AmeriScan: May 23, 2002

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Heavy Hurricane Season Ahead

WASHINGTON, DC, May 23, 2002 (ENS) - The 2002 Atlantic hurricane season will probably bring nine to 13 tropical storms and six to eight hurricanes to the region, federal experts warned this week.

Those numbers are a bit above average, noted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Two to three hurricanes are expected to be classified as major hurricanes - category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.

Officials advised residents in Atlantic and Gulf Coast states to be prepared throughout the season, which runs June 1 through November 30.

At a news conference at NOAA's National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, officials also marked the start of the nationwide awareness campaign led by NOAA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and storm vulnerable states to increase preparedness and safety among residents.

"One of the most damaging, and potentially deadly weather events is a hurricane," said Commerce Department deputy secretary Sam Bodman. "Hurricanes have a devastating impact on our economy, causing billions of dollars in losses and damages, but the human toll can also be very high when people aren't prepared."

President George W. Bush has signed a proclamation announcing May 19-25 as National Hurricane Awareness Week.

In 2001, there were 15 named storms, nine of which became hurricanes. A normal Atlantic hurricane season brings an average of 10 tropical storms, of which six reach hurricane strength, with two classified as major.

Above normal activity has been observed during six of the last seven Atlantic hurricane seasons. The key climate patterns guiding this year's expected activity are long term patterns of tropical rainfall, air pressure and higher temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean that aid the development of hurricanes.

"We will continue to monitor the evolving climate patterns closely over the next several months to see how they may impact the August to October peak period of the season," said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher. The agency will release an updated hurricane season outlook in early August.

"This is the fifth year that NOAA has provided this forecast and, based on our success with the previous four outlooks, we have growing confidence in our ability to outline how the hurricane season will shape up," added Lautenbacher. "Residents in hurricane prone areas must keep up their guard since it only takes one hurricane to destroy a community and lives."

August 2002 marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, one of the nation's costliest hurricanes. Andrew hit Florida and Louisiana, claiming 26 lives and more than 125,000 homes. Storm damage exceeded $40 billion.

"Since that time, NOAA has continued to make significant investments to enhance our forecasting and warning capabilities," Lautenbacher noted.

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Conservation Acres Opened to Livestock Grazing

WASHINGTON, DC, May 23, 2002 (ENS) - Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres in seven states have been opened to livestock grazing to aid ranchers hurting from an ongoing drought.

The announcement Thursday by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman was made so producers in eligible counties in Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming could begin to participate in the program.

"The extreme drought has devastated many farmers and ranchers, especially in western states," said Veneman. "We are announcing this emergency relief measure a month earlier than in previous drought years to provide immediate relief for producers when they need it most."

CRP is a voluntary program that offers annual rental payments and cost share assistance to establish long term, resource conserving vegetation cover on eligible land. CRP participants will now be able to graze livestock on CRP acres, providing supplemental forage to producers whose pastures have been seared by drought.

To be approved for emergency grazing, a county must have suffered at least a 40 percent loss of normal moisture and forage for the preceding four month qualifying period. This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will notify eligible counties that have been approved for grazing.

CRP participants must then submit applications with their local Farm Service Agency. Grazing may be authorized until August 31, 2002, or until disaster conditions no longer exist, whichever comes first.

Only livestock operations located within approved counties are eligible for emergency grazing of CRP acreage. CRP participants who do not own or lease livestock may rent or lease the grazing privilege to an eligible livestock farmer located in an approved county.

At least 25 percent of the CRP contract acreage must be left ungrazed for wildlife.

"We continue to look at every available program within USDA's authority to assist producers who are adversely affected by drought conditions," said Veneman. "This announcement, along with other available programs, will continue to provide relief to these areas hit hard by severe drought."

More information is available at: http://www.fsa.usda.gov

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California Canal Will Finally Be Water Tight

PALM SPRINGS, California, May 23, 2002 (ENS) - The Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) plans to line about 33 miles of the Coachella Canal in southern California, which could prevent the loss of almost 31,000 acre feet (af) of water each year.

The saved water will be used by California agencies to meet their water needs, part of a plan that will help the state reduce its Colorado River water use to its annual allowance of 4.4 million af in normal years. An acre foot is equal to 326,000 gallons, or enough water to serve a family of five for one year.

