Categories Archives: News » Culture of Resistance » Listening to the Land » Page 2

Visit the global News » Culture of Resistance » Listening to the Land » Listening to the Land archives for posts from all DGR sites.

From Unist’ot’en Camp: Responsibility, Not Rights

stop-pipelines

Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who transcribed and first published the original handwritten manuscript.

Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

May 19, 2014

Not all worldviews are created equal.

I thought this as I sat listening to Mel, a Wet’suwet’en man, explain the ideas behind the establishment of the Unist’ot’en Camp. It was lunch on my first day of the camp. The sun was strong and the few dozen visitors to the camp gathered in a clearing surrounded by tall pines. The quick-flowing clear-voiced Morice River flowed next to our gathering place, ice cold from its glacial source not far away.

My first encounter with Mel was on the bridge into Unist’ot’en Camp. Before visitors are admitted, they must satisfactorily complete the Free, Prior and Informed Consent Protocol – a series of questions that camp elders ask. Mel was quick with a smile, quicker with a hug or handshake, and quickest with a joke. He was the first to clap me on my nervous back after I satisfactorily answered my hosts’ questions in the Protocol. So it was natural I made my way to the small gathering of people listening to Mel at lunch.

“This is about responsibility, not rights” Mel said looking around the sky and gesturing towards the river. He explained the way the land taught his people that they had a responsibility to protect the health of the land. Displaying a mastery of political theory coupled with the traditional wisdom of his people, he weaved a powerful analysis to show how important it is that the pipelines be stopped at the Unist’ot’en Camp.

One of the fundamental rules his people have long adhered to is: take what you need and leave the rest. This rule governed the Wet’suwet’en for centuries and worked very well as evidenced by the health of northern British Columbia’s environment when the Europeans first arrived.

This rule, however, stands in direct opposition to the lifeblood of capitalism – unlimited growth. Capitalism depends on readily consumable natural resources. Capitalism would collapse very quickly without these resources. Mel went on to explain that is why he felt we have to resist the spread of fossil fuel consumption. In a world gone mad with the burning of fossil fuels, in a world being destroyed because of this madness, we have a responsibility to protect the world.

From there, Mel’s analysis took a turn I wasn’t expecting. He explained the way the land we were sitting on – traditional Wet’suwet’en land – was unceded territory. His people never signed a treaty with the British or Canadian government giving them access to Wet’suwet’en land. So, many people might argue the corporations and the Canadian government have no right to build pipelines through the Unist’ot’en Camp and they would be correct.

stop-pipelines-Annie-Morgan-272x300

Artwork by Annie Morgan artsmined.blogspot.com

But, and this is what I found most beautiful about Mel’s words, the founders of the Unist’ot’en Camp view themselves as members of a mutually supportive natural community where members share a responsibility to each other. The river provides life-giving water, the salmon give their nourishing flesh to animals and the forests surrounding the riverbeds, and humans, benefiting from all this, in turn bear a responsibility to protect these relationships.

To go even further, Mel showed that rights are nothing more than privileges given by a government. The Canadian government is illegitimate because it exists through genocide and is only on Wet’suwet’en land by sheer force. So, for the Wet’suwet’en to assert their rights in Canadian courts, they would be acknowledging the power of the Canadian government to decide the fate of lands they should have no power over.

Any government that fails to honor the basic rule to take only what you need and to leave the rest is illegitimate. It really is as simple as that.

As I’ve thought about Mel’s words the last few days, I’ve realized the strength in viewing our role in a burning world as one of responsibility. We simply do not have time to wait for governments to enforce our rights to clean air, clean water and healthy soil.

This gets to the heart of something I’ve been trying to articulate for a long time. Before I left for the Unist’ot’en Camp, I wrote a couple of pieces about why I felt it was important to come here to offer my help to the Wet’suwet’en. I wrote about giving up on home, I wrote about wanting to do more than just write, and I wrote about those of us benefiting from the dominant culture working to stop its destructive cycle.

Some of my closest friends told me that I was resorting to guilt and expressing a need for atonement to motivate people to work for the land. They seem to think that by truly acknowledging the atrocities of the past, I must be living in perpetual guilt. It was never my intention to use guilt as the reason we must act. But I need to be firm. I think that people who mistake the never-ending process of trying to see clearly into the past as guilt reveal nothing more than their own sense that the horrors of the past are worthy of guilt.

Putting aside the questionable notion that all guilt is bad, for a moment, I think it is vastly important that we understand the historical forces producing reality in the present and the future. History – the story of the past – is another narrative that can be used to prop up the current system of power, or used to undermine the current system’s strangle-hold on life on the planet. History, in this way, is just like religion, poetry, mass advertising and science.

You can see the power history holds when you observe someone’s everyday assumptions. If, for example, our historical narrative tells you the United States of America was founded by enlightened European men who came to this mostly empty land fleeing religious and economic persecution, you will view your role as a citizen one way. If, for a different example, your historical narrative tells you that George Washington’s famous wooden teeth were not wooden at all, but were actually real teeth forcibly removed from his African slaves, you may view your role in Washington’s legacy as a citizen in a radically different way. Or, to take this idea even further, if you believe that history is too complex to understand, then give up in the constant struggle to analyze its power over your thinking, denying that the past is real, you will view your role as a citizen even more differently.

