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Center for Biological Diversity

No. 762, Feb. 19, 2015

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Center Report: Oil Trains Threaten Americans, Wildlife

North Dakota oil train explosionAs the investigation continues into the two latest explosive oil-train derailments in Ontario and West Virginia, the Center for Biological Diversity released a report this morning outlining striking new details about the risk oil trains pose to people and wildlife across the country. Our report, Runaway Risks, includes a calculation from Forest Ethics that 25 million Americans live within the one-mile "evacuation zone" and that oil trains routinely pass within a quarter-mile of 3,600 miles of streams and more than 73,000 square miles of lakes, wetlands and reservoirs.

These dangerous trains also pass through 34 national wildlife refuges and critical habitat for 57 threatened and endangered species, including bull trout, salmon, piping plovers and California red-legged frogs.

Oil-by-rail transport has increased 40-fold since 2008 without any meaningful new safety measures. As a result, destructive accidents and spills are now occurring with disturbing frequency.

"The federal government has failed to provide adequate protection from these bomb trains," said the Center's Jared Margolis. "We clearly need a moratorium on crude-by-rail until the safety of our communities and the environment can be ensured."

Read about the report, check out this interactive map of oil train routes around the country, and then tell the Obama administration to protect us from these dangerous trains.

Endangered Whales May Win 40,000 Square Miles of Protected Habitat

North Atlantic right whaleResponding to work by the Center and allies, the National Marine Fisheries Service this week proposed to protect nearly 40,000 square miles of ocean along the East Coast as "critical habitat" for North Atlantic right whales. Only about 450 of these whales roam the seas today -- threatened largely by commercial shipping, offshore oil drilling and military sonar -- and these lonely survivors may go extinct without significant habitat protections.

The proposed protections -- addressing a 2009 petition and spurred along by litigation -- would safeguard crucial right whale habitat, including northeastern feeding areas and calving grounds farther south. But the rule entirely ignores the whales' twice-yearly migratory routes through the mid-Atlantic.

North Atlantic right whales were devastated by commercial whaling in the 18th and 19th centuries, and despite federal protection, they haven't recovered due to the severity of the threats they face and their very low reproductive rates.

"Right whales are at an extinction crossroads right now," said the Center's Miyoko Sakashita. "Protecting habitat is essential to saving them."

Read more in our press release.

Lawsuit Challenges Wildlife-killing Program in Idaho

Grizzly bearThe Center and allies just filed a lawsuit over the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services program in Idaho, which kills thousands of wolves, coyotes, foxes, cougars, birds and other wildlife each year. The suit challenges the agency's failure to fully analyze and disclose the impacts of the program -- including how it affects grizzly bears, Canada lynx, bull trout and other wildlife protected by the Endangered Species Act.

We're calling for long-term changes to the agency's operations to adopt nonlethal methods and conduct an in-depth environmental analysis of the program.

"Without a comprehensive analysis of Wildlife Service's wildlife-killing activities across the state, it's impossible to know whether it's leading to widespread damage to other species like grizzly bears," said the Center's Andrea Santarsiere. "The public deserves more, and so does Idaho's wildlife."

Get more from Reuters.

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Oregon Chub Declared First Fish Recovered by Endangered Species Act

Oregon chubThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that Endangered Species Act protections have successfully recovered the Oregon chub -- a silvery, speckled minnow found only in Oregon's Willamette Valley whose numbers, thanks to the Act's recovery plan and critical habitat protections, have climbed from fewer than 1,000 fish in eight populations in 1993 to more than 140,000 fish in 80 populations today.

This animal is the first fish species ever to be declared recovered from the federal list of endangered species.

"Wildlife are only put on the endangered species list when they're in serious trouble, so it takes time to bring them back to health," said the Center's Tierra Curry. "For the chub that process took 22 years. For the Florida panther, it's expected to take until 2085. As a nation, we need to make endangered species recovery funding a priority so that more plants and animals can join the chub on the list of successfully recovered species."

Read more in National Geographic.

Mexican Wolf Numbers up to 109 Wolves, 19 Packs

Mexican gray wolfFor the fifth year in a row, the number of endangered Mexican gray wolves -- reintroduced into the wild in 1998 in response to Center action -- has increased. There are now 109 animals, with 53 in New Mexico and 56 in Arizona, meaning the Southwest's recovery program has reached its short-term goal of 100 wolves (albeit eight years late). The population still falls short in terms of breeding pairs, however.

