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Fanita Ranch Plan May Soon Be Finito

Echoing concerns brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Preserve Wild Santee, and Endangered Habitats League, last Thursday a San Diego Superior Court judge wisely ruled that the proposed Fanita Ranch project violated state law by failing to deal with fire-safety risks. The 1,400-unit, 2,600-acre development, proposed for Santee, California's northern edge, was approved by the city last December, but concerns over the project's environmental and public-safety risks prompted the Center and allies to sue. Thursday's ruling cites the problem Fanita Ranch would pose in a wildlands area subjected to frequent and severe wildfires -- especially when the project failed to include a single adequate fire-management plan.

The Fanita Ranch site also happens to be home to the threatened California gnatcatcher and the endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly, both threatened by development and unnaturally frequent fire. Fanita Ranch's final fate is yet to be decided in court.

Read more in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Mining Company to Withdraw From Conglomerate Mesa

After more than 4,000 Center for Biological Diversity supporters responded to our action alert opposing the Conglomerate Mesa gold-mining proposal near Death Valley National Park, the company behind the proposal finally abandoned its plans for the site. Due to "significant uncertainty regarding the project's viability," last Friday the Timberline Resources Corporation announced it has withdrawn its application to the Bureau of Land Management for exploratory drilling at the mesa, and its lease agreement for the project is no more.

The project would have allowed Timberline to explore for low-grade gold ore as part of its plan to put a massive gold mine on California's scenic Conglomerate Mesa. The proposed open-pit mine would use a poisonous cyanide-leaching process and would destroy habitat, waste water, and increase pollution. It's a good thing Timberline's plans have bitten the dust -- and we're not talking gold dust.

Read about Timberline's announcement in Trading Markets (skip to the sixth paragraph) and learn more about the Conglomerate Mesa project.

Fish and Game Agency Must Consult Over Fish-stocking

Taking a positive step for California's water-dwelling natives, the Sacramento Superior Court has ordered the state's Department of Fish and Game to consult with the Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Rivers Council on short-term ways to protect native fish and amphibians from fish-stocking. Until the Department finishes an adequate analysis of the environmental effects of its fish-stocking practices -- required under the California Environmental Quality Act -- these measures must be in place to limit the harm hatchery-raised fish pose to native species, from the Santa Ana sucker to the mountain yellow-legged frog.

In May 2007, as part of an ongoing lawsuit by the Center and Pacific Rivers Council, the court ruled that fish stocking does affect ecosystems, ordering the Department to analyze and find ways to counteract the impacts of its stocking program in an environmental impact report by late 2008. Since the agency was making slow progress on its report, it asked for an extension -- but now it must consider protecting native species in the meantime.

Get more information from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

California Attorney General Demands Halt to ESA Changes

Echoing avid objections by the Center for Biological Diversity and environmentalists everywhere, this week California Attorney General Jerry Brown called on the Bush administration to halt its recent attack on the Endangered Species Act. In a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Brown rejected Bush's proposed changes to the Act, including removing the requirement for government agencies to consult with scientists before undertaking potentially species-harming projects. Brown also vehemently opposed a change that would keep greenhouse gas emissions' effect on wildlife from being considered under the Act.

The Center submitted its own comments against the changes, as did 300,000 private citizens standing up for endangered species -- including 53,000 Center supporters.

Get more from ProPublica.

Gray Wolves Ease Back into Oregon

More and more wolves are turning up in Oregon, spreading West from the Rocky Mountains -- and most people are OK with that, said Oregon biologist Russ Morgan at a conference last weekend. Decades ago, the wolves were exterminated from the state to make way for livestock, but there have been 140 wolf sightings there this year, and at least one breeding pair called Oregon home last summer. So far, Morgan said, wolves haven't come into conflict with people or livestock, although some Oregon ranchers don't like the animals' return -- and a few wolves have been found shot in the state.

With wolves potentially coming in from both Idaho and Washington, Oregon has developed a wolf conservation plan and protects the species under its own Endangered Species Act. Thanks to action by environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity, northern Rockies gray wolves, including those seeping into Oregon, are still protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, the administration has launched a new attack on the predators' protections.

Read more in the Oregonian and learn about the northern Rockies gray wolf.

Lake Champlain Sea Lampreys: Menace or Wonder?

Sea lampreys are thriving in the Northeast's Lake Champlain -- according to area fishermen, way too much. The blood-sucking creatures have been preying on the lake's trout and salmon, leaving them with scars and sometimes killing them. New York and Vermont have been using lamprey poison in the lake's tributaries where the sea lamprey spawn, but it doesn't seem to solve the problem. And the poison is lethal to other species, including other kinds of lampreys, as well as imperiled mudpuppies.

Sea lampreys evolved in the ocean long before dinosaurs, but at some point they found their way into Lake Champlain. Research suggests they're genetically distinct from other sea lamprey and have been there since the last Ice Age. In that case, lampreys have as much of a right to the lake as the other fish -- they just aren't as attractive to people. "If you believe the sea lamprey has been here 10,000 years, it's been playing a part in the ecosystem," said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity's Vermont office. "At a gut, irrational level, people are just really repelled by them." In any event, lampricide doesn't seem to be the answer.

Get more in the Rutland Herald.

New Gecko Species Hatched in France

Last week, a brand-new species of gecko native to the South Pacific popped out of its egg 12,000 miles from home in Paris. The miniscule egg, along with eight others, was plucked from a tree on the island of Espiritu Santo by French reptile specialist Ivan Ineich during a research expedition. According to Ineich, he wrapped all nine eggs in wet Kleenex, packed them into a pillbox, and carried them all the way from the South Pacific to the French capital, where they were left in the care of a friend who raises lizards as a hobby. After a power outage caused temperatures in the eggs' terrarium to plummet, eight of the nine eggs died. But the remaining egg hatched last Friday to reveal a new gecko species, christened Lepidodactylus buleli.

Learn more from the Associated Press.

Recovery Has Peregrine Falcon "Acting Pretty Cocky"

According to an article released last week in the Onion -- "America's finest news source" -- the majestic peregrine falcon has gotten a bit too big for its britches since being removed from the endangered species list nine years ago. Ever since the once near-extinct bird achieved recovery, the article declares, animal advocates have observed it "flaunting" its enormous wingspan, nesting "arrogantly" atop cliffs, breeding often and loudly "in everyone's face," and infuriating environmentalists by reclaiming its habitat "without so much as a simple thank you."

Of course, the great raptor isn't completely out of the woods: It could still be eradicated by numerous threats, including pesticides, deforestation, climate change . . . and, according to the Onion, violence by humans annoyed with its new holier-than-thou attitude. In fact, last week's article reports, angry conservation advocates have already circulated a petition to "Teach That Conceited [Bird] Some Manners."

Read the story for yourself in the Onion.* **

*Warning: Adult language ahead.
**The Center for Biological Diversity condones no violence against animals, even the satirical kind.

KierĂ¡n Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: Quino checkerspot butterfly by Peter Bryant; gold by Dennis Garrett; mountain yellow-legged frog by Adam Backlin, USGS; bald eagle by Lee Emery, USFWS; gray wolf by John and Karen Hollingsworth, USFWS; sea lamprey courtesy of EPA; gecko by Lydia Northam; American peregrine falcon by Craig Koppie, USFWS.

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