AmeriScan: December 24, 2002

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How to Cut Back on Christmas Waste

WASHINGTON, DC, December 24, 2002 (ENS) - Christmas festivities can pile on pounds in your waste bin, but following Friends of the Earth's Christmas recycling tips can help reduce your rubbish.

Extra packaging from presents, festive food and drinks plumps up trash cans each holiday season. During the holidays, consumers use an estimated one billion Christmas cards, 32 square miles (83 square kilometers) of wrapping paper, an extra 750 million bottles and glass containers, an extra 500 million drinks cans and seven and a half million Christmas trees.

Almost all of this trash ends up in landfills. And manufacturing these items has an impact on the environment, requiring the felling of millions of trees to satisfy the demand for paper, for example.

"Christmas is a time for enjoying ourselves - but that doesn't mean we have to create mountains of waste," said Friends of the Earth waste campaigner Karine Pellaumail. "By reducing the waste we produce, and by recycling what we can, we can make a real difference at Christmas time."

Friends of the Earth is urging waste conscious consumers to reduce their impact this Christmas in a variety of ways:

More tips on reducing holiday waste are available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at: http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/specials/funfacts/winter.htm

More recycling tips can be found at: http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/muncpl/recycle.htm

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Responsible Givers Find Many Opportunities

WASHINGTON, DC, December 24, 2002 (ENS) - As this holiday season gets underway, a growing number of shopping weary and debt stricken consumers are ready to embrace a less consumptive holiday, says the Worldwatch Institute.

This year, the average American household will budget an estimated $1,656 for holiday spending, of which $1,073 will be used to purchase gifts, according to the American Express Retail Index on holiday shopping.

"Gift giving is one of the greatest pleasures of the holiday season," says Worldwatch Institute researcher Lisa Mastny. "It's ironic that a tradition centered on joy is now a growing burden on both households and the Earth. Consumers are spending larger amounts of time and money tracking down the 'perfect' gifts for their family and friends, and many are growing tired and frustrated in the process."

Americans are not the only consumers to indulge in Christmas excess. In the United Kingdom, the average person now spends 15 hours looking for Christmas gifts, makes five separate shopping trips, walks a total of 20 miles in the quest for gifts, and spends two hours in line to pay, reports "The Guardian."

Analysts predict that almost a quarter of UK holiday purchases this year will be charged on credit cards, saddling consumers with almost $3 billion in debt by the end of January and costing them $33 million in interest payments for that month alone.

The holidays also present a challenge to the environment. A recent study by Environmental Defense calculated that a whopping 3.6 million tons of paper were used to produce the estimated 59 catalogs mailed to every man, woman, and child in the United States last year. Just three of the 42 leading U.S. catalog companies surveyed reported using recycled paper in the body of their mailings.

The Maryland based Center for a New American Dream reports that more than half of Americans feel that reducing their spending on gifts would allow them to focus more on the true meaning of the holidays. The Center's "Simplify the Holidays" campaign outlines a wide range of creative options to help holiday celebrants enjoy a less consumptive yet still fun and fulfilling holiday season.

How can holiday buyers recapture their time and their money while also helping to protect the environment? Some are opting out of seasonal spending altogether.

For the past 11 years, the advocacy group Adbusters has urged consumers worldwide to celebrate "Buy Nothing Day," held on the day after Thanksgiving, the biggest shopping day in America.

Other groups are urging consumers to redirect their holiday spending to more environmentally friendly or socially responsible ends, such as boosting global conservation efforts and supporting families that are less fortunate.

For example, Heifer International offers consumers the chance to help struggling families in the developing world move toward self sufficiency by giving the gift of livestock for plowing power, food, and income. In 2001, projects in 48 countries worldwide helped more than 45,000 families obtain animals and training.

The non-profit group SERRV International markets handicrafts and food products from people in developing countries in a fair and equitable way, to promote social and economic justice. In 2000, SERRV's sales of crafts, coffee, chocolate, and other products totaled $5.7 million.

