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Suits Seek End to Sea Turtle Killing

Last week the Center for Biological Diversity filed suits in Hawaii and Florida to stop the Obama administration from increasing the number of endangered sea turtles that can be hooked or killed by industrial fishing fleets. Just months after federal scientists declared that the loggerhead sea turtle is spiraling toward extinction, the administration tripled the number of sea turtles that can be caught off the Hawaiian coast and increased the catch in the Gulf of Mexico by 700 percent.

Worldwide, more than 200,000 loggerhead and 50,000 leatherback sea turtles are pierced each year on miles-long cables set with thousands of large fishing hooks. The cables are dragged through the ocean by industrial fishing fleets targeting tuna and swordfish. In the process they hook and kill thousands of sea turtles, whales, sea otters, and seabirds -- all of which are discarded as inedible bycatch.

In Hawaii, the Obama administration is withdrawing limitations put in place by the Bush administration in order to allow three times as many turtles to be caught. In the Gulf of Mexico, it lifted an emergency ban won by the Center earlier in the year. Its new plan allows up to 700 loggerheads to be hooked every three years -- more than seven times as many as before the fishery was closed.

Sea turtles are no shrinking violets. They have swum the oceans for 100 million years, surviving even the asteroid that drove the dinosaurs extinct. It is stunning that we have made them endangered species within the span of one century, and completely unacceptable to push them even faster into oblivion now that we know how to save them.

Get more from the Honolulu Advertiser and Courthouse News Service, and donate now to stop the killing.

Florida Panther Decapitation Tops Record Killing Year; Center Bid to Protect 3 Million Acres Advances

A headless Florida panther found on the side of the Florida Turnpike, and another struck by a car yesterday on Corkscrew Road, brings the death toll for this critically endangered species to 21 this year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating the decapitation but knows at least one of the parties contributing to the car collision: itself. Though the panther has been listed as a federally endangered species since 1967, the agency has never protected its habitat. Instead it has rubberstamped approval of hundreds of housing developments, shopping malls, golf courses, and roads, surrounding the cat with a sea of deadly suburban sprawl. The result: Florida's human population swelled to 18 million while the panther declined to just 117 animals.

The 15 Florida panthers killed in 2009 by cars matches the previous record of 2008. There's no way the panther can survive this level of killing.

To give the panther what it needs most -- strong, clear habitat protection -- the Center for Biological Diversity and allies filed a scientific, legal petition in September to designate 3 million acres of "critical habitat." The Fish and Wildlife Service ignored the petition rather than confront politically powerful developers bent on pushing buildings and roads into the last remaining Florida wildlands. So this Tuesday we served official notice with the agency that we will file suit in 60 days if the habitat protection process is not immediately started.

Read more in the Miami Herald.

100 Species Protected on Million Acres of Old-growth Forest

Responding to litigation brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, last week a federal judge restored protections for more than 100 species imperiled by old-growth logging on a million acres in the Pacific Northwest. The ruling threw out a decision by the federal government to eliminate its Survey and Manage Program -- a system established to protect old-growth forest-dependent species. It required  agencies to survey for species like the Siskiyou Mountains salamander, red tree vole, and many lichens and mollusks before it starts logging the forest. The program is necessary due to the failure of the Northwest Forest Plan to prevent logging in a million acres of old growth.

In agreeing with the Center, the judge wrote: "Survey and Manage species are generally not, shall we say, the mascot types. They mainly consist of fungi, bryophytes, lichens, mollusks, vascular plants, and four arthropod groups. Although charismatic megafauna they are not, E.O. Wilson called invertebrate species, which are essential for the health of forests and all ecosystems, 'the little things that run the world.' " 

Read more in the San Jose Mercury News.

12 Texas Invertebrates to Earn Protection

Responding to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, this Monday the Obama administration agreed to reverse politically tainted Bush-era decisions robbing 12 rare Texas invertebrates of necessary habitat protections. Despite their colorful names -- from the robber baron cave harvestman to the vesper cave spider to the Comal Springs riffle beetle -- these species are gravely endangered by excessive water withdrawal and urban sprawl. But the Bush administration ignored scientists' advice and these species' needs, slashing federally protected "critical habitat" by as much as 100 percent.

The settlement over these 12 small but important invertebrates adds another victory to the Center's campaign to save 55 species from Bush-era corruption. We've now reversed 46 tainted decisions harming endangered wildlife and plants.

Read more in the Austin American-Statesman.

Million-plus Mojave Acres on Track for Greater Protection -- Thanks for Helping

After Center for Biological Diversity supporters sent in 14,000 comments, this week California Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill that would protect more than a million acres of the California desert in two new national monuments and designate more than 300,000 acres as new wilderness. The new monuments would ensure conservation of more than 250,000 acres of formerly private lands that were donated to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management expressly for conservation purposes a decade ago, but that have recently been targeted for energy development. Numerous rare plants, bighorn sheep, and the threatened desert tortoise would benefit immensely from the new monuments. 

