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Suit Pending to Keep Pesticides Out of Polar Bears

To stop the silent crisis of pesticide pollution building in the Arctic, last week the Center for Biological Diversity warned the Environmental Protection Agency we'll sue over its failure to protect polar bears and their habitat from toxic chemicals. Pesticides approved for U.S. use by the EPA eventually end up in the Arctic thanks to various atmospheric, oceanic, and biological pathways. And each time a chemical takes a step up the food chain, its strength is magnified; thus, in the Arctic, pesticides reach some of their greatest concentrations in polar bears, the region's sovereign predators. Under the Endangered Species Act, the EPA is supposed to evaluate pesticides' impacts on protected species before those pesticides are registered and approved -- but the agency hasn't acknowledged their effect on federally threatened polar bears, not to mention the entire Arctic ecosystem.

Considering that polar bears remain unprotected from their greatest threats due to a bad rule enacted under Bush -- and left in place by President Barack Obama -- the species now needs all the protection it can get from other dangers. (Though of course, we're also in court to save the bear from global warming and oil and gas development.) This is the first legal challenge to pesticide registrations due to their impacts on the Arctic.

Read more in E & E News, watch our shocking TV ads showing global warming's effect on polar bears and the Arctic, and take action for polar bears.


The Untaming of the Shrew: Rare Mammal's Wild Home Will Be Restored

In response to a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to protect much-needed habitat for California's rare Buena Vista Lake ornate shrew. The beady-eyed, long-snouted shrew, known in just four locations scattered across 70 miles of Southern California wetlands, was declared endangered for good reason in 2002, after action by the Center and allies; by then, only 30 of the shrews likely remained on Earth. But in 2005, when the Bush-era Service finally protected habitat for the intriguing mammal, the area totaled a pitiful 84 acres (out of 4,649 acres originally proposed). The shrew is one of the world's most endangered species.

Now, under a settlement with the Center, the Service must repropose the original 4,649 acres within the next 90 days and issue the final word on the shrew's new habitat designation by March 2012. Unfortunately, the 84-acre designation holds till the new one is finalized -- and even 4,649 acres are too few for the shrew.

Read more in the Los Angeles Times.


Center Requests Study of Mexican Wolf Pup Deaths

Every Mexican gray wolf is important, since there are only around 50 in the wild. In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spared the alpha male of New Mexico's San Mateo pack, even though he'd killed four cattle in less than a year -- his second reprieve from the agency's usual gunning-down of such wolves (and small but hopeful evidence that the Center for Biological Diversity's campaign for these persecuted animals is gaining momentum). 

But the announcement that the male wolf wouldn't be shot was followed with an oblique agency posting that three of his pack's six pups had died and two were in captivity. When the Center inquired, the Service announced that the adult wolves had moved one pup, but other pups hadn't been able to leave a deep crevice in their den. The agency said it had retrieved and moved one pup to the parents -- but the pup was later found dead -- and then rescued and took into captivity two more pups. Two others died in the den. 

Did the presence of agency staff near the den as they were contemplating whether to shoot the male wolf lead to a change in the wolves' behaviors -- and to these deaths? The Service is patting itself on the back for rescuing two pups, and maybe that's justified. We've filed a Freedom of Information Act request and, with our allies, asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to investigate. Learning why three pups died may help keep others alive.

Read more on the pups in The New York Times, learn about their dad in the Santa Fe Reporter, and check out our Mexican gray wolf Web page, where you can read the group letter requesting an investigation.


Palm Springs Scarab Beetles Its Way to Protection

Caving in to pressure by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally proposed protection for Palm Springs' endangered Casey's June beetle. The brown-striped, red-antennaed scarab beetle, more captivating and harder to spot than any Southern California celebrity, now survives in just two populations in southern Palm Springs, with remaining habitat down to just 800 acres and shrinking, thanks to runaway urban development. The beetle's danger was originally recognized in 2007, years after a 2004 petition by the Center and partners, but instead of earning protection, it was swatted aside and put on the "candidate list" to await safeguards indefinitely. We sued to speed up protection for all 250-plus "candidate" species; now, besides proposing federal protection for the beetle, the administration has proposed to safeguard 777 acres of its disappearing habitat.

Read more in the Press-Enterprise.


