AmeriScan: December 6, 2006

* * *

First Water in 93 Years Flows Down LA's Lower Owens River

OWENS VALLEY, California, December 6, 2006 (ENS) - Los Angeles and Inyo County officials made history today as they released the first flow of water into the Lower Owens River since the city of Los Angeles began diverting water from it nearly a century ago.

"By opening these gates today, we will demonstrate to the world that the great city of Los Angeles is prepared to own up to its history and that we can thrive in partnership and in balance with our neighbors and with the environment of the Eastern Sierra," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

"Today, I will push a button that will move the waters of the Owens River back into their natural channel to the south," the mayor said. "We are here today because we need to change course. We need to move with these waters."

The Lower Owens River Project, a cooperative effort of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, LADWP, and the County of Inyo, will provide a steady flow of water to 62 miles of the Owens River below the Los Angeles Aqueduct Intake where the river has been dry since the Aqueduct opened in 1913.

From the Aqueduct Intake, water will be released through automated gates, and follow its natural route down to the Delta of Owens Lake just south of Lone Pine.

Additional water will spread into basins at Blackrock and the Owens Lake Delta to create hundreds of acres of wetland habitat and maintain off-river lakes and ponds for waterfowl, shore birds and fisheries.

LADWP Board President David Nahai called the water release a momentous event in the City’s water history and its relations with the residents of Owens Valley, who have been at odds with the City over its water gathering activities since the early 1900s.

"The rejuvenation of the river demonstrates the Board of Water and Power Commissioners’ commitment to enhancing the Owens Valley environment," Nahai said. "But there are many other benefits. We expect the Lower Owens to become a haven for naturalists and outdoor activities such as birding and fishing, and to help boost the local economy. It will also be a remarkable educational opportunity for school kids and scientists alike to watch and study the progress of a major river restoration."

LADWP General Manager Ron Deaton said that once target flow is achieved and the pump station is operating, the LORP is expected to require about 9,000 acre-feet of water per year, worth about $3 million.

"We expect to be able to achieve this flow without impacting the supply of water for Los Angeles," Deaton said. "We will offset the water losses partially through water conservation, which has reached an all-time high in the city, and through additional water purchases."

The city’s successful water conservation efforts are shown by the fact that water usage is approximately the same today as it was 25 years ago, despite a population increase of over one million people, said James McDaniel, chief operating officer of LADWP’s Water System.

LADWP is releasing the first water into the river nearly two months ahead of schedule. Inyo County Superior Court had set deadlines for the LORP implementation requiring flows to begin by January 25, 2007, and the full flow of 40 cubic feet per second by July 25, 2007.

LADWP officials said they expect to meet the target flows before that deadline.

Since beginning the $24 million construction project in January, LADWP crews have built a new water release structure and dredged almost two miles of the river channel near the Los Angeles Aqueduct Intake.

* * *

EPA HQ Now Vets Internal Protests of Wetlands Permits

WASHINGTON, DC, December 6, 2006 (ENS) - Under a new screening procedure, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires prior approval from EPA Headquarters for any objections agency staff may contemplate filing against wetlands destruction permits.

The order is contained in a October 30, 2006 Memorandum for the Field signed by EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles.

The internal directive was released Tuesday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, a national association of employees in natural resources agencies.

Under the new procedure, every EPA protest sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requires prior approval from EPA Headquarters.

All regional offices must now "notify HQ immediately" and provide advance drafts before issuing a letter to the Corps indicating that a pending permit may result in "substantial and unacceptable" impacts to aquatic resources of national importance.

The rationale for this new policy is to "ensure consistency with national program regulations, policies, and goals," Grumbles states in the directive.

"The aim and effect of this policy is to stifle EPA’s own staff from protecting wetlands," said New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a biologist and lawyer formerly with the EPA’s wetland program.

"This new policy puts the final decision in the hands of officials who have never seen the land in question and whose principal interest is political rather than environmental," said Bennett.

Under a 1992 interagency agreement between the EPA and the Corps, the EPA regional wetland program must notify the Corps district office when it believes a proposed permit may violate the wetland protections of the Clean Water Act.

This preliminary warning is called a "3(a) letter" for the numbered paragraph of the interagency agreement to which it refers.

Typically, this type of letter is sent directly from the wetlands program staff without input from the regional administrator, but each EPA region has its own practice.

