Monthly Archives: April 2009

More funds needed to save native birds

THE STAR BULLETIN

An expansive national analysis of data by the Interior Department singles out Hawaii’s native birds as facing high risks of extinction due to loss of their habitats.

While the report presents a disturbing view of the islands’ avian population, it also showed how conservation and habitat protection have been successful in saving some species.

The health of birds reflects the soundness of the natural world that provides human inhabitants with clean water, air, soils and other needed resources.

The report found that more bird species in Hawaii are vulnerable to extinction than anywhere else in the United States. One-third, or 31 species, are endangered, placing the islands at the “epicenter of extinctions and near-extinctions.”

Despite this, state and federal agencies spent only 4 percent of available funds to help native birds recover, $30.6 million between 1996 and 2004 compared to $722 million on the continent. This must change.

Dwindling numbers are primarily due to habitat destruction, forests and other lands lost to development, invasive plant and animal species and diseases. The swift drop in Mauna Kea’s palila population — from 6,600 in 2002 to fewer than 2,200 in 2008 — is attributed to feral sheep that graze on mamane seed pods, the bird’s favored food.

Hope for the palila and other native birds lies in restoring habitat. At the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, installing fences, controlling invasive plants, removing pigs and planting native trees have increased Hawaii creeper and akiapolaau populations.

But without adequate funding, birds will continue to disappear, their loss a prelude to a loss of the resources humans need to thrive.

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Yellow-billed Loon Protection Under Endangered Species Act Illegally Delayed

CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— In response to a court-ordered deadline, the Department of the Interior concluded that the yellow-billed loon warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. However, rather than actually propose a regulation to protect the loon as the law requires, Interior invoked an excuse regularly used by the Bush administration to deny species legal protection, claiming that protecting the loon was somehow “precluded” by higher-priority actions Interior would be taking to protect other species.

The yellow-billed loon, one of the rarest of all North American birds, is threatened by oil development in Alaska and Russia, drowning in fishing nets, overharvest, and the loss of its tundra habitat in the face of global warming.

“Unfortunately, in denying protection to the yellow-billed loon, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has adopted as his own one of the least defensible anti-wildlife policies of the Bush administration,” said Brendan Cummings, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The loon is now trapped in an administrative purgatory where the only escape is extinction.”

With today’s “warranted but precluded” finding, the yellow-billed loon joins 251 other similarly-situated species considered “candidates” for listing. On average, candidate species have been waiting for protection for more than 20 years. Such delays have real consequences, with at least 24 species having gone extinct after being designated candidates for protection.

After finding that protecting a species is “warranted,” Interior can lawfully make a “precluded” finding only if “expeditious progress” is being made in listing other species. In fact, Interior has listed only two domestic species in the past thirty-five months (the polar bear in May 2008 and a critically endangered Hawaiian plant last week), the lowest listing rate in the Endangered Species Act’s history.

“The fact that other species are also in trouble is hardly an excuse for inaction,” said Charles Clusen, director of the Alaska Project of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Since the Fish and Wildlife Service shares our deep concerns about the survival of the yellow-billed loon, it is time to work to protect this rare species, not look the other way.”

The largest of all loon species, with a wingspan up to five feet, the yellow-billed loon breeds in tundra wetlands in Alaska , Canada, and Russia, and winters along the West Coast as far south as California. The species has a global population of approximately 16,000 individuals, of which about 4,000 breed in Alaska. The majority of yellow-billed loons breeding in Alaska breed in the western Arctic in areas recently opened up to oil and gas development, such as near Teshekpuk Lake and along the Colville River.

In addition to oil leasing in its habitat in Alaska, much of the yellow-billed loon’s habitat in Russia is also subject to rapid and irresponsible oil and gas development.

“From Russia to Alaska, oil development in the Arctic is pushing the yellow-billed loon and other Arctic species ever closer to extinction,” said Whit Sheard, Alaska program director of Pacific Environment. “Further delay in protection is unacceptable.”

