AmeriScan: May 21, 2002

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Federal Biologists Validate Columbia River Dredging

PORTLAND, Oregon, May 21, 2002 (ENS) - Deepening the Columbia River channel will not jeopardize threatened and endangered fish and wildlife, state biological opinions released Monday by two federal agencies.

The findings from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) clear the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with a supplemental environmental impact statement addressing the proposed project's impacts on water quality and coastal areas.

The $188 million navigation project would deepen the 103 mile channel between Astoria and Portland from its current 40 foot minimum depth to 43 feet. The project is expected to remove about 23 million cubic yards of river bottom from various parts of the channel to allow larger, heavier vessels to use lower Columbia River ports.

"We've taken a very thorough look at the project's effects," said Bob Lohn, regional administrator for the NMFS northwest office in Seattle. "The best science available to us shows that this project will not jeopardize listed species."

"Over the past 18 months, we've completed a major scientific review and analysis, created a new computer model for the estuary, validated previous analyses, and received tremendous help from the independent Sustainable Ecosystems Institute's science panel," said Mike Tehan, head of the NMFS habitat branch in Portland. "By working closely with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Corps, we're confident that these new biological opinions use the best available science throughout."

The lower Columbia River and estuary are home to 13 protected populations of salmon and trout, the Columbian white tailed deer and the bald eagle. Their habitat has been altered by changes in river flows, loss of wetlands and flood plain habitats, river channelization and the introduction of non-native species.

"Our primary goal in looking at this project was to make sure that lower river habitat wouldn't become further degraded because of the project," noted Tehan. "We've put in place tough requirements to minimize the project's effects and ensure, in the long term, that those protections stay in place."

Monitoring by the two federal agencies will track the project's effects on wetlands and on shallow and deep water fish habitats; fish stranding from ship wakes; changes to the river's salinity, velocity, depth, temperature and contaminant concentrations, and the amount of sediment dredged. There are provisions in the biological opinions for altering the project, depending on the results of the monitoring.

"We know from our analysis that the project isn't likely to further degrade important fish habitat in the long term," said Kemper McMaster, USFWS state supervisor in Oregon. "However, we're expecting there will be some minor, short term effects on fish and their habitats. That makes it even more important that we continue to monitor the lower Columbia River and estuary to determine if there are any unanticipated, long term effects and to correct them if they occur."

The two agencies worked with the Corps of Engineers and Columbia River Ports to identify ecosystem research and restoration actions to help protect tidal marsh, forest and shallow water habitats for salmon and trout.

"The Corps has included important research and restoration actions in their proposal," said Anne Badgley, director of the USFWS Pacific region. "These restoration actions are not project mitigation but rather additional opportunities to benefit threatened and endangered species in the Columbia River basin."

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Oregon Forestland Could Be Opened to Mining

WASHINGTON, DC, May 21, 2002 (ENS) - The Department of the Interior plans to open an estimated 800,000 acres of public forestland to prospecting and new mining claims within the Siskiyou National Forest and Siskiyou Wild Rivers areas in Oregon, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said today.

The conservation group obtained a draft Federal Register notice indicating that the claims will be offered "to protect the nationally significant ecological and biological values of the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area."

The action reduces by more than 90 percent the area protected by a moratorium on new mining claims in the Siskiyou National Forest and 150,000 acres of adjacent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands known as the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area.

In January 2001, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt issued a two year moratorium on new mining claims in the area so scientists could study impacts from mining and to give the public an opportunity to provide comments. Since then, more than 23,469 public comments, an overwhelming majority of the comments received, have supported increased protection for the Siskiyou Mountains.

"Protecting the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area by opening it up to mining makes no sense," said Dr. Dominick DellaSala, director of WWF's Klamath/Siskiyou program. "This action reopens the area's salmon streams and forests to mining operations even though mining in this forest provides virtually no employment and contributes nothing to the local economy. It's mining for fun with bulldozers and suction dredges."

The area withdrawn from the moratorium contains some of the most biologically diverse terrain in the western U.S. and some of the best salmon streams in the lower 48 states. It contains more untamed rivers than anywhere else in the lower 48 states, along with the largest block of unprotected roadless areas along the Pacific Coast from the Olympic Mountains to the Baja Peninsula.

