AmeriScan: February 1, 1999


Environmentalists saw a new imperative for rainforest preservation today when AIDS scientists announced a study proving the source of human immunodificiency virus Type 1 (HIV-1), the virus that causes AIDS in humans, to be a subspecies of chimpanzees native to old growth rainforests of Cameroon and Gabon now threatened by logging. The scientific study was presented at the 6th Conference on Retrovirus and Opportunistic Infections by University of Alabama Birmingham scientist Dr. Beatrice Hahn. Chimpanzees, including the source subspecies for HIV-1, are identical to humans in 98 percent of their genetic makeup, yet appear to be resistant to the damaging effects of the AIDS virus on their immune system. Scientists may be able to obtain important clues to develop cures and treatments for AIDS by studying the biological differences, and the ecology of the chimpanzees' rainforest home if they can get there before the logging trucks. The chimpanzees are at risk of being wiped out by the bushmeat trade. Increased logging activities in Cameroon and Gabon have provided new access to remote forest regions, and have led to the killing of thousands of chimpanzees, gorillas and monkeys for human consumption. Dr. Hahn believes that HIV-1 was introduced into the human population through exposure to blood during hunting and field-dressing of these animals.

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President Bill Clinton is proposing a record $1.58 billion budget for the Interior Department's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Fiscal Year 2000, including $950 million, an 18-percent increase, in appropriated funding to support the National Wildlife Refuge System and the Service's migratory bird, fisheries, land acquisition, endangered species, construction, and other conservation programs. On the ocean side, the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has requested a budget of $2.5 billion for fiscal year 2000, a 13 percent increase of about $290 million over the current appropriation. The increase is slated to extend NOAA's work, from issuing weather and climate forecasts to managing ocean and marine resources. The largest amount, $131.1 million, will go to restore the health America's fisheries and protect species in danger of extinction.

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A coalition of ten conservation groups and individuals led by Defenders of Wildlife today filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Departments of Interior and Commerce for their failure to list a distinct population segment of Atlantic salmon as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. "The fact that less than 40 Atlantic salmon returned to these seven rivers last year unequivocally establishes that these fish are on the brink of extinction," said Defenders of Wildlife president Rodger Schlickeisen. "The continued failure to extend the protections of the Endangered Species Act to these critically imperiled fish is legally and morally indefensible." In light of the extremely imperiled status of this population, the parties have asked Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Commerce Secretary William Daley to immediately publish an emergency listing for the salmon. The U.S. Atlantic salmon run has historically been estimated at 500,000. Today, indigenous populations of Atlantic salmon occur only in a limited number of rivers in Maine. Recent data confirm that returns of the distinct salmon population segment named in the lawsuit to each of seven rivers have declined 90 percent in the past two years.

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The state of Florida, the federal government and several corporations have agreed to an $8 million settlement to fund restoration projects for natural resources damaged in a 1993 oil spill in Tampa Bay. An 11 acre mangrove system will be improved, two acres of salt marsh will be replanted, and millions of dollars for other natural resource restoration work will be paid by those responsible for the oil spill, federal agencies said Friday. The Bouchard Transportation Company Inc., Maritrans General Partner Inc., and Tsacaba Shipping Co. Inc. will carry out the mangrove and salt marsh restoration projects. The responsible parties have agreed to forego a claim against the state of Florida for cleanup costs over the limitation amount, over $40 million. After a 30 day public comment period, the courts will be asked to approve the settlements. The oil spill occurred August 10, 1993, when an outbound freighter, the M/V Balsa 37, struck two inbound barges at the mouth of Tampa Bay. The collision spilled 330,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil and 32,000 gallons of a mixture of other fuels into lower Tampa Bay. The oil remained offshore for four days before oiling 13 miles of beaches in Pinellas County. It injured birds, sea turtles and mangrove habitats in Boca Ciega and lower Tampa Bay.

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Legislators from Mexican border states meeting at the First Meeting of Legislators of the Northern Frontier in Tijuana, Mexico passed a strongly worded resolution against the proposed low-level nuclear waste disposal site at Ward Valley, California. Legislators from the five borders states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila and Tamaulipas passed the resolution, introduced by State Deputy Alma Gomez of Chihuahua. It calls on newly-elected California Governor Gray Davis to stop the controversial dump project. In preparation for Governor Davis' trip to Mexico City next week, Federal Deputy Carlos Camacho from the state of Chihuahua announced that he will lead a delegation of legislative representatives to meet with Davis to discuss Mexican opposition to the Ward Valley dump.

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The new secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, David Struhs, in testimony before a Congressional committee Wednesday, came out against offshore drilling along Florida's coastline. "Our concerns about negative impacts of offshore oil and gas development cannot be overstated," Struhs told the U.S. Senate's Energy and Natural Resource Committee. Chevron U.S.A. wants to install natural gas wells about 25 miles south of Pensacola Beach. The proposal has sparked a local and statewide effort to block it.

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The Forest Service is trying to reverse the spread of Douglas fir bark beetles by harvesting 25,000 acres on northern Idaho's Panhandle National Forests and northeastern Washington's Colville National Forest. The three-year plan would begin this summer. Forest Service officials say the situation is urgent. They have asked for special permission from the agency's Washington, D.C., office to sell the timber before the final environmental analysis is finished. The plan involves 183 miles of forest road construction; 5,192 acres of clearcuts; 20,237 acres of selective harvests; and 8,896 acres of prescribed burning after the logging. Several of the clearcuts would be larger than the 40-acre maximum under federal law requiring a waiver from forest managers in Washington, D.C. Officials plan to replant the logged lands with white pine, larch and Ponderosa pine.

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Administrative Orders were issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to forty-three companies in the Southeast as part of the Agency's Chlorofluorocarbons Motor Vehicle Air Conditioner enforcement initiative under the federal Clean Air Act. John Hankinson, Jr., EPA regional administrator in Atlanta, said, "The environmental threat from CFCs is serious and well-documented. The EPA will aggressively enforce the laws regulating their use." During the July and August 1998, contract inspectors from EPA headquarters inspected motor vehicle air conditioner shops in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi. 300 inspection reports were reviewed for compliance. One hundred facilities were in full compliance, 150 facilities required the submission of additional information to determine compliance, and 43 facilities were issue that they had acquired and was properly using approved motor vehicle air conditioner equipment and that each person authorized to use the equipment was properly trained and certified.

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As the oceans get busier with human activity, it becomes vital to understand what that means to marine wildlife. Fleets of cargo ships, oil tankers, commercial fishermen, recreational boaters and a slew of other traffic adds to the underwater din. The clanging, humming, clicking, rumbling, singing, snapping, grunting, pounding and roaring is brought onto dry land in a new, interactive exhibit opening at the New England Aquarium on April 17, 1999. Sounds of the Sea takes visitors on an underwater journey, where they are encouraged to slow down, think twice, and above all, listen carefully. In Sounds of the Sea, people can hear the clang of a walrus, the crack and creak of an iceberg, an underwater earthquake. Commercial fishing boats motor along launching nets and dragging gear. Oil rigs stomp out a rhythmic beat. Shrimp snap, whales sing and fish chirp. By listening to this exhibit, visitors will find out how important sound is in the ocean. Sunlight only illuminates the first few hundred feet of depth; most of the underwater world is totally dark. Many fish, crustaceans and marine mammals rely on sound to communicate, eat, breed and escape predators. Sounds of the Sea is funded by the National Science Foundation and presented by Bell Atlantic Mobile. Website: