AmeriScan: November 28, 2006

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Puget Sound Declared Critical Habitat for Orcas

SEATTLE, Washington, November 28, 2006 (ENS) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, today proposed its draft recovery plan for Puget Sound and designated a critical habitat for the endangered Southern resident orca whales that inhabit these waters.

The Southern resident orcas are an extended family of whales that live in matriarchal family units. They inhabit Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands, Haro Strait, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the northwest coast, and the entire population reunites there every summer.

During the 1990s, the number of Southern resident orcas declined by 20 percent, leaving only 87 members of the family.

In December 2005 the nonprofit public interest law firm Earthjustice, working with several conservation groups, won protection for these orcas under the Endangered Species Act.

Today's critical habitat designation identifies the core habitats that must be protected to ensure recovery of the orcas.

The draft recovery plan is a blueprint to address the causes of the orcas' decline, which have been identified as toxic contamination in the food chain, the decline of salmon runs that feed the orcas, and human disturbance from vessel traffic and noise, as well as the risk of disease outbreaks and oil spills.

"The orcas' situation is truly urgent, and it is good that NOAA Fisheries is moving ahead," said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, a group engaging citizens in Puget Sound restoration.

"But to truly save the orcas we need to save Puget Sound," said Fletcher. "We're disappointed that key areas are excluded from the critical habitat designation, and that the recovery plan does not effectively address the toxic chemicals that are poisoning the population."

While conservationists are pleased that NOAA Fisheries has designated most of the inland waters as critical habitat, they are troubled by exclusions for the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Hood Canal, military sites, and shallow waters.

"Hood Canal is an important area for resident orca recovery and should be considered critical. We and other Hood Canal citizen-sighters are dismayed that NOAA was initially unaware of the Southern resident orcas' use of the canal, and then apparently disgregarded the evidence they received during the comment period," said area resident Margo Wyckoff.

"I'm glad the federal government has taken this first step towards ensuring a healthier Puget Sound for our much loved whales," said former five-term Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro. "I have spent my life appreciating these whales and have been very concerned about decline in recent years. The good news is that we can save the whales if we improve their habitat."

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Idaho Governor First to Request Logging in Roadless Areas

WASHINGTON, DC, November 28, 2006 (ENS) - A petition submitted by Idaho Governor Jim Risch to the U.S. Department of Agriculture would allow logging and/or road construction on more than 80 percent of the state's inventoried roadless areas in national forests.

On Wednesday, Risch, a Republican, will be the first governor to personally present his state's petition before the Roadless Area Conservation National Advisory Committee and he will be the first to petition the federal government to reduce the current national protections afforded to these public roadless areas.

Idaho's petition is also the first following the September 20, 2006 California court decision that overturned the Bush administration's 2005 state petition rule.

The court ruled that the administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act when it repealed the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

Now, governors who wish to develop state rules that lift current national protections must do so under the Administrative Procedures Act, APA.

Idaho's APA petition opens up 82 percent of the state's wild forest lands to extractive activities.

In September, the governor unveiled his management plan that places the roadless areas under four different management themes plus one special area category. The themes were developed using the existing national forest plans as a starting point.

"These themes represent the diversity that is found within the areas defined as roadless," said Governor Risch. "Every effort has been made to preserve the existing uses and activities found in the 275 roadless areas in Idaho."

"Let me be very clear, nowhere in this petition does it require the Forest Service to build any roads or cut any trees," he said. "In those select areas where the management option allows those activities, all environmental reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act will be followed before any action is taken."

The advisory committee will meet in Washington for three days to consider the state's petition on management of Idaho's 9.3 million acres of roadless areas.

Members from the national and state conservation community, hunters and anglers from the state will offer testimony and discuss the governor's plan to lift the current national protections on the majority of Idaho's last remaining wild forests.

"Idaho's roadless petition provides a great case study for why we need a national policy to protect the last remaining roadless areas within our country's national forests," said Robert Vandermark, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign.

Idaho and national conservation organizations released a report that analyzes the content and recommendations of the state's petition as well as the "flawed process" used to develop it. The report identifies the importance of Idaho's roadless national forest lands on a statewide, national and global scale.

