AmeriScan: October 24, 2001

CHANGING CLIMATE ENDANGERS GULF STATES ECOSYSTEMS

WASHINGTON, DC, October 24, 2001 (ENS) - A comprehensive new study concludes that the combined impacts of global warming and pressure from human activities pose serious challenges to the Gulf States region.

The study by leading university and government scientists finds that climate change in the Gulf States will lead to more extreme rainfall events and longer dry periods, accelerating sea level rise and increased coastal flooding, and northward extension of ranges of nonnative plants and animals.

Based on a projected three to seven degrees Fahrenheit temperature increase over the 21st century, the report foresees wide ranging impacts, including more conflicts over fresh water and potential threats to the region's vital agriculture, forestry, shipping and tourism industries.

"Climate change will likely magnify the harmful side effects of human activity on the region's environment," said the lead author of the report, Dr. Robert Twilley of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. "Our natural resources contribute over $160 billion a year to the region's economy. We must act now to protect our valuable heritage."

"Confronting Climate Change in the Gulf Coast Region: Prospects for Sustaining Our Ecological Heritage" is a joint effort by the Ecological Society of America and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Leading ecological scientists from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, University of New Orleans, University of Alabama, Rice University, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, University of Florida, University of South Florida, and University of Miami wrote the report.

The report represents the current state of scientific knowledge about the impacts of climate change on the Gulf Coast's unique environments. It draws on the research of the world's leading climate scientists, who have found that carbon pollution from power plants, vehicles and clearing forests is contributing to rising global temperatures and a changing climate.

The report suggests that global warming may intensify the region's variable and sometimes extreme climate, and threatens to undermine the efforts along the coast to restore wetlands and beaches. Increased maximum summer temperatures and heat index increases could give rise to more frequent heat waves and more heat related illnesses and deaths per year.

"This report is a wake-up call to everyone in the Gulf region that climate change is real and must be taken seriously," said Dr. Denise Reed from the University of New Orleans. "Problems with freshwater supplies for agriculture, industry, and urban areas are likely to get worse."

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INTERIOR BILL WINS PRAISE FROM ENVIROS

WASHINGTON, DC, October 24, 2001 (ENS) - Environmental groups are praising the environmental funding included in the fiscal year 2002 appropriations bill for the Department of Interior.

The final, House and Senate conference committee version of the bill earmarks $1.32 billion for land conservation and biodiversity protection projects managed by the Department of Interior and the U.S. Forest Service. The funding legislation, which also contains other accounts for conservation activities, now awaits President George W. Bush's signature.

"In this time when the words of America the Beautiful take on an even more poignant meaning, we are grateful that Congress is taking positive action to help conserve some of the best of the American landscape," said Steve McCormick, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, which celebrated its 50th anniversary Monday. "This funding is a tremendous gift to Americans who care deeply about preserving our nation's great natural heritage."

Among funding categories which received record levels of support are Forest Legacy ($65 million), the federal program that helps states protect forest land threatened with conversion to non-forest uses, and the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund ($44 million). The Land and Water Conservation Fund, the principal source of funding for expansions and additions to national parks, national wildlife refuges and national forests, will receive $429 million.

The Cooperative Endangered Species Fund, a source of funding for states and counties to purchase habitat needed for the long term conservation of endangered species, will receive $96 million.

The bill also includes continued protection against expanded offshore drilling in key coastal waters, via a one year extension of the existing moratorium on new offshore drilling lease sales in sensitive coastal waters. The moratorium will now be in place until October 1, 2002.

"We are heartened that the congressional negotiators determined that this was not the time to arbitrarily jeopardize our coastal natural treasures," said Richard Charter, marine conservation advocate with Environmental Defense. "The conservation ethic is deeply rooted in America's core values and preservation of our national parklands and spectacular coastlines remains a high public priority."

But conferees stripped the bill of a House provision that would have delayed new offshore leasing in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, including off of Florida's Panhandle and Gulf Coast, for six months. As a result, the Interior Department is now cleared by Congress to proceed with a 1.5 million acre lease sale in a controversial new area where endangered sperm whales are often found.

"While we are disappointed that the Eastern Gulf of Mexico will now be open to new drilling activities, it is our hope that the Department of Interior will apply sound science in taking the steps necessary to protect sensitive biological resources in that area," Charter said.

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$59 MILLION PLEDGED TO COMBAT LEAD POISONING

WASHINGTON, DC, October 24, 2001 (ENS) - As part of Children's Health Month, the Bush administration today announced $59 million in new grants to reduce the risks of lead exposure in the home.

The executive leadership of an interagency task force on children's environmental health and safety held its first meeting under the Bush Administration today.

The task force is charged with reviewing environmental and safety threats to children's health, evaluating the effectiveness of programs to address these threats, and making recommendations for improvements.

The executive leadership of the task force met to discuss the importance of coordinated efforts among federal agencies in dealing with lead poisoning, asthma, unintentional injuries and other environmental health and safety hazards to the nation's children.

"The Bush Administration is committed to protecting America's kids," said Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman. "Childhood lead poisoning remains one of the greatest environmental health risks facing children in industrialized countries today. We are very focused on helping communities address this problem."

At a media availability after the task force meeting, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Mel Martinez announced $59 million in Lead Hazard Control Grants and an additional $8 million in grants under HUD's Healthy Home Program.

"No child should be denied the opportunity to grow up in a safe and healthy home because of circumstance," said Martinez. "These grants are an investment in our children so that they can realize their full potential. This is a top priority for my department and this administration. There are a lot of good ideas out there for addressing this problem creatively, through public-private partnerships. We want to foster those ideas and opportunities."

The task force is co-chaired by the EPA Administrator and the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and includes 14 other cabinet departments and White House agencies.

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BRYOZOAN BACTERIA COULD HELP FIGHT CANCER

SAN DIEGO, California, October 24, 2001 (ENS) - Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), have produced evidence that bacteria living inside a small marine animal may be the source of a new drug compound being developed to fight cancer.

The marine invertebrate Bugula neritina, a brown bryozoan animal with stringy tufts that look like algae, appears unremarkable and similar to a variety of moss like sea creatures. Bryozoans are considered ordinary pests by boat operators, who often scrape them off their vessels' hulls.

But their potential may be far from ordinary. Scientists know that Bugula neritina is a source of bryostatins, a family of chemical compounds being studied for their ability to treat a variety of cancers. The anticancer drug Bryostatin 1 can be extracted from colonies of Bugula neritina.

bryozoan

Bacteria living inside this marine bryozoan could provide cancer fighting drugs (Photo courtesy Scripps Institution of Oceanography)
The new study provides evidence that bacteria that live inside Bugula neritina, and are passed in larvae from one generation to the next, are the "likely source" of the anticancer compound.

"This paper presents a whole series of experiments from a variety of different directions that provide evidence that this bacteria may indeed be the agent for producing the drug," said Margo Haygood, the senior author of the paper appearing in this month's issue of the journal "Applied and Environmental Microbiology."

Through the experiments, Haygood and her coauthors identified a gene of the type that produces the compound. They also showed that the gene is expressed solely in the bacteria, called Candidatus Endobugula sertula.

"Currently there really isn't a practical way to produce enough bryostatin for people to use. Even if there were enough of the animals out there, collecting enough would be environmentally destructive," said Haygood, an associate professor in the Marine Biology Research Division and the Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine at Scripps. "This is one of the biggest problems in the development of drugs from marine organisms."

Haygood's new research is addressing two areas: Attempting to cultivate and grow the bacteria outside of its natural environment within Bugula neritina; and attempting to clone the genes that make the drug and deliver them into an organism that can be more produced in large quantities.

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RIVER GROUPS SUE CORPS OVER DAM

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas, October 24, 2001 (ENS) - Seven conservation groups filed suit today against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas to revoke a permit issued to Searcy County to construct a dam on one of the largest tributaries to the Buffalo National River.