– – – – – – –

A simple way to say all this is: You are what you eat. Just as the health conscious person is concerned about the ingredients in her food, the world conscious person continuously challenges the history presented to her.

This is why I incorporate North America’s bloody history into my perspective. It is not about guilt or the need for penance, it’s about understanding the historical ingredients that comprise present reality.

Which brings us back to guilt. Not all guilt is bad. It is important and healthy that humans feel guilt. When you snap at your mother, for instance, you should feel guilty about that. When you are wiping insects off your windshield, counting the number of beings with lives (now ended) that were as important to them as yours is to you, you should feel some guilt. Guilt tells us when our actions are wrong and provides us with the emotional incentive to stop acting in that manner.

– – – – – – – –

Though guilt is helpful for changing behavior, it is through responsibility that society gains its imperative to overturn the current system based on the domination of humans, natural communities and the land. If guilt is rooted in the past, responsibility is rooted in the present and future. To respond implies that there is someone to respond to and in Mel’s words about the Wet’suwet’en’s beliefs about responsibility to future generations, we find those we must respond to: our children, our grandchildren, their children.

Even if it is true that all guilt is bad, the reality is the same atrocities we abhor in the past – genocide, a war on women, the devastation of land and water – are continuing at a dizzying pace.

The question becomes: once aware of these atrocities, once feeling them in our hearts, once we absorb the immensity of the threats to everything we love, how do we fail to stop what would destroy our beloved.

– – – – – – –

Not all world views are created equal.

Some tell us that this world is not real. Some tell us we will find peace in another world in the sky. Some world views tell us that the natural world is here for us to use. Some tell us that humans are naturally destructive and everything we touch doomed to ashes.

Of course, these are all just narratives we tell ourselves. In the philosophic sense, they can not be proven. Meanwhile, the world burns. The ability of the beautiful planet to support life is under attack.

I knew this was true sitting with my lunch listening to Mel crouch on the ground with his lunch. Both his feet were planted in the soil. Behind his bright face, the pines were swaying. And underneath the noise of the Unist’ot’en Camp, the Morice River sang on as it has for thousands of years. Many thousands of those years the Wet’suwet’en have sat on her banks listening to her wisdom.

She sings of responsibility – the responsibility to protect this land for future generations.

Post Script May 30, 2014: I have decided to stay in British Columbia to offer all my support to the Camp. I am helping with fundraising, public awareness, and general organizing. I’ve already been in Victoria, BC for three days and I’ve been really busy running around town organizing for a big fundraiser we’re putting on Sunday, June 1. I have written 2 essays from the Camp that will appear on the San Diego Free Press. I’ve also been working on a collection of poetry.

In order to live and work up here, I do need some financial resources. Absolutely every little bit helps, but if you paypal me $15 I will see that you get a physical copy of a chap book of poetry from the Unist’ot’en Camp I am working on. (Of course, I will probably share the poetry anyway, so if you can’t help out, don’t worry! I’ll still be sharing…)

My paypal account is falkwilt@gmail.com. If this sounds like something someone you know may be interested in, feel free to share.

Will Falk moved to San Diego from Milwaukee, WI where he was a public defender. His first passion is poetry and his work is an effort to record the way the land is speaking. He feels the largest and most pressing issue confronting us today is the destruction of natural communities. If he is not writing in the parklet in front of Caffe Calabria in North Park, he is somewhere in the desert.

The Unist’ot’en Camp – Preparation: Home, Language, Self

Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who transcribed and first published the original handwritten manuscript.

Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

May 4, 2014

 

I am going to the Unist’ot’en Camp in northern British Columbia. The Unist’ot’en Camp is a resistance camp built by the Wet’suwet’en people on the path of seven proposed pipelines from the Tar Sands Gigaproject and where corporations are extracting liquid natural gas from the Horn River Basin Fracturing Projects.

I am nervous. I am excited. I am scared. Mostly, I just want to get started. Writing helps me organize my thoughts, sift through my emotions, and steel my heart, so I offer this up as my trip approaches.

***

Friends and family are asking me, “Why are you doing this?”

The short answer is: To stop the pipelines. First and foremost, we have to keep pipelines carrying fossil fuels off of First Nations’ land. Corporations have no right to be there. The Canadian government has no right to be there. None of us – but the Wet’suwet’en and whomever they allow – have a right to be there.

After that, we must stop the pipelines from being built anywhere. The cost of fossil fuels fluctuate tremendously and the longer we can delay these projects the less profitable they become and the more likely the corporations will give up. In a world suffocating from the burning of fossil fuels, increased consumption of fossil fuels is simply something life cannot afford.

Of course, it may be too late to save the planet. We may have pushed the world past the tipping point while we squabbled amongst ourselves asking whether climate change was really happening, while we placed our faith in a false God that told us we’d find reality when we were dead, and, finally, while we listened to a seductive science that told us we were too smart to let this happen, even while it was happening.

One thing is for certain, though, it is not too late to go down swinging. It’s not too late to die with honor. It’s not too late to achieve the satisfaction of a spiritually peaceful death that can only come with the dignity of earned bravery.

