Categories Archives: Biodiversity & Habitat Destruction

A look at Gold Butte, Nevada, two years after the Bundy standoff

Surveyors found illegal cattle grazing, defaced petroglyphs and ditch-digging. 

    by Anna V. Smith / High Country News

In June 2015, for the first time since federal officers confronted Cliven Bundy and militia members over Bundy’s illegal grazing in 2014, the Bureau of Land Management sent a survey crew to the Gold Butte area near Bunkerville, Nevada. The three surveyors from the Great Basin Institute were there to inventory springs, cattle troughs and seeps. According to contemporary news reports, they encountered Cliven Bundy and his son, Ryan Bundy, who spoke with them briefly and asked what they were doing. Later that night, as the surveyors were getting into their tents, a vehicle lit up the camp with its headlights as it drove by, and shortly afterward, three gunshots rang out nearby. An hour later, they heard three more shots. The surveyors packed up in the dark, left and did not come back. Cliven Bundy told reporters he had not fired the shots, and the BLM kept out of Gold Butte.

Image by Friends of Gold Butte. Read more about FoGB's findings here.  

Bullet holes in petroglyphs. Image by Friends of Gold Butte. Read more about FoGB’s findings here.

Since the standoff at Bunkerville, Cliven Bundy’s roughly 1,000 cattle have remained at large. Nor has the rancher paid the more than $1 million he owes in grazing fees and fines. Cliven Bundy hasn’t escaped altogether, though: In February, he was arrested en route to support his sons’ armed occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon. He is now behind bars awaiting trial in 2017. But in other respects, Bundy got what he wanted: His cattle still graze for free on Gold Butte, just as they have done for the past two decades, despite a 1999 ban, and there was little to no federal oversight for two years.

Read the full article at High Country News

Aspen trees in La Sals stricken with leaf blight

Editor’s note: Ongoing climate change and drought due to industrial civilization are having a cumulative negative effect on aspen trees of the intermountain west.  The world we live in is changing right before our eyes.  

by Eric Trenbeath, Moab Sun News September 19, 2015

Defoliated Aspens

Blight has defoliated these aspen stands along the Geyser Pass Road in the La Sal Mountains. An estimated 80 percent of aspen stands between Utah and Montana have been impacted by a fungal disease this season. [Photo courtesy of Brian Murdock / U.S. Forest Service]

Golden quaking aspen leaves won’t be making an especially grand appearance in the La Sal Mountains this fall due to a rampant iinfection of aspen leaf blight, or Marssonina, that has left many stands wilted and defoliated.
The disease, caused by fungal pathogens, is the result of a wetter-than-average May that has allowed the fungi to grow, according to U.S. Forest Service pathologist Elizabeth Hebertson. Hebertson said the condition is widespread throughout the intermountain West from Utah to Montana, and that 80 percent of the stands she has observed are infected.

“Almost in any given year, in any location, you can probably find infected aspen,” Hebertson said. “But this year was unusually high.”

A grove of affected aspens in the La Sal Mountains. Stands along the roads to Geyser Pass and Oohwah Lake, and along the east side of the range on the flanks of South Mountain, have been particularly hard hit by leaf blight. [Photo courtesy of Brian Murdock / U.S. Forest Service]

A grove of affected aspens in the La Sal Mountains. Stands along the roads to Geyser Pass and Oohwah Lake, and along the east side of the range on the flanks of South Mountain, have been particularly hard hit by leaf blight. [Photo courtesy of Brian Murdock / U.S. Forest Service]

Manti-La Sal National Forest Moab-Monticello Ranger District Ranger Mike Diem told the Moab Sun News that we probably won’t see the same spectacular colors that we have in the past.

Stands along the roads to Geyser Pass and Oohwah Lake, and along the east side of the range on the flanks of South Mountain, have been particularly hard hit.

Diem said that under normal conditions, leaf blight isn’t a serious concern, and that affected trees should recover the following season. But, he said, prolonged drought conditions and factors associated with climate change have also likely had an effect.

“When you put it in conjunction with other stresses, it’s hard to say what the cumulative effects of something like this will be,” he said.

Diem said that aspen forests in the La Sal Mountains, as well as those in other areas of the Southwest, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the ravages of drought.

Read the rest of this article by Eric Trenbeath of Moab Sun News

Center for Biological Diversity: 2.7 Million Animals Killed by Wildlife Services in 2014

For Immediate Release, April 13, 2015

Contact: Amy Atwood, (503) 504-5660, atwood@biologicaldiversity.org

New Data: 2.7 Million Animals Killed by Rogue Federal Wildlife Program in 2014

Ignoring Calls for Reform, Agency Shoots, Poisons and
Traps Tens of thousands of Coyotes, Bears, Wolves, Foxes

WASHINGTON— New data from the highly secretive arm of the U.S. Agriculture Department known as Wildlife Services reveals it killed more than 2.7 million animals during fiscal year 2014, including wolves, coyotes, bears, mountain lions, beavers, foxes, eagles and other animals deemed pests by powerful agricultural, livestock and other special interests.

Despite increasing calls for reform after the program killed more than 4 million animals in 2013, the latest kill report indicates the reckless slaughter of wildlife continues, including 322 gray wolves, 61,702 coyotes, 580 black bears, 305 mountain lions, 796 bobcats, 454 river otters, 2,930 foxes, three bald eagles, five golden eagles and 22,496 beavers. The program also killed 15,698 black-tailed prairie dogs and destroyed more than 33,309 of their dens.

Coyote snared by Wildlife Services in Nevada. Photo by Sacramento Bee.

Coyote snared by Wildlife Services in Nevada. Photo by Sacramento Bee.

“It’s sickening to see these staggering numbers and to know that so many of these animals were cut down by aerial snipers, deadly poisons and traps,” said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These acts of brutality are carried out every day, robbing our landscapes of bears, wolves, coyotes and other animals that deserve far better. Wildlife Services does its dirty work far from public view and clearly has no interest in cleaning up its act.”

