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Latest Stories | Our Daily Planet

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Room to Roam

By Beth Allgood, U.S. Country Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare

The plight of endangered wildlife has been brought sharply into focus in recent months by an alarming report from some of the world’s most renowned scientists warning that nature is in rapid decline globally with the rate of extinction accelerating beyond levels previously imagined. Without question, this does not bode well for humans. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

Some of the obvious solutions to this problem – creating more parks through ‘fortress conservation’ to protect habitat and restricting some activities on privately-owned lands – may be first steps, but these alone cannot reverse biodiversity loss. Just like people, many of the most majestic and endangered wildlife needs room to roam, unable to thrive if corralled by residential developments or other man-made obstacles including roads, walls, or other impediments. Protected areas are often fragmented and far apart – like islands separated by impassable seas of development.

To effectively protect and support global biodiversity, we must ensure that protected areas are not isolated from one another. And one way to achieve that is to help connect protected areas of critical wildlife habitat by creating ‘wildlife corridors.’ With their migration pathways protected, wildlife is able to move more freely, appropriately, and safely, across landscapes and marinescapes to meet their basic needs including food, water, reproduction, and social structure.

At IFAW, we are working with communities around the globe to ensure such wildlife corridors for some of the world’s most critically endangered species. In India, for example, we began working in 2005 with local partners to identify key wildlife corridors needed for Indian elephants, whose total population had shrunk to less than 28,000 in 2017. Although total elephant reserves across India cover approximately 65,000 kilometers squared, loss and degradation of the migratory corridors were causing a significant increase in the incidents of human-elephant conflict. Today, IFAW’s work has helped grow the number of critical wildlife corridors to 101, reducing the loss of elephants and the overall incidents of human-animal conflict.

These corridors are unique in that they not only help provide safe passage for the animals, but they actually facilitate their protection when they cross international borders. In Malawi and Zambia, IFAW has worked since 2015 with wildlife management in both countries to improve law enforcement focused on a transboundary landscape conservation area that covers Kasungu National Park in Malawi, as well as Lukusuzi and Luambe National Parks in Zambia. If elephant poachers cross the border while fleeing rangers from Malawi, rangers from Zambia are prepared and awaiting them on the other side, and vice versa.

Unbeknownst to many, the work on wildlife corridors extends into the ocean as well. The Bay of Bengal, just northeast of Sri Lanka, is home to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, which currently sit directly over a critical feeding area for blue whales. If that lane were pushed south by approximately 15 miles, over time, hundreds of blue whales would be saved – and trade would continue as effectively as before. IFAW is working to make this a reality. Partnering with scientists, shippers, mariners, local whale watch operators, and others, we’re making an effort to persuade Sri Lanka’s authorities to modify these routes and ensure coexistence.

Closer to home, we need the same kind of ocean corridors to protect North Atlantic right whales. For hundreds of years, the North Atlantic right whale has inhabited waters from New England and Canada to the coasts of Georgia and Florida, areas heavy with both shipping traffic and commercial fishing which have introduced lethal threats to the whales as a result of unintentional ship strikes and chronic entanglements in fishing gear. Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the population was most recently estimated to number just 411 individuals. With eight deaths already confirmed so far in 2019, IFAW is actively urging the U.S. and Canadian governments as well as other stakeholders to take immediate action to protect right whales and to preserve their habitat. We know this iconic marine mammal is at a tipping point and the population will not recover without serious intervention. We’ve so far succeeded in securing and maintaining reasonable ship speed limits in critical areas and worked with mariners to increase their awareness of whales in shipping lanes. Now, we’re working to provide focused government and private funding to encourage alternative fishing gear to reduce the threat of deadly entanglements while maintaining sustainable fisheries and industry.

Currently, there is a bipartisan bill to protect wildlife corridors throughout the United States and despite the deep partisan divides, it is working its way through the corridors of Congress towards passage. If passed, it would establish a system of wildlife corridors on Federal lands as well as waterways, support Native American tribes who are creating such corridors on their lands, and provide funding for efforts on state, local, and voluntary private lands that will ultimately be a win for all species. By supporting the establishment and preservation of these safe corridors between protected spaces across the nation, the Act would promote species survival, which in turn would benefit humans.

