AmeriScan: June 25, 2004

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Drought: Conservation Reserves Opened for Emergency Grazing

WASHINGTON, DC, June 25, 2004 (ENS) - Extreme drought conditions across the western half of the country have prompted Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to authorize emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres.

Veneman announced the emergency relief measure Thursday to help farmers and ranchers and the livestock in distress. "Emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program acres will allow producers to provide additional feed and forage for their livestock," she said.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a new area of exceptional drought - the most severe form - was introduced from southeastern Montana into western Nebraska during mid-June.

The Conservation Reserve Program is in place to promote the conservation and improvement of soil, water, air, energy, plant and animal life. Under the program, producers voluntarily retire environmentally sensitive cropland for 10 to 15 years and receive payments from the federal government for doing so.

To be enrolled in the CRP, land must either be highly erodible, contribute to a serious water quality problem, provide important wildlife habitat or provide substantial environmental benefits if devoted to certain specific conservation uses. Currently, 34.6 million acres are enrolled in the program.

The Secretary of Agriculture may authorize emergency grazing of CRP acreage in response to a drought or other natural disaster. In addition, managed haying and grazing of CRP acreage is allowed under certain conditions.

Thursday’s announcement authorizes emergency grazing - including grazing during the nesting season - of CRP acreage, in eligible counties only, until September 30.

To be eligible, a county must have suffered at least a 40 percent deviation from normal precipitation, or be at a D3 or D4 level for drought as rated by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Under today’s announcement, Farm Service Agency state committees shall consult with the Natural Resources Conservation Service state technical committees before approving counties for emergency grazing during the primary nesting season established for managed haying and grazing.

After a county has been approved, eligible CRP participants may submit emergency grazing applications at their local Farm Service Agency office. CRP participants who do not own or lease livestock may rent or lease their grazing privileges.

CRP annual rental payments made to participants will be reduced by 10 percent for the areas grazed. This reduction takes into account the extreme conditions that are prompting this action and is scaled back from the 25 percent reduction requirement that was in place in recent years.

Haying or any other harvesting other than grazing will not be permitted.

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House Bill Aims to Reform Fisheries Management

WASHINGTON, DC, June 25, 2004 (ENS) – Legislation introduced by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday is the first attempt to enact policy proposals made by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission.

The Fisheries Management Reform Act of 2004 would broaden participation on the fishery management councils to include members of the public, to significantly reduce financial conflicts of interest of those on the councils, and to ensure that political and economic influences do not override conservation decisions on the health of the fish populations.

"Not the timber industry, not the mining industry - as a matter of fact, no other industry I can think of is allowed to regulate itself like the fishing industry does," said Representative Nick Rahall, ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee and lead sponsor of the bill. "This system may have made sense when Congress first put it in place more than two decades ago, but it is clear now that the conflicts of interest council members are faced with have created a system that is not working."

The eight regional fishery management councils manage more than 900 fish stocks in U.S. ocean waters - council members simultaneously decide what scientific information is used to conserve fish populations and how to allocate these natural resources to fishermen for economic gain. Current law mandates that these councils share a balanced representation between commercial and recreational fishermen, but it does not designate that other interests, such as the public's interest, be represented on these councils.

A 2002 Stanford University Law study found 83 percent of all appointed council members represented commercial and recreational fishing interests. The study also reported that, historically, 60 percent of all council members have a direct financial interest in the fisheries they manage.

"The council system was not designed with the health of the marine ecosystem in mind," said Barton Thompson, a professor of natural resources law at Stanford University and co-author of the Stanford study. "The councils govern a geographical area larger than the continental United States and are trustees for the nation's invaluable marine fisheries, yet are exempt from the standard conflict of interest rules that apply to virtually every other federal regulatory system."

Both the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission criticized the current framework of the councils. They cited social, economic, and political factors that have led the councils to downplay the best available scientific information – this in turn has in part caused overfishing and the slow recovery of overfished stocks.

