AmeriScan: July 24, 2003

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Conservationists Urge Suspension of Montana Drilling Analysis

CHOTEAU, Montana, July 24, 2003 (ENS) – A coalition of local and national conservationists says the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) should suspend a planned analysis of several new drilling proposals on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front until it can demonstrate the validity of the underlying federal oil and gas leases.

The BLM granted oil and gas leases in the Blackleaf area of the Rocky Mountain Front a decade ago without considering how energy exploration would impact issues such as water quality or endangered wildlife, according to the coalition. Valid BLM leases can not currently be issued without an impact analysis and consultation under the Endangered Species Act.

There are now four pending drilling proposals on Forest Service and BLM leased land in the Blackleaf area, and the BLM is planning to move forward on these applications by undertaking an Environmental Impact Statement process. The conservationists contend that these oil and gas leases would not be issued today because federal and state land managers have since heard from the public and put restrictions in place.

They note, for example, that the Forest Service placed its lands on the Rocky Mountain Front off limits to oil and gas leasing in 1997.

The government should not be studying the proposals when “the crucial decision whether to allow such industrial development in these areas was never legitimately made,” said attorney Tim Preso of the environmental law firm Earthjustice.

“The BLM needs to face up to the fact that it issued illegal leases along the Rocky Mountain Front before it wastes the public’s time, money and energy on a new drilling study,” Preso said. “We are asking the government to formally respond to our repeated requests for an answer on the lease validity issue before more taxpayer dollars are devoted to gas development in an area where the public doesn’t want it and the law does not allow it.”

The Rocky Mountain Front is a unique natural area where the east slope of the Montana Rockies suddenly merges with the prairies and is home to a range of wildlife including grizzly bears, westslope cutthroat trout, wolverine, lynx, elk, deer, and bighorn sheep.

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Bureau of Land Management Using Costly Private Contractors

WASHINGTON, DC, July 24, 2003 (ENS) - Private contractors are being paid to design key land use plans for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), according to the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a nonprofit national alliance of local, state, and federal resource professionals.

The BLM has contracted out 17 land use plans that guide mining, oil and gas production, logging, recreational use, and wildlife protection across large areas of the western states. Consultants are also writing portions of an additional 23 plans. The agency is in the second year of a 10 year effort to update or create its entire base of 189 land use plans.

An interim report by the agency covering the period June 2002 to October 2002 and released to the public on June 27 gives contractors mixed grades, citing greater costs, uncertain evaluation and instances where contractors were "operating on their own agenda."

The draft report, signed by BLM Acting Assistant Director of Renewable Resources and Planning James Kenna, finds that "local offices are generally quite pleased with contracting for land use plans" but notes "a concern among evaluators that this satisfaction with contracting is based more upon relief from the planning workload than it is on the products produced."

With a 10 year backlog of BLM planning projects slowing a stated Bush administration policy of accelerating energy production on public lands, Congress appropriated an additional $40 million over three years to jumpstart the program.

"The BLM has embarked on a unprecedented effort to revise land use plans," the report states. "Failure on the part of the BLM to 'plan to plan' has resulted in launching land use planning efforts without completing necessary up-front work. This failure to 'plan to plan' is dramatically compounded by BLM entering into a major contracting effort in an area with little prior experience and the fact that BLM's lack of new planning starts over the past 10+ years has left the Bureau with limited planning experience to lead the intensive planning schedule."

"This report offers a cautionary tale for Bush administration plans to widely outsource federal land management functions. Contracting is a tool for land managers, not a substitute for BLM managing public lands," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "Unfortunately, BLM is still failing 'to plan to plan' and instead Congress is only funding plans that expedite oil and gas production."

The draft report evaluating the agency's experience with contracting finds that contracting is generally more expensive than doing the plans in-house. In El Centro, California, for example, the original cost estimate for the plan was $700,000 but the contractor ended up costing $1.3 million, almost double the original estimate. But, the report notes, "Ultimately, even at this price the draft was unacceptable to the BLM and was rewritten by BLM staff."

