AmeriScan: April 25, 2003

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New Mexico Asks Bush to Restore Clean Water Protection

SANTA FE, New Mexico, April 25, 2003 (ENS) - New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has called on Congress and the Bush administration to close a Clean Water Act loophole that he says threatens the health of one fifth of the rivers, streams and wetlands in New Mexico.

The loophole was created by the Bush administration's interpretation of the Supreme Court's recent Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. United States Army Corps of Engineers et al., known as the SWANCC ruling.

The threat posed by the SWANCC decision is clear, Richardson wrote in a letter to New Mexico's Congressional delegation.

"It excludes isolated, intrastate, non-navigable waters from the environmental protections guaranteed under the federal Clean Water Act," Richardson wrote. "Due to our state's dramatic, chronic drought, it could not have come at a worse time. New Mexico's already over tapped watercourses will come under increasing pressure in the coming years. To weaken environmental oversight now is to invite disaster."

The New Mexico governor asked the delegation to support the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act of 2003, which would close the SWANCC loophole.

"This is not just a narrow legal issue," said New Mexico Environment Secretary Ron Curry. "Farmers and ranchers rely on this resource as do small communities for their drinking water."

"New Mexico is not the only state effected by this attempt to weaken protections under existing law," Curry said. "This is an issue being addressed around the west and throughout the country."

In his letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Richardson pointed out the threat to the state's Mimbres River watershed, which includes portions of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness and Gila National Forest near Silver City.

"The river is an essential part of the wilderness experience and provides the only reliable source of drinking water for backpackers or tourists on horseback," Richardson wrote.

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Congressional Auditors Say Government Ignoring Pesticides on Tobacco

WASHINGTON, DC, April 25, 2003 (ENS) - Congressional auditors believe that the federal government is not considering the adverse health effects of the use of pesticides on tobacco.

The General Accounting Office (GAO) report "Federal Activities to Assess Risks and Monitor Residues," finds that tobacco products are not subject to the same regulatory oversight as other products treated with pesticides and consumed by people or animals.

The GAO says that more than 25 million pounds of pesticides are used by U.S. tobacco growers each year and it describes tobacco as "a pesticide intensive crop." Although most of the pesticides are widely used on other crops, some specific tobacco pesticides considered highly toxic.

The gaps in the U.S. regulatory enforcement, according to the GAO, are widened by the large number of countries that grow and export tobacco to the United States. Tobacco is grown in more than 100 countries.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with determining risks to human health or the environment from pesticide use. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration provide oversight of pesticide residue on crops and products.

According to the GAO's report the EPA regulates the specific pesticides that may be used on tobacco and other crops and specifies how the pesticides may be used, but the agency does not otherwise regulate residues of pesticides approved for use on tobacco.

"The EPA has concluded that low levels of residues in tobacco smoke do not pose short term health concerns requiring mitigation," the report says. "It does not assess intermediate or long term risks to smokers because of the severity of health effects linked to use of tobacco products themselves."

The GAO determined that the USDA has not reevaluated which pesticides it monitors in its tobacco residue testing program since 1989 and excludes some highly toxic pesticides that although banned in the U.S., may still be used in foreign countries.

The report calls on the USDA to periodically review and update which tobacco pesticides its tobacco residue testing program monitors.

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Federal Agencies Release Missouri River Water Management Plan

WASHINGTON, DC, April 25, 2003 (ENS) - Competing federal agencies said Wednesday that they have come to agreement on a water management plan for the Missouri River reservoirs for the late spring and summer of 2003.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said their agreement complies with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) while reinforcing the reliability of the system of reservoirs "to meet the multiple congressionally authorized project purposes."

"We have worked collaboratively with the Corps to address the issues associated with the near-term operation of the Missouri River System in 2003," said Ralph Morgenweck, Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Mountain-Prairie Region.

"The water management plan is for this year only, and the Service remains committed to implementing the long-term measures necessary to return ecological health to the Missouri River."

Agency officials say the agreement takes particular concern to address two migratory birds - the endangered interior least tern and the threatened piping plover. Both species are listed on the ESA and their nests can be threatened by rising river levels.

The plan is to set a release rate of 26,000 cubic feet per second to 27,000 cubic feet per second from Gavins Point Dam, near Yankton, South Dakota, when the birds initiate nesting.

Additionally, use of three Kansas River Corps reservoirs that are authorized to provide Missouri River flow support will be used if appropriate.

"The Corps and Service agree that the plan minimizes impacts to the birds and loss of their nesting habitat, minimizes reservoir draw downs, and provides more reliability for the congressionally authorized purposes of the dams and reservoirs," said Brig. Gen. David Fastabend, Northwestern Division Engineer.

