AmeriScan: January 30, 2002


WASHINGTON, DC, January 30, 2002 (ENS) - In a sharp departure from his earlier stance on protecting Western lands, President George W. Bush is considering using his executive power to designate a new national monument in Utah.

On Monday, Utah Governor Mike Leavitt revealed in his annual state of the state speech that he has asked Bush to set aside 620,000 desert acres as the San Rafael National Monument. The tract southeast of Salt Lake City includes dramatic canyons and rock formations surrounding the San Rafael Swell, an enormous rock dome.

San Rafael's "canyons, pinnacles, and rock formations were placed in our back yard by generous providence, and we will now prove ourselves worthy of that gift," said Leavitt in his speech.

Utah officials have reportedly been discussing the proposed monument with representatives from the White House and the Department of Interior for several weeks. Leavitt said he plans to ask the Interior Department for a formal 90 review of the proposal.

If Bush accedes to the Republican governor's request, it will be his first use of the 1906 Antiquities Act - the law which former President Bill Clinton used to set aside almost six million acres of public lands as permanently protected national monuments. Bush has repeatedly criticized Clinton's use of the Act as a misuse of federal power to restrict certain uses of public lands - such as logging, mining and livestock grazing.

Interior Department officials said that Bush's use of the Act would be different because it would include input from local and state officials.

Conservation groups say the governor's proposal is a step in the right direction, but would not preserve as much of the area as is needed to protect the million acre San Rafael Swell.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 30, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Senate has confirmed Steven Williams, the Bush administration's choice to head the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Williams, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, was nominated last July to head the USFWS, an agency overseen by the Department of Interior. By law, the USFWS director must have a scientific education and experience in the principles of fisheries and wildlife management.

"Steve Williams is an avid outdoorsman whose professional experience and leadership skills make him an excellent candidate for Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton. "In his current position Steve has demonstrated a strong ability to bring together groups of various interests to create opportunities as well as to resolve natural resource issues."

The nomination cleared the Senate on Tuesday, after Senator Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, ended his efforts to block Williams' confirmation. Graham had put a hold on the nomination last November, after the Bush administration announced plans to close an Everglades restoration office in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Secretary Norton said the closing would streamline efforts to restore the Florida Everglades, and save $1.3 million over three years. The extra money could be used to combat invasive species in the Everglades, Norton said.

Graham met with Norton in late November to discuss the Interior Department's long range plans for the $7.8 billion restoration effort in the Everglades. The Senator's office said today that Graham was satisfied that the Interior Department would continue to work toward protection and restoration of the Everglades.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 30, 2002 (ENS) - A new report challenges claims by various industries which say they are phasing out the use of mercury in their products.

The report, "Menacing Mercury Product Pushers," was released today by the Zero Mercury Campaign, to counter claims by makers of fluorescent lamps, thermostats, computers, automobiles and cleaning products who have said they will no longer use mercury.

For example, the report says that while Toyota and Honda stopped using mercury products in the early 1990s, two of the big three U.S. auto manufacturers - Ford and General Motors - have broken promises to voluntarily stop using mercury in light switches since 1995. As a result, four million mercury containing light and ABS switches were installed in U.S. vehicles sold in 2000, the report charges.

The report calls on manufacturers to detoxify their products and urges states to protect people, wildlife and the environment from mercury.

Mercury is a heavy metal. Like lead, it affects the central nervous system, putting children in utero, infants and young children at highest risk. People who eat a lot of fish, including Native Americans and subsistence fishermen, are also at risk.

"Forty-one states now warn the public to limit consumption of fish due to high levels of mercury pollution," said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project. "The bad news is that this contamination is linked to the disposal of mercury containing consumer products. The good news is that this manmade pollution is preventable."

The report calls for phase out of mercury in products, and, in the interim, labeling of products to alert consumers that mercury is in some products. Product makers should also assume responsibility for the collection and proper long term storage of mercury - easing the financial strain on municipal and state coffers, the report charges.

