AmeriScan: October 12, 2001

BLM REVIEWS ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS ON ALL WESTERN LANDS

WASHINGTON, DC, October 12, 2001 (ENS) - The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to prepare a massive environmental impact statement (EIS) for the conservation and restoration of vegetation, watershed and wildlife habitat on public lands administered by its staff in the western United States, including Alaska.

To begin the process, the agency will hold scoping meetings across the west and in Alaska starting in November. Completion of the EIS is scheduled for the summer of 2003.

The comprehensive EIS will update and replace analyses contained in four existing vegetation treatment and weed management EISs completed from 1986 to 1992.

The EIS will consider foreseeable activities planned in each state, to include reduction and treatment of flammable forest and rangeland fuel - trees, brush and other plants that have built up and could feed a fire. Treatment activities may include, but are not limited to, prescribed fires, restoration of native plant communities, control of invasive plants and noxious weeds, thinning of the forest understory, forest health activities, and other treatment projects in ecosystems where fire has played an active role in the past.

Besides fire management, the EIS will consider the protection of cultural resources, watershed and vegetative community health, and habitat improvement for threatened and endangered species. The BLM will look at new chemical formulations for herbicides that may be safer than those now being used, and address human health risk assessments for a variety of chemical herbicides that have become available since the last EIS was written.

The analysis area will include all public lands administered by the BLM in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, North and South Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

* * *

NRC SHUTS DOWN ENTIRE WEBSITE

WASHINGTON, DC, October 12, 2001 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has shut down its entire website while it reviews what information might be used by terrorists.

The NRC said it is reviewing all of the information contained on all website pages. Before the website is restored, the agency will remove any information that could be of use in planning terrorist attacks.

Visitors to http://www.nrc.gov/ will see a message stating that the site "is not operational at this time."

"In support of our mission to protect public health and safety, we are performing a review of all material on our site," the message reads. "We appreciate your patience and understanding during these difficult times."

Much of the information that terrorists could use has already been removed from the NRC website since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

For example, information on exact locations of nuclear power plants, design and construction information, and contingency plans for nuclear accidents had all been deleted.

Until Thursday, the website had carried information on the background of all U.S. nuclear power plants and other facilities regulated by the NRC. A great deal of background information on individual plants, their security problems, and various design issues, could have been used in planning attacks on nuclear facilities, the NRC feared.

* * *

$3.5 MILLION SUPPORTS INVASIVE SPECIES RESEARCH

WASHINGTON, DC, October 12, 2001 (ENS) - Research grants totaling more than $3.5 million have been awarded to seven universities and one nonprofit agency to study invasive species in the United States.

Invasive species, such as the zebra mussel and the tamarisk tree, cause irreversible environmental changes and have displaced many native plants and animals, causing massive economic and natural resource losses. For example, the zebra mussel, a small non-native mussel from Russia, was transported to North America in the ballast water of a transatlantic freighter in 1988.

In less than 10 years, zebra mussels spread to all five Great Lakes and into the Mississippi, Tennessee, Hudson and Ohio River Basins. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the potential economic impact at $5 billion over the next ten years to U.S. and Canadian water users within the Great Lakes region alone.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research grants will help address issues related to plants and animals introduced into the U.S., to help minimize environmental and economic losses.

The grants were made through the EPA's Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, which funds research grants and graduate fellowships in environmental science and engineering disciplines through a competitive process and independent peer review.

Among the funded projects are a Cornell University study of whether invasive plants have affected the abundance of red backed salamanders in northeastern forests. The University of California at Riverside will look at how different ecosystems in southern California respond in different ways to increases in atmospheric nitrogen deposition.

The University of Florida will look at the spread of the invasive green mussel within and from Tampa Bay. Rice University in Texas will examine how various issues, including fire, floods and plant eating animals, affect the spread of the invasive Chinese tallow tree.

* * *

HOUSE COMMITTEE HOLDS MARINE MAMMAL HEARING

WASHINGTON, DC, October 12, 2001 (ENS) - Dr. Naomi Rose and Sharon Young, marine mammal scientists with The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), testified Thursday that Congress needs to take steps to protect marine mammals.

Rose and Young appeared before the House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans to testify about the effects of the Navy's Low Frequency Active (LFA) sonar technology, which has been tested as a way to detect silent submarines over hundreds of miles of open ocean.

Rose noted that although almost all marine life may be at risk from LFA sonar, beaked, baleen and sperm whales who use sound as their primary sense for feeding, communicating, navigating and breeding appear to be most sensitive to low frequency sound and are at extreme risk. Active sonar sounds may be so powerful that they can kill a whale outright if the animal is close enough to the transmission device.

Navy use of active sonar technology off the Bahamas in March of last year caused the stranding deaths of seven beaked whales. Internal examination of the whales' heads revealed damage to the whales' auditory organs and air filled cavities.