The Sea Turtle Survival League urges shoppers to adopt an endangered sea turtle in the name of a loved one, with the proceeds going to sea turtle conservation. The World Wildlife Fund offers a similar option for polar bears through its Polar Bear Adoption Center.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests that gift givers choose electronics that carry the ENERGY STAR label, showing that they use less energy than conventional models.

NativeEnergy is offering WindBuilders gift memberships that help keep carbon dioxide emissions out of the air, while helping to build the first Native American owned large scale wind turbine. Each one ton gift has the same global warming impact as powering and heating the average American home with wind generated electricity for a month.

For Christmas this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has purchased one ton certificates from NativeEnergy for President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, and every member of the president's cabinet.

"We're sending a lump of cool as a reminder to the White House that global warming solutions are here today, and it's time to start using them," said David Hawkins, director of the NRDC climate center. "The world needs strong leadership to fix this problem. We hoping President Bush steps to the plate in the new year."

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Who Will Have a White Christmas?

SILVER SPRING, Maryland, December 24, 2002 (ENS) - Each year, Santa Claus contacts the keepers of U.S. climate records to determine which areas of the nation are likely to have snow at Christmas time.

This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports several Web hits from a user named Santa.

To help Santa with his travel plans, the NOAA National Climatic Data Center - the world's largest reservoir of archived climate and weather data - created a report that is available online. The report contains maps and tables showing the percent probabilities for a snow depth of at least one inch on Christmas morning, as well as the probabilities for a depth of at least five inches and 10 inches.

snow map

Areas shown in white have more than a 90 percent chance of a white Christmas this year. Brown areas have less than a five percent chance of seeing snow on Christmas. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
These probabilities are based on long term climatology and not on current weather patterns. The actual conditions may vary widely from these probabilities.

The snow on the ground or snowfall on Christmas day will depend on the actual weather pattern during that time. However, these probabilities are useful as a guide only to show where snow on the ground is more likely. To obtain the latest weather forecast for your area, contact the NOAA National Weather Service.

NOAA's National Climatic Data Center has more than 150 years of weather data on hand. These data range from handwritten observations taken by volunteers in the 19th century to more sophisticated radar, radiosonde, rocketsonde and satellite observations by state of the art equipment.

The data include satellite weather images back to 1960, with 55 gigabytes of new information added each day - equal to about 18 million pages a day.

This map from the Climate Atlas shows the statistical probability that a snow depth of at least one inch will be observed on December 25. The highest probabilities are in northern and mountainous areas of the country.

The probability was computed using snow depth observations for December 25th for the full period of record for a given station.

The National Climatic Data Center is part of the NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NOAA Satellite and Information Services), the nation's primary source of space based meteorological and climate data. NOAA Satellites and Information Services operates the nation's environmental satellites, which are used for weather forecasting, climate monitoring and other environmental applications such as fire detection, ozone monitoring and sea surface temperature measurements.

To find out the probability that there will be snow on the ground on Christmas day where you live, visit: http://lwf.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/extremes/christmas.html

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Christmas Bird Count Seeks West Nile Data

NEW YORK, New York, December 24, 2002 (ENS) - Birdwatchers across the western hemisphere are gearing up to participate in the 103rd annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) - and this year's count will be more important than ever.

The National Audubon Society is calling upon volunteers to participate in the winter time tradition to help researchers learn more about the birds that may have been most affected by the West Nile virus: corvids such as crows, ravens, magpies and jays, owls, eagles and other raptors.

"This year, West Nile Virus seems to have had a larger impact on U.S. bird populations than in years past," said Frank Gill, Audubon's senior vice president for science.

"While we hope use CBC data to learn if there are regional declines in crows, jays, owls and raptors it is crucial that organizers and participants conduct their counts as usual. That way their results from this year will be entirely comparable to those of the past century's seasons," Gill added. "Our volunteers' efforts are vital if we are to understand the effects of this deadly bird epidemic."

The annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), held this year between December 14, 2002 and January 5, 2003, began over a century ago when 27 conservationists in 25 localities, led by ornithologist Frank Chapman, changed the course of ornithological history. On Christmas Day 1900, the small group initiated an alternative activity to a holiday practice from earlier times: a side hunt, in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most birds and small animals.

