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AmeriScan: April 17, 2006

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Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl Off Endangered Species List

WASHINGTON, DC, April 17, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday that it is removing the cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl from federal Endangered Species Act protection, effective May 15. The pygmy-owl's current and proposed critical habitat designations have also been rescinded.

The Service's decision to delist the pygmy-owl is in response to a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that the agency must show how Arizona pygmy-owls were of sufficient biological and ecological significance to the entire cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl subspecies to qualify for listing as a distinct population segment.

The Service reevaluated whether the owl was distinct from other populations and whether the population was significant to the subspecies.

The Service found that the Arizona population of the cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl "does not contribute significantly to the species as a whole," which currently exists throughout Arizona, Texas, and Mexico. The decision was also based on "relevant science, policy and legal considerations," the Service said.

The latest monitoring data over the past three years shows the annual number of known adult pygmy-owls in Arizona to be around 20, with five or fewer nests each of those years.

The pygmy-owl is less than seven inches long and weighs about the same as a tennis ball. It is reddish brown, with a cream-colored belly streaked with reddish brown.

Although the numbers are low in Arizona, the Service said that alone does not qualify the entire owl subspecies for endangered status under criteria established by the recent court decision and Service policy for distinct population segments.

"All biological information received during our comment period was examined while considering our distinct population segment policy and direction from the courts," said Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, acting regional director for the Southwest Region. "Our final decision in no way diminishes our interest in protecting wildlife. We will use all opportunities to support the local community's conservation efforts and will assist them in any way possible."

The decision is a break for developers in southern Arizona who have fought to open lands inhabited by the owls. Southern Arizona Home Builders Association President Ed Taczanowsky said that the decision “is long overdue,” based on the 2003 opinion of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and “is a fair and reasonable decision based on facts, not emotions.”

“Now that the federal government has made its final ruling, we consider this issue to be over and will direct our attention to other development policy issues in Southern Arizona,” Taczanowsky said.

Center for Biological Diversity's Daniel Patterson says the fight to save the tiny owl is not over. "The longer they drag their feet, the harder it will be to do the right thing eventually, because I don't think people are going to say that it's acceptable for the pygmy owl to go extinct in southern Arizona," he told KOLD CBS-TV news.

The small owl was listed as endangered in 1997. While pygmy-owls are located throughout Mexico's west coast states and a portion of the east coast of Mexico and Texas, only the Arizona population of pygmy-owls was listed as an endangered distinct population segment.

The pygmy-owl will still receive protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which prohibits killing, pursuing or harassing pygmy-owls or possessing any of its parts such as feathers or eggs.

Tuggle said, "The Service will continue working with Arizona Game and Fish Department, tribes, county and other local officials and concerned parties on cooperative conservation measures for this bird and other rare species found in the Sonoran desert ecosystem."

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Sierra Club Director Resigns to Protest Hunting Prize

FRIDAY HARBOR, Washington, April 17, 2006 (ENS) - Sierra Club Director Paul Watson, one of the 15 national directors of the Sierra Club, resigned today from the National Board of the Sierra Club.

He was elected to the Board of Directors in 2003 for a three year term. His term ends May 17, 2006.

Saying, “I won’t fade quietly into the night,” Watson resigned to protest the use of Sierra Club resources to finance a sport hunting trip to encourage hunting.

Watson was not notified of a contest posted in January 2006. The contest is an essay competition entitled Why I Hunt?

The first prize is a $12,700 hunting trip to the Sportsman’s Lodge in Alaska. Additional prizes totaling $3,000 will also be awarded.

“It appears to me that the Sierra Club should have better projects to spend $15,700 on than sending some nimrod to Alaska to shoot wildlife,” said Watson. “Last year they turned down my request for a $5,000 grant to assist the rangers in the Galapagos National Park deal with poachers."

Watson last year protested the posting of pictures of Sierra Club leaders posing with their trophy kills on the Sierra Club website. Each year, he says, the environmental organization is spending over $200,000 on hunter outreach programs despite the fact that fewer than 20 percent of the Sierra Club membership are hunters. Link: http://www.sierraclub.org/huntingfishing/whoweare.asp

Watson, who has been a Sierra Club member since 1968, thinks the club is forgetting its role as a conservation organization. “This is John Muir’s Sierra Club,” he said, “It is not supposed to be the Sahara Club. You can’t love nature with a gun.”

