Conservationists Try to Ax Giant Sequoia Logging PlanSAN FRANCISO, California, January 31, 2005 (ENS) - Conservation organizations have filed suit in federal court to block a federal plan that would allow logging within the Giant Sequoia National Monument.
The monument shelters two-thirds of all the Sequoia redwoods in the world – most of the remainder are found in the adjacent Sequoia National Park.
The giant sequoia can grow to more than 300 feet in height, with a diameter of 30 feet, and can live some 3,000 years.
"These magnificent giant Sequoia forests are found nowhere else on earth," said Bruce Hamilton, Sierra Club Conservation Director. "It makes no sense for the Bush administration to sacrifice such a spectacular national treasure - it also happens to be illegal."
The suit, filed Thursday, takes specific aim at a decision finalized this month by the Bush administration that reverses prior promises by the federal government to protect the Giant Sequoia groves from logging.
The administration's plan would allow 7.5 million board feet of timber to be removed annually from the Monument, enough to fill 1,500 logging trucks each year.
The largest and oldest sequoias are still off-limits, but the policy would allows logging of healthy trees of any species as big as 30 inches in diameter or more.
Sequoias that size can be as old as 200 years of age.
The plaintiffs note that past controversy over logging the sequoias prompted President George Bush Sr. to proclaimed the Sequoia groves off limits to commercial logging.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton permanently protected the forest as a National Monument under the Antiquities Act.
"This plan opens up huge areas to logging and specifically targets trees big enough to sell, undermining the whole purpose of the Monument,” said Carla Cloer, representing the Tule River Conservancy. “The Bush administration is shirking its responsibility to current and future generations to take care of this ancient and treasured forest.”
The suit was filed in San Francisco Federal District Court by the Sierra Club, Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, Earth Island Institute, Tule River Conservancy, and Sequoia Forest Keeper.
Officials Fail the Lead Test: Water Contamination Response PoorWASHINGTON, DC, January 31, 2005 (ENS) - The response by local and federal officials to the District of Columbia’s crisis over high levels of lead in tap water received poor to failing grades Friday in a report card released by a coalition of city residents and health and environmental advocates.
The coalition, Lead Emergency Action for the District (LEAD), released the report card on the steps of DC’s City Hall to mark the one year anniversary of when residents first became aware that their tap water contained high levels of lead.
“After a year we expected to see more progress, but tens of thousands of District residents still can’t safely drink their tap water,” said Erik Olson, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a coalition member.
“Meanwhile, the Water and Sewer Authority is still being cited for violating the law," said Olson. "Public outrage has forced a few grudging changes, but not one person at the water utilities or EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] has been held accountable, not one word of the rules or law has changed, and not one penny of fines has been assessed. Somebody has to step up and take responsibility, and that should have happened months ago.”
LEAD gave officials at the Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Washington Aqueduct, which collects and treats the city’s water, an F.
Mayor Anthony Williams received a D because he has rarely, if ever, spoken publicly about the issue, nor has he called for the resignation of any WASA officials or held them accountable. The mayor also unlawfully excluded the public from participating in the Interagency Task Force - his one tangible response to the crisis - which issued a report that failed to significantly critique WASA’s actions, complained LEAD.
“Parents around the city have to live with the anguish of having given contaminated water to their children,” said Yanna Lambrinidou, founder of Parents for Nontoxic Alternatives, a coalition member. “And yet some of the very officials who knowingly allowed this to happen have denied responsibility and downplayed the seriousness of the crisis. We deserve better.”
WASA’s general manager, Jerry Johnson, earned an F because the authority violated EPA rules regarding testing for lead and notifying the public about health threats.
WASA Board Chairman Glenn Gerstell received a D because the board failed to effectively oversee WASA management, although it did vote to spend millions to partially replace all District lead service lines after the crisis publicly erupted.
Tom Jacobus, head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Washington Aqueduct Division (WAD), received an F because the aqueduct consistently failed to aggressively treat D.C. drinking water to reduce lead leaching and other tap water quality problems, and has always opted for the cheapest solutions that often are ineffective.
"WAD’s lax attitude is largely responsible for the District’s water woes," the citizens' group accused.
"Instead of adopting modern treatment to reduce lead leaching – such as using orthophosphate – and instead of using advanced methods to kill pathogens and reduce chlorine byproducts – such as using activated carbon with ozone or ultraviolet light – WAD opted to use chloramines, a cheap solution. These apparently contributed substantially to the District’s lead problems."
