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Hawaiian Monk Seals to Get New Protected Habitat

In response to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, last Friday the National Marine Fisheries Service announced it will grant the Hawaiian monk seal the federally protected habitat it needs for any hope of shedding its status as one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world. Monk seals on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are dying by the dozens thanks to starvation, derelict fishing-gear entanglement, predation, and disease; pups in the area have only about a one-in-five chance of surviving to adulthood. Thankfully, the main islands offer better foraging conditions, as well as a better refuge for warming-caused sea-level rise and beach erosion. Accordingly, seals in the main Hawaiian Islands are giving birth to healthy pups and their numbers are slowly on the rise.

But despite the increasing importance of main-islands habitat for monk seals, it has never before been protected. Last week the Service declared it was not only going to expand habitat protections in the Northwestern Islands; it will also designate new protected habitat in the main islands.

Read more in the Honolulu Advertiser.

Protections Won for 31 Rare Bird Species Worldwide

Almost 30 years after the feds first received petitions to list scores of the world's most imperiled bird species, this week -- thanks to Center for Biological Diversity litigation -- the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service committed itself to protecting 31 birds  from South America to North Africa. The agency will publish final determinations on Endangered Species Act protection for six of the birds -- five petrels in New Zealand, Fiji, and Ecuador, as well as the Heinroth's shearwater in Papua New Guinea -- and proposed determinations for 25 more birds. The Service was originally petitioned to safeguard more than 70 bird species back in 1980 and 1991, but it spent decades recycling petition findings that put off protections. Any progress made toward protections has been due to Center lawsuits, negotiations, and court findings that if the Service continues its dilly-dallying, many of the birds will go extinct before they're taken under the U.S. government's wing.

Endangered Species Act protections provide substantial benefits for foreign species, including the authorization of funding for conservation programs and the implementation of a treaty designed to prevent extinctions caused by international trade.

Read more in Law360.

Wolverines Gain Second Chance at Safeguards

Under a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity and a nationwide coalition of environmental groups, last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to think again about adding imperiled U.S. wolverines to the federal endangered species list. The wolverine, a plucky alpine scavenger still surviving in parts of the Rocky Mountains and the Northwest, is endangered by threats from habitat destruction to trapping to global warming (which reduces the snowpack wolverines need for shelter and raising young). But when the Fish and Wildlife Service reviewed our 2008 petition to protect the animal, it declared protection was unnecessary because wolverine populations were still healthy in Canada -- a decision at odds with protections granted other transborder wildlife. Now, thanks to a suit by the Center and allies, the Service will re-review the wolverine's status.

"The wolverine is a symbol of ferocious independence and shouldn't be allowed to go extinct in the United States just because they still survive in Canada," said the Center's Biodiversity Program Director Noah Greenwald. "Like the polar bear, pika, and many other species, the wolverine needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act if it is to survive global climate change."

Check out our press release for details and learn more about our campaign to save the American wolverine.

Climate Change Report Shows We Must Take Action Now

This Tuesday the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which coordinates federal research on global environmental changes -- and their implications for people -- released its long-awaited report on climate change impacts in the United States. The report details devastating effects on ecosystems, human health, water, agriculture, transportation, and infrastructure, and concludes that atmospheric CO2 levels must be stabilized near current levels (385 ppm) to avoid "severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts." The Center, of course, is sticking to a goal of 350 ppm or below, which the best science shows is the level we need to reach to avoid climate change catastrophe. As the Center's Climate Law Institute Director Kassie Siegel says: "This report highlights the scientific urgency for deep and rapid reductions in greenhouse pollution. . . . While the Obama administration is much better than the Bush administration at acknowledging the severity of the climate crisis, unfortunately the Obama administration is not moving quickly enough to actually do anything about it."

Reports on climate change's U.S. impacts are required by law, but the Bush administration refused to issue such reports until forced by a Center lawsuit.

Read more in the Seattle Environmental Policy Examiner and get a refresher on why it's 350 or Bust for our climate.

Groups Challenge Removal of Protections From Great Lakes Wolves

To stop the slaughter of endangered gray wolves across the Great Lakes region, this Monday the Center for Biological Diversity and four allies sued to challenge removal of protections from the wolves. We also asked the court for an immediate injunction against wolf killings. In an effort that's been repeatedly struck down in court, this April the federal government removed protections from Great Lakes wolves for the second time in just more than a year, finalizing a move launched by the Bush administration in favor of allowing state-authorized hunting and unrestricted federal "predator control." Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan already plan to allow the killing of hundreds of the vulnerable carnivores.

Earlier this month, the Center and allies sued in defense of gray wolves in the northern Rockies, which were also robbed of protections. Said Michael Robinson, conservation advocate for the Center, "Wolves are absent from roughly 95 percent of their historic range, and with removal of protection, there is almost no chance they will gain lost ground."   

