Monthly Archives: October 2010

Continuing biodiversity loss predicted but could be slowed

PRESS RELEASE

Contact: Terry Collins
tc@tca.tc
416-538-8712
Diversitas

Common approach urged to unify global biodiversity advice

IMAGE: Decisions taken today may lead, by 2030, to a difference in global forest cover of 10 million square kilometers — an area roughly the size of Canada or China.

Click here for more information.

A new analysis of several major global studies of future species shifts and losses foresees inevitable continuing decline of biodiversity during the 21st century but offers new hope that it could be slowed if emerging policy choices are pursued.

Led by experts Henrique Miguel Pereira and Paul Leadley, the 23-member scientific team from nine countries, under the auspices of DIVERSITAS, UNEP-WCMC and the secretariat of the CBD compared results from five recent global environmental assessments and a wide range of peer-reviewed literature examining likely future changes in biodiversity.

Published today in the journal Science, the analysis found universal agreement across the studies that fundamental changes are needed in society to avoid high risk of extinctions, declining populations in many species, and large scale shifts in species distributions in the future.

Says Dr. Leadley, of the University Paris-Sud, France: “There is no question that business-as-usual development pathways will lead to catastrophic biodiversity loss. Even optimistic scenarios for this century consistently predict extinctions and shrinking populations of many species.”

He notes that the target of stopping biodiversity loss by 2020 “sounds good, but sadly isn’t realistic.”

Among the brightest spots of hope: recent scenarios show that slowing climate change and deforestation can go hand-in-hand to reduce biodiversity loss thanks to “significant opportunities to intervene through better policies, such as those aimed at mitigating climate change without massive conversion of forests to biofuel plantations” says Dr. Leadley. But action must be taken quickly, as the study indicates the window of opportunity is closing rapidly, as differences in policy action taken now could either lead to an increase in global forest cover of about 15% in the best case or losses of more than 10% in the worst case by 2030.

The authors say the creation of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)-like mechanism for biodiversity (to be called the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services — IPBES) is “extremely important” for achieving commonly-agreed definitions and indicators for biodiversity and to inform decision making.

“The issues are so urgent and the stakes for humanity so important, scientists need to coalesce through the IPBES to inform policy-makers with a unified, authoritative voice,” states Dr. Pereira, of the Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal.

IPBES could also play an important role in organizing the scientific co-operation to reduce uncertainty in biodiversity scenarios. Models foresee extinction rates ranging from less than 1% per century (close to the current rate of extinctions) to more than 50%.

“The degree of both land use and climate change explains a substantial fraction of the range of projected extinctions, but incomplete understanding of species ecology is also an important source of uncertainty,” says Dr. Leadley.

Among the key issues is the lack of consensus defining the length of time involved in species’ extinction – which may be decades or millennia – leading to “considerable uncertainty in models and substantial disagreement within scientific community concerning the likelihood of massive extinctions over the coming century.”

Furthermore, the researchers note that changes in species distributions and population sizes should receive more attention because they are likely more critical to human well-being and better short-term indicators of the pressures of humans on ecosystems.

For example the continuing overall decline in populations of large-bodied fish species due to over-fishing, the poleward migration of marine species at a rate of more than 40 km per decade due to climate change, and the 10 to 20% decline in the abundance of terrestrial species by mid-century primarily due to land-use change.

The analysis also concludes that the difficulty of trade-offs between meeting human wants and needs and protecting biodiversity is likely to intensify.

“Future extinctions risks are projected to be high, but the biodiversity crisis is much more than extinctions,” says Dr. Pereira. “Much of what will happen to biodiversity in 21st century is not global extinctions, but major changes in the abundance of species and the composition of communities”.

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Conservation Coalition Challenges Feds to Protect Forests, Streams, and Wildlife

Controversial BLM timber sale wrong direction for agency looking for a path forward