***

Another answer is my spirit tells me I have to go.

When I read the calls for volunteers from groups of people putting their bodies on the line to save their corner of the world, I feel like a liar ignoring them. My spirit recoils and I begin to feel that dark sickness that only comes from lying to myself.

Jack D. Forbes, in his diagnosis of western culture Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Imperialism, Exploitation, and Terrorism explains it better than I can. He writes, “Religion is, in reality, living. Our religion is not what we profess, or what we say, or what we proclaim; our religion is what we do, what we desire, what we seek, what we dream about, what we fantasize, what we think – all these things – twenty-four hours a day. One’s religion, then, is ones life, not merely the ideal life but the life as it is actually lived.”

I say I love the world. I say I love pristine snow on towering, rocky peaks. I say I love the feel of pine nettles on my bare feet, the sight of a baby black bear pawing a bee hive for honey, and the sight of two lover hummingbirds chasing each other around purple and yellow flower patches. I say I love drinking clean water, the taste of salmon, and the gentle wash of sunshine on my bare chest.

I say I love the world. But, when I know the world is being destroyed, when struggling people call for my help, and when I ignore them failing to act, how can I be anything but a liar?

***

Before I go, I know I must be adequately prepared. I just finished reading Simon J. Ortiz’s prologue to his book of poetry, Going for the Rain, and he explains what this preparation may look like, “A man makes his prayers; he sings his songs. He considers all that is important and special to him, his home, children, his language, the self that he is. He must make spiritual and physical preparation before anything else. Only then does anything begin.”

So, I ask myself, what is important and special to me?

The most important thing to me is a livable world. Breathable air. Drinkable water. Soil that can grow food. What could be more important than these things? Without a livable world, we have nothing. And all these things are under attack.

I consider my home.

I’ve written that I have given up on finding a home in North America. For me, a home built on the backs of conquered peoples and tortured natural communities, in uninhabitable, and I refuse to claim it as mine. I will not lay roots in a soil fertilized with the blood of the murdered.

This does not mean, however, that the world in general is not my home. In fact, it is the only home we have.

I also have no problem claiming my interpersonal relationships as types of abstract homes. My dependence on my parents for life as a child, my dependence on my parents and little sister for human connection, and my dependence on my friends for companionship all form a type of home for me. I must be careful to explain, however, that the current arrangement of power makes many of these relationships shabby imitations of what they would be if it were possible to grow true roots in a true home. My sister, for example, lives in Tennessee and my parents in San Francisco making it more likely that I associate their voices with my cell phone instead of their real bodies.

Oh, yes, I could move in with my parents. I could forsake the resistance to build a home (and by home I really mean a shoddy imitation of a home, or a home made available to me through murder and slavery which as I have said before is no home at all). I could settle into a permanent relationship with all the compromises that come with one, settle into a full-time job where I would spend most of my waking hours working to make someone else money, and sign a long-term lease committing myself to paying someone for letting me stay in one physical location.

But these types of home – if that’s what we can call them – are a luxury we simply cannot afford right now. When the hangman’s noose slips around your neck, your only worry is removing the noose.

***

I do not have any children, so the next thing I ponder is my language.

First, though, I think it is important to explain that Ortiz is an Acoma from what is now-called New Mexico and his language and culture have been under attack for over 500 years. Knowing this adds significance when Ortiz says we must consider our language. For the Acoma, maintaining their language, in the face of a culture hell-bent on silencing it, is an act of resistance in itself.

The only language I know how to speak is English and oftentimes I hate it. English has long been the language of conquerors from the colonization of Ireland and the outlawing of Irish Gaelic to American forces in Afghanistan screaming at villagers to “Face the wall! Face the fucking wall!

But, nonetheless, I love my language when it is used in defense of people and natural communities. My deepest love of language comes in the form of poetry and I agree with the poet Lew Welch when he wrote, “For I think that poetry is the intense telling of a thing, and that the intense way is always the clear way…” Additionally, my friend, the Poet Laureate of Milwaukee, WI, Jim Chapson, once told me “poetry is like a prayer. You just do it.

I love writing poetry and I love the English language when it forms a good poem. Borrowing from Welch, I see my own poetry as my intense telling of my search for a spiritual connection to the land. Borrowing from Chapson, I pray through my poetry that we can save the world and poetry will still be possible. But, to return to Forbes’ statement about religion, I know that poetry and prayer are not enough. I must go to the Unist’ot’en Camp to make chopping wood, digging post-holes, and preparing food my religion.

***

The final thing Ortiz considers before his poetic journey in Going for the Rain is “the self that he is.”

Who am I? I am my history, of course. I am my childhood, my Catholic upbringing, my father’s son, my mother’s son, the suicide attempts, the kisses I’ve given, the tackles I made on college football fields, several surgeries, a whole lot of Phish shows (48 to be exact), nights in Joshua Tree under the stars, and the tears streaming down my face seeing yet more destruction.

I am my body, too. The dark brown hair I wear long so that the wind can play with it. The blue eyes that seem to get red too quickly causing people to think I’m perpetually high. The long legs – too skinny – and shoulders that slouch – can’t help it. I’m a big nose that develops an unexplainable white line on the bridge when I get sunburnt.