"We have known for years that the current management system is suffering from conflicts of interest, a need for broader stakeholder representation, and more attention to scientific advice," said California Democrat Sam Farr, the founding member of the House Oceans Caucus. "Our bill provides common sense changes that will move us towards a national fishery policy that is truly sustainable."

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Wilderness Lands Threatened by Utah BLM Oil and Gas Sale

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, June 25, 2004 (ENS) – The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will today hold the largest lease sale in Utah history, offering 281,000 acres to oil and gas companies, including some 30,000 acres of wilderness-quality land.

Environmentalists and New York Democratic Representative Maurice Hinchey protested the sale of 25 of the parcels, but the BLM has decided to offer those tracts for lease at the auction.

The BLM says the lease sales are justifying by renewed demand for domestic energy production.

"It is clear that the Interior Department's decision to open up more acreage to oil and gas exploration, leasing, and development will allow industry to compromise wilderness-quality areas before Congress has had an opportunity to act upon our long-standing wilderness proposal," said Hinchey. "The Bush administration is once again giving a gift to the oil and gas industry while doing irreparable damage to the environment."

Seventeen of the parcels are included in America's Redrock Wilderness Act, a bill sponsored by Hinchey that is supported in the 108th Congress by 15 senators and 161 members of the House of Representatives.

The BLM itself determined that at least 12 of the parcels have a "reasonable probability of wilderness characteristics.

"The BLM cannot credibly claim that it has ever analyzed the impacts of oil and gas development on these areas that the agency itself admits may be wilderness quality," said Stephen Bloch, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "This 'lease first, think later' approach is shortchanging the American public and jeopardizing some of Utah's most spectacular places."

The Utah lease sale is the fourth since the deal reached last spring by Interior Secretary Gale Norton and the State of Utah to remove BLM protections on the millions of acres of public lands in Utah that were deemed by BLM to have potential for wilderness designation.

For several years prior to that controversial settlement, the BLM had a policy of not leasing lands that the agency agreed had wilderness potential.

"One would reasonably expect the BLM to give the benefit of the doubt to places that it agrees are of potential wilderness quality," said Suzanne Jones, regional director of The Wilderness Society's Four Corners office. "Instead, the BLM is once again giving to the oil and gas industry irreplaceable lands that deserve to be protected for the public."

In addition to the areas with wilderness potential, many of the parcels are proposed for designation as "Areas of Critical Environmental Concern."

Several provide habitat for threatened, endangered, and sensitive plant and animal species.

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Preservation Urged for 12 Wilderness Treasures at Risk

WASHINGTON, DC, June 25, 2004 (ENS) - Campaign for America's Wilderness has put together a list of wild places that the advocacy group says Americans should visit while they still can.

Timed to draw public attention to the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act on September 3, 2004, "Wild…for How Long? Twelve Treasures in Trouble" profiles places across the country at risk of damage and development.

In Arizona, people are fighting a proposed power line through the Tumacocori Highlands. In Vermont, they are trying to protect Glastenbury Mountain from all-terrain vehicles.

One of Utah’s most familiar landmarks, the red rock Fisher Towers rise sheer for hundreds of feet above the desert just east of the Colorado River upstream from Moab. Businesses in Utah have called on the Bush administration to preserve the Fisher Towers, rather than ring them with oil leases.

An internationally recognized wildlife resource lies within the 23 million acre National Petroleum Reserve Alaska. A flashpoint in this race to develop the Western Arctic is Teshekpuk Lake, located 80 miles southeast of Point Barrow near the Beaufort Sea coastline. At 315 square miles, Teshekpuk is Alaska’s third largest lake, of high importance for a small goose called the Pacific black brant.

"In 1964, a bipartisan group of lawmakers had the foresight to enact a law that preserved our nation’s history, culture and natural legacy for future generations," said Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America’s Wilderness. "The Wilderness Act established the National Wilderness Preservation System, which serves as a treasure chest of permanently protected wild places. This report highlights just some of our national gems that should be placed in the treasure chest."