Watson will not attend his final Board meeting in San Francisco on May 17-20. “I have no intention of attending a meeting of a hunting club,” said Watson. ”I wonder how many of the Sierra Club’s 750,000 members know and approve of killing animals with their contributions?”

Watson is also the founder and president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which wages worldwide campaigns against the slaughter of marine mammals and misuse of marine resources.

The Sierra Club policy on hunting as adopted by the Sierra Club Board of Directors in 1994 states, "Acceptable management approaches include both regulated periodic hunting and fishing when based on sufficient scientifically valid biological data and when consistent with all other management purposes and when necessary total protection of particular species or populations."

"Because national parks are set aside for the preservation of natural landscapes and wildlife, the Sierra Club is opposed to sport hunting in national parks."

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Warming Arctic Waters Force Walrus Mothers to Abandon Pups

WOODS HOLE, Massachusetts, April 17, 2006 (ENS) - Scientists have reported an unprecedented number of unaccompanied and possibly abandoned walrus calves in the Arctic Ocean. The calves were found in the summer of 2004, but the sighting was reported for the first time in the April issue of the journal "Aquatic Mammals."

Nine lone walrus calves were reported swimming in deep waters far from shore by researchers aboard the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy during a cruise in the Canada Basin in the summer of 2004. Unable to forage for themselves, the calves were likely to drown or starve, the scientists said.

“We were on a station for 24 hours, and the calves would be swimming around us crying. We couldn’t rescue them,” said Carin Ashjian, a biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a member of the research team.

“The young can’t forage for themselves,” Ashjian said. “They don’t know how to eat,” and are dependent on their mothers’ milk for up to two years.

The researchers found evidence of warmer ocean temperatures that may have rapidly melted seasonal sea ice over the shallow continental shelf where walruses dive to feed on bottom-dwelling animals such as clams and crabs. Walrus need the ice to rest themselves and to leave the pups to rest while the mothers feed. Ice remained over very deep water.

The scientists warn that melting sea ice may be forcing mothers to abandon their pups as the mothers follow the rapidly retreating ice edge north.

“If walruses and other ice-associated marine mammals cannot adapt to caring for their young in shallow waters without sea-ice available as a resting platform between dives to the sea floor, a significant population decline of this species could occur,” the research team wrote. The lead author of the study is Lee Cooper, a biogeochemist at the University of Tennessee.

Cooper, Ashjian and other researchers made the unexpected walrus calf sightings during a cruise to investigate the impact of global climate change on the oceanic ecosystem over the continental shelf of Alaska. Their work focused on the shallower waters of the continental shelf in the Chukchi Sea to deeper waters in the Beaufort Sea of the Western Arctic Ocean. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.

Adult Pacific walrus, Odobenus rosmarus divergens, forage for food by diving as far as 200 meters (630 feet) down to the seafloor and using sensitive facial bristles to locate prey.

The researchers measured a mass of water as warm as 44°F (7°C) moving onto parts of the shelf from the Bering Sea to the south in 2004. This warm-water intrusion was more than six degrees higher than temperatures at the same time and location in 2002.

The warmer water apparently caused seasonal sea ice to melt rapidly over the shallow continental shelf and retreat to deep water over the Arctic Ocean basins, where the water remained colder.

In the areas where ice remained, the bottom is up to 3,000 meters (about 9,300 feet) deep, too deep for even adult walrus to dive to feed. When sea ice retreats to such deep water, as it did in 2004, there are no platforms in shallow waters for mothers to rest and to leave their calves while they feed, and the pairs become separated.

Scientists on the Healy used geographic positioning, digital photography, ship bridge logs, and other observations to record the calves’ positions and bathymetric charts and depth sounder data to identify water depth.

They documented the very warm water using both conductivity-temperature-depth profile sampling and plankton-net sampling, which revealed zooplankton species that prefer warmer waters.

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EPA Revised Particulate Matter Standards Called Too Weak

NEW YORK, New York, April 17, 2006 (ENS) - Five environmental and public health organizations submitted critical comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today on the agency’s proposal for new national air quality standards for particle air pollution.

"Our message to EPA is straight-forward: the proposal falls far short of what is necessary to protect public health," said John Kirkwood, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association (ALA).

The American Lung Association joined Environmental Defense, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice and the Appalachian Mountain Club in submitting comments on these revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter.

The EPA proposed the revisions on January 17, 2006, and in early April extended the public comment period for 90 days to July 10, 2006.

