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Center for Biological Diversity

No. 787, Aug. 13, 2015

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5,000-plus Acres Protected for Rare California Wildflower

Vandenberg monkeyflowerA big day for a small California flower: This week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected 5,755 acres of critical habitat for the yellow Vandenberg monkeyflower, which is known to exist in just nine locations in the world -- mostly open spaces on sandy soils between shrubs in Santa Barbara County.

The biggest threat to the monkeyflower is competition from invasive plants, but it's also threatened by military activities, residential and commercial development, fire and climate change. Much of its habitat, maritime chaparral vegetation, has already been lost to development. The newly protected land is mostly public, in or near Burton Mesa Ecological Reserve, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Saving rare plants has long been an integral part of the Center for Biological Diversity's work. We won Endangered Species Act protection for this rare monkeyflower in August 2014 as part of our historic agreement in 2011 to speed protection decisions for 757 animals and plants around the country. So far under the agreement, 143 species have been protected and another 10 have been proposed for protection.

Read more in our press release.

Rules Would Help Keep Whales, Dolphins From Dying in Fishing Gear

DolphinsA new proposal from the National Marine Fisheries Service will prohibit seafood imports that don't meet U.S. standards for protecting whales, dolphins and other marine mammals. Scientists estimate that each year more than 650,000 marine mammals are caught and killed in fishing gear; typically the animals are unintentionally snared and either drown or are tossed overboard to die from their injuries.

The plan released this week would be an important step toward limiting the number of marine mammals that die senseless deaths. The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 has prohibited the United States from importing seafood unless it meets U.S. standards for protecting whales and dolphins. But the ban has been largely ignored, so the Center and allies filed suit in 2014 -- and the new regulations were proposed as part of a settlement.

"The new regulations will force countries to meet the U.S. conservation standards if they want to access this market, saving thousands of whales and dolphins from dying on hooks and in fishing nets around the world," said Sarah Uhlemann, director of the Center's international program.

Read more in our press release.

Polar Bears Need a Stronger Recovery Plan -- Take Action

Polar bearPolar bears are in serious trouble. Unless urgent action is taken to combat climate change, it's predicted that two-thirds of the world's bears will be gone by 2050. Despite this the Fish and Wildlife Service last month proposed a recovery plan for the bears that looks more like an extinction plan. It allows the polar bear population to plummet by an astonishing 85 percent -- and then be deemed "recovered." Under the plan all of Alaska's polar bears could disappear.

The plan also fails to propose meaningful measures to combat the species' main threat -- greenhouse gas pollution melting the bears' Arctic sea-ice home. And in a perverse twist, the Obama administration released the plan at the same time it green-lighted Shell's oil rigs to begin drilling in polar bear habitat off Alaska.

Act now to demand that the Obama administration shift course immediately -- by strengthening its polar bear plan so it leads to actual recovery and by halting Arctic drilling.

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Petition Seeks Inspection of Aging Oil Pipelines Off California's Coast

Offshore oil platformMay's Refugio oil spill near Santa Barbara was yet another wake-up call about the dangers of offshore drilling, but it also raised flags about aging offshore oil pipelines. The pipeline that ruptured and spilled more than 100,000 gallons of heavy crude oil -- blackening beaches around Santa Barbara and killing hundreds of birds, sea lions, dolphins and other wildlife -- was 28 years old and badly corroded.

Last week the Center formally petitioned the federal government to inspect hundreds of miles of pipelines off the coast of California for corrosion and other damage.

"Dangerous oil drilling doesn't belong in oceans, and aging pipelines and oil rigs increase the risk," said the Center's Kristen Monsell. "Federal inspectors should examine every inch of these offshore pipelines to see if they're as corroded and dangerous as the section that failed near Santa Barbara."

Get more from Reuters and check out our new FAQ about aging offshore pipelines.

Animas River Spill: A Legacy of Industry's Abandoned Mines -- Watch Video

Animas RiverThe millions of gallons of acidic mining wastewater that began spewing into Colorado's Animas River last week are a testament to the ugly legacy left behind by the mining industry in much of the West. There's certainly culpability with the EPA, which caused the spill on the Animas during clean-up operations, but there's an underlying issue that shouldn't be ignored: The Government Accountability Office estimates there are 161,000 abandoned mines in the 12 western states and Alaska, including about 23,000 in Colorado and some 400 in the Animas River watershed. All of them were left behind by the mining industry, and the rest of us are now footing the bill.

The Center's Taylor McKinnon was a panelist this week on a HuffPost Live segment about the Animas spill, and what it tells us about the prospect for similar disasters if we don't act. Check out the discussion.

