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Wolves Win as Feds Give Up on Suit

In a happy ending to the Center for Biological Diversity's fight to ensure protections for northern Rockies gray wolves, the Bush administration announced this week that it's giving up and putting the wolf back on the endangered species list. Thanks to a suit filed by the Center and 11 allies in April, this summer a judge reversed the administration's March decision to remove the wolves' protections, ending a period of indiscriminate wolf slaughter in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and parts of Oregon and Washington. But that reversal was temporary. Now, right before public wolf hunting was planned to begin this fall, the administration has decided to withdraw its rule alleging that wolves don't need Endangered Species Act protection -- just in time.

Due mostly to federal predator control and conflicts with the livestock industry, the gray wolf was eliminated from the West by the mid-20th century. Within months after its Endangered Species Act protections were removed last spring, more than 100 wolves had already been killed. The Center will keep a sharp eye on the administration to make sure it doesn't prey on these predators again.

Get more from the Seattle Post.

Agency Protects 1.8 Million Acres of California Frog Habitat

Thanks to a December lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, this Tuesday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to grant Mark Twain's favorite amphibian no less than 1.8 million acres of federally protected habitat spanning 28 California counties. The California red-legged frog, made famous in Twain's "The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County," has lost 90 percent of its historic population due to urban development, wetland draining, pesticides, and myriad other threats. Still, in 2006, the Service gave in to development-industry pressure and cited a bunk economic analysis to severely slash the habitat protections the frog needs to survive.

The new proposal for habitat protections isn't nearly as good as a 2001 agency proposal -- which would have protected a hefty 4.1 million acres, thanks to a Center suit -- but it is almost quadruple the agency's last designation. That dramatic cut was retracted after federal investigators learned the decision was politically tainted by former Interior Department official Julie MacDonald.

Read more in the Bellingham Herald.

Center Fights Bush Deal Giving Big Bucks to Big Timber

Last Wednesday the Center for Biological Diversity joined the Forest Stewardship Council-U.S. and Conservation Northwest in a suit against the Bush administration over some shady handling of funds -- a deal that effectively put quite a lot of money in the hands of the timber industry. It all happened back in September 2006, when the administration bypassed Congress and avoided any public process to steer $350 million in settlement money from a Canadian timber lawsuit to two Bush-selected, timber industry-dominated forestry foundations. That's money that should have gone to the U.S. Treasury.

Our suit asks the court not only to declare the Bush administration's backroom deal illegal, but also to take fair and reasonable steps to ensure that the illicitly maneuvered moolah is safeguarded until the administration follows the law.

Get details in the Seattle Times.

Sarah Palin Earns Prestigious Rubber Dodo Award

The second annual Rubber Dodo Award goes to... Sarah Palin. The Center for Biological Diversity honored her with the 2008 award for her valiant efforts to protect her state's oil industry -- sacrificing the well-being of our earth, our climate, the polar bear, and numerous other warming-threatened species in the process. Starting in 2006, Palin worked hard to block the government from protecting the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act -- and when the bear was declared "threatened" anyway, she sued, joined shortly thereafter by her oil-industry friends. According to the Center's executive director Kierán Suckling, Palin's lawsuit will put her in the history books as perhaps the only person ever to have accused the Bush administration of excessive use of the Endangered Species Act.

The Center's Rubber Dodo Award is reserved every year for the person in public or private service whom we feel has done the most to contribute to endangered species' extinction. Last year, we gave the award to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.

Check out our press release and learn more from the Guardian.

California County Panel Says No to Tejon Development

This Monday an important Los Angeles County science advisory committee refused to approve the Centennial project, a humungous development proposed for California's celebrated Tejon Ranch wilderness. The committee rejected the plan because the 23,000-home development, complete with strip malls, would harm two county-designated "significant ecological areas," destroy beloved wildflower fields, and displace the county's last herd of pronghorn antelope. The Centennial project would in fact require 8,300 acres of open space to be bulldozed and is the largest housing development ever proposed in California -- which is saying a lot.

Still, Centennial developers are unwilling to compromise their plans, and the project will now be considered by the Los Angeles Planning Commission. The Center for Biological Diversity strongly opposes development on Tejon Ranch and has campaigned to turn it into a state or national park to preserve its amazing natural treasures, including 23 known types of plant communities and federally protected habitat for the California condor.

Read more in the Bakersfield Californian.

