Illegal "Goshawk Guidelines" Halted
Following strong opposition by the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians, this week the Cococino National Forest decided to abandon a controversial new wildlife rule -- in its first attempt to implement the rule, on a timber sale near Flagstaff, Arizona. Introduced in 2007, the new rule would completely rewrite a 1996 rule, brought about by Center action, that regulates logging intensity to protect Southwest habitat for the northern goshawk and its prey. Far from protecting the big, old trees the imperiled goshawk needs to survive, the 2007 "goshawk guidelines" would allow for a 90-percent forest-canopy reduction in 11 national forests across Arizona and New Mexico.
As proved by emails obtained by the Center, the goshawk guidelines had no public or environmental review and went forward despite alarm that they would violate regional forest plans. Luckily, says the Center's Taylor McKinnon, "If the new rule can't be used legally [in this case], it can't be used in any Arizona or New Mexico national forest."
Get all the details in our press release, where you can also read the decision, revealing emails, and other key documents.
Senators, Scientists Tell Kempthorne: Don't Mess With Endangered Species Act
Two weeks after Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne made his appalling proposal to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act, seven U.S. senators and thousands of scientists came to the defense of our nation's most prized species conservation law. This Monday, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, and four of their congressional peers sent a letter to Kempthorne requesting that the proposed changes be withdrawn -- or at the very least, that the comment period for the changes be extended to six months and include public national hearings. The very next day, the Ecological Society of America -- a nonprofit alliance of more than 10,000 ecologists -- publicly criticized the Bush administration for its attempt to pull the rug out from under thousands of imperiled plants and animals.
The proposal in question, published on August 15, would excuse potentially species-harming federal projects from review under the Act, allowing federal agencies to decide whether their own activities -- including all greenhouse gas emissions -- would hurt imperiled plants and animals, from the polar bear to the California red-legged frog. The comment period for the proposal was set at a mere 30 days, which would help the administration get the changes finalized before Bush leaves office.
Check out our Web page, where you can read the senators' letter, get details from the Ecological Society of America -- and write Kempthorne a letter of your own.
Protections Reduced for Warming-threatened Butterfly
Caving in to a legal challenge by the Home Builders Association of California, this Tuesday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service slashed habitat protections for the Bay checkerspot butterfly by nearly a quarter, failing to safeguard key habitat that would buffer the species from the effects of climate change. The Bay checkerspot, one of the country's most commonly studied invertebrates, was declared federally protected back in 1987 and now -- in addition to urban development, pesticides, overgrazing, and other threats -- it faces the overarching danger of global warming, which causes extreme weather and reduces the availability of food plants for larvae. Today, the species is found in only a few small patches of habitat in California's Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
A 2001 lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity won the Bay checkerspot almost 24,000 acres of protected habitat; the current designation awards it just more than 18,000 acres, excluding areas deemed in the butterfly's federal recovery plan to be necessary for its survival.
Check out our press release.
Drowning Risk Mounting for Alaska Polar Bears
As Arctic sea-ice levels once again reach record lows, government surveys are finding unusually large numbers of polar bears swimming in open water off Alaska -- and the bears aren't swimming for their health. While polar bears could be considered the Mike Phelpses of the bear world, even these excellent swimmers risk drowning in stormy conditions when they're in water far from land or ice. And the less sea ice there is -- thanks to global warming -- the more bears are likely to perish in open water. Surveys this month, which covered only a tiny fraction of Alaska polar bear habitat, documented 10 bears swimming in and around the Chukchi Sea. One bear was found more than 50 miles from land.
In the rule dubbing the polar bear protected under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service itself concluded that more polar bear drownings are likely to occur. Yet the Department of the Interior is now proposing to modify the Endangered Species Act to excuse federal agencies from analyzing the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on the polar bear and other protected species.
Read more in the Los Angeles Times.
Proposal Would Halve Habitat for Peninsular Bighorn
This Tuesday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dealt quite a blow to the recovery of California's endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep, proposing to shrink the bighorn's area of federally protected habitat from 844,897 acres to barely more than 420,000 -- with further reductions possible. The proposal is hardly an improvement to an October 2007 plan that cut protected habitat to 384,410 acres, resulting from a lawsuit brought by development interests. The proposed reduction would severely fragment bighorn habitat, leaving out key migration corridors and foraging areas that provide ewes with the nutrients they need to nurse their babies every year.
Peninsular bighorn, famous for their rugged tenacity and males' whopping spiral horns, were granted their current habitat protections in 2001 after a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit.
Read more in our press release.
EPA Calls Administration on Bad Fuel-economy Math
On the same day the Center for Biological Diversity officially commented on Bush's latest fuel-economy standards -- showing gaping holes in the administration's logic -- the Environmental Protection Agency itself echoed at least a few of our concerns. In its own comments submitted last week, the agency said that because the analysis behind the standards predicts laughably low future gas prices, undervalues the damage costs of carbon emissions, and doesn't account for non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions, it undercuts the benefits of reducing greenhouse gases.
The agency gave the administration's "draft environmental impact statement" a rating of "EC-2," which means it brings up environmental concerns and contains inadequate information -- certainly not the strong rejection the statement deserves. The rating does, however, mean that the administration will have to address EPA's concerns in its final environmental impact statement, due at the end of September.
Get more from Inside Washington Publishers.
Off-roaders Rerouted to Protect Rare Toad
Thanks to action by the Center for Biological Diversity, last week participants in the longest off-road vehicle race in the United States avoided key habitat for the Amargosa toad, a uniquely silent Nevada amphibian imperiled by off-road vehicles' destructive tires. After the Center challenged the Bureau of Land Management's environmental analysis of the original, 550-mile race route from Las Vegas to Reno, the agency decided the race's organizers had to redraw their route to protect areas critical to the toad's survival.
The Amargosa toad is severely threatened by habitat destruction, degradation, and fragmentation and now lives only along a 10-mile stretch of the Amargosa River and interconnected spring systems in southern Nevada's Oasis Valley. The Center petitioned to have the toad protected in February -- and we're still waiting for federal action.
Get details in our press release.
Turbines Pose Explosive Threat to Bats -- Literally
Developing alternative energy sources like clean wind energy can help reduce our environmental impact -- specifically, our greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, poorly sited wind turbines are known for threatening birds with their churning blades. And birds aren't the only flying creature affected; in fact, studies show that two bat species account for more than half of winged animals killed by the structures. But considering bats' extraordinary navigation ability, one must ask: How? The answer, a new study says, is that wind turbines' moving blades cause a drop in air pressure that makes bats' little lungs swell... and eventually explode. Kind of like when a scuba diver dives too deep, too fast.
With East Coast bats dying by the thousands from the mysterious white-nose syndrome, wind turbines are just one more threat contributing to the flying mammals' danger. The Center has filed a notice of intent to sue federal agencies if they don't ratchet up protections for Northeast endangered bats.
Learn details on the study from New Scientist.
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Photo credits: northern goshawk by Robin Silver; northern goshawk courtesy of USFWS; California red-legged frog by Dan C. Holland; Bay checkerspot butterfly (c) T.C. Davies, California Academy of Sciences; polar bear by David S. Isenberg; Peninsular bighorn sheep by Steve Elkins; exhaust pipe by Steewen1, Wikipedia; gray bat courtesy of USFWS.
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