Delegate Robert Underwood, a Guam Democrat, noted that, "There are very few species of wildlife that generate the same type of passion among human beings as whales, sea lions and sea otters."

The HSUS also asked Congress to help protect seven polar bears in the Mexican based Suarez Brothers Circus. The circus, now appearing in Puerto Rico, keeps the animals in filthy conditions at temperatures in excess of 110 degrees, the group testified.

"It is outrageous that despite ... reports about numerous violations of the U.S. care and maintenance standards," no federal agencies have taken action to "improve the condition of these bears or to confiscate them," said Dr. Rose.

* * *

NEW CATALYSTS COULD TURN GRAIN INTO CHEMICALS

UPTON, New York, October 12, 2001 (ENS) - Brookhaven National Laboratory and DuPont's Central Research and Development Department have developed a new class of catalysts that could someday convert plant derived feedstocks, or raw materials, into industrial chemicals and synthetic fibers.

"This is an early step in a long-term goal to develop new ways to make chemicals and fibers," said Morris Bullock, Brookhaven's principal researcher in the project.

Industrial chemicals and fibers like nylon are derived from petroleum based feedstocks, which are nonrenewable and add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. In contrast, biomass based feedstocks are derived from plants.

These plant based products may offer an economical, energy saving, environmentally friendly alternative for DuPont and other chemical and synthetic fiber manufacturers.

The Brookhaven/DuPont collaboration used a ruthenium based catalyst to accelerate the removal of oxygen from diols - organic compounds found in plants that contain compounds of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon. Selective removal of oxygen converts diols into alcohols, which are used for making industrial materials.

The researchers hope to use this method on more complex compounds such as glucose for converting organic plant material into chemicals for application in large scale industrial processes.

"This research is a starting point to develop improved industrially important catalysts for key transformations of biomolecules," said Paul Fagan, principal researcher on the project at DuPont. "We realize there is much more work to be done on these catalysts, but this is the kind of chemistry that will help DuPont meet its goal."

The research is described in today's issue of the German journal "Angewandte Chemie."

* * *

JUDGE BARS TIMBER SALE IN CIBOLA NATIONAL FOREST

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico, October 12, 2001 (ENS) - A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) failed to consider the impacts to sensitive species of a planned timber sale in the Cibola National Forest.

The environmental group Forest Guardians claimed victory on October 2 when Judge James Parker ruled that the USFS failed to monitor wildlife populations on national forests, and halted the McGaffey timber sale on Cibola National Forest.

The decision in Forest Guardians v. Forest Service is the first time in the west that the courts have ruled that the USFS is obligated to acquire actual population data for management indicator species instead of relying on habitat conditions to estimate their populations. Management indicator species help predict the health of other species with the same habitat needs.

Planning for the sale began 10 years ago and has been fought by local residents and conservation groups since then. Forest Guardians, the Forest Conservation Council and local resident Kathryn Gallagher filed suit in May 2000 in federal district court in Albuquerque to stop the sale.

Judge Parker cited the Forest Service's failure to evaluate population trend data for five management indicator species found in the sale area. The indicator species - mule deer, elk, Merrian's turkey, plain titmouse and house wren - are not rare, which undercut the Forest Service's argument that inventorying their numbers would have been "unreasonably burdensome."

Judge Parker also noted the disconnect between the Forest Service's claim that the New Mexico Game and Fish Department and other groups were monitoring these species, and the fact that none of this data appeared in the record. The USFS itself had no quantitative data on any species.

A copy of the court decision is available at: http://www.fguardians.org/MISparkerruling.html

* * *

CALIFORNIA PASSES LAWS PROTECTING WATER RESOURCES

SACRAMENTO, California, October 12, 2001 (ENS) - California Governor Gray Davis has signed a law requiring developers to prove that there will be adequate water supplies to support new developments for at least two decades.

The bills - SB 221 by state Senator Sheila Kuehl, and SB 610 by state Senator Jim Costa - coordinate local water supply and land use decisions to help provide California's cities, farms and rural communities with adequate water supplies.

"Together, these bills provide an important and necessary foundation for developing comprehensive state water policies to prepare California to meet our future water needs," Davis said. "These bills increase requirements and incentives for urban water suppliers to prepare and adopt comprehensive management plans on a timely basis."

Davis also signed AB 901 by Assembly Member Lynn Daucher, which amends the Urban Water Management Planning Act, requiring urban water suppliers to include information on the quality of water sources in their Urban Water Management Plans.

SB 221 prohibits a city or county from approving a residential subdivision of more than 500 units unless there is written verification that a sufficient water supply is or will be available for the development.

SB 610 closes loopholes that have allowed large scale development projects to evade existing water supply assessment requirements. It also expands the consequences for urban water suppliers that do not submit and update their urban water management plans. The bill mandates water supply assessments for all projects subject to the California Environmental Quality Act.

In his signing message, Davis said that while these bills are an important step, more needs to be done to address the need for additional supplies and improved infrastructure.

