AmeriScan: August 7, 2007

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Santa Barbara Firefighting Costs Top $54 Million

SANTA BARBARA, California, August 7, 2007 (ENS) - The giant Zaca Fire in Santa Barbara County devoured 2,000 more acres today, although at least 2,370 firefighters are doing battle with the month-old blaze.

The fire started on July 4 when a laborer on a private ranch north of Los Olivos was grinding on an iron pipeline. Sparks from his grinder started the fire, which has now spread far to the southeast and covers 71,300 acres about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

The laborer, whose name has not been released, will be handed a bill for the cost of fighting the Zaca Fire, which now amounts to $54.6 million, says Robert Rainwater, a fire information officer with the Los Padres National Forest.

"This high cost indicates that we are using the aircraft a lot. The land in there is steep, rugged, rocky, very inaccessible," he said. "It could take a couple of hours just to walk a crew in."

About 650,000 acres of the Los Padres National Forest is closed for visitor safety and to prevent campers from starting other fires, said Rainwater.

The Zaca Fire is eating through chaparral, oak, conifer woodland and brush on both public and private land, threatening 453 homes.

Evacuations were ordered Friday by the Santa Ynez River, and earlier last week in the Peachtree area. These areas are still closed as fire crews do burnouts and cut fire lines to control the blaze.

Santa Barbara Fire Chief John Scherrei said fire managers are "taking opportunities where we can to attack the fire's edge directly with hand crews and using air tankers and helicopters where it is too unsafe to directly insert our firefighters."

"Our tactics have been successful so far at corralling the fire's path and keeping it directed into the Los Padres National Forest and away from our populated areas," says Scherrei.

"There is still danger, though, and great potential for the fire to change course toward populated areas due to the normal summer weather conditions - erratic mountain winds, high heat and low relative humidity," he says. "The ingredients add up to a stubborn fire that exhibits extreme burning conditions."

"They are making tradeoffs," said Rainwater. "They are choosing to focus all of our resources on the south side of the fire - the populated area near the coast - and letting it burn more freely into the wilderness area. We don't have the resources to do both."

The fire is 68 percent contained, but fire officials estimate it will not be completely contained until September 7.

A veteran of 16 years on firefighting crews, Rainwater says that date is "just a wild guess," and the weather will determine the fate of the fire.

There will be few if any wildlife casualties, Rainwater said. "In all my years of fighting fires, I never once saw a dead mammal or any wildlife," he says. "Animals are well able to protect themselves and get out of the way."

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Congress Plans to Add Billions to FY 2008 Research Budget

WASHINGTON, DC, August 7, 2007 (ENS) - Congressional lawmakers are poised to add billions of dollars to the fiscal year 2008 research and development budget, with much of the proposed new funding targeted for environmental, energy and biomedical initiatives,

The figures are contained in a new report by the R&D Budget and Policy Program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS, the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, "Science."

Congressional appropriations measures propose to meet or exceed President George W. Bush's spending plans for physical sciences research in the American Competitiveness Initiative and for dramatic expansion of spending to develop new craft for human space exploration, says Kei Koizumi, the program's director, in a report posted online Monday.

Where the White House proposed a budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2007 that would have cut overall basic and applied research investment for the fourth straight year, Congress would increase research budgets at every major non-defense R&D agency.

For environment and climate change, "Congress would turn steep requested cuts into increases for environmental research programs," Koizumi found.

Total R&D spending on environmental initiatives would rise 9.2 percent under House measures, compared to a three percent cut proposed by the Bush administration.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration R&D, for example, would get a 9.9 percent increase in the House and 18.1 percent in the Senate.

Among other prospective winners: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the U.S. Geological Survey; and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA.

Some of the proposed funding for NASA would go to address concerns expressed by the National Research Council, the AAAS Board of Directors and others that the number of Earth-observing sensors on NASA spacecraft could plunge in the years ahead if current NASA budget trends continue. "NASA's satellite capabilities for earth observation are vital for environmental research, especially on climate change," Koizumi said.

Congress intends to increase R&D spending for the Energy Department by 18.5 percent in the House to $1.8 billion and a "staggering" 29 percent to $2.0 billion in the Senate for the renewable energy, fossil fuels, and energy conservation programs, Koizumi reports.

