Biodiversity Activist #321

October 17, 2002


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reduced the area of Mexican spotted owl critical habitat by 8.9 million acres (66%) between the proposed and final rules. It reduced the area of wintering critical habitat for the piping plover by 1.9 million acres (92%) between the proposed and final rules. The Service asserted that it was not necessary issue a new proposal or take new public comment on these massive changes.

But, the Service asserts, it can not add five acres (0.1%) to Santa Cruz tarplant critical habitat between the proposed and final rules. According to the Service, this change would require a new critical habitat proposal and a new public comment process. Instead, it excluded the area even though it admits it may be necessary for the conservation of the species.


In keeping with a legal agreement between the Center for Biological Diversity and the California Native Plant Society, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 2,902 acres of critical habitat for the Santa Cruz tarplant (Holocarpha macradenia) on 10-16-02.

A member of the aster family, the aromatic tarplant grows only in coastal grasslands and prairies- habitats highly sought after by developers. The tarplant has spiraled toward extinction as coastal grasslands give way to expensive housing developments. Just 13 native and eight experimentally seeded populations remain today, primarily near the cities of Santa Cruz, Soquel, and Watsonville.

Though the Smithsonian Institution petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Santa Cruz tarplant as an endangered species in 1975, and although it was placed on the Service’s candidate list in 1980, it was not protected under the Endangered Species Act until 2002. And that listing only came about in response to three environmental lawsuits. The failure of the Fish and Wildlife Service to swiftly list the tarplant as endangered back in the 1970s allowed massive levels of habitat destruction to occur uncontested. The last remaining natural population in the San Francisco Bay area was paved over by developers in 1993- 18 years after the Smithsonian petition and seven years before it was protected.


In keeping with a legal settlement between the Center for Biological Diversity and the Marianas Audubon Society, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to designate 30,887 acres of critical habitat on the islands of Guam and Rota to protect the endangered Mariana fruit bat, Mariana crow, and Guam Micronesia kingfisher on 10-15-02. The agency declined to designate critical habitat for the Little Mariana fruit bat, Guam broadbill, and Bridled white-eye because they are now extinct.

The Mariana fruit bat formerly inhabited mature forests on all the major islands of the Mariana archipelago. The Guam population was about 3,000 bats in the 1950s but has declined to between 300-500 individuals. The Guam Micronesian kingfisher is endemic to the island of Guam, where it is dependent upon large stands of mature native forest. It was common as late as the 1940s, declined to just 3,000 birds by the 1980s, and today is extinct in the wild. Just 63 individuals are left in the world, all of them living in zoos. The Mariana crow is one of the few corvid species to inhabit oceanic islands. It is endemic native forests on the islands of Guam and Rota. Formerly common, the species has been reduced to just 12 individuals on Guam and between 350-650 on Rota. The Rota population has declined by 38% in the past decade. All three species are threatened by forest clearing and predation by introduced brown tree snakes. Mariana crow nestlings and eggs are also being predated by introduced rats.

The case was argued by Doug Henkin of Earthjustice (Honolulu).


On 10-10-02, a federal judge ruled in favor of the Center for Biological Diversity and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in dismissing a case by agribusiness interests to strike down the listing of the Buena Vista Lake ornate shrew (Sorex ornatus relictus). The court agreed that agribusiness jumped the gun by suing based on its complaints about the proposed listing rule. Since the agency’s final listing rule sets forth the scientific reasons why the shrew is endangered, agribusiness’s focus on proposed rule was bizarrely misplaced.

With a voracious appetite, a long snout, and tiny bead-like eyes, the Buena Vista Lake ornate shrew is one of California's most intriguing mammals. It formerly inhabited the nearly one million acres of wetlands and riparian forests that ringed the massive Tulare, Buena Vista, Kern, and Goose Lakes in the southern Tulare Basin. Today 95% of the wetlands and riparian areas in the southern Tulare Basin have been destroyed, impoverishing what had once been one of North America's greatest wildlife havens. Just 57,000 acres of potential shrew habitat remain. Much of this habitat, however, is too small and fragmented to support viable shrew populations.

Fewer than 30 Buena Vista Lake ornate shrews are known to exist today. They are divided among four populations inhabiting just 575 acres scattered along a 70-mile stretch of the west side of the basin. The populations are threatened by water diversion, agricultural expansion, pesticide spraying, selenium poisoning, and drought.

The case was argued by Matt Kenna of Kenna & Hickcox (Durango).

For more information on the shrew, click here.


Geographers from the National Science Foundation, Columbia University, and the Georgia Institute of Technology are bombarding the waters of the Gulf of California with acoustic cannons reaching 220 decibels. Their goal is to map portions of the sea floor. But the earshattering noise appears to be killing beaked whales. Scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service found two dead whales near the research area and believe they were killed by the deafening noise. It is likely that more whales have been killed, but no comprehensive effort has been initiated to find out.

Many beaked whales in the Bahamas have been killed by similar noise levels projected into the ocean by the U.S. Navy. Nevertheless, the National Science Foundation says it will continue the blasting until “there is credible evidence” linking the noise to the whale deaths. The Center for Biological Diversity has informed the researchers that it will seek a legal restraining order if the sound cannons are not immediately stopped.

The Gulf of California supports one of the largest and most important beaked whale populations in the world. Please click the link below to send a letter to the National Science Foundation asking them to stop killing beaked whales.

10-12-2002: Letter of Intent to Sue
10.13.2002: Press Release
Take Action Now: use our automated system to send a letter of opposition.


On 10-23-02, the Arizona State University Environmental Law Society, the Law and Science Student Association, and the Center For Law Science and Technology will host a lecture by Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, on forest management and wildfire. Mr. Suckling will discuss the impact of a century of logging, grazing, road construction and fire suppression on federal forests and present plan restore forests to ecological health.

The lecture will be from 12:15 to 1:00, on Wednesday, October 23, 2002, in Room 114, Armstrong Hall, Arizona State University College of Law.

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