WAD responded after the crisis became public by treating the water with orthophosphate, but has announced no plans to modernize the rest of its treatment technology.
Meanwhile, the LEAD coalition gave Mike Leavitt, former EPA administrator, a D because his agency refused to acknowledge the extent of lead-contaminated water nationally, or effectively respond or amend its tap water rules, even after the "Washington Post" reported that the problem is nationwide.
There were some bright spots. The coalition applauded, among others, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, Vermont Sen. James Jeffords, an Independent, and the "Washington Post" for its "aggressive" coverage of the issue.
The coalition urged the City Council and Mayor to hold WASA accountable for its failures by doing a housecleaning of senior management. It also called for an independent blue ribbon review of WASA’s and the Washington Aqueduct’s management, infrastructure, treatment practices, public outreach, and operation and maintenance.
The coalition also urged Congress and the city council to enact lead legislation that will permanently fix the lead rules and public outreach problems, and urged the EPA to overhaul its lead regulations and to hold WASA accountable by levying fines and completing a criminal investigation into whether there were intentional violations of law.
The LEAD coalition includes an array of national and local groups including the Alliance for Healthy Homes, Clean Water Action, D.C. Environmental Network, Friends of the Earth, National Black Environmental Justice Network, NRDC, Parents for Non-Toxic Alternatives, Public Citizen, Purewater DC, Sierra Club (D.C.), and other local groups and D.C. residents.
Read the LEAD report at: http://www.cleanwateraction.orgpdfDCLead.pdf
Grand Canyon Wilderness and Motors Fight Revs UpGRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Arizona, January 31, 2005 (ENS) - A long, smouldering dispute between the tourist industry and conservationists over the use of motorized boats on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park has again sparked tempers on both sides.
The dispute has flared over the National Park Service's Colorado River Management Plan. The extended public comment period for the plan, which opened on October 8, 2004, ends Tuesday.
The Grand Canyon Wilderness Alliance, made up of more than a dozen conservation and river-running groups representing more than a million people, and the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club have denounced a plan by river industry and recreational organizations to continue and increase the use of motorized vessels on the river.
The conservationists say the motorized rafts are "crowding the Colorado River at the expense of protecting the rare wilderness environment."
But the tourist industry depends on motorized rafts. Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association says that three out of four professionally outfitted river trip passengers depend upon motorized watercraft for their trips. "These trips take place using inflatable pontoon rafts that are powered by quiet, low emission, low power, environmentally friendly four stroke outboard motors that move down the river at no more than a speed of six to eight miles per hour," the outfitters group says.
They say there is an "exceedingly high demand for recreational whitewater trips through the Grand Canyon," so motorized access is essential and without it the public availability of professionally outfitted river trips could decrease by 30 percent or more.
"The number of passengers able to take these trips could be reduced from 19,000 to as little as perhaps 8,000 or 9,000 annually. This is simply not what the American people want. But for some, such a dramatic decrease in public visitation is expressly sought," the outfitters say.
The Grand Canyon Wilderness Alliance recommends the phase out of powerboats on the river, which has been proposed as a wilderness. The alliance says that powerboats "seriously impact the wilderness experience" and park service policy requires the agency to remove this “non-conforming” use. Non-motorized craft - oar-powered craft, dories, and paddleboats - easily provide a safe, enjoyable wilderness experience for all river runners, the conservationists say.
Conservationists also propose to reduce group size to less than 20 people, a level they says is "consistent with a wilderness experience and preferred by most river runners." They observe that larger groups need more space for activities. When large groups camp at ever-diminishing beaches, they are forced to spread out into environmentally sensitive areas.
According to the Park Service, 96 percent of 25 camp sites monitored in the spring of 2003 had 10 trails per campsite, and one site had 88 trails. One trail is considered the limit to protect the shoreline areas of the canyon. Current impacts are severe enough to require native plant re-vegetation at nearly half of the river camp sites, according to the draft Colorado River Management Plan.
“The Grand Canyon needs to be protected for generations to come and the park service has identified key problems such as trampled vegetation and noisy overcrowding at many sites along the river,” says Roxane George, speaking for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter. “The outfitters’ plan is more of the same, but the Grand Canyon needs restoration and protection as its beaches grow smaller and wilderness disappears.”
The outfitters say that they are looking into replacing their new four stroke motors with a silent, zero-emissions alternative - electric motors - within the next six to eight years.
A complete copy of the draft EIS can be downloaded at www.nps.govgrcacrmp. A CD with the complete document can be ordered online at the same website.