Feds Sued for Removing Safety Net for Sierra Nevada Species

Last week, the Center for Biological Diversity and allies took the Bush administration to court for dramatically weakening management plans for 10 Sierra Nevada national forests. Before December 2007, the U.S. Forest Service was required to closely monitor the well-being of indicator species -- plants and animals that help show an ecosystem's overall health -- and ensure that those species wouldn't be harmed before approving projects like logging and road building. The original management requirements helped keep populations of Sierra Nevada plants and animals -- including the northern goshawk, California condor, and Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep -- well-distributed and healthy. But new provisions passed in December compel the Forest Service to monitor only 13 of the original 60 management indicator species, allowing the agency to stay totally out of the loop on the vast majority of the Sierra's bellwether inhabitants.

Represented by Earthjustice, we filed our suit with Sierra Forest Legacy, the Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife on September 9 to show that the latest weakening of protections violates the law.

Read more in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Lane Mountain Milk-vetch to Be Dishonorably Demoted

After calling a truce in July over protecting habitat for California's Lane Mountain milk-vetch, last Wednesday the Bush administration renewed its assault on the unique, pea-like plant when it announced it would downgrade the milk-vetch's Endangered Species Act protections. The Lane Mountain milk-vetch, found only in the central Mojave Desert -- mostly within the recently expanded boundaries of the Fort Irwin Army base -- is threatened with destruction by off-road vehicles, tank training, mining, and suburban development. On July 24, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged the plant's danger when it settled a lawsuit with the Center over a flawed 2005 decision not to protect any habitat for the species; the agency agreed to propose new habitat protections by 2010. Yet less than two months after the settlement, the Service did a sudden about-face and recommended that the plant be reduced to threatened rather than endangered status under the Endangered Species Act -- despite the fact that the milk-vetch exists in only four populations on the planet.

Check out our press release and get more on the Lane Mountain milk-vetch on our Web page.

Center Owl Buff Helps Little Owl Make Literary Splash

The yellow-eyed, white-speckled little owl may be tiny, but it has a huge global presence, inhabiting 84 countries from England to China. Luckily for all owls -- whose biology is feebly understood compared to that of other birds -- the little owl is a cavity nester and is often undaunted by human presence, so it's an ideal model for conservation in the landscapes where it lives. David H. Johnson, the director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Global Owl Project, has been taking advantage of that in co-authoring the brand-new book The Little Owl: Conservation, Ecology, and Behavior of Athene noctua, just released this week by Cambridge University Press. Synthesizing centuries of little owl literature and combining it with the latest research, Johnson and his fellow authors discuss the bird's ecology, genetics, and population trends and suggest a strategy for recovering and conserving the little owl.

According to our sources, The Little Owl is already being considered as an "Editor's Choice" book by Britain's Natural History Book Service. Its release is just in time for the 4th annual International Little Owl Symposium, to be held in Belgium later this month. And at 596 pages, there's certainly nothing "little" about this book or its implications -- we're sure the goddess of wisdom Athena, whose symbol was the little owl, would be proud.

Check out the little owl tome in the Cambridge University Press's catalogue.

Navajos Step Up for Arizona Bald Eagles

Bald eagles nationwide, which now number more than 11,000 breeding pairs, were removed from the federal endangered species list last summer -- and bald eagles in Arizona, with only 43 breeding pairs, were added to the Navajo Nation's endangered species list last week. The tribe's list, called for by the Navajo Nation Code, is amended every couple of years as field personnel keep close track of plants and animals on their land that need protection. Besides adding the bald eagle to the list, the Nation also just added five native plant species and approved nest protection regulations for both bald and goiden eagles, as well as rules to help prevent raptor electrocution on power lines.

Thanks to a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, bald eagles in Arizona have been put back on the endangered species list, at least until a final decision is made on their status. With the help of American Indian tribes, this August we successfully filed a court request to extend the deadline until October 2009 to show the true extent of the bald eagle's historical presence in Arizona.

Read more in the Gallup Independent.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: gray wolf courtesy of USFWS; gray wolf by John and Karen Hollingsworth, USFWS; California red-legged frog by Dan C. Holland; forest by Edward McCain; Tejon Ranch (c) Andrew Harvey; northern goshawk courtesy of USFWS; Lane Mountain milk-vetch (c) California Native Plant Society, Calphotos; Cambridge University Press book cover by Van Nieuwenhuyse; bald eagle by Robin Silver.

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