No. 363, June 2, 2005

POMBO ANTI-ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT BILL REVEALED

   

JUDGE ORDERS RECOVERY, EXPANSION OF STURGEON CRITICAL HABITAT

   

CORALS HEADED FOR FEDERAL PROTECTION, ECONOMIC BENEFIT WILL MEASURE IN THE BILLIONS

   

ARIZONA OLD-GROWTH TIMBER SALE STOPPED

   

SUPREME COURT REJECTS DEVELOPER BID TO EVISCERATE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT

 

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POMBO ANTI-ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT BILL REVEALED

On 6-28-05, environmentalists obtained Representative Richard Pombo's summary of his planned anti-Endangered Species Act bill. Cynically called the "Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005," it actually eliminates essential habitat protections, buries wildlife agencies under a mountain of costly, inefficient bureaucracy, and encourages industry groups to paralyze the government with lawsuits over Byzantine paperwork rules. It also threatens to throw government regulation of all kinds into chaos by overturning traditional property law to make the federal government pay to regulate private property. This provision would quickly bankrupt federal conservation budgets and spawn lawsuits challenging all federal regulations.

A copy of Pombo's summary and the Center for Biological Diversity's detailed analysis is available.


JUDGE ORDERS RECOVERY, EXPANSION OF STURGEON CRITICAL HABITAT

Declaring that the Bush administration has "turned a blind" eye to the fact that the Kootenai River white sturgeon is on a "slow train to extinction," a federal judge has struck down the administration's decision to limit habitat protection to just 11 miles of the Kootenai River in Idaho's panhandle. The ancient fish was placed on the endangered species list in 1994 because it has not reproduced since the erection of Libby Dam in 1975. The dam eliminated high spring flows which formerly created spawning habitat and signaled sturgeon to head upstream to reproduce. With very little reproduction in the past 30 years, the youngest females are about 35 years old. If river management is not improved, they will become too old to reproduce and the species will become the living dead, doomed to extinction.

Recognizing the problem, the sturgeon’s federal Recovery Plan and several U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinions call on the Army Corps of Engineers to increase spring flows in order to encourage the sturgeon to move upstream to good spawning habitat. The Bush administration's critical habitat designation, however, is limited to the only place the sturgeon currently try to spawn—poor downstream habitat. Judge Malloy declared that "There is no rational explanation for the decision to limit a critical habitat designation to an area known to be failing in the recovery and survival of the species." There is, of course, an irrational explanation: limiting habitat protection to the lower reaches of the river allows the administration to ignore the Recovery Plan and avoid reforming operation of Libby Dam. Sturgeon be damned.

The sturgeon is but one example of a Bush administration policy to only designate critical habitat in areas where the species currently resides. It has abandoned even the pretext of providing for expansion and recovery of species into new areas. In the judge's words, it turned "a blind eye to the obvious—current spawning is not getting the job done."

The suit was brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and The Ecology Center. It was argued by Geoff Hickcox of the Western Environmental Law Center.

For more information.


CORALS HEADED FOR FEDERAL PROTECTION, ECONOMIC BENEFIT WILL MEASURE IN THE BILLIONS

In response to a 2004 scientific petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued a formal proposal to place the elkhorn and staghorn corals species on the endangered species list on 5-9-05. Corals are tiny animals that draw calcium from the sea to construct limestone skeletons. Over many years the skeletons become massive structures known as coral reefs. Considered the most biologically diverse habitat of the oceans, reefs provide habitat for fish, marine mammals, sea urchins, crabs, sponges and thousands of other creatures. The reefs also act as barriers protecting shorelines and shoreline development from storm-induced waves. The elkhorn and staghorn corals have been the dominant reef-builders in Florida and the Caribbean over the past 500,000 years. Their decline in just 15 years is a catastrophic ecosystem development that no scientists would have predicted 20 years ago.

Scientists have raised an alarm about worldwide coral declines in the past few years. The reef network, a group of over 200 scientists, found that up to 20 percent of the world's coral reefs have already been effectively destroyed. No corals, however, have been listed as endangered species. The staghorn and elkhorn corals formally occurred throughout the shallow reefs of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, the Keys, and Caribbean. They declined by 97 percent since the 1980s due to global warming, disease, increasing hurricane impact, and direct human damage. When sea temperatures rise, corals become stressed and expel the tiny algae that help them generate energy. This effect is known as "coral bleaching" because it eventually kills and turns the corals white. Bleaching is thought to be the leading worldwide cause of coral declines.

Listing as endangered species will protect the corals from direct killing and damage and indirect destruction from beach expansion programs, and will require establishment of protected critical habitat zones and development of a federal recovery plan; it will increase funds for research and conservation. Perhaps most importantly, it will also require that industries that produce greenhouse gasses (and the federal and state agencies that regulate them) will have to take responsibility for their cumulative impacts on the environment.

The elkhorn and staghorn corals are the first of a suite of species that will eventually be placed on the endangered list due to global warming. The Center has also petitioned to list the polar bear and Kittlitz’s murrelet (a small seabird) as endangered species and is researching several other species.

Calling elkhorn and staghorn reefs "nurseries for marine life" and noting that reef tourism is a $1.6 billion industry, the Miami Herald declared on 5-16-05: "Designating the elkhorn and staghorn as endangered would trigger more actions to protect them and, coincidentally, other Keys corals. These unique resources are priceless. Help save them by supporting the endangered listing campaign."

For more information.


ARIZONA OLD-GROWTH TIMBER SALE STOPPED

On 6-13-05, the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Southwest Forest Alliance won an administrative challenge to a massive old-growth timber sale on the Kaibab National Forest on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The Jacob Ryan Timber Sale would have logged old-growth ponderosa pine trees across about 17,000 acres and cleared a 100-foot swath of trees on each side of Highways 67 and 89A under the justification that it would "improve" the scenic quality of the forest-lined drive by reducing what the Forest Service called a "monotonous" and "tunnel-like" driving experience. Many of the largest trees on North Kaibab Plateau occur within a 100 feet of the highway because the Forest Service had previously tried to keep its logging impacts way from public view.

The North Kaibab has the best remaining stands of old-growth ponderosa pine in North America and supports the greatest known density of northern goshawks as well as the endemic Kaibab squirrel. Ruling on our appeal, the regional forester ordered the Kaibab National Forest to withdraw the plan pending additional research on likely effects to wildlife and soils.


SUPREME COURT REJECTS DEVELOPER BID TO EVISCERATE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT

On 6-13-05, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider a Texas developer's claim that core provisions of the U.S. Endangered Species Act are unconstitutional. Pressing a legal argument once attempted by Gale Norton while attorney general of Colorado, GDF Realty Investments argued that six imperiled insects should not be protected by the Endangered Species Act (or any other federal law) because they occur entirely within a single state and are not subject to interstate commerce. They argue that federal laws can only apply to issues involving active interstate commerce. As most imperiled species occur within a single state, the suit threatened to strip protection from the majority of the nation's imperiled species. The developers are pressing to build an office building, apartment and retail complexes, and a Wal-Mart on the species' habitat.


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