The House has approved all 12 of its 2008 appropriations bills.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has drafted 11 of its 12 bills, but the full Senate has approved only the spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security. The Senate still must draft a spending bill for the Department of Defense.

In all, appropriations approved by the House total $144.3 billion for R&D - $3.2 billion, or 2.3 percent, more than the current budget, and $4 billion more than the White House 2008 budget proposal.

The Senate would spend $500 million more on R&D than the House for the appropriations it has drafted.

Koizumi noted that earmarks - funds designated by Congress to be spent on a specific project rather than for an agency's general policy agenda - make up one-fifth of the proposed new R&D spending. Critics say that earmarking encourages spending for pet projects in lawmakers' home districts, and Congress placed a moratorium on them last year.

With Congress exceeding the president's overall domestic spending plan by $21 billion, Koizumi sees the possibility of a budget conflict that could extend into FY 2008.

The AAAS R&D Budget Program has been tracking federal R&D funding trends since 1976 as a service to the science, engineering and policymaking communities.

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Judge Blocks U.S. Navy's Sonar Use off Southern California

LOS ANGELES, California, August 7, 2007 (ENS) A federal judge in Los Angeles has barred the U.S. Navy from using mid-frequency active sonar during 14 naval training exercises planned for the waters off Southern California through 2009.

U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper issued the preliminary injunction yesterday, ruling that use of the sonar could "cause irreparable harm to the environment."

The judge rejected the Navy's request to dismiss a lawsuit brought in March by a coalition of environmental and animal protection groups led by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The preliminary injunction prohibits the use of sonar until the lawsuit is decided.

The Navy said it plans to appeal the injunction.

Mid-frequency active, or MFA, sonar is used by the Navy to detect silent diesel-electric submarines but has caused whale strandings and other harm to marine animals around the world.

The naval exercises included plans to blast the high-intensity sound waves into some of the richest marine habitat in the country, including waters around the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

Five endangered species of whales swim in the target area, including a globally important population of blue whales, the largest animals ever to live on Earth, and seven species of beaked whales, which are especially vulnerable to underwater sound.

"The court's order confirms that, during sonar testing and training, the Navy can and must protect whales and other marine life in the extraordinarily rich waters off our Southern California coast," said Joel Reynolds, senior attorney and director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at NRDC.

"The Navy's rejection of common sense protective measures - even measures requested by the California Coastal Commission - is illegal, unacceptable, and completely unnecessary," said Reynolds.

The court found a probability that the Navy had not complied with three federal environmental and administrative laws, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

The judge noted in her written opinion that the Navy's own analyses concluded that the Southern California exercises "will cause widespread harm to nearly thirty species of marine mammals, including five species of endangered whales, and may cause permanent injury and death."

The judge characterized the Navy's proposed mitigation measures as "woefully inadequate and ineffectual."

NRDC is joined in the lawsuit over the Southern California sonar exercises by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Cetacean Society International, the League for Coastal Protection, the Ocean Futures Society and its president Jean-Michel Cousteau.

The ruling does not affect Navy anti-submarine warfare exercises off Hawaii, but several environmental organizations in May sued in federal court to block the Navy from planned exercises using sonar in Hawaiian waters.

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Oil and Gas Development Halted in Colorado's Wild Badlands

DENVER, Colorado, August 7, 2007 (ENS) - The federal government must stop gas development and leasing in a Colorado proposed wilderness area until it considers an environmentally sensitive drilling technique and the impacts of development on rare species, a U.S. district court judge has ruled.

Judge Marcia Krieger said the Bureau of Land Management, BLM, violated the National Environmental Policy Act by not considering an alternative to surface drilling of South Shale Ridge, an area outside of DeBeque that possesses all the attributes of wilderness.

The court also held that the BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by selling gas leases without considering the harm posed to the area's rare plants.

"The BLM originally adopted slant drilling as an option, but abandoned the idea when it opened South Shale Ridge to gas development. The court said that was a mistake," said Keith Bauerle, an attorney for Earthjustice, the non-profit environmental law firm that brought the lawsuit on behalf of the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, the Center for Native Ecosystems, Colorado Environmental Coalition, and Colorado Mountain Club.