"Finally spared from widespread persecution, Mexican wolves are starting to back away from the cliff-edge of extinction," said the Center's Michael Robinson. "It's good news for Mexican gray wolves but we're going to keep fighting for an expanded recovery program that follows the science and doesn't short-change these magnificent animals."

The Center and allies filed suit last month over a new rule guiding management of Mexican gray wolves that limits their recovery to south of Interstate 40 and to fewer than 325 wolves -- both limits standing in direct contravention of what scientists have determined is necessary for recovery.

Get details from ABC News.

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Bay Area Snake and Fish From Pesticides

Alameda whipsnakeThe Center filed suit against the Fish and Wildlife Service last week for failing to ensure that three dangerous pesticides, including atrazine, don't jeopardize the survival of two highly endangered species in the San Francisco Bay Area: the delta smelt and the Alameda whipsnake.

Atrazine can impair amphibian development at exposures of just a few parts per billion; it's toxic to fish, reptiles, mammals and birds; and it may even elevate risks of birth defects in people. Yet up to 80 million pounds are used in the United States each year. A 2006 Center settlement led to pesticide restrictions until the Environmental Protection Agency and Fish and Wildlife could consult on their effects on the species; the EPA completed its job, but Fish and Wildlife has not.

"When a pesticide like atrazine has been shown to chemically castrate amphibians at concentrations of a few parts per billion," said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center, "it's unconscionable that the Fish and Wildlife Service has simply done nothing."

Read more in our press release.

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Rare Horned Lizard Wins Protection in California

Flat-tailed horned lizardDue to a 2014 petition by the Center, one of California's most unique and rarest reptiles is now a candidate for protection under the state's Endangered Species Act.

The flat-tailed horned lizard is exceptional indeed -- and a bit daunting in appearance, with a broad, spiny body and a crown of thorns adorning the base of its head. But despite its intimidating image, this species is vulnerable to threats like climate change, development and off-road vehicles, which often crush them when they freeze in place in the face of danger.

Thanks to our petition, though, it's now illegal to kill flat-tailed horned lizards throughout California -- including by vehicle -- and the state will analyze the lizards' status regarding final protection by 2016. (Unlike candidates for federal protection, candidates for protection in California enjoy solid benefits.)

"I'm happy to see these charismatic little lizards finally getting long-overdue protection," said the Center's Ileene Anderson.

Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Everglades' Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow

Cape Sable seaside sparrowLast year endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrows in Everglades National Park dropped to one of their lowest levels on record. So along with two scientists, we've filed a notice of intent to sue the Army Corps of Engineers and Fish and Wildlife Service over the destructive continued flooding of the birds' habitat.

Since 1993 the Corps has been releasing large amounts of water in the Everglades during what should be the dry season, flooding the western portion of the park -- an area that once harbored the world's largest population of Cape Sable seaside sparrows, with more than 3,000 birds. In recent years there have been fewer than 200.

"For 20 years the Army Corps of Engineers has been flooding Everglades National Park in the wrong place and at the wrong time, destroying the Cape Sable seaside sparrow and precious park prairies in the process," said the Center's Noah Greenwald. "This can't be allowed to go on any longer."

Read more in the Miami Herald.

Wild & Weird: Owl Accosts Joggers, Steals Their Hats

Owl hatJoggers in Salem, Ore.: Beware the Hooting Hat Thief! In the past few months, several people have reported being walloped from above in Bush's Pasture Park by a winged perpetrator. Two joggers had their hats stolen.

The perp is likely a barred owl weighing between 1 and 2 pounds and standing 16 to 20 inches in height. However, s/he has not been identified in a lineup. None of the joggers were seriously injured, though the first victim initially believed himself to have been struck by lightning.

According to Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Audubon Society of Portland, this type of owl behavior is meant "to chase you out of the area because they are protecting their nesting territory." He further suggests respecting the owl's home turf -- and protecting your hat -- by vacating the area immediately.

Read more in The Huffington Post.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

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Photo credits: North Dakota oil train explosion via Occupy Riverwest; North Atlantic right whales courtesy NOAA; grizzly bear courtesy Flickr/vijay_SRV; wolves by John Pitcher; Oregon chub courtesy Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; Mexican gray wolf courtesy deviantart, Lynn Kitchell; Alameda whipsnake by Gary A. Beeman; brown bear by Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity; flat-tailed horned lizard by Wendy L. Hodges; Cape Sable seaside sparrow courtesy Flickr/David La Puma; owl hat courtesy Flickr/Tara.

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