Monthly Archives: May 2009

Pacific Walrus Advances Toward Endangered Species Protection

Court Settlement Requires Feds to Make Initial Decision by September 10, 2009

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— A federal judge today approved a settlement between the Center for Biological Diversity and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requiring the agency to consider whether the Pacific walrus may warrant the protections of the Endangered Species Act. Under the settlement, the Fish and Wildlife Service must make an initial finding on the Center’s petition requesting protection of the walrus by September 10, 2009, with a subsequent decision as to whether the species should be protected the following year.

The Center petitioned the Service to protect the Pacific walrus in February 2008 and filed suit late last year when the agency refused to process the petition. The primary threat to the walrus is the loss of its sea-ice habitat in the face of global warming. The species is also threatened by planned oil development in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska.

“The Endangered Species Act is our nation’s strongest law for wildlife protection and, properly applied, can help shepherd the walrus through the stresses brought on by a melting Arctic,” said Rebecca Noblin, of the Center for Biological Diversity in Anchorage. “But unless we take drastic action to reduce greenhouse pollution, the grim reaper of global warming will ultimately claim the Pacific walrus as a victim.”

Listing under the Endangered Species Act will provide broad protection to the Pacific walrus, including a requirement that U.S. federal agencies ensure that any action they carry out, authorize, or fund will not “jeopardize the continued existence” of Pacific walruses or adversely modify their critical habitat. The statute also requires the secretary of the interior to prepare and implement recovery plans for listed species. Listing of the walrus would not affect subsistence harvest of the species by Alaska natives, which is exempted from the law’s prohibitions.

The Pacific walrus is a well-known resident of the Arctic seas between Alaska and Siberia whose existence is intimately linked with the sea ice. The walrus, whose scientific name means “tooth-walking sea horse,” uses the sea ice as a platform from which to forage for clams and mussels in the relatively shallow waters over the continental shelf. Female walruses and their calves follow the sea ice year-round and rely on the safety of ice floes for nursing their calves and as essential resting platforms between foraging bouts, since they cannot continually swim. All Pacific walrus are dependent on sea ice for breeding activities in winter.

The rapid melting of sea ice is forcing the Pacific walrus into a land-based existence for which it is not adapted. In 2007, the early and extensive disappearance of summer sea ice pushed females and calves onto land on the Russian and Alaskan coasts in abnormally dense herds. As a result, calves suffered high mortality on land due to trampling by those herds. Walrus calves, unable to swim as long as adults, have also been observed abandoned by their mothers at sea, which has been attributed to the disappearance of the sea ice on which they would normally rest.

At the same time that the walrus’s sea-ice habitat is melting away, the species’ habitat is being auctioned off to oil companies to extract more fossil fuels that will further accelerate global warming and the melting of the Arctic. In 2008 the Bush administration leased 2.7 million acres of the Chukchi Sea off Alaska to oil companies. The Chukchi Sea is the most important foraging area for Pacific walrus and is also home to one of only two polar bear populations in the United States.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is currently reviewing whether to defend from legal challenges the Chukchi leases as well as other Bush regulations authorizing oil companies to harass walrus and polar bears. However, in the past two weeks, Salazar adopted Bush rules that limit protections for the polar bear, and in a court filing defended the validity of the Chukchi leases even though the underlying leasing plan was thrown out by the court. Salazar’s responses to two other Chukchi-related cases are due in the coming weeks.

“Unfortunately for the walrus, the polar bear, and the entire Arctic ecosystem, Secretary Salazar seems more inclined to protect Big Oil than America’s imperiled wildlife,” said Noblin. “While the Pacific walrus took an important step toward legal protection today, unless Secretary Salazar spares its habitat from oil development, in the coming years we will be writing the species’ obituary rather than its recovery plan.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 220,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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Court Orders Endangered Species Protection for Flat-tailed Horned Lizard — for the Third Time

PRESS RELEASE – CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

SAN FRANCISCO— In response to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and a number of other groups, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to deny the flat-tailed horned lizard protection under the Endangered Species Act was illegal and again ordered the agency to consider protection for the lizard.

“The flat-tailed horned lizard is severely threatened by urban and agricultural sprawl and needs protection as an endangered species to survive,” said Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With today’s court decision, we hope the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finally gotten the message that it cannot legally deny this imperiled species protection.”

