First Bat Removed From U.S. Endangered Species List Helps Produce Tequila
The lesser long-nosed bat made bat history Tuesday when it became the first U.S. bat species to be removed from the endangered species list because of recovery, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced.
The bat, which is one of only three nectar-feeding bat species in the U.S., migrates between Mexico and the southwestern U.S. and feeds in part from the nectar of the agave plant used to make tequila. In 1988, when the species was first listed, there were only 1,000 of the bats left at 14 roosts. But due to a team effort between U.S. and Mexican scientists and government officials, as well as tribal leaders, non-governmental organizations, citizen scientists and tequila producers, the population has now rebounded to a healthy size of 200,000 at 75 roosts between the two countries. Mexico took the bat off of its endangered species list in 2015.
In a U.S. climate of diminishing environmental protections and increased border tensions, the recovery of the bat is a welcome reminder of what nations and communities can accomplish when they work together to protect the earth and its non-human species.
"The Service is proud of our strong, decades-long partnerships with very diverse stakeholders on behalf of the lesser long-nosed bat. Without partnerships and collaborations such as these, successful recovery would not be possible," FWS Southwest regional director Amy Lueders said.
Because of its habitat and food source, the bat faced a unique set of challenges, National Geographic explained. The species spends the winters in southern and central Mexico, then travels north to northern Mexico and Arizona in the spring, sleeping in a series of caves and abandoned mines along a "nectar trail."
But drug and human traffickers also used the caves. Their activities disturbed the bats' habitats, and sometimes the traffickers would kill the bats intentionally. In the push to protect the bats, groups would build "bat gates" preventing humans from entering these caves. The bats were also collateral damage in Mexico's attempts to control vampire bat populations, which spread rabies.
Further, while bats can help produce tequila, since they are a main pollinator of agave, tequila production can actually be harmful to bats. That is because, to make tequila, growers need to harvest agave plants before they flower, depriving bats of their food.
In the past, tequila growers had largely cloned blue agave plants instead of relying on pollination, but the cloning has weakened the plants to the point where 40 percent were diseased or dying in 2015, National Geographic's The Plate reported.
Scientist Rodrigo Medellin launched a program to certify tequila producers as "bat friendly" if they let a section of their agaves flower naturally as bat food, in an attempt to protect the bats and strengthen the plant's gene pool.
But the diets of lesser long-nosed bats are not entirely dependent on agave. They also drink the nectar of saguaro and organ pipe cacti, which U.S. and Mexican government agencies also worked to protect.
Other bats are not so lucky. Bat Conservation International chief scientist Winifred Frick told National Geographic that the Mexican long-nosed bat, which relies more heavily on agave, is still endangered.
"We can fully celebrate [the delisting] as a conservation win," Frick told National Geographic. "But we also need to be paying attention to species that aren't in as good a position."
Still, the lesser long-nosed bat's recovery offers a model of what is possible.
To Save Endangered Species, Scientists Point Stargazing Software Back to Earth https://t.co/NPywOuh71i @UCSUSA… https://t.co/ACDYbxYhwv— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1523283125.0
By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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