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Warming-threatened Corals Get Added Protections

Extending safeguards afforded the elkhorn and staghorn corals under the Endangered Species Act, this Tuesday the National Marine Fisheries Service prohibited human activities that would kill or harm either species. Once the most abundant and important reef-building corals in Florida and the Caribbean, staghorn and elkhorn corals have declined by more than 90 percent in some areas, largely because of global warming-caused "bleaching," an often fatal response to high water temperatures in which coral expel the symbiotic algae that give them their brilliant hues. Coral are also increasingly threatened by ocean acidification, in which oceans absorb the carbon dioxide we spew into our atmosphere and become more acidic, depleting seawater of compounds that corals and other organisms need to build protective shells and skeletons.

A petition by the Center for Biological Diversity earned the elkhorn and staghorn corals their current status as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and a Center lawsuit compelled the Fisheries Service to propose granting the species federally protected habitat. The agency's latest rule, which will take effect Nov. 21, bars anyone from damaging or removing the corals; harming, polluting, or contaminating their habitat; or engaging in boating activities that harm or break the corals.

Get more on the corals from E & E News.

Tree Voles Considered for Endangered Species List

Responding to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies to federally protect dusky and red tree voles, this week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that both voles may warrant the safeguards of the Endangered Species Act. The dusky tree vole, in fact a subspecies of the red tree vole, is found only in forests of the Tillamook region along Oregon's North Coast; the red tree vole is limited to western Oregon. Both voles spend almost their entire lives in trees and are dependent on structures associated with older, unmanaged forests. Unsurprisingly, both voles are severely threatened by decades of excessive logging.

The red tree vole was once protected on federal forests by the "survey and manage program" of the Northwest Forest Plan, but recently the Bush administration has sought to halt the program, leaving species with little or no protection. "For too long, state forests have been a sacrifice zone for industrial forestry," says Noah Greenwald, the Center's Biodiversity Program director. "Forest reserves and better forest practices are needed to save the tree vole, salmon, and dozens of other wildlife species in the Tillamook."

Get details in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Feds Renew Attack on Northern Rockies Wolves

After seeming to withdraw from action with its tail between its legs, last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proved it wasn't planning after all to give up its campaign to remove federal protections from gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. After the agency stripped the wolves' protections last March -- leaving wolf management in the hands of states -- more than 100 wolves in Idaho, Wyoming, and parts of Oregon and Washington were killed, so the Center for Biological Diversity and allies filed suit in April and won in July. At that time, a federal judge ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service must return the wolves to the endangered species list, specifically citing the fact that Wyoming's wolf-management plan would allow the predators to be shot on sight in 88 percent of the state (obviously putting Wyoming wolves in extreme jeopardy).

In September, the Service said it would abandon the fight to take the wolves' protections away -- but it was apparently only devising a new plan of action. Now, the agency is putting forth its same old wolf-dooming proposal to remove federal protections -- with one difference: Perhaps, says the agency's "wolf recovery coordinator," Wyoming wolves alone can stay protected. The public has until Nov. 28 to comment, and you can bet the Center for Biological Diversity won't keep quiet about this move.

Read more in the Washington Post.

Judge Upholds Ruling Against Fire-unsafe Subdivision

Ruling in favor of the Center for Biological Diversity and the health of the San Bernardino Mountains, this Tuesday California's Fourth District Appeals Court affirmed a lower court's decision that San Bernardino County's approval of a controversial Lake Arrowhead subdivision was illegal. The ruling echoes a 2006 opinion in a case brought by the Center, stating that approval of the development went against the county's own general plan's "unambiguous" requirement that a fire evacuation route be finished before an area project is approved. The court further ruled that the county went against its own development code as well as state environmental law by not identifying an adequate water source for the project. And all this is in addition to the county's failure to do an accurate analysis of biological impacts.

Known as Blue Ridge Estates, a.k.a. the Hawarden Development, the project was planned for a steep slope near Cedar Glen, an area of the San Bernardino Mountains considered hazardous for wildfire that was already largely burned by the catastrophic Old Fire of 2003. Moving forward with the development would have impeded the area's natural cycles and put it even more at risk of fire (not to mention all the other devastating effects of development).

Get more on the case in the Press-Enterprise.

Human Rights Panel Reviews Planned Panama Dams

In a completely backwards attempt at gaining carbon-offset credits, the Virginia-based AES Corporation is planning to build three hydroelectric dams along Panama's Changuinola River, which runs through the heart of La Amistad International Park. The Park, a World Heritage site, not only provides habitat for hundreds of rare, endangered, migratory, and found-here-only species; it's also vital for the indigenous Ngöbe and Naso tribes, which rely upon the Changuinola's native fish for survival. Some immediate effects of the dams would be destruction of riverine and forest ecosystems, including harm to fish and shrimp biodiversity, forced displacement of more than 1,000 Ngöbe people, and impairment to the livelihoods of 4,000 more. The projects' longer-term effects are less known but would probably include substantial emission of methane, an ultra-powerful greenhouse gas. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that dams dramatically increase -- rather than decrease -- overall greenhouse gas emissions.

This Tuesday, Naso and Ngobe leaders attended a Washington, D.C. public hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Center for Biological Diversity has participated in an international coalition of more than 50 indigenous and environmental groups, which demanded that AES withdraw from the dam projects. We also petitioned the World Heritage Committee to declare La Amistad a World Heritage site "in danger." As a result of our effort, the committee has requested that the states design, implement, and monitor the effectiveness of mitigation measures and carry out an analysis of the cumulative effects of the projects. The committee found that the dams create insurmountable barriers to fish migration and that there's no effective participatory process for the indigenous tribes. 

Read more in the Huntington News.

Desert Tortoises Need You

The Mojave Desert population of the desert tortoise has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1992, and in 1994, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a comprehensive recovery plan written by leading desert tortoise scientists that provides a clear path toward recovery. Unfortunately, not many of the plan's recommendations have been carried out, and the tortoise is still declining throughout its range. But instead of heeding the old recovery plan or making a new one to adequately address new dangers, the Bush administration's Fish and Wildlife Service is revising its original plan by diluting or demolishing many of its recommendations, providing little on-the-ground guidance to achieve recovery and ignoring some of the desert tortoise's most pressing threats, including translocation, grazing, and off-road vehicles.

Luckily, there's still time for you to make a difference. Write the Fish and Wildlife Service before Nov. 3 and tell the agency its new recovery plan won't help the desert tortoise recover -- and it's not fooling anyone.

Send your message and learn more about the desert tortoise.

Data Proves Tejon Development Dire News for Condors

Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released data showing that endangered California condors still depend on Tejon Ranch for survival -- particularly an area proposed for development in a May 8 "conservation deal." That news is no surprise: The area, 28,000 acres slated to become a luxury vacation resort called Tejon Mountain Village, contains federally protected "critical habitat" for the California condor, land deemed by the Fish and Wildlife Service to be essential for the bird's recovery.

Last May the owners of Tejon Ranch -- a huge swath of California chock full of diverse landscapes, irreplaceable habitat, and numerous endangered species -- announced a deal with several environmental organizations (not including the Center) that would pave the way for development on the Ranch. While the deal has a few positive aspects, such as the potential acquisition of 49,000 acres for a state park, it would allow for devastating destruction of the Ranch through developments like Tejon Mountain Village and Centennial, the largest single development ever proposed in California. The Center has worked hard to protect both the condor and Tejon Ranch, which we believe should be set aside as a state or national park.

Learn about the condor and check out our press release, where you can also get links to a map prepared by the Center showing the Service's data points overlaid with development plans, as well as existing condor critical habitat.

Make It Easy When You Go Vote

We at the Center for Biological Diversity know we probably don't have to remind the intelligent, well-informed individuals who read Endangered Earth Online to vote this November -- you're already planning on it. But since we want to make the process as simple and hassle-free as possible, we'd like to tell you about, a project by the New Organizing Institute, the Election Administration Fund of the Democracy Alliance, and one of our very favorite funders, Working Assets/CREDO wireless. The handy and searchable GoVote Web site provides answers, organized by zip code, to all of voters' most oft-asked queries, from "Exactly where is my voting location (with maps)?" to "What identification should I bring?" All answers are available in Spanish, too.

Lack of info about voting suppresses more votes than caging, purging, or intimidation at the polls. Fight the trend and tell your fellow voters about before this historic election is history.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: elkhorn coral (c) Sean Nash; staghorn coral courtesy of NOAA; Oregon red tree vole (c) Ronn Altig and Chris Maser; Northern Rocky Mountains gray wolf courtesy of NPS; Lake Arrowhead; forest in La Amistad by Dirk van der Made, Wikipedia; desert tortoise by Beth Jackson, USFWS; California condor courtesy of Arizona Department of Game and Fish; ballot box by Rama, Wikipedia.

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