Significantly, the decision rejected a Bush administration policy developed by the solicitor of the Department of the Interior in 2007 that required the Fish and Wildlife Service to ignore loss of historic range when determining if species warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The decision observes that “the Secretary clings to his argument that lost historical habitat is largely irrelevant to the recovery of the species, and thus the ESA does not require him to consider it,” and then roundly rejects this position, concluding that past court decisions require “the Secretary to analyze lost historical range.”

“This decision goes beyond the flat-tailed horned lizard by seriously undermining the Bush administration’s position that loss of historic range is not a basis for protecting species under the Endangered Species Act,” said Greenwald. “The courts have determined today that the Bush administration’s emergency-room approach to species protection — in which only species that are on the brink of extinction everywhere are protected — is plainly illegal.”

The flat-tailed horned lizard inhabits portions of southern California (Riverside, Imperial, and San Diego counties), Arizona (Yuma county), and northwestern Mexico (Sonora, Baja Calif. N). It is severely threatened by habitat destruction caused by urban and agricultural sprawl, off-road vehicles, and other threats.

“Fifteen years after first being proposed for the endangered species list, the flat-tailed horned lizard has not fared well under past administrations’ efforts to derail its listing,” said Kara Gillon, senior staff attorney with Defenders of Wildlife. “This is the third time that a court has told the Fish and Wildlife Service to go back and review its refusal to protect the flat tailed horned lizard under the Endangered Species Act. These lizards need these protections now more than ever, if we are to avoid the loss of this species and the dwindling wild places that form its last refuge. We’re hoping that the third time’s the charm; these lizards are running out of time.”

The species was first proposed for listing in 1993. The proposal has since been withdrawn three times with conservation groups successfully challenging each withdrawal in court. The groups involved in the latest court challenge include the Tucson Herpetological Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Horned Lizard Conservation Society, and Sierra Club, who were represented by attorneys Neil Levine, a private attorney, and Bill Snape, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity.

As the common name suggests, the species is recognized by its broad, flattened tail but also has long, sharp horns on its head, two rows of fringe scales along its abdomen, a dark stripe along its backbone, and concealed external ear openings. Adults range in size between 2.5 and 4.3 inches long, excluding the tail.

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Big Cats In Gir Face Extinction

THE HINDU

CHENNAI: The 370 Asiatic Lions in the Gir forest, Gujarat, are facing extinction due to epidemics, fire and cyclone, Ravi Chellam, Country Director, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bangalore, said here on Saturday.

Dr. Ravi Chellam, who made a presentation, said a group of scientists led by him conducted a study on trans-locating a small number of lions from Gir to overcome this problem.

They found the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh as most suited to house them as it had large tracts of forests.

Political opposition

The study was done in 1993-94 and in 1995 the team submitted the trans-location proposal to the Union government at a meeting attended by Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh officials.

The suggested timeline for shifting was 2005 but due to strong political opposition the plan was not implemented.

Dr. Ravi Chellam said the animals were in good health. Moving them from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh was not a problem. Technology was there and in Africa tens and thousands of animals of different species were trans-located every year.

“We lack willingness”

“We lack willingness, long-term vision and support for conservation,” which was threatening the survival of the big cats, he said.

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World to be stung if bee becomes extinct

OTAGO DAILY TIMES

It’s New Zealand Bee Week. Yet another promotional plea for another threatened creature.

Surely we can ignore this one – it’s the size of a blowfly, not as cute as a polar bear cub, and it has a sting.

Even our city council says that bees are “dangerous” and “not considered appropriate for the city” (Otago Daily Times 28.3.09).

But hang on, before you get out the can of pesticide, there’s a secret about bees that I want to tell you.

Without bees humans would soon be dead ducks, and probably faster than by climate change.

A world without bees would be a world without humans.

Why? They are the planet’s ultimate pollinators – causing flowers to produce seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables.

More than 75% of the world’s most important crops need pollinators (mainly honeybees, bumblebees, and native bees).

Without pollinators? No more strawberries, almonds, cherries, pumpkins, blueberries, apples, or honey – much of the colour and vitamins in our diet.

Is this the “dangerous” animal the council warns about?Fewer dairy products and meat, too – bees pollinate the plants we feed to cattle.

Wild plants and animals would also struggle.

Economically, New Zealand probably needs the honey bee more than any other country, because we rely on farming.

About $71 million worth of honey is exported annually, but bee pollination of horticultural and agricultural crops is worth well over a billion dollars.