"While the California Colorado River agencies have been working for several years to develop plans to reduce the state's use of Colorado River water, this is the beginning of the first construction toward that end," said Tom Levy, CVWD general manager and chief engineer. "This shows that we are serious about our responsibility to reduce our demand on the river. Coachella will continue to seek new and innovative ways to get the most use out of every drop of water."

The 122 mile (196 kilometer) long Coachella Canal delivers about 285,000 af of Colorado River water each year to CVWD users. During original construction in the 1940s, about 37 miles were lined. Fifty additional miles were lined in the 1980s and 1990s under authorization of the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act and as part of an engineering demonstration project.

The remaining unlined reaches - about 33.2 miles (53.4 kilometers) - will now be lined with concrete during dry periods of the year to prevent water from seeping into the earth. The project is expected to cost about $70 million in state funds, and take about two years to complete. Construction is scheduled to begin by January 2003.

"The lining of this final portion of the Coachella Canal is an important step toward better water management in the arid Southwest," said John Keys, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. "We are committed to collaborating with states, farmers, communities and others to seek constructive, innovative ways to conserve our precious water resources."

The water savings from the project will be divided between the San Luis Rey Indian tribe, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and conservation projects to protect fish and wildlife and their habitat.

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New Tactics May Keep Elephants Out of Crops

BRONX, New York, May 23, 2002 (ENS) - Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) are spearheading a unique initiative designed to reduce crop raiding by the endangered Asian elephant.

Working with members of local groups and communities, and using a variety of methods including natural guard towers, tripwires, and a harmless but fiery hot chili juice, the team is looking to reduce elephant human conflicts.

The team developed the program following a long term WCS study on elephant crop raiding. The project was funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Asian Elephant Conservation Fund.

"Although a number of attempts have been made to reduce elephant human conflicts, including building ditches, these schemes have failed in the long term, largely because they are costly and difficult to maintain," said Simon Hedges, co-manager of the WCS Sumatran elephant project.

"The traditional method of guarding crops by farmers waiting in their gardens to fend off elephants has proven unproductive and dangerous," added Arnold Sitompul, co-manager of the WCS Sumatran elephant project. "By having a roster of guarding duty, the time a farmer spends guarding his fields will be reduced and he will be part of a coordinated effort rather than a lone farmer reduced to watching his crops being destroyed."

Conflicts between farmers and elephants often result when elephants confined to smaller and smaller forest blocks venture into farms for food. The farmers lose their crops and sometimes their lives, and the elephants are either killed or captured and confined.

The WCS initiative, already implemented in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, involves identifying crop protection units that are then bordered with trip wires to alert guards stationed in barbed wire lined watchtowers.

Some 52 towers have been constructed along the southern border of Way Kambas National Park, in Lampung, a local hotspot for crop raiding elephants. Towers made from Randu trees, which will re-root in their new positions and be stronger and more durable than lumber, are wrapped in barbed wire so that elephants will be deterred from trying to push them over.

Once alerted by the trip wires, the guards will use sirens, spotlights, whistles and firecrackers to scare off elephants. For aggressive animals, such as solitary males, a vehicle fitted with a siren and spotlight will drive animals back into the forest.

In areas where vehicle access is impossible, five tamed elephants and their handlers from the Elephant Conservation Center in Way Kambas will help keep wild elephants at bay.

Other methods, including cordoning off areas with ropes soaked in a powerful chili juice, are already being used in Zimbabwe as a deterrent for African elephants.

"Capsaicin, the substance which makes chilies 'hot,' causes a powerful, but short term, irritation in the eyes and nasal membranes which is unpleasant and temporarily incapacitating, although it causes no permanent harm," said Martin Tyson, co-manager WCS Sumatran elephant project. "Areas doused with capsaicin and ropes coated in chilli laden grease will be too 'hot' for them to handle."

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Convicted Tiger Dealer Sent to His Room

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Missouri, May 23, 2002 (ENS) - The operator of an Arkansas animal park was sentenced Monday to six months home confinement for selling four tigers that were killed for their hides and parts.

Freddy Wilmoth was also sentenced to serve two weekends in jail and pay a $25 special assessment. He will be on probation for three years, and must pay $10,000 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) Save the Tiger Fund for violating the federal Endangered Species Act.