Agency insiders have revealed that the agency kills many more animals than it reports.

Many animals – especially wolves, coyotes and prairie dogs – were targeted and killed on behalf of livestock grazers or other powerful agricultural interests. Wildlife Services does not reveal how many animals were wounded or injured, but not killed.

The new data also show that hundreds animals were killed unintentionally including 390 river otters, as well as hundreds of badgers, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, jackrabbits, muskrats, raccoons, skunks, opossums, porcupines and 16 pet dogs.

The data show that the federal program has refused to substantially slow its killing despite a growing public outcry, an ongoing investigation by the Agriculture Department’s inspector general, and calls for reform by scientists, members of Congress and nongovernmental organizations.

“Wildlife Services continues to thumb its nose at the growing number of Americans demanding an end to business as usual,” said Atwood. “This appalling and completely unnecessary extermination of American wildlife must stop.”

Just since 1996 Wildlife Services has shot, poisoned and strangled by snare more than 27 million native animals.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Mexico: Researcher Raises Alert About Environmental Dangers of Wind Farms

Many Thanks to Truthout for permission to reprint this article.

By Renata Bessi, Santiago Navarro F. and Translated by Britt Munro and Sarah Farr, Truthout 

September 17, 2014

2014 917 wind 6bThe wind turbines of the Biioxo Wind Farm are located on land that used to be cultivated. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

The Tehuantepec Isthmus, a southern region of Mexico that includes the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco and Veracruz, holds the highest concentration of wind farms in Latin America. The Isthmus, measuring a mere 200 kilometers between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, is the third narrowest strip of land on the continent, following Nicaragua and the Panama Canal. A total of 28 wind farms have been planned for construction, 15 of which have already been completed.

The region is ideal for the construction of wind farms since high wind speeds are constant throughout the year. “The southern Andes converge at the Tehuantepec Isthmus, creating a kind of tunnel effect the same width as the land strip. This ensures that the winds gain great strength and reach a high velocity,” explains Patricia Mora, a research professor in coastal ecology and fisheries science at the Interdisciplinary Research Center for Comprehensive Regional Development, Oaxaca Unit (CIIDIR Oaxaca), at the National Institute of Technology.

An environmental impact study conducted by the URS Corporation Mexico at the request of Natural Gas Fenosa, which was used to justify the construction of the Biino Hioxo park in Juchitan de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, concluded that the development of a wind farm “in this area of the state of Oaxaca is a clear example of sustainable development” and that “the project is environmentally viable as it utilizes renewable resources and does not generate significant environmental impacts.”

But while environmental impact reports tend to support the construction of these wind farm parks, local communities and environmentalists are raising concerns that local flora and fauna are being affected. The cases of the Barra Santa Theresa in Alvaro Obregon and San Vicente Beach in Juchitán de Zaragoza are of particular interest. “This is the meeting point of various intimately related aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, known as ‘ecotones.’ What occurs in each distinct ecosystem affects the dynamic on a larger scale, placing the existence of the adjoining ecosystems in danger,” Mora said.

2014 917 wind 1Cattle and other livestock are raised close to the wind turbines of the Biioxo Wind Farm. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

In a detailed interview, the biologist explained what the environmental impact reports omit: the real impacts on the flora and fauna of the Tehuantepec Isthmus. These negative impacts extend not only throughout Mexico, but also into the ecosystems of Central America.

Mora even casts doubts about the way in which these environmental studies are conducted. “Generally there are ‘agreements’ behind closed doors between the consultants or research centers and the government offices before the studies are conducted. They fill out forms with copied information (and sometimes badly copied), lies or half truths in order to divert attention from the real project while at the same time complying with requirements on paper.”

In the following interview, Mora discusses the realities of the wind farms’ impacts – and how environmental impact studies are often manipulated to serve the interests of corporations.

Truthout: What could be the large-scale impacts on the flora and fauna in the TehuantepecIsthmus ecological corridor, principally in the Barra Santa Theresa, San Vicente Beach and La Ventosa?

The impacts will be seen on two time scales. First, the direct impact. When a project is installed, the first step is to “dismantle” the area, a process through which all surrounding vegetation is eliminated. This means the destruction of plants and sessilities – organisms that do not have stems or supporting mechanisms – and the slow displacement over time of reptiles, mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, arachnids, fungi, etc.

Generally we perceive the macro scale only, that is to say, the large animals, without considering the small and even microscopic organisms. But the most harm occurs in the micro scale. Often these organisms are not even identified, yet curiously, they are the organisms that in reality keep the ecosystems alive and balanced. In many of Mexico’s ecosystems, we are only recently cataloguing the full diversity of species. This process depends on the availability of researchers, funding and the accessibility of the zone. This is why there are still many endemic and native species that are recognized as endangered on national and even international lists.

After the construction is finalized, the indirect impact continues in the sense that ecosystems are altered and fragmented. As a result, there is a larger probability of their disappearance, due to changes in the climate and the use of soil.

What is the importance of the ecosystems in this region?

They are considered extremely fragile. As a result of their location in semiarid zones where the water cycle is vital, these ecosystems act as retainers of humidity and their disappearance drastically changes the humidity of the soil. When vegetation disappears, these ecosystems are converted into completely uninhabited deserts and solar radiation changes the dynamic of the soil, prohibiting the growth of new vegetation.

The relationship between humans and the environment is changing – we no longer have respect for the land and this contributes to a greater deterioration. Almost nobody considers this effect. The land is no longer perceived as our provider. It has been converted into a commodity.

In particular, I would like to point out the case of the Barra Santa Teresa and San Vicente Beach, as here we find ourselves at the meeting point of various intimately related aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, known as “ecotones.” What occurs in each distinct ecosystem affects the dynamic on a larger scale, placing the existence of the adjoining ecosystems in danger.

Mexico’s coastal zones are extremely abundant and rich in diversity. Not only are there terrestrial organisms, but also aquatic organisms. In these zones we speak of thousands of species, many of which are not evident at first glance.

