AmeriScan: May 22, 2003

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Environmentalists Challenge 27 Federal Timber Sales

ATLANTA, Georgia, May 22, 2003 (ENS) - Nine conservation groups joined forces and filed suit in federal court today to stop 27 national forest timber sales across four southern states.

The organizations say the Forest Service is moving forward with the sales without meeting federal regulations and laws that mandate the agency assess the impact of timber sales on wildlife.

"After years of legal wrangling, the U.S. Forest Service continues to ignore the law and is again moving forward with logging in rare and endangered species habitats," said René Voss, public policy director for the John Muir Project.

"When it comes to cutting down the public's trees, the Forest Service has always been considered a rogue agency, but under the Bush Administration logging is accelerating without any regard for the public's desires to have these forests protected," Voss said.

This is the lawsuit is the fourth filed since 1996 with the same claims about the Forest Service's lack of required wildlife surveys.

In February of 1999, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that the Forest Service must conduct these wildlife surveys for "management indicator species" as well as "proposed, threatened, endangered, and sensitive species," in order to meet requirements imposed by Congress and regulations to maintain viable wildlife populations.

In 2001, the Clinton Administration withdrew 91 timber sales throughout the South in order to settle a nearly identical case filed by the same groups.

"Federal courts in New Mexico, Utah, Georgia and California have all said that these surveys are required, but the Forest Service continues to turn out timber sales in defiance of this legal mandate," Voss explained. "We believe this pattern of abuse will not stop until we end the federal timber sales program."

The plaintiffs joining the John Muir Project in the suit are Sierra Club, WildSouth, Friends of Mississippi Public Land, Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project, Virginia Forest Watch, Ouachita Watch League, Forest Conservation Council and Texas Committee on Natural Resources.

The national forests that are threatened by these timber sales are the Sam Houston National Forest in Texas, the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas, the DeSoto, Homochitto, Bienville and Delta National Forests in Mississippi, and the Thomas Jefferson and George Washington National Forests in Virginia.

"Many of our rare species are in decline from logging on our National Forests," said Sierra Club staff attorney Eric Huber. "Logging and associated road-building destroys nesting birds, wildlife habitat, causes severe soil erosion which in turn destroys fish habitat."

"Despite the clear mandate of the courts, the Forest Service continues to approve destructive logging and road-building in the National Forests without first obtaining the scientific information necessary to protect the wildlife in these areas," Huber said.

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Senate Bill Takes on Meat and Poultry Pathogens

WASHINGTON, DC, May 22, 2003 (ENS) - A bipartisan group of Senators and U.S. Representatives introduced legislation today to strengthen the ability of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to enforce food safety and sanitation standards for meat and poultry.

The bill would require the USDA to set specific limits on the levels of dangerous foodborne pathogens permitted in the food supply, such as salmonella and E. coli, and would confirm that the department has the authority to enforce its own standards by shutting down plants that continually breach basic health standards.

"It is shocking but true that the American people are still unprotected against fatal foodborne illnesses like E. coli and salmonella," said one of the bill's sponsors, Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat. "This legislation will help ensure that the government has the authority it needs to prevent contaminated meat and poultry from entering our food supply."

The bill, based on recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences and the National Advisory Committee for Microbiological Criteria for Foods, would give the USDA the much needed ability to better fend off industry driven law suits that have weakened the department's ability to ensure the safety of the meat supply, according to Caroline Smith DeWaal food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

"Consumers want safer meat and the industry certainly needs help from Congress before the industry's lawyers and lobbyists send it over a cliff," Smith DeWaal said. "[This bill] contains both good science and good old common sense which are urgently needed to restore consumers' faith in our meat-safety system."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, foodborne diseases cause some 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths each year. The legislation introduced today is called "Kevin's Law" in dedication to two year old Kevin Kowalcyk who died in 2001 after eating a hamburger contaminated with E. coli bacteria.

The introduction of the bill comes two days after the United States banned imports of beef from Canada for fear of mad cow disease.

"Americans should not have to worry about whether the food on their dinner plates is safe," Eshoo said.

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Conservationists Awarded Grazing Lease

PHOENIX, Arizona, May 22, 2003 (ENS) - Forest Guardians has been awarded a lease for 162 acres of Arizona state trust grazing land, the first such lease ever obtained by a conservation group. The organization says it will exclude cattle from the land and will begin the process of restoring cottonwood-willow forest along the Babocamari River.

