No. 635, September 20, 2012
23 Hawaiian Species Protected, Plus 42,000 Acres of Habitat
An important win for some of Hawaii's rarest species: On Monday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized Endangered Species Act protections for 23 Oahu species and protected more than 42,000 acres of those species' most important habitats. The decision is the latest product of the Center for Biological Diversity's historic agreement last year to speed up protection decisions for 757 imperiled plants and animals around the country.
Twenty of the species in this week's decision are plants, including four identified as the "rarest of the rare," numbering fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the wild. The other three species are damselflies -- shiny-winged insects that metamorphose like butterflies -- and most of these species have been declining, and on the waiting list for protection, for years. The Center petitioned to protect 19 of these species back in 2004.
Read more in our press release.
Shell Forced to Abandon Arctic Oil Drilling This Year
Breathe a sigh of relief for polar bears, walruses, ice seals and other Arctic species: On Monday Shell had to cancel its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean this year, after problems with equipment intended to contain spills. The mishap, which came just a week after Shell crews arrived to start drilling, was the latest in a string of problems, including an accident this summer when one of its drillships slipped anchor in Dutch Harbor, Alaska and drifted dangerously close to shore.
As Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity told The New York Times: "This reaffirms Shell was clearly not ready to drill this summer, and no matter how much the Obama administration lowered the bar for them, they were not able to cross it."
Shell will clearly try to return to drill for oil in Alaska's Chukchi and Beaufort seas next year, but this delay gives the Obama government another chance to do right by the Arctic, polar bears and other species threatened by offshore drilling in the Far North -- as well as our collective climate future.
Read more in The New York Times.
Action Taken to Halt Killing of Minnesota Wolves
Minnesota is poised to open its inaugural wolf-hunting season Nov. 3, selling 6,000 licenses to kill 400 wolves. On Tuesday the Center for Biological Diversity and its local partner filed suit to stop that from happening.
Minnesota's wolf-management plan says wolves won't be hunted or trapped for five years after removal of their Endangered Species Act protection. In January the wolves' protection was stripped away; state managers reneged on their five-year promise and rushed to open hunting and trapping seasons less than a year later, without allowing public comment as the law requires.
Instead the state offered only an online survey -- in which, notably, nearly 80 percent of respondents opposed the wolf hunt. Our lawsuit challenges Minnesota's failure to solicit full public comment on the rules and seeks an injunction to stop the November hunt.
Read more in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Lawsuit Seeks to Save Tiny Snails From Huge Vegas Water Grab
Four tiny springsnails living in eastern Nevada are among scores of species threatened by a proposed plan to suck up to 57 billion gallons of water per year out of the desert to feed Las Vegas sprawl. In 2010 the Center for Biological Diversity and allies petitioned under the Endangered Species Act to protect 42 species of snails, including Lake Valley, Hardy, flag and bifid duct springsnails; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the four snails "may warrant" protection, but it never issued a final decision.
The Center went to court for the springsnails last week with a lawsuit challenging the agency's failure to protect them. It's clear they need help: Scientists say the planned Las Vegas water grab could spell extinction for these tiny creatures, which need consistent groundwater flow to survive. Of course it wouldn't be snails alone that would suffer: Snails improve water quality by eating decaying matter and algae, and are an important food source for fish, birds and amphibians.
Read more in the Las Vegas Sun.
Center Op-ed: Three Reasons to Save 'Nemo'
The latest version of Finding Nemo raked in $17 million at the box office last weekend, but the real-life orange clownfish that inspired the movie is in serious trouble. Last week the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to get Endangered Species Act protection for the clownfish and other species of coral-dependent damselfish threatened by ocean acidification.
In an op-ed in The Huffington Post on Wednesday, Center Oceans Director Miyoko Sakashita laid out the top three reasons these species need our help and need it soon: "From the oceans' depths to the North Pole, our planet teems with wonders. But that amazing biodiversity is buckling. More than a third of Earth's animal and plant species will be on the road to extinction by mid-century if we don't get a handle on climate change. Wildlife just can't adapt quickly enough to deal with the rapid changes caused by man-made global warming."
Read more in The Huffington Post.
