No. 634, September 13, 2012
Lawsuit Launched Against Kill-at-will Wyoming Wolf Policy
Backed by a massive outpouring of support from our members, the Center for Biological Diversity and allies (represented by Earthjustice) this week filed a notice of intent to sue the federal government for removing Endangered Species Act protections from imperiled gray wolves in Wyoming. Wyoming's wolf-management policies open the door to unlimited wolf killing in most of the state, including aerial gunning and even killing pups in their dens -- and the state provides inadequate protections even in the 15 percent of its area where killing is regulated.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved removing protections even though past versions of Wyoming's wolf plan were rejected because of the devastating effects they would have had on gray wolf populations in the northern Rocky Mountains. This week's legal notice follows years of work by the Center and others to protect wolves in the northern Rockies until their population can sufficiently recover from near-extinction and state laws safeguard their recovery.
The Center could not have launched this critical lawsuit without our members stepping up when we needed them most with generous gifts to the Emergency Wolf Protection Fund. Thank you so much for your passion for Wyoming's noble, beautiful gray wolves and the ecosystems they help support.
Read more in the Missoulian and learn about the Center's work for northern Rocky Mountains gray wolves.
Safeguards Sought for Reef Fish at Risk
Launching a brand-new campaign to save tropical reef fish from ocean acidification and global warming, the Center for Biological Diversity today petitioned to federally protect the orange clownfish and seven damselfish species. The well-known (and well-loved) clownfish -- captivating star of Finding Nemo -- and the seven damselfish are losing their coral-reef habitat as ocean waters get warmer and more acidic as a result of society's carbon pollution. Ocean acidification also directly harms these fish by damaging their ability to see, hear and smell, making it difficult for young fish to find homes on the reef and avoid predators.
As if all this weren't enough, due to these fishes' alluring good looks -- from the clownfish's "cute" puckered lips and orange stripes to the Hawaiian dascyllus's shimmering silver scales -- some species may be threatened by the global marine aquarium trade.
Read more (and get a list of the fishes we petitioned for) in our press release and on our brand-new Web page Reef Fish in Peril.
Two Rare Texas Plants Closer to Protection
The largest population of Texas golden gladecress -- 721 individual plants -- was obliterated last year to make way for a pipeline. Fortunately, the gladecress and another rare Texas plant, the Neches River rose mallow, have been proposed for Endangered Species Act protections. The decision this week -- part of the Center for Biological Diversity's landmark settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last July to speed protection decisions for 757 species -- means the two plants will now get a 12-month status review. If they get the protections they need, they'll also receive 1,541 acres of federally protected "critical habitat" to save them from encroaching oil and gas development, quarries and drought supercharged by climate change.
Only three populations of the Texas golden gladecress remain, clinging to soggy oxbows, blossoming in February and March with deep-yellow flowers. The rose mallow returns every year, growing up to 7 feet tall with creamy-white blossoms occasionally tinged with pink. Both plants have been awaiting protection since 1997.
Read more about the Center's 757 species agreement and check out our press release.
Suit Filed for Arctic Ice Seals
As this year's summer sea-ice extent in the Arctic hit a record low, ice seals are in urgent need of Endangered Species Act protection. The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to protect bearded and ringed seals under the Act back in 2008, and the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2010 proposed federal safeguards for these animals due to climate change, which is melting their sea-ice habitat. But after the feds missed their deadline to protect the seals in June, the Center on Wednesday sued the Fisheries Service.
Both seals need sea ice to survive. Bearded seals -- the largest Arctic seals, named for their distinctively thick whiskers -- give birth and nurse their pups on pack ice. Splotchy-coated ringed seals give birth in snow caves built on sea ice, and as global warming reduces Arctic snowpack, these caves can collapse and leave pups vulnerable to death by freezing or from predators.
Shell Oil plans to drill in ice-seal habitat, risking oil spills impossible to clean up in the Arctic's icy waters and harsh weather.
Read more in The Sacramento Bee and learn more about bearded, ringed and spotted seals.
Destructive Northwest Logging Delayed by Lawsuits
A suite of suits by conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, recently delayed several Northwest timber sales that would destroy habitat for imperiled species like northern spotted owls and Pacific fishers. Without properly identifying the potential effects these sales would have on endangered animals -- and ignoring formal protests filed by the conservation groups -- the Bureau of Land Management approved a half-dozen timber sales, many of which would log large, old-growth trees important for wildfire reduction.
The Center was involved in two suits to stop timber sales in southwestern Oregon, asking the court to block them until more significant environmental analyses are done -- and none of these sales can be awarded till our suits are over. This week the Center's Jay Lininger had a nice success in Oregon when a judge agreed with him that soil erosion caused by logging in the Ashland watershed violates federal standards to protect local water supplies.
Read about that victory in our press release and learn more on the other logging suits in the Mail Tribune.
New ORV Plan Slashes Protections on 40,000 California Acres
In a blow to sustainable-energy planning and a long list of imperiled species, the Bureau of Land Management has released a plan constituting the largest conservation rollback in the California desert in more than 10 years. The BLM's new plan for the state's beautiful Algodones Dunes will eliminate protections on more than 40,000 acres of crucial habitat for rare animals and plants by giving off-roaders unlimited access to previously off-limits areas. The plan was released last Friday -- just two days after the BLM assured the public it would take meaningful measures to offset the impacts of large-scale renewable-energy projects in the California desert. "This plan does exactly the opposite," said the Center for Biological Diversity's Ileene Anderson, a biologist who's worked for decades to protect California desert wildlife.
