AmeriScan: May 21, 2001


VENTURA, California, May 21, 2001 (ENS) - Two captive raised condors have laid eggs in a single nest in southern California's Santa Barbara backcountry.

Calling it "a spectacular tribute to condor recovery partnerships," Interior Secretary Gale Norton praised the work of biologists who confirmed the discovery of a California condor nest containing two condor eggs. The nest offers hope that condors may once again breed in the wild.

The nest was discovered May 16 by Greg Austin, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, at the Hopper Mt. National Wildlife Refuge near Ventura. Austin observed two female condors visiting the nest site, and it appears that both birds have laid eggs.


One of the female condors in the nest with two eggs (Photo courtesy USFWS)
All of the condors seen at the nest were raised in captivity but released to the wild. Their successful egg laying marks a milestone in the condor recovery program, although it is too early to predict if these first time condor parents can incubate and hatch the eggs.

"This is truly exciting news," Norton said. "Finding the eggs raises our hopes that there may soon be wild born condors in California. It's another sign of success after the difficult but correct decision more than 15 years ago to take the last condors out of the wild. More over, this joyous event demonstrates the effectiveness of government and private organizations working together to save this precious bird from the brink of extinction."

This is not the first egg to be laid by a reintroduced California condor. In March, a broken condor egg was discovered in Grand Canyon National Park - the first time in 15 years that a condor had laid an egg outside a captive breeding center.

Some of the condors released to the wild reached sexual maturity this year and mating activities have been observed. There are 53 captive bred condors now living in the wild. Six more captive bred juveniles are scheduled to be released in the Sespe Wilderness Area on May 22.

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PORTSMOUTH, Ohio, May 21, 2001 (ENS) - The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Ohio ceased production of enriched uranium on Friday, May 11, leaving just one U.S. facility producing enriched uranium for commercial nuclear power plants.

The plant closed down without fanfare, about a month earlier than scheduled.

U.S. Enrichment Corporation (USEC) has leased the Portsmouth plant from the Department of Energy since 1993. The company plans to consolidate its enrichment operations at the remaining plant in Paducah, Kentucky.

"The Portsmouth employees have shown a strong commitment to safety and a high degree of professionalism in their work to conclude enrichment operations at the plant," said William Timbers, USEC president and CEO. "I commend all of them for their hard work and appreciate their professional attitudes."

The decision to close the Portsmouth plant was made in June 2000 amid cost cutting measures, including massive layoffs at both plants, because USEC was having financial troubles.

Over the past year, USEC has devoted thousands of hours to converting the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant to be able to produce reactor grade uranium hexafluoride as a nuclear fuel. In the past, that process was begun at Paducah, and then the material was shipped to Portsmouth for final enrichment.

The Department of Energy plans to build a pilot facility at the Portsmouth plant to explore replacing the gaseous diffusion process with a gas centrifuge to enrich uranium.

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HONOLULU, Hawaii, May 21, 2001 (ENS) - A community organization is challenging the U.S. Army's claim that resuming live fire training at Makua Military Reservation (MMR) on O'ahu, Hawaii, would have no significant impact on more than 40 endangered species.

Malama Makua, represented by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, will return to court to argue that military training could harm endangered species and impact dozens of sacred and cultural sites found at Makua and on neighboring communities.

The Army issued a final Environmental Assessment this month that concludes that the training would have "no significant impact." That finding means that an Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act is not required, and the Army may resume training.

Under a prior settlement agreement with Malama Makua, the Army must wait at least 30 days from the issuance of the environmental assessment to resume training. Malama Makua intends to file a motion for preliminary injunction so that a hearing can be scheduled prior to any resumption of live fire training.

"The Army's claim that it can do live fire training at Makua without significant impacts is an insult to the people of the Wai'anae Coast, who have witnessed the devastation that military training inflicts," said Leandra Wai, president of Malama Makua. "We have seen our churches and heiau bombed, our native forests burned, our endangered species destroyed, the bones of our ancestors desecrated, our soil contaminated, our fishing grounds polluted, and a growing population of sick people. If that's not significant, I don't know what is."

Malama Makua says its review of the environmental assessment shows that the Army combed through past drafts to remove any language that might inform the public that resumed training would harm wildlife. For example, in the September 2000 draft, the Army conceded that "the potential impacts associated with activities at Makua to threatened and endangered species cannot be eliminated or minimized to insignificant or discountable levels."

That statement was removed from the document released this month.

No training has taken place at MMR since September 1998 when, in response to a letter from Malama Makua indicating its intent to sue, the Army resumed consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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LOS ANGELES, California, May 21, 2001 (ENS) - Community and tribal groups are calling on the federal government to help Native American tribes move forward with plans to build new, small and midsized power plants on tribal lands in California.

The grassroots watchdog group More Power To You, working with the Southern California Tribal Chairman's Association (SCTCA), have proposed the new plants as a "common sense solution" to the power shortage in California.

More Power To You also said there is an urgent need for President George W. Bush to redress actions by the previous administration that pose barriers to building new transmission lines from the east.

"Sovereign tribal lands are not subject to state regulations, so all that needs to happen for Native Americans to build power plants on their own land is for the federal government to get out of the way," said More Power To You chair and California small business owner Peter Foy. "Congress is looking at cutting federal red tape and streamlining regulations so such projects can move forward. We urge them to do so now, and also to assist tribes that want to build power plants to secure financial backing for these important projects."

"All of the 19 tribes that make up the Southern California Tribal Chairman's Association are coming together to build power generators," said David Dehnert, attorney for SCTCA. "As the tribes work together to bring electricity to reservations that don't currently have power, they will benefit tribal communities and all Californians."

Foy noted that there are 103 reservations, comprising more than 480,000 acres in California. He said that More Power To You's research indicates that many tribal lands are close enough to transmission lines to make them viable locations for power plants.

"The reality is that while most of us recognize the need for more power plants here in California, building them near crowded neighborhoods is difficult," said Foy. "Building new plants on tribal lands can be a win win, long term solution for both California power consumers and our Native American neighbors."

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AUBURN HILLS, Michigan, May 21, 2001 (ENS) - DaimlerChrysler Corporation and the U.S. Army Tank Automotive & Armaments Command - National Automotive Center (NAC) will develop a military version of the automaker's Dodge Ram HEV hybrid electric pickup truck.

Under the agreement, DaimlerChrysler will design, build and test the military version of the Ram HEV. The vehicle will be designed to meet requirements of the Army's Commercially Based Tactical Truck (COMBATT) program.

"This is a wonderful partnering opportunity for the Army to share in technology development with DaimlerChrysler. This effort is a part of the Army's 21st Century Truck Initiative that has goals of building more fuel efficient, smarter and safer trucks for our future force," said NAC director Dennis Wend.

The vehicle developed for the Army will be based on the 2002 Dodge Ram 2500 pickup equipped with a diesel electric hybrid powertrain. The vehicle can be operated in either diesel electric hybrid or electric only mode.

The hybrid powertrain results in fuel efficiency improvements of up to 20 percent as well as reduced tailpipe emissions. When parked, the vehicle's hybrid propulsion components can be converted into a stationary electrical generator capable of delivering up to 30 kilowatts (kW) peak power or 20 kW of continuous power.

"The Dodge Ram HEV's clean hybrid technology is an ideal way to meet the off site electrical generating capacity needs of construction contractors, farmers, campers and even homeowners," said Bernard Robertson, senior vice president for engineering technologies and regulatory affairs, and general manager for truck operations at DaimlerChrysler. "Now we have the opportunity to adapt this environmentally friendly technology to our national defense needs."

DaimlerChrysler has already announced plans to sell a commercial version of the Dodge Ram HEV beginning in 2004. The vehicle will be available in 1500 and 2500 models equipped with different diesel and gasoline engines.

"The special capabilities of the Dodge Ram HEV should increase consumers' interest in the hybrid version of our Ram pickup and thus help us build the market for this clean, fuel efficient technology," said Robertson. "This new military application will take us another step further in capitalizing on the capabilities of hybrid technology.''

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EAGLE POINT, Oregon, May 21, 2001 (ENS) - A $25,000 grant from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) will help an Oregon watershed council demonstrate how landowners can improve water quality and salmon habitat.

The Little Butte Creek Watershed Council, based in Eagle Point, will use World Wildlife Fund's Walter A. Haas, Jr. Conservation Award to work with a cattle rancher to capture and reuse irrigation runoff into Little Butte Creek, a tributary of the Rogue River. Improved water quality in this area will increase the chances that threatened coho salmon can make it upstream to some of the most important spawning and rearing areas for coho in the Rogue River basin.

Wild chinook salmon also spawn near the project, and steelhead pass through the area on their way to spawn.

The project will reduce bacteria, nutrients, sediments and warm water - all of which are damaging to fish - flowing off a 100 acre, sloping portion of the ranch and into the creek. The landowner will pump the runoff to a portion of the ranch not now irrigated.

The landowner will provide heavy equipment and labor, and will pay for power costs. The Watershed Council intends to use this project to interest other landowners in undertaking similar water quality control measures.

"This project epitomizes our mission of promoting grassroots efforts to restore watersheds and wild fish," said Lu Anthony, projects administrator for the Council. "We anticipate that, as a result of this project, many other landowners will participate in similar efforts."

Little Butte Creek flows through the Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion, which has been designated as one of World Wildlife Fund's "Global 200" ecoregions - the most outstanding examples of the Earth's diverse terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats.

"Little Butte Creek Watershed Council's project will serve as a flagship for fish habitat restoration and sustainable land use in the Rogue River watershed," said Kathryn Fuller, president of World Wildlife Fund.

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JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri, May 21, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has granted the Missouri Department of Conservation the authority to issue permits for harassing or killing giant Canada geese.

In the past, Missourians who found themselves in conflict with giant Canada geese had to apply to the USFWS for a remedy. Waterfowl are protected by federal law, and only the federal government could give the go ahead for control measures that involved harassing the big birds, interfering with their nesting or killing them.

But now, the state Conservation Department can issue permits to remove geese that threaten residents, contaminate water supplies or damage property.

For decades, giant Canada geese were welcome just about everywhere in Missouri. After almost being extirpated in the first half of the 20th century, a few of the giant subspecies - Branta canadensis maxima - turned up in remote areas.

Early on, people went out of their ways to attract the birds, providing nest tubs for their use and guarding the geese and their young against harm. Suburban lawns, golf courses and corporate campuses provided everything the geese needed to thrive: no predators, and acres of lush grass to eat.

Today, every county in the state has resident giant Canada geese.

"I think people love geese as much as they ever did," said Conservation Department private land field programs supervisor Tom Hutton. "But they draw the line when they can't walk to their car in safety or let their kids go out to play because the yard is covered in slimy green feces."

The Conservation Department has set a population of 40,000 giant Canada goose statewide. More than 50,000 geese now inhabit the state.

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 21, 2001 (ENS) - A comet that shattered on its approach to the Sun breathed new life into the theory that comet impacts provided most of the water in Earth's oceans.

Observations of the comet, designated C/1999 S4 LINEAR (LINEAR), also support the idea that comet impacts furnished many of the organic molecules used in life that later arose on Earth, said researchers from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

LINEAR was the first comet with a chemistry that indicated its water had the same isotopic composition as the water found on Earth.

"The idea that comets seeded life on Earth with water and essential molecular building blocks is hotly debated, and for the first time, we have seen a comet with the right composition to do the job," said Dr. Michael Mumma of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Mumma is lead author of a paper about this research which appears in the May 18 issue of the journal "Science."

