10 Most Endangered U.S. Rivers of 2018 Ranked
The annual report, now in its 33rd year, is unique in its spotlight on the Trump administration and industry-friendly members of Congress pushing policies that directly harm the iconic rivers.
"In our many years of issuing the America's Most Endangered Rivers report, we've seldom seen a collection of threats this severe, or an administration so bent on undermining and reversing protections for clean water, rivers and public health," said Bob Irvin, president of the national river conservation organization, in a statement provided to EcoWatch.
"This is the kind of destruction that will be difficult and, in some cases, impossible to reverse. If the Trump administration and its supporters in Congress succeed in rolling back bedrock environmental protections and handing over our rivers to polluters, the health, well-being and natural heritage of our nation's families and communities will be impoverished for generations to come. We cannot let that happen."
Topping this year's list is Mississippi's Big Sunflower River, home to a rich diversity of wetlands, fish and wildlife. The river is under threat from a measure that retiring Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) inserted into the Senate's 2018 Omnibus bill that would revive the Yazoo Backwater Area Pumping Plant, or Yazoo Pumps project.
The $220 million proposal to build the world's largest pump, which proponents say is necessary for flood control and would help the local economy, has been gestating since 1941. But it has long been opposed by environmentalists and even Sen. John McCain of Arizona who called it "one of the worst projects ever conceived by Congress" back in 2004. The project was vetoed in 2008 by President George W. Bush's EPA under the Clean Water Act.
American Rivers said, "In reality, this is an agricultural drainage project that would benefit highly subsidized big agribusiness while increasing flood risk downstream and harming low income communities that depend on the area's natural resources (i.e., subsistence fish and/or wildlife)."
The group warns the Yazoo Pumps project could damage more than 200,000 acres of wetlands in the Big Sunflower River watershed in the heart of the Mississippi River Flyway. More than 450 species of fish and wildlife, including the Louisiana black bear, rely on the wetlands habitat that would be drained by the project.
"The Yazoo Pumps are a boondoggle of the worst kind," said Collin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, in a statement. "Why would anyone want to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to destroy an astonishing 200,000 acres of vital fish and wildlife habitat—just to benefit a few landowners? This project is pure folly that falls apart under the slightest scrutiny."
Big Sunflower isn't the only river directly impacted by actions in Washington. Rivers of Bristol Bay in Alaska (No. 2 on the list), home to a $1.5 billion salmon fishery, is at risk from a open-pit mine project that has stalled for years but has moved forward under the Trump administration. The Lower Rio Grande in Texas (No. 4 on the list) is threatened by President Trump's controversial border wall that would block people from accessing the river, exacerbate flooding, and destroy wildlife habitat.
Austin Alvarado, a river guide on the Rio Grande, said it best, "Before it's a border, it's a river." Take action t… https://t.co/hIB8WnyorT— American Rivers (@American Rivers)1523376332.0
Here are the ten rivers on this year's list:
- Threat – Army Corps pumping project
- At Risk – Critical wetlands and wildlife habitat
- Threat – Mining
- At risk – Clean water, salmon runs, indigenous culture
- Threat – Mining
- At risk – Clean water, recreation economy
- Threat – Border wall
- At risk – River access, public safety, wildlife habitat
- Threat – Mining
- At risk – Clean water, salmon habitat
- Threat – Dams
- At risk – Habitat, recreation opportunities
- Threat – Mining
- At risk – Clean water, recreation
- Threat – Oil and gas development
- At risk – Clean water, wildlife
- Threat – Coal ash pollution
- At risk – Clean water, Wild and Scenic River values
- Threat – Dams
- At risk – Blue-ribbon trout stream
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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