AmeriScan: June 16, 2003

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Sonar Issue Heads for Federal Court Showdown

WASHINGTON, DC, June 16, 2003 (ENS) - A long awaited courtroom battle will begin June 30 to determine whether the U.S. Navy can deploy its Low Frequency Active sonar system, a new technology that scientists say blasts ocean habitat with noise so intense it can maim, deafen and even kill marine mammals.

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is taking the Bush administration to court over the sonar system. Last year the National Marine Fisheries Service issued the Navy a permit to deploy the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS) Low Frequency Active (LFA) Low Frequency sonar over 75 percent of the world's oceans.

The NRDC says deployment of the sonar will harass or injure up to 12 percent of every single marine mammal species. Whales, dolphins and seals have been using sonar for thousands of years for communication purposes and echolocation. Echolocation works by the animals sending sonar clicks to find their favorite prey species.

The U.S. Navy says the low frequency sonar booms are necessary to protect American ships and coastlines. Submarines are hard to detect, and the benefits include the ability to locate enemy submarines before they are able to launch any sort of attack.

Low Frequency Active sonar sends waves of low frequency sound or pings into the ocean waters. If these pings intersect an enemy submarine, they will rebound back to the source ship. The ship that carries the sonar system will also have a towed passive sonar system to detect rebounding signals from submarines.

Since sound travels extremely well in water, these pings at the sound level of 235 decibels will travel across entire ocean basins. They are louder than the noise made by a jet takeoff which measures 150 decibels at 25 meters distance, enough to rupture a human eardrum. According to U.S. Navy documents, marine mammals will suffer harm when subjected to a sound louder than 180 decibels.

Conservationists and some scientists are warning that LFA sonar may threaten the very survival of entire populations of whales. At close range, the system's shock waves are so intense they can destroy a whale's eardrums, cause its lungs to hemorrhage, and even cause death.

Two years ago, testing of a lower intensity Navy sonar in a mid-frequency range caused a mass stranding of whales in the Bahamas. Whales from three different species died, their inner ears bleeding from the explosive power of the sonar signal.

Last month, a group of biologists off the coast of Washington state witnessed a "stampede" of distressed marine mammals as a U.S. destroyer operating a powerful mid-frequency sonar system passed. Over the next several days, 10 porpoises were discovered stranded on nearby beaches.

The NRDC went to court on this issue last fall, and a federal judge blocked global deployment of the SURTASS sonar system until a full trial could be held.

"Just why is this LFA system being deployed? It is only useful in nuclear submarine warfare," said Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and an early member of Greenpeace.

"The Soviets are not a threat anymore," Watson said. "Terrorists do not deploy submarines. None of the so-called axis of evil nations have submarines. This is simply one of those pork barrel, waste the taxpayers money schemes, but this time with the potential for serious global destruction to the world's whales and dolphins."

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Forest Service Ignores Advice of Its Own Forester

WASHINGTON, DC, June 16, 2003 (ENS) - A U.S. Forest Service archaeologist who studied the history of southern Appalachian forests says that the Forest Service is illegally ignoring its own ecological records from nearly a century ago that contradict the intensive logging and burning now proposed for five national forests.

Plans for the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee, the Chattahoochee/Oconee in Georgia, the Jefferson in Virgnia, the Sumter in South Carolina and the Talladega and Bankhead national forests in Alabama for the next 10 to 15 years propose increased logging and 3,000 acres or more of prescribed burns.

The Bush administration thinning and burning plans depend on a definition of these forests that says they never were old growth forests, also known as late successional forests.

By contrast, the historical records studied by Quentin Bass show that southern Appalachian forests were once dominated by tall, old trees, some more than 300 years old, and they are part of a relatively stable ecosystem. Ignoring that information, he says, is a violation of federal law and agency policy.

The Bass research runs counter to the Forest Service's assertion that these forests require large scale logging and prescribed burns to mimic natural conditions that generate an early successional forest where trees are smaller.

The Forest Service's land use plans for the five forests, now out for public comment, call for increased logging and burning on millions of acres of public land in Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, Alabama and South Carolina.

The records were unearthed by Bass, an archaeologist with the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee with 20 years of agency service. He submitted his findings as part of the Cherokee Forest Plan Revision and received a performance award for his research.

