The Environment

  Wolf May Lose Endangered Species ListingNovember 24, 2007 13:47 For rancher Randy Petrich, the removal of gray wolves from the endangered species list — a move that would open up the animals to hunting in the Northern Rockies for the first time in decades — couldn't come soon enough.

On the same land where it was once rare to see the animal, Petrich has seen fresh wolf tracks almost every morning this fall — close enough to threaten his cattle.

"I believe that any wolf on any given night, if there happens to be a calf there, they will kill it," Petrich said. "In reality, to help us now, we need to be trapping them, shooting them — as many as possible."

Just 12 years since the wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park after years of near-extinction, federal officials say the sharp rise in the wolf population in the region justifies removing them from the endangered species list.

Critics, however, say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is moving too fast, and could be setting the stage for a slaughter that would push wolves back to the brink in the Rockies.

For cattle ranchers like Petrich in the Paradise Valley north of Yellowstone, who already have the right to kill predators threatening their stock, the killing of wolves who established new territories outside the park has already begun. Seven times in the last five years, Petrich, a third-generation rancher, has shot a wolf for killing or harassing cattle.

It took $24 million of federal funds and more than two decades to bring wolves back from near-extinction in the northern Rocky Mountains — the result of a government eradication program in the mid-1900s that included widespread poisoning of wolves.

After years of debate, an initial 66 wolves were transplanted into the park from Canada beginning in 1995. Now, an estimated 1,545 roam Idaho, Montana and Wyoming — more than enough, federal official say, to justify removing them from the endangered species list.
  Us Joins Critics Of Japan'S Whaling PlansNovember 19, 2007 21:12 The United States has joined several other countries and environmental groups in calling on Japan to rescind plans for killing more than 1,000 whales, including humpback whales which had been nearly hunted to extinction before a ban on killing them was imposed in 1963.

The International Whaling Commission, the IWC, has entirely banned commercial whaling since 1986. But Japan, the world's largest consumer of whale meat, has killed thousands of whales in recent years under a controversial provision in global rules allowing some whales to be killed for scientific research.

Japanese hunting has been mainly confined to relatively plentiful smaller species such as Minke and Bryde's whales.

But Japanese authorities enraged environmental groups this month with an announcement that the country's small whaling fleet - which set sail for the South Pacific Sunday on a five-month hunt - aims to kill as many as 50 humpback and 50 fin whales in addition to more than 900 minke whales.

The plan drew criticism from Britain, Australia and New Zealand, and the environmental group Greenpeace said one of its ships would shadow the Japanese fleet. The United States joined the critics Monday, with State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack urging Japan to refrain from the planned hunt:

"While recognizing Japan's legal rights under the Whaling Convention to conduct this hunt, we note that non-lethal research techniques are available to provide nearly all relevant data on whale populations. We call on Japan to refrain from conducting this year's hunt, especially with respect to humpback and fin whales."

Spokesman McCormack also urged "restraint and measured approaches" by all sides in any protest activities that may be planned against the Japanese fleet in the southern ocean.

He said the sinking or damaging of a vessel in the area could have catastrophic consequences for the crews involved, the environment and the maritime resources of the region.

Early this year, an environmental activist group, Sea Shepherd, harassed the Japanese whaling boats with smoke canisters and efforts to snarl the vessels' propellers with ropes.

The Japanese hunt ended early after a fire broke out on the mother ship, killing a crew member and forcing it back to port.

Humpback whales can grow to be longer than 15 meters and weigh more than 3,500 kilograms. Once hunted to the brink of extinction, the species has made a comeback and has become a favorite of whale watchers.
  Politics Undercut Species Act, Suits SayNovember 19, 2007 15:21 Wiped out across most of its range in the American Southwest, the Mexican garter snake was considered a shoo-in for listing under the Endangered Species Act. It got nothing.

Neither did the Mississippi gopher frog. Though listed as endangered in 2001, the now-rare amphibian got not a single acre of habitat set aside on its behalf. The loach minnow, once common in Arizona and New Mexico rivers, saw 143,680 acres of proposed critical habitat chopped by more than half.

