The Environment

  Proposed Changes To Endangered Species Act Called Bad ScienceAugust 28, 2008 10:09 Changes that the Bush administration is proposing to make to Endangered Species Act regulations just aren't sound science, various scientists and conservation groups say.

They're concerned that the loss of scientific oversight resulting from the changes will leave some species vulnerable to federal projects that could damage habitats.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), signed into law by President Nixon on Dec. 28, 1973, does more than just provide for the creation of the Endangered Species List. The act also requires that "recovery plans" be drawn up and implemented to protect and ultimately restore the populations of endangered species, and it charges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service with detailing and enforcing these plans.

The ESA "is one of our bedrock environmental laws," said Melissa Waage, a campaign manager with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a non-profit advocacy group.

But the act also charges other federal agencies with "a special duty," as Michael Bean, an environmental lawyer with the Environmental Defense Fund puts it, not to jeopardize these plans by authorizing, funding or carrying out activities that would further endanger any listed species. It is this duty that the proposed changes would affect.

"These changes will affect any federal project that affects any endangered species," Bean told LiveScience. "It puts every endangered species at particular risk."
  Right Whales Entangled By PoliticsAugust 27, 2008 21:40 At the New Brunswick Museum, the right whale skeleton is a hit. Children gaze up in awe at the 40-foot-long assembly, which hangs from the ceiling with dinosaurlike grandeur. One boy points out to his mother that she could fit the family car inside its ribcage.

But for right whale researchers, this is more than a skeleton: It’s the remains of Delilah, a female whale they’d studied for more than a decade, observing her courtships, the parenting of her first calf, and, sadly, her death in 1993 off Grand Manan Island, 50 miles southwest of here.

“When you study these animals, it definitely gets personal,” says Laurie Murison of the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station. She saw the whale with her calf two weeks before she was struck by a passing ship. “You lose too many that just shouldn’t die,” she says.

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered species on Earth, with a population of fewer than 400. Slow, docile, and rich in oils, whalers saw them as the “right” whale to target until the 18th century, when they became too rare to seek out. Despite being protected from hunting for more than a century, it remains on the verge of extinction, with far too many being struck by ships or fatally entangled in fishing gear.

“Basically it’s a political decision,” says Michael J. Moore of the Woods Hole (Mass.) Oceanographic Institution, who does forensic autopsies of whales. “There are a lot of things we could be doing to help these whales that we apparently are not willing to do.”

For the past quarter century, scientists have been struggling to understand and protect the species, deploying boats and planes, satellite tags and listening buoys, and even dogs specially trained to sniff out whale poop for analysis.
In the process, the North Atlantic right has become one of the most thoroughly documented species in the world, with an estimated 90 percent of its individuals cataloged, often including their relationships to one another. The scientists’ findings have put them in a collision course with lobstermen, shipping firms, and the White House, which is accused of obstructing measures to protect the whales from ship strikes.

  States Sue Epa Over Oil RefineriesAugust 25, 2008 21:13 Twelve states, New York City and the District of Columbia are suing the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming the Bush administration has failed to rein in emissions from oil refineries.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says the suit is aimed at forcing the EPA to adopt new regulations to reduce oil industry pollution that contributes to global warming.

The other states that have joined in the suit are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

The suit is the latest by states critical of the EPA's record on environmental regulation and global warming. EPA officials did not immediately return a call for comment.

  Administration Faulted For Insufficient Public Comment Time On Endangered Species IssueAugust 25, 2008 21:11 The Bush administration is providing insufficient time for public comment as it seeks to loosen rules protecting endangered species, representatives of more than 100 conservation groups contended Friday.

The Interior Department last week set a 30-day public comment period on an administration proposal that would allow federal agencies approving or funding dams, highways and other projects to decide for themselves — without input from government experts — whether endangered species are likely to be harmed.

That is half the time that was originally scheduled in a draft obtained by The Associated Press. A shorter time frame would give the administration a better chance of imposing the rules before the presidential election.

Group representatives urged Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez in a letter Friday to extend public comment from 30 to 120 days.

An Interior spokeswoman Friday said requests for more time were always considered, but 30 days was not unusual.
  American Pika -- The Rabbit Cousin That Hates Global WarmingAugust 20, 2008 22:23 This is sad. I remember seeing pikas in the wild in Colorado in 2000. By 2005, they were pretty much gone except from the highest places.

The American pika, a furry relative of rabbits and hares with a squeaky call, is getting pushed out of its mountain home because of global warming, say conservation groups. Today they went to court to protect its place on the planet.

Environmental lawyers at Earthjustice filed court documents asking resource agencies to list the small mammal under state and federal Endangered Species acts, making the alpine dweller the first animal species in the lower 48 states to come under scrutiny for global warming threats.

The America pika is not exactly a household word, and its obscurity makes it harder to protect than the Arctic polar bear. In the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Sacramento, the plaintiff, the Center for Biological Diversity, argues that the U.S. Interior Department must also use the act to save the little-known rabbit-like creature from extinction.
  Gulf 'Dead Zone' Suffocating Fish And LivelihoodsAugust 18, 2008 17:00 Fisherman Terry Pizani turns his captain's wheel with a mournful expression on his face. Far below, the fishing grounds off the Louisiana coast where the 63-year-old has made a living for five decades have become an aquatic graveyard known as a "dead zone."

"You don't see nothing," he said. "Usually you see bait fish on the water. You don't see no bait fish, nothing. Nothing's there.

"I don't have no kind of testing material to test the water, but I know something's wrong."

Oceanographers who test the Gulf of Mexico waters every month confirm the veteran fisherman is right.

"We're not finding enough oxygen to support life, aquatic life," said scientist Lora Pride aboard the Pelican, the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium research vessel that studies the Gulf.

CNN traveled aboard the ship August 14-15 as consortium researchers sent sensors to the bottom of the sea, scooped up sediment and collected water samples for analysis at nine testing stations in the Gulf.

As an oxygen meter sank far below the Pelican, Pride pointed to an onboard computer screen displaying the meter's findings in real time.

"This green line is the oxygen right here and at the bottom it's reading less than 2 milligrams per liter," Pride said.

Six of the nine stations revealed such oxygen-deprived, hypoxic water, compared to a normal reading of 6 milligrams per liter.

As Pride and her crew aboard the Pelican monitored the Gulf waters, the journal Science last week published a study that reveals there are more than 400 dead zones around the globe, double the number found by the United Nations two years ago.
  George W. Bush: Teddy Roosevelt ReversedAugust 18, 2008 11:35 AS THE CLOCK ticks down on presidencies, usually a time when White House occupants take stock of their legacy, George W. Bush is performing as a Theodore Roosevelt in reverse.

Teddy Roosevelt, who left office in 1909, designated two landmark national monuments, protecting the Grand Canyon in Arizona and creating an Olympic National Monument in Washington to stop the slaughter of elk that today bear his name.

The Bush administration is busy trying administratively to take an ax to public lands and eviscerate the Endangered Species Act.

It has proposed a "revision" to regulations, to allow federal agencies to unilaterally make the call on listing a plant or animal. They could bypass professionals of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The revision is an invitation for political hacks, toeing the party line, to ignore contradictory judgments by independent experts.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne did exactly that in throwing open Alaska's Chukchi Sea to oil leasing on the eve of designating the polar bear as a "threatened species."

"By proposing these considerable changes with only a short time remaining in the administration's term, your office appears to be attempting ... to make changes in the Endangered Species Act that the administration has been unable to achieve through legislation," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, wrote to Kempthorne on Friday.
  Waves Of DisasterAugust 14, 2008 20:34 They are called lantern fish, silvery navigators of the ocean’s deepest depths, bug-eyed, blunt-nosed, and gap-mouthed, with close-set rows of pointy teeth.

Every night around the globe, at least 600 million tonnes of these finned creatures, along with a few related species—which make up as much as 90 percent of deep-sea fish biomass—swim upward from their dark hiding places to near the ocean’s surface to gorge on zooplankton, made up of organisms that are often too tiny to be seen with the naked eye, such as the shrimplike krill, jellyfish, and arrow worms.

As they forage, the lantern fish, up to 15 centimetres in length when mature, are snapped up by larger marine creatures: seals and whales, squid, and commercial fish like yellowfin tuna, swordfish, mahi-mahi, sharks, and salmon. A handful of commercial fisheries around the world also catch this small delicacy to sell to consumers in Asia and Eastern Europe.

Just a simple fish tale? Unfortunately, no. Rather, it is a tale of environmental and human-health disaster in the making, as the lantern fish’s bounteous numbers give it an importance in the global food chain that far outweighs its diminutive size and prosaic appearance.

For the past half-century, the ocean has been a dumping ground for human detritus, most notably plastic. Nonbiodegradable, plastic doesn’t readily decay and can last upward of 1,000 years. It is made of molecules, called monomers, that are created from petroleum. Linked together to make plastic, monomers become polymers.

  Stifling Public Comment On Species ActAugust 14, 2008 17:17 Remember when I encouraged you to comment on the Bush administration's attempt to gut the Endangered Species Act? I even helpfully provided a link. Well, turns out you better bust out pen and paper and a Forever Stamp, because the Fish and Wildlife Service is no longer accepting comments by email (H/T Grist). (It seems to have something to do with the 600,000 comments they got about protecting polar bears—the very thing they're trying not to do.)

That's right, they want you to waste some paper trying to speak out for the environment, so they can call you righteous, hypocritical Prius-driving, latte-drinking elites. And by name: They'll be posting all the personal information you provide on their web page, which they apparently know how to use even though they choose not to.
  Peter Tatchell: Could The Decline Of Oxygen In The Atmosphere Threaten Human Survival?August 13, 2008 23:39 I've wondered about this for years. Interesting that there are so many sleeping and asthma problems, yet no one ever mentions studies on local oxygen percentages.

The rise in carbon dioxide emissions is big news. It is prompting action to reverse global warming. But little or no attention is being paid to the long-term fall in oxygen concentrations and its knock-on effects.

Compared to prehistoric times, the level of oxygen in the earth's atmosphere has declined by over a third and in polluted cities the decline may be more than 50%. This change in the makeup of the air we breathe has potentially serious implications for our health. Indeed, it could ultimately threaten the survival of human life on earth, according to Roddy Newman, who is drafting a new book, The Oxygen Crisis.

I am not a scientist, but this seems a reasonable concern. It is a possibility that we should examine and assess.
  Bush To Relax Protected Species RulesAugust 12, 2008 09:19 Parts of the Endangered Species Act may soon be extinct. The Bush administration wants federal agencies to decide for themselves whether highways, dams, mines and other construction projects might harm endangered animals and plants.

New regulations, which don't require the approval of Congress, would reduce the mandatory, independent reviews government scientists have been performing for 35 years, according to a draft first obtained by The Associated Press.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said late Monday the changes were needed to ensure that the Endangered Species Act would not be used as a "back door" to regulate the gases blamed for global warming. In May, the polar bear became the first species declared as threatened because of climate change. Warming temperatures are expected to melt the sea ice the bear depends on for survival.

The draft rules would bar federal agencies from assessing the emissions from projects that contribute to global warming and its effect on species and habitats.

"We need to focus our efforts where they will do the most good," Kempthorne said in a news conference organized quickly after AP reported details of the proposal. "It is important to use our time and resources to protect the most vulnerable species. It is not possible to draw a link between greenhouse gas emissions and distant observations of impacts on species."

If approved, the changes would represent the biggest overhaul of endangered species regulations since 1986. They would accomplish through rules what conservative Republicans have been unable to achieve in Congress: ending some environmental reviews that developers and other federal agencies blame for delays and cost increases on many projects.
  Gorilla 'Mother Lode' Found In CongoAugust 04, 2008 23:11 Researchers have found 125,000 western lowland gorillas living in the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo, almost doubling the known number of the endangered species.

A report released today at the International Primatological Society Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland says a new census tallied more than 125,000 critically endangered gorillas in a 47,000-square-kilometre area.

Estimates from the 1980s had suggested fewer than 100,000 of the great apes had survived and many experts believed these numbers had been cut nearly in half by disease and hunting.

The census figures, if right, increases the gorilla population estimate to between 175,000 and 225,000.

The Wildlife Conservation Society report shows "that northern Republic of Congo contains the mother lode of gorillas", says society president Steven Sanderson.

"It also shows that conservation in the Republic of Congo is working. This discovery should be a rallying cry for the world that we can protect other vulnerable and endangered species, whether they be gorillas in Africa, tigers in India, or lemurs in Madagascar."

  Primates 'Face Extinction Crisis'August 04, 2008 18:44 A global review of the world's primates says 48% of species face extinction, an outlook described as "depressing" by conservationists.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species says the main threat is habitat loss, primarily through the burning and clearing of tropical forests.

More than 70% of primates in Asia are now listed as Endangered, it adds.

The findings form part of the most detailed survey of the Earth's mammals, which will be published in October.

Nations with the highest percentage of threatened species:

Cambodia - 90%

Vietnam - 86%

Indonesia - 84%

Laos - 83%

China - 79%

(Source: IUCN Red List)

Other threats include hunting of primates for food and the illegal wildlife trade, explained Russell Mittermeier, chairman of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group and president of Conservation International.

"In many places, primates are quite literally being eaten to extinction," he warned.