U.S. Consumers Urged to Boycott Asia Pulp and PaperWASHINGTON, DC,
February 24, 2004 (ENS) - The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has called on U.S. retail customers of Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) to demand that the company stop unsustainable logging operations. APP, which is one of the largest paper companies in the world, and its affiliates in Indonesia are clearcutting one of the world's most biodiverse and threatened forests, WWF warns.
The timber giant produces copier paper, student notebooks and other paper products sold in some of the world's largest retail stores.
Some of that paper comes from APP's clearcutting of Sumatran rainforest, among the most species rich forest in the world and vital habitat for Sumatran elephants and tigers.
The Indonesian government recognized the importance of the forest this month by pledging to make part of it, known as Tesso Nilo, a national park.
But a six month negotiation between WWF and Asia Pulp and Paper ended last week without an agreement on a sustainability action plan to provide added forest protection. Some of Asia Pulp and Paper's U.S. retail customers, including Office Depot and Staples, have supported WWF's negotiations with the paper supplier.
"The ongoing harvesting of Sumatra's rare and vulnerable natural forests and the resulting negative effects on endangered species are inconsistent with our corporate values and environmental policies," Office Depot Director of Environmental Affairs Tyler Elm said. "We communicated our concerns directly to APP; specifically, that as of January 19, 2004, Office Depot would no longer source product from APP until there was tangible evidence of a sustainable source."
In August 2003, Asia Pulp and Paper and its parent company, the Sinar Mas Group, signed a letter of intent agreeing to prepare an action plan for the next 12 years on the sustainability of APP's wood supplies and the conservation of forests of high social and environmental significance. The companies own large logging concessions in the forests of central Sumatra, which has one of the highest rates of forest loss in the world.
WWF said some progress had been made but the company's proposed plan failed to consider the crucial role of forests in watershed protection and climate regulation and as habitat for key species.
"APP has failed to produce the kind of plan that the international community should expect from a responsible company," said Tom Dillon, director of WWF's Species Conservation Program. "We are asking retail customers who buy from APP to consider how their purchasing affects the forest and the endangered Sumatran elephants and tigers that live there."
Public Hearings on Trading Mercury Emissions This WeekWASHINGTON, DC,
February 24, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold hearings this week in three cities to provide opportunities for members of the public to comment on new proposals to cut air pollutants - including mercury - from power plants.
The hearings will be held concurrently on February 25 and 26 in Chicago, Illinois; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
The rules that are open for public comment would employ a cap and trade system to cut emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and mercury from the nation's 1,100 coal fired power plants.
An emissions cap would be set by the government on the total amount of these pollutants that can be emitted from all regulated sources. An allowance is an authorization to emit a fixed amount of a pollutant, and sources, such as power plants, can buy or sell allowances on the open market. Sources can choose how to reduce emissions, including whether to buy additional allowances from other sources that reduce emissions.
The proposals mirror in many ways the Bush administration's air pollution legislation called "Clear Skies," which has stalled in Congress and has drawn sharp criticism from environmentalists, public health groups and state air pollution control officials.
The Bush plan would cut annual emissions of SO2, a leading cause of acid rain and soot, from 10 million tons to 3.2 million tons by 2015 and annual emissions of NOx - the leading contributor to smog - from four million tons to 1.7 million tons over the same time period.
The co-benefits from technologies used to reduce these two pollutants will remove some 14 tons of mercury emissions within six years, according to the EPA proposal.
Mercury emissions from coal fired power plants are currently unregulated - these facilities emit some 48 tons of mercury each year, accounting for about 40 percent of the nation's mercury pollution.
Under the Bush plan, the EPA would set a set a cap on mercury emissions in 2010 and employ a trading plan to bring emissions down to 15 tons by 2018.
The hearings, which will begin at 8:00 am, will be held at the following locations:
Lawsuit Aims to Derail California Auto Test TrackLOS ANGELES, California,
February 24, 2004 (ENS) - Two conservation groups have filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for issuing permits to Hyundai Motor Company and California City to build an automotive test track in some of California's most beautiful and wild desert lands.
