AmeriScan: December 6, 2002

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Rising CO2 Could Cause Contradictory Effects

PALO ALTO, California, December 6, 2002 (ENS)- Multiple environmental changes, not just increased carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, must be considered in assessing the impacts of climate change on ecosystems, conclude researchers at Stanford University.

The research, conducted in a grassland at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve in California by scientists of Stanford University, the Carnegie Institution and The Nature Conservancy, concluded that elevated atmospheric CO2 reduces plant growth when combined with other expected consequences of climate change, such as higher atmospheric temperatures, increased precipitation or increased nitrogen deposition.

Findings from the three year study appear in today's issue of the journal "Science."

CO2 researchers

Stanford researcher Nona Chiarello and Nature Conservancy scientist Rebecca Shaw analyze plant growth at one of 36 plots in the Jasper Ridge Global Climate Experiment. The plots are given high levels of water, heat, carbon dioxide and nitrogen in different combinations to simulate predicted global climate change in the next hundred years. (Photo by L.A. Cicero, courtesy Stanford University)
Previous experiments in global environmental change have studied the impact of just one or two environmental factors at a time, such as elevated atmospheric CO2, atmospheric warming or both. The Jasper Ridge study examined an unprecedented four realistic environmental changes at once, including warming, precipitation, nitrogen deposition and carbon dioxide.

Results from the multiple factor study show marked differences from simple combinations of single factor responses.

"This research indicates that you won't be able to predict ecosystem responses to multiple environmental changes based on the responses to single environmental changes," said Rebecca Shaw of The Nature Conservancy and the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, and the paper's first author.

Christopher Field, a professor in Stanford's Department of Biological Sciences, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology Field, and a co-author of the "Science" study, noted that most previous studies looked at the effects on CO2 "on plants in pots or on very simple ecosystems and concluded that plants are going to grow faster in the future."

"We got exactly the same results when we applied CO2 alone," Field noted, "but when we included other realistic environmental changes - warming, changes in nitrogen deposition, changes in precipitation - the addition of CO2 actually suppressed plant growth."

The study suggests that carbon sequestration by plants and soils, one major strategy for slowing global warming, may be less effective than has been estimated. Some scientists and policy makers have been hopeful that more CO2 in the atmosphere would lead to enhanced plant productivity, enhanced plant productivity would take more CO2 out of the air, and the CO2 would be stored or sequestered in the plants.

But the results of Shaw and colleagues suggest that this fertilizing effect of CO2 may be less than expected, and even absent under some circumstances. Under some environmental conditions in the Jasper Ridge experiments, increased CO2 suppressed, rather than enhanced, plant production.

"The results of this study demonstrate that we can't rely on natural, unmanaged ecosystems to save us by pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere." said Shaw. "These results do not imply that carbon sequestration as a mitigation tool to slow rising concentrations of greenhouse gases lacks value, but that we may need to be more aggressive and selective about where we rely on carbon sequestration if we are to slow global warming."

Co-author Harold Mooney, the Paul S. Achilles Professor of Environmental Biology at Stanford, cautioned that "there is still a lot to learn about the factors that regulate global climate change."

"But we also know a lot already, more than enough to engage in a serious discussion about action to reduce CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels and clearing forests," Mooney added.

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Long Island Sound Targeted for Cleanup, Restoration

NORWALK, Connecticut, December 6, 2002 (ENS) - Federal and state officials have signed an agreement aimed at restoring Long Island Sound by 2014.

The agreement, signed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New York and Connecticut environmental agencies, includes specific goals for reducing bathing beach and shellfishing closures, restoring fish river runs for migratory fish and improving important habitats that support marine life.

Meeting on Wednesday at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, the Long Island Sound Study Policy Committee, which consists of regional administrators from the EPA and commissioners from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, approved 30 new goals for restoring the Sound and announced $4 million of new EPA funding for Sound related projects.

"Families that can enjoy a great vacation on Long Island Sound, businesses that are able to create jobs because of the Sound, and residents who can enjoy a higher quality of life along the Sound will all benefit from this agreement," said EPA Region 2 administrator Jane Kenny. "We may not be able to return it fully to the pristine condition found in 1614, but we intend to make real progress in making Long Island Sound the very best it can be for everyone who lives, works and vacations here."

The agreement sets an ambitious vision "to restore the health of Long Island Sound by 2014, the 400th anniversary of Adriaen Block's exploration of Long Island Sound." It builds upon the overall goals set forth in a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) approved by the states and EPA in 1994 for cleaning up the Sound. The Policy Committee oversees implementation of the CCMP.

