AmeriScan: January 2, 2003

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Rocket Fuel Toxic Found in Lettuce

OAKLAND, California, January 2, 2003 (ENS) - Perchlorate, an ingredient in rocket fuel which impairs the thyroid's ability to take up iodide and produce hormones, has contaminated almost 300 drinking water sources and farm wells in California and sources in at least 15 other states. This new information is found in test data and documents obtained by Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit environmental research organization with offices in Oakland and Washington, DC.

Contamination has affected the Colorado River from near Las Vegas to the Mexican border. The river is the primary or sole source of irrigation water for farms in California, Arizona and Nevada that grow the great majority of the lettuce sold in the U.S. during the winter.

Eating lettuce or other vegetables grown in fields irrigated by the Colorado River may expose consumers to a larger dose of toxic rocket fuel than is considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Test results never before made public, obtained by EWG, show that leafy vegetables grown with contaminated irrigation water take up, store and concentrate potentially harmful levels of perchlorate.

Sworn depositions and other courtroom documents show that the giant aerospace and defense contractor Lockheed Martin, a major user of perchlorate, knew as early as 1997 that vegetables stored high concentrations of the chemical, but said nothing to the EPA or California state health officials.

EWG says that "Lockheed Martin is responsible for polluting dozens of water supplies in the Redlands area of San Bernardino County, California with high levels of perchlorate and other chemicals."

The company has made no comment on these allegations.

A class action lawsuit has been brought against the company by more than 800 residents of the area, who blame contaminated drinking water for cancer and other health problems. Farms in the area are not irrigated by the Colorado River, but draw from wells that have been contaminated by perchlorate plumes from now abandoned Lockheed facilities.

Lawyers at Engstrom, Lipscomb and Lack in Los Angeles, who represent the Redlands residents suing Lockheed Martin, learned that the company had earlier been in negotiation with Lucky Farms, a San Bernardino grower of lettuce and other vegetables, over contamination of the farm's water supply. The lawyers subpoenaed all materials from the negotiations, and have discovered that Lockheed was sitting on evidence of vegetables' uptake and concentration of perchlorate.

The subpoenaed documents, obtained by EWG from lawyers at Engstrom, Lipscomb and Lack, showed that in late 1997 and early 1998, Lucky Farms conducted a series of tests on its produce to see if they were contaminated with perchlorate. These tests were conducted on four samples of "leafy vegetables" and four samples of some kind of "vegetable matter" which was not identified.

Overall, the vegetables were found to have an average of more than 2,600 micrograms of perchlorate per kilogram - thousands of times higher than what the EPA considers to be a safe amount in a liter of water.

"We know the water supplies of millions of Californians are contaminated with perchlorate at potentially harmful levels," said Bill Walker, EWG's California director. "But that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of untested wells and water systems across the country, and many Americans may be consuming a toxin which is a health threat at very low doses, especially to infants and children."

Too much perchlorate can damage the thyroid gland, which controls growth, development and metabolism. At higher levels, perchlorate is known to cause cancer.

Although there is currently no federal drinking water standard for perchlorate, the EPA's proposed "reference dose," the level that the EPA says is safe to consume each day, is two micrograms per day for an adult.

"If the perchlorate levels reported here are confirmed by further testing," EWG says, "immediate government action will be needed to reduce perchlorate in lettuce and other vegetables." The EWG is urging the Food and Drug Administration to test lettuce and other vegetables grown with Colorado River water for perchlorate, and that the results of this testing be made public as soon as they are confirmed.

In addition, says EWG, any grower affected by perchlorate contamination of their crops "should be fully compensated for any and all economic losses to their farming operations and property values."

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Proposed Maryland Bear Hunt Draws Green Fire

SILVER SPRING, Maryland, January 2, 2003 (ENS) - A recommendation for regulated hunting of black bears in Maryland by the Maryland Black Bear Task Force has drawn criticism from the Fund for Animals, a national non-profit animal conservation organization.

The Fund for Animals, in comments written by wildlife biologist D.J. Schubert, today criticized the draft report and recommendations from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' 2002 Black Bear Task Force issued in November. A slim majority of the task force recommended opening the state's small black bear population to recreational hunting for the first time in 50 years.

Maryland's bear population is estimated to be between 266 and 437 animals. The Task Force recommends that the state's bear population be maintained at a level it calls "cultural carrying capacity." This level is defined as "levels compatible with land use, property concerns, and recreational opportunities." Cultural carrying capacity (CCC) can fluctuate and is determined primarily by a public attitude survey about bears.

