The Environment

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  Protection of Highly Endangered Mountain Yellow-legged Frog Delayed AgainJune 25, 2007 13:25 In response to a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Rivers Council, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today published a “warranted but precluded” decision, agreeing with conservationists that the mountain yellow-legged frog deserves listing as an endangered species, but claiming listing is made impossible by “expeditious progress” on the listing of other species. This is the same decision the agency made more than four years ago, which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined it had failed to sufficiently support.

"This decision is obviously a political and callous delaying tactic that is a recipe for extinction of the frog," said Jeff Miller, spokesperson for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Given that the Fish and Wildlife Service has not protected a single species in over a year, their claim that protection of the frog is precluded by other listings falls flat.”

The last species protected by the Fish and Wildlife Service were 12 Hawaiian picture-wing flies listed in a single rule on May 9, 2006. Overall, the Bush administration has listed fewer species under the Endangered Species Act than any other administration since the law was enacted in 1973, to date only listing 58 species compared to 512 under the Clinton administration and 234 under the first Bush administration. Since 2001, the number of species designated as “warranted but precluded” and included on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of candidate species has grown from 252 to 279 species. At least 25 species have gone extinct on this waiting list after being recognized as candidates for protection.

“The Bush administration has closed the doors on the nation’s endangered species,” said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “If the mountain yellow-legged frog and literally hundreds of other species don’t receive the effective protections of the Endangered Species Act, we will lose them forever.”

Noting the frog survives in as little as 10 percent of its original range in the Sierra Nevada, Deanna Spooner of the Pacific Rivers Council wondered: “How much more endangered does a species have to become before the Fish and Wildlife Service will take action? The intent of the Endangered Species Act is being subverted through administrative delay, sentencing the mountain yellow-legged frog and other species in need of immediate protection to extinction through inaction.”
  Court Sides With Builders, Administration In Dispute Over Endangered SpeciesJune 25, 2007 09:16 The Supreme Court sided with developers and the Bush administration Monday in a dispute with environmentalists over protecting endangered species.

The court ruled 5-4 for home builders and the Environmental Protection Agency in a case that involved the intersection of two environmental laws, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the conservative majority, said the endangered species law takes a back seat to the clean water law when it comes to the EPA handing authority to a state to issue water pollution permits. Developers often need such permits before they can begin building.
A federal appeals court had said that EPA did not do enough to ensure that endangered species would not be harmed if the state took over the permitting.

Environmental groups, backed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal, said the administration position would in essence gut a key provision of the endangered species law. The act prohibits federal agency action that will jeopardize a species and calls for consultation between federal agencies.
  Protection Sought for Desert FishJune 21, 2007 09:40 The Center for Biological Diversity, Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, Great Basin Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club filed a petition today to protect the least chub, a rare fish species found only in Utah, as a threatened or endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act. The least chub has been reduced to just six fragile wild populations, three of which occur in the Snake Valley, where planned pumping of water for runaway growth in Las Vegas is a serious threat to the tiny fish's survival. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 12 months to determine whether protection is warranted.

"The least chub is on the verge of extinction," said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "This small, minnow-like fish is an important part of the web of life in Utah. It's found nowhere else in the world, and it badly needs the effective protection of the Endangered Species Act to survive."

Least chub were once widely distributed in the rivers, streams, marshes and springs over much of Utah west of the Wasatch Front, where they lived on small invertebrates like mosquito larvae. Today they are found naturally in just six complexes of springs and ponds, and are threatened by a combination of nonnative fish such as mosquito fish, livestock grazing, suburban sprawl, and - of greatest concern - proposed groundwater pumping by the Southern Nevada Water Authority. The water authority has proposed to drill nine pumping stations just inside Nevada, from the Utah/Nevada border in Snake Valley, to withdraw 25,000 to 30,000 acre-feet a year of groundwater.
  Fla. Oks Moratorium For Gopher TortoisesJune 16, 2007 09:21 Developers will no longer be allowed to bury gopher tortoises alive during construction under a moratorium approved Wednesday by state wildlife commissioners.

Endangered status means an animal is at immediate risk of extinction. Threatened denotes a species could become endangered in the future if protections are not maintained.

Under current gopher tortoise rules, developers are allowed to seek permits to bury them alive rather than relocate them during construction projects. About 70,000 gopher tortoises have been buried in the past 14 years under the state permitting system.

The commission also voted Wednesday during its meeting in Melbourne to add another level of protection for the tortoise, upgrading its status from species of special concern to threatened. However, the status change won‘t take effect for at least several more months while a new management plan is being developed that aims to limit future burials or eliminate them altogether.

The Florida Home Builders Association has said it supports measures to protect the tortoise, regardless of additional relocation costs.