"Today's report is critical to understanding the scope of the problem and flaws in industry arguments," Bender said. "Holding producers responsible for products discards prompts them to prevent future pollution by detoxifying products in the design phase. Clearly, this makes good environmental and economic sense."

The Mercury Product Pusher report is intended to help decision makers screen out misleading claims of mercury product makers and understand both the feasibility and necessity of implementing mercury regulations.

"This report shows a consistent pattern by mercury product pushers seeking to evade responsibility for serious problems caused by their toxic products," said Bender. "The Zero Mercury Campaign urges decision makers to see through false claims and develop solutions that guarantee maximum protection of our children's health and our environment from mercury."

The report is available at:

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 30, 2002 (ENS) - A coalition of conservation groups plans to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over use of the pesticide fenthion to kill mosquitoes in Florida.

The American Bird Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife and the Biodiversity Legal Foundation say the chemical, used to kill adult mosquitoes in Florida, is also toxic to birds, putting thousands at risk as they winter or breed in Florida. It has already been responsible for the deaths of numerous species, including a federally listed piping plover, the groups charge.

A 60 day notice is required before legal action can be taken in any case involving an endangered species. The groups' letter provides the EPA with time to remedy the situation before litigation can begin.

The letter outlines violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) in the deaths of dunlin, sandpipers, black skimmer and other birds that have been found on the beaches areas that have been sprayed with fenthion by helicopter. The MBTA makes killing any migratory bird without a permit a criminal offense, even if the death was unintentional.

For more than a year, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has been requesting that the EPA cancel all uses of fenthion due to its toxic effect on birds and other wildlife. More than 40 partners joined the ABC in a 2000 letter to the EPA requesting the pesticide's withdrawal, and thousands of comments have been generated in the public docket from individuals.

Even when used according to label instructions, fenthion is so toxic to birds that it is fatal if inhaled or absorbed through the skin in the tiniest amount. Aquatic organisms, particularly invertebrates such as mussels and shrimp, are also at risk through runoff into streams, lakes and estuaries.

Florida is the only state to use the pesticide and other effective and less harmful alternatives are available.

"There is no good reason for the registration of fenthion to continue," said Gerald Winegrad, vice president for policy at ABC. "Florida's unique habitat and geographical situation make it home to a vast number of nesting and migrating birds that are being threatened by the repeated spraying of hundreds of thousands of acres, year round with this hazardous chemical."

"Less toxic alternatives are used by all other states, and the desire to protect Florida residents from mosquitoes can be balanced with better stewardship of the state's wildlife," added Winegrad.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched a federal investigation into the Florida bird deaths, which has since been passed on to the Department of Justice.

American Bird Conservancy has begun a public action campaign aimed at residents of Florida and other states concerned about the bird deaths. More information is available at:

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SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 30, 2002 (ENS) - A year long review of Point Reyes National Seashore in California points out strengths and deficiencies in the park's management.

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) today unveiled the assessment of the natural and cultural resource conditions of the national seashore, located 40 miles northwest of San Francisco. The study - second in a series of such assessments for parks nationwide - scored the park 60 on a scale of 100 for the condition of its natural resources and 62 for the condition of its cultural resources.

"Point Reyes, which is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year, faces many problems and pressures that jeopardize its terrestrial and marine flora and fauna, which includes more than 1,500 wildlife species, many found nowhere else," said Mark Peterson, director of the State of the Parks project that produced the report.

"Considerable work needs to be done to protect the park's magnificent cultural heritage, which includes nearly 300 historic structures and archeological treasures dating back 5,000 years," added Peterson. "In all, the park faces increasing external pressures that jeopardize its long term health."

Point Reyes is home to almost 15 percent of California's plant species, 30 percent of the world's marine mammal species, and 45 percent of North American bird species. The park also harbors 23 threatened and endangered species and 33 species of concern.

Factors that led to the score of 60 for the condition of the park's natural resources include:

Point Reyes' stewardship capacity - its ability to protect resources - rated a higher 73 because:

"Given current funding, the overall condition of Point Reyes natural resources is likely to deteriorate in the near future, primarily because of the effects of invasive, non-native species," Peterson said. "If staffing levels stay the same, no major changes are expected in the overall condition of cultural resources over the next ten years."

