With all our tribulations about immigration and building a wall, there has been little conversation about international boundaries affecting wildlife with Canada and Mexico.
Turns out, they mingle freely across borders; but political boundaries may be important regarding migrations and movements. Defenders of Wildlife recently commented on these matters from the far north to the southern deserts of the United States.
When I first flew in Alaska, I came upon a vast herd of caribou which surprised me. One is not going to see a huge number of wild ungulates in most times, so I dropped down to join these running deer.
Suddenly, they closed on me, and my Jet Ranger was surrounded by hundreds of stampeding caribou. I learned later they do this as a tactic against wolves, but it was thrilling to be almost within touching distance of so many antlered animals just outside the doors of this Bell helicopter, before I lifted back up.
They were probably members of the vast “Porcupine herd” which travels to the Arctic in breeding season and then returns later to the Porcupine River region.
The governments of Canada and United States share ownership of this large grouping of caribou that guides itself over thousands of miles every year crossing the Yukon River, and then beyond to the shores of the Arctic Ocean.
When the seasons change with freezing sleet starting to come down on their coats in early autumn, they head across Old Crow Flats toward their winter range south of the Porcupine River. 200,000 strong, they meander back and forth across frozen ground countless times without any regard for the national borders of Canada and the United States. They will seek the shelter of boreal forests.
Since 1987, this transboundary species has been protected by a formal agreement between the two nations. When no single country has authority over a particular species’ habitat, neighbors have collaborated to form agreements protecting thousands of different North American animals.
Whales, polar bears, and caribou are among those listed, including ducks and waterfowl. Canadian and U.S officials still need to redouble their efforts on North Atlantic right whales, as only 450 of these marine mammals remain. Seventeen died last year from lethal strikes from ships and fishing line entanglements.
Polar bears are suffering from global warming as the Arctic Ocean becomes seasonally more open. While they birth their cubs on land, they must hunt seals on polar ice floes, which are diminishing each year.
Canada, Norway, Russia and the United States have signed an International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears which is holding members nations to be accountable for habitat protection.
Among the oldest of the North American treaties is the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a statute designed to implement treaties that the United States now holds with Canada, Japan and Russia.
It was passed in 1918, when migrating birds were in real trouble as the passenger pigeon had just gone extinct and ladies’ Victorian hats were adorned with snowy egret plumes and even backyard birds on the brims.
More than 1,000 bird species are now protected, and it is illegal to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, or sell migratory birds. This stopped the slaughter, but also established specific hunting seasons for game birds.
In 1970, prosecutors in the United States began holding industries responsible for incidentally causing bird deaths that could have been avoided if companies refused to comply with best management practices—covering oil pits, for example, or locating wind turbines away from common flight routes.
Thanks to the MBTA, Exxon paid $125 million in fines for the deaths of 36,000 birds caused by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and BP paid $100 million for killing as many as 102,000 birds in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.
Safeguards were severely undermined by the Trump administration recently as it reinterpreted the law to free oil, gas and other industries from criminal prosecution and fines for negligent deaths. This revocation not only absolves the energy industry at the expense of the birds but may also threaten the 100-year old act itself.
Lastly, the “big, beautiful Wall” of President Donald Trump’s dreams looms as a system of barriers blocking wildlife movement along the U.S.-Mexico border, fragmenting habitat and hampering many species from shifting their range in response to climate change, like jaguars.
Defenders of Wildlife has already filed several lawsuits and plans to litigate additional cases where construction have caused long-term damage and death to wildlife that might bulldoze anything that has been a long-term habitat for some time, now.
Beyond outright physical dangers to the animal life, an intangible threat is posed to decades of regulatory cooperation with Mexican wildlife agencies and organizations. Those scientific authorities receiving antagonistic messages from Trump’s bombastic rhetoric strain successful relationships. Binational cooperation takes a long time to build and is being eroded now.
Dave Eastman also broadcasts “Country Ecology” four times weekly over WMWV 93.5 FM. As vice president of the Lakes Region Chapter/ASNH, he welcomes you to monthly programs at the Loon Center in Moultonborough. He is available at: firstname.lastname@example.org (or) countryecology.com for consultation.