In each case, Bush administration political appointees overrode federal scientists' recommendations, with little or no justification, according to six lawsuits filed Thursday by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), an endangered species advocacy group.

The Bush administration is no stranger to being sued under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). But in a tack that could signal a major new legal challenge, last week's suits mark one of the few times Interior Department officials have been sued not merely for bureaucratic foot-dragging, but because of deliberate political interference with the ESA, observers say.

"This wave of lawsuits is different – and what makes them so different is that the agency itself and its inspector general have provided a lot of compelling evidence of political interference with the proper functioning of the act," says J.B. Ruhl, a law professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee and an expert on the ESA.

A big factor in the CBD's legal fusillade hinges on the April release of a scathing report by the Interior Department's inspector general on the actions of Julie MacDonald, the department's former deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks. The report found numerous questionable actions on endangered species and criticized her release of internal documents to outside groups opposed to the ESA.

After Ms. MacDonald resigned in May, agency officials reviewing her work identified at least eight species cases that may have been affected. But the CBD claims documents show a pattern of ESA interference affecting many more cases – and by other officials besides MacDonald.

Though declining to comment on the lawsuits, an Interior Department spokesman says they are part of an ongoing wave of litigation by activists that dates back more than a decade.
  Racoons, Endangered Species Impacted By Oil SpillNovember 19, 2007 07:39 Incident Commander Barry McFarland, a representative for the Cosco Busan ship that caused the Nov. 7 oil spill in the San Francisco Bay, said the vessels deployed to clean up oil left on the surface of the water were decontaminated today at San Francisco's Hunters Point and in Alameda.

The ships are no longer in the bay because there is no longer oil on the bay's waters, he said.

"There's no visible oil that we're seeing in the surveillance, so the vessels are being (decontaminated). They're still available to go out and re-respond if conditions change," McFarland said.

Oil is still being cleaned from shorelines, he said.

Nearly 17,000 gallons of the 58,000 gallons of oil spilled into the bay have been collected off the water as of today, McFarland said. The amount of oil collected from shorelines and beaches is difficult to know, he added, as sand and dirt are collected along with the oil.

The ship that leaked the oil following a run-in with a tower of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is being repaired in the San Francisco shipyard, McFarland said.

Assistant Chief of the California Department of Fish & Game Steve Edinger gave an updated number of recovered wildlife, totaling 1,005 live birds, 1,030 dead birds, and two dead raccoons as of 2 p.m. today.

Two species of birds currently on endangered species lists have also been recovered dead, including two Marble Murlets and one Brown Pelican, according to Edinger.

In Half Moon Bay Friday, 38 birds were re-released and additional birds may be ready for release Monday, he said.

Fish and Game officials will also be testing seafood caught within the restricted area three miles from the shoreline between San Pedro Point and Point Reyes Lighthouse, Edinger said.

Fishing ceased following Governor Schwarzenegger's executive order suspending fishing in areas affected by the oil spill until Dec. 1. Fishing outside of the restricted area is open, and fish and crab caught in open areas will not be tested for safety, Edinger said.
  Mediterranean Sharks And Sting Rays At Risk Of Extinction, Warns ReportNovember 19, 2007 07:37 A new report from the World Conservation Union (IUCN) has warned that 42 per cent of Mediterranean sharks and sting rays are at the risk of extinction.
“Our analyses reveal the Mediterranean Sea as one of the world’s most dangerous places on Earth for sharks and rays,” said Claudine Gibson, IUCN Shark Specialist Group program officer and co-author of the report.
“Bottom-dwelling species appear to be at greatest risk in this region, due mainly to intense fishing of the seabed,” he added.
The research group blames the plummeting populations on habitat degradation, sport angling, human disturbance, and overfishing, including fish caught as unintended bycatch.
The report also blames bottom-trawl fishing as the main cause of recent population declines of upto 80 percent.
Out of a total of 71 species that were assessed, 30 species were deemed threatened with extinction, 13 were classified as critically endangered, 8 as endangered, and 9 as vulnerable.
Critically endangered species include the seabed-hugging Maltese skate (Leucoraja melitensis), as well as the shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) and porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus), both prized for their meat and fins.
“We are particularly concerned about the porbeagle and mako sharks,” said Alen Soldo of the University of Split, Croatia, who participated in the study. “Our studies reveal persistent fishing pressure well in excess of the reproductive capacity of the species,” he added.
But the most astonishing find of the report was the evidence of a 50 to 60 percent drop in numbers of the great white shark in the Mediterranean region. This is an increased threat category than the shark’s current global conservation status of vulnerable.
The report determines the cause of this population collapse in the great white shark’s numbers as overfishing and declines in important prey species such as bluefin tuna. Habitat degradation due to tourism and development in coastal areas overlapping the shark’s habitat is also listed as another important reason for the situation.

