AmeriScan: November 19, 2004

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Second U.S. Cow May Have Mad Disease

WASHINGTON, DC, November 19, 2004 (ENS) - "Early this morning, we were notified that an inconclusive BSE test result was received on a rapid screening test used as part of our enhanced BSE surveillance program."

With these words Thursday, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official Andrea Morgan restarted the mad cow scare that has had the agency scrambling all year to regain world markets for its beef after one cow was found with mad cow disease in Washington state last December.

"The inconclusive result does not mean we have found another case of BSE in this country. Inconclusive results are a normal component of screening tests, which are designed to be extremely sensitive so they will detect any sample that could possibly be positive," said Morgan hopefully.

The animal in question "did not enter the food or feed chain," she said.

Morgan's department, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), has sent tissue samples the National Veterinary Services Laboratories - the national reference lab for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) - which will run confirmatory testing.

Morgan would give few further details. She did say that APHIS has begun internal steps to trace the animal, if further testing were to return a positive result.

Confirmatory results are expected back from the lab within the next 4 to 7 days. If the test comes back positive for BSE, the government will provide more information about the animal and its origin, she said.

"USDA remains confident in the safety of the U.S. beef supply. Our ban on specified risk materials from the human food chain provides the protection to public health, should another case of BSE ever be detected in the United States."

BSE is caused by misfolded infectious proteins known as prions that infect the brains and spinal cords of animals. The fatal brain wasting disease is passed on when an animal or human consumes infected tissue. The brains, spinal cords and parts of the digestive tracts are now known as specified risk materials and the USDA has passed regulations that aim to ensure these materials do not become human or animal food.

The human form of mad cow disease is called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), and it too is invariably fatal.

Morgan told reporters that after the first animal was found to have BSE, agriculture officials would not be surprised to see other animals with the disease.

"Some subset of these animals may even turn out to be positive for BSE. While none of us wants to see that happen, that is not unexpected either. Our surveillance program is designed to test as many animals as we can in the populations that are considered to be at high risk for BSE," she said.

Morgan listed the precautions against BSE that are now in place in the United States.

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Forest Service Chief Plans Logging Sierra Nevada Forests

WASHINGTON, DC, November 19, 2004 (ENS) - U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth has upheld the finalized management plan for the Sierra Nevada Forests in California, dismissing a number of appeals related to the plan.

The plan represents changes to the Clinton era management approach to the region that will triple the amount of logging on 11.5 million acres of Sierra Nevada national forest under the guise of fire prevention.

The plan is the product of years of work on the part of Regional Forester Jack Blackwell and many others with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region said Republican Congressman Richard Pombo, who chairs the House Resources Committee.

"Chief Bosworth's decision to uphold this plan reinforces this administration's belief that active management, as prescribed by the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, is the key to vibrant forests," Pombo said. "

"Though the plan is not as aggressive as it needs to be in reducing hazardous fuels," Pombo said, "the agency has taken the first and hardest step, in a long road toward protecting communities, endangered species and our national forest from catastrophic fire."

But Greg Loarie, an attorney for the nonprofit legal firm Earthjustice said, "This decision turns back the clock on forest management in the Sierra Nevada to the old days of ‘get out the cut,’ ignoring all we’ve learned about how to best protect our communities from fire and restore our native wildlife.”

"An era of goodwill and consensus has been thrown out the window today," said Loarie, :thankfully, we still have the courts to ensure that our forests are managed responsibly.”

The original Clinton era plan was inadequate, Pombo said, because it "failed to acknowledge the serious conditions present in California's Sierra Nevada that left communities, water, wildlife, and the forests themselves extremely vulnerable to catastrophic fire."

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and California Attorney General Bill Lockyer have spoken against the plan. Environmental groups said they gathered more than 30,000 postcards and letters to be sent to the U.S. Forest Service protesting Bush administration changes to the Sierra Nevada Framework adopted in the closing days of the Clinton administration.

Democrats generally join the environmentalists in arguing that the proposed changes are a continuation of Bush administration retreats on environmental policy.

But Pombo is determined to log even more of the national forest. "The Sierra Nevada is facing unnaturally thick stands of forest that are 10 times denser than they ever were historically," Pombo said. "This plan targets only one-fifth of the net growth in the Sierra Nevada Forest, so further steps will need to be taken in the future to meet the goals of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act."

Pombo claims the logging will help to protect California's spotted owl, which he says is endangered by wildfires. Environmentalists maintain that the endangered bird needs its preferred habitat of old growth trees to survive, and that these mature stands will be the first to fall under the new Republican supported management plan.

