AmeriScan: March 22, 2007

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Yellowstone Grizzly Bears to Come Off Endangered Species List

WASHINGTON, DC, March 22, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is removing the Yellowstone population of grizzly bears from its status as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Grizzly numbers in the Yellowstone ecosystem have increased from an estimated population low of 136 when they were listed as threatened in 1975, to more than 500 bears today, the Service says.

Four other grizzly populations in the lower 48 states have not recovered and will continue to be protected as threatened species under the act.

Grizzly bears are "thriving" in the Yellowstone ecosystem and no longer need the protection of the Endangered Species Act, Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett said today.

"The grizzly’s remarkable comeback is the result of years of intensive cooperative recovery efforts between federal and state agencies, conservation groups, and individuals," Scarlett said.

"There is simply no way to overstate what an amazing accomplishment this is," she said. "The grizzly is a large predator that requires a great deal of space, and conserving such animals is a challenge in today’s world."

Yellowstone grizzlies now will be managed under a conservation strategy developed by state and federal scientists and managers that includes intensive monitoring of Yellowstone bears, their food, and their habitat.

"This comprehensive conservation strategy, agreed to by all state and federal players involved in grizzly recovery, will ensure that the future of the bear remains bright," Scarlett promised.

But conservation groups have misgivings about the future of Yellowstone grizzly bears.

"The Endangered Species Act has been the linchpin for grizzly bear recovery in Yellowstone. We can celebrate the law's success because there is once again a healthy and thriving grizzly population in the Yellowstone region," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president for Defenders of Wildlife and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The responsibility now lies with the United States Forest Service to promote continued recovery of the grizzly bear."

Delisting lifts protections for bear habitat, including limitations on logging, road-building, and oil and gas development on public lands.

To foster grizzly bear recovery in the northern Rockies, Defenders of Wildlife created a companion to its highly successful wolf compensation program by establishing The Bailey Wildlife Foundation Grizzly Compensation Trust in 1997, which compensates livestock owners for the full market value of animals confirmed killed by grizzly bears.

Defenders then established The Bailey Wildlife Foundation Proactive Carnivore Conservation Fund to cost-share with ranchers, state, tribal and federal agencies, outfitters and others on measures to prevent livestock predation and human-bear conflicts. These innovative programs have worked to increase the acceptance of large carnivore recovery in local communities.

There are an estimated 1,100 to 1,200 grizzly bears in the continental United States, in five separate populations in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Washington. Grizzlies also live in the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem, where the Service says grizzly populations are stable or increasing and number 400 to 500 bears. In the Selkirk ecosystem there are 40 to 50 bears. The Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem contains 30 to 40 bears; and there are about five bears in the Northern Cascade ecosystem.

Grizzly bears are larger and heavier than other bears. They are different from black bears with longer, curved claws, humped shoulders and a face that appears to be concave. A wide range of coloration from light brown to nearly black is common.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to delist grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem in November 2005. The proposal was reviewed at four open houses and two public hearings; more than 193,500 public comments were received.

Notification of the delisting of the Yellowstone population of grizzly bears will be published in the Federal Register shortly. For more information, click here.

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Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Anniversary Prompts Shipping Safety Call

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, March 22, 2007 (ENS) - In advance of the 18th anniversary of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill on Saturday, World Wildlife Fund and Shipping Safety Partnership issued a call to Alaska's leaders and the U.S. Coast Guard to address gaps in shipping safety reform in the North Pacific.

The Exxon Valdez spilled more than 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound. Just days before the Valdez anniversary, the fishing vessel Exodus Explorer grounded and sank on March 18, near Adak Island in the Western Aleutians.

Last week, Alaska witnessed a close call off the shores of America's busiest fishing port, Dutch Harbor, when the Salico Frigo, a 443 foot freighter came within minutes of grounding in Unalaska Bay.

Near misses in 2006 include the Sea Honesty and the Cougar Ace, a Singapore-based freighter that almost capsized during ballast water exchange and was reached by a tug 189 hours later to be towed to Unalaska Island.

