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Center for Biological Diversity

No. 780, June 25, 2015

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EPA to Analyze Impacts of Roundup, Atrazine on 1,500 Species

Crop dustingIn a historic agreement, the Environmental Protection Agency this week finally agreed to analyze the effects of atrazine and glyphosate -- the two most commonly used pesticides in the United States -- on 1,500 endangered plants and animals across the country. The agreement is part of a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity in litigation seeking to protect wildlife from dangerous pesticides.

Up to 80 million pounds of atrazine are used in the United States each year. In addition to causing severe harm to endangered species, the chemical may be linked to increased risks of thyroid cancer and birth defects in people. It's the second most commonly used pesticide after glyphosate, more commonly known as Monsanto's Roundup, which has been linked to massive declines in monarch butterflies.

The EPA has, for decades, continued to register and allow the use of pesticides without considering their impacts on endangered species. The Center has filed a series of lawsuits to force the agency to conduct those analyses and better understand how these chemicals affect everything from Florida panthers to California tiger salamanders.

"This settlement is the first step to reining in the widespread use of dangerous pesticides that are harming both wildlife and people," said the Center's Brett Hartl.

Read more in our press release and consider giving to our Pollinator Protection Fund.

World's Most Endangered Porpoise Likely Down to Just 50

VaquitaA new scientific report finds that vaquitas -- the world's smallest and most endangered porpoises -- declined by more than 40 percent in a single year; likely only about 50 remain. Vaquitas live exclusively in the Gulf of California and are being driven extinct by entanglement in nets cast for shrimp and for the illegal harvest of totoaba. Totoaba -- fish that are also endangered -- are caught for their swim bladders, which are smuggled to Asia to make soup and folk remedies.

The new report documents a 42 percent decline in vaquitas between 2013 and 2014, with additional animals killed in late 2014 and early 2015 before a two-year fishing ban was instituted by Mexico in April. While the ban is commendable, a permanent ban on nets in the Gulf is clearly needed.

The report also finds that Mexico's previous efforts to ban fishing in vaquita habitat were unsuccessful; the number of boats in porpoise habitat actually increased during the Mexican government's previous efforts to ban fishing. Unless these newest conservation measures are aggressively enforced, the vaquita will not survive.

Read more in onEarth.

Alaska Wolves in Steep Decline -- But Hunting, Trapping Still On

Alexander Archipelago wolfThe Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released a report confirming that rare Alexander Archipelago wolves in Alaska's Prince of Wales Island area have declined by a shocking 60 percent in a single year. Specifically the population dropped from 221 wolves in 2013 to just 89 in 2014, and wolves on the island could now be as few as 50, with female wolves particularly hard-hit. These unique wolves are smaller and darker than other gray wolves, usually with dense, dark gray to jet-black fur.

The department's report acknowledges that about a third of the population was killed in the last hunting and trapping season. Yet Alaska plans to allow still more trapping and hunting of the wolves this fall.

"To maintain a viable population of Alexander Archipelago wolves on this island, Alaska must cancel the season," said the Center's Shaye Wolf. "We won't get a second chance to preserve these amazing animals."

Read more in E&E News.

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New Studies Show Earth on Brink of Sixth Mass Extinction

EarthA report published Friday in Science Advances -- authored by a team of scholars including Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University and Gerardo Ceballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico -- indicates the planet is on the edge of the largest extinction wave since the dinosaurs disappeared some 65 million years ago.

Though the team relied on extremely conservative assumptions about the "background" (that is, naturally occurring) rate of extinctions, its findings that a mass extinction has begun were powerful. The loss of biodiversity we're currently experiencing, the study says, is likely to produce the swiftest mass die-off in planetary history and the only one caused by human beings -- and that's not even counting the effects of climate change, not factored into the research.

Among vertebrates alone, 477 species have been declared officially extinct since 1900 -- just one example.

Read more in The Guardian.

