AmeriScan: June 3, 2005

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U.S. Asks Japan to Stop Lethal Whale Research

WASHINGTON, DC, June 3, 2005 (ENS) - The United States has asked Japan to end its program of lethal "scientific" whaling. The request comes shortly before Japan is expected to unveil a proposed program for hunting hundreds more whales in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.

Japan hopes to increase its take of minke whales from 440 to 850 a year and to add 50 each of humpback and fin whales to its self-imposed quotas. Japan added sperm, sei, and Bryde's whales to its whaling program in 2002.

Ministers and commissioners from more than 60 countries will discuss this and other aspects of whale management at the International Whaling Commission's annual meeting in Ulsan, South Korea, June 20 to 24.

Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reiterated their opposition to lethal research on whales and said Japan's research whaling raises questions of scientific validity.

U.S. officials believe scientific data can be collected through non-lethal means. They are concerned that taking whales from stocks that may be depleted could retard or preclude recovery of those stocks.

U.S. officials also voiced concern that an expansion of Japan's lethal "research program" in the Southern Ocean will hinder discussion and progress on other important issues at the IWC meeting.

Japan began taking whales for what it describes as research purposes in 1987, and conducts such programs in the Southern Ocean and in the North Pacific Ocean.

Japan unilaterally issues itself an annual quota of more than 800 whales, including minke, sei, Bryde's and sperm whales. Whale meat from the research hunts is sold in the Japanese marketplace.

NOAA is the scientific research and whale management agency within the United States government, and as such is the lead federal agency at International Whaling Commission meetings.

Other nations such as Australia and New Zealand also oppose Japan's whaling reseach. Australian Prime Minister John Howard wrote a letter to his Japanese counterpart Junichiro Koizumi in May asking Japan to cease its lethal scientific whaling program.

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NRDC Sues to Obtain Records of Sonar Harm to Whales

NEW YORK, New York, June 3, 2005 (ENS) - The Bush administration is withholding a large quantity of evidence about harm caused to whales, dolphins and other marine life by high-intensity military sonar, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in New York federal court.

The lawsuit was brought under the Freedom of Information Act by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a national conservation group. It seeks thousands of pages of documents related to mass strandings and mortalities of marine mammals exposed to military sonar.

NRDC requested the material from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Department of Commerce more than a year ago, but so far those agencies have turned over only 12 documents totaling fewer than 25 pages.

Some of the documents withheld by the administration pertain to a recent mass stranding of whales along the Outer Banks of North Carolina last January. No information from that stranding has been released to the public despite repeated requests.

"The Bush administration is sitting on box-loads of data that show the devastating impact of military sonar on whales," said Michael Jasny, a senior policy consultant for NRDC. "The public has a right to know what is happening to these majestic creatures, and the Bush administration is breaking the law by stonewalling."

The Navy's mid-frequency, active sonar systems generate sound of extreme intensity to locate objects in the ocean. Marine mammals have extraordinarily sensitive hearing, and there is no scientific dispute that intense sonar blasts can disturb, injure, and even kill them, according to NRDC.

"Whales exposed to high-intensity sonar have been found bleeding from the eyes and ears, with lesions the size of golf balls in their organ tissue. Biologists are concerned that the whales we see dying on the beaches are only the tip of an iceberg and that many more are dying at sea," Jasny said.

A report concluding that the association between sonar and whale mortalities was "very convincing and appears overwhelming," was issued last year by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission, one of the world's leading bodies of whale biologists.

The Navy acknowledged that its use of sonar off the Bahamas in March 2000 resulted in the stranding of 16 whales of three species.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has been involved in many of the investigations into sonar-related strandings, but the Bush administration so far has not turned over the large quantity of information it possesses.

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Millions Invested in Utilizing Unwanted Tree Parts

WASHINGTON, DC, June 3, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is offering $4.4 million in grants to 20 small enterprises in 12 states to develop innovative uses for woody biomass in national forests as sources of renewable energy and new products.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns Thursday said the grants are meant to utilize woody materials cleared to comply with the Bush administration's wildfire reduction program.

"President Bush's Healthy Forest Initiative is improving overall forest health and reducing the risk of catastrophic fire," said Johanns. "These projects will provide benefits in terms ofhelp our efforts to reduceing hazardous fuels and improveing forest health, while increasing the nation's renewable energy supply."

The 2003 Healthy Forests Restoration Act calls for a grant program to help communities, entrepreneurs, businesses, local governments and others take residues from hazardous fuel reduction projects and turn them into marketable wood products, liquid fuels or energy.

Woody biomass includes tree parts and woody plants - limbs, tops, needles and other woody parts - that are byproducts of ecological restoration and hazardous fuel reduction treatment activities.

