Conservationists Move to Block Tongass LoggingJUNEAU, Alaska,
December 10, 2003 (ENS) - Conservation groups filed a lawsuit today challenging the U.S. Forest Service's management plan for Alaska's Tongass National Forest and six timber sales in roadless areas of the forest.
According to the groups, the logging plans are just the beginning of an upcoming Bush administration assault on the roadless areas of the Tongass, and violate federal laws protecting wildlife and other values of the national forests.
"The Forest Service is misleading the American public, putting wildlife and habitat at risk, and violating its own regulations with these timber sales," said Nicole Whittington Evans, Alaska assistant regional director for The Wilderness Society. "We can not stand by and let the Forest Service give these resources away."
The groups said the plans violate laws requiring full public disclosure of impacts, and that the Forest Service has failed to heed the findings of government science panels showing that wildlife populations would be put at risk by high levels of clearcut logging in key habitat.
The lawsuit comes as the Bush administration is preparing to finalize a proposal to remove the Tongass from the protections of the Clinton- era roadless rule, which prohibits bans road building within some 58 million acres - or one third - of the national forests for commercial activities.
A settlement brokered by the Bush administration with the state of Alaska over its challenge to the rule also commits the Forest Service to the 1997 Tongass Management Plan and to opening some 300,000 acres to logging.
"The 1997 Tongass plan ignored key recommendations by a prestigious panel of wildlife scientists," said Dr. John Schoen, senior scientist for Audubon Alaska. "Protecting the forest's remaining stands of largest old-growth trees is essential for maintaining healthy fish and wildlife populations in the Tongass."
The Tongass is considered by many to be the crown jewel of the national forest system. Designated a national forest in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt, it is the largest U.S. national forest and the largest remaining temperate rainforest on Earth.
The forest consists of old growth spruce, cedar and hemlock trees and provides critical habitat for wolves, grizzly bears, wild salmon, bald eagles and other wildlife that have disappeared from other parts of the country.
But much of the Tongass National Forest is not forest. Two thirds is rock, ice, wet lands and scrub timber.
Of the 5.7 million acres of the Tongass that contain commercial forests, only 2.3 million acres are protected by law.
Over the past half century, the Tongass has lost a million acres of old-growth forest to clearcut logging and the construction of more than 4,650 access roads.
According to the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, these roads and timber sales have been subsidized by $30 million taxpayer dollars each year.
Critics of the Bush policies say it is tourism and recreation within the Tongass - not logging -that drives the local economy.
"Today the timber industry in Southeast Alaska is dwarfed by the main economic drivers of commercial fishing, tourism and recreation, government and health care," said Aurah Landau, community organizer with Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. "With attempts to dramatically increase Tongass logging, the Forest Service is looking backwards and ignoring the region's economic needs. More clearcuts only give us damaged forests, displaced non-timber businesses, and declining wildlife populations,"
The suit was filed by lawyers from Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice on behalf of the NRDC, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, National Audubon Society, and Center for Biological Diversity.
Supporters Celebrate Endangered Species ActWASHINGTON, DC,
December 10, 2003 (ENS) - The Endangered Species Act turns 30 years old later this month and supporters are keen to highlight the success of the law.
"Without this law, there might not be a single bald eagle or peregrine falcon in our skies. No manatees or cut throat trout in our waters, and no gray wolves or grizzly bears in our forests, " Congressman John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, told reporters at a rally Tuesday celebrating the law.
"This monumental legislation has, quite literally, saved our natural heritage while allowing the US economy to grow at record rates," said Dingell, who helped author the bill.
Signed into law on December 28, 1973 by President Richard Nixon, the Endangered Species Act has served as a model for species and habitat protection throughout the world.
Dingell sponsored the legislation in the House where it passed by a vote of 391 to 12 - it passed the Senate by a vote of 92 to 0.
The calls on the Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the National Marine Fisheries Service, to list animals and plant species that are endangered or threatened, designate critical habitat and develop species recovery plans.
The law is something to be proud of, said Representative Norm Dicks, a Washington Democrat, who joined Dingell and a slew of conservation groups at the rally.
"From this vantage point, thirty years after its passage, the achievements and the limitations of the ESA are clearly visible," said Dicks, the senior Democrat on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. "What is also abundantly clear to those of us who were here when the Act was first passed is how far sighted the original legislation was and how much better off we are today with its protections in place."
Conservationists say the law has been a resounding success - some 1,250 species are afforded protection by the ESA.
But Bush administration officials say the law is "broken" and in need of a major overhaul.
The administration's polices reflect the view held by some developers and many natural resource extraction companies that the ESA is too rigid, is not working to keep species from becoming imperiled and is being used by environmentalists to challenge development of public lands.
The Bush administration is the first in the history of the law not to have listed any species - or designated any critical habitat - except under court order.
Employee Survey Finds Politics at Play at EPAWASHINGTON, DC,
December 10, 2003 (ENS) - Employees within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say the agency faces unprecedented political pressure, according to a survey released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The survey, conducted among employees of EPA's Rocky Mountain Region, also faults the honesty of agency public statements and reveals a deep fear of retaliation, in particular among managers and supervisors.
"In the trenches at EPA, both junior and senior staff see science becoming secondary to servicing industry, especially the energy industry," said Chandra Rosenthal, director of PEER's Rocky Mountain chapter. "Politics now plays a preeminent role in day-to-day work at EPA."
The Rocky Mountain Region (Region 8) of EPA covers six states: Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and the Dakotas.
PEER developed survey questions with EPA employees and mailed out questionnaires to all staff in the region - of the 675 surveys sent, 154 - 23 percent - were returned.
The government watchdog group says the strongest reaction by survey respondents was concern about political interference with environmental decision making, with more than three in four saying that politics are shaping agency actions more than they did five years ago.
More than half think that promoting the President's energy plan and other initiatives has become "more important" than environmental protection.
When asked to respond to the statement "I am hesitant to perform controversial aspects of my job for fear of retaliation" nearly one third of all employees say they are. And 42 percent of managers and supervisors responding acknowledge fear of retaliation for doing their jobs.
Survey respondents questioned the truthfulness of agency statements both to the public and internally to staff and raised concerns about a lack of consistent enforcement decisions.
The findings come in the wake of analysis of agency documents by Knight Ridder reporter Seth Borenstein that revealed enforcement of federal environmental laws has plummeted since President George W. Bush took office.
Panel Eyes Thyroid Risk for Communities Near Nuclear PlantsWASHINGTON, DC,
December 10, 2003 (ENS) - Potassium iodide pills should be available to everyone age 40 or younger living near a nuclear power plant, according to a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council.
The recommendation rests on evidence that potassium iodide can prevent thyroid cancer caused by exposure to radioactive iodine - a compound that could be released during a severe accident at a nuclear power plant.
For potassium iodide to be most effective, it must be taken within a few hours before or after exposure to radioactive iodine, the report says.
Fetuses, infants, and children are more biologically sensitive than adults to radioactive iodine, the panelists noted, and so infants, children, and pregnant and lactating women are considered to have the most need for potassium iodide pills if exposure to radioactive iodine is likely.
The pills are not recommended for people over 40 because epidemiological studies have not demonstrated a risk of radiation induced thyroid cancer in this age group, the panel reported, while their risk of side effects from potassium iodide is higher.
Federal experts first recommended distribution of potassium iodide pills to citizens near nuclear power plants following the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979. The nuclear industry resisted for fear the move would raise concerns about nuclear safety, but concerns in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks have renewed interest in the plan.
The report was praised by Congressman Ed Markey, who mandated the study through an amendment bioterrorism legislation enacted by Congress in 2002.
Markey's amendment authorizes federal funding to provide pills to protect populations living within 20 miles of the nation's 104 nuclear power plants.
"I think it is time for the 12 states that have nuclear power plants within their borders but still do not distribute potassium iodide to their citizens to change course immediately," Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat said.
According to the panel's report, these 12 states are Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.
The panel found that 17 states with nuclear power plants within or near their borders currently have programs in place for predistribution of potassium iodide to the general population, while four have stockpiles.
The report calls on states and municipalities to decide how to stockpile, distribute, and administer potassium iodide tablets, but recommends that federal agencies keep a backup supply and be prepared to distribute it to affected areas in the event of a nuclear incident.
"Because conditions at nuclear power plants vary so much, it must be up to local planning agencies to determine the appropriate distribution strategy and areas in which to dispense potassium iodide," said committee chair David Tollerud, a professor at the University of Louisville.
The panel said the U.S. government also should provide financial support to help states implement plans for distributing potassium iodide. And because potassium iodide pills keep for a long time if stored properly, it recommends that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should consider extending the allowable shelf life of tablets being amassed for an emergency.
Army Corps Sued Over Mississippi River PlanWASHINGTON, DC,
December 10, 2003 (ENS) - A lawsuit filed today in federal district court alleges that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers economic study used justify building new locks throughout the entire Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway system does not meet legal standards and must be withdrawn.
The suit, filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) contends that the Corps is using biased economic models in violation of the Data Quality Act to support its proposal.
The federal law requires each federal agency to ensure "the quality, objectivity and integrity of information" it disseminates to the public.
On August 20, 2003, PEER filed a complaint that the Corps is relying upon non reviewed, proprietary economic models that were not objective. The Corps failed to respond to PEER's complain and the organization believes it has no other recourse than the courts.
Top Bush administration officials are now reviewing a controversial multi-billion dollar Corps plan with a decision expected later this week.
The suit adds to controversy over the proposal for an estimated $2.5 billion in new construction to accommodate barge traffic on the Upper Mississippi River and the Illinois Waterway.
In 2000, the Corps economist for the project, Dr. Donald Sweeney, filed a whistleblower disclosure saying top commanders had altered key numbers in an effort to "cook the books" so that the project would appear justified.
A Pentagon investigation upheld the whistleblower and two generals were disciplined.
