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Verizon Wireless Faces Ire Over Mountaintop Removal Rally

Currently, Verizon Wireless is cosponsoring a pro-mountaintop-removal, anti-climate, anti-union Labor Day rally -- and the Center for Biological Diversity is leading a pressure campaign to compel a quick about-face. Massey Energy's "Friends of America" rally, to be held atop a former surface mine in West Virginia next Monday, will cheer for the devastating practice of mountaintop-removal coal mining, which blows up mountains and chokes waterways with debris in Appalachian habitat. The rally, organized by coal giant Massey Energy, will guest-star global warming denier Lord Christopher Monckton, and boasts an on-site anti-climate legislation petition to sign. Further, the rally's Web site homepage shockingly features the company's CEO on video accusing "environmental extremists" of destroying jobs by opposing mountaintop removal. (Meanwhile, the rally is competing with the nearby 71st annual United Coal Workers of America Labor Day celebration for attendees.)

But thanks to the Center's immediate leap into action and bold national grassroots campaign, Verizon Wireless may be losing more than a few of its 87 million customers: Thousands of them are asking, Can you hear us now? and pledging to spend their money with their conscience. On August 30, the Center notified Verizon Wireless' CEO in no uncertain terms that Verizon must withdraw support for the rally and mountaintop removal or we'd have to tell our 225,000 supporters why we left their pro-coal, anti-environmentalist, anti-union company. Now we've joined forces with CREDO Action, and in just three days our concerned citizens submitted 69,000 letters and made hundreds of phone calls to Verizon telling it to drop the rally.

Join us in commanding Verizon Wireless to withdraw its sponsorship and read more about our opposition in Advertizing Age. Help submit more than 100,000 letters by Labor Day -- join the cause on Facebook, tweet about Verizon, and learn why Grist magazine calls Massey's CEO "the scariest polluter in America" in this New York Times piece.

Sunshine State's Smalltooth Sawfish Snags 840,000 Protected Acres

Responding to a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, this week the National Marine Fisheries Service finalized protection for 840,472 acres of watery habitat for the endangered smalltooth sawfish in southwestern Florida. The fish, a shark and ray relative with a cool-looking, saw-like snout, has declined by 95 percent due to historic overharvesting, entanglement in fishing gear (eased by its line-snagging proboscis), and now, the worst threat of all: extensive habitat loss. The fish earned a place on the endangered species list back in 2003 but was never given species-saving protected habitat, so we sued the Bush administration. The new habitat-protection rule, to take effect this October, means that federal agencies must consult with the Fisheries Service before approving any activity that could damage the protected area.

"Coastal development has been cutting away at the smalltooth sawfish's habitat," said Center Oceans Program Director Miyoko Sakashita. "New critical habitat protection will not only promote the recovery of the sawfish but also protect Florida's unique mangrove ecosystems."

Read more in the Naples Daily News.

California Plant to Earn 802 Protected Acres

Thanks to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, last week the U.S.  Fish and Wildlife Service finally proposed protected habitat for California's rare San Diego ambrosia. The tenacious blue-gray herb, threatened by urban sprawl, agricultural expansion, off-road vehicle use, and other activities, was first protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2002 after a petition by the Center and allies. But due to political interference with endangered species decisions that ran rampant under the Bush administration, the plant was never granted federally protected habitat. Now, the Service has proposed to set aside 802 acres for the plant.

Unfortunately, that acreage covers only places where the ambrosia is currently found -- and its populations have declined dramatically from more than 50 to just 18, so it needs much more protected land. "This proposal is a step in the right direction," said Center biologist Ileene Anderson, "but designating only existing areas where the plant is found provides no chance for recovery, confining the species to a potential deathbed of extinction."

Get more from KPBS radio.

Mexican Wolf Pack Left to Roam Wild

Last Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spared the Middle Fork pack of Mexican gray wolves from trapping or shooting, despite accounts that the wolves killed five cattle on the Gila National Forest. The pack consists of two three-legged adult wolves, who each lost a leg in privately set leg-hold traps, plus a yearling and four pups. These wolves live in a severely grazed area where five previous wolf families were trapped and shot by the feds to placate the livestock industry -- and where carcasses of cattle killed by non-wolf causes dot the landscape, tempting wolves and acclimating them to scavenging near grazing cows. This spring, Center for Biological Diversity volunteers found 16 dead cattle, none showing signs of wolf predation, within a few miles of the Middle Fork's den site.

In June, the Fish and Wildlife Service spared another Mexican wolf, from New Mexico's  San Mateo Pack. Then, and now with the Middle Fork pack, the Arizona Game and Fish Department urged wolf removal, while its New Mexico counterpart supported keeping wolves in the wild. The Center is currently in court for wolves and just petitioned for better Mexican wolf protections. (Hmm, could our strong advocacy and media attention have anything to do with the federal government's newfound sensitivity toward these persecuted animals?)

Read about the Middle Fork pack in the Silver City Sun-News and get more on our petition from the Associated Press.