The groups want the Corps to consult with the National Park Service about potential impacts to this protected river before deciding whether or not to allow Searcy County to construct the water supply dam.

On August 3, the Army Corps' Southwestern Division Headquarters in Dallas issued the permit -- overruling the Little Rock District Office, which had twice rejected the application. The Little Rock District had cited the negative impacts on the environment and the existence of a less environmentally damaging and economical alternative: a pipeline to bring the water from a neighboring county.

"Almost a million people visit the Buffalo National River each year, providing local jobs and contributing up to $36 million annually to the regional economy," said John Heuston of the Ozark Society. "But the Corps did not bother to look at the potential economic impacts of reducing the river's flow before issuing the permit."

The Corps failed to consult with the National Park Service before issuing the permit, the groups say. In addition, the Clean Water Act prohibits the Corps from issuing this permit when other less damaging alternatives are available, the suit charges. Another Arkansas county has offered to supply water to Searcy City from an existing water reservoir by constructing a 37 mile pipeline.

"In issuing this permit, the Corps has chosen to ignore its staff and break several environmental laws," said Jack Hannon of American Rivers. "It is time for the Corps to give our rivers the protections they deserve."

In addition to numerous local citizens and the plaintiffs on the suit, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have expressed concerns with the dam.

"By law, the National Park Service should make the call whether the dam would harm the scenic, recreational, and fish and wildlife values of the Buffalo National River," said Don Barger with the National Parks Conservation Association.

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EPA LAUNCHES PROJECTS TO CLEAN CHARLES RIVER

BOSTON, Massachusetts, October 24, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced two new initiatives that will help make the Charles River safe for swimming and fishing by Earth Day 2005, a goal set six years ago by EPA's New England Office.

EPA New England launched the Clean Charles 2005 Initiative in 1995 to make the Charles River safe for fishing and swimming. At that time, EPA gave the Charles a grade of "D," since it was meeting bacteria boating standards just 39 percent of the time and swimming standards just 19 percent of the time.

In April, EPA New England announced that the Charles River has become cleaner over the past year, and gave the river a grade of "B." But stormwater runoff continues to be a major impediment to the river's restoration.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and EPA announced a joint contest for students and professionals to design plans for reducing stormwater pollution running into the Charles River. The MIT/EPA Charles River Stormwater Design Competition challenges contestants to develop innovative measures for treating and controlling stormwater, which comes from a variety of sources, including homes, businesses and parking lots.

A grand prize of $5,000 will be awarded, plus two prizes of $1,500 each to the best student entry and the best professional entry. MIT will pay up to $10,000 to put the winning idea into practice. Proposals are due by January 18, 2002 and more information can be found at: http://yerkes.mit.edu/stormwater/

The EPA also announced $180,000 of funding for a project called CharlesCast, which will forecast pollution conditions on the river and educate the public about those conditions. The project is part of EPA's EMPACT program, which focuses on educating the public by providing real time water quality data on web sites and other venues.

"These two announcements provide important momentum in making the Charles River safe for fishing and swimming," said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office. "These efforts will help educate the public about the river's water quality and generate ideas to curb stormwater pollution that comes from such a wide spectrum of sources throughout the watershed."

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GEOLOGIST FINDS LOST ISLAND IN SANTA BARBARA CHANNEL

SANTA BARBARA, California, October 24, 2001 (ENS) - An island submerged for more than 13,000 years has been discovered beneath the ocean's surface about halfway between the Santa Barbara Harbor and one of the existing Santa Barbara Channel Islands.

Edward Keller, professor of geological sciences and environmental studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, made the discovery while studying high resolution topological maps of the channel floor to better understand earthquake hazards in the area.

"The island shows signs of coastal erosion, had sea cliffs that were 30 feet high, and was flat," Keller said, speculating that Columbian mammoths might have swum out to the island at the peak of the Ice Age 20,000 years ago.

Isla Calafia, as Keller has named it, now lies under 300 feet of water on the highest part of a huge underwater ridge that extends from Point Conception to the north and becomes part of South Mountain near Ventura to the east. It is about 31 miles in length and three miles wide and rises about 660 feet from the bottom of the channel.

The island is bordered by two major earthquake faults, one of which is capable of producing an earthquake with a 7.5 magnitude and a tidal wave. Not far from the underwater island are pockets of natural gas that could pose hazards to passing ships if they erupt, Keller said.

"When these bubbles burst, which we think are relatively rare events, they send huge amounts of methane into the ocean," Keller said. A dozen craters in the area suggest that gas blowouts may have occurred in the past, he added.

The island, which is being pushed up between colliding tectonic plates at the rate of six feet per 1,000 years, "could emerge above water again in about one million years," Keller said.

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PUBLIC COMMENTS SOUGHT ON CONDOR REINTRODUCTION

FLAGSTAFF, Arizona, October 24, 2001 (ENS) - Land managers and condor biologists will hold open houses in Arizona and Utah next month to seek public input on an ongoing program to reintroduce California condors to the canyon lands and high plateaus of northern Arizona and southern Utah.

The first open house will be on Thursday, November 1, from 7 to 9 pm at the Shilo Inn in Kanab, Utah. The second open house will be on Monday, November 5, from 7 to 9 pm at the Arizona Game and Fish Department Office in Flagstaff, Arizona.

The open houses will include presentations and group discussions on various aspects of the condor recovery in northern Arizona.

"The success of the condor recovery project in northern Arizona in large part is due to the support of the local community," said Bruce Palmer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service California condor recovery coordinator. "The open house provides us with an opportunity to update the public on the project and to listen to any concerns or ideas that may improve the program."

The goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan is to establish two separate, self sustaining populations - a primary population in California and the other outside of California, each with 150 birds and at least 15 breeding pairs.

The hearings are part of a Federal rule establishing the experimental release program. The rule requires a review of the program after five years to gauge public acceptance of the program and its overall success.

Comments must be submitted by November 23, 2001, to: California Condor Recovery Program Coordinator; Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office; 2494 Portola Road, Suite B; Ventura, California 93003; or by Email to: fw1azcondor@r1.fws.gov

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TEACHER AT SEA NETS NEW KNOWLEDGE

FALMOUTH, Massachusetts, October 24, 2001 (ENS) - Students at Falmouth High School may learn about marine science in an exciting new way this school year through the eyes of teacher Chris Brothers, who participated in the Teacher at Sea program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Brothers, who teaches marine ecology and advanced placement biology, went aboard the NOAA fisheries research ship Miller Freeman for 11 days this summer to help conduct a pollock fishery stock assessment survey and to study Stellar sea lion interactions.

The Miller Freeman is the largest fishery research ship in the nation and operates primarily off the coast of Alaska.

"I had a great research experience as a NOAA Teacher at Sea in the Gulf of Alaska," Brothers said. "I learned a lot and look forward to sharing what I learned with my students."

The enthusiasm for learning generated between teachers and students is the biggest payoff of NOAA's Teacher at Sea program, where teachers from kindergarten through college go aboard NOAA hydrographic, oceanographic and fisheries research vessels to work under the tutelage of scientists and crew. Now in its 11th year, the program has enabled more than 325 teachers to gain first hand experience in science at sea.

"The Teacher at Sea program has been extremely successful for several reasons," said Rear Admiral Evelyn Fields, NOAA Corps, director of the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, which administers the program. "It addresses the strong desire of teachers to gain 'real world' experience to bring back to their classrooms and to update their skills in scientific research. It also provides NOAA with eager and talented volunteers for their field projects."

"By giving teachers an up close view of the fascinating world of marine science, we hope they'll pass along their enthusiasm to students and spark enough interest to bring NOAA new recruits down the road," added Fields. "It's a win win situation."

More information about the Teacher at Sea program is available at: http://www.tas.noaa.gov