BLM offices cite cases where contractors had "strong biases," would rewrite agency conclusions or "seemed to have a political agenda in writing the draft."

Some BLM local offices expressed frustration over unclear standards for product quality, excessive amount of staff time needed to train contractors and "significant learning curves for both contractors and BLM."

BLM is the nation's principal land management agency, controlling some 261 million acres, an area larger than all National Park Service, Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service lands combined.

"Contracting for the Development of Land Use Plans: June 2002 to October 2002" Draft Report is available online at: http://www.blm.gov/nhp/efoia/wo/fy03/ib2003-107.htm

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Environmentalists Oppose Chile, Singapore Trade Pacts

WASHINGTON, DC, July 24, 2003 (ENS) - The House of Representatives today voted to implement free trade agreements with Chile and Singapore as critics raised concerns over the lack of enforceable labor and environmental provisions, harmful investor lawsuit provisions, immigration policy, and provisions restricting access to medicines.

Vocal critics are members of Citizens Trade Campaign, a nationwide coalition that takes in the American Lands Alliance, Friends of the Earth, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment, Public Citizen, and Defenders of Wildlife as well as labor unions and church groups.

"The Chile and Singapore Trade Agreements represent another attack on America's working families by the Bush administration and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle," said Teamsters General President James Hoffa, "Equally troubling, it appears the White House intends to include similar language in its proposals for the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the Free Trade Area of the Americas."

Labor, environmental, and public health organizations have sent letters to Congress in opposition to the agreements, and are pledging a fight over the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

"We're drawing the line on CAFTA," said David Waskow, an international policy analyst with Friends of the Earth. "This is a model that we cannot keep extending throughout our hemisphere unless we want to see our environment come under attack on all fronts."

Some Democratic lawmakers voted to approve the two agreements but made commitments to oppose the CAFTA and FTAA agreements if they follow along the same model as the Chile and Singapore pacts.

"CAFTA and FTAA include offensive terms on labor, environment, investment, access to medicine and immigration, and as a result, a vast array of Democrats and a significant number of Republicans have realized that they will need to oppose both of the pacts and thus decided to vote for these two small pacts for political insulation." said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.

"A substantial number of commitments were made to oppose CAFTA and the FTAA if similar policies are included in those agreements. Since we already know that those same policies are included in draft texts, the majority of those "yes" votes are commitments for "no" votes in the future," said Gretchen Gordon, director of the Citizens Trade Campaign. "We're going to hold members to those commitments."

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Public Welcome to Discuss Sonoran Pronghorn Recovery Effort

AJO, Arizona, July 24, 2003 (ENS) – Federal and state agencies involved in an emergency recovery effort for the fleet footed Sonoran pronghorn have invited the public to discuss this project and ask questions of lead officials. The Sonoran pronghorn is the fastest North American animal on foot, attaining speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department, together with the Bureau of Land Management and Department of Defense, plan to construct a one square mile semi-captive breeding enclosure for the endangered species.

The U.S. population of this species has dwindled to less than 25 individuals. The Sonoran pronghorn is one of five subspecies of pronghorn. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) says this species is often mistakenly called an antelope, but pronghorn are actually the last surviving species of a group of antelope-like goats called antilocaprids that were native only to North America. All other species of antilocaprids became extinct at the end of the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago.

Once common across the West, the Sonoran pronghorn has died out due to hunting for meat in the 1800s, and habitat loss due to ranching.

Considered endangered since 1967, the population of the Sonoran pronghorns has suffered in recent years because of continued habitat loss and prolonged drought.

The wildlife agencies will construct the one square mile enclosure in a non-wilderness portion of southern Arizona's Childs Valley on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. It is being designed to protect a male and four female pronghorns from predators, in an irrigated and well vegetated area so that they can produce up to eight fawns during the first year.

Those fawns will help to replenish the U.S. population that has plummeted from nearly 250 animals to less than 25 in the last decade.

The drought has harmed the species’ ability to successfully reproduce, officials say. With less available forage, mothers have less nutrients to pass on to the fetuses and suckling fawns, and malnourished fawns find it difficult to survive.