A dramatic example is the millions of viruses found in the world’s oceans. Generally, we think of viruses as bad things and we associate them with sickness, but this is a great falsehood. Viruses, like bacteria, are responsible for life on earth and for the richness and diversity of that life. In short, we need them to maintain life on this planet.

In coastal zones we find mangrove ecosystems, coastal dunes, and supra and infra littoral zones. We can make the claim that coastal vegetation plays a vital role in the humidity of these coastal zones. When this vegetation disappears, these ecosystems become deserts – inert and without life. Erosion creates havoc on the coastal border, encouraging the extinction of coastal lagoons and increasing the salinity of the soil, rendering it useless for agriculture.

Climate change will also lead to the disappearance of vegetation, removing natural barriers against air currents, tropical storms and cyclones. The life cycles of many species will be truncated. For example, reptiles require certain temperatures in order to create equal numbers of male and female offspring and to incubate that offspring. Since they cannot regulate their own body temperature, they depend on the temperature of their surrounding environment.

Mangroves act as refuges for aquatic species. In fact, the Laguna Superior is one of the most important sanctuaries in Mexico for terrestrial species. It forms part of the Mesoamerican corridor, through which thousands of birds from hundreds of different species pass. The lagoons are wetland refuges, providing resting places and food for these birds. If the mangroves disappear, the birds will lose this important resting place, which could contribute to their extinction. Bats would also be affected by changes in light and sound.

Wind turbines create a magnetic field. Could the magnetic fields produced by wind turbines have consequences for microorganisms found in the soil or for humans?

There is abundant information about the harm caused by the sound waves produced by wind turbines. These sound waves are not perceptible to the human ear, which makes them all the more dangerous. They are also low frequency sound waves and act upon the pineal and nervous systems, causing anxiety, depression (there is a study from the United States that found an elevated suicide rate in regions with wind farms), migraines, dizziness and vomiting, among other symptoms. Western science has given very little weight to electromagnetic and sound waves. In contrast, Eastern science, which gives greater importance to the flow of energy through the body, links the origin of many illnesses to the pollution we generate through the emission of human-made energy flows. The harm caused by this pollution has only recently begun to be accepted.

2014 917 wind 5During times of harvest and planting, the farmers live in cabins close to the Biioxo Wind Farm. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

There are also consequences for other living beings. Many animals, such as bats, orient themselves through the use of sound frequencies. Among marine animals, fish are another example – they guide themselves using the electromagnetic frequencies that pass through their bodies. Other animals also use similar mechanisms and it is difficult to gauge the full effect that the disruption of these frequencies might have.

I had the opportunity to personally observe an example of this problem at an aquarium in Mazatlán, Mexico. The aquarium’s sharks were swimming erratically, crashing into the glass, and refusing to eat. It turned out that the aquarium had recently repaired the shark tank using different iron screws than the previous screws. When the aquarium removed these new screws, the sharks’ behavior returned to normal. The material of the new screws had created a different magnetic field. A few simple screws.

Some animal species are positively phototropic, meaning that they are attracted by light. For example, one can commonly observe insects near streetlights at night or near computer screens in dark rooms. Some fishing techniques even take advantage of this trait, which is found in shrimp and other species. The migration patterns of some species are related to the moon cycle. The coastal wind farm projects that illuminate the night interfere with the cycles, causing an unusual number of animal and insect deaths, which can be observed on nearby beaches.

One would assume that these companies should conduct environmental impact studies related to their projects. Do companies conduct such studies? What are the parameters of these studies? What do they contemplate? Who does follow-up?

What happens is absolute corruption. I have to admit that generally there are “agreements” behind closed doors between the consultants or research centers and the government offices before the studies are conducted. They fill out forms with copied information (and sometimes badly copied), lies or half truths in order to divert attention from the real project while at the same time complying with requirements on paper. Unfortunately, consultants sometimes take advantage of high unemployment and hire inexperienced people or unemployed career professionals without proper titles. Sometimes the consultants even coerce them into modifying the data.

Research centers, pressured by a lack of funding, accept these studies. It is well known that scientists recognized by CONACYT (National Counsel on Science and Technology) accept gifts from these companies, given that they need money to buy equipment for their laboratories and to fill their pocketbooks to maintain their lifestyles. This is the extent of the corruption. Upon reviewing these studies, it is clear that the findings are trash, sometimes even directly copied from other sources online. These studies tend to focus on the “benefits of the project” and do not include rigorous analysis.

The Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) does follow-up to the studies, but everything can be negotiated. The bureaucrats have the last word.

What would be the effects on the ecosystem, including the local communities, if a native animal species were to migrate to another space or disappear as a result of the wind farm project?

The majority of species have specific habitational niches. There are very few pioneering species that are capable of inhabiting new environments. The acclimation of each species depends on its life cycle and its adaptability. To give a concrete example, marine turtles always return to the same beach where they were born. If that beach were to disappear, they would have nowhere to return. Mangroves could be similarly affected since they are located in intertidal zones. Changes to the surf’s intensity, the depth of the water or the water’s salinity could cause them to disappear.

Many of these communities depend on fishing and agriculture, not only in economic terms but also culturally. What effects could these mega projects, with such a large number of wind turbines, have on communities?

The inhabitants would have to leave behind their traditional activities. Migration and misery would be their future. You can see how this has happened in other areas of the country. They would lose their culture and a lifestyle that has a deep respect for nature. For example, in the northwest coastal region of the country, the arrival of these projects has displaced the fishing communities and farmers. Today, many of these people and their children have migrated. In the worst cases, they have joined the drug trafficking business.

What is known about the first of these projects – Pilot Project La Ventosa – in terms of environmental impact? What have been the benefits and consequences of the project?

Very little is known about that project. Actually, environmental impact studies about it used to go unnoticed or were not conducted.

It is also unclear what the benefits have been – the statistics are not clear. To the contrary, the fact that communities have begun to organize against these projects reflects the discontent and the negligible benefit.

