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Center for Biological Diversity

No. 765, March 12, 2015

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Recovery Plan: To Save Florida's Corals, Cut Carbon Pollution

Elkhorn coralMany of the world's corals are in dire trouble -- and their survival depends on what actions we take to save them. That's why a new federal recovery plan for elkhorn and staghorn corals near Florida and in the Caribbean is so important: It calls for much-needed cuts to carbon emissions that are driving ocean acidification and increasing ocean temperatures.

The plan, just released by the National Marine Fisheries Service, is a roadmap for saving the two corals, which were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2006 in response to a Center for Biological Diversity petition. The recovery plan -- the result of a court-approved settlement between the Center and the Fisheries Service -- identifies local, regional and global threats to the species, including climate change and ocean acidification, and details specific targets for alleviating those threats.

"The clock is ticking to save these beautiful corals so I'm happy to see there's finally a concrete plan to move them toward recovery," said Shaye Wolf, the Center's climate science director. "The plan rightly recognizes that we'll need to manage local threats like near-shore pollution, but also address complex global threats like climate change."

Read more in our press release.

Aerial Gunner Wipes Out 19 Wolves in Idaho

Gray wolfWildlife Services is up to no good in Idaho: Agency officials announced this week that a helicopter sniper wiped out 19 wolves last month. The wildlife-killing program, part of the federal Department of Agriculture, carried out the slaughter on behalf of Idaho Fish and Game to provide more elk for hunters.

This is exactly the kind of killing the Center and allies have gone to court to stop. We sued Idaho's Wildlife Services last month for failing to analyze and disclose the impact of its activities -- namely using taxpayer money to kill thousands of wolves, coyotes, foxes, cougars, birds and other animals each year with an ugly array of methods like aerial gunning, poisoning, trapping and explosives.

Read more about our work to rein in Wildlife Services and make a donation to our Stop Wildlife Services Fund.

Court Rejects Plan to Expand New Mexico Coal Mine

Four Corners power plantIn a crucial win for both people and wildlife, a federal judge has rejected an Obama administration plan to expand coal mining at the 13,000-acre Navajo Mine near the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico. The plan would have allowed strip mining of 12.7 million tons of coal.

The Center joined conservation and tribal allies in fighting the 2012 plan. Last week U.S. District Judge John L. Kane said the Office of Surface Mining's assessment of the expansion ignored the toxic impacts of burning the coal at the nearby Four Corners Power Plant, one of the most polluting coal plants in the United States.

"Coal pollution problems in the San Juan Basin are extreme. Air is polluted, water is poisoned, and endangered species are being driven to extinction," said the Center's Taylor McKinnon. "We won't rest until these problems are solved."

Get more from Mining Technology.

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New York Proposes Open Season on Floundering Fish -- Take Action

Winter flounderNew York's winter flounder are in a boatload of trouble. For a fish that scientists say is seriously inbred and at risk of local extinction, the state's Department of Environmental Conservation has just proposed extending the current fishing season, from April and May only to almost the entire year (306 days). This is no way to manage fishing -- not if you want to keep fishing in the future.

In a healthy ocean, winter flounder decorate the seafloor like living throw rugs. Flat and speckled to blend in with their surroundings, the flounder lie in the sand and gaze skyward with bulging eyes. Camouflage can't save them from fishermen's hooks, though, and now it's a real possibility they could disappear from the state altogether.

Act now to help keep New York's winter flounder at survival levels. Demand that the state resist industry pressure to fish these unique animals to depletion.

Two Oil Train Accidents in Three Days -- Immediate Moratorium Needed

Ontario oil train explosionOn March 5 an oil train carrying more than 100 cars of highly volatile crude oil derailed and caught fire in northwest Illinois, near the Mississippi River. Two days later another train derailed and caught fire in Ontario, near the town of Gogama. The two accidents come on the heels of a string of other fiery derailments.

The Center's recent report on the danger of trains transporting crude oil across the United States noted that some 25 million people live within the one-mile "evacuation zone" of these dangerous trains' routes, which also traverse 34 wildlife refuges and critical habitat for 57 endangered species.

Despite a more than 40-fold increase in crude-oil rail transport since 2008, no significant upgrade in federal safety requirements has occurred. Billions of gallons of oil pass through towns and cities ill equipped to respond to oil train emergencies.

"Before one more derailment, fire, oil spill -- or one more human life lost -- we need a moratorium on oil trains ... which means we need it now," said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist at the Center.

Learn more about our work to put the brakes on oil trains.

Black Pine Snakes May Get 330,000 Acres of Critical Habitat

Black pine snakeThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed Tuesday to protect 338,100 acres of critical habitat in Mississippi and Alabama for black pine snakes, whose southeastern, longleaf pine forests have been reduced to less than 5 percent of their former glory by agriculture and pine plantations, fire suppression and sprawl.

The snakes -- proposed for Endangered Species Act protection last fall after a Center settlement -- can grow up to 7 feet long and hiss loudly when encountered. They are harmless to humans and eat mostly rodents.

"Designation of critical habitat is absolutely necessary for the survival of the black pine snake," said the Center's Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist focused on the protection of rare reptiles and amphibians. "Like the red-cockaded woodpecker, gopher tortoise and dozens of other wildlife species in the Southeast, the black pine snake depends on longleaf pine forests. The South is losing its natural heritage through the destruction of this critically endangered ecosystem."

Read more in The Mississippi Press.

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78 House Members Support Plan to Keep Wolves Protected

Gray wolfNearly 80 members of the U.S. House of Representatives -- both Democrat and Republican -- have sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, voicing support for a Center push to designate wolves across most of the lower 48 states as "threatened" rather than "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act.

"A nationwide threatened designation would allow for the development of a national recovery plan to return wolves to places like the southern Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada and Adirondacks," said the Center's Brett Hartl.

The change is also a good alternative to an attempt by some in Congress to do an end-run around the Act that would strip safeguards for wolves in the Great Lakes region -- a move that would hurt wolf recovery and undermine the integrity of the law for all protected species.

Read more in our press release.

Wild & Weird: Hermit Crabs Efficiently Swap Shells

Hermit crabA hermit crab sans shell is an awkward and gangly sight indeed. Nude hermits are the epitome of vulnerability. So as they grow and need to upgrade their shells, competition for a new, size-suitable mobile home can be fierce, sometimes leading to crab-on-crab violence.

However, as can be seen in a segment from BBC's Life Story -- narrated by Sir David Attenborough -- a more efficient hermit crab housing option, one free of violence, occurs when a group of crabs organizes itself based on a hierarchy of size. When a new, bigger shell appears, a gaggle of hermit crabs with a clear pecking order simply forms a queue from largest to smallest. The biggest crustacean then strips naked and moves into the new shell; the second-largest moves into the first's newly vacated house; and so on down the line.

Watch "The Hermit Crab Housing Train" at the BBC.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

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Photo credits: Elkhorn coral courtesy Flickr/Phil's 1stPix; gray wolf courtesy Flickr/Drew Avery; Four Corners power plant courtesy Flickr/WildEarth Guardians; wolves by John Pitcher; winter flounder courtesy NOAA; Ontario oil train explosion courtesy Transportation Safety Board of Canada; black pine snake by Jameson Weston, Utah's Hogle Zoo; brown bear (c) Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity; gray wolf courtesy Flickr/Sherwood411; hermit crab courtesy Flickr/Glen R90.

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