The region is also home to the greatest concentration of rare plants of any national forest.

"[Interior Secretary Gale] Norton's action would ignore the thousands of people who commented favorably on the moratorium," said Steve Marsden, executive director of the Siskiyou Project, "and effectively kills the only avenue local people, scientists, and the rest of the American public had to voice how they thought this public land should be managed."

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House Bill Would Reform 1872 Mining Law

WASHINGTON, DC, May 21, 2002 (ENS) - A bipartisan bill now before the House would reform the General Mining Law of 1872, creating new environmental standards and requiring the industry to pay a royalty for minerals it extracts from public lands.

A full 130 years after the passage of the 1872 Mining Law, a bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives introduced new legislation to provide environmental and fiscal oversight for the hardrock mining industry, the nation's largest toxic polluter. The existing law contains no environmental protection provisions covering the mining of gold, silver, copper and other minerals, and provides for almost automatic approval of most proposed mines, critics charge.

The 1872 Mining Law allows a mining company to purchase mineral bearing public lands for $5 an acre and mine the minerals without payment to the American taxpayers, say environmental and public interest groups.

"For 130 years, the 1872 Mining Law has promised Americans golden dreams. Instead it has delivered thousands of miles of poisoned streams," said Lexi Shultz, legislative director of the Mineral Policy Center. "The mining industry has practiced environmental destruction while preaching responsibility. With the introduction of this bill, it's time for industry to put up or shut up."

The new legislation, authored by Representative Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat, would require land managers to weigh mine proposals against other potential land uses, such as tourism, when making mine permit decisions. It would create new environmental standards for protecting water from toxic mine wastes.

The lack of a royalty in the 1872 Mining Law, unlike laws governing other extractive industries such as coal, has resulted in enormous taxpayer giveaways and liabilities. Under the mining law, mining companies have received billions of dollars in mineral rich lands, then left taxpayers with billions in cleanup bills for the hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines across the nation.

"The 130 year old mining law is a legislative dinosaur that should have been made extinct long ago," said Jill Lancelot, legislative director at Taxpayers for Common Sense. "This outdated law's sole purpose is to preserve a multibillion dollar entitlement program for multinational mining companies at the expense of taxpayers and future generations."

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Makah Whaling Can Proceed, Judge Rules

SEATTLE, Washington, May 21, 2002 (ENS) - A federal judge has rejected a request for an injunction against whaling by the Makah tribe in Washington state.

The ruling came three years to the day after the Makah returned to whaling for the first time in 70 years, killing a gray whale near their Neah Bay reservation at the northwest tip of Washington state. The tribe is the only group in the lower 48 states to have a legal right to hunt whales, a right granted under the 1885 treaty that created their reservation.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Franklin Burgess declined to order a halt to the tribe's whaling pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by Fund for Animals, The Humane Society of the United States, and other groups and individuals.

"While the court is sensitive to plaintiffs' concern, these concerns are outweighed by the Makah Tribe's rights under the Treaty of Neah Bay," Burgess wrote in his decision.

The judge also predicted that "there is not a substantial likelihood" that the animal rights groups will win their case against Makah whaling.

"The record suggests that the only potential hardship facing the plaintiffs is the potential for aesthetic, emotional and economic harms," Burgess wrote.

Critics of the Makah whale hunt charge that it cannot be justified as under cultural or subsistence arguments because the tribe's hunting methods have changed so much since they gave up whale hunts in the 1920s. At that time, the population of gray whales that summers in and around Neah Bay had been decimated by commercial whalers, leaving the Makah with their traditional canoes and spears little chance of landing a whale.

But after the gray whale was removed from the federal Endangered Species List in 1994, the tribe petitioned for permission to resume the hunt. Under requirements set by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the tribe can still hunt in traditional dugout canoes - though boats with motors are most often used now - but must kill the whales with guns, a method the federal agency calls more "humane" than spear hunting.

Today, the groups involved in the lawsuit filed a notice of appeal in another attempt to halt an impending gray whale hunt by the tribe. The groups charge that a previous decision by NMFS authorizing year round whaling could jeopardize the small, distinct group of resident gray whales that spend all year in Neah Bay.

