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Center for Biological Diversity

No. 836, July 21, 2016

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Center Investigation: Serious Lapses in EPA Pesticide Approvals

SprayerA new Center for Biological Diversity investigation finds that the Environmental Protection Agency approved nearly 100 pesticide products over six years that contain mixtures that make them more poisonous and increase their dangers to imperiled pollinators and rare plants. These "synergistic" chemical combinations have been widely overlooked by the EPA in its approval of pesticides for food, lawns and other uses.

The Center's study involved an intensive search of patent applications for pesticide products containing two or more active ingredients recently approved by the EPA for four major agrochemical companies (Bayer, Dow, Monsanto and Syngenta). It's alarming to see how often the EPA ignored risky chemical mixtures.

"The EPA is supposed to be the cop on the beat, protecting people and the environment from the dangers of pesticides," said Nathan Donley, a Center scientist and author of the report. "With these synergistic pesticides, the EPA has decided to look the other way, and guess who pays the price?"

Read more in our press release.

A Polar Bear in Cleveland

FrostpawSo a bear walks into a Republican National Convention...seriously. The Center's Frostpaw the Polar Bear made a splash this week outside the convention in Cleveland, Ohio, with a message calling for action on the climate crisis. The bear posed for photos; drew media attention from USA TODAY, CNN and others; and left conventioneers with a simple question to ponder: "Will you save me?"

Frostpaw's no partisan. He'll also be at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia later this month.

"This isn't about political parties or partisan fighting. This is about saving the planet -- including people, polar bears and all living things -- from the ravages of climate change," said the Center's Bill Snape, who wore the bear suit this week. "The United States has been far too sluggish in responding to this growing crisis. We need real action, and we need it fast."

Read more in Inverse.

Nothing 'Unrealistic' About Seeking Bold Action on Climate Change

Keep It in the Ground rallyThe national "Keep It in the Ground" movement has been building a huge head of steam, with tens of thousands of people around the country attending rallies, signing petitions and joining the call to end new fossil fuel leasing on public lands and offshore areas. If the Obama administration is serious about stemming the climate crisis, this is a perfect next step.

That's why it was so disappointing to see one of the president's top science advisors, John Holdren, brush off the movement -- which aims to spur real action in the face of the growing climate crisis -- as "unrealistic."

The Center's Randi Spivak is responding to the Obama administration's latest misstep in a piece posted on Medium. "I wouldn't blink twice if this came out of the mouth of a Big Oil spokesman," Randi writes, "but a top scientist in the Obama administration? Seriously?"

Read more from Randi and follow the Center on Medium.

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Feds Hang Lesser Prairie Chickens Out to Dry

Lesser prairie chickenLesser prairie chickens, the extraordinary "dancing" birds of the West, lost big this week when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, after pressure from states and industry, finally stripped their Endangered Species Act protection (as the agency said it would back in May).

Adding insult to injury, the Service put forth no new plan to save the birds from extinction. Lesser prairie chickens have lost more than 90 percent of their habitat in recent years, and 13 percent of their population in the past year alone. Last year's legal ruling required the agency to vacate its 2014 decision to protect the rare grouse as "threatened" -- but in no way prohibited the feds from proposing much-needed new protections.

"The Service's own scientists have warned that losing even a small amount of suitable habitat could send these magical birds into a death spiral," said Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney at the Center. "Yet even with populations declining and habitat dwindling to dangerous levels, the agency is giving up and failing to propose new protections critical to this unique bird's survival."

Get more from Colorado Public Radio.

Beautiful Orchids Bloom in Kentucky Mural

Orchid muralAs part of the latest installment of the Center's Endangered Species Mural Project, long-stemmed, delicate white flowers -- as large as trees -- have sprung up on the corner of a building on North Broadway in Berea, Ky., a small town in the flowers' home state known for its emerging art scene.

These white fringeless orchids (otherwise known as "monkey-face orchids") survive in only four Kentucky counties. Threats to the rare plant include development, logging, invasive species and climate change. First pegged as needing federal protection back in 1975, these 2-foot-tall flowers were merely relegated to a waiting list, so the Center petitioned for safeguards in 2004. Finally, last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to protect them under the Endangered Species Act.

The mural, painted by Roger Peet and Tricia Tripp, was revealed at a ceremony on Sunday, when Berea residents gathered to celebrate the flowers, which we hope will soon be officially protected.

Read more in the Lexington Herald Leader and learn more about the white fringeless orchid and the Center's Endangered Species Mural Project.

California Officially Lists Atrazine as Reproductive Toxin

California red-legged frogScientists have long warned about the effects of atrazine, the second-most widely used pesticide in the United States...and one of the most dangerous ever for humans and the environment.

And now California has formally acknowledged the dangers of the chemical, which is strongly linked to birth defects, reduced fertility in men and reproductive toxicities in women. Products containing it will now require a warning label before they can be sold in the state.

The Center has advocated for years against atrazine's use because of its grotesque impacts on wildlife, especially amphibians -- such as the endangered California red-legged frog -- whose permeable skins absorb contaminants from agricultural runoff. Numerous studies have shown that atrazine chemically castrates and feminizes male frogs.

"This is an important action that California's taken: ensuring its residents know about the serious risks associated with a very common pesticide," said the Center's Jonathan Evans.

Read more in our press release.

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Navigating a Crowded Earth? Sign Up for Pop X

EarthWe just crossed the halfway point of 2016, but we've already added more than 45 million people to the planet. That rapid growth -- about 227,000 people every day -- creates some big problems (and we're not just talking about a mess of dirty diapers). As the human population explodes, wildlife like sea turtles, polar bears and butterflies are increasingly crowded out and pushed closer to extinction.

Yet human population growth isn't discussed enough -- which is where the Center's Population and Sustainability program comes in. Every day we're changing the conversation, connecting the world's growing population and consumptive appetites with the issues of climate change, habitat loss, pollution and wildlife extinction. We push for practical solutions like access to family planning and reproductive health services; switching to a wildlife-friendly diet; and rational, green energy policies.

We need you with us. You can start by signing up for Pop X, our monthly e-newsletter bringing you the latest news on population and sustainability and how you can join this growing movement.

Study: Biodiversity at Dangerous Lows Across Half of Earth

OcelotA new study published in Science last week estimates that animal and plant variety has fallen to dangerously low levels over more than half the Earth's landmass. The cause? Human activity -- habitat being destroyed to make room for farms.

Looking at almost 2 million records from more than 39,000 sites, the research -- which may be the most comprehensive examination yet of biodiversity loss -- showed that one measure of biodiversity intactness has dropped beneath safe limits across 58 percent of the planet's land.

"It's worrying that land use has already pushed biodiversity below the level proposed as a safe limit," said Professor Andy Purvis of London's Natural History Museum, one of the study's authors. "Until and unless we can bring biodiversity back up, we're playing ecological roulette."

Read more in The Guardian.

Wild & Weird: Could Painting Eyes on Cow Butts Save African Lions?

Cow butt with eyesAs African lions lose habitat, they're increasingly coming into contact with farmers and livestock -- and when they eat livestock, they often get shot. This conflict is one of the reasons their populations are plummeting, from more than 100,000 in the 1990s to fewer than 39,000 today.

But what if there were a simple, nonlethal way to scare lions away from eating domestic cows? What if it were as simple as painting big, scary eyes on the cows' rear ends? One conservation biologist has field-tested this notion.

Dubbed "iCow," the concept builds on the psychological trickery of eye-like patterns on butterfly wings, known to scare off preying birds. In a recent trial, big eyes were stamped onto the rumps of one-third of a herd of 62 cattle; each night researchers counted the returning cows. In that time three cows were killed by lions -- and not one of those cows had a pair of peepers on its derrière. Further research is underway.

Learn more from the University of South Wales.

Kieran Suckling

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

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Photo credits: sprayer by Pl77/Wikimedia; California red-legged frog by Tony Iwane/Flickr; Frostpaw by Center for Biological Diversity; wolves by John Pitcher; Keep It in the Ground rally by Kyla Whitmore, Center for Biological Diversity; Earth courtesy NASA; lesser prairie chicken by Elliott Blackburn/Flickr; brown bear (c) Robin Silver; ocelot by e_monk/Flickr; white fringeless orchid mural by Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity; cow graphic based on photo by Bill Walsh/Flickr.

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