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Feds Deny Protection to 251 Species

The Obama administration on Tuesday acknowledged that 251 plants and animals are qualified for protection under the Endangered Species Act but won't get it. Instead, they were relegated to a "candidate" list where species often languish in limbo for years without protection. Many "candidate" species have been ignored for decades, including the eastern massasauga rattlesnake and the white fringeless orchid, which have been on the list 30 and 25 years, respectively. But instead of safeguarding the species on the list from extinction -- or even making the list shorter -- the administration has added five new candidates since its last candidate review.

The Center for Biological Diversity has an ongoing lawsuit to earn protection for candidate species, from the Oregon spotted frog to the Florida semaphore cactus to the Sonoyta mud turtle. "The Obama administration has no sense of urgency when it comes to protecting imperiled plants and animals," said Center Executive Director Kierán Suckling. "With extinction looming, imperiled species need more than promises of hope and change. They need real protection, and they need it now."

Check out our press release and learn more about the Center's Candidate Project.

Suit Launched to Protect Alaska Species From Toxic Dispersants

An oil spill in the icy waters of Alaska would be catastrophic for polar bears, beluga whales, Steller sea lions and other endangered species. But what if the process of cleaning it up only made the problem worse? That concern is why the Center for Biological Diversity this week notified the feds that we'll sue over oil-spill response plans they've approved for offshore spills in Alaska, including their rubber-stamping the use of poisonous "dispersants." Chemical dispersants designed to break apart oil molecules can be even more toxic to marine life than untreated oil. Studies show that dispersed oil damages seabirds' feathers, impairs marine mammals' breathing, and is toxic to coral and fish. Yet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Coast Guard have authorized the use of dispersants -- some of which are banned in the United Kingdom -- without adequately analyzing their environmental risks. Our notice of intent to sue demands that the agencies immediately study the wildlife effects of dispersants and other spill-cleanup operations, incorporating the findings into spill-response plans.

"Endangered species in Alaska already have plenty to worry about," said the Center's Alaska Director Rebecca Noblin. "We shouldn't add insult to injury by using toxic dispersants without fully understanding the damage they might cause."

Read more in the Anchorage Daily News.

Lawsuit Launched to Stop Killings of Rare Butterfly

The Center for Biological Diversity and allies on Monday filed a notice of intent to sue Yamhill County, Ore., over the illegal killing of the small, sky-colored Fender's blue butterfly. Since 2001 -- just after the Fender's blue was deemed endangered under the Endangered Species Act -- the county's routine roadside-maintenance activities have repeatedly killed butterflies and destroyed their main host plant, Kincaid's lupine. Yamhill County hasn't prepared a "habitat conservation plan" to help protect the butterfly or its host, despite the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's offer of a $391,000 grant to get it done. The low-growing, aromatic Kincaid's lupine is itself a federally protected species, as is the Willamette daisy -- a pinkish-white flower also harmed by the county's activities.

"Yamhill County is fully aware that it's harming these highly endangered species, but it has refused to take corrective action," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. Once thought to be extinct, the Fender's blue was rediscovered in 1989 and has lost 99 percent of its prairie habitat in Oregon's Willamette Valley to development and other threats.

Read more in The Columbian.

California Redwoods, Endangered Bird Saved From Logging

Due to legal action by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, logging has been called off on more than 100 acres of ancient redwood forest in California. Earlier this year, the California Department of Forestry gave the green light to logging some of the state's last remaining old-growth redwoods in two different areas: the Santa Cruz Mountains just south of San Francisco and along the coastline in Mendocino County. These ancient trees, which are hundreds of years old, also represent some of the last nesting habitat for the small, highly elusive marbled murrelet, a highly endangered coastal bird in decline mainly due to loss of old-growth forest.

After the Center got involved, logging operations were called off in favor of selling the lands in question to two organizations that buy and permanently preserve redwood forest.

Read more in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Suit Filed for Pacific Fishers

The Center for Biological Diversity, with assistance from Earthjustice, on Tuesday sued the California Fish and Game Commission for denying protection to the Pacific fisher, a rare forest-dwelling mammal related to the wolverine and mink. Fishers are now almost extinct in Washington and Oregon, and just two small populations remain in California (in the Klamath range and southern Sierra Nevada) -- both of which are at substantial risk from logging, disease, vehicle kills and development. In the Sierra Nevada, there are probably fewer than 150 breeding females left. In January 2008, the Center petitioned the Commission to protect the fisher under the California Endangered Species Act, but against the opinion of agency and independent biologists (and supported by the timber industry), the Commission declined to safeguard the species.

"Scientists have been very clear that the Pacific fisher is in trouble, and yet the Fish and Game Commission ignored that information and refused to throw it a lifeline," said Justin Augustine, a Center attorney.

Read more in the San Jose Mercury News.

Fight Goes On to Ban Toxic Lead in the Wild

Ignoring long-established science on the environmental dangers of lead poisoning, the Environmental Protection Agency last Thursday denied a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies to ban toxic lead fishing weights that annually kill thousands of loons, swans, cranes and other birds. Water birds often ingest lost lead sinkers, mistaking them for food or grit; as a result they experience a range of health problems, up to and including death. Scavengers such as the endangered California condor are also poisoned when they eat carcasses shot and contaminated with lead bullet fragments. The Center's petition asked the EPA to ban both lead fishing tackle and lead hunting ammunition for the sake of wildlife across the country (as well as humans, who can also ingest lead from lead-shot game). The agency earlier denied the hunting-ammunition portion of our petition, falsely claiming it didn't have the authority to regulate hunting ammo.

