Florida's Emerald Coast Added to Annual List of Endangered Natural Places

WASHINGTON (March 2, 2006) -- The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) today announced its 2006 list of BioGems, 12 of the most endangered natural places in the Americas, ranging from the Alaskan Arctic to the southern reaches of South America.

The newest BioGem is a coastal sanctuary for sea turtles, Gulf sturgeon and other imperiled wildlife: Florida's spectacular Emerald Coast along its northwestern panhandle. The area, which stretches from Pensacola to Tallahassee, is under tremendous pressure from real estate development that could destroy its natural character forever.

Florida's Emerald Coast joins 11 other BioGems carried over from the 2005 list, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Cumberland Plateau in the Southeastern United States, and Mexico's Upper Gulf of California. (See

"NRDC's BioGems initiative has demonstrated the power of the Internet as a tool for conservation," said Jacob Scherr, NRDC's BioGems campaign coordinator. "We have used the Web to give citizens a voice in protecting some the most precious wild places in our hemisphere, and their activism has been critical to the major victories we had last year in the United States, Canada and Latin America."

NRDC launched the BioGems Initiative in 2001 to mobilize Americans to defend exceptional, imperiled ecosystems. The initiative couples NRDC's research and advocacy expertise with citizen action. Over the last five years, NRDC's 550,000 online BioGem activists have sent some 7 million messages to government officials and corporations, protesting plans to sacrifice some of the Western Hemisphere's last wild and unspoiled places.

"Industry wants to turn our old-growth forests into toilet paper, and industrialize our last pristine wilderness areas for a few more drops of oil," said Johanna Wald, co-director of the BioGems Initiative. "Citizens are rising up and saying 'No more.' There are better, cleaner and more economical alternatives to destroying our natural heritage."

New BioGem for 2006: Florida's Emerald Coast

The newest BioGem, Florida's Emerald Coast, is one of the last remaining unspoiled areas in the state and one of the most biologically diverse regions in the nation. This 250-mile stretch of largely unspoiled coastline boasts a vast network of longleaf pine forests, cypress swamps and wetlands, which provide natural protection against Gulf Coast hurricanes as well as habitat for sea turtles, American alligators, red-cockaded woodpeckers, Florida black bears and other imperiled wildlife.

NRDC and its activists are joining with local conservation and citizen groups to block unchecked, destructive building projects. Proposals for a major new airport and numerous real estate projects would transform this thriving coastal refuge into a maze of housing developments, shopping malls, office parks, golf courses, resorts, roads and parking lots. (For more information about threats to the Emerald Coast, click here.)

U.S. BioGems Update: Victories in Alaska, the Rockies and the Cumberland

In 2005, BioGems Defenders rallied again to block efforts to industrialize pristine wildlands with destructive drilling and logging projects.

Taking on the White House, the oil lobby and pro-drilling congressional leaders, BioGem activists flooded lawmakers with thousands of petitions and phone calls and helped persuade both houses of Congress to strike down proposals for oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, America's premier sanctuary for polar bears, caribou and other Arctic wildlife.

Elsewhere in Alaska, NRDC and its allies persuaded an appeals court to strike down a Bush administration plan that would have allowed logging in 2.4 million acres of Alaska's Tongass National Forest. BioGems Defenders also sent tens of thousands of messages protesting a series of massive timber sales that would have devastated this priceless habitat for salmon, grizzlies and bald eagles.

In another victory for America's old-growth forests, an outcry from BioGems Defenders and others helped force the U.S. Forest Service to scale back a proposal to offer leases for oil and gas drilling in roadless areas of Wyoming's Bridger-Teton National Forest, a key habitat for recovering populations of cutthroat trout and lynx. NRDC and its partners also went to court to block plans for a massive polluting copper and silver mine in the Montana wilderness, part of NRDC's Yellowstone/Greater Rockies BioGem.

In the Southeastern part of the country, a barrage of messages from BioGems Defenders helped prod the giant paper company Bowater -- the largest landowner in NRDC's Cumberland Plateau BioGem -- to sign an agreement that it will stop clearcutting biologically diverse hardwood forests and turning them into sterile pine plantations.

Several U.S. BioGems remain in imminent danger from the Bush administration's reckless "drill American first" energy policy. Proponents of opening the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling have vowed to renew their push in Congress during the budget process this spring. And the Interior Department has released plans giving oil companies unbridled access to the neighboring Western Arctic Reserve, including vast wetlands in the northeast corner of the reserve that are critical to millions of waterfowl, shorebirds and tens of thousands of caribou. NRDC has fought in court since 2004 to block drilling in the northwestern portion of the Western Arctic Reserve, and the group filed a lawsuit earlier this year to bring down this latest proposal.

In a parallel effort to save our Arctic natural heritage, NRDC BioGems Defenders have sent tens of thousands of messages calling on the Bush administration to grant endangered species protection to the polar bear, whose sea-ice habitat is severely threatened by global warming.

Responding to the plight of another endangered bear, NRDC will continue its fight to stop the Bush administration from prematurely removing Yellowstone's 500 to 600 surviving grizzlies from the endangered species list. Stripping life-saving protections from these majestic creatures is part of the administration's profit-driven scheme to throw open wildlife habitat throughout the American West to oil and gas drilling, logging and other destructive activity. In 2006, NRDC will mobilize BioGem activists to keep drilling rigs, bulldozers and access roads out of these irreplaceable wildlands, from the dense pine forests of the Northern Rockies to the desert grasslands of New Mexico's Otero Mesa to the delicate canyonlands of Utah's Redrock Wilderness.

Canadian BioGems Update: Victory in British Columbia

BioGems Defenders have made significant progress in protecting endangered forests in Canada.

In early February the British Columbian government announced it is creating a 5-million-acre Great Bear Rainforest park to protect wildlife habitat on its Pacific Coast. This victory came after years of protest and negotiation by indigenous peoples and North American conservation groups, including NRDC. Over the years, tens of thousands of NRDC members and BioGem activists flooded the provincial government and logging companies with emails, letters and faxes. The new park, which features thousand-year-old cedar trees, boasts a wide range of wildlife, including salmon, eagles, wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, and the rare white "spirit" bear found only in the province.

In Manitoba and Ontario, NRDC has been working closely with indigenous peoples to secure permanent protection for 10.6 million acres of the ancient boreal forest. Bowing to pressure from NRDC activists, the governments of Canada, Manitoba and Ontario now support the nomination of this region -- part of the Heart of the Boreal Forest BioGem -- as a U.N. World Heritage site, which would strengthen protection for its endangered caribou, wolves and millions of migratory songbirds.

Citing environmental concerns, Manitoba's energy minister last June pledged not to allow a proposed hydropower transmission corridor in a wild stretch of the boreal forest east of Lake Winnipeg. Even so, the Manitoba government has failed to fulfill its promise to grant permanent protection to Heart of the Boreal lands and NRDC will be looking to BioGems Defenders again this year to keep the pressure on. NRDC also will renew its consumer-driven effort to force Kimberly-Clark -- the maker of Kleenex -- to stop making throwaway paper products from old-growth boreal trees.

To the west, in Alberta's Castle-Bighorn wildlands, NRDC's BioGems campaign will continue fighting to protect a key migratory route for Rocky Mountain grizzly bears, wolves and other wildlife from oil and gas drilling, logging and other threats.

Latin American BioGems Update: Victory in Mexico

Early last year, BioGems Defenders sent more than 35,000 messages to Mexico's chief shrimp exporter, San Diego-based Ocean Garden Products, urging the company to protect an endangered porpoise, the vaquita marina, by promoting sustainable fishing in NRDC's Upper Gulf of California BioGem. Soon after, Ocean Garden and the local fishing industry signed a landmark agreement with NRDC to prevent the accidental catch of the fewer than 500 remaining vaquitas and to eliminate illegal fishing in the Upper Gulf.

Further south, our BioGems Initiative will continue opposing harmful industrialization and logging in some of Latin America's most endangered wildlands. In Peru's Tahuamanú Rainforest, home of the giant otter, the squirrel monkey and the macaw, U.S. demand for mahogany is driving the destruction of old-growth mahogany forests. BioGems Defenders are urging U.S. manufacturers to avoid buying mahogany from Peru until its government can certify the mahogany has been legally logged.

Finally, near the southernmost tip of the Americas, NRDC is fighting a plan by the Canadian company Noranda to build an aluminum smelter along Chile's unspoiled Patagonia Coast, which would endanger the unspoiled coastline with toxic pollution and increased ship traffic. Last year, NRDC also helped Chilean scientists publish a book about a recently discovered blue whale nursery in Patagonia to publicize efforts to establish a protected marine sanctuary there.

2006 BioGems

United States: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska; Cumberland Plateau, Southeastern United States; Emerald Coast, Florida; Redrock Wilderness, Utah; Tongass National Forest, Alaska; Western Arctic Reserve, Alaska; Yellowstone-Greater Rockies.
Canada: Castle-Bighorn, Alberta; Heart of the Boreal Forest, Manitoba.
Latin America: Patagonia Coast, Chile; Tahuamanú Rainforest, Peru; Upper Gulf of California, Mexico.