"Idaho is home to the largest remaining intact forest ecosystem in the lower 48 states," he said. "But if this petition is adopted, we'll lose some of our most treasured, pristine and irreplaceable back country."

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Residents of New Jersey Industrial Area Clear the Air

CAMDEN, New Jersey, November 28, 2006 (ENS) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Alan Steinberg was in Camden today to present Clean Air Communities, CAC, with a check for $250,000 to support its efforts to create and use collaborative partnerships to reduce environmental risks.

Steinberg met with the state and local agencies that have teamed up to help reduce exposure to pollution in the Waterfront South neighborhood of Camden. The funds were provided as part of EPA’s Community Action for a Renewed Environment, CARE, program.

CAC, a non-profit organization and subsidiary of Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, was chosen out of a field of 110 applicants nationwide in this second year of the CARE program.

“EPA’s CARE initiative is designed to help communities improve their local environment for residents and workers,” Steinberg said. “This can best be accomplished when groups at the local level work together.”

Air pollution has been identified as a priority concern by the Waterfront South community.

Using EPA funds, local groups will join government agencies in conducting educational outreach, continuing discussions between residents and local industries, and developing diesel emission reduction projects.

The EPA will provide technical assistance and support throughout the process.

The 1,700 residents in the Waterfront South neighborhood of Camden live amidst a concentration of heavy industries, including scrap-handling facilities, Camden County’s municipal waste combustor and sewage treatment plant, and the world’s largest licorice processing plant.

The neighborhood also sits between two busy urban ports owned and operated by the South Jersey Port Corporation. It has been estimated that as many as 77,000 trucks travel through the neighborhood to local industries in a year.

CAC is partnering with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the South Jersey Port Corporation, Heart of Camden, the Camden County Municipal Utilities Association and South Camden Citizens in Action to carry out the project.

“This partnership among government, local businesses and community members will help reduce harmful diesel emissions and improve the quality of life for citizens in Camden’s Waterfront South neighborhood,” said New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson.

The project will use the best available technology to retrofit diesel vehicles and equipment owned and operated by the South Jersey Port Corporation.

Educational outreach will be used to help community groups fully understand local sources of air pollution, such as port operations, and to facilitate dialogues between residents and local industries.

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New York Invests $13.5 Million to Expand Sterling Forest

ALBANY, New York, November 28, 2006 (ENS) - New York Governor George Pataki today announced the acquisition of 575 acres to expand Sterling Forest State Park in Orange County.

Sterling Forest is the forested anchor of the New York/New Jersey Highlands area, a 1.1 million acre stretch of continuous habitat from the Hudson River to the Delaware River.

The state's $13.5 million purchase from Sterling Forest LLC was supported through the Environmental Protection Fund.

The new property increases the size of Sterling Forest, one of the largest state parks in New York, to more than 18,200 acres of forests, lakes, streams, and other sensitive natural resources. The scenic acreage purchased is surrounded by the public parkland and had been vulnerable to development.

"This latest acquisition represents the final step in protecting the full array of natural resources and wildlife habitats at Sterling Forest State Park for generations to come," Governor Pataki said. "With this purchase, we are not only increasing the outdoor opportunities for the public at this incredible scenic property, but we are furthering our commitment to safeguarding open space in the New York/New Jersey Highlands and throughout the Palisades."

The property, known as the Sterling Forge parcel, consists of an irregularly shaped 575 acre parcel with extensive frontage along both the southeast and northwest sides of County Route 84, Long Meadow Road.

The site's topography varies from level and rolling land to steeply sloping and the southern section of the property features a 36 acre pond.

There is also a 15 acre wetland area at the easternmost section of the property and various other wetlands, totaling approximately 25 acres, scattered throughout.

The Sterling Forest shelters black bear, a variety of hawks and songbirds, and many rare invertebrates and plants.

The governor also designated a 16,833 acre portion of the park as a Bird Conservation Area in an effort to protect the habitat of various bird species living in the area.

Senior Vice President for The Trust for Public Land Rose Harvey said, "Sterling Forest, in its entirety, is now closed for good to development and open forever to the public. This was a big vision, with big results, with big benefit for millions of people, a lasting land legacy for Governor Pataki."