"Today's decision forces the BLM to consider how gas development can proceed without destroying the environment," Bauerle said.

The multicolored badlands of South Shale Ridge feature geological formations hidden within miles of twisting canyons. The area is inhabited by bald eagles and rare plants and frequented by hikers.

"The BLM always says it will look at the impacts of drilling later on, after it has leased entire landscapes out to oil and gas companies," said Josh Pollock, conservation director for Center for Native Ecosystems.

"The court held that the Endangered Species Act requires the BLM to consult early on about how to avoid driving South Shale Ridge's rare species towards extinction," he said.

BLM's official findings in 2001 recommended that South Shale Ridge be reconsidered for protection as a Wilderness Study Area. The BLM then publicly committed to amending its 1987 management plan to account for and properly mange South Shale Ridge's wilderness features.

Then, in an about face, the BLM in November 2005 leased almost the entire area for oil and gas drilling.

Suzanne Jones, Central Rockies Regional Director for The Wilderness Society, said, "Citizens have been asking the BLM to protect this special place for decades and it's heartening that the court has held the BLM to its word by forcing the agency to consider real options for protecting the wilderness values of South Shale Ridge."

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High Toxic Levels Persist in Fish Caught Near Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES, California, August 6, 2007 (ENS) - Concentrations of the chemicals DDT and PCBs in fish remain higher off the California coast in the Palos Verdes, Los Angeles, and San Pedro Bay areas, and relatively lower in Orange County, northern Santa Monica Bay and Ventura, finds joint study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program.

DDT is considered a probable human carcinogen, and can cause liver, reproductive and nervous system damage. PCBs have been demonstrated to cause a variety of adverse health effects, including impact on the immune, reproductive, nervous systems.

At the Palos Verdes Shelf, a Superfund site, large deposits of DDT and PCBs sit in the sediments deep underwater. The chemicals came from area industries, including a large DDT manufacturing facility, Montrose Chemical Company, which closed in 1982.

"It has been more than 15 years since a large-scale survey of contaminants in fish in the area has been conducted," said Keith Takata, the EPA's Superfund division director for the EPA's Pacific Southwest region.

"The EPA can now update our understanding of the health risks associated with eating contaminated fish while taking appropriate actions to best reduce risks for surrounding communities," he said.

Between 2002 and 2004, state and federal biologists collected over 2,500 fish from 30 locations along the southern California coast, targeting 23 of the most commonly caught recreational fish such as croaker, bass, surfperch, and mackerel.

The data from this most recent study will be used by multiple agencies, including California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Department of Fish and Game and the EPA.

High levels of DDT and PCBs at the Palos Verdes Shelf led the federal and state governments - now working together under the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program - to file suit against the polluters in 1990.

The state of California issued advisories in 1991 to caution people about possible health risks of eating certain fish in the area. The EPA Superfund program initiated actions to address the Palos Verdes Shelf site in 1997.

This recent study found that DDT and PCB concentrations in fish were generally higher in the Palos Verdes shelf region than in areas further south such as Orange County or northern Santa Monica Bay and Ventura.

In areas where sediments are more heavily contaminated, certain species of fish, especially white croaker, accumulate higher amounts of DDT and PCBs, researchers learned.

Mercury levels vary by species and fish size. Bigger, older fish and fish higher up on the food chain generally have higher mercury concentrations than smaller, younger fish or fish lower on the food chain.

The next step is to provide these data to California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which creates guidelines for consuming recreationally caught fish in California.

Current fish consumption advisories for ocean waters between Point Dume and Dana Point may be found at California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment website,

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New York Mandates Global Warming Stickers on Cars, Trucks

ALBANY, New York, August 7, 2007 (ENS) - Governor Eliot Spitzer Friday signed legislation requiring that automobile manufacturers affix "global warming index" stickers to new cars and passenger trucks beginning in the 2010 model year. The stickers will detail carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by operating the vehicle.

New York is the second state in the nation, after California, to pass this type of environmental legislation.

"Global warming is one of the most serious environmental problems of our generation," said Governor Spitzer. "Every level of government, every business and every consumer can play a role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This new legislation will help make the public aware of vehicle emission levels so that they can make informed choices that will help reduce greenhouse gas pollution."