Medford, OR—A day after Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar visited Oregon for a forest policy roundtable discussion, conservation groups are challenging the agency he oversees to stop planning controversial old-growth timber sales. Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Wild, and Cascadia Wildlands are taking aim at the Spencer Creek Timber Sale – a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) project that destroys more of Oregon’s dwindling old-growth forests and logs vital habitat for endangered wildlife. The groups filed a legal challenge today to a faulty biological opinion that would allow the logging to move forward.
“With Secretary Salazar in Oregon to contemplate the future of our forests, we want him to hear loud and clear that his agency should get itself out of the old-growth logging business,” said George Sexton who reviewed the Spencer Creek Timber Sale for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “The BLM in southern Oregon is a roadblock to progress right now.”
The Spencer Creek Timber Sale was prepared in the wake of the Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR), a Bush administration initiated proposal that called for a drastic increase in old-growth logging on BLM lands in western Oregon. Recognizing that the plan was legally indefensible, Secretary Salazar withdrew the WOPR in July of 2009. BLM received nearly 30,000 public comments on the WOPR, the vast majority opposed to any effort to increasing clear-cutting but supportive of efforts to move forward with common sense restoration projects.
Conservation groups had hoped that the cancellation of the WOPR would serve as a wake-up call to the BLM’s district offices that had pushed for a return to widespread logging in old-growth groves and along important rivers and streams. Instead, the BLM came up with the Spencer Creek Timber Sale that proposes to log 1,084 acres of prime owl habitat. The logging will take place within 6 known owl territories and will reduce owl habitat in 2 of these territories below levels where owls can survive.
“The agency admits that this timber sale will harm owls locally, but dismisses the habitat lost when compared to the entire territory of owls in the Pacific Northwest,” said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles. “It’s classic death-by-a-thousand cuts reasoning, and it’s why we’re continuing to lose our old-growth forests.”
The Spencer Creek Timber Sale is a throw-back to the cut and run logging days of the 1980s. Before the northern spotted owl was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1990 and prior to the adoption of the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994, logging projects consistently destroyed habitat for threatened species and muddied important salmon streams. Only a fraction of the original old-growth forests needed by the owl to survive remain throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“The spotted owl continues to decline throughout nearly all of its range,” said Susan Jane Brown, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, who is representing the conservation groups. “In the Spencer Creek Timber Sale, the federal government has failed to implement measures that would turn around the owl’s decline, and put the species on the path to recovery.”
The transition to science-based forest management outlined in the Northwest Forest Plan has been easier for some federal lands managers than for others. Many National Forests in Oregon have refocused planning efforts towards non-controversial restoration based projects that enhance the resiliency of the forest while providing jobs and wood products. Among forest managers, the BLM has struggled to modernize.
“A 21st century plan for forest management in Oregon starts with meaningful protections for our old-growth forests in Oregon,” said Doug Heiken with Oregon Wild. “We must ensure that our laws translate into actual on-the-ground protections so that we can pass on our forest legacy to future generations.”
The case was filed by Earthjustice and Western Environmental Law Center on behalf of Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Wild, and Cascadia Wildlands.
Contacts:
Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice – 206.343.7340 ext 33
George Sexton, KS Wild – 541.488.5789
Susan Jane Brown, WELC – 503.914.1323
Doug Heiken, Oregon Wild – 541.344.0675
Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands – 541.434.1463

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Cycads face extinction

NEWS24.COM

Johannesburg – The cycad, which is the world’s oldest living seed plant and has outlived the dinosaurs, faces extinction if people continue to wrench the plants from their wild habitats and plant them in gardens.

This is according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature on Wednesday.

In an address to delegates at the Biodiversity Convention in Japan, the IUCN said that cycads were the most threatened group of organisms to have been assessed by them so far.

The global conservation assessment of 308 cycad species shows that their status has declined from 53% threatened in 2003 to 62% threatened in 2010. The South African National Biodiversity Institute said the country was one of the world centres of cycad diversity with 39 species.

“It is also one of the global hotspots for threatened cycads with 68% of South Africa’s cycads threatened with extinction compared to the global average of 62%. From South Africa 31% are classified as critically endangered, compared to the global average of 17%.

“South Africa also has three of the four species classified as extinct in the wild, two of which have become extinct in the wild in the period between 2003 and 2010,” the institute said.

The removal of cycads from the wild for private collections has resulted in two species becoming extinct in the wild.

Bark harvesting for the medicinal trade has increased in South Africa and has also resulted in declines in cycad populations, even resulting in the complete loss of populations in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, said the institute.

“We have seen dramatic declines in some species over ten years, one of them from around 700 plants to fewer than 100, and this is going to result in extinctions,” it said.

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Bid to save petrels by eradicating rats

SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Conservationists will eradicate rats which are “ravaging” a remote Pacific island to save a unique seabird.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) hopes the scheme on Henderson Island, part of the Pitcairn UK Overseas Territory, will prevent the extinction of the Henderson petrel, which is found nowhere else in the world.

Currently, the population of rats, which were introduced by Polynesian settlers, eat 25,000 seabird chicks alive each year and compete with native birds for food on the island.

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The RSPB is making plans to remove the rats next year, providing it can raise the remaining £600,000 ($968,000) it needs in donations to carry out the project.

Dr Tim Stowe, the wildlife charity’s international director, said: “Henderson Island in the central Pacific is one of the [most] remote places on Earth. But its wildlife is not immune from problems.

“Non-native Pacific rats, which were introduced by Polynesian settlers, have been ravaging the island’s wildlife.

“Four of the island’s unique bird species have become extinct and the island’s remaining species are vulnerable to extinction unless we remove the rats.”

He said the project, announced as countries gathered in Japan to discuss how to stop declines in species and habitats, was a good example of how falls in wildlife could be stemmed.

There are four species of petrel, dove-sized relatives of the albatross, which nest on Henderson and are at particular risk from the presence of the rats, the RSPB said.

The island’s petrel population is thought once to have numbered 5 million birds, but the rats have shrunk the number to 40,000, and each year 95 per cent of the new chicks are eaten by the rodents.

The island also has four species of unique land birds, the Henderson reed-warbler, the Henderson crake, the Henderson fruit-dove and the Henderson lorikeet and it is hoped their populations will also rise when the rats are removed and they are freed from competition with and predation by the rodents.

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Biologist Hopes New ‘Condos’ Will Help Galápagos Penguins Stave Off Extinction

PRESS RELEASE

Released: 10/19/2010 9:00 AM EDT
Source: University of Washington

Newswise — Think of it as Habitat for Penguinity. A University of Washington conservation biologist is behind the effort to build nests in the barren rocks of the Galápagos Islands in the hope of increasing the population of an endangered penguin species.

Just as Habitat for Humanity crews help build houses for people who need shelter, Dee Boersma’s team in late September built 120 “condominiums” for penguins. The trio created holes just large enough to serve as nests along the volcanic shoreline of three islands in the Galápagos and several smaller islets.

Because of continuous warm temperatures at the equator, Galápagos penguins need shaded nests to breed. There are some mangroves, which grow in saline coastal conditions, but few other trees or shrubs along the coast to provide shade, so the birds use crevices in the rocks, lava tubes or similar spaces to find relief from the heat and protection from predators.

“Our whole goal is to increase the population of Galápagos penguins, and the way to do that is to make sure that when conditions are good, when they’re not food challenged, that all of them will be able to breed,” Boersma said.

Galápagos penguins are the only penguin species whose range includes a bit of the Northern Hemisphere. Boersma began studying them 40 years ago while a doctoral student at Ohio State University. Since then, she has seen the population decline steadily – it is possible that fewer than 2,000 remain. The penguin species is one of two listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“One of the biggest problems is the introduced species of predators,” including pigs, dogs, cats and rats, Boersma said. “We went to lengths to build nests in places where there aren’t introduced predators.”

Habitat also has declined, she said, and new nests are needed if the population is to stabilize. While some of the same nests from 40 years ago are still in use, others have simply disappeared because of erosion and volcanic activity.

Boersma’s joint project with Parque Nacional Galápagos included Burr Heneman of the Commonweal Ocean Policy Program and boat captain Godfrey Merlen and his crew from Puerto Ayora in the Galápagos.

Using local lava, they built 100 shaded nests in clusters that are relatively close together, and 20 nests that are farther away, in case some penguins prefer to be more isolated. The human-built nests are virtually indistinguishable from natural holes, Boersma said. The work received financial support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the UW.

The Galápagos are part of Ecuador, located in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles from the South American mainland. Most of the islands and surrounding waters are protected as a biological marine reserve and national park, and are a United Nations World Heritage site.

Climate cycles can play havoc with Galápagos penguin reproduction. The penguins depend on cold ocean currents that rise to the surface and bring plentiful food. During El Niño years, those currents fail and most marine species have trouble finding food. During La Niña cycles, those rising cold currents increase and bring a plentiful supply of nutrients to support small fish on which the penguins feed.

Boersma hopes the new nesting sites were in place soon enough to have a positive effect as La Niña conditions take hold in the Galápagos and bring plentiful food to the penguins. She saw many penguins feeding and breeding during her recent visit.

“We found everything from eggs to small chicks to near-fledglings because the food is so good because of La Niña,” she said. “The penguins are ready, if the food stays, to begin breeding. The question is will they find these new nest sites in time.”

She expects to return to the Galápagos in February to evaluate the project’s success.