The Corps and the Service say they do not plan to move tern and plover eggs and chicks threatened by inundation from navigation flows.

The short term and the long term management of the Missouri River's water flow has been the subject of debate for many years. Conservationists are moving forward with a suit filed in February against the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in February for failing to update the operations of six dams that inhibit the flow of the Missouri river.

The groups seek immediate changes in dam operation to reverse the river's ecological decline and charge that by failing to update operations, the Corps is in violation of the Flood Control Act of 1944, the ESA and the Administrative Procedures Act.

The Corps has been on notice since 1990 that its current plan jeopardizes the continued existence of at least three native river species in violation of the Endangered Species Act. By favoring one river use over all others, the Corps is violating its own controlling authority on the Missouri, the Flood Control Act of 1944. And, 14 years of delay amounts to a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

The case has been filed in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, but hearings have yet to be scheduled.

Army Corps officials say discussions on the the Master Manual, which governs long term water management of the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System, will begin soon.

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Experts Share Tips To Avoid West Nile Virus

WASHINGTON, DC, April 25, 2003 (ENS) - This summer is expected to bring increased cases of the West Nile virus, according to a Harvard University health expert, including more fatalities. But there are ways to lower risks of contracting the virus, which is passed on to humans by infected mosquitos.

More than 4,000 Americans in 40 states contracted West Nile in 2002, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and 284 died from the virus.

The virus has been detected in mosquitos, birds or other animals in at least 43 of the lower 48 states. Mosquitos spread the disease by transferring blood from infected birds to other animals.

"It is best to take a holistic approach to mosquito control," said Kimberly Thompson, a specialist in risk analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. "This includes taking physical measures to reduce breeding grounds and risk, using pest control products properly when needed, and working within local communities to ensure civic leaders are providing education about West Nile Virus and protection from mosquitoes."

Thompson advises individuals to make sure doors and windows have tight fitting screens and she suggests the use of mosquito repellants on exposed skin whenever you are in an area where mosquitoes may be present.

Eliminating standing water is another way to lower risk from mosquitos, Thompson explained, as the insects use for breeding.

Mosquitos are in particular most active at dusk and dawn in April through October, Thompson said, and it is best to avoid prime mosquito locations such as marshes and wetlands.

Although mosquitos are the primary source of human infection, CDC confirmed transmission of West Nile virus through transplanted human organs and there is at least one confirmed case of transplacental transmission of the disease from mother to child.

According to the CDC, most people who are infected with the West Nile virus will not have any type of illness.

About 20 percent who become infected will develop West Nile fever, indicated by mild symptoms, including fever, headache, and body aches. It is estimated that one in 150 infected will develop a more serve, and potentially fatal, form of the disease known as West Nile encephalitis or meningitis.

The symptoms for West Nile encephalitis include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis.

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Cheap Coffee Is Bad for Wildlife

NEW YORK, New York, April 25, 2003 (ENS) - The demand for cheap coffee is leading to deforestation of lowland forests in Indonesia, according to a study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). These forests are home to Indonesia's last remaining wild tiger populations and populations of elephants and rhinos.

The study, published in the journal "Science," details how falling coffee prices worldwide has led to increased Indonesia production of robusta coffee, the inexpensive variety commonly sold in cans and used in instant coffee.

The increased production has resulted in more forest being cleared, even in national parks.

The report finds that between 1996 and 2001, land cleared for coffee increased by 28 percent in Indonesia's Lampung Province, the heart of the country's robusta coffee region.

Seventy percent of Lampung's coffee production occurs inside and adjacent to Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, one of a few remaining strongholds of Sumatran tigers, elephants and rhinoceroses. All three of these species are declining due to fragmentation and loss of forest habitat, according to WCS scientists.

"If we do not act soon, our next cup of java may have the bitter taste of extinction," said the study's lead author, Dr. Tim O'Brien of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The study traces the spike in coffee production to the U.S. withdrawal from the International Coffee Organization, an international United Nations' cartel formed to balance supply and demand of coffee in an attempt to ensure fair prices.

By pulling out of the organization, the United States caused a jump in supply that cut worldwide prices in half, the report's authors explain.

The United States can, however, play a key role in changing the market conditions that are encouraging deforestation in Indonesia, O'Brien says.

The report suggests that as the leading consumer of robusta coffee the United States should recommit to the International Coffee Organization and call for certification programs to make coffee more wildlife-friendly.

U.S. consumers, the report's authors write, can help by purchasing coffee that is certified and provides a fair price to farmers.

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Hurricane Winds Bring Ocean Salt, Plantkon to U.S. Midwest

GREENBELT, Maryland, April 25, 2003 (ENS) - A study of a 1997 hurricane unearthed evidence of sea salt and frozen plankton in high, cold, cirrus clouds over the American Midwest. The researchers examined the farreaching effects of Hurricane Nora, a strong 1997 eastern Pacific hurricane.

The storm's high ice crystal clouds extended many miles inland, the researchers say, and carried ocean phenomena deep into the heartland of the United States.

Published in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Atmospheric Sciences, the paper details the finding of frozen plankton in some cirrus crystals collected by research aircraft over Oklahoma, far from the Pacific Ocean.

This was the first time examples of microscopic marine life, like plankton, were seen as "nuclei" of ice crystals in the cirrus clouds of a hurricane, according to the researchers.

Hurricane Nora formed off the Panama coast, strengthened as it traveled up the Baja Peninsula, and crossed into California in September 1997. It deposited a stream of high cirrus, ice crystal, clouds over the Western United States that created spectacular optical effects, such as arcs and halos, above a broad region including Utah and Oklahoma.

Is it that stream of cirrus clouds, the researchers say, that enabled them to analyze growth of ice crystals from different nuclei, like sulfate particles, sea salt and desert dust.

"Understanding how ice crystals grow and what determines their shapes is important in understanding how they interact with sunlight and infrared energy," said David Starr of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center, who coauthored the paper.

"These interactions are important processes in the global climate system," Starr said. "They are also critical to sensing cloud properties from space, where NASA uses measurements of the reflected solar radiation to infer cloud physical properties, such as ice-crystal size."

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Nature Can Help Protect Rural Children From Stress

ITHACA, New York, April 25, 2003 (ENS) - A new study finds that nature in or around the home appears to be a significant factor in protecting the psychological well being of children in rural areas.

The study, published in the latest issue of the journal "Environment and Behavior," analyzes an assessment of the degree of nature in and around the homes of 337 rural children in grades three through five.

"Our study finds that life's stressful events appear not to cause as much psychological distress in children who live in high-nature conditions compared with children who live in low-nature conditions," said Nancy Wells, assistant professor of design and environmental analysis in the New York State College of Human Ecology at Cornell.

"And the protective impact of nearby nature is strongest for the most vulnerable children - those experiencing the highest levels of stressful life events," Wells explained.

Wells and Cornell colleague Gary Evans made their assessments by calculating the number of live plants indoors, the amount of nature in the window views and the material of the outdoor yard, such as grass, dirt or concrete.

The researchers used standardized scales to measure stress in the children's lives, parents' reports of their children's stressed behavior and the children's self ratings of psychological well being. The study controlled for socioeconomic status and income.

The data also suggests that more nature appears to be better when it comes to improving children's resilience against stress or adversity, the researchers say.

"By bolstering children's attentional resources, green spaces may enable children to think more clearly and cope more effectively with life stress," Wells explained.

Another possible explanation for the protective effect of being close to nature, Wells said, is that green spaces foster social interaction and thereby promote social support.

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Audubon Society To Nest in Audubon's Home

AUDUBON, Pennsylvania, April 25, 2003 (ENS) - The National Audubon Society today signed an agreement with Pennsylvania's Montgomery County government that allows the conservation group to manage the first home of its famous artist and naturalist namesake, John James Audubon.

The organization plans to build a multimillion dollar art gallery and visitor's center and will display hundreds of pieces of Audubon's artwork. County officials say the agreement will allow the preservation of Audubon's home, Mill Grove, which is in need of significant upgrades and renovations that the county government can not afford.

"This partnership will allow us to protect a priceless asset in the artwork we have, do so at no cost to the taxpayer, maintain public access to the site, draw tourists, and increase educational opportunities for our residents," said Montgomery County Commission Chairman Michael Marino said.

Under the agreement, the Audubon Society will lease 67 acres of the site beginning January 1, 2004 under a 50-year lease with Montgomery County. The art collection that will be displayed in the new gallery spans Audubon's career, and includes a prized four volume "elephant folio" of The Birds of America, published in London in 1838, and a rare oversized oil painting entitled "The Eagle and the Lamb."

The visitor's center planned at Mill Grove will be an environmental education center and part of a national network of Audubon Centers. Audubon staff will create and provide high-quality outdoor education for the community and visitors, specifically tailored to the unique habitat, wildlife and historical aspects of the Montgomery County site, which is on the National Register of Historic places.

"Audubon Centers are places on the land that open new eyes to nature," said Audubon President John Flicker. "At Mill Grove, guests will not only experience what's beautiful and important about this part of Pennsylvania, they will also be able to learn about John James Audubon, right where he lived and learned his art. That experience will truly be unmatched anywhere else in the world, making Mill Grove one of the flagships of the Audubon Centers' network."

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