The plaintiffs say the project would result in the destruction and degradation of nearly 4,500 acres of high quality desert wild lands that are home to several threatened species, including the Mojave ground squirrel and desert tortoise.
"The construction of this test track will devastate some of California's most pristine desert wild lands and will destroy the habitat of many of our state's threatened species," said Kim Delfino, California program director for plaintiff Defenders of Wildlife. We believe the Fish and Wildlife Service violated federal environmental law when it approved this project without full analysis of the effect it would have on our lands and the species that inhabit them."
The Center for Biological Diversity has joined Defenders in this suit.
The permits issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service allow the destruction of 4,500 acres of habitat and the "incidental take" of up to 54 tortoises in exchange for the future purchase of 3,200 acres of "compensation lands," but that land has not yet been identified.
The federal agency acknowledged that because the "compensation" lands may not provide adequate habitat for tortoises, a contingency plan must be developed at some time in the future, but details of that plan have yet to be developed as well.
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must significantly improve the habitat mitigation plan before it grants permits to dig up California's fragile deserts," said Daniel Patterson, ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The desert tortoise that inhabits this area is a large, herbivorous reptile that has been devastated by habitat loss and disease. The species was listed as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1980.
The conservationists say hibernating tortoises within the construction zone are currently being taken out of their burrows and boxed into on-site artificial burrows while they wait for translocation to an undetermined location in early April.
They contend this handling of tortoises stresses the animals increasing the chances of illness and death and although up to 20 tortoises may be removed from this project area, an unknown number of juveniles and eggs will be destroyed because they are nearly impossible to locate during hibernation.
Although the eventual translocation site has not been finalized, the preferred site is located within an area of desert tortoise critical habitat where experimental translocations are prohibited by the Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan.
"Translocation plans for desert tortoise have notoriously low rates of success due to the increased spread of disease and other factors," said Cynthia Wilkerson, California species associate for Defenders of Wildlife. "The approved translocation plan is admittedly an experiment and threatens not only the tortoises that will be moved, but those that currently live in and around the translocation site."
Texas Chickens Infected With Bird FluAUSTIN, Texas,
February 24, 2004 (ENS) - An entire flock of chickens was destroyed in Gonzales County, Texas Monday after a "highly pathogenic" strain of bird flu was identified in the flock. The farm was [placed under quarantine following the discovery of this strain of flu, the first case in the United States in 20 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said.
All of the 6,600 birds in the flock have been destroyed, and testing for the H5N2 strain is being done on flocks within a 10 mile radius of the infected flock's farm in the central part of the state.
The H5N2 strain is a more serious type than that found in flocks in four Eastern states, said Ron DeHaven, USDA's chief veterinarian, but there is no evidence to date that the strain can be harmful to human health.
"The H5 strain can be high or low pathogenic, and the clinical signs observed at the outset of this outbreak suggested that the disease was low path avian influenza," said DeHaven. "However, further testing by our National Veterinary Services laboratory in Ames, Iowa, determined that this strain is highly pathogenic avian influenza."
The USDA is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to forestall any human health impacts from this outbreak. There is no evidence to date of any human health implications of this outbreak.
USDA and the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) have started an epidemiological investigation with the intention of determining the source of the infection. The agencies will do surveillance testing within a 10 mile radius of the infected property.
The infected birds were among flocks raised to be sold to live poultry markets in Houston, said industry officials.
Bird flu can be spread through bird-to-bird contact and by manure, equipment, vehicles, egg containers and clothing and shoes that have had contract with the virus, the USDA said.
"We urge everyone who has poultry to practice good biosecurity measures and report any sick birds or death losses to either TAHC or USDA," said DeHaven. "Proper biosecurity, including wearing protective clothing and disinfecting any equipment before leaving a facility, will ensure this disease does not spread."
Over the past two weeks poultry flocks in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey have been found to be ill with a variety of strains of bird flu.
More information on avian influenzais online at: http://www.aphis.usda.gov
U.S. Ski Resorts Battle Global WarmingDENVER, Colorado,
February 24, 2004 (ENS) - The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) has joined forces with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for a new campaign to fight global warming.
Dozens of resorts from coast to coast have signed onto the initiative - Keep Winter Cool - and are educating guests about potential impacts on snow sports, spotlighting solutions, and urging their elected officials to get serious about fixing the problem.
Global warming is a bottom line issue for the $3 billion ski industry and its employees, as well as a key environmental concern, according to the NSAA.
Protecting the winter climate is also crucial for more than 11.5 million U.S. skiers and snowboarders.
"Winter is short enough already. We want to start fixing the global warming problem now," said Geraldine Link, public policy director for NSAA. "Tens of thousands of people in this industry count on dependable winters for their livelihood. But it is more than just business. Global warming could affect our quality of life in the unique places where we are lucky enough to live and play."
Climate experts say without action soon, ski regions could see less snow, reduced snow pack, and shorter, more erratic seasons. The effects of global warming are most pronounced at northern latitudes during wintertime.
As it melts in the spring, snow pack provides clean water for drinking, agriculture and wildlife. And alpine drought can leave mountains more susceptible to fire.
"Winter climates are where global warming hits first, which is why it is a major concern for anyone spending time on the slopes," said Dr. Daniel Lashof, science director of the NRDC Climate Center and an enthusiastic skier.
"The good news is that global warming is a problem we can fix. The problem is pollution from burning fossil fuels - the answer is better technology in our cars and trucks, and cleaner energy choices like wind and solar power."
Many of NSAA's 332 member resorts are using available technologies to cut their own climate pollution, including the use of pollution free wind and solar energy to run buildings and lifts and the use of energy efficient green buildings.
Predators Help Keep Animal Disease Away From HumansGAINESVILLE, Florida,
February 24, 2004 (ENS) - Researchers are exploring the role of predators in curbing disease outbreaks in humans.
Lyme disease, bubonic plague, and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome - all potentially serious disease threats to people - are carried by non-human vertebrates, most often rodents, which are the host species for a plethora of pathogens.
Recent outbreaks of monkeypox and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) have generated fresh concern about how pathogens move from non-human carriers to people.
A new paper published in the Ecological Society of America's journal "Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment" details how different predator types influence rodent populations in a range of ways. Some very effectively regulate rodent numbers while other predators actually cause periodic rodent population booms.
The researchers found that predators such as foxes, coyotes, and falcons that are not picky about what small animals they eat and are also highly mobile appear to protect human health by constantly suppressing rodent numbers.
In contrast, predators such as weasels specialize, eating only certain rodents. As a result those rodent populations fluctuate dramatically and during population peaks conceivably promote transmission of rodent-borne pathogens to people.
"It seems likely that when rodent populations are at chronically low densities, the incidence of disease transmission to people will also be low," said study coauthor Richard Ostfeld of the Institute of Ecosystem Studies. "During population peaks and when rodents invade houses, we often see a higher incidence of disease outbreaks in people."
The researchers say that much more work needs to be done to understand the multiple variables driving the transfer of infectious diseases from wildlife to human populations.
"Knowing that predators bring down rodent populations is not enough," said Ostfeld. "We need to know how strong this effect is compared to other influences, such as food supply, on rodent populations."
Only a few studies have looked at both effects simultaneously, he said.
While scientists know that populations of deer mice, for instance, increase when acorns crops are plentiful, the relative role of predators in influencing abundance in the species is still unclear.
What is really more important than a rodent species' population count, explains Ostfeld, is to understand how population dynamics drive rodent behavior which in turn influences disease transmission to humans.
According to the researchers, some of the most important disease agents move from one rodent to another during fights or other social contacts, which tend to increase with density.
A Path to Sustainable Lion HuntingMINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL, Minnesota,
February 24, 2004 (ENS) - Although some conservationists oppose any hunting of lions, there are some who see value in allowing the limited hunting of a species trophy hunters prize above virtually all other animals.
Excessive trophy hunting could open the door for too many young males to invade prides and kill all the cubs, causing a population decline, but income from trophy hunting helps sustain African game reserves, which might otherwise be converted to small scale agriculture.
