AmeriScan: August 20, 2007

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President Bush Promotes Hunting on Public Lands

WASHINGTON, DC, August 20, 2007 (ENS) - President George W. Bush issued an Executive Order Friday directing federal land management agencies to encourage hunting on public lands.

The Order directs the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture, among others, to "evaluate the effect of agency actions on trends in hunting participation and, where appropriate to address declining trends, implement actions that expand and enhance hunting opportunities for the public."

Agencies must consider the economic and recreational values of hunting in agency actions, and they must consider hunting in wildlife management planning.

Federal agencies are directed to work state governments "to foster healthy and productive populations of game species and appropriate opportunities for the public to hunt those species."

The agencies are ordered to take into account planning efforts such as State Wildlife Action Plans, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, and other range-wide management plans for big game and upland game birds.

They are ordered to seek the advice of state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies, and consult with the 12 member Sporting Conservation Council, a federal advisory committee for the sporting and conservation community with members from the National Rifle Association, Safari Club International and other big game hunting and game bird hunting organizations.

The chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, CEQ, is ordered to organize a White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy that will create a comprehensive Recreational Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Plan that sets forth a 10 year agenda for fulfilling these goals.

Bush ordered the "appropriate Federal agencies ... in consultation with the Sporting Conservation Council, and in cooperation with State and tribal fish and wildlife agencies" to consult on the hunting plan which must be issued no later than one year after the conference concludes.

While the order does not overturn any conservation laws, it establishes a preference for hunting at the expense of all other activities in the administration of federal lands, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, a nationwide association of government workers in natural resources agencies.

"This is political meddling posing as a conservation policy," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "This order reads like it was written by a lobbyist."

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Heat Wave Claims 49 Lives

MEMPHIS, Tennessee, August 20, 2007 (ENS) - With temperatures soaring into the triple digits for nine days in a row, health authorities in Memphis reported two more heat-related deaths, bringing the toll in the Southeast and Midwest to at least 49 since the heat wave started earlier this month.

In Memphis, the heat has been named as a contributing factor in 12 deaths during the nine days of temperatures over 100 degrees.

"In extremely high temperatures, heat-related illness and death are common, yet preventable. I cannot stress enough the importance of protecting yourself and those you love from prolonged exposure. This is a life or death issue," said Tennessee Health Commissioner Susan Cooper, MSN, RN. "With temperatures 100 degrees or higher, the very young, the elderly and those with specific pre-existing health issues are at greater risk."

While temperatures in Memphis fell below 100 today and are predicted to stay in the '90s on Tuesday, the mercury is forecast to rise above 100 again later in the week, according to the National Weather Service.

The Alabama Department of Public Health has received reports of eight heat related deaths between August 10 and 17 with one additional case under investigation.

Dr. Donald Williamson, state health officer, said, "We are most concerned with individuals living in homes without air conditioning. We ask the public to contact elderly friends and family to make arrangements to assist them."

During the heat of the day individuals should not over-exert themselves and should take frequent breaks in an air-conditioned area, advises Williamson. Drink more fluids, and avoid beverages containing alcohol or caffeine. Take cool showers or baths, and reduce or eliminate strenuous activities. Never leave pets or people in a parked vehicle.

Each year, heat causes about 400 deaths across the nation according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last summer, a heat wave claimed the lives of at least 50 people in the East and Midwest. California officially reported a death toll of 143, but authorities last month admitted the number may have been far higher.

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Idaho Governor Declares Fire Emergency

BOISE, Idaho, August 20, 2007 (ENS) - With more counties across Idaho affected by wildfires almost daily, Governor Butch Otter issued a statewide "disaster emergency" declaration today.

The declaration came at the request of the state Bureau of Homeland Security, which cited the growing risk to life and property as a result of uncontrolled wildfires. The state of disaster will remain in place for 30 days unless terminated, changed or extended for another 30 day period.

The declaration authorizes the use of state government resources to assist in efforts to respond to wildfire threats where they occur anywhere in Idaho.