More importantly, I am my relationship to everything. I am the air that you exhale and I breathe in. I am the coffee I just drank. I am the sun that grew the coffee bean, the soil that housed it, and the water poured over it. I am those two lover hummingbirds that are still chasing each other around making me laugh.

It would be correct to say that everything that I have written here is the self that I am, but it certainly is not all of it. The truth is, I am not sure how to guide a reader through my process for finding the self that I am.

I hope it will suffice to say: All of this is me. And more.

***

It is time to go, now.

I am as ready as I can be to get to work. Please join me in fighting for what you love wherever you are. Life needs all the help it can get.

Free Will – Derrick Jensen

Derrick Jensen

It is almost impossible to talk about free will without talking about insanity. Most of us are by now, of course, almost completely insane.

Force is an expensive and inefficient way to exploit. This is as true on the grand social level as it is on the familial. From the perspective of those in power, it’s more desirable to get those you exploit to participate in their own victimization.

One way this can happen is through mystification, where an exploiter convinces victims that the violence is their fault. The abusive father, for example, might tell his children he would not have hit them had they sufficiently cleaned the dishes. This serves the function of causing the children to focus on cleaning the dishes instead of attending to the inexcusable violence of their father. Perhaps more importantly, it convinces them that if they can only be good enough at reading and responding to their abuser’s everchanging wants, they might not get beaten. The question as it relates to free will becomes: if they clean the dishes obsessively and perform every other obeisance, all without him beating them anymore, are they then doing these of their own free will?

We can ask similar questions about the actions of black people facing the threat of lynching. If you are a poor black farmer, having seen your neighbor hanging long-necked from a bridge, if you give up your crops or farmland to white farmers, are you doing so of your own free will?

In 1957 in Montgomery, Alabama, four Ku Klux Klan members kidnapped Willie Edwards, Jr., beat him, took him to a bridge, and forced him at gunpoint to jump. Faced with the choice between certainly being shot and possibly surviving the fall, did Willie Edwards, Jr., jump of his own free will?

Note that we’ve slid across some sort of boundary here, from victims convinced of their own culpability to the elimination of choice such that it actually becomes in the best interests of the victims to choose the lesser of two very great evils. They are now not merely convinced they should participate in their own victimization; they are forced to.

There are extreme political ramifications to this reduction in choice. One of the most brilliant things the Nazis did was to coopt rationality, and to coopt hope. They created circumstances such that at every step of the way it was in the Jews’ rational best interests not to resist. Would you rather get an ID card, or resist and possibly get killed? Would you rather take a journey on a cattle car, or resist and possibly get killed? At each step, choices have been reduced such that the victims participate “of their own free will.”

I experienced the process not long ago, with consequences much less severe. An airport security agent ran her fingers beneath the waistband of my pants. I asked what she was doing.

She responded, “This is for your safety and the safety of others.”

“You putting your hand inside my pants doesn’t make anyone safer,” I said.

“Flying is a privilege, not a right. If you don’t like it, stay home.”

I began to disagree, and she motioned to a nearby cop. I had a plane to catch, and so I had a choice: I could make a scene and possibly get arrested, or I could get the hell out of Austin, Texas. I got the hell out of Austin, Texas.

But to choose, to really exercise free will, you must also have the opportunity to not choose. Willie Edwards Jr did not have the opportunity to not choose. Nor, for the most part, do most of us. Would you like to vote Republican or Democrat? (Note that even not voting does not protect you from the outcomes of the vote.) Would you like to work for ibm or Microsoft? Try leaving the wage economy and becoming a hunter-gatherer. Try, as a community, not allowing those in power to have access to – that is, exploit – your landbase, and then the rest of us can take bets on how long before the tanks roll in, and how long until it’s you hanging long-necked from a bridge.

Before we move to the terminal stage of this process there’s one other condition we need to talk about. One of the most common and necessary steps taken by an abuser in order to control a victim is to monopolize the victim’s perception. That is one reason abusers cut off victims from family and friends: so that in time victims will have no standard other than the abusers’ by which to judge the abusers’ worldviews and behavior. Behavior that would otherwise seem extraordinarily bizarre (How crazy is it to rape one’s own child? How crazy is it to toxify the air you breathe?) can then become in the victim’s mind (and even more sadly, heart) normalized. No outside influence must be allowed to break the spell. If the abuser is able to mediate all information that reaches the victim, the victim will no longer be able to conceptualize that there is any other way to be. At this point the abuser will have achieved more or less total control.

This is, of course, the point we have reached as a culture. Civilization has achieved a completely unprecedented and nearly perfect monopolization of our perception, at least for those of us in the industrialized world. Nearly all of our sensory input is mediated by our fellow civilized. I’m typing these words sitting in a manufactured chair staring at a manufactured computer screen, listening to the hum of a manufactured computer fan. To my left are manufactured shelves of manufactured books, written by human beings. Civilized, literate human beings, who write in English (languages, many of them indigenous, are being destroyed as quickly as all other forms of diversity, and to as disastrous an effect). To my right a window leads to the darkened outside and reflects back to me my uncombed dark hair surrounding the blur of my own face. I’m wearing mass-produced clothes, and mass-produced slippers. I do, however, have a cat on my lap. All sensory inputs save the cat originate in civilized humans, and even the cat is domesticated.

