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Suit Filed to Protect 50,000 Square Miles of Right Whale Habitat

North Atlantic right whalesWith only about 450 North Atlantic right whales left in the world, the species could go extinct. So the Center for Biological Diversity and our allies sued the National Marine Fisheries Service today to expand habitat protections for these whales' nursery, breeding and feeding grounds along the East Coast by more than tenfold -- from about 4,000 square miles to more than 50,000.

Right whales migrate yearly from the northeastern U.S. coast to the Southeast to give birth in the winter, and later return north. Yet only a tiny portion of this area is federally protected as "critical habitat." Primary threats are ship strikes and fishing-net entanglement, but the whales are also seriously threatened by habitat degradation, rising ocean-noise levels, climate change, ocean acidification and pollution. Scientists have repeatedly stated that current habitat boundaries should be expanded.

"Every year endangered right whales have to navigate a virtual obstacle course of threats on their migration south," said Sarah Uhlemann, head of the Center's International program. "These whales face an ocean dense with fishing nets, crisscrossed by speeding vessels and increasingly roaring with underwater noise. Protecting habitat protects whales."

Read more in our press release.

Lawsuit Launched to Save Lynx From Traps in Idaho

Canada lynxIn Idaho on Monday, the Center and two partner groups launched a lawsuit against the governor and other state officials to halt trapping that's illegally killing Canada lynxes, some of the rarest cats in the United States.

Lynx face dire threats from habitat destruction and reduced snowpacks from climate change, and were given 26 million acres of proposed critical habitat last year across six states to help them survive. There are thought to be around 100 of the animals left in Idaho, and though intentional lynx trapping is illegal, at least three lynx have been unintentionally caught by bobcat trappers in just the past two years.

To prevent more such killings, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game can develop a conservation plan with restrictions on body-crushing traps and snares; reporting requirements; monitoring; and a daily trap-check requirement throughout lynx habitat. If the state agency doesn't promptly address the violations outlined in Monday's notice of intent to sue, we'll have to head to court.

Read more in the Missoulian.

Washington Gophers and 1,607 Acres of Habitat Finally Protected

Mazama pocket gopherFour subspecies of the Mazama pocket gopher, a small, stocky rodent that lives only in Washington state, are the latest to get Endangered Species Act protection under the Center's landmark settlement requiring protection decisions for 757 species around the country.

There were once nine subspecies of the pocket gopher, but two went extinct waiting for protections -- the Tacoma and Cathlamet pocket gophers. The four subspecies now protected include the Olympia, Roy Prairie, Tenino and Yelm pocket gophers, whose rare Puget prairie home is severely threatened by rapid urban and agricultural sprawl. And unfortunately the feds have also enacted a "special rule" allowing some habitat demolition to go forward despite the animals' protection under the Act.

"With this decision the unique Mazama pocket gopher and its Puget prairie home have a fighting chance," said Noah Greenwald, the Center's endangered species director. "It's deeply disappointing, though, to have activities that clearly destroy these pocket gophers' homes -- like plowing -- categorically exempted from regulation."

Read more in The Bellingham Herald.

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Rare Desert Snail in Footprint of Open-pit Mine -- Take Action

Mohave shoulderband snailOn just eight square miles of hardscrabble land in Southern California, the world's entire population of Mohave shoulderband snails clings to life. The snails have modest needs, but even those may not be met for long: A Kern County open-pit gold and silver mine threatens to wipe these small invertebrates off the planet forever.

In January the Center filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to gain protection for Mohave shoulderbands under the Endangered Species Act -- but so far the agency has failed to respond.

"People don't spend a big part of their day contemplating snails. But the truth is, these little guys play such important roles in the physical environment that sustains big animals like us," said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. Snails are an important part of the web of life: They decompose vegetative litter, recycle nutrients, build soils and provide food and calcium for many other animals.

Act now and urge the Service to move quickly and protect rare Mohave shoulderbands before they get buried by a mine with a 31-year shelf life.

