AmeriScan: January 29, 2003

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Pennsylvania Files Challenge to New Source Review Revisions

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, January 29, 2003 (ENS) - The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals challenging changes by the Bush administration to the new source review provisions of the Clean Air Act.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the revisions to the new source review rules, which deal with the construction or modification of large industrial sources of pollution, including power plants.

"We realize that the new source review program is not perfect and that changes may be needed, but these changes by the EPA are troubling for Pennsylvania," said acting DEP secretary Kathleen McGinty. "We believe that challenging these new regulations is in the best interest of the health of all Pennsylvanians. Moreover, we are concerned that Pennsylvania businesses could be responsible for the cleanup of pollution carrying into the Commonwealth from other upwind states, placing such businesses at a competitive disadvantage."

Several states, including Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, have filed a joint petition challenging the new rules on the day they were published. After extensive review of the new regulations with respect to Pennsylvania's particular priorities and interests, DEP chose to file its own petition.

"While we share the same concerns other states have about EPA's rule changes, we want our own seat at the table to help resolve these issues," said McGinty.

Pennsylvania already implements an approved program under the State Implementation Plan that was in place prior to the new changes proposed by the EPA. The DEP wants to ensure that it retains the authority to adopt new source review provisions necessary to achieve and maintain ambient air quality standards.

A number of states, including California, Delaware, Oregon and Washington are also looking at filing their own petition challenging the EPA's new source review rules.

"We also plan to join other states in a separate, administrative petition asking EPA to reconsider its decision on the new rules," McGinty said. "Part of that action may involve asking the courts to stay implementation of the new rules that is now set for March 3, 2003."

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Royal Caribbean Grants Support Marine Conservation

MIAMI, Florida, January 29, 2003 (ENS) - Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.'s charitable branch has awarded $480,750 in seven new grants to marine conservation organizations, including a two-year, $200,000 grant to the World Wildlife Fund.

In six and a half years since the launch of Royal Caribbean's Ocean Fund, the global vacation company has donated $5.95 million on behalf of Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises to 37 different organizations working to protect the marine environment.

The seven latest grants, ranging from $12,000 to $100,000 a year, will support projects related to research in coral disease, deaths of whales and dolphins from fishing net entanglement, protection of sea turtles, and marine science education.

The contribution to World Wildlife Fund is aimed at a cetacean bycatch initiative involving 25 leading marine experts from six continents. They are working to improve fishing practices and prevent the capture and death of whales, dolphins and porpoises in fishing nets.

One focus will be Mexico's Gulf of California, where the endangered vaquita marina porpoise faces extinction. There are less than 600 vaquitas in the wild, and as many as 80 vaquitas die in fishing nets every year.

First time grant recipients include the Bermuda Biological Station for Research, Island Dolphin Care in Key Largo, Florida, and the University of the West Indies in Barbados. The Ocean Fund also awarded grants to three previous winners - Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, and the Perry Institute for Marine Science, which operates the Caribbean Marine Research Center in the Bahamas.

"There are so many interesting and vital marine conservation efforts underway by the grant applicants, it became very difficult to choose only a select few," said Royal Caribbean chair and CEO Richard Fain. "We see great things coming from the seven grant winners, and we hope that over time, the Ocean Fund will be able to reach many more of these worthy organizations."

One of the new grantees, Island Dolphin Care, serves critically ill and special needs children from around the world through dolphin assisted therapy programs. A $50,000 grant will enable Island Dolphin Care to install interactive, educational aquariums and learning stations in the central meeting room of its new two story facility in Key Largo, Florida.

The Bermuda Biological Station for Research will receive $75,000 over three years to study the impact of pollutants on coral health and develop an early warning diagnostic system for corals in Bermuda and other island nations. Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute will get $68,000 over two years to build and furnish a second classroom for the research aquarium's Explorer Camps educational programs.

The Florida Aquarium will receive $20,500 to complete the installation of a Caribbean corals propagation farm and create educational materials at the Tampa facility. The Perry Institute for Marine Science will receive $31,250 to conduct a survey of Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, comparing a marine protected area to non-reserve areas, and to develop educational materials for Bahamian students.

The University of the West Indies will get $36,000 over three years for the Barbados Sea Turtle Project, monitoring the nesting and foraging activities of hawksbill sea turtles.

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Gulf Stream Not Responsible for Mild European Winters

WASHINGTON, DC, January 29, 2003 (ENS) - The Gulf Stream has little effect on the contrast in winter temperatures between Europe and eastern North America, new research suggests, dispelling a long held assumption.

