Two Ice Seals Move Toward U.S. Safeguards
Two more Arctic species threatened by global warming are in line for federal protections. In response to a Center for Biological Diversity petition, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Friday proposed Endangered Species Act protection for two ice seals in Alaska. The black-and-gray-splotched ringed seal (a favorite prey of polar bears) excavates snow caves on sea ice to shelter nursing pups -- but as temperatures warm and sea ice breaks up earlier, these caves can collapse and kill the pups inside. Meanwhile, bearded seals -- named for their long, mustache-like whiskers -- are losing more and more of the pack ice they need to give birth and raise young, and their food is becoming less abundant. The winter sea-ice habitat of both seals in the Bering, Okhotsk and Barents seas is projected to decline by at least 40 percent by mid-century, while summer sea ice across the Arctic has been projected to disappear altogether in the next 20 years. These seals are also threatened by oil and gas development in their habitat off Alaska.
The bearded and ringed seals will be the first Alaskan species since the polar bear to be protected primarily because of climate change. "The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, so no animal reliant on Arctic sea ice is safe," said Center Alaska Director Rebecca Noblin. "Reducing the world's carbon dioxide level to less than 350 parts per million can restore Arctic sea ice and preserve a planet that still contains such wonders as polar bears, walruses and ice seals." Two other ice seals petitioned for by the Center -- the spotted seal and ribbon seal -- have been denied protection in the United States.
Get more from the Los Angeles Times.
Video: Starving Polar Bear Cubs Show Warming's Tragic Effects
Some graphic -- and heartbreaking -- new video footage taken in Hudson Bay, Canada, shows the dire consequences of continued global-warming stalemate on polar bears. Shot on Nov. 23, the video shows a malnourished polar bear mother and her two starving cubs struggling to survive as one cub experiences seizures; both cubs died within two days of the filming. Polar bears depend on sea ice for key life activities, including hunting -- so as that ice melts due to global warming, finding food is increasingly difficult. Polar bears in Hudson Bay must fast throughout the warmer Canada summer and return to the sea ice to hunt when it refreezes. But each year, the sea-ice period becomes shorter: The average date it breaks up is three weeks earlier than 30 years ago, while the freeze-up is several weeks later. The western Hudson Bay polar bear population, which declined by 22 percent between 1987 and 2004, will probably be the first driven extinct by global warming.
Spurred by a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, the Obama government is now on the verge of a crucial decision on whether the polar bear should get increased protection under the Endangered Species Act. A designation of "endangered" (rather than its current "threatened" status) would negate a Bush-era loophole that prevents the Act from protecting the polar bear from its very worst threat: greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
Watch the video now -- but be warned, it's disturbing and graphic. Then learn more about the Center's long battle to save the polar bear, get more in The Telegraph and read an account of the incident by filmmaker Daniel J. Cox.
Colorful Southeast Fish Earns Protected Habitat
Responding to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday set aside 13 miles of Alabama stream as protected critical habitat for the vermilion darter. This beautiful, vibrantly colored three-inch fish once swam in Alabama by the thousands, but today only about 100 are known to survive because of pollution, dams, gravel removal, off-road vehicles, drought and other factors. It's found only in the Turkey Creek drainage in Alabama's Jefferson County.
Alabama's rivers contain more unique species than anywhere else in the United States, from mussels and snails to crayfish and turtles. Tragically, the state also ranks second in the nation in terms of the number of species it's lost to extinction. In April, the Center petitioned the feds to protect 136 freshwater species in Alabama (and hundreds more throughout the Southeast) under the Endangered Species Act. "Urban sprawl, industry and agriculture all threaten Alabama's rivers," said the Center's Tierra Curry. "We hope protection for the vermillion darter and other species will place checks on these activities near rivers. Such protection will not just benefit fish, but people as well."
Read more in our press release and learn more about the vermilion darter and the Southeast freshwater extinction crisis.
20,000-plus Pledge to Boycott Bluefin Tuna
Within a week of the campaign's launch, more than 20,000 people have signed on to the Center for Biological Diversity's bluefin boycott to help save the bluefin tuna from extinction. Specifically, consumers from all 50 U.S. states and 91 other countries have signed our pledge to boycott sushi restaurants with bluefin tuna on the menu. That's a crucial show of support for saving this magnificent fish from further decline due to overfishing, which has already depleted the western Atlantic bluefin by 80 percent since 1970. Yet high market prices (a single bluefin sold for $177,000 this year) still fuel rampant illegal and unreported fishing -- and the international community has so far ignored the need to impose stricter bluefin fishing quotas. The National Marine Fisheries Service this fall announced it's considering the Atlantic bluefin tuna for Endangered Species Act protection, in response to a Center petition.
Our boycott, launched Nov. 30, also calls on chefs and restaurant owners to stop serving this highly imperiled fish. Said Center attorney Catherine Kilduff, "Together, consumers and restaurant owners have a real chance to drastically reduce demand for this imperiled fish and keep it from slipping into oblivion."
Get more from EIN Press Wire. Then sign our pledge, visit (and share) our Bluefin Boycott website and Facebook page, and take further steps with our brand-new Bluefin Boycott Take-action Toolbox.
In Historic Low, Interior Pushes Congress to Delist Wolves
For the first time ever in the 40-year history of the Endangered Species Act, a U.S. interior secretary (Ken Salazar) has taken the extraordinary step of encouraging Congress to overrule the courts and the Endangered Species Act by legislatively taking wolves off the endangered species list. This comes in the face of multiple court orders striking down Salazar's previous flawed decisions to strip federal protection from endangered wolves. This is the first administration, bar none, to ask Congress to completely politicize the fate of an endangered species.
Salazar's primary targets are the northern Rockies and Great Lakes wolf populations, but bills already introduced in Congress would strip protection from the Mexican gray wolf, too, even though it's down to just 42 wild wolves and two breeding pairs. The Mexican gray wolf is far closer to extinction than recovery. Nonetheless, in a surprising and disheartening move this week, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission announced it's pushing to keep the Mexican wolf part of any delisting legislation -- claiming that despite its history of supporting the killing of wolves, the Commission can better recover them than the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Center has vigorously defended gray wolves for more than 20 years, ever since we first sued the feds to get Mexican gray wolves out of the zoo and into the wild. In 2011 we'll be ramping up efforts to beat back Salazar's plans and delisting legislation, pushing for a long-overdue nationwide wolf recovery plan, fixing the flagging Mexican wolf recovery program and stopping the killing of wolves in the northern Rockies and Great Lakes.
Read more in The Washington Post and Arizona Daily Star, watch this KRWG News video, and take action for wolves. Then please consider making a year-end donation to protect gray wolves.
Help Save Northern Spotted Owls
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking comments until Dec. 15 on a draft recovery plan -- a roadmap outlining needed steps for recovery -- for the Pacific Northwest's northern spotted owl. Although protection of the spotted owl under the Endangered Species Act in 1990 helped spur dramatic changes in management on federal lands, the species has continued to decline with logging of old-growth forests on private, state and even federal lands in the Northwest. The spotted owl also faces a grave threat from invasion of the closely related barred owl.
The long-awaited recovery plan will determine the level of protection needed across the spotted owl's Pacific Northwest range. Unfortunately, the current draft leaves significant owl habitat vulnerable to logging. The Center for Biological Diversity has been defending the spotted owl for years -- our most recent victory saved the owl from a Bush-era plan that would have quadrupled logging on western Oregon public lands, including crucial spotted owl habitat.
Now we need your help to take action and tell the feds they must protect Northwest old-growth forests for the sake of the spotted owl and other species. Then learn more about the northern spotted owl.
Habitat Expanded for Rare SoCal Sucker Fish
In response to a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week expanded federally protected critical habitat for the Santa Ana sucker, a small, olive-gray fish that lives only in Southern California and is declining due to urbanization, dams, pollution and other threats. The new habitat designation includes 9,331 protected acres (up from 8,305 acres) and includes stretches of three rivers and their tributaries: the Santa Ana River, the San Gabriel River and the Big Tujunga Wash. The previous designation -- challenged by the Center -- was much too small, lacking essential stretches of the Santa Ana River and its tributaries that are currently home to the sucker. Now, while many more steps are needed to ensure the fish stops its slide toward extinction, it's more likely to recover than it was before.
The Santa Ana sucker is named for its big lips, which it uses to search out algae to eat at the bottoms of clear, cool, rocky creeks. Said Center biologist Ileene Anderson, "Protection of additional habitat will not just benefit this rare fish, but also hundreds of other species, including people, who depend on clean water and intact rivers."
Read more in The Press-Enterprise.