In order to survive and thrive, we need healthy ecosystems – of which native species are an integral part. We have a ways to go when it comes to the protection of species throughout their range, but there are signs of progress that wildlife will have the room needed to roam. By protecting habitats, ensuring safe passage, and helping endangered wildlife to flourish—we can save other species. And ultimately our own.

One Cool Thing: The 1976 Team Up with Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg and The 1975’s Matty Healy. Image: Jordan Hughes

Per Pitchfork: “The 1975 have shared the first song off their long-teased fourth album Notes on a Conditional Form. As per tradition, it is called “The 1975.” But, this time, Matty Healy isn’t singing, and the song doesn’t include “The 1975”’s traditional lyrics (“Go down/Soft sound…”). Instead, the new “The 1975” features Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who famously skipped school to protest outside of her country’s parliament to raise awareness about the climate crisis.”

As if we couldn’t love this band more!

Senate Dems Ask Conservatives for Help in Messaging Climate

Senators Smith, Whitehouse, Schatz, and Bennet questioning the witnesses in yesterday’s climate hearing.

Yesterday the members of the Senate Democrats Special Committee on the Climate Crisis interviewed Republican witnesses during a hearing about how Democrats might reach out to conservatives on the issue of climate change. No Republican senators participated and committee chair Senator Brian Schatz drove the point home in his opening statement:

Today we continue to build the case that climate action is doable and not the exclusive domain of progressives. But right now Democrats don’t have a dance partner on climate action in the United States Senate. Our Republican colleagues have chosen not to be here.

Witnesses for the hearing included: 

  • Dr. Frank Luntz, Founder and CEO, FIL, Inc. and a veteran Republican pollster
  • Kiera O’Brien, Vice President of Students for Carbon Dividends at Harvard
  • Nick Huey, Founder of the Climate Campaign

While each witness had a different suggestion for how Democrats can best communicate climate change to unlikely constituencies, it was Dr. Lutz who came prepared with a graphic detailing specific word swaps:

The Overall Message: When it comes to talking climate, the left was advised to talk about the opportunities that can exist to better our nation rather than what the worst-case scenario might be. Additionally, the witnesses suggested that listening to conservatives who are willing to talk about climate change goes a long way, and creating dialogue where it can exist can lead to political action (like on a price on carbon). Listening to businesses and their needs was also a big theme, which was timely just as some of the largest automakers announced yesterday that they have been working with the state of California on emissions regulations despite President Trump’s regulatory rollbacks.

Why This Matters: This hearing was incredibly respectful and senators Schatz, Smith, Whitehouse, Heinrich, and Bennet truly took the time to listen to the witness panel and ask thoughtful questions. While there was a lot of talk of reaching across the aisle, extending a hand, and inviting colleagues to the table the stark reality was that those colleagues chose not to attend yesterday’s hearing. Certainly, there are republicans in the Senate who acknowledge climate change but when the Senate Majority Leader has committed to blocking any legislation that Democrats put forward it seems as if bipartisanship is DOA. Hopefully, the fact that young Republicans view climate change with urgency will mean that partisanship on climate won’t always be an issue.

Hero of the Week: Jason Carney Bringing Solar Power to Minority Neighborhoods in Nashville

Jason Carney                   Photo: Tamara Reynolds for NPR

National Public Radio (NPR) this week did a wonderful profile of Jason Carney, a solar panel installer in Nashville, who was startled to learn that, according to a 2015 survey of jobs in the solar industry, 0.0% of solar workers in the state of Tennessee were African American.  Given that solar installations are booming across the U.S., he wondered why there was just no talk about solar or clean energy within Nashville’s black communities. And it turns out that because so few people in minority communities have solar power, its benefits are not discussed by residents and thus it just has not caught on there.  NPR recently profiled Carney who is determined to bring solar to more neighborhoods like his own, through advocacy work over the past few years at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and now at his own clean energy consulting business.  In addition, he is working with students at Whites Creek High School, a majority-black, majority-low-income public school in Nashville — helping them build a solar array as an educational model to train students to work in the industry, but also to get the conversation about solar power started in the community. One of the recent graduates of Whites Creek High described the power of Carney’s example, saying to NPR “We turned this field from nothing to something,” and gave Carney credit for inspiring him to take a leadership role. “He made me want to do this.”  For Carney’s efforts to inspire students to work in renewable energy and to bring its benefits to minority neighborhoods in his home town of Nashville, we salute him.