"We must address our water supply and storage needs to ensure that water is not California's next crisis," Davis said. "I am committed to developing a package of water supply actions to provide reliable and affordable water for California."

* * *

MEMORIAL GRANTS SUPPORT OCEAN RESEARCH

REDMOND, Washington, October 12, 2001 (ENS) - In the face of increasing evidence that the world's oceans are in trouble, the Marine Conservation Biology Institute (MCBI) today announced the first six winners of Mia J. Tegner Memorial Research Grants in Marine Environmental History and Historical Marine Ecology.

The grants are among the first in the world awarded to help scientists document the composition and abundance of ocean life before humans altered marine ecosystems. This information is crucial for helping lawmakers, regulators, managers and activists set appropriate targets for marine conservation efforts.

The Tegner grants are going to scientists or teams of scientists at universities in Australia, Canada and the United States whose proposals were judged the best among 61 submitted by scientists from 16 countries in Asia, Oceania, North America, South America, Europe and Africa.

"When Columbus came to the Americas, sea turtles were so abundant that they made it difficult for sailors to row ashore. Now sea turtles are in danger of extinction. Atlantic cod were once so abundant that fishermen called their schools 'mountains.' Now they are near commercial extinction in much of their former range," said marine biologist Dr. Elliott A. Norse, ppresident of MCBI. "We established these Tegner grants to encourage our fellow scientists to study what the oceans were like before people overfished them, destroyed essential fish habitat and choked them with pollution."

Dr. Mia J. Tegner, a marine biologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, lost her life in January 2001 while carrying out research off southern California. She studied the ecology of kelp forest communities and abalone populations, and was interested in understanding how marine populations and ecosystems have changed as a result of human activities.

Tegner was an author of the cover paper in the July 27, 2001 issue of the journal "Science" on "Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems," which showed that life in the sea was far more numerous until spreading human populations and improved fishing technologies devastated marine species and ecosystems.

Mia J. Tegner Memorial Research Grants were started to honor her memory by MCBI with funding from the Oak Foundation.

More information on the grants and the grant recipients are available at: http://www.mcbi.org

* * *

IOWA STATE EXAMINES BUILDING ENERGY EFFICIENCY

AMES, Iowa, October 12, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded a $350,000 grant to Iowa State University to conduct research at its Ames campus on improving energy performance in buildings.

The grant will provide information on improving control systems to building owners and operators, engineers and anyone determining the proper installation of mechanical or electrical equipment.

Control systems are the hardware and software that regulate the electrical (lighting, elevators, fire, security, etc.) and mechanical (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) operations of a building.

For the past two decades, commercial building energy efficiency programs have focused on the technologies that go into the design of a building, such as motors, chillers, fans, boilers and lighting. This focus has resulted in improved energy performance.

However, these technologies all rely upon a control system to regulate energy use. Commercial building control systems play a key role in energy efficiency, yet there has been a lack of objective standards, testing and user guidance in this field, leading to poor performance.

Less attention has been focused upon these critical controls because of software problems and the impracticality of replacing entire systems.

The object of the EPA's agreement with Iowa State is to develop specific performance and broad based tutorial information on building controls. Manufacturer specific performance information refers to testing and reporting of the actual real world operating performance of equipment. Broad based tutorial information refers to educational information about a generic class of products.

* * *

CELEBRATE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE WEEK ACROSS THE NATION

WASHINGTON, DC, October 12, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hosting a variety of special nature events over the coming week in honor of National Wildlife Refuge Week, October 13 - 20.

National Wildlife Refuge Week is observed each year during the second full week of October when bird migrations are at their fall peak. This year's events kick off a multi-year celebration leading to the 100th birthday of the National Wildlife Refuge System in 2003.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is America's only network of federal lands dedicated to wildlife conservation. President Theodore Roosevelt fostered a conservation legacy when he set aside tiny Pelican Island in Florida as a refuge for birds in 1903.

Now, more than 530 refuges cover more than 93 million acres of land. More than 35 million people visit refuges each year to take part in special events, to hunt, fish, and to observe or photograph wildlife.

In Texas, refuge visitors can spot migrating hawks alongside expert volunteers who can help with identification, or learn the names of native plants along a nature trail. Visitors can also volunteer to help plant trees or pick up trash.

At Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Austin, Texas this weekend, researchers will be catching monarch butterflies, tagging them with tiny stickers, recording information and releasing them.

In Oregon, the Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge will provide displays, brochures and posters to introduce the public to the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex. An interpreter from the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department will be available to answer questions and provide information about Oregon State Parks.

An interactive game will be set up for kids. Spotting scopes and binoculars will be available for wildlife viewing, and staff will help identify birds and marine mammals and answer questions about fish and wildlife.

For more information on Refuge Week events in your area, visit: http://refuges.fws.gov/general/NWRSWeek.html