Biodiversity Activist #318
September 22, 2002


Center for Biological Diversity conservation scientist Dr. Martin Taylor joined an international team of scientists under the sponsorship of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society to produce a comprehensive monograph on global distribution of orcas or killer whales. The report was produced as a supporting document for the Government of Australia's pending petition to list orcas worldwide as a species complex under the Convention on Migratory Species.

The report lists 35 populations in the world's oceans that are possibly distinct and discusses the many threats, including global warming, fishing gear entanglement, oil and chemical pollution, loss of food resources and direct persecution by fishermen and the live-capture industry. Protection will commit party states to the development of international conservation agreements for protection of orcas. The decision whether or not to list the orcas is being made in September 2002 at the annual Conference of the Parties in Germany.

The report is available online at: Worldwide review of orcas (pdf file)


Under the terms of the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) court order, Interior Secretary Gale Norton and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must ensure cattle do not graze on nearly half a million acres of public lands from Sept 7th to Nov 7th. Eight grazing permittees must move their livestock on drought-stricken lands to protect the threatened desert tortoise.

It is scientifically shown that livestock mow down spring and fall annual plants essential to tortoise health and reproduction. The hoofed livestock also trample tortoises and their burrows, killing tortoises or wrecking their homes. The CDCA settlement was negotiated to aid desert tortoise recovery by preventing grazing on 285,381 acres of critical and 213,281 acres of essential tortoise habitat during the biologically critical spring and fall seasons.

The agreement provides moderate relief for wildlife in fall and spring, however BLM's lack of enforcement remains a problem. This spring the agency witnessed cattle illegally grazing in closed areas on public lands at least seventeen times on six allotments but failed to follow up with required enforcement actions such as fines, extension of the grazing restrictions, herd size reductions, impoundment of cattle and possible cancellation of ranchers' public lands grazing privileges.

For more on public lands ranching and a comprehensive new book on the topic.


One of the Bay Area's largest and most influential developers, Albert Seeno, Jr. of West Coast Homebuilders Inc., ordered the destruction of ponds and creeks that contained breeding populations of endangered red-legged frogs at a site where his company planned on building 3,200 homes. Seeno was well aware that the frogs lived at the site. In 1991, West Coast Homebuilders hired an environmental consulting firm that found frogs on the property. This information was relayed to Seeno orally and with a written report.

Seeno's company was charged on 6-28-02 in U.S. District Court with two counts of violating the Endangered Species Act after a dead frog was found at the site and the ponds found destroyed. The company intends to plead guilty to at least one count. The company could face a maximum of five years probation and order fines. Seeno's family has long been a political powerhouse in Contra Costa County. His father, the late Albert Seeno Sr., founded A.D. Seeno Construction Co., one of the county's biggest and most influential builders. The younger Seeno has operated Nevada casinos and built shopping malls and thousands of homes.

The amphibian, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1996, is believed to be the frog Twain wrote about in his famous short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." Red-legged frogs were once common throughout California, ranging from Shasta County to the Mexican border. But their numbers have been in steep decline in recent decades as the marshes they favor have been drained for cropland and housing tracts, and has disappeared from nearly three-quarters of its natural range. Only 10% of its original population remains.

For more information on red-legged frogs.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and BLM are in disagreement over the environmental affects of BLM's plans to open over 50,000 acres of the Algodones Dunes to off-road vehicle use. The BLM is aggressively pushing a Bush Administration plan to allow off-roading on an area currently protected by a court-ordered settlement between the BLM, off-road groups and the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Under the settlement agreement, almost 70,000 acres remain open to unlimited off-roading, while the other half of the dunes are protected for wildlife and non-motorized recreation.

The Service, charged with protecting endangered species, may issue an issue an opinion that re-opening the dunes will jeopardize the survival of the endangered Peirson's milkvetch. The BLM is urging the Service not to issue a "jeopardy opinion," and is making arguments based on an off-road industry financed report.

A key legal issue is the continued survival of endangered species on the dunes, including the Peirson's milkvetch, Algodones Dunes sunflower, Colorado Desert fringe-toed lizard, Flat-tailed horned lizard, Sand food, Giant Spanish needle and desert tortoise. All have been harmed by off-roading on the dunes. The BLM plan to remove most protection would be devastating to rare species, greatly worsen air pollution, and run off hikers, birdwatchers, Native Americans and others.

For press release.


On 9-10-02 the Center for Biological Diversity and nine other groups sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and seven cities in northern San Diego County, CA requesting a halt to development until the Multiple Habitat Conservation Program (MHCP) is completed.

The MHCP has been under preparation for ten years, yet the participating cities are permitting large projects in critical endangered species habitat and open space necessary for success of the program. Only 27% of the land inside the MHCP remains undeveloped, and continued development jeopardizes the conservation plan and calls into question the commitment of the cities to the program.

San Diego County has more rare, threatened and endangered species than any other County in the continental United States, and the MHCP is an opportunity to create a viable preserve that slows or halts species extinction in the region. Thirty-five construction projects ranging from parks and golf courses to residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural development are in the planning stages within the most biologically important areas of the MHCP. Approval of even a few of the projects puts the viability of the preserve at risk.

For more information...

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