Monday, December 28, 2009

More than 200,000 Citizens Ask Secretary Salazar for Real Protections for Polar Bear’s Arctic Home

More than 200,000 people sent Interior Secretary Ken Salazar a holiday gift of thanks today for proposing critical habitat for the polar bear throughout much of America’s Arctic. However, these same concerned citizens also asked Secretary Salazar not to make things worse for the beleagured species – listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in May 2008 – by allowing risky and aggressive oil and gas development to move forward in the lands and waters that polar bears, scores of other Arctic wildlife and Arctic indigenous communities depend on to survive. The threats posed by oil and gas development to the polar bear and its Arctic environment have been underscored in recent weeks by reports of three large oil spills in the Arctic’s Prudhoe Bay, and a frightening revist to the past with a major spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

In late October, the sea ice of the Arctic’s Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, the majority of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, and extensive barrier islands were all proposed as critical habitat for the polar bear. That same week, Secretary Salazar also gave Shell Oil the green light to start drilling in the Beaufort Sea as early as this summer, despite a glaring lack of information on the impacts of such development on the polar bear and other species. In addition, a similar proposal in the Chukchi Sea was conditionally approved earlier this month - even though the government has not yet resolved legal problems with the Bush-era five year leasing plan.

The Arctic is the “least studied and most poorly understood place on earth,” according to the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. Thus the full range of impacts from development is unknown. Oil spills are a grave threat in this icy environment, government scientists have predicted a 40 percent chance of one or more large oil spills in the Chukchi Sea alone. There is currently no technology and limited capacity to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic.

There must be a timeout on all leasing and drilling in the Arctic until a comprehensive plan based on sound science and traditional knowledge is developed to determine if, where, when, and how such activities should occur. Additionally, the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge, identified as critical on-land denning habitat for the polar bear, should be given stronger protections.

Statements from conservation groups:

“Let’s begin the next decade by acknowledging that oil drilling means oil spilling in Alaska’s Arctic – and by committing to protect the Arctic both onshore and off for all of us who depend on this fragile ecosystem for the future health of our planet,” said Cindy Shogan, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League.

“Americans have spoken loud and clear in support of protecting the polar bear and its unique and fragile Arctic habitat,” said Rebecca Noblin in the Anchorage office of the Center for Biological Diversity. “If Secretary Salazar is serious about saving polar bears and other Arctic wildlife, he must truly protect their sea-ice habitat by rejecting harmful Bush-era drilling plans.”

“The Interior Department made the right call in protecting most of the places that the polar bear needs to survive. But giving Shell the go ahead to fire up its drills in Beaufort and Chukchi seas doesn’t make sense,” said Karla Dutton, the Alaska program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “Big oil’s bottom-line isn’t endangered here. It’s the polar bear that needs real protection.”

“Today's deadline, which falls on the 36th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, reminds us that foresight and bold action is needed to protect endangered wildlife. This is as true as ever for species such as the polar bear,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition.

“Secretary Salazar’s decision to designate polar bear critical habitat is very encouraging, and to make it meaningful it needs to be finalized and followed by sound management decisions. If aggressive oil and gas development continues to move forward in America’s Arctic, polar bears and scores of other Arctic wildlife will be at risk,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, acting regional director of The Wilderness Society Alaska office. “Instead, we need a time-out on all new Arctic oil exploration and development until we have a far better understanding of the missing science and risks, particularly in the face of climate change.”

“We urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complete the designation of critical habitat for the polar bear. There is no question that polar bears are in trouble. Studies have documented plunging survival rates for polar bear cubs and diminishing body weights for adults as a result of melting sea ice. Scientists warn that without protection, polar bears could disappear by 2050. We need to do everything possible to help polar bears survive, including eliminating the threat of offshore drilling and protecting the most critical onshore dening habitat -- the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. There is no environmentally sound way to drill for oil in polar bear habitat,” said Dan Ritzman, Alaska Program Director for the Sierra Club. “We don’t need to sacrifice the chance for future generations to experience polar bears and other wildlife just so oil companies can break their billion-dollar profit records.”

Friday, December 18, 2009

Take the Polar Bear Pledge!

As we enter the holiday season, our thoughts turn to family, friends and loved ones who share our lives. We hope that you will also think of the amazing wildlife, birds, fish and plants that share our planet.

Polar bears are an iconic symbol of the holiday season. They are stars of commericals and on the cover of greeting cards. Unfortunately, that is the only place they are thriving.

Polar bears are endangered because their sea ice habitat is literally melting from under their feet.

Take the Polar Bear Pledge and contribute to our efforts to save polar bears and other endangered species.