Legal Action Seeks Ban on Pacific Bluefin Tuna Fishing

Pacific bluefin tunaThe number of Pacific bluefin tuna has dropped 96 percent since large-scale fishing began. These magnificent tuna, extraordinary swimmers capable of growing 9 feet long, are a prime example of what happens when species are overfished and no one steps up to protect them from extinction.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council on Tuesday was supposed to recommend new rules for managing Pacific bluefin -- but the council declined. So the next day the Center filed a legal petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service to ban fishing for Pacific bluefin tuna along the West Coast. We're calling for these tuna to be added to a list of imperiled species that must be released immediately if they're caught.

"Despite the bluefin tuna's great speed and deep-diving, it can't escape the world's insatiable appetite for sushi," said Center Attorney Catherine Kilduff. "Saving Pacific bluefin tuna requires drastic action at all levels, starting by protecting them in their feeding grounds off California and Mexico."

Read more in our press release.

Bill to Halt Fracking Clears California Committee

Fracking protestA panel of California lawmakers this week moved the state closer to a full-blown moratorium on fracking. The state Senate's Natural Resources and Water Committee on Tuesday passed a bill, by Sen. Holly Mitchell and Sen. Mark Leno, that would halt fracking for oil and natural gas in California until the state fully studies the impacts of this controversial technique on air and water quality, public health and the economy.

Senate Bill 1132 next goes to the Senate Environmental Quality Committee for consideration later this month. The Center, which has been fighting fracking for years, hopes state lawmakers move quickly before this destructive practice -- already common on land and in offshore waters -- gets any worse.

Read more about the bill in the Los Angeles Times and learn more about California fracking.

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Suit Launched to Save Alabama Crayfish

Alabama slenderclaw crayfishThe slenderclaw crayfish, a lobster-like freshwater dweller -- now surviving in just one site near Alabama's Lake Guntersville -- could be easily obliterated if its single population is harmed. To prevent this invertebrate's extinction, the Center petitioned for its protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2010 -- and the next year, under our 757 species settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed the animal may warrant protection. But the agency hasn't taken any further steps to confront the situation, so this month the Center filed a notice of intent to sue.

By invertebrate standards, the slenderclaw crayfish is quite beautiful: Small, spotted, and cream-and-orange colored, it indeed sports the slender claws it was named after, living in clear, shallow, slow-flowing streams. But these streams must be clean to support this crayfish -- and its watery habitat is increasingly polluted.

Read more in The Birmingham News.

Wild & Weird: Vampires "R" Us

Horseshoe crabThe earliest horseshoe crabs ever discovered date back about half a billion years. These alien-like ocean creatures look more like armored vehicles than crabs, and in fact they're not crustaceans at all -- they belong to the subphylum Chelicerata, related to arachnids.

Once upon a time, horseshoe crabs were harvested en masse along the U.S. East Coast to be ground into meal to fertilize fields and feed hogs. Populations crashed, and in the 1970s that industry disappeared. But unluckily for the crabs, a chemical found only in their blood detects traces of bacteria in liquid at minute concentrations -- making their blood worth its weight in gold to the biomedical industry, at about $15,000 a quart. (The FDA requires the blood's unique chemical to be used in absolutely every test before a drug's approval.)

So by the 1990s, a new horseshoe-crab industry had sprung up, harvesting these ancient animals' dramatically blue blood in huge volumes -- a disturbingly vampiric process. Only 10 percent to 30 percent of the crabs are killed by the blood harvesting, but scientists believe the process is causing females to slow or stop their spawning.

See chilling photos and read more in The Atlantic about the blood cost paid by horseshoes for our medications, and watch a video on how the crab harvest affects other species, such as beautiful shorebirds called red knots.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: Canada lynx courtesy Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; North Atlantic right whales courtesy Wikimedia Commons/NOAA; Canada lynx courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Keith Williams; Mazama pocket gopher by Kim Flotlin, USFWS; Mohave shoulderband snail by Lance Gilbertson; bluefin tuna courtesy Flickr/Aziz T. Saltik; fracking protest by Patrick Sullivan, Center for Biological Diversity; Alabama slenderclaw crayfish by Guenter Schuster; horseshoe crab courtesy Flickr/Jeff Miller.

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Center for Biological Diversity

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