Interview of the Week: Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)

Image result for Tom Udall New Mexico

Senator Udall has served the state of New Mexico in the United States Senate since 2009 and in that time has been a staunch champion of wildlife. The senator recently introduced the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act of 2019 and was kind enough to sit down with us to tell us a bit about his bill.

ODP: What’s a wildlife corridor and do they already exist? 

TU: A wildlife corridor is an essential tool to forestall and stave off the mass extinction crisis threatening a million plant and animal species around the world. These corridors are pieces of landscape and/or seascape that allow native species to move within their habitat or to move from one habitat to another. Wildlife corridors play an important role in helping to conserve native biodiversity, reduce human interactions – like traffic accidents – and allow wildlife to move as habitats shift and the environment changes. Corridors can occur as natural occurrences or can be human-managed to facilitate the necessary movement of species into more suitable habitats – a key strategy for species adapting to climate change.

This year alone, three states have passed wildlife corridor legislation at the state level— New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Oregon— and many other states are considering legislation on wildlife corridors.

ODP: It’s estimated that 1 in 5 animal and plant species in the United States is at risk of extinction.  Will the expansion of wildlife corridors ensure that we avoid this fate?

TU: There’s no question wildlife is in crisis. That’s due to habitat loss, deforestation, and of course, climate change. The UN report on biodiversity made one thing as clear as day: Humans are the primary reason that one million species are facing extinction. Human-made barriers have fragmented landscapes and habitats, cutting off access to resources and migration routes. With a crisis of this magnitude there is no silver bullet, no panacea. But wildlife corridors can play an important role in stemming this tide of extinction.  Wildlife corridors would both protect and preserve the land and the resources species need to survive and thrive. The science is clear – corridors help protect our most iconic species and can help address the extinction crisis.

ODP: You have proposed a bill to expand protection for wildlife corridors. How would it help private landowners to work with the government more effectively on protecting migratory species?

TU: Private landowners are critical partners in this effort, which is why my bill directs federal agencies to work with willing private landowners to identify collaborative solutions. By offering willing, voluntary landowners funding through a new Wildlife Movement Grant Program, designed to invest in land improvement projects that would benefit wildlife movement on non-federal lands, our bill incentivizes caring landowners to protect wildlife corridors.

ODP: Who is backing the legislation?  Who is opposing it? Will it pass this Congress?

TU: Rep. Beyer (D-Va.) introduced this legislation on the House side and it is cosponsored by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.). In the Senate the legislation is a cosponsored by U.S. Senators Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

I am working hard to see our bill move this Congress. Senator McConnell has bragged about the Senate being a legislative graveyard, but I think we may have opportunities to advance this critical legislation. The bill has been referred to the Environment and Public Works Committee, and I will work with the committee leadership to move it through committee expeditiously.

There has been some confusion that this is only a western state issue, but the loss of wildlife habitat is a national and global issue.  For example, New Hampshire was the second state this session to pass legislation on wildlife corridors, and Florida has an incredibly successful wildlife corridor program that was essential for survival of some of Florida’s diverse wildlife. The more educational conversations that I have about the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act, the more we learn how to strengthen the bill based on feedback to increase support for the bill.

I think that Americans are really waking up to the reality of this mass extinction crisis – and they need to put the pressure on their members of Congress to sign on to this bill.

ODP: How has the Trump Administration set back implementation of the Endangered Species Act?

TU: The Trump administration has proposed the most potentially damaging changes to the Endangered Species Act in several decades, including plans to undermine the longstanding rule that only scientific data can be used in determining whether to protect a species, ending key protections for ‘threatened’ species and weakening bedrock consultation requirements. Any of these changes would undermine the ESA and upend over four decades of bipartisan support for protecting our native wildlife in danger of extinction. But we won’t stand by as this administration and its allies in Congress launch a calculated assault on these critical protections on behalf of special interests and anti-environment extremists. My colleagues and I will continue to work tirelessly to show that partisan efforts to gut endangered species safeguards won’t pass muster in Congress.