Stop. Think about it. Every sensation I have comes from one source: civilization. When you finish this paragraph, put down the magazine for a few moments, and check out your own surroundings. What can you see, hear, smell, feel, taste that does not originate in or is mediated by civilized human beings? Frogs singing on a Sounds of Nature CD don’t count.

This is all very strange. Stranger still – and extraordinarily revealing of the degree to which we’ve not only accepted this artificially imposed isolation, but have actually turned our insanity into a perceived good – is the way we’ve made a fetish and religion (and science, for that matter, and business) of attempting to define ourselves as separate from – even in opposition to – the rest of nature. Civilization isolates all of us, ideologically and physically, from the source of all life. We do not believe trees have anything to say to us, nor stars, nor coyotes, nor even our dreams. We have been convinced that the world is silent save for civilized humans.

Try this: take a moment and attempt to conceptualize nonownership of land. That is, an end, abrupt or otherwise, to the right of a few to force other people to pay for the right to actually exist on the planet (it’s called rent). Having been fully enculturated, perhaps you cannot even imagine nonownership of land, or see how the power to control access to land is maintained through a combination of social convention and force. You may, if you are a member of the police or military, or just a good citizen, kill to protect the right of land ownership, even to your own detriment. This is how it can also begin to make sense that those in power have the right to toxify the planet. If you’ve been sufficiently enculturated, you may refuse to recognize that there has ever been any other way to be, and you may, once again, oppose those who oppose this toxification. This is how we can come to believe that production is more important than human or nonhuman life.

You can list your favorite delusion.

Free will at this point becomes almost meaningless, because by now the victims participate of their own free will – having long-since lost touch with what free will might be. Indeed, they can be said to no longer have any meaningful will at all. Their will has been broken. Of course. That’s the point. Now, they are workers. They are productive members of this great and benevolent structure of civilization that brings good to all it touches. They are happy, even if this happiness requires routine chemical assistance. There is no longer any need for force, because the people have been fully metabolized into the system, have become self-regulating, self-policing.

Welcome to the end of the world.

Fortunately, however, there do still exist people – mainly the poor, people from nonindustrialized nations, and the indigenous – who still have primary connections to the physical world. And fortunately, also, the physical world still exists, and all of us can at the very least reach out to touch trees still standing in steel and concrete cages, we can see plants poking up through sidewalks, breaking cement barriers that don’t quite keep them from feeling the sun. I would hope we can learn from these plants and ourselves break through our barriers. I would hope we can see or feel our way to remembering what it means to be a free human being – we certainly must remember deep deep in our flesh and bones and organs – and to remember the joy that can come from standing on our own hind legs, from saying No! I do not know if free will can be entirely eradicated. I do know that it remains in some of us, as crazy as the system makes us all, as much as we have come to tolerate.

 

Original article by Derrick Jensen, published by Adbusters May 2003

Two Central Texas Salamanders Receive Endangered Species Act Protection

A big win for two cool salamanders: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected the Austin blind salamander and the Jollyville Plateau salamander under the Endangered Species Act and designated 4,451 acres as critical habitat for the rare amphibians.

A big win for two cool salamanders: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected the Austin blind salamander and the Jollyville Plateau salamander under the Endangered Species Act and designated 4,451 acres as critical habitat for the rare amphibians.

Original post by The Center for Biological Diversity

Two Central Texas Salamanders Receive Endangered Species Act Protection

More Than 4,400 Acres of Critical Habitat Also Protected

AUSTIN, Texas— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected two Texas salamanders under the Endangered Species Act and designated 4,451 acres as critical habitat for the rare amphibians. The decision to protect the Jollyville Plateau salamander and Austin blind salamander was spurred by a landmark settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity in 2011 that is expediting federal protection decisions for 757 imperiled species across the country.

“This is a critical step toward saving these two salamanders that live nowhere else in the world. But we can’t forget that it’s also an important step for the region’s long-term water quality and health,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center lawyer who works to save imperiled amphibians and reptiles. “Protecting the clean water and habitat that these salamanders need will also protect all the plants and animals that share their landscape, including humans.”

The fully aquatic salamanders live in springs in Travis and Williamson counties in central Texas. They require clean, well-oxygenated water and are threatened by activities that pollute or reduce water flow to their aquatic habitats. Austin blind salamanders are now protected as an “endangered species” with 120 acres of protected habitat, and Jollyville Plateau salamanders are protected as a “threatened species” with 4,331 acres of protected habitat.

“Endangered Species Act protection for the salamanders also protects the springs that give drinking water and recreation to Texas communities,” said Adkins Giese. “These Texas salamanders cannot survive in waterways polluted with pesticides, industrial chemicals and other toxins so they are excellent indicators of the health of the environment.”

The Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders have spent years waiting in line for federal protection. As part of an agreement with the Center, the Service agreed to issue protection decisions for them by the end of 2013.

The Service today also announced a six-month extension for its final decision on the Georgetown salamander and Salado salamander, two other salamanders the agency proposed to protect last year.

Species Highlights

Austin blind salamander (Travis County): The Austin blind salamander has external, feathery gills, a pronounced extension of the snout, no external eyes and weakly developed tail fins. It occurs in and around Barton Springs in Austin. These springs are fed by the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer, which covers roughly 155 square miles from southern Travis County to northern Hays County. The salamander is threatened by degradation of its aquatic habitats from pollutants such as pesticides and fertilizers. Another threat to the Austin blind salamander and its ecosystem is low flow conditions in the Edwards Aquifer and at Barton Springs.

Jollyville Plateau salamander (Travis and Williamson counties): Jollyville Plateau salamanders that occur in spring habitats have large, well-developed eyes, but some cave forms of Jollyville Plateau salamanders exhibit cave-associated morphologies, such as eye reduction, flattening of the head and dullness or loss of color. The salamanders’ spring-fed habitat typically occurs in depths of less than 1 foot of cool, well-oxygenated water. The animals live in the Jollyville Plateau and Brushy Creek areas of the Edwards Plateau in Travis and Williamson counties. Scientists have observed significant population declines for the salamander, likely as a result of poor water quality from urban development.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Feds Move to Protect Northern Az Wildflower, Cite Mining Threats

Photo credit: Lee Hughes/Bureau of Land Management

Original post by Evan Bell, Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the Gierisch mallow endangered Tuesday, and proposed more than 12,000 acres in Arizona and Utah as critical habitat for the desert wildflower.

The orange perennial flower is found only in Mohave County, Arizona, and Washington County, Utah, and can only grow in “gypsum soil” found in those counties.

But that soil is also the source of gypsum used to produce construction materials such as drywall. As construction picks up, increased gypsum mining could threaten the endangered flower‘s habitat, the government said, along with recreational activities on public lands and unauthorized use of off-road vehicles.

In addition to creating critical habitat for the plant, other measures called for in the government’s action include seed management, creating “managed plant reserves” and “limiting disturbances.”

All of the land involved belongs to either the U.S. Bureau of Land Management or the Arizona State Land Department.

“The ruling should not impact any legal authorized activity” on the land, said Brian Wooldridge, a biologist for the Fish and Wildlife’s Arizona Ecological Services.

But Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner called the decision “very unfortunate.”

“BLM actually said the wildflower was doing fine or better,” Gardner said. He called it just an attempt by Fish and Wildlife to “shut the gypsum mining down.”

But environmental groups, which have been calling for years for the mallow’s protection, welcomed the news.

“We’re hopeful that this is going to save the plant from extinction,” said Taylor Jones, an endangered species advocate for the WildEarth Guardians. The advocacy group has been lobbying the government since 2007 to list the wildflower as an endangered species.

“We think that this is going to be the only way to protect this very small population from threats in the area,” Jones said.

The Federal Register notice announcing the decision concluded that, with an improving housing market, gypsum mining will make a return. There are two gypsum mines in the critical habitat area, one in operation and one that is currently shut down.

The government said such mining poses a “significant threat” to the species that could wipe out “46 percent” of the mallow’s habitat.

BLM has authorized expansion of the one operating mine, the Black Rock Gypsum Mine, into the flower’s habitat, but it could take years for that expansion to occur, the notice said.

“We work with land management agencies to determine if the project will have an adverse effect on the species and its habitat,” Wooldridge said.

But Jones said the Endangered Species Act is often too “flexible,” often blocking only about “1 percent” of activity to protect a listed species. The prospect of mining and other activity in the flower’s habitat concerns activists.

“When you have a really small population that is being hemmed in, bounded and under pressure, the more likely it is that an event will wipe it out,” Jones said.

The Gierisch mallow, which is found only in Mohave County, Arizona, and Washington County, Utah, has been declared endangered by federal officials, who want to designate 12,000 acres as critical habitat for the desert flower. Mallow facts Details on the endangered Gierisch mallow from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: - Description: A flowering perennial of the mallow family. Multiple flowers are orange on dark-red or purple woody stems that grow 1.4 to 3.4 feet tall. - Habitat: Found only on gypsum outcrops in northern Mohave County, Arizona, and adjacent Washington County, Utah, at elevations of about 3,500 feet. - Reasons for decline: Mining operations and unauthorized off-roading have damaged habitat; additionally, trash dumping and illegal target shooting have had an impact.

The Gierisch mallow, which is found only in Mohave County, Arizona, and Washington County, Utah, has been declared endangered by federal officials, who want to designate 12,000 acres as critical habitat for the desert flower.Details on the endangered Gierisch mallow from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

– Description: A flowering perennial of the mallow family. Multiple flowers are orange on dark-red or purple woody stems that grow 1.4 to 3.4 feet tall.

– Habitat: Found only on gypsum outcrops in northern Mohave County, Arizona, and adjacent Washington County, Utah, at elevations of about 3,500 feet.

– Reasons for decline: Mining operations and unauthorized off-roading have damaged habitat; additionally, trash dumping and illegal target shooting have had an impact.