But the Forest Service only briefly mentions the Bass research in the Cherokee plan and excluded it entirely from plans for the other Southern Appalachian national forests.

"The forest plan revisions are premised on a model of forest regeneration relying on forest succession, prescribed burns and even age management," Bass writes. "The Forest Service represents this historically inaccurate, ecologically false, and non-Appalachian model as a 'natural process.'"

Not coincidentally, he continues, "these draft forest plans presribe massive burns, logging, and other even-age management that results in a higher volume of merchantable timber than would result under management that better reflected the underlying natural ecology of these forests."

The archival maps and surveys studied by Bass were created almost a century ago when mountain land was being acquired for the national forest system. They document ecological features in areas of the forests that remained unlogged at the time, providing details on the species, age, dimensions and locations of trees and forest communities.

These historical records indicate that eastern forests are far more lush than those in the West and did not depend on periodic fires for regeneration.

By failing to include and address this information in a meaningful way, the Forest Service is violating the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the Data Quality Act, according to findings written by Bass.

By failing to include this information in four of the proposed management plans, the agency is violating its own policy for the southern Appalachian region which stipulates, among other things, that the plan revisions be coordinated and consistent with one another, centered on the implementation of ecosystem management on a regional scale.

Bass' findings were filed as a whistleblower disclosure with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), a federal government watchdog agency. If the OSC finds that the disclosure has merit, it will require the Forest Service to respond in writing.

Five New Large Wildfires Set Woods Ablaze

BOISE, Idaho, June 16, 2003 (ENS) - Five new large fires were reported in the United States today by the National Interagency Fire Center.

Though activity was light nationally with 89 new fires reported, one large fire was contained in the Southwest, and high to extreme fire indices were reported in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Utah.

A fire in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest is burning mixed conifer and pine forest, aspen and live oak woodland 16 miles south of Alpine, Arizona. The steep, rugged, inaccessible terrain and heavy fuels are hampering suppression efforts. Crews constructed a direct attack fireline along the southwest and southeast flanks, and firefighters are mopping up and holding the existing fireline.

Firefighters are monitoring a fire caused by lightning burning in pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, grass and mixed stands of conifer in the Dry Lakes Complex of Gila National Forest 27 miles northwest of Silver City, New Mexico.

Fire officials describe as "moderate" fire behavior, including torching, that has been observed on the north and east flanks of Pichaco Reservior near Picacho, Arizona.

Burn out operations are underway along the east side of a fire reported near the Continental Divide Trail in the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Area 34 miles west of the town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

Erratic fire behavior was observed in Coconino National Forest nine miles southeast of Flagstaff, Arizona, where the fire is threatening power lines and archaeological sites and could impact Interstate 40.

Meanwhile, the Ten Cow Fire in Gila National Forest 32 miles southeast of Reserve, New Mexico, and the Juniper Fire 40 miles northwest of Prescott, Arizona are being suppressed and are considered under control.

In Alaska, the Ptarmigan Fire, burning in black spruce and mixed hardwoods 35 miles northeast of Fairbanks, is threatening five structures. The Left Bank Fire is still burning in spruce 30 miles northeast of McGrath, with dry weather hampering firefighting efforts.

Another large fire is approximately 23 miles west of the city of Los Banos, California, burning in grass and brush. Steep terrain there is impeding containment efforts.

The Uintah and Ouray agencies of the Bureau of Indian Affairs has been warned about a lightning caused fire 57 miles west of Fort Duchesne, Utah in steep and rugged terrain. Bulldozers and firefighters are constructing firelines in erratic winds.

See a map with all major U.S. fire activity at: http://firemapper.sc.egov.usda.gov/modisrr/lg_fire2.php.

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Patent Pending for Smallpox Inhibitor

BUFFALO, New York, June 16, 2003 (ENS) - Molecular biologists have discovered a new way to inhibit the replication of poxviruses, the group that includes the smallpox virus, by interfering with messenger RNA synthesis necessary for the viruses to reproduce in a host organism.