"We still have a lot of fire season ahead of us, and I want local and state folks to have all the help they need in protecting lives and property," Governor Otter said. "Wildfires might not be close at hand for all of us, but we all have a stake in protecting our fellow Idahoans from the threat."

The governors of Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming agreed earlier this month to sign a memorandum of understanding and appoint a multi-state, multi-disciplinary working group to more effectively address wildfire suppression, prevention and rehabilitation.

Gathering in Boise, Idaho Governor Otter met with Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons and Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal joined the conference by telephone.

The focus was on being more active and cooperating more closely on managing public lands within the four states in ways that reduce the risk of the kind of catastrophic wildfires charring millions of acres of rangeland and forests this summer, destroying property and endangering lives.

A "broad-based" memorandum on shared problems, opportunities and goals will be drafted cooperatively and agreement is expected within the next day or two.

Meanwhile, the governors will appoint experts in agriculture, range management, wildlife habitat, firefighting, emergency response and other disciplines from each state to participate in a working group charged with finding more effective ways to leverage state and federal resources.

Wildland fires remain active throughout the western states. Montana and Idaho remain the most active with 31 large fires burning a total of 1,137,717 acres.

One of the largest is the lightning-sparked wildfire in Idaho's Payette National Forest that has charred more than 202,900 acres since it started July 6. Sunday was a quiet day for the 544 firefighers here due to cooler temperatures, rain, and higher relative humidities. Even so, fuels are very dry, fire managers say, and the fire in extremely rough terrain is only 10 percent contained.

A complex of fires on the Boise National Forest has covered 158,000 acres in difficult terrain. Powerlines located between Scott Valley and Yellow Pine have been shut down until further notice for firefighter safety, and this fire is just 11 percent contained.

Firefighters can expect some more help from cooler weather and less wind and a few showers today in Idaho and Montana.

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Floods Inundate Oklahoma, Wisconsin

OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma, August 20, 2007 (ENS) - Heavy rains and powerful winds generated by the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin battered the state of Oklahoma on the weekend. At the peak of the storm early Sunday, about 25,000 customers of Oklahoma Gas and Electric, mostly in the Oklahoma City area, were without power.

The Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office confirms two disaster related fatalities and three additional highway deaths are blamed on the flooding. At least two people were injured in Watonga, Oklahoma where straight-line winds damaged several mobile homes.

A Caddo County Emergency Management spokesman says hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes in Apache, Fort Cobb and Carnegie after the Washita River flooded its banks.

In Kingfisher, officials have recovered all known stranded residents and are going door to door, making contact with all citizens to inquire about their health and welfare. The American Red Cross has opened the shelters to assist those displaced by the storms:

Flood conditions forced closure of Interstate 40 near El Reno. The interstate was shut down for several hours, and several people were rescued from vehicles swept off the roadway.

Governor Brad Henry today visited communities impacted by flooding and strong winds over the weekend. The survey included an aerial tour of damage in a National Guard helicopter and a ground tour in Kingfisher. The governor was accompanied by Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management Executive Director Albert Ashwood.

The governor spoke to business owners in downtown Kingfisher, where floodwaters have receded and residents have started on the task of cleaning up.

"The resilience of Oklahomans is truly amazing," Henry said. "Business owners are already mopping up the mess, and neighbors are helping one another in an effort to clean up the community and begin the process of recovery."

In Wisconsin, Governor Jim Doyle today declared a state of emergency for three counties in the southwestern part of the state in response to thunderstorms that dumped 10 to 12 inches of rain in Crawford, Richland, and Vernon counties Saturday and Sunday producing widespread flooding in the area, washing out or closing roads and bridges. Power lines and trees are also down. There are no reports of injuries or fatalities at this time.

Five dams in Vernon County are overflowing into emergency spillways. The Department of Natural Resources is concerned about erosion at the Runge Hollow and Seas Branch dams. The Vernon County Emergency Management is evacuating areas downstream of both dams and is advising everyone to stay out of the areas around those two dams.

The governor authorized activation of the Wisconsin National Guard, ordered the Wisconsin Emergency Management to lead the state's emergency response efforts, and directed all state agencies to help local communities recover from this natural disaster.