2014 917 wind 3(Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

The only benefit has been for the companies. The carbon credits they have received have allowed them to avoid taxes and have permitted them to continue polluting. Companies have seen spectacular earnings through the use of these carbon credits in stock exchanges. In summary, the only benefits have been for the transnational companies. There has been a high cost to the environment, which continues to be damaged by climate change. In fact, this damage is worse than what had been previously estimated, as the most recent findings by the United Nations show.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission

How to Stop Off Road Vehicles, Part 2

By Michael Carter, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

Law enforcement has been so ineffective in preventing illegal ORV use that citizens are usually left to face the problem on their own. Stopping ORVs isn’t easy, but short of an end to gasoline—which we can’t wait for—impacts will continue to worsen if there’s no intervention. In remote areas like the Mojave Desert and Colorado Plateau, where would-be activists are scattered and overwhelmed and the police are essentially powerless and blasé, all strategies for stopping ORVs involve active and sustained effort. Here are a few:

Pressure law enforcement to do their jobs. Carry a camera with you always, and photograph illegal activity, if at all possible getting clear images of license plates. Document the time, place, and circumstances. Bring it to the attention of both the local and federal police, if on federal land. Be polite but persistent.

Physically close illegal trails. This can be surprisingly effective. Adopt an area and close off illegal trails with rocks, logs, whatever is handy and doesn’t further disturb the land. ORVers will keep trying to use the trail, but continued discouragement might eventually work.

Physically close legal trails. Similar to the last category, people may choose to carry out underground actions that close legal routes.[1] There must be a strict firewall between aboveground and underground activists: people or groups choosing to use underground tactics should not engage in aboveground actions, and vice versa.[2]

Close and reclaim established, authorized routes through administrative and legal channels. It’s the open roads that draw ORVs deeper into land they can then illegally violate, so every closed road is particularly helpful. This, too, takes a long and sustained effort. One helpful organization is Wildlands CPR (Now Wild Earth Guardians),[3] but don’t expect any non-profit group to have the resources to do the job for you. If you love the land you live in, be prepared to fight for it—a simple solution of hard, dedicated effort. Organize with those who agree with you, and fight.

 

Coyote Canyon Revisited

Private landowners neighboring Coyote Canyon in southeast Utah fought the originally illegal ORV use of the canyon, and tried to stop the BLM from sanctioning it. They pleaded with the public via every venue they could think of to write letters to the BLM opposing the move, yet ORV interests grossly outnumbered the effort. Fewer than ten opponents to the trail even bothered writing letters, and when the decision to open the canyon to ORVs was made the BLM didn’t even bother notifying the respondents, a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Otherwise, however, the agency had prepared its documents thoroughly and neighbors were advised that a legal challenge probably wouldn’t have been effective. Although the BLM offered a number of concessions—the trail is only open Friday and Saturday to registered users, from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., among other restrictions—the agency legitimized crime, rewarding criminals with the sacrifice of another dwindling scrap of feral public land.

The Coyote Canyon example highlights several reasons why so few are willing to protect the land, and why they’re losing so badly. One is fear of reprisals from enemies (such as intentional trespass and vandalism of property, already an issue for neighbors of Coyote Canyon). Another is a reasonable assumption that their efforts will be ineffective—though of course making no effort will certainly be ineffective. Yet people tend to accept whatever situation they’re given. It’s uncommon to question an established arrangement, whatever it may be, and if one continues to question it life gets more uncomfortable. A resister will always face ridicule, accusations of poor mental, emotional and social adjustment, eventual ostracizing and occasionally murder. Yet social changes demand challenges to established practice.

When the BLM announced their decision to open Coyote Canyon to oil spills, noise, litter, piles of shit and soiled rags of toilet paper, almost everyone who was asked to help offered only a passing moment of sympathy. Not “what can I do,” not “what are our options,” but “that’s too bad.” It’s no wonder fights like this are frequently lost, when reactions are so feeble.

Industry and recreation groups, by contrast, are well organized and ready to rush to their own common cause. The right wing tends to be more accepting of orders; the boss says jump, they ask how high. They have something tangible they’re working for, a thing they like doing, a righteous maintenance of their privilege—such as driving anywhere they want. They stand to gain something where resistance stands only to prevent something—at least in situations like Coyote Canyon, where no comparable force opposes them.

Fighting Back

Resistance is tough. It means making one’s self unpopular, a hard thing to do among those who’ve been taught their whole lives that popularity is everything. Organizing can provide the possibility of overcoming our fear of reprisal, of ridicule, and of failure; it’s the only chance at effectively confronting injustices.   Those who wish to prevent agency actions like the Coyote Canyon trail, or to promote re-localization of food production—any defensive or restorative action—can become an effective force if they work together, consistently and reliably supporting one another. Many progressives have been bled off by dogmas of non-confrontation, by intoxicating feel-good-ness, and by the idea that individualism is of primary importance. They’ve become lazy, fatalistic, and cynical; committed, organized struggle seems to be the sorry lot of desperately poor people in faraway places.

The examples that we have of committed resistance movements often are of desperately poor people, immediately threatened by the activities of rich and powerful enemies. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is one good example, and so are the more than 130 First Nations governments in western Canada that have gathered against the tar-sands Enbridge Northern Gateway Project and the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker projects.[4] We who are in a position to protect the land mostly lack the ability to respond, to turn our empathy for places like Coyote Canyon into action.

The situation at the frontiers of wild land is desperate, too. Wealth and privilege let us pretend it isn’t, because we get food from supermarket shelves and water from a tap. We see little or no connection between the health of the land and our own well-being. Public land use is an issue that can be influenced relatively easily—unlike, say, racism—because land managers so routinely ignore or violate laws and effective tactics usually have to do with citizen enforcement. But environmentalists continue to lose, partly because exploiters have miscast conflict as user-group obstruction—framing the terms of the debate to ridicule love of the wild world, separating its fate from human fate. By allowing this, would-be activists surrender the land and leave the future to sadists and imbeciles.

