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Center Warns of Suit Over Kangaroo Rat Habitat

Less than a month after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service slashed habitat protections for the San Bernardino kangaroo rat, last Wednesday the Center for Biological Diversity, the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, and Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley filed a notice of intent to sue. Southern California's San Bernardino kangaroo rat -- in fact not a rat at all, but a small, hopping seed-eater related to squirrels -- is deemed endangered under the Endangered Species Act and is imminently threatened by habitat loss, most recently through big-box warehouse development. Still, in October the Fish and Wildlife Service cut the tiny mammal's federally protected habitat from more than 33,295 acres to a dismal 7,779 -- an astonishing 76 percent reduction.

Last week's notice is the latest step in the Center's campaign to reverse politically tainted decisions that would push dozens of endangered species closer to extinction.

Read more in the San Bernardino County Sun.

EPA Given Ultimatum on Ocean Acidification

After almost a year with no response to our petition to address ocean acidification, last Thursday the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force it to tackle the problem. Last December's petition asked the agency to use the Clean Water Act to impose stricter pH standards for ocean water quality and to publish guidance to help states protect their own waters from ocean acidification.

Here's how ocean acidification works: Humans spew carbon dioxide into the air, the oceans absorb it, and carbonic acid builds up, lowering seawater's pH and causing it to become more acidic. Ocean acidification depletes seawater of the compounds marine creatures like corals, crabs, and plankton need to build shells and skeletons. And as those organisms suffer, so do all the species in the ocean food chain. Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency's water-quality criterion for pH is pitifully inadequate, and no wonder -- it was last updated in 1976.

Read about it in the New York Times.

Bush Allows Oil-shale Development, Ignores Dissent

Flouting opposition from governors and Congressmen, this Tuesday the Bush administration announced final regulations for a commercial oil shale program. Despite the calamitous threat oil shale development poses to the environment -- and though the technology isn't even commercially viable yet -- officials said investors need to see the "rules of the road" for a program affecting almost 2 million acres of public land in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. The Bureau of Land Management is also planning to amend 12 resource-management plans in all three states to allow oil-shale development without giving the public its deserved say in the matter.

Oil shale is one of the world's most greenhouse-gas intensive energy sources, and it could also consume vast amounts of water in arid areas already in danger of being squeezed dry by climate change. The Center for Biological Diversity submitted comments protesting the Bureau's plan and wrote to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in opposition of oil shale development.

Read more in the Wall Street Journal.

Court Rules Against Whales in Sonar Suit

Dealing a devastating blow to marine mammals in Southern California waters, last week the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on the Navy's use of whale-deafening sonar off the state's coast. "What's more important?" the Court had to ask itself. "Endangered whales' survival or Navy training exercises?" It decided -- just barely, in a 5-4 decision -- that national security actions outweighed preventing harm to whales and other marine mammals. The ruling ended a preliminary injunction set by a lower court that curbed the Navy's use of loud, mid-frequency sonar during submarine-detecting exercises.

The Navy claimed that, at most, its sonar may cause temporary hearing loss or brief disruption of whales' behavioral patterns (bad enough, to be sure). But sonar can in fact cause serious injuries to whales, especially beaked whales, and can lead to mass whale strandings and deaths. The Center for Biological Diversity has taken an active stance against the use of loud military sonar in whale habitat.

Get details from the Washington Post.

Schwarzenegger Takes Leading Role in Climate-change Fight

Last Friday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an order commanding state agencies to get in gear for global warming's looming consequences. State officials, he decreed, must craft a strategy to study and deal with rising sea levels, higher temperatures, increased flooding, changing precipitation patterns, and more extreme weather. Worryingly, San Francisco's sea level has risen seven inches over the last century.

The governator is acting globally, too: This week, Schwarzenegger hosted an international climate change conference in Beverly Hills, telling many hundreds of participants, including officials from 19 other countries, that they can protect the environment and their economies at the same time. He hopes his message, backed up by President-elect Barack Obama in a taped video, will influence negotiations over a new global climate treaty during a United Nations meeting next month.

Get details from the San Francisco Chronicle and ClimateWire.

"Cocktails of Contaminants" Proven Deadly to Frogs

One pesticide alone is bad enough. But put a bunch of them together -- even at very low concentrations -- and it's a baby-frog death sentence. So affirms a study released last week, which shows that 10 of the world's most popular pesticides kill leopard frog tadpoles when mixed together, even if the concentration of each individual pesticide is within an officially "safe" limit. The study is pivotal because the Environmental Protection Agency in fact only tests pesticides in isolation, while in nature they always appear in the presence of other chemicals -- and that's probably where the danger comes in. Scientists for decades have criticized the agency's chemical-testing methods for exactly this reason, but last week's study is the first to document the environmental harm done by mixtures of chemicals at concentrations deemed harmless.

The study also documents the lethality of endosulfan, a neurotoxin banned in many countries but still used extensively in the United States. The Center for Biological Diversity works to hold the Environmental Protection Agency accountable for pesticides it registers for use and to cancel or restrict pesticides within endangered species' habitats.

Get the science from Science Daily.

Hypermiling: The Word of the Year

Every year as the holiday season approaches, the New Oxford American Dictionary makes its big annual announcement: the Word of the Year. This year's Word? Hypermiling: attempting to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to one's car and driving habits.

Lots of people hypermile without knowing it: Driving the speed limit, avoiding stop-and-go traffic, maintaining proper tire pressure, and getting rid of extra weight all help conserve fuel. Other techniques people have come up with -- including driving without shoes and riding the edge of the road to avoid ruts -- are a little more eccentric. By now, though, it's pretty clear that hypermiling is good for the planet and our wallets.

Get the history of "hypermiling" from the Oxford University Press blog.

Fatherhood Still Eludes Former Bachelor Tortoise

For those readers following the travails of Lonesome George, the last remaining Pinta Island Galapagos giant tortoise, we have bad news: he may not ever be a dad. This year, as we reported in a previous Endangered Earth Online, the long-celibate, 90-year-old reptile finally discovered his libido and mated with closely related female giant tortoises. Scientists celebrated when the females laid George's eggs, hoping his subspecies would be saved from extinction. Unfortunately, they've found that 80 percent of the eggs appear infertile -- meaning George could be sterile.

Lonesome George is one of a long line of Galapagos Islands tortoises that helped Charles Darwin figure out his theory of evolution. Since then, the tortoises have been driven to near-extinction by hunting and habitat loss, and George appears to be the last Pinta Island native standing after feral goats decimated that island's vegetation. Still, all's not lost -- George's keepers have placed the 20 percent of his eggs that may yet hatch in incubators decorated with religious icons, hoping for a miracle.

Get more of George's story from Reuters.

KierĂ¡n Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: San Bernardino kangaroo rat (c) Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles; elkhorn coral (c) John Easley,; combustion of oil shale courtesy of Department of Energy; gray whale courtesy of NOAA; Arnold Schwarzenegger courtesy of U.S. Department of Homeland Security; northern leopard frog courtesy of USGS; car by Raimond Spekking, courtesy of Wikipedia; Lonesome George by Putneymark, courtesy of Wikipedia.

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