"Threats to the manatee are getting worse, not better," said Patrick Rose of the Save the Manatee Club. "Virtually every model is suggesting that we could be losing up to half the manatees in the next 30 to 40 years."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in April also recommended changing the manatee‘s federal status from endangered to threatened.
  Common Backyard Birds Becoming Less CommonJune 14, 2007 20:50 Some of the most common birds seen and heard in American back yards are becoming a less frequent sight and sound in much of the United States, according to a study released by the National Audubon Society.

Twenty common birds -- including the northern bobwhite, the field sparrow and the boreal chickadee -- have lost more than half their populations in the past 40 years, according to the society's research.

"These populations are not yet on the endangered species list, but it is noteworthy, and we need to take steps to protect their habitat," said Carol Browner, Audubon chair and former Environmental Protection Agency administrator.

And like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, the health of a region's bird population is often a harbinger of the health of other wildlife and of human populations as well.

"The focus isn't really on what's happening to these 20 birds, but what's happening to their environment," said Greg Butcher, the society's conservation director.

The researchers say many factors play into the decline in bird numbers, including intensification of agriculture, other loss of habitat, pesticides, invasive species, and global warming.

Scott Weidensaul, an author and expert on bird migration, said he remembers waking up to whistles of bobwhite quail, and falling asleep listening to whippoorwills.

"Today you can't find a bobwhite in Pennsylvania, and hearing a whippoorwill is a red letter day," he said at an Audubon news conference Thursday morning.

The report shows the current northern bobwhite quail population is 5.5 million, down from 31 million in 1967. That's a decline of 82 percent in the past four decades. There are currently about 1.2 million whippoorwills now, down from 2.8 million 40 years ago, a 57 percent decline.
  Bush'S Sincerity On Environment Issues DoubtfulJune 12, 2007 22:02 Political public relations stunt or serious proposal? That's the domestic and international puzzlement about President Bush's conversion to the cause of global climate change.

With much fanfare last week and in advance of a major international economic summit in Europe, Bush announced the United States would begin to engage in major talks about global warming.

After more than six years spent in office delaying action and denying the mounting scientific evidence, Bush said, "In recent years, science has deepened our understanding of climate change and opened new possibilities for confronting it. The United States takes this issue seriously."

It has become increasingly clear that global warming is an issue of great importance to citizens across America; from Exeter, N.H. to Exeter, Calif.

Bush said he would lead discussions with other industrialized nations on setting "aspirational goals" and voluntary standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the long term. Perhaps not so coincidentally, such standards wouldn't go into effect until just before Bush leaves office in January 2009.

As Bush found last week at the G8 Summit in Germany, his past foot-dragging and actions such as breaking the Kyoto Protocols for reducing greenhouse gases without offering the semblance of a substitute has left him with little credibility.

  U.S. Adopts Limits On Clean Water Law EnforcementJune 06, 2007 16:03 The landmark U.S. law to fight water pollution will now apply only to bodies of water large enough for boats to use, and their adjacent wetlands, and will not automatically protect streams, the U.S. government said on Tuesday.

Environmental groups said they fear the new policy will muddy the purpose of the federal Clean Water Act and put many smaller bodies of water at risk. Democrats in Congress have introduced legislation mandating protection of creeks, estuaries and other watersheds.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers wrote the new guidelines after the Supreme Court split a year ago in a case about which waters fall under the Clean Water Act.

Because of the split decision, lower courts must decide on a case-by-case basis if the law applies to smaller water areas.

Four justices said the law was restricted to protecting navigable waters such as lakes and rivers, and bodies connected to them, while four argued the law had a broader reach.

The new guidelines were intended to help workers in the field determine if a waterway fell under the act, using the argument of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who did not join either side in the decision.
  Fight Against Illegal Wildlife Trade To Dominate Cites MeetingJune 02, 2007 18:23 The U.S. delegation will push for strong conservation measures and international trade protections when the 14th Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Conference of the Parties (CITES-CoP) convenes June 3-15.

"CITES has proven to be a powerful tool to prevent the extinction of species such as tigers, elephants and whales and we intend to work with other countries to support the continued protection and conservation of these species," Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Todd Willens, said prior to leaving for the meeting in The Hague, Netherlands. He heads the U.S. delegation.

The tentative U.S. negotiating positions on CITES agenda items were listed in the June 1 Federal Register. The notice shows elephants, Asian big cats and some fish species are of special concern.

The United States wants new restrictions on international trade in sawfish, a shark-like ray, the catching of which is banned on U.S. coasts, and on 26 species of pink and red corals. Sawfish are over-harvested for their saw and fins, and corals for jewelry and other ornaments.

Concern that China might lift its domestic moratorium on trade in tiger parts has prompted the United States to urge China to continue the ban, according to a May 25 U.S. Department of Interior statement.

Lifting the ban could increase tiger farming, which "could provide a cover for trade in illegally poached tigers." Chinese traditional medicine uses a number of endangered plant and animal species, including tigers, rhinoceros, bears and saiga antelopes. Studies have shown that demand in China has contributed to decline of these species.