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Environment: Court rejects Las Vegas water grab

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Court rebuffs Las Vegas plan for unsustainable groundwater mining.

Nevada’s fragile desert spring ecosystems safe for at least a little while longer

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A Nevada judge this week blocked a Las Vegas water grab that would rob future generations of precious groundwater resources.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority had proposed siphoning 37 billion gallons from remote underground aquifers in a plan that was challenged by the Center for Biological Diversity and its allies in the Great Basin Water Network, as well as by White Pine County, Nev.

According to federal studies, the groundwater pumping, hundreds of miles north of the city, would destroy more than 137,000 acres of wildlife habitat by lowering groundwater tables by up to 200 feet in many areas — all to fuel unsustainable growth in the desert metropolis.

In 2011, the Nevada Division of Water Resources gave the project a thumbs-up by allocating 84,000 acre-feet of ancient groundwater a year to the Southern Nevada Water Authority for export to Las Vegas, but Senior Judge Robert Estes of the Seventh Judicial District Court of Nevada said that allocation is unfair to future Nevadans and not in the public interest. Continue reading

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Speed limit set to protect North Atlantic right whales

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Lower speeds reduce deaths from collisions by 80 to 90 percent

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Endangered North Atlantic right whales may have a little better chance of avoiding deadly collisions with ships, as the National Marine Fisheries Service this week set a permanent speed limit for large ships. Under the rule, ships longer than 65 feet have to slow to 10 knots (about 11 mph) when they’re around whales.

“This is really great news for Atlantic right whales and will help put this magnificent species on the road to recovery,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Speed limits for large ships are a simple and effective way to avoid deadly collisions that have been a significant threat to these whales’ survival.” Continue reading

Climate: Can a lawsuit stop ocean acidification?

Conservation group eyes Clean Water Act as tool in climate fight

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Sea shells will not fare well as oceans absorb CO2. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — It’s not clear if anything — besides massive cuts in carbon dioxide emissions — can stop the acidification of oceans, but the Center for Biological Diversity would at least like to see the EPA try to water quality standards as a way to tackle the problem.

The conservation group last week filed a lawsuit against the EPA for failing to address ocean acidification that may already be killing oysters in Oregon and Washington and threatening a wide range of other sea life. The lawsuit challenges the EPA’s decision that seawaters in those two states meet water-quality standards meant to protect marine life despite disturbing increases in acidity. Continue reading

Feds finalize recovery plan for Alaska sea otters

Predation by killer whales seen as main threat

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A dramatic decline in sea otter numbers in southwest Alaska has prompted an all-out recovery effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Nothern sea otter. Photo via USFWS.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal officials have finally completed a recovery plan for northern sea otters living along the coast of southwest Alaska, but fully recovering the species may prove to be a big challenge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says predation by killer whales may be the single biggest factor in significant population declines documented since the 1950s.

“There may be few actions that can be taken to mitigate predation as a threat, but the sea otter recovery program should search for solutions and be open to novel ideas,” the scientists wrote in the recovery plan. Above all, more research is needed to pinpoint population trends and reasons for the decline, they wrote.

The 50 to 60 percent drop in otter numbers has had a dramatic effect on coastal ecosystems in the region. Otters are a keystone species in their ecosystem niche. They control sea urchin populations, which prevents over-grazing of underwater kelp forests, which are important habitat for a slew of other species. Read the recovery plan here. Continue reading

Feds issue emergency rules to protect sperm whales

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Activists seek to halt drift gillnet fishing altogether

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal officials this week enacted emergency regulations to try and protect Pacific Ocean sperm whale population from California’s drift gillnet fishery, which has been killing non-commercial fish and marine mammals at an alarming rate.

The practice of setting miles of floating nets may be one of the cheapest ways to fish for commercial species, but it’s also one of the most destructive to marine resources. Recent fishery observer data indicates that, for every two swordfish the fishery catches to sell, on average one blue shark, 15 ocean sunfish, and a long list of other fish are thrown overboard dead or injured.

The new regulations issues by the National Marine Fisheries Service will shut down California’s drift gillnet fishery if a single endangered sperm whale is caught dead or injured. Continue reading

Environment: Soot pollution targeted by new lawsuit

Diesel exhaust is significant regional contributor to soot pollution.

Diesel exhaust is significant regional contributor to soot pollution.

Green group cites lack of EPA enforcement in nine-state legal action

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — More than 100 years after the dawn of the industrial age, factories and power plants are still spewing toxic soot into the air, even though the technology to halt the pollution is readily available.

Conservation advocates last week said enough is enough, and announced a far-reaching lawsuit that would force the EPA to finally live up to its obligation to enforce Clean Air Act standards.

“The Clean Air Act can only work to protect public health and ecosystems if it is actually enforced,” said Jonathan Evans, toxics and endangered species campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “EPA and the states have a moral and legal duty to work to together to clean up the toxic soot that’s polluting our skies.” Continue reading

Biodiversity: Tweaking endangered species rules a bad idea, conservation groups say

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Federal agencies want to dial back their requirements to track impacts to endangered species. Photo courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Cutting back on take limits could put more plants and animals at risk of extinction

By Summit Voice

FRISCO —Watchdog groups are warning that a proposal to weaken endangered species standards could put some plants and animals at greater risk of extinction.

The new rule would scale back the requirement that federal agencies fully track impacts to endangered species under broad programmatic environmental studies. Cumulative impacts on rare species from actions like oil and gas drilling would be discounted in the decision-making process, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

The change is being proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, both agencies have repeatedly failed to track how the projects they approve are affecting rare and vanishing species. Continue reading

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