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Uranium Mining Shut Down on One Million Acres

In response to a resolution by Arizona Representative Raúl Grijalva, on Wednesday the House Natural Resources Committee voted overwhelmingly to enact emergency protections from uranium mining for 1 million acres of public lands around Grand Canyon National Park. This comes just two months after the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and the Grand Canyon Trust won a court order against the Kaibab National Forest stopping uranium drilling near the national park until a more thorough environmental analysis is conducted.

Grijalva has already introduced the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act, a bill that would permanently ban uranium mining in the same area, and his concerns about the impacts of uranium development have been echoed by scientists and government officials alike. Since uranium prices recently spiked, uranium projects have been popping up like crazy in the Grand Canyon area, posing a threat to water, public health, and unique desert ecosystems. Wednesday's vote should force the Secretary of the Interior to immediately protect public lands near the canyon from uranium extraction for three years.

Learn more from the Arizona Republic.

Center Initiates Legal Strategy to Enforce Uranium Mining Ban

Just in case Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne continues to allow uranium development near the Grand Canyon -- that is, in case he ignores both Congress' vote and the law -- the Center for Biological Diversity has filed a petition under the Administrative Procedures Act. Our petition reminds Kempthorne of his legal obligations to respect the House Natural Resources Committee's decision and immediately withdraw from uranium mining all lands subject to protection under Grijalva's Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act.

You know, just in case.

Learn details in our press release, where you can also read our petition and Congress' resolution.

Feds Make Amends to Cheated Desert Plant

In the wake of a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, on Tuesday the administration agreed to throw out a politically tainted decision not to protect the habitat of the Lane Mountain milk-vetch, one of the most critically endangered plants in California. A soil-enriching, spring-flowering member of the pea family, the milk-vetch is down to just four populations living in the central Mojave Desert, most of which have been growing within the boundaries of the Fort Irwin military base -- right in the middle of army tank-training grounds. Yet in 2005, following an administration trend to ignore science when making endangered species decisions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided not to protect any habitat for the plant, leaving it with exactly zero acres guaranteed to be tank-free.

Since 2001, the Center for Biological Diversity has sued twice over this unique plant's lack of protected habitat. Now, the administration must propose new habitat protections by 2010, with a final decision due the next year.

Read details in the Barstow Desert Dispatch and learn about the Lane Mountain milk-vetch on our Web site.

Center Battles Polar Bear Trophy Hunters

Last week the Center for Biological Diversity, NRDC, and Greenpeace filed papers seeking to intervene in a lawsuit brought against the administration by a hunting group after the polar bear was declared "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. The Safari Club, a trophy-hunting advocacy organization, is apparently miffed that the bear has been deemed federally protected -- even though the greatest threats to the species, global warming and oil and gas development, aren't being combated by federal agencies at all (to put it mildly).

The Center, NRDC, and Greenpeace, which first petitioned to protect the polar bear back in 2005, are challenging the administration's failure to fully protect the polar bear -- and we're not about to let hunters threaten the species, either.

Read more in The Standard.

California Plants in the Hot Seat

Global warming doesn't just threaten cute mammals like the polar bear and pika -- it has devastating implications for plants, too. In fact, as a new UC Berkeley study revealed Tuesday, hotter temperatures and changing precipitation patterns could eliminate two-thirds of California's native plants from much of their ranges within the century. That's because while animals can at least move to higher altitudes when temperatures rise, plant migration is devastatingly slow, and soon many California species may have to shift 100 miles or more to find suitable conditions -- a feat made all the harder given manmade obstacles like suburban sprawl.

Half the plant species that grow only in the lower 48 states are unique to California, and native plants support 10 to 50 times as many species as nonnative plants. Tuesday's study lends new urgency to the fight against climate change, both within and outside of California.

Read more in the Los Angeles Times and check out the report itself.

Study Shows Citizens Support Wolf Recovery

Last week a new poll revealed that the endangered Mexican gray wolf has a bigger human fan base than some might have expected. The 19-question study, carried out this spring, showed that 77 percent of Arizonans and 69 percent of New Mexicans support or strongly support wolf reintroduction on public lands in their states. Most citizens in both Arizona and New Mexico agreed that "the wolf is a benefit to the West and helps maintain a balance of nature."

Mexican gray wolves, once completely eliminated from the United States, were first reintroduced along the Arizona-New Mexico border 10 years ago. Today, there are just over 50 wolves living in the wild -- and all of them are severely threatened by federal predator control, poaching, and trapping. The Center for Biological Diversity has been fighting for the wolf's recovery since 1990.

Learn more in the Las Cruces Sun-News and read the poll's results and questions here.

Everglades Bid Big Sugar Goodbye (and Good Riddance)

In a sweet deal for Florida's most famous wetland ecosystem, agriculture giant U.S. Sugar Corporation announced Tuesday it would pull out of no less than 187,000 acres of farmland in the heart of the Everglades, selling the land to the state for restoration purposes. For decades, the sugar industry has been violating the Clean Water Act by tainting the swamp with dirty farm runoff, but thanks to legal action by Earthjustice, U.S. Sugar agreed to start negotiations to sell the land last year (as soon as it found out it would have to clean up its act). This week's announcement means the natural water flow between the swamp and Lake Okeechobee can be restored, and the Everglades' unique habitat and many endangered species -- from sea turtles to manatees to crocodiles -- have a good chance at a fertilizer-free future.

Hear more about it from Reuters.

California Confirms Resolve Against Climate Change

It's official: Two years after the Center for Biological Diversity first challenged polluting California urban growth under the state's landmark environmental law -- the California Environmental Quality Act -- state officials have issued an advisory that all projects reviewed under the law must do their utmost to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Officials previously agreed that global warming is an enormous threat to the state, declaring that greenhouse gas emissions must be assessed and disclosed along with other environmental impacts before new development projects can move forward. And now, according to Center staff member Brian Nowicki, the new advisory "tells polluters to stop stalling and get to work making the changes we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Among other victories, in 2007 the Center won a groundbreaking case forcing growth-happy San Bernardino County to inventory and reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the California Environmental Quality Act, and we've been working to defend the law for years. We're determined to help California meet its intelligent goal of reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 80 percent by 2050.

Learn more about our campaign for California's air on our Web site.

When Frogs Fight Back

After picking up a frog while doing fieldwork in central Africa, Harvard biologist David Blackburn found his hand bleeding from frog-induced abrasions. How could a harmless amphibian cause such harm? Predators, beware: Some frogs are endowed with a license to scratch -- and the tools to go with it. In fact, a new report by Blackburn and colleagues has found that, when threatened, 11 species of African frogs can puncture the skin on the tips of their own toes, setting free a unique version of predator-wounding claws. When a certain muscle is triggered, long, sharp bones separate from nodules in the frogs' feet and protrude through the skin, ready to poke and scratch.

Now if only vulnerable amphibians everywhere could use claws against all threats -- from developers to pesticides to dams -- we wouldn't have to worry so much.

Read more in ScienceDaily.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: Grand Canyon by Edward McCain; Colorado River by Michelle Harrington; Lane Mountain milk-vetch courtesy of California Native Plant Society; polar bears by Pete Spruance; spreading navarretia by Ileene Anderson; Mexican wolves by Val Halstead, Wolf Haven International; Everglades by Moni3, Wikimedia Commons; mountain yellow-legged frog by Chris Brown, USGS.

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