In addition to ongoing work to reduce nitrogen going into the Sound by 58.5 percent by 2014 and to restore at least 2,000 acres of habitat and 100 river miles for fish passage by 2008, compared to 1998 levels, the agreement includes target goals and time frames for open space acquisition, protection and the creation of a Long Island Sound Stewardship System.

Among the agreement's highlights:

By the end of 2003, map areas of Long Island Sound that support eelgrass, an important habitat for key fish and shellfish species, and promote research into the causes of its degradation.

"These goals and the framework that have been set forth by Connecticut and its partners will be instrumental in meeting and, indeed, surpassing standards we have established for the health of the Sound," said Connecticut Governor John Rowland.

"The signing of this agreement is another positive step for the Sound and will promote further improvement in the health of this treasured waterway, ensuring that it remains a healthy and vibrant resource for years to come," added New York Governor George Pataki.

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EPA Sues New York Over Underground Tanks

NEW YORK, New York, December 6, 2002 (ENS) - The federal government is suing New York City over alleged violations of regulations on underground storage tanks for petroleum and other hazardous substances.

The civil complaint, filed by U.S. Attorney James Comey in a Manhattan federal court on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, charges the city with violating the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) by failing to upgrade underground tanks in a timely fashion. The suit also cites the city for its "long term failure" to maintain records of its compliance with RCRA or to furnish those records to the EPA.

Where violations of storage tank regulations have occurred, New York has failed to report the problems to the EPA, or to investigate and confirm suspected releases of hazardous substances.

Leaking underground tanks can release oil, gasoline and other substances into the surrounding soil, where they can contaminate groundwater and cause other environmental problems, the suit notes. New York owns at least 1,600 underground storage tanks in at least 400 locations in the city's five boroughs.

The EPA's civil complaint seeks unspecified penalties and a court order that would force the city to comply with RCRA and other relevant environmental laws. The fines could be as much as $11,000 per underground tank per day of violation, or a total of up to $17.6 million per day of violation.

City officials expressed dismay at the EPA's decision to sue the city.

"We are disappointed that, despite the city's good faith efforts to work with the EPA to accomplish the monumental task of bringing city tanks into compliance with federal law - and despite the city's mounting budget concerns - the EPA has elected to sue the city to recover penalties," said Michael Cardoza, the city's corporation counsel.

New York City is facing a serious budget shortfall, caused in part by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center towers and much of the surrounding infrastructure. Within the current fiscal year, the deficit is expected to reach $1 billion, and could mount to $5 billion to $6 billion during the following year.

In a written statement, the New York City Law Department, noted that the city has spent more than $140 million over the past decade to ensure that all of its storage tanks comply with federal laws, and has already paid a negotiated penalty to the EPA.

"This past January, given the events of September 11, the city determined that the matter should be settled without a penalty payment to the federal government due to the city's mounting budget issues following the terrorist attacks," the statement said.

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Transportation Reauthorization Offers Opportunities

WASHINGTON, DC, December 6, 2002 (ENS) - With the federal transportation program up for its twice a decade reauthorization next year, a coalition of national organizations is urging Congress to adopt policies that can both reduce long term costs and reduce environmental damage.

The organizations' suggestions are based on new thinking among researchers and engineers about how to avoid the negative effects of road building practices on wildlife, biodiversity and water quality. The groups include Defenders of Wildlife, Smart Growth America, National Wildlife Federation, Trust for Public Land, The Humane Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Enacted by Congress in 1998, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) is scheduled to be reauthorized during 2003. The legislation allocates hundreds of billions of dollars for roads, bridges and transit to states and metropolitan regions.

The reauthorization bill will include measures that will influence the pace and pattern of land development, and have wide ranging implications for wildlife habitats and ecosystems.

The coalition's recommendations include four basic goals:

"State and federal agencies spend considerable time and capital both protecting natural areas and building transportation infrastructure, both of which are strongly supported by the American people," said Patricia White, transportation associate for Defenders of Wildlife. "With better coordination and mitigation tools, we can avoid conflicts between these goals to deliver better outcomes.

"Transportation planning that integrates existing conservation efforts will save money, protect resources and expedite project delivery," she added.

"This is not just about road kill," added Don Chen, executive director of Smart Growth America. "It's about promoting economic development and mobility while also protecting our nation's most ecologically sensitive areas."

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Herbicide Test Could Impact Adirondack Landowners

BOLTON LANDING, New York, December 6, 2002 (ENS) - The Adirondack Council has sent a letter to every shoreline landowner and resident overlooking two bays in Lake George, warning that the state plans to test a chemical herbicide near their homes.

The groups say the state has not "adequately checked" to see whether the affected residents draw water from the lake for drinking and other uses.