The destruction of the planet, however easy it is to ignore, will catch up with us all. The civilized economies that steal from the poor to give to the rich will eventually end. They need to consume limited resources to exist and those resources—fossil fuels, topsoil—will not last forever. When this happens, we will again depend upon the land to sustain us. If that land is stripped of its capacity to sustain life by industry, agriculture, and recreation, then there will be nowhere else to go, and nothing to do but wage war and starve.

Abuse of the land is now normalized by faith in nonexistent frontiers (of renewable energy and electric cars, for example) and by misguided tolerance. Naming abuse—the destruction of the land in the name of fun or individualistic pursuits and the destruction of our selves by abusive people and systems—is often portrayed as abusive in itself. This is outrageous and infuriating, but should be expected.

Though it is far less damaging than industry and agriculture, the evidence for ORV destruction is well documented and easy to come by. It’s not even really contested by ORVers themselves. Those of us determined to stop this behavior face the same problem law enforcement does: the damage is so widespread and difficult to regulate that there’s little anyone can do. But there’s also a serious lack of activists with effective tactics and a coherent strategy to follow through on. This doesn’t mean, though, that we should back down.

 

Identifying with the Real World

Once on Cedar Mesa, in Southeast Utah, I watched an ORV intentionally veer to crush a dozing snake. The reptile churned and writhed in the machine’s track, dead or near dead as its nerves popped and struggled and ran down. I went to it, to witness its pointless death. A thick and handsome bull snake, it spent its last moments bleeding out in the dust. Why? Why do this? What drives this sick, stupid behavior? Why does our culture hate every living thing?

I lifted the snake into the sage and blackbrush so it could at least die in its home. “If they can’t evolve to get out of the way,” someone once told me about road killed animals, “then that’s their problem.” Of course, not evolving to changing conditions is what causes extinction. There’s little doubt that our culture will not voluntarily evolve to halt the worsening conditions that industry and recreation are creating on the planet. So how does anyone fight activity like this? How do we stop deforestation, global warming, ocean acidification? And given those immense problems, is ORV land abuse something to focus limited energy and resources on?

In addition to the suggestions made in these articles, activists can develop tactics and strategies and their way forward will eventually become clear. With hard work and determination a chance of winning would almost certainly emerge. But in a world of Keystone XL pipelines and epidemic levels of fracking, is the effort worth it? If you caretake a few acres of land, blocking travel and pulling weeds, how much does it matter if you stop, or get distracted, or die? If those acres are again immediately vulnerable, is your effort a waste?

Few things anger me more that seeing wanton destruction for fun. I wonder, though, if this is an unhelpful distraction. It’s easy to get angry at something so obviously disrespecting of the land. In terms of permanent impacts, though, industry is much worse, and the scale of destruction is enormous. Of course what runs it is oil. Always this—the temporary, illusory power locked in a liquid hydrocarbon, driving ORVs, factory fishing trawlers, factory farms, and industrial agriculture. It’s warming the atmosphere and leading us to a horribly impoverished future, where most of us will be unable to afford the lifestyle we’ve been subjected and addicted to, let alone find enough to eat.

Remove the oil and the engines stop, and a besieged biosphere can begin to heal. This is part of the strategy that Deep Green Resistance has proposed.[5] But in the meanwhile…ORVs, just one part of the picture, continue to cut apart what little wild life remains, the last seed bank of evolution as we’ll ever know it. The momentum of established civilized practice is now enormous—seemingly unstoppable—and its terminal is in global destruction, the eradication of all complex life. Challenge to this system is so psychologically and practically difficult that most of us ignore it.

Fighting for the real, wild world can begin with the understanding that humans are not everything, and that the fate of the world is ultimately our fate. It is much different to fight for your own beloved family than for a rocky canyon you’ll never visit. We progressives like to talk about how hatred of “other” races cannot be tolerated (not that much is ever done about that). But we hardly ever extend this principle to the non-human world—constant victim of our culture’s violence—because we’ve been conditioned to believe that humans are all that matter. The loons, the snakes, the too-slow creatures smeared across the roads and ground under rubber tires into the dirt, they and the people yet to come who won’t be able to live as we have because the oil is gone—none of them will care about our abstract, self-indulgent moral wrestling. That is the wall that human supremacy has built around us; it must be torn down.

Imagine again that an occupying culture, whose every act is force and theft, was destroying the means of your survival. Imagine them extracting fuel to use the world as a playground. Of course, it is not enough to stop them from driving their toys in every possible place. To survive in the long term we must also stop the extraction, the root of the problem, and eliminate the fuel for destruction. We must reclaim our adult responsibilities and stand up to defend the land where we live, knowing that until oil extraction and consumption is ended, there will always be a new group of occupiers finding new ways to destroy the land.

Endnotes

[1] Foreman, Dave. Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching. Tucson: Ned Ludd Books, 1987, 89-109.

[2] Security Culture: A Handbook for Activists, accessed August 30, 2014, http://security.resist.ca/personal/securebooklet.pdf

[3] “Resources,” Wild Earth Guardians, accessed July 13, 2014, http://www.wildlandscpr.org

[4] Carrie Saxifrage, “How the Enbridge Pipeline Issue Unified Northern BC,” The Vancouver Observer, February 13, 2012, http://www.vancouverobserver.com/politics/2012/02/13/nation-building-how-enbridge-pipeline-issue-unified-northern-bc

“Interior First Nations Pipeline Ban,” Dogwood Initiative, You Tube, December 2, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G5KtqPSW8Q

Carrie Saxifrage, “No Oil Pipeline Here: Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel in Smithers finds 100% opposition,” The Vancouver Observer, January 17, 2012, http://www.vancouverobserver.com/sustainability/2012/01/17/enbridge-northern-gateway-joint-review-panel-smithers-finds-100-opposition

[5] “Decisive Ecological Warfare,” Deep Green Resistance, accessed August 28, 2014, http://deepgreenresistance.org/en/deep-green-resistance-strategy/decisive-ecological-warfare

How to Stop Off Road Vehicles, Part 1

By Michael Carter, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

Imagine a time when you never once worried about losing your home or your means of making a living. Imagine your community used to be prosperous and well-run, providing everything you needed. You never gave a thought to giving back to it, though you always did and everyone else did, too. It hasn’t been this way for a long time—an invasion of thieves and murderers has taken all that away—but you remember what life was like.

