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Desert Tortoises Saved From Disastrous Translocation

Thanks to a suit by the Center for Biological Diversity and Desert Survivors, last Thursday officials at the Fort Irwin Army base called a halt to a deeply flawed translocation project that's been harmful to more than 1,000 threatened desert tortoises. The flawed project, undertaken to push tortoises out of habitat where the fort intends to expand its tank-training areas, has so far resulted in the deaths of more than 90 tortoises, most of them killed by predators -- and thanks to the threat of disease, the deaths aren't expected to end any time soon.

The Army began its translocation effort in March, years after Congress authorized Fort Irwin to expand into some of the best remaining desert tortoise habitat in the western Mojave Desert. Devastatingly, the lands the tortoises have been moved to are full of starved coyotes, which began killing both relocated and resident tortoises immediately after the project began. Making matters worse, the new lands provide much lower-quality habitat and have pockets of diseased tortoises that are still expected to infect their recently relocated peers.

"The whole debacle needs to be significantly rethought," said the Center's Ileene Anderson. If translocation has to happen, only a minimum number of tortoises should be moved, only healthy tortoises should be moved into healthy populations, and protection from predators must be provided  (without killing the predators). Also, the relocation area should be made into a tortoise preserve.

Read more in the Press-Enterprise.

Agency Proposes Grand Canyon-dooming Rule Removal

Responding to a lawsuit recently filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, and the Sierra Club, last Thursday the Bureau of Land Management proposed to do away with a rule compelling the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw a huge swath of federal land near the Grand Canyon from uranium mining. This summer, due to a recent increase in uranium claims near Grand Canyon National Park -- claims that threaten the canyon's water, wildlife, and habitat -- Congress's Subcommittee of Natural Resources issued an emergency resolution telling Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne that he must immediately withdraw more than a million acres in the area from mining and development.

Now, though, instead of simply heeding Congress's call to protect one of our nation's most impressive national parks, the Bureau of Land Management has proposed to go through a constrained public process to remove the regulation that would force it to listen to Congress in the first place. The administration's proposal allows the public just 15 days to respond, and it provides no environmental analysis of what could happen if the regulation were removed.

Learn details in the Arizona Republic.

Endangered Species Act Supporters, the Center (and Species) Thank You

Whether we like it or not, this Tuesday marked the last day of the way-too-short period set aside by the Bush administration for public comment on the Aug. 15 proposed gutting of the Endangered Species Act. But the Center for Biological Diversity is more than a little proud of -- and grateful to -- our online activists, who responded to our alerts and flooded the administration with an astounding 53,000 comments opposing Bush's 11th-hour attempt to turn our nation's most crucial wildlife-protection law inside out. All we can say is: Wow.

And we at the Center have haven't exactly been idle: We submitted our own comments Tuesday via a 19-page document detailing our grievances against the administration's proposal to eviscerate the Act by letting federal agencies monitor themselves on projects that could be devastating to endangered species. We're also opposing the administration's other proposed change to the Act, which would sneakily change the "format" of the endangered species list to severely impede the recovery of countless imperiled plants and animals. No matter what happens, the Center is determined to defend the Act's integrity -- even if we have to go to court to do it.

Read more about the proposed gutting of the Act on our Web page, where you can also read the comments we submitted and learn about the administration's proposed "format change."

South Pole Penguins Found Endangered by Two-degree Temperature Rise

According to a World Wildlife Fund report released last Friday, Antarctica's emperor and Adélie penguins could see major trouble after a global warming-caused temperature rise of just two degrees Celsius. Besides reducing populations of the penguins' food sources, including silverfish and krill, that temperature increase would melt Southern Ocean sea ice -- both penguins' preferred habitat -- by enough that half the emperor colonies and three-fourths of Adélie colonies north of 70 degrees south latitude would be "in jeopardy of marked decline or disappearance." Many climate models predict that Earth's average temperature could increase by two degrees Celsius within 40 years; we've already warmed an average of 0.6 degrees since the mid-19th century.

In 2006, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to protect the emperor and 11 other penguin species under the Endangered Species Act due primarily to global warming, and the next year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that 10 of the 12 species may officially deserve protection. Now, the Service's final decision on protection is way overdue, but thanks to a Center lawsuit, it must complete its finding by December 19.

