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AmeriScan: February 8, 2006

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Fire on Cleveland National Forest Was a Prescribed Burn

LOS ANGELES, California, February 8, 2006 (ENS) - At least 7,170 acres have burned and evacuations of more than 1,500 homes were ordered or recommended as a fire spread by the seasonal Santa Ana wind raced across Cleveland National Forest toward the southwest this week.

Late Tuesday, the evacuations ordered for the cities of Orange and Anaheim were lifted and residents are now allowed to return to their homes.

The fire was caused by a prescribed burn that escaped, the U.S. Forest Service said Tuesday. So far, firefighting costs amount to $1.5 million.

More than 1,000 firefighters in 190 engine companies are working to contain the blaze that started early Monday morning at Sierra Peak in the Cleveland National Forest in rough and steep terrain.

On Monday, the Orange County Fire Department stopped the fire at California state highway 241. Firefighters are drumping water from helicopters and fixed wing aircraft in an attempt to control the blaze.

But Incident Commander Dave Beal says the fire is expected to double in size before it is brought under control. Today it is only 22 percent percent contained and fire officials estimate it could continue to burn until Saturday night.

The wind was blowing at 40 to 50 miles per hour on Tuesday and smoke could be seen from downtown Los Angeles, 50 miles away.

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Polar Bears Could Be Listed Under Endangered Species Act

WASHINGTON, DC, February 8, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday that a petition to list the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act presents "substantial scientific and commercial information indicating that listing the polar bear may be warranted."

As a result, the agency is initiating a status review of the polar bear to determine if the species should be proposed for listing and opening a 60-day public comment period, to follow publication in the Federal Register today so that all interested parties will have an opportunity to provide information on the status of the polar bear throughout its range.

The Service is soliciting "scientific and commercial information," on population distribution, density and trends, taxonomy, food habits and selection of habitat, especially denning habitat.

Information on the short and long-term effects of climate change and sea ice change on the distribution and abundance of polar bears and their principal prey is of interest to the Service, which also wants information on the effects of other potential threats to the species, including oil and gas development, contaminants, hunting and poaching.

Finally, the Service is seeking information on whether any populations of polar bears may qualify as distinct population segments.

At the conclusion of the status review, a 12-month finding will be published announcing the Service's determination. If the listing is believed to be warranted, the Service will publish a proposed rule to list the species at the end of the 12-month process, "unless the action is precluded by the need to undertake higher priority actions on other species."

On February 16, 2005 the Service was petitioned to list the polar bear as threatened and to designate critical habitat. The petition contained detailed information on the natural history and biology of the polar bear and on the current status and distribution of and perceived threats to the species.

The petitioner submitted additional information in a letter received in December 2005, to be considered along with the information in the initial petition. The new information was included in the original petition and considered as a new petition, thus restarting the statutory deadline for making a 12-month finding.

The finding and information on how to provide comments will be published in the Federal Register after February 8, or it can be obtained by contacting the Service's Marine Mammals Management office at 907-786-3800.

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USDA Circumvents Congressional Ban on Horse Slaughter for Food

WASHINGTON, DC, February 8, 2006 (ENS) - Animal protection organizations today criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allowing private inspections at three horse slaughterhouses, bypassing legislation that blocks inspections to shut down the horse slaughter operations.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) posted a Federal Register notice today stating that the agency is amending the federal meat inspection regulations under the Agricultural Marketing Act to provide for a voluntary fee-for-service program under which official establishments that slaughter horses will be able to apply for and pay for ante-mortem inspection.

The Fiscal Year 2006 Appropriations Act prohibits the use of appropriated funds to pay the salaries or expenses of FSIS personnel to conduct ante-mortem inspection of horses.

But, FSIS, said, the Department of Agriculture is obliged to provide for inspection of meat for human consumption. Post-mortem inspection and other inspection activities authorized by the Federal Meat Inspection Act at official establishments that slaughter horses would continue to be paid for with appropriated funds, except for overtime or holiday inspection services.

Critics say the USDA rule will allow three European-owned companies - two in Texas and one in Illinois - to continue butchering tens of thousands of horses for foreign menus each year in circumvention of a recent Congressional amendment banning the use of federal funds to inspect horses destined for slaughter for human food.

