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Feds Agree to Examine Trawler Impact on Sea Turtles

In response to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, the National Marine Fisheries Service on Tuesday announced it will examine whether shrimp trawling in the Gulf of Mexico is endangering imperiled sea turtles. Wildlife rescuers have collected more than 1,000 sea turtles since the BP oil-spill disaster, more than 500 of which were dead. Most drowned, which can happen when turtles are caught in trawls. The law requires shrimp trawlers to use "turtle-excluder devices" to let sea turtles escape, but reports of widespread noncompliance shows more must be done to protect turtles from this number-one cause of death. Five endangered sea turtles -- the Kemp's ridleys, loggerheads, greens, leatherbacks and hawksbills -- rely on the gulf for crucial breeding, feeding and migratory habitat.

Our petition asked the Fisheries Service to halt shrimp trawling until adequate sea turtle protections are in place; unfortunately, trawling began in the Gulf again this week. "These turtles face even more serious challenges to their survival since BP spewed millions of gallons of oil and chemical dispersants into their habitat," said Andrea Treece, an attorney with the Center. "Right now they need all the help we can give them. Losing even more turtles to drowning in shrimp trawls may just be too much for some species to rebound from."

Check out our press release and learn more about our campaigns to save loggerheads and leatherbacks from fisheries and other threats.

Center Op-ed: Wolf Recovery Needs National Vision

In an op-ed published in newspapers in Utah and Maine, the Center for Biological Diversity's Noah Greenwald last week applauded our recent win for gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains -- and showed how it supports viewing wolf recovery from a national perspective. Earlier this month, a court restored Endangered Species Act protections to northern Rockies gray wolves after finding that splitting the area's wolf population along state lines (removing wolf safeguards in Idaho and Montana while retaining them in Wyoming) was against the law. Indeed, says Greenwald: A piecemeal approach to recovering these majestic canines is not only illegal but backwards. It allows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to rely on decades-old recovery plans that vastly underestimate how many wolves are needed for true recovery, laying the groundwork for its own premature attempts at removing protections state by state and opening wolf populations up to hunting.

That's why the Center last month filed a scientific petition for a national gray wolf recovery plan, which would provide much-needed guidance for establishing wolf populations in suitable habitat across the country. As Greenwald's piece says, "We hope our petition sparks a new national conversation about finishing the job of wolf restoration in a way that identifies suitable habitat, considers connectivity between populations, and gives this vital animal a chance to help us learn to live in balance."

Read more in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Drilling Reforms: Step Forward, But Not Far Enough

In a promising move for the environment, the Obama administration announced this week that it will no longer exempt certain deepwater offshore oil-drilling projects from environmental review -- as it did with the Deepwater Horizon project and so many others. Unfortunately, non-deepwater drilling operations may still be approved without review of their impacts, and deepwater wells that have already been OK'd without environmental review won't necessarily be under scrutiny.

In response, Center for Biological Diversity Executive Director Kierán Suckling applauded the step forward but denounced the decision not to impose full environmental review on all offshore drilling. Said Suckling, "We call on the administration to build on today's announcement and finally enforce all current law as it relates to dangerous offshore oil drilling on America's beautiful, important and irreplaceable coasts."

Check out our full statement.

Fire Could Spell Extinction for Rare Nevada Fish

A wildfire near Moapa, Nev., may speed up the demise of one of the state's most endangered fish, the Moapa dace. The fire last month decimated most of the Warm Springs Oasis, an environmentally sensitive area of the Muddy River that is one of the last homes of the dace, which was already in danger from unsustainable groundwater pumping, including a huge water grab planned by the Southern Nevada Water Authority. No one yet knows if the Warm Springs population of Moapa dace will survive the fire. A few fish were spotted last week, but if they're still alive they could soon be poisoned by fire retardant sprayed in the area. The Moapa dace's recovery plan says 6,000 individual fish are needed to ensure its survival, but the most recent count found only 460 fish -- and that was before the Warm Springs fire.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity's Rob Mrowka, this fire "could well be the event that pushes them over the edge to extinction." But the Center is ready to do whatever we can to save the Moapa dace -- we filed a notice of intent to sue over the water grab and other threats last year. This spring, we submitted 130 protests of water-rights applications that would be detrimental to the tiny fish and other imperiled species.

Get more from Nevada's Channel 8 News.

Remarkable Kangaroo Rat Will Keep Protections

One of Southern California's rarest and most interesting small mammals won a victory today when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared it will keep its Endangered Species Act protections. Those protections were challenged by agribusiness interests, which compelled the Service to re-investigate the Stephen's kangaroo rat's endangered status. Only 16 populations of the mammal exist on Earth, four of which are either predicted to die out or aren't protected. The large-eyed, large-footed kangaroo rat -- not actually a rat at all -- can manufacture its own water in the desert just from the seeds it eats.

Unfortunately, the Stephens' kangaroo rat is in immediate danger from development projects in key areas of its miniscule habitat, three of which the Center for Biological Diversity is challenging in court. "The Fish and Wildlife Service made the right call on keeping protections for this classically Southern California rare mammal," said the Center's Ileene Anderson. "Now instead of keeping it teetering on the brink of extinction, they need to step up protections to recover the kangaroo rat."

Learn details in our press release.