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Federal Floodplain Program Violates Endangered Species Act

SEATTLE, Washington, November 19, 2004 (ENS) - A federal judge has found the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in violation of the Endangered Species Act because it has ignored the impacts of its flood reduction activities on threatened chinook salmon in Puget Sound.

Judge Thomas Zilly of the Federal District Court in Seattle agreed with conservation groups that FEMA’s flood insurance program helps fuel development and floodplain damage in some of the most sensitive and important salmon habitat in the region. The ruling Wednesday came in response to a lawsuit brought by National Wildlife Federation and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

“Today’s ruling is a victory for salmon over stripmalls,” said Jan Hasselman, attorney for National Wildlife Federation. “Federal agencies like FEMA cannot encourage the floodplain destruction that has helped pushed chinook salmon to the brink of extinction. If we want to protect the magnificent chinook for future generations, we should stop turning sensitive floodplain habitats into subdivisions and box stores.”

Judge Zilly upheld the conservation groups' position on the key issue in the case - that FEMA’s flood insurance program was required to comply with the Endangered Species Act and that it was having negative effects on chinook salmon in Puget Sound.

The court ordered FEMA to adhere to the Endangered Species Act process, which is common for other federal activities including timber sales and dam operations, to ensure that the program is implemented in a way that does not interfere with salmon recovery.

“When it comes to recovering salmon, everyone in the region needs to pull their weight,” said Lea Mitchell, Washington office director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “The decision ensures that FEMA will be held accountable for its actions and that flood insurance doesn’t help destroy the very habitat that others are trying to save.”

The judge agreed that “FEMA is in effect encouraging filling” in floodplains, an activity that “is highly likely to have negative effects on habitat of listed and endangered species.”

Calling federal flood insurance a “prerequisite” to floodplain development, the judge ruled that FEMA’s regulations and the sale of insurance “enable development in the floodplain that negatively impacts salmon.”

The evidence supported plaintiffs claim that development in floodplains “reduces the amount of habitat available to chinook salmon and creates additional impermeable surfaces in the floodplain that produce polluting runoff.”

The judge pointed to documents that showed both state and federal agencies had urged FEMA to comply with the Endangered Species Act, without success.

“We have a small window of opportunity to bring chinook salmon back to Puget Sound, for commercial and recreational fishermen, for the health of our ecosystems, and for our children,” said Hasselman. “The decision will ensure that FEMA does its part to ensure that sensitive floodplain habitats and the salmon that rely on them have a fighting chance.”

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An Apple a Day Keeps Alzheimer's Away

ITHACA, New York, November 19, 2004 (ENS) - A group of chemicals in apples could protect the brain from the type of damage that triggers such diseases as Alzheimer's and Parkinsonism, according to two new studies from Cornell University food scientists.

"The studies show that additional apple consumption not only may help reduce the risk of cancer, as previous studies have shown, but also that an apple a day may supply major bioactive compounds, which may play an important role in reducing the risk of neurodegenerative disorders," says Chang "Cy" Lee, Cornell professor of food science at the university's New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York.

The two studies show that the chemical quercetin, a phytonutrient, appears to protect rat brain cells assaulted by oxidative stress in laboratory tests.

Phytonutrients, such as phenolic acids and flavonoids, protect the apple against bacteria, viruses and fungi and provide the fruit's anti-oxidant and anti-cancer benefits.

Quercetin is a major flavonoid in apples. Antioxidants help prevent cancer by mopping up cell-damaging free radicals and inhibiting the production of reactive substances that could damage normal cells.

In a study that recently appeared online and is to be published in the November/December 2004 issue of the Journal of Food Science (69(9): S357-60), Lee and his co-authors compared how two groups of rat neuronal cells fared against hydrogen peroxide, a common oxidative stressor.

Only one of the two groups was pretreated with different concentrations of apple phenolic extracts. The researchers found that the higher the concentration of apple phenolic extract, the greater the protection was for the nerve cells against oxidative stress.

"What we found was that the apple phenolics, which are naturally occurring antioxidants found in fresh apples, can protect nerve cells from neurotoxicity induced by oxidative stress," Lee said.

When Lee and co-author Ho Jin Heo, a visiting fellow at Cornell, looked at quercetin they found that quercetin works even better in protecting nerve cells against hydrogen peroxide than vitamin C, a naturally occurring antioxidant known to help prevent cell and tissue damage from oxidation. Quercetin is primarily found in apples, berries and onions.

This study will be published in the December issue of the "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry."

The study on apple phenolics, which was co-authored by Heo and D.O. Kim, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell, as well as S.J. Choi and D.H. Shin at Korea University, was supported in part by Heo's postdoctoral fellowship through the Korea Science and Engineering Foundation (KSEF) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The study on quercetin, authored by Lee and Heo, also was supported, in part, by the KSEF fellowship program and U.S. Apple Association.

The two studies build on Lee's 2002 findings that quercetin has stronger anti-cancer activity than vitamin C, and his 2000 findings that phytochemicals in apples have stronger anti-oxidant protective effects than vitamin C against colon and liver cancer cells.

Other studies have found that phytochemicals are associated with a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, and that they fight not only cancer but also bacterial and viral infections. In addition, they are anti-allergenic and anti-inflammatory.

Although Lee stresses that his studies were conducted in the laboratory, not in clinical trials with humans, he has no hesitation in recommending more apples in the diet as well as other fresh fruits and vegetables. "Indeed, I have a reason to say an apple a day keeps the doctor away."

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Lawsuit Wins Habitat for Threatened California Salamander

WASHINGTON, DC, November 19, 2004 (ENS) - In response to a lawsuit by two conservation groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Thursday announced it has designated 11,180 acres as critical habitat for the federally threatened California tiger salamander, Ambystoma californiense, in Santa Barbara County.

The Service designates critical habitat only reluctantly, saying that in almost all cases, recovery of listed species will come through voluntary cooperative partnerships, not regulatory measures such as critical habitat.

This critical habitat designation was completed in response to a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Defense Center and the Center for Biological Diversity.

Most of the critical habitat acreage is privately owned, although small amounts of land are owned by Santa Barbara County.

In this final action, the Service excluded 2,740 acres from the 13,920 acres that were proposed as critical habitat in January 2004 because landowners worked cooperatively to develop conservation strategies protecting the salamander and its habitat. More precise mapping also reduced acreage from the original proposal.

"Our work with landowners has helped to conserve habitat for this rare amphibian, and we're looking forward to continuing these cooperative relationships," said Diane Noda, field supervisor for the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office.

The California tiger salamander inhabits low-elevation vernal pools and seasonal ponds and associated grassland, oak savannah, and coastal scrub plant communities of the Santa Maria, Los Alamos, and Santa Rita valleys in northwestern Santa Barbara County.

Although California tiger salamanders are adapted to natural vernal pools and ponds, they now frequently use ephemeral and permanent ponds, including stock ponds. California tiger salamanders spend the majority of their lives in upland habitats in the burrows of California ground squirrels and Botta's pocket gophers.

The Santa Barbara County Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of these salamanders was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2000.

In August 2004, the Service listed the central population as threatened, re-evaluated the Santa Barbara County and Sonoma County populations, removed these populations as separate population segments and as a result listed the entire California tiger salamander species as threatened.

The primary threats to the species are habitat loss and predation by non-native species.

Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act. It identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management considerations. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands.

"In 30 years of implementing the Endangered Species Act, the Service has found that the designation of critical habitat provides little additional protection to most listed species, while preventing the Service from using scarce conservation resources for activities with greater conservation benefits," the Service said with regard to this designation, a standard statement it uses with all such habitat designations it is forced to make in response to court rulings.

A copy of the critical habitat rule can be downloaded from: http://ventura.fws.gov/

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Greening Los Angeles One Free Tree at a Time

LOS ANGELES, California, November 19, 2004 (ENS) - For any of its customers who would like to plant a purple flowering Jacaranda or a New Zealand Christmas shade tree on their property, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is giving away free shade trees. Up to seven trees are available to each home, and customers can choose from about 30 species that are available at any given time.

The city benefits because a tree-shaded home uses less energy for air conditioning, thus lowering electricity use and costs for residents. This, in turn, helps lessen air pollution that comes from the generation of electricity.

An independent analysis of the Trees for a Green LA program shows that for every dollar spent, approximately $17.50 will be returned as avoided costs for energy supply and air pollution control.

This total also takes into account the environmental and social benefits associated with planting trees, such as stormwater runoff reduction, increased property value and scenic quality, and improved human health and well being.

LADWP has made it simple for Los Angeles City residents to receive free trees through the Trees for a Green LA program.

Program designers have developed a comprehensive List of Available Residential Trees with input from several urban forestry experts, including landscape architects and local arborists. A variety of low and moderate water use species, appropriate for the different areas in Los Angeles, are offered, although available species may vary from season to season.

Some of the large trees available now are - Southern magnolia, Italian stone pine, Coast live oak, and Deodar cedar - and each of them will grow morethan 40 feet high.

Customers can choose medium trees such as a Chinese flame tree or a Purple orchid tree.