Instead, atmospheric circulation, augmented by the Rocky Mountains, plays a larger role, say Dr. Richard Seager of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Dr. David Battisti of the University of Washington, and their colleagues.

Published in the "Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society," the new data suggests that atmospheric circulation is more important to understanding climate variability than is the ocean circulation.

What Seager, Battisti, and their co-workers found was that much of the difference in temperature between eastern North America and western Europe can be explained by the well known fact that the ocean stores heat in the summer and releases it over the course of the winter.

Where winds blow from west to east, as across the North Atlantic, the heat released in winter warms the land areas to the east of the ocean. The new research shows that the winter temperature contrast is much bigger than can be accounted for by this simple difference between a warm 'maritime' climate in Europe and a frigid 'continental' climate in North America.

The Rocky Mountains play a major role. Analogous to an island in a stream, the Rockies set up a persistent wave in the winds downstream that brings cold winds from the north into eastern North America and warm winds from the south into western Europe.

This pattern of movement of heat by the winds accounts for half of the total difference in winter temperatures between the two regions, with much of the other half attributable to the release of heat stored in the ocean.

"That the Gulf Stream heat transport has a minor effect while the Rocky Mountains loom large in causing the differing winter conditions of western Europe and eastern North America will certainly require some rewriting of textbooks as well as tourist guides," Seager said. "But now we must also look differently at theories of climate change, which in the past have revolved around water circulation in the Atlantic Ocean."

The research team analyzed observational data to first make their argument and then performed a set of experiments with computer models of the atmosphere and ocean to prove it. In some model experiments they accounted for the movement of heat by ocean currents and in others they stopped the ocean from moving.

In other experiments they removed mountains and made the Earth flat. When the Rocky Mountains were removed from the model, temperatures in eastern North America warmed, and they dropped in western Europe.

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Seafood Trade Group Supports Ecolabeling

ARLINGTON, Virginia, January 29, 2003 (ENS) - The National Fisheries Institute (NFI) has told the Commerce and State Departments that it supports eco-labeling standards developed by the international Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Eco-labeling refers to the certification and labeling of fish and seafood that is harvested or raised in a sustainable manner. Various private sector organizations and companies now purport to certify or sell sustainably produced seafood products using different standards, leading to consumer confusion about what such standards represent, NFI warns.

NFI, a non-profit trade association representing companies involved in all aspects of the fish and seafood industry, told the two federal agencies that the lack of objective and accountable standards for such labeling could result both in some standards being set too low, to the detriment of fishery resources, while others may be set too high, hampering the ability of fisheries to contribute to sustainable food production.

NFI asked the Secretaries of Commerce and State to support a set of voluntary technical standards for sustainable fisheries developed by the FAO, a United Nations agency, that would serve as the basis for third party certification and labeling for all fish and seafood products in the marketplace.

"These standards would benefit producers and consumers in developing and developed countries, and provide an important public sector initiative to address overfishing and depletion of marine resources," said Justin LeBlanc, NFI vice president of government relations.

NFI also urged the United States to encourage the FAO to undertake this work at the FAO Committee on Fisheries meeting next month. NFI is the nation's largest seafood trade association.

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Washington Agencies Reach Agreement on Spotted Owl

OLYMPIA, Washington, January 29, 2003 (ENS) - Two Washington state environmental agencies have teamed up to protect northern spotted owl habitat on state trust lands in southwest Washington.

Under the agreement, the Washington State Departments of Natural Resources (DNR) and Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will work to build more viable habitat for spotted owls there, creating the opportunity for other major landowners to participate in the effort.

"This agreement helps us meet our important goals of creating revenue for schools, counties and universities while protecting healthy ecosystems for wildlife, fish and birds," said Doug Sutherland, state commissioner of public lands. "For years, this has been among the most political of all forestry issues. With this agreement, we hopefully can move beyond politics toward good science."

Protection standards for spotted owls in the southwest corner of the state had been an area of disagreement between the two agencies since DNR's Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) was developed in 1996. The HCP is an agreement between DNR and the federal agencies to protect federally listed species on state trust lands and other forestlands managed by DNR.

The two agencies have worked for more than a year on this agreement to complement DNR's HCP commitments. This agreement defines DNR's voluntary approach to owl habitat management in southwest Washington.

"Today's announcement signals an important milestone in responsible stewardship of our state's natural resources," said Terry Bergeson, superintendent of public instruction and member of the Board of Natural Resources. "I really appreciate the willingness of both agencies to sit down and collaborate. We have come together to resolve the debate and move ahead in a manner that allows these trust lands to be used as they were intended and also meet our obligations to protect the endangered species."

