AmeriScan: June 13, 2007

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Hawaii, Indonesia Build Disaster Preparedness Partnership

JAKARTA, Indonesia, June 13, 2007 (ENS) On an official visit this week to the island nation of Indonesia, Linda Lingle, governor of America's only island state, Hawaii, has struck a partnership that will help both governments deal with natural disasters such as the deadly tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004.

Governor Lingle and Indonesia's Minister of Defense Dr. Juwono Sudarsono Monday announced a National Guard State Partnership between Indonesia and the Hawaii that has three aspects - military-to-military, military-to-civilian, and civilian-to-civilian.

The military-to-military initiatives emphasize professional development for the officer and non-commissioned corps and mutual exchanges between the partners' armed forces.

Military-to-civilian activities include preparation for defense support to civilian authorities during times of natural disasters.

The civilian-to-civilian relationships may consist of exchanges in areas such as domestic emergency readiness, search and rescue operations, scientific, educational, medical and legal visits and the enhancement of democratic institutions.

Both island chains face common challenges such as the threat of natural disasters, the governor said.

"I am confident that the National Guard State Partnership Program will not only enhance collaborative efforts in emergency disaster preparedness and response, but will also serve the broader purpose of expanding and deepening the friendship between the peoples of Indonesia and Hawaii," said Lingle.

The State Partnership Program was started by the National Guard Bureau in the early 1990s as a way of fostering positive relationships with former Soviet republics and satellite states. It has since been expanded to the Asia-Pacific region to develop strategic links, bridging distance and cultural differences.

Major General Robert Lee, Hawaii state adjutant general and commander of the Hawaii National Guard, said, "Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation, and it is in everyone's best interests to maintain stability and trade, both materially and the trade of ideas," said "How we build our partnership with Indonesia could have a huge strategic impact on the region."

Hawaii and Guam began a joint State Partnership Program with the Philippines in the mid-1990s. The two other State Partnership Programs in U.S. Pacific Command are Alaska with Mongolia, and Washington with Thailand.

On Tuesday, Governor Lingle visited the Tsunami Warning Center, which experts from Hawaii and millions of U.S. dollars have turned from an dysfunctional facility during the December 2004 tsunami into a first-class one today.

Lingle and Dr. Chip McCreery from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu participated in a roundtable discussion with Indonesian scientists to explore possible Hawaii-Indonesia partnerships.

The governor met with Sugeng Triutomo, director of disaster mitigation for BAKORNAS PB, the National Disaster Management Coordinating Board of Indonesia to discuss a new law that is decentralizing Indonesia's disaster management to a model similar to the United States.

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Hatchery Salmon Don't Count as Wild

SEATTLE, Washington, June 13, 2007 (ENS) - The Bush administration's 2005 policy requiring fisheries scientists to count hatchery-bred fish in making endangered species assessments of salmon runs has been thrown out by a federal court.

In Seattle today, U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour rejected the policy as scientifically flawed and inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act.

The judge also set aside the listing decision for Upper Columbia River steelhead, a population which was treated with a lower level of endangered species protection due to the abundance of hatchery salmon in its habitat.

The rulings came in twin decisions in related cases that were released today.

The groups filing the lawsuits include Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermens' Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Oregon Wild, Klamath Forest Alliance, Pacific Rivers Council, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Native Fish Society and Federation of Fly Fishers.

They were represented by attorneys Jan Hasselman, Kristen Boyles, and Patti Goldman of the nonprofit, public interest law firm Earthjustice.

They sued the National Marine Fisheries Service and NMFS Regional Administrator Dr. Robert Lohn.

The groups were joined by intervenor-plaintiffs the Building Association of Washington, the Coalition for Idaho Water, the Idaho Water Users Association, and the Washington State Farm Bureau.

The judge held that "in evaluating any policy or listing determination under the ESA, [the Court's] polestar must be the viability of naturally self-sustaining populations in their naturally-occurring habitat."

"Nothing ... provides a scientific justification for basing status determinations" on both hatchery and wild fish together," the judge wrote.

Hasselman said the decisions were victories for both fish and people. "Salmon and people need clean water, swimmable streams, and healthy habitat. We all win when we protect and recover wild salmon and their habitat. Hatcheries never were meant to be a replacement for self-sustaining populations of salmon in healthy streams."

NMFS' scientific advisors and experts unanimously concluded that it would be "biologically indefensible" to eliminate Endangered Species Act protection for endangered salmon based on the abundance of hatchery fish.

Documents uncovered in the lawsuit showed that political appointees sought to muzzle the agency's scientific experts, forcing some to independently publish their views in scientific journals.

The judge noted that counting hatchery fish alongside wild fish can reduce protections for the wild fish. This was the case when the administration downlisted Upper Columbia River steelhead from endangered to threatened, which the Court also set aside.

To read the court ruling, click here.

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$50 Million Skykomish Oil Cleanup Proposed

OLYMPIA, Washington, June 13, 2007 (ENS) - The Washington state Department of Ecology is proposing a $50 million, four year comprehensive cleanup and natural resource restoration plan for the Town of Skykomish, located about 50 miles east of Seattle.

The plan calls for the BNSF Railway to excavate soil and treat groundwater contaminated by oil under Skykomish, fund natural resource restoration projects and to coordinate the cleanup with the construction of a wastewater treatment system for the Stevens Pass community.

Ecology made drafts of the cleanup plan and consent decree with BNSF available for public review and comment at a public meeting this evening.

The consent decree includes a $5.5 million payment to the state by BNSF for damages to natural resources and lost services as a result of the oil contamination that occurred decades ago on railroad property and traveled under the town to the Skykomish River.

"The scope and complexity of this cleanup - with contamination spread under much of the town - exceeds any other in Washington," said Tim Nord, who oversees this project for Ecology's toxics cleanup program. "These proposals open the final chapter of an unwanted environmental legacy this community has endured for decades."

A railway maintenance and fueling facility operated in Skykomish from the early 20th Century until 1974. Over the decades, bunker-C and diesel fuel oil were discharged to the environment on the rail yard. The oil then flowed downward to the water table, and under the town to the South Fork of the Skykomish River.

Cleanup projects off BNSF property will start in 2008 and continue through 2011. The work follows up on a 2006 project that removed contaminated soil along the town's western riverfront. BNSF replaced a levee, river sediment and soil beneath five houses, which were moved out of the excavation area for several months. Final work to restore streets and yards is under way.

The projects slated for the rest of the town include soil removal and replacement in some areas, in-place treatments to remove oil and vapors, temporary relocation of up to 25 houses and buildings, and restoration of wetlands in the former channel of Maloney Creek.

At the same time BNSF will perform cleanup on its Skykomish rail yard, which contains soil contamination from metals, petroleum and other materials, and oil-contaminated groundwater.

The company will remove and replace surface soils and will install an in-ground containment system to collect and treat contaminated groundwater and protect the rest of the town from re-contamination.

Other projects include $2.5 million for fish and aquatic habitat protection and restoration in the Skykomish and Snohomish watersheds; $1.5 million for terrestrial and waterfowl habitat projects and compensation for lost recreational opportunities; and, $1.5 million toward Skykomish's planned wastewater treatment project to protect ground and surface water quality.

"It's wonderful, after so many years of preparation, to see the horizon and beyond," said Skykomish Mayor Charlotte Mackner. "We appreciate Ecology and BNSF for their spirit and support."

Ecology seeks public comment on a consent decree, which outlines the final cleanup plan and the natural resources damage assessment, a supplemental environmental impact statement, and other associated documents. Click here to view the documents.

A comment period extends through July 14. Comments should be sent to Louise Bardy, site manager, Department of Ecology, email: lbar461@ecy.wa.gov.

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Environment California Whirls Pinwheels for Renewable Energy

SAN FRANCISCO, California, June 13, 2007 (ENS) - Standing before hundreds of pinwheels signed by residents and spread out in front of the San Francisco Civic Center, Environment California staff and volunteers today dramatized the potential and support for renewable energy in California.

The 264 pinwheels were displayed to represent the number of wind turbines that could supply 20 percent of San Francisco's electricity.

Environment California called on Congress to establish a national Renewable Electricity Standard.

This standard would require that utilities generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2020, an issue that is being debated in the House and Senate this month.

"There is no question that America has the know-how to move beyond fossil fuels and to tap into our abundant renewable energy resources," said Moira Chapin, federal field organizer for Environment California.

"But right now we're just sitting on a winning lottery ticket when it comes to renewable energy. We're not tapping into the potential that exists here in California," said Chapin.

The national standard would parallel the renewable portfolio standards already in place in 20 states plus the District of Columbia states, that require electricity providers to obtain a minimum percentage of their power from renewable energy resources by a certain date.

Together these states account for more than 42 percent of the electricity sales in the United States.

Two other states, Illinois and Vermont, have nonbinding goals for adoption of renewable energy instead of a renewable portfolio standards.

U.S. Representative Jerry McNerney, a California Democrat and former wind energy engineer, is one the primary sponsors of a bill that calls for a 20 percent by 2020 Renewable Electricity Standard.

"As a wind energy engineer for 20 years, I know that there is tremendous renewable energy growth potential in wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels," said McNerney.

"Now that I am in Congress, I am committed to expanding the use of new energy technology because it's both good for our economy and our environment," he said.

Currently, California derives only 11.9 percent of its electricity from clean, renewable sources of energy like wind and solar power.

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Drift Gillnets Banned off West Coast for Turtle Survival

SAN FRANCISCO, California, June 13, 2007 (ENS) - To protect the critically endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle, the National Marine Fisheries Service has denied a proposal to allow drift gillnet vessels to operate in a large area off the California and Oregon coasts.

The drift gillnet fishery, which targets swordfish, tuna and sharks, also kills not just endangered sea turtles, but humpback, fin, gray and sperm whales, and dolphins and other marine mammals.

Last week the National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, notified the regional fishery management body, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, that a proposed exempted fishing permit that would have allowed the use of mile-long drift nets in the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area would not be issued.

The Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area stretches from south of Monterey Bay, California to Lincoln City, Oregon.