Small tree choices might be a Japanese loquat or a Golden medallion tree.

Before their trees arrive, customers participate in a short online or one hour neighborhood workshop. The Los Angeles Conservation Corps, the prime contractor for the program, is helping to coordinate the neighborhood workshops, which are led by trained workshop leaders from several of Los Angeles' key community organizations.

Then they submit a completed tree order and site plan. The LADWP delivers the trees to the customer's home; but they must then plant and care for them.

By phone, customers can call LADWP at 1-800-GreenLA (1-800-473-3652), and select Trees for a Green LA after the voice prompt. A representative will assist you in identifying the most convenient workshop.

At www.ladwp.com/trees, click on Neighborhood Workshop Schedule to find a workshop directly. Then, send an e-mail to: Tree.Program@LADWP.com with your workshop request.

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New Ocean Instruments Float for Better Storm Prediction

LA JOLLA, California, November 19, 2004 (ENS) - While some people are still cleaning up from the series of hurricanes that plowed through the Caribbean and southern United States this season, scientists supported by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) are picking up valuable data collected during the storms.

The hurricanes that came at tow or three week intervals gave researchers little time to rest between flights that took them into the hearts of Hurricanes Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne.

As part of a project called CBLAST, for Coupled Boundary Layer/Air-Sea Transfer, researchers air dropped instruments into the paths of the hurricanes - and into the hurricanes themselves.

"This season has seen a breakthrough in hurricane and oceanographic research," said ONR program manager Dr. Carl Friehe. "Real-time data sent back by the drifters and floats have created great interest among oceanographers, meteorologists, and hurricane forecasters."

The $6 million CBLAST-Hurricane project focuses on the energy exchanges between the ocean and atmosphere during a hurricane, and how those interactions affect a storm's intensity. A separate CBLAST component studies low-wind interactions.

By better understanding these energy exchanges, scientists can develop better models to predict a hurricane's development. A hurricane's intensity determines the size of the storm surge of water that precedes it, which can pose a threat to ships in port.

New instruments that measure the ocean water's temperature, salt content, and velocity before, during, and after a hurricane are providing a unique view of the conditions that affect a storm's intensity.

While satellites can provide ocean temperature data, they only monitor the "skin" or surface of the ocean down to just 1/8th of an inch.

To reach into lower depths, ONR has sponsored the development of new ocean probes by Dr. Eric D'Asaro and Dr. Tom Sanford of the University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory in Seattle, and Dr. Peter Niiler and Dr. Eric Terrill of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

During the summer and fall, the sun warms the top hundred meters or so of the ocean. Hurricanes only form over these warm ocean regions, where water easily evaporates and is picked up by swirling weather patterns.

"In order to build a model that can predict a storm's development, we need to know exactly how much energy is in the water, as well as how it is distributed by depth and location between Africa and the Caribbean," Friehe said.

The floats from the UW Applied Physics Lab and Scripps are programmed to bob up and down through the upper 200 meters (656 ft) of the ocean, measuring the water's temperature, salinity, dissolved gases, and velocity. They also monitor underwater sounds as part of a study to develop methods of measuring hurricane force winds and rainfall.

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Satellite Climate Reference System Growing

WASHINGTON, DC, November 19, 2004 (ENS) - After less than a year in operation, the U.S. Climate Reference Network is helping to improve the tracking of temperature and precipitation trends, giving scientists and decision makers more insight into climate variability and change.

When it was unveiled in January 2004, the high-tech Climate Reference Network was the first system for which climate measurements were gathered from the Earth's surface and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites were integrated into one source, enabling higher levels of verification of observations.

NOAA's top official said the Climate Reference Network (CRN) is poised to be a key tool on the world stage.

"The Climate Reference Network is filling a major land based data gap throughout the United States needed for a larger, more comprehensive Global Earth Observation System of Systems," said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher. "Increasingly, the CRN will be a critical data link from the United States to the Earth Observation System and address emerging global climate issues."

Currently, there are 72 stations in the U.S. Climate Reference Network operating in 35 states, logging measurements of surface temperature, precipitation, wind speed and solar radiation.

The NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, or GOES, relay the data from these ground-based stations to the agency's National Climatic Data Center, in Asheville, North Carolina, which posts the observations online.

Additional deployments for the next two years are scheduled at a rate of about 20 each year. Officials said a total of 104 stations are planned throughout the nation by 2006.

"The USCRN is giving America a sound, first-class observing network that it will have for the next 50 to100 years and will be the benchmark for climate monitoring," said Gregory Withee, director of the NOAA Satellites and Information Service.

Find out more by logging onto: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/uscrn/

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