AmeriScan: August 24, 2001

POSITION CREATED FOR WATT PROTÉGÉ AT INTERIOR

WASHINGTON, DC, August 24, 2001 (ENS) - Under cloak of a Congressional recess, James Cason, a former developer and protégé of James Watt, was appointed Associate Deputy Secretary of Interior by Gale Norton on August 9.

Research by Friends of the Earth (FoE) and Earthjustice discovered that the position of Assistant Deputy Secretary has never existed under previous administrations and appears to be subverting Congressional approval of top agency officials.

"Apparently the Bush Administration has taken to creating new positions at Interior in order to ram more appointees with pro-extractive industries, anti-environmental interests down the throat of the American public," said Kristen Sykes, FoE Interior Department watchdog. "Like Norton and Griles, James Cason has been a soldier for moneyed interests who seek to exploit public lands for personal profit."

In 1986, Cason played a key role in the Interior Department's decision to resume selling titles to federal oil and shale tracts for $2.50 an acre, far below their market value. He then proceeded to approve the granting of titles to some 82,000 acres, even though Congress had made clear its intent to revise the program.

One set of claims, totaling 17,000 acres, was purchased by private developers for $42,000 and sold months later for $37 million.

Cason also approved a revision of federal audit regulations that would have saved 12 major oil companies millions of dollars in unpaid or underpaid royalties. According to press reports, Cason signed this deal on the stationary of the oil companies' attorneys.

According to the official job description obtained from the White House by FoE, Cason will have sweeping powers to act on behalf of Deputy Secretary of Interior J. Steven Griles without being subject to the scrutiny of the Senate.

In March 1989, Cason was a nominee for Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment under the first Bush Administration, but his nomination was derailed because of concerns over his anti-environmental views and allegiance to big business.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, remarked at the time, "I am deeply disturbed about reports that Mr. Cason has repeatedly advocated positions at the department of Interior that reduce returns to the taxpayer from federal resources and undermine sound protection of the environment."

"We already know that this Bush administration has become a second home for bureaucrats from the previous Bush and Reagan administrations," said Maria Weidner of Earthjustice's White House Watch. "But now they're filling positions with rejects from those administrations too."

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WATER THROWN ON EARTHQUAKE PREDICTION

LOS ANGELES, California, August 24, 2001 (ENS) - Large areas of Los Angeles are rising each winter and sinking each summer by as much as 11 centimeters, as drinking water is pumped into and out of natural aquifers below the city, report scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Areas of the city, which is home to 14 million people, appear to be sinking overall by about 12 millimeters a year. This gradual groundswell was detected using global positioning system (GPS) receivers designed to help monitor faults beneath the city and to assess earthquake hazards.

Satellite radar images show that the 25 mile (40 kilometer) long Santa Ana basin rises every winter and then drops during the summer, report the USGS researchers, led by Gerald Bawden. This deformation of the earth's surface is caused by the widespread pumping and recharge of groundwater, with the basin reacting like a giant sponge that is drenched and drained each year.

In addition, the entire basin is sinking, as sediments around the aquifers become compressed. Reinjection of water into the groundwater basin does not inflate the sediments enough to compensate for this compression, the researchers said.

The magnitude and extent of these motions are a product of Los Angeles' great thirst for water, the researchers noted, adding that the motions have not been observed elsewhere in the world.

By subtracting out this human induced movement, the researchers found evidence that much of the tectonic energy that could drive earthquakes in Los Angeles is being stored in "blind thrust faults" beneath the city. Blind thrust faults are not visible on the surface, but they have the potential to cause more severe damage than other fault types in the region.

The GPS stations designed to monitor these faults are the ones being most contaminated by human activity, which is difficult to distinguish from natural types of ground movement. Groundwater pumping, and oil and natural gas drilling mimic the natural motions the GPS stations are watching for.

"We have found that wide spread groundwater and oil pumping obscures and in some cases mimics the tectonic signals expected from the blind thrust faults," the team wrote.

The research appears in this week's issue of the journal "Nature."

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CALIFORNIA WATER AGENCY TARGETS HIDDEN WATER WASTE

RIVERSIDE, California, August 24, 2001 (ENS) - Hoping to help Southern Californians uncover hidden wasteful water practices, the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) is helping to fund a mobile water management laboratory.

MWD has presented $30,000 to the Riverside-Corona Resource Conservation District (RCRCD) to offer homeowners and others free testing of their sprinkler and irrigation systems through the mobile laboratory. The MWD's Western Municipal Water District, which has supported the mobile lab since its creation in 1987, continued its annual support in the amount of $20,000, while MWD itself offered a new $10,000 grant.

