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Beluga to Get Habitat Protection

Following substantial delay, this Tuesday the National Marine Fisheries Service finally moved closer to protecting habitat for Alaska's highly imperiled Cook Inlet beluga whale, declared endangered under the Endangered Species Act last October thanks to a petition and lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies. The gorgeous white whale of Cook Inlet, Alaska's most populated and fastest-growing watershed, has failed to rebound since hunting was curtailed in 1999, showing that other factors -- including industrial noise and extreme pollution -- are impeding recovery. The beluga is also imminently threatened by oil and gas development, port expansion, a coal export dock -- and let's not forget the Knik Arm Bridge, a billion-dollar boondoggle proposed for important beluga habitat that would have little function other than to shorten Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's commute from Wasilla to Anchorage. (Palin's anti-species administration adamantly opposes aiding the beluga and has even warned of a lawsuit to overturn protections.)

Despite the host of threats facing the beluga, the Fisheries Service declined to designate federally protected habitat when it put the whale on the endangered species list. Now, the agency has requested public comment on areas to be protected and has promised a final designation by next October.

Check out our press release and learn more about the Cook Inlet beluga whale.

EPA: Oceans on Acid

In response to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, this Tuesday the Environmental Protection Agency took the first steps towards protecting U.S. waters from the threat of ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act. When CO2 is spewed into the air, the oceans absorb 22 million tons of it each day, which changes the pH of the water to make it more acidic and impairs marine animals' ability to build protective shells -- with effects rippling all the way up the ocean food chain. To prevent the worst impacts of ocean acidification, we need to reduce CO2 levels immediately. But the Environmental Protection Agency's water-quality criteria, which help states gauge how much pollution regulation is needed, are woefully out of date when it comes to pH; in fact, the pH standard hasn't been updated since the disco era.

In response to our petition for stricter pH criteria and guidance to help states fight ocean acidification, the agency has issued a "notice of data availability" calling for information on ocean acidification to use for evaluating water-quality criteria under the Clean Water Act. It's the first time the Act will be invoked by the agency to address ocean acidification, "the other CO2 problem."

Read more in the New York Times.

52,000 Center Supporters Demand Action

In a triumphant coup for our online activists, this Tuesday the Center for Biological Diversity delivered 52,000 petitions to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar requesting that he rescind Bush's 11th-hour rules weakening the Endangered Species Act and protections for the polar bear. Since March 10, when Congress gave Salazar the power to quickly and easily quash the rules by May 9, 44 congressmen have sent Salazar a letter to rescind the rules, and newspapers across the country have been peppered with editorials opposing the rules. Still, more than halfway through the 60 days Salazar was granted to make up his mind, we haven't heard a peep on what he intends to do. Bush's rule gutting the Act exempts thousands of federal activities, including greenhouse gas emissions, from independent review; the polar bear "special rule" exempts oil and gas development and climate-harming activities from regulation under the Act.

During testimony to Salazar at Tuesday's oil-drilling hearing in Anchorage, Alaska, Center attorney Rebecca Noblin called on him to abandon drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf for species' sake, then proceeded to present him with our 52,000 petitions. Salazar's response? "Fifty-two thousand is a lot of petitions." Duh. And they're still coming in.

Get more on the story from Alaska's KTUU and -- if you haven't already -- sign our petition and write your own letter to the editor.

Feds Give Bighorn Axe

This Monday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dealt a big blow to the Peninsular bighorn, proposing to slash protected habitat for the endangered wild sheep from 844,897 acres to a measly 376,938. The proposal abandons protections for migration corridors, steep slopes, and canyon areas the Service itself has admitted are critical for the bighorn's survival. Canyon areas are essential to bighorn movement, and without access to certain areas' rich forage, bighorn ewes can't get the necessary nutrients to nurse their lambs. The reductions in habitat protections are apparently an attempt to make way for urban sprawl.

The Peninsular bighorn sheep, an icon of the Peninsular ranges known for males' large, spiral horns and the ability to deftly maneuver along rocky terrain, gained status as a federally endangered species in 1998 after a lawsuit by the Center for biological Diversity and Desert Survivors, receiving a recovery plan in 2000 and more than 800,000 acres of protected habitat in 2001. Unfortunately, this week's announcement would send the agile animal's recovery backwards by leaps and bounds.

