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Center for Biological Diversity

No. 793, Sept. 24, 2015

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The Pope and the Polar Bear: Climate Takes the National Stage

FrostpawPope Francis' visit to Washington, D.C. this week was a massive event -- and once again brought the global climate crisis into sharp focus. "Climate change is a problem that can no longer be left to a future generation," the pope said at the White House.

We knew it would be an important moment. That's why the Center for Biological Diversity sent Frostpaw the Polar Bear to greet the pope with a sign reading "The Pope Gives Me Climate Hope." Frostpaw was featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, ABC News and other outlets; he even drew a wave from the passing pontiff.

Ahead of the papal visit this week, Center Senior Counsel Bill Snape wrote a piece for the political newspaper Roll Call expressing our hope that Pope Francis, "the world's most powerful climate activist," will succeed in pushing American political leaders to take more aggressive action to curb the crisis as the world gears up for United Nations climate talks in Paris.

"With his clear vision and profoundly sincere call to action, the pope just might move Obama and even some congressional Republicans," writes Snape, "to take the bold steps needed to protect our common home -- and the world's most vulnerable people -- from this terrifying threat."

Read Bill's Roll Call piece and check out this vignette on Frostpaw in The Washington Post.

13 Frogs, Snakes, Turtles, Salamanders Closer to Protection

Wood turtleAmphibians and reptiles are in serious trouble: One in 4 are at risk of dying out. But there's been some good news this week. In response to a petition from the Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it will consider protecting 13 turtles, salamanders, lizards and snakes under the Endangered Species Act.

In California the list includes five amphibians (the Shasta, limestone, Kern Plateau, Inyo Mountains and lesser slender salamanders), as well as the southern boa and the Panamint alligator lizard. Elsewhere the proposal includes Arizona's Yuman desert fringe-toed lizard, two Pacific Northwest torrent salamanders, Florida's pine snake and short-tailed snake, and wood turtles that live in the Midwest and Northeast.

The Center -- along with scientists E.O. Wilson and Thomas Lovejoy -- petitioned to protect these species in 2012. The Service will now do a year-long review of each and decide whether to grant them federal protections.

Read more about the California and Arizona species, the wood turtles, the Pacific Northwest salamanders and the snakes in Florida.

Blackbirds, Seabirds, Utah Fish May Get Federal Safeguards

Tricolored blackbirdIt isn't just amphibians and reptiles moving closer to protection. The Fish and Wildlife Service -- again responding to petitions from the Center -- said it will consider Endangered Species Act status for California's tricolored blackbird; a rare Pacific Island bird called the Tinian monarch; and the Virgin River spinedace, a small fish in southern Utah.

All three creatures need help. The spinedace has lost more than half its range to dropping river levels caused by increased water withdrawals (to feed urban sprawl), pollution and habitat destruction. The Tinian monarch, a member of the flycatcher family, was federally protected until 2004 but has declined significantly since then because of military training on Tinian, a U.S. territory east of the Philippines. California's tricolored blackbirds have suffered dramatic declines due to loss of wetlands, shooting, pesticides and destruction of their nests.

The status of all three will now be scrutinized to determine whether they need protection.

Read more about tricolored blackbirds, Tinian monarchs and Virgin River spinedace.

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"What's My Name?" Help Name the Only Known U.S. Jaguar

JaguarThe only known wild jaguar in the United States lives less than 30 miles from downtown Tucson, Ariz. We need your help to name this magnificent wild cat and build support for his survival.

The Center this week launched a naming contest for the jaguar. We're also working with a local middle school -- whose mascot is a jaguar -- to give him a moniker this fall. You can cast your vote too ... "Spot?" "Spirit?" "El Jefe?" Choose one or write in your own idea.

The Center won 764,207 acres of protected critical habitat for jaguars in southern Arizona and New Mexico last year. But there's much more to be done to ensure that jaguars can thrive in the American Southwest. Let's start by giving this jaguar a name.

Vote now and then share our jaguar-naming contest on Facebook.

Obama Administration Refuses Protection for Sage Grouse

Sage grouseIt was tough to watch this week as the Obama administration refused to provide Endangered Species Act protection to the greater sage grouse -- an iconic bird of the American West threatened with extinction by fossil fuel development, livestock grazing, off-road vehicles and other human impacts. The decision relied on half-measures and generally weak management plans that disregard recommendations from expert scientists about the most important ways to keep sage grouse safe from harm and return them to healthy, sustainable populations.

Among the shortcomings: In Wyoming, where 40 percent of remaining sage grouse populations reside, oil and gas drilling will still be allowed within 0.6 miles of sage grouse mating areas -- even though the best science calls for four-mile protective buffers. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management also ignores the threat that livestock present to sage grouse, in particular by enabling the spread of a weed called "cheatgrass" that facilitates uncharacteristic wildfires.

"Greater sage grouse have been in precipitous decline for years and deserve better than what they're getting from the Obama administration," said the Center's Randi Spivak.

Read more in High Country News.

A Firsthand Witness to the Devastation in North Dakota's Bakken Shale

Methane flareCenter Senior Scientist Tierra Curry travelled to North Dakota last weekend with the Extreme Energy Extraction Collaborative, invited by Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Network so that the group could see firsthand the devastation being caused by fracking for oil in the region.

The Upper Missouri River, the area's drinking-water source, is being sucked up for fracking water and filled with pollutants. Meanwhile oil companies are illegally dumping radioactive fracking filters. They're also using wasteful gas flares, so numerous and large they're visible from space, which choke the air -- whose pollution is worsened by emissions from incessant truck traffic. On the Fort Berthold Reservation, more than 40 people have been killed by frack trucks. Residents are seeing sickened and deformed fish as well as cattle and human illnesses, including asthma and cancer.

In the crowded "man camps" established for fracking workers, violence runs rampant, including murders and rapes that go unprosecuted because law-enforcement officers are overwhelmed. Oil workers are also vandalizing Theodore Roosevelt National Park, shooting buffalo and setting off homemade bombs. "The devastation in the Bakken is heart-wrenching, and intervention is desperately needed to protect both people and wildlife whose lives are threatened by the oil boom," said Curry.

Get more from KXNews.

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Center Rejoins Neil Young Tour, Spreading Conservation Message

Neil YoungNeil Young's latest album addresses some of the key issues the Center is working on -- as you might guess from its title, The Monsanto Years. The Center and mascot Frostpaw tagged along with Young on much of the first leg of his summer tour; the legendary musician also lent his stage to the Apache Stronghold, fighting to preserve sacred lands at Arizona's Oak Flat from a destructive mine.

Now Neil has kindly invited the Center to join him again as he tours across the country next month, from Montana to California, at 11 more of his concerts in six states. We hope to help him contribute to the national dialogue about fossil fuels, biodiversity and agribusiness.

If you're going to one of the shows, come find us at our booth. Get more information on our Events webpage.

World Rhino Day: Save a Rhino, Read a Book

White rhinoTuesday was World Rhino Day -- and it's not too late to celebrate the conservation of these great and vanishing beasts, whose five species in Africa and Asia range from vulnerable to critically endangered, largely because of poaching.

One Center member, Kate Wyer, has written a book from the point of view of a rhino and released it Tuesday in honor of World Rhino Day. Land Beast is a fiction inspired by a picture Wyer saw of a mother rhino who survived having her horn poached; the book contains 40 lovely illustrations by artist Katie Feild. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go to charities that work to stop endangered species poaching, including the Center.

You can buy the book to support the Center and other groups working to fight the illegal killing of wild creatures; then read more about World Rhino Day and other ways to help.

Quick Hits: A Win for Otters, a Fight to Save Bats

Sea otter -A federal judge upholds decision to end "no otter zone" in California.

-New legal action aims to protect bats from West Virginia coal mines.

-Lawsuit targets climate-harming sprawl in Southern California.

-What are these 35,000 walruses trying to tell us?

Wild & Weird: Tiny Frog Listens Through Its Mouth

Gardiner's frogFrog ears aren't like your mammalian ears: Most frogs have eardrums directly on the skin. And Gardiner's Seychelles frogs -- tiny hoppers long isolated on a few islands near Madagascar -- don't have ears like most frogs. Their ears, according to a new discovery by a team of scientists from France, are in their mouth.

Using computer-run simulations, the team was able to show that the frog's mouth directs sound to its inner ear, a cavity in the frog's skull. Gardiner's frogs seem to take the expression "eat your words" quite literally.

Read more at Popular Science.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

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Photo credits: Frostpaw courtesy Center for Biological Diversity; wood turtle courtesy Flickr/Kordite; tricolored blackbird courtesy Flickr/Alan Vernon; wolves by John Pitcher; jaguar courtesy USFWS; sage grouse courtesy Flickr/Alan Krakauer; methane flare courtesy Flickr/Mike Eisenfeld, WildEarth Guardians; brown bear (c) Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity; Neil Young courtesy Flickr/Takahiro Kyono; white rhino courtesy Flickr/Valentina Storti; sea otter courtesy Flickr/Christopher Michel; Gardiner's frog courtesy CNRS.

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