Throughout their range, yellow-billed loons are also threatened by changing sea levels, deteriorating ocean conditions and the inundation of low-lying wetlands in the face of global warming. In April 2004, the Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Environment, NRDC, and Trustees for Alaska, along with several Russian scientific and conservation organizations, filed a formal administrative petition seeking protection of the species. Today’s finding comes in response to a court settlement of a lawsuit filed in December 2007.

A copy of the petition, today’s finding, and other information on the yellow-billed loon can be found at www.biologicaldiversity.org.

For Immediate Release, March 24, 2009

Contact: Brendan Cummings, Center for Biological Diversity, (760) 366-2232
Whit Sheard, Pacific Environment, (907) 982-7095
Josh Mogerman, NRDC, (312) 651-7909

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Global Warming Effects on Spiders May Lead to Bird Extinctions

THE A-Z of CLEAN TECHNOLOGY

Warm summers are dramatically reducing populations of daddy long legs, which in turn is having a severe impact on the bird populations which rely on them for food.

New research by a team of UK scientists spells out for the first time how climate change may affect upland bird species like the golden plover – perhaps pushing it towards local extinction by the end of the century.

It also points a way forward to how we can attempt to strengthen habitats to help wildlife adapt to our changing climate and prevent such consequences.

Previous research has shown how changes in the timing of the golden plover breeding season as a result of increasing spring temperatures might affect their ability to match the spring emergence of their cranefly (daddy long legs) prey.

The new research, published today in the scientific journal Global Change Biology and led by Dr James Pearce Higgins of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Scotland, shows the true effects are much more severe.

Higher temperatures in late summer are killing the cranefly larvae, resulting in a drop of up to 95 per cent in the number of adult craneflies emerging the following spring. With these craneflies providing a crucial food source for a wide range of upland birds like the golden plover, this means starvation and death for many chicks.

Newcastle University’s Dr Mark Whittingham, one of the authors of the research, said: “The population of Golden Plovers in our study will likely be extinct in around 100 years if temperature predictions are correct and the birds cannot adapt to feed on other prey sources.

“Our study models the impacts of climate change on the ecology of the animal. In this case we show that higher August temperatures, as predicted from climate change models, are correlated with lower numbers of daddy-long legs.

“Daddy long-leg abundance is key for Golden Plover chicks in terms of growth and survival. Worryingly, our work is likely to apply to other upland bird species that also rely on daddy-long legs as a prey resource, such as Curlew.”

Dr James Pearce Higgins added: “Many studies predict dire effects of climate change upon wildlife but this study provides a rare example of where such predictions are based on a detailed understanding of a species’ requirements, linking the effects of climate on food resources to changes in breeding success and population size.

“This is the most worrying development that I have found in my scientific career to date. However, by understanding these processes, we now have the chance to respond. If we can maintain good quality habitats for craneflies then we can help the birds too. For example, by blocking drainage ditches on our Forsinard reserve in the North of Scotland we hope to raise water levels and reduce the likelihood of the cranefly larvae drying out in hot summers.

“The fight against climate change will increasingly mean strengthening habitats to protect vulnerable species, as well as trying to reduce emissions.”

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Orangutan pet trade threatening the survival of the species in Sumatra

WILDLIFE EXTRA

Illegal trade devastates Sumatran orangutan population

April 2009. Lack of law enforcement against illegal trade in Indonesia threatens the survival of orangutans and gibbons on Sumatra, a new study by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC shows.

Despite considerable investment in wildlife conservation, numbers of the critically endangered orangutans captured, mainly for the pet trade, exceeded the levels of the 1970s. A lack of adequate law enforcement is to blame, TRAFFIC says.

Just 7,300 orangutans left on Sumatra
Records of orangutans and gibbons put into rehabilitation centres serve as an indicator of how many of these animals were illegally held. Meanwhile numbers continue to decline in the wild, with the most recent estimate of just 7,300 Sumatran orangutans surviving.

Orangutans, which can weigh up to around 90 kilograms and reach 1.5 metres in length, end up in such centres after they become too old and big to be held as pets. But owners of the reddish-brown coloured apes do not face any legal consequences.