The byproducts that are removed can be used for generating energy, such as steam and electric, and a variety of other uses. However, one of the largest obstacles for using woody biomass is that it does not often generate sufficient income to overcome the costs of acquiring and processing the raw material.

To select the grantees, the U.S. Forest Service reviewed more than 145 proposed projects. Selections were based on projects that will make it profitable to salvage woody biomass by turning it into marketable products while reducing the cost of recovery.

Grants were also awarded for projects that will help to remove economic and market barriers in using small-diameter trees and woody biomass. Consideration was also given to projects that will help to revitalize rural communities whose forest based economies have suffered in recent years.

s The maximum grant is $250,000. All recipients must match the federal portion by at least 20 percent. Together with the non-federal matches, more than $20 million will be spent on these projects.

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Judge Orders Stronger Pollution Controls for Everglades

MIAMI, Florida, June 3, 2005 (ENS) - In response to a motion brought by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, a federal judge Wednesday declared that the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have violated the terms of a 1991 agreement with regard to phosphorous levels in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

The tribe calls the Everglades home and has been active in ensuring its protection. The legal action was brought by the Miccosukee Tribe and Earthjustice, representing a coalition of eight conservation groups.

Judge Federico Moreno of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, recognized the importance of preserving the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge and the Everglades by finding the DEP and the water district in violation of the consent decree.

"This is a landmark ruling in a landmark case brought to protect the Everglades, which ensures the essential component of judicial oversight," said Dexter Lehtinen, attorney for the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians. "Judge Moreno understands judicial oversight is vital to ensuring that the Everglades is protected, and he is willing to exercise it."

High phosphorous levels in a sensitive natural area such as the Loxahatchee Refuge can cause damage to plants and other wildlife that rely upon a balanced environment. Runoff from nearby sugar fields is slowly choking the refuge, which acts as a conduit into large areas of the Everglades, located to the south.

The judge found evidence of an additional violation because the district and the DEP failed to construct a vital water treatment area that would help reduce phosphorous levels in the Everglades.

The judge ordered a special master in charge of the cleanup to hold hearings in the near future that will establish an effective means of restoring the Everglades ecosystem.

"The Everglades are part of all of us who call Florida home," said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. "The state has got to do its part to protect this natural area for future generations and we hope that today's order will be a big step towards that goal."

Earthjustice is representing a broad coalition of conservation groups, including National Wildlife Federation, Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, The Wilderness Society, National Parks and Conservation Association, Audubon Society of the Everglades and the Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club and supports the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, who has consistently pushed state and local agencies to cleanup Loxahatchee and the Everglades.

"We're all working towards ensuring that clean water reaches the Loxahatchee Refuge and eventually the Everglades," Guest said.

s Loxahatchee Natural Wildlife Refuge covers 221 square miles and is inhabited by many species of migrating shorebirds and waterfowl.

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Upper Mississippi River Levels Adjusted for Fish, Wildlife

SAINT PAUL, Minnesota, June 3, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, in cooperation with the Water Level Management Task Force of the River Resources Forum, plans on implementing a drawdown of Pool 5 on the Upper Mississippi River for the benefit of fish and wildlife this summer.

The drawdown at Lock and Dam 5, which is located 10 miles northwest of Winona, Minnesota, will reduce water levels at the dam by 1.5 foot, beginning June 13.

A pool drawdown is a lowering of the pool elevation to expose areas in the pool and promote the growth of aquatic vegetation and improve habitat.

Scientists and river managers have been studying the effects of pool drawdowns on the Upper Mississippi River and believe this technique holds promise for improving fish and wildlife habitat.

"Drawdowns of 1.5 feet were implemented in Pool 8 during the summers of 2001 and 2002, resulting in a very positive plant response," the Corps said.

This plan can only be implemented if flows stay below 105,000 cubic feet per second. If so, the drawdown will be conducted throughout the summer and will be completed by September 30, 2005.

The effects on commercial navigation in Pool 5 are expected to be minimal. The Corps dredged the main channel in this portion of the river this spring to insure adequate depths in the navigation channel during the drawdown.

Recreational boat access will be affected by the drawdown. Boat access channels that will probably be unusable or restricted to smaller low drafting vessels in Minnesota include Minneiska Public Landing, Weaver Bottoms Public Landing, Goose Lake Landing, Clear Lake Landing and Halfmoon Landing. A temporary access at the upper end of West Newton Chute, near Halfmoon Landing, should be open during the drawdown.

In Wisconsin, four of the five boat access points should not be significantly impacted. The fifth boat ramp, at Upper Spring Lake Landing, will be closed due to construction during the drawdown.

Boaters are urged to exercise caution during the drawdown, particularly as they boat through areas off the main channel.

The River Resources Forum endorsed this drawdown. The Forum was established to build consensus on resource issues concerning the Upper Mississippi River system within the Corps of Engineer's St. Paul District jurisdiction.