The discovery, which has a patent pending, could be effective against related poxviruses such as monkeypox. As of Friday, there were 81 monkeypox cases under investigation in four U.S. states. It could also lead to drugs that treat the potentially deadly disease if there were a bioterrorism related outbreak.

"Any success that results in a treatment is a success for everyone," said Edward Niles, a professor of microbiology and biochemistry at the University of Buffalo. "We need something."

There is no effective treatment for smallpox or other poxviruses. Smallpox was declared eradicated in 1977 after a worldwide vaccination campaign. The United States and Russia maintain the only authorized repositories of the virus, but virologists acknowledge that the virus may exist outside these sites.

Existing vaccines, which could be used to protect against smallpox bioterrorism, also have side effects that would not allow them to be given to certain segments of the population, notably pregnant women, persons with compromised immune systems due to disease or medications, anyone with a history of eczema and children under one year of age.

Drugs developed using this novel approach could be stockpiled for use if an outbreak occurs, said Niles. If a new smallpox vaccination campaign were undertaken, such drugs also could be available to treat persons who have serious reactions to the vaccine.

The work is in its very early stages, Niles said, with many steps that must be accomplished before a viable drug can be developed.

"We have to identify the most active compounds in vitro, test their activities on virus replication in tissue culture, and then figure out how best to deliver it in an animal model before we can even begin to test it in humans."

The work was funded by the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health.

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Wind Park Would Blow Energy Into Long Island

NEW YORK, New York, June 16, 2003 (ENS) - The Long Island Power Authority said last week that if the summer is unusually hot, the area should expect power shortages. In response, a company that announced a bid to build an offshore wind park south of Long Island says that wind energy could end those shortages.

Bluewater Wind, which builds and operates wind power projects around the country, submitted the plan in response to the Long Island Power Authority's Request for Proposals.

"Long Island can steer the country in an exciting new direction with its offshore wind, which will be pollution free, boundless, and blow a gust of clean air into the future of energy production," said Ashok Gupta, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Air and Energy Program.

A 2002 Long Island Power Authority study showed that wind resources off Long Island's southern shore have the potential to generate enough electricity to meet more than 75 percent of Long Island's electricity needs.

The Bluewater Wind proposal would harness a portion of those resources with a wind park less than one-half square mile in total area. The collective output, Bluewater Wind says, would be enough to supply approximately 42,000 Long Island families with 100 percent of their electricity.

Wind energy systems transform the kinetic energy of the wind into mechanical or electrical energy that can be harnessed for practical use. It is most commonly used for pumping water in rural locations, but now is being used to generate electricity for homes and for sale to utilities.

Over the last 20 years, the cost of electricity from utility scale wind systems has dropped more than 80 percent. In the early 1980s, wind generated electricity cost as much as 30 cents per kilowatt hour. Today, state of the art wind power farms can generate electricity for less than five cents a kilowatt hour in many parts of the country.

Wind energy is the world's fastest growing electricity source. U.S. wind projects in 26 states produce the equivalent of what is generated by six million tons of coal.

Bluewater Wind's design places 39 turbines more than 6.5 miles off the coast and says that the turbines will only be faintly visible on the clearest of days.

The project has received widespread support, including that of Governor George Pataki and 34 Long Island based environmental, civic and faith based groups.

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Big Horn Mountain Ranch Wins Protection

LOVELL, Wyoming, June 16, 2003 (ENS) - Responding to a request for help from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the local community and working with other groups, the Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation group, has acquired the 11,179 acre Devil's Canyon Ranch in northcentral Wyoming, on the western slope of the Big Horn Mountains.

The ranch is entirely surrounded by public land, including the Big Horn National Forest, the Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark, the Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area and the Bureau of Land Management's Little Mountain Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

With its sheer rock walls and panoramic views of the Big Horn Basin, the ranch offers some of the state's most spectacular scenery. It provides critical wildlife habitat and, like much of the surrounding public land, may contain significant archaeological sites and artifacts

The deal raised enough funds to transfer 8,200 acres of the ranch to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for permanent protection. The remaining 2,979 acres will be held by the trust until they can be transferred later to the BLM.

The Devil's Canyon project has been a top national priority for the BLM and was secured through a $4 million congressional appropriation from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and a $100,000 donation from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

The purchase solves a longstanding public access dispute to more than 20,000 acres of state, BLM and National Forest land popular with sportsmen and recreationists.