Instead of hunting, Chapman proposed to count the birds they saw, founding one of the nation's most important citizen based conservation efforts.

Apart from its attraction as a social and competitive event, the CBC reveals scientific information on the winter distributions of various bird species. The CBC is important in monitoring the status of resident and migratory birds across the Western Hemisphere.

In its 103rd year, the CBC is now larger than ever, expanding its geographical range and accumulating valuable scientific data.

"Backed with over a century of tradition, the Christmas Bird Count is the longest running volunteer based bird census, spanning three human generations," said Geoff LeBaron, director of Christmas Bird Count. "The CBC has evolved into a powerful and important tool, one probably inconceivable to any of the 27 participants on the first Christmas Bird Count."

"Accumulated data from the CBC become increasingly important by providing the raw material for studies monitoring the status of early winter bird populations as well as the overall health of the environment," LeBaron continued. "With the continually growing value of the count, its seems likely that today's participants cannot fathom the value of their efforts in the next century."

Today, more than 55,000 volunteers from all 50 states, every Canadian province, parts of Central and South America, Bermuda, the West Indies, and Pacific islands count and record every individual bird and bird species seen during one 24 hour calendar day. More than 1,900 individual count circles will be covered during a two and a half week official count period.

Each group has a designated circle 15 miles in diameter - about 177 square miles - where they try to census as much ground as possible within a day. Counts are open to birders of all skill levels.

Bird Studies Canada, a leading and respected not-for-profit conservation organization, continues as the Canadian partner in the CBC. With Bird Studies Canada's involvement, another new record high of 1,936 individual counts made up the Christmas Bird Count last year. About 52 million individual birds were counted in the CBC last year.

Count results from 1900 to the present are available through Audubon's website at: http://www.audubon.org

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Winter Is a Great Time for Feeding the Birds

WASHINGTON, DC, December 24, 2002 (ENS) - This winter, why not celebrate the holidays with a new tradition - offering food to the birds that find refuge in your neighborhood.

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) says bird feeders are an easy way to supplement the natural food sources available to birds and other wildlife in your yard - and are often fun and entertaining for people as well.

There are numerous kinds of bird feeders and foods to choose from. The best feeder foods are sunflower, niger or thistle seed, proso millet, cracked corn and suet. The type of feeder and food you provide will determine which species are attracted to and benefit from this supplemental food source.

When you feed birds, NWF recommends that you take the following steps to provide a safe and healthy feeding environment:

In 2003, the NWF's Backyard Wildlife Habitat program will celebrate its 30th anniversary. Over the years, the program has connected millions of people with nature in their gardens and inspired them to create landscapes hospitable to wildlife.

More than 30,000 home owners nationwide have had their properties certified by NWF as official Backyard Wildlife Habitat sites, while countless others have learned the joys of gardening for wildlife.

For more advice on how to make your property attractive to wildlife, visit NWF at: http://www.nwf.org/backyardwildlifehabitat

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Pets Make Poor Gifts, Animal Group Says

SILVER SPRING, Maryland, December 24, 2002 (ENS) - Puppies, kittens and more exotic animals make very unsuitable holiday presents, the Fund for Animals warns.

No matter how cute the little balls of fur look now, in just a few months they will grow into full sized dogs and cats needing all the care and attention of adult animals. Even before that happens, these presents will require patience - and cleaning up - as they are house trained and as they chew or claw their way through clothing, drapes and furniture.

"Purchasing puppies or kittens in the pet store window is often a spur of the moment decision, but consumers don't realize the care and commitment involved in bringing a new animal into their home," said Michael Markarian, president of The Fund for Animals. "A dog or a cat requires care for his or her entire lifetime - and that can be more than 10 years. These are living, breathing animals, not disposable wind up toys."

Just a few months after the holidays, animal shelters across the country begin to fill up with the unwanted gifts of cats, dogs and other animals. Only a very few are lucky enough to be given a second chance at a home - most are euthanized because there are simply not enough homes for them all.