“Confiscating these animals without prosecuting the owners is futile,” said Chris R Shepherd, Acting Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

“There is no deterrent for those committing these crimes if they go unpunished. Indonesia has adequate laws, but without serious penalties, this illegal trade will continue, and these species will continue to spiral towards extinction.”

2000 orangutans confiscated – Yet just a handful of prosecutions
An estimated 2,000 orangutans have been confiscated or turned in by private owners in Indonesia in the last three decades but no more than a handful of people have ever been successfully prosecuted.

Between 2002 and 2008, for example, the newly opened Sibolangit rehabilitation centre in Sumatra took in 142 Sumatran orang-utans, while its predecessor, Bohorok rehabilitation centre accepted just 30 animals between 1995-2001 (when it closed), and 105 orang-utans between 1973-1979.

“When the first rehabilitation centres were established for orang-utans and later for gibbons it was hoped that with more apes being confiscated, levels of illegal trade would fall,” said Vincent Nijman, a TRAFFIC consultant and author of the report, based at Oxford Brookes University.

“But with hundreds of orangutans and gibbons present in such centres, and dozens added every year, it is hard to view these numbers as anything other than an indictment against Indonesia’s law enforcement efforts,” he said.

The report also documents the 148 Sumatran gibbons and siamangs and 26 Sumatran orang-utans kept in Indonesian zoos.

“Proper enforcement of laws protecting orang-utans is critical in Indonesia” said Wendy Elliott, species manager at WWF International. “If the situation continues, the Sumatra orang-utan could well face extinction.”

Other threats
The report recommends that the root causes of trade be examined and that laws be better implemented for the protection of orang-utans, gibbons and the island’s other wildlife. Sumatra’s wildlife is also threatened by habitat loss due to deforestation, logging, land conversion, encroachment, and forest fires.

WWF is working to reduce the destruction of wildlife habitat in Sumatra by working with industry to ensure High Conservation Value Forests are not converted for agriculture, empowering local communities to manage natural resources in a sustainable way, and providing alternatives.

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SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Wildlife biologists say a second California condor has been found with pellets embedded in its body, the second bird in a month found shot.

Ventana Wildlife Society Director Kelly Sorenson says the endangered condor was trapped on March 26 in Big Sur and is suffering from lead poisoning, likely from eating carrion that had also been shot.

When biologists were treating the juvenile female, they found three lead shotgun pellets in its body. The condor was sent to the Los Angeles Zoo for treatment.

About three weeks ago lead pellets were discovered in another bird being tested for lead poisoning. That adult male condor is being kept alive with a feeding tube.

Sorenson says it is unclear whether either bird will ever be healthy enough to be returned to the wild.

___

On the Net:

www.ventanaws.org

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Iran’s rare trees in threat of extinction

PRESS TV – IRAN

Environmental experts have warned about the critical condition of rare trees in Iran’s protected Nayband area in Bushehr Province.

“The 400-year-old Fig Tree of Temples, which is 20 meters thick and is believed by some to be the world’s thickest tree, is on the verge of extinction,” Fars News Agency quoted environmentalist, Ali Moazzenzadeh as saying.

“Nayband spans an area of over 50,000 hectares and houses a number of the country’s rarest trees, such as Aloe Vera and Devil’s Pomegranate which only grows in Nayband and has medicinal and nutritional values,” he added.

“Since Nayband is located in the industrial city of Asalouyeh, its trees are exposed to high levels of gas and oil contamination and are therefore in critical condition,” said Moazzenzadeh.

Experts also urged Iran’s Environmental Protection Organization, South Pars gas field managers and locals to help protect Nayband’s old and rare trees.

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Stick Your Damn Hand In It: 20th Birthday of the Exxon Valdez Lie

GREG PALAST

“Gail, Please! Stick your hand in it!”

The petite Eskimo-Chugach woman gave me that you-dumb-ass-white-boy look.

“Gail, Gail. STICK YOUR GOODDAMN HAND IN IT!”

She stuck it in, under the gravel of the beach at Sleepy Bay, her village’s fishing ground. Gail’s hand came up dripping with black, sickening goo. It could make you vomit. Oil from the Exxon Valdez.

Native dancers, Nanwalek, Prince William Sound, Alaska, center of spill damage.