Outside of Alaska, only 2.5 percent of the nation’s land is preserved as designated wilderness by Congress today, says Matz.

"Twelve Treasures in Trouble" spotlights wild lands that need permanent protection in Alaska, Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, ennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming, and areas at risk in four other states.

In each of the wild places profiled, local people are working to protect the land as it is, for future generations to use and enjoy, Matz says. In many areas, members of Congress have introduced legislation or are considering proposals to ensure America’s wilderness legacy is preserved.

"There is no better way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act than to act to preserve these special places now," says Matz. "Public support for wilderness protection is broader and deeper than it has ever been. Americans want their children to be able to hike, camp, fish, hunt and enjoy the nation’s wild lands just as we have over the past four decades."

Read the full report at:

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Lake Roosevelt Re-Opens To Personal Watercraft

WASHINGTON, DC, June 25, 2004 (ENS) - The National Park Service has completed the environmental assessment required by a court settlement and concluded that personal watercraft are an appropriate boating activity for Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area. The Personal Watercraft Industry Association is proclaiming victory in the wake of the decision, which lifts a two year long restriction.

As of today the jetskis and sea-doos are allow back on Lake Roosevelt north of Spokane, Washington.

"We were confident that science would once again rule over bias, and confirm that PWC have no unique impact that justifies singling them out for discriminatory bans," said Jeff Ludwig, regulatory affairs manager at the Personal Watercraft Industry Association (PWIA).

In August 2000, the San Francisco based environmental group Bluewater Network sued the park service to stop the use of personal watercraft (PWC) in some parks and recreation areas. The environmental group claimed that because PWC cause water and air pollution, generate noise, and pose public safety threats, the park service acted arbitrarily and capriciously when deciding to allow them.

A settlement agreement between the National Park Service and Bluewater Network was signed on April 12, 2001. The agreement requires all park units wishing to continue PWC use to issue special regulations only after each unit conducts an environmental analysis in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

At a minimum, the NEPA analysis must evaluate the impacts of the watercraft on water quality, air quality, soundscapes, wildlife, wildlife habitat, shoreline vegetation, visitor conflicts, and visitor safety, and conduct a benefit-cost analysis for small businesses in the area of the park.

"I applaud the National Park Service for completing this process in time to allow the public to use their PWC at Lake Roosevelt for the 2004 boating season," said Ludwig, "and encourage the NPS to work as expediently as possible to finish the rulemaking process in other units currently considering allowing resumed PWC use."

Five additional National Park Service (NPS) units have allowed the personal watercraft, eight units are in the final stages of the rulemaking process to reallow the vessels, and scientific analyses on the effects of personal watercraft are currently underway at two national seashores.

The industry association says modern PWC are 75 percent cleaner and 70 percent quieter than previous models. They are compliant with federal and state emissions requirements, and many models are ahead of schedule, meeting the EPA's 2006 standards several years early.

The industry wants to portray PWC as "an environmentally friendly boating choice for families who wish to enjoy the water together." The association points out that manufacturers have loaned more than 13,000 PWC to law enforcement, rescue, and research organizations.

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Sportsmen Line Up Against Bush Mercury Emissions Trading Plan

WASHINGTON, DC, June 25, 2004 (ENS) - A coalition of 470 sportsmen’s groups from 34 states is urging the Bush administration to strengthen its current proposal to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Representing over a million anglers, hunters, and conservationists and led by the National Wildlife Federation, the coalition sent an open letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Leavitt asking for the change in policy.

The public comment period on the EPA's proposed cap and trade rule for mercury emissions closes June 30. Environmental groups say the current provisions of the existing Clean Air Act would remove mercury from the air years before the emissions trading plan proposed by the Bush administration.

Mercury emitted into the air by the combustion of coal to generate electricity is deposited by rain in lakes, rivers and streams, where it finds its way into the bodies of fish, making them unfit for human consumption.

