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Beluga to Earn 2 Million Protected Acres

Under threat of a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, this week the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed to protect almost 2 million acres of habitat for the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale. The beluga -- seriously imperiled by dangers like industrial development, global warming, and sewage spewed directly into its habitat -- was protected under the Endangered Species Act in October 2008, after petitions and litigation by the Center and allies. But even after putting off habitat protections for a year, the Fisheries Service made no move to safeguard the whale's Cook Inlet home until we threatened to sue.

The Cook Inlet beluga is now down to only about 300 individuals, and no wonder -- its habitat is the most populated and fastest-growing watershed in Alaska. Federally protected "critical habitat" will be a huge help to the whale. But the Fisheries Service is already getting pressure from oil-friendly politicians to curtail the designation. If anything, the Fisheries Service should have designated more habitat, not less, as habitat protections are currently only proposed for the upper part of Cook Inlet. The beluga needs protection in the entire Inlet, and soon, if it's to survive and recover.

Read more in the Anchorage Daily News and take action to ensure it gets all the habitat protections it needs.

EPA Petitioned to Cap CO2 Level at 350 ppm

The Center for Biological Diversity and filed an historic Clean Air Act petition with the EPA today asking the agency to scientifically determine the safe atmospheric CO2 level, just as its does with six other pollutants judged to endanger to human health and welfare. We also asked that the safe level be set at 350 parts per million or less. The current CO2 level is 385 parts per million, indicating that the planet is already outside the safety zone.

Our goal is to establish a federal scientific standard that will inform state and federal emission legislation, administrative rulemaking, and international negotiations. One of the critical reasons why the United States has proposed much weaker climate legislation than much of the world is that U.S. policymakers and many environmental groups are negotiating without a clear scientific standard as to what's needed to stop runaway global warming.

Supporters of the current House and Senate bills were none too pleased at the prospect of a scientific panel that would conclude that both bills fall far short of the greenhouse gas emission cuts necessary to control global warming. Nor is the White House pleased that scientific standards have been raised as Obama prepares to ask world leaders in Copenhagen to only reduce emission levels 3 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. To stop global warming, we need to cut emissions by 45 percent below 1990 levels.

Learn more about the Clean Air Act and tell your senators to save it. If you belong to a group, sign on to our letter to the EPA in support of a national greenhouse gas pollution cap now.

New York Times: Obama Lagging on Wildlife Protection

With President Barack Obama lagging way behind Bush on protecting species, last week The New York Times highlighted the Center for Biological Diversity's significant efforts to correct that failure. The Obama administration has protected only two new U.S. species under the Endangered Species Act in its first 10 months, compared with 11 in Bush's first year. The current administration has also stripped northern Rockies gray wolves of protections, opened up oil drilling in polar bear habitat, followed Bush on not allowing the polar bear's Endangered Species Act status to actually protect it from global warming, and endorsed Bush's anti-jaguar policies.

Accordingly, the Center's activity since the Bush years has far from waned: As the Times notes, we've sued the federal government more than 20 times over the past 11 months to rectify illegal and delayed endangered species actions. We stopped the killing of Great Lakes gray wolves and are in court to defend the polar bear on multiple fronts. In 2010, the Center will go to court to overturn the worst of the Obama decisions we haven't yet addressed and change the administration's wildlife-conservation perspective at the same time.

Read the New York Times article for yourself.

Dugong in Danger: Center, Millions of Americans Speak Out

With the future of the Okinawa dugong and its ecosystem hanging in the balance, the Center for Biological Diversity is working from Hawaii to D.C. to save both from military destruction. The dugong -- a unique marine mammal sacred to the Okinawan people -- as well as three sea turtle species and other rare wildlife are threatened by a U.S. plan to expand a military airbase in the dugong's best remaining habitat. Only about 50 dugongs remain in Okinawa.

This Wednesday in Honolulu, Center Oceans Director Miyoko Sakashita gave a presentation to the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission on the status of the dugong and the danger it faces from the planned airbase expansion. And today -- possibly as you're reading this -- our Senior Counsel Bill Snape will deliver to the White House and State Department a letter requesting the halt of airbase-expansion plans. The Center's letter was signed by the Endangered Species Coalition (with 400 member groups), the Humane Society, Greenpeace, the American Friends Service Committee, and many other environmental and peace and justice groups, representing millions of Americans.

Check out our press release and take action to save the dugong now.

Lawsuit Looms Over Fish-killing Water Diversions

Last month, the Center for Biological Diversity and allies warned California's State Water Resources Control Board we'll sue if it doesn't stop authorizing water diversions that are killing imperiled salmon and steelhead trout in the Russian River and Gualala River watersheds. Water diversions and pumping from streams for vineyards in the area depletes rivers and creeks of water needed by fish -- including coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead trout, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act -- needed for spawning. When freezing temperatures hit California's coast, vineyards pumping water for grape "frost protection" can dry up rivers and their tributaries, stranding and killing young fish.

The water board is violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing these water diversions -- and the Center won't let them push California's precious salmon and steelhead even closer to extinction.

Check out our press release and learn about our campaign for central California coast steelhead trout.

Polar Bears Desperate on Thin Ice -- Watch Disturbing Footage

Conditions for polar bears in the melting Arctic are worse than imagined. Since sea ice hit a record low in 2007, scientists studying satellite images had hoped it was recovering. But last week, a survey revealed that ice shown by satellites to be relatively old and thick is actually thin and fragile -- multiyear layers of ice once up to 33 feet thick now can't even support a single bear, leaving the iconic animal with fewer and fewer places of refuge in the summer. Polar bears need thick ice for breeding, traveling, denning, hunting, and feeding -- without it, they can drown and starve.

And the shrinking sea ice is already having a grisly impact. Witnesses have spotted at least seven cases of polar bears, desperate for sustenance, eating their own cubs this year around Churchill, Manitoba. The Hudson Bay winter sea ice isn't appearing till weeks later than it used to, and the polar bears can't hunt the seals they depend on to fatten up for winter.

Get more from MSNBC and watch this disturbing footage by Daniel Zatz of polar bears struggling to make their way across Hudson Bay's thin, breaking ice.

Fastest CO2 Rise in Nation? It's Not the Footprint, It's the Feet

A November report said that carbon emissions in the state of Arizona have risen 61 percent since 1990 -- the fastest rate of increase in the country, and more than three times the national average. Somehow, this phenomenal increase came despite a 6-percent decrease in the state's per-capita emissions over the same time period.

So what gives with Arizona? The answer can be found in another statistic. Over the same time period, Arizona has consistently been first or second in the nation in population growth as well. We think these parallel trends provide a moment of clarity something along the lines of two plus two equaling four, yet leaders and experts gave only the most cursory lip service to exploding population as the culprit. Nevertheless, the dynamic at work in Arizona is a disturbing example of what will happen if we make only incremental dents in per-capita emissions while ignoring the role of unsustainable population growth in driving up the cumulative amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Read more in the Arizona Daily Star and check out our brand-new Overpopulation and Urban Wildlands Web page.

Giraffes Make West Africa Comeback

A hundred years ago, West Africa had thousands of giraffes -- but due to poaching, war, advancing deserts, and exploding human populations, by 1996 it hosted just 50. Now, after 13 years of conservation and an increase in local giraffe awareness, the Earth's tallest animals are miraculously repopulating the region.

The country of Niger first captured giraffes as a gift for a neighboring government in 1996 -- and at least three out of five of those giraffes died in the process. Though giraffes weigh up to 2,200 pounds, can reach heights of 19 feet, and can run at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour, they can die easily from stress or simply falling. By 1998, Niger's government had realized giraffes' importance to the region, both ecologically and economically, and outlawed giraffe killings. Now more than 200 giraffes call West Africa home.

Get more from the Associated Press.

Bid With Your Lid for the Center -- Time's Running Out

This fall, through its Profits for the Planet Program, eco-savvy organic yogurt company Stonyfield Farm will donate a portion of $100,000 to the Center for Biological Diversity, based on the number of votes we get from people across the country. Since October 1, Stonyfield yogurt lids have displayed a message about the Center and two other nonprofits; every time you lick the lid of a Stonyfield yogurt cup, you can read about the Center and our co-competitors, then vote with a simple click or use the codes from your yogurt lids to cast multiple votes for one of us. And ahem, we hope that's the Center.

But voting ends December 15 -- that's just 12 days away. The Center is now in second place -- but just a couple percentage points away from first! And we don't have much time to inch ahead. So keep bidding with those lids -- and thanks to all of you who're doing it.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: beluga whale by Mike Johnston; beluga whales by Mike Tiller, MCT Images; Navajo power plant courtesy USGS; gray wolf by Tracy Brooks, USFWS; dugong (c) Suehiro Nitta; steelhead trout courtesy National Park Service; polar bear by David S. Isenberg; Phoenix courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Hngrange under the GNU free documentation license; giraffe courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Miroslav Duchacek under the GNU free documentation license; logo courtesy Stonyfield Farm.

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