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Immigration policy is habitat policy

author Published by Jeremy Beck

If America has a responsibility for preserving habitat and biodiversity within our borders, policymakers should look at our latest study, Population Growth and Sprawl in Texas to see how even a state as big as Texas is losing critical habitat. Since population growth drives habitat loss, and immigration policy drives population growth, immigration policy is habitat policy.

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“Habitat loss due to agriculture and overexploitation remain the biggest threats to biodiversity and ecosystems”World Wildlife Fund

Observing Endangered Species Day last week, Karen Shragg (a retired nature center director) and Henry Barbaro (an environmental scientist) say “each country in the world has the ultimate responsibility for developing a reasoned population policy based on their respective limited resources”:

….This is where America comes in. Our nation is #6 when it comes to the relative number of endangered species (475). (America has more endangered species than Brazil — #9 at 413 species.) Of course, America’s fertility ranking is rather low (#141) with 10.9 births per 1,000, but our immigration rate is extremely high.”

Immigration is adding a Los Angeles County to the U.S. every 39 months. Two-thirds of that is coming from illegal immigration. Nature doesn’t care if a person is abiding by immigration laws or not – it’s the numbers that matter. And immigration policy is driving the numbers. Habitat loss, despite mitigation efforts, is an inevitable result of adding more than 3 million people per year.

Many politicians are responding to the illegal immigration surge with proposals for changes to how people are processed, when the real issue is how many are processed. That’s what makes the House-passed H.R. 2 stand out. Unlike most other proposals, it would actually reduce illegal immigration. We are waiting for a companion bill to be introduced in the Senate.

Better Immigration is Possible

“Politicians sometimes dismiss these environmental and quality of life concerns,” writes Shragg in the Boston Herald:

Essentially, they argue that ‘We don’t need to worry about how to slice the pie to serve more and more people, we just need more pie.’

“But sometimes, there simply isn’t more ‘pie’ when it comes to our inherently limited resources….There isn’t more pie when it comes to wildlife habitat that supports threatened and endangered species.”

“Massive habitat loss like that in Texas is not some kind of secondary regional and global environmental issue;” write our study’s authors, “it may be the most critical environmental issue.”

Excerpt from the Executive Summary (click the link to read it with visuals):

“According to the World Wildlife Fund, habitat loss poses the single greatest threat to endangered species around the world. Endangered species are those rare plants or animals that, if recent trends continue, will likely become extinct within the foreseeable future, barring heroic measures to save them.

“A frightening example is the plummeting size of bird populations, many of which depend on Texas wetlands in their migrations. In North America, scientists estimate that the size of the flocks has dwindled by approximately three billion birds since 1970, a decline of around 30 percent.

“The long Texas population boom has made the state a perennial leader in the loss of habitat needed for regional and global environmental health. For instance, between 2002 and 2012, Texas lost more than twice as much habitat and farmland to sprawl as the second worst state, Florida.

“If the pace of population and urban expansion continues, many species will cease to exist in Texas (and anywhere for some), joining a long list of former natural residents. The rapidly developing North Central Texas region, for example, used to be home to the plains bison, red and gray wolves, black and grizzly bears, passenger pigeon, ivory-billed woodpecker, and pronghorn antelope. But over the last century and a half, each of those has become either extinct, federally-designated as threatened/endangered, or extirpated (eliminated) from North Central Texas. They are/were all animals that need large habitat expanses which are no longer available….

“….Even if Texans were much more inclined toward New York City-style living, the idea that more density in itself can be a solution to habitat loss disregards the essential understanding of the “ecological footprint.” If all new population could somehow be added to cities without the cities expanding over any new ground, each additional Texas resident still adds another ecological footprint beyond an urban area’s boundaries.

“All human beings and every American — even those who are conscientious and profess to be conservationists or environmentally aware — inexorably impose certain demands (or what ecologists call a “load”) on the land and resources of the biosphere through consumption and waste production and emissions (including carbon dioxide). The mere act of living with the comforts and conveniences of the modern world necessarily incurs environmental impacts, which can be reduced or mitigated through better technologies and more environmentally enlightened behaviors and virtues, but never entirely eliminated. No amount of wishful thinking or technical wizardry will ever erase our ecological footprint completely….

“…The land inside Texas boundaries does not — and cannot — sustainably provide for all those current needs of its 30 million residents. The GFN calculates that the current population of Texans greatly exceeds the “biocapacity” of the state’s ecologically productive landsthat have not been plowed under and paved over.

“According to the GFN, Texas suffers a large “ecological deficit.”That deficit occurs when the Ecological Footprint of a given population exceeds the “biocapacity” (ecologically productive lands capable of large-scale photosynthesis) of the area available to that population. Texas meets its needs by importing biocapacity through trade from elsewhere, by “liquidating” the state’s ecological assets in ways that cannot be sustained, and by emitting CO2 waste into the atmosphere that cannot be absorbed by the state’s eco-systems. (In contrast, an “ecological reserve” exists when the biocapacity of a region exceeds its population’s Ecological Footprint.)

“In 2015, GFN calculated that the per capita Ecological Footprint of Texans was 18.5 global acres while the biocapacity of Texas lands was only 6.7 global acres per resident. That left a net ecological deficit of 11.8 acres on average for each Texan. Texas is not alone in exceeding natural limits. Most states are ecologically over-populated, but Texas is among the highest.”

JEREMY BECK is a V.P., Deputy Director for NumbersUSA

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