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Center for Biological Diversity

No. 790, Sept. 3, 2015

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1 Million California Children Go to School Near Oil Train Routes

Oil train next to playgroundA new analysis from the Center for Biological Diversity reveals an alarming truth: More than a million California children attend school in the 1-mile impact zone for derailing oil trains. These trains have experienced a dramatic increase in explosions and derailments across the country in recent years -- and our investigation in California identifies 2,300 elementary, middle and high schools within a mile of confirmed oil train routes.

Since 2013 there have been 11 oil train accidents in the United States and Canada resulting in explosions and fires involving multiple train cars -- and at least eight have required an evacuation zone of a mile or more.

"As educators we care deeply about the safety of our students and we certainly don't want dangerous trains full of explosive crude oil rolling by our classrooms," said Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association. "The proximity of these oil trains puts our students and teachers in harm's way if one goes off the rails."

Check out our interactive map of schools in the impact zone in California, read more in our press release and watch this NBC interview with the Center's Valerie Love.

On Obama's Trail: Frostpaw Takes Climate Message to Alaska

FrostpawPresident Obama was in Alaska this week to highlight the climate crisis and the urgent need for action. But there was a problem: A short time before the trip, his own administration green-lighted Shell's oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean this summer.

So the Center's Frostpaw the Polar Bear trekked to Alaska too, joining other environmental activists in calling on Obama to walk the talk on climate change, starting with calling off drilling in the Arctic. Frostpaw, as usual, was a huge hit with the public and the media, drawing attention and photo-seekers from Anchorage to Seward.

Check out this photo gallery of Frostpaw's Alaska adventures and then read the speech we wish President Obama had given.

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Kentucky Flower Is Latest Endangered Species Act Success Story

Kentucky white-haired goldenrodThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday that a beautiful flower called the white-haired goldenrod -- which lives only in the Red River Gorge area in three Kentucky counties -- has officially recovered. The small, yellow-flowered plant was federally protected in 1988 because recreationists in the popular area unknowingly trampled it, but agencies fenced off flower populations and posted signs educating visitors about its vulnerability -- and now the flower has resurged in numbers. The Service will continue to monitor the plant, though, since it's still threatened by recreation, climate change and invasive plants.

"It's welcome news that a unique piece of Kentucky's natural heritage has been safeguarded from extinction," said the Center's Tierra Curry. "Thanks to the effective protection of the Endangered Species Act, this little wildflower will be around for future generations to enjoy."

Read more in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Revoke the Army Corps' License to Kill Cormorants -- Take Action

Double-crested cormorantMore than 10,000 of the Pacific Northwest's gorgeous, double-crested cormorants could be wrongfully killed if we don't act fast. The Fish and Wildlife Service has authorized the U.S. Army Corps to conduct a mass killing on East Sand Island near the mouth of the Columbia River, but the reasoning behind the move is deeply flawed.

The federal agencies are scapegoating the native birds for recent declines in imperiled salmon and steelhead -- but the real culprit is mismanagement of the area's dams, which are disrupting fish runs.

A recently released document from the Service's own biologists reemphasizes that cormorants aren't to blame: The biologists found that salmon and steelhead eaten by cormorants would have died anyway, consumed by other predators. Act now to urge the Service to immediately revoke the Army Corps permit. It's not too late to address the real problem and save these birds.

Tempted by That Labor Day Grill Smell? Call Our 'Defeat the Meat' Hotline

In time for Labor Day weekend, one of the year's meatiest cookout times, the Center just launched the "Defeat the Meat Hotline" (1-855-MEATLSS), a toll-free service urging callers to think about endangered species and the climate before biting into a beefy burger or porky dog this Labor Day.

This latest project from our Take Extinction Off Your Plate campaign gives callers four options: "Press 1 if you can't stop thinking about that burger; press 2 if you already have a hot dog in your hand; press 3 if the smell of a BBQ is driving you wild ... and press 4 if you've got 99 problems but grilled meat ain't one." Callers get tasty tips to beat the temptation of meat and help save endangered wildlife (or kudos for not craving meat even while its smell might be wafting through your windows).

"If you don't know if you can resist that barbecued meat, our Defeat the Meat crisis team is here to help," said the Center's Jennifer Molidor. "Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Americans eat 818 hot dogs per second. That has a devastating effect on wolves, sage grouse, monarch butterflies, loggerhead sea turtles and hundreds of other species driven toward extinction by meat production."

Read more in our press release, then give the hotline a call (again, that's 1-855-MEATLSS).

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90 Percent of Seabirds Have Plastic in Their Stomachs -- Take Action

SeabirdA new study by a team at Australia's federal science agency brings sad news about seabirds: About 90 percent already have plastic garbage in their bodies, and according to computer models, by 2050 that percentage will likely hover around 99. Older studies had shown only about 29 percent of the world's seabirds with bellies containing plastic.

"It's pretty astronomical. In the next 11 years we will make as much plastic as has been made since industrial plastic production began in the 1950s," said Denise Hardesty, a senior research scientist and study co-author. Most of the plastic is in the form of small pieces, but Hardesty has also found larger items -- from model cars to cigarette lighters.

The Center launched its ocean plastics campaign in 2012, securing an EPA pledge to take steps to clean up ocean plastics; in August we began a campaign to push Target stores to stop giving out 1 billion single-use bags that contribute to plastic pollution every year.

Take action now and read more about the study in U.S. News & World Report.

Center Seeks New Membership Director

Cactus ferruginous pygmy owlThe Center is seeking a full-time membership director in Tucson, Ariz. We're looking for a high-energy, people-focused candidate, preferably with membership experience in the environmental movement. Our membership director, part of the Membership and Development program, will work with the Center's grassroots base of supporters and members and be responsible for overseeing both online and offline membership fundraising.

Check out the full posting. To apply send a thoughtful cover letter and résumé via email to, "Attn: Membership Director." Only applicants selected for interviews will be contacted.

Scream Against Extinction: Wes Craven, 1939-2015

Wes CravenWes Craven, renowned director of horror movies (and less reputable genres), died this week in Los Angeles. Best known for the Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream franchises, Craven was also a great lover of birds, an ardent conservationist -- and a supporter of the Center, making more than 125 curiously small donations from 2004 to just days before his death.

With a nod to Hitchcock, he wrote an occasional column for the Martha's Vineyard Gazette called "Wes Craven's The Birds," in which he once wrote: "Extinction is contagious ... We leave more than a carbon footprint on this planet. We leave a footprint on wildness itself, and it's a big one. No bird can deal with what we've done to the environment in just a few centuries. As a wise owl I met in Hooters once said, evolution is slow. Humanity is a speeding bullet."

Predictably, Craven's love of nature was not of the warm and cuddly type. In a speculative piece examining the perils of migration in an industrialized landscape, he joins a group of feathered travelers:

"We took off from the Vineyard on a nice day in 2014 and twelve hours later crash-landed outside Baltimore in 2020. The blue jay was dead before he hit the ground -- high-tension wires. There were hurricane winds, lightning and driving rain. In fact, the whole coastal area looked like it had been flooded and growing wild for years. There were coyotes and feral dogs everywhere, and they weren't the only marauding creatures. There was a guy with a shotgun who wanted to eat my guides. I said no, which got both the coot and me shot. But suddenly the osprey snatched the twelve-gauge from the shooter's hand, swung it head first like a fish in its talons, and pulled the trigger. It wasn't pretty but it sure solved the problem.

" 'I didn't know a bird could do that!' I gasped.

" 'Not in 2014,' the osprey said. 'But it's 2030 now. Times are a changing.' "

For a tribute montage of Wes Craven's many screams, turn your speakers up (or down) and watch this video. Rest in peace, Wes -- may the birds of this world convey to the next, and back again perhaps.

Wild & Weird: Poor Partner Choice in the Frog Kingdom

Tungara frogsUsing enormous vocal sacs, male túngara frogs vie with other males for the affections of females the old-fashioned way: using nonstop, slightly annoying, low-pitched, quick-tempo serenades. The female frogs eat it up, and when courted by two suitors will select the frog with the most attractive call. For túngaras, low frequency and fast singing are the equivalent of tall, dark and handsome.

But according to a new study published in the journal Science, when a third male -- with a song that's inferior to that of the first, ideal mate -- is thrown into the mix, the female gets confused and chooses the less attractive of the first two. Goes to show how important it is to pick the right wingman. Or wingmen.

Read more in National Geographic.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

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Photo credits: Oil train near playground courtesy Flickr/ForestEthics; Frostpaw courtesy Center for Biological Diversity; wolves by John Pitcher; white-haired goldenrod by John MacGregor, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources; double-crested cormorant courtesy Flickr/Mark Dumont; meat background image courtesy Flickr/Mike; brown bear (c) Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity; seabird courtesy Flickr/Econet; cactus ferruginous pygmy owl by Sky Jacobs; Wes Craven courtesy Flickr/Dan Tentler; túngara frogs courtesy Flickr/Santiago Ron.

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Center for Biological Diversity
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