To maintain this CCC level, hunting would be allowed, but not baiting, use of dogs, or spring hunting.

Michael Markarian, president of The Fund for Animals and a member of the 2002 Maryland Black Bear Task Force, said, "Maryland's small black bear population, estimated at 266 to 437 bears, has come back from near extinction, and we should not turn back the clock on bear management by allowing trophy hunting of these majestic animals."

"The task force reviewed voluminous scientific data on black bears, and there was never information suggesting that hunting bears would reduce bear/human conflicts," said Markarian. "In fact, hunting bears for sport would most likely make those problems worse."

Schubert, who was a member of the 1994 Maryland Black Bear Task Force, said today, "A bear hunt cannot be justified at this time or in the future. The DNR [Department of Natural Resources] needs to provide a much more comprehensive analysis of black bear habitat needs and evaluate the impact of any proposed hunt on the bear population as well as on any non-target species."

Schubert also recommended that the DNR expand public education efforts on implementing non-lethal methods to humanely prevent or resolve human/bear conflicts in the state.

"A black bear hunt will satisfy the fringe minority of people who want to hunt these animals for fun and for trophies, but will not satisfy the Maryland citizens who want real solutions to bear problems," said Markarian.

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New Hampshire Takes Stewardship of 25,000 Acres

CONCORD, New Hampshire, January 2, 2003 (ENS) - The state of New Hampshire now owns 25,000 acres in the Connecticut Lakes area after a deal completed December 30, 2002 between The Nature Conservancy and the state. The land is part of 171,326 acres formerly owned by the International Paper Company.

The state, under the auspices of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, now owns the 25,000 acres in Pittsburg and Clarksville and will manage it as a natural area for this and future generations. The Nature Conservancy holds a conservation easement over the entire property, and will work with Fish and Game to ensure sound management that protects the property's special natural features in perpetuity.

"I am proud to participate in today's transfer of this unique property to the state," said Governor Jeanne Shaheen, who along with U.S. Senator Judd Gregg co-chaired the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Partnership Task Force.

"This 25,000 acre natural area is key to the overall protection plan we have developed for the Connecticut Lakes headwaters tract," the governor said Tuesday. "Today's closing means another critical step has been completed in our effort to preserve the economic, environmental, and recreational attributes of this land for generations to come."

"The transfer of the 25,000 acre natural area in Pittsburg and Clarksville from The Nature Conservancy to New Hampshire Fish and Game marks a major and successful milestone for the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Partnership Task Force and assures the region's most sensitive ecological features will be protected for the benefit of future generations," said Senator Gregg.

"I commend The Nature Conservancy and all of the local, state and federal officials and nonprofit organizations who have worked so diligently over the past 18 months toward the conservation of the 171,326 acre International Paper lands' recreational, ecological and economic values for a job well done," the senator said.

Daryl Burtnett, director of The Nature Conservancy's New Hampshire chapter, said, "The Connecticut Lakes natural area harbors a tremendous array of wetlands, streams and ponds, mountain tops, and wildlife habitat, and a rich tradition of public recreation. Because of the foresight and action of the many dedicated people involved, these values will be protected in perpetuity."

"The state's ownership and management of the natural area will center on natural ecological processes and sustaining significant wildlife habitat," says Charles Bridges, Fish and Game's habitat and diversity programs administrator.

"Not only will it help protect and preserve a vital piece of wildlife habitat for New Hampshire's future, it will provide an excellent complement to the surrounding privately managed forestland, where timber production is the focus within the guidelines of a Forest Legacy Conservation Easement held by the state," said Bridges.

The Fish and Game Department will manage nearly 15,000 acres of the East Inlet section as a nature preserve, in which there will be no timber harvesting and where ecological processes will follow their own natural courses to shape the landscape over time.

In the South Bay Bog and Perry Stream headwaters parcels and a small portion of the East Inlet area along Route 3, Fish and Game will practice a variety of sustainable and adaptive forest management options to optimize wildlife habitats. All 25,000 acres will be open to the public for hunting, fishing, and hiking and snowmobiling on established trails. The state has established an endowment for the long term management of these lands, toward which The Nature Conservancy will contribute an initial $450,000.

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Florida Buys Longest U.S. Underwater Cave System

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, January 2, 2003 (ENS) - Florida has purchased land in Wakulla County that covers the longest underwater cave system in the United States, and the fourth longest in the world.

The underground river winds 19 miles through narrow and wide caves, including a huge room called the Black Abyss that is large enough to hold a small skyscraper, according to Mike Wisenbaker, a member of a volunteer dive team that has been mapping the system for more than 15 years.