Algodones is North America's largest active sand dune formation, covering about 200,000 acres in the southeastern corner of Imperial County. It provides unique habitat for many imperiled species the Center has worked to protect, including desert tortoises, Peirson's milk vetch, Algodones Dunes sunflowers, flat-tailed horned lizards, several dozen invertebrates that live nowhere else on Earth and Colorado Desert fringe-toed lizards, which the Center petitioned to protect under the Endangered Species Act in July 2012.
Read more in our press release and learn about the Center's work for the Algodones Dunes.
Petition Filed to Stop Fracking Methane Leaks
About 126 billion cubic feet of methane are unnecessarily emitted into the air every year by companies fracking or otherwise drilling for oil and gas on public lands. Methane is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas -- 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in warming the globe over two decades. Fracking, of course, involves injecting millions of gallons of highly pressurized water, sand and industrial chemicals deep into the earth -- wasting precious water, contaminating it with toxic chemicals, threatening wildlife through pollution and industrial development, and fueling global warming.
To force fracking companies to take responsibility for their methane pollution -- and raise awareness of drilling's true impacts -- the Center for Biological Diversity and allies on Tuesday petitioned the Bureau of Land Management to make the oil industry use readily available pollution controls to limit leakage. Stopping the leaks could also help consumers, since enough leaked gas is wasted annually to heat 1.7 million homes for a year.
Read more in our press release, learn about our campaign against California fracking and check out this San Francisco Chronicle front-page story.
In Memoriam: Larry Gibson, Keeper of the Mountains
Renowned anti-mountaintop-removal activist Larry Gibson passed away last weekend at his home atop Kayford Mountain, W. Va. Larry fought the coal industry for decades to protect his family cemetery and homestead; Kayford Mountain became an elevated green island surrounded by devastated moonscape as the mountains he once looked up at were blasted to lifeless rubble by mountaintop removal. Larry opened his home and his heart to activists around the country so that people could witness the atrocity of mountaintop-removal mining firsthand.
Coal proponents committed hundreds of acts of violence against Larry over the years: They shot through the walls of his home, shot his dog, ran him off the road and burned down one of his cottages. Yet he remained a peaceful, tireless advocate for mountain wilderness. Often called "Appalachia's Lorax," he founded Keeper of the Mountains Foundation to inspire people to work for lasting change.
Shortly before his death he said, "You wanna know what the real truth is about me? I just can't get used to it. Truth is, my heroes are people who don't get used to this. The ones that gets used to it, is the ones that won't do anything about it. I just pray to God I got a lot of heroes." The Center honors Larry Gibson and will continue to work to end mountaintop removal and protect Appalachia. We're attending an important rally today in Washington, D.C., in his honor.
Read more in The Huffington Post and learn about the Center's End Mountaintop Removal campaign.
200 Scientists: Save Our Reptiles and Amphibians
The largest petition in history to protect amphibians and reptiles was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in July, and now more than 200 scientists have sent a letter of support to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking it to immediately review the status of the 53 "herpetofauna" for which we petitioned. Famous scientists like E.O. Wilson and Thomas Lovejoy, who first coined the phrase biological diversity -- and who signed our petition -- are putting out the emergency call to rescue these "herp" species, creatures that are disappearing forever at rates as high as 10,000 times the historic average.
Threats from mountaintop-removal coal mining to climate change are taking a devastating toll on these species. Tiny Illinois chorus frogs, for example, are having their semipermeable skin coated in toxins like pesticides, while 100-pound alligator snapping turtles are being collected -- and killed -- faster than they can repopulate their Southeast river homes.
Read our press release, learn about the amphibian and reptile extinction crisis, find the 53 herp species on our interactive map and then share it with your friends on Facebook.
Wild & Weird: Winged Funerals
When western scrub jays spot the lifeless body of another on the ground, they cease their foraging and flight to alert fellow jays. And from great distances the others come, gathering around their dead and singing their cacophonous dirge -- what ornithologists call "zeeps," "scolds" and "zeep-scolds" -- to encourage those even farther away to attend.
According to a recent study published in the journal Animal Behaviour, these funerary rites help jays share information about nearby danger. In the study, Western scrub jays reacted differently to a series of objects set out by observers from the University of California, Davis: They attempted to scare off a stuffed predator, scolded a stuffed jay, ignored painted scraps resembling a dead jay, but gathered to better understand the implications of a true death.
Of course, such practical yet metaphysical contemplation isn't entirely shocking coming from such a smart bird. Recent research also suggests western scrub jays may be among the most intelligent animals, with a brain-to-body-mass ratio that rivals that of chimps and whales and an uncanny ability to plan for the future -- long believed a uniquely human trait.
Read more in BBC Nature.
Photo credits: Gray wolf courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Anne von Brill; gray wolf courtesy Flickr Commons/dalliedee; clownfish courtesy Flickr Commons/Boogies With Fish; Neches River rose mallow courtesy Niche Gardens; ringed seal pup courtesy Flickr Commons/NOAA; northern spotted owl (c) Robin Silver; desert tortoise by Beth Jackson, USFWS; California condor courtesy Flickr Commons/ms4jah; Larry Gibson (c) Paul Corbit Brown; alligator snapping turtle courtesy Flickr Commons/USFWS; western scrub jay courtesy Flickr Commons/Black Throated Green Warbler.
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