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Center for Biological Diversity

No. 769, April 9, 2015

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Victory: Ruling Protects Whales, Dolphins From Navy's War Games

Humpback whaleWhales, dolphins and other marine mammals in the Pacific just caught an important break: A Hawaii district court judge has ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service wrongly approved U.S. Navy testing and training activities that posed serious harm to sea animals.

The Navy's use of explosives and sonar, along with vessel strikes, could result in thousands of animals suffering death or injuries over a five-year period -- potentially causing an estimated 9.6 million instances of harm.

The decision results from a December 2013 lawsuit brought by a coalition including the Center for Biological Diversity. Noting the "stunning number of marine mammals" the Navy's activities could hurt, the judge said: "Searching the administrative record's reams of pages for some explanation as to why the Navy's activities were authorized ... this court feels like the sailor in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' who, trapped for days on a ship becalmed in the middle of the ocean, laments, 'Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.' "

"The Navy shouldn't play war games in the most sensitive waters animals use for feeding and breeding," said Miyoko Sakashita, the Center's oceans director.

Read more from Miyo in The Huffington Post.

Crayfishes Proposed for Protection From Mountaintop Removal

Big Sandy crayfishResponding to a Center petition and lawsuit, the feds on Tuesday proposed to grant Endangered Species Act protection to two species of crayfish from Appalachia: the Big Sandy crayfish and the Guyandotte River crayfish.

Though these pincer-wielding, lobster-looking invertebrates aren't the most conventionally charismatic species, this decision is historic: If their protections are finalized, they'll be the first on the endangered species list due to the dangers of mountaintop-removal coal mining, which blows the tops off mountains to reach the coal inside. Resulting waste is dumped directly into surrounding streams and wetlands, where species like these crayfishes live. Both species have been lost from more than half of their ranges because of water pollution, primarily from coal mining -- which also threatens human health in the region.

In 2011 the Center struck a landmark settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expedite protection decisions for 757 imperiled species around the country. Now 142 have gained protection under the agreement, and another 12 have been proposed for protection, including these crayfishes.

Read more in The Courier-Journal.

Portland Protects Wildlife, Children From Dangerous Pesticides

Bee on roseThe city council in Portland, Ore., took a big step forward last week in protecting its wildlife and people by passing an ordinance banning the use of neonicotinoid pesticides -- and plants treated with them -- on city lands. The ban, which the Center and allies worked with the city to develop, also encourages retailers to accurately label plants, seeds and other products treated with these dangerous chemicals, widely documented to harm wildlife (in particular bees, birds and butterflies).

Portland joins Seattle, Spokane and Eugene, Ore., in banning neonicotinoids -- as well as the Fish and Wildlife Service, which in 2014 announced a ban on the use of neonicotinoids across more than 150 million acres of public land.

"This ban will benefit our pollinators and the entire ecosystem," said Lori Ann Burd, Environmental Health director at the Center. "Neonicotinoids kill the beneficial insects that form the basis of the web of life, like caddisflies and mayflies, which are important food sources for salmon and trout."

Read more in The Oregonian.

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Study: More Southeast Reserves Needed to Save U.S. Species

Trispot darterSaving species from extinction requires protecting the places where they live. But a new study finds that protected areas in the lower 48 states fail to safeguard some of the nation's most important biodiversity hotspots: Protected areas, which occupy roughly 7 percent of the country, are found mostly in the western United States, but the Southeast commands the greatest concentration of species diversity.

The region is home to 493 freshwater fish species (62 percent of the U.S. total), more than two-thirds of North America's species and subspecies of crayfishes, and more amphibians and aquatic reptiles than anywhere else. Rapid human population growth, pollution and lax regulation have taken a toll: The Southeast is not only the biodiversity capital of North America ... but also its extinction capital.

The Center has been fighting to save Southeast species for years; this latest study is an important call for protecting the habitats that sustain them.

Read more about the study and check out some cool interactive maps at Buzzfeed.

EPA Poised to Approve New, Toxic Pesticide for Corn -- Take Action

CornThe EPA is set to green-light a new pesticide that could threaten some of America's most imperiled wildlife and distribute that harm wherever the nation's largest crop, corn, is planted. More than 80 million acres of U.S. land are used for corn, and soon those acres could be doused with Acuron -- a potent chemical cocktail designed to kill more than 70 "weedy" broadleaf species and grasses but with additional known toxicity to amphibians, fish, bees, butterflies, birds and people.

More than a billion pounds of pesticides are dumped across the United States every year, often with unintended consequences on wildlife when chemicals persist in soils and run off into streams. That's why the Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies, including the EPA, to formally consult with wildlife experts before they're certified for use. But tragically the EPA rarely follows this rule.

Act now to demand this consultation be performed before Acuron or any other such dangerous pesticide goes to market with EPA's approval.

Big Win for Endangered Owls, Salmon in Northern California

Northern spotted owlWhether they know it or not, 83 northern spotted owls in California's Siskiyou County can breathe a little easier. A federal judge this week halted a logging plan that would have destroyed spotted owl habitat, hurt struggling salmon populations, and decimated old-growth forests on 150,000 acres near Yreka, Calif.

The Center and allies in 2013 sued the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service for approving a "habitat conservation plan" for Fruit Growers Supply Company that allowed logging for a decade, along with harming and killing endangered species (including nearly half the northern spotted owls believed to live in the area). This latest court decision stops that destructive logging plan in its tracks.

Read more in our press release.

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Suit Filed to Save Utah, Colorado Flowers From Oil Shale Mining

Graham's beardtongueThe Center and allies, represented by Earthjustice, have filed a lawsuit challenging a decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service to deny protections to two imperiled wildflowers that live only on oil shale formations in Colorado and Utah -- the White River beardtongue and Graham's beardtongue, whose populations are 100 percent and 85 percent threatened, respectively, by oil and gas drilling.

In August 2013 the Service proposed Endangered Species Act protections for the wildflowers (plus nearly 76,000 acres of "critical habitat"), recognizing the mining-and-drilling threat. A year later, though -- after lobbying by Big Oil -- the agency denied protections completely, basing its decision on a 15-year "conservation agreement" negotiated behind closed doors with pro-industry stakeholders.

"The Endangered Species Act has an incredible record of saving species -- but it can only work if we use it," said the Center's Michael Saul. "We've known for decades that these wildflowers need federal protections if they're going to survive, so it's shameful to see the Service forego that effective tool just for the profits of one industry."

Read more in our press release.

Six Greenpeace Activists Climb, Camp Out on Shell Oil Rig Headed for Arctic

DrillshipIn the middle of the Pacific Ocean this Monday, six Greenpeace protesters from six countries -- including the United States, Australia, Germany and Sweden -- used rubber boats and climbing equipment to board the 400-foot Polar Pioneer oil rig that Royal Dutch Shell is sending to drill in Alaska's icy waters.

The organization says its activists will not interfere with the drilling but will stay as long as they can, "determined to shine a white hot light on Shell's reckless hunt for extreme Arctic oil. With them in spirit are millions of people from around the world who have joined the call for a global sanctuary in the Arctic."

The Greenpeace action comes just after the Obama administration last week upheld a 2008 Bush-era lease of Arctic drilling rights to the multinational oil company (following a lawsuit by the Center and allies that had forced the feds to re-analyze the environmental impacts of the sale). We're still waiting for a court decision on our challenge to Shell's oil-spill plan -- and we've filed another lawsuit challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service's authorization for Shell to harass, and possibly harm, walruses in the Chukchi Sea this coming summer.

Read about the protest at U.S. News & World Report and follow the Greenpeace blog.

Wild & Weird: Center Cameras Capture Coatis Cavorting -- Watch Video

CoatiFor several years the Center has monitored wildlife cameras hidden in rugged canyons in the desert Southwest.

Our cameras haven't picked up a jaguar yet, but we have captured photos and video of other magnificent beasts: mountain lions, bears, skunks, deer, foxes and coatis -- the last most abundantly. A recent inspection of our cameras provided numerous videos of a band of some 20 to 30 of these raccoon-like animals cavorting, foraging, dashing and just being too darned cute.

The ranges of jaguars and coatis overlap in Latin America and north into the American Southwest, and the two species have a predator-prey relationship. The presence of both of these subtropical species in the Sky Island mountain ranges of southern Arizona and New Mexico is indicative of the region's extremely high biodiversity.

Watch this video of coatis from our wildlife cameras.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

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Photo credits: Humpback whale courtesy Flickr/ZNagelPhotography; Big Sandy crayfish by Guenter Schuster; bee courtesy Flickr/Matteo Tarenghi; wolves by John Pitcher; trispot darter by Bernard Kuhajda; cornfield courtesy Flickr/Joel Penner; northern spotted owl courtesy Flickr/Ivana Dramac; brown bear (c) Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity; Graham's beardtongue courtesy USFWS; drillship courtesy Flickr/Adventures of KMG-Morris; coati courtesy Center for Biological Diversity.

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