The Adirondack Park Agency is expected to make a decision as early as December 13 on a permit application for a controversial use of a chemical herbicide in Lake George. The Lake George Park Commission, the permit applicant, wants to pour fluridone into four bays on Lake George to determine whether it could be used to help control invasive, non-native Eurasian watermilfoil.

"The Lake George Park Commission has an obligation to prevent people from accidentally drinking this chemical herbicide, or using it on their lawns or gardens," said Adirondack Council executive director Brian Houseal. "It is illegal to apply this chemical within a quarter mile of anyone's water intake in the concentrations proposed by the state through the Lake George Park Commission."

"Lake George is one of the few large lakes left in America that is still pure enough to drink. A lot of people along the shoreline of Lake George, both homeowners and businesses, still use lake water in their homes and on their lawns and gardens," Houseal added. "There is a need to effectively alert those residents within a quarter mile of the areas to be treated with this chemical. So far, we can't be sure this was done."

The Adirondack Council believes the Lake George Park Commission did an inadequate job of checking to see who was still using lake water in Sawmill Bay and Moonlight Bay - the two test sites with private lands adjacent to them. A four page letter sent by the commission in March 2001 asked residents to contact the agency if they opposed the herbicide test, but did not inquire whether residents still used lake water.

Houseal said that every attempt the Council made since March of 2001 to determine whether intakes still existed was met with resistance or silence.

"First, we asked the park commission to issue another letter, directly asking whether anyone was still drawing water from the lake," Houseal said. "The park commission refused. They said a municipal water system serves that area, and they assumed everyone has switched from lake water to piped water."

When the group visited the local water department to ask for a map of the system, "we were told the maps were missing," said Houseal. A Freedom of Information Act request filed with the state Department of Health to determine whether it knew where the water intakes were has not yet been answered, he added.

"The only conclusion we can draw from these experiences is that no one but the individual landowners really knows where the water intakes are," Houseal said. "That's why we are sending out these letters."

The letters request that anyone with a water intake on Sawmill Bay or Moonlight Bay contact the park commission, the Adirondack Park Agency and the state health department. Each address is listed on an enclosure, sent with the letter.

"It's really disappointing that we have to do this," Houseal said. "We thought the people who were pushing to get the permit for herbicide use would be more conscientious toward the potential impact on their neighbors."

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Research Offers Insights Into Marine Reserve Design

SAN DIEGO, California, December 6, 2002 (ENS) - Researchers in California have laid the groundwork for a new method of designing marine reserves around the globe.

Networks of reserves, areas where species are protected, are recognized as an important instrument for conserving marine wildlife. Theories about the best way to implement such networks, including their optimal locations and sizes, have increased in recent years. However, practical, real world applications of marine reserves on large scales have been rare.

A report in today's issue of the journal "Science" illustrates the most advanced marine reserve network design to date. The study was a collaborative effort led by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and joined by the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur in La Paz, and the Gulf of California Program of the World Wildlife Fund.

A group led by Scripps's Enric Sala concentrated efforts in the Gulf of California - also called the Sea of Cortés - the biologically rich body of water between mainland Mexico and the Baja Peninsula that is home to about 900 species of fishes and more than 30 species of marine mammals.


Enric Sala of Scripps Institution prepares for one of hundreds of dives that helped gather information crucial to the design of marine reserves. (Photo courtesy Scripps Institution of Oceanography)
"The conservation and management of marine ecosystems need to be well designed, instead of simply using political or economic opportunities," said Sala, a native of Girona, Spain, and deputy director of the Scripps Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation.

"We cannot place reserves in sites simply where nobody will complain about, because it might be that we are wasting opportunities, time, and resources to protect a place that does not need protection," Sala explained. "We need to be strategic, in the same way that we are strategic when we decide to build a new airport or harbor."

With little information about the gulf's biodiversity, Sala and his colleagues embarked in 1999 to gather key ecological data about the rocky coastal habitats in the gulf. Hundreds of research dives later, the team was equipped with fundamental information about biodiversity, spawning activities of key species, nurseries for reef fishes, ecological connectivity between habitats, and other important ecological processes.

The researchers entered the information into a computer software program equipped with "optimization algorithms" designed to specify a number of reserves to fulfill predetermined conservation goals out of thousands of possibilities. Using such a mathematical model, the authors note, is vital because ecological processes and critical habitats are not evenly distributed, and so designs must be based on ecological data.

The result was a mapped series of reserves in the gulf that met conservation goals, and could be adjusted to avoid societal conflicts with fishing interests.

