AmeriScan: July 12, 2002

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Energy Task Force Lawsuits to Proceed

WASHINGTON, DC, July 12, 2002 (ENS) - A federal judge has ruled that a public interest lawsuit seeking documents from the White House Energy Task Force may proceed.

Judge Emmet Sullivan issued an opinion Wednesday allowing the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch to proceed with their suits challenging the administration's attempts to keep Vice President Richard Cheney's task force meetings with energy industry executives secret. Last year, the task force produced a national energy policy that relies heavily on energy production from fossil fuels like oil and coal, and from nuclear power plants.

The Sierra Club filed its lawsuit after the Bush administration refused to divulge how much influence energy companies had in crafting the nation's energy policy. The administration refused to release information about meetings with industry representatives, despite numerous requests from Congress and a variety of public interest groups.

In his opinion, Judge Sullivan wrote that Cheney and his co-defendants were seeking a ruling from him that "would eviscerate the understanding of checks and balances between the three branches of government on which our constitutional order depends."

The judge chastised the Justice Department lawyers for attempting to mislead the court, writing that, "the fact that the government has stubbornly refused to acknowledge the existing controlling law in at least two cases, does not strike this Court as a coincidence. One or two isolated mis-citations or misleading interpretations of precedent are forgivable mistakes of busy counsel, but a consistent pattern of misconstruing precedent presents a much more serious concern."

In May, Judge Sullivan ruled from the bench against motions by Cheney and other administration officials to dismiss the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch lawsuits. On Wednesday, the federal court issued the judge's written order and opinion setting forth the reasons for his ruling.

The Sierra Club suit asserts that by refusing to tell the public about the influence energy industries had in crafting national energy policy, the Cheney task force violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The Sierra Club is asking the court to require Cheney and other defendants to disclose to the American people what went on behind closed doors in the creation of the national energy policy.

The suit has been consolidated with a similar suit filed by Judicial Watch.

"The judge's strong words for the government clearly show that attempts to hoodwink the American public will not be tolerated," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "Americans deserve to know what happened behind those closed doors when the energy industry met with administration officials, and the law requires letting the light shine into that darkened room."

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Arizona Plants Trees, Saves Wildlife After Fire

PHOENIX, Arizona, July 12, 2002 (ENS) - Arizona has begun the long process of restoration after the state's largest wildfire in history.

The Rodeo-Chediski fire complex burned more than 460,000 acres and destroyed 426 homes before being declared contained this week. The fire charred parts of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and Apache reservation land, as well as private forest lands.

The Arizona Community Tree Council has launched a fundraising effort to secure resources for replanting trees on residential, commercial and community lands damaged by the Rodeo-Chediski fires. Founded some 12 years ago, the non-profit group includes arborists, landscapers, nursery operators, growers and forest professionals.

"We are committing 100 percent of all donations to replanting of native trees and shrubs in the devastated communities and will coordinate volunteer teams for planting in summer of 2003," said Ron Romatzke, Council community forestry advisor.

Safeway Stores helped kick start the "Trees For The Rim" initiative with a $50,000 donation. The Arizona stores are donating $2 for every $200 in Safeway Club Card member purchases between July 10 and August 6, 2002, up to a total contribution of $200,000.

"'Trees for the Rim' is an opportunity for Safeway to show its support for these communities by committing to this five year program," said Rojon Hasker, Safeway's Phoenix division president.

Kino Digital of Tucson and Phoenix has designed a special website, http://www.treesfortherim.org, which accepts donations online through a secure web server.

"The damage in this unique expanse of Ponderosa pines is a mind boggling and, indeed, has touched the public psyche worldwide," said Kino's executive vice president Eric Brandt.

Arizona wildlife suffering from the impact of the wildfire and severe drought are receiving water and medicine thanks to a $10,000 emergency grant from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to the Wildlife for Tomorrow Foundation.

While many homes and families were evacuated during the fire's peak, the fire is also killing and displacing countless animals of all kinds including deer, elk, squirrels, coyotes, bobcats and birds. Those that survive the fire are often injured and short of water and food.

The severity of the four year old drought and the size of the fire are overwhelming the state's ability and financial resources to haul water to more than 720 watering sites statewide, install temporary water sites in the burn area and care for wildlife injured and displaced by the fire. Rescuers are finding animals with burns and bite marks as well as severe dehydration.

