Gulf of Mexico Fishery Shut Down for Sea Turtles
Responding to an April suit by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, last week the National Marine Fisheries Service ordered a six-month emergency closure of the Gulf of Mexico's bottom longline fishery to halt sea-turtle slaughter. When sea turtles get tangled among the hundreds (or even thousands) of baited hooks used by longline fishing vessels, they sustain life-threatening injuries. If they don't drown while caught in the hooks, turtles are often unable to snap out of the extreme psychological stress of capture and die immediately after release. According to the Service's data, fishery vessels in the Gulf caught nearly 1,000 sea turtles -- including about 800 federally protected loggerheads -- between July 2006 and December 2008, nearly eight times the number the agency itself deemed permissible. Now the fishery will be closed for 180 days, starting on May 16, to allow for a new evaluation of the fishery's impacts and ensure it's not likely to jeopardize the existence of sea turtle species.
"This temporary closure gives sea turtles a much-needed reprieve and gives the agency time to make scientifically sound decisions regarding the long-term operation of the fishery," said Center attorney Andrea Treece. "More sea turtles will now have a chance to make it back to their nesting beaches -- and even just look for food -- without getting caught up in longlines."
Get more from MSNBC.
Gray Wolves Lose Protections; Suit Brewing Over Imminent Wolf Slaughter
This Monday, the feds' April 2 rule went into effect to prematurely remove federal protections for gray wolves in the northern Rockies, Great Lakes region, and other areas -- just more than a month after the rule was finalized and the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, represented by Earthjustice, filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue. The rule -- the same rule published in Bush's last days and temporarily put on hold when President Barack Obama came on the scene -- is a follow-through on a Bush administration plan to increase federal and private wolf hunting. Many states are already figuratively rubbing their hands in glee at their new wolf-killing privileges: Idaho plans to kill hundreds of wolves, many of which will be brutally gunned down from the air, while Great Lakes states will allow the killing of significant numbers of wolves even as disease is killing pups. Wolves in Wyoming are the only ones that will keep their federal safeguards -- because Wyoming refused to provide the minimal state protections other states promised (which are still grossly inadequate). Besides affecting wolves in the northern Rockies and western Great Lakes, the rule also undermines wolf recovery in a third of eastern Oregon and eastern Washington, as well as a portion of northern Utah -- though wolf presence in those regions is barely budding.
Despite the fact that we submitted our notice of intent to sue the very day the wolf-dooming rule was finalized, we must legally wait 60 days to file suit -- while the feds only had to wait a month to put their rule into effect. As Center wolf expert Michael Robinson asserts, "We fear that once again wolves will be wantonly slaughtered before a court can rule."
Read more in the Yellowstone Insider.
Center Delivers 94K Petitions to Save Polar Bear
With four days left for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to save polar bear protections wielding just his John Hancock, this Tuesday the Center for Biological Diversity's Senior Counsel Bill Snape delivered more than 94,000 citizen petitions, along with more than 30 editorials and letters to the editor, to the secretary urging him to save the bears now. The petitions, which have been quickly amassing as more and more Center devotees declare their support for the Arctic bear and its habitat, urge Salazar in no uncertain terms to rescind the special rule passed by the Bush administration that exempts the greatest threats to the species, global warming and oil and gas development, from regulation under the Endangered Species Act. As most of our readers know, Congress gave Salazar the power to easily rescind the polar bear rule -- along with a Bush rule eviscerating the Endangered Species Act -- in March, and he thankfully came through for the Act on April 28. But not for the polar bear. He has until May 9 to rescind the rule; after that, it'll be a lot harder to undo.
"Congress and the American people have made clear that they want Secretary Salazar to protect the polar bear," declared Snape. "The polar bear is severely threatened by loss of sea ice to climate change. . . [and] the special rule is a death warrant."
It's not too late to sign our petition -- and get the word out by tomorrow to anyone who hasn't heard yet. Post to your Facebook page, tweet the petition to your peeps, blog about the climate crisis, and save the polar bear. Read more in the New York Times.
Thousands of Caves Closed in 33 States to Protect Bats
More than a year after the Center for Biological Diversity and Heartwood petitioned to protect endangered bats in the face of the deadly white-nose syndrome -- specifically, to close off caves and other spots where the flying mammals hibernate -- the Forest Service has announced it will close to the public all caves and abandoned mines on agency lands across the Midwest, New England, and its southern region, in 33 states total. The move is an attempt to stop the spread of white-nose syndrome, a mysterious disease that has killed 500,000 to a million bats (including endangered Indiana bats) since it was first discovered fewer than three years ago in New York. The Forest Service's move comes just weeks after the disease popped up for the first time in Virginia.
Says Mollie Matteson, the Center's premier bat advocate: "The closures are the right thing to do, but we wish the Forest Service had done this last year. White-nose syndrome demonstrated its horrible lethality from the get-go. In the face of such a threat, responsible agencies need to be proactive in protecting species, not waiting until the disease is on the doorstep."
Get more on the cave closures from the Associated Press, read more on white-nose syndrome's spread to Virginia in the Washington Post, and take action yourself to help save endangered bats. Then check out the mine of information on the disease offered by 10000birds.com.
