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Wolverines Deserve, But Won't Get, Federal Safeguards

In response to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week that the seriously imperiled wolverine deserves Endangered Species Act protection -- but won't, in fact, get any. This decision reverses the wrongful Bush-era decision that wolverines didn't warrant protection (simply because Canada has its own populations). But the wolverine is no better off in its new place on the "candidate" list, better termed the "waiting" list -- a list that already includes hundreds of species whose protection is on hold indefinitely. (24 species have gone extinct while they waited.) The wolverine -- a large, lavish-furred mammal in the weasel family -- is fierce enough to make bears back away, but it can't withstand trapping, habitat loss, snowmobiles and now climate change, which shrinks the snowpack critical for its dens. If the wolverine is protected under the Endangered Species Act as it needs to be, it could be the first warming-threatened mountaintop species to have that distinction.

The Center first petitioned to earn Endangered Species Act protection for the wolverine back in 1994. Since then, we've filed another petition and two lawsuits. And with the support of our members, we won't stop until we win full protection for this incredible animal.

Today, fewer than 500 wolverines exist in the lower 48 states -- and they're still declining. This stunning predator now joins the ranks of 250 other candidate species the Center has sued to earn protection for through our Candidate Project.

Read more in the Denver Post.

One Million SoCal Roadless Acres Protected

Concluding a landmark lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, an agreement this week protects nearly 1 million acres of Southern California national forests from roads and other development. Reached between conservationists, federal and state agencies and off-road vehicle users, the settlement prohibits off-road vehicles, development and roads from ravaging the federally designated "roadless" areas in the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernardino national forests. Under the deal, the Forest Service will reconsider protecting several roadless areas permanently as wilderness and work with the Center and our allies to identify roads for decommissioning or restoration. While the agency reconsiders which roadless areas should be recommended to Congress for wilderness designation, it will protect all roadless areas in the four national forests from harmful activities.

"Under this agreement, some of the most wild and pristine areas of Southern California's national forests will be better protected from potential damage," said Ileene Anderson, a Center biologist. "These areas provide critically important strongholds for endangered species such as steelhead, California condors and arroyo toads, especially during this time of climate change."

Read more in the Ventura County Star.

Not Too Late to Save Polar Bears -- Act Today

On Tuesday hundreds of climate scientists, biologists and a broad coalition of faith, human-rights, social justice and environmental groups called on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to follow the best available science in his upcoming decision on Endangered Species Act status for the polar bear. As part of ongoing litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity and our allies, Salazar has until Dec. 23 to reconsider whether polar bears should be classified as "endangered" rather than merely "threatened." Granting the bear "endangered" status would close a loophole exploited by the Bush administration to exempt greenhouse emissions -- which melt the bear's sea-ice habitat and pose its greatest threat -- from regulation under the Act.

The day after scientists and citizen groups sent in the letters, the science journal Nature published an extensive study adding weight to our urgent call for protecting polar bears to the greatest extent possible -- as soon as possible. According to the study, Alaska bears face a more than 80-percent chance of extinction by 2050 if current greenhouse gas emissions continue. If we curb emissions to reduce atmospheric CO2 to 450 parts per million by 2020 (and adopt other bear-protecting measures), that risk will be reduced to about 25 percent. "While this study is encouraging, a 25-percent extinction probability for Alaska's polar bears is still far too high," said the Center's Kassie Siegel, who wrote the 2005 petition to protect the species. "To truly ensure the persistence of polar bears, we must also do everything possible to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels to no more than 350 ppm."

Check out our press release and get more from Reuters. Then take action for polar bears before Dec. 23.