Wilmoth pleaded guilty in February to aiding and abetting the illegal transportation and sale of endangered tigers, a misdemeanor violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Wilmoth, operator of Wild Wilderness Safari animal park in Gentry, Arkansas, was charged last November with brokering the illegal sale of four protected tigers to buyers in Missouri where they were killed. The tigers' hides and parts were then sold.

The buyers, Todd and Vicki Lantz of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and Lacey Act violations in February and are scheduled to be sentenced in Cape Girardeau on June 24.

Wilmoth is the second person to be sentenced as a result of Operation Snow Plow, an undercover investigation into illegal trafficking of tigers and leopards. In January 2001, Woody Thompson Jr. was sentenced after pleading guilty to brokering the sale of three tiger skins. He was sentenced to six months home detention, fined $2,000 and ordered to pay $28,000 to the Save the Tiger Fund.

The 18 month investigation has resulted in federal charges being filed against 17 defendants in six states. On May 1, a federal court in Chicago indicted six Chicago area men, a Wisconsin man, and a suburban Chicago exotic meat market for their roles in the illegal killing and sale of tigers, leopards and their parts.

In November 2001, a federal court in Ann Arbor charged three Detroit area men with buying hides of protected tigers.

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Pheasant Farmers Charged With Killing Protected Birds

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, May 23, 2002 (ENS) - Five Minnesota men and the corporation "Ringnecks Forevermore," have been charged with killing about 100 protected owls and hawks.

Gary Raymond Westergren, Andrew Michael Suchy, Tim Warren Erp, William Shaw and Bradley Shane Kneisl were charged with misdemeanor violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal law that protects non-game migratory birds.

Also charged was "Ringnecks Forevermore," a Minnesota group incorporated in May 1999 whose stated purpose is to raise pheasants for release into the wild for hunting. The men are alleged to have used pole traps to kill hawks and owls near their pheasant pens in Todd County between May 1999 and May 2001.

The corporation is not affiliated in any way with "Pheasants Forever," a national nonprofit organization dedicated to conservation of pheasants and their habitats.

The charges are the result of a year long investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. If convicted, each defendant faces fines of up to $15,000 and six months confinement. The corporation, Ringnecks Forevermore, faces fines of up to $15,000.

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Wild Puerto Rican Parrot Population Increases by Nine

LUQUILLO, Puerto Rico, May 23, 2002 (ENS) - Nine captive reared Puerto Rican parrots were released into the wild last week, only the third such release in the history of the Caribbean National Forest of Puerto Rico.

The young birds will join the last 25 parrots existing in the wild. The parrots were raised in the Luquillo Aviary, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as part of a 34 year combined effort of the USFWS, U.S. Forest Service and Puerto Rico's Department of Natural and Environmental Resources to prevent the extinction of the Puerto Rican parrot.

"This is another great step forward for recovery" said Sam Hamilton, southeast regional director of the UFSWS. "While recovery of this highly sensitive species is slow and happens over a period of time, this proves that if people work together, we can help save an endangered species, and in particular, the magnificent Puerto Rican parrot."

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A Puerto Rican parrot in a captive breeding facility (Photo courtesy USFWS)
When Europeans arrived in the Caribbean 500 years ago, more than one million Puerto Rican parrots flew wild on the island. Now it is considered to be one of the most endangered birds in the world.

By the 1930's the Puerto Rican parrot population was estimated at 2,000 individuals and between 1953 and 1956, when Don Antonio Rodríguez Vidal conducted the first scientific study of this endemic bird, the population had dropped to 200 birds.

In 1967, it was listed as an endangered species when only 24 individuals remained in the wild. The population of parrots reached an all time low in 1975 when only 13 birds were left in the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico.

Habitat loss from deforestation, as well as hurricanes, hunting, nest robbing, and natural enemies such as the red tailed hawk and the pearly eyed thrasher, caused the drastic decline of the species. The availability of suitable nesting cavities may be one of the main factors limiting the species recovery.

There are now 144 captive birds in two aviaries that provide a sustainable source of parrots for release into the wild. In 2000, 10 captive reared parrots were released into the Caribbean National Forest, and 16 additional birds were released in the summer of 2001.

Five of the 10 parrots released in 2000 were still alive after nine months. In 2001, radio transmitters signals for nine of the 16 parrots were lost within five months after their release.

