World's Most Endangered Whales to Get Recovery Plan at Long Last -- Take Action
North Pacific right whales, among the world's most endangered marine mammals, are finally getting a federal recovery plan. The National Marine Fisheries Service proposed the recovery plan this week, after the Center for Biological Diversity threatened to sue last March because of agency delays.
There are as few as 30 individual North Pacific right whales left in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, and only a few hundred in Russia's Okhotsk Sea. The whales are extremely vulnerable to ship strikes, oil development and spills, and entanglement in fishing gear. Although the proposed recovery plan provides a much-needed strategy for additional research, it doesn't provide a clear roadmap for reducing those threats. The public has 45 days to comment on the plan -- and we're pushing to ensure it includes stronger protections.
"North Pacific right whales have a long road to recovery, but we hope it starts here," said Sarah Uhlemann, a Center attorney. "With just a small number of these great animals left in the world, the loss of even one of them could threaten this population's existence."
Read more in the Alaska Dispatch, then take action to push for a stronger recovery plan.
Obama Vows Climate Action, Center Op-ed Offers First Steps
President Barack Obama featured the need to respond to the climate crisis prominently in his second inaugural speech on Monday. The crisis, largely ignored during Obama's first term, was one of a few specific policy areas mentioned in the speech. "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations," the president said. "Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms."
This is a promising sign, and we're eager to see details and concrete action. On the same day as the president's speech, an op-ed in The Miami Herald by Shaye Wolf, the Center for Biological Diversity's climate science director, laid out steps Obama can immediately take to address the climate crisis, including full use of the Clean Air Act. "The president has a clear opportunity to revolutionize his whole approach to fighting manmade climate change," Wolf wrote. We're hoping he takes full advantage of it in his second term, and we'll keep pushing hard for him to do so.
Read Shaye's op-ed in The Miami Herald.
Lawsuit Aims to Stop Unregulated Fracking in California
In our latest action to stop dangerous fracking, the Center for Biological Diversity went to court this morning to require California regulators to enforce existing laws to protect people, wildlife and the environment from fracking. Fracking, a rapidly expanding method of oil and gas extraction, is happening at hundreds of wells across California.
The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County, says fracking has been allowed to expand without legally required oversight, including compliance with existing oil and gas regulations that would require disclosure of all fracking chemicals, as well as engineering studies and tests to evaluate the potential for underground migration of fracking fluids. State regulators would also need to ensure that fracking is conducted in a way that prevented damage to life, health, property, and California's water and other natural resources.
More than 600 wells in at least nine California counties were fracked in 2011 alone, and recent advances in fracking techniques are driving a growing interest in the Monterey Shale, a geological formation holding an estimated 14 billion barrels of oil. California regulators cannot continue ignoring the risks of this dangerous practice.
Take action to stop fracking now, join us in San Francisco for a protest Feb. 1, and learn about our accelerating campaign against dirty, destructive fracking.
Lead Suspected in Death of Utah's Only Breeding Female Condor
The female in Utah's only breeding pair of endangered California condors has been found dead at Zion National Park. Investigators are trying to determine whether the 9-year-old bird, known as Condor 343, died from lead poisoning, which is the leading cause of death for condors in northern Arizona and southern Utah. The birds ingest lead when they scavenge game that's been shot with lead hunting ammunition.
The Center for Biological Diversity has been fighting for years to get lead out of hunting ammunition and fishing tackle that, left in the wild, poisons and kills millions of birds and other wildlife every year. A study released last year found that lead ammunition is creating an "epidemic" of lead poisoning in California condors and preventing their recovery. Despite mounting scientific evidence about the dangers of lead to both wildlife and people, the National Rifle Association keeps pushing legislation to ban the federal government from addressing these preventable poisonings.
Read more in the The Salt Lake Tribune and check out our Get the Lead Out campaign.
Suit Filed to Save Florida Corals From Global Warming, Ocean Acidification
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service on Wednesday for failing to develop a recovery plan for elkhorn and staghorn corals. The corals were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2006, in response to a Center petition, but still lack a recovery plan -- a necessary blueprint for their recovery.
Reefs in Florida and the Caribbean were once dominated by these beautiful, branching corals, but now the species are in steep decline due to bleaching from increasing ocean temperatures, disease, fishing, pollution and ocean acidification. Corals reef ecosystems are called the "rainforests of the sea," and an array of marine life -- including the brightly colored clownfish of Finding Nemo fame -- depend on reefs.
"Time is short for saving coral reefs. If we want a future with beautiful reefs, healthy fisheries and thriving marine life, we have to act now to reduce carbon dioxide pollution," said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida attorney at the Center.
Read more in the Sun-Sentinel and learn about the Center's campaign for elkhorn and staghorn coral.
Deadly White-nose Syndrome Arrives at Mammoth Cave National Park, Ky.
White-nose syndrome, the deadly malady that has killed millions of bats in caves across the nation, has been found at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Last week's discovery is the latest chilling example of the spread of the disease that was first discovered in the United States in a cave in upstate New York in 2006 and has since been found in 19 U.S. states, nine national parks and four Canadian provinces and killed almost 7 million bats.
The Center for Biological Diversity has fought for federal protections since 2010 for bat species affected by white-nose syndrome; we have advocated for stringent restrictions on cave visitation and decontamination of caving gear to prevent spread of the fungus to new caves.
"The best hope for bats all along has been for research on the disease to speed up, for human travel into caves to slow down, and for government agencies, cave recreationists and everyone else to take all the protective measures possible to save the bats we have left," said the Center's Mollie Matteson. "It will be a sad day indeed when hibernating bats are no longer part of the mystery and beauty of North American caves."
Read more in the Summit County Citizens Voice.
48,000 People Denounce Georgia's 'Rattlesnake Roundup'
Organized by the Center for Biological Diversity, more than 48,000 people this week urged a cruel "rattlesnake roundup" in Georgia to transition to a wildlife-friendly festival where no snakes are killed. The roundups are barbaric contests that feature the capture and slaughter of large numbers of native snakes.
Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes targeted by the roundup in Whigham, Ga., are rapidly disappearing in the southeastern United States. This once-common species is being pushed toward extinction not only by hunting pressure but also by habitat loss and road mortality. All of Georgia's other roundups have abandoned or replaced the events with festivals celebrating local wildlife; the Whigham roundup is the last of its kind in the state.
Learn more about the Center's ongoing work to stop rattlesnake roundups; then take action to help eliminate these deadly roundups across the country.
Lawsuit Launched for Rare Mountain Fox
Fewer than 50 Sierra Nevada red foxes are known to exist in the high mountains of California and Oregon. These slight, alpine foxes are unique from all others in North America -- and one of the most endangered mammals in the world. Yet more than a year after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition to federally protect the animals in April 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to announce their safeguards. Because the agency neglected its Endangered Species Act deadline -- and this fox doesn't have time to wait -- the Center last week filed a notice of intent to sue the agency.
Although California has protected Sierra Nevada red foxes as threatened, Oregon has granted them no safeguards at all. The state still allows their trapping, one of the threats that helped drive them toward their currently tiny, genetically anemic population. Along with trapping, logging, grazing, poisoning, and vehicles tearing up their habitat, these mountain dwellers are now also threatened by climate change, which threatens to shrink their habitat even more by pushing cool temperatures farther upslope. With our impending suit, the Center is determined to earn Sierra Nevada red foxes the federal protection and wide-range recovery strategy they need to ensure that the few remaining don't dwindle to zero.
Learn more about our work to protect the Sierra Nevada red fox.
Wild & Weird: Can't See the Factory Fire for the Smog
Official air-quality readings in Beijing, China have topped out at nearly 40 times the World Health Organization's safe limit. On the worst days, a seemingly impenetrable brown cloud envelops the capital city, skyscrapers stand shrouded, and area hospitals fill with patients suffering respiratory sickness.
Recently the smog was so thick in another Chinese coastal area, Zhejiang province, that a furniture factory actually burned for three hours before a single resident ever took notice. Apparently air quality has gotten so bad that it's difficult to tell the difference between normal smog and billowing plumes of smoke from a raging inferno.
Wondering about air-pollution levels closer to home? Check out the American Lung Association's 2012 State of the Air report to see air pollution levels in U.S. cities. And read more about the seemingly apocalyptic air-quality situation in Beijing in the South China Morning Post.
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Photo credits: north Pacific right whale courtesy the Marine Mammal Commission; north Pacific right whale by John Durban, NOAA; polar bear (c) Patrick Kelley, USCG; California fracking courtesy Flickr/Justin Woolford; California condor by Scott Frier, USFWS; elkhorn coral (c) John Easley, deepseaimages.com; little brown bats with white nose syndrome by Nancy Heaslip, New York Department of Environmental Conservation; eastern diamondback rattlesnake courtesy Flickr/Matt Ward; Sierra Nevada red fox courtesy USDA; Beijing smog courtesy Flickr/Jim O'Connell.
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