Developers Target Protection of Preble's Jumping MouseWASHINGTON, DC, January 31, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has begun the process to remove the Preble's meadow jumping mouse, Zapus hudsonius preblei, from the federal list of threatened and endangered species protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The Service says its action is based on new research that indicates that the Preble's meadow jumping mouse should not be classified as a separate subspecies of meadow jumping mouse.
The new data asserts that the Preble's meadow jumping mouse should be considered the same subspecies as the Bear Lodge meadow jumping mouse, Zapus hudsonius campestris.
The Bear Lodge meadow jumping mouse is found in the Bear Lodge Mountains of northeastern Wyoming and the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota, northeastern Wyoming, and southeastern Montana.
The range of the Preble's meadow jumping mouse corresponds to the rapidly developing Front Range Urban Corridor running from Colorado Springs, Colorado, to Cheyenne, Wyoming.
The two petitions to consider delisting because of new information were filed by the Governor of Wyoming and Coloradans for Water Conservation and Development. This recently formed non-profit corporation represents business and agricultural interests including the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Concern, the Colorado Farm Bureau, National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, Colorado Apartment Association, and the Colorado Association of Home Builders.
The Service is soliciting information from the public, other governmental agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested party concerning the taxonomic classification and population status of Preble's and Bear Lodge meadow jumping mouse.
Written comments and additional information will be accepted for 90 days from publication in the Federal Register and may be submitted to the Field Supervisor, Colorado Field Office, Ecological Services, 755 Parfet Street, Suite 361, Lakewood, Colorado 80215.
The Preble's meadow jumping mouse was listed as a threatened species in May 1998. If the Preble's is removed from the list of threatened species, all current ESA special regulations and designated critical habitat for the species will be eliminated.
Until a final determination is made in 2006, the Preble's meadow jumping mouse will continue to be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Three Scientists Suggest Restart of Commercial WhalingWASHINGTON, DC, January 31, 2005 (ENS) - Ocean sanctuaries cannot fully protect whales, say three scientists tasked by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) with reviewing the sanctuary program for managing whale populations.
The IWC imposed a global moratorium on commercial whales in 1986, and the scientists say it should now be lifted.
In a Policy Forum article in the January 28 issue of the journal "Science," the scientists - two Americans and one Canadian - assume that commercial whaling will start again under a harvesting plan known as the Revised Management Procedure (RMP).
Mark Zacharias, a University of Victoria marine biologist is one of the three authors of the report. "We fully expect to take a lot of heat for this," he told Canadian Press. "People are going to say, 'You're suggesting that we resume global whaling?' Yes, we are suggesting that, but it's better than the alternative, which is pretending it doesn't happen."
Zacharias, Arizona State University marine biologist Leah Gerber, and Duke University marine biologist K. David Hyrenbach argue that the current sanctuary plan is not scientifically sound because it does not sufficiently consider the migratory behavior of most whale species, does not factor in threats to whales besides whaling, and would be difficult to evaluate once implemented.
"The scientific basis for the sanctuary program is not really valid," said Gerber, who has conducted research for WWF, Conservation International, and the Humane Society of the United States as well as U.S. government agencies.
"The sanctuaries are arbitrary in their boundaries because they were designed largely based on political considerations rather than by scientific criteria," Gerber said. "Our analysis shows that the science-based harvesting plan known as the Revised Management Procedure (RMP) would be much more effective in encouraging growth of whale populations."
The article proposes that a refined program of whale conservation that uses both the RMP and a sanctuary plan "designed to protect populations of whales during certain time periods or throughout their entire ranges" would be the most effective approach to maintaining and building populations once commercial whaling starts again.
The scientists propose that "scientific permit whaling" be terminated, since the practice amounts to unregulated whaling and is counter-productive to whale conservation.
The sanctuaries designated by the IWC are four large areas in the South Atlantic, South Pacific, Indian and Southern Oceans. While the areas are large, the scientists believe that the whales that the sanctuaries are meant to protect also spend part of the year in areas where they would be vulnerable to capture by whalers.
"We really can't establish an ecological baseline for whales if there are no untouched populations. And without this science, there is no way to really effectively manage whales and whaling," Gerber said.
Dirtiest Power Plants Increased Pollution Since 1995WASHINGTON, DC, January 31, 2005 (ENS) - As a key U.S. Senate committee considers the Bush administration's bill to delay and weaken clean air safeguards, a new report by the environmental group Clear the Air finds that many of the nation's dirtiest power plants have increased their annual emissions since 1995 of the pollutants that cause smog, respiratory disease, premature death, acid rain, and global warming.