Singapore Makes Huge Wildlife Bust

On Tuesday, the government of Singapore announced it had seized nearly $50 million in ivory tusks and pangolin scales (a record for the nation) found in shipping containers from the Democratic Republic of Congo that supposedly contained timber but instead were filled with 12 tons of pangolin scales and nearly 9 tons of ivory.  The illegal wildlife parts were bound for Vietnam, but will now be destroyed so that they will not re-enter the market, the Singapore government announced.

Why This Matters:  This was a massive seizure — the third major seizure of pangolin scales in Singapore this year, and the second-largest seizure of elephant ivory ever.  The ivory came from an estimated 300 elephants, and the scales came from an estimated 2,000 pangolins, according to Reuters.  Given how close these animals are too extinction, it is alarming, but at least the illegal wildlife contraband has been destroyed.  Experts believe that organized crime rings were behind this foiled effort to smuggle the items through Singapore — a place where pre-1990 (before the ban on sales) ivory can still be sold legally.  Fighting international organized criminal networks that traffic in illegal wildlife parts should be a higher priority given the extinction crisis described in a recent United Nations Report. 

Elephant Ivory Still In Demand

CNN reported that Singapore had seized 390 pounds of ivory already this year.  Poachers in Africa still kill tens of thousands of elephants in Africa.  “Around 55 African elephants are killed for their ivory a day, their tusks turned into carvings and trinkets,” Tanya Steele, chief executive at World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement.  In China, ivory is still seen by some as a status symbol, but the government is trying to crack down on illegal trafficking — the tip for this seizure reportedly came from Chinese officials to the Singapore government.

Pangolins In Trouble

The pangolin is one of the most trafficked mammals in the world for Its meat, which in Vietnam and China is a delicacy, and because its scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine, though the benefits are disputed by medical scientists.  But the U.S. market for cowboy boots and leather belts may have also contributed to their decline.  National Geographic reported this week on a new study in Conservation Science and Practice, that prior to the year 2000, the United States was a major importer of pangolin skins. The study also pointed out that some mislabelled leather items for sale currently on eBay were actually pangolin as well.

Heat Wave Grips Europe – Again – High Temp Records Smashed

There are worse ways to deal with the heat in Paris.   Photo: Rafael Yaghobzadeh, AP via Accuweather

For a second time this summer, unprecedented hot weather is disrupting daily life as high-temperature records are being broken across the European continent.

Why This Matters:  June was the hottest month ever, but we are willing to bet that July will now beat it.  We think of storms and fires as the most devastating climate impacts, but in fact, heat is also a real issue and will impact many more people than any localized event because it can be so widespread.  Last weekend in the U.S. it was more than 160 million people who were impacted, this week it was much of Europe who had restrictions on autos imposed, water use was cut back, and train travel was impacted due to hot tracks, and air conditioning is in short supply.  The same kind of heat gripped the southern hemisphere during its summer earlier this year.  Many people may scoff, saying that it is just a hot summer. But the fact is that according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 9 of the last 10 years have seen record-breaking heat.  And this week, NOAA says it is certain that 2019 will end among the five warmest years on record.

Europe Does Not Have Air Conditioning – Yet

The New York Times wrote yesterday about the lack of air conditioning making the heatwave much harder to weather in Europe.  According to The Times:

  • “Europe accounts for just 6 percent of the global share of air-conditioners, compared with 23 percent for the United States and 35 percent for China, according to a 2018 report by the International Energy Agency.”
  • “More than 90 percent of Japanese and American households have an air conditioning system; fewer than 10 percent of Europeans’ have one. In Germany, the figure is below 2 percent.”

The chief environmental public health scientist in the U.K. government warned that the extremely high temperatures were endangering older people, those in poor health and very young children.  And volunteers passed out bottles of water on the streets in Paris.  France’s health minister said, “Everyone is at risk with these kinds of temperatures.”