Three Foreign Birds Earn U.S. Protection

Following a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this Tuesday announced it will protect three imperiled foreign birds -- the Andean flamingo, Chilean woodstar and St. Lucia forest thrush -- under the Endangered Species Act. The Andean flamingo, one of three flamingos native to the Andes mountain range, is threatened by habitat loss, wetlands contamination, tourism, development and hunting. Its fellow South American bird, the beautiful Chilean woodstar of Chile and Peru, is declining fast mostly from habitat loss and insecticide poisoning. Farther north in the Caribbean, the St. Lucia forest thrush is being jeopardized by large-scale deforestation of its lush island home.

The Center has gone to court several times to speed U.S. protection for these and 70 other endangered birds across the globe, compelling the Fish and Wildlife Service to declare that 50 of them warrant safeguards. Of those, 10 have been protected under the Endangered Species Act so far.

Learn more about the Center's campaigns for the Andean flamingo, Chilean woodstar, St. Lucia forest thrush and other international birds.

Center in Court to Halt 677-mile Gas Pipeline

To save endangered fish in four states, the Center for Biological Diversity today filed a motion to stop construction of the 677-mile "Ruby" natural-gas pipeline. The pipeline would cut across some of the most pristine, remote lands of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and Oregon, in the process trenching through more than 1,000 rivers and streams -- including key habitat for the Lahontan cutthroat trout, Warner creek sucker, Lost River sucker and Colorado pikeminnow. In the next several months, the project would use more than 400 million gallons of the West's precious water. Construction off the pipeline began on July 30 -- the same day the Center filed our original lawsuit challenging the Bureau of Land Management's decision to allow it on public lands, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's OK of the project despite its own review acknowledging the pipeline's harmful environmental effects.

"Construction of the Ruby Pipeline should be stopped until questions about its impact on endangered fish can be answered," said Center Endangered Species Program Director Noah Greenwald. "The rush to build this pipeline is precluding options with lower impacts on endangered fish and other resources."

Read more in our press release.

Safeguards in Sight for San Francisco's Namesake -- and Rarest -- Plant

Due to a scientific petition by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, the recently rediscovered Franciscan manzanita -- whose entire known wild population consists of one plant -- just moved closer to legal protection. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week announced that the plant may deserve Endangered Species Act status, launching a year-long scientific review of the plant's plight -- which is dire.

This species' survival is a minor miracle, the result of several heroic acts by botanists. In 1906, the specimens that first identified the species were rescued from the California Academy of Sciences as fires driven by the San Francisco earthquake burned the academy's collections. Then, in 1947, a famous botanist stood in front of heavy construction equipment to save the last two known wild plants from destruction. After those plants were sent to a botanical garden, the species was declared extinct in the wild -- until finally, last year, Dr. Daniel Gluesenkamp had an unlikely drive-by sighting of a single plant within a San Francisco Presidio highway construction project.

The single surviving wild Franciscan manzanita plant was moved from the construction zone to a secure location. Now, the feds' response to our petition compels them to move forward in protecting the plant and help it succeed once again in its natural habitat.

Read more in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Coming Soon: New ORV Plans for Southwest Forests

It's a critical period for species and habitat across Arizona and New Mexico. As you read this, the Forest Service is putting the finishing touches on long-overdue plans for off-road vehicle management on national forests in both states. If the plans are done right, they'll protect millions of acres of land after decades of mismanagement and neglect. But if they're done wrong -- falling short on protecting wildlife and watersheds -- the plans could allow thousands of miles of roads to remain open to habitat-fragmenting, plant-destroying, soil-eroding ORVs. So far, plans for New Mexico's Santa Fe and Cibola national forests look promising, with both forests lined up to slash harmful roads across most ranger districts. Unfortunately for some forests, mainly in Arizona, the Forest Service plans to leave vast swaths of land open for off-road travel by hunters retrieving downed elk.

The Center for Biological Diversity has submitted extensive comments on these plans -- and you can, too, wherever you live.

Visit our Travel-management Planning updates page to learn the latest on each forest's plan and what you can do. Then read our press release on the plans.

Study Implicates Humans in Giant Turtle's Demise -- 3,000 Years Ago

If you think human-caused extinction is a recent development, think again. A new study shows that at least one of the earliest species wipe-outs known to man was also largely caused by man: the extinction of the giant turtle, thought the longest-surviving of the massive "megafauna" that once roamed the earth. On an island in the South Pacific, an Australian research team found the most recent specimens of the turtle's leg bones -- the only part of the eight-foot-long horned reptile known to be edible -- in an ancient dump dated about 200 years after humans' arrival on the island. This suggests that people hunted the amazing animal off the earth within a couple hundred years of discovering it.

"When people turn up they put these populations under enormous pressure," said Chris Turney, a professor at the University of Exeter in the UK. "It looks like these fantastic turtles are another example."

Get more from BBC News.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: hawksbill sea turtle courtesy Flickr/nhurto; leatherback sea turtle by Nancy Block, NOAA; gray wolf courtesy Flickr/dalliedee; oil rig courtesy Flickr/arbyreed; Moapa dace courtesy USFWS; Stephens' kangaroo rat (c) Mark A. Chappell; Andean flamingo (c) Hanne and Jens Eriksen,; Lahontan cutthroat trout courtesy USGS; Franciscan manzanita by J.S. Peterson, USDA; Cibola National Forest courtesy USFS; fossil turtle courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Shizhao.

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