"This funding will go towards the costs for medicine, drugs and food for care of the animal victims with the remainder going towards the water costs," said Cindy Milburn, IFAW director of Animals In Crisis and Distress Program.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department is preparing to rehabilitate rescued animals at their facility at Adobe Mountain near Phoenix. The department has also set up a wildlife triage unit and is working closely with veterinary clinics and other volunteers to handle the influx of injured wildlife.

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Agency Asked to Protect White-Tailed Prairie Dogs

DENVER, Colorado, July 12, 2002 (ENS) - A coalition of conservation groups has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to list the white-tailed prairie dog as a threatened or endangered species.

The imperiled white-tailed prairie dog is found in the so called "sagebrush sea" of central and western Wyoming, northwestern Colorado, northeastern Utah, and Montana's Carbon County.

The white-tailed prairie dog is an important part of the sagebrush ecosystem. Endangered black-footed ferrets depend on prairie dogs for food, and on their burrows for shelter. Prairie dogs also provide food and habitat to many other native plants and animals, including badgers, burrowing owls and golden eagles.

White-tailed prairie dogs are one of five prairie dog species in North America; two of the species are already listed under the Endangered Species Act, and in 2000, the USFWS determined that a third - the black-tailed prairie dog - also warranted listing.

prairie dog

White-tailed prairie dogs like this need federal protection, conservation groups charge. (Photo by J.T. Thomas, courtesy Center for Native Ecosystems)
"If the prairie dog goes, so goes an entire ecosystem," wrote naturalist and author Terry Tempest Williams. "Prairie dogs create diversity. Destroy them and you destroy a varied world."

While prairie dogs can be a common sight in the region, biologists say appearances are deceiving. Sylvatic plague, a Eurasian disease introduced to North America around 1900, is now present throughout the range of the white-tailed prairie dog. Prairie dogs have no immunity to this disease, and the white-tailed prairie dog has suffered major population declines as a result.

Oil and gas drilling, suburban sprawl, and conversion of prairie to agriculture have also devastated prairie dog habitat, and white-tailed prairie dogs now occupy just eight percent or less of their historical territory. Most live in small, isolated colonies that are all too easily extinguished by plague outbreaks, poisoning, or recreational shooting.

"Most white-tailed prairie dog colonies are mere shadows of what they were even twenty years ago, and they continue to face multiple severe threats," said Erin Robertson, staff biologist for the Center for Native Ecosystems. "This is a recipe for extinction."

The coalition of conservation groups believes that the white-tailed prairie dog and its habitat deserve full protection under the Endangered Species Act. The law requires the USFWS to list species as threatened or endangered if they face one or more of the following threats:

The white-tailed prairie dog faces all five of these threats, the coalition charges.

"The best scientific information clearly shows that the white-tailed prairie dog should be listed under the Endangered Species Act," said Jeff Kessler, conservation director of the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. "It is time to give this critically important and imperiled animal the protection it deserves under the law."

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

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World Trade Center Debris Screening Closes

STATEN ISLAND, New York, July 12, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it will finish screening debris from the World Trade Center at the Staten Island landfill on July 15.

The $125 million project was assigned to the Corps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on October 1, 2001. The Corps managed the operations at the 160 acre site, known as "The Hill" and established measures to protect the safety of the workers and facilitate the recovery effort.

The primary objective of the operation was to establish an effective process to manage the debris inspection. The project was largely a humanitarian effort to recover the human remains and personal belongings of those individuals lost in the terrorist attacks of September 11 and to return them to their families.

The Corps provided support to the New York Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigations, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York Department of Sanitation and 28 other agencies involved in the recovery investigation.

Because of the sensitivity of the task, the operation at the landfill was an extraordinary assignment for the Corps and uncharted ground for many agencies at the site.

The Corps, through its prime contractor Phillips and Jordan Inc., mechanized the operation by providing labor, heavy equipment, conveyor belts, screening equipment, temporary structures for warming and storage, worker decontamination facilities, and food service facilities. This created an effective system for law enforcement personnel to safely perform their investigation, along with health and food services that improved the quality of life for investigators.

About 1.62 million tons of debris and steel were processed during the operation. The operation lasted almost 10 months, with the last truckload of material from Deutsche Bank arriving at the landfill on June 28.

At the height of the operation some 7,000 tons of material were processed each day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Congress Hears Testimony on Bushmeat Hunting

WASHINGTON, DC, July 12, 2002 (ENS) - A Congressional subcommittee heard testimony Thursday on ways to reduce the impacts of bushmeat hunting in Africa.

Members of the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force (BCTF) testified along with other expert witnesses at an oversight hearing of the House Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans. The hearing focused on Africa's unsustainable loss of wildlife - from elephants to rodents - due to overhunting. The problem stems from rising demand for, and trade in, wildlife meat across the continent.

"The bushmeat crisis is not simply a wildlife crisis. Rather, it is a symptom of much deeper socio-economic problems that are affecting the entire continent," said Dr. Michael Hutchins, director of conservation and science for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) and steering committee chair for the BCTF. "The bushmeat crisis is also a human welfare issue, as the commercial bushmeat trade removes this important resource from the communities most dependent upon it."

Marcellin Agnagna, chair of the CITES Bushmeat Working Group from Central Africa, was invited as a special witness to the hearing, based on his decades of experience in Africa working in national parks and with the Republic of Congo government as director of wildlife and protected areas.

"The international community is being summoned," Agnagna stated. "The Central African countries need international support to fight against this scourge that not only is decimating their wildlife heritage, but is also a dangerous threat to the life of the forest peoples, notably the Pygmies. The bushmeat trade kills the wildlife and the village."

Hutchins discussed recent research findings that suggest that the HIV virus arose from a similar virus in chimpanzees and sooty mangabeys.

"Butchering and eating wildlife, particularly apes and other primates, increases the risk that people may contract deadly diseases such as Ebola, and has been suggested as one of the potential avenues for the emergence of HIV/AIDS," Hutchins said.

Since these findings were released, researchers have identified 26 other simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs) associated with other primates now being consumed in the bushmeat trade.

A variety of experts testified regarding the causes and impacts of the bushmeat crisis as well as programs their organizations are undertaking to address the problem. Among their recommendations for the U.S. government were:

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

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Eagle Shooters Fined in Texas

TYLER, Texas, July 12, 2002 (ENS) - Two men from east Texas have been fined for shooting bald eagles.

A 73 year old Henderson County man paid a $1,000 fine on Thursday for shooting a bald eagle in January 2001. Delmar Hood paid the fine along with $2,000 in restitution to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and $2,800 to Last Chance Forever, Inc., a bird of prey conservancy in San Antonio that treated the bird following its injury.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS ) said Hood admitted he was shooting at some birds near his home, trying to scare them away from his livestock, when he hit what he thought was a hawk. The eagle that he shot is protected by the Eagle Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. It is also illegal to shoot hawks protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Hood wounded the eagle, hitting it in the wing. A truck driver driving in the area discovered the eagle alive and called a Texas game warden, who rescued the bird. The eagle was taken to the Last Chance Forever, Inc. facility, where it made a full recovery and was returned to the wild on November 18, 2001.

"The bald eagle is a symbol of our country and epitomizes freedom for all Americans," said Matthew Orwig, U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of Texas. "Bald eagles are a treasure that we will protect by vigorously prosecuting anyone who injures or kills our national symbol."

The prosecution of Hood is the second such case in Texas in the last six months.

On April 25, agents from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) were alerted that a bald eagle had been shot and killed in Henderson County. That investigation led to the prosecution of Howard Chester Walker, 77, who admitted that he had thought the bird was a hawk and shot it from a tree.

Walker then contacted a friend, Jimmy Thomas Mattingly, 68, who helped identify the bird, and then cut off a foot as a trophy.

Walker and Mattingly agreed to pay a fine for violating the Eagle Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. Walker agreed to pay a $1,000 fine and $4,800 in restitution to the State of Texas. Mattingly agreed to pay a $1,000 fine.

"I think it's just a wanton disregard for wildlife. Certain individuals believe hawks and owls can be shot if they are protecting their livestock. This is wrong and it's illegal," said USFWS special agent Steve Hamilton. "There are other means and measures that need to be taken than just grabbing a gun and shooting something."

Tony Norton, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game warden said claiming to mistake the eagles for hawks is no excuse for the shooters' actions.

"I'm sorry, but if anybody can't recognize our American symbol of freedom, they're in a bad way. And if they don't know what they're shooting at, they have no business shooting," Norton said. "We've got laws that govern any kind of shooting of animals and people need to know what they are."