Feds May Protect More Habitat for Two Southwest Fishes
Concluding a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, this week a federal judge ruled in favor of two pint-sized southwestern fish species, the spikedace and loach minnow, by rejecting an industry-interest request to strip existing habitat protections for the threatened fishes -- and prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider granting more habitat protections instead of removing them. Both fishes desperately need all the protected habitat they can get, since they've been eliminated from 80 percent of their ranges in Arizona and New Mexico thanks to grazing, dams, mining, groundwater pumping, nonnative species, and other threats. But under the Bush administration, former Interior Department official Julie MacDonald overruled agency scientists and ordered drastic reductions in habitat protections, slashing protected river miles from 898 to just 427 for the loach minnow and from 807 to just 260 for the spikedace. Then the Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties for Stable Economic Growth and the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association filed suit to completely remove habitat protections for the sake of their own economic interests. Now, thanks to Center intervention, the fishes can swim safely in their existing protected habitat until the Fish and Wildlife Service comes up with a better designation.
Our efforts for the spikedace and loach minnow are just part of a wider campaign to overturn 59 politically tainted endangered species decisions made under Bush. "The Bush administration is gone," asserts Center Biodiversity Program Director Noah Greenwald, "but cleaning up the mess it made in the endangered species program will take years."
Read more in the Tucson Citizen.
Agency Defies Congressional Uranium Ban Near Grand Canyon
Documents obtained this Tuesday show that late last month, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management directly shunned a 2008 Congressional resolution by authorizing uranium mining exploration across five projects on public lands north of Grand Canyon National Park -- an area obviously within the 1 million acres of lands that Congress' resolution deemed off-limits to all new uranium claims and exploration. This isn't the first time the resolution has been violated: In 2008, Bush's Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne continued to allow uranium exploration near the canyon, drawing a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, and the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon chapter. Despite the ongoing lawsuit, the Bureau apparently felt no need to inform the Center or our allies of its latest uranium authorizations -- perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the authorizations are illegal.
"The Bureau's continuing defiance of Congress on behalf of the uranium industry threatens one of our nation's most beloved national parks," said the Center's Public Lands Program Director Taylor McKinnon. It's time the Bureau of Land Management does its job and puts the Grand Canyon uranium rush to bed.
Read more in the New York Times.
Off-road Vehicle Plan Threatens Northern Arizona Public Lands
In other bad news for the Grand Canyon area, this month the Kaibab National Forest discounted formal objections by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies in finalizing an ill-conceived plan for the Tusayan Ranger District that allows off-road vehicle use to seriously threaten the nearby Grand Canyon National Park -- not to mention the national forest's own wildlife, habitat, and archeological sites. Ignoring a law requiring the protection of watershed quality as well as habitat for sensitive species like the northern goshawk, American pronghorn, and black bear, the Forest Service decided to let hunters drive off-road vehicles through nearly the entire forest to pick up downed elk. The agency didn't even look twice at an alternative plan proposed by the Center and allies that would have gone much further to protect forest resources. And as it is, the agency is already falling way short on enforcing the rules that are in place to limit off-road vehicle use.
Check out our press release, where you can read the plan itself, get background, and see unsettling photographic proof of off-road vehicles' effect on the forest. Then learn more about our off-road vehicle campaign.
Capitol Power Plant Ditches Coal
Less than two months after the Capitol Climate Action event, when the Center for Biological Diversity joined thousands of people in D.C. to protest coal and advocate for strong climate legislation, last Friday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader announced that the Capitol Power Plant will no longer burn coal. Days before the D.C. gathering in March, with opposition to the plant's dirty ways generating steam, Pelosi and Reid sent an official request to the architect of the Capitol to make sure the plant literally generates steam primarily using natural gas. Now, the nearly century-old plant -- which has been the largest source of carbon emissions on the Capitol Complex -- will use only cleaner-burning natural gas except in emergencies (and soon will abandon coal altogether).
This is a sizeable step in the right direction -- natural gas emits about half the CO2 of coal when burned. But in absolute terms, it's still a big contributor to global warming, and the Capitol Power Plant's switch won't get our planet far on the road to reducing our atmospheric carbon levels below the necessary 350 parts per million. The next step? Run the Capitol with solar power, of course.
Read more on the announcement in E & E News, check out the Center's eyewitness account of Capitol Climate Action, and learn more about the significance of 350 ppm.
Thanks for the Props, Center Supporters!
Last month we asked folks to evaluate the Center for Biological Diversity on GreatNonprofits.org, the host of the 2009 Green Choice Awards -- a contest to find the best nonprofits in the country. And guess what? Thanks to your rave reviews (and even though we got in the contest late), we won the Best in the Southwest title. According to our fans, we're a "lean, mean, green machine" that "uses every cent" to make "a real difference for the environment, our planet, and its inhabitants (us!)." And here's a statement that especially warmed our hearts: "I am proud to be a member. I go from despair to hope when I see how effectively the Center for Biological Diversity carries out its mission."
Thanks to all who submitted a review -- and to all who support us through the good times and the bad. The awards may be over, but you can still review us: Check out our page on GreatNonprofits.org.
Photo credits: gray wolves courtesy USFWS; loggerhead sea turtle courtesy NOAA; gray wolf by Tracy Brooks, USFWS; polar bear (c) Brendan Cummings; Indiana bat (c) J. Scott Altenbach, Maryland Department of Natural Resources; spikedace by Marty Jakle, USFWS; Grand Canyon courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Luca Galuzzi-www.galuzzi.it under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 license; pronghorn (c) Robin Silver; Capitol Climate Action by Francisca Santana; desert nesting bald eagle by Tom Gatz, USFWS.
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