"Investments in community based programs such as this one go a long way toward increasing water use efficiency and water conservation in our region," said U.S. Representative Ken Calvert, a Republican, following a demonstration of the lab's services. "Water conservation will always be important for Southern California, drought or not."

"The mobile lab helps us stop water waste in our area by taking the guesswork out of irrigation," said Kerwin Russell, RCRCD resource management specialist. "Homeowners, farmers and landscapers like it because we show them exactly how much money they can save by fixing their systems or making a few changes in their watering schedule. A lot of the larger water users are surprised that they can save as much as they do."

Upon request, the lab's water conservation experts go to farms, large grassy areas and private homes to test turf and the sprinkler system output to see how much and how evenly water is distributed. Next, they conduct computer calculations using the data they collected onsite as well as information on weather patterns, and issue a thorough report, outlining an irrigation schedule as well as any weaknesses in the irrigation system.

Since its creation in 1987, the mobile water lab has performed more than 500 evaluations on more than 10,000 acres, saving an estimated $2 million in water costs. The free consulting service is popular, and has a waiting list several months long.

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$50 MILLION IN GRANTS TO BENEFIT WILDLIFE NATIONWIDE

WASHINGTON, DC, August 24, 2001 (ENS) - All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five territories are now eligible to take part in the new Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has announced.

The Secretary of the Interior is in the process of distributing $50 million in grant money through the program to states and territories for programs that benefit wildlife conservation, wildlife conservation education and wildlife associated recreation projects. The Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program is a new grants program established by Congress through Title IX of the Commerce, Justice and State Appropriations Act.

"The great thing about this program is the diversity of projects we are able to fund, from field guides, trails and wildlife viewing platforms to restoring habitat for species," said Marshall Jones, acting director of the USFWS.

For states and territories to be eligible for participation in the program, each needed to first present a wildlife conservation plan to the USFWS, which included a commitment by the state or territory to begin the implementation of a wildlife conservation strategy within five years, based on their greatest conservation needs. All 50 states, the District of Columbia and five territories submitted plans to qualify for this grant program.

A committee composed of members of the USFWS, the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (IAFWA) and state wildlife agencies reviewed the plans and worked with the states and territories to provide any supplemental information necessary to qualify for the program.

"We are appreciative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their cooperation in working expeditiously to provide this critically needed funding," said R. Max Peterson, executive vice president of IAFWA. "Now the states, the District of Columbia, and the territories are armed with additional resources to confront the present day's troubling trend of wildlife declines, and to ensure that future generations can enjoy healthy fish and wildlife populations for years to come."

Fourteen states or territories are already putting this grant money to work. Some examples of their efforts include bat surveys in Louisiana, mapping of black tailed prairie dog colonies in North Dakota, an amphibian and reptile field guide in Oklahoma, and the development of a watchable wildlife program for visitors to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah.

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FOREST SERVICE VIOLATES BEETLE SALE INJUNCTION

PRIEST LAKE, Idaho, August 24, 2001 (ENS) - Conservationists have learned that trees are still being cut on the Douglas-fir Beetle Project timber sales, in violation of a preliminary injunction issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Barry Rosenberg, former director of the Forest Watch Program for The Lands Council, and current board member of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance (KEA), was alerted on Tuesday that large green trees were being cut on one of the Beetle sale units in the Priest Lake area. He went up to the area on Wednesday and examined a small portion of Unit 79 of the Flat Moores timber sale.

Rosenberg discovered 10 stumps, green limbs and treetops of newly cut trees on either side of a new skid trail. He also discovered that most of the remaining trees in the unit slated for cutting are alive.

In declarations submitted to the court, conservation groups including KEA, The Lands Council, The Idaho Sporting Congress and the Ecology Center, found in their surveys that at least 70 percent of the trees being logged were alive. The Forest Service claims that it is cutting mostly dead and dying trees.

Rosenberg said he was not shocked to find the illegal logging.

"This timber sale has been one of the largest hoaxes ever perpetrated," Rosenberg charged. "From the beginning the Forest Service has deceived the public by exaggerating the magnitude of the beetle outbreak in order to conduct one of the largest and most damaging timber sales in the country. Now the agency is not even enforcing the court ordered injunction."

The Court issued an emergency injunction that stopped logging last February and then, after a full hearing on the matter, issued a decision on August 14 that extended the injunction. The preliminary injunction allows loggers to haul away already downed logs but prohibits further cutting of any trees on the Project until Eastern Washington District Judge Edward Shea issues a ruling on the merits of the case.

"Who knows how much illegal logging is continuing in the rest of the units? The public should not have to monitor the injunction, that's the Forest Service's job," concluded Rosenberg.

