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Historic Pact to Protect Kootenai River White Sturgeon

Ending almost six years of litigation, this Tuesday the Center for Biological Diversity, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and state and federal agencies finally agreed on a plan that will help save North America's largest freshwater fish from extinction. The adult population of Kootenai River white sturgeon -- an Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia species that can reach up to 200 pounds -- has been dwindling at a rate of about 9 percent per year thanks to dam operations, degraded water quality, and habitat loss. In the 34 years since the completion of the Libby Dam, which breaks the Kootenai River's flow each spring, the fish's upstream migration to spawn has been pretty much halted. This week's agreement seeks to manage the dam's flows to help sturgeon reproduce, keep them reproducing, and protect other resident fish at the same time.

Listed as endangered in 1994, just this July the sturgeon was granted 7.1 additional miles of federally protected river habitat, thanks to a lawsuit brought by the Center and WildWest Institute. With luck, the great gray fish will now swim its way toward recovery.

Get details from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Bush's "All-squirrels-left-behind" Policy Strips Protection From Endangered Mammal

Federal recovery plans set forth the goals necessary to recover an endangered species and remove it from the endangered species list. The Bush administration admits the West Virginia northern flying squirrel has not met its goals. So we should increase the protection effort, right? "No," says Bush, better to ignore the recovery plan, hope no one notices, and then declare the species recovered.

Last week the Bush administration did just that in removing the West Virginia northern flying squirrel from the endangered species list, thus stripping away its habitat protection. Oh, and what about all the scientists saying that the squirrel's habitat -- old-growth spruce forests -- will entirely disappear from the eastern United States due to global warming? Ignore them, too.

We sense a lawsuit coming on.

Read more about it in the Charleston Gazette.

Just Say No: Center Challenges New Mexico Coal-fired Power Plant

Holding the Environmental Protection Agency accountable for actually protecting the environment, this Tuesday the Center for Biological Diversity appealed the agency's approval of a permit for the Desert Rock coal-fired power in northern New Mexico.

The 1,500-megawatt plant, planned for an area near three other coal-fired power plants around Farmington, would emit hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gases over its 50-year lifespan and exacerbate local contamination problems. The plant would foul the habitat of the critically endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker with mercury, selenium, and other pollutants -- at the same time adding to the global warming that exacerbates long-term drought...not exactly a good thing for fish struggling to survive.

Recently obtained documents show that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees were pressured by representatives of the company seeking the permit, Sithe Global LLC, not to consider the plant's contribution to global warming.

Given that atmospheric carbon levels are already above 350 parts per million and growing, the Center believes that no new coal mines or coal-fired power plants should be built anywhere in the world. Existing plants and mines should be shut down as soon as possible.

Get more from the Associated Press.

Polar Bear's Axis of Evil List Grows

Joining the ranks of those opposed -- however illogically -- to the Interior Department's May announcement of the polar bear's Endangered Species Act "protection," last Wednesday five industry groups sued the agency out of fear that the decision would hurt business. In their lawsuit, groups representing the oil and gas, mining, and manufacturing industries insist that May's ruling singles out their Alaska activities for their contribution to the global warming that threatens the bear, and they've asked a judge to make sure the Endangered Species Act doesn't block their greenhouse gas-spewing projects in the state. All this, of course, comes in spite of the fact that when the polar bear was declared threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the Bush administration took special pains to make sure it stayed unprotected from its two main threats, oil and gas development and global warming. As most Center for Biological Diversity supporters know, we've also sued the Interior Department over its May ruling -- only we're suing for the right reasons.

Meanwhile, the polar bear's Arctic sea-ice habitat is still melting at record rates. Last week, it was determined that sea-ice extent has fallen to the second-lowest on record.

Hear more about the polar bear suit from the Associated Press and check out the latest sea-ice data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Center and Tribes Win Protection Extension for Arizona Bald Eagle

Months after Arizona's unique desert nesting bald eagle was restored to protection under the Endangered Species Act, last Friday the Center for Biological Diversity and its tribal allies were granted a request to extend a review of the bird's status to show its true historical presence. After being taken off the endangered species list along with the national bald eagle in 2007, the desert nesting bald eagle remained unprotected until last spring, when a Center lawsuit resulted in a judge restoring its threatened status. Now, the desert nester is awaiting the completion of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review that will re-evaluate whether the bird should be permanently protected as a threatened population distinct from all other bald eagles.

Last Friday's extension moves the review's deadline to October 2009, which will give Arizona's American Indian communities time to demonstrate that there were many more eagles historically present in the state than has yet been federally acknowledged. This will show the true extent of the bird's dramatic decline since before it lost more than 90 percent of its habitat to development and other threats.

Read more in the Arizona Republic.

California Commission Called to Task Over Emissions

Plowing forward in our pursuit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through California's flagship land-use and environmental protection law, the Center for Biological Diversity has asked the California Energy Commission to make sure a new power plant addresses its global warming emissions -- as required by the California Environmental Quality Act. The Carlsbad Energy Center Project, proposed for San Diego County, would generate a whopping 558 megawatts of power and would be a major emitter of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and possibly sulfur hexafluoride -- the most potent greenhouse gas known. The plant might also import liquefied natural gas, which has a carbon footprint almost as big as coal. But the California Energy Commission hasn't been fulfilling its duty to analyze and help counter the emissions of new power plants, green-lighting construction without considering facilities' contribution to our climate's warming.

Represented by Earthjustice, the Center moved to intervene in the licensing process for the Carlsbad project last Wednesday.

Read more in the Daily Journal.

Listen to Center Science Director on Neglected Nevada Species

Following this summer's publication of a groundbreaking Conservation Biology report on Nevada's imperiled plants and animals, the Center for Biological Diversity's science director Noah Greenwald spoke up on public radio this week about the sad state of the state's wildlife protections. The report, co-written by Greenwald and Center IT director Curt Bradley, found that a majority of Nevada's 384 imperiled species aren't protected by either reserves or environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act. In fact, the study showed, 55 percent of at-risk Nevada species have fewer than 25 percent of occurrences in reserves, and of these species, a measly 9 percent are now protected under the Act. 

In his radio interview, Greenwald describes the report and outlines the threats facing Nevada species from the desert tortoise to the least chub, as well as giving some great insight into why it's important to stop them all from slipping through the cracks.

Listen to the interview yourself and read our press release on the report.

Animal Estates: Creating Habitats for the Habitat-challenged

It's too late, of course, to reverse the destruction of pristine habitat that's been cut down, churned up, or paved over to make way for houses, stores, and roads. But that doesn't mean we can't coexist with wildlife, even in our cities -- or our art galleries. Animal Estates, a new exhibition by L.A. artist Fritz Haeg now stationed in Portland, Oregon, creates "model homes" for human-displaced animals and shows them off in a gallery setting, at the same time encouraging city residents to create their own real-life animal dwellings in their backyards, neighborhoods, and parks. Each gallery-installed "estate," made to fit the needs of native animal "clients," is overseen by a local expert who provides information on the species' habits and advises estate-builders on construction and placement of new dwellings.

In Portland, the Center for Biological Diversity's own conservation biologist Tierra Curry wrote about and helped Haeg choose the local animals that might benefit from human-made habitats, including the northwestern garter snake and the white-breasted nuthatch. Tours of animal estates already built throughout Portland are kicking off this week.

Get specifics and learn more about the Portland species on the Animal Estates Web site.

KierĂ¡n Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: West Virginia northern flying squirrel by Larry Master, USFWS; Kootenai River white sturgeon by Pete Rust, Idaho Fish and Game; northern flying squirrel courtesy of USFWS; razorback sucker by Mark Fuller, USFWS; polar bear by Pete Spruance; desert nesting bald eagle by Tom Gatz, USFWS; coal-fired power plant by Phillip J. Redman, USGS; desert tortoise by Beth Jackson; northwestern garter snake courtesy of Washington Department of Fish & Game.

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