Court Rejects Industry Attempts to Stall CO2 Regulations

In a victory for clean air and decreasing CO2 emissions, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last week denied a bid by industry groups and the state of Texas to delay the regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act -- our best existing legislative tool to combat global warming. Industry groups had sought the suspension of several new EPA rules, including the agency's science-based finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare; its regulation of greenhouse gases from passenger cars and trucks; and its rules requiring power plants and other stationary CO2 belchers to get permits and control their emissions before new construction or major work on old facilities can begin.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a party to the ongoing lawsuits in which industry sought to delay EPA action. "For months big polluters and their friends in states like Texas have been indulging in irresponsible scare tactics, making absurd claims that the EPA's modest attempts to address global warming will cause economic chaos," said Center Senior Attorney Kevin Bundy. "The court rightly rejected industry's claims of harm as speculative and unsubstantiated."

Get more from The New York Times.

Rare Dune Lizard Proposed for Protection

More than eight years after the Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned to earn protection for the imperiled dunes sagebrush lizard, this week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally proposed to declare the species endangered. The light-brown, yellow-eyed lizard -- about the length of a human hand from nose to tail -- dwells in the dunes of New Mexico and Texas, where it buries itself in cool, white sand in the shade of shinnery oaks to avoid predators and regulate its body temperature. Unfortunately, oil and gas development and herbicide spraying are fast destroying the habitat of this rare reptile -- which already has the second-smallest range of any North American lizard. The species was first found to warrant federal protection in 2004 following our 2002 petition, but instead of adding it to the endangered species list, the feds made it a "candidate" for Endangered Species Act status -- putting off real protection indefinitely.

"The unique dunes sagebrush lizard may finally be receiving the help it needs to survive," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. "Unfortunately, during eight years of delay, the lizard lost more of its habitat to oil and gas development, putting it at greater risk of extinction and making recovery harder." 

Read more in the Albuquerque Journal.

Emergency Help Requested for Little Brown Bats -- Take Action

In light of recent research showing the once-abundant little brown bat in grave danger from white-nose syndrome, the Center for Biological Diversity and allies today asked the Obama administration to investigate whether the species needs federal protection. The study revealed that this deadly bat disease could soon drive the glossy-furred, sharp-toothed little brown bat to extinction in the Northeast in just two decades -- and maybe sooner -- even though it's always been one of the most common bat species in North America. Until the exact level of danger to the little brown bat is known, we're asking the government to place the species on the Endangered Species list as an emergency measure.

Since the discovery of white-nose syndrome in 2006 in upstate New York, it has already spread to 14 states and two Canadian provinces and killed more than a million bats. In some affected colonies in the Northeast, white-nose syndrome mortality rates have reached almost 100 percent. And scientists estimate that the loss of bats to white-nose has resulted in an astounding 700 fewer tons of insects consumed per year -- not good news for humans or their crops. But since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to develop a concrete plan to confront the devastating disease, we're asking you to join our call for real, immediate measures to fight it nationwide.

Read more in our press release and take action now by demanding the federal leadership we need to save bats from this crisis.

New York Times op-ed: Hunter Joins Call for Lead Ban

An op-ed by a longtime hunter in this morning's New York Times addressed the grave "collateral damage" of hunting with toxic lead ammunition. Citing the science showing that eagles, vultures, bears, endangered California condors and countless other animals -- including hunters' own families -- can be poisoned when they ingest lead-shot carcasses, the author shares his own motivation for using nonlead bullets since 1997. If this campaign had anything to do with revoking hunting rights, "I would not be involved," said Anthony Prieto, founder of Project Gutpile and an ally in the Center for Biological Diversity's pending lawsuit against the EPA for rejecting our call to ban lead in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle. "This is about using less toxic materials."

While our case against the EPA to ban lead moves forward, there was some good news out of Washington state. In response to the growing awareness of lead impacts, wildlife officials there have approved new restrictions on the use of toxic lead fishing tackle at 13 lakes frequented by loons. The new rules prohibit the use of lead weights and small jigs (those commonly ingested by loons and other water birds) at a dozen lakes and ban all flies containing lead at another important loon lake. It's encouraging to see a wildlife agency recognize -- and act on -- what the Center's been calling for: preventable poisoning of wildlife. Nationwide, lead poisoning kills millions of birds every year and addressing this problem on a large scale is way overdue.

Read more in The New York Times and The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle.

Red-legged Frogs Defended From Pesticides in California

To protect one of California's largest native amphibians, the Center for Biological Diversity this week filed a notice of intent to sue the feds for failing to act on -- or even investigate -- the dangers of scores of pesticides to the threatened California red-legged frog. The Center secured a 2006 legal settlement requiring the EPA to assess pesticide impacts on the frog, and then to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on addressing those impacts. Though the agency did determine that 64 registered and commonly used pesticides are likely to harm red-legged frogs, the Fish and Wildlife Service hasn't completed a single consultation or taken any measures to protect frogs from the toxins.

A Center lawsuit won Endangered Species Act protection for the California red-legged frog -- one of the most pesticide-sensitive species -- back in 1996; another of our suits won it protected "critical habitat" in 2006. Curbing toxic pesticide use in and around the frog's wetlands habitats will help the species recover and can benefit people, too. Said the Center's Jeff Miller, "Ultimately, pesticides found in the red-legged frog's critical habitat can also contaminate our drinking water, food, homes and schools, posing a disturbing health risk."

Check out our press release and learn more about the California red-legged frog and our pesticides campaign.

Florida Butterfly Disappears -- Again

So rare that it was once believed extinct, the gray-blue, nickel-sized Miami blue butterfly was rediscovered in 1999 by an amateur butterfly enthusiast at Florida's Bahia State Park. Now that fragile population appears to have vanished once again -- despite more than a decade of studies, a breeding program, attempted reintroduction, and work by the Center for Biological Diversity and biologists to protect it under the Endangered Species Act.

The Miami blue butterfly has obviously been on the brink of extinction for more than a decade. It was declared a Florida state endangered species in 2003, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it warranted federal protection in 2005. Yet the agency declined to actually safeguard the species under the Endangered Species Act, instead placing it on an indefinite waiting list as a "candidate" for protection. After the Center and allies threatened to sue, the Service agreed to a settlement requiring speedier protections for the butterfly and 28 other species. But that protection never happened for the Miami blue -- and it may soon be too late. The Miami blue appears to be gone from Florida and may now exist only in the Marquesas Islands. But we're still in court to earn the imperiled insect its proper place on the endangered species list -- and fast -- along with more than 250 other "candidates," so that threats to its dwindling Florida habitat like sprawl development and pesticides don't rule out eventual reintroduction.

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Ancient, "Bizarre" Vegetarian Crocodile Revealed

Have you ever heard of a crocodile that only eats plants? How about a humble, slow, pudgy one with a stubby tail, a pig nose and a hide that would make terrible boots? A comprehensive account of just such a croc has been published as a supplement to the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology -- because the species lived 80 million years ago, alongside dinosaurs. Actually, crocodiles came in all shapes and sizes back in the "croc world" of the Cretaceous Period, but the now thoroughly described Simosuchus clarki found in today's Madagascar can be considered the freakiest of them all. Amazingly complete fossil records show that the four-foot-long reptile had grazer's teeth, was shy and gentle, lived on land and was covered in thick, bony armor to help defend it from the teeth of its meat-devouring peers.

"No other crocodile looks as bizarre as this one," says paleontologist David Krause of Stony Brook (N.Y.) University, part of the team that discovered the species. Paleontologist Paul Sereno likened it to an armadillo -- "an armored plant eater that predators might have given up on, given the amount of work it would take to get a mouthful of meat."

Read more in USA Today.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: wolverine courtesy Wikimedia Commones/Matthias Kabel; wolverine courtesy Flickr/bcoppa; arroyo toad (c) Jason Jones; polar bears by Pete Spruance; Big Bend power station; dunes sagebrush lizard (c) Robert M. Findling, Nature Conservancy-New Mexico; little brown bat courtesy USGS; common loon courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Cephas; California red-legged frog (c) Dan C. Holland; Miami blue butterfly by Jaret C. Daniels, McGuire Center for Lepidoptera Biodiversity; Simosuchus clarki courtesy Stony Brook University, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

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