California Wildlife Oasis to Be Set Aside as Preserve

In more good news for Southern California species, last week it was announced that a Coachella Valley wildlife oasis will be permanently protected as a preserve -- instead of bladed for a mega-resort -- thanks to a successful Center for Biological Diversity suit. The site, near Joshua Tree National Park and mostly consisting of recognized wildlife conservation areas, was once the doomed locale of Palmwood, a humungous golf course and resort that would have spewed tons of CO2 in to the air, destroyed precious habitat, and devastated many imperiled species, from desert bighorn sheep to burrowing owls. But after the Center and the Sierra Club went to court skillfully wielding California's best land-use law -- the California Environmental Quality Act -- in 2008, a judge rejected the resort proposal due to its failure to analyze its own greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, with funding from the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission, the land will be protected forever from development threats as part of a valley-wide wildlife preserve.

Read more in the Press-Enterprise and learn more about our Urban Wildlands Program.


Feds Offer Band-Aid for Gaping Wound of Mountaintop-removal Mining

This week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moved a fraction of an inch forward on mountaintop-removal mining by proposing to ban permits allowing the devastating practice on a nationwide, streamlined basis. Ending the use of these permits may make the permit process for mountaintop-removal projects a slightly bigger hassle, requiring individual approval for each permit. But earlier this year, the administration announced it would scrutinize individual mountaintop-removal permits -- only to approve 42 out of 48. That hasn't been much help to the species, lands, waterways, and communities across Appalachia that pay the price when mining companies blow the peaks off mountains and dump the waste in streams.

"Ending the use of streamlined permits is another baby step in the right direction," said Center biologist and Appalachian native Tierra Curry, "but for the mountain that gets blown up, and the community whose drinking water gets destroyed, it doesn't make a difference what type of permit was issued or how closely it was scrutinized."

Learn more from this Charleston Gazette blog and read our press statement.


Rare Salamander Discovered -- Just in Time to Be Saved

What's lungless, projectile-tongued, and unique all over? The patch-nosed salamander, or Urspelerpes brucei, an exceptional new salamander species that was just discovered along a remote Appalachian stream -- a species so distinct it was declared a new genus. The species breathes through its moist, porous skin and catches small insects with its tongue, like many of its other lungless compadres; but instead of the usual four toes on each foot, this salamander has five, and males and females are different in both number of spinal vertebrae and color (females lack males' flashy stripes). Plus, the patch-nosed salamander measures a minuscule 25-26 millimeters: the smallest salamander in the United States. It can wrap its little body around a dime.

Tragically, while the species is getting its first taste of fame, it may already be on the verge of extinction -- and like numerous Southeast wetland creatures, it desperately needs protection. The Center for Biological Diversity is investigating the status of the patch-nosed salamander and will include it in an upcoming petition to put imperiled Southeast wetland species on the endangered species list.

Get more from BBC News.


Palin in the Dark on "Clean Energy" Bill

In a Tuesday Washington Post opinion piece, famed wolf huntress and soon-to-be-former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin ranted about the climate bill recently passed by the House, calling it a "cap and tax dead end" because it would supposedly sever the link between warming-exacerbating energy and economic prosperity. (Hey, Palin asks, why can't we just bleed the planet dry of oil and coal and burn it till we can't burn no more? Really, it's cheaper that way!)

Well, Gov. Palin, the American Clean Energy and Security Act could end up being a dead end -- but certainly not for your reasons. In fact, we're pretty sure if you'd read the House-passed bill, even you might see it's actually a big victory for coal and oil. As the Center for Biological Diversity's Senior Counsel Bill Snape pointed out in another Post piece, between huge dirty energy giveaways and the prospect for bogus offsets blocking real emissions reduction, the current bill is actually a step backward in the climate change fight. Writes Snape, "This is why the House bill's loopholes must be closed in the Senate and the well-established protections of the Clean Air Act reinstated."

Read Palin's uninformed op-ed, Snape's right-on rejoinder, and some wise words on warming's Alaska impacts from Senator John Kerry. Then learn about the shortcomings of the American Clean Energy and Security Act and take action today to make sure it's strengthened as it moves through the Senate.


Kierán Suckling
Executive Director


Photo credits: polar bear (c) Larry Master/MasterImages.org; polar bear by Pete Spruance; Buena Vista Lake ornate shrew courtesy USFWS; wolf pup courtesy California Wolf Center; Casey's June beetle courtesy UC Berkeley Essig Museum of Entomology; burrowing owl (c) Don Baccus; mountaintop removal site courtesy Wikimedia Commons/JW Randolph; lungless salamander by John D. Wilson; gray wolf courtesy NPS.

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