Tom Woodbury, attorney for the plaintiffs said, "We take this matter very seriously. This is contempt of court, a flagrant violation of law and we plan to take this matter to the Court of Appeals immediately."

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DREDGE PROJECT COULD SMOTHER FLORIDA CORALS

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida, August 24, 2001 (ENS) - A coral reef monitoring group in Florida has documented high coral cover and coral reef species diversity off the Broward County shoreline in an area that is now threatened by a massive dredge and fill project.

Research teams from environmental groups Cry of the Water and the Global Coral Reef Alliance conducted dives for the past year to map uncharted coral colonies in and near the impact area of the proposed dredge and fill project to widen local beaches.

Prior surveys of the area have missed or underestimated the size and extent of large stands of staghorn coral reef and ancient coral colonies that are found close to shore, the groups report. Federal and state planning documents have stated that the three million cubic yard dredging project using seven offshore dredge sites would not impact the reefs of Fort Lauderdale.

The best shallow reefs in Fort Lauderdale are close to the planned burial area. More than 25 acres of shallow essential fish habitat, hard bottom and coral would be buried, and many more acres would be indirectly affected.

These reefs contain more then half of all the coral species found in the Caribbean and some coral colonies are between 500 and 1000 years old.

These findings are documented in a new report by Cry of the Water and the Global Coral Reef Alliance titled "Reef Protection in Broward County, Florida," available online at: http://www.cryofthewater.org

"Killing or damaging the last remaining good shallow reefs in east Florida by dredging and filling would by like dynamiting the last giant redwood stand," said Dr. Tom Goreau, president of The Global Coral Reef Alliance. "At a time when reefs are showing the effects of multiple stresses, any activities that would cause any further damage could irreversibly degrade the reef ecosystem and damage local fisheries."

Fort Lauderdale's remaining coral reefs can continue to support major diving and fishing industries, and protect the coast for years to come, if not further damaged by massive dredging projects, the groups report.

"It is time that we take a common sense approach to marine resource management in Broward County. To damage or destroy the reefs that currently protect the shore line will only move us further away from our goal of sustainable coastal management." said Dan Clark, president of Cry of the Water.

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CALIFORNIA DEVELOPER REVISES BLUEPRINTS TO PROTECT SPINEFLOWER

SANTA BARBARA, California, August 24, 2001 (ENS) - Plans for the proposed Ahmanson Ranch community in Ventura County, California have been modified to protect the San Fernando Valley spineflower.

Botanists had considered the spineflower extinct until it was rediscovered in 1999 on the Ahmanson property. The Ahmanson Land Company has now agreed to set aside a 330 acre preserve for the permanent protection of the rare plant.

Guy Gniadek, Ahmanson Land Company president, told the California Fish and Game Commission that the preserve area would be adjacent to 400 additional acres maintained in a natural state and would protect almost 1.6 million plants - more than 90 percent of the occupied habitat and population as mapped since 1999.

The modified plans, developed as a result of consultations with wildlife agencies, are drafts subject to further review under state and federal endangered species laws. A supplemental environmental review, required after the discovery of the spineflower and a colony of California red-legged frogs in 1999, is now being conducted.

The Ahmanson Ranch project is a planned village style community of 3,050 homes clustered around a village green and town center with 400,000 square feet of commercial space on a 2,800 acre site in the Simi Hills.

Noting that the original plans for the community would have resulted in the removal of more than 90 percent of 1999 habitat and population, Gniadek said that the modifications to preserve the habitat would not require any reduction in the number of homes to be built.

"This is a significant planning achievement that reflects Ahmanson's determination to exercise responsible stewardship of our land and protect the spineflower permanently," Gniadek said.

Gniadek said that although the spineflower lacked the formal protections that go with listing as an endangered species when Ahmanson scientists discovered it in 1999, "we determined from the very start that we should treat the spineflower as if it were listed. Ahmanson supports the conservation of natural resources and it's our ambition to set the standard for managing listed plant species."

Ahmanson has supported research and conservation efforts for the spineflower, including development of a seed repository to make possible reintroduction of the species at other locations within its historical range, Gniadek said.

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HELICOPTER DEPOSITS ENVIRONMENTAL LABORATORY ON MOUNTAIN PEAK

HOUGHTON, Michigan, August 24, 2001 (ENS) - Researchers from Michigan Technological University have installed a half ton, automated laboratory on the top of Pico mountain in the Azores to monitor air pollution drifting across the North Atlantic.

As the only islands in the region that are distant from any continents, the misty Azores have long been an important site for scientists studying the pristine atmosphere above the North Atlantic. At lower altitudes, up to about 4,900 feet (1,500 meters), the ocean tends to scrub the atmosphere clean, so detecting the drift of pollutants is difficult.