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Northwest Folklife Festival Features Forest Fun

SEATTLE, California, May 23, 2002 (ENS) - This weekend, visitors to the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle, Washington will find exhibits, demonstrations and activities related to the region's forests.

Organizers of the festival, billed as the largest folklife festival in the nation, asked members of the forest products industry to sponsor activities at this year's event, which opens Friday and ends Monday, May 27. This year, the festival's theme is "East Meets West: Forests and Woodland Culture of the Pacific Northwest and Atlantic Northeast."

"Without the participation of the forest products industry, NW Folklife might simply have looked at forestry from only a historical perspective," said Cindy Mitchell, director of communications for the Washington Forest Protection Association. "Instead, people are also going to get a contemporary view of our timberlands. We want people to see how private landowners practice sustainable forestry."

"Forestry is such an important part of rural Washington's way of life," said Mitchell. "Timber continues to be the lifeblood of places like the Olympic Peninsula, Northeastern Washington and Grays Harbor, Lewis, Pacific and Yakima counties."

Each year almost a quarter of a million people attend the four day gathering - about 90 percent of them from King County. The forest products industry and volunteers from timber communities will be involved in several activities and events, including a demonstration of logging sports by students from Toutle Lake High School in Lewis County, the distribution of free seedlings and children's papermaking.

The industry will host educational kiosks under the sponsorship of Weyerhaeuser's Mt. St. Helen's Forest Learning Center, the state Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service, the Society of American Foresters and University of Washington forestry students. The Washington Forest Protection Association and the Washington Farm Forestry Association will have a booth featuring Washington's Working Forests, focusing on sustainable forestry and the forest management cycle.

An industry sponsored exhibit will explain Washington state's landmark Forests & Fish Law, which protects salmon habitat and water quality on more than 60,000 miles of streams that flow through eight million acres of private forestland in Washington state.

"We're pleased to have the opportunity to work with NW Folklife," Mitchell said. "It is important both for the forest products industry and timber communities that people in Seattle and the Puget Sound area know about sound forest management practices."

More information on the festival is available at: http://www.nwfolklife.org/folklife/P_F/Festival.asp

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Radio Tagged Fish Become Sturgeon Detectives

CHATTAHOOCHEE, Georgia, May 23, 2002 (ENS) - Sterilized sturgeon are being used as living probes to locate wild sturgeon and their habitat in southeastern rivers and the Gulf of Mexico.

Last week, scientists released three captive reared, radio tagged female sturgeon just below the Jim Woodruff Dam on the border of Florida and Georgia. Eight tagged animals were released above the dam, including seven young males and one young female.

Biologists hope the fish will show them where wild populations of sturgeon can survive, and where wild fish are already present.

"We have a lot of questions that we hope this year long study will answer," said Sam Hamilton, southeast regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). "All of these fish have been surgically sterilized and outfitted with radio transmitters so that they can make us aware of suitable Gulf sturgeon habitat for future reintroductions or maybe even unknown wild sturgeon populations."

Another five Gulf sturgeon from the wild population have been tagged and fitted with radio transmitters, so that the behavior patterns of captive reared and wild sturgeon can be compared. All of the fish will be tracked throughout the study, and details about the habitat they are utilizing will be recorded.

Robert Bakal of the Warm Springs Regional Fish Health Center said Gulf sturgeon were once abundant in the Appalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River System. Now the species, listed as threatened in 1991, has just one known population in the system, consisting of 300 to 400 sturgeon located below the Jim Woodruff Dam.

Activities such as dams, dredging, and channel maintenance have depleted populations of Gulf sturgeon. The Gulf sturgeon is found in the Gulf of Mexico and its drainages in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

"We expect that the three females released below the dam will probably join the wild population," said Bakal. "We're hoping that those released above the dam will locate suitable sturgeon habitat or previously undiscovered sturgeon populations there."

Radio tagging studies of this type have never been attempted with Gulf sturgeon. A similar project is now under way with another protected species, the endangered shortnose sturgeon in the Savannah River.

"We're excited to be involved in this pilot sentinel project for the Gulf sturgeon," said Rob Weller, senior fisheries biologist for the wildlife resources division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. "We will be using telemetry to monitor their progress and to establish the critical data necessary to aid in this prehistoric fish's recovery to its historic range."

Several of the fish underwent surgery in February to remove cataracts from their eyes - the first fish to ever have this procedure.