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Center for Biological Diversity

No. 759, Jan. 29, 2015

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Public Lands Grazing Study: Taxpayers Lost $1 Billion in 10 Years

Open Range sign in ArizonaA new analysis conducted by a panel of economists for the Center for Biological Diversity finds that U.S. taxpayers have lost more than $1 billion over the past decade on a program allowing sheep and cows to graze on public land.

The study, called Costs and Consequences: The Real Price of Livestock Grazing on America's Public Lands, comes as the Obama administration prepares this week to announce grazing fees for the upcoming year on 229 million acres of publicly owned land, mostly in the West.

"Public lands grazing has been a billion-dollar boondoggle over the past decade and hasn't come close to paying for itself," said the Center's Randi Spivak. "Livestock owners paid less to graze their animals on publically owned land in 2014 than they did in 1981. Today the monthly cost of allowing a cow and calf to graze on federal lands is about the equivalent of a can of dog food. This damaging and expensive grazing program has been broken for years and needs to be fixed. Taxpayers, and the land we all own, deserve better."

Read more in our press release.

Obama Oil-drilling Plan Targets Arctic and Atlantic Oceans

Offshore oil platformThe Obama administration announced plans Tuesday to open up the Atlantic Ocean to offshore oil drilling as well as offer more sales in sensitive Arctic waters. Both areas have largely been off-limits to offshore drilling and now are closer to becoming industrial sacrifice zones; Tuesday's move raises the risk of disastrous spills, threatens wildlife and perpetuates dependence on climate-damaging dirty fuels.

The new plan for 2017–2022 schedules 10 sales in the Gulf of Mexico, three off the coast of Alaska and one in the Atlantic Ocean. President Obama is using executive action to put some of the most sensitive areas in the Arctic's Beaufort and Chukchi seas off limits, which is a good step -- but all new offshore leasing needs to be halted to stop oil companies from exploiting our public lands for fossil fuels.

"The window of opportunity to avert dangerous climate change is rapidly shrinking, and President Obama's new offshore oil-drilling plan will help slam it shut," said Miyoko Sakashita, who runs the Center's Oceans program.

Read more in the San Antonio Express-News and check out Miyo's Huffington Post op-ed.

Wolf Petition Seeks to Keep Federal Protections in Place

Grand Canyon gray wolfThe new Congress is already pushing to strip wolves of their Endangered Species Act protection -- the same kind of political meddling that led to wolves losing protection in states like Montana and Idaho in 2011 and dying by the thousands as a result. We can't let the killing continue.

This week the Center joined the Humane Society of the United States and other groups in petitioning to keep protections in place -- asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify wolves (except in the Southwest) from "endangered" to "threatened." The proposal would ensure federal oversight of wolves, encourage the development of a national recovery plan and keep funding in place for wolf recovery.

"A congressional end run around science and the Endangered Species Act will create more controversy and put wolves and the law itself in jeopardy," said the Center's Executive Director Kierán Suckling. "The better path is to replace the failed piecemeal efforts of the past with a new science-based national recovery strategy."

Read more in our press release, then consider donating to our Wolf Defense Fund.

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Suit Filed to Stop Pesticide Spraying on Schools, Homes, Organic Farms

California tiger salamanderThe Center and 10 other groups have sued the California Department of Food and Agriculture over the agency's approval of a planned "pest management" program allowing aerial pesticide spraying over sensitive areas like schools, wildlife habitat, organic farms and even backyards, and further contamination of local water sources. The state approved the plan despite a huge outcry from the public, including tens of thousands of comment letters calling for a less toxic approach to pest control.

Under the plan, the state could use 79 different pesticides that cause cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm in humans and which are highly toxic to pollinators like bees, butterflies and birds.

"This program puts people and some of California's most imperiled species, like salmon and tiger salamanders, directly in harm's way from dangerous pesticides," said the Center's Jonathan Evans. "It's frightening that the state would spray these toxic chemicals throughout California without fully analyzing their effects or telling the public of the consequences."

Read more in our press release.

Los Angeles Times Editorial Targets Population, Climate

Los Angeles trafficThis week, the Los Angeles Times once again broke the media silence on population issues with an editorial on why we need to address population growth's effects on global warming.

As conversations about climate change heat up everywhere from Congress to the Vatican, we have to address the elephant in the room. "Sensitive subject or not, the reality is that unsustainable human population growth is a potential disaster for efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions," writes the editorial board.

The editorial covers how growing populations, in both industrialized nations and the developing world, account for rising greenhouse gas emissions. On the upside, the solutions to the population crisis -- access to family planning and girls' education -- also happen to be some of the most cost-effective strategies for combating climate change.

Read the editorial and sign up to receive Pop X, our monthly e-newsletter with the latest updates on population and sustainability issues.

Favorable Weather Boosts Monarch Population -- But Not Enough

Monarch butterflyScientists' recent annual winter count of monarch butterflies showed a slight rebound since last year's lowest-ever count of 34 million. Sadly this year's numbers -- 56.5 million -- still represent an 82 percent decline from the 20-year average. A much greater population increase had been hoped for, since spring and summer weather conditions were nearly perfect for breeding in both the United States and Canada. Monarch populations are sensitive to weather and can vary widely from year to year, so a much larger population is essential for resiliency: A single 2002 winter storm killed about 500 million monarchs (more than eight times the size of the current population).

Bottom line: Of course the population boost is good news, but this year's count was still the second-lowest ever. That's why it's vital that the Obama administration grant our 2014 petition to protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.

"This much-loved butterfly still needs protection under the Act to ensure that it's around for future generations," said the Center's Tierra Curry.

Read more in The Courier-Journal.

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3 Million Acres of Critical Habitat Sought for 9 Neglected Endangered Species

Roseate ternSince 1978 hundreds of species have been denied specific habitat protections, despite being federally protected -- so last week the Center petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate critical habitat for nine endangered species in particularly acute need of habitat protection, mostly up and down the East Coast. They include the roseate tern, Shenandoah salamander, Roanoke logperch, Hay's spring amphipod, two tiger beetle species and three species of freshwater mussels.

The petition requests that the Service designate as much as 3.2 million acres for the nine species, all of which are suffering major declines related to habitat loss.

"You can't save plants and animals without saving the places they live," said Brett Hartl, our endangered species policy director. "Despite the fact that species with critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as those without it, the Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to designate critical habitat for hundreds of listed species."

Read more in our press release.

Wild & Weird: Vanishing Old Ice in the Arctic -- Watch Video

Vanishing sea ice videoPerennial ice -- ice that has survived at least one summer melt season in the Arctic -- is most often thicker than new ice, and more likely to survive subsequent melts. But since the 1980s, the amount of this "old ice" in the Arctic, as well as new ice formation, has declined dramatically.

Watch an alarming video animation of the vanishing old ice and get details from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

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Photo credits: Open range sign courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Rcsprinter123; offshore oil platform courtesy Flickr/arbyreed; Grand Canyon gray wolf courtesy Arizona Department of Fish and Game; wolves by John Pitcher; California tiger salamander courtesy Flickr/J. Maughn; Los Angeles traffic courtesy Flickr/Florian; monarch butterfly by Rick Mick, Center for Biological Diversity; roseate tern by Sarah Nystrom, USFWS; vanishing sea ice screengrab courtesy NOAA.

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