"When it comes to power plant pollution, many of the nation's dirtiest power plants just keep getting dirtier," said Clear the Air policy analyst Emily Figdor, author of the report. "We know how to solve the air pollution problem, but the Bush administration's air pollution bill will set us back decades."
"Pollution on the Rise: Local Trends in Power Plant Pollution" examines data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on power plant emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2 ), the leading global warming pollutant, soot-forming sulfur dioxide (SO2 ), and smog-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx ) since 1995, the first year the Clean Air Act's Acid Rain Program capped SO2 emissions from power plants.
Figdor found that annual CO2 emissions from power plants increased by nine percent nationwide from 1995 to 2003, an emissions increase equivalent to putting 36 million more cars on the nation's roads. Currently, there are no federal limits on CO2 emissions.
The study found that 54 percent of the nation's dirtiest power plants increased their annual soot-forming SO2 emissions from 1995 to 2003, as annual SO2 emissions from power plants decreased by 10 percent nationwide.
The Acid Rain Program's "cap-and-trade" rules allow dirtier plants to forego cleanup by buying pollution credits from cleaner facilities, but soot pollution near power plants remains. According to the EPA, 95 million Americans live in areas with unsafe levels of fine particle soot.
Thirty-eight percent of the nation's dirtiest power plants increased their annual smog-forming NOx emissions from 1995 to 2003, even as annual NOx emissions from power plants decreased by 29 percent nationwide. According to the EPA, 159 million Americans live in areas with unsafe levels of ozone smog.
The report also includes state and plant-by-plant trends in power plant pollution since 1995.
The report concludes that national caps on SO2 and NOx alone are not enough to protect the health of local communities but be implemented with plant-specific safeguards, such as the New Source Review program, which ensures that all power plants eventually meet modern pollution standards.
In addition, absent mandatory limits on carbon dioxide, CO2 emissions will continue to rise, despite the critical need for swift action to minimize the effects of global warming.
"The past decade shows that cap-and-trade policies alone do not protect the health of those communities living near the dirtiest power plants. More than half of the nation lives in areas with dangerously dirty air," said Clear the Air Director Angela Ledford. "Federal and state authorities need to use every tool in the Clean Air Act toolbox to bring us cleaner air faster.
"Unfortunately, the Bush administration's proposal postpones clean air deadlines and abandons requirements that each and every power plant meet modern pollution standards," she said.
The Bush administration's so-called "Clear Skies" bill would delay until 2018 SO2 and NOx reductions called for in the Clean Air Act, repeal New Source Review for power plants, and repeal or weaken other plant-specific clean air programs to rely instead on pollution trading, while ignoring global warming.
Earlier this month, the National Academy of Sciences confirmed that the administration's bill is weaker than current law for individual power plants.
The report recommends that EPA and federal and state lawmakers enforce existing Clean Air Act programs, including New Source Review, designed to ensure that every community has healthy air.
As a first step, the report recommends a national cap that limits CO2 emissions economy-wide to 2000 levels by 2010.
The environmental group would like the administration to strengthen and finalize the EPA's proposed Clean Air Interstate Rule, and to cap SO2 and NOx emissions from power plants in the eastern U.S. at 1.8 million tons and one million tons, respectively, by the end of the decade, as the law requires.
In addition, the administration is advised to strengthen the Clean Air Act's existing programs to further reduce all four major power plant pollutants.
Massachusetts Cranberry Growers Ordered to Restore 25 Acres
BOSTON, Massachusetts, January 31, 2005 (ENS) - A federal judge has ordered cranberry growers Charles and Genelda Johnson, Francis Vaner Johnson, and Johnson Cranberries Limited Partnership, to pay a civil penalty of $75,000 and restore and create over 25 acres of wetlands and streams in Carver, Massachusetts for Clean Water Act violations.
The Massachusetts Federal District Court found the Johnsons liable for multiple violations of the Clean Water Act when they filled and altered wetlands and other waters while constructing and expanding cranberry bogs at three of their properties in Carver.
The court imposed wetland restoration project will cost an estimated $1.1 million and must be completed in four years.
In terms of the acreage of wetlands filled and altered, this is one of the largest wetlands cases ever pursued by the New England regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
While the court found the Johnsons liable for filling more wetland acres than will be restored under the court order, the remedy reflects the most that the United States' financial experts estimated that the Johnsons could afford and still continue their farming business.