In 1998, Governor Pataki announced the acquisition of the first 15,280 acres that created Sterling Forest. New York and New Jersey, the federal government and private interests, worked together to raise $55 million to purchase Sterling Forest and preserve it as open space.

The forest protects a major source of drinking water for New Jersey and was the last large, privately-held open space in the New York City metropolitan region. Since the initial announcement, another 3,000 acres have been added to the park including this latest acquisition.

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Lake Superior Trout, Salmon in Recovery

ST. PAUL, Minnesota, November 28, 2006 (ENS) - Wild lake trout, salmon, and herring in Lake Superior are recovering, reflecting a decade of conservation effort, according to the Lake Superior fisheries management plan newly issued by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, DNR.

Populations of wild lake trout, having rebounded from near devastation by sea lamprey, are once again found throughout the entire lake.

"The plan reflects the major progress achieved in the rehabilitation of the Lake Superior fishery over the last 10 years," said Don Schreiner, Lake Superior fisheries supervisor at French River.

"Wild lake trout have increased, lake herring continue to rebound, and many intentionally introduced species like chinook and coho salmon are now self-sustaining," he said.

The plan will guide fisheries management on Minnesota's portion of Lake Superior. It includes proposals to discontinue lake trout stocking in part of the lake, allow an increase in regulated commercial harvest of lake herring, a 50 percent reduction in commercial fishing licenses and extending the lake trout sport fishing season through the first weekend in October.

Additional changes proposed in the plan include a discontinuation of chinook salmon stocking, simplifying stream angling regulations, and an increased emphasis on habitat and watershed protection and rehabilitation.

The final plan does not include a proposal for steps that could have led to a limited commercial lake trout fishery in the northernmost portion of the lake.

"The DNR recognizes the century-old traditions of commercial fishing on Lake Superior and that the population of lake trout in the northernmost portion of the lake could biologically sustain the proposed increase in harvest," said Ron Payer, DNR Section of Fisheries management chief.

"However, based on the recently proposed federal budget cuts in sea lamprey control, the highly productive sport fishery, and the statewide philosophy of curtailing commercial netting for game fish, the DNR has decided at this time not to implement the proposed expansion of lake trout assessment netting," he said.

The DNR will begin to implement some parts of the plan immediately, while others will take time to develop. As the DNR acquires new information on the Lake Superior fishery, fisheries managers will meet with interested citizens to discuss what future changes might be necessary.

Copies of the plan are online at: www.dnr.state.mn.us.

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Flight of the Bomb-Sniffing Bees

LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico, November 28, 2006 (ENS) - Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed a method for training the common honey bee to detect the explosives used in bombs.

Based on knowledge of bee biology, the new techniques could become a tool to combat the use of deadly improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, encountered by American military troops abroad and also an emerging danger for civilians worldwide.

The Los Alamos scientists, including Kirsten McCabe and Robert Wingo, developed methods to harness the honey bee's exceptional olfactory sense where the bees' natural reaction to nectar, sticking out their tongues, could be used to record an unmistakable response to a scent.

Using reward training techniques common to bee research, they trained bees to stick out their tongues when they were exposed to vapors from TNT, C4, TATP explosives and propellants.

According to Tim Haarmann, principal investigator for the Stealthy Insect Sensor Project, the project applies old knowledge to a pressing new problem.

Haarmann said, "Scientists have long marveled at the honey bee's phenomenal sense of smell, which rivals that of dogs," said Haarmann. "But previous attempts to harness and understand this ability were scientifically unproven. With more knowledge, our team thought we could make use of this ability."

The scientists began with research into why bees are such good detectors, going beyond demonstrating that bees can be used to identify the presence of explosives.

By looking at such attributes as protein expression, the team sought to isolate genetic and physiological differences between those bees with good olfaction and those without.

They also determined how well bees could detect explosives in the presence of lotions, motor oil, or insect repellant.

The team studied structural units in the honey bee's antenna and looked for biochemical and molecular mechanisms that could advance their ability to be trained and retain their training for longer periods of time.

Currently supported by a development grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Stealthy Insect Sensor Project is a collaboration of scientists and technicians from the Laboratory's Bioscience, Chemistry, and Environmental Protection divisions.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is operated by a team composed of Bechtel National, the University of California, BWX Technologies, and Washington Group International for the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.

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