Scientists tell us that in 75 years there could be no wild polar bears in the United States. As their habitat shrinks, polar bears are forced to walk and swim longer distances to find food, resulting in weight loss, stress and even death. The cubs can be crushed by collapsing snow caves. We need to help them - and fast.

The Endangered Species Coalition is working with our members and activists to protect the polar bear and other endangered species from threats like habitat destruction and global warming. The polar bear was the first mammal to be listed under the Endangered Species Act primarily because of threats due to global warming. We are now working to secure stronger habitat protections and stop drilling in the Arctic. We have sent petitions to President Obama to protect the polar bear and worked to create programs to help them adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Help save the polar bear and other endangered species by contributing to the Polar Bear Pledge today!

Our friends at the Earth Friends Wildlife Foundation have given us a generous grant challenging us to raise $100,000 by the end of the year. Your contribution will help us reach this goal and protect endangered species.

This is a great time to become a member of the Endangered Species Coalition and take advantage of this challenge grant and the Polar Bear Pledge.

Please join the Endangered Species Coalition today!

Thank you for your support of our work to protect endangered species and their habitat.

Sincerely,
Leda Huta
Executive Director
Endangered Species Coalition


Friday, December 11, 2009

Oil and Polar Bears Don't Mix

By Liz VanDenzen, Director of Field Operations, Alaska Wilderness League

BP might be the only oil company that's glad that all eyes are on Copenhagen this month...

Last week, BP reported its second oil spill in four days on Alaska's North Slope. News reports indicate that the first of these spills is one of the worst ever in North Slope history. As a result, BP now holds the dubious honor of earning the gold and silver medals for oil spills on Alaska’s Arctic coast. Just three years ago, BP’s negligent maintenance caused more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil to spill out from within corroded pipelines onto the frozen tundra.

These spills come at the same time that a number of important decisions are being made regarding future oil and gas activities in the fragile Arctic Ocean. Earlier this week, Secretary of Interior Salazar announced that Shell Oil was given the green light to move forward with an oil exploration program north of the BP spill site in the pristine Arctic Ocean, despite the fact that MMS themselves have noted a high risk of oil spills in these waters. What’s more, there is no technology to clean up spills in the Arctic Ocean’s icy conditions. According to Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen, the lack of capacity to clean up a spill in the Arctic could spell disaster for the Arctic's pristine waters.

The announcement by Secretary Salazar on the Shell plan is in sharp contrast to Interior’s proposed designation of over 200,000 square miles of America’s Arctic as critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act for the threatened polar bear—including the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean, part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, and extensive barrier islands. Shell’s exploratory drilling plans are right in the middle of this critical habitat.

The recent BP spills illustrate that chronic oil spills are a fact of life in Alaska. Over the past 14 years, more than 6,000 spills have been recorded on Alaska’s North Slope – including BP’s massive spill in 2006 and last week’s spills. Yet the conditions surrounding BP’s oil production are tame in comparison to Shell’s uncharted course. The BP spills occurred on land in the middle of the existing Prudhoe Bay industrial complex where operations have been ongoing on for decades. Despite this, the scope of last week’s spills went unrecorded and unmitigated for days because icy conditions kept observation planes grounded and prevented clean-up crews from accessing a large portion of the spill after it was discovered.

Meanwhile, Shell is planning to drill in the middle of a pristine ocean that has been called the least studied and most poorly understood place on earth. An oil well blow-out could leave oil in the waters off the vital coastal habitats of the Arctic for decades, killing polar bears, whales, seals, fish and birds and decimating Arctic communities that have depended on the ocean for their food and their way of life for thousands of years.

Decisions on oil and gas development in the Arctic Ocean should be part of a comprehensive, ecosystem-based management plan that errs on the side of protecting living marine resources already stressed by climate change and the opportunities for subsistence. Please take a moment to let President Obama know that oil and polar bears don’t mix and the polar bears deserve real protections for their habitat.

This is a guest post by Alaska Wilderness League, as part of our occasional series from Endangered Species Coalition member organizations

Monday, December 7, 2009

What Copenhagen Means for Endangered Species

The fate of the world’s wildlife and wild places may rely on what comes out of the international climate change talks that begin today in Copenhagen. We’ll be watching closely at what actions the United States and other nations take at the talks and in the following months. Today, the Obama Administration announced that greenhouse gases pose a significant threat to public health and safety and the EPA will start to regulate carbon dioxide and other harmful global warming pollutants. These are good first steps, but as we noted in a previous post on Hopenhagen, we need to take immediate action to save people and wildlife that are already feeling the impacts of climate change.