Participating agencies include the Army Corps of Engineers; the Coast Guard; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Fish and Wildlife Service; the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; the National Park Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service; and the departments of natural resources and transportation from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

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Safeway Pressured to Post Seafood Mercury Warnings

SAN FRANCISCO, California, June 3, 2005 (ENS) - This week, with the placement of a full page ad in the "New York Times," a conservation group launched a new campaign aimed at grocery retailer Safeway for its failure to warn customers about seafood that may contain mercury.

The campaign was launched in the wake of stalled talks with upper Safeway management, which recently ended in a stalemate. Turtle Island Restoration Network is asking Safeway to expand its mercury-in-seafood health warning signs to all of its 1,802 Safeway-owned stores throughout the United States and Canada.

"Safeway should be taking a leadership role and live up to its new 'Ingredients for Life' marketing campaign by posting signs in their stores throughout the nation," says Andy Peri, Public Health Analyst for Turtle Island Restoration Network. Is mercury-contaminated fish an ingredient for ‘life’ or an ingredient for illness and possible death?”

Most of California's Safeway stores have warning signs at fish counters where high-mercury fish such as swordfish, shark and tuna are sold - but only in California as required under Proposition 65. Outside of California, Safeway has not posted the warning signs.

Steven Burd, CEO of Safeway, confronted by Peri at last week’s Safeway’s stockholders meeting, responded that there has been a lot of media attention on the issue, suggesting that additional warning signs are not needed.

Seafood consumers have written thousands of emails, letters and faxes to Safeway's CEO, Steven Burd asking him to require mercury warning signs nationwide, but the requests have not been acknowledged by Safeway management and to date, no action has been taken.

Fish collected at Safeway stores by Turtle Island Restoration Network in 2004 revealed 78 percent of samples exceeding the FDA's action level of one part per million mercury with samples reaching as high as 1.5 parts per million, 50 percent higher the FDA action level. Even fish with levels of mercury below the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) action level can cause significant harm to both children and adults.

The FDA warns women of childbearing age and mothers not to eat swordfish at all.

If a 120 pound woman were to consume eight ounces of swordfish containing 1.5 parts per million mercury, she would be exposed to more than 860 percent of what the FDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers safe, the conservation group points out. Such a diet high in mercury-contaminated fish would put a nursing baby or a child in the womb at risk of neurological damage.

A new report by the Research Institute of Public Health in Finland shows a significant increase of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease and heart attacks in men with elevated mercury levels.

Fish consumers can protect themselves from mercury-contaminated fish by using an online mercury calculator at http://www.gotmercury.org. The calculator allows consumers to choose the lowest mercury fish while avoiding fish with the highest levels of mercury-contamination.

“This ad is just the beginning of our campaign to alert the public to threats from eating contaminated seafood being purchased as supermarkets. You can expect to see grassroots activists from our growing coalition of organizations in front of Safeway supermarkets in your neighborhood soon," says Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.

To view the ad, visit: www.seaturtles.org

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Wild Oats Markets Will Sell Only Eggs From Cage-Free Chickens

WASHINGTON, DC, June 3, 2005 (ENS) - The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Wild Oats Markets, Inc. Tuesday announced an agreement to avoid the sale of eggs from caged birds in all 75 Wild Oats Natural Marketplaces, located in 23 states.

This announcement makes Wild Oats the nation's first major chain to formally implement a cage-free corporate policy for eggs. Wild Oats sold 1.6 million cartons of eggs in 2004.

"Demand for improving the welfare of farm animals has never been higher," said Perry Odak, President and CEO of Wild Oats Markets, Inc. "We are hopeful that our decision not to approve egg farmers who use caged birds for our national and regional product lists will encourage the egg industry to move in the direction of phasing out its use of battery cages, and shifting toward cage-free methods that take the animals' welfare into account."

"Wild Oats has made a savvy business decision by positioning itself as a corporation sensitive to animal welfare concerns," said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO. "Socially aware consumers want to know that animal products sold at retail are produced in a humane and sustainable manner, and with egg production, it is well established that raising birds outside of cages is the most responsible production system."

Approximately 98 percent of eggs sold in the United States come from birds confined in barren "battery cages" so small they can't even spread their wings, let alone engage in other natural behaviors such as nesting, foraging, perching, and dust bathing - a practice that 86 percent of Americans surveyed by Zogby International find unacceptable. Despite this, battery cage egg production has increased over the last 50 years.

According to HSUS Factory Farming Campaign manager Paul Shapiro, "Birds in battery cages suffer immensely. Wild Oats has taken a bold step by avoiding the sale of eggs from caged birds, and we enthusiastically applaud their efforts to help reduce animal suffering."

Other U.S. companies, such as McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's have asked their egg suppliers to increase cage space.

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