 

Moapa Dace Continues Its Baby Boom

Original Post by Vernon Robison, Moapa Valley Progress

USFWS biologist Lee Simons watches as Darrick Weissenflugh snorkels through a Warm Springs stream counting dace. PHOTO BY VERNON ROBISON/Moapa Valley Progress.

It has been another good year for the Moapa dace. The population of the endangered fish has more than doubled over the past two years, according to a survey conducted last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

On August 6-7, biologists conducted their bi-annual snorkel survey of the Warm Springs area. Donning face masks, snorkels and wetsuits, the scientists slogged through the shallow waters of 17 stream reaches at the headwaters of the Muddy River counting the finger-sized dace one by one.

What they found was encouraging. The results turned up a total of 1,727 dace. That is a 46 percent increase over the 1,181 fish observed a year ago, and a 41 percent increase just since February, when the most recent survey was conducted and found 1226 fish in the stream.

“It’s good to see these numbers,” said USFWS Biologist Lee Simons. “It tells us that we are heading in the right direction. We have found what has gone awry and fixed it.”

Simons attributes the comeback of the dace population to the careful restoration of habitat that has been ongoing in recent years. Key to that has been returning the stream flow to a more optimal foraging environment for the tiny fish.

The Moapa dace, which is found only in the artesian spring-fed headwaters of the Muddy River, is a warm water fish that is adapted to somewhat rapid stream flows, Simons said.

“They dart in and out of the current feeding off of the flow,” Simons said. “That stream flow is like a conveyor belt carrying food. The dace dive into the fast water and pick it up.”

Simons claims that modifications to that natural stream flow; made, in the past, by agricultural and recreational infrastructure at Warm Springs; were what originally set the dace on the path to being an endangered species.

“We have said that if we can produce the optimal habitat, the dace will reproduce again and come back,” Simons said.

The numbers now seem to be bearing that out. The dace have not been seen in these numbers since the mid 1990s. During that time, the fish count plummetted from around 3,800 fish down to 1,000 with about five years.

Scientist attributed this sudden drop to the arrival of an invasive species to the area at that time: the tilapia. The much larger tilapia fish preyed upon the dace causing the disappearance of the native fish in some of the lower reaches of the stream.

So in recent years, a chemical eradication program has been employed to eliminate the tilapia from the system. But it is a problematic task.

“It is like a cancer where you have to kill every single cancer cell or it might come back,” Simons said. “We have to get every tilapia out of the system or the species will suddenly bounce back.”

By 2010, scientist thought that they had eradicated the tilapia. But in August 2011, a small infestation of the species popped up in the south Fork. The Nevada Department of Wildlife was called in quickly for another chemical eradication treatment which seemed to stop the relapse before it spread, Simons said.

Still, scientists are watching vigilantly for any signs of a tilapia come-back. No tilapia were reported in last week’s snorkel survey.

But the dace have yet to return to those lower reaches of the stream. The entire dace population is currently concentration in the upper reaches of the stream under the management of USFWS and the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA).

The most dramatic increase in fish population has occurred in newly restored spring flows on the Warm Springs Natural Area, owned by the SNWA. In stream reaches #2 and #3, which are located near what was traditionally the “home ranch” area of the old Warm Springs ranch, the dace population numbers have exploded. In reach #2, there were 310 dace counted this month, compared to 79 from last August (139 last February). In reach #3, 248 were counted, up from only 31 in August 2012 (127 last February).

The numbers in Pedersen Springs reach #5, which flows through the Moapa Valley Wildlife Refuge, has decreased to 85 fish, down from 94 last August (128 in February).

Just downstream and across the street, on SNWA property, reach 5.5 has also seen a decrease from the 376 observed in August 2013 to 318 observed last week. But that is still up from the 244 fish that were observed there in February.

Though this month’s survey shows a very positive increase for the dace population, there is still a long way to go before the fish is considered to be out of danger. The USFWS recovery plan for the dace sets delisting goals at 6,000 fish in five springs systems for five consecutive years, restoration of 75 percent of the historic habitat and effective control of non-native, invasive fish.

Click here to view the Dace Graph from 1994 to 2013.

Desert Plant Deemed Endangered

Original post by Stina Sieg, KJZZ
08/13/2013

BLM

The Gierish mallow, found only in Arizona and Utah, is now protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. It’s estimated that only 18 groups of mallows remain in the Southwest. (Photo courtesy of Lee Hughes-Bureau of Land Management)

A Southwestern shrub is now protected under the federal Endangered Species Act

The Gierish mallow is only found in Arizona and Utah. The “mallow,” as it is sometimes called, can grow up to 3.5 feet tall with delicate, orange blossoms. It thrives in gypsum-rich soil, and that is the problem. Gypsum mining has eroded its habit.

Jeff Humprey with U.S. Fish and Wildlife said the plant is the 59th protected species in Arizona. He added that endangered plants do not get the fanfare of endangered animals, which he calls more “charismatic.” Still, he said all endangered species are treated equally under the law.

“There’s an inherent value to an organism, whether it’s charismatic or not,” Humprey stressed, “and it’s recognized in the Endangered Species Act that we are not to make that distinction. These all and each should receive protection when it’s merited.”

More than 12,000 acres of public land have been deemed critical habitat for the Gierish mallow, so federal agencies must consult with Fish and Wildlife before permitting any activities on that land that could harm the plant’s viability.

Jaguar Threatens Open-pit Mine Plan in Southern Arizona

51cbc71b8b604.preview-620

by Tony Davis / AZ Star

A male jaguar has roamed the Santa Rita Mountains’ eastern flank for at least nine months, photos obtained from the federal government show.

The remote cameras have photographed the big cat in five locations on seven occasions since October.

Three times, the federally financed remote cameras photographed the jaguar immediately west of the proposed Rosemont Mine site in the mountains southeast of Tucson.

The photos were taken for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by University of Arizona cameras as follow-up after a hunter gave state authorities a photo of a jaguar’s tail that he took last September in the Santa Ritas.

The sightings next to the mine site were at roughly the same location where the earlier jaguar tail photo was taken, wildlife service officials said. Other photos ranged from two to 15 miles from the mine site.

The photos were provided to the Star this week by Fish and Wildlife in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. All were taken at night of the nocturnal beast. They show the jaguar, an endangered species, running, walking or standing in rocky, grassy terrain.

This is the only jaguar known to live in the United States since the 15-year-old known as Macho B died in Arizona in March 2009.

51cbc58b8e150.preview-620

“Best habitat we have”

The photos were taken within federally proposed critical habitat for the jaguar, on which the wildlife service is scheduled to make a decision on Aug. 20.

While this habitat isn’t as good for jaguars as what exists in Mexico, said Jean Calhoun, an assistant field supervisor in the service’s Tucson office, “It’s the best (jaguar) habitat we have.”

The area where the photos were shot has prey for the jaguar – deer and javelina – “so as long as there is food available, he is able to hang around there,” said Tim Snow, a Game and Fish Department nongame specialist.

“To me, it’s not a whole lot different” than Macho B, who came and went to different mountain ranges in Southern Arizona. Macho B would stay in the Baboquivari Mountains for awhile, and then move back down to the Atascosa Mountains, and in between authorities didn’t know where he went.

The current male jaguar was photographed in the Whetstone Mountains south of Benson in November 2011.

The photos were released as the wildlife service and the Forest Service are wrapping up a draft biological opinion regarding the proposed Rosemont copper mine’s impacts on the jaguar and nine other federally protected species, including the lesser long-nosed bat, the Chiricahua leopard frog and the ocelot. The wildlife service hopes to get a draft of the opinion to the Forest Service in a week to a week and a half, Calhoun said.

In an earlier biological assessment, the Forest Service wrote the mine is “likely to adversely affect” the jaguar. The biological opinion is supposed to examine measures that can ease a project’s impacts on an endangered species.

The jaguar’s continued presence in the Santa Ritas and elsewhere in the “Sky Islands” mountain ranges of Southern Arizona shows that jaguars belong in this region and underscores the need to protect their critical habitat, said Sergio Avila, a large cat biologist for the environmentalist Sky Island Alliance.

“The jaguars are saying it better than anyone else that they belong here – they’re making the point, not me or my organization,” Avila said.

Is habitat really “critical”?

But the new photos don’t change Game and Fish’s view that jaguar critical habitat isn’t justified.

“That solitary male jaguar is no reason for critical habitat. We don’t have any breeding pairs,” said department spokesman Jim Paxon. “If that was critical habitat, we would still be doing the same thing that we are doing today. We are not harassing that jaguar or modifying normal activities there that are lawful today.”

Because the jaguar’s range extends from northern Mexico through Central America and into much of South America, it also is unclear how the Santa Rita Mountains can possibly be considered essential to the species’ conservation as critical habitat, said Kathy Arnold, Rosemont Copper’s vice president for environmental and regulatory affairs.

Michael Robinson, an activist for the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, disagrees. Since critical habitat is legally supposed to be areas essential for conservation and recovery, “it’s hard to see how an area with possibly the only jaguar living in the wild in the United States, how that habitat would not be essential to recovery here,” he said.

Rosemont Copper has been aware of the lone jaguar’s presence in the Santa Ritas and the Whetstones for some time, Arnold said. The company has provided some support for the federally financed camera effort, she said.

The environmentalists’ raising of the critical-habitat issue “is exactly the type of tactics we expect” at a time when release of the final Rosemont environmental impact statement is drawing near, Arnold added.

“We are confident that both the Coronado National Forest and Fish and Wildlife Service have concluded that the Rosemont project will neither jeopardize the continued existence of the species, nor adversely affect the proposed critical habitat. At worst, the project may modify this lone male jaguar’s roaming patterns,” Arnold said.

Coronado National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch said, however, that the Forest Service hasn’t concluded that the mine won’t jeopardize or hurt critical habitat for the jaguar since the biological report isn’t finished yet.

Coming NEXT WEEK

Coronado National Forest will release to other, cooperating government agencies, and post on its website, a preliminary version of its final Rosemont Mine environmental impact statement sometime around Monday, July 1, Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch said Wednesday. Pima County, state and federal agencies will have 30 days to comment to help the Forest Service prepare its official final environmental report, he said.