Major recommendations in the report emphasize the need to eliminate or control the spread of non-native invasive species, to catalog and safely store archival and museum materials, and to protect the park's outstanding archaeological sites. Park managers also need to ban commercial marine fishing in the park and work with the state of California to establish a system of marine reserves that ensures fish survival.

"If implemented, the recommendations in the report will help to ensure that Point Reyes remains a vibrant piece of our natural, cultural, and historical legacy," Peterson said.

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MISSOULA, Montana, January 30, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has asked a federal court to delay a lawsuit challenging its evaluation of the Rock Creek Mine while the agency reconsiders its analysis

The Rock Creek Mine, if constructed, would extract copper and silver ore through tunnels beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area in Montana. Although the mine would operate from Forest Service land, the USFWS is responsible for protection and recovery of endangered species like the grizzly bear and bull trout which inhabit the nearby Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area and Rock Creek.

The USFWS evaluated the Rock Creek Mine in December 2000 and concluded that it would not jeopardize these species. Eight conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Montana challenging that finding on August 27, 2001.

The mine would degrade more than 7,000 acres of habitat vital to the survival of the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear population, would destroy bull trout habitat in Rock Creek, and would discharge up to three million gallons of waste water a day into the Clark Fork River, the groups charge. The USFWS asked the court to stay the lawsuit to allow the agency to "reevaluate the analyses and conclusions" in its December 2000 finding.

"We've said all along that this mine cannot be built without pushing the Cabinet's fragile grizzly bear population and bull trout in Rock Creek to extinction," said Mary Mitchell of the Rock Creek Alliance. "USFWS' decision to revisit its evaluation of the mine means that the agency no longer has faith in its previous analysis and must take a look at the science instead of ignoring it."

The USFWS has also taken the unusual step of asking the court to allow its existing evaluation to remain in effect and to delay the litigation "indefinitely" while it reexamines the mine's impacts. While the conservation groups support the agency's decision to take a second look at its flawed analysis, they are concerned that the agency's request to leave that analysis in place presupposes the outcome of that reevaluation.

"If the Service is serious about reconsidering and correcting the fundamental problems in its original biological opinion, it is a welcome, if belated step in the right direction," said Sanjay Narayan of Earthjustice, one of the lawyers handling the case. "But if the Service just wants more time to try to paper over these legal problems and still approve the mine, it won't work."

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, January 30, 2002 (ENS) - Seismologists at the University of Utah will be able to monitor the 2002 Winter Olympics site for earthquakes around the clock, thanks to a new $1.2 million system provided by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

"A basic, real time earthquake information system has just been completed in Utah's densely populated Wasatch Front region in time for seismologists to rapidly deliver key information to emergency managers and the public if an 'Olympics earthquake' visits Utah," said Walter Arabasz, director of the University of Utah Seismograph Stations.

The improved earthquake monitoring system of sensors, computers and telecommunications equipment was made possible with $965,000 in funds and equipment provided by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and another $235,000 in funds and personnel support from the state of Utah.

During the Olympic Winter Games, worldwide attention will focus on the Wasatch Range, where crowds of people will watch skiers, skaters, snowboarders and bobsledders compete in steep terrain.

The Wasatch Range appears majestic and serene. But underneath the mountains, rock continues to grind slowly along the Wasatch fault, lifting the mountains and producing earthquakes. Although most of these earthquakes are small, there is the potential for infrequent, large earthquakes, which could have devastating effects.

Estimates indicate a magnitude 7.5 quake on the Salt Lake City segment of the Wasatch fault could kill up to 7,600 people, injure 44,000 others and cause about $12 billion in damage.

Mindful of these facts, and lessons learned from the 1989 World Series earthquake that killed more than five dozen people in northern California, Arabasz, seismic network manager Sue Nava and other earthquake scientists at the University of Utah and the U.S. Geological Survey installed new tools for delivering fast information for public safety if any disruptive quakes occur during the Olympics.

More information on the new earthquake system is available at: