Deadline Set for Protecting Polar Bear Habitat
Partially settling a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and the Natural Resources Defense Council to give polar bears true federal protections, this Monday a federal court set deadlines for the Secretary of the Interior to designate protected habitat for the iconic Arctic mammal. Legally, the administration should have granted the polar bear habitat protections last May when the species was declared "protected" under the Endangered Species Act, but the administration blatantly failed to do so (along with failing to pursue any other concrete action to help the species). Now, Interior must issue a final rule protecting habitat by June 30, 2010, with a proposed rule due next year. The settlement also resolves our assertion that the Secretary of the Interior violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act by failing to issue guidelines on non-lethal ways of dealing with polar bears that threaten public safety. The administration has agreed to finalize those guidelines by March 2010, with proposed guidelines to be released a year earlier.
What the settlement doesn't address is the fact that the Interior Secretary violated the Endangered Species Act by declaring the polar bear "threatened" rather than "endangered" and issuing a special rule exempting the bear from many protections that should be provided by the Act. Our grievances over those issues will be heard early next year.
Read more in the Los Angeles Times.
Feds Meet With Latest String of Suits Defending Species From Corruption
Continuing our campaign to right the wrongs done to almost 60 imperiled animals and plants through political interference in species science, last week the Center for Biological Diversity filed five lawsuits against the administration for illegal Endangered Species Act decisions robbing six species of needed protections. All the species at the heart of our latest action -- the western snowy plover, California tiger salamander, southwestern willow flycatcher, Buena Vista Lake shrew, Munz's onion, and San Jacinto Valley crownscale -- had their federally protected habitat drastically reduced, taking away key habitat areas deemed by scientists to be essential to the species' survival or recovery. The cuts, ranging from 23 percent to 100 percent of protected habitat, happened because bureaucrats like former Interior official Julie MacDonald censored or illegally edited scientific documents to justify reducing protections. Ongoing investigations by the Government Accountability Office, House Natural Resources Committee, and inspector general have already caused the resignation of more than one high-level Interior official (including MacDonald herself).
The Center initiated our campaign to fight wrongful MacDonald-era endangered species decisions on August 28, 2007, with a notice of intent to sue for 55 species. Since then, our list of species wronged has grown to 57, we've filed suit for 26 species, and we've already had substantial success in securing agreements from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to re-do habitat designations for 15 species. We won't end our campaign until we make sure all the species hurt by political interference are restored their rightful protections.
Get more from the Environment News Service.
Refugee Monk Seals May Get New Safe Haven
The Hawaiian monk seal, way at the top of the list of the world's most imperiled pinnipeds, is now being considered by the federal government for more habitat protections, thanks to a July petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, and Ocean Conservancy. Mostly due to food scarcity and habitat loss from erosion and global warming-caused sea-level rise, the seal's population on its native northwestern Hawaiian islands has been plummeting frighteningly for decades. Fortunately, seals have been moving to the main islands, where more abundant food supports the birthing of healthy pups and a budding new population.
Unfortunately, while the monk seal has federally protected habitat on its home-base northwestern islands, it has none at all in its new main-island digs, where human-caused dangers to the seals -- from disturbance to development to fishing-gear entanglement -- threaten its new lease on life. If the seal is to escape the fate of its cousin the Caribbean monk seal, recently declared extinct due to human causes, it desperately needs protection where it has the best chance at survival.
Dive into details in the Honolulu Advertiser.
Feds Warned Most Strongly to Heed Least Chub
More than a year after the Center for Biological Diversity, the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, and the Great Basin chapter of Trout Unlimited submitted a petition to protect the imperiled least chub, a lack of federal response compelled all three groups to file a notice of intent to sue the Bush administration. The least chub, a colorful, pocket-sized minnow native to western Utah, is now reduced to six fragile wild populations -- all of which are threatened by nonnative species, livestock grazing, and sprawl, and three of which face imminent danger from groundwater pumping planned to slake the thirst of runaway growth in Las Vegas. The decline of the tiny fish is an indication of declining water tables that will also harm farmers, ranchers, and dozens of other species that depend on Utah's desert streams, yet the administration has apparently failed to take a glance at our petition to protect the chub.
Read more in the Salt Lake Tribune.