Worldwide the value of pollination of crops is about $60 billion.

The bad news is, bee numbers are declining all over the world: more than 30% of US hives; about 50% of British and Japanese hives; in Italy a 45% fall.

Much of this is blamed on a mystery syndrome called CCD (colony collapse disorder) in which bees fail to return to the hive.

Research suggests it’s caused by multiple factors, including chemical poisoning, monoculture farming (poor diet), viruses, varroa, habitat loss, GM crops, and climate change.

All of these probably combine to stress the bees – and they are all a result of human activities.

Maybe we are the dangerous animal.

The good news is, you don’t have to be a super scientist to help save the bees – you can do it in your own garden.

he most important impact you can make involves habitat and pesticides.

Firstly, try to create a pollinator-friendly garden.

Plant flowering trees and bushes, and wild flowers – pollinators love the native plants especially.

Instead of mowing madly, leave a portion of your lawn to grow into meadow, which will attract insects. Above all, avoid using pesticides and fungicides.

This means less chemicals on plants, in the air, and also in water – bees have to drink too.

Don’t throw toxic chemicals away where they will be washed into waterways.

Biologist E.

O.

Wilson recently warned about the collapse of our environment if we don’t care for the pollinating insects.

His conclusion: “The bottom line is this: be careful with pesticides.”

You might also consider becoming a backyard beekeeper.

It’s not as frightening as it sounds (don’t let the council scare you).

Contact your local bee club.

Yes, bees do have a small sting, but they won’t sting unless you disturb them (let the bee be, and the bee will let you be).

Bees are fascinating, intelligent creatures.

Possibly the only other living thing with a language of symbols (bee dances); capable of memory and learning; able to navigate with a complex kind of GPS.

Their tiny brains have a neural density 10 times ours.

They may hold more secrets yet.

At the very least, celebrate Bee Week by finding a honey bee and thanking it (from a respectful distance) for life on Earth. – Raymond Huber

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BP & Exxon ignore pleas to help worlds most endangered whales

WILDLIFEEXTRA

Oil companies refuse to even talk about saving the world’s most endangered whale

April 2009. BP and Exxon have continued ignoring requests to join consultations with an international scientific panel to work to protect the world’s most endangered whales, threatened by oil and gas development around Sakhalin Island in Far East Russia.

Shell & Gazprom have come to the table
The Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel (WGWAP), along with 11 prominent international scientists, has been in consultation with Shell and Gazprom subsidiary Sakhalin Energy over developments that may impact upon gray whales.

However, BP, Exxon and Rosneft, another Russian petroleum giant, did not respond to requests to participate.

“The continuing refusal of BP, Exxon and Rosneft to even consider joining other parties on the gray whale advisory panel is hampering conservation efforts and the flow of information–with potentially disastrous consequences for the whales,” said Dr Susan Lieberman, WWF International Species Director. “On the one hand, we have Shell and Gazprom at least looking at their plans to see if impacts on whales can be reduced and on the other hand we have BP, Exxon and Rosneft not even telling scientists what their plans are.”

The panel, convened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in February called for a moratorium on oil and gas development after “exceptionally low” counts for North Western Pacific (Russian) gray whales in a crucial feeding zone.

Western gray whales, the world's rarest whale, are threatened by oil production. Credit Dave Weller.
Western gray whales, the world’s rarest whale, are threatened by oil production. Credit Dave Weller.

Just 25 breeding females
Even before the latest counts raised alarm bells, a total of only about 130 Russian gray whales and just 25 breeding females were thought to remain, with the species listed as critically endangered both in Russia and on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. The listing in Russia imposes obligations for the special protection of such species and their habitats by minimizing activities that could lead to population decline or habitat destruction.

Noise pollution
The WGWAP said in its report published in February that “This scarcity (of gray whales) may have been related to underwater noise produced during onshore pile driving activities undertaken by Exxon Neftegas Limited (ENL) on the northern Piltun barrier split adjacent to the Odoptu block”.

The Panel had previously noted in a letter to Prime Minister Putin that they “have been hampered by the unwillingness of ENL to allow open consideration of gray whale data collected under its partnership arrangement with Sakhalin Energy.”

Seismic surveys
Last year also saw the Elvary joint venture between Rosneft & BP conducting seismic surveys immediately to the north of the whale feeding area. The company chose to ignore recommendations from the panel, failing to conduct any real “noise monitoring” of their activities.