  Loggerhead Sea Turtles May Gain Endangered StatusNovember 16, 2007 12:13 The U.S. government announced today that it is considering listing loggerhead sea turtles found off the U.S. West Coast as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The action comes in response to a formal petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network in July 2007 that aimed to increase protections for loggerhead sea turtles. The petition sought to have North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act and to have areas along the California coast and off Hawaii designated as critical habitat for the species.

Loggerhead sea turtles in the North Pacific nest in Japan, but cross the Pacific to feed in the rich waters off the coast of California and Baja California, Mexico. These ancient animals, which can live for a century or more, have swum the Earth’s oceans since the days of dinosaurs. However, in the past 25 years populations have declined by over 80 percent, with fewer than 1,000 females returning to their natal beaches to nest each year.

The primary threat to loggerhead sea turtles is pelagic longline fishing. Longline fishing vessels seeking swordfish and tuna each deploy several thousand baited hooks on fishing lines that can extend for more than 60 miles. Over a billion longline hooks are set in the world’s oceans each year, catching and killing not just swordfish and tuna but thousands of sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals, and sharks.

“The survival of loggerheads will depend on preventing sea turtles from drowning in fishing gear,” said Miyoko Sakashita, ocean program attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The decision to consider listing the loggerheads as endangered marks a first step toward heightened protections in the Pacific.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency reviewing the status of the loggerheads, determined that an endangered listing may be warranted for this population and will begin a full review of the loggerhead’s status to determine if it is endangered. At the same time, the agency is considering approval of a permit that would allow an “experimental” longline fishery for swordfish off the California and Oregon coasts next year. The permit is the first step toward establishing a full-scale industrial longline fishery off the West Coast. A similar fishery is operated out of Hawaii and is responsible for the deaths of numerous whales in addition to sea turtles.

“Rather than opening the waters off California and Oregon to deadly industrial fishing fleets, we should be protecting these areas as critical habitat for loggerhead sea turtles and other imperiled wildlife,” said Karen Steele of Turtle Island Restoration Network.

  Legal Setback For Bush Administration On Vehicle EmissionsNovember 16, 2007 12:12 The administration of George W. Bush suffered a legal setback here when a US federal appeals court ruled that government emission standards for light trucks and sport utility vehicles are not stringent enough.

The San Francisco-based federal appeals court ordered the Bush administration to tighten emission standards set for automobiles sold in the United States as quickly as possible, in response to a lawsuit filed by 11 states, including California, two cities and four environmental groups.

The plaintiffs especially noted that under the existing rules, thanks to a legal loophole, large 4x4 sports utility vehicles are allowed to pollute more than regular passenger cars. Car manufacturers have the widest profit margins in the sale of these popular vehicles.

California's Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger described the ruling as "another win for the environment and for consumers."

"Clearly, automobile companies have the capability to produce environmentally friendly cars," he said.

"Today's court ruling underscores the need for the federal government to step in and provide the extra push necessary to make these vehicles widespread."

California Attorney General Edmund Brown, himself a former governor, described the ruling as "a major victory and a stunning rebuke to the Bush administration and its failed energy policies."
  Six Of The Eight Bear Species At Risk Of ExtinctionNovember 12, 2007 16:42 Some of the world's foremost bear experts have declared that six out of the world's eight species of bears are threatened with extinction - but not the American black bear.