Bill Would Halt Federal Giveaway of Sacred Land in Arizona

Protect Oak FlatRep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) has introduced a bill to stop the U.S. Congress from trading away Oak Flat, an Apache sacred site in central Arizona, to a foreign mining company. Rio Tinto has been pushing to develop a massive copper mine in the Oak Flat area for more than a decade. A last-minute rider in a spending bill -- pushed by Arizona's congressional delegation -- included a land swap for the mining project. Grijalva's bill would repeal that provision.

The Oak Flat area is sacred to the San Carlos Apache Tribe and is also home to a diverse array of wildlife. An endangered wild ocelot was found dead on Highway 60, very close to Oak Flat, several years ago, and there may be others in the area.

The San Carlos Apache and allies will take their fight to Washington, D.C., next month, when a cross-country caravan and sacred run from Arizona culminates with rallies and events in the nation's capital July 20–21.

Learn what you can do to support the Apache resistance and follow the progress of the sacred runners.

New EPA Rule "Good for Business," Bad for Wild Bees -- Take Action

HoneybeeTo address the problem of toxic pesticides driving bee population crashes, the EPA has proposed a new rule. It creates temporary "pesticide-free zones" when commercial crops, such as California almond trees, are in bloom and hired bees have been trucked in to pollinate them. The rule is a small step in the right direction -- but grossly inadequate as a response to a massive pollinator crisis.

Protecting commercial hives and industry crops will leave solitary bees and bumblebees all over the country to die from acute poisoning. Also, the rule (which applies only to foliar spraying) conspicuously omits any mention of the widespread industry practice of treating seeds, such as corn and soybean seeds, with bee-killing chemicals.

Act now to urge the EPA to revise and expand its rule to reflect the scope of the actual problem. The agency must protect all bees -- not just commercial hives -- and regulate toxic pesticides applied to seeds as well as leaves.

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New Study: Climate Action Would Save Big Bucks, Thousands of Lives

SmokestacksScientists have long warned that global warming will cause extraordinary damage to natural ecosystems and human society. But what benefits would come from preventing this climate catastrophe? A new study by federal scientists finds they'd be immense.

Cutting planet-warming pollution, the new EPA study reveals, could prevent up to 70,000 premature deaths a year by the end of the century. It would also ward off hundreds of billions of dollars worth of economic losses.

The study examines a wide range of advantages, from cleaner air to preserving Hawaii's coral reefs to preventing as much as $11 billion a year in agricultural losses. Released ahead of this December's United Nations climate talks, the study is another stark reminder of the need for action. That's why the Center is pushing the Obama administration to back an ambitious, fair and binding international agreement to dramatically cut carbon pollution and help developing countries leapfrog into a clean-energy future.

Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

Wild & Weird: Most Kangaroos Are Southpaws

KangarooThere are traits that are uniquely human: For instance, we're the only species that has a descended hyoid bone, a tendency to wear clothing, or bagpipes. Then there are traits we like to claim as uniquely our own, such as opposable thumbs, which all primates have, and language, which many critters seem to share.

Now there's a new "formerly uniquely human quality" we can scratch from that human-supremacy list. A team of researchers from Russia, whose paper was recently published in the journal Current Biology, say they've discovered that two species of kangaroos and one species of wallaby in Australia predominantly favor one hand over the other for performing tasks. The researchers say it's the first definitive population-level "handedness" found in a species other than Homo sapiens. Interestingly, 'roos tend to be left-handed, while humans tend to be right.

Read more at BBC News.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

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Photo credits: Aerial spraying courtesy Flickr/tpmartins; vaquita by Paula Olson, NOAA; Alexander Archipelago wolf (c) Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity; wolves by John Pitcher; Earth courtesy NASA; Oak Flat image courtesy StandingFox photography; honeybee courtesy Flickr/Henrik Lauridsen; brown bear (c) Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity; smokestacks courtesy Flickr/otodo; kangaroo courtesy Flickr/Centophobia.

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