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Coalition Sues to Save Arizona National Monuments

Vermilion CliffsTo defend some of Arizona's most astonishing acreage from off-road vehicles and harmful livestock grazing, last week the Center for Biological Diversity and allies filed suit against the Bureau of Land Management for adopting three illegal plans for the "Arizona Strip" -- public lands lying between the Grand Canyon and Utah, including the Grand Canyon-Parashant and Vermillion Cliffs national monuments. In direct defiance of two federal laws -- as well as the presidential proclamations that created the monuments in the first place, specifically to protect them -- Bush's Bureau made plans to add hundreds of miles of off-road vehicle routes and allow extensive livestock grazing in the area. The plans would harm imperiled species, ruin fragile ecosystems, threaten numerous archeological and cultural sites, and mar the wild and scenic character of the spectacular national monuments.

"Conserving land and species was supposed to have been a priority for these national monuments," said the Center's public lands director Taylor McKinnon. "We'll ensure it remains so."

Read more in the Arizona Daily Sun.

Republican Lawmakers Attack California Environmental Laws

Oil refineryWith the economy crumbling, Golden State Republicans are using California's financial woes as a weapon against their state's most important environmental law. As part of budget negotiations last week, Republican lawmakers kept pushing for a measure that would gut the California Environmental Quality Act by doing away with its requirement that new projects analyze and counteract their greenhouse gas emissions. That means big-footprint ventures, from refineries to developments to highways, would be allowed to throw a huge wrench into California's efforts to fight global warming. Republican leaders are also targeting new rules to reduce diesel air pollution and want to slow down state regulations on greenhouse gases.

The Center for Biological Diversity has been defending the California Environmental Quality Act for years, and we're not about to let it be sacrificed in a backroom deal.  If you live in California, please go here to find your legislators, and call and demand they reject these environmental rollbacks from the budget.

Read more in the Sacramento Bee and go here for guidance on taking action.

Loggerhead Turtles to Gain Reprieve From Longline Fishing

Loggerhead sea turtleLess than a month after the Center for Biological Diversity and allies warned the National Marine Fisheries Service we'd sue if the agency didn't halt bottom longline fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, last Thursday the regional fishery regulators approved an emergency measure to limit the practice to protect the ancient loggerhead sea turtle. Government studies show that longline fishing, which usually uses a mainline up to 10 miles long with up to 2,100 baited hooks, has captured as many as 800 loggerheads over an 18-month period; the practice also harms other turtles and may harm smalltooth sawfish. And the species is already in big trouble: In the past decade, loggerhead nests along Florida have declined by 40 percent. Even though the National Marine Fisheries Service estimated last fall that the Gulf bottom longline fishery had captured more than three times the number of sea turtles permitted by their own biologists' opinion, the agency has allowed fishing to continue.

The new longline moratorium passed by the fishery management council is expected to be implemented by the Fisheries Service in late spring or early summer, at which point all longline fishing in Gulf waters shallower than 300 feet will be banned for the next six months. However, the Fisheries Service also has authority under the Endangered Species Act to close the fishery immediately in order to prevent harm to loggerheads. The Center and its allies are pressing for that immediate closure to prevent derby fishing and jeopardy to this vulnerable sea turtle population.

Read more in the Orlando Sentinel.

Center Continues Fight for Pygmy Owl

Cactus ferruginous pygmy owlJust after an unfavorable court ruling on restoring protections to Arizona's cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, last Friday the Center for Biological Diversity released a statement renewing our vow to get the tiny, enormously at-risk bird back on the federal endangered species list. Thanks to a petition and numerous lawsuits by the Center, in 1997 the few pygmy owls remaining in southeastern Arizona were listed as federally endangered with a special "distinct population segment" status. But in 2006, despite evidence that pygmy owls in Arizona are a unique subspecies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared they weren't significant to the species as a whole and removed their protections (including 732,000 acres of Center lawsuit-won protected habitat). The decision followed a suit by developers itching to get their bulldozers on pygmy owl habitat. In 2007, joined by Defenders of Wildlife, the Center filed another petition to protect the beleaguered bird.

Unfortunately, in a short (but not sweet) memo, last week the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier court decision backing the removal of the pygmy owl's protections. The Center will move forward with our petition to prevent the Arizona population's demise.

Read our statement and learn more about the plight of the pygmy owl.

Forest Service Meets Opposition to Off-road Vehicle Plan in Arizona

Northern goshawkIn response to plans to allow off-road vehicles on more than 500 miles of roads in Arizona's Kaibab National Forest, last Thursday the Center for Biological Diversity joined a coalition of groups to point out flaws in the plans. The Tusayan Ranger District, which borders Grand Canyon National Park to the south, is home to sensitive species like the northern goshawk, American pronghorn, mountain lion, and black bear -- animals that should be protected by the 2005 Travel Management Rule, which requires the Forest Service to ban cross-country motorized travel to protect species and watershed quality. But the agency's environmental analysis for its plans ignores the ban and fails to evaluate alternatives.

The Center and allies have presented the Forest Service with an alternative plan that would protect the forest and its species from motorized destruction. We have also criticized a Tusayan Ranger District proposal to allow hunters to rip up the forest in their quads to pick up downed elk.

Check out our press release and learn our campaign to protect species and lands from off-road vehicles.

California Fish May Get Habitat Makeover

Unarmored threespine sticklebackA tiny fish with a lengthy name may soon swim in healthier waters, according to the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Agriculture, which are planning to make improvements to the Santa Clarita Valley habitat of the unarmored threespine stickleback. The highly endangered, minnow-sized fish survived the dustbowl days of the '30s and every Southern California drought for the past 10,000 years, but lately it's been facing harder times still. Sprawl, off-road vehicle use, mining, pollution, groundwater pumping, and a bunch of other threats have destroyed 90 percent of its former habitat and shrunk its population to a minuscule number.

To help the stickleback, Forest Service rangers want to restore its home in the Santa Clara River and tributaries -- notably Bouquet Creek, one of the species' last refuges. The Center has been working to save the unarmored threespine stickleback since 2002, when we filed a lawsuit over federal protection for its habitat; we also helped oppose a huge mine threatening the fish in the Santa Clara watershed.

Get details in the Santa Clarita Valley Signal.

Animal Lovers Defend Elephants From Cruelest Show on Earth

Asian elephantA different kind of Endangered Species Act legal challenge kicked off yesterday when a coalition of animal rights groups took the world's most well-known circus to court over elephant abuse. Plaintiffs including the Animal Welfare Institute, the ASPCA, the Fund For Animals, and a former Ringling Brothers elephant handler are fighting to save Asian elephants from the terrible tending of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Court papers say the circus keeps the endangered pachyderms in cramped, filthy quarters; chains them uncomfortably for long periods of time; regularly subjects them to painful prodding; and abuses baby elephants in a variety of ways -- all in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Of course, circus officials deny any mistreatment, calling leg chains and bull hooks "tethers" and "guides."

The Center for Biological Diversity's own board member Katherine Meyer is the leading litigator in the lawsuit. We wish her success saving the sensitive circus giants.

Get the scoop from the Washington Post and learn about Meyer's role in the Blog of Legal Times.

Merit Badge for Clearcutting?

Steelhead troutThe Boy Scouts' image as an organization of innocent, nature-loving knot-tiers suffered a blow recently after a Hearst Newspapers investigation found that many councils have taken to clearcutting their land in response to fundraising problems. According to the investigation, councils have ordered clearcutting and high-impact logging on tens of thousands of acres of prime forestland, hurting imperiled species from timber wolves to bald eagles -- species with which the organization publicly encourages its eagle scouts and cub scouts to live in harmony. The Monterey Bay Area Boy Scouts Council killed steelhead trout by operating a fish-killing California dam. When the National Marine Fisheries Service warned the council to close the dam until it met environmental standards, the group called on certain high-powered former campers -- now in D.C. -- to let them keep using it.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that donations have declined since the scouts publicly adopted an anti-gay, anti-atheist stance, forcing some councils to resort to these dubious, alternative fundraising methods.

Read more in a pair of San Francisco Chronicle articles, here and here.

KierĂ¡n Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: cactus ferruginous pygmy owl (c) Robin Silver; Vermilion Cliffs; oil refinery courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Peter Facey; loggerhead sea turtle courtesy National Park Service; nothern goshawk courtesy USFWS; unarmored threespine stickleback (c) Arron Nadig; Asian elephant courtesy Wikimedia Commons/SuperJew; steelhead trout courtesy National Park Service. 

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