Native dancers, Nanwalek, Prince William Sound, Alaska, center of spill damage.

It was already two years after the spill and Exxon had crowed that Mother Nature had happily cleaned up their stinking oil mess for them. It was a lie. But the media wouldn’t question the bald-faced bullshit. And who the hell was going to investigate Exxon’s claim way out in some godforsaken Native village in the Prince William Sound?

So I convinced the Natives to fly the lazy-ass reporters out to Sleepy Bay on rented float planes to see the oil that Exxon said wasn’t there.

The reporters looked, but didn’t see it, because it was three inches under their feet, under the shingle rock of the icy beach. Gail pulled out her hand and now the whole place smelled like a gas station. The network crews wanted to puke. And now, with their eyes open, they saw the oil, the vile feces-colored smear across the glaciated ridge faces, the poisonous “bathtub ring” that ran for miles and miles at the high tide level.

And it’s still there. Less for sure. But twenty years later. IT’S STILL THERE, GODDAMNIT. And I want YOU, dear reader, to stick your hand in it. I want YOU, President Obama, to stick your hand in it before you blithely fulfill your Palin-esque campaign promise for a little more offshore drilling.

***

Tuesday marks the 20th Anniversary of the Exxon Valdez grounding and the smearing of 1,200 miles of Alaska’s coastline with its oil.

Oil still being cleaned up seven years after the spill.Oil still being cleaned up seven years after the spill

It also marks the 20th Anniversary of a lie. Lots of lies: catalogued in a four-volume investigation of the disaster; four volumes you’ll never see. I wrote that report, with my team of investigators working with the Natives preparing fraud and racketeering charges against Exxon. You’ll never see the report because Exxon lawyers threatened the Natives, “Mention the f-word [fraud] and you’ll never get a dime” of compensation to clean up the villages. The Natives agreed to drop the fraud charge — and Exxon stiffed them on the money. You’re surprised, right?

***

Doubtless, for the 20th Anniversary of the Great Spill, the media will schlep out that old story that the tanker ran aground because its captain was drunk at the wheel. Bullshit.

Yes, the captain was “three sheets to the wind” — but sleeping it off below-decks. The ship was in the hands of the third mate who was driving blind. That is, the Exxon Valdez’ Raycas radar system was turned off; turned off because it was busted and had been busted since its maiden voyage. Exxon didn’t want to spend the cash to fix it. So the man at the helm, electronically blindfolded, drove it up onto the reef.

So why the story of the drunken skipper? Because it lets Exxon off the hook: Calling it a case of “drunk driving” turns the disaster into a case of human error, not corporate penny-pinching greed.

Investigator Palast flies over Exxon Valdez spill site.

Investigator Palast flies over Exxon Valdez spill site.

Indeed, the “human error” tale was the hook used by the Bush-stacked Supreme Court to slash the punitive damages awarded against Exxon by 90%, from $5 billion, to half a billion for 30,000 Natives and fishermen. Chief Justice John Roberts erased almost all of the payment due with the la-dee-dah comment, “What more can a corporation do?”

Well, here’s what they could have done: Besides fix the radar, Exxon could have set out equipment to contain the spill. Containing a spill is actually quite simple. Stick a rubber skirt around the oil slick and suck it back up. The law requires it and Exxon promised it.

So, when the tanker hit, where was the rubber skirt and where was the sucker? Answer: The rubber skirt, called “boom” — was a fiction. Exxon promised to have it sitting right there near the Native village at Bligh Reef. The oil company fulfilled that promised the cheap way: they lied.

And the lie was engineered at the very top. After the spill, we got our hands on a series of memos describing a secret meeting of chief executives of Exxon and its oil company partners, including ARCO, a unit of British Petroleum. In a meeting of these oil chieftains held in April 1988, ten months before the spill, Exxon rejected a plea from T.L. Polasek, the Vice-President of its Alaska shipping operations, to provide the oil spill containment equipment required by law. Polasek warned the CEOs it was “not possible” to contain a spill in the mid-Sound without the emergency set-up.

Alaska Native Henry Makarka:  "If I had a machine gun, I kill those white sons-of-bitches."

