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African Penguin Wins U.S. Protection

Responding to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity and litigation by the Center and allies, the Interior Department this Tuesday announced it will protect the African penguin under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The two-foot-tall, black-masked African penguin -- the only nesting penguin on the African continent -- has declined by 95 percent since pre-industrial times and is endangered by climate change, oil spills, overfishing and habitat destruction, among many other threats. Endangered Species Act protection will raise awareness about the penguin's plight, increase research and conservation funding, and provide oversight of U.S.-approved activities that could harm the species.

The African penguin joins five other penguin species around the world (the Humboldt of Peru and Chile, and the yellow-eyed, white-flippered, Fiordland and erect-crested of New Zealand) that have so far earned protected status due to the Center's work. Our next step for penguin protection is to soon file suit against the Interior Department for its refusal to protect emperor and northern rockhopper penguins despite their endangerment by climate change and commercial fisheries.

Read more in our press release and learn about our campaign for penguins.

Abalone on Way to 150 Square Miles of Protected Habitat -- Take Action

As a result of a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, the National Marine Fisheries Service this week proposed to protect 150 square miles of intertidal "critical habitat" for one of California's most endangered shellfish, the black abalone. Once common in Southern California tidepools, the unique invertebrate has declined by 99 percent since the '70s due mainly to collecting (now banned); the spread of a disease called withering syndrome, which is exacerbated by global warming; and ocean acidification, which hinders abalone growth, reproduction and young survival. After a 2006 scientific petition by the Center, the black abalone was placed on the endangered species list in 2009 -- but the feds never set aside protected habitat (as required by law). Once habitat is officially protected, law requires concrete steps to shield abalone from activities that will destroy designated habitat -- including projects with significant greenhouse gas emissions.

Abalone can grow to be eight inches long and can spawn up to 11 million eggs at a time. These curious animals have tiny heads complete with eyes, mouth and a pair of black tentacles, as well as a single, muscular suction-cup foot they use to cling to tidal rocks and crevices. Though their shells appear dark from the outside, their inner linings are a beautiful, iridescent pink and green.

The proposed 150-square mile habitat isn't a sure bet, yet.  The feds need to hear from you that black abalone need protection -- take action now. Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

200-plus Wolves Back in Crosshairs in Montana, Idaho

Documents just released Monday confirm that the state of Montana is seeking approval to kill 186 gray wolves and Idaho is asking to kill about 50 -- despite the fact that both states' gray wolves remain protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter -- who once boasted he'd be the first in line to hunt a wolf, and is now twice nominated for the Center's Rubber Dodo Award -- also wants to subject wolves in his state to a public hunt. Meanwhile, four bills have been introduced in Congress to strip away Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and beyond. It's all part of a reaction to a federal judge's decision in early August that restored much-needed protections for wolves in Montana, Idaho and parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah. (In response to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, the judge chastised the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for earlier lifting protections based on state boundaries, not sound science.)

The Center for Biological Diversity has been saving gray wolves for two decades and we're not stopping now--our expert scientists and lawyers are already weighing into these new fights. There are still nowhere near enough wolves in Idaho or Montana to allow for the animals' long-term survival, especially considering they're already routinely shot by wildlife agents and ranchers. In fact, wolves occupy only 5 percent of their historic range in the lower 48 states. So instead of allowing more killings and loosening protections, the feds should develop a nationwide gray wolf recovery plan to help wolves repopulate their former range on the West Coast and in New England, Colorado and the Great Plains. The Center petitioned for just that recovery plan earlier this year.

Read more in the Missoulian.

68 Groups Join Call to Ban Lead in Ammo, Fishing Tackle

Sixty-eight organizations in 27 states have now signed on to the Center for Biological Diversity's petition to ban toxic lead in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle. The Center and allies filed a legal petition in August asking the Environmental Protection Agency to require ammo and tackle to be free of lead, which needlessly kills and harms 10 million to 20 million birds each year -- including bald eagles, trumpeter swans and severely endangered California condors -- and jeopardizes human health to boot. Animals are poisoned when they scavenge on carcasses containing lead-bullet fragments or ingest spent lead-shot pellets or lost fishing weights, mistaking them for food or grit.

