For Immediate Release, June 5, 2007
Contact: Kassie Siegel, (760) 366-2232 x 302 or (951) 961-7972 (mobile)
Conservation Group to Sue Bush Administration for Ignoring Petition to Protect Penguins Threatened by Global Warming
JOSHUA TREE, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice today that it intends to sue the Bush administration for ignoring a petition filed in November 2006 requesting that 12 species of penguins worldwide be added to the list of threatened and endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The petition requested protection for 12 of the world’s penguin species, including the well-known emperor and rockhopper penguins, from threats including global warming and melting of the polar ice cap.
“We won’t allow the Bush administration to continue to violate the law while these penguin species march towards extinction,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center’s Climate, Air, and Energy Program. “The emperor penguin and other species need prompt protection under the Endangered Species Act, as well as immediate reductions in greenhouse gas pollution, in order to survive.”
Today’s announcement of the Bush administration’s latest legal violation comes amid activities marking World Environment Day, organized this year around the somber and timely theme of “Melting ice – a hot topic?” It comes also as the 110th Congress wrestles with the urgent need for action and the administration’s continued attempts to block progress both domestically and internationally.
“Scientific experts are telling us that global warming puts 30 percent of the world's plant and animal species at risk of extinction,” said Representative Edward J. Markey, chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. “Penguins are one of many iconic species that are in the crosshairs of global warming as the very habitat that is essential to their survival melts out from under them. We need to take bold action to address this climate crisis now in order to ensure that we avoid the most catastrophic effects of global warming on penguins and on countless numbers of species worldwide.”
Abnormally warm ocean temperatures, along with diminished sea ice, have wreaked havoc on penguin food availability in recent decades. Less food has led to population declines in penguin species ranging from the southern rockhopper and Humboldt penguins of the islands off South America and the African penguin in southern Africa to the emperor penguin in Antarctica. The ocean conditions causing these declines have been linked by scientists to global warming and are projected to intensify in the coming decades.
The emperor penguin colony at Pointe Geologie, featured in the film March of the Penguins, has declined by over 50 percent due to global warming. Krill, the keystone of the Antarctic marine ecosystem and an essential food source not just for penguins but also for whales and seals, has declined by as much as 80 percent since the 1970s over large areas of the Southern Ocean. Recent studies indicate that even under the most optimistic greenhouse gas emission scenarios, continued warming over the next several decades will dramatically affect Antarctica, the Sub-Antarctic islands, the Southern Ocean, and the penguins dependent on these and adjoining ecosystems.
Each of the petitioned penguins also faces threats in addition to global warming, ranging from introduced predators, disease, habitat destruction, disturbance at breeding colonies, oil spills, and marine pollution to direct harvest. Many of the species are also affected by industrial fisheries — either directly, such as when individual penguins are caught and killed in trawls, nets and longlines, or indirectly, through the depletion of essential prey species such as anchovy and krill. Similar fishing fleets figure prominently in the hit movie Happy Feet, which features two of the petitioned species, the emperor and rockhopper penguins.
The Endangered Species Act contains strict deadlines by which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with protection of the penguin species under the Endangered Species Act, must respond to the petition. The first finding is due within 90 days of receipt of the petition. If this finding is positive, the agency moves to the second step, which must be completed within 12 months of receipt of the petition. If the second step is also positive, resulting in a proposed rule to list the species, then the agency must issue a final listing determination within one year of the proposal. The penguin species will receive no protection under the Act until this lengthy process is completed. The notice of intent to sue filed today is a required prerequisite to suing the administration to enforce the law.
Listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act will provide broad protection to penguins, including a requirement that federal agencies ensure that any action carried out, authorized, or funded by the U.S. government will not “jeopardize the continued existence” of the penguin species.
The 12 species subject of the petition are the emperor penguin, southern rockhopper penguin, northern rockhopper penguin, Fiordland crested penguin, snares crested penguin, erect-crested penguin, macaroni penguin, royal penguin, white-flippered penguin, yellow-eyed penguin, African penguin, and Humboldt penguin. The Galápagos penguin is the only penguin species currently listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The United States , with four percent of the world’s population, currently produces about one quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases. The U.S. Government Accountability Office projects that these greenhouse gas emissions will grow by 43.5 percent through the year 2025. Leading scientists warn that just 10 more years of “business as usual” greenhouse gas emissions will commit the world to massive, rapid warming, and impacts including 20 feet or more of sea-level rise and extinction of a third of the world’s species. Despite an overwhelming body of scientific and economic literature demonstrating that any costs of reducing emissions will be vastly outweighed by the economic benefits of reducing future warming, the Bush administration has opposed all serious international and national efforts to reduce emissions.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to protecting endangered species and their habitat. Additional information, including the petition, photos, and range maps for each species, are available at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org .