More than 100 million gallons of water flow through it each day. "This is comparable to the Grand Canyon as a tremendous natural resource," Wisenbaker said. "The only problem is no one on the surface can see it."

Under the deal completed the day after Christmas, the state bought approximately 3,750 acres in northern Wakulla County from the St. Joe Company in a transaction negotiated by The Nature Conservancy.

The purchase protects 13 of 27 mapped sinkholes - places where the underground water briefly surfaces. Nine other sinkholes in the system are already protected on federal land.

The Wakulla system is well known to locals and divers worldwide, Wisenbaker said. Volunteer divers, as part of the Woodville Karst Plain Project, explore and map the variety of depths in the region's porous limestone, deep fissures and sinkholes.

The depths range from 30 to 200 feet, where divers must use a special "trimix" of oxygen, helium and nitrogen. Decompression time in the water can be 15 hours, said Wisenbaker. The underwater current is so strong in some places that even divers being pulled through the water by cylindrical scooters must move off to the side and out of the current to make any headway.

The acreage is part of the Wakulla Springs Protection Zone, some 7,900 acres identified by state officials for protection around Wakulla Springs State Park. With this purchase, only about 900 acres remain to be bought.

The purchase contributes to efforts that would connect the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, the Wakulla Springs State Park and the Apalachicola National Forest. The linkage of these conservation areas will not only protect water resources, but provide a wildlife corridor for a wide range of species.

Most of Florida's 600 freshwater springs are in the northern part of the state and originate in the upper region of the Floridan Aquifer - the source of 90 percent of the state's drinking water. Protection of spring recharge areas is important since contamination is a major threat to Florida springs. Maintaining water quality, quantity and surrounding habitat is critical to the long term health of these systems.

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New Jersey Commits $100 Million Annually for Open Space

TRENTON, New Jersey, January 2, 2003 (ENS) - New Jersey today announced a new bonding plan that will provide the Garden State Preservation Trust an additional $100 million annually to expedite the preservation of New Jersey's open space.

Based on recommendations from the state Department of Treasury, the Garden State Preservation Trust approved a new financing structure that will allow the state to minimize interest and debt service costs to taxpayers while maximizing the proceeds generated for the open space program.

The plan will provide for a mix of $400 million in current interest bonds and $100 million in zero-coupon bonds.

"Governor [James] McGreevey's Smart Growth agenda sets new priorities for open space preservation and a sound financing plan to support his initiatives - including funds for needed parks in local communities," said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Brad Campbell. "Today's plan will increase the funding resources we have to accomplish these goals."

"We are extremely pleased with the Trust's approval of this prudent financing mechanism for open space acquisitions," said state Treasurer John McCormac. "The mixture of current interest and zero coupon bonding provides the financial leverage New Jersey needs to implement a sound and effective open space preservation program."

McCormac said the approval of financing arrangements signals a strong shared commitment to preserving New Jersey's open space resources. Preserved open space protects New Jersey's water supply and quality, preserves sensitive habitats for endangered and threatened species, minimizes sprawl, and provides recreational opportunities.

Since the Garden State Preservation Trust's inception in 1998, New Jersey has purchased nearly 300,000 acres for open space preservation, has approved more than $50 million in recreational projects and park development, and provided over $13 million for historic preservation projects.

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Rhode Island Acts to Block Chronic Wasting Disease

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island, January 2, 2003 (ENS) - The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has filed emergency regulations expanding the state's ban on the importation of deer and elk and their parts into the state and the release into the wild of any captive or wild cervid. The action has been taken in an effort to prevent the introduction of chronic wasting disease into the state.

The expanded regulations prohibit feeding and baiting of white-tailed deer. Baiting deer has always been illegal but feeding has been included in the new regulations because it is "highly associated with disease transmission."

Several exceptions are allowed, including raised bird feeders within 100 feet of a dwelling, brush piles and bona fide agricultural practices, the agency said.

The new regulations cover Rhode Islanders who hunt out of state. They must remove all nervous tissue, brain and spinal cord, from deer and elk meat before bringing it back to Rhode Island, making into law a precaution hunters have been following since the spread of chronic wasting disease.

Although the method of transmission is not fully understood, disease experts believe chronic wasting disease is passed through direct animal-to-animal contact and possibly by indirect contact with the highly resistant chronic wasting disease proteins known as prions found only in nerve tissue.