Global warming is not on its way. It is not making a pit stop at the trucker’s outpost up the highway. It is not rounding the corner into the neighborhood. It isn’t even knocking at the front door. It is here. It is in the living room, having a boiling pot of tea. And we need to decide just how much we’re going to protect ourselves from getting scalded today.

While some of us are just beginning to feel the heat, others, such as low-lying communities, are already dangerously impacted. The same holds true for wildlife. For millions of years, species have adapted to each other and to the cycles of nature. Global warming introduces chaos into what has previously functioned like a finely tuned orchestra. It changes where species live, what is available for them to eat, and the makeup of their habitats. While all wildlife is experiencing the changes, some are particularly vulnerable. Endangered species, already on the brink of extinction, can scarcely afford another threat.

The Endangered Species Coalition released a report last week, America’s Hottest Species, on species impacted by climate change. As we covered in the report, global warming is disrupting nature’s timing and the life cycles of animals, birds, fish and plants suddenly do not synch. It is also causing species to shift further north or upslope. It spreads disease farther. It causes areas to become too wet or too dry. It increases the frequency of wildfires. And, it simply makes the world too hot. Global warming replaces nature’s essential harmony and rhythms with a disastrous cacophony.

And the death toll is rising. Several populations of a small mountain rabbit, the Pika, appear to have gone extinct, in search of higher ground. Approximately 4,000 young walruses were recently trampled to death because, with less sea ice available to them, they were forced to mass together on land. More than 200 whales and dolphins beached themselves in Tasmania possibly because changing ocean currents are moving food sources closer to shore. Gray whales with bony shoulder blades and protruding ribs are starving to death as their food supplies crash. Hundreds of Magellanic (Patagonian) penguins recently showed up dead or dying on the shores of Brazil, probably in search of food that is likely no longer where it used to be. Hundreds of puffins starved to death in the North Sea as their food disappeared. Ancient forest trees—pines, firs, and hemlocks—across the West have died. And so the catastrophes have begun.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 20 to 30 percent of the world’s species will be at an increased risk of extinction if global temperature rises above 1.5 to 2.5° C above pre-industrial levels. Driving this many species to extinction will result in a planet that has lost its beautiful diversity and many of the benefits that nature provides.

While some of us may throw our hands up in hopelessness at this news, there is a much better response—working for change. Our political leaders finally appear to be on the cusp of taking serious action to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. But, they won’t succeed without an outpouring of support from Americans for strong climate change legislation and strong international agreements. Please make your own voice heard.

The United States Congress needs to pass comprehensive climate change legislation that both significantly reduces the sources of global warming pollution and also addresses the impacts of global warming we are already seeing today.

Currently, the U.S. Congress is considering climate change legislation. To truly protect wildlife, legislation needs the following three policies: 1) planning and funding to help wildlife adapt to climate change, 2) CO2 emissions targets based on what the best available science indicates is needed to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, and 3) protection of existing environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act. (Check out our Congressional and Administrative policy recommendations)

The United States clearly needs to demonstrate leadership on climate change. Negotiating an effective and binding international agreement is essential. That’s why this announcement by the Obama Administration today is so important to show America’s commitment to addressing climate change. While there are additional benefits from Congress passing comprehensive legislation, it is important that the Obama administration prepare to use its already existing authority to address global warming pollution if Congress does not pass a final bill. We hope that this action will encourage the Senators who say that the issue can wait to now become part of the solution

Hopefully, America and the rest of the world will take action on climate change before it is too late to save polar bears, penguins, pikas, whales and the other species being pushed to brink of extinction.

To learn more about these issues, please visit www.StopExtinction.org, where you can also join ESC's Activist Network to receive updates and announcements about how you can help protect and restore America's wildlife, fish and plants.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Pacific salmon in hot water

Warmer temperatures and altered stream flows increase the struggle of Pacific salmon

by Steve Toub

Part 1 of a series on the Endangered Species Coalition's report "America's Hottest Species", 11 endangered species impacted by climate change.

Pacific salmon struggle to swim hundreds of miles to return from the ocean to the freshwater streams where they were born. But this struggle pales in comparison to external threats, which have led to a severe decline in Pacific salmon populations. Five populations of Pacific salmon are endangered and 23 are threatened under the Endangered Species Act, including populations of Chinook salmon, Chum salmon, Coho salmon, Sockeye salmon, and steelhead trout, which are true salmon despite their name. The primary historical cause of the decline as been overfishing, but loss of freshwater habitat has been increasing as a factor. Dam-building, logging, and pollution are among the causes of salmon habitat loss in the past century; looking forward, increased climate change will further stress Pacific salmon populations.