Read more in the Rhinelander Daily News.

Atlantic Salmon Protections Expanded, 12K River Miles of Habitat Gained

Reacting to lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, this week the National Marine Fisheries Service expanded protections for Atlantic salmon in Maine to include populations in three additional river systems, as well as granting federally protected habitat on about 12,000 miles of rivers and estuaries and in about 300 square miles of lakes. And Atlantic salmon need all of it -- thanks to dams, overfishing, habitat degradation, nonnative species, and water diversions, they've declined dramatically throughout most of their range along the eastern seaboard and in Northeast rivers, where they spawn. "Maine's wild salmon deserve a fighting chance, and now they have it," said the Center's Mollie Matteson.

Unfortunately, only current habitat is now protected, and Atlantic salmon need to be safe in their entire historic range in order to recover.

Check out our press release and learn more about Atlantic salmon.

Lawsuit Promised Over Secret Condor Documents

Preparing a journey onto new legal ground to save some of the most biodiverse and valuable ground in California, last Friday the Center for Biological Diversity warned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service we'll sue if it keeps concealing documents related to California's Tejon Ranch, site of protected habitat for the endangered California condor. The planned lawsuit, probably the first of its kind, will be filed under the Endangered Species Act to force the release of information on a misleadingly named "habitat conservation plan" proposed by the ranch in order to put a good face on plans for Tejon Mountain Village. This 3,450-residence "village" would carve out the heart of Tejon Ranch (including vital condor habitat) for 28,000 acres of golf courses, vacation homes, and commercial development. But while the Endangered Species Act requires the release of any information received as part of a request to "take" (that is, harm or kill) endangered species -- which Tejon Mountain Village needs to do to move forward -- the Fish and Wildlife Service has shadily squirreled away the habitat conservation plan papers, suggesting possible back-room deals between the agency and developers.

The Service is now taking comments on the flawed habitat conservation plan. Also, Tejon Ranch recently released a draft report on the environmental impacts of Tejon Mountain Village -- which will, no matter what the Ranch says, be devastating. Comments on the report are due by July 13.

Check out our press release, learn more about our campaign to save Tejon Ranch, and take action by giving your two cents on the draft environmental impact report for Tejon Mountain Village.

Ocean Acidification Causing Mass Mollusk Mortality

Last Friday, the president declared June National Oceans Month and launched a plan to protect our deep blue seas. Unfortunately, the world's oceans are already experiencing a crisis, not only from climate change, pollution, and overfishing, but also from the rapidly worsening threat of ocean acidification. That's what scientists think is behind mass baby-oyster deaths in the West Coast's oyster epicenter, where for four summers in a row -- soon to be five -- most oysters are failing to reproduce.

When the seas absorb carbon dioxide being spewed into our air, seawater becomes more acidic. Scientists suspect that water rising from deep in the ocean, where CO2 levels are highest, is now so corrosive that when it gets pumped into Pacific Coast oyster hatcheries, it's lethal to oyster larvae. And maybe the scariest part of all? Due to ocean current patterns, the acidity of baby-oyster-killing waters upwelling off the West Coast today actually reflect atmospheric CO2 levels of 50 years ago -- levels of only about 315 ppm, compared to 385 ppm today. We shudder at the implications.

Read more on the oyster apocalypse in the Seattle Times.

In Memoriam: Luke Cole

We're sad to report some heartbreaking news for the global environmental justice community: the passing of Luke Cole, founder and director of the Center for Race, Poverty, and the Environment and advisory board member for the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute. Tragically, Cole was killed in a car accident this month while on sabbatical in Uganda. He was a tireless and path-breaking environmental justice leader and an inspiration and mentor to legions of students, activists, and lawyers, giving selflessly of his time and knowledge in pursuit of a better world for all of us -- even before many knew what "environmental justice" really meant. His work highlighted that global warming is an environmental justice issue of massive proportions and is already taking a terrible toll on communities in Alaska and around the world.

"Luke's tragic death is such a great loss to all of us," said Kassie Siegel of the Center's Climate Law Institute. "It's impossible to express how much he'll be missed, but I know that the generation of activists he inspired will continue his work."

Read about Cole's brilliant career and the communities he touched in the New York Times, and view his memorial page here. You can also make a memorial donation to the Center for Race, Poverty, and the Environment.

KierĂ¡n Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: Cook's petrel (c) Tony Palliser; Hawaiian monk seal by James Watt, NOAA; wolverine (c) Gerald and Buff Corsi, California Academy of Sciences; polar bear (c) Brendan Cummings; gray wolf courtesy USFWS; Atlantic salmon by William Hartley, USFWS; California condor by Scott Frier, USFWS; oyster courtesy NOAA; Luke Cole courtesy Cole family.

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