"Methane Chimneys" Pose Scary New Warming Threat
If the prospect of carbon dioxide rapidly building up in our atmosphere and warming our planet isn't quite daunting enough for you, get a load of this: Scientists have discovered a brand-new and very frightening global warming phenomenon happening in our seas. Late last month, scientists sailing the length of Russia's northern coast have found that as the Arctic warms and sea ice retreats, massive deposits of underwater methane gas are bubbling to the surface like greenhouse-gas smokestacks. As you read this, it appears that millions of tons of methane -- a gas 20 times worse for global warming than carbon dioxide -- are being released into our air from beneath the Arctic seabed. In fact, the amount of methane stored beneath the Arctic is estimated to be greater than the total amount of carbon locked up in the whole planet's coal reserves.
Still not scared? The release of so much methane could accelerate global warming in a massive positive feedback loop in which more atmospheric methane causes more warming, leading to more melting permafrost and yet more methane released. Scientists believe that in the past, the sudden release of underground stores of methane have been behind dramatic climatic changes that have led to the mass extinction of species.
Learn more about it in the Independent.
Administration on Fast Track to Slow-witted Oil Shale Plan
Chomping at the bit to give Big Oil the rights to develop and refine oil shale months before leaving office (but years before the technology and infrastructure allow), the Bush administration has moved a step closer to finalizing a commercial oil-shale leasing program, ditching traditional public participation opportunities in the process -- so the Center for Biological Diversity and its allies have sent a letter in protest. Last month, the Bureau of Land Management took the next step toward finalizing an oil shale program by releasing a final proposal to amend land-use plans in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah and allow for leasing of oil and tar sands development on more than 2 million acres. Changing nothing of substance from its draft proposal, the agency ignored the need for basic information about the technologies that might be used and their potentially devastating environmental consequences. In addition, the agency's announcement made clear that the public will have no opportunity to weigh in on the matter -- and neither will governors of the affected states. After submitting comments on the Bureau's program in late September, this Monday the Center joined 10 other groups in writing to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in opposition.
Oil shale development is one of the most environmentally destructive and wasteful methods of fossil fuel production, requiring more energy and land than conventional oil production and sucking up more water than farming in the desert. All this to produce fuel that emits 50 percent more carbon dioxide than crude oil, sending us that much faster down the road to destruction by global warming.
Read more in E&E News.
Bird Species Worldwide Plunging Toward Deep Trouble...
In a comprehensive report released late last month, UK-based conservation group Birdlife International announced that dozens of what were once the world's most common birds have declined dramatically in the past half-century. Familiar species like the little tern in Japan, the cuckoo and eastern turtle dove in Europe, and the vulture in India are suffering increasingly from threats like habitat loss, agriculture, fishing, invasive species, and climate change. According to the report, a total of 153 bird species across the globe have bitten the dust since the year 1500, with 56 of those disappearing in the 20th century. Now, 1,226 birds or 12.4 percent of the world's bird species are classified as threatened by the International Union for Conservation's Nature Red List.
However, Birdlife International said, conservation does work: Between 1994 and 2004, 16 species were saved from extinction. If the world's governments truly step up to the plate, it's still possible to stop more birds from going the way of the dodo.
Get more from BBC News.
...And New Species Discovered in Australia's Oceans
On the same day that Birdlife International released its sad report on species of the air, some exciting news came out of the deep when the Census of Marine Life released the first results of a landmark four-year exploration of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Researchers, led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, have discovered hundreds of marine species thought brand-new to science, including up to about 100 soft coral species and dozens of small crustacean species. They also spied a rarely sampled amphipod sporting a whip-like back appendage about triple the length of its body. Researchers were blown away by their new finds, which show how challenging it will be to inventory the vast biodiversity of oceans all over the world (and how important it is to preserve it).
The Great Barrier Reef exploration was initiated in response to growing concern over the health of the world's coral reefs, which are threatened by ocean acidification, overfishing, pollution, and warming. Thanks to work by the Center for Biological Diversity, two coral species -- elkhorn and staghorn coral, which occur in the Caribbean -- are now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Read more in the Independent.
Photo credits: polar bear by David S. Isenberg; polar bears by Pete Spruance; western snowy plover by Mike Baird; Hawaiian monk seal by James P. McVey, NOAA; least chub courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Services; open water within sea-ice pack courtesy of NOAA; combustion of oil shale courtesy of DOE; little tern (c) Isaka Yoji; Great Barrier Reef (c) Richard Ling.
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