The Center in Cancún: New Videos, Op-ed
The Center for Biological Diversity is still in Cancún, Mexico, as the international climate change conference moves through its second week -- and we've been pushing hard to show world leaders we must set scientifically sound targets if we want to avoid catastrophic warming. We're manning an exhibit on reaching the "safe" atmospheric CO2 level of 350 parts per million or below; we've hosted a session to educate conference attendees on the 350 target; and we're getting plenty of media (and photographer) attention with our friend Frostpaw the Polar Bear, who's joined us at the conference. We've also just published an opinion piece in San Francisco's Bay Citizen on the urgency of drastically cutting emissions to reach 350 ppm and prevent the most devastating climate-change damage to our world.
As Senior Attorney Matt Vespa reports in the op-ed: "For those of us with the Center for Biological Diversity who are attending the talks in Cancún, our hopes are tempered with realism, . . . but that doesn't mean we should allow world leaders to continue to forestall action. . . . Too many future generations of people, plants and animals are counting on us."
Read the Bay Citizen piece, view our Cancún website and watch brand-new videos of Center staff on location at the negotiations.
Spotlight on Endangered Species Condoms -- Madagascar
In the process of giving away 350,000 Endangered Species Condoms in 2010, the Center for Biological Diversity heard a lot of fun and interesting stories from the thousands of volunteer distributors who helped with our human overpopulation campaign. One of the best came from Karen Samonds in Tsinjoarivo, Madagascar -- 10,817 miles from our headquarters in Tucson, Ariz. Karen works with Sadabe, a nonprofit that "recognizes that human health and development depends on natural ecosystems, while the conservation of biodiversity depends on human decisions." Since one of the most important of those human decisions involves reproduction -- and the dynamic of our unsustainable population growth driving the planetary extinction crisis -- Karen distributed the condoms during the family-planning portion of a women's health workshop in Tsinjoarivo.
According to Sadabe's website, biodiversity-rich Madagascar is just the place for this sort of work: "We seek to develop novel and innovative ways to promote the coexistence of people and wildlife at Tsinjoarivo, and elsewhere where humans and wildlife come into conflict." Kudos to Sadabe for making that effort, and many thanks to Karen for making our condoms a part of such great work.
Right now, the Center is sending out 50,000 Endangered Species Condoms for volunteers to hand out on New Year's Eve as a fun and informative way to highlight the connection between human overpopulation and overconsumption, and the extinction of species. Learn more about Endangered Species Condoms, overpopulation and Sadabe.
Settlement Reached to Protect Birds From Turbines
To reduce bird kills at the deadliest wind farm in North America for birds of prey, the California Attorney General's Office this week announced a settlement agreement with the largest energy company at Altamont Pass in the San Francisco Bay Area. Turbines at Altamont annually kill massive numbers of hawks, burrowing owls, falcons, golden eagles and other raptors. Now, 40 percent of Altamont turbines will be "repowered," replacing old technology with fewer, more efficient turbines by 2015. New turbines will be sited in less risky areas for birds, according to scientific guidelines. Because bird kills will likely continue even after repowering, the company will make mitigation payments to local land-protection agencies to protect nearby raptor habitat.
Although the Center for Biological Diversity didn't sign this agreement, our efforts contributed to the outcome, and the settlement includes many measures we've advocated for. We led appeals of Altamont permits and sued energy companies for violating wildlife-protection laws. A 2007 settlement that we opposed was supposed to reduce bird deaths by half -- and that's clearly failed: Raptor fatality rates at Altamont have actually increased significantly.
The new repowering agreement is a positive step, but unfortunately it covers fewer than half the turbines. The Center will continue to watchdog Altamont and advocate for the best bird protection possible.
Read more in the San Jose Mercury News and learn about the Center's campaign to protect birds of prey at Altamont.
Photo credits: polar bears (c) 2010 Daniel J. Cox, NaturalExposures.com; bearded seal (c) David S. Isenberg; polar bear (c) Pete Spruance; vermilion darter (c) Joseph Tomelleri; Atlantic bluefin tuna (c) Paul Colley; Mexican gray wolf by Jim Clark, USFWS; northern spotted owl courtesy USFS; Santa Ana sucker by Paul Barrett, USFWS; Kassie Siegel at Cancun conference; Madagascar residents with Endangered Species Condoms, courtesy Sadabe; golden eagle courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Richard Bartz.
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