Chronic wasting disease is a progressive neurological disease that is always fatal to deer and elk. It has been found in wild deer and elk in limited areas of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Kansas, New Mexico, and Illinois. It has also been identified in farmed elk in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Kansas.

The Department of Environmental Management has joined much of the country in conducting a systematic chronic wasting disease surveillance program, and has asked hunters to assist by donating heads of deer harvested in Rhode Island. Many samples were collected during deer hunting seasons this fall.

Hunters may still participate in this program by contacting Lori Gibson, supervising wildlife biologist with the Department of Environmental Management, at 401-789-0281 and by delivering specimens to the Great Swamp Management Area Field Headquarters on Great Neck Road in West Kingston. Specimens of particular interest are symptomatic deer or those harvested near deer farms.

Deer killed by cars and trucks are being sampled also. This effort is supported by funding from the federal government, including the Agriculture Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Although there is now no evidence that chronic wasting disease is naturally transmissible to humans or to animals other than deer and elk, the Department of Environmental Management recommends that hunters follow simple precautions when dressing and preparing venison. Wear rubber gloves when dressing carcasses, bone out meat from the animal, minimize the handling of brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, and lymph nodes, and wash hands and instruments thoroughly after dressing is completed.

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Canadian Lynx Disembark at Denver International

DENVER, Colorado, January 2, 2003 (ENS) - Four lynx captured in Quebec arrived at Denver International Airport on Monday night, the first of up to 50 lynx the state Division of Wildlife intends to reintroduce next spring in its effort to re-establish the native species in Colorado's high country. While there have been numerous reports of possible sightings and lynx tracks, no known native lynx remain in Colorado.

"Lynx is the most visible and closely watched example of our new approach to recovering species by re-introducing them into the wild, an approach we are also taking on fish, birds and other species," said Greg Walcher, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

Division of Wildlife (DOW) wildlife managers plan to release the lynx next April at sites adjacent to the Weminuche Wilderness Area and in the San Juan National Forest. The reintroduction plan, approved November 15 by the Colorado Wildlife Commission, calls for up to 180 lynx to be reintroduced to southwestern Colorado over the next five to six years, including up to 50 in each of the next three years.

The spring release date is timed so that many hibernating species will be emerging and young are available as prey when the lynx begin to hunt.

Lynx is a native Colorado feline species that once occupied higher elevation areas of the state. But the last confirmed lynx were illegally trapped in Eagle County in 1973. The DOW says its wildlife officer cited the trapper and recovered the dead lynx which is now on display in a glass case at an Avon condominium facility.

More lynx are expected later this month and in January from British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec.

"The weather has made it difficult for trappers in Canada, and it's unclear whether we'll receive all 50 lynx we've asked for," said Scott Wait, a DOW biologist in Durango. "We still have more than a month of trapping, so there's still time to get all we've requested."

The DOW reintroduced 96 lynx to the state in 1999 and 2000. Colorado biologists say the intensive monitoring and research on the 96 animals has allowed them to "literally write the textbook on lynx biology and recovery in the Lower 48 states."

"We've established four of the seven criteria in Colorado for establishing a viable population of lynx," said Tanya Shenk, the DOW's chief lynx researcher. "These include developing successful release protocols, having lynx survive for extended periods in the wild, having lynx establish territories and the onset of breeding behavior.

But the lynx that exist in Colorado today still number too few to permit successful reproduction, Shenk and others believe. "Bringing in additional lynx will allow us to determine whether this theory that there aren't enough lynx is correct," said Division wildlife biologist Rick Kahn.

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Alaska's New Governor Halts Beaver Kill

JUNEAU, Alaska, January 2, 2003 (ENS) - Former Senator Frank Murkowski, Alaska's new governor, has saved the lives of a colony of beavers in the Dredge Lake area of Juneau that is disrupting salmon spawning streams and viewing areas, and causing flooding of trails in an area near the Mendenhall Glacier.

The U.S. Forest Service had considered a plan to trap and kill the beavers, but the governor interceded. He would like to see the beavers relocated instead of killed. In conversations between Forest Service managers and the governor's chief of staff, an agreement was reached to relocate the beavers, avoiding lethal trapping methods.

"I hope the Forest Service does not view this family of hardworking beavers in the same way as some federal policymakers have viewed loggers and their families over the past 20 years here in Southeast Alaska," Murkowski said on Christmas Eve.

"Seriously, I am gratified that during the Christmas season the Forest Service is willing to move the beaver colony. We can relocate the beavers and remove their dams so as to avoid the flooding of trails, and all of us - including the beavers - can have a happy Christmas."