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Deadline Set for Protecting 10 Penguin Species

Ten global warming-threatened penguin species continued their march toward protection this Monday when a federal judge approved a settlement between the Center for Biological Diversity and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Under the settlement, stemming from a 2006 Center petition and a 2008 Center lawsuit, the Service must decide by December 19, 2008 whether the penguins need protection under the Endangered Species Act.

And they certainly do: Abnormally warm ocean temperatures and diminished sea ice have wreaked havoc on the penguins' food supply, leading to population declines for penguins ranging from South America to Africa to Antarctica. Already, the emperor penguin colony at Pointe Geologie, featured in the film The March of the Penguins, has declined by more than 50 percent due to global warming. Other threats to penguins run the gamut and include industrial fisheries, habitat destruction, and oil spills.

The species under consideration are the emperor, southern rockhopper, northern rockhopper, Fiordland crested, erect-crested, macaroni, white-flippered, yellow-eyed, African, and Humboldt penguins.

Read more in Scientific American.

Endangered Species List Under Sneak Attack, Take Action Now to Save the Act

As we've made darn sure our readers know, on August 15 the Bush administration proposed to gut the Endangered Species Act by letting potentially species-harming federal projects escape scientific review. This week, the Center for Biological Diversity filed comments against a less-publicized -- but equally scary -- proposed change to the Act that was sneakily published on August 5.

Under the guise of a mere "format change" to the endangered species list, the August 5 proposal would redefine where imperiled species are federally safeguarded, limiting protections to wherever the species is now found -- which in many cases could be a zoo. If this change had been in place all along, iconic species like the California condor, Mexican gray wolf, and jaguar might even now be extinct or nearly extinct from the wild in our country. How can a species recover if it isn't given room to do it?

The good news? The deadline for comments on the August 15 proposal has been extended by a month -- so we now have until October 15 to flood the administration with opposition. Do it here.

Get details in our press release and learn about the Endangered Species Act ambush on our Web page.

Ice Seals Move Forward as Sea-ice Recedes

In response to a scientific petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, last Thursday the federal government announced it was reviewing the status of three ice-dependent seals to decide whether they'll get protection under the Endangered Species Act. The bearded, ringed, and spotted seals, all inhabitants of Alaska's icy waters, are urgently threatened by climate change, which is fast melting the sea ice they need for giving birth, rearing pups, and resting. For these seals, it's definitely not good news that Arctic summer sea-ice extent reached its second-lowest level in 30 years this summer.

Besides global warming, all three seals are in danger from increased oil and gas development in their habitat and proliferation of shipping routes in an ever-more ice-free Arctic. The Center petitioned for the seals on May 28, 2008; the National Marine Fisheries Service must now issue a proposed rule to protect them by May of next year.

Get details in the Seattle Times.

Administration Caught in Bed -- Literally -- With Oil Industry

According to the latest from the inspector general's office, some Interior Department officials have been going. . . well, a little wild with power. Three new reports, resulting from three separate investigations of more than a dozen current and former Mineral Management Service employees, found that a bunch of them accepted "gifts" from oil and gas companies and participated in drug use and illicit sexual encounters -- both amongst themselves and "in consort with industry."

Far worse than the bribery, drug abuse, and sexual depravity that took place, however, is that the employees in question apparently consider themselves above ethics and the law. When confronted by investigators, says one memo, none of the culprits displayed an ounce of remorse, and some got off scot-free by retiring "with the usual celebratory send-offs." (We think that means they got cake and a gold watch.)

This attitude reminds us of the less-steamy scandal surrounding former Interior official Julie MacDonald and some of her peers, who also ignored the law when they robbed at least 55 imperiled species of Endangered Species Act protections -- which the Center for Biological Diversity is now actively opposing.

Get the dirty details from E&E News.

Sturgeon, Salmon to Swim in Protected Waters

Making good on a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, last Friday the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed protecting thousands of square miles of watery habitat for the southern population of the North American green sturgeon. One of the continent's largest and rarest freshwater fish, the green sturgeon is also one of the most ancient, remaining unchanged since it first emerged 200 million years ago. But the San Francisco Bay-Delta food web the sturgeon depends on has changed -- in fact, it's rapidly unraveling, and spawning green sturgeon populations in California's Sacramento River have recently plummeted to some of their lowest numbers on record.

On the other side of the country, Gulf of Maine Atlantic salmon saw a similar victory last Friday when -- in response to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity -- the Fisheries Service proposed protecting 126,623 river miles and 214,487 acres of lake habitat for the fish. The proposal came just days after the agency declared that Atlantic salmon in Maine's Kennebec, Androscoggin, and Penobscot rivers would be added to the salmon population already protected under the Endangered Species Act. That announcement was the result of a 2008 Center lawsuit requesting protection for the Kennebec fish.

Get more on the sturgeon from the Times-Standard, and read about the salmon in our press release.

Court Commands California to Give Tiger Salamander a Chance

Forced to end its stint of ignoring native wildlife in need of protection, this Tuesday the California Fish and Game Commission was court-ordered to consider a petition to protect the California tiger salamander under the state's Endangered Species Act. Already federally protected as endangered, the charming, yellow-spotted salamander has been devastated by development that has eliminated at least 75 percent of its California vernal pool habitat.  Still, the Commission rejected a petition for protection submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity back in 2004 -- just like it rejected a petition to protect the rabbit-like, warming-threatened American pika and the Pacific fisher, a forest carnivore imperiled by logging and development.

Tuesday's ruling, made by the California state appeals court, upholds a previous ruling that rejected the Commission's claim that the tiger salamander was imperiled. Instead of sending the decision back to the agency, the court ordered it to directly advance the salamander to candidacy for protection.

Read more in the Metropolitan News-Enterprise.

Tree Vole Ignored, Bush Administration Put on Notice

After more than a year with no response to our petition to protect the dusky tree vole under the Endangered Species Act -- and after decades of excessive logging in the tiny rodent's habitat -- the Center for Biological Diversity and allies informed the Bush administration we'll sue over its unlawful lack of action for the animal. The dusky tree vole, a subspecies of the red tree vole found only in the forests of the Tillamook region on Oregon's North Coast, lives nearly its whole life in trees and depends on structures associated with older, pristine forests, like forked tree tops and "witches' brooms" -- weird, tufted growths of small branches on trees -- to survive. But recent surveys in the Tillamook found no voles in places where they once were common, showing that too much logging has been ruining their old-growth home.

Our formal notice of intent to sue Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne was filed with Cascadia Wildlands Project, Oregon Wild, and Portland Audubon last Thursday. "For too long, the Tillamook has been a sacrifice zone for industrial forestry," said Center science director Noah Greenwald. We're determined to make the administration adopt better forest practices to save the tree vole, salmon, and dozens of other species in the region.

Read more in the Oregonian.

Lawsuit Filed for Virgin Islands Plants

More than a dozen years after a petition was first submitted to protect two imperiled Caribbean plants, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its complete failure to take action for the species. Agave eggersiana, a tubular-flowered perennial that can grow to be 23 feet tall, is native to hillsides and plains on the island of St. Croix; the thornless shrub Solanum conocarpum lives only in the dry, deciduous forests of the island of St. John. Habitat for both plants has been lost to intense deforestation, development, and grazing by feral animals. There are only about 220 wild S. conoccarpum plants, and A. eggersiana may be completely gone from the wild.

Still, even after a 2004 Center lawsuit, the Fish and Wildlife Service disregarded the opinions of its own scientists and declared two years ago that neither plant deserved Endangered Species Act protection. The Center's lawsuit aims to make sure that neither plant goes extinct.

Check out our press release, where you can also find the lawsuit.

Center Climate Director Gets Props in California

Once again Kassie Siegel, the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate, Air, and Energy program director, got some laudatory media attention last week when the Riverside Press-Enterprise ran a piece on her work, life, and planet-saving lifestyle. Following Siegel to her solar-powered home and office in Joshua Tree, California, the paper describes her affection for the roadrunners and quail that run through her backyard -- and her unwavering devotion to arctic animals like the polar bear, her petition for which has not only helped it get Endangered Species Act protection, but has also turned it into an international icon for the fight against global warming.

Read the article for yourself.

KierĂ¡n Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: rockhopper penguin (c) Larry Master; jaguar (c) Robin Silver; bearded seal (c) David S. Isenberg; oil facility courtesy of Energy Information Administration; green sturgeon (c) Dan W. Gotshall; California tiger salamander (c) Gary Nafis, California Herps; red tree vole (c) Ronn Altig and Chris Maser; Solanum conocarpum (c) Robin Cooley.

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