"Millions of dogs and cats are abandoned every year - and not just during the holidays," said Markarian. "If you are truly willing and able to devote the time and resources it takes to have an animal companion, you should adopt an animal in need from your local animal shelter or breed rescue organization, rather than purchase one from a pet store or breeder. A dog or cat should never be an 'impulse buy'."

Exotic animals come with another set of problems. The Fund for Animals says the exotic animal trade is a huge but often unrecognized problem in the United States. The average American can choose from dozens of exotic wildlife species from hedgehogs to prairie dogs - even tiger cubs can be bought for under $1,000.

"Any exotic animal has very specialized needs," said P.J. McKosky, cruelty caseworker for The Fund for Animals. "These include complex dietary requirements and medical issues unfamiliar to many veterinarians."

McKosky has seen many exotic animals who have not been given enough space to live, resulting in the animal's suffering and often premature death. And exotic animals may even pose a threat to the public, McKosky points out.

"These animals are unpredictable wild animals not suited to live with humans in captivity. There are hundreds of documented incidents of captive exotic animals attacking and seriously injuring or killing humans," McKosky said.

The American Veterinary Medical Association, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all have policies opposing the private ownership of certain exotic animals.

"The best holiday gift you can give these animals is to allow them to live their lives freely in their native habitats - not in a ramshackle cage in a backyard or basement," concluded McKosky.

More information is available at: http://www.fund.org

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Christmas Tree Farms Offer Environmental Benefits

WASHINGTON, DC, December 24, 2002 (ENS) - When President George W. Bush lit the National Christmas Tree this year, he continued a tradition that began with a gift from the nonprofit American Forests in 1924.

That gift, accepted by President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, was a 40 year old, 35 foot Norway spruce, and it became the first living symbol of Christmas for the entire nation - the National Community Christmas Tree. Today, officials predict 30 million to 35 million families will bring home a cut Christmas tree this year.

Christmas trees also provide benefits from the time they are planted until after the holiday season when they can be recycled.

Before the commercial Christmas tree industry was developed, people cut trees from the wild, sometimes illegally, and always with little consideration for the continuance of the forest.

It takes a Christmas tree an average of five to 16 years to grow, and as they grow, Christmas trees support life by absorbing carbon dioxide and other gases while giving off fresh oxygen. Every acre of Christmas trees planted gives off enough oxygen to meet the needs of 18 people.

Today, in America, there are enough Christmas trees planted that 18 million people a day are supplied with oxygen. Also, the farms that grow Christmas trees stabilize soil, protect water supplies, and provide a refuge for wildlife while creating a scenic view.

Often, Christmas trees are grown on soil that will not support any other crops. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, when one Christmas tree is cut down, one or two are planted in its place - an average of 56 million trees each year.

Successful tree farms help keep open space undivided and undeveloped. In 2001, U.S. tree farmers received $493 million from Christmas tree sales, up 18 percent from five years earlier.

American Forests offers seven rules for caring for a cut Christmas tree:

  1. Buy a fresh tree, checking the condition of the needles. Fresh needles bend rather than break with gentle pressure.
  2. Shake the tree gently to check for loss of needles. Losing needles may mean the tree is too dry and could be dangerous for your home.
  3. Check the cut end of the trunk. A fresh tree should be sticky with sap rather than smooth and dry.
  4. Trim the end of the trunk before placing it in water. This allows a fresh route for water to travel into the trunk.
  5. Check the water level every other day, adding more if needed. If the water level drops below the trunk, a seal will form, preventing the tree from absorbing water.
  6. Keep the tree away from heat sources such as a heating duct or television set.
  7. Recycle the tree after the holidays. If you are not sure how, call your local municipal trash collection office for options. Mulch your tree for the garden. Never burn a Christmas tree in the fireplace, as the pitch content in the bark and needles can cause them to burst into flames from the intense heat.

However, American Forests recommends enjoying live Christmas trees because of the many environmental benefits of planting trees. If you have space for a "ball and burlapped" or containerized tree, and you have the patience to provide the extra care this type of tree requires, the group says it is well worth the additional cost and effort.

To care for a living Christmas tree, keep the root ball of the replantable tree moist at all times. After 10-14 days of indoor appreciation, move the tree to a protected place outdoors for several days to help it make the adjustment from a warm house.