A separate announcement in the same issue of "Science" reveals how much water comets of this type can carry. LINEAR, with a nucleus estimated at 2,500 to 3,300 feet (about 750 to 1,000 meters) in diameter, carried about 3.6 million tons (3.3 billion kilograms) of water within its bulk, said astronomers who used the Solar Wind Anisotropies instrument on the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory spacecraft to observe water vapor released from the comet as it fragmented.

The LINEAR comet is believed to have formed near Jupiter's orbit, where a combination of factors help create small comets containing complex organic molecules.

"It's like being hit by a snowball instead of an iceberg," said Mumma. "The smaller comets from Jupiter's region impacted Earth relatively gently, shattering high in the atmosphere and delivering most of their organic molecules intact. Also, these comets would have had a greater portion of life's building blocks - the complex organic molecules - to begin with. This means life on Earth did not have to start completely from scratch. Instead, it was delivered in kit form from space."

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CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, May 21, 2001 (ENS) - Dr. Calestous Juma, former executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, has received the prestigious Henry Shaw Medal for his dedication to protecting the environment while promoting sustainable development.

The award honours Juma as "one of the world's leading authorities on protecting the environment while promoting ethical sustainable development in developing countries." Juma called on the international community to work towards blending environmental goals with development strategies.

Juma is now director of the Science, Technology and Innovation Program at the Center for International Development at Harvard University ( and senior research fellow of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.

He is a previous recipient of the Pew Scholars Award in Conservation and the Environment (1991), the Justinian Rweyemamu Prize (1992) and the United Nations Global 500 Award (1993).

The Henry Shaw Medal - the Missouri Botanical Garden's highest award - honors those who have made a significant contribution to botanical research, horticulture, conservation or the museum community. The medal is named in honor of the Garden's founder, the 19th century St. Louis philanthropist.

The medal was first presented in 1893, and previous medalists include William Ruckelshaus, Jose Sarukhan, Edward O. Wilson, Peter H. Raven, William McKibben and M.S. Swaminathan.

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BALTIMORE, Maryland, May 21, 2001 (ENS) - Investigators at Johns Hopkins have proven that distracting patients during and after bronchoscopy with the gurgle of a brook and a colorful panorama of tranquil meadow improves pain control by about 43 percent.

"Natural sounds and images, if they're the right ones in the right format, are a safe, inexpensive, effective way to reduce the pain and anxiety of inserting tubes through the nose or mouth to see the lungs," reported Dr. Noah Lechtzin, a postdoctoral fellow at Hopkins who presented the study at the American Thoracic Society's annual meeting on Sunday.


One of the cloth murals used in the Johns Hopkins study (Photo courtesy Johns Hopkins)
Tests of these so called biophilic images and sounds were so successful in easing discomfort that they should be considered for other invasive procedures such as endoscopies, sigmoidoscopies or interventional radiological exams, Lechtzin said.

The Hopkins researcher emphasizes that sound and sight distraction therapy is not a substitute for pain medication, but a way to enhance pain control. One of several complimentary medicine approaches being explored by critical care specialists, the Hopkins group tested the natural sights and sounds on 41 men and women during their 25 minute bronchoschopies and three hour recovery periods.

Individuals looked at cloth murals hung by their bedsides and listened to nature sounds through headphones and a tape player. Thirty-nine similar patients underwent the procedures without distraction therapy, but with comparable levels of care and pain control.

Both groups of subjects filled out questionnaires rating their pain on a five point scale, along with their anxiety, perceptions of privacy, difficulty in breathing, willingness to have the procedure done again, and safety.

"What stood out was pain control," said Dr. Gregory Diette, an assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Hopkins and lead author of the study. "That was the only area of significant improvement. Patients who listened to the nature sounds and looked at the mural during the bronchoscopy were 43 percent more likely to report pain control as very good or excellent, even after controlling for such factors as pain medication, health, race and education."