WDFW director Jeff Koenings said the agreement is based on existing protections for the owl on federal lands in Washington remaining strong. If those protections are weakened, the agreement can be revisited, he said. The overwhelming percentage of spotted owl habitat in Washington is on federal land.

"This agreement guarantees that key areas of high quality spotted owl habitat in southwest Washington will be protected for the next three years - a guarantee we previously did not have," said Koenings. "DNR has agreed to defer any harvest in these high quality areas until 2006 while the two agencies continue to work together. In essence, we have strengthened owl protections."

In the agreement, DNR and WDFW outline elements for managing state trust forests in southwest Washington, including a focus of management across the entire landscape. WDFW will take the lead on discussions with other landowners, while DNR will provide information, as well as computer modeling of alternative forest regimes through its sustainable harvest modeling process.

The DNR will phase out the old system of protecting a ring of trees around a known owl nest tree, called "owl circles," after 2007, and defer harvest until 2006 in the best available habitat areas. In addition, DNR will use thinnings to help develop habitat in areas identified as good quality habitat, and will include owl habitat alternatives when considering sustainable harvest calculations.

There are no other restrictions on harvest in areas where DNR has little or no land within the old identified owl circles.

"With this commitment, and potential partners, we can focus on a landscape approach - rather than a piecemeal approach - which will increase habitat in the long term," said Sutherland.

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Red-cockaded Woodpecker Experts Gather in Savannah

SAVANNAH, Georgia, January 29, 2003 (ENS) - More than 300 experts from the private, state and federal sectors are meeting this week in Savannah to share ideas about protecting and restoring endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers.

The weeklong meeting, held once every 10 years, will include presentations and discussions about lessons learned and best management practices.

"Red-cockaded woodpecker conservation and recovery strategy are on track and in tune with our goals and initiatives," said red-cockaded woodpecker recovery coordinator Ralph Costa. "Most populations on federal, state and private lands have been stabilized or are increasing. Thanks to artificial cavities and translocation [moving birds and pairing birds], we have hundreds more new groups since our last symposium 10 years ago."

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The male red-cockaded woodpecker (left) has a tuft of red feathers on the back of its head; the female (right) does not. (Photo by Mike Lennartz, courtesy U.S. Forest Service)
The primary causes for the decline of the species in the Southeast were clearing forests for agriculture and settlements, short rotation timber management and land use conversion.

"We've taken what was a 92 million acre ecosystem and reduced it to three million," said Costa. "We estimate there were one to 1.5 million red-cockaded woodpecker groups when Columbus hit the beach. Now we have less than 6,000 groups. The prime reason? The ecosystem has vanished."

Partnerships, private property, relationships with states, cooperation with the military, recovery support via funding initiatives, sound science, dedicated and seasoned professionals are all considered key aspects of the recovery program for the endangered woodpecker. With 15 major installations now harboring red-cockaded woodpeckers and 538,600 acres of prime habitat, the military is considered a powerful ally in the recovery effort.

"Just 15 years ago, the thought of a round table discussion between regulators, the military, academia, and advocates was the stuff of nightmares," said Major General David Mize, commanding general at the Marine Corps Base in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. "Now, all of us welcome the opportunity to gather at events such as this symposium to share stories of great achievements, partnerships, research and insights resulting, in many cases, from our coordinated efforts."

Mize added that the military is now working with other groups to acquire buffer zones around military bases "that will ensure incompatible development to base activities does not occur, while also providing additional conservation lands to recover and sustain threatened and endangered species."

The conference will also serve as the backdrop for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to approve and sign the newest revision to the red-cockaded woodpecker recovery plan. Revisions to the plan began in 1996.

The USFWS will compile the information from all the presentations and papers offered at the conference into a book that, along with the recovery plan, will form a baseline to guide recovery of the red-cockaded woodpecker for the next 10 years.

"We convened a large and diverse recovery team with17 experts to accomplish this difficult and challenging task which will guide our cooperative recovery efforts for years to come," said Sam Hamilton, southeast regional director for the USFWS.

For more information about the red-cockaded woodpecker, being held January 27-31, visit: http://rcwrecovery.fws.gov/symposium4.htm

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Population of Threatened Flower Protected in New Hampshire

BROOKFIELD, New Hampshire, January 29, 2003 (ENS) - A small population of a rare, tiny wildflower is the highlight of The Nature Conservancy's newest property in New Hampshire.

