Forest Service Considers Outsourcing Two-Thirds of WorkforceWASHINGTON, DC, February 27, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service is studying how to contract out more than two-thirds of its total workforce by 2009, according to agency planning documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the national association of workers in natural resources agencies.
In addition to Bush administration plans to sell off 300,000 acres of Forest Service land included in the Fiscal Year 2007 budget proposal to Congress, the agency is also seeking to privatize environmental, law enforcement, firefighting, engineering, and research positions.
The agency documents say that "in accordance with current USDA direction" 21,350 full-time jobs will soon be under review for possible replacement by private sector firms. The Forest Service has a total of 31,625 full-time jobs, according to Office of Personnel Management figures for FY 2003.
During the current fiscal year, 500 fire-fighting jobs in the aviation program, including the smoke-jumpers, will be examined for outplacement to interested contractors;
In FY 2007, approximately half of the agency's law enforcement agents and rangers, 600 positions, the jobs of all of its geologists, 500 jobs, and 1,100 biologists who prepare environmental studies on the impacts of timber sales, oil and gas leasing and other actions on national forest lands may be put out to bid.
In FY 2008, the agency's entire network of scientists and other researchers, 2,000 slots, and 3,000 foresters and range conservation staff positions will be reviewed for outsourcing potential.
"The Forest Service appears to be having an internal fire sale, with the heart of our national forests put out for bid on eBay," said Jeff Ruch, PEER executive director. "We may soon see the Weyerhaeuser National Forest patrolled by rent-a-rangers, overseen by private consultants."
In 2003, an outsourcing plan of similar scope, designed to meet Bush administration outsourcing quotas prior to the 2004 election, was halted by Congressional action.
Then, as now, says Ruch, one of the major concerns was the added cost to the Forest Service to conduct the studies and stage the competitions. In its latest proposed budget, the Bush administration is cutting back Forest Service operating funds without providing any new funds to pay for this undertaking.
In 2003, the Forest Service spent an estimated $360 million on studies but produced no identifiable savings.
"Large scale outsourcing also has a dampening impact on sagging employee morale, already depressed by shrinking budgets. To make matters more contentious, the Forest Service is advancing its plan without consulting the unions representing affected employees," Ruch says.
"For decades, this agency has invoked the phrase ‘Forest Service family' to connote a cohesive, close-knit organization, but this plan puts whole branches of the family on the auction block," Ruch said, noting that effective contract management has not been one of the strong suits of the federal government. "This whole misguided effort is an example of mindless management by slogan lacking in any analysis as to how to make the Forest Service actually run better or more efficiently."
Read the new Forest Service Outsourcing Plan at: http://www.peer.org/docs/fs/06_27_2_outsourcing_plan.pdf
New Jersey Acts Fast to Deter Spring Flood DamageTRENTON, New Jersey, February 27, 2006 (ENS) - With the spring rainy season approaching, the state of New Jersey is moving quickly to implement recommendations of a draft flood control task force report to protect communities along the Delaware River that were flooded out last spring. The state is acting on the recommendations before the public comment process is completed.
"With spring rains in the offing and a heightened potential for runoff, we are moving ahead on several key task force recommendations, rather than risk losing opportunities to help protect lives and property while we await a final report," said Lisa Jackson, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Acting Commissioner, releasing the report last week.
In its report, the New Jersey Flood Mitigation Task Force calls for reforms to flood response, floodplain management and land use regulations.
Last spring, following a major rainstorm at the end of March and another during the first days of April, the Delaware River overflowed its banks, flooding some 3,500 homes and forcing the evacuation of more than 5,500 people. In response, the Flood Mitigation Task Force was formed to study and implement measures to reduce future impacts of flooding in New Jersey communities.
"We won't forget the losses so many New Jersey families suffered during the storms last spring," Jackson said. "The flood task force members have made significant strides toward identifying a comprehensive list of actions to reduce the impacts of flooding in the future."
The task force recommends strengthening protection of flood plains and homes through tougher regulations for building in a floodplain, improving flood mapping and ensuring compliance with building codes for construction in the flood plain.
Other recommendations include:
The agency is also establishing procedures to assist communities in developing disaster mitigation plans.
Agency personnel are coordinating with the Department of Community Affairs to address flood-plain building code issues, and working with the Delaware River Basin Commission and the National Weather Service to achieve better watershed reservoir management practices and address snowmelt issues.
The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the DEP's Green Acres Program on property buyouts along the Delaware River.
