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Make Way for Monk Seals -- New Habitat Protections Urged

Hawaiian monk seals once had an enviable lot in life, thriving among a secluded chain of islands and atolls northwest of the main Hawaiian islands. But move over, tourists: Monk seals, starving and losing their own remote beaches to global-warming-caused sea-level rise and erosion, are moving to the main islands. Seal numbers have plummeted in the northwestern islands since the 1950's, making the Hawaiian monk seal one of the world's most endangered mammals. But on the main islands, where food is more abundant, seals are birthing healthy pups into a growing population.

Unfortunately, life on the less-paradisical main islands brings new threats to the seals, including disturbance, development, disease, and entanglement in fishing gear. On Wednesday, the Center for Biological Diversity, KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, and Ocean Conservancy petitioned the federal government to have beaches and surrounding waters on the main Hawaiian islands designated as critical habitat to better protect the monk seal, which currently has critical habitat designated only on the northwestern islands.

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of two surviving species of monk seals, along with the also critically-endangered Mediterranean monk seal. The Caribbean monk seal, not seen in half a century, was recently declared extinct.

Read our petition for Hawaiian monk seals.

Suit Filed for Snubbed Belugas

The Center for Biological Diversity and allies filed suit against the Bush administration last week for lollygagging on granting Endangered Species Act protection to imperiled belugas in Alaska. The Cook Inlet beluga whale, a biologically unique and geographically isolated population, now numbers just 375 individuals -- down from about 1,300 in the '80s -- and lives in one of Alaska's most populated and fastest-growing watersheds. In fact, the whale's Cook Inlet home is bombarded with pressures from oil and gas development, sewage discharge, and contaminated runoff and spills, and vital whale habitat is slated for several huge infrastructure projects that would directly impact the vulnerable beluga.

The Center, Cook Inletkeeper, Natural Resources Defense Council, the North Gulf Oceanic Society, and the Alaska Center for the Environment joined forces in 2006 to petition for the beluga's protection, and the administration proposed to list the whale this April. Instead, though, the agency bowed to development interests and illegally put off its decision for another six months due to an alleged "disagreement" in the science.

Take action yourself to demand prompt protection for the Cook Inlet beluga whale and learn more about the Center's suit from the Anchorage Daily News.

Administration Warned to Protect Sparrow's Everglades Habitat

Less than a week after Florida announced its buyout of U.S. Sugar's Everglades land holdings -- happy news for all Everglades species -- the Center for Biological Diversity, Florida Biodiversity Project, and Natural Resources Defense Council filed a notice of intent to sue to ensure that one imperiled Everglades resident, the Cape Sable seaside sparrow, has enough protected habitat to survive. The sparrow, which has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1967, was declared in imminent danger of extinction in 1999, thanks to the degradation of its habitat in Everglades National Park and a corner of the Big Cypress National Reserve. Twenty-five years ago, the administration admitted that the sparrow's area of federally protected habitat wasn't enough, and in 2003, it was finally forced in court to agree to revise the protected area. In 2007, though, when it carried out the revision, the administration actually granted the sparrow less protected habitat than before. To make matters worse, restoration of the Everglades National Park's water flow-way has been stalled for more than a decade.

Hopefully, the removal of the sugar industry from the Everglades' heart will accelerate the restoration of our country's most important wetland national park. In the meantime, the Center is determined to help win adequate protected habitat for one of Florida's most endangered birds.

Check out our press release.

Desert Tortoise Deaths Spark Suit for Stronger Protections

The Center for Biological Diversity and Desert Survivors filed suit Wednesday against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Army on behalf of the threatened Mojave desert tortoise. About 770 tortoises were relocated in March to make room for California's Fort Irwin, which cited a need for 131,000 additional acres of public land to perform large-scale tank training exercises.  Unfortunately for the reptile, the land the fort wanted sat squarely on top of prime tortoise habitat. In spite of objections from wildlife biologists, who cited unsuccessful past efforts and the unsuitability of the new habitat, the fort relocated the reptiles to protect them from being crushed by tanks. 

