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Southwestern Snake Slithers Closer to Safety

Thanks to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, this Tuesday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will scrutinize the plight of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake to see if the animal deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act. The snake, a small, black-and-yellow reptile that can "swim" through the sand using its shovel-like snout, is getting increasingly rare as development and agriculture take over its southern Arizona valley-floor habitat.

Although Pima County and one Arizona town have developed "habitat conservation plans" that include the imperiled snake, neither plan has been finalized -- partly because another imperiled species in the plans, the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, was removed from the endangered species list. Hopefully, both the snake and the owl will soon get the protection they need to defend themselves from the Southwest's urban explosion.

Read more in the Tucson Citizen.

Pygmy Owl Dwindling in Mexico, Really Needs Help Here

Speaking of the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, a new University of Arizona study has shown that the owl's population in northern Sonora, Mexico has decidedly declined over the past nine years. In fact, this year's pygmy-owl abundance in Mexico is the lowest it's been since the study began -- not good news for the tiny owl, whose U.S. population is now nearly gone thanks to habitat destruction. Once protected under the Endangered Species Act, the pygmy owl's endangered status was pulled out from under it in 2006 when the administration declared that its presence in Mexico meant it didn't need protection in Arizona, where its last population is hanging by a thread.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Public Employees for Responsibility have petitioned to renew the species' protection, and last spring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a new review of the owl's situation. With luck, the new study will help ensure the U.S. population's peril isn't ignored.

Check out our press release and learn about the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl on our Web page.

Alaska Senator Too Cozy With Oil Buddies

This Tuesday Alaska Senator Ted Stevens -- former Appropriations Committee chairman and the longest-serving Republican in Senate history -- was charged with concealing payments of more than $250,000 in goods and services bestowed upon him by Alaska oil company Veco. Last year, two of the oil firm's former top dogs pleaded guilty to charges of bribing Alaskan public officials, and prosecutors said that Stevens or his aides have allegedly granted some of the firm's requests. Coincidence? We think not.

Apparently, Stevens got a pretty sweet deal. In return for funding, help with projects, and federal grant and contract requests, it seems he received a whole new first floor for a property he dubbed "the chalet" -- plus a bunch of other goodies. The case against him is part of a broader investigation into Alaska corruption connected to Veco's plans to build a natural gas pipeline on Alaska's sensitive north coast -- home to many imperiled species (including the polar bear).

Read more in the Washington Post.

"Way Too Many People" in San Diego

Last week's San Diego Weekly Reader delved deep into a long-time focus of the Center for Biological Diversity: environmental degradation in Southern California. Weaving its narrative around an interview with Center conservation manager David Hogan, the cover story explores the land-management issues facing the region -- specifically, San Diego County's Cleveland National Forest -- and the human-caused damage wildlands are sustaining. From runaway development to increased fire frequency to livestock grazing and roads, Southern California's most pristine and delicate areas are facing unprecedented threats from people -- and the U.S. Forest Service doesn't seem to want to help.

This March, the Center and four allies sued the Forest Service for preparing land-management plans that fail to adequately safeguard protected species that live in Southern California's national forests, including the California condor, Quino checkerspot butterfly, and San Diego thornmint.

Read the San Diego Weekly Reader article for yourself.

Protection Proposed for 30 Foreign Birds

In response to multiple Center for Biological Diversity lawsuits, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week that it will finally propose listing under the Endangered Species Act for 30 of 50 petitioned-for bird species across the globe. With awesome names like "fringe-backed fire-eye," "ash-breasted tit-tyrant," and "black-breasted puffleg," the beautiful and unique birds live in countries from Brazil to Russia -- and all of them are imperiled.

The Center has been working for international birds since 2003, when we first filed suit against the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to propose federal protection for 73 birds petitioned for by ornithologists. A series of later lawsuits achieved protection for six of the rarest birds just this year, with six others proposed for protection. But protection for 45 birds was dubbed "precluded" by other priorities -- so the Center sued again in 2007. With any luck, the new listing proposals will give 30 of the birds the help they need to survive.

Learn more about our International Birds Campaign.

EPA in Hot Seat, Smothers Voice of Own Officials

Just after the Environmental Protection Agency released its report last week on climate change's dire implications for humans, details of a similar report by the agency -- drafted last December but suppressed -- proves its duplicity when it comes to addressing global warming. The December report, which links carbon emissions to ecosystem damage and warns of other serious warming-caused dangers, was the agency's true response to a Supreme Court order to consider regulating carbon dioxide emissions. But instead of airing that report and regulating the pollutant, on July 11 the agency released a document that punted the decision to the next administration. In the words of the Center for Biological Diversity's Kassie Siegel, it was a "bizarre 600-page diatribe about ideological approaches to regulation."

And apparently, reports aren't the only thing the EPA likes to keep to itself. In a mid-June email just released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the agency warned its pollution officials to keep their mouths shut around congressional investigators, reporters, and even the agency's own inspector general. Said the distinctly displeased inspector general's office: "All EPA officials and employees are required to cooperate with [the Office of the Inspector General]. This cooperation includes providing the OIG full and unrestricted access to EPA documents, records, and personnel."

Read about the suppressed report in BusinessGreen and get more on the EPA gag order from the Associated Press.

"Three Catastrophes, One Sky": Center Director Makes Stellar Point

Our sun, that big, blazing star all our lives revolve around, is constantly hitting Earth's outer atmosphere with the energy of 1.7 billion large power plants. If that much energy were to remain in our biosphere... well, we'd all be burnt to a crisp. In other words, "The sun is a catastrophe waiting to happen."

So writes Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, in a article published this July. Tracking some of the planet's major catastrophes, from the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs to the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 (made devastating, in fact, by humans' alteration of nature), Suckling puts Earth's changing climate in an astronomical perspective. Tackling the problem is, he says, "the most uniquely singular challenge in the history of the human race."

Read the article for yourself.

Boaters Prove L.A. River Navigable After All

Last March, the Army Corps of Engineers declared that the Los Angeles River, L.A.'s much-abused main waterway, can't float enough boats to count as navigable. Since a given stream's protections under the Clean Water Act depend on its effect on the closest "navigable waterway," that means the seasonal streams crisscrossing the river's 834-square-mile watershed might now be defenseless against polluting developers -- in other words, up a creek.

But last weekend a group of determined kayakers and canoers -- supported by river-lovers including the LaLa Times,, and the Center for Biological Diversity -- showed that the river is indeed boat-worthy by floating down the entire 50-plus miles from Canoga Park to Long Beach. Besides proving the waterway's navigability, their goals were to raise consciousness about the river's revitalization, to study ways to make it as healthy and safe as possible, to raise the bar for clean water, and to raise money in support of healthy rivers everywhere.

Read more in the L.A. Times' "L.A. Now."

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: Tucson shovel-nosed snake by Erik Enderson, Tucson Herpetological Society; cactus ferruginous pygmy owl by Bob Miles, Arizona Fish and Game; polar bear by David S. Isenberg; San Diego Weekly Reader cover; black-breasted puffleg by Benji Schwartz; melting ice floes by Michael Van Woert, NOAA; Los Angeles River courtesy of Wikipedia.

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