Through the transition and turmoil of 2021, the Center for Biological Diversity doubled down in court, online and in the streets to save life on Earth — pushing to reverse Trump’s most damaging moves and holding the line against business-as-usual Biden compromises on climate and fossil fuels. Read on for some of the victories we won together in 2021.
You know it as well as we do: The challenges we face are immense. So the coming year will keep all of us at the Center on an uphill climb. But we’re more than ready to march — strengthened, as always, by your support.
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Saving Endangered Species
The Center’s flagship Endangered Species program had some important victories this year in righting past wrongs. We pressured the Biden administration to rescind Trump rules gutting critical habitat protection and restored vital protections, stripped away under Trump, to more than 1,000 migratory bird species.
We secured federal protection for dozens of species, from Sierra Nevada red foxes to plants like Bartram’s stonecrop, insects like Franklin’s bumblebees and Atlantic pigtoe mussels — and seven turtle species, including alligator snapping turtles and Pearl River map turtles.
Our advocacy restored protection to 3 million acres of spotted owl habitat, achieved more than 1 million acres of critical habitat for Humboldt martens in Oregon and California, and garnered hundreds of thousands of acres of critical habitat for other creatures across the country, from garter snakes in the Southwest to crayfish in the Southeast and salamanders in Texas.
Protecting Persecuted Predators
In 2021 the Center devoted a whole new program to defending gray wolves, grizzlies, jaguars and more. Our Carnivore Conservation program has already made big strides — stopping a Washington spring bear hunt, banning wildlife trapping and poisoning on New Mexico public lands, and preventing federal funding of mountain lion slaughter in Colorado.
In response to Center legal action, two federal agencies agreed to analyze and reduce the risks to Canada lynx from Minnesota wolf-trapping by the federal Wildlife Services program. And thanks to an emergency petition from us and our allies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that wolves in the West may get their federal protection back.
Staving Off Climate Catastrophe
The Climate Law Institute had a key win in California this year: After a decade of intensive campaigning on our part, Gov. Newsom announced a ban on fracking in the Golden State by 2024 — a crucial step in state leadership on tackling the climate emergency.
On the national level, we helped win cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline on Biden’s inauguration day. We led legal efforts pressing the president to use all his powers to keep fossil fuels in the ground and declare a national climate emergency — backed by thousands of activists during the historic week of action in Washington, D.C. And we made first steps down the path to protecting emperor penguins, gravely threatened by sea-ice loss, under the Endangered Species Act.
The Center’s Oceans program won a crucial challenge in 2021 against offshore oil-drilling activities in Alaska’s Cook Inlet due to noise harms to the inlet’s endangered beluga whales. In a victory for Southern Resident orcas, we resolved a lawsuit over the expansion of Seattle Harbor to better protect the rare fish-eating killer whales from vessel noise and help restore salmon habitat.
We prevented the restart of offshore oil and gas platforms near the Santa Barbara coast through advocacy that blocked Exxon’s permit to truck oil. We won a case on protection for Pacific walruses, secured critical habitat for West Coast orcas and humpback whales, and gained state protection for leatherback sea turtles in California. And on the Gulf Coast, along with our local allies, we delayed the construction of a massive, polluting petrochemical complex by Formosa Plastics, compelling a full environmental review.
Improving Environmental Health
Our environmental health team published a major review of the grave threats pesticides pose to soil health, carbon sequestration and biodiversity — and then petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to tackle those harms.
In our state-by-state work with allies, we won a court victory forcing Colorado’s oil and gas industry to limit its ozone pollution in Weld County. Also in Colorado, we achieved an agreement forcing JBS-Swift Beef, the world’s largest meatpacking company, to address unlawful pollution from its Greeley slaughterhouse. In Florida we defended farmworker health by forcing the EPA to vacate the Trump administration’s approval of the harmful insecticide aldicarb, already banned in 100 countries, for use on citrus crops. And we filed an Endangered Species Act petition to protect American bumblebees, whose populations have plunged by almost 90%. In response, federal regulators made early moves toward protection.
The Center’s International program filed groundbreaking legal petitions this year seeking to ban imports of wild birds and mammals to help prevent the spread of wildlife-borne diseases like Covid-19 — as well as protect wildlife from destructive trade. We also launched lawsuits to garner legal protection for nine increasingly rare species threatened by the wildlife trade, including giraffes, leopards, and multiple birds and butterflies.
In our Mexico advocacy, we filed a petition that prompted the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement’s environmental investigation unit to decide Mexico’s deadly bycatch of sea turtles warranted formal review. We also formally requested U.S. sanctions against Mexico for driving the vaquita, a tiny porpoise with only 10 animals remaining alive, to near extinction. And we sought legal protection for imperiled aquarium fish in Indonesia, as well as for several marine species in Mexico — mako sharks, sea cucumbers and queen conches.
Toward New Energy Justice
Our Energy Justice program took federal legal action in 2021 to stop utilities from forcing customers to fund anti-green-energy lobbying groups, and we gained ground on the issue in North Carolina. On the international level, we secured a written commitment to address fossil fuels in the COP26 treaty text — the first time world leaders have acknowledged those fuels as a root cause of the climate emergency.
We also injected energy justice into pending federal climate legislation, successfully excluding uncaptured gas from the definition of “clean” energy and gaining direct cash rebates for community and rooftop solar. And we publicly exposed the corruption of utilities receiving billions in federal tax bailouts while disconnecting millions of households during the pandemic. We helped secure over $8 billion in federal aid to stop the utility shutoffs crisis and developed a first-ever congressional public power resolution to advance a 100% renewable, distributed and just energy future by 2030.
Our work to protect public lands and waters achieved a victory this year that reinstated a ban on hard-rock mining across 10 million acres of greater sage grouse habitat. We helped win restoration of rules preventing road-building and large-scale logging of old-growth temperate rainforest in the 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest in Alaska and forged agreements to stop destructive cattle grazing on rivers and streams throughout five national forests in Arizona and New Mexico, home to numerous endangered and threatened species.
We blocked a scheme, approved under Trump, for a pipeline right-of-way that would have drained critical aquifers in California’s Mojave Desert to feed urban sprawl. And we went to court to defend the Biden administration’s ability to pause fossil fuel leasing of public lands and waters, challenged by several states and the oil and gas industry.
Saving the Urban-Wild Interface
Our Urban Wildlands program scored a courtroom victory in 2021 that halted the Northlake project, a destructive development in northern Los Angeles County that threatened rare wildlife and pristine streams. We reached an agreement securing millions of dollars for permanent habitat protection, electric vehicle subsidies and future conservation projects in Placer County. And in Alameda County — through a courtroom victory and years of advocacy — we helped create Tesla Park as a home to red-legged frogs and kit foxes in a place originally proposed as an off-roader’s playground.
Elsewhere in California, we signed a landmark agreement over the World Logistics Center to invest $47 million in electric vehicles and their infrastructure, rooftop solar, wildlife protection and other community benefits. And we stopped Otay Ranch, a sprawl development, from paving over wildlife habitat and building thousands of new homes in a high wildfire hazard zone.
Population and Sustainability
Our work to make runaway human population growth more central to the conversation about climate and extinction took some ambitious steps this year in advocacy for better, more just food systems. Along with partners, we submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, endorsed by a network of over 100 organizations, on creating a fairer, more sustainable food-supply chain. And we advocated for cities to include meat and dairy reduction in climate action plans and other food policies.
Pushing to expand the activist constituency on population growth, we analyzed more than 200 environmental organizations to learn how they address population pressure and family planning solutions and released recommendations to improve their messaging. And we coauthored a report exposing the environmental harms of wool production, calling on the fashion industry to shift to greener alternatives.
The Revelator: Powerful Reporting and Commentary
Tough times call for news that makes a difference. In 2021 The Revelator, the Center’s environmental news and ideas publication, presented hard stories and important solutions that tend to get overlooked by other media outlets. That included addressing the species we’ve lost, the ones we’re trying to save, the science of climate resilience, the power of activism, and the effects of environmental degradation on human culture.
Check out The Revelator’s best solutions articles and top commentaries of 2021.
Center for Biological Diversity | Saving Life on Earth
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Photo credits: Polar bear cub © Alan D. Wilson/Nature's Pics Online; alligator snapping turtle by Christopher Evans/Flickr; mountain lion courtesy NPS; emperor penguins by Michael Van Woert/NOAA; Southern Resident orca by Miles Ritter/Flickr; American bumblebee by Matthew Allen/iNaturalist; giraffes by Hendrik Terbeck/Flickr; rooftop solar panel, public domain; Tongass National Forest by gillphoto/Flickr; San Joaquin kit foxes by USFWS; crowd via Canva; Pacific fisher release by Kevin Bacher/NPS.
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