Ironically, last week's EPA decision came immediately after the agency's National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. "We need substantive action from the EPA, not public-relations stunts," said the Center's Jeff Miller. "The agency has attempted to punt on this issue, but we're not going to let it walk away from taking action on the preventable poisoning of birds and other animals."

Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

Corals Wiped Out Near Gulf Oil-spill Site -- Take Action for Bluefin Tuna

Reporting the first evidence of deep-sea creatures likely killed by the BP oil spill, researchers last week said that coral colonies about seven miles from the spill source are devastated, dead and dying. Large areas of darkened coral and other damaged marine organisms were found at depths of about 4,500 feet in an area where large plumes of dispersed oil were discovered last spring after the spill. "I think that we have a smoking gun," one of the researchers said of the coral die-off. "The circumstantial evidence is very strong that it's linked to the spill."

Meanwhile, after a Center for Biological Diversity petition, the feds are now considering much-needed Endangered Species Act protection for another species ravaged by the oil spill: the Atlantic bluefin tuna. Scientists estimate that the spill killed more than 20 percent of juvenile Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico this year, further reducing a species already seriously imperiled by commercial fishing and other threats.

Read more on the coral die-off in The New York Times and take action now to urge protection for Atlantic bluefin tuna.

Habitat Protection Urged for Two-foot-long Hellbender

The Center for Biological Diversity this week urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate federally protected "critical habitat" for the Ozark hellbender, a rare, strictly aquatic salamander native to southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. The Ozark hellbender can grow up to two feet long, making it the largest amphibian in North America.

For almost nine years, the salamander was on the "candidate list" with dozens of other imperiled animals and plants that have been declared deserving of protection but whose federal safeguards have been postponed indefinitely. (The Center has an ongoing lawsuit to speed protections for all those species.) Finally, in September the Service proposed endangered status for the Ozark hellbender. But the agency refused to grant the salamander any critical habitat, which is supposed to accompany Endangered Species Act protection. "Designation of critical habitat would help put the Ozark hellbender on the path to recovery," said Collette Adkins Giese, a staff attorney at the Center focusing exclusively on protecting rare amphibians and reptiles. "Its populations are declining rapidly in response to threats like water-quality degradation of the streams where it lives."   

Learn more about the hellbender.

Watch Polar Bears With Us, Then Help Save Them

If you missed this week's live webcasts of the Center for Biological Diversity in polar bear habitat in Hudson Bay, Canada, don't worry -- it's not too late to see footage of our trip there. The Center's polar bear lawyers, Kassie Siegel and Brendan Cummings, are now bear-watching and skimming the tundra in Buggy One, a special research and education vehicle launched as part of Polar Bear International's Tundra Connections. Using high-speed internet and cameras, Buggy One is streaming more than 30 segments of webcasts and videoconferencing direct from the tundra, while participants at home can log on, ask questions in real time and of course get the chance to see polar bears, live, in the wild. Besides being highlighted in three Tundra Connections webcasts this week, Kassie and Brendan have been shooting their own up-close-and-personal video footage of the tundra and its inhabitants, including the polar bear -- so if you didn't watch the webcasts, watch our videos now.

Hudson Bay is where global warming is hitting polar bears the earliest and hardest -- and where the bears are returning to the sea ice to hunt seals after a long summer of fasting. Meanwhile, due to Center legal action, the feds are currently considering granting polar bears the full Endangered Species Act protection they need to survive.

Check out what's happening on the Bay at Tundra Connections now (where you just might catch a webcast featuring Brendan at noon CST) and watch the Center's own videos. Then learn more about the polar bear and take action to help us save the species.

Ring in the New Year With Endangered Species Condoms

Want to be a hit at your New Year's Eve bash? Celebrate the dawn of 2011 by handing out Endangered Species Condoms. The Center for Biological Diversity is distributing the condoms as part of our campaign highlighting the unmistakable connection between the planet's tragic extinction crisis and unsustainable human population growth (the world population is expected to top 7 billion in 2011). The Center will send out 50,000 of our special condoms just in time for New Year's Eve. Each package depicts one of six of the world's most imperiled species, from the American burying beetle to the polar bear.

Thousands of Center volunteers are distributing 350,000 Endangered Species Condoms in 2010 in all 50 states (plus Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and beyond). You can be one of those volunteers, and so can your friends, when you get them involved in our exciting campaign (share it on Facebook now -- we dare you -- before all our condoms are gone). Being a distributor is a fun way to engage people on the sober subject of extinction and help fix the crisis in the coming year.

Sign up by Nov. 30 to become a distributor and learn more about our Endangered Species Condoms (including how great they look).

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: white fringeless orchid courtesy USFWS; semaphore cactus courtesy NPS; Steller sea lion courtesy NOAA; Fender's blue butterfly courtesy USFWS; marbled murrelet by Gus Vliet Van, USFWS; fisher courtesy USFS; loon courtesy Flickr/Kevin Cole; coral near spill site courtesy NOAA; hellbender by Ken Roblee, New York Department of Environmental Conservation; polar bear (c) Brendan Cummings; endangered species condoms (c) Center for Biological Diversity.

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