"We have reached the point where every leatherback sea turtle counts, said Ben Enticknap, Pacific project manager for Oceana, an international ocean conservation organization based in the United States. "These majestic and critically endangered animals will go extinct within our lifetimes if we do not act to protect them now."

"The Leatherback Conservation Area has provided role-model protection in much needed efforts to reverse the path towards extinction for the Pacific leatherback," said Karen Steele, campaign coordinator for the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.

The Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area was established in 2001 to protect leatherback turtles as they migrate along the west coast of the United States. Since the closure was established, not one leatherback has been reported killed in the drift gillnet fishery.

Despite this success, the Pacific Fishery Management Council last November approved a permit that would have reopened the Conservation Area to drift gillnets during the months when turtles are foraging off California and Oregon.

In denying the permit, the Fisheries Service cited a recent scientific study that underscores the importance of nearshore waters off the U.S. west coast as critical foraging habitat for migrating leatherback turtles.

Pacific leatherbacks migrate 6,000 miles from Indonesia and New Guinea to feed off the U.S. coast. Their numbers have declined by more than 95 percent in the past 25 years.

Steele said, "The goal should now be an international effort to duplicate this successful protection measure in other critical areas for the leatherback throughout the Pacific."

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Soy Biodiesel Earns National Cemetery a White House Award

WASHINGTON, DC, June 13, 2007 (ENS) - Keeping more than 90 pieces of equipment running smoothly at Michigan's Fort Custer National Cemetery, a 770-acre facility with more than 20,000 graves, is the job of mechanic Tim Trittschuh.

He has replaced petroleum-based fuel and lubricants at the cemetary with biodiesel blends and soy biobased lubricants wherever possible.

"All of the products we've used have worked as well, or better, than their non-biobased counterparts, and the equipment they are used in is performing normally," says Trittschuh.

These efforts led to Fort Custer National Cemetery being honored with a 2007 White House Closing the Circle Award. The awards recognize outstanding achievements of federal employees and their facilities that result in positive environmental impacts.

The award has made Chuck Myers very happy. As Domestic Marketing Committee chair of the United Soybean Board, Myers said the Fort Custer Cemetary is one of seven winners and honorable mention recipients that are using biobased products, many made from soybeans, as part of their overall environmental stewardship efforts.

"It is exciting to see that soy biobased products have again contributed to the environmental achievements of winners of the Closing the Circle awards," said Myers, a soybean farmer from Lyons, Nebraska.

The cemetery participated in a series of pilot projects using biobased products sponsored by the United Soybean Board. The cemetary was also honored with the Department of Veterans Affairs Environmental Excellence Award for Green Purchasing in April.

"Biobased products are environmentally friendly and very effective. We hope these federal successes will encourage other federal agencies as well as state, county and city governments that are looking for products that offer environmental benefits, reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and boost the U.S. economy," Myers said.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton established the Closing the Circle Awards program by executive order.

This year, 17 winners and 13 honorable mentions were selected from nearly 200 nominations in the areas of environmental management system, pollution prevention, recycling, green product purchasing, alternative fuels, sustainable building, and electronics stewardship.

The honorees, announced on Earth Day, received their awards at a White House ceremony on Tuesday.

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City Kids Need Early Wildlife Encounters

KANSAS CITY, Missouri, June 13, 2007 (ENS) - The future of wildlife conservation depends on the next generation, but there is concern city children may not be in touch with wildlife, especially in their early impressionable years.

"Even in cities it's possible for kids to have really positive experiences with wildlife," said Charlie Nilon, associate professor of urban wildlife management at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

Nilon and his colleagues conducted a study of the experiences African-American and Latino urban students have with wildlife.

"Remember, we're not talking about wildlife where you have to drive 50 miles to see it, but rather the kind of wildlife where you can walk out your back door and see something," he said.

Nilon and Stan Van Velsor, then a graduate student at University of Missouri, found that a negative experience with wildlife around a child's home could limit future contact with nature.

"A lot of kids that are from inner-city neighborhoods live in houses that are not in very good condition, so sometimes the kind of experiences they have with wildlife are seeing raccoons in their garbage cans or actually inside the house. It's not as pleasant as it is when you walk along the trail, and you see something," Nilon said.

Nilon said it is important to foster an appreciation of wildlife at a very young age regardless of a child's location.

"If you're engaged when you're four or five," he said, "and then you get those positive messages when you're a teenager, you're going to be engaged in wildlife and you'll be a person who recognizes the value of places like this and therefore really be involved in the conservation."

Support of wildlife involvement by parents and teachers is very important. For instance, a University of Missouri Extension 4-H group in Jackson County promotes wildlife involvement in after school programs utilizing a nature trail near the school.

"It gets kids engaged right in their neighborhood. It gets their parents involved because they pick up their kids every day and ask what they learned, which gives the children a chance to talk about encountering wildlife," Nilon said.

The MU study found that it does not matter what kind of nature activity takes place as long as it's safe, positive and happens frequently.

"If you can get kids engaged," said Nilon, "our results suggest that they'll develop really positive attitudes about wildlife and those attitudes will continue."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.