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Center for Biological Diversity

No. 817, March 10, 2016

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Win: Forest Service Rejects Sprawl Threatening the Grand Canyon

Grand CanyonIt's a big victory for a very big natural wonder: This week the U.S. Forest Service rejected a proposal to widen roads and build infrastructure through Arizona's Kaibab National Forest, which would've paved the way, literally, for a sprawling urban development near the southern entrance of Grand Canyon National Park.

An Italian corporation called Stilo Development Group sought to construct more than 2,100 housing units and 3 million square feet of commercial space (including hotels, a spa and a conference center) in the tiny town of Tusayan. Not only would all this development spell disaster for local wildlife and wildlands -- it would also threaten local water resources.

The superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park called the proposal one of the greatest threats to the national park in its nearly 100-year history -- a sentiment echoed by American Indian tribes, local residents, city leaders and environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity.

"Americans demanded protection of the Grand Canyon, and we thank the Forest Service for listening," said the Center's Katie Davis. "We hope more positive decisions are made to protect the water and wildlife of this iconic region."

Read more in the Sierra Sun Times.

Yellowstone Grizzlies May Lose Needed Protections

Yellowstone grizzly bearGrizzlies are powerful, intimidating animals, but soon these bears in the Greater Yellowstone area may be vulnerable: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to remove their Endangered Species Act protection, opening the door to state-supported trophy hunts.

Since Yellowstone grizzlies were first protected in 1975, their numbers have improved -- but they're far from recovered, still threatened by loss of key food sources, human-caused mortalities, and isolation from other grizzly populations (which limits their genetic diversity and therefore fitness). Overall grizzly bears still only occupy less than 4 percent of their historic U.S. range, which once stretched from Mexico to Alaska.

"It's simply too soon to remove protections for grizzly bears," said the Center's Andrea Santarsiere. "We're prepared to make sure the Service follows the science and the law to ensure these wonderful animals can truly recover."

Read more in The Guardian.

Keep It in the Ground: Rally in Reno; Protests in Montana, Wyoming

Keep It in the Ground rallyReno was the site of our latest rally to keep fossil fuels in the ground. This week the Center, allies and local activists protested outside of a Bureau of Land Management lease sale aimed at selling off fossil fuels on more than 50,000 acres in Nevada. The event featured a cool projection of images onto buildings and streets carrying messages like "Hey BLM, Don't Gamble Away Our Climate."

Also this week we filed administrative challenges to proposed fossil fuel leases across more than 28,000 acres in Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. We're calling on the BLM to abandon its auctions to protect our climate, wildlife and public lands.

"Each new federal fossil fuel lease takes us closer to climate disaster," said the Center's Taylor McKinnon. "Leaving a livable climate for future generations requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground now, and we should start with the public lands that President Obama controls."

Read more about the Reno rally in the Reno Gazette-Journal and learn about our legal challenges in Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas.

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Ban Sought on Aquarium Fish Caught With Cyanide Poisoning

ClownfishDid you know that some aquarium fish are captured in the wild by squirting cyanide directly onto reefs to stun them? The practice -- used in the Philippines and Indonesia, among other countries -- kills around 75 percent of all nearby fish on contact, along with nearby corals. Surviving fish are shipped to the United States and sold as aquarium pets. In fact, up to 90 percent of the 12.5 million tropical fish entering the country as pets have been caught illegally with cyanide.

This week the Center and allies asked the Obama administration to halt the import of tropical fish caught overseas using the poison.

"The sad reality is that cyanide poisoning is causing widespread destruction of some of the world's most stunning coral reefs," said Nicholas Whipps, a legal fellow at the Center. "By acting on our petition, the Obama administration can put a huge dent in this destructive practice. We can't allow our love of these fish lead to the wholesale destruction of coral reefs."

Read more in our press release.

Fight Launched to Continue Wolf Monitoring in Montana, Idaho

WolvesIn May the Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to discontinue its monitoring of wolves in Montana and Idaho. But there's a problem: Researchers now say aggressive state-sanctioned hunting and trapping are putting northern Rockies wolf populations at renewed risk.

That's why on Wednesday the Center and allies filed our notice of intent to sue the Service to extend federal monitoring. Ongoing monitoring is critical to understanding how these wolves are faring in the face of these new threats -- including aerial gunning in remote areas, the hiring of professional shooters in federally designated wilderness, and legislation in Idaho requiring use of significant amounts of state funding to kill wolves.

Wolves in these states need monitoring now more than ever.

Read more in our press release.

Honduran Environmentalist, Human-rights Activist Berta Cáceres Murdered

Berta CaceresOn Thursday, March 3, prominent Honduran environmentalist and human-rights activist Berta Cáceres was killed by gunmen in her hometown of La Esperanza, Intibucá.

She was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work leading a peaceful campaign to stop one of the world's largest dam builders from pursuing the Agua Zarca Dam -- which would have cut off the Lenca people from water, food and medicine. At the time of her death, she was working to stop a dam on the Gualcarque River, which threatened the Rio Blanco community. Survived by her four children and her mother, Cáceres spoke out with dignity and compassion in the face of difficult odds.

"We are deeply saddened by the brutal and senseless killing of Berta Cáceres," said the Center's Peter Galvin. "She was a tireless advocate for indigenous rights and environmental justice. She fought for a better world for Central Americans and all of us. Any murder is deplorable, but it's especially heinous when it involves someone who has dedicated her life to such critical causes."

Learn more about Cáceres' killing from National Public Radio.

Take Action

Join Us in New Orleans to Protest Oil and Gas Auction -- Take Action

SuperdomeOn March 23 an astonishing 43 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico are scheduled to be leased to oil and gas companies at a federal auction inside New Orleans' Superdome. But if we're going to prevent catastrophic climate change and avoid disastrous spills like Deepwater Horizon, these fossil fuel auctions must stop. The Obama administration needs to change course and end its leasing program in federal waters.

That's why the Center and allies are organizing the largest "Keep It in the Ground" rally yet to protest this auction. Join us in New Orleans as we surround the Superdome and deliver this crucial message: Our oceans and our climate are not for sale.

Mark your calendar, plan a ride with friends or hop on a bus coming from cities throughout the Gulf, and join more than 1,000 activists from across the country to demand that our elected officials keep it in the ground.

Learn more and RSVP now.

Challenge Launched Over Plans to Relocate 1,100 Desert Tortoises

Desert tortoiseThe Center announced plans this week to challenge a proposal to relocate more than 1,100 protected desert tortoises in Southern California, the largest such project ever attempted. The problem? Federal agencies have failed to fully examine how the relocations -- meant to accommodate expansion of the Marine Corps' base at Twentynine Palms -- might harm the population of tortoises in the Mojave desert.

Having survived tens of thousands of years in California's arid lands, desert tortoises have declined precipitously in recent years, particularly in the west Mojave. Desert tortoise translocation has never been attempted on such a large scale. In 2009 the U.S. Army stopped a large translocation of desert tortoises from their Fort Irwin expansion area due to massive tortoise deaths. Although these translocations are implemented to help "save" tortoises, they often end up hurting or killing them.

"This population has declined by 50 percent in the past 10 years," said the Center's Ileene Anderson. "If the past is any guide, up to half of the tortoises won't survive this relocation, pushing these tortoises in the west Mojave closer to extinction."

Read more in The Press-Enterprise.

Burning Trees for Electricity? -- Tell the Senate That Doesn't Make Sense

ClearcutThe U.S. Senate is considering an energy bill that contains an amendment that would force government agencies to ignore carbon pollution from the large-scale burning of trees to generate electricity. Supporters of this amendment claim that burning forests for energy is "carbon neutral" because new trees may eventually reabsorb carbon as they grow. But that process can take decades, if it happens at all -- and we need to reduce climate pollution right now.

The amendment could help green-light a fleet of new wood-burning power plants, causing substantial damage to the global climate and the nation's forests. It also undermines an ongoing EPA process to scientifically account for the real CO
2 emissions from burning wood.

"The Senate is trying to legislate away basic physics," said Kevin Bundy, senior attorney for the Center. "This dangerous amendment tries to dictate that burning forests for energy won't affect the climate, when that's just not true."

Take action -- ask your senator to remove amendment No. 3140 from the Senate energy bill and oppose any similar efforts to override clear scientific facts with policy preferences.

Wild & Winning: World's First All-female Anti-poaching Unit

Black MambasThe Black Mambas are an elite, all-female, unarmed anti-poaching unit formed recently to tackle rhino poaching on private preserves along the border of South Africa's Kruger National Park. For years heavily armed groups of male rangers have patrolled the region, with limited success: In the six-month period before the Mambas hit the jungles, 16 rhinos were lost on one preserve. But 12 months after the Mambas came, rhino fatalities plummeted 76 percent -- to just three deaths.

How are they doing it? The Mambas have undergone extensive paramilitary and wildlife training. They patrol up to 12 miles a day on foot, disable snares, set up roadblocks and assist with rhino tracking collars. Because they were all hired from communities on the park's borders, they're also helping to tear down socioeconomic barriers between those communities and wildlife preserves that have often been considered the private stomping ground of wealthy elites.

Read more about the Black Mambas in The Guardian.

Kieran Suckling

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

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Photo credits: Grand Canyon courtesy Flickr/eugeny_p; Yellowstone grizzly bear courtesy Flickr/Shane Lin; Reno "Keep It in the Ground" Rally, Center for Biological Diversity; wolves by John Pitcher; clownfish courtesy Flickr/Klaus Stiefel; wolves courtesy Flickr/Vicious Bits; Berta Cáceres, Goldman Environment Prize; brown bear (c) Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity; Superdome courtesy Flickr/Paul Dietzel II; desert tortoise courtesy Flickr/Robert Shea; clearcut courtesy Dogwood Alliance; Black Mambas, Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit/Lee-Ann Olwage.

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