"I know that I speak on behalf of all the people of Wisconsin when I say that my thoughts and prayers are with the families whose lives have been badly affected by these major storms," Governor Doyle said. "We are using all of our capabilities to quickly respond to this emergency, and we will continue to do everything possible to make sure the people and communities affected get the help they need to make a quick recovery."

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Lake Superior Nears Record Low Level for August

ANN ARBOR, Michigan, August 20, 2007 (ENS) - Hydrologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOOA, indicate that Lake Superior is nearing a level that is lower than at any time in the month of August since recordkeeping began in 1860.

NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory is able to forecast lake levels 12 months in advance using current hydrological conditions combined with NOAA's long-term climate outlooks. If continued, the trend could break past record lows for the months of September and October, the scientists said.

"Lake Superior is less than six centimeters higher than its August record low of 182.97 meters which was set in 1926, and it looks as though the water levels may continue to plunge," said Cynthia Sellinger, deputy director of NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.

"NOAA's lake level forecasts predict that there is a 15 to 20 percent probability that new monthly records will be set sometime this fall," Sellinger said.

On August 16, the level of Lake Superior was 183.028 meters.

Lake Superior's record low of 182.69 meters was set in April 1926, the same year the lake reached an averaged annual record low of 182.90 meters as a result of a major climatic event that led to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

Sellinger said that dramatic water level changes are generally caused by major climatic events. This includes the record high lake levels in the 1980s because of extreme rainfall, as well as the most recent drop in lake levels that were partially caused by the strong La Niņa event in 1998 that affected the jet stream through the Great Lakes area and led to extreme droughts.

The Great Lakes region has been experiencing warmer winters since 1997, and the combination of warmer air temperatures and less ice cover leads to increased evaporation rates during the winter. Also, with less snow pack, there is less spring runoff to replenish the lakes.

The level of the water in Lake Superior has dropped two feet during the last decade, causing a ripple effect in the recreational industries that support the Great Lakes economy.

The Great Lakes $16 billion recreation boating industry and the $4 billion sports fishing industry are feeling the effects of lower water levels. With marinas either dredging, relocating, or closing down completely, boaters are having a hard time launching boats, as well as navigating shallow waters and trying to use docks that were built when water levels were two feet higher.

Lower water levels mean more dredging and less cargo for the shipping industries that rely on the Great Lakes waterway as an essential route from Africa, Europe, and Asia to ports like Montreal, Detroit, and Duluth.

On average, for every inch of low water levels, cargo ships must reduce their load by 50 to 270 tons, providing less cargo for the same amount of shipping time, NOAA says..

For every inch Lake Superior drops, 529 billion gallons of water are displaced. In the past decade, 12.7 trillion gallons of water have left Lake Superior.

Lake Superior, with a surface area of 31,700 square miles, is second in area only to the Caspian Sea, and is larger than the combined areas of Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.

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Gene Mutation Turned West Nile Virus Into Killer Disease

DAVIS, California, August 20, 2007 (ENS) - A gene mutation that appears to be responsible for changing relatively mild forms of the West Nile virus into a highly virulent and deadly disease in American crows has been identified by U.S. government and university scientists.

Because it is susceptible to the West Nile virus, the American crow has served as the major sentinel species, playing an important role in alerting scientists and health professionals to the movement of the disease across North America.

Studies have found that deaths of American crows due to West Nile virus are associated with higher rates of infection among mosquito populations and clusters of the disease in humans. This year to date 444 people have been stricken with West Nile virus, and 15 of them have died.

"The findings from this study highlight the potential for viruses like West Nile to rapidly adapt to changing environments when introduced to new geographic regions," said Aaron Brault, a virologist at the Center for Vectorborne Diseases in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology of the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

"The study also suggests that the genetic mutations that create such adaptive changes may result in viral strains that have unexpected symptoms and patterns of transmission," Brault said.

West Nile virus, which is passed back and forth between birds and mosquitoes and transmitted to humans via mosquito bites, was first identified in 1937 in Uganda.

Although it was recognized as a cause of severe encephalitis, inflammation of the brain, and meningitis, inflammation of the spinal cord, during a 1957 outbreak in Israel, the virus has been associated with mild infections accompanied by fevers in humans in Africa and the Middle East.