At an elevation of 2,225 meters, Mount Pico, located on Pico Island, is the only spot in the Azores where the air is high enough to escape the effects of the ocean environment. Its barren summit often pokes through the clouds that mark the top of this marine boundary layer.

Pico

A view of the observatory building, facing toward Piquinho, the small peak on top of Pico mountain (Photo courtesy MTU)
Scientists had been unable to establish a station on Pico, however, as the nearest road ends 1,000 meters below the summit. No utilities are available, and access is restricted for both safety and environmental reasons.

On July 2, Dr. Richard Honrath and his research team from Michigan Technological University (MTU) lowered a laboratory the size of an ice fishing shanty onto Mount Pico, with considerable assistance from a Portuguese Air Force helicopter crew. Honrath, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and his team assembled the lab and its instrumentation at MTU.

Researchers believe a station on Mount Pico could be key to determining how local pollution can become part of the global atmosphere and help precipitate global warming. The station will monitor ozone levels, black carbon dust and carbon monoxide, and next year the researchers will begin testing for nitrogen oxides.

The automated lab will upload its data through a cellular Internet connection.

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SCIENTISTS DIVE INTO HUDSON CANYON EXPLORATION

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey, August 24, 2001 (ENS) - A team of scientists led by Rutgers University will dive more than a mile to the ocean floor to explore the vast underwater world of the Hudson Submarine Canyon off the New York-New Jersey harbor next month.

The exploration is part of Deep East 2001, a three week research voyage aimed at exploring the resources and ocean dynamics off the East Coast.

Sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the voyage is the second leg of a three part exploration of waters off the East Coast by the research vessel Atlantis and the deep sea submersible Alvin. Both vessels are operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The voyage begins September 9 at Woods Hole, Massachusetts and ends October 1 at Charleston, South Carolina.

Fred Grassle of Rutgers' Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences (IMCS) will lead the exploration of the ancient underwater section of the Hudson River Valley, which extends more than 400 miles seaward across the Continental Shelf to the Atlantic's deep basin.

"Because the underwater canyon serves as a conduit to the deep ocean, it also offers us a chance to see how a major urban area with a highly concentrated population affects the canyon and the deep ocean," said Grassle, a professor of marine science and director of IMCS.

The voyage will provide the Rutgers team with greater understanding of how sediments and pollutants from urban areas travel along the canyon and concentrate there, Grassle said. To determine how well the canyon environment can recover from pollutants, the researchers will explore a major offshore dump site for municipal sewage sludge that was closed in 1992.

Peter Rona, a professor of marine geology and geophysics at Rutgers, said past undersea investigations show that the canyon has great potential for discovery of unusual deep sea creatures that may provide insight into how life began on earth as well as life that might be found elsewhere in the cosmos.

The researchers also will investigate a potential source of off-shore energy - gas hydrates - that are believed to exceed known worldwide petroleum reserves. Gas hydrates are ice like substances formed when methane and other gases are trapped with water under pressure.

Vast hydrate deposits exist below 3,000 feet all along the East Coast, including the Hudson Canyon area, said Grassle.

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ZOO CONFERENCE FOCUSES ON CONSERVATION, EDUCATION

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, August 24, 2001 (ENS) - More than 1,000 zoo and aquarium professionals will gather in St. Louis for the 77th Annual Conference of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) from September 7-11.

"This year's conference theme, 'Where the Rivers Run Wild,' highlights the commitment of AZA accredited zoos and aquariums to conservation of animals and their habitat," said Sydney Butler, executive director of the AZA. "Although we are always in contact with one another, gathering in one place to exchange information allows zoo and aquarium professionals to further develop strategies for educating zoo visitors, as well as promoting our direct link to conservation and protection of the world's wildlife."

Zoos and aquariums have been shifting away from the old style menageries of the early 20th century. Many are now diverse institutions that focus their resources not only on caring for animals, but also on other complex topics such as field conservation, researching animal health issues, designing and constructing exhibits, developing innovative conservation programs for endangered species, creating educational programs for visitors, and fundraising and marketing.

"The AZA Annual Conference program reflects this topical diversity through various sessions, roundtables, meetings and the pre-conference 'Marketplace of Ideas,'" Butler explained. "Each topic presented has relevance to the ways zoos and aquariums are constantly changing to better serve both wildlife and the visiting public."

This year's keynote address will be given by Dr. Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and "Time" magazine's "Hero of the Planet."

"The importance of flora to the animal kingdom must not be overlooked when we are educating our visitors about the wild," added Butler. "We are thrilled to have such a distinguished professional address our conference during the opening session. He is sure to inspire."

Key topics to be addressed during the conference include: