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Daily News Blog

29
Apr

Texas AG Tells Fed Endangered Habitat Should Not Stand in Way of Border Wall

(Beyond Pesticides, April 29, 2022) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS’s) plan to list a rare milkweed species, and the areas in which it grows in south Texas, as critical and endangered has garnered political pushback from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. In February, FWS announced its intention to list 691 acres of prostrate milkweed habitat in order to protect it, given its critical role in supporting monarch butterfly populations. But Attorney General (AG) Paxton sent a letter to FWS saying that the critical and endangered determination “would further destabilize Texas’s border, hindering the construction of the border wall,” and that it would risk security on the border with Mexico. FWS countered with a press release stating that, “This listing and critical habitat proposal is based on the best available science, including a species status assessment that included input and review from academia and state agencies.”

The 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA) mandates that federal agencies, in consultation with FWS and/or the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service, ensure that any actions in which they engage (whether authorizing, implementing, or funding) are unlikely to jeopardize the existence of a listed species, or have negative impacts on its habitat. The nonprofit Endangered Species Coalition cites the efficacy of the ESA, and some related difficulty: “The Endangered Species Act has been successful in keeping more than 99% of species under its wing from going extinct. . . . Species for which critical habitat have been designated are twice as likely to be trending toward recovery than those without. . . . But long delays in adding animal and plant species to the endangered list have heightened the perils and made recovery more difficult.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Pesticide Programs implements some portions of the ESA; see Beyond Pesticides’ ESA archive here.

The FWS proposal on the prostrate milkweed and its habitat arises on the heels of a 2020 lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) to prod the agency to make protective determinations on 241 plant and animal species considered by CBD to be “trending toward extinction, including the prostrate milkweed and more than 35 others in Texas.”

The 691 acres at issue are in Starr and Zapata counties — located on the border with Mexico and near to the Gulf Coast — which are located along one of two important monarch migration flyways. The annual Fall migration path runs along this Texas coast eco-corridor from approximately the third week in October through mid-November each year. In early Spring, the monarchs arrive in Texas from their overwintering grounds in Mexico, and find emerging milkweed on which to lay their eggs before they die. The larvae develop, and the next generation of monarchs continues the migration northeast to repopulate the Eastern U.S. and Southern Canada.  

As covered by Border Report, “If the prostrate milkweed were to make the list, then the area where it grows . . . would be exempt from border barrier construction. And that could halt the construction of a border wall that the state of Texas currently is building outside of the town of La Grulla. . . . [Texas] is funding millions of dollars to build its own wall, which is nearly 2 miles long and the first phase nearly complete. . . . Texas Gov[ernor] Greg Abbott has said the state plans to build more sections of wall throughout Starr County.”

AG Paxton’s letter, sent on the closing day of the FWS comment period on the proposal, also asserted, “The [endangered] designation determination must . . . account for the potential implications to border security, which implicates national security, Texas’s security and economy, and other public policy priorities, such as combatting human and drug trafficking, which are rampant in areas near the border.” He also cited costs to ranchers of “tens of thousands of dollars to repair cut fences and gates destroyed by human smugglers transporting undocumented persons through their ranches.”

Marianna Treviño-Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center (located in the next county east of Starr County) commented on the AG response to the FWS proposal: “The federal government has the ability to waive every law, including the Endangered Species Act, covering plants and animals for border wall construction. The state doesn’t have that authority, so if the state wants to continue building, they risk running amok, running afoul of the Endangered Species Act for their plans if the prostrate milkweed is listed.” She also noted to Border Report that the National Butterfly Center was to re-open on April 23 after a three-month closure due to security threats by far-right organizations. Ms. Treviño-Wright also commented on the political nature of the pushback from the state, noting that she “hopes the federal agency will decide to list the prostrate milkweed on the endangered species list to help butterflies, and to prevent future border wall construction, which she says is not necessary and militarizes the border region.”

FWS added, in defense of its proposal, “This listing and critical habitat proposal . . . will help raise awareness about the threats to this plant and inspire diverse partnerships on its behalf.” CBD’s Senior Conservation Advocate Michael Robinson noted that a federal ESA designation for the prostrate milkweed would also require federal officials to develop a recovery plan for the listed species. The prostrate milkweed (and other milkweeds) are host plants for monarch butterflies, but the plant’s shrubland habitat has been negatively impacted by the introduction of non-native buffelgrass — which is planted for livestock forage and displaces native flora — as well as by encroaching development.

More milkweed habitat destruction from border wall construction would likely threaten the very existence of the species in these Texas monarch flyway counties, according to advocates. The Endangered Species Coalition asserts that, “Construction and maintenance for roads, utilities and the oil and gas industry also destroy these plants, and additional border wall construction on the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge threatens to uproot more of them.” State botanist with the Fish and Wildlife Service in Texas, Christ Best, elaborated on the threat of buffelgrass, saying it is “a tough and invasive grass . . . that spreads far beyond where it is planted. . . . Seems like every year they’re putting in new cable or waterlines or power lines. Every time you disturb the soil, buffelgrass just jumps in and takes over.”

Monarch butterfly populations certainly do not need more challenges to their survival. They have suffered from multiple human assaults on their well-being: profligate use of toxic pesticides; habitat destruction; and climate change impacts that cause or exacerbate wildfires, droughts, and severe storm events, and can impair breeding, migration, and hibernation.

It is not only the monarchs themselves, but their food and host plants that are affected by the same forces. Insects and pollinators broadly are also extremely vulnerable. (In January 2021, Beyond Pesticides wrote about research published in Biological Conservation showing that 41% of insect species are declining and 30% are endangered, with an overall rate of insect decline at 2.5% each year.) Beyond Pesticides has covered many of these issues; learn more here, here, here, and here.

Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, made the case for the importance of protecting rare and endangered species, comparing “the importance of diverse habitats and species resilience to screws on a plane. You can lose some screws on a plane and probably make it fine and land and then they’ll fix it. At some point, if you lose enough screws on the plane, it’s going to crash. It’s the same thing with ecosystems.”

Beyond Pesticides’ latest edition of Pesticides and You, Retrospective 2021: A Call to Urgent Action, lays out the case for protecting species, ecosystems, and the humans who depend on them. The organic solutions to the many problems highlighted in the issue — based on the importance of healthy ecosystems and public health protection — are within reach. The data signal to us all the imperative for urgent action to phase out pesticides within a decade. The well-being of monarch butterflies, prostrate milkweed, and every one of us will turn, in large part, on our ability to achieve this protective milestone. If you are ready to join the movement for a healthier, sustainable, livable future, please contact us: [email protected] or 202.543.4791.

Source: https://www.borderreport.com/hot-topics/the-border-wall/rare-milkweed-species-could-threaten-border-security-operations-in-south-texas/

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 

 

 

 

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One Response to “Texas AG Tells Fed Endangered Habitat Should Not Stand in Way of Border Wall”

  1. 1
    alice jena Says:

    the border wall should not hurt endangered species or any species

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