncontrolled human fertility led to a depletion of the land’s fertility. Previous famines were worse. Over the years, hundreds of millions died a horrible death of hunger. Their misery should teach a sobering lesson about insouciant disregard for the balance between human numbers and natural resources.

Conservative estimates report that China’s most recent food crisis, between 1958 and 1961, led to the starvation of over twenty million people, in part due to the erosion of China’s natural capital. Uncontrolled human fertility led to a depletion of the land’s fertility. Previous famines were worse. Over the years, hundreds of millions died a horrible death of hunger. Their misery should teach a sobering lesson about insouciant disregard for the balance between human numbers and natural resources.

Read more at The Huffington Post

Overpopulation: Why ingenuity alone won’t save us – latimes.com

We are running out of tricks to squeeze more from a planet already bursting its seams.

Children at Dadaab receive a supplemental meal in an effort to give them caloric intake they need to grow and survive. (Los Angeles Times)

It’s easy to grasp that in a national park, balance must be maintained between predators and prey, lest the ecosystem crash. But when we’re talking about our own species, it gets harder. The notion that there are limits to how much humanity this parkland called Earth can bear doesn’t sit easy with us.

The “nature” part of human nature includes making more copies of ourselves, to ensure our genetic and cultural survival. As that instinct comes in handy for building mighty nations and dominant religions, we’ve set about filling the Earth, rarely worrying that it might one day overfill. Even after population quadrupled in the 20th century, placing unprecedented stress on the planet, it’s hard for some to accept that there might be too many of us for our own good.

A recent essay in the New York Times by University of Maryland geographer Erle C. Ellis, argued that population growth is actually the mother of invention, that it inspires new technologies to sustain ever more humans and to coax more from the land. And as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his 2009 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” “On this Earth there is room for everyone … through hard work and creativity.”

In 2011, I visited the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which had warned in 1994 that it was “unthinkable to sustain indefinitely a birthrate beyond 2.3 children per couple…. The contrary demographic consequences would be unsustainable to the point of absurdity.” Nevertheless, the church still encouraged population growth.

With a billion humans already malnourished, I asked the academy’s director where would we get food for nearly 10 billion by midcentury? Clearing more forests for farming would be disastrous. Beset by floods and erosion, China alone has been spending $40 billion to put trees back. And force-feeding crops with chemistry has backfired on us, with nitrogen runoff that fouls rivers, deadens New Jersey-sized chunks of the oceans and emits large quantities of two greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

The answer, I was told, would be through increased yields using new genetically modified crops from the centers of the Green Revolution: the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Texcoco, Mexico, and the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.

The Green Revolution’s high-yield, genetically selected strains more than doubled grain harvests during the 1960s. It is often cited as having triumphed over dire predictions of famines caused by population growth outpacing food production, which were famously made by economist Thomas Robert Malthus in “An Essay on the Principle of Population” and echoed by his latter-day analogues, Paul and Anne Ehrlich, who wrote “The Population Bomb.”

However, when I went to the maize center in Texcoco and to the rice institute in the Philippines, I found no food scientists who agreed with that triumphalist scenario. Instead, I learned, Green Revolution founder Norman Borlaug had warned in his 1970 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech that his work essentially had only bought the world time to resolve overpopulation.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times

Alan Weisman: Just by existing, we’re contributing to the problem – Salon.com

The only way we can keep living on Earth, the author writes in his new book, is if there are fewer of us

Alan Weisman (Credit: Bill Steen)

In his 2007 book “The World Without Us,” Alan Weisman took on an ambitious thought experiment: What if mankind were to suddenly disappear from the planet? It was an apocalyptic scenario, to be sure, but it arguably pales in comparison to the alternative: What if, instead of going anywhere, we just keep making more of ourselves?

“Countdown,” which hits shelves today, takes on that scenario, as a reality that’s quickly approaching. This time, the question for Weisman isn’t just about what could happen — it’s about what we could possibly do to prevent it.

Technology isn’t going to fix this problem, Weisman found. And though the book’s subtitle is phrased as a question (“Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?”) the answer is clear: If we want to keep going, he argues, there needs to be fewer of us. Weisman spoke with Salon about our cross-cultural impulse to be fruitful and multiply, and his quest to find a more sustainable mantra for humanity. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Read more at Salon.com

Wolves Under Review – NYTimes.com

A gray wolf in 2008. The only wolf populations to have protection going forward would be Mexican wolves in southern Arizona and New Mexico. Gary Kramer/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, via Associated Press
A gray wolf in 2008. The only wolf populations to have protection going forward would be Mexican wolves in southern Arizona and New Mexico. Gary Kramer/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, via Associated Press

 

In June, the Fish and Wildlife Service prematurely proposed to end federal protection for gray wolves in the lower 48 states in the belief that wolves had fully recovered from near eradication in the early 20th century. This was politics masquerading as science. The Fish and Wildlife Service would love to shed the responsibility of protecting large carnivores, like the wolf and the grizzly bear, and hunters and ranchers throughout the Rocky Mountains would love to see wolves eradicated all over again.

By law, a decision like this one — to remove an animal from the endangered species list — requires a peer review: an impartial examination of wolf numbers, population dynamics and the consequences of proposed actions. But science and politics have gotten tangled up again. The private contractor, a consulting firm called AMEC, which was hired to run the review, removed three scientists from the review panel. Each of the scientists had signed a May 21 letter to Sally Jewell, the interior secretary, criticizing the plan to turn wolf management over to the states.

Read more at The New York Times

That Cuddly Kitty Is Deadlier Than You Think

A domestic cat with a European rabbit. Domestic and feral cats are significant predators of a wide range of prey species, including rabbits.

For all the adorable images of cats that play the piano, flush the toilet, mew melodiously and find their way back home over hundreds of miles, scientists have identified a shocking new truth: cats are far deadlier than anyone realized.

In a report that scaled up local surveys and pilot studies to national dimensions, scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that domestic cats in the United States — both the pet Fluffies that spend part of the day outdoors and the unnamed strays and ferals that never leave it — kill a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year, most of them native mammals like shrews, chipmunks and voles rather than introduced pests like the Norway rat.

The estimated kill rates are two to four times higher than mortality figures previously bandied about, and position the domestic cat as one of the single greatest human-linked threats to wildlife in the nation. More birds and mammals die at the mouths of cats, the report said, than from automobile strikes, pesticides and poisons, collisions with skyscrapers and windmills and other so-called anthropogenic causes.

Read more at The New York Times