In Cook Inlet, the Seabulk Pride was ripped from its moorings in 2006 by severe ice conditions. Today, neither the Aleutians nor Cook Inlet has a sufficient tug stationed in the regions to respond to emergencies.

"There are efforts underway now to address these needs, however, it cannot happen soon enough. There are only so many second chances in a place as rough and wild as the Aleutians," said Margaret Williams, director of WWF's Bering Sea program in Anchorage.

WWF and SSP called for tug boats to be stationed in Cook Inlet and Unimak Pass as an interim measure until a more comprehensive assessment is complete, which they anticipate will demonstrate a need to station more than one tug in America's most pristine and wild archipelago.

The organizations also called for year-round, constant tracking of U.S. and foreign vessels as both a security and environmental measure. While Prince William Sound is now recognized worldwide for having comprehensive measures to address oil spills, similar reforms do not exist in other regions of Alaska, leaving them inadequately protected, say WWF and SSP.

"We learned our lesson the hard way in Prince William Sound, and now have 10 large tugs for one tanker a day, and a state-of-the-art tracking system," said Richard Steiner, professor and conservation specialist of the Marine Advisory Program at University of Alaska-Anchorage.

"But the Aleutian region has 15 to 20 large vessels pass through each day, some of them oil tankers, and not one adequate rescue tug nor a vessel tracking system," he warned. "This risk is unacceptable."

Earlier this month, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council voted to fund 29 new projects, eight continuing projects, and the EVOS Administrative budget at a cost of $8,585,764 million in FY 2007. The main focus of this year's Invitation for Proposals was the restoration of the Pacific herring in Prince William Sound. Herring numbers plummeted after the spill and still have not returned to pre-spill levels.

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Public Hearing: First U.S. Mixed Plutonium-Uranium Fuel Plant

WASHINGTON, DC, March 22, 2007 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is allowing the public to request a hearing on a proposed license for Shaw Areva MOX Services to operate a mixed-oxide, MOX, fuel fabrication facility at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

Shaw Areva, formerly known as Duke, Cogema, Stone & Webster, submitted its application for the operating license last September 27 and supplemented it November 7.

The NRC staff has determined that the application contains sufficient information for the agency to begin its detailed technical review.

The applicant submitted a non-proprietary version of the application, which may be viewed on the NRC website by clicking here.

Normally, the technical review and the opportunity to request a hearing would have been announced at the end of December. However, because the federal government was operating under a continuing resolution that fixed spending at Fiscal Year 2006 levels, those actions were delayed. Now that the NRC has received its funding for FY 2007, the review will proceed.

NRC staff will hold a public meeting April 12 in Aiken, South Carolina, to discuss the technical review process and the opportunity for members of the public to request an adjudicatory hearing. Details of the meeting will be announced closer to that date.

The MOX facility will be owned by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. It is part of a bilateral effort between the United States and Russia to convert supplies of surplus weapons-grade plutonium into more proliferation resistant forms by blending it with uranium for use as fuel in nuclear power plants.

The NRC issued a construction authorization for the facility March 30, 2005. During that licensing review, the NRC staff completed an Environmental Impact Statement on the construction and operation of the proposed facility. That report and information on various public meetings held regarding the MOX facility is online here.

The deadline for requesting a hearing is May 14. Petitions may be filed by anyone whose interest may be affected by the license and who wishes to participate as a party in the proceeding.

A request for hearing and a petition for leave to intervene must be filed with the Secretary of the Commission, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C. 20555-0001, Attention: Rulemaking and Adjudications Staff. Requests may also be submitted by facsimile to (301) 415-1101 or e-mail to HEARINGDOCKET@nrc.gov. A copy should also be submitted to the NRC Office of General Counsel, by facsimile to (301) 415-3725 or e-mail to OGCMailCenter@nrc.gov.

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Tests Show Electron Beam Can Destroy Air Pollutants

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, March 22, 2007 (ENS) - Small manufacturers in Pennsylvania are expected to benefit from a $150,000 state grant to implement new electron beam technology that will reduce air pollution.

Governor Ed Rendell today awarded the funds to the Electrotechnology Application Center at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, to test the applicability of electron beams in actual factory environments.

Lab tests show electron beam technology can destroy many volatile organic compounds, VOCs, and do so using less energy than other methods.

The grant is administered by the Department of Environmental Protection and it will fund demonstrations of state-of-the-art technologies using electron beams to reduce emissions of VOCs that are used in heating, drying, coating and curing processes.

Controlling these emissions is particularly important to companies using paints and other coatings on manufactured products.

Volatile organic compounds are precursors to the formation of ground level ozone which can cause breathing difficulties for people with existing conditions such as asthma, and can exacerbate other health problems.

The Electrotechnology Application Center is the only nonprofit organization in Pennsylvania that has an operating mission to help small businesses reduce VOC emissions to comply with federal and state government air quality standards.

The Small Business Demonstration of Air Pollution Control Program grant comes from the Clean Air Fund, which is funded by fees paid to obtain air permits.

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Bison Relocated to Improve Genetic Diversity

WASHINGTON, DC, March 22, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is changing the way it manages bison to protect genetic diversity of the species. More than 100 bison in four states were redistributed to maintain and create herds in the Refuge System that have no detectable cattle hybridization based on genetic testing.

In December 2006, 39 bison from the Sullys Hill National Game Preserve in North Dakota were moved to Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska. A week later, seven animals were moved from the National Bison Range in Montana to Sullys Hill.

Thirty-nine bison were moved from the National Bison Range to Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa.

An additional movement of animals from the Bison Range to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado is pending.

Sullys Hill established its herd in 1918 with six bison from Portland, Oregon. Over the years, the herd has been managed for a population within the range of 20-30 head.

The small but genetically important Sullys Hill herd was moved to Fort Niobrara Refuge, where there is more room for the herd to expand to a population of 500. Sullys Hill National Game Preserve will now nurture a smaller herd from the new animals.

The herds moved to Sullys Hill and Neal Smith Refuge have the highest genetic uniqueness of all herds managed by the Service.

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Rare Blue Butterfly Puts Dunes Off-Limits to Off-Road Vehicles

RENO, Nevada, March 22, 2007 (ENS) - The Bureau of Land Management has closed 3,985 acres of public land to off-road vehicles to protect the rare Sand Mountain blue butterfly. The emergency closure affects land in and adjacent to the Sand Mountain Recreation Area near Fallon, Nevada.

The butterfly is losing habitat due to off-road vehicle route proliferation, and this closure comes as part of a coordinated response to a petition from public interest groups to list the Sand Mountain blue butterfly under the Endangered Species Act.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2004 to secure protections for this species under the Endangered Species Act.

In 2006 the Service found that the petition presented substantial information that a listing may be warranted. The closure is being undertaken in accordance with an agreement recently adopted by the Bureau, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and local cities, counties and tribes.

"The closure is a good first step toward protecting the Sand Mountain blue butterfly, which exists nowhere else in the world," said Lisa Belenky, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "It’s a positive response to our Endangered Species Act petition. But clearly we need to do even more."

The butterfly is dependent on 1,000 acres of Kearney buckwheat shrub habitat at the Sand Mountain Dunes, which gets heavy use from off-road vehicles. Once pervasive near the dunes, in the past 25 years much of the Kearney buckwheat habitat has been lost.

Because it exists nowhere else, destruction of the dunes would mean extinction of the butterfly, and the Sand Mountain habitat has suffered extensive destruction and modification from off-road vehicles, the conservation groups and BLM agree.

From 1993 to 2003 the BLM reported a 25 percent increase in visitor use at the recreation area, with proliferation of illegal routes throughout the dunes area and on neighboring lands.

Sand Mountain Recreation Area consists of 4,795 acres of public lands that have in the past been open to unrestricted off-road vehicle use. American Indian communities nearby consider the dunes sacred and have long voiced concern about off-road vehicle damage.

"This area was traditionally known as Singing Sand Mountain. It is a rare dunes ecosystem that has been badly mismanaged by the Bureau in the past," said Charles Watson of the Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association. "We hope that this closure is an indication that the Bureau is finally stepping up to its responsibilities to preserve this area for future generations of Nevadans."