Tweet of the Week: Sen. Schatz of Hawaii

This week it seemed as if all that Washington could talk about was the Mueller hearings. And don’t get us wrong, we’re not discounting its importance we just wish that the same amount of attention would be given to the biggest threat facing humanity. Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii sums up our sentiment pretty well. As a nation we can walk and chew gum at the same time, Congress can investigate any alleged wrongdoing by President Trump while also giving climate change the political capital that it deserves. Keep reading to see what the House is planning on doing on climate, for many, it’s not enough.

Why This Matters: According to the UN we have 12 years to take meaningful action on climate change and while it may not garner the same media frenzy as Trump, we have to keep the issue elevated and not waste any time. Speaking of which, tomorrow Sen. Schatz, the Chair of the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, will convene a hearing titled “The Right Thing To Do: Conservatives for Climate Action” at 11:30 a.m. ET. The special committee, which is affiliated with the DPCC, will hear from conservatives who are focused on climate action, and learn how they are working to decrease the partisanship surrounding this issue and find a collective path forward. You can live stream here.

Don’t Forget to Celebrate National Picnic Month!

Did you know that July is National Picnic Month? Since you have exactly one weekend left of July, why not pack a picnic (here’s some recipe inspo) this weekend and invite some friends to join in?  But while you’re out there you should consider the health of our planet and work to make your picnic eco-friendly. Keep reading for some tips.

Here are some tips for an eco-friendly picnic:

  • Carry your food and drinks in reusable containers instead of take-out containers or single-use plastics. A container like this is not only cute but can be used to bring your lunch to work. Drinks can be carried in reusable water bottles or thermoses.

  • Use reusable utensils, napkins, and tablecloths. Over 100 million plastic utensils are used every day in the US, and over 240 million Americans use paper napkins. Reusable alternatives reduce waste, especially if cloth napkins are used multiple times between washes.

  • Carry your trash out with you, or put it in the proper garbage and recycling bins. It seems obvious, but be the change you want to see!

  • Eat locally grown, plant-based foods. The production of meat and dairy has a much larger carbon footprint than fruits, vegetables, and grains, and eating locally reduces the distance your food has to travel before you can enjoy it. Reducing your intake of meat and dairy and consuming more locally grown foods can really help your carbon footprint.


Why This Matters: Studies show that spending at least 2 hours a week surrounded by nature can improve your overall health. There are lots of benefits to getting outside because greenspace reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure. Being outdoors also gives you a chance to connect with nature, to understand the importance of conservation, and to think about the steps you can take in your everyday life to preserve our parks and wild spaces.

ODP’s Pick for a Picnic Spot:
If you’re vacationing near St. Simons Island, Georgia this summer, you should definitely check out the stunning natural areas protected by the St Simons Land Trust. Guale Preserve is their newest park, which was just opened to the public last month! This area was previously owned as the Musgrove Plantation by the Brenn Foundation and is now named for the Guale tribe of Native Americans who lived on the Golden Isles for 5,000 years. The land contains a variety of habitats (including maritime forest and freshwater wetlands), and supports many rare plant and animal species. Both Guale Preserve features picnic benches and hiking and biking trails and is an ideal area to enjoy a day outdoors.

Image: St. Simon’s Land Trust

One Cool Thing: Deep Sea Exploration You Can Watch LIVE!

Giant blue clams at Kingman Reef        Photo: NOAA

There is far too little exploration of the wonders of the deep sea, but there is one very high profile expedition going on now and you can watch it live!  Dr. Robert Ballard, the National Geographic Explorer in Residence who discovered the Titanic, and his Exploration Vehicle (E/V) Nautilus, is currently exploring for the first time the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa (NMSAS) to acquire baseline information on deep-sea and mesophotic habitat.  You can see what they are finding in real-time (though it is halfway around the world), just click here.  They recently completed their exploration of Kingman Reef, Palmyra Atoll, and Jarvis Island within the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. And what’s ahead is even more exciting — Tuesday National Geographic announced that they are teaming up with Dr. Ballard and the E/V Nautilus on an expedition later this year to find Emelia Earhart.