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Virginia Researchers Explore Corroding Pipes

BLACKSBURG, Virginia, July 12, 2002 (ENS) - Old, corroding pipes can reduce the quality of drinking water and cost consumers and industries millions of dollars.

In some areas, metallic plumbing materials, capable of lasting for centuries, are instead corroding at a very fast rate. The American Water Works Association estimates that it will cost U.S. water utilities $325 billion during the next 20 years to replace losses due to corrosion and the need to upgrade water distribution systems.

Nationwide, corrosion of metals is believed to consume four percent of the gross domestic product.

Serious health and aesthetic problems can occur when microbes grow in pipes or contaminants leach from metallic, plastic and concrete plumbing materials. The environmental impacts from deteriorated plumbing include holes in pipes formed through corrosion, which allow contaminants to get into drinking water systems, the loss of the water itself, and resultant property damage.

To address these concerns, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a group of researchers at Virginia Tech a first of its kind grant under the new Biocomplexity in the Environment program.

The comprehensive project aims to evaluate the impacts of corrosion on water quality, drinking water tastes and odors, and home plumbing.

"To my knowledge, no one has funded research to directly protect the consumer's interest in these important issues," said Marc Edwards, professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at Virginia Tech.

Minimal progress has been made in understanding the chemical and biological factors contributing to corrosion of metal plumbing hardware, Edwards said. Residential systems, which can include a variety of materials, are particularly complicated to identify and restore. As a result, there is no rational basis for making decisions when problems are identified with drinking water infrastructures, Edwards explained.

"At the forefront of concern for water utilities and consumers are the aesthetic qualities of water, such as taste, odor and color," said Andrea Dietrich, associate professor at CEE. "Aesthetic problems are the ones consumers notice and which create concern and fear about the potability of the water."

"Scientific and engineering issues associated with sensory perception and corrosion are complex and not easily unraveled. With this innovative NSF grant, our interdisciplinary team will advance the understanding of both water quality and consumer perception," added Dietrich, who studies the causes of tastes and odors in drinking water.

Researchers will focus on the economic, consumer and biochemical dimensions of drinking water infrastructure corrosion. Their findings are expected to interest the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, manufacturers of plumbing materials, and the drinking water industry.

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Brush-Tailed Possum Banned from U.S.

WASHINGTON, DC, July 12, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has banned imports of the brush-tailed possum, a voracious marsupial that is a carrier of bovine tuberculosis and which can also inflict widespread damage to forests and native species.

The USFWS action relies on the Lacey Act, which authorizes the Interior Secretary to list nonnative wild animals deemed to be dangerous, or potentially dangerous, to the health and welfare of people as well as to the interests of agriculture, forestry and horticulture, or to the welfare or survivial of wildlife or wildlife resources of the United States.

About 200 brushtail possums were brought to New Zealand from Australia between 1837 and 1930 to establish a fur industry, which was not successful. But the possum found a foothold there - there are now about 70 million brushtails in New Zealand, spread across 95 percent of that island nation's total acreage.

Bovine tuberculosis has become one of New Zealand's most serious health problems. The ailment can be passed to humans who consume unpasteurized milk or who come into direct contact with infected animals or their carcasses; the disease can also be passed from humans to animals.

Bovine tuberculosis was once the most prevalent infectious disease of cattle and swine in the United States, causing more losses among farm animals in the early part of the 20th century than all other infectious diseases combined. A program begun in the U.S. in 1917 has almost eradicated the disease from the nation's livestock population, and the disease's presence in humans was reduced as well.

While the New Zealand brushtail and the North American opossum are both marsupials that are somewhat similar in appearance, the North American species is not a carrier of bovine tuberculosis. The native opossum species must contend with a number of natural predators, a situation that helps control the population in the United States, and which does not exist in New Zealand.

Under the USFWS rule, live brushtail possum can only be imported into the U.S. by permit for scientific, medical, educational or zoological purposes, or by federal agencies for their own use. Any possum in the U.S. would be subject to the same permitting procedure if transported between states.

While interstate transport of brushtail possum will be prohibited, continued possession of the animals is not restricted. Two brushtail possum were imported into the U.S. between 1994 and 1995, but none have been brought to the U.S. in the last seven years.