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Center for Biological Diversity

No. 827, May 19, 2016

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10 Wild Places Saved by Endangered Species Protections

Green Cay National Wildlife RefugeDid you know that by saving endangered species, we're protecting some of the most spectacular and diverse landscapes in the United States? This week, just in time for Endangered Species Day, the Center for Biological Diversity is releasing a new report highlighting 10 special places conserved and restored due to the presence of endangered animals and plants. The conservation benefits of recovering these species has improved the long-term health of the ecosystem for other species, including people.

The places highlighted in our report are the Pacific Ocean kelp forests in California, Florida's Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama's Sauta Cave National Wildlife Refuge, Texas' Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, Maine's Penobscot River, Hawaii's Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona's San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, the Southeast's longleaf pine ecosystem, the Virgin Islands' Green Cay National Wildlife Refuge and the Midwest's Lake Erie.

"Thanks to the Endangered Species Act and its mandate to save rare species and the places they live, we have more national wildlife refuges -- as well as healthier lands and cleaner rivers, oceans and lakes where we can hike, fish and observe wildlife," said the Center's Jamie Pang, one of the report's authors.

Learn more in our press release.

Thousands Around U.S. Rally to 'Break Free' of Fossil Fuels -- Thank You

Break Free rallyFrom California to Florida to Colorado and beyond, thousands of people last week took to the streets in support of ditching fossil fuels and transitioning to energy sources that are safer and better for our climate. The Center helped organize, and participated in, a number of "Break Free From Fossil Fuels" events around the country. Thanks to all of you who showed up or showed your support online. We were inspired to have so many of you at our side.

Mass actions like these events, part of the national "Keep It in the Ground" campaign, can play a crucial role in forcing a turning point in the climate change movement. The more we show a groundswell of support for stemming the climate crisis, the brighter our future will be. "Keeping it in the ground" -- that is, banning new fossil fuel leasing on public lands and offshore areas to keep 450 billions tons of carbon pollution in the ground -- will be critical.

Learn more about the movement and check out this article in The Guardian.

Only 60 Vaquitas Left -- Complete Net Ban Needed

VaquitaScientists announced Friday that fewer than 60 vaquitas likely remain on Earth, down from 245 in 2008. The world's smallest and most endangered porpoises, found only in Mexico's northern Gulf of California, vaquitas could be effectively extinct within six years without a more effective ban on the fishing nets that are killing them.

Nets set for the totoaba, an endangered Gulf fish, have been primary culprits in the vaquitas' recent rapid decline. Totoaba swim bladders are illegally exported to Asia to make soup; one bladder can reportedly sell for up to $10,000. To prompt Mexico to action, the Center in 2014 asked the Obama administration to impose trade sanctions to stop the illegal totoaba fishery, and the next year Mexico temporarily banned the use of gillnets in vaquita territory. But lax enforcement and a legal loophole have allowed fishermen to use other fishing -- for a fish called corvina -- as a cover for ongoing totoaba poaching. In March three vaquitas were found dead from entanglement.

"It's heartwrenching to watch these porpoises plummet toward extinction," said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center. "Mexico has to take strong action right now to keep them from disappearing forever."

Read more in The Christian Science Monitor.

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Lesser Prairie Chicken Abandoned to Likely 'Death Spiral'

Lesser prairie chickenDire news for the Southwest's famous dancing birds, whose habitat has shrunk by 92 percent: The legal battle over protecting lesser prairie chickens ended last week with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bowing to pressure from states to leave the birds without Endangered Species Act protection. It's the most recent in a series of deeply flawed Service decisions that prioritize profits over wildlife like wolverines, Pacific fishers and coastal martens.

Lesser prairie chickens were protected as "threatened" in 2014, leading to outcry from states where they live. In 2015 a court in Texas ruled the birds were no longer protected and on May 12 the Service announced it will not try to overturn that ruling, even though the agency had already admitted that loss of even a small amount of suitable habitat could put the species in a "death spiral."

"None of the facts that led scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect this greatly imperiled bird have changed," said Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney at the Center. "Director Dan Ashe's shameful decision has nothing to do with science or the law and everything to do with industry profits."

Get more from ABC News.

Savvy Shoppers, Check Out Our New 'Extinction Facts' Labels

Extinction Facts labelMaybe you consider the health costs of sugars, additives and other stuff on the "Nutrition Facts" labels of your packaged foods. But what about the conservation costs of food, especially meat?

The Center has crunched the numbers on beef, chicken and pork so you know just how much water, wildlife and climate pollution comes with a serving of each -- and it's a shocking amount. The American public's meat consumption amounts to more than 50 billion pounds a year, so we're literally eating away at wildlife habitats, freshwater resources and climate stability.

The great news is you don't have to give up your favorite meals; cutting back on just a third of your usual meat intake makes a huge difference to our planet, and the Center's fun and useful "Extinction Facts" labels can help you make greener choices. Now you can turn every grocery-store trip into a chance to improve both your health and the planet's.

Learn more and share our "Extinction Facts" labels.

Don't Make This Tortoise Wait Any Longer -- Take Action

Gopher tortoiseTake a walk in a pine forest in the southeastern United States and you just might wander across a deep, wide hole in the ground with a sandy "apron" around its opening. If you're lucky, a tortoise may scramble out. Meet the gopher tortoise, a keystone species that shares the refuge of its elaborate burrows with more than 350 other animals, from tiny insects and mice to North America's biggest snake.

Sadly gopher tortoises are becoming a rare sight, because the forests and prairies where they live are being destroyed for tree plantations and urban development. The Fish and Wildlife Service knows this, but in the Southeast it has failed to protect them from harm. Although the species' far western populations are protected under the Endangered Species Act, those in eastern Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida were placed on a waiting list in 2011, where they've been languishing without help.

In honor of World Turtle Day (May 23), extend a helping hand to a fellow creature. Tell the Service to end the delay and protect eastern gopher tortoises before it's too late.

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Update: Drunk Vandals Charged After Death of Rare Fish

Devils Hole pupfishIf you heard about the drunken spree in Death Valley National Park last month -- in which three men invaded a protected pond and possibly killed an extremely rare Devils Hole pupfish -- you'll be glad to hear that the perps have been caught and charged.

After the Center added $10,000 to a federal reward for info leading to their arrest and conviction, the suspects were tracked down and identified through DNA left at the park. They're accused of driving at least one off-highway vehicle around a security gate at Nevada's Devils Hole on April 30, firing a gun at signs, and skinny-dipping in a pool that's the last habitat for about 100 endangered Devils Hole pupfish -- tiny, blue minnows descended from inhabitants of an ancient lake that once covered Death Valley.

The men face fines of up to $50,000 and a year in jail. It's a federal crime to kill an endangered species.

Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

We're a Top-rated 'Great Nonprofit' Yet Again -- Thank You

GreatNonprofits badgeSince we asked for kudos on the nonprofit-rating site last week, we've been gratified to see just how much you value the Center's work: You helped bring our reviews to a total of 1,062 -- from all over the world -- earning us a five-star rating for the seventh year in a row.

One supporter calls us "one of the most effective environmental organizations out there." A regular donor appreciates our place down "in the trenches actively getting the job done." And we're deeply touched by the words of a two-time reviewer who writes, "If you are a lover of all creatures great and small and you wish to see knowledgeable, tough people throwing their heart and soul into protecting the earth, this is the organization for you."

We have one thing to say: Thank you. Your praise helps fuel our mission to stick up for animals, plants and wild places across the globe.

You can read our reviews -- and keep reviewing us -- at the GreatNonprofits website.

Wild & Weird: Watch Grizzly Bears Drop It Like It's Hot

Grizzly bearAdd smooth jams to footage of grizzlies rubbing their backs on trees, and get the party started: It's uncanny how much an enormous griz -- rising up on two feet with front claws waving in the air, then dropping his rump down low to sway to and fro -- looks like he's tearing up the dance floor. You can see it all in a video shot by a remote-sensor camera in the Northern Rockies.

But what are these grizzlies really doing? The standard explanation says they're scratching an itch. But data collected in a two-year study published in 2007 shows that bears may rub on trees as a form of communication. Adult males are the most likely to rub, and satellite telemetry revealed that they mark trees across numerous valleys in large loops while looking for breeding females. By leaving their scent, male bears learn about each other, which scientists believe reduces fighting among them.

Watch grizzlies dropping it like it's hot -- and communicating through scent -- in our new video and read more in LiveScience.

Kieran Suckling

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

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Photo credits: Green Cay National Wildlife Refuge courtesy National Park Service; Break Free rally photo by Center for Biological Diversity; vaquita courtesy Paul Olsen/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; wolves by John Pitcher; lesser prairie chicken by Gallopingphotog/Flickr; Extinction Facts label by Center for Biological Diversity; gopher tortoise by Craig O'Neal/Wikimedia; grizzly bear (c) Robin Silver; Devils Hole pupfish courtesy Olin Feuerbacher/Fish and Wildlife Service; GreatNonprofits badge; grizzly bear courtesy USGS.

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