Sakhalin Marine Federal Wildlife Reserve
A proposal to create a Sakhalin Marine Federal Wildlife Reserve for key gray whale habitat along the Piltun Spit is currently under review by Russian authorities, with WWF-Russia last year lodging the required environmental and economic justifications, and this year conducting public consultations.

The reserve would also protect Piltun Bay’s shallow waters critical not just to the nutrition of gray whales but also to sustaining rich fishing grounds. Adjacent coastal areas are important for migratory birds and are in the “shadow list” of the Ramsar international convention on wetlands.

Threatened by oil & gas industries
However, oil and gas development and associated shipping and pipeline infrastructure is already threatening to fragment the proposed reserve. The environmental policies proposed by Sakhalin project development partners have been judged inadequate by the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

A number of NGOs including WWF-Russia last month wrote to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, requesting a moratorium on all oil and gas project construction and surveying activities in the area that may negatively impact the dwindling gray whale population until a committee has investigated the scale of the impacts on the whales

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New group aims to save the Scots wildcat from extinction

NEIL MACPHAIL – PRESS AND JOURNAL

A NEW charity has been launched to help save the Scottish wildcat from impending extinction.

The Scottish Wildcat Association (SWA) will champion the cause of Britain’s rarest mammal and last wild feline, amid fears that with less than 400 left in the wild, extinction could be just five years away. The predator has been resident in Britain for at least 2million years and have shared space with everything from woolly mammoths to cave lions and survived entire ice ages.

But more recently they have fallen foul of human persecution, urban development and, increasingly, hybridisation with domestic feral cats bringing numbers crashing down.

In 2004, scientists concluded that around 400 pure wildcats remained in the Highlands and developed an action plan to save them.

SWA trustee Steve Piper said yesterday that five years later no apparent progress has been made and numbers seem to be falling even lower, and he criticised Scottish Natural Heritage.

He said: “They seem to be paralysed by inertia and keen to blame others for it, suggesting in the press last week that shooting estates had sabotaged their efforts.

“There has been a lot of talk and half-hearted gestures like the recent wildcat population survey; it was so poorly funded the ecologists were left with nothing to work with. It was impossible to achieve the detail needed and everyone knew it.”

An SNH spokesman said yesterday they were supporting a range of conservation work on behalf of the Scottish wildcat. They have allocated £60,000 to run the Scottish Wildcat survey, and £30,000 was spent on a study to conclusively and accurately identify Scottish wildcats. Last year £40,000 was spent on the ground in conservation work

He added: “This year we have just announced a £60,000 commitment to fund the first Scottish wildcat officer. The new officer will work with partner organisations, landowners and managers and conservation groups to pioneer initiatives which help safeguard surviving wildcat populations and create favourable conditions for the species to thrive in future.”

The new post, funded for three years, is based in the heart of wildcat country in the Cairngorms National Park where the largest concentration of the species is believed to live.

SWA was founded by Mr Piper, a filmmaker who shot the acclaimed documentary Last of the Scottish Wildcats.

It is in partnership with charities including Advocates for Animals, Scottish Badgers and the International Otter Survival Fund to ban snares in Scotland.

This has drawn widespread public support but strong opposition from many in rural areas who argue that snares are a cheap and essential pest control device.

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Male Turtle Of Leatherback Species Facing Extinction

BERNAMA

KERTIH, April 18 (Bernama) — The threat of leatherback turtles becoming extinct is getting more serious with no male turtle to incubate some 200 leatherback turtle eggs buried for hatching at the Rantau Abang Turtle Sanctuary.

Terengganu Fisheries director Munir Mohd. Nawi said the leatherback turtle eggs could not hatch because they needed to be incubated by the male turtles first.

This was despite the landings by leatherback turtles at Rantau Abang, Dungun, on June 12 and 23 last year, he told reporters at a gotong-royong function at the Ma’Daerah Sanctuary Center here Saturday.

The programme, conducted with the cooperation of the BP Petronas Acetyls and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), involved the participation of 800 local residents and students.

On turtle landings recorded during the first three months of this year, Munir said there was an increase of five to 10 per cent from the corresponding period last year.

He said between 36,000 and 40,000 turtle eggs were laid in the state lat year and most of them were laid by the green turtles.

Meanwhile, head of the WWF Terengganu Turtle programme, Rahayu Zulkifli, said WWF would launch a “Don’t Eat Turtle Eggs” campaign to safe the turtles from extinction.

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