The index will be based on emissions of carbon dioxide, a major contributor to warming temperatures worldwide, in addition to methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. All six gases are governed by the Kyoto Protocol.

The requirement applies to passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks with a gross weight of 8,500 pounds or less.

Each sticker will include an index that compares the emissions of global warming gases from the vehicle with the average projected emissions from all vehicles of the same model year, and identifies the vehicle model within its class with the lowest emissions of that model year.

New York State Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Pete Grannis applauded the legislation, saying the label would be a valuable tool for consumers, similar to a car's miles-per-gallon rating.

"This legislation will promote environmental consumerism by providing user-friendly information to enable buyers to take into consideration the impact a vehicle's emissions have on air quality and climate change," said Grannis.

Chairman of the New York State Senate Environmental Committee, Senator Carl Marcellino, said, "Global warming is a problem that does not discriminate. From Long Island to Buffalo, its impact is alarming."

"Unfortunately," said Marcellino, "climate change is not high on the mental check list when a consumer chooses a vehicle. This new law will help New York drivers make informed purchase decisions about the vehicles they drive. Our State must be at the forefront of intelligent responses in the fight on global warming, and this is a great first step in the battle."

Environmentalists support the new law. Ashok Gupta, Air and Energy Program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "Using existing technology, we can dramatically reduce greenhouse gases from the transportation sector. A car that gets 20 miles per gallon will emit about 50 tons of carbon dioxide over its lifetime. A car getting 40 miles per gallon will emit half that much."

"Providing this information will show individual consumers how their decisions affect climate change and will allow them to be a part of the solution to reduce greenhouse gases," Gupta said.

California adopted similar regulations earlier this year, which will become effective for the 2009 model year.

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U.S. Spends $5.8 Million to Protect Species in 47 Countries

WASHINGTON, DC, August 7, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will award 105 grants totaling nearly $5.8 million to aid in the conservation of marine turtles, great apes, rhinoceros, tigers, and Asian and African elephants as well as to finance other conservation efforts and education programs in 47 countries on four continents, Director Dale Hall said Friday.

Partners will contribute $8,778,220 in matching funds and in-kind contributions, raising the total to $14.57 million, Hall said.

"Too much of the wildlife on our planet is literally under siege," said Hall. "The high level of interest and participation by our partners is a clear demonstration of public concern."

The grants are awarded through the Service's Wildlife Without Borders Program and the African Elephant, Asian Elephant, Great Apes, Marine Turtle and Rhino/Tiger Conservation Funds.

The funds were established by Congress to provide assistance for conserving species that face poaching, illegal trafficking, human conflict, habitat loss and disease, and to promote education in international communities.

The grants were applauded by the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society, based at the Bronx Zoo.

WWF's Ginette Hemley said almost all of the Service grant funding "goes where it should - to the field."

John Calvelli, senior vice president of public affairs at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the Service's Wildlife Without Borders Africa Regional Program "builds technical capacity in countries that need it the most."

Grants in Latin America and the Caribbean will benefit species such as the jaguar, spectacled bear, Hispaniolan parrot, West Indies whistling duck, golden lion tamarin and all species of marine turtles.

Projects in North America will provide benefits for Ramsar wetland sites of international importance, so named after the city in Iran that hosted a international wetlands treaty conference in 1971.

North American grants will go to the Caddo Lake Ramsar Center in Texas to establish a small grants Ppogram to help the center designate new Ramsar sites in the United States.

Grants in across Africa will benefit biodiversity conservation, surveys, environmental education, applied research, workshops, anti-poaching, community awareness and specific international law enforcement issues, including efforts to curtail bushmeat exploitation in Eastern Africa through community outreach, education and identification of alternative food sources.

African projects will directly benefit chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, African elephants, leatherback marine turtles and both white and black rhinoceros.

Grants in Asia will benefit the recovery of wildlife populations by promoting anti-poaching activities, addressing logging issues, human-animal conflict and by supporting database collection, community outreach and national radio programming that features conservation issues.

Species that will benefit include the Asian elephant, marine turtles, tigers, and black rhinoceros. Projects will cover a large geographic area including China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Nepal, Oman, the Solomon Islands, and Thailand.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.