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Center Launches $17-million Climate Law Institute

Last Thursday the Center for Biological Diversity, already recognized nationwide for its fight to save global warming-threatened species, announced the launch of its San Francisco-based Climate Law Institute and the dedication of $17 million of its funds to fight global warming. Under the directorship of Kassie Siegel, author of the petition to federally protect the polar bear and arguer of the species' case in court, the path-breaking Institute replaces the Center's former Climate, Air, and Energy Program and expands and directs climate change work across our biodiversity, oceans, public lands, urban wildlands, and international programs.

The Climate Law Institute's goals are to establish precedents to fully implement existing laws to fight global warming, help make new laws to fight global warming, ensure that all new laws and policies will lead to reducing atmospheric CO2 to at least below 350 ppm, and prevent the construction of new coal-fired power plants and coal mines. The Institute will also work to stop the establishment of an oil-shale sector, reverse ocean acidification, and prevent the loss of Arctic ice cover and the likely runaway global warming that would ensue.

Get details from Environment News Service.

Pika to Join Polar Bear on Endangered Species List?

Ending a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, last Thursday the Center reached a settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bringing the American pika one step closer to Endangered Species Act protection. The small, squeaky-voiced rabbit relative, a resident of boulder fields near mountain peaks in the American West, is adapted for the cold and can die from overheating when exposed to temperatures as low as 78 degrees Fahrenheit for just a few hours. As climate change warms the pika's alpine home, lower-elevation populations have either died or been forced to move upslope; already, more than a third of known pika populations in the Great Basin mountains of Nevada and Oregon have gone extinct. Still, after the Center petitioned for federal protection back in 2008, the Fish and Wildlife Service stalled on addressing the petition -- so we filed suit, represented by Earthjustice. Now the Service must assess whether the pika warrants federal safeguards by May and finalize its decision by next February.

The American pika is one of the most warming-threatened mammals in the world. Thanks to the Center's suit, the pika is now the first mammal considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act due to global warming in the lower 48 states.

Read more in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Southeast Salamanders Win 27,000 Acres of Habitat Protection

Responding to legal action by the Center for Biological Diversity, Wild South, and the Florida Biodiversity Project, last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially protected more than 27,000 acres of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina habitat for the frosted and reticulated flatwoods salamanders. On the same day, acknowledging a recent study on the salamanders -- formerly lumped together as the flatwoods salamander -- the Service for the first time recognized the amphibians as two separate species, going further to upgrade the reticulated flatwoods salamander's status from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The salamanders' habitat protections have already benefited the species; after the protections were first proposed, the U.S. Navy backed off plans to sell land providing important habitat for the reticulated flatwoods salamander.

The reticulated flatwoods salamander lives on the west side of the Apalachicola River Drainage, while the frosted flatwoods salamander lives on the east side. Both species, which boast flashy silver and black markings down their elongated bodies, are threatened by the destruction of pine-slash pine flatwoods, fire suppression, and urban and agricultural sprawl.

Get more from Florida's WCTV News.

Center Petitions for Scores of Spring Snail Species

An array of amazing, uncommon, and underappreciated invertebrates gained a following this Tuesday when the Center for Biological Diversity and the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society filed a scientific petition to protect 42 spring snail species in Nevada, Utah, and California under the Endangered Species Act. All 42 snails, dependent on consistent groundwater flow in their Great Basin habitat, are imminently threatened by unsustainable groundwater pumping proposed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Because reductions in groundwater flow have an immediate impact on spring snails' populations, these sensitive mollusks are a perfect indicator of declining water tables -- and they're just a fraction of the desert species that need adequate groundwater for survival. Fourteen of the snail species occur at a single location, and 39 occur at 10 or fewer.

"Without protection under the Endangered Species Act, these spring snails will be lost forever," said Rob Mrowka, a conservation advocate with the Center. "Groundwater withdrawal, spring diversion, livestock grazing, and an array of other threats severely threaten these 42 spring snail species along with the other species that depend on desert springs."

Get details in the Las Vegas Sun.

Judge Halts California Development Over Bad Fire Plan

After a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, wildlands near Santee, California earned respite last week when a San Diego judge doused plans for the controversial Fanita Ranch development project due to its bad fire-safety plan. Besides destroying habitat for the threatened California gnatcatcher and endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly, the sprawling 1,400-unit, 2,600-acre project failed to adequately analyze its own potential fire danger. Originally, the project called for the site's fire-prone vegetation to be managed by controlled burning, which can be harmful to native plants; when the city of Santee approved Fanita Ranch in late 2007, it omitted the controlled-burning requirement but never considered redesigning the project or taking other actions to counter the incompatibility of development and wildfire-fueling surrounding vegetation. So the Center, Preserve Wild Santee, and the Endangered Habitats League sued. Now, Santee officials have six months to revise their fire-safety plan.

Read more in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Court OKs Mountaintop-removal Mining Without Full Review

It was a scary day for Appalachian wilderness last Friday the 13th, when the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, decided to allow destructive mountaintop-removal coal mining to proceed without full consideration of its environmental impacts. Overruling an early 2007 decision, the court ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can issue permits for mountaintop-removal mines without extensive environmental review, leaving mountains vulnerable to a radical form of coal mining in which mountain peaks are detonated with explosives to expose coal seams and the waste materials are dumped directly into streams. Combined with the unfortunately late 2008  Bush administration decision to repeal a rule creating buffers around streams where mountaintop-removal waste couldn't be dumped coal companies will now be able to chuck tons of mining waste wherever they want without violating the Clean Water Act. Since mountaintop removal mining began in 1970, about 1.5 million acres of hardwood forest have been lost, more than 470 mountaintops have been destroyed, and 1,200 miles of streams have been buried. Ninety more mountain peaks could be on the chopping block under this appeals court decision.

Says Tierra Curry, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, "The devastation caused by mountaintop removal in combination with the millions of tons of pollutants, including greenhouse gases, released by burning coal clearly demonstrates that there is no such thing as clean coal."

Read more in the New York Times.

Condor-killing Tejon Sprawl Plan Moves Nearer to Court Battle

In defense of the California condor, 26 other rare species, and one of the most unique areas of wildlands in California, this Wednesday the Center for Biological Diversity called for the withdrawal of the Tejon Ranch Company's request for a permit to build a huge resort community smack in the middle of protected condor habitat. The natural wonders of Tejon Ranch, an astoundingly diverse 270,000-acre swath of land like nowhere else in on Earth, are imminently threatened by the Tejon Mountain Village development in Kern County, which would convert tens of thousands of pristine acres of crucial condor habitat into a sprawling collection of houses, lawns, golf courses, and stores. But the documents submitted with the permit request for the development were released hastily, amidst much confusion, and without proper scientific review, notably before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had finished analyzing the use of Tejon Ranch by condors.

The Center has requested that the permit request be delayed. Says Adam Keats, director of the Center's urban wildlands program, "It's imperative that this behemoth, prepared in the waning days of the Bush administration and rushed into publication, get adequate review by the Obama administration as well as the general public and the scientific community."

Check out our press release and learn more about our campaigns for Tejon Ranch and the California condor.

Bay Area Wetlands "Bailout" Stirs National Debate

Showing just how much ecosystem health means to our nation's wellbeing, part of President Obama's stimulus package is on a course to funnel money toward restoring wetlands in the suffering San Francisco Bay. Unfortunately, last week that plan raised the hackles of some who apparently deem saving the Bay's natural heritage "wasteful spending." The bill's opponents have falsely singled out one of its possible beneficiaries, the Bay Area's salt marsh harvest mouse, as the focus of a $30-million set-aside in order to proclaim the plan's cause as insignificant as the mouse is miniscule. But in fact, $30 million is what the state's California Coastal Conservancy recommended as a total amount to be dedicated to a list of major wetlands restoration projects affecting nearly 4,000 acres. If the money does go toward these projects, areas from Napa County to Silicon Valley would benefit from actions including moving levees, converting industrial salt ponds back to marshes, and providing increased flood protection to local homes and businesses. Would the salt marsh harvest mouse benefit? We hope so. But so would salmon, steelhead trout, egrets, and a host of other species -- including humans.

Saving Bay Area wildlands is a top priority for the Center for Biological Diversity. As co-founder Peter Galvin has put it: "The health of the San Francisco Bay and the restoration of the wetlands and tidelands habitat are one and the same, and human health and wellbeing is linked to it all."

Get the real story in the San José Mercury News.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: American pika (c) Larry Master; polar bear by Pete Spruance; American pika by William C. Gladish; flatwoods salamander courtesy USGS; Pyrgulopsis deaconi (c) Robert Hershler; Quino checkerspot butterfly (c) Peter Bryant; mountaintop removal site courtesy Wikimedia/J.W. Randolph; California condor by Scott Frier, USFWS; great egret courtesy USFWS.

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