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Center for Biological Diversity

No. 816, March 3, 2016

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Court Returns Polar Bear Protections Across 120 Million Acres

Polar bearA huge win for polar bears: This week the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2010 decision to protect more than 120 million acres as critical habitat for polar bears. In its ruling the court reversed a 2013 lower-court decision that shot down that designation after it was challenged by the state of Alaska and the oil and gas industry.

These habitat protections are vital as polar bears struggle against the climate crisis and melting sea ice. Without help, scientists predict, more than two-thirds of the world's polar bears -- including all of those in Alaska -- will be gone by 2050. Arctic sea ice, which polar bears depend on for hunting and raising their cubs, has been hitting record lows this winter.

"This decision gives polar bears some breathing room, but President Obama and other leaders still have to move fast to leave dirty fossil fuels in the ground to give this species and so many others a true shot at survival," said Kassie Siegel, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney who filed the original legal petition that gained Endangered Species Act protection for the bears.

Get more from ABC News.

Lawsuits Fight to Protect Sage Grouse on Public Land Across 10 States

Sage grouseThe Center and allies went to court last week over more than a dozen plans produced by federal agencies that fail to protect greater sage grouse from a series of threats, including fossil fuel development, grazing and mining.

The plans cover about 70 million acres of public lands in 10 states, administered by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service. Too many of the plans include giveaways to industries and other special interests that will ultimately hurt these iconic, strutting western birds and the landscapes where they live. We're not trying to eliminate the plans, but to strengthen them with science-based protections recommended by the government's own scientists.

"This issue is about far more than the sage grouse," said the Center's Randi Spivak. "It's about the iconic Sagebrush Sea, hundreds of other species, and recreation opportunities for this and future generations."

Read more in the Idaho Mountain Express.

Battle Heats Up Over Fate of Oregon's Wolves

WolfWe're in a fight this week trying to stop the Oregon legislature from sealing the fate of the state's fledgling wolf population. Last fall the state wildlife commission voted to strip state protections, so the Center and allies went to court to get those protections reinstated.

Last night lawmakers passed House Bill 4040, which would block any attempt to get a judicial review of the wildlife commission's decision. If the decision stands, more wolves will be hunted down, persecuted and killed in Oregon. In other places where protections for wolves have been removed, human tolerance of these beautiful animals has gone down -- while illegal killing of them has risen. In Oregon last year, three wolves were illegally shot and two were found dead under suspicious circumstances -- and these are only the ones we know about. Scientists say delisting will lead to even more wolf poaching.

Our thanks go out to all of you, especially those in Oregon, who have spoken out against this dangerous bill. We'll keep fighting to keep this bill from being enacted; stay tuned for how you can help. Meanwhile, learn more about our work to save West Coast wolves.

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Favorable Weather Boosts Monarch Population

Monarch butterflyThe annual "overwintering" count of monarchs, released Friday, showed the population at 150 million butterflies -- which is wonderful news, considering last year's truly alarming count of just 42 million, the second-lowest since surveys began in 1993.

But consider also: Butterfly experts expected monarch numbers to rise due to favorable summer weather conditions in the species' U.S. breeding areas, since butterfly populations fluctuate widely with changing weather. And the latest population count is still at only 68 percent of its 22-year average. Monarchs need a very large population size in order to be resilient to threats from severe weather events, pesticides and climate change. To put things in perspective, a single storm in 2002 killed an estimated 500 million monarchs.

The Center and allies have a pending petition to protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.

"The increase in monarch numbers is great news for sure," said the Center's Tierra Curry. "But the bottom line is that this much-loved butterfly still needs Endangered Species Act protection to make sure its amazing migration will endure for generations to come."

Read more in The New York Times.

Romero Joins Center as National Director of Latino Engagement

Regina RomeroThe Center has made an exciting new addition to our staff: Regina Romero, who will serve as our first national director of Latino engagement. Regina has spent 18 years working with minority and underrepresented people, and, at the Center, will engage Latino communities in the United States and Mexico on a range of environmental issues.

The youngest of six children born to immigrant parents, Regina was the first member of her family to vote and the first to graduate from college. She achieved another first in 2007 when she became the first Latina elected to the Tucson City Council; she's also a cofounder of Las Adelitas, the first Arizona advocacy organization dedicated to building Latina political power.