Your local nursery should be able to answer any questions you have concerning the care of the tree. As soon as you can, plant the tree in a hole you have already prepared, if your area is frost prone.

If you do not have space to plant the tree on your property, check with a local tree planting group to see if it has a program to accommodate your tree.

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Mistletoe Attracts Wildlife - Not Just Kisses

WASHINGTON, DC, December 24, 2002 (ENS) - The next time you pucker up under the mistletoe, consider this: mistletoe also provides essential food, cover, and nesting sites for an amazing number of birds, butterflies, and mammals in the United States, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The white-berried American mistletoe that many hang in hopes of winning a kiss at Christmas is just one of more than 1,300 species of mistletoe found worldwide. More than 20 of these species are endangered.

mistletoe

Wild American mistletoe (Photo courtesy USGS)
Two kinds of mistletoes are native to the United States: the American mistletoe and the dwarf mistletoe. American mistletoe is found from New Jersey to Florida and west through Texas.

The dwarf mistletoe, much smaller than its kissing cousin, is found from central Canada and southeastern Alaska to Honduras and Hispaniola, but most species are found in western United States and Mexico.

Mistletoe is no newcomer to this country: excavations of packrat middens reveal that dwarf mistletoes have been part of our forests for more than 20,000 years. Some fossil pollen grains even indicate that the plant has been here for millions of years.

"Mistletoes should be viewed as a natural component of healthy forest ecosystems, of which they have been a part for thousands, if not millions of years," said Rob Bennetts, a USGS research scientist.

Mistletoes grow on the branches of trees and shrubs. According to USGS biologists, the American mistletoe's scientific name, Phoradendron, means "thief of the tree" in Greek. Once its seed lands on a host tree, the mistletoe sends out roots that penetrate the tree and start pirating some of the host tree's nutrients and minerals.

But mistletoes are not true parasites. Instead, they are what scientists call "hemi-parasites" because most of them have the green leaves necessary for photosynthesis.

Mistletoes grow into thick masses of branching, misshapen stems, giving rise to a popular name of witches' brooms, or the apt Navajo name of "basket on high."

The plant's common name - mistletoe - is derived from early observations that mistletoe would often appear in places where birds had left their droppings. "Mistel" is the Anglo-Saxon word for dung, and "tan" is the word for twig. Thus, mistletoe means "dung on a twig."

Even though bird droppings do not generate mistletoe plants, birds are an important part of mistletoe life. Birds find mistletoe a great place for nesting and many birds eat mistletoe berries, including grouse, mourning doves, bluebirds, evening grosbeaks, robins and pigeons.

Diane Larson, a USGS researcher, studied mistletoes and birds in Arizona.

"I found that phainopeplas, which rely on mistletoe almost exclusively for food during the winter, were also the species most likely to disperse the mistletoe seeds to sites suitable for germination and establishment," Larson said. "Both the bird and the plant benefited from this relationship."

This year, USGS is beginning a study on phainopeplas and mistletoes that live on acacia and mesquite trees in the desert. Todd Esque, a USGS researcher, said that his goal is to understand the distribution of the host trees in relation to mistletoe patterns and bird behavior.

"We know the relationship is mutually beneficial for both species," said Esque.

Birds find mistletoe a great place for nesting, particularly the dense witches' brooms. Northern and Mexican spotted owls and other raptors show a marked preference for witches' brooms as nesting sites. In one study, 43 percent of spotted owl nests were associated with witches' brooms.

A USGS researcher found that 64 percent of all Cooper's hawk nests in northeastern Oregon were in mistletoe. Other raptors that use witches' brooms as nesting sites include great gray owls, long-eared owls, goshawks, and sharp-shinned hawks.

Many migratory birds also nest in witches' broom, including gray jay, northern beardless-tyrannulet, red crossbills, house wrens, mourning doves, pygmy nuthatches, chickadees, Western tanagers, chipping sparrows, hermit thrushes, Cassin's finches and pine siskins.

"A well disguised nest provides protection against predators such as the great horned owls," Bennetts said.