Alaska Native Henry Makarka: “If I had a machine gun, I kill those white sons-of-bitches.”

Exxon angrily vetoed ARCO’s suggestion that the oil companies supply the rubber skirts and other materiel that would have prevented the spill from spreading, virtually eliminating the spill’s damage.

Regulations state that no tanker may leave the Alaska port of Valdez without the “sucker” equipment, called a “containment barge,” at the ready. Exxon signed off on the barge’s readiness. But, that night twenty years ago, the barge was in dry-dock with its pumps locked up under arctic ice. By the time it arrived at the tanker, half a day after the spill, the oil was well along its thousand-mile killing path.

Natives watched as the now-unstoppable oil overwhelmed their islands. Eyak Native elder Henry Makarka saw an otter rip out its own eyes burning from oil residue. Henry, pointing down a waterside dead-zone, told me, in a mix of Alutiiq and English, “If I had a machine gun, I’d shoot every one of those white sons-of-bitches.”

***

Exxon promised — promised — to pay the Natives and other fishermen for all their losses. The Chief of the Natives at Nanwalek lost his boat to bankruptcy. His village, like other villages, Native and non-Native, decayed into alcoholism. The Mayor of fishing port Cordova killed himself, citing Exxon in his suicide note.

web-maskoftears

On the island village of Chenega, Gail Evanoff’s uncle Paul Kompkoff was hungry. Until the spill, he had lived on seal meat, razor clams and salmon Chenegans would catch, and on deer they hunted. The clams and salmon were declared deadly and the deer, not able to read the government warning signs, ate the poisoned vegetation and died.

The President of Exxon, Lee Raymond, helicoptered into Chenega for a photo op. He promised to compensate the Natives and all fishermen for their losses, and Exxon would thoroughly clean the beaches.

Uncle Paul told the Exxon chief of his hunger. The oil company, sensing PR disaster, shipped in seal meat to the isolated village. The cans were marked, “NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION.” Uncle Paul said, “Zoo food.”

Paul didn’t want a seal in a can. He wanted a boat to go fishing, to bring the village back to life.

Two years after the spill, Otto Harrison, General Manager of Exxon USA, told Evanoff and me to forget about a fishing boat for Uncle Paul. Exxon was immortal and Natives were not. The company would litigate for 20 years.

They did. Only now, two decades on, Exxon has finally begun its payout of the court award — but only ten cents on the dollar. And Uncle Paul’s boat? No matter. Paul’s dead. So are a third of the fishermen owed the money.

***

Lee Raymond, President of Exxon at the time of the spill — and its President when the company made the secret decision to do without oil spill equipment, retired in April 2006. The company awarded him a $400 million retirement bonus, more than double the bonuses received by all AIG executives combined.

***

Gail’s oily hand never made it to national television. The networks were distracted with another oil story.

After sailing back to Chenega from Sleepy Bay, I sat with Uncle Paul, watching the smart bombs explode over Baghdad. Gulf War I had begun.

Uncle Paul was silent a long time. The generals on CNN pointed to the burning oil fields near Basra. Paul said, “I guess we’re all some kind of Native now.”

************

Greg Palast investigated fraud and racketeering claims for the Chugach Natives of Alaska. Now a journalist whose work appears on BBC Television Newsnight, Palast is the author of the New York Times bestselling books The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse. Visit GregPalast.com for more.


Check out the YouTube clip of Greg Palast on Air America’s ‘Ring of Fire’ with Mike Papantonio on the Exxon Valdez and on the death of investigative reporting in America. Listen in this weekend on your Air America station.

And get ready: This Friday – the launch of GREG PALAST INVESTIGATES – On the Trail with investigative reporter Palast – with three of his latest ass-kicking BBC Television reports.

Palast is looking for co-producers for the film’s DVD release. Support the team behind the work that the Chicago Tribune calls, “Stories so relevant, they threaten to alter history.” Pre-order the DVD today.

Palast is a Nation Institute/Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow for investigative reporting.

Alaska photos by James Macalpine for the Palast Investigative Fund, a 501c3 not-for-profit educational foundation.

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