Alaska Beluga Finally Gets Protection
Thanks to a petition and legal challenge by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, last Friday the National Marine Fisheries Service ended its illegal stalling and officially declared one of Alaska's most imperiled marine mammals endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Cook Inlet population of the beluga whale, down to about 375 individuals from an estimated 1,300 in the early 1990s, happens to make its home in the state's most populated and fastest-growing watershed and has been plagued with oil and gas dumping, sewage discharges, contaminated runoff, and regular ship and pipeline spills that make much of its once-pristine estuary habitat uninhabitable. And Cook Inlet's future isn't looking too rosy: Several massive infrastructure projects, including a bridge to somewhere, two port expansions, and a coal strip mine, loom on the horizon. While Endangered Species Act protection is only a first step toward the beluga's recovery, it should compel developers and scientists to join forces to avoid further population declines.
The Center first petitioned to protect the Cook Inlet beluga in 1999, but opposition from industry groups, cities and boroughs, and the state of Alaska led the Fisheries Service to reject it. After we petitioned again in 2006, resistance from those same parties -- including an incorrect denial of the whale's imperilment from the state of Alaska and Governor Sarah Palin -- resulted in the Fisheries Service illegally putting off its listing decision... so we took the agency to court last June. "Hopefully," said the Center's Oceans Program Director Brendan Cummings, "the state of Alaska will now work towards protecting the beluga rather than, as with the polar bear, denying the science and suing to overturn the listing."
Read more in the Washington Post.
Feds Make Huge Cut in Tiny Rodent's Protected Habitat
The Bush administration one-upped itself in the bad habitat-protection-move department last Friday when it reduced protected habitat for the San Bernardino kangaroo rat by even more than it originally proposed to do. Eliminating an astonishing 76 percent of land once set aside for the kangaroo rat's survival and recovery, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shrunk the species' federally protected habitat from more than 33,000 acres to a mere 7,779 -- thousands less than the reduction just proposed in April (which was bad enough). And while the San Bernardino kangaroo rat may be small, it needs habitat protection in a big way: Thanks to the triple threat of dams, mining, and sprawl, the rat is now left with just 5 percent of its historic habitat -- much of which has recently been targeted by big-box warehouse development.
A 1999 lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and Christians Caring for Creation was behind the endangered rodent's original protected habitat designation. We've also helped save the kangaroo rat's home from specific threats posed by dams and development.
Read more in the Press-Enterprise.
Least Chub May Get Deserved Protections
Just two weeks after the Center for Biological Diversity, Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, and the Great Basin chapter of Trout Unlimited warned the feds we'd sue if they didn't heed the imperilment of the least chub, last Wednesday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the fish may need federal protections. The tiny minnow, native to the Southwest's Bonneville Basin, has been reduced to just six wild populations by water development and groundwater pumping, livestock grazing, and competition from nonnative species -- and now it's especially threatened by expansive groundwater pumping in the Snake Valley, home to half the remaining fish.
More than a decade ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to protect the least chub under the Endangered Species Act, but the agency delayed the process and then caved to political pressure by totally failing to take action. In 2007, the Center and allies petitioned to protect the fish as a threatened species, but the agency failed to even respond for more than a year. Our Oct. 1 threat to sue seems to have worked -- the Service is now undertaking a scientific review of the little minnow's status. At last the least chub is on its way.
Get details in the Deseret News.
Lawsuit Filed to Reduce Mega-dairy's Mega-pollution
Adding to a string of suits to address global warming through California's landmark land-use law, the California Environmental Quality Act, last Thursday the Center for Biological Diversity joined California Rural Legal Assistance in suing over the greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution that would be emitted by a huge proposed dairy in Fresno County. The 6,120-animal Van Der Kooi Dairy would emit large amounts of greenhouse gases, including methane -- a gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide -- as well as ozone precursors, particulate pollution, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia, all of which are definitely not good for human well-being. Still, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District chose not to do its job and require the farm to take all possible measures to minimize its pollution before approving the project. Our lawsuit aims to force the Air Pollution Control District to require a new environmental impact report that addresses the dairy's global warming and human health impacts.