Read more in the San José Mercury News.

$40K Offered for Condor Shooter

To highlight the extreme importance of every single California condor in the wild -- and help bring a would-be killer to justice -- last week the Center announced the hiring of a private investigator to assist in efforts to apprehend the person or people responsible for shooting two endangered condors last month. Luckily, both condors -- a female found shot with three lead shotgun pellets and a male found full of 15 pellets -- are alive; both, however, are suffering from lead poisoning and may never again fly free. In addition to hiring an investigator, the Center announced that the reward fund for help in apprehending the shooter or shooters is now at $40,500, thanks to generous pledges made by several groups (including the Center, the Wendy P. McGaw Foundation, and the Humane Society). It's one of the largest rewards ever offered in connection with an injured endangered species.

Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

Palin: Murrelet Not Dead Enough

Adding another species to its list of critically endangered creatures to ignore, last Thursday Alaska's Palin administration responded to a Center for Biological Diversity petition to protect the rare Kittlitz's murrelet with a stubborn and entirely unscientific no way! The small, speckled-gray seabird faces a variety of threats at sea and on land, including global warming, oil pollution, and fisheries-bycatch mortality -- and experts say it may be gone from core areas of its range within 20 years if something isn't done to save it. Still, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game lost no time in rejecting the Center's March petition to put the bird on the state's endangered species list, claiming there's "insufficient information" showing that Kittlitz's murrelet numbers are low enough for worry. But in fact, the unfortunate bird's populations have plummeted by 80 to 90 percent in the past two decades in its main haunts from Glacier Bay to Prince William Sound.

As Center seabird biologist Shaye Wolf declares, "The Palin administration's active refusal to protect Alaska's imperiled wildlife from the Kittlitz's murrelet to the polar bear to the Cook Inlet beluga whale jeopardizes our nation's natural heritage, ignores the science, and denies reality."

Get more from

Feds Refuse to Protect Bay Area Fish

After a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, last week imperiled longfin smelt in the San Francisco Bay-Delta got some bad news when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it wouldn't grant specific protections to fish in the estuary. Thanks to serious federal and state mismanagement of the Bay-Delta, which has depleted the Delta ecosystem of the fresh water native fish need to survive, once-abundant species like the longfin smelt, delta smelt, and Sacramento splittail have experienced population nose-dives. In March, the California Fish and Game Commission responded to another Center petition by voting to protect longfin smelt under the state's Endangered Species Act. But the Fish and Wildlife Service (without scientific support for its finding) has declared that Bay-Delta longfin smelt aren't different enough from those in other areas to warrant federal protection of the population per se.

On the bright side, the feds did declare they'll look at the status of the longfin smelt across its range, including the Bay-Delta and a handful of other West Coast estuaries. Unfortunately, as Center senior attorney Lisa Belenky observes: "Longfin smelt in the Bay have been at historic lows and need immediate protection to survive. Protection for the species as a whole may be too late for longfin smelt in the San Francisco Bay."

Read more in the San José Mercury News.

Can Poetry Save the Earth?

Mother Nature has always been one of poets' main muses -- and environmental activists' inspiration, of course. But can poetry about the natural world inspire action to save it before it's too late? Or as Stanford professor John Felstiner poses the question -- much more eloquently -- in his new book, "If poems touch our full humanness, can they quicken awareness and bolster respect for this ravaged resilient earth we live on?"

In Can Poetry Save the Earth? A Field Guide to Nature Poems, Felstiner presents and re-animates nature-focused poetry by dozens of writers, from Blake to Yeats, revealing the tension produced when our most poetic human minds ponder the environment that nurtures our brains and bodies -- and that we're fast destroying.

Get more on Felstiner's latest book in and read his top picks for powerful poems that just might contribute to our planet's salvation.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: beluga whales (c) Mike Tiller, MCT Images; beluga whale by Robyn Angliss, National Marine Mammal Laboratory; coral reef by Linda Wade, NOAA; polar bear (c) Larry Master; Peninsular bighorn sheep (c) Steve Elkins; California condor courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Chuck Szmurlo under the Gnu free documentation license; Kittlitz's  murrelet (c) Glen Tepke; longfin smelt courtesy California Department of Fish and Game; William Blake portrait by Thomas Phillips, courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

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