Suit Filed to Save Southeastern Birds, Crayfish and Turtles
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit this week against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect three Southeast species: coastal birds called black rails, Big Blue Springs cave crayfish and Barbour's map turtles. The animals live in different parts of the Southeast, from Florida to Georgia and Alabama; black rails are migratory and fly north, along with South Florida's human snowbirds, when winter ends.
The birds and crayfish depend on Florida's freshwater and wetland habitats, degraded by pollution, development and water consumption. Rails are also threatened by sea-level rise due to climate change. Barbour's map turtles are being driven toward extinction by illegal collection, as well as pollution, dredging and disease. They're striking to look at, with spiky shells and black-and-yellow stripes on their skin.
Read more in our press releases about the rails, crayfish and turtles.
Year's Rock Bottom Reached for Arctic Sea Ice
It looks like Arctic sea ice has finally bottomed out for 2012. The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported Wednesday that the extent of sea ice covering the Arctic was just 1.32 million square miles -- nearly half the average size of summer ice between 1979 and 2000 and the lowest since satellite record-keeping began in 1979. The data center's announcement, which is still preliminary, is the latest evidence of the long and disturbing downward spiral for Arctic sea ice.
Disappearing sea ice is a deeply troubling sign of the world's climate crisis. Arctic ice is critical to regulating the global climate because it reflects the sun's energy back into space and keeps the polar region cool. The loss of Arctic sea ice has been linked to the increasing frequency of extreme weather such as droughts, floods and heat waves that have devastated the United States. Loss of sea ice also poses acute threats to Arctic species that depend on it for their survival, including polar bears, ice seals and walruses. If we're going to reverse this trend -- for the Arctic and the rest of the planet -- we've got to start rapidly reducing carbon, methane and other pollutants driving climate change.
Read more in our press release.
Suit Filed to Save Colorado State Fish From Death by ORV
Off-road vehicles are severely eroding land adjacent to Bear Creek, one of the last remaining habitats for greenback cutthroat trout in Colorado's Pike and San Isabel National Forest. The Center for Biological Diversity just sued the national forest to protect the state fish from dangerous runoff, which is harming water quality and filling in the deep pools the fish use to survive winters and droughts and hide from predators.
Cutthroat trout are declining statewide, and the motorized trails, by the agency's own admission, are destroying habitat for the greenbacks, which have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1978. What makes the trails illegal is that the national forest never consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to check if rampant ORV activity would harm species like the greenback.
"The Forest Service has known for years it has a serious ORV erosion problem at Bear Creek," said Center Attorney Tim Ream. "This beautiful cutthroat, the state fish, is a unique piece of the identity and history of Colorado -- it's hard to understand why it's being treated this way."
Read more in our press release.
Wild & Weird: It's a Bird -- It's a Plane -- It's Vladimir Putin!
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin's PR stunts are legendary: We've seen him fording raging rivers, saving a TV crew from a Siberian tiger, petting and collaring a polar bear, frolicking with snow leopards, driving tanks and exploring the depths of Russia's deepest lake. His most recent gambit: co-piloting an ultralight leading endangered Siberian cranes on their ancestral migration path. (Sadly, on Putin's first flight only one crane followed him.)
Putin likes to be portrayed as a rugged steward of endangered species, but has recently admitted his animal encounters are a tad less than authentic. The wild tiger he saved on camera was borrowed from the Khabarovsk zoo; an injured snow leopard he tagged was already captive; the lakebed he explored is threatened by a controversial pulp mill that, er, he approved.
At a recent press conference, though, he did compare his critics to the "weak cranes" that were not able to follow his lead over the Yamal Peninsula.
See photos of many of Putin's PR adventures at The Atlantic and read about the Russian newspaper editor who got canned for ignoring Putin's crane flight in the International Herald Tribune.
Photo credits: Crimson Hawaiian damselfly courtesy Flickr Commons/USFWS; Bidens amplectans courtesy Flickr Commons/D. Eickhoff; polar bear by Mike Lockhart, USGS; gray wolf courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources; Las Vegas courtesy Flickr Commons/larrylobster; orange clownfish courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Nick Hobgood; black rail courtesy Flickr Commons/NPS; Pacific walrus courtesy Flickr Commons/USFWS; greenback cutthroat trout courtesy EPA; Vladimir Putin courtesy Wikimedia Commons/President Press and Information Office.
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