The resolution of this case is expected to restore these ecological functions, and ensure that the majority of cranberry growers, who do comply with the Clean Water Act requirements, will not be placed at a competitive disadvantage by those farmers who violate the rules, the EPA said.
The Johnsons failed to obtain permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, as is required before filling or altering wetlands. Because of the significant ecological impacts to the wetlands at the site, it is unlikely that a permit would have been issued for the bogs, as constructed.
The EPA presented extensive evidence to the court showing that the Johnson's violations resulted in significant environmental and ecological harm that warranted restoration and the payment of a penalty.
Wetlands provide valuable wildlife habitat, and wetlands help to protect the health and safety of people and their communities by preventing flooding from snow melts after storms and providing a natural filtration system for storm water runoff before it gets into our rivers, lakes and ponds.
Converting large areas of natural wetlands to commercial cranberry bogs can profoundly alter and impair wildlife habitat and floodwater retention, the EPA said. Restoration of harmed wetlands is an appropriate remedy in cases where these functions have been impaired, as restoring the integrity of the nation's waters is one of the main purposes of the Clean Water Act.
The EPA was assisted in prosecuting the case by the New England District of the Army Corps of Engineers, which is charged with issuing permits under the Clean Water Act for work in wetlands.
To find more information about EPA's wetland enforcement program visit: http://www.epa.gov/NE/enforcement/wetlands/index.html.
Information on wetlands permitting and enforcement is also available on the Army Corps of Engineers website at http://www.nae.usace.army.mil.
Monkeys Will Pay to See Those of Higher Rank
DURHAM, North Carolina, January 31, 2005 (ENS) - Monkeys will "pay" juice rewards to see images of high-ranking monkeys or female hindquarters, researchers at Duke University Medical Center have found. They say their research technique offers a rigorous laboratory approach to studying the "social machinery" of the brain.
The scientists say they are learning how this machinery goes wrong in autism - a disease that afflicts more than a million Americans and is the fastest growing developmental disorder.
In an article published early online by the journal "Current Biology," neurobiologists Michael Platt, Robert Deaner, and Amit Khera describe experiments in which they gave male rhesus macaque monkeys juice rewards for glancing at either a neutral target on a computer screen or images of other monkeys.
By systematically varying the juice rewards and the images - including a gray square, higher-ranking or lower-ranking monkeys and female hindquarters - the researchers could precisely measure how much reward a monkey would "pay" to see which images.
The researchers found that the monkeys would forego a significant amount of reward to see an image of a higher-ranking monkey or of female hindquarters.
By contrast, the monkeys had to be "paid" more juice to view lower-ranking monkeys.
The research was sponsored by The National Institute of Mental Health and the Cure Autism Now Foundation. It will be published in the March 2005 issue of "Current Biology."
The aim of the study, said Platt, was to bring into a controlled laboratory setting the kinds of social judgments that monkeys were observed to make in the wild.
"Decades of studies of monkeys in the wild have indicated that they act as if they make judgments about dominance rankings and of the importance of other individuals for their own reproductive success," said Platt. "But there have been no real quantitative experimental demonstrations that monkeys actually process this information and use it in decisionmaking.
"More broadly, it's important to understand how the brain processes social information and uses it to make decisions," said Platt. "Historically, the problem of understanding social cognition, social evaluation and its neural basis has been a slippery one. And in part that's because scientists haven't been able to bring to bear the methods of experimental psychophysics to understand these phenomena.
"So, our approach, in which we ask the monkeys to, in a sense, put a number on how much juice they'd be willing to 'spend' to see a particular individual gives us an invaluable experimental system to explore the neural wiring that underlies social cognition."
Intriguingly, said Platt, the monkeys were not living in a colony where physical interactions could contribute to establishing dominance hierarchies or sexual relationships. "So, somehow, they are getting this information by observation - by seeing other individuals interact," he said.
Such findings indicate that the researchers' methods could offer rich scientific dividends in understanding perception and the brain's social machinery, said Platt. This knowledge can likely be applied to human neural social machinery. Such studies could prove important in understanding how the brain's social machinery malfunctions in autism, said Platt.
"One of the main problems in people with autism is that they don't find it very motivating to look at other individuals," he said. "And even when they do, they can't seem to assess information about that individual's importance, intentions or expressions.
"So, what we now have with these monkeys is an excellent model for how social motivation for looking is processed in normal individuals. And, it's a model that we can use to explore the neurophysiological mechanisms of those motivations in a way we can't do in humans. For example, we can use drugs that affect specific neural processes to explore whether we can mimic some of the deficits found in autism in these animals."