"Few experiences in life are better than witnessing the excitement of a child who reels in his or her first fish, then proudly takes it home for dinner. How do we explain to them that they cannot safely eat what they catch," the sportsmen write in their letter to Leavitt.

"Anglers in some states have had to worry about mercury fish advisories for three decades – the difference today is that we now have the technology to feasibly and affordably solve this problem," they write.

The coalition of sportsmen joins more than half a million Americans who already have written to Leavitt opposing the agency’s proposal.

"Sportsmen and women are concerned about mercury pollution for a simple reason: We want to be able to eat the fish that we catch," says George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, an National Wildlife Federation affiliate.

"This letter is a call to action: Reduce mercury pollution. Keep our rivers and lakes clean. Protect the health of people and wildlife. Enact tough mercury pollution standards," Meyer said.

Coal-burning power plants remain the largest unregulated source of mercury air pollution, adding 48 tons of mercury into the air each year, contributing more than 40 percent of all mercury emissions in the United States.

Forty-three states and one territory have issued advisories warning people to limit their fish consumption due to mercury contamination. Nationwide, more than 10 million lake acres and 400,000 river miles are under a mercury advisory.

The sportsmen are relying on their economic clout to get the attention of the Bush administration. Sportsmen purchase millions of fishing and hunting licenses every year – providing funds that support wildlife management and conservation efforts. Nationwide, sportfishing contributes $41 billion to local economies.

"Sportsmen are an important and powerful voice in this debate," says Marc Smith with the National Wildlife Federation. "For years, hunters and anglers across the nation have worked to reduce mercury pollution and protect the health of wildlife. Now they are sending a clear message that they want the administration to strengthen the current mercury rule so that it protects the future of fishing for generations to come."

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Thyroid Tests Advised for Pregnant Women Exposed to Toxics

WASHINGTON, DC, June 25, 2004 (ENS) - Abnormal thyroid hormone levels in expectant mothers can result in developmental problems for their babies, four scientists warned Thursday.

Saying that synthetic chemicals in the environment may be contributing to low levels of maternal thyroid hormones or abnormal thyroid hormone function, the scientists recommended thyroid screening as part of routine health care for all pregnant women and women planning to have children.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), perchlorate from rocket fuel, and a class of flame retardants called PBDEs are all known to interfere with thyroid function or thyroid hormone action.

"There are classes of compounds in the environment that affect thyroid function in ways we could not have imagined 10 years ago. In the lab we're seeing what appear to be links between some of these compounds and brain development which could result in learning and developmental disabilities in humans," said Thomas Zoeller, professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Studies released this month have found high levels of PBDEs in household dust and in the human body.

"We have had an extraordinary rise in PBDEs throughout the population," said Ted Schettler, a physician at the Boston Medical Center and science director for the Science and Environmental Health Network.

Schettler said that PBDEs are very similar to PCBs, which have been banned in the United States since 1976, and should be treated as an equal threat and replaced with safer alternatives. "There's no need to repeat the same mistake we made with PCBs," he said.

The scientists cited a study published in the August 19, 1999 issue of the "New England Journal of Medicine" finding that children seven and eight years old had low I.Q. scores if their mothers had slightly low thyroid hormone levels.

"Thyroid hormone is essential for fetal brain development," said Schettler. "We've known for a long time that obvious thyroid deficiency can impair normal brain development but it's the children of mothers without symptoms that we need to worry about as well."

Another dangerous condition during pregnancy is subclinical hypothyroidism, which is described as normal thyroid hormone with slightly elevated levels of thyroid stimulating hormone.

In subclinical hypothyroidism, the mother does not show symptoms of hypothyroidism but the fetus may still be affected. Of all pregnant women, 2.5 percent are subclinically hypothyroid and 100,000 babies are born each year to these women, Schettler said.

James Haddow, professor of pediatrics at the University of Vermont School of Medicine and lead author of the study in the "New England Journal of Medicine," said that, once detected, the problem can be easily corrected with a daily pill.