High-resolution images are available through this release at http://uwnews.washington.edu

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Lawsuit Begun to Protect Endangered Fish From Four Corners Coal Pollution

Press Release

Newly Obtained Documents Show Coal Pollution Degrading Water Quality,
Driving Endangered Fish Toward Extinction in San Juan River

FARMINGTON, N.M.— Conservation and citizen groups today filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining for failing to conduct Endangered Species Act consultations prior to authorizing the renewal of an operating permit for the Navajo Coal Mine in northwest New Mexico. The agency was required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to avoid impacts to threatened and endangered species from the mining of coal at Navajo Mine, its combustion at Four Corners Power Plant and coal-combustion waste dumping.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (CARE) and San Juan Citizens Alliance filed today’s notice, represented by the Energy Minerals Law Center.

The groups’ lawsuit will be substantiated by newly obtained government records showing how mercury and selenium pollution from regional coal development is driving endangered fish in the San Juan River toward extinction. A draft Fish and Wildlife “biological opinion” for the proposed Desert Rock Energy Project concludes that mercury and selenium pollution from regional coal combustion, including from Four Corners Power Plant, would be “likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker” — two highly endangered fish species in the San Juan River, a tributary to the Colorado.

“The Department of the Interior cannot simply rubber-stamp the same lethal coal development that its own science says is causing fish extinctions.” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “At stake are two species of fish, millions of people’s drinking water, and one of the West’s loveliest rivers.”

“The draft biological opinion for Desert Rock provides solid evidence that San Juan River watershed and the continued viability of native species has been severely impaired in the San Juan River because of coal and other energy development,” said Mike Eisenfeld of SJCA. “Recovery of this river and ecosystem is imperative. Downstream communities rely on San Juan River water, and the agencies must take action to reduce and eliminate the impacts from industrial pollution.”

In 2009 the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew its air-pollution permit for the Desert Rock Energy Project, citing the need for completion of Endangered Species Act consultations. The newly released biological opinion was prepared by Fish and Wildlife as part of that consultation, and its “jeopardy” determination is believed to have been a fatal blow to the future of the Desert Rock. Like the Four Corners Power Plant, Desert Rock, had it been built, would have burned coal from the Navajo Coal Mine.

“OSM’s decision to renew operations at BHP’s Navajo Mine without consulting with FWS and addressing the findings of the Desert Rock biological opinion violates the Endangered Species Act,” said Brad Bartlett, an attorney with the Energy Minerals Law Center. “With the ESA consultation demanded by today’s notice letter, BHP’s Navajo Coal Mine will be faced with the same facts that Desert Rock faced in consultation — facts that led FWS to determine that species in San Juan River are in jeopardy because of the toxic legacy being left by the Four Corners’ coal industrial complex.”

“OSM’s permitting decision does not evaluate the hydrological impacts of BHP’s nearly half-century of permanent disposal of over a half-billion tons of CCW at the mine and contribution to mercury cycling in the San Juan environment,” said Anna Frazier, executive director of Diné CARE. “Water is life, water is sacred to the Navajo (Diné) people living in the Four Corners area. Our survival has been dependent on the river for irrigation, for fishing, for watering animals, a place of prayer and offering. The legacy of coal development and waste disposal at the mine threatens our health, our plants and animals, and the very existence of the Diné.”

To download a copy of today’s 60-day notice letter, click here.
To download a copy of the draft biological opinion, click here.
To download a map of the coal facilities in the San Juan Basin, click here.

Background

The Four Corners region near the San Juan River is home to two of the largest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the United States — the Four Corners Power Plant and the San Juan Generating Station. A third coal-fired power plant originally proposed for the area, the Desert Rock Energy Project, is now on hold. The BHP Navajo Coal Company’s (BNCC) Navajo Coal Mine is located south of Fruitland, New Mexico. It supplies coal to Four Corners Power Plant and is intended to feed Desert Rock Energy Project if it’s constructed. This complex of coal facilities emits CO2, mercury, selenium and other heavy metals into the air and water, which threaten both human health and the survival and recovery of endangered species like the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.

Mercury accumulates in rivers through emissions, deposition and runoff. Fish are exposed to mercury through diet; mercury in the water column accumulates up the food chain and primarily affects top predators such as the Colorado pikeminnow. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that impairs the reproductive health of fish via portions of the brain that regulate the production and timing of sex steroids; therefore it primarily affects survival of offspring rather than directly killing exposed individuals.

Selenium accumulates in rivers through erosion of selenium-rich soils, coal mining and energy development, and emissions and discharges from coal-fired power plants. Fish are exposed to selenium through a selenium-rich invertebrate diet. As with mercury, adult fish with diets high in selenium do not experience mortality themselves; instead, they deposit excess selenium in the yolks of developing eggs. Newly hatched fry from these eggs use the yolk as an energy and protein source; it is at this stage that developmental anomalies occur. The deformities are either lethal or cause the fry to be more susceptible to predators or other environmental stressors.

Fish and Wildlife’s draft biological opinion shows that 64 percent of Colorado pikeminnow in the San Juan River currently exceed mercury contamination thresholds for reproductive impairment; it predicts that number will rise to 72 percent by 2020 with additional pollution. The document also predicts that selenium pollution from agricultural discharges and ongoing coal combustion would cause 71 percent of those fishes’ offspring to be deformed in a way that harms growth, reproduction or survival. Similarly, the opinion predicts that 85 percent of razorback sucker offspring would be deformed by selenium pollution and notes 40 percent of razorback suckers in the San Juan River already meet contamination thresholds for those deformities.

BHP’s Navajo Mine is located on Navajo Nation lands within Chaco Wash, which is connected with Chaco Culture National Park. Beginning in 1971, BHP began accepting approximately 1.9 million cubic yard (“mcyd”) of coal combustion waste (“CCW”) from the Four Corners Power Plant annually for use as “minefill.” CCW consists of fly ash, scrubber sludge and bottom ash. According to the EPA, thousands of pounds of mercury are disposed of in the Navajo Mine annually as minefill.

For Immediate Release, October 12, 2010

Contact: Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (928) 310-6713      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Anna Frazier, Dine CARE, (928) 380-7697 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (928) 380-7697      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Mike Eisenfeld, San Juan Citizens Alliance, (505) 360-8994 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (505) 360-8994      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Brad Bartlett, Energy Minerals Law Center, (970) 247-9334 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (970) 247-9334

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Conservation Organizations Challenge Decade-Old Logging Plan Above Renowned McKenzie River

For immediate release

October 14, 2010

Contact:

Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands, 541.434.1463, jlaughlin@cascwild.org

Doug Heiken, Oregon Wild , 541.344.0675, dh@oregonwild.org

Susan Jane Brown, Western Environmental Law Center, 503-914-1323, brown@westernlaw.org

Conservation Organizations Challenge Decade-Old Logging Plan Above Renowned McKenzie River

 

EUGENE – Working to halt an outdated timber sale originally proposed over ten years ago, two conservation organizations filed a lawsuit today in federal district court. The legal challenge by Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild takes aim at the Willamette National Forest’s Trapper timber sale above the McKenzie River, which proposes to log 157 acres of mature and old-growth forest.

 

The U.S. Forest Service first proposed the timber sale in 1998 and has failed to address significant new information that has arisen since the agency issued a decision on the project in 2003.

 

“The McKenzie is Eugene’s backyard recreation paradise,” says Kate Ritley, Executive Director of Cascadia Wildlands. “The McKenzie’s forests filter our drinking water and shelter all kinds of wildlife. We need to protect these precious forests for future generations, not destroy them for short-term profits.”

 

In the ten years since the project was planned a pair of threatened northern spotted owls has taken up residence in the vicinity of the timber sale. According to new research data, the species continues a downward population trend both range-wide and in a large study area that encompasses the logging project. Additionally, the Forest Service logging plan fails to protect dozens of red tree vole nests located in the project area. The red tree vole is a small mammal that lives in older conifer forests and is required protection when its nests are located. The vole is also a major food source for the northern spotted owl. Because of these factors and other threats to the species, the conservation organizations believe protections from harmful timber sales are more warranted than ever.

 

The Trapper timber sale has been the subject of controversy before. On two past occasions, Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild successfully challenged the species impacts opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). USFWS is the federal agency in charge of recovering endangered species and had illegally issued opinions that would have allowed the Trapper timber sale to proceed despite negative effects to threatened wildlife.

 

“It is past time the Forest Service retire this reckless project for good,” says Doug Heiken, Conservation and Restoration Coordinator with Oregon Wild. “The agency has a choice between logging mature and old-growth forests on public lands above our treasured McKenzie River or identifying common-sense projects that benefit wildlife, protect the forest, and create jobs. It should be an easy choice.”

 

The groups believe the Forest Service should be spending limited taxpayer dollars on projects that restore degraded landscapes, like restoration thinning in tree plantations formed by past clearcutting, decommissioning harmful roads, and enhancing fish and wildlife habitat. The groups have offered to work with the Forest Service and the purchaser of the Trapper timber sale, Seneca Sawmill, to find replacement timber volume from less controversial areas. The purchaser has not expressed interest in this option. The Willamette National Forest has provided replacement volume to timber companies in the past when timber sales were mired in public controversy.

 

The organizations are being represented by attorneys at Western Environmental Law Center and Cascadia Wildlands.

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