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Petition Filed to Protect Mysterious Freshwater Seal in Alaska

Pacific harbor sealThe Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition today to protect a small population of freshwater seals that lives only in a remote lake some 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska. Iliamna Lake seals are one of five seal populations in the Northern Hemisphere that live exclusively in fresh water. Unfortunately, these little-understood seals are threatened by climate change and the proposed open pit "Pebble Project" mine -- both of which could jeopardize the seals' habitat and salmon, one of its main food sources.

Iliamna Lake is part of a vast, pristine wilderness area that's home to the world's largest run of sockeye salmon. The lake is Alaska's largest and deepest body of fresh water. Recent aerial surveys have confirmed the seals are present year-round in the lake, where they raise their young. Although scientists are still researching the animals -- including stories of an under-ice cave where many spend the winter -- recent evidence suggests they're a distinct population of Pacific harbor seals (pictured).

Read more in the Anchorage Daily News.

Backlog of Species Awaiting Protection Falls to Lowest in 15 Years

Miami blue butterflyThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's annual "candidate notice of review," released Tuesday, identified 192 species it considers candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act -- the first time that number has dropped below 200 since 1996. The low number of species waiting for much-needed protection is due to the Center for Biological Diversity's 757 species settlement with the Service, signed in 2011.  
"Our agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service is working really well to protect dozens of plants and animals that desperately need protection," said Noah Greenwald, the Center's endangered species director. "The Ozark hellbender, Miami blue butterfly and Acuña cactus are just a few of the cool species that have received lifesaving protection in the past year. And a lot more will be saved from extinction over the next few years because of this agreement."

Read our press release and find out more about our 757 agreement.

Help Needed For Wolves Across the West -- Final Request

Final Request: Help Save WolvesThis is a crucial time for wolves in the West. In the past month alone, more than 177 of these animals have been killed as the gates were thrown open in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to their slaughter at the hands of hunters and trappers.

If we don't stop them, state policies will quickly lead to the deaths of hundreds more wolves. The Center for Biological Diversity has launched an aggressive campaign to challenge Wyoming's kill-at-will policies and, beyond that, to hire the first-ever multistate organizer to bring together citizens, environmental groups and the government to stop the killing of wolves and create safe havens for wolves on the West Coast -- so they can't be killed off there as they're being killed off in the Interior West.

Wolves are an essential part of healthy ecosystems. Please -- help us get this bold new wolf campaign off the ground. A passionate defender of wolves has offered a special challenge match for every gift given by midnight on Thanksgiving -- so please, stand up for wolves now by donating generously to our Wolf Defense Fund.

BP's Criminal Penalties Not Enough to Restore Gulf After Massive Spill

Deepwater Horizon fireBP pleaded guilty last week to several criminal charges -- and agreed to pay $4.5 billion in penalties -- related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. But the Center for Biological Diversity's civil case against the oil company is still in play. We sued BP in June 2010 under the citizen provision of the Clean Water Act, estimating the company could be liable for up to $20 billion in penalties.

The Deepwater Horizon spill spewed more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, making it the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. It killed thousands of birds, sea turtles, fish and marine mammals -- and the long-term effects are still unclear.

We think BP has a long way to go before its legal and moral obligations are met. As we've said all along, any civil penalties paid from our suit should be used to restore the Gulf. A hearing on our case is scheduled for Dec. 4 before the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Read more in our press release.

Protections Sought for Dwindling Virgin River Fish

Virgin River spinedaceThe Center for Biological Diversity on Tuesday filed to get Endangered Species Act protection for the Virgin River spinedace, a silvery minnow once common in parts of southern Utah, northwestern Arizona and southeastern Nevada. The spinedace has disappeared from more than half of its range, mostly because of water that's been taken out of the Virgin River for development and other human uses. In some places, every drop of water is being sucked away.

The spinedace was proposed for protection in 1994, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew the proposal in 1996 in favor of an agreement intended to protect the fish and return it to much of its historic habitat. Unfortunately, those goals haven't been met.

"Fish need water. Sadly, so much water is taken out of the Virgin River and its tributaries that the Virgin River spinedace and other native fish are perpetually threatened with extinction," said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center.

Read more in our press release.

Judges Appear Skeptical About Challenge to Historic Species Agreement

New England cottontail rabbitA federal appeals court on Tuesday appeared skeptical about a hunting group's attempt to derail the Center for Biological Diversity's historic agreement to speed up protection decisions for 757 imperiled plants and animals around the country.

At a hearing, the three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., seemed to agree with the Department of Justice that the Safari Club had no legal right to challenge the settlement, which was reached last year and has led to hundreds of positive decisions for species, including full protections for Miami blue butterflies and Ozark hellbenders. Safari Club members want to hunt three species covered in the agreement -- the greater sage grouse, lesser prairie chicken and New England cottontail rabbit -- and therefore want the whole thing thrown out. Although the panel at Tuesday's hearing didn't seem inclined to accept that argument, a formal ruling has not yet been issued.

Read more in Greenwire.

Nashville, Ithaca, Kauai Join 43-city Push for Climate Action

Nashville skylineAn island has, for the first time, joined our Clean Air Cities campaign -- as has our first city in Tennessee. Ithaca, N.Y., Nashville, Tenn., and Kauai, Hawaii, are the 41st, 42nd and 43rd communities to pass resolutions urging President Barack Obama and the EPA to fully deploy the Clean Air Act against greenhouse gas pollution.

Nashville and Kauai both face growing threats from extreme weather fed by climate change. In Hurricane Sandy's wake, there is growing interest in the Center for Biological Diversity's Clean Air Cities campaign, which has drawn support from cities as diverse as Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Gary, Ind. and Boone, N.C.  

Can you help us get to 50 cities by Jan. 20, the start of the president's second term? We can support you every step of the way. Learn how to get your community involved through our Clean Air Cities Web page.

New Fish Species Named for Presidents

Etheostoma obama (c) Joseph R. TomelleriA crop of newly described, colorful fish species has been given a unique honor: Latin names based on four U.S. presidents, plus a former vice-president.
Five species of southeastern darters have been named after President Barack Obama, former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Theodore Roosevelt, and former Vice President Al Gore. Previously considered subpopulations of the speckled darter, the species were recently discovered to be distinct from each other and as such needed new names.

Here's hoping their august titles bring them good luck. Read more about the presidential fish and learn about the Center's work to protect 400 freshwater species in the Southeast.

Study: Cut Grazing on Western Public Lands, Curb Climate Change Impacts

Desert grazingResearchers are calling on policymakers to reduce grazing on western public lands. In a new report in Environmental Management, a team of scholars recommends that federal agencies eliminate grazing across large areas. Higher temperatures, reduced winter snowpack and wildfires related to climate change are stressing grasslands in the West, and grazing animals, both domestic and wild, are eating away the chance for those lands to recover.

More BLM and Forest Service land is used to feed grazing animals than is consumed by forest fires, roads and timber cutting combined, the study found. Trampling from grazers increases soil erosion, hurting watersheds and wildlife. The stress on native grasses also reduces plant biodiversity and pollination.

The benefits of cutting grazing far outweigh the costs, said study co-author Debra Donahue, a professor in the University of Wyoming's College of Law. Only a small percentage of U.S. beef is raised on grasslands, so beef prices are unlikely to rise.

Read an article in the Casper Star-Tribune.

Wild & Weird: A Turkey's History of the United States

TurkeyMore than 45 million turkeys are cooked and eaten every year at Thanksgiving. That's a lot of gobblers getting gobbled. In honor of this fine fowl, we've compiled a few highlights of American turkey history.

Benjamin Franklin wanted turkeys to be the official national bird and badmouthed their rivals -- bald eagles -- for their "bad moral character." Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, and according to legend, his son Thad so loved a turkey fated for the Thanksgiving dinner that he convinced his father to write an order of reprieve for the creature's life. In 1989 President George H.W. Bush proclaimed, "This fine tom turkey has been granted a presidential pardon as of right now," and set into motion the official pardoning tradition that continues today.

Sadly the presidential pardon isn't much of a golden parachute for turkeys; according to The New York Times, after their pardons White House turkeys "don't live very long. Most adopted turkeys are commercially bred broad-breasted whites, genetically disposed to grow to a marketable size in about four months. Even on a diet of only a couple of cups of turkey feed a day, they become obese."

Check out this video of President Obama saving two turkeys from their fate next to the mashed potatoes; watch this PBS documentary about the lives of wild turkeys.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: Ozark hellbender courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Brian Gratwicke; Pacific harbor seal courtesy NOAA; Miami blue butterfly courtesy Flickr/Bill Bouton; Deepwater Horizon fire courtesy Flickr/U.S. Coast Guard; Virgin River spinedace courtesy the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources; New England cottontail courtesy Flickr/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- Northeast Region; Nashville skyline courtesy Flickr/Jim Nix; Etheostoma obama (c) Joseph R. Tomelleri; desert grazing courtesy Flickr/ArbyReed; turkey courtesy Flickr/OZinOH.

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