The land is now impoverished by an unwelcome, occupying culture so self-important that they take everything without shame or even thought. These aliens have built their roads, power lines, and reservoirs all around you, siphoning every bit of your community’s resources for their own purposes. You have no recourse when an oil rig is set up in your town’s park, hospital, or swimming pool. You are helpless when they cut your watershed forest. There is nothing you can do about it, so you and your parents and your children and everyone else you know struggle on with no police to protect your health or property, no court to hear your grievance. You’d turn to your neighbors for help, but they’re in the same situation. The occupiers are everywhere, and they are all-powerful.

It’s not enough they’ve poisoned your water, built roads through your desert, and grazed their cattle across your range, stripping the grass from the ground which whips up into gritty brown curtains in the smallest wind. Many of your friends have been shot and left to rot in the street, but this doesn’t trouble the invaders; indeed, some of your children have been taken and kept in cages for their amusement. Now they want what’s left. They want everything, every inch of ground that once gave you all the wealth you ever wanted, all you could ever want.

In this dusty fragment that once was rich and whole, you barely get enough to eat and often feel ill because the water tastes of some sharp chemical. One day, engine noise comes from where no one has heard it before. Not along the ribbons of pavement where your kin are occasionally crushed to death, but in the last sad vestige of the flowering provident earth you’ve always loved. The machines come in packs. Aliens guide them over hills and through streams, muddying the water you and your children must drink. They roll over your friend’s house and you can hear them screaming inside, see their torn bodies, their bones stirred into the wreckage, smell their blood. You run away in pure bright panic as the machines veer insanely this way and that, destroying the neighborhood you grew up in. You might get away, but very likely you won’t. If you’re noticed at all, the end of your life will only be entertainment for the one who takes it.

This is what off road vehicles do.

 

Coyote Canyon

Coyote Canyon

Coyote Canyon and Other Sacrifices

Coyote Canyon is a small rocky tributary to Kane Springs Creek on Bureau of Land Management property just south of Moab, Utah. It recently became another off road vehicle (ORV) trail. Like many such trails, it began illegally when specialized, expensive ORVs called “rock crawlers” began using it without BLM authorization. ORV users prompted the BLM to write an Environmental Analysis to make the route official, and now Coyote Canyon is in the BLM’s words “an extreme trail specifically designated for rock crawler-type vehicles only. The route is one-way up a small canyon and down another, and although it is only 0.65 miles long can easily take all day to navigate as refrigerator-sized boulders must be traversed. Only HEAVILY modified vehicles can make it through. This route provides rock crawler enthusiasts an opportunity to challenge both their rigs and skills in a unique setting.”[1] One of the main reasons ORVers wanted the “unique setting” is that a roll-over accident, not uncommon to rock-crawlers, won’t pitch the vehicle and its occupants off a cliff.

The noise and disturbance of ORVs fragment habitat and push public-lands policies toward more development by turning vague routes into established roads. In some instances ORVs are exclusively to blame for the endangerment of a species—such as at Sand Mountain, Nevada, formerly “Singing Sand Mountain” until it was overrun by machines churning to dust the habitat of the Sand Mountain blue butterfly. The Center for Biological Diversity writes that the butterfly “is closely linked to Kearney buckwheat; larvae feed exclusively on the plant, and adult butterflies rely on its nectar as a primary food source. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Land Management has allowed off-road vehicle use to destroy much of the Kearney buckwheat that once thrived on the dunes at Sand Mountain.”[2]

Land management agency inertia is easily the most immediate reason the ORVs have caused so much damage, since law enforcement is underfunded and policy-makers don’t make a priority of protecting the land and wildlife that’s entrusted to them. The Center for Biological Diversity had to sue the US Fish and Wildlife Service to even get a response to a petition to list the Sand Mountain blue butterfly under the Endangered Species Act, and the agency’s response was that they wouldn’t do it. “Not warranted.” In this case (and others such as manatees being killed by speedboats), there aren’t even any jobs being held hostage. This is recreation and nothing more, taking ever more animals, plants, and habitat from the biological legacy of the planet.

Desert Iguana, Sonoran Desert

Desert Iguana, Sonoran Desert

The Utah Wilderness Coalition had this to say about off road vehicles: “Most public lands are unprotected from ORVs in Utah. Roughly seventy-five percent, or 17 million acres out of 23 million acres, of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in Utah still lack any real protection (including designated routes, maps, trail signs, and other tools to ensure that these natural areas are protected) from ORV damage.

 

“Utah has over 100,000 miles of dirt roads, jeep trails, and old mining tracks. Driving all of these trails would be the equivalent of driving four times the circumference of the Earth.

 

“The BLM allows nearly uncontrolled ORV use in areas that have known but unrecorded archeological resources, putting these resources at risk from vandalism and unintentional damage. ORVs can cause damage to fragile desert soils, streams, vegetation, and wildlife. Impacts include churning of soils, distribution of non-native invasive plants, and increased erosion and runoff. Rare plant, wildlife, and fish species are at risk.

 

“ORV use is growing nationwide. In the past 30 years, the number of off-road vehicles in the United States has grown from 5 million to roughly 36 million ORVs. The BLM has fallen woefully behind in the management of these machines on public lands.”[3]

 

 

“The Best Trails are Illegal”

 

Because illegal ORV use is so dispersed, it’s rare for underfunded and understaffed public lands law enforcement to catch anyone in the act. Usually what they see—what anyone sees—are the long-lasting impacts (tire ruts, crushed vegetation) and not the machines themselves. Without any evidence, there can’t be any enforcement. If you complain to the BLM or Forest Service about illegal trails, this is the response you can expect. If you can catch someone in the act, a license plate number—especially if you can photograph it—will be helpful, but there’s still the underlying issue of it not being all that illegal in the first place. A fine isn’t much of a deterrent, particularly when it’s extremely unlikely to happen at all.[4] The 30 million-odd ORVers in the US alone probably won’t ever be fined for illegal trails.