"It is beyond our imagination in the U.S. Congress that the USDA would flout its mandate and spend tax dollars to circumvent this law," said Representative John Sweeney, a New York Republican. "Even our most hardened opponents knew that the purpose of the amendment was to stop horse slaughter - there was never any question about that."

"It's disturbing that an agency like USDA feels it is appropriate to obstruct a law passed by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority in Congress when their sole mission is to implement the law," Sweeney said.

Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 269-158 and the U.S. Senate voted 69-28 to stop the slaughter of horses, effective March 10, 2006.

On November 23, 2005, the slaughterhouses petitioned the USDA to establish a "fee-for-service" inspection system for horse slaughter in lieu of federally funded inspections, which Congress voted to end.

"The USDA is playing games and ignoring the directives of Congress while the lives of America's horses, who have served us faithfully and provided us with companionship, are at stake," said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of The Humane Society of the United States.

"By granting this eleventh-hour bid by the slaughterhouses to re-write the law," Markarian said, "the USDA is thumbing its nose at Congress and trying to substitute the judgment of foreign gourmands for the judgment of our elected lawmakers."

In a letter to the USDA, 40 members of Congress wrote, "The agency must cease inspection of horses for slaughter. Failure to do so constitutes willful disregard of clear Congressional intent on the part of the USDA. The agency has absolutely no authority to circumvent a Congressional mandate and effectively rewrite an unambiguous law at the request of the horse-slaughter industry."

In light of this end run around Congress's clear mandate to halt the slaughter of horses, the animal protection groups continue to lobby for the passage of bills before the House and the Senate to establish a permanent ban on horse slaughter for food.

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Large Animal Feedlot Water Permit Deadline Extended

WASHINGTON, DC, February 8, 2006 (ENS) - Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) will have additional time to seek water permit coverage and implement nutrient management plans as required by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 2003 CAFO rule.

The 2003 revised regulations expanded the number of operations covered by the CAFO regulations to an estimated 15,500 and included requirements to address the land application of manure from CAFOs.

Under a final rule, facilities newly defined as CAFOs will have until July 31, 2007, to seek National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit coverage.

In addition, all CAFOs will have until July 31, 2007, to implement nutrient management plans.

The 2003 rule required newly defined CAFOs to seek discharge permit coverage by February 13, 2006, and for all CAFOs to have nutrient management plans in place by December 31, 2006.

After the EPA issued the 2003 regulations, petitions for judicial review were filed by CAFO industry organizations - American Farm Bureau Federation, National Pork Producers Council, National Chicken Council, and National Turkey Federation - and by environmental groups - Waterkeeper Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and American Littoral Society.

The petitions for review, which were originally filed in several different circuit courts of appeal, were consolidated into one proceeding before the Second Circuit.

On February 28, 2005, the Second Circuit issued its decision in Waterkeeper Alliance et al. v. EPA. The Court upheld many of the basic tenets of the regulations issued by EPA but also overturned certain sections.

The Court vacated parts of the 2003 rule that allow permitting authorities to issue permits to CAFOs without including the terms of the nutrient management plan in the permit and without the plan being reviewed by the permitting agency and available to the public.

The Court also vacated the "duty to apply" provisions of the new CAFO rule that require all CAFOs to apply for an NPDES permit unless they can demonstrate that they have no potential to discharge.

The Court found that the duty to apply, which the agency had based on a presumption that all CAFOs have at least a potential to discharge, was invalid, because the Clean Water Act subjects only actual discharges to regulation rather than potential discharges.

EPA will be revising the 2003 rule in response to the Second Circuit decision, but this revision will not be finalized by February 13, 2006 so the agency is extending the deadlines.

The action being announced today will not affect other aspects of the CAFO NPDES permitting program. It solely addresses timing issues associated with the court ruling.

For more information on the extension of CAFO compliance dates, go to: http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/afo/caforulechanges.cfm#dates

General information about animal feeding operations is at: http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/home.cfm?program_id=7

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No Live Fire Training Allowed in Oahu's Makua Valley

HONOLULU, Hawaii, February 8, 2006 (ENS) - A federal district court in Honolulu has rejected the U.S. Army's request to conduct live-fire training exercises at Makua Military Reservation on Oahu prior to completing a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act.

On October 4, 2001, the Army voluntarily entered into a settlement with community group Malama Makua calling for a complete ban on live-fire training at Makua if it did not complete the EIS by October 4, 2004.

Since the Army is more than a year late in completing the EIS, the court held that, "having failed to satisfy the law, the Army may not resume live fire training at Makua."

Noting that training is available to the Army at locations such as the National Training Center in California and Pöhakuloa Training Area on the island of Hawaii, the court rejected the Army's claims that training at Makua is vital to prepare soldiers for deployment to Iraq as "vehement pronouncements and speculation."

The court found "the record establishes that allowing the Army to conduct live fire training at Makua is likely to significantly degrade biological, cultural, and archaeological resources in Makua, as well as rights to access cultural sites."

Makua, which means "parents" in Hawaiian, is a sacred site, rich in cultural resources. Over 100 Native Hawaiian cultural sites have been identified at Makua, including Hawaiian temples, altars, burials and petroglyphs.

Fires sparked by training threaten to destroy more than 40 federally listed endangered species and the unique native forest on which they depend for survival.

"The court saw past the rhetoric and ruled based on the facts," said attorney David Henkin with the nonprofit, public interest, environmental law firm Earthjustice, which represents Malama Makua.

"The facts are that, while the Army has many other places it can conduct live-fire training while it complies with NEPA's requirement to complete the EIS, the cultural and biological treasures at Makua are found there, and nowhere else," Henkin said. "If the Army were allowed to destroy these treasures through a training-related fire or misfired artillery shell, they would be lost to the people of Hawaii forever."

Malama Makua is a non-profit, community organization based on the Waianae Coast of Oahu. Formed in 1992 to oppose the Army's Makua open burn/open detonation permit application to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Malama Makua has continued to monitor military activities at Makua and has participated in community initiatives to care for the land and resources in the valley.

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National Renewable Energy Lab Budget Shortfall Forces Layoffs

GOLDEN, Colorado, February 8, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reduced its staff by 32 people Tuesday to help meet a $28 million budget shortfall.

Twenty-seven are regular staff, and five are temporary employees. Of the 32, eight were research staff and 24 worked in support positions.

Research programs affected by the layoffs include biomass, hydrogen and basic research.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for DOE by Midwest Research Institute and Battelle.

Congressionally directed projects, or earmarks, reduced the budget available to the Department of Energy for funding renewable energy and energy efficiency research at the Laboratory, leaving $28 million less in operating funds for NREL for fiscal year 2006. The Laboratory made substantial cuts in other areas, including travel, outside contracts and other operating expenses, before reducing staff.

Regular staff affected by the layoffs will remain on payroll through February 10 and will receive severance pay and job search help.

NREL Director Dan Arvizu, in a message to staff, said, "I appreciate how you have all responded to the challenges placed before us. NREL should now focus on the new opportunities and challenges that lie ahead."

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Helicopters May Be Allowed Into Alaska Wilderness Areas

JUNEAU, Alaska, February 8, 2006 (ENS) - Citing safety concerns, the Alaska Region Forest Service is considering the use of helicopters to access remote wilderness plots for scientific research.

Although helicopter landings are not normally allowed in wilderness areas, the option is being considered in Alaska because of the remote nature of the plots to be studied.

"My primary concern is for the safety of Forest Service crews while they inventory remote and difficult to access areas," said Regional Forester Denny Bschor. "This analysis will address the effects of different access methods on wilderness resources and values."

Congress mandates that the Forest Service conduct forest inventory and analysis in national forests and wilderness areas to collect baseline information on forest health.

The agency's Alaska Region and Pacific Northwest Research Station are proposing to inventory 913 plots in wilderness over 10 years, with 540 plots accessed by helicopter, and 373 plots accessed by foot.

It is proposed that annually, about 91 plots would be inventoried - 37 accessed by foot, and 54 by helicopter. The study would take place in 19 wilderness areas in the Tongass National Forest, and a wilderness study area in the Chugach National Forest.

A notice of intent to conduct an environmental impact statement on the possible effects of using helicopters to access wilderness for research was published in the Federal Register Friday, Feb. 3. The deadline to submit comments is March 3, 2006.

Written comments may be sent to: Forest Service, Alaska Region Office, Ecosystem Planning Staff, ATTN: Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Helicopters in Wilderness EIS, P.O. Box 21628, Juneau, AK 99802-1628. Fax comments to (907) 586-7892, or send by e-mail: Comments-alaska-regional-office@fs.fed.us.

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