Protection in Sight for Gulf's Bluefin Tuna
In response to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity -- and within days of our notice of intent to sue over delay -- the National Marine Fisheries Service has determined that the Atlantic bluefin tuna may warrant Endangered Species Act protection. Already threatened by overfishing and habitat degradation, the majestic bluefin is more imperiled than ever since the Gulf oil-spill disaster, which coated its breeding grounds in oil during spawning season. Overfishing of the tuna -- largely for the sushi market -- has caused a more than 80-percent decline from what the population would be without fishing pressure. In 2007, fishermen reported catching 34,514 tons of eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna, exceeding the allowable catch by about 5,000 tons -- and scientists estimate the actual amount could be twice as much.
Darting through the water at speeds that rival cars on a freeway, the bluefin tuna is among the fastest of all species on earth. It can cross the entire Atlantic Ocean in fewer than 60 days, grow to 13 feet in length and weigh almost a ton.
Read more in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
New Cave, Mine Closures to Help Stem Deadly Bat Disease
In another small step forward in the epic fight against the most devastating bat disease ever known, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week announced it will close all bat caves and mines in the National Wildlife Refuge System to reduce the spread of white-nose syndrome. Most important bat caves have long been closed to human visitors, but not necessarily mines -- which are also prime sites for bat roosting and hibernation, particularly in western states (where the disease is heading fast). About nine refuges host mines that will now be closed by the new order. The Service is also planning new research and monitoring programs for these sites. But more must be done: Since the disease appeared in 2006 in New York, it has spread to 14 states and two Canadian provinces and killed more than a million bats, including the endangered Indiana and gray bats -- plus the once-thriving northern long-eared and eastern small-footed bats, which the Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned to protect. We've also petitioned to close all bat caves and mines on federal lands and for federal agencies to re-evaluate all activities that could harm bats.
"We need a comprehensive national response plan to attack this crisis at every available level," said the Center's Mollie Matteson. "Right now we're the best defense these bats have against this deadly disease, and we have to make sure we live up to our responsibility."
Check out our press release and learn about our campaign to fight white-nose syndrome.
Nevada OKs Hunt of Rare, Renowned Sage Grouse
On Saturday, the state of Nevada opened an ill-advised hunting season for the greater sage grouse -- which federal officials have already declared warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. While the unique grouse awaits official placement on the endangered species list, Nevada wildlife officials have authorized gunning it down in parts of eight counties. The bird once numbered in the millions, but fewer than 200,000 sage grouse are now estimated to survive across 11 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The decline is due to a number of factors, including oil and gas development, livestock grazing and off-road vehicles. The bird is famous for its fascinating mating rituals, in which males fan their tailfeathers, raise their wings, bob their heads and expand distinctive yellow air sacs to compete for females' favor.
"Nevada is making it OK to hunt a species that federal biologists say needs more protection. What does that say about the state agency charged with protecting Nevada's wildlife?" said Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based ecologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, which is seeking federal protections for the grouse. "State and federal wildlife agencies should be working together, rather than at cross purposes, to help this magnificent bird survive."
Read more in the Elko Daily Free Press and check out our brand-new Nevada website.
Petition Confronts Emissions From Locomotives
The Center for Biological Diversity and allies on Tuesday submitted the first-ever petition to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. locomotives -- a significant carbon dioxide polluter in the transportation sector. In fact, in 2008 alone, U.S. locomotives used more than 4 billion gallons of diesel fuel and released more than 50 million tons of CO2 into the air. Also each year, they emit more than 25,000 tons of particle pollution smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter (called PM2.5), including significant amounts of black carbon -- a particularly potent warming-inducing particle. Black carbon and PM2.5 also pose serious threats to humans who breathe them. The Center's petition is the final step in requesting regulations for every component of the transportation sector.
Our petition specifically asks the U.S. Environmental Protection Service to regulate greenhouse gases and particulate pollution under the Clean Air Act. We've already petitioned for the regulation of emissions from ships and aircraft under the Act, as well as participating in the landmark lawsuit that defined CO2 as an air pollutant requiring regulation. "Getting a handle on the global climate crisis requires limits on its most ubiquitous sources, and that includes locomotives," said Vera Pardee, senior attorney at the Center. "The EPA is now moving ahead to limit greenhouse gas pollution from cars, trucks, power plants and cement factories, but the job can't stop there."
Check out our press release and learn more about our climate work under the Clean Air Act.
Amphibians May Get Help Against Fatal Fungus -- Take Action
A disease called Chytridiomycosis, caused by chytrid fungus, is behind the decline of about 200 amphibian species across the globe. The fatal disease is devastating to those it infects: It can cause reddened and/or sloughed skin, hind-limb convulsions, ulcers or hemorrhaging, and respiratory and nervous-system problems. Lax regulation of the live amphibian trade -- primarily for pet use and the consumption of frog legs -- has given a frightening boost to the risk that chytrid fungus will continue to enter and be spread within the United States. Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stepped up to announce that it may adopt rules banning the transportation of live amphibians infected with chytrid fungus into the United States or across state lines without a permit.
The chytrid fungus is harming several rare U.S. amphibians that the Center for Biological Diversity is working to protect, from the high-alpine mountain yellow-legged frog to the low-voiced Oregon spotted frog. Although additional measures are still needed, "restricting the transport of chytrid-infected amphibians is a common-sense step," said Collette Adkins Giese, the Center's staff attorney focused on protecting rare amphibians and reptiles.
Visit our Amphibian Conservation webpage, where you can also read the Service's notice seeking information from the public on the need for trade restrictions. Then take action to support those restrictions and protect amphibians.
