Two Latin American Marine Mammal Sites Added to Endangered List

WASHINGTON (March 8, 2005) -- NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) today announced its 2005 BioGems, the dozen most endangered natural places in the Americas. Over the coming year, the BioGems initiative, NRDC's international campaign to protect the Western Hemisphere's imperiled wilderness, will mobilize citizen action to defend these 12 extraordinary areas, ranging from the arctic to the southern reaches of South America.

This year, NRDC is adding two sites of critical importance for whales, porpoises and other marine mammals to its annual list. The new BioGems, in the Upper Gulf of California in Mexico and on the Patagonia Coast of Chile, join 10 other BioGems from 2004, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Cumberland Plateau in the Southeastern United States.

"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 enable citizens around the world to have a voice in the protection of some of the most precious wild places in our hemisphere, and their voices have been critical to our victories in the United States, Canada and Latin America."

Over the past year, NRDC has blocked energy companies, loggers and miners from gaining ground in those 10 BioGems, but they still face ongoing threats. The Arctic Refuge is particularly at risk. Both houses of Congress are currently considering including projected revenues from oil leases in the refuge in their budget bills.

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 activism. Over the last four years, NRDC's 500,000 online BioGem activists have sent more than 5 million messages to government officials and corporations, protesting plans to sacrifice some of the Western Hemisphere's last wild and unspoiled places (for more information, go to

"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, director of NRDC's Land Program. "Citizens are rising up and saying 'No more.' There are better, cleaner and more economical alternatives to destroying our natural heritage."

New BioGems for 2005

NRDC added two new BioGems in Latin America to its list to protect threatened marine mammals and the pristine waters they depend on for survival.

First, Mexico's Upper Gulf of California is the only home of the California Gulf porpoise, also called the vaquita marina porpoise, which is on the U.S. Endangered Species list. The last remaining roughly 500 of these graceful mammals swim alongside humpback whales and hammerhead sharks in waters once so rich Jacques Cousteau called the area the "aquarium of the world."

Today, overfishing, driven by industrial shrimp trawlers, threatens to exterminate the California Gulf porpoise and decimate the hundreds of fish species that call the gulf their home. NRDC and BioGem activists today announced a campaign to pressure the largest shrimp exporter in the region to work with gulf fishing communities and scientists to halt destructive practices in the upper gulf, which was declared an international Biosphere Reserve in 1993. (For more information on the Upper California Gulf, click here.)

Second, far to the south, along Chile's Patagonia Coast, scientists have identified what may be the first blue whale nursery ever to be studied. Adjacent to this special marine area, in the midst of jagged peaks and deep green fjords blanketed with an old-growth temperate rainforest, the Canadian company Noranda plans to build an aluminum smelter. The toxic pollution and ship traffic associated with the smelter would undoubtedly threaten the whales. NRDC will enlist BioGems Defenders to block Noranda from despoiling this untouched coastal region.

Ongoing BioGems

Canada's Heart of the Boreal Forest, the nesting ground for billions of North America's most beloved songbirds, remains threatened by Manitoba Hydro's plan to carve transmission lines through the dense woods and traditional hunting grounds of several indigenous peoples.

Further west in the Canadian Rockies, the Shell oil company is pressuring the Alberta government to let it expand drilling in the Castle Wilderness and Bighorn Wildland. The forested ridgelines and huckleberry-filled meadows of these two regions provide critical stops along the wildlife migration corridor that keeps grizzly bear populations vital and healthy across Alberta, Montana and British Columbia.

Several U.S. BioGems are still threatened by the Bush administration's reckless energy policy. The primary target is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, America's prime birthing ground for Porcupine caribou, polar bears, white wolves and other vulnerable species. By prevailing on Congress to open this crown jewel of the wildlife refuge system to oil and gas drilling, the administration hopes to set a precedent for opening other sensitive wildlands currently off limits to development.

Even as NRDC fights in Congress to preserve the Arctic Refuge, it will take legal action to block drilling in its neighbor, the Western Arctic Reserve, home to polar bears, 3,500 beluga whales, several caribou herds, and tens of millions of nesting shorebirds and waterfowl. The organization also will counter the administration's attempt to open the untouched wildlands of the Yellowstone-Greater Rockies and Utah's Redrock Wilderness to 50,000-pound thumper trucks, roadbuilding, truck traffic, pipelines, and complexes of drill pads. (For more information about the Redrock Wilderness, click here.)

In southeast Alaska, NRDC will continue legal action against the Bush administration for excluding the Tongass National Forest from a national ban on logging in wild, roadless areas, and contest timber sales in the region's spectacular landscape of 800-year old hemlocks, salmon-filled rivers, and grizzly-dotted ridges. The group also will defend the maple, hickory, and oak forests of the Cumberland Plateau, stretching from West Virginia and Kentucky to Tennessee and Alabama, by pressuring major paper buyers to stop purchasing paper made with virgin timber from the plateau. (For more information on the Cumberland Plateau, click here.)

In the Everglades, NRDC is pursuing courtroom action to block a series of massive limestone mines, approved by the Bush administration, that threaten to destroy 30 square miles of critical wildlife habitat and contaminate the drinking water used by 1 million people.

Finally, in South America, NRDC will continue its ongoing campaign to protect Peru's Tahuamanú Rainforest, home to some of the last remaining concentrations of old-growth mahogany trees in Latin America, from illegal logging. Three years ago, NRDC helped win a decade-long battle to establish tighter trade restrictions on the old-growth mahogany trees that are being illegally logged in Tahuamanú to meet U.S. consumer demand. Last year, NRDC worked to eradicate the market for illegal mahogany that is killing the Peruvian Amazon.

NRDC BioGem Campaign Victories in 2004

Last year, the BioGems campaign held at bay the most prominent threat to U.S. wildlands in decades: the Bush administration's drive to open some of America's unique and highly sensitive public lands to energy, timber, and mining corporations.

When the administration tried to turn the Greater Yellowstone-Rockies BioGem into oil and gas drill fields, BioGem activists sent more than 100,000 messages opposing energy development in the region. That public outcry helped to force the administration to abandon proposed drilling in the grizzly bear habitat of Montana's Rocky Mountain Front and Wyoming's Bridger-Teton National Forest.

When the administration began fast-tracking oil and gas leases in Utah's Redrock Wilderness, in the heart of America's greatest concentration of prehistoric rock art, NRDC went to court and won greater protections for this irreplaceable outdoor museum.

And when the Bush administration began leasing oil rights in Alaska's undeveloped Western Arctic Reserve for short-term energy industry profits, NRDC convinced a federal judge to block the development pending a full hearing of its lawsuit.

The BioGems campaign also successfully squared off against irresponsible corporations. When online BioGems activists learned that the Timber Products Company planned to open a veneer mill that would fuel the destruction of Alaska's Tongass National Forest, they sent 58,000 messages to the company, calling on it to preserve America's last great temperate rainforest. The public outcry prompted company officials to meet with NRDC, and soon after, the company abandoned its plans.

NRDC won immediate victories for two BioGems added to the list in 2004. Just months after NRDC named Canada's Heart of the Boreal Forest an endangered BioGem, online BioGem activists sent 22,000 messages to the Manitoba government, helping to secure critical protections for 2.2 million acres of the great northern forest for another five years.

NRDC also identified the wild woods of the Cumberland Plateau in the Southeastern United States as a BioGem, focusing national attention on the urgent threat of massive logging. Within a year, 14,000 BioGems Defenders petitioned the giant paper company Bowater, the single largest landowner on the plateau, and the company agreed to stop converting biologically diverse hardwood forests into sterile pine plantations. (For a complete list of major BioGem victories over the past five years, click here.)

2005 BioGems

United States: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska; Cumberland Plateau, Southeastern United States; Greater Everglades, 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.

2005 BioGems Watchlist

Through its BioGems Watchlist, NRDC mobilizes targeted actions to protect other special wild places in danger or in need of continued vigilance after a BioGems victory. (For details on the BioGems Watchlist, click here.)

United States: Catskills Forest Preserve, New York; Copper River, Alaska; Great North Woods, New York and New England; Hawaiian Islands Whale Sanctuary, and Northwest Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Reserve.

Canada: Forest of the Rock, Newfoundland; Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia.

Latin America: Alacran Reef, Mexico; Amazon Frontier, Brazil; Olivillo Coastal Forest, Chile.