In the wake of that scandal, the Corps announced a "restructured" study, but PEER says that at the heart of the restructured study are economic models that have previously been criticized by the National Academy of Sciences and Office of Management and Budget.
"The Upper Mississippi lock expansion is a case of twice cooked pork," said PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer. "The economic models the Corps insists on using are more than thirty years old and are designed to support the economic necessity of every project no matter how ludicrous."
Georgia Blasted For Red Top Mountain Deer HuntRED TOP MOUNTAIN, Georgia,
December 10, 2003 (ENS) - An animal protection group is urging Georgia state officials to cancel a plan to thin the deer herd in Red Top Mountain State Park.
Officials with Georgia's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) plan to lay out piles of corn to lure deer into the open and into the sights of sharpshooters, with the aim of killing more than 100 deer and injecting some surviving animals with a contraceptive.
In a letter sent Tuesday DNR Commissioner Lonice Barrett, The Fund for Animals called the plan "inhumane, unnecessary and ineffective."
The national animal rights group believes the plan is a ploy to allow hunting in Georgia's state parks under the "guise of 'environmental protection.'"
"Georgia's large deer population is a direct result of the DNR's policies of creating a large herd for hunters to kill," said Heidi Prescott, National director of The Fund for Animals. "Now they are telling the people of Georgia that hunting will alleviate a situation that hunting created in the first place."
But Georgia state officials are convinced the plan is needed to thin a herd many agree is above the carrying capacity of the park.
State biologists estimate there are some 400 deer in the 1,428 acre state park - roughly nine times more than is sustainable. The deer have left little forage left in the forest and biologists have evidence some of the deer are undernourished and infected with parasites.
State officials say deer are forced to forage on roadsides, causing approximately 40 deer to collide with cars each year.
"Watching deer is part of what makes Red Top Mountain special and visitors will still be able to see them," said State Park Director Becky Kelley, "However, with a more natural herd size, the deer will be much healthier and have plenty of food to sustain themselves. As a result, we will be able to repair the park's damaged ecosystem."
Interior Doles Out $17 Million for Coastal WetlandsWASHINGTON, DC,
December 10, 2003 (ENS) - The Interior Department will award $17 million in grants to 10 states to conserve, restore and protect coastal wetlands. The grants, which are awarded through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant program, provide funding for 20 projects.
"If conservation is going to succeed in the 21st century, it must be a partnership between the American people and the government," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton. "The National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant program has a proven track record of working with states, communities and private landowners to ensure our nations natural resources are passed on to future generations. This is the focus of the Administration's environmental policy. "
The states receiving the grants are: Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
The Fish and Wildlife Service makes yearly matching grants to coastal states and U.S. territories for projects involving the acquisition, restoration or enhancement of coastal wetlands for the benefit of wildlife and habitat.
The grants will be supplemented by more than $42 million from state and private partners.
Partners in this year's Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grants projects include state natural resources agencies, Native American tribes and trusts, county and local governments, private landowners, and conservation groups such as Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy.
To date, the Service has awarded more than $139 million in grants to 25 states and one U.S. territory under the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program.
The federal agency reports that when the 2004 grants projects are complete, they will have protected and restored more than 19,000 acres.
Some 167,000 acres will have been protected or restored since the wetlands grant program began in 1990.
Whooping Cranes Complete Winter MigrationCHASSAHOWITZKA, Florida,
December 10, 2003 (ENS) - A crowd of more than 1,000 people gathered Monday in the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge along Florida's central Gulf Coast to greet 16 whooping cranes at the tail end of their 1,225 mile winter migration.
The endangered birds followed three ultralight aircraft from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin to the Florida refuge.
"We are pleased that both the cranes and crew arrived safely," said Jim Kraus, project leader at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. "Our staff and volunteers have worked very hard to get the cranes' pen site ready, and now that they are here we can all breathe a little easier."
The project is the work of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, an international coalition of public and private organizations determined to return this highly imperiled species to its historic range in eastern North America.
The 16 cranes left Necedah, Wisconsin, on October 16, following ultralight aircraft flown by Operation Migration, Inc., pilots. International Crane Foundation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists will monitor their winter behavior and track them on their anticipated spring migration north in 2004.
This is the third time whooping cranes made this unique assisted migration from Wisconsin to Florida.
All but two of the 20 cranes from the ultralight-led migration classes of 2001 and 2002 have completed their own unassisted southward migrations.
The transmitters on the two missing cranes are malfunctioning.
The whooping crane chicks that take part in the reintroduction project are hatched at the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland where they are introduced to ultralight aircraft and raised in isolation from humans.
To ensure the impressionable cranes remain wild, project biologists and pilots adhere to a strict no talking rule, broadcast recorded crane calls and wear costumes designed to mask the human form whenever they are around the cranes.
Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s, and today, only about 300 cranes live in the wild.
Aside from the 20 Wisconsin-Florida birds, the only other migrating population of whooping cranes nests in northwest Canada and winters at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast.
A non-migrating flock of approximately 100 birds lives year round in the central Florida Kissimmee region.
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