One reason why opposition to ORVs and the destruction they cause is so feeble and inadequate is because opponents are portrayed by ORV groups as wealthy elitists trying to corner access to common lands at their expense. This human-centered framing entirely discards other beings’ lives that depend on the land and water at stake.

Unfortunately, potential defenders seem to be disarmed by this tactic. A kayaker I know once explained how she used to resent jet-skis and speedboats on the lakes she paddles on, but decided she was being selfish and to just accept it. But personal peace and quiet is somewhat beside the point. Oil and fuel spilled by gasoline boat engines is toxic to fish, birds, and invertebrates, and wakes from motorized watercraft swamp nesting birds such as the loon. In terrestrial habitat, as road density increases habitat security for large animals like bears and wolves decreases. Habitat effectiveness for elk, for example, falls steeply from a hundred percent where there are no roads to 50 percent with two road miles per square mile to 20 percent with six road miles.[5] Acceptance of the destruction wrought by others might make one feel nicer and ostensibly more democratic, but it means abandoning the defenseless.

The entitlement taken by the ORVers themselves is even more aggressive and unconcerned for life. A motorcyclist, enraged by new restrictions on off-roading in the Mojave Desert, shouted at me: “It’s the fucking desert! Nothing lives out there!” Anyone who’s spent time in the desert and seen the many reptiles, birds, mammals, and plants who live there knows this is ridiculous. The Mojave is the smallest desert in North America, and is being dissected by solar energy projects, military bases, and an ever-worsening ORV infection. Desert tortoises are being displaced to the point of extinction, followed by every other Mojave lizard, snake, and ground-nesting bird in the way of the dominant culture’s activities.

Even on private land, where ORV activity is considered trespassing, landowners are often frustrated by law enforcement’s ineffectiveness.

A California organization called Community ORV Watch advises: “Given current conditions, assistance in dealing with lawless OHV [off highway vehicle] activity in the vicinity of your home is more likely from the Sheriff’s Department than either the BLM or the California Highway Patrol. None of the three agencies consider unlawful OHV activity to be a high priority, so if you are to gain any benefit from an attempted contact with them it is important that you be willing to take the time and effort to see the call through. This isn’t always easy; responses are frequently hours late in arriving or do not come at all, so be prepared for a wait…this can be inconvenient, and it’s tempting to just let it slide rather than commit to a process that could tie you up for hours…

“By not calling, we participate in our own victimization by succumbing to a ‘what’s the use?’ attitude. This hurts community morale and perception over time, and lowers community expectations for services we are absolutely entitled to.”[6] This organization’s focus, the Morongo Basin in Southern California, is especially unfortunate to be near large population areas where there are lots of ORVers.

Remote areas have their own problems, and even law enforcement organizations are admitting they’re powerless to control ORV use in their jurisdictions. In a 2007 memo, an organization called Rangers for Responsible Recreation writes:

 

“The consensus of [law enforcement] respondents is that off-road vehicle violations have increased in recent years. Specifically: A majority of respondents (53%) say that ‘the off-road vehicle problems in my jurisdiction are out of control.’ Nearly three quarters (74%) agree that the off-road vehicle problems in their jurisdictions ‘are worse than they were five years ago.’ Fewer than one in six (15%) believe that ORV problems are ‘turning around for the better.’”[7]

 

GlorietaMesa.org, “an umbrella organization consisting of ranchers, horseback riders, hikers, environmentalists, wood-gatherers, residents, hunters and off-roaders, who are dedicated to protecting Glorieta Mesa from irresponsible Off-Road Vehicle recreation” writes:

“A 2002 Utah report reveals that a high percentage of riders prefer to ride ‘off established trails’ and did so on their last outing. Of the ATV riders surveyed, 49.4% prefer to ride off established trails, while 39% did so on their most recent excursion. Of the dirt bike riders surveyed, 38.1% prefer to ride off established trails, while 50% rode off established trails on their most recent excursion.

“More than nine out of ten (91%) of respondent rangers from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) agree that off road vehicles represent ‘a significant law enforcement problem’ in their jurisdictions. According to one BLM respondent, ‘90% of ORV users cause damage every day they ride. Most will violate a rule, regulation or law daily.’”[8]

ORV damage is just another example of privileged access to limited and stolen resources, and it extends beyond the impacted land to the airborne dust that worsens early mountain snowmelt[9] and to the spread of invasive weeds.[10] Human communities are negatively affected, too. Moab merchants make many thousands of dollars on ORV tourism, but the menial jobs that support it are taxing and degrading. ORV tourists tip small or not at all, and are notoriously rude and spiteful. This is why Moab restaurant waiters call the annual “Jeep Week” ORV event “Cheap Week,” when you see hundreds of wealthy strangers swaggering around in t-shirts reading: the best trails are illegal.

