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Center for Biological Diversity

No. 811, Jan. 28, 2016

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Win: Rare Right Whales Get 40,000 Square Miles of Protected Habitat

North Atlantic right whaleGreat news for the world's 500 remaining North Atlantic right whales: After years of legal work by the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups, the National Marine Fisheries Service on Tuesday protected 39,414 square miles of ocean as critical habitat for the whales. The rule protects areas in the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank region, as well as calving grounds from southern North Carolina to northern Florida -- but not the whale's twice-yearly migratory routes through the mid-Atlantic.

North Atlantic right whales were devastated by commercial whaling in the 18th and 19th centuries. And despite being federally protected as an endangered species since 1970, they haven't yet recovered. The new habitat protections are vital to help address longstanding threats to their persistence, including death and serious injury from ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. Right whales also increasingly face hazards from offshore energy development.

"Right whales are at an extinction crossroads right now," said Sarah Uhlemann, a Center senior attorney. "The new rule takes critical steps by protecting the whale's northern feeding areas and southern calving grounds, but unfortunately it ignores the whale's migratory route between the two areas."

Read more in The Charlotte Observer.

Shootout, Arrests, Continuing Standoff at Oregon Wildlife Refuge

Malheur ProtestEight of the militants who took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this month, including the Bundy brothers, were arrested -- and a ninth was shot and killed during a confrontation with law enforcement Tuesday night. Several militants remain in the compound at Malheur in an ongoing standoff with federal agents.

"I'm saddened to see this standoff culminating in violence," the Center's Executive Director Kierán Suckling -- who spent two weeks at Burns -- told media Tuesday night. "But the Bundys and their followers showed up armed to the teeth and took over lands that belong to all American people. We hope and pray those remaining at the compound surrender peacefully and immediately. Here's hoping cooler heads now prevail in southeastern Oregon and we can return to a semblance of peace and civility."

Read more in The Washington Post.

More Than 7,000 Acres of Habitat Protected for Two Florida Plants

Aboriginal prickly appleMore than 7,000 acres of critical habitat have been protected for two coastal plants in Florida: the aboriginal prickly apple cactus and Florida semaphore cactus. Critical habitat protection requires federal agencies to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that federally funded or permitted actions won't damage or destroy the plants' habitat.

The aboriginal prickly apple cactus and Florida semaphore cactus are threatened by sea-level rise due to climate change -- and if worst-case projections become a reality, these plants will likely need to be reintroduced to suitable higher-elevation sites to escape extinction. The new habitat protections result from the Center's historic settlement in 2011 requiring protection decisions for 757 plants and animals around the country.

"By protecting these plants now, we can plan for their future survival in upland habitats," said the Center's Jaclyn Lopez. "The Service has done a great job of moving quickly to get these plants the protections they need to survive sea-level rise. Management under the Endangered Species Act will ensure that these two beautiful and rare species will be around for generations to come."

Read more in our press release.

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Help Ban Fracking in Our National Wildlife Refuges -- Take Action

Kenai brown bearIn December thousands of you spoke out in favor of banning fracking in national parks for nonfederal oil and gas. Now your voice is needed to do the same for our country's national wildlife refuges, which are overseen by the Fish and Wildlife Service. When these conservation lands were designated, the government wasn't always able to purchase the oil and gas beneath the ground. As a result more than 5,000 oil and gas wells are now found in 107 national wildlife refuges, and 32 more are at risk for future extraction.

Damage from fossil fuel development is written across the land. In Alaska's Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, drilling has fragmented fragile habitat for brown bears and disturbed denning areas for bears, wolves and lynx. And in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, toxic spills have contaminated coastal refuges and killed fish and old-growth trees.

Act now to help preserve these public lands as havens for migratory birds and wildlife. Urge the Service to overhaul its rule governing fossil fuel extraction on wildlife refuges and ban fracking outright.

Blue Whale Mural Rises Over Melrose

Blue whale muralA mural of a blue whale emerging from the sea in view of a coastline packed with industrial forms now rises over Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, Calif. The fifth installment in the Center's Endangered Species Mural Project -- this one painted by acclaimed Iranian street artists Icy & Sot -- celebrates the magnificent blue whale amid the tragedy of coastal pollution.

The Endangered Species Mural Project brings images of endangered wildlife to the streets of cities and towns around the country to promote an affinity for the natural world and for different regions' diverse species. Completed murals include a monarch butterfly in Minneapolis; a mountain caribou in Sandpoint, Idaho; an Arctic grayling in Butte, Mont.; and a watercress darter in Birmingham, Ala. More murals are in the works.

Read about the blue whale mural at Brooklyn Street Art and learn more about our Endangered Species Mural Project.

Record Numbers Oppose Massive Oil Train Terminal -- Thank You

Oil train protestA record number of people have raised their voices against a proposal to build North America's largest oil train terminal in Vancouver, Wash. In all, more than 275,000 comments were submitted against this project, and 2,000 people attended public hearings -- including Center activists.

In the wake of Keystone XL's rejection, oil companies anxious to reroute their toxic assets have set their sights on pushing crude by rail in the Pacific Northwest. Tesoro-Savage's plan for a terminal in Vancouver would bring 360,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada and North Dakota. These oil trains would not only put communities and wildlife in danger of an oil spill, but would also facilitate the burning of massive amounts of fossil fuels that are driving the climate crisis.

Thank you to the thousands of Center activists who stood up against this project. The fight isn't done, but we're proud to be making a stand for people, wildlife and a livable planet.

Learn more about oil trains.

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West Coast Orcas Need More Protected Habitat Now

OrcaThe National Marine Fisheries Service just announced it's launching a five-year review of the status of southern resident killer whales, a tiny population of endangered, genetically distinct orcas that dwell along the West Coast and summer in the Puget Sound. These whales communicate with a unique dialect and are one of the few orca populations to feed exclusively on salmon.

After a 2001 Center petition and later a lawsuit, the orcas won protection in 2005, the next year receiving 2,500 square miles of federally protected "critical habitat." The Fisheries Service has announced a much-needed expansion of these protections to cover 9,000 miles of winter foraging habitat -- but it doesn't plan for this expansion until 2017.

That's much too late for the orcas, who now number only 84 individuals. The Center is pushing hard to win these whales more critical habitat as soon as possible.

Read more in our press release.

Lawsuit Challenges Sprawling Freeway Development in Southern California

Burrowing owlThe Center and allies filed a second legal challenge to a massive $1.7 billion freeway project in Southern California this week. The six-lane "Mid County Parkway" would cut through low-income neighborhoods, threaten wildlife preserves and worsen air pollution, bisecting the San Jacinto Valley and paving the way for more sprawl and traffic in a rural area with a combination of agriculture, open space and wildlife preserves.

The valley, an important area for migratory birds, is home to numerous imperiled species, including burrowing owls, Swainson's hawks, tricolored blackbirds, willow flycatchers and Stephens' kangaroo rats.

The new freeway would also force up to 396 residents from their homes and displace businesses that employ more than 170 people. Its environmental review notes that the chosen route "would result in the highest impacts to residential relocations in areas with minority and low-income populations."

"This project will waste taxpayer dollars to destroy neighborhoods and wildlife areas with a polluting new freeway," said Jonathan Evans, legal director of the Center's Environmental Health program. "There are smarter, safer and cheaper 21st-century transit solutions to solve existing traffic problems."

Read more in our press release.

Wild & Weird: Panda Has a Snow Day

Tian Tian panda bear plays in snowThe blizzard that pummeled the usually mild-wintered Washington, D.C., over the weekend shut down roads and businesses, and on Monday federal offices, public schools and even the Smithsonian National Zoo were closed due to the whiteout.

Tian Tian, a giant panda at the zoo, took full advantage of the snow day by frolicking wildly in his freshly powdered enclosure. A video of him rolling around and making snow angels has gone viral, warming the hearts of millions still needing to shovel their driveways.

See Tian Tian in the snow at the BBC.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

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Photo credits: North Atlantic right whale courtesy Wikimedia Commons/NOAA; Malheur rally by Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity; aboriginal prickly apple cactus by Dave Bender, USFWS; Kenai brown bear by Rebecca Noblin; wolves by John Pitcher; blue whale mural by Jess X. Chen; oil train protest courtesy Flickr/Charles A. Conatzer; orca courtesy Flickr/Miles Ritter; brown bear (c) Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity; burrowing owl courtesy Flickr/Larry Jordan; Tian Tian courtesy Smithsonian National Zoo.

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