Georgiana White and her husband had always thought of their property in Brookfield as a special place that ought to be preserved for the wild. But they never suspected that the land was also host to the threatened flower, the small whorled pogonia.

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The threatened small whorled pogonia. (Photo by Ben Kimball, New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau)
Earlier this year, White was following the wishes of her late husband by arranging to donate the 15 acre property to The Nature Conservancy. Dennis White died in 1995.

"Dennis bought the property in 1969, just before we were married," White said. "He was very conservation minded and had intended to donate the property to The Nature Conservancy or another conservation group."

To honor her husband's wishes, White contacted The Nature Conservancy last January. This past summer, ecologists from the Conservancy's New Hampshire field office visited the property to see if it contained any rare species or natural communities that would merit its ownership by the Conservancy.

If not, the land might be better suited going to another conservation organization.

But a visit by Jeffrey Lougee, the Conservancy's stewardship ecologist, and Duane Hyde, director of land protection, turned up a large population of healthy small whorled pogonias - not seen there since 1929.

"The fact that there's an endangered flower there is delightful," White said. "Dennis would have been thrilled."

The small whorled pogonia is one of the rarest wildflowers in eastern North America and is classified as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The largest populations of small whorled pogonia are found in central New Hampshire and southern Maine, although the species is distributed throughout the eastern U.S. and Ontario. New Hampshire has about 40 known populations of small whorled pogonia.

The White donation, according to Susi von Oettingen, a biologist with the USFWS, "is great news, because most of these populations are not on protected lands." Most population losses have occurred because landowners have converted forestland to other uses, von Oettingen added.

Small whorled pogonia is one of The Nature Conservancy's priorities for protection. In New Hampshire, the Conservancy has already protected populations of this rare plant species on its preserves in Madison and Milton.

"Sometimes small properties hold great treasures," said Daryl Burtnett, state director of The Nature Conservancy's New Hampshire Chapter. "The White family's donation of this precious place is a wonderful example not only of that truth, but also of one generation caring enough to pass on to future generations a New Hampshire landscape that is even better than we found it."

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Early Groundhogs Usually Male

STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania, January 29, 2003 (ENS) - Any groundhogs that emerge on Sunday to see their shadow are likely to be males, new research suggests.

In fact, most groundhogs in the northeastern U.S. do not emerge from their burrows until well after Groundhog Day, celebrated each year on February 2. By the end of February, some groundhogs will be out wandering about - but they will almost all be male, according to Dr. Stam Zervanos, associate professor of biology at Penn State Berks-Lehigh Valley College.

"Field observations indicate that males immerge later and emerge earlier than females," Zervanos said.

Zervanos defines the date of immergence as the last day that researchers monitored the groundhog above ground in the autumn, and the date of emergence as the first date they monitored the groundhog above ground in the spring.

Groundhogs do not just crawl into their dens and hibernate, but go through a series of torpor and arousal events throughout winter. During arousal events they stay in their burrows, but in the spring, they emerge and move around above ground.

They then return to the den for some more deep sleeping episodes before the final arousal for the season.

"Upon emergence, males tended to move within a given territory, often visiting female burrows," Zervanos said. "Females tended to stay close to their burrows."

Zervanos suggests that visiting a few female burrows before the ladies come out in the spring may smooth the way for later groundhog mating activities.

"For males, these early excursions are an opportunity to survey their territories and to establish bonds with females," said Zervanos. "For females, it is an opportunity to bond with males and assess food availability."

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Female groundhog in front of her burrow greets early rising male visitor. (Photo courtesy Penn State, Stam Zevranos)
The Penn State researcher observed one male at the entrance of a female's burrow about 300 yards from his home burrow. The female emerged and the male stayed with her for two days before moving on to another female's burrow.

Afterwards, all three groundhogs stayed alone in their burrows experiencing episodes of deep torpor before final arousal.

Most groundhogs do not exit hibernation for good until early March, which is when they mate. But these episodes of early visitation occur in February.

"It would appear that the early bonding activity and establishment of territories in preparation for mating insure optimum conditions and timing for reproduction and offspring survival," says Zervanos.

"The length of the hibernation season at a given location appears to be consistent for groundhogs - also called woodchucks - and is characterized by a predictable timing of immergence and emergence," he reported in the "Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Genus Marmota," held in Montreux, Switzerland.

"This is important, because if mating occurs too early, young would be weaned at a time in the spring when food is still limited," Zervanos added. "If mating occurs too late, young would not have sufficient time to gain their critical hibernation weight."