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Center for Biological Diversity

No. 772, April 30, 2015

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West Coast Whale Entanglements Hit Record High

Gray whaleNew data reveals that a record number of whales were entangled in fishing gear off the West Coast last year -- and the rate of entanglements this year is increasing. That's why on Tuesday the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice urged California fishery managers to institute broad, lifesaving reforms for whales and other marine mammals.

The new numbers from the National Marine Fisheries Service show 30 reports of whale entanglements in 2014, most of them gray or humpback whales caught in lines connected to crab pots. That's twice as many as in 2013. In 2015 there have been 25 reports of whale entanglements in California alone, including one involving a killer whale that washed up dead near Fort Bragg.

"It's heartbreaking to know that so many whales are getting tangled up in fishing gear," said the Center's Catherine Kilduff. "They often drown or drag gear around until they're too exhausted to feed. Even more disturbing is that this problem is only getting worse. We're calling on the state to manage this fishery to protect whales."

Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

Nearly 2,000 River Miles Protected for Declining Southeast Mussels

Neosho mucketAs part of a historic settlement agreement with the Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday protected 1,920 miles of waterways for two freshwater mussels that live in 12 southeastern states. The Neosho mucket will get 483 river miles of protected critical habitat, while the rabbitsfoot mussel will get 1,437. Both live on the bottom of rivers and streams and have suffered drastic declines because of pollution and dams.

This week's habitat protections are the latest result of the Center's 2011 agreement to speed protection decisions for 757 plants and animals around the country. Freshwater mussels in the Southeast are among the nation's most imperiled species.

"Freshwater mussels are indicators of water quality, so it makes good common sense to protect their habitat," said the Center's Tierra Curry. "That'll also protect clean water that people need for drinking and recreation."

Read more in our press release.

Sprawling Mega-development Planned for Grand Canyon -- Take Action

Havasupai Falls, Grand CanyonThe U.S. Forest Service began the process Monday to approve permits for roads and utilities that would allow a vast urban development near the south edge of the Grand Canyon, a proposal that Grand Canyon National Park's superintendent has called one of the greatest threats to the park in its 96-year history.

The Stilo Development Group project -- which will require vast quantities of water -- would include more than 2,100 housing units and 3 million square feet of retail space, transforming the 580-resident community of Tusayan, Ariz., from a small tourist town into a sprawling complex of homes and strip malls.

"Some will always see the Grand Canyon as a cash register instead of one of Earth's most awe-inspiring and precious places," said Center cofounder Robin Silver. "We plan to fight shoulder to shoulder with millions of other Americans to defeat this latest scheme to commercialize the Grand Canyon. Shopping malls don't belong here."

Get more from National Parks Traveler and act now to help stop the project.

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Vatican Calls for Action at Summit on Climate Change, Poverty

Cardinal Peter TurksonAt a Vatican summit Tuesday, Cardinal Peter Turkson -- Pope Francis' peace-and-justice czar -- said that fossil fuel use is harming the planet on an "almost unfathomable scale," adding that "the very technology that has brought great reward is now poised to bring great ruin." Rich nations have a special obligation, Cardinal Turkson said, to "help their brothers and sisters in developing countries to cope with climate change by mitigating its effects and by assisting with adaptation."

The statement comes ahead of an encyclical on global warming and faith expected to be released this summer, which UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has predicted will have a significant impact on climate negotiations.

"Science and religion are not at odds on climate change. Indeed, they are fully aligned. Together, we must clearly communicate that the science of climate change is deep, sound and not in doubt," said Ban.

Read more in The Guardian.

Reality TV Contestants Kill, Eat Endangered Crocodile -- Take Action

American crocodileThe British reality TV show The Island with Bear Grylls recently aired a disturbing episode in which contestants killed and ate an endangered American crocodile. We need your help to tell the show's producers that such cruel and cavalier treatment of endangered wildlife will not be tolerated.

The incident happened in Panama, where the show was being filmed. American crocodiles are protected as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act in Florida and as "endangered" in the rest of their range, which includes the Caribbean and parts of Central and South America. These prehistoric-looking animals were driven to the brink of extinction for their hides -- the last thing they need is to become hapless victims of reality TV.

Sign our petition to Channel 4 to cancel the show, pull this episode from its website, and make the show donate money to protect endangered wildlife in Panama.

Protection Put Off for Pacific Fishers -- Take Action

FisherThe Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed to protect the Pacific Northwest's remaining fishers -- small, plush-furred forest dwellers related to weasels. Threats to these animals persist, from toxic rodenticides to habitat loss, after their populations were already decimated by historic trapping and unchecked logging. But now the Service is dragging its feet on deciding whether to grant these fishers a place on the endangered species list.

There are only five populations of Pacific fishers remaining -- in Northern California, Oregon and Washington -- and 84 percent of them in California alone tested positive for rodenticide exposure.

Act now to tell the Service to end its delays and protect all fishers and their habitat on the West Coast -- the only way they'll be able to disperse and survive.

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Extinction, Climate Change Book Wins Pulitzer Prize

Panamanian golden frogThe 2015 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction was awarded to journalist and New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert last week for The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, which the judges called "an exploration of nature that forces readers to consider the threat posed by human behavior to a world of astonishing diversity."

The book is one of very few, thus far, on climate change or extinction to win a Pulitzer, America's best-known literary award. The prize will bring an even wider readership to Kolbert's already bestselling book, which, as Donna Seaman wrote in Booklist, "forthrightly addresses the most significant topic of our lives."

Read a review in The New York Times.

Recovery Plan for California Salamander May Protect 34,000 Acres

California tiger salamanderFollowing a settlement with the Center, the Fish and Wildlife Service has drafted a recovery plan for the endangered California tiger salamander population in Santa Barbara County calling for the permanent protection of up to 34,000 acres of the amphibian's breeding ponds and neighboring lands, since habitat loss is one of its biggest threats.

Although Santa Barbara tiger salamanders have been protected under the Endangered Species Act for more than a decade, the Service failed to develop the required recovery plan -- a step-by-step roadmap to a species' recovery -- so the Center sued, earning our settlement in 2012. Center research has found that species with dedicated recovery plans for two or more years are far more likely to be improving than those without.

The California tiger salamander is large, stocky and black, with yellow spots and a yellow outline around its mouth that gives it the appearance of a perpetual smile.

Read more in the Santa Barbara Independent.

Wild & Weird: Chimp Swats Down Drone -- Watch Video

ChimpanzeeChimpanzees are extremely intelligent animals and the closest living relatives of humans. Like us they use tools -- and like us they sometimes get annoyed when tools get in their way.

The latest proof? Earlier this month Royal Burger's Zoo in the Netherlands released footage of Tushi, a chimp at their facility, swatting down a $2,000 camera-laden drone that was there filming for a television series.

According to National Geographic, Tushi held a long branch hidden behind her back, eyed the buzzing invader from a tree top, struck it down, then finished off the device by jumping on it and removing some of its propellers.

"We were flabbergasted," zoo spokesman Bas Lukkenaar told National Geographic. "It shows, once again, just what intelligent animals they are."

Watch the video and get details from National Geographic.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

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Photo credits: Gray whale courtesy Flickr/Eric Neitzel; Neosho mucket courtesy USFWS; Havasupai Falls, Grand Canyon (c) Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity; wolves by John Pitcher; Cardinal Peter Turkson courtesy Flickr/World Economic Forum; American crocodile courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Judd Patterson, NPS; fisher courtesy Flickr/brunop; brown bear (c) Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity; Panamanian golden frog courtesy Flickr/Brian Gratwicke; California tiger salamander by Michael Van Hattem, USFWS; chimpanzee courtesy Flickr/Tambako the Jaguar.

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