For the tortoise, the move has been a bounce from the frying pan and into the fire.  The new habitat, located dangerously near a major interstate, isn't tortoise-friendly: Off-road vehicle use, illegal dumping, mines, hungry predators, and a population of diseased tortoises are just a few of the barriers the tortoises have had to face. Within days of the transfer, officials confirmed that at least 28 reptiles had died from coyote attacks. And this just in: some of the tortoises killed were females carrying shelled eggs, ready to lay. The Center is suing to ensure that protections for the tortoises are stepped up in their new habitat in light of the severe threats they now face. 

Read more about the relocation program in the Los Angeles Times and check out our press release.

Non-lead Ammunition Now Required in Condor Country

As of July 1, Southern California hunters seeking targets in the California condor range will face legal consequences if they're caught using lead bullets, which can poison and kill the critically endangered bird when it scavenges on lead-killed carcasses. In May, no fewer than seven condors in Southern California suffered lead poisoning, likely from lead-tainted carrion -- and one bird died as a result. Lead poisoning is in fact the number-one killer of condors, and the species, now numbering 151 in the wild since it was reintroduced after near extinction, can ill afford a single bird death. Only 80 birds now fly free in California.

The new lead-free ammunition requirement is great news for not only condors, but for golden eagles, other scavengers, and even human public health. The Center for Biological Diversity has been fighting for the switch to non-lead ammunition for years, and we'll continue our work to have it applied statewide.

Read more about the new requirement in the San Diego Union Tribune and learn about our Get the Lead Out campaign.

North Pole May Be Ice-free -- Way Sooner Than You Think

If there's one characteristic that defines the North Pole, it's ice -- but in just a few months, that may no longer be the case. The Arctic's thick, year-round sea ice has been disappearing unbelievably fast, leaving the North Pole now mostly covered with a thin layer of ice formed just over the last year. So far, this thinner ice is melting even more quickly than it was last summer, when there was an all-time record Arctic sea-ice loss. And it'll only get worse, since ocean water absorbs far more heat than light-colored, sun-reflecting sea ice.

Prominent scientists say there's at least a 50-50 chance the North Pole will be completely free of ice this year. Looks like Santa Claus might have to trade in his workshop and sleigh for a houseboat. Unfortunately, polar bears, penguins, and seals don't have that option.

Read more in The Independent.

Oil Shale Development Wastes Water, Does Little for Wallet

Last Thursday, 44 Senate Republicans signed on to what they dubbed the "Gas Price Reduction Act of 2008," an oil-shale development scheme that would drastically deplete the West's water, decimate western lands and wildlife habitat, and help condemn the planet's species to a fatally sweltering future by boosting greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to global warming. All to make oil about 4 percent cheaper -- and even that would take 30 years to achieve (assuming it's possible).

For every barrel of oil extracted from oil shale, three barrels of water are wasted; thus, by the time the administration's oil production target is reached, we'll have lost 7.5 million acre-feet of water -- equal to the total amount of Colorado River water allocated to California, Arizona, and Nevada over more than 40 years. Thanks to global warming, the West is already drying up at record speeds. Hmmm... What's more important for life: water or gasoline?

Read the Center for Biological Diversity's statement on the situation.

Calling All Penguin Watchers

As you may have heard, the Center for Biological Diversity is fighting for Endangered Species Act protection for 12 of the world's penguin species. Now we'd like to hear from you. If you have plans to travel to places where you may view these penguins -- including New Zealand, Antarctica, South America, and Antarctica -- and if you'd like to talk more about what you can do to help these unique and wonderful birds, please contact us at

Learn more about imperiled penguins and our campaign to save them on our Web site.

KierĂ¡n Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: Hawaiian monk seals by James P. McVey, NOAA; beluga whale by Mike Johnston; Cape Sable seaside sparrow courtesy of USGS; desert tortoise courtesy of USGS; California condor courtesy of Arizona Department of Game and Fish; open water within seapack ice courtesy of NOAA; Colorado River by Michelle Harrington; rockhopper penguin by Larry Master,

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