Southwest Minnow Defended From Pipeline
The Center for Biological Diversity on Tuesday filed a legal petition to stop work on an aging natural-gas pipeline that would harm the threatened loach minnow, a tiny fish that lives only in Arizona and New Mexico. The federal government is allowing the pipeline's proponent, the El Paso Corporation, to replace three segments of an existing pipeline, laid in 1967 to serve an open-pit copper mine. The project would require the company to spread rock and construct a permanent concrete structure within the streambed and floodplain of the San Francisco River near Clifton, Ariz. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already declared that the plan will destroy federally protected "critical habitat" for the minnow and disturb the fish by removing water from its channel and digging up the streambed. The sail-finned loach minnow, whose hatchlings are less than a quarter-inch long, is already severely threatened by livestock grazing, mining, logging, groundwater pumping and more.
The Center's petition requests that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rethink its approval of El Paso's plan, since the company failed to consider more environmentally sound alternatives -- like removing the pipeline.
Read more in Law360.
California Refuses to Safeguard Pacific Fisher
Defying independent and agency scientists -- as well as a 2008 Center for Biological Diversity petition -- the California Fish and Game Commission last week decided not to protect the Pacific fisher, an imperiled member of the weasel family. Already lost from 40 percent of its California range due largely to historical trapping (now outlawed) for its luxurious fur, the fisher's small California population is now endangered by logging, development, climate change and several other threats. The Commission and California Fish and Game Department initially tried to dismiss the Center's petition for protection -- until we revealed that the Department's own scientists had supported the petition, forcing the Department to start a review of the fisher's status in 2009. During the status review, the Department again ignored its own scientists, submitting to the Commission an altered version of the review that downplayed threats the fisher faces.
The Pacific fisher is shy but ferocious, the only animal tough enough to regularly prey on porcupines -- yet it can't endure the threats it faces without protection. "The decision by the Commission to deny the fisher protection is a clear example of political appointees ignoring both science and the law in order to placate the timber industry," said Justin Augustine, a Center attorney. "Every independent biologist who has weighed in found the Department of Fish and Game's status review of the fisher to be unjustified."
Read more in the Seattle Examiner.
Caribbean Plant Deserves -- But Is Denied -- Protection
After two Center for Biological Diversity lawsuits, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday announced that the Agave eggersiana, a rare, towering Virgin Islands plant, warrants Endangered Species Act protection -- but won't get it yet. The unique century plant (or agave), which can grow up to 20 feet tall and flowers just once before it withers and dies, now survives only on the island of St. Croix. There, a mere 450 remaining plants are threatened by habitat destruction, nonnative species and other factors. But while the feds have recognized the plant's plight, they've declared protection "warranted but precluded" by other agency actions, putting the species on the "candidate list" to await protections until further notice (which could be decades). The species was previously on this list from 1993 to 1996, and the Obama administration now appears content to put it back there to be forgotten for another 15 years.
Since taking office, the Obama administration has made 10 "warranted by precluded" findings, including four this month. Says Center attorney Jaclyn Lopez: "The Obama administration's policies of delay and inaction threaten to write the final chapter on this island plant and other species that badly need protection but have yet to get it.
Read more in our press release; then learn about the Center's campaigns for the Agave eggersiana and all the other U.S. candidate species.
Center's Climate Director Among Top 10 "Most Influential Lawyers of the Decade"
Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, was yesterday named one of California's 10 most influential lawyers of the decade by the state's largest legal news provider, the Daily Journal. The listing specifically honors Siegel's work in earning Endangered Species Act protections for the polar bear, the first mammal safeguarded due to threats from climate change. Siegel both wrote the petition to protect the species and, when that protection was repeatedly delayed, led the legal battle to ultimately force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to declare the bear "threatened" in 2008. With Siegel at the helm, the Climate Law Institute has secured many other precedent-setting legal wins and has become one of the leading climate policy and litigation shops in the nation, working for protection for numerous warming-threatened species as well as integrating greenhouse gas emission concerns into the setting of fuel-mileage standards and forcing developers and planners to address global warming impacts under California law.
"If I were facing extinction, I'd want Kassie Siegel as my lawyer," said Patrick Parenteau, Vermont Law School professor and board member of the Climate Law Institute. "Kassie has already left her mark on environmental law, and she's just getting started."
Check out our press release and learn more about the Climate Law Institute.
Pick the 2010 Rubber Dodo Award Winner
It's that time again to choose the winner of the Center for Biological Diversity's Rubber Dodo award, bestowed each year upon the person who's been doing his or her very best (that is, worst) to destroy wild places and drive species to extinction. Who will win this year? BP CEO Tony Hayward, who was at the helm when Deepwater Horizon exploded -- and then did everything he could to downplay and cover up the oil spill's devastating effects? Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has rubberstamped scores of offshore projects, lifted gray wolf safeguards and continued the Bush administration's legacy of protecting as few species as possible? What about Idaho's blatantly wolf-hating Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter? Or will it be Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, who has given his all in vehemently opposing protections for his state's endangered species, wildlands and sensitive offshore habitat?
You decide. Or write in a nominee for yourself -- we dare you to think of an eco-villain more heinous than our top four picks.
Photo credits: greater sage grouse courtesy Flickr/Bryant Olsen; bluefin tuna by Jackson Chu; northern long-eared bat courtesy Flickr/John McCullough; greater sage grouse courtesy Flickr/Bryant Olsen; locomotive courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Nate Beal; mountain yellow-legged frog by Adam Backlin, USGS; loach minnow (c) John Rinne; Pacific fisher courtesy Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; Agave eggersiana by Robin Cooley; Kassie Siegel; rubber dodo.
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