Read more in the Fresno Bee.
Interior Speed-reads Its Way Through Endangered Species Act Comments
Hurrying forward in its last-gasp attempt to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act before the Bush administration must finally step aside, the Interior Department is finding it no easy task to review 200,000 proposal-related public comments -- an amazing 53,000 of which came from Center supporters -- in just 32 hours. This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gathered a 15-person team in D.C. to review the protest letters and electronic comments, a huge number of which opposed the proposed rule, with the team slated to work eight hours a day from Tuesday to Friday to complete a process that should take months. According to a House Natural Resources Committee aide, the team will have to read 6,250 comments every hour, or at least seven comments per minute: not exactly conducive to what we'd call careful, in-depth review.
"It would seem very difficult for them in four days to respond to so many thoughtful comments in an effective way," said one assistant law professor (who sent in 70 pages of comments). The 32-hour deadline is a "last-ditch attempt to undermine the long-standing integrity of the endangered species program," affirmed Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. (who also wrote a hearty letter of protest). The Center's own 19-page letter addressed our numerous grievances against the administration's proposal to let federal agencies monitor themselves on activities that could be devastating to endangered species, dooming our nation's best wildlife law to extinction.
Read the unsavory particulars in the Seattle Times.
Tucson Passes Historic Rainwater Harvesting Requirement
Last Thursday the City Council of Tucson, Ariz. -- the site of the Center for Biological Diversity's own longtime headquarters -- unanimously passed the nation's first-ever ordinance requiring commercial developers to harvest rainwater for landscaping. The law, to take effect in June 2010, mandates that new developments must meet at least half their landscaping water needs by capturing Arizona's only and best renewable water source: rain from the sky.
Of course, the 50 percent requirement isn't nearly high enough to begin solving Arizona's water problems; an ideal law would include a 100 percent requirement, and the city did at one point consider a 75 percent requirement -- which would have been way better than half. Unfortunately, developers strongly resisted any mandate higher than 50 percent, shying away from spending a cent on water cisterns. Still, it's good first step, and the Center is proud to operate in a city leading the way to address the water problem and adopt real solutions.
Read more about it in Land Letter.
Chimpanzee Challenge, Bonobo Backtrack
If Maury Povich were a chimpanzee, he'd love this drama: Until recently, no one could concretely identify the paternity of Beni, a baby chimpanzee in New Zealand's Wellington Zoo. Sally, Beni's mother, had always had a thing with handsome Sammy, but with all the male chimpanzees she consorted with, who could say who was Beni's daddy? Still, modern science came to the rescue: DNA testing has confirmed that Sammy is indeed the father of baby Beni -- despite the fact that he's not the alpha male of the zoo's troop. All of Wellington zoo's chimps are part of the Australian Species Management Programme, a carefully managed breeding program meant to help ensure the genetic diversity of the endangered primate. Beni turned the big "1" this Wednesday.
Speaking of great apes, last week we reported on a Reuters story asserting that bonobos, chimps' also-endangered relatives, hunt and eat chimpanzees. One of our primate-loving readers has informed us that, according to bonobo conservation expert Dr. Terese Hart, bonobos can't be killing and eating chimpanzees because the two species live across the Congo from each other and populations have never been seen on the wrong side of the river. Turns out Reuters got it wrong -- but though Bonobos don't hunt chimpanzees, researchers have observed a handful of monkey-hunting forays by bonobos in a Congo rainforest reserve.
Read more about baby Beni in stuff.co.nz and check out Dr. Hart's side of the bonobo debate on her Web page.
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Photo credits: beluga whale by Mike Johnston; San Bernardino kangaroo rat (c) Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles, California Academy of Sciences; least chub courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Services; dairy farm courtesy of EPA; bald eagle (c) Robin Silver; saguaro cacti courtesy of NPS; chimpanzee courtesy of Wikipedia.
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