If the Corps proceeds with the permit despite the 3(a) letter, the regional administrator can send what is called a "3(b) letter" to the Corps District Engineer stating that EPA believes the proposed project will have a substantial and unacceptable impact to aquatic resources of national importance.

If the Corps decides to issue the permit despite the 3(b) letter, it must send a draft copy of the permit to the EPA. At that point the EPA regional office can "elevate" the permit dispute to EPA Headquarters. PEER has documented that this elevation has occurred only 18 times since 1992 when the program began.

"This added layer of scrutiny by [EPA] Headquarters will discourage the regions from trying to elevate cases, or just increase the instances where HQ quashes a regional decision to elevate," Bennett said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has an elevation option similar to that of the EPA, has not objected to a single wetlands destruction permit during the Bush administration. Bennett says this is because the Service is "already under strict controls by political appointees within the Interior Department."

Corps wetlands permitting practices have been criticized in independent reviews by the National Academies of Science and the Governmental Accountability Office for favoring development over conservation.

PEER is now suing the Corps in federal district court to force the Corps to reveal its permitting records since 2003. The suit, filed this spring, is now in a final settlement process.

* * *

Public: Keep Gas Development Away from Utah's White River

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, December 6, 2006 (ENS) - At least 30,000 public comments opposing a plan to drill 50 natural gas wells on federal and state lands south of Utah’s White River have been received in the Vernal field office of the federal Bureau of Land Management, BLM.

Outfitters and conservationists are asking BLM for a comprehensive analysis of the development proposal from Enduring Resources, LLC, of Denver. They want the potential impacts to the natural quiet and beauty of this remote area included in the analysis.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, and The Wilderness Society submitted detailed comments to the BLM over the proposal by Enduring Resources to develop this largely pristine area.

A coalition of local river outfitters, the Outdoor Industry Association, and river conservation groups also submitted comments opposing the project as drafted.

The state of Utah also commented on the project’s potential impacts to air and water quality.

Copies of these comments are available at SUWA’s website: http://www.suwa.org/entry.php?entry_id=792

Stephen Bloch, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said, "As currently planned, this project and others will change the face of the White River for generations and leave a legacy of blighted lands, dirtied skies, and polluted waters."

"We are seriously concerned that paying visitors will begin to choose other places to spend their time and money if the White River continues to be severely impacted by natural gas development." said Amy Roberts, director of government affairs for the Outdoor Industry Association.

In 1999, the BLM recognized that much of the White River and nearby lands within the proposed project area were wilderness quality and designated the "White River wilderness inventory area."

"The area’s scenic beauty is exceptional," BLM wrote then. "The deep canyons, high ridges, cliffs, and unique geologic features create spectacular vistas."

Plans to designate this area as wilderness were abandoned in 2003 after what conservationists call the "No More Wilderness" settlement between then Interior Secretary Gale Norton and then Utah Governor Mike Leavitt was signed. Conservationists have challenged that settlement in federal court.

At the same time that it is reviewing the Enduring Resources proposal, the BLM's Vernal Field Office is also considering whether to protect the larger White River area by recommending the river for designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and designating the area as an "area of critical environmental concern."

These protections will likely not be implemented if the Enduring project is approved and completed.

The conservationists say Utah has over 4.1 million acres of BLM lands that have been leased for oil and gas development but less than one million acres in production so there is no need to open new, wilderness quality lands to leasing.

BLM officials have not said when or how they will announce a decision regarding the Enduring Resources proposal.

* * *

Endangered Species Conservation Grant Proposals Welcome

WASHINGTON, DC, December 6, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking proposals from states and territories who want federal grant assistance to acquire land or plan for endangered species conservation under the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund.

For fiscal year 2007, President George W. Bush has requested a budget of $80 million in grant funding for conservation planning activities and habitat acquisition for federally protected species.

Proposals for Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund grants must be submitted to the appropriate Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Offices by February 7, 2007.

"Providing grants to our state partners is one of the most important tools we have to conserve imperiled species," said Service Director Dale Hall.

"These grants enable states to build partnerships with local communities and private landowners to support voluntary stewardship efforts for wildlife conservation nationwide," he said.

The Service is seeking proposals under three Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund categories:

By law, the state or territory must have a current cooperative agreement with the Service and contribute 25 percent of the estimated program costs of approved projects, or 10 percent when two or more states or territories undertake a joint project. The grants are expected to be awarded during summer 2007.

For more information about these grants and grant application requirements contact: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Consultation, Habitat Conservation Planning, Recovery and State Grants, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 420, Arlington, VA 22203, 703-358-2106. Visit: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/grants/

* * *

$1.7 Million in Federal Funds for New Jersey Trails

TRENTON, New Jersey, December 6, 2006 (ENS) - More than $1.7 million in federal grant money has been designated to maintain and improve trails in New Jersey.

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson said today, "These funds will improve access to ever-expanding networks of trails throughout New Jersey, including nature trails, trails in urban parks, handicapped-accessible trails and canoe trails. The direct beneficiaries of this money are our many residents and visitors who enjoy the outdoors."

More than $730,000 from the federal Highway Administration's Recreational Trails Program has already been approved for 40 trail projects.

The 40 projects were recommended for funding by the New Jersey Trails Council and approved by the Highway Administration.

In the coming year, the DEP will administer $1 million in competitive grants for groups that operate and maintain trails. Recipients are required to provide 20 percent matching money for each project.

Some projects already approved for funding include a $21,400 grant to the Morris County Park Commission to develop a link in the countywide Patriots' Path trail system.

In Burlington County, Rancocas State Park will use $25,000 to provide canoe and kayak access to the South Branch of Rancocas Creek.

Sayreville Borough has partnered with various agencies to receive $25,000 to develop and improve trails in and around the Julian Capik Nature Preserve.

Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Atlantic County was awarded $14,505 to make two trails accessible to handicapped persons.

The non-profit Groundwork Elizabeth Inc. is being provided $25,000 for trail improvements including educational signage as part of their Elizabeth River Trail Project.

The DEP will reserve money from the federal grant program for the development of future motorized trail projects.

The DEP's Office of Natural Lands Management administers the program. The Trails Council is made up of representatives from hiking, mountain biking, motorized trail use, canoeing/kayaking and horseback riding interest groups, as well as several general trail advocates and representatives from state government.

Government agencies and non-profit organizations have until December 15, to apply for the 2007 funding. Contact the DEP Trails Program at (609) 984-1339 or go to http://www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/natural/njtrails.html.

* * *

Victoria's Secret Catalogs Go Green

SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 6, 2006 (ENS) - Limited Brands, parent company of lingerie retailer Victoria's Secret, announced today that it will no longer source pulp for its catalogs from some environmentally sensitive areas of western Canada and will phase out its use of pulp from endangered forests.

The commitment comes after a three year campaign by the conservation group ForestEthics to transform the paper sourcing habits of catalog industry in general and a two year campaign to change the practices of Limited Brands in particular.

"We consider environmental stewardship to be an essential part of our values, and we're proud to take a leadership role," said Tom Katzenmeyer, senior vice president of community and philanthropy for Limited Brands.

Limited Brands also has promised to phase out of sourcing pulp for its catalogs from endangered forests, and has agreed to devote $1 million to research and advocacy to protect endangered forests.

During 2007, the company will shift its catalogs to either 10 percent post consumer waste or at least 10 percent wood pulp certified sustainably grown and harvested by the Forest Stewardship Council.

"At ForestEthics, we pride ourselves on running some of the most hard-hitting, aggressive public campaigns out there, but there's nothing I like better than congratulating a company when they've done the right thing," said Todd Paglia, executive director of ForestEthics.

"The steps they've taken make up one of the strongest environmental policies to result from a corporate campaign, and we applaud them for it," said Paglia. "They've set a new standard, one that we expect other major catalog companies to meet or exceed."

Limited Brands will partner with its primary paper supplier to eliminate all pulp supplied from the boreal forest in Alberta's Rocky Mountain Foothills and from the inland temperate rainforest of British Columbia.

The boreal, or northern, forest is critical habitat for many species, including endangered woodland caribou and half of North America's songbirds, and provides $93.2 billion a year in ecosystem services like air and water filtration, says ForestEthics.

Currently, the boreal forest is being logged at a rate of two acres per minute, 24 hours a day, and paper production accounts for nearly half of that logging, the advocacy group says.

The Forest Products Association of Canada said ForestEthics has pressured Limited Brands into adopting a policy that discriminates against more than 300 forestry dependent communities across Canada.

"It is unfortunate that ForestEthics has decided to present a very simplistic and biased version of the issue, association president Avrim Lazar said in a statement.

Lazar said association members are collaborating with environmental and conservation groups to protect and restore sensitive habitats and managing for endangered species where they exist.

* * *