In addition to the U.S. population, there are two isolated populations of Sonoran pronghorns in Mexico, and a similar experiment in Mexico produced over 200 animals in the southern Baja Peninsular region.

The wildlife agencies will host a meeting to discuss the breeding project and answer questions from 5-9 pm on August 8 at the Ajo Community Center at Bud Walker Park, 290 5th Street, Ajo, Arizona.

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Unearthing the Link Between Biodiversity, Ecosystem Productivity

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey, July 24, 2003 (ENS) – Scientists funded by the National Science Foundation believe they have discovered a key reason why the spatial distribution of Earth’s thirty million species is highly uneven.

In findings published today in the journal “Nature,” these researchers say that how plant and animal communities originally assembled is a predictor of future biodiversity and ecosystem productivity.

They note that species diversity has proven difficult to understand, in large part because multiple processes operating at various scales interact to influence diversity patterns.

"On evolutionary scales, species diversity is a result of speciation and extinction,” explained lead author and biologist Tadashi Fukami of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. “But evolutionary processes are variable across space, interactive over time, and consequently, hard to identify. On ecological scales, diversity is a result of community assembly, how species join ecological communities over time."

In their attempts to provide a new ecological perspective from which to view diversity, Fukami and coauthor Peter Morin of Rutgers’ Cook College contend that diversity can be better understood by considering how the history of community assembly interacts with other ecological variables to affect diversity.

The paper addresses the cause of different relationships between productivity - defined as the amount of energy available at a given location for ecosystem development - and biodiversity observed in natural ecosystems.

In this experiment, productivity was manipulated by changing the nutrient concentration of growth medium in ecological communities of microorganisms housed in a laboratory.

“We show in this paper that productivity-biodiversity relationships depend critically on the history of community assembly, in particular on the specific sequence of species arrival from a regional pool of colonists,” Fukami said. "The results argue that community assembly processes must be considered along with resource use, disturbance, and other factors that determine the ultimate form of productivity diversity relationships.”

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New York Moves to Protect Clean Water Act

ALBANY, New York, July 24, 2003 (ENS) – The state of New York has filed court papers seeking to intervene in two lawsuits that many believe seek to reduce the scope of the Clean Water Act.

At issue is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s oil spill prevention program, which is designed to prevent discharges of oil into the waters of the United States, and to contain those discharges if they occur. The lawsuits have been brought by representatives of the oil industry, which contends that the law’s protections only apply to water that are “navigable in fact” and to wetlands adjacent to them.

This definition would exclude many of the nation’s streams, creeks and wetlands, thereby removing them from the federal protections afforded by the Clean Water Act.

According to the papers filed by New York State, about 20 percent of the state’s streams, creeks, and wetlands—including much of the watershed that provides drinking water to New York City—could lose federal Clean Water Act protection if the oil industry’s arguments prevail.

The move follows a filing by several environmental groups to intervene in these cases. Environmentalists are concerned the Bush administration will not aggressively battle the legal challenge of the oil industry and might choose to settle the case on terms favorable to the industry at the expense of environmental protection.

“Everyone knows that oil and water do not mix. Everyone, that is, except the oil industry,” said Daniel Rosenberg an attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council, which is seeking to intervene in the case. “We are concerned that the Bush administration may cut a backroom deal with industry, so we are glad that New York is intervening to help protect the Clean Water Act from polluters.”

The oil industry claims that it should only have to take steps to prevent oil spills in certain waters, narrowly defined as “navigable,” and thus can legally discharge oil into most of the nation’s streams and creeks and many of its wetlands.

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Activists Clash with Officials on Willamette National Forest

WILLAMETTE NATIONAL FOREST, Oregon, July 24, 2003 (ENS) - Clashes between Cascadia Forest Defenders and U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers intensified this morning in the Willamette National Forest, following the beginning of old-growth logging and one arrest on Wednesday.

The altercation is ongoing at this hour and is expected to continue, as activists engage a variety of direct action tactics and Forest Service personnel make their first attempt to remove a tree-sit on national forest land.

In addition to manning a number of tree-sits and dozens of traverses - maneuverable climb lines crossing between trees - forest activists are now engaging in what they call “cat and mouse,” a tactic that led to the death of activist David Chain in Humbolt County, California in September 1998. Chain was crushed by a redwood tree felled by a logger.

Activists engaged in the cat and mouse tactic attempt to disrupt logging operations by putting themselves in the path of loggers and falling trees. They said today that the tactic is often successful in stalling logging.

The Cascadia Forest Defenders have had a large encampment in the Straw Devil timber sale for several months. Despite well-documented populations of red tree voles and other species listed as threatened under Forest Service guidelines, the entire sale is designated for clearcutting.

The activists also fear that logging is beginning during Level III fire danger conditions, and there is a possibility that sparks from machinery could ignite wildfires. On another part of the Willamette National Forest, firefighters are battling the Clark Fire which as of Tuesday had burned over 3,200 acres and was 25 percent contained.

Some of the activists in the Straw Devil timber sale belong to a group of women calling themselves Womyn Forest Defenders. On July 2, they announced their occupation of the timber sale, saying, "It is our belief that the oppression of womyn and the destruction of the earth comes from the same unsustainable need to dominate and control. The same ones who wish to take away our autonomy wish to take away the last of the wild beauty on earth."

The Cascadia Forest Defenders claimed a small victory July 8 when the Forest Service removed 24 acres from Unit 2 of the Straw Devil timber sale. Unit 2 was originally 30 acres and is now six acres due to buffers provided for 14 red tree vole nests located by activists last summer.

Forest activists say they are "entrenched" in many parts of the timber sale. In hope of stopping further logging operations, which are being conducted by Engels Investors, the activists will continue their campaign of grassroots outreach and non-violent direct action this summer.

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University of Missouri Wins American Solar Challenge

CLAREMONT, California, July 24, 2003 (ENS) – The University of Missouri–Rolla won a highly competitive 2003 American Solar Challenge Wednesday, crossing the finish line at 11:39 am using only the energy of the sun. The team set a record for U.S. solar car racing by completing 2,300 miles in 51 hours, beating the 2001 American Solar Challenge record by more than four hours.

“We’re a little surprised by our time during this year’s race,” said Rolla team member Kerry Poppa. “We had a good car, a fast car, but we didn’t expect this. We’re all thrilled.”

This year’s race, the second American Solar Challenge, started in Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry on July 13 and followed Route 66 through Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to California. It is the longest solar car race in the world.

Unofficial race results show Rolla’s car, Solar Miner IV, made the trip from Chicago to the Los Angeles area in a cumulative time of 51 hours, 47 minutes and 39 seconds, for an average speed of 43.3 miles per hour.

Average speed is determined by dividing the distance traveled by the cumulative time, and includes time spent driving through traffic in cities and towns as well as on open highways.

“Congratulations to the University of Missouri-Rolla on their victory in this very demanding race,” said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said. “The students who competed are our future scientists and engineers. Their willingness to take on this challenge and their outstanding performance should give us all comfort that our future will be in good hands.”

The University of Minnesota placed second in the Challenge with an unofficial total time of 56:36:31. The University of Waterloo placed third with an unofficial time of 58:11:20.

The American Solar Challenge is an educational event in which teams compete to build and race solar powered cars. The racers use solar photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight to electricity to power their cars.

Weather and energy management play an important role in the race. The cars travel at highway speeds and are required to obey local speed limits, but in general, the sunnier the day, the faster and farther the cars can run. Bright days allow the cars to fill up their batteries for cloudy or rainy days.

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Team members run with the University of Missouri-Rolla solar car as it crosses the finish line of the American Solar Challenge in Claremont, California. (Photo courtesy DOE)
Designs for the vehicles are often low, sleek and colorful, with solar cells covering the car bodies. Although most solar cars are designed for one person, this year’s race included some of the first two person solar cars.

The American Solar Challenge is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, BP Solar and EDS.

Final race results and photos from the race can be found online at: http://www.americansolarchallenge.org.

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