Access through the ranch was blocked several years ago by a road closure that eventually became the subject of a U.S. District Court case. Big Horn County Commissioners had sued the owners of the Devil's Canyon Ranch to gain road access, but lost. With the BLM taking full ownership of the disputed road, the gateway to these cherished public lands has been permanently opened for public use.

U.S. Senator Craig Thomas, a Republican from Wyoming, championed the public access effort by obtaining federal funding. Thomas said the local leadership of the county commissioners was central to the purchase.

"The driving force to this opportunity was to make a significant public place accessible again to the public. In an effective partnership with the local community, Congress and TPL, we solved a big roadblock, literally. The resources are worth protecting, and the public access was worth fighting for."

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Phoenix to Install Arsenic Removal Plant

PHOENIX, Arizona, June 16, 2003 (ENS) - Driven by the need to meet more stringent standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Phoenix intends to be the first U.S. city to have a full scale arsenic removal system.

The proprietary GFH Media, or Granular Ferric Hydroxide Media, system that will be installed operates by adsorption of arsenic, phosphates, antimony and other metals from drinking water. It has been used by European cities to meet the current World Health Organization and European Union arsenic standard. Adsorption is the accumulation of gases, liquids, or solutes on the surface of a solid or liquid.

Contained in two pressure vessels operated in series, the GHF Media system has been installed and the plant is scheduled to be fully operational in June 2003.

To select an appropriate adsorption media option, the city's consulting engineer conducted benchscale and pilot studies for more than a year that compared ease of use, reduced waste generation, minimal chemical handling requirements and overall performance.

The GFH media system treated more than five times the bed volumes of its counterparts before being exhausted.

"This project demonstrates the feasibility of arsenic treatment at a large well site using the simplest approach possible. The project team wanted a feasibility demonstration and actual operating experience prior to implementation at other sites. Many utilities in the nation will benefit from our experience," said Ramesh Narasimhan, president, Narasimhan Consulting Services of Phoenix.

The city's new arsenic removal plant was driven by the need to meet the Environmental Protection Agency's new more stringent arsenic standard, which takes effect in 2006.

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Solar Cars Get Kicks on Route 66

WASHINGTON, DC, June 16, 2003 (ENS) - Thirty low, sleek and colorful cars will be trekking across historic Route 66, but none of them will be stopping for gasoline anywhere from Chicago to Los Angeles.

The race to determine the fastest solar powered car in North America takes place July 13 to 23, when teams from universities, companies and organizations around the world compete in the American Solar Challenge.

The winner will be the car with the best cumulative time between Chicago and Claremont, California in the Los Angeles area. At 2,300 miles, the American Solar Challenge is the longest solar car race in the world.

"The American Solar Challenge will advance renewable energy and electric vehicle technologies, promote educational and engineering excellence, and encourage environmental consciousness and teach teamwork," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.

"The race provides hands on experience for engineering students, allowing them to build their technical skills for the 21st century marketplace," he said.

The Department of Energy is sponsoring the event, which will begin at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry July 13 and finish 10 days later in Claremont.

The solar racers will follow Route 66 as much as possible, with checkpoints in Springfield, Illinois; Rolla and Joplin in Missouri; Edmond and Sayre in Oklahoma; Amarillo, Texas; Tucumcari, Albuquerque; and Gallup, New Mexico; Flagstaff and Kingman Arizona; and Barstow, California before reaching the finish in Claremont.

The cars are powered only by sunshine. Photovoltaic cells, known as solar cells, convert sunlight to electricity to power the racers.

Weather and energy management play an important role. The cars generally travel at highway speeds and are required to obey local speed limits, but in general, the sunnier the day, the faster and farther the cars can run. Bright days also allow the cars to fill up their batteries for cloudy or rainy days.

Although most solar cars are designed for one person, this year's race will see some of the first two person cars.

In the 2001 American Solar Challenge, the winner crossed the finish line in 56 hours, 10 minutes and 46 seconds - an average speed of 40 miles per hour. Improvements in solar cells and batteries could mean an even faster race this year.

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