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Center for Biological Diversity

No. 764, March 5, 2015

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500,000 People Call on Feds to Save Monarchs -- Thank You

Monarch butterflyThis Monday, when the deadline hit to submit public comments on federal protection for monarchs, more than half a million people -- including you, our supporters -- had called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to place the butterfly on the endangered list. More than 40 leading monarch scientists and 200-plus organizations and businesses have also sent letters urging federal protection.

The Center for Biological Diversity and allies originally petitioned to protect this iconic orange-and-black butterfly in a highly lauded petition last summer; in December the Service said protection under the Endangered Species Act may be warranted, triggering a one-year review of its status.

In the past 20 years the monarch may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat, and its population has dropped from about 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to 56.5 million this winter. Its decline is being driven by the use of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born. These crops are usually resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, a potent killer of milkweed -- the monarch caterpillar's only food. The butterfly is also in danger from climate change, drought, heat waves and development.

Thank you for speaking out for monarchs. Read more about our work to save these backyard favorites.

Petition Seeks to Reverse Cod Freefall in the Gulf of Maine

Atlantic codWith numbers at the lowest levels ever recorded, the Center and allies this week petitioned to end targeted fishing for Gulf of Maine cod. These once-plentiful fish have declined 90 percent since 1982 and 77 percent in the past five years alone.

Tuesday's petition urges the National Marine Fisheries Service to rebuild this exhausted fishery, as the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires. We're calling on the agency to prohibit fishing for Gulf of Maine cod, allowing catch only incidental to other targeted fish, and to reduce bycatch to levels that allow the cod population to recover.

"For cod to live on as a symbol of New England's prosperity and perseverance, they have to live on in our ocean," said the Center's Catherine Kilduff. "It's time to help bring back Gulf of Maine cod."

Read more in our press release.

150 Groups Press California Governor for Emergency Fracking Moratorium

California Governor Jerry BrownAfter California officials admitted to allowing the oil industry to illegally inject wastewater into protected aquifers via disposal wells, more than 150 public-interest groups, including the Center, filed a legal petition last week urging Gov. Jerry Brown to place an emergency moratorium on fracking and other well-stimulation techniques. The groups point to tests showing dangerously high levels of cancer-causing benzene in fracking flowback fluid, which is often dumped into California injection wells.

"The oil industry is polluting our air, contaminating our aquifers, using dangerous chemicals near homes and schools, increasing earthquake risk by injecting vast quantities of wastewater into disposal wells near active faults, and speeding climate change," reads the petition to Gov. Brown. "These harms and risks pose an emergency and must be halted immediately."

The petition comes on the heels of the largest anti-fracking rally in history, when 8,000 protesters gathered in Oakland last month.

Read more in The Hill.

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Enforcement Needed on Gillnet Ban to Save Vaquitas From Extinction

SmokestackFirst some tentative good news on vaquitas, extremely rare porpoises in the Gulf of California pushed to the brink of extinction via drowning in fishing nets: The Mexican government has proposed a two-year ban on the use of gillnets in the northern Gulf. This follows legal action by the Center seeking trade sanctions to protect the small porpoises, which could vanish by 2018 without drastic help.

But there's a big wrinkle. The ban isn't going to work unless there's a lasting commitment to rigorously enforce it and halt illegal fishing; and two years' ban, beginning in April, isn't long enough to recover vaquitas. Fewer than 100 individuals are left in the world, and half their population disappeared in the past three years. Staving off extinction will require heroic measures.

"We're pleased that Mexico's finally moving forward with a long-overdue gillnet ban, but there are few indications government officials will see that it is actually implemented or maintained," said the Center's Brendan Cummings.

Read more at The New York Times' Dot Earth.

Northwest Seabird Wins Again

Marbled murreletA rare Pacific Northwest seabird called the marbled murrelet won this week in yet another attempt by the timber industry to strip its Endangered Species Act protections. On Monday a judge rejected the industry's fifth appeal of federal protections for the murrelet's old-growth forest habitat along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California.

The marbled murrelet is a shy, robin-sized bird that feeds at sea but nests only in old-growth forests along the Pacific Coast, each female laying an egg every year on a large, ancient, moss-covered branch. In 1992 the Fish and Wildlife Service protected marbled murrelets in the three states as a threatened species; the timber industry has been fighting that decision for 15 years in court, but to no avail. This week the court again dismissed industry's lawsuit as frivolous.

"We know what we need to do to save the marbled murrelet," said the Center's Noah Greenwald, "and that's protecting the last coastal old-growth forests in Washington, Oregon and California."

Read more in our press release.

Suit Filed for Three Southeast River Species

Trispot darterThe Center has filed suit against the Fish and Wildlife Service to save three imperiled freshwater species: the trispot darter (in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee), the sickle darter (in Tennessee and Virginia -- already extinct in North Carolina) and the yellow lance mussel (in North Carolina and Virginia). All three are primarily threatened by water pollution and dams.

The Southeast is a hotspot for both biodiversity and extinction, hosting more types of freshwater creatures than anywhere else in the world -- but recently experiencing the extinction of more than 50 freshwater species.

The two darters and the mussel received initial positive decisions under a landmark 2011 Center settlement with the Service, which is expediting Endangered Species Act decisions for 757 species -- and now the Center is suing to get the long-overdue final decisions on their protection.

Read more in our press release.

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A Year After Standoff, No Action Yet on Nevada Rancher

Cliven BundyAlthough it's been nearly a year since the Bureau of Land Management attempted to end rancher Cliven Bundy's illegal livestock grazing in Clark County, Nev., his livestock continue to trespass on public land, and more than $1 million in fees owed to U.S. taxpayers by Bundy remain uncollected.

The Center sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Attorney General Eric Holder last week formally requesting a public update by April 5 on the status of the case against Bundy, whose livestock's trespass on public lands led to a standoff last year after the BLM's failed attempt to round up the cattle.

"Bundy's illegal actions have emboldened other anti-government and anti-environment agitators who oppose the very existence of public lands," reads the letter. "Each new violation of federal rules fuels the movement to undermine the protection of our public lands ... When will the federal government bring Bundy to justice? The American people are waiting."

Read more in E&E News.

Biodiversity Briefing: Top Priorities for 2015 -- Listen Now

Gray wolfIn our latest quarterly "biodiversity briefing" phone call, Executive Director Kierán Suckling outlined the Center's top priorities for 2015.

Chief among them will be stopping the feds from stripping Endangered Species Act protection from most gray wolves in the lower 48; securing more protections for endangered species and their habitats; fighting onshore and offshore fracking; protecting our public lands from logging of old-growth forests; defending our oceans from oil drilling; securing a plan to save the vanishing vaquita in the Gulf of California; saving the wildlands of California's Tejon Ranch; expanding our Population and Sustainability program; and launching our new Environmental Health program to protect people and wildlife from pesticides, pollution and other toxics.

Listen to a recording of Kierán's most recent phone briefing to find out much, much more about the year ahead. These in-depth briefings, including live Q&A sessions, are open to all members of the Center's Leadership Circle and Owls Club. For information on how to join and be invited to participate on the calls, email Senior Donor Relations Associate Julie Ragland or call her at (520) 623-5252 x 304.

Wild & Weird: DEA Warns of Pothead Rabbits in Utah

Marijuana rabbitSenate Bill 259, currently under consideration in Utah, would allow people with certain debilitating illnesses -- AIDS, cancer and other qualifying maladies -- to possess and use edible forms of cannabis. Think sweet stoner gummy bears or dank dark chocolates.

But according to one agent from the Drug Enforcement Administration, if the bill passes, Utah's wild critters could "cultivate a taste" for pot as well.

In testimony before a Utah Senate panel, special agent Matt Fairbanks said that, as part of an illegal-marijuana eradication team, he'd seen "rabbits that had cultivated a taste for the marijuana," adding that, "one of them refused to leave us, and we took all the marijuana around him, but his natural instincts to run were somehow gone."

Notes The Washington Post: "It's true that illegal pot farming can have harmful environmental consequences. Of course, nothing about these consequences is unique to marijuana. If corn were outlawed and cartels started growing it in national forests, the per-plant environmental toll would be about the same."

Read more in The Washington Post.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

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Photo credits: Monarch butterfly courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Liz West; Atlantic cod courtesy Flickr/Joachim S. Müeller; California Governor Jerry Brown courtesy Flickr/Phil Konstantin; wolves by John Pitcher; vaquita by Paula Olson, NOAA; marbled murrelet by Roy W. Lowe, USFWS; trispot darter by Bernard Kuhajda; brown bear (c) Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity; Cliven Bundy courtesy Flickr/Gage Skidmore; gray wolf courtesy Flickr/myheimu; marijuana rabbit courtesy Flickr/Hannah Willen.

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