Jackson is encouraging New Jersey residents to review the draft report and offer public comments by March 15. After the public-comment period ends on March 15, the task force will hold a public meeting, a date for which has not yet been set. The final report will be sent to Governor Jon Corzine this spring.
To review the report, visit: www.nj.gov/dep/njflood/.
Heavy Texas Rain Dumps Wastewater Into Trinity RiverIRVING, Texas, February 27, 2006 (ENS) - Heavy rainfall on Friday and Saturday caused four separate wastewater overflows from the Trinity River Authority of Texas' Elm Fork collection system.
Wastewater lines are customarily built adjacent to streams, on this occasion the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, to enable wastewater to flow by gravity to treatment facilities. When rainfall and flood water cover collection lines and manholes water is able to enter or infiltrate into the collection lines.
Overflows occur when the combined volume of wastewater and rainfall exceed the capacity of the line.
While highly undesirable, the impact was minimized on this occasion by the volume of flood water in both the collection line and the Elm Fork of the Trinity River which ultimately received a portion of the wastewater over flow.
Overflows occurred in three locations in Irving and one in Grand Prairie immediately adjacent to TRA's Central Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The first three overflows upstream of the treatment facility occurred from approximately 9:30 am on Saturday until 6:00 am on Sunday. At each of these locations an estimated 141,000 gallons of wastewater was discharged from the collection line and ultimately entered the Elm Fork of the Trinity River.
The first Irving location was from a lift station in the vicinity of Century Boulevard and International Parkway. The second was from a manhole in the vicinity of SH-183 and Grauweyler. The third was from a meter station at the end of East Proctor Road east of Union Bower.
Planning, design and construction is underway to provide better service to facilities in this area.
The overflow in Grand Prairie immediately adjacent to the treatment plant was fully contained in a large pit that had been dug as part of a construction project that is underway.
The overflow from a junction box on the east side of the treatment plant took place from about 6 am on Saturday 4:30 am on Sunday. It was possible to ultimately return all of this overflow, an estimated 1.2 million gallons, to the treatment plant for processing.
No public drinking water supplies were threatened or contaminated by any of these overflows. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requires all wastewater overflows in excess of 100,000 gallons to be reported to the Commission, the public and designated state and local officials.
Army Corps of Engineers Permits New IKEA Store in BrooklynNEW YORK, New York, February 27, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District has authorized the use of nationwide permits for the IKEA store project proposed at One Beard Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn. The nationwide permit authorizes bulkhead replacement and shoreline stabilization, removal of two sunken dry docks, together with minor dredging.
IKEA plans to build its first store in New York City on the waterfront in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn at the site of the former New York Shipyard.
In addition to the store, IKEA plans a new landscaped 5.5 acre public waterfront esplanade and bikeway that will make the waterfront accessible to the surrounding community.
A direct IKEA ferry is planned that will transport up to 400 shoppers per hour from Lower Manhattan to a dock located at the IKEA store.
In making its authorization, the Corps coordinated with the New York State Historic Preservation Office (NYSHPO) and determined that IKEA's undertaking will have No Adverse Effect upon historic properties within the Corps' jurisdiction.
The Corps says its authorization is environmentally protective because existing deteriorated piers and sunken dry docks will be removed which improves aquatic habitat by decreasing shading of the waterway.
The removal of the deteriorating timber piers and dry docks in a controlled manner eliminates the threat of damage to both recreation and commercial commuter and commercial petroleum product vessels.
And, the Corps says stabilizing the eroding shoreline in a controlled manner, stops sediment and debris from getting into the waterways and waters of the harbor.
The Department of the Army's regulatory jurisdiction is limited only to those activities that would be performed in waters of the United States and activities that may affect eligible historic properties within the Corps of Engineers' jurisdiction. The Corps jurisdiction only covers a small portion of the work proposed by IKEA.
Prior to construction IKEA is required to submit a detailed plan to the Corps and NYSHPO, showing how construction activities will be done in a manner that avoids impacts to the historic Graving Dock No. 2. The Corps and NYSHPO must approve that plan prior to initiating any construction.
A graving dock is a dock which can be sealed off by gates, and the water removed. This allows work to be done on the parts of a ship's hull which are normally underwater. A qualified archeological firm is required to monitor the removal of contaminated soils from Graving Dock No. 2 to ensure that any impacts to the graving dock are minimized.
A number of state and local agencies have regulatory authority over the entire site, and the overall project is receiving substantial review by those agencies.
The applicant will need to obtain approvals from New York State Department of Environmental Conservation: Article 25 Tidal Wetlands permit, Water Quality Certification, Remediation Work Plan Approval, and State Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit for the proposed work.
City of New York must issue a New York City Building Permit, and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection must issue a Site Connection Permit for stormwater and sanitary discharges, as well as a private water main permit.
IKEA must also get a New York City Builders Pavement Plan Approval, and a New York City Department of Transportation Roadway Improvement Permit.
Urban Design Can Contribute to Obesity
NEW YORK, New York, February 27, 2006 (ENS) - People who live in neighborhoods that have a mixture of residential and commercial uses appear to have lower levels of obesity than people who live in neighborhoods that are closer to being 100 percent residential, researchers at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health have found.
To date, obesity research has focused on ways to change individual behavior but with obesity rates continuing to climb, researchers are now turning their efforts to the built environment and the interventions that might be effective in fighting the problem.
Working with various city departments, Andrew Rundle, who holds a Ph.D. in public health and serves as assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School, and his research team, are gathering data on neighborhood features that affect a person's diet and activity levels.
These features include land use, density of bus and subway stops, availability of nutritious food, the location and quality of parks and recreation facilities - even the number of trees on a street and the number of buildings with elevators.
"The more mixed an area, the skinnier people are," Dr. Rundle said. "Mixing supports walking, it supports incidental activity and it makes you independent of an automobile."
The data also indicates that as the density of bus and subway stops increases in a neighborhood, the body size of residents goes down. Again, it is thought that public transit allows residents to be independent of private automobiles and they will walk more.
Upon completion of the research, Dr. Rundle expects to have a large base of evidence linking the built environment to body size.
With Americans in the grip of an obesity epidemic since 1975, Dr. Rundle hopes his research findings will bring a discussion of health to urban planning decisions in New York City and across North America, at the close of his four-year study.
"If we can influence zoning so that neighborhoods are not 100 percent residential, so you can walk to a corner store because you have a corner store, that's huge, that has real public health significance," he says.
Dr. Rundle believes that subtle changes in lifestyle repeated over and over can have a tremendous influence on a person's body size. "The epidemic of obesity is like an epidemic of a thousand paper cuts. There are many subtle little pokes and prods and they all accumulate toward us getting fat. There is no magic bullet that will curb the rise in obesity. And that is why it's so hard to fight the epidemic. You don't have one target to hit, you have one thousand targets to strike to win."
In addition to funding by the NIEHS, Dr. Rundle's work to address obesity and associated health issues is also supported by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Earlier this month, Dr. Rundle presented his findings at the Active Living Research conference, supported by the Foundation to identify creative approaches for increasing levels of physical activity among Americans of all ages and backgrounds.
Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout Rejected for Endangered Listing
WASHINGTON, DC, February 27, 2006 (ENS) - Results of a recent status review indicate that Endangered Species Act listing of the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, found in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Nevada, is not warranted, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday.
The status review found that stable, viable and self-sustaining populations of the fish are widely distributed throughout its historic range.
The Biodiversity Legal Foundation, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and the Montana Ecosystems Defense Council petitioned the Service in 1998 to list the Yellowstone cutthroat trout as threatened throughout its historic range. In 2001, the Service found that the petition failed to present substantial information indicating that listing was warranted.
A complaint was filed in court, which ordered the Service to produce a finding in 12 months regarding the status of Yellowstone cutthroat trout by February 14, 2006.
The Service found that although the Yellowstone cutthroat trout has declined from historic levels, there are "robust populations throughout the historic range of the subspecies, most notably in headwater areas," said Mitch King, the Service's director of the Mountain-Prairie Region. "The Service believes these populations form a solid basis for the long-term persistence of the fish," he said.
In making this finding, the Service considered information and comments received from several state fish and wildlife agencies, the U.S. Forest Service, Yellowstone National Park, environmental organizations, tribes, and the public.
Part of the new information received was a status assessment report for Yellowstone cutthroat trout, coauthored by the U.S. Forest Service and fish and wildlife agencies for the states of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada, that best described the present-day range-wide status of Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the United States.
Numerous ongoing conservation efforts on behalf of the Yellowstone cutthroat trout demonstrate broad interest in protecting the species by state, federal, tribal, local, and nongovernmental organizations and the public at large. These efforts, while important, were not the determining factor in the decision whether or not to list the species.
"While not driving our listing decision, the Service appreciates the many conservation efforts conducted by our partners," said King. "Our decision was based primarily on the present-day status and trend of Yellowstone cutthroat trout populations and the mitigation of many of the existing factors that can affect the species."
Hybridization with nonnative rainbow trout continues to affect Yellowstone cutthroat populations. The eventual extent that future hybridization may occur in Yellowstone cutthroat trout habitat may be stream specific and difficult to predict.
The criteria used for this finding is consistent with the genetic standards adopted by state fishery managers and allow for the limited presence of genetic material from other fish species in Yellowstone cutthroat trout conservation populations, the Service said.
There are serious concerns about the future of the Yellowstone cutthroat trout population in Yellowstone Lake. The Service shares those concerns and will monitor the situation closely, but finds that the large scope of the Yellowstone Lake ecosystem will ensure the trout will persist in this ecosystem, at least for the foreseeable future, King said.
Still, the Service does not find justification for applying the Distinct Population Segment designation to this or any other subpopulation within the range of Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
Most of the habitat for Yellowstone cutthroat trout lies on lands administered by Federal agencies, especially the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service. Many of the strongholds for Yellowstone cutthroat trout occur within roadless or wilderness areas or Yellowstone National Park, and the Service says these locations "afford considerable protection to the fish."
Wyoming Elk Feedgrounds Centers of DiseaseCHEYENNE, Wyoming, February 27, 2006 (ENS) - In an effort to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease and brucellosis among Wyoming elk, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, and Wyoming Outdoor Council are asking a Wyoming federal court to order the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to begin an environmental review of 15 feedgrounds located on federal lands in western Wyoming.
The review would study alternatives to the feeding program, such as a phaseout of the feedgrounds that would force elk to disperse across their natural winter range as they do in Montana and Idaho. The goal is to prevent an unnecessary loss of Wyoming's iconic elk herds.
Chronic wasting disease is the elk equivalent of mad cow disease, a brain wasting disease that is 100 percent fatal in elk.
Wyoming's elk feedgrounds "provide nearly ideal conditions for transmission among free-roaming elk," says Markus Peterson, an expert on wildlife diseases from Texas A&M University.
Last fall, chronic wasting disease was identified in the Owl Creek drainage west of Thermopolis, Wyoming, marking the closest known approach of the disease to the western Wyoming elk feedgrounds.
Peterson anticipates that when chronic wasting disease reaches the Greater Yellowstone area, it too will spread rapidly among Wyoming's densely clustered feedground elk, likely infecting 50 percent or more of the population
Brucellosis is an infectious disease of animals including elk that often results in spontaneous abortion. It is transmissible to human beings.
"Crowding of elk on feedgrounds maintains brucellosis in southern [Greater Yellowstone's] elk," Bruce Smith, former senior wildlife biologist at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson. Smith and other scientists agree that crowding wild elk along feedlines allows diseases such as brucellosis to pass from animal to animal.
"We want to work with the Forest Service, the BLM, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department toward a commonsense solution to this issue. To find that solution, though, they need to thoroughly analyze and consider options other than just business as usual," said Lloyd Dorsey of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who is representing the groups in the lawsuit, said, "The Forest Service and BLM have authorized these feedgrounds year after year with no regard for the brucellosis they spread or the potential for a massive chronic wasting disease outbreak among the crowded feedground elk populations. It's critical to begin a study of alternatives to these feedgrounds immediately, before chronic wasting disease begins killing the region's elk."
Wyoming's approach to managing disease in its elk herds is currently limited to a controversial test-and-slaughter program at the Muddy Creek elk feedground near Pinedale, Wyoming.
With this program, pregnant female elk that test positive for brucellosis are being trucked to an Idaho slaughterhouse to be killed. In early February, state officials sent 42 elk from the Muddy Creek feedground to slaughter. In the meantime, the plaintiff groups charge, elk managers have taken no steps to reduce the dense feedground concentrations that caused high brucellosis levels among the elk in the first place.
"This test and slaughter program is a brutal management tool," said Franz Camenzind of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. "We are unnecessarily killing elk when the brucellosis infection rate could be lowered by phasing out the feedgrounds and letting elk disperse throughout the landscape naturally."
"It is unfortunate we have to go this route. Litigation is always our last resort," added Mark Preiss of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. "Wyoming people treasure their big game herds and these herds are increasingly threatened by disease. Working together, we can make a difference now if we use the best knowledge we have to make balanced choices that protect our wildlife and our quality of life."