In 2007, the Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, Columbia River Basin Indian Tribes, and National Marine Fisheries Service published a major report on Climate Change Impacts on Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife. It predicted that by 2090, more than 40% of salmon habitat in Oregon and Idaho would be lost. Since the impact of of climate change on salmon habitat is more severe at higher elevations, Washington state, which has overall lower elevations, would lose 22% under the worst case.

Warmer air temperatures alter precipitation and water flows in the region, affecting salmon in several ways. More winter precipitation falling as rain than snow (and more overall precipitation) means heavier stream flows and floods that damage spawning nests in gravel stream beds and wash away incubating eggs. Additionally, the lighter snowpack and its earlier snow melt makes peak river runoff earlier, taking them out to sea before plankton blooms are ready, depriving them of a primary food sources. More significantly, reduced stream flows in summer and fall, making the shallower or drying smaller streams up altogether, forcing them into smaller and less diverse habitats and reducing the likelihood that salmon pass the physical obstacles that can prevent them from completing their upstream migration back to where they were born.

Warmer stream and estuary temperatures pose multiple challenges. A report by Light in the River on the impact of global warming on Pacific salmon states that the optimal temperatures range for juvenile and adult salmon is 55-64° F and that stream temperatures over 70° F are extremely stressful; it later notes that "recent summer water temperatures in the Columbia River have averaged 68-70° F" and that global warming trends are expected to continue. Warmer temperatures increase the metabolism of the salmon, forcing them to find more food to survive. However, their food sources may be scarcer: when eggs are hatching earlier young salmon may be out of sync with the insects they eat and other species better adapted for warmer water are better able to compete for the same food sources. Diseases and parasites increase in warmer water, adding an additional stress, more potent when salmon are already thermally stressed. Also, higher water temperatures accelerate embryo development, causing to eggs hatching earlier in the year and leaving salmon fry less developed and therefore more vulnerable to predators.

Rising sea levels, warmer ocean temperatures and ocean acidification may also stress salmon, but less is known about how these changes will affect the species.

Studies have shown the direct correlation between temperature and health of salmon. Warm periods have fewer salmon; cooler periods have relatively higher numbers. One study of four populations for Snake River spring/summer chinook, cited in the Light in the River report, projected that a 22% decline in October streamflow and a 5.5 degree Fahrenheit increase in average June temperature led to a 37-50% decline in population.

Implementing strong habitat restoration plans may be the only way to limit population declines. In one study of how Chinook salmon in the Snohomish River fare under different climate change models and different restoration scenarios, by 2050 populations decline by an average of 20% in one climate change model and 40% in another. Under an aggressive habitat restoration model populations increase by 19% under the less severe climate change model and decline by only 5% in the more sever model. Moderate restoration scenarios under both models resulted overall declines.

Environmental organizations have been pressing the federal government in to adopt a strong salmon recovery plan for years. Save Our Wild Salmon reports that the Obama plan released recently was only marginally better than the plan proposed by the Bush administration and that "runs counter to the science and advice of experts in the field-regional Forest Service, Department of Fish and Wildlife and American Fisheries Society scientists." After a November 23 hearing, a U.S. District Court judge is expected to rule very soon on the status of this latest salmon recovery plan.

Under threat for years and under increasing stress from climate change, Pacific salmon need your help to survive. Donate to the Endangered Species Coalition to help save America's imperiled wildlife for future generations.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

America's Hottest Species Report

What is at stake for America's endangered species as decision-makers gather in Copenhagen and Congress debates a climate bill? Our new report, America's Hottest Species, demonstrates how endangered species in our country will be impacted by global warming.

We profile 10 endangered species to serve as ambassadors and demonstrate the
ways in which global warming is harming our treasured wildlife and wild places. The report profiles the Kaua'i Creepter, Elkhorn Coral, Bull Trout, Canada Lynx, Pacific Salmon, Leatherback Sea Turtle, Brizzly Bear, Bog Turtle, Western Prairie Fringed Orchid, and Flatwoods Salamander. And we also highlight the Polar Bear, which you and other Endangered Species Coalition members chose as the Activist Choice.

As with all of our efforts, this report was created in collaboration with our incredibly effective member groups, scientific advisors and activists.

Check out our America's Hottest Species report!

Endangered species don't have the luxury of waiting for international decision-makers to waiver on solutions to global warming. In the report, we call on President Obama and Congress to lead on efforts to save wildlife and wild places from climate change.

Global warming may be driving up to 30 percent of the world's species closer to extinction. But if we act now, there is still hope. That is why we are working every day to engage people and organizations in efforts to protect endangered species from urgent threats such as global warming.