Our petition, citing nearly 500 scientific papers on lead's deleterious effects, was submitted with the American Bird Conservancy and three other groups -- and now, with the help of the Bird Conservation Alliance, we've enlisted signatures from scores of other organizations representing birders, hunters, zoologists, American Indians, physicians, veterinarians and public employees. "It's encouraging to see so many types of organizations unite for the common goal of ending lead poisoning of wildlife in this country," said the Center's Jeff Miller. "Extensive science links lead poisoning in wildlife to spent ammunition and fishing weights. Now that there are safe and available alternatives for these outdoor sports, there's no good reason for this poisoning to continue."

Read more in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Safeguards Sought for Carnivore Once Believed Extinct

The Center for Biological Diversity and Environmental Protection Information Center on Tuesday petitioned to protect the Humboldt marten -- an imperiled mammal related to minks and otters -- under the Endangered Species Act. The cat-sized carnivore lives only in coastal old-growth forests in Northern California and southern Oregon, most of which have already been destroyed by logging. In fact, the animal was assumed extinct for 50 years until it was rediscovered on the Six Rivers National Forest in 1996. Now fewer than 100 Humboldt martens are known to exist today, and they remain under threat from logging, wildfire, predation, legal trapping in Oregon and just the sheer scarcity of their population. Says the Center's wildlife biologist Tierra Curry, who authored our marten petition, "These martens are in dire need of Endangered Species Act protection if they're going to have any chance at survival."

Check out our press release and learn more about the Humboldt marten.

10,000 Public Acres Saved From Mining in Arizona

Strengthening an earlier court victory for the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last Thursday upheld a decision halting a land exchange that would have allowed mining on thousands of pristine Arizona acres. The Bureau of Land Management had planned to swap more than 10,000 acres of public land east of Phoenix -- including the biodiversity-rich White Canyon Resource Conservation Area -- for about 7,300 acres of land owned by mining corporation Asarco LLC. The BLM's environmental analysis assumed that mining impacts would've been the same whether or not the exchange happened -- an arrogant assumption that ignores how federal laws could help protect natural resources on public lands if those lands weren't traded away.

The 10,000 acres in question provide crucial habitat for rare species, including desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, and many birds and plants. The Center and allies had challenged the land exchange in 2001 to protect these species, and in 2009 we won. Last week's ruling upholds a previous 9th Circuit decision and leaves Asarco and the BLM few legal options for seeking the land exchange -- likely ending a decade of hard-fought litigation.

Get more in a radio story from Arizona Public Media.

Center Petitions for "Snag"-dependent California Woodpecker

To help one of California's most uniquely adapted birds -- and the misunderstood ecosystems it needs for survival -- the Center for Biological Diversity and John Muir Project have filed a scientific petition to protect black-backed woodpeckers under California's Endangered Species Act. These woodpeckers live primarily in "snag forests" that have been through high-intensity fires leaving behind burned trees, or "snags" -- forests commonly (and incorrectly) thought to have no value for wildlife. In reality, many animals prefer to inhabit post-fire forests, and the black-backed woodpecker needs burned trees for nesting sites and to support the wood-boring beetles it eats. But salvage logging after fires and fire suppression have reduced snag-forest habitat to a fraction of what it once was in California, leaving potentially fewer than 300 black-backed woodpeckers in the whole state.

"California's forestry rules currently contain a loophole that allows post-fire salvage logging to essentially occur unchecked, which allows the destruction of vital habitat for the black-backed woodpecker and other species," said Center attorney Justin Augustine. "State-level endangered species protection for the woodpecker will help close that loophole."

Snag details in our press release and learn more about our campaign to save the black-backed woodpecker.

California Burrowing Owl Population Declining Fast

Results from a newly released survey had some alarming news for California's largest burrowing owl population: Numbers in Imperial Valley dropped 27 percent between 2007 and 2008. Burrowing owls are in decline throughout the Golden State, and the latest data from Imperial Valley adds to the evidence that these ground-nesting, sandy-colored owls are in desperate need of protection under California's Endangered Species Act. The Center for Biological Diversity and allies petitioned for state listing in 2003, but the California Fish and Game Commission rejected our petition after a highly controversial assessment by the state's Department of Fish and Game. Later, it was revealed that the Department had suppressed agency biologists' opinion that the owl should be considered for endangered or threatened state status.

Burrowing owls in the Imperial Valley, which nest almost entirely in ground-squirrel burrows along earthen irrigation canals and drains, represent nearly half of California's breeding pairs. The Imperial population was down to 3,557 breeding pairs in 2008. "Breeding owls have been eliminated from a quarter of their former range in California over the past two decades as their habitat has been destroyed and they've been shoved aside for urban development," said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate at the Center. "It's now uncertain whether owls will persist in areas where they were thought to be secure, including the Imperial Valley."

Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

Thousands Rise Up for Mountains at "Appalachia Rising"

This week thousands of activists, including Center for Biological Diversity attorney Bethany Cotton, gathered on the steps of the nation's capitol for Appalachia Rising, an event to urge the government to ban mountaintop-removal coal mining. Mountaintop removal mining literally blows up mountains to get at coal and dumps toxic debris directly into streams, poisoning endangered species and human communities -- with a current toll of more than 500 decimated mountains and 2,000 miles of ruined streams.

114 people were arrested during the peaceful Appalachia Rising protest, including NASA climate scientist James Hansen. Mickey McCoy, an arrested Appalachian resident and past Inez, Kentucky mayor, stated: "I have talked, begged, debated, written letters to officials, published op-ed pieces in newspapers and lobbied on the state and federal level to end mountaintop removal. . . . My home and people are paying the real price for mountaintop removal. They are dying."

Despite Appalachia's suffering, the Environmental Protection Agency recently went back on plans to announce whether it would veto a permit for the planned Spruce Mine in West Virginia, which would bury seven miles of streams and annihilate 2,300 acres of hardwood forest. In May 2010, the Center urged the EPA to veto the permit and stop what would become the largest mountaintop removal mine in history, and we'll keep working to save Appalachia's mountains

Get more on the protest from CNN and learn about the Center's campaign to end mountaintop removal.

And the Rubber Dodo Winner Is. . . . Vote By Oct. 3

You spill 200 million gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico and people don't forget. At least, not the thousands of folks who have already cast their vote for the 2010 Rubber Dodo award, our annual quest to find the most outrageous eco-villain, the person doing their best (read: worst) to destroy wild places and drive species toward extinction. So far, BP oil baron Tony Hayward and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar are leading the pack. Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (pro-drilling, anti-wildlife) and wolf-hating Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter are still in the mix -- along with Sarah Palin, who has shown up as a write-in candidate -- but it's not over yet. There's still time (but not much) to cast your vote. The winner will join previous Dodo recipients Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne (2007), Palin (2008) and land speculator Michael Winer (2009) in our hall of shame.

Sunday, Oct. 3, is your last day to vote -- so do it now, paste it on Facebook and Twitter and send it to anyone who cares about endangered species and our environment. You can still write in your own candidate.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: gray wolf by MacNeil Lyons, NPS; African penguin (c) Peter and Barbara Barham; black abalone by Glenn Allen, NOAA; gray wolf by Tracy Brooks, USFWS; trumpeter swan courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Sasata; Humboldt marten courtesy USFS; desert tortoise courtesy Flickr/Al_HikesAZ; black-backed woodpecker (c) Doug Bevington; burrowing owl (c) Don Baccus; mountaintop removal in eastern Kentucky courtesy Flickr/ilovemountains; rubber dodo.

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