Monday, January 30, 2012

Buried For Cheap Coal

This is a guest post from Tierra R. Curry, M.S. a Conservation Biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Photo credit Conservation Fisheries, Inc
The Kentucky arrow darter is literally being blown up and buried for cheap coal. The darter is a handsome brightly colored fish that is found in only six counties in the Appalachian Mountains in southeastern Kentucky. Unfortunately for this newly discovered species, its entire range is within an area that is being devastated by mountaintop removal coal mining. Mountaintop removal is a radical form of mining where coal companies dynamite the tops off of mountains and then dump the waste directly into nearby streams, permanently filling in the stream and poisoning downstream wildlife. More than 2,000 miles of streams and 500 mountains have already been destroyed. The pollution from mountaintop removal is toxic for aquatic animals and has been linked to cancer and birth defects in humans. In some counties in eastern Kentucky, nearly one-quarter of the total land area of the county is under open permit for surface mining.

Coal mining has already extirpated the Kentucky arrow darter from more than half of its range. It is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act, but this status does not provide real protection for the fish or its habitat. The headwater streams that are home to the Kentucky arrow darter are biologically rich and are a source of drinking water for people.

Darters are exceptionally interesting fish. During the mating season male arrow darters become showy, and change from pale yellow and green to bright colors with blue, green, orange and scarlet spots and stripes. They undergo elaborate courtship rituals involving dashing, nudging and quivering. Parental care is generally rare in fish, but male darters establish territories and then defend their nests until the eggs have hatched.

The Environmental Protection Agency has recently taken some steps to attempt to reduce water quality degradation caused by mountaintop removal in Appalachia, but the agency’s efforts to curb the practice are under political attack in Washington. The coal industry and their politicians claim that mining is essential to the economy of Kentucky, but the bleak reality is that the counties with the most mining remain among the poorest counties in the nation. The highly mechanized mining employs few people and keeps the region locked in poverty. Mountaintop removal caused the loss of thousands of mining jobs and prevents a sustainable economy from developing. Mountaintop removal threatens the survival of the Kentucky arrow darter as well as the health and culture of mountain communities.

Take action for the Kentucky arrow darter!
Ask the Obama Administration to close the mining waste loophole.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fueling Extinction

Just as we were putting the finishing touches on a new report, Fueling Extinction, the Obama administration delivered some really big news--the State Department rejected TransCanada's request to build the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Whooping crane credit fws

As we've written here previously, the Keystone XL Pipeline could have been catastrophic for one of our nation's most endangered species, the whooping crane.  This now-rejected pipeline is a tragic illustration of a simple fact: Fossil fuels are killing wildlife and putting the planet at unprecedented risk. 

In continuing to use dirty fossil fuels, we are fueling extinction. 

In the report, Fueling Extinction, the Endangered Species Coalition and participating member organizations highlight the top ten U.S. species threatened by fossil fuels in addition to the activists choice of the polar bear.  These species range from a bivalve (tan riffleshell) to a rare wildflower (Graham's penstemon) to the bowhead whale.

Bowhead whale credit FWS
These diverse species all have at least one thing in common. They're being driven closer to the edge of extinction by our nation's continued reliance on energy sources produced in the age of dinosaurs.   

Polar bears are seeing their habitat melt from beneath them, while facing a new threat in the form of Arctic drilling. Endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles still recovering from the Gulf spill, are uniquely vulnerable to threats from oil and gas development. Greater sage-grouse have seen their range-wide abundance decrease between 69-99 percent from historic levels due in large part to habitat loss from oil and gas development.

Please take a few moments and read the entire report, Fueling Extinction, to learn more about the impacts of dirty fossil fuels on our nation's most imperiled plants, birds, fish and wildlife.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Welcoming Wolves Back To California

OR7 Photo Credit Allen Daniels
On December 29th,  2011 the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) announced that an endangered gray wolf wandered into California from southern Oregon. For anyone who appreciates wildlife, or has followed the very successful recovery of the gray wolf in the northern Rockies, this is an historic event because it marks the first confirmed gray wolf in our state since the last wild gray wolf was killed in Lassen County in 1924.

OR7's travels
The wolf is OR7, a 2 ½ -year-old male gray wolf fitted with a Global Positioning Device (GPS) collar by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. He has been on quite a walkabout since early Fall when he dispersed from the Imnaha pack in Northeast Oregon. It is estimated he has covered more than 700 miles on his trek through Oregon’s protected and unprotected landscape- a journey which now includes a visit into our state.

My own interest in wolves began in 2003 when I was a volunteer with the Nez Perce Tribe/US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on the gray wolf reintroduction project in central Idaho. Working with an agency biologist I would spend the long summer days in Idaho’s vast backcountry attempting to locate established wolf packs, confirm reproduction, and occasionally attempt to trap and radio collar individual animals. We observed wolves very infrequently but when we heard their howls or had an occasional glimpse, it was an unforgettable moment. OR7’s mother, B300, was born in Idaho where she dispersed from the Timberline pack in 2008. She swam across the Snake River to reach Oregon and establish the Imnaha pack. It is thrilling for me to know wolves are reclaiming their rightful place in the landscape of the Pacific Northwest.

Barry Braden releasing
Mexican Gray Wolf in 2006.
The recovery of wolves, California condors, bald eagles, grizzly bears, and so many other critically endangered animal and plant species, would not have been possible without the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA is not just a strong environmental law - it also articulates a noble vision. In it, for the first time in world history, the legislators of a great nation said that it would do everything in its power to prevent the extinction of any species within its border. The ESA was originally passed by Congress in 1973 with overwhelming bipartisan support, including a 92-0 vote in the Senate, and was signed into law 38 years ago on December 28th by President Richard M. Nixon. The strength of this commitment represents the best of who we are as a people. Unfortunately, the current political climate brings ongoing challenges to the ESA- and many of the other laws designed to protect our environment- from the fringes of both major political parties. The Endangered Species Coalition and our 400+ member groups are one hundred percent dedicated to ensuring the ESA remains the law of the land and maintains the noble vision of a Congress and President united almost 40 years ago to stop extinction.

No one knows where OR7’s travels will take him next. He is likely in search of a mate but it is unlikely he will find a female wolf on our side of the border. However, it is certain that others will eventually follow his path. OR7 has made it possible for us to imagine a day when viable wolf packs inhabit areas of California where suitable habitat remains, restoring ecological integrity to some of our state’s best wild places. I know I speak for all who are represented by the Coalition when I say “Welcome to California OR7”!


This post was written by Barry Braden, a member of the Endangered Species Coalition Board of Directors.