AmeriScan: June 12, 2003

* * *

Bill Seeks to Save Sacred Sites on Federal Lands

WASHINGTON, DC, June 12, 2003 - In an effort to stop the destruction of Native American sacred sites on federal lands, Congressman Nick Rahall Wednesday introduced the "Native American Sacred Lands Act." The bill would give tribes the legal opportunity to halt proposed mining, logging and other activities which would desecrate sites they hold sacred for religious purposes.

American Indian sacred sites are in danger of desecration under the Bush administration's federal land management policy regime, said Rahall, a Washington Democrat on the House Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal land issues and Indian affairs.

"Let their voices be heard above the roar of mining operations which threaten to sweep away sites that are sacred to them," he said at a press conference announcing the legislation.

"Let their voices be heard above the din of drilling rigs which seek to desecrate their places of religious worship, Rahall said. "Let their voices be heard above the babble of corporate greed which would sacrifice their lands and waters on the altar of profit and wealth."

Several laws already aim to protect the religious freedom of Native Americans and the historic and cultural value of their lands. There is no legal mechanism to guarantee protection of sacred lands from energy development and other potentially harmful activities.

The bill would enact into law a 1996 executive order designed to protect sacred lands, ensuring access and ceremonial use of sacred lands and mandating all federal land management agencies to prevent significant damage to those lands. The legislation also gives Indian tribes the ability to petition the government to place federal lands off limits when they believe proposed action would cause significant damage to their sacred lands.

"The tribes would no longer have to depend on the good graces of federal bureaucrats to protect these lands," said Rahall. "They have every right to question the decisions made by the federal government concerning their hallowed lands, and this legislation would give them peace of mind and spirit," said Rahall.

A Quechan tribe sacred site in Indian Pass, California is the proposed site for a 1,600 acre, open pit gold mine. The Bush administration decision to revoke a Clinton era ruling that said mining operations would cause undue impairment to these ancestral lands has left the tribe fighting for its religious and cultural history.

And a sacred medicine wheel in the mountains of Wyoming's Big Horn National Forest is being threatened by a logging company which is suing the U.S. Forest Service for access to an adjacent area to the sacred site.

"At a time when the Bush administration is promoting increased energy development, we must enact comprehensive legislation that prohibits the loss of further Indian sacred lands," Rahall said. "We must not stand idly by as these unique places are wiped off the face of the Earth."

* * *

Lawsuit Would Force Protection of Puerto Rican Frog

WASHINGTON, DC, June 12, 2003 (ENS) - A lawsuit filed Wednesday seeks to compel the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate critical habitat and prepare a recovery plan for the Puerto Rico rock frog.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Maunabo Development Committee, a Puerto Rican citizen's group that works on coastal and wildlife protection and environmental education, filed the lawsuit in federal district court under the Endangered Species Act.

The frog, known also as coqui guajon and the "demon of Puerto Rico," lives only in caves and grotto formations in the Pandura Mountains in and around the southeastern Puerto Rican towns of Maunabo, Yabucoa, San Lorenzo, and Humacao. The guajon is the only one of the Puerto Rico coqui species to occur in caves and grotto formations.

The guajon is a relatively large brown frog, approximately three inches long, and is characterized by a peculiar, melodious and low voice.

There were originally 16 coqui frog species in Puerto Rico. Three are believed to be extinct today, and many of the remaining 13 are believed to be rare or declining.

The coqui guajon was listed by the Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on June 11, 1997. The agency has not designated critical habitat or prepared a recovery plan for the frog. The suit alleges that both of these omissions are direct violations of the ESA.

The Endangered Species Act defines critical habitat as "areas essential to the survival and recovery of a species" and only applies to federal lands or projects on private lands that require federal permits, funding, or licenses.

The ESA mandates recovery plans to be designed by the Fish and Wildlife Service to bring about the recovery of a species to the point where it no longer needs protection.

"The efforts to declare critical habitat for the coqui guajon in the Pandura Mountains are essential to assure the continued survival of this species," said Dr. Pedro Torres-Morales, president of the Maunabo Development Committe.

Peter Galvin, conservation biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity, said, "This fascinating frog is a unique part of Puerto Rico's, and indeed the world's, natural heritage. We must not allow another of its magnificent coqui species to go extinct."

Worldwide amphibian populations have continued to steadily decline at about 2 percent per year after sharp drops of 15 percent per year from 1960 to 1966. Contributing factors include loss of habitat, fertilizer, pesticide and atmospheric pollution, and the introduction of exotic predators.

Hear the voice of the coqui guajon online at: http://www.cnnet.clu.edu/procoqui/eng/eccoki.asp

* * *

Federal Money Funds Chronic Wasting Disease Studies

MADISON, Wisconsin, June 12, 2003 (ENS) - Armed with $5.2 million in grant money, researchers from the University of Wisconsin will begin to try to better understand the mechanisms behind molecular and environmental chronic wasting disease.

With the help of three grants from the Department of Defense, scientists will research genetic variations of the disease among deer, the transmission of chronic wasting disease (CWD) to other species, the contamination of soil with the infectious agent and the biological markers that occur early in CWD infection. They hope the research will lead to the development of a live animal test to detect the disease.

"There is so much we do not know and so much that needs to be done," said Judd Aiken, professor of animal health and biomedical sciences in the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine and lead investigator on two of the new grants. "Saying we are excited about the opportunity to do these studies is an understatement."

The first study, funded by a five-year, $2.3 million grant, builds upon earlier work initiated by researchers to characterize the biology of and genetic susceptibility of animals to chronic wasting disease. Researchers will use tissue samples taken from both infected and uninfected deer to identify differences in the prion protein gene.

Abnormally folded prion proteins are known to cause chronic wasting disease and other similar neurological diseases, or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.

After identifying the different prion proteins, the researchers will test people's potential genetic susceptibility to the disease by working with mice expressing the human prion protein gene.

The third study turns to the environment, including the animals living on it and the soil beneath their feet to understand how the disease spreads.

"We know that wild deer are dying from CWD. Unless they are removed, other animals come into contact with the infected carcasses," said Aiken. "Little is known about whether the disease can be transmitted this way."

The third study will infect raccoons, skunks, opossums, mice, and rats with the chronic wasting disease agent to investigage whether animals that share the same territory as deer or feed off their remains can harbor the abnormal prion proteins known to cause chronic wasting disease.

Federal support will go a long way toward answering fundamental questions about CWD in deer and elk, as well as other species," Aiken said. "Historically, CWD research has not been funded. There is not a lot of emphasis on studying wildlife diseases. To get three grants like these is really an honor."

* * *

Excess Nitrogen Affecting Human Health

BOULDER, Colorado, June 12, 2003 (ENS) - The growing use of nitrogen as a nutrient is affecting public health beyond its benefits for agriculture, according to a new University of Colorado (CU) led study.

Alan Townsend of CU-Boulder's Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research, the study leader, said changes in the global nitrogen cycle, while beneficial in increasing crop growth, appear to pose a growing health risk. Roughly half of the inorganic nitrogen ever used on the planet has been applied in the past 15 years.

"The major global changes in the nitrogen cycle have occurred because humans now convert more nitrogen to such usable forms than all natural processes combined," Townsend said. "The synthesis of nitrogen fertilizers accounts for most of this change. But the overuse of nitrogen fertilizers can lead to a number of problems, including air and water pollution."

"Ecological feedbacks to excess nitrogen can inhibit crop growth, increase allergenic pollen production and potentially affect the dynamics of several vector borne diseases, including West Nile virus, malaria and cholera," the researchers wrote in their paper which appeared in the June 2 issue of "Frontiers in Ecology."

A positive aspect of using nitrogen as a fertilizer has been an increase in food production in poor nations, reducing hunger and malnutrition, Townsend said.

So far, most nitrogen studies have focused on problems resulting from nitrogen rich runoff from agricultural lands such as losses in biodiversity, increased acid rain and changes in coastal ocean ecology that include oxygen poor "dead zones" like those seen in the Gulf of Mexico.

But excess nitrogen can contribute to respiratory ailments, heart disease and several cancers, said Townsend, who is an assistant professor in CU-Boulder's Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department.

"On the bright side, there are solutions to these problems," said Townsend. "Too much fertilizer is being used in developed countries, while in some impoverished countries, additional fertilizer is needed. This is something that can be changed."

In the United States,fertilizer intensive crops are common and more fertilizer than is needed for maximum crop yields often is used. Reducing fertilizer also would lessen crop pollution to our waterways and air, he said.

The use of fertilizer in modern industrial nations is not optimized for the production of the healthiest food, Townsend said. Crops like corn largely become food for domestic animals, leading to further nitrogen losses to the environment, disparities in world food distribution and a growing tendency for unhealthy diets even in wealthy nations, the researchers concluded.

In the United States, more than half of the grain produced is fed to animals, and corn is used much more widely as a sweetener than for human consumption as a grain. Meat consumption by humans has doubled worldwide since 1960, and excess meat consumption has been linked to numerous health issues, including heart disease.

Increased nitrogen pouring into the world's oceans can cause algal blooms that can harm fish, shellfish and humans. On land, ozone, a major pollutant produced with high amounts of nitrogen oxides, causes numerous health problems as well as billions of dollars of crop damage, according to the research team.

"We believe the greatest net health benefits come from using nitrogen at moderate levels," said Townsend. "Making and using it at higher levels does not lead to parallel increases in benefits, but does greatly exacerbate environmental and health problems."

The project was funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation. Co-authors on the paper are from Cornell, Harvard and Princeton universities, the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis. Other co-authors are from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, the New England School of Acupuncture in Watertown, Massachusetts, and Visteon Corporation in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

* * *

Tools Simplify Calculation of Aluminum Emissions

WASHINGTON, DC, June 12, 2003 (ENS) - New tools developed for calculating greenhouse gas emissions from primary aluminum production, announced today, offer a simple unified industry approach to greenhouse gas emissions accounting, proponents say.

The International Aluminum Institute, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and the World Resources Institute began developing the Aluminum Sector Greenhouse Gas Protocol in early 2002 with the support of the Environment Protection Agency.

"The new Aluminum Sector Greenhouse Gas Protocol will help to improve still further on the reliability and consistency of the calculation and reporting of greenhouse gases throughout the aluminum sector," said Robert Chase, secretary general of the International Aluminum Institute, which includes 24 companies representing every region of the world and are responsible for more than 75 percent of world primary aluminum production.

"It will be of value for internal company use as well as for reporting to the public and to specific audiences such as governments and special interest groups," Chase said.

The process provides a model for other industry associations developing sector specific greenhouse gas calculation tools, said Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute. "We look forward to other industry sectors collaborating with the protocol in the future to expand this international accounting standard."

The International Aluminum Institute has carried out annual global perfluorocarbon (PFC) emission surveys since the 1990s, when it was discovered that perfluorocarbon, a byproduct of the aluminum production process, contributed to global warming.

In the decade from 1990-2000, survey results showed that industry respondents had reduced their total PFC emissions by approximately 46 percent, despite a 36 percent increase in production over that decade.

The 2001 survey showed an industry wide 70 percent reduction in average PFC emissions per ton since 1990.

Companies representing about 65 percent of the world's aluminum smelter capacity took part in the survey.

* * *

Fisheries Bills Support Alaskan Industry

JUNEAU, Alaska, June 12, 2003 - Three bills signed today by Governor Frank Murkowski are aimed to assist Alaska's fishing industry.

The three bills, all sponsored by state Senator Gary Stevens of Kodiak, give tax credits for the development of new salmon products, assist commercial fishermen with tax obligations, and simplify taxes for fishing businesses.

"We are serious about supporting our fishing families. Alaska's fisheries are second to none all over the world," said Murkowski. "We have set the standard for responsible management. Alaska's fisheries have had a successful and industrious past, and we are committed to providing a positive and productive future."

Alaskan House Bill 90 provides tax credit on qualified expenses when developing or purchasing equipment to produce products from salmon waste and the costs associated with moving salmon waste to a company that produces marketable products from the waste.

House Bill 105 amends the Commercial Fishing Loan Act by establishing a loan program to assist Alaska resident commercial fishermen in satisfying overdue federal tax obligations. Tax loans would be available only to commercial fishermen who have been Alaska residents for a continuous period of two years preceding the date of application.

House Bill 104 allows for the same monthly payment of fisheries business taxes now only available to fish brokers. The goal is help small processors stay in business by reducing the upfront capital required to obtain a fisheries business license by providing processors the option of paying the tax monthly.

* * *

Gel Bait Created to Control Fire Ant Invasion

WATERBURY, Connecticut, June 12, 2003 (ENS) - A new product to control fire ants by feeding them is about to reach the market. The bait gel developed jointly by U.S. Agricultural Research Service scientists and Waterbury Companies appeals to fire ants but kills them.

Waterbury Companies will sell the new bait gel as Drax NutraBait later this month pending Environmental Protection Agency registration.

Fire ants are thought to have been introduced into the United States during the 1930s at the seaport of Mobile, Alabama. Today the imported ants have become a serious problem in Texas, Southern California, Florida and many other areas throughout the southern United States.

Fire ants infest pastures, croplands, citrus groves, golf courses, lawns and flowerbeds. Among other things, they will sting humans or animals, remove bark from young trees, and build mounds up to 18 inches high that makes cultivation of crops difficult and expensive.

Cases have been reported of fire ants infesting livestock feed and orange groves so heavily that workers have refused to enter to pick the fruit for fear of being stung.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency, and Waterbury applied for a joint patent on the bait gel formulation, which mixes carbohydrates, lipids and proteins that are eaten by fire ants. That is a first, according to Guadalupe Rojas, an entomologist at the ARS Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Rojas and ARS entomologist Juan Morales-Ramos began working on the new formula about three years ago to lure the tiny, stinging pests away from bait traps intended to kill Formosan subterranean termites. Both pests are targets of large scale research and control projects in the southeast.

The final product is a weather resistant, yellow gel that can be squeezed onto both flat and vertical surfaces. It contains five percent boric acid, which, in tests, killed fire ant colonies in two months or less, depending on their size and the season.

* * *

In Search of Ohio's Champion Trees

COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 12, 2003 (ENS) - In back yards, parks and cemeteries, the search is on for Ohio's largest trees. State foresters are asking residents to help them locate champion sized trees, with a particular eye to finding the nation's largest Ohio Buckeye.

While the Ohio Buckeye is the state's official tree, the largest known tree of its kind is located in Kentucky. Ohio's largest known Ohio Buckeye tree is located near North Bend in Hamilton County.

"Ohio has a wide diversity of tree species, and many of these trees have grown to championship proportions in back yards, community parks and cemeteries across the state," said John Dorka, chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry.

"This year, we are looking to update our listing of state record trees. And with a little luck, maybe we can find several more national champions, including a champion Ohio Buckeye," Dorka said. "We believe these trees are out there. It is just a matter of finding and recording them."

Ohio's national champion Big Trees include a black ash, Kentucky coffeetree, Siberian elm, two slippery elms, Norway maple, northern pin oak, shingle oak, common pear, eastern redbud, two winged silverbell, American smoketree and a yellowwood.

A registry of 826 Big Trees - the largest examples of their species in the country - is maintained by American Forests, a conservation organization based in Washington, DC.

Anyone can nominate a tree for Big Tree designation. Nomination forms will be accepted anytime and are available on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website at: http://www.ohiodnr.com, along with a diagram for taking preliminary measurements of a candidate tree.