EPA's own staff scientists and an independent panel of academic and industry researchers have recommended setting a much stronger standard, said Kirkwood. But the EPA has proposed standards that are weaker than those recommended by those experts and the American Lung Association.

Kirkwood said, "We documented, at length, evidence proving that strong, truly protective regulations are needed to curb particle air pollution (also known as particulate matter or PM), which is the nation's most dangerous air pollutant."

"Not only does it cause asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer, particle pollution cuts short the lives of tens of thousands of Americans every year. Current standards, which were set back in 1997 - and those now proposed by the EPA - are not strong enough to protect millions of Americans who face these health risks," said Kirkwood.

"National standards for air quality drive most of the work done to clean up the air in this country. If EPA adopts the weak standards as proposed, the agency will have failed the most fundamental requirement of the Clean Air Act - to protect public health," he said.

More than 2,000 studies show that particle pollution threatens the lives of tens of thousands of Americans each year.

Kirkwood and the other environmental groups called on the EPA to follow the science and "set standards that truly protect our health, including protections for those who are most vulnerable to particle pollution – people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema and chronic bronchitis), heart disease and diabetes."

"There is no acceptable rationale for setting new standards at levels that still do not meet the basic legal requirement outlined in the Clean Air Act - to protect the lives and health of the people of this nation," he said.

The EPA said it extended the public comment period "to assure the public that EPA is aware of and is considering the multiple issues associated with implementing potential revised standards for fine particle pollution and new standards for coarse particles while recognizing that no final decision has been made whether or how to revise the current particulate matter standards."

The agency said it "will seek comment on key implementation issues to ensure that all points of view are considered by EPA."

To view the EPA revisions, click here.

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New Jersey Wins Natural Resource Damages From 7-Eleven, Thomas & Betts

TRENTON, New Jersey, April 17, 2006 (ENS) - Convenience store giant 7-Eleven Inc. and a Tennessee based electrical components manufacturer have agreed to compensate the people of New Jersey for ground water pollution at five different sites in the state.

Under one settlement agreement, stemming from damage to natural resources at a 7-Eleven Inc. property in Independence Township, Warren County, the company will give the state 82 acres of forested wetlands adjacent to the Pequest River to help protect water quality and wildlife habitat.

From 1950 to 1988, several companies used 100 acres of the 277 acre property in Independence Township for manufacturing organic chemicals, tear gas, hair dye and herbicide. From 1978 to 1988, 7-Eleven, then known as Southland Corporation, produced specialty organic chemicals there. 7-Eleven Inc. is now performing cleanup work at the site that includes operating a ground water treatment system.

In addition to deeding land to the state, 7-Eleven also must construct a public parking area and an easement that will allow public access to the property, which will be preserved as open space for recreational activities. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Parks and Forestry will manage the property.

The second agreement requires Thomas & Betts Corp., headquartered in Memphis, to pay $200,000 toward future state restoration projects as compensation for ground water pollution at four properties in Morris and Union counties.

The DEP's settlement agreement with Thomas & Betts Corp. addresses natural resource damages at four sites:

  • Thomas and Betts Corp. in Elizabeth City, Union County, operated an electronics manufacturing facility from 1917 to 1997. Testing at the site revealed trichloroethylene contamination in both soil and ground water. The soil is being remediated by a soil vapor extraction system.

  • Diamond Communications Products Inc. in Garwood, Union County, manufactured metal hardware products for telephone and cable television construction from 1929 until 1999. The company received a no-further-action letter from DEP in 2001. Discharges to a French drain led to ground water contamination, including volatile organic compounds and metals above standards. A redeveloper excavated metal-contaminated areas to remove a deed notice on the site before building a planned residential/commercial project.

  • Elastimold Division, Amerace Corp. in Washington Township, Morris County, conducted metal working, stamping, rubber molding, assembly and testing and printing from 1959 until 1999. Site contamination included total petroleum hydrocarbons that were removed after they polluted a tributary to the Musconetcong River. Also, tetrachloroethylene that impacted ground water was among the volatile organic contaminants found in soils at the site.

  • Amerace Corporation in Butler, Morris County, operated a rubber plant and used a four-acre area of the site for rubber refuse disposal during the 1940s and 1950s. Fill material used there was contaminated with lead, zinc and arsenic. Testing at the site found low-level metal contamination in both the shallow and bedrock aquifers. As part of a commercial redevelopment project, the site was capped to prevent exposure to any contaminants.
"New Jersey's environment is inextricably linked to our quality of life. When companies jeopardize our precious water supplies, we will make sure they clean up the contamination and pay a price for restoration and future protection of those natural resources," said DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson.

DEP uses monies recovered to restore wetlands and endangered species habitat, increase public access to natural resources, and protect and manage resources injured by oil spills and hazardous waste sites.

Natural resource damage claims are separate from the costs associated with cleaning up contamination. New Jersey's Spill Compensation and Control Act makes any entity that has discharged hazardous substances onto the land or into the waters of the state liable for both cleanup and restoration of injured natural resource.

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Builders Lose Legal Challenge to New Jersey Stormwater Regulations

TRENTON, New Jersey, April 17, 2006 (ENS) - A New Jersey appeals court has upheld authority of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to adopt comprehensive stormwater rules requiring 300 foot wide buffers to protect high quality waters from construction site discharge.

The DEP adopted the new stormwater management rules in February 2004 - the first major update of the regulations in 20 years. Soon after the regulations were adopted, the New Jersey Builders Association took legal action.

In the decision handed down Thursday by the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court, the three-judge panel rejected the New Jersey Builders Association's argument that the DEP lacked the statutory authority to promulgate the stormwater rules.

"The court ruling represents a tremendous victory for New Jersey in our ongoing fight to protect the quality and quantity of our water resources," said DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson. "Clean, safe and abundant drinking water supplies are something we cannot afford to take for granted."

The judges also noted that the New Jersey Builders Association has "mischaracterized these buffers as 'no build zones.'"

"It's particularly gratifying that the court has acknowledged that without these tough stormwater regulations, developers and industry would continue building right on top of sensitive streams and reservoirs that provide drinking water to millions of our residents," Jackson said.

"New Jersey's stormwater rules are considered the nation's most protective largely because they require 300 foot vegetated buffers along Category One waterways to help filter pollutants and safeguard the quality of these waters," she said.

The DEP has applied Category One status, the state's highest level of water protection, to 10,219 acres of reservoirs and 3,855 river miles.

"This ruling by the Appellate Division affirms DEP's broad authority to protect water quality in New Jersey, as well as the need to preserve the remaining pristine waters throughout the state for future generations," said state Attorney General Zulima Farber. "The court recognized the close correlation between water quality and the way that land is used along the banks of our sensitive waterways."

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AOL Corporate Dining Rooms Go With Cage-Free Eggs

WASHINGTON, DC, April 17, 2006 (ENS) - The AOL corporate dining rooms will be serving eggs from cage-free hens from now on. AOL is discontinuing its use of eggs from birds confined in battery cages in all of its corporate dining facilities, the company announced today.

"AOL's concern for social responsibility, including animal welfare, led us to distance ourselves from battery cage eggs and switch to exclusively cage-free eggs in our dining facilities," said Alan Nielsen, AOL's vice president of Corporate Services. "By making a simple purchasing switch, AOL is helping improve the lives of millions of egg-laying birds."

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) praised AOL's new policy as "an important success in the growing trend to end one of the most abusive factory farming practices."

"The nation's leading Internet service provider has also become a leader in animal welfare by ending its use of eggs from birds crammed into battery cages," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "We applaud AOL's efforts to reduce animal suffering, and we encourage other corporations to follow its lead."

In the United States, about 95 percent of eggs sold come from hens confined in barren "battery cages," wire enclosures so small the birds can't even spread their wings or engage in many other natural behaviors, such as nesting, foraging, perching, and dust bathing.

The cages are stacked one on top of another inside huge warehouses on factory farms. Each bird is afforded less space than a single sheet of paper on which to live, leading to high levels of stress and frustration, said Pacelle.

Based in Dulles, Virginia, AOL joins grocery chains Whole Foods Market, Wild Oats Natural Marketplace, Jimbo's Naturally and Earth Fare in eliminating its use of battery cage eggs. And Trader Joe's recently converted all of its brand eggs to cage-free.

Food service provider Bon Appetit is also phasing in cage-free shell eggs for all of its 400 cafes, including major corporate clients such as Oracle Corporation, Cisco Systems, Adidas, Best Buy and Nordstrom.

More than 80 schools have enacted policies to eliminate or greatly decrease the use of eggs from caged hens, including Dartmouth College, University of Connecticut, University of Iowa, Tufts University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgetown University and American University.

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