The groups also argue that the hunt violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which expressly prohibits whaling, while creating an exemption for Alaskan tribes but not the Makah.

"The Court of Appeals has previously determined that the government's environmental study of the whale hunt was inadequate, and now the environmental impacts of the expanded whale hunt are even worse than before," said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of The Fund for Animals. "Whaling may have been a tradition in the past, but there is nothing traditional about cruelly shooting these majestic creatures with high powered rifles."

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Settlement Will Improve San Francisco Transit System

SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 21, 2002 (ENS) - The San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI) has agreed to improve its mass transit system to settle an air quality lawsuit brought by a coalition of community and environmental groups.

In 1982, the region's Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the agency responsible for transportation planning and funding throughout the Bay Area, committed to shifting people out of cars to reduce ozone pollution levels. The MTC agreed to increase the number of people using transit in the Bay Area by 15 percent.

Almost 20 years later, after a 30 percent increase in the region's population, the number of transit riders remains close to 1982 levels. In November 2001, federal judge Thelton Henderson ruled in favor of the coalition that "[W]hile MTC bears the greatest responsibility in ensuring that the region achieves the target increase, the region's six major transit operators also share collective responsibility" to achieve the ridership increase.

In the settlement announced Friday, MUNI agrees to do its part to increase ridership in the Bay Area to help meet air quality goals under the Clean Air Act. A similar settlement in the same lawsuit was reached with AC Transit in February 2001. A lawsuit against MTC is still pending.

MUNI agreed to use two main tools to improve transit service, including Transit Preferential Street treatments (TPS) and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). TPS includes giving traffic signal priority to transit vehicles, building boarding islands and sidewalk boarding areas, creating dedicated transit lanes, and re-spacing and relocating transit stops.

BRT builds on the same elements, but mimics a light rail system by using buses that travel in separated transit lanes with limited stops.

MUNI agreed to write a plan that includes a ridership and financial analysis of each of the projects listed below that will be adopted by December 1, 2002 and submitted to MTC for funding consideration 30 days later.

The plan will include an analysis of the population served by each project using the 2000 U.S. census categories, including race, ethnic background, national origin and income.

"Latino families, especially children, suffer disproportionately from the respiratory illnesses caused by air pollution," said Enrique Gallardo of Latino Issues Forum, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit. "We also hope this settlement means that resources will be better used to serve transit dependent communities."

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Brownfields Grants Benefit Dozens of Communities

WASHINGTON, DC, May 21, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will distribute $14.6 million in brownfields grants to assess the contamination of abandoned properties in 80 communities around the nation.

"Reclaiming America's brownfields properties is an effective way to help revitalize and reinvigorate our nation's blighted neighborhoods while at the same time preventing urban sprawl," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, announcing the grants Monday. "Brownfields reclamation is one of the great environmental success stories of the past decade."

The grants were awarded under EPA's Brownfields Assessment Demonstration Pilot program, which promotes the reuse of brownfields properties: abandoned industrial sites in urban areas. Real or perceived contamination at these sites complicates their redevelopment. The brownfields program helps identify and clean up any contamination, and provides incentives for cities and industries to reuse the sites rather than developing virgin greenspace.

In the latest series of grants, 38 communities received funding totaling $7.95 million to assess brownfields properties. Another 42 communities received supplemental funding totaling $6.65 million to continue or expand their existing brownfields program.

For every dollar of federal money spent on brownfields cleanup, cities and states provide $2.48 in private investment. Since its inception, EPA's brownfields program has contributed more than $280 million in pilots and grants, and has prompted more than $4 billion in public and private investments in brownfields.

The White House's proposed fiscal year 2003 budget would double the funds available through the EPA - from $98 million to $200 million - to promote brownfields redevelopment. Besides funding brownfields assessments, the EPA budget covers a loan program for businesses that clean up brownfields.

Earlier this year, President George W. Bush signed bipartisan legislation that reforms the brownfields section of the federal Superfund law to give small businesses assurances that they will not face lawsuits over brownfields that they choose to redevelop, and that turn out to be polluted by previous owners.

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Mammoth Cave Bioprospecting Yields Potential Cancer Drug

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, May 21, 2002 (ENS) - A bacterium discovered in Kentucky's Mammoth Cave National Park produces a substance that may be an effective anti-cancer drug, researchers announced Monday.

"We have isolated numerous bacteria from Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. One of these bacteria produces a substance that appears to inhibit the activity of a protein involved in the formation of new blood vessels [angiogenesis]," said Dr. Ryan Frisch of Grand Valley State University, one of the researchers on the study.

"When cancer cells begin to form tumors, one of the requirements is the formation of new blood vessels to provide the tumor with oxygen and nutrients," explained Frisch. "One of the strategies in the fight against cancer is to discover drugs that are anti-angiogenic because, if blood vessels are not produced, the tumor does not grow and prosper. These experiments indicate that the substance produced by this bacterium may be a new tool in the fight against cancer."

The research was released this week at the 102nd General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Salt Lake City.

Human diseases, such as cancer and the increasing number of antibiotic resistant bacteria, require a constant supply of new drugs for effective treatment. Screening substances from native plants and bacteria, which often have far more complexity than compounds synthesized in the laboratory, is considered a major opportunity for drug discovery.

One rich source of new, uncharacterized species is found in inaccessible ecosystems such as those found in caves, or in the geothermal springs of Yellowstone National Park.

But the biological exploration of these areas, dubbed bioprospecting, is controversial. Bioprospecting - the exploration for and collection of biological resources for commercial purposes - has been sanctioned in national parks for the last decade as part of larger research projects.

Under a proposed new policy, the Park Service would reap financial rewards from bioprospecting through benefit sharing agreements with business and industrial groups that would be permitted to take samples of species on park lands and patent the products they produce. The potential profits for the agency could create a conflict of interest and encourage the Park Service to issue more bioprospecting permits than natural ecosystems can bear.

The Park Service is now soliciting public comments on the scope of an upcoming Environmental Impact Statement on bioprospecting. Several conservation groups are urging the agency to require individual environmental studies, including public comment periods, for all bioprospecting contracts on public lands.

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Wildlife Watching On the Rise, as Hunting Declines

WASHINGTON, DC, May 21, 2002 (ENS) - About 39 percent of all U.S. residents 16 years old and older participate in activities such as hunting, fishing and birdwatching, a new federal study finds.

However, hunting seems to be on the decline, show the preliminary results from the 2001 "National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation," conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

More than 82 million Americans engaged in wildlife related recreation in the U.S. last year - an increase of five million in comparison with the last survey, conducted in 1996. Outdoor recreationists spent more than $110 billion pursuing their activities - expenditures that account for 1.1 percent of the gross domestic product, a considerable contribution to the U.S. economy.

"Wildlife is an American icon," said USFWS Director Steve Williams. "Wildlife related recreationists have always been staunch supporters of wildlife conservation in America. Wildlife recreation significantly benefits our economy, creates jobs, and enhances our standard of living."

Proclaiming that "The end of hunting is in sight," The Fund for Animals celebrated the survey, which found that the number of hunters in the U.S. declined by seven percent between 1996 and 2001. During the same five years, the number of wildlife watchers increased by five percent.

"Hunters now make up only 4.6 percent of the population, compared to the 31 percent who are wildlife watchers," said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of The Fund, a national animal protection group. "It's time for the Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife agencies to start paying attention to their own numbers and stop catering to a tiny special interest group. Wildlife belongs to everyone, not just the few people who hunt."

The USFWS issues the reports every five years. In 1985, the agency recorded 16.7 million hunters in the U.S, compared to just 13 million last year, a decline of 22 percent over 15 years.

"These are long term trends, not just a blip in the numbers, and we're delighted to see that more and more people are trading their guns for cameras," said Heidi Prescott, national director of The Fund for Animals.

More than 66 million adults - 31 percent of all Americans - participated in feeding, observing and photographing wildlife in 2001, spending $40 billion on their hobbies. Hunters spent more than $20 billion, and 34 million anglers spent more than $35 billion on trips and equipment.

Almost 13 million people reported that they maintained natural areas for the benefit of wildlife around their homes, and 11 million visited public parks or natural areas to enjoy wildlife within a mile of home. From 1991 to 1996, the number of people observing, feeding, and photographing wildlife increased by five percent.

The survey is available at: