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Post Column: Pipeline threatens rare animals' only habitats

Just like planes, migratory birds need layover time. Cranes and many waterfowl species flock toward bodies of water during that strenuous time.

One of the most essential gathering places for these birds is the Sandhills region. A series of sand dunes anchored in place by prairie grasses, the Sandhills stretch across portions of northern and western Nebraska.

Though the Sandhills receive little rain, there is a diverse array of both freshwater and saltwater habitats between many of the dunes. That is because of its location at the heart of the Ogallala Aquifer.

However, this incredibly rich ecosystem is under siege: The Keystone pipeline already cuts through the Sandhills, but an extension is also planned.

One might wonder what ecology has to do with history, but history covers absolutely everything. On Feb. 21, 1918, a parakeet named Incas died. That bird was the last known specimen of the Carolina Parakeet, the only parrot species in its habitat from Ontario to the Gulf of Mexico.

It took another 20 years to confirm that Incas was indeed the last of his kind. The mature forests where the parakeets preferred to roost were being cleared in favor of farmland. The birds were overhunted for their colorful plumage. Some farmers assumed the parrots were pests, but others recognized that the parakeets controlled the growth of cockleburs, a thorny, poisonous weed.

The grassy dunes of the Sandhills do host a number of rare species. For example, greater prairie chickens, which are listed as a vulnerable species by the World Conservation Union, can be found in much of the Sandhills.

A more unique example is the blowout penstemon, a plant named for its colonization of bare sand dunes. According to the Endangered Species Act, the plant is endangered — one step up from being extinct.

The prairie chickens and the penstemon would be at stake if the Keystone pipeline were to be extended through Nebraska once again. Extending from the Canadian province of Alberta to the Gulf Coast, the Keystone pipeline is already to blame for multiple issues.

In addition to the obvious environmental issues such as oil spills, there are countless other issues with the Keystone XL. Some have warned that if the crude oil is exported, that it will raise gas prices in the Midwest, even if the pipeline generates a few thousand temporary construction jobs.

Perhaps more frighteningly, a variety of indigenous groups fear that the pipeline will tear through sacred sites. That is the equivalent of building a Wal-Mart among Aztec ruins, which actually happened in 2005.

It’s not worth polluting the earth, carelessly killing rare organisms and desecrating holy sites for a drop in gas prices. Think of the parakeets — but furthermore, think of everything that is at risk, just to save your money on filling up your car.

Moriah Krawec is a freshman studying journalism at Ohio University and a columnist for The Post. What do you think about the Keystone XL pipeline? Email Moriah at mk141811@ohiou.edu.

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