Among the eight species of bears, only the American black bear is secure throughout its range, which encompasses Canada, the United States and Mexico.

In a statement Saturday as they wound up a meeting in Monterrey, the experts updated the status of the seven species of terrestrial bears.

Technically a marine mammal, the polar bear is distinct from the other seven terrestrial bears and has a different specialist group. In 2006, the polar bear was listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, a global analysis of the conservation status of thousands of species, updated annually, with in depth analysis once every four years.

Bruce McLellan, co-chair of the IUCN Bear Specialist Group, said: "An enormous amount of effort and funding for conservation and management continue to be directed at bears in North America where their status is relatively favorable. It is unfortunate that so little is directed at bears in Asia and South America where the need is extreme. We are trying to change this situation but success is slow."

At 900,000 strong, there are more than twice as many American black bears than all the other species of bears combined. They are legally hunted in most parts of their range.

Giant pandas in their native China. (Photo courtesy American Museum of Natural History)
The only bear presently classed as Endangered is the giant panda. That status remains unchanged despite enormous efforts in China directed towards its conservation, including the establishment of nearly 60 panda reserves, a ban on logging, and widespread reforestation programs, said the bear scientists.
  Hunting Group Intervenes In Lawsuit Over Grizzly Bear ProtectionNovember 11, 2007 15:22 A federal judge has allowed a hunting group to intervene in a lawsuit in which conservation organizations are challenging a federal move to strip grizzly bears in the greater Yellowstone area of protections under the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge in Idaho on Wednesday granted a request from Safari Club International and Safari Club International Foundation to participate in the lawsuit as friends of the court.

Grizzly bears were removed from Endangered Species Act protection last spring. Seven conservation groups sued over the grizzly delisting in June. They say grizzly bears still face threats from limited habitat, poor genetic diversity, and declining food sources.

Safari Club officials say they want to prevent the grizzly bear from regaining protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Safari Club officials say federal protection for the bear would deprives the states of their management authority. The club says it would also blocks states from preventing declines in deer, elk and moose populations. They say it would also prevent sustainable bear hunting in the future.
  Oil Spill Spreads In San Francisco BayNovember 10, 2007 10:06 Challenged by strong winds and tides, cleanup crews struggled Friday to contain an oil spill spreading in the San Francisco Bay as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for the area.

No stranger to natural disasters in California, the governor traveled to the Bay Area on Friday for a briefing on the status of the 58,000-gallon spill, which started early Wednesday after a 900-foot container ship rammed into a tower of the Bay Bridge. The ship was crippled, and oozed the oil that has closed 16 beaches and, at last count, killed more than two dozen water birds.

“There is tremendous damage on the wildlife and on the beaches,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said Friday, later adding, “If mistakes were made, then we will bring them out.”

Fourteen local, state and federal agencies are now involved with the investigation, recovery and cleanup of the tanker’s payload, consisting of diesel fuel and dense oil used to power ships. But the cleanup effort has done little to blunt criticism aimed at those who first responded to the accident on Wednesday.

Initial reports of the accident suggested the oil spill dumped less than 200 gallons of fuel into the bay. City officials and the public did not learn from the Coast Guard about the true extent of the spill and its damage for roughly 12 hours.

  Hearing To Consider Adding Pacific Herring To Endangered Species ListNovember 07, 2007 16:19 A Fish and Game advisory committee is meeting today over whether Pacific herring in southeast Alaska's Lynn Canal should be placed on the endangered species list.

The Sierra Club has filed a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service to see if the fish should be listed as endangered or threatened.

The listing could pose a problem for the developers of the Kensington mine near Berners Bay.

Mine developer Coeur Alaska has said a listing could stop construction of the Cascade Point dock, affect operations of the Slate Cove Dock and restrict boat traffic to the project.

Kathy Hansen, chair of the advisory committee says they'll have speakers from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the state Department of Fish and Game, and the Sierra Club to explain how the process works.

She says the Sierra Club will also be asked to outline why it submitted the petition.