It took some six years of legal and administrative battles for the organization to obtain the lease, which is to a 162-acre parcel of state school trust land near Elgin, in southeastern Arizona.

"We are ecstatic about winning this lease," said Forest Guardians executive director John Horning. "This is an historic ruling that signals the end of the livestock industry's monopoly over state school trust lands."

The State Land Department awarded the 10 year lease last week after Forest Guardians offered $84.40 per animal unit month (AUM), or approximately $2,000 per year, nearly twice the amount offered by the rancher who formerly held the lease. The parties still must resolve how much payment to provide for existing improvements on the parcel.

"This has been a long hard fought victory," said Tim Hogan, director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, which has represented Forest Guardians since 1997.

Conservationists say that until now the cattle industry has had a monopoly over Arizona's more than eight million acres of state grazing land. The state only gathers about $6.5 million annually for these grazing rights and the system heavily favors existing lease holders.

"Streams are the arteries of life in the arid Southwest, but they have been clogged with cattle for a century or more, degrading wildlife habitat, polluting streams and reducing recreational opportunities," Horton said. "Now we have our work cut out for us trying to restore an area that has been degraded for more than a century by cattle grazing."

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Caviar Demand Threatens U.S. Fisheries

WASHINGTON, DC, May 22, 2003 (ENS) - The global demand for caviar could soon jeopardize management and trade of sturgeon and paddlefish in North America, warns a new report from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network of World Wildlife Fund and IUCN-The World Conservation Union.

The report "Caviar and Conservation" details that dramatic decline of the caviar industry around the Caspian Sea is coinciding with an increase in both legal and illegal catch and trade of paddlefish and sturgeon in North America.

North American sturgeon and paddlefish are the largest alternative fisheries to the Caspian Sea for caviar production. But TRAFFIC found that wild fish stocks in North America are not plentiful enough to replace Caspian Sea production, and the fledgling aquaculture industry is years away from being able to supplant production from wild sources.

"Demand in major caviar-consuming countries, primarily in the European Union, Japan and the United States, far outstrips what North American wild stocks and commercial aquaculture are currently producing," said Craig Hoover, deputy director of TRAFFIC. "Unfortunately, our study found that many states' laws regulating catch and trade have not caught up with the increased demand."

TRAFFIC says its report is the most comprehensive assessment done of North American sturgeon and paddlefish management since the dramatic decline of the Caspian Sea industry in the past decade.

There are nine species of sturgeon in North American waters and one species of paddlefish. Three - the shortnose sturgeon, pallid sturgeon and Alabama sturgeon - are listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, while the Gulf sturgeon is considered threatened.

The report details that legal market prices for roe from North American species are rising, with wild caviar from paddlefish and shovelnose sturgeon retailing for $10 an ounce or more, making it at least a $10 million-a-year industry in the United States. White sturgeon caviar from commercial aquaculture primarily in California sells for $35 an ounce or more.

TRAFFIC is concerned that law enforcement authorities are beginning to find roe from North American species mislabeled and sold fraudulently as Caspian Sea caviar. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife agencies have recently brought criminal charges in Tennessee and the Pacific Northwest against alleged black market caviar producers.

"North American caviar can be a profitable industry, but only if states with healthy paddlefish and sturgeon populations manage the resource carefully," Hoover said. "There are still some serious regulatory gaps that need to be filled and urgent action is needed to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past."

One hundred years ago the United States was a major supplier of the global caviar trade, but rampant overfishing wiped out sturgeon stocks in less than two decades and many of these stocks have yet to recover.

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Scientists Say Soot Impact on Global Climate Underestimated

GREENBELT, Maryland, May 22, 2003 (ENS) - Airborne, microscopic, black-carbon particles known as soot are more plentiful around the world and contribute more to climate change than previously assumed, according to evidence found by a team of researchers, led by scientists from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Columbia University scientists.

The researchers concluded if these soot particles are not reduced, at least as rapidly as light-colored pollutants, the world could warm more quickly.

In findings published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers explain that they found the amount of sunlight absorbed by soot was two-to-four times larger than previously assumed.

Black carbon or soot is generated from traffic, industrial pollution, outdoor fires and household burning of coal and biomass fuels.

Using global atmospheric measurements taken by the Aerosol Robotic Network (AERONET), determined that the larger absorption due in part to the way the tiny carbon particles are incorporated inside other larger particles and in part due to previous underestimates of the amount of soot in the atmosphere.

AERONET is a global network of more than 100 sun photometers that measure the amount of sunlight absorbed by aerosols, or fine particles in the air, at wavelengths from ultraviolet to infrared.