"The most important benefit of this approach is the objectivity it provides to the process of siting marine reserves. Many reserves have thus far been located more on the basis of social factors than on biodiversity needs," the team writes. "The use of explicit socioeconomic variables in addition to biodiversity data is particularly important because in marine systems, where fishing is a major threat, ecological criteria and socioeconomic measures are not independent."

The authors argue that this quantitative approach can be applied to almost any coastal region, with portfolios of solutions offered to decision makers who can then evaluate the costs and benefits of different management options within socioeconomic constraints.

"What we have developed is not the final answer - it's not a characterization of exactly what will happen in the region. It's a new approach," said Sala. "Marine reserves help, but it's dangerous to say that if you create marine reserves the fishery outside will do much, much better."

"On land, when you create a national park, you preserve an ecosystem and all the species that live in the ecosystem," Sala concluded. "Nobody created Yellowstone National Park for the purpose of having more bison or more wolves or more bears so that you can keep hunting them outside the park."

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Keeping America Beautiful Launches Anniversary Campaign

WASHINGTON, DC, December 6, 2002 (ENS) - Keep America Beautiful is marking its 50th year of improving communities nationwide by setting ambitious goals for the future.

Keep America Beautiful (KAB) is a national nonprofit public education organization dedicated to encouraging individuals to take more responsibility for improving their local community environment. The group, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2003, was behind the Clio Award winning "Crying Indian" television spot‚ which was named one of the top 100 advertising campaigns of the century by "Advertising Age," "TV Guide" and "E Magazine."

According to a national survey conducted last month by KAB, almost half of those surveyed think that individuals are not doing enough to keep our communities clean and attractive. However, almost two-thirds of those responding said they would be willing to volunteer a few hours each month on local community improvement projects such as cleaning up litter, painting over graffiti, planting flowers and trees, or refurbishing parks and playgrounds.

"It's very encouraging to confirm the interest of nearly two-thirds of the American people in taking action to improve the quality of life in the environments where we live and work," said G. Raymond Empson, president of Keep America Beautiful. "Our network of affiliated organizations provide citizens with numerous opportunities to get involved - to join their neighbors in improving their communities."

On Wednesday, the first day of KAB's 49th National Conference in Washington DC, the group announced a new initiative for the future: the "50 By 50 Plan." Over the next 50 months, KAB and its network of affiliates and volunteers will strive to accomplish these goals:

"For the past 50 years, Keep America Beautiful has played a leading role in educating and motivating individuals at the grassroots level to act to improve their community environments through litter prevention, beautification and waste reduction," said Empson. "Each of us has an important role to play in affecting positive change. We hope that our next 50 years are marked by even greater growth and progress in sustaining the quality of our community environments."

For more information about KAB's programs and activities, including 50th anniversary activities as they unfold throughout 2003, visit:

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Tropical Sea Turtle Lands on California Beach

INVERNESS, California, December 6, 2002 (ENS) - An olive ridley sea turtle surprised some California beachgoers last weekend when it hauled itself onto a beach at Tomales Bay - thousands of miles north of its normal winter habitat.

The turtle swam up to the shore at Shell Beach on Tomales Bay, pulled itself out of the water and rested for about 30 minutes before reentering the cold water and swimming away. Observers said the two foot long adult animal appeared to be exhausted and labored to haul itself out of the water, but otherwise appeared to be in good shape.


The wayward olive ridley sea turtle. (Photo by Reuven Walder, courtesy Sea Turtle Restoration Network)
The unusual event was witnessed by about 10 people, including a staff biologist of the Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN), a sea turtle and salmon protection organization based in Forest Knolls, California.

"My wife, eight month old daughter and I were sitting on the beach when we saw its head poke out of the water only 30 feet offshore," said watershed biologist Reuven Walder.

The turtle swam towards the family and then swam down the cove about 15 feet and hauled out.

"At first we thought it was a bat ray which are relatively common in the Bay," Walder added. "We called to a pair of swimmers who were in the water who were out in the cove when it first surfaced."

"I assumed it came out of the water to warm up, as it was an unusually warm and sunny day," Walder said.

At this time of year, most olive ridley sea turtles are found nesting thousands of miles south of Tomales Bay, with the largest nesting concentrations occurring in southern Mexico in the state of Oaxaca, and in Costa Rica. A few records of dead animals stranding along the Pacific coast have occurred in the past 40 years, including at least two in California, two in Oregon, one in Washington and three in Alaska.

"The animal is normally found in tropical and temperate warm waters, with its distribution normally bounded by the 20º isotherms," said Todd Steiner, biologist and director of TIRN. "What it was doing over 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from the Pacific Ocean inside Tomales Bay in 13º C water is surely a mystery, but it may be partly due to a northern shift of wamer waters caused by El Nino."