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White House Proposes to Butcher Endangered Species Act

This Monday, just months before the curtains close on the Bush administration, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced a proposal for the biggest overhaul of the Endangered Species Act since 1986. Kempthorne's proposed rules would excuse thousands of federal activities, including all greenhouse gas emissions, from review under the Act, letting federal agencies decide for themselves whether projects potentially devastating to the environment would indeed harm endangered plants and animals. The rules would codify Kempthorne's previously announced plan to green-light activities that add to climate change -- without inspecting their impacts on protected species like the polar bear.

History has shown that letting agencies babysit themselves regarding their own projects -- instead of consulting with government scientists, as is now required -- just doesn't work. When agencies were allowed to self-consult on logging activities in 2005, it turned out that 62 percent of those projects violated the Endangered Species Act. "These [new] regulations are a recipe for disaster for the extinction of endangered species," said Center for Biological Diversity science director Noah Greenwald. "It's a classic example of letting the fox guard the henhouse."

Get details from Time.

Plans Thrown Out for Carbon-spewing Resort

Adding to the Center for Biological Diversity's fast-developing list of anti-climate-change triumphs in California, last Friday a court rejected the proposal for a luxury resort near Joshua Tree National Park because it failed to address greenhouse gases. The emissions of the planned Palmwood resort, a 2,600-home development complete with hotel, golf courses, and more, would be entirely inconsistent with the California Environmental Quality Act, as well as the California Global Warming Solutions Act and the governor's 2005 executive order calling for reducing emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Besides harming the climate, construction of the Palmwood resort would decimate habitat for many rare species, including bighorn sheep, burrowing owls, the Palm Springs pocket mouse, and the loggerhead shrike. The Center, along with Sierra Club, already won one case against the project when the Riverside County regional planning agency denied it a permit based largely on its clash with a habitat conservation plan. The latest ruling will be another nail in the development's coffin.

Read more in Desert Local News.

Judge Says No to Death Valley Road-building

In a victory for desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, and Death Valley archaeological sites, on Monday a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit by Inyo County, California to build roads through remote parts of Death Valley National Park. In the suit, filed against the National Park Service, the county was trying to use an ancient, repealed right-of-way law to get its hands on three routes -- currently little-used paths and canyon bottoms -- and make them into two-lane highways. Fortunately for Death Valley wildlife, the routes had been included in wilderness study areas back in the disco era. Because the county didn't take action within the 12-year statute of limitations, the court dismissed its demand for all of one route and almost all of the other two.

Besides helping species, Monday's decision is a win for the Center for Biological Diversity and five allies, represented by Earthjustice, who intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of the Park Service.

Get more from the San Bernardino Sun.

Suit Filed for Avian Old-growth Icon

Heedless of northern spotted owls' decline in the face of fast-increasing threats, the Oregon Department of Forestry is forging ahead with logging in the species' habitat on Elliott State Forest -- so the Center for Biological Diversity and allies have gone to court. Here's the story: In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a permit to let the Department of Forestry "take" owls (that is, allow them to be killed) as it logged 22,000 acres of spotted owl habitat, which was predicted to help destroy 43 owls in at least 22 owl territories in 60 years. Just eight years later, a 2003 survey found that all owls in the 22 territories had died, leaving only 13 territories.

Today, threats to the bird from habitat loss, invasive barred owls, and disease are at an all-time high. But even though the owl is a federally protected, flagship old-growth species, the Department of Forestry hasn't let up clearcutting in its Elliott State Forest home. The Center's suit, filed this Tuesday with Umpqua Watersheds Inc., Cascadia Wildlands Project, and Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, charges the Fish and Wildlife Service with violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing the owl to be harmed.

Learn more from the Register-Guard.

Center Sponsors Owl-painting Contest in Nepal

Of course, northern spotted owls aren't the only owls on the planet with problems. In Nepal, home to more than 9 percent of the world's owl species, not only are the birds imperiled by habitat destruction, the wildlife trade, and other threats -- they're also burdened with a cultural image as a malevolent omen. To make sure Nepalese youngsters are enlightened about owls' indispensible ecological role, this July Nepal's Friends of Nature joined forces with the World Owl Trust and the Center for Biological Diversity's own Global Owl Project to organize an owl education program and painting competition for local schoolchildren. After learning about owl conservation, looking at bird slides, and getting the scoop on birds' importance to humans and nature, each participant grabbed a paintbrush and churned out an owl-focused masterpiece to enter in the contest. First prize? A pair of high-end binoculars and a field guide to the birds of Nepal.

Read Friends of Nature's report on the contest.

Don't Blame China: U.S. Still Takes the Gold in Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Back in 2007, a report released by Beijing authorities showed that China's rapid economic expansion could soon push it ahead of the United States as the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases. Another analysis, released last week, says more than half the world's fossil fuel emissions released between 2000 and 2007 came from Chinese sources. "Ha!" you might say, "Maybe America's not the worst after all!"

But according to a brand-new report about to debut in the journal Energy Policy, one-third of China's greenhouse gas emissions in fact come from its exports, whose production has been skyrocketing in the past few years. That means all those Chinese products bought by the top-consuming countries -- including us Americans -- are the root of much of China's evil emissions. So whoever ultimately "triumphs" in the greenhouse gas-emitting game... well, we can't really shoot the manufacturer, can we?

Get the stats from Worldwatch Institute.

Center Carnivore Expert Cheers on Jaguars

With endangered jaguars just beginning to reclaim their habitat in the American Southwest, it's now more important than ever to develop a concrete plan to help the species move toward recovery. Unfortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been moving in the opposite direction, declaring last winter that the big cat won't be harmed by the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall and refusing to publish a much-needed jaguar recovery plan. The Center for Biological Diversity, long committed to helping the jaguar, sued over that finding in April.

Obviously, the jaguar needs friends -- and Center conservation advocate Michael Robinson is one of them. His latest op-ed, picked up by a Jacksonville, Florida newspaper, shows why jaguar conservation should be important to those throughout the United States, not just in the Southwest.

Read Robinson's article for yourself.

Racy Flower Attracts Thousands (Despite Stench)

With its huge, decidedly phallic flower, a fragrance like a fridge in need of cleaning, and a name that translates as "giant, misshapen penis," how could anyone not fall in love with the Amorphophallus titanum? The rare tropical plant, first discovered in 1878 in western Sumatra, has been cultivated in Europe since its debut in London in 1889 -- when Victorian women were forbidden to view its penis-like blossom. Lately, though, one specimen has been showing off its flower for thousands of males and females of all ages at Belgium's National Botanical Garden.

Though it blooms rarely and unpredictably, the Amorphophallus titanum has the largest unbranched cluster of flowers in the world, sometimes looming almost 10 feet tall, and its strong, rotting-meat stench attracts carrion-eating pollinators. One British filmmaker, whose BBC documentary captured the plant's flowering for the first time, gave the species its popular name "titan arum" because he found "Amorphophallus" too blush-worthy for TV.

Get more from Reuters.

KierĂ¡n Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: northern spotted owl by John and Karen Hollingsworth, USFWS; polar bears by Scott Schliebe, USFWS; burrowing owl by Marcus Armani; desert tortoise by Beth Jackson, USFWS; prize-winning owl painting by Priyanka Dongol; coal plant by Phillip J. Redman, USGS; jaguar by Robin Silver; Amorphophallus titanum courtesy of U.S. Botanic Garden.

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