EPA Wields Clean Air Act Against Warming

The Environmental Protection Agency has taken a new step to use the Clean Air Act against climate change, proposing a rule that will spell out permitting thresholds for stationary greenhouse gas sources -- like coal-fired power plants -- under the Act. A proposal to reduce pollution from cars and trucks under the law is expected shortly, and should be finalized by March 2010. These proposals are yet more proof of the Clean Air Act's critical value and effectiveness in fighting global warming -- and the necessity of keeping its warming-fighting capabilities intact in any new climate legislation. To that end, the Center for Biological Diversity has now gathered the signatures of almost 350 groups on a letter to maintain existing Clean Air Act protections in the new climate bill being considered by the Senate. This week, community members will hand-deliver the letter to senators across the country.

"The Clean Air Act has protected the air we breathe for four decades and is our strongest existing tool for reducing greenhouse pollution," said Kassie Siegel, the Center's Climate Law Institute director. "The Obama administration should move quickly to reduce greenhouse pollution with these successful existing programs, and Congress must ensure that new federal climate legislation retains the Clean Air Act's critical safety net."

Check out our press release and take action yourself for a strong climate bill (more than 43,000 individuals already have).

Center to Feds: Act to Save Bats Now

With bat extinctions looming and 1.5 million bats already dead from white-nose syndrome, last week the Center for Biological Diversity requested immediate action from the new director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The mysterious syndrome, unknown to science before it popped up two winters ago in New York, now occurs in nine states and is still spreading swiftly; it could soon hit Kentucky and Tennessee, which house some of the largest bat colonies in the world. Many affected bat populations in New England and New York have already been reduced to 10 percent of their former numbers -- including the federally endangered Indiana bat. Our letter to the Service's director calls for a national white-nose syndrome plan that includes research priorities, a system for interagency coordination, a budget, and a plan for protecting bats (whether they're already known to be infected or not).

Read more about our letter from WCAX News and learn more on the syndrome's potential spread to Tennessee in Knox News. Then take action for bats.

Second Suit Filed to Protect 2,600 Acres in Southern California

Last Thursday the Center for Biological Diversity, Preserve Wild Santee, and the Endangered Habitats League renewed a legal challenge to a sprawling development proposed for Fanita Ranch, located on the northern edge of Santee, California. A San Diego court scrapped plans for the 2,600-acre, 1,400-home project after our first lawsuit in 2008, finding that the city of Santee hadn't adequately considered the development's fire-safety risk when it approved the project. Now the city has approved the developer's "revised" plan, though it's hardly different from the first one. Luckily for human, plant, and wildlife communities near the Fanita Ranch site -- including populations of the federally protected Quino checkerspot butterfly and California gnatcatcher -- the development is also facing fiscal glitches and may not be feasible anyway. Still, we don't take chances when it comes to preventing catastrophic wildfire and habitat destruction.

Check out our press release and learn more about the Quino checkerspot and California gnatcatcher.

Center Disputes Development in Kangaroo Rat Haven

To save a wildlife refuge from becoming another concrete jungle, last week the Center for Biological Diversity went to court to oppose development on California's March Stephen's Kangaroo Rat Preserve. Government documents show that the preserve is critical to the survival of the endangered Stephen's kangaroo rat, but in 2006 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to allow commercial and industrial development on the site in exchange for granting partial protection to other local lands. It's an unequal trade and will cause more harm than good, destroying essential habitat and wildlife linkages and ultimately threatening the integrity of a network of preserves in Riverside County.

"You can't trade wildlife preserves like stocks or flip them like Miami condos; the animals can't just pick up and move," said the Center's Jonathan Evans. "We owe it to future generations to uphold past promises to protect this land and stop paving over wildlife preserves."

Read more in the Press-Enterprise.

Big Fish Lacking in Big Pond: Overpopulation Pushes Predators Out Of Caribbean

According to a sweeping study published in the journal PLoS One, the burgeoning human population could soon be swimming -- and fishing -- in shark-depleted waters (also barracuda-depleted, grouper-depleted, and depleted of most other large, predatory fish). The study, by researcher Chris Stallings of Florida State University, documents in detail the disturbing declines of marine predators on Caribbean coral reefs that occur alongside human population growth, jeopardizing the region's marine food web and ultimately its reefs and fisheries. It's not hard to grasp why: Stallings found that nations with more people have reefs with fewer large fish because, as the number of people increases, so does demand for seafood -- and bigger fish are usually fished first. Given that half the world's populations live near coastlines and those populations are growing faster than ever, demands for seafood will increase far beyond reefs' capacities unless we tackle the problem through multiple tactics -- including confronting overpopulation with family-planning strategies.

Get more on Stallings' study from the Environmental News Network and learn about overpopulation and oceans on our new Web page, where you can also read the Caribbean study. Then check out this article on a family awaiting its 19th child.

KierĂ¡n Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: Mexican wolf by Jim Clark, USFWS; mountaintop removal site courtesy Wikimedia Commons/JW Randolph; smalltooth sawfish courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Diliff under the GNU free documentation license; San Diego ambrosia (c) Jim Rocks; gray wolf by John and Karen Hollingsworth, USFWS; Navajo power plant courtesy USGS; white-nose syndrome by Ryan Von Linden, New York Department of Environmental Conservation; Quino checkerspot butterfly (c) Douglas Aguillard; kangaroo rat courtesy USFWS; barracuda courtesy NOAA.

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