Tell Target: It's Time to Bag Plastic Bags -- Take Action

Plastic bags in treeBetween its eco-friendly product branding and efforts to green its stores, Target has positioned itself as a company that cares about sustainability. Yet the retail giant still sends shoppers home with single-use plastic bags -- about a billion every year -- that often end up in landfills and as litter that pollutes our remaining wild spaces and oceans, threatening sea turtles, birds and other wildlife.

Today is Earth Overshoot Day, the day we exhaust our annual ecological budget (using more resources than the Earth can restore in a year -- four and a half months too soon). It only makes sense, then, that we take action on polluting plastic bags.

Please take a moment to help hold Target responsible for its carbon footprint and plastic waste. As a leader in the retail industry, if Target phased out plastic bags, it could influence other big-box stores to rethink their bagging practices, too.

Join the Center in urging Target to stop using single-use plastic bags in its stores.

Bring Back the Bears

Petition: Amid Fracking Boom, Ban Natural Gas Exports

LNG protestThe fracking boom in the United States is threatening people, the environment and the climate, and has driven a dramatic surge in natural gas exports. It's time to rein it in. This week, the Center and allies filed a groundbreaking legal petition with the U.S. Department of Commerce seeking an immediate ban on natural gas exports from the United States.

Since the late 1990s, the volume of exported natural gas has increased by roughly 1,000 percent -- and almost all of it has been extracted by fracking.

"Exporting natural gas worsens global warming, harms local communities, raises domestic energy prices and benefits only multinational fuel corporations," said the Center's Bill Snape. "If the Obama administration's really serious about addressing the climate crisis, it has to rein in the gluttonous natural gas industry."

Read more in The Hill.

In Memoriam: Wendell Wood, Fierce Defender of Oregon's Wild

Wendell WoodWe're saddened by the news this week of the passing of Wendell Wood, a dogged advocate for the protection of the Pacific Northwest's wild places for more than 40 years. He was a former biology teacher who helped found Oregon Wild, and a frequent Center partner for protection of Oregon's wolves, salmon, salamanders, mollusks and marbled murrelets. The Center was working with Wendell this summer to secure Endangered Species Act protection for silvery phacelia, a beautiful coastal sand dune flower. He died Tuesday while hiking in the redwood forests that were dear to his heart.

"Wendell was an indefatigable warrior for the protection of nature. Countless stretches of Oregon's ancient forests still stand tall today because of Wendell. He was instrumental in securing protection for the western snowy plover, Lost River sucker, Klamath short-nose sucker and many other species. Wildlife and wild places have lost a very dear advocate," said Center Public Lands Director Randi Spivak.

Help Make Joshua Tree Whole Again -- Take Action

Joshua treeIf you're a bighorn sheep, golden eagle or tortoise lucky enough to call the deserts of Southern California home, your luck just got even better. A new proposal from the National Park Service aims to explore the possibility of adding new lands to the southeast portion of Joshua Tree National Park -- 28,000 outstanding acres within the Eagle Mountains and Chuckwalla Valley.

But the proposed addition isn't exactly new. In the late 1940s, this chunk of what was then Joshua Tree National Monument was given away to the steel industry for mining. But now that the mine has been closed for decades, a return of these lands is on the table. The move couldn't come a moment too soon. Other proposed uses of this area have attempted to turn it into a landfill, a prison and a water-storage scheme.

Act now to support the Park Service's proposal to make Joshua Tree National Park whole again by restoring its original 1936 boundaries.

Wild & Weird: Color the World Through Other Animals' Eyes

SpiderEver wondered what it'd be like to see out of the eyes of a spider, lizard or honeybee? Now you can -- at least where palette is concerned -- because University of Exeter scientists have developed free software that will let you look at things the way other animals do. You can choose from a drop-down menu to process photos in a way that converts them to another species' color scheme.

Humans and old-world primates see three primary colors, while other mammals are only sensitive to two. Birds, reptiles, amphibians and many insects, though, are sensitive to four or more primary colors as well as the ultraviolet range -- invisible to people without full-spectrum cameras.

Researchers have been using the new tool to study color changes in crabs, how camouflage protects birds from predators, and the way female faces change throughout the ovulation cycle.

Read about it in TreeHugger or download the software for yourself.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

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Photo credits: Vandenberg monkeyflower courtesy USFWS; dolphins courtesy Flickr/Willy Volk; polar bear courtesy Flickr/Chase Dekker; wolves by John Pitcher; Platform Holly courtesy Flickr/Glenn Beltz; Animas River courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Ahodges7; plastic bag courtesy Flickr/Jim Thornton; California flag image courtesy Y & R California; LNG protest courtesy Flickr/rapurple; Wendell Wood courtesy Oregon Wild; Joshua tree courtesy Flickr/Ross Manges Photography; spider courtesy Flickr/Greh Fox.

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