Read more in Climate Wire.

Prescott Officials Thinking Twice About Pipeline Risks

Thanks largely to opposition from the Center for Biological Diversity, elected officials in Prescott and Prescott Valley are taking extra care this month in examining whether it's worth it to build a huge water pipeline that would devastate southern Arizona's Verde River. Thanks to notices of intent to sue by the Center and Salt River Project, they've already brought in legal consultants specializing in water sustainability to examine whether the pipeline is worth the inevitable lawsuits; now, they've brought in financial experts to help them further weigh the "pros" and cons.

The cons are certain: The $171 million project would tap the Big Chino aquifer, which supplies more than 80 percent of the Upper Verde's spring flow, and daily import at least 13 million gallons of water to quench the thirst of new area developments -- draining the Verde River habitat of numerous imperiled species like the desert nesting bald eagle, southwestern willow flycatcher, and several declining native fishes. In 2004, the Center notified Prescott and Prescott Valley we'll sue over the pipeline, in and in 2006, we launched a long-term citizen-action campaign to protect the river. We're determined not to let the Verde dry up.

Read about the latest pipeline happenings in the Prescott News.

Tropics Soon to Suffer From Global Warming's Heat

The Arctic gets a lot of press--and rightly so--as it buckles under the devastating effects of global warming. But what about its climatic contrary, the tropics? According to a U.S. study released last week, global warming is not only making the coldest of the cold not cold enough: It's also making the sweltering tropics too hot for many native species, which could soon disappear if they can't head for higher ground -- and mountaintop species could run out of room to climb.

The team that did the study, which analyzed data on almost 2,000 Costa Rica plant, insect, and fungi species, predicts that there'll be a three-degree-Celsius temperature increase in the area within the next century, pushing current climate zones up in elevation by about 600 feet. Consequently, the tropics' spectacularly unique lowlands may soon see dramatic decreases in biodiversity as they lose species adapted to that climate -- species to be found nowhere else. The study contradicts assumptions of many researchers, who've said that tropical species will withstand global warming better than others.

Read more in the Independent.

"Hippie" Apes Not as Peace-loving as We Thought

Bonobos, endangered primates found in the lowland forest south of the Congo River, have earned a reputation as the free-loving hippies of the great-ape world, thanks to their liberal use of sexual activities for everything from greetings to conflict resolution. Before this week, scientists thought bonobos only ate small animals like squirrels and rodents. But this Monday, a German report revealed that the apes actually hunt and eat other great apes, citing at least 10 instances in which bonobos set out on hunting trips specifically in search of chimpanzees, which they sneakily ambushed in the trees from below.

This week's findings don't show a correspondence between warrior-like tendencies and male dominance, since bonobo societies are actually ruled by females, who participate in the hunts. The findings do, however, have important implications for models on early human evolution: Along with chimps, bonobos are thought to be humans' closest living relatives.

Get more from Reuters.

Kayaker Unfairly Chastised for Defending L.A. River

Last summer, as we reported in our July 31 Endangered Earth Online, a group of determined kayakers and canoers -- supported by the LaLa Times,, and the Center for Biological Diversity -- boated all the way down the Los Angeles River to prove that it is indeed "navigable." The act was in response to the Army Corps of Engineers' March declaration that L.A.'s much-abused main waterway can't float enough boats to merit protections under the Clean Water Act, which would mean its entire 834-square-mile watershed could be defenseless against polluting developers.

While the trip was undoubtedly successful, one of the brave boaters -- Heather Wylie, who also happens to be a biologist employed by the Corps -- is now facing possible suspension without pay for her defense of the River. So last Thursday, advocacy group Public Employees for Responsibility filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, charging that the Corps was unfairly retaliating against Wylie. Recent Corps L.A. District actions cited by Wylie are now also being investigated by the House Committee of Oversight and Government Reform and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: desert tortoise (c) Gary Nafis; desert tortoise by Beth Jackson, USFWS; Grand Canyon (c) Edward McCain; bald eagle by Lee Emery, USFWS; emperor penguin; Upper Verde River (c) Robin Silver; Costa Rica's Rio Savegre courtesy of Wikipedia; bonobo courtesy of U.S. Agency for International Development; Los Angeles River courtesy of Wikipedia.

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