In 1999, the virus was first recognized in North America and has since been reported in humans, birds, horses and mosquitoes in Canada and in all of the lower 48 U.S. states.

Although scientists and health professionals have described how West Nile virus spreads through both human and animal populations in North America, it has been unclear how the virus causes such serious disease in birds, particularly the American crow.

To find out, the research team looked to the genetic makeup of the virus. They analyzed the evolutionary relationships of the West Nile virus genomes, or entire collections of genes, for 21 different strains of West Nile viruses that had been sampled globally, including strains from North America.

Analysis of genetic patterns indicated a disproportionate rate of change at a particular amino acid within one of the viral genes.

Onto this genome "tree" for the various strains of West Nile virus, the scientists mapped the mutational changes in this same gene region. They found that the same amino acid change had occurred three times and that each time the resulting virus had been associated with human disease outbreaks.

"It appears that the naturally occurring changes in the amino acids at this particular gene site have played an important role in increasing the virulence of West Nile virus in birds before it appeared in North America," Brault said.

"These data indicate how much West Nile virus relies on replicating to high levels in birds for efficient transmission of the virus, potentially leading to human disease outbreaks," he said.

The study is reported in the current issue of the journal "Nature Genetics." Funding for the study was provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, the National Institutes of Health and the Pacific Southwest Regional Center for Excellence.

Four of the paper's co-authors work with the CDC's Division of Vector-borne Infectious Diseases, National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-borne and Enteric Diseases, Coordinating Center for Infectious Diseases.

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Mattel Sued to Fund Lead Testing for Kids with Recalled Toys

LOS ANGELES, California, August 20, 2007 (ENS) - The attorney whose lawsuit prompted a recall of defective Chinese tires is going after the world's largest toy company for lead paint in some of the company's toys made in China.

Jeffrey Killino, of the Philadelphia firm of Woloshin & Killino, is filing a class action lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court today to compel toy giant Mattel to pay for the testing of children who may have been poisoned by lead in toys recalled by the company earlier this month.

On August 14, Mattel recalled "Sarge" die-cast vehicles from its "CARS" line based on the animated film of the same name that had been painted with lead paint and offered replacement products to consumers.

A total of 436,000 "Sarge" cars are being recalled, including 253,000 in the United States and 183,000 outside the country, that were made between May and July 2007.

"Recalling the toys is only a first step," Killino said. "Replacing them costs Mattel pennies. If Mattel is really concerned about the safety of children, then it should address the root of the issue - determining how many children were affected by these poisoned toys so that they can get immediate treatment. Only then can parents have true peace of mind."

Mattel says the company has a program in place to provide consumers with a voucher for toys affected by the recall. Mattel is establishing a program to handle toys returned under the recall in an environmentally appropriate way.

The "Sarge" car toy recall follows the August 1 recall of 976,000 toys from Mattel's Fisher-Price division produced by Early Light Industrial Co., Ltd, one of Mattel's Chinese contractors. Mattel says that Early Light subcontracted the painting of parts of the toy to another vendor, Hon Li Da, also in China, which used paint containing impermissible levels of lead.

Lead poisoning can affect nearly every system in the body, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances, which says, "Because lead poisoning often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized. Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and, at very high levels, seizures, coma, and even death."

"Lead is toxic to the developing bodies and brains of children under the age of seven," said Killino. "Even small amounts of lead can cause irreversible injuries, including learning disabilities, brain damage, neuropsychological deficits, hyperactive behavior, which may not appear until many years after the exposure."

Killino has advocated for consumers affected by substandard Chinese products in the past. In June, a death and injury lawsuit he filed on behalf of three victims of a rollover crash caused by a defective Chinese-made tire prompted U.S. tire importer and distributor, Foreign Tire Sales, to ask the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for help in recalling nearly half a million Chinese-made light truck tires.

When Foreign Tire Sales said that it could not afford to collect, replace and dispose of the tires, Killino filed a class action suit on behalf of affected consumers. Eventually, FTS agreed to recall some of the tires.

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