 

 Endnotes

[1] “Coyote Canyon Motorized Route,” U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, accessed July 13, 2014, http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/moab/recreation/motorized_routes/coyote_canyon.html

 

[2] “Saving the Sand Mountain Blue Butterfly,” Center for Biological Diversity, accessed July 13, 2014, http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/invertebrates/Sand_Mountain_blue_butterfly/index.html

 

[3] “Protecting America’s Redrock Wilderness: THE FACTS ABOUT OFF-ROAD VEHICLE DAMAGE,” Utah Wilderness Coalition, accessed July 13, 2014, http://www.suwa.org/wp-content/uploads/ORVDamage_FactSheet_V2.pdf

 

[4] “One possible reason for this trend [in increased ORV violations] is a failure to provide sufficient penalties to offroad riders who are caught breaking the law. ‘Possibly the greatest weakness in the ORV enforcement program is the lack of bite in judicial penalties,’ wrote one ranger from the Bureau of Land Management. ‘There is often little penalty in not paying tickets. In California… you only have to pay tickets when you renew a license,’” “First-Ever Survey of Federal Rangers Shows ORVs Out of Control, Need for Tougher Penalties,” Rangers for Responsible Recreation, December 11, 2007, http://www.glorietamesa.org/RangersForResponsibleRecreation.pdf

 

[5] T. Adam Switalski and Allison Jones, eds., “Best Management Practices for Off-Road Vehicle Use on Forestlands: A Guide for Designating and Managing Off-Road Vehicle Routes,” Wild Utah Project, January 2008, http://www.wildearthguardiansresources.org/files/ORV_BMP_2008_0.pdf

 

[6] “Report ORV Abuse,” Community ORV Watch: Protecting Private and Public Lands From Off Road Vehicle Abuse, November 7, 2011, http://www.orvwatch.com/?q=node/5

 

[7] “First-Ever Survey of Federal Rangers Shows ORVs Out of Control, Need for Tougher Penalties,” Rangers for Responsible Recreation, December 11, 2007, http://www.glorietamesa.org/RangersForResponsibleRecreation.pdf

 

[8] “Facts About OHV (ORV) Use,” GlorietaMesa.org, accessed July 15, 2014, http://www.glorietamesa.org/ohv-orv-facts-sheet.php

 

[9] Andrew P. Barrett, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado; Thomas H. Painter, University of Utah; and Christopher C. Landry Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, “Desert Dust Enhancement of Mountain Snowmelt,” Feature Article From Intermountain West Climate Summary, July 2008, http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=7&ved=0CEcQFjAG&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwwa.colorado.edu%2Fclimate%2Fiwcs%2Farchive%2FIWCS_2008_July_feature.pdf&ei=dtTGU_2FE9KJogTDp4HQAQ&usg=AFQjCNEM1fS-iGyJ_40WWALM4-tCHr04Bw&sig2=0UIU30HMtiZAGr2fBnj-uw&bvm=bv.71198958,d.cGU&cad=rja

 

[10] Thomas P. Rooney, “Distribution of Ecologically-Invasive Plants Along Off-Road Vehicle Trails in the Chequamegon National Forest, Wisconsin,” The Michigan Botanist, Volume 44, Issue 4, Fall, 2005, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mbot/0497763.0044.402/1

Altar Valley ranchers believe gas pipeline will destroy way of life

Originally posted on Deep Green Resistance Sonoran:

Richard Schultz points to land-clearing work across the border from Rancho de la Osa Guest Ranch, which he co-owns.

Richard Schultz points to land-clearing work across the border from Rancho de la Osa Guest Ranch, which he co-owns.

Original article by Joe Ferguson, Arizona Daily Star

Sasabe residents in the Altar Valley are nervously watching as construction crews bulldoze land just across the Mexican border.

They believe, or more accurately fear, the corridor the size of a football field being carved into the Mexican desert is evidence that approval of a proposed 59-mile Kinder-Morgan pipeline through their area is little more than a formality. With a decision from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the actual route of the pipeline not expected until next year, Altar Valley residents are left to wonder how the 36-inch natural-gas-pipeline extension expected to cut through a path through their ranches and sensitive wildlife corridors will affect their lives.

The sound of heavy equipment clearing desert can easily be heard from the historic guest…

View original 530 more words

From DGR News: Judge throws out Quechan injunction against wind farm project threatening ancestral sites

 

Image by Pattern Energy, with inserts by Jim Pelley

By Ahni / Intercontinental Cry

A Federal judge has thrown out the Quechan Nation’s request for an injunction against the controversial Ocotillo Express Wind Project in western Imperial County, California.

The Quechan filed for the injunction on May 14, just three days after the Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, gave “fast-track” approval for the project. The Quechan complaint stated that the Department of Interior, in approving the project, “violated… federal laws, regulations, and policies including the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA); National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA); National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); Administrative Procedures Act (APA); and the CDCA [The California Desert Conservation Area] Plan.”

The complaint went on to explain that the massive 10,150-acre project area contains 287 archaeological sites including geoglyphs, petroglyphs, sleeping circles and other sites of spiritual significance; thousands of artifacts, and at least 12 burial (an exhaustive survey has not been carried out).

Construction of the 112-turbine project would utterly devastate these sites.

Furthermore, the project jeopardizes the delicate desert ecosystem which is “home to the Federally endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep and the flat-tailed horned lizard, a perennial candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act,” says Chris Clarke, Director of Desert Biodiversity. “The turbines on the site would stand 450 feet tall with blades more than 180 feet long. With blades of that length, if the turbines spin at a leisurely 10 rpm the speed of the blade tips will approach 140 miles per hour, a serious threat to the region’s migratory birds — including the protected golden eagle,” he continues.

A day after filing for an injunction, on May 15, Quechan Tribal Council President Kenny Escalanti issued this statement outside the offices of Pattern Energy, the company behind the project.

He also spoke at a press conference alongside environmentalists and area residents in which he calls on President Obama to meet with tribal leaders and halt the destruction of sacred sites.

Robert Scheid, Viejas Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, spoke at the same press conference, calling on people across America to seek a national moratorium on industrial-scale energy projects on public lands. “Viejas leaders have asked to meet with President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar”, reports East County Magazine “to share concerns over violations of laws that are supposed to protect tribal cultural resources; but have received no response”.

With the denial of the Quechan petition, Pattern Energy can now proceed with their construction plans without restraint. And they aren’t wasting any time. A new website documenting the daily destruction of the Ocotillo desert has just been launched: www.SaveOcotillo.picturepush.com.

If the construction is completed, the wind turbines will spin for no more than 30 years.

From Intercontinental Cry: http://intercontinentalcry.org/judge-denies-quechan-injunction-controversial-wind-project/