"Hypothyroidism is a perfect example of something that's easy and inexpensive to detect and to treat once it's detected," said Haddow. "It makes good sense to incorporate [thyroid screening] into prenatal care."

Jane Browning, executive director of the Learning Disabilities Association of America, called on doctors to make thyroid screening a routine part of a well-woman exam, and said it should be part of every pre-pregnancy and pregnancy exam.

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U.S. Whale Conservationists Protest Toxic Whale Meat in Japan

WASHINGTON, DC, June 25, 2004 (ENS) - The link between U.S. whale conservationists and Japanese consumers is 7-Eleven stores, but the issue is contaminated whale meat, sold not in U.S. convenience stores, but by 7-Eleven's parent company at their stores in Japan.

Ito-Yokado, the Japanese parent company of 7-Eleven Inc., is the target of an information campaign by three environmental groups with Washington, DC offices and international affiliates - the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), The Humane Society of the United States, and Greenpeace.

They say Ito-Yokado is ignoring compelling evidence that whale, dolphin and porpoise products containing high levels of mercury and methylmercury are being sold in their stores.

Ito-Yokado is a major distributor of whale, dolphin and porpoise products through hundreds of its supermarket and convenience stores throughout Japan.

During an on-site survey of Ito-Yokado group stores, EIA researchers purchased canned 'toothed whale' products from two York Benimaru stores, a subsidiary of Ito-Yokado.

Chemical analysis of these products showed levels of mercury and methylmercury that far exceeded the Japanese government's legal limits. Chemical analyses of the products were carried out at the Daiichi College of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Fukuoka. The highest level of methylmercury in the tested products was nearly 15 times higher than the Japanese government allowable level.

Under the Food Sanitation Law, the government of Japan sets the maximum allowable level of mercury in marine products at 0.4 parts per million (ppm) and methyl mercury at 0.3 ppm.

EIA research revealed that 70 percent of 104 York Benimaru stores sell the same canned toothed whale product that was identified as containing dangerously high levels of mercury and methylmercury. The same product was also found in Ito-Yokado named stores.

Mercury has been shown to cause irreversible neurological damage with severe cases resulting in coma or death. Even in low concentrations, scientists have found that mercury can cause damage to nervous systems, with developing fetuses and children especially at risk.

In June 2003, the government of Japan released a health advisory warning pregnant and nursing women to limit their consumption of sperm whale, Baird's beaked whale, pilot whale and bottlenose dolphin because of high mercury levels.

EIA President, Allan Thornton said, "We have tried to engage in a sensible discussion with 7-Eleven and Ito-Yokado for over two years, but neither company is prepared to sacrifice their profits for the sake of cetacean conservation or the safety of their customers."

While not commenting directly on these allegations, Ito-Yokado issued a 2003 Sustainability Report which states, "In fiscal 2002 we put particular efforts into meeting customer expectations for food safety assurance. We are going beyond the legal requirements by seeking to provide traceability of the history of the products we sell, and we have tried to place ourselves in the shoes of the customer in providing labeling that is easily understood and inspires confidence."

The whale meat sold in Japan comes from the whale hunting that takes place under the scientific whaling provisions of the International Whaling Commission. In 2003 Japan killed 440 minke whales in the Antarctic in addition to 150 minke, 50 Bryde's, 50 sei and 10 sperm whales in the North Pacific – a total of 700 whales.

In addition, about a third of whale products on sale in Japan are derived from the 22,000 dolphins, porpoises and small whales caught each year in Japanese coastal waters.

Kitty Block, special counsel to the UN and Treaties Department of the Humane Society of the United States said, "The sale of contaminated cetacean products violates the government of Japan's Food Sanitation Law and should be prohibited in all Ito-Yokado stores on health grounds alone. Public health should not be compromised as a result of Japan's relentless campaign to resume commercial whaling worldwide."

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