Unfortunately, the bill also includes provisions that would enshrine off-road vehicle sacrifice areas and cut short the environmental review on certain energy projects.  The Center is committed to seeing the monuments designated and will work to improve the bill as it moves through Congress so that we can support it without reservations.

Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

100 Groups Endorse Center's 350 Petition: Sierra Club Loves/Hates Initiative

In the wake of world leaders failing to commit to meaningful greenhouse gas emission reductions in Copenhagen, more than 100 environmental and religious groups have endorsed a legal petition filed with the EPA by the Center for Biological Diversity and to cap carbon dioxide pollution at 350 parts per million or less. This is the level scientists say is needed to stop runaway global warming . . . and it is far, far lower than the emission cuts included in the House and Senate bills. They will allow carbon dioxide to increase to at least 650 parts per million, making global warming worse than it is today and dooming the polar bear and many other species to extinction.

The Center's petition was also endorsed by the most prominent climate scientist in the United States, Dr. Jim Hansen, and by Dr. Michael Dorsey, national board member of the Sierra Club. According to Dorsey -- who is also an assistant professor in Dartmouth College's Environmental Studies Program and director of the college's Climate Justice Research Project -- "The Center for Biological Diversity and's petition is a bold step that can further enable President Obama to move in the right direction to quickly rein in climate change. Organizations and commentators that suggest the contrary misunderstand the urgency of avoiding a catastrophically destabilized climate."

At the same time, however, a Sierra Club lobbyist is pushing for Congress to strip the Clean Air Act of the provision requiring it to scientifically determine the safe level of carbon dioxide needed to averted a climate catastrophe. Hmm.

Check out our press release.

Forest Service Made to Fix Wildlife Plan on 193 Million Acres

Taking a step forward for wildlife and plants across the country, last week the Obama administration announced it will assess new rules under the National Forest Management Act that will govern all regional forest plans and every site-specific project -- from logging to oil drilling -- on the entire national forest system. This will be the U.S. Forest Service's fourth attempt at new national regulations since 2000; the first three tries were found illegal in court challenges brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and our allies.

Unfortunately, the Forest Service also took a huge step backward last week, announcing it will continue to rely on a "transition provision" of the 2000 regulations until the new rules are finalized. Under this provision, the agency only needs to "consider" -- and not necessarily heed -- the best available science when considering potentially destructive projects.

The Center will be keeping a close eye on the new regulations' development -- and we'll be demanding that they're strong, enforceable, and scientifically supported to protect national forest wildlife plants, as well as the climate.

Get more from the Associated Press.

Lawsuit Filed to Stop Alaska Old-growth Logging

To save pristine roadless areas in Alaska's Tongass National Forest, this Tuesday the Center for Biological Diversity and a coalition of Alaska groups filed suit to end a Bush-era decision exempting the land from national protections. Not only do these areas contain precious resources for Alaska natives, provide attractive destinations for Alaska tourists, provide critical storage for much of the planet's carbon, and add to the quality of life for all Alaska residents -- they also comprise irreplaceable habitat for numerous wildlife and plant species found only in America's rainforest. The Tongass National Forest, covering more than 2,000 islands in southeast Alaska, is home to numerous rare animals, including the Alexander Archipelago wolf and the Queen Charlotte goshawk.

Earlier this month, the Center and allies won a suit to end a money-wasting timber sale on the Tongass.

Check out our press release and learn more about our campaign to save forests.

Endangered Reindeer Need You This Holiday

Tonight, as countless kids across the world dream of Santa and his flying reindeer clattering across their roof, unfortunately real reindeer face a more dismal reality: population decline. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 2009 "Arctic Report Card," 18 of the Arctic's 23 largest migrating reindeer herds are dwindling, and another study found that global populations have shrunk by 57 percent in 20 years. Many point to global warming as the culprit -- it's likely that, like polar bears, Arctic reindeer are negatively affected by warming temperatures melting their icy habitat. Sub-Arctic reindeer -- like their cousins the woodland caribou, in Idaho and Washington -- are harmed by habitat fragmentation due to logging, road building, oil and gas development, and other human activities.

But instead of letting it get you down this holiday season, remember there are things we can all do to help the reindeer. We can start by fighting global warming to make sure they have white Christmases -- and icy winters -- for a long time to come.

Learn more about the reindeer's plight from Scientific American. Then take action against climate change by telling your senators to save the Clean Air Act and visit our Solutions Web page to learn ways to fight warming in your own life now.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: loggerhead sea turtle courtesy Wikimedia Commons/RadioFan under the GNU free documentation license; loggerhead sea turtle hatchling courtesy USFWS; road-killed Florida panther courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Siskiyou Mountains Salamander courtesy USFWS; Comal Springs riffle beetle (c) Joel N. Fries; desert tortoise by Beth Jackson, USFWS; coal-fired power plant courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Adilettante; San Berndardino National Forest by Monica Bond; Alexander Archepelago wolf courtesy Alaska Department of Fish and Game; caribou courtesy USFWS.

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