The net result is soot contributes about twice as much to warming the world as had been estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change.

The researchers say that both soot and the light-colored tiny particles, most of which are sulfates, pose problems for air quality around the world.

The research was funded by NASA's Earth Science Enterprise. The Enterprise is dedicated to understanding the Earth as an integrated system and applying Earth System Science to improve prediction of climate, weather, and natural hazards using the unique vantage point of space.

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Maryland Governor Will Veto Energy Efficiency Standards

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland, May 22, 2003 (ENS) - Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich announced Wednesday that he intends to veto a bill that sets energy efficiency for nine categories of new products and equipment sold in Maryland. The bill, called the "Maryland Energy Efficiency Standards Act" passed the state's General Assembly with an overwhelming majority in April and has broad support among the state's environmental, consumer and business communities.

"Governor Ehrlich missed an opportunity to support both the environment and the business community," said Gigi Kellett of the Maryland Public Interest Research Group (MaryPIRG). "Energy efficiency is the cleanest, fastest, and cheapest way to address Maryland's clean air problems while saving Maryland consumers and businesses on electric bills."

Supporters of the bill are in particular disappointed with Ehrlich's decision because most of the products covered by the bill consist of commercial equipment, which means Maryland businesses would reap the majority of the bill's energy savings. Ehrlich is the state's first Republican governor in some forty years.

The energy efficiency standards in the bill would have taken effect starting in 2005 for products such as torchiere lighting fixtures, ceiling fans, commercial refrigerators and freezers, traffic signal modules, illuminated exit signs and commercial clothes washers.

If enacted, the bill would reduce peak summer electric use in Maryland by more than 200 megawatts in 2010 and by more than 400 megawatts in 2020. Estimates find the electricity saved in the year 2010 would be enough to meet the energy needs of some 75,000 Maryland households a year, savings that by 2020 would reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides by more than two million pounds each year.

According to Ed Osann, Maryland representative for the Natural Resources Defense Council, the bill's cumulative net savings for Maryland consumers are estimated to reach $30 million by 2010 and $600 million by 2020.

"With the end of electricity rate caps drawing closer and natural gas prices continuing to climb, it is puzzling why the Governor would reject legislation that will save consumers money on their energy bills," Osann said. "The leaders of the General Assembly understand these concerns, and they will have the opportunity to override the Governor's action in January."

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Plan to Put Manatees and Boaters on the Same Wavelength

GAINESVILLE, Florida, May 22, 2003 (ENS) - The slow moving manatee is susceptible to fast moving boats, but Florida veterinarians and engineers believe they may have a way to prevent the collisions that threaten the endangered species.

Some 95 manatees died from boat collisions last year - only 3,000 of the large marine mammals, often called sea cows, are believed to survive in the wild.

Researchers at the University of Florida's colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Engineering have developed an acoustical system used to assess how manatees react when vocalizations from their brethren are taped and played back on underwater speakers.

Preliminary results show the technology has the potential to accurately pinpoint manatees' location. The researchers say this could lead to devices that would signal boaters that manatees are present, enabling them to adjust their speed on an as needed basis.

Manatees typically swim at three to five miles per hour and several slow speed zones have been set up to eliminate possible accidents, much to the chagrin of many Florida boaters.

Testing at Florida's Blue Spring and Homosasss Spring State Park, locations where manatees gather, has allowed the researchers to document how the animals react when vocalizations from other manatees are played to them via underwater speakers.

"We have found that animals vocalize more than originally thought in a quasi-captive environment," said Deke Beusse, director of the University of Florida's Marine Mammal Medicine Program. "We have also found that they increase vocalizations when the sounds of other manatees are played back to them."

The technology could ultimately be able to pick up the sounds manatees make through the use of hydrophones located in the channels of heavily used waterways - as soon as sounds are detected, broadcast vocalizations would immediately cease so that manatees would not suddenly head toward boat traffic.

"Then by alerting boaters, either through a blinking light or a radio signal, we could let them know where the manatees are, so that they can slow down or continue at normal speeds if manatees are not in the area," Beusse explained.

The next phase of the research team's work will involve testing in a large area within the Indian River on Florida's west coast.

Researchers will attempt to determine from what distance the manatee sounds can be detected and from what distance manatees can distinguish other manatee sounds.

"Then we will work out the technical aspects of warning boaters with lights, radio and through depth finders," Beusse said, adding that theoretically, various state agencies would determine the best locations for using the devices.

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