"If we're going to solve the most important environmental issues of our time, Latino voices have to be part of the conversation," she said. "Latinos care deeply about the environment, whether it's local environmental justice in our communities or solving climate change or protecting the wildlands and wildlife that we all love."

Read more in our press release.

Report: 40 Percent of Bees, Butterflies, Other Pollinators Face Extinction

BeeA startling new report this week finds that 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species (like bees and butterflies) face extinction, while 16 percent of vertebrate pollinator species (like birds and bats) are also at risk of disappearing.

The report, sponsored by the United Nations, raises serious questions not just about those species but about our food system. The study is just the latest to raise alarm bells about the fate of our pollinators, and especially the role that pesticides play in their decline. It's no coincidence that pollinator numbers have fallen while industrial-scale use of pesticides has dramatically risen.

"At some point the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are going to have to hit the 'pause' button on these pesticides until we can figure out how to stop the free-fall that our pollinators are in," said Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center's Environmental Health program. "But the clock is ticking and we need the Obama administration to finally take big, bold action before it's too late."

Learn more about protecting native pollinators.

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Lawsuits Target Two California Mega-developments

Arroyo toadDevelopers in California have been busy trying to destroy wildlife habitat, pollute water, reduce air quality and increase traffic -- so the Center and allies have been busy trying to stop them.

On Friday we sued the town of Hesperia for approving the Tapestry development, which proposes to bring 16,000 housing units and 1.4 million square feet of commercial space to the San Bernardino Mountains and high desert. Tapestry would obliterate more than 5,800 acres of wildlands, threatening at least two dozen protected species, like arroyo toads and southwestern willow flycatchers. Tapestry would also hurt people, destroying farmlands and wetlands in a place already suffering from a reduced water supply.

A few days before that, the Center and allies sued the Southern California city of Moreno Valley over initiatives meant to shield the World Logistics Center -- a 40-million-square-foot warehouse project -- from environmental challenge. This project would add 14,000 daily truck trips, worsen already poor air quality and harm birds and other wildlife in the nearby San Jacinto Wildlife Area.

Stay tuned for updates and learn more about our suits against Tapestry and Moreno Valley.

New York Times Op-ed: Yellowstone Grizzlies Are in Danger

Grizzly bearAn op-ed in The New York Times last week by Center staffer Lydia Millet called national attention to the Fish and Wildlife's pending proposal to strip Endangered Species Act protection from grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The bears' numbers dropped dramatically last year, with a net loss of about 40 individuals, yet the feds -- under pressure from surrounding states to allow wandering grizzlies to be hunted -- will release a proposed rule any minute to declare the animals recovered. This is bad news for grizzlies, already under stress because of a decline in key food sources like whitebark pine and cutthroat trout, and because of genetic isolation from other grizzly populations.

The Center and allies have been advocating for years to retain crucial protection for the bears and to expand grizzly recovery into more of the animals' historic habitat, including California. Grizzlies in the lower 48 currently live in only 2 percent to 4 percent of their ancient range.

Read the Times op-ed and learn more about our work to save and recover grizzly bears.

Wild & Weird: The Oft-overlooked Architecture of Bugs

BagwormRight now, deep in the world's rainforests, master architects are busy building homes and nurseries, log cabins, pyramids, cage fortresses and webbed towers. Although these structures may look like the result of human engineering, they're actually created by bugs and are no bigger than a leaf. If you were on a rainforest expedition, you'd likely never notice them.

Lucky for us, Singapore-based photographer Nicky Bay has an eye for the incredibly small. In his new photo series, Bay brings the minuscule architectural marvels of insects into full view.

Check out Bay's photographs of bug architecture at Colossal.

Kieran Suckling

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

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Photo credits: Polar bear (c) Jim G. Murdoch; sage grouse courtesy Flickr/Alan Krakauer; wolf courtesy Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; wolves by John Pitcher; monarch butterfly courtesy Flickr/_sjg_; Regina Romero staff photo; bee courtesy Flickr/Pascal Gaudette; brown bear (c) Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity; arroyo toad courtesy FPWC/Jason Jones; grizzly bear courtesy Flickr/S_t_v; bagworm courtesy Flickr/David Midgley.

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