A new study attempts to find a sustainable middle ground. University of Minnesota researchers simulated hunting using demographic data from actual lion populations and their study indicates that if hunting is limited to male lions age five and older, populations of any size can be sustained without bag limits.
The study, which also describes a means of estimating lion ages in the field, was published online Sunday in the journal "Nature."
All African hunting reserves impose bag limits, or quotas, but quotas are supposed to be based on the size of an animal population. And lions are hard to count.
Using long term data on lion behavior, mortality, reproduction and other characteristics gathered by University of Minnesota lion researcher Craig Packer, a team led by graduate student Karyl Whitman created a computer model to predict the effects of different hunting regimes on lion populations over a period of 50 years.
"This is one of very few studies on how hunting changes [lion] behavior and how we can manage hunting to improve its sustainability," said Whitman. "We have put forward two simple rules: You can sustainably shoot male lions without limits as long as they are five or older, and you can age lions before shooting them."
As cubs, lions have noses that are soft pink to gray at the tips. After a lion reaches age three, the nose starts to blacken in splotches. If a lion's nose tip is more than 50 percent black, the lion is probably at least five years old, the researchers said.
Lion hunting is a controversial activity, and pressures on guides to deliver lions, regardless of their quality as trophies, can be enormous.
Clients may pay as much as $100,000 for a hunting safari, and for that amount of money they expect to take home a lion, Whitman said.
Given such expectations, a guide could easily be tempted to allow shooting of sub-trophy animals to satisfy the customers. But if hunting were strictly limited to lions at least five years old and hunters had realistic expectations, both lion populations and hunting could continue indefinitely, the researchers say.
Fuel Cell Generates Energy From Cleaning WastewaterSTATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania,
February 24, 2004 (ENS) - Environmental engineers have shown that a microbial fuel cell can generate electricity while simultaneously cleaning the wastewater that you flush down the drain or toilet.
The Penn State engineers credited with the development say they have produced between 10 and 50 milliWatts of power per square meter of electrode surface - or about five percent of the amount needed to run one mini-Christmas tree light - while removing up to 78 percent of organic matter.
Microbial fuel cells may represent a completely new approach to wastewater treatment, according to Dr. Bruce Logan, a Penn State professor of environmental engineering and director of the project.
"If power generation in these systems can be increased, [microbial fuel cell] technology may provide a new method to offset wastewater treatment plant operating costs, making advanced wastewater treatment more affordable for both developing and industrialized nations," Logan said.
Other researchers have shown that microbial fuel cells can be used to produce electricity from water containing pure chemicals including glucose, acetate or lactate.
But the Penn State researchers are the only ones to demonstrate that microbial fuel cells can produce electricity directly from wastewater skimmed from the settling pond of a treatment plant.
The researchers explain that microbial fuel cells work through the action of bacteria, which can pass electrons to an anode, the negative electrode of a fuel cell.
The electrons flow from the anode through a wire, producing a current, to a fuel cell cathode where they combine with hydrogen ions and oxygen to form water.
Logan notes that in microbial fuel cells currently under investigation in other laboratories, various kinds of bacteria are typically added to the system.
But for the Penn State model, no special bacteria are added. The naturally occurring bacteria in wastewater drive power production via a reaction that allows them to transport electrons from the cell surface to the anode.
In addition, the oxidation that occurs in the interior of the bacterial cell lowers the biochemical oxygen demand, cleaning the water.
The current Penn State microbial fuel cell is about six inches long and 2.5 inches in diameter.
It contains eight graphite anodes that supply about 36 square inches of surface area to which the bacteria can adhere and pass electrons.
"I am optimistic that microbial fuel cells may be able to help reduce the $25 billion annual cost of wastewater treatment in the U.S. and provide access to sanitation technologies to countries throughout the world," Logan said.
The project is described in a paper, "Production of Electricity During Wastewater Treatment Using a Single Chamber Microbial Fuel Cell," released online and slated for a future issue of "Environmental Science and Technology."
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