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Breaking News: Another Offshore Explosion in Gulf

Just this morning, another offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, serving as a brand-new, tragic reminder of offshore drilling's inherent danger and the urgent need for a moratorium on all offshore oil and gas operations until human and environmental safety can be assured. The explosion -- which injured at least one person and forced 13 to escape into the ocean -- occurred on the Vermilion 380 oil and gas platform, owned by Houston-based Mariner Energy, about 100 miles off the Louisiana coast and 200 miles west of BP's Deepwater Horizon.

"Sadly, today's news comes as no surprise," said Kierán Suckling, the Center for Biological Diversity's executive director. "Offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is like playing Russian roulette. It's not a matter of if something will go wrong, it's a matter of when. . . . We cannot risk any more disasters."

The Center's expert team is working on this story now and we'll keep you in the know on our investigations -- check our website for the latest:

10,000th Endangered Leopard Frog Released Into Wild

One small hop for an endangered amphibian represented a giant leap for his entire kind last week, when the 10,000th Chiricahua leopard frog was released into the wild through a reintroduction program in Arizona. The latest release brought 1,500 of the young frogs -- known for their distinctive, snore-like call -- from their hatching place in the Phoenix Zoo Conservation Center all the way to Tonto National Forest, where they hopped into pools to start their new lives. And they'll need plenty of monitoring and protection to stay alive: Livestock grazing, groundwater pumping, water diversion and dams have decimated their Southwest riparian habitat, while nonnative predators eat the frogs and disease, pesticides and climate change present even more threats. It's no surprise that Chiricahua leopard frogs, which need permanent water in their habitat for reproduction, have declined more than any other frog in Arizona.

But the frog earned new hope for survival after winning Endangered Species Act protection in 2002, as a result of a 1998 petition and two lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity. Since it got a place on the endangered species list we've kept up the fight for the sensitive herp, suing to protect it on national forests and participating in the crafting of its federal recovery plan. The latest milestone, says the Center's Noah Greenwald, "shows that getting a species added to the list really does lead to action."

Read more in the Tucson Sentinel.

Real Offshore Reform Needed -- Watch Interview on What We're Doing

The Obama administration continues to roll out half-measures intended to show the public that the root causes of the Gulf oil-spill disaster are being dealt with. On Monday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (which replaced the disgraced Minerals Management Service) announced new rules banning inspectors from regulating drilling projects that employ their family members or close friends. But as Kierán Suckling, the Center for Biological Diversity's executive director, told Reuters, the step is merely "window dressing" that doesn't address fundamental flaws allowing dangerous offshore oil drilling to continue.

Some 200 million gallons from BP's busted oil well flowed into the Gulf of Mexico this spring and summer, leaving behind a staggering, worst-ever environmental catastrophe that will take decades to fix. That's why the Center continues to press for large-scale changes in policies that govern offshore drilling, and to pursue lawsuits -- including a $19 billion claim against BP for violating the Clean Water Act -- to hold corporations and the government accountable for every drop spilled and make sure this never happens again.

Get more from Reuters. Then watch a newly posted interview with Center Director Kierán Suckling and Assistant Director Sarah Bergman discussing the Gulf disaster at Spillapalooza, a Tucson concert held to benefit the Center's Gulf Disaster Fund.

Suit Defends Ice Seal, Species Threatened by Warming

In a lawsuit with important implications for species threatened by global warming, the Center for Biological Diversity and allies are in court this week to earn the ice-dependent ribbon seal another chance at protection. We filed a scientific petition to protect the seal -- threatened by the warming-caused melting of its Arctic habitat -- in 2007, but the National Marine Fisheries Service denied it in 2008, claiming enough sea ice would remain by 2050 that the seal would survive until then. Not only did this conclusion ignore numerous studies by independent scientists (as well as the agency's own data), it was also too shortsighted, relying on projections going just 42 years into the future. Our suit will show, among other things, that looking less than a half-century ahead isn't enough to say climate risks aren't "foreseeable" under the Endangered Species Act.

Read more in Carbon Control News.

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Desert Tortoise From Mining

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the city of Twentynine Palms last week for approving expanded mining on hundreds of acres in California where the desert tortoise roams. Ignoring both the state and federal Endangered Species Acts that protect the tortoise, Twentynine Palms failed to make Granite Construction -- the company behind the project -- obtain permits before the expansion kicks off. The project would expand the existing Granite Mine on 356 acres, with active mining proposed for 178 acres of tortoise habitat.

Having survived tens of thousands of years in California's harsh deserts, the desert tortoise is now in danger of dwindling to extinction due to disease, off-road vehicles, development, habitat loss and other pressures. "Why the city of Twentynine Palms is ignoring state and federal law is mystifying," said Ileene Anderson, a wildlife biologist with the Center. "All projects that affect desert tortoises must go through the permitting process so that this unique species stands a chance at survival."

Get details in our press release and learn about our campaign to save the desert tortoise.

Idaho, Montana Seek OK for Wolf Killings

Despite the restoration of federal safeguards to northern Rockies gray wolves -- recently won in court by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies -- Idaho and Montana are now preparing to seek permission to hunt the endangered canines. This week, Montana officials announced they're going to ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to green-light plans for wolf hunts to begin this fall; Idaho will also soon make a similar request. Both states contend that wolf numbers are high enough that hunting won't hinder their recovery, even though there aren't enough wolves to sustain the population in the long term -- especially considering that wolves are routinely shot by wildlife agents and ranchers. Hunters in Montana killed 260 wolves last year. In addition, to justify hunting, Idaho and Montana are trying to use a legal provision of the Endangered Species Act that was meant for a completely different purpose.

In fact, the current three recovery plans for the nation's gray wolves -- including Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest -- are woefully outdated and set population goals far too low to support true wolf recovery. The Center filed a scientific petition this summer for a nationwide recovery plan to help wolves repopulate their former range on the West Coast and in New England, Colorado and the Great Plains. We'll continue our decades-long fight for wolf protections and to stop all wolf hunts.

Get more from and read more about the Center's nationwide recovery plan petition.

Judge to Tejon Ranch: Can't Go to Court Against Rare Salamander

A judge ruled this week that Tejon Ranch Company, owner of the biggest swath of private land in California, can't intervene against the Center for Biological Diversity in our suit to speed protections for the struggling Tehachapi slender salamander. This long-tailed, large-eyed amphibian primarily lives on Tejon Ranch -- along with scores of other endangered species, including the California condor -- and is imminently threatened by megadevelopment (i.e., two entire cities) planned for the land. Tejon Ranch Company claims that the salamander will be sufficiently protected by the company's avowal to save some undeveloped land for wildlife . . . and of course, it's afraid federally protecting the salamander would put a hitch in its plans. Fortunately, the court said that the point of our lawsuit -- that the feds must follow a legally required timeline to safeguard the salamander -- should have nothing to do with Tejon Ranch's development schemes.

In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that the Tehachapi slender salamander may warrant Endangered Species Act protection, but it failed to meet its deadline to move forward, so the Center filed suit in February. We're determined to make sure the salamander isn't snuffed out by hundreds of thousands of acres of Tejon Ranch's planned houses, hotels and golf courses.

Get more from the Courthouse News Service.

Court Upholds Safeguards for Steelhead Trout

A federal appeals court has rejected an attempt to strip Endangered Species Act protections from California's Central Valley steelhead trout. The oceangoing steelhead population has been federally protected for more than a decade, and numbers of fish have declined drastically due to habitat destruction from dams, water diversions, urban and agricultural development and other threats. But corporate irrigation interests sued the National Marine Fisheries Service, claiming the fish aren't imperiled because they can breed with resident rainbow trout. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, pronouncing that migratory steelhead are unique in behavior and biology, are essential to maintaining wild trout populations, and deserve continued federal protection.

The Center for Biological Diversity intervened in the lawsuit in defense of steelhead. We've been helping save West Coast steelhead since 1999, when we launched a successful suit that earned federally protected "critical habitat" for numerous populations of these fish.

Read more in the San Jose Mercury News.

Wildlife Needs Us to Get the Lead Out -- Take Action

To save wildlife from lead poisoning, the toxic metal must be eliminated from the food chain -- so the Center for Biological Diversity and allies have petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to ban lead in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle. Despite the need to get all lead out of the environment for the sake of birds, other animals and even humans, the EPA has disappointingly denied our request to ban lead hunting ammunition, dodging the science and wildlife-protection issues by claiming the agency legally doesn't have the authority to regulate ammunition. But our fight is far from over. We won't let the feds walk away from preventable wildlife lead poisoning; in fact, as Center Senior Counsel Adam Keats said, "We strongly believe the EPA has the clear authority and duty to regulate lead used in bullets and shot as a toxic substance, and we'll redouble our efforts to remove toxic lead from the environment."

The EPA is still considering our petition's request to ban toxic lead fishing tackle. An estimated 450 million fishing sinkers containing lead or zinc are lost each year in aquatic environments, where birds often mistake them for food or grit and become poisoned and die after ingesting them.

The agency will decide on regulating lead fishing tackle soon -- so please send a message now supporting rules to ban it. Then see photos and videos showing how wildlife suffers from lead ammo and fishing sinkers, learn about our Get the Lead Out campaign and read more in The New York Times.

Developers Will Pay $925K to Protect California Habitat

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Alameda Creek Alliance have signed a significant conservation agreement for a development in the Alameda Creek watershed in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area. The agreement, signed with Alameda County and the city of Pleasanton, will provide $925,000 to preserve habitat for rare alkaline soil plants and restore 85,000 square feet of riparian habitat along Arroyo Mocho, an Alameda Creek tributary. The mitigation agreement resolves the Center's concerns about the environmental impacts of the 124-acre Staples Ranch development near Pleasanton and will help to protect and restore habitat for the endangered San Joaquin spearscale, rainbow trout, western pond turtles and other aquatic wildlife.

Check out our press release.

Scientists Start First Coral Sperm and Egg Bank

If we immediately and dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, it's not too late to save some of the world's coral reefs in their natural habitat -- the ocean -- from acidification and global warming. But biologists in Hawaii are already preparing for the worst-case scenario, since scores of corals are already in imminent danger of extinction. Just last month, scientists reported that a spike in ocean temperatures off Indonesia is causing the biggest coral die-off ever seen in the region.

The Hawaiian scientists' novel solution? A kind of coral seed bank, in which coral species' sperm and egg cells are extracted, stored and frozen to be saved for one, 50 or even theoretically 1,000 years in the future. Some of the frozen coral-sperm samples have already been thawed and used to successfully fertilize coral eggs, producing viable coral larvae. The coral cell bank currently houses specimens from just two different species (mushroom and rice coral), but its staff intends to store as many species of Hawaiian coral as possible.

Get more from Reuters.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: burning oil rig courtesy U.S. Coast Guard; Chiricahua leopard frog courtesy Arizona Game and Fish; Deepwater Horizon courtesy Flickr/John Amos, SkyTruth; ribbon seal courtesy Flickr/jomilo75; desert tortoise courtesy Flickr/Sandy Redding; gray wolf courtesy Flickr/TakenByTina; Tehachapi slender salamander (c) Gary Nafis,; California steelhead trout courtesy Flickr/sgrace; loon by Tim Bowman, USFWS; San Joaquin spearscale (c) Aaron Arthur; mushroom coral courtesy NOAA.

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