AmeriScan: October 6, 2005

* * *

Gulf Coast Fisheries Ruined by Hurricane Rita

WASHINGTON, DC, October 6, 2005 (ENS) - U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez has announced a formal determination of a fishery failure in Louisiana and Texas due to the devastation following Hurricane Rita. The affected area includes the Gulf of Mexico coastal areas of both states.

The determination came in response to major flooding and fishery infrastructure damage caused by the storm that struck the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana September 24.

A similar declaration was made last month in the wake of Hurricane Katrina from Pensacola, Florida, west to the Louisiana-Texas border.

"Hurricane Rita has added to the difficulties of fishing communities in Louisiana and Texas," Gutierrez said. "The commercial oyster, shrimp and finfish industries are major contributors to the Gulf Coast economy and have been seriously affected."

The determination will allow the government to provide fishermen and women with assistance to assess the impacts, restore the fisheries, prevent future failure, and assist fishing communities' recovery efforts.

The Commerce Department's fisheries agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will help steer the recovery effort.

Bill Hogarth, director of the NOAA Fisheries Service, said, "NOAA will work with Louisiana and Texas to assess fishing industry damage and long-term impacts to the marine environment."

Louisiana harvests about 40 percent of the nation's shrimp and about 35 percent of its oysters, said John Roussel, assistant secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Officials say it may take months before they understand the extent of hurricane damage to Louisiana's seafood and aquaculture industries.

The Bush administration said it will work with Congress and affected states to identify needs and determine how to best leverage resources to assist fishermen and women in the area.

The Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board has established a section of its website to provide the means for fishermen to report on damages and losses to the industry by sector and location in each state.

It will also provide a platform for separated family members and acquaintances to post information on their whereabouts and the status of their loved ones. Information gathered will be used to help assess the status of the 2.6 billion dollar Louisiana seafood industry.

“In the wake of this enormous tragedy and the massive destruction caused by Katrina, the internet has proven to be the most efficient form of communication,” said Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Board. “We hope this will help us begin to rebuild our industry while aiding the thousands of lives and businesses associated with Louisiana seafood.”

Log on to: http://www.LouisianaSeaFood.com

Even sea turtles will feel the effects of the storm on the commercial shrimpers. NOAA Fisheries Service has granted shrimp trawlers a temporary 30 day exemption from federal Turtle Excluder Device (TED) requirements in certain state and federal waters off Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Louisiana shrimp fishermen and marine fisheries biologists have reported the presence of large amounts of storm related debris throughout the impacted area. This debris consists not only of manufactured items but matted grasses, rooted clumps of marsh vegetation, Roseau cane and branches uprooted and displaced by the storm. The debris has severely impacted both shrimp catch and TED performance and has damaged fishing gear.

* * *

Report: Logging Not Effective Against Bark Beetles

MONTE VISTA, Colorado, October 6, 2005 (ENS) - A conservation group Wednesday published research showing that there is no evidence that logging can control bark beetles or forest defoliators once an outbreak has started.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation released an 88-page research compilation that the group says casts doubt on a logging project in headwaters of the Rio Grande in southwestern Colorado.

The County Line project was proposed with the justification that it would reduce the chances of a spruce beetle insect infestation spreading across public forests.

In September a coalition of citizens and conservationists filed an administrative appeal of the logging project with the Lakewood office of the U.S. Forest Service.

The research report, "Logging to Control Insects: The Science and Myths Behind Managing Forest Insect Pests,” is a synthesis of independently reviewed research. It includes a summary of studies on the importance of insects to forest function and the methods used to control forest pest insects, and a compilation of summaries of over 150 scientific papers and Forest Service documents.

"The findings are very clear," said Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and author of the report. "A review of over 300 papers on the subject reveals that logging is not the solution to forest insect outbreaks and in the long run could increase the likelihood of epidemics.”

The Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 used forest insect outbreaks as a justification for increasing logging and limiting environmental protections.

Currently, the Rio Grande National Forest is promoting a logging project that would remove 29 million board feet, over 7,000 logging trucks full, to control spruce beetles.

The logging project will have significant impacts on water quality and soils in the upper Rio Grande watershed that is so critical to the lives and well-being of the San Luis Valley, the conservation group says.

Although insects have been a part of the ecology of temperate forests for millennia, many in the timber industry see them only as agents of destruction, the report points out. "A century of fire suppression, clear-cut logging, road-building, grazing, urban encroachment, and the selective removal of large trees has upset the ecological balance in forests across North America, often making them more vulnerable to insect infestations."

"Some foresters believe the solution to the problem is increased logging," the report acknowledges. But the authors found little or no evidence to support this assumption.

"There is an urgent need for federal and state agencies and land managers to reevaluate their current strategy for managing forest insects," they said, "which often relies on intensive logging - and to adopt a perspective that manages for forest ecosystem integrity."

Contrary to numerous assertions, late successional and old-growth forests are highly productive and remarkably resistant to potential pests, the report says.

“The Forest Service is using insects as a ruse to turn over valuable public resources to private logging corporations,” said Bryan Bird, a forest ecologist with the Forest Guardians. “This new report cast a serious shadow of doubt onto the legitimacy of the logging and its effects on insects. There is too much uncertainty for the Forest Service to assume such risks to water and wildlife in southern Colorado.”

Mike Dombeck, chief of the U.S. Forest Service in the Clinton administration, agrees.

"Scott Hoffman Black's masterful synthesis of the state-of-the art science in "Logging to Control Insects" is a must for those who care about forests and forest management," wrote Dombeck. "It explodes many of the myths about logging to control insects and demonstrates the need for forest managers to work with and not against nature."

Find the report online at: http://www.xerces.org/Forest_Pest_Myths/Logging_to_Control_Insects.htm

* * *

First Moose Tests Positive for Chronic Wasting Disease

DENVER, Colorado, October 6, 2005 (ENS) - For the first time, chronic wasting disease has been found in a wild moose. The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) has confirmed that a bull moose killed by an archer has tested positive for the fatal brain disease that is in the same family as mad cow disease.

Both conditions are transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, diseases caused by prions - abnormally shaped proteins that originate as regular components of neurological tissues in animals.

Chronic wasting disease has been diagnosed in wild deer and elk in 10 states and two Canadian provinces. Animals show no apparent signs of illness throughout much of disease course. In terminal stages of chronic wasting disease, animals typically are emaciated and display abnormal behavior.

The moose was submitted for testing on September 12. Chronic wasting disease was diagnosed in testing completed by the Colorado State University (CSU) Veterinary Diagnostic lab. Because this is the first time chronic wasting disease has been found in a wild moose, testing will be repeated on this sample.

There is no test for the disease in live animals, so testing must wait until the animal is dead. Until now, chronic wasting disease had only been found in the wild in deer and elk.

Chronic wasting disease testing for moose was made mandatory in Colorado in 2003. Since 2002, 288 moose have been tested and the disease was not detected.

The DOW and CSU have worked together to develop an efficient and accurate chronic wasting disease testing program. Nearly 13,000 deer and elk were submitted for chronic wasting disease testing between August 2004 and April 2005. Of those animals, 175 tested positive for the condition.

“This is a single case of chronic wasting disease in moose, but given their social habits we believe that cases in moose are likely to be a rare occurrence,” said Mike Miller, wildlife veterinarian with the DOW.

Deer, elk and moose are all members of the deer family. But unlike deer and elk, moose do not form herds or large social groups. Moose are typically solitary animals and generally only stay with other moose in cow-calf pairs.

The infected moose was harvested legally by a licensed archery hunter in Jackson County, south of Cameron Pass.

The hunter who submitted the moose for testing told wildlife officers that he is pleased that the agency has the testing system available and he is glad to be able to contribute to the ongoing scientific research on chronic wasting disease.

Epidemiologists with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have found no link between chronic wasting disease and any human neurological disorders, but hunters are cautioned not to eat the carcasses of infected animals.

* * *

Federal Funds Help New Jersey Landowners to Conserve Species

TRENTON, New Jersey, October 6, 2005 (ENS) - Federal grant money is available for New Jersey landowners to protect, enhance or restore critical habitats needed by threatened or endangered species on their properties.

Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell Tuesday announced the availability of $450,000 in federal grant funds for New Jersey private landowners through the national Landowner Incentive Program (LIP).

LIP benefits threatened, endangered species, both state and federal, and other at-risk species by offering private landowners financial and technical assistance.

“Most rare species in New Jersey are found on privately owned lands,” said Commissioner Campbell. “Because of this, effective species protection can only be accomplished through active and thoughtful partnerships with willing landowners.”

LIP is an annual competitive grant program funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and appropriated by Congress. In New Jersey, it is administered through the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife.

LIP grant proposals should focus on the enhancement of at least one rare species and its habitat in a significant way. Landowners must describe in detail how they intend to manage, protect or restore the habitat for that species. For a list of New Jersey’s endangered, threatened and other at-risk species visit the DEP’s division Web site at www.njfishandwildlife.com/ensphome.htm.

LIP is a cost-share program. Successful applicants must provide a minimum of 25 percent of the program’s total cost. Projects must be maintained for at least five years and landowners must be able to document measurable results.

Eligible applicants include private landowners as well as individuals, non-profit organizations and corporations with a documented long-term lease on private property with a minimum of five years remaining on their lease agreement.

In addition, applicants must be able to implement a project as outlined in the management agreement and have property ranked one or above in the DEP’s Landscape Project Applicants must also be willing to sign a project agreement and management plan with the Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Funding priority will be given to three broad categories: grasslands of more than 10 acres, projects located within the lower 20 kilometers of the Cape May peninsula, and properties adjacent to permanently protected areas.

To request an application and guidelines, call 609-292-9400 between 9 am and 4:30 pm Monday through Friday, or visit www.njfishandwildlife.com/ensp/lip_prog.htm. Applications, both hard copy and electronic, must be submitted no later than 5 p.m. on November 15, 2005 to: NJDEP, Division of Fish & Wildlife, Endangered & Nongame Species Program, P.O. Box 400, Trenton, NJ 08625-0400, Attn: LIP, or e-mailed to kim.korth@dep.state.nj.us.

Final decisions will be made by January 16, 2006. All applicants will receive notice of grant approval or disapproval by January 20, 2006.

* * *

Great American Woodstove Changeout Comes to Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, October 6, 2005 (ENS) - As part of a national effort to replace older woodstoves, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Wednesday awarded $100,000 to the Southwest Air Quality Partnership to conduct a woodstove changeout campaign for low-income families in Allegheny County.

The Allegheny County Health Department has also contributed an additional $80,000 to jump start the initiative.

“As a founding member of the Southwest Pennsylvania Air Quality Partnership, the Allegheny County Health Department is pleased to support the Woodstove Changeout with an $80,000 grant from the County Clean Air Fund,” said Health Director Dr. Bruce Dixon.

The combined $180,000 grant will be used to provide cleaner burning EPA certified woodstoves, pellet stoves, fireplace inserts, electric or gas heating units to low income families, who are currently using the older, polluting units.

Additionally, participating woodstove manufacturers and retailers, members of the Hearth Patio & Barbecue Association, are providing rebates of up to 10 percent to the general public in an effort to encourage woodstove replacement.

Old woodstoves can be leaky and inefficient. They produce more air pollution – indoors and out than newer stoves. And the fine particle pollution emitted from woodsmoke can hurt your health.

Across the country, more than 10 million Americans use woodstoves as a primary or secondary source of home heating.

In the Pittsburgh area, there are about 40,000 wood stoves. Most of the stoves in use today – more than 75 percent – are older stoves that emit pollution. A single dirty woodstove directly emits as much fine particle pollution as seven old dirty diesel buses.

Fine particles are particles 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less - about 1/30th the size of the average human hair, or smaller. Exposure to fine particle pollution has been linked to aggravation of asthma and the development of chronic bronchitis, to heart arrhythmias, heart attacks, and even premature death in people with heart and lung disease.

“As a founding member of the Southwest Pennsylvania Air Quality Partnership, the Allegheny County Health Department is pleased to support the Woodstove Changeout with an $80,000 grant from the County Clean Air Fund,” said Dixon.

“The project benefits public health by improving ambient as well as indoor air quality, and our grant along with the EPA funding ensures that a limited number of economically disadvantaged families will have the financial assistance they need in order to replace their old woodstoves,” said Dr. Dixon.

Welsh said that replacing older stoves with EPA certified units can reduce wood smoke by 70 percent on average. “Clean-burning stoves are more efficient than older stoves. They use less wood and that can cut the cost of home heating,” said Welsh, adding that newer stoves also reduce fire hazards associated with creosote buildup in chimneys.

The Pittsburgh area woodstove effort is part of the Great American Woodstove Changeout Campaign, the EPA's effort to encourage Americans to replace inefficient, more polluting woodstoves with certified ones.

Work is starting now so the new units will be in place in time for winter. In the first year of this campaign, the EPA also is engaged changeout efforts underway in the greater Dayton, Ohio area, Libby, Montana, and Washoe County, Nevada.

* * *

Sun's Direct Role in Global Warming Underestimated

DURHAM, North Carolina, October 6, 2005 (ENS) - Up to 30 percent of global warming measured during the past 20 years may be due to increased solar output, two Duke University physicists report.

Their findings indicate that climate models of global warming need to be corrected for the effects of changes in solar activity, but the scientists stressed that their findings do not argue against the basic theory that significant global warming is occurring because of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Nicola Scafetta, an associate research scientistworking at Duke's physics department, and Bruce West, a Duke adjunct physics professor, published their findings online last week in the journal "Geophysical Research Letters." West is also chief scientist in the mathematical and information sciences directorate of the Army Research Office in Research Triangle Park.

This study does not discount that human-linked greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, the two scientists stressed. "Those gases would still give a contribution, but not so strong as was thought," Scafetta said.

Scafetta's and West's study follows a Columbia University researcher's report of errors in the interpretation of data on solar brightness collected by sun-observing satellites.

The Duke physicists introduce new statistical methods that they say more accurately describe the atmosphere's delayed response to solar heating. The new methods filter out temperature-changing effects not tied to global warming.

According to Scafetta, records of sunspot activity suggest that solar output has been rising slightly for about 100 years. However, only measurements of what is known as total solar irradiance gathered by satellites orbiting since 1978 are considered scientifically reliable, he said.

But observations over those years were flawed by the space shuttle Challenger disaster, which prevented the launching of a new solar output detecting satellite called ACRIM 2 to replace a previous one called ACRIM 1.

That resulted in a two-year data gap that scientists had to rely on other satellites to try to bridge. "But those data were not as precise as those from ACRIM 1 and ACRIM 2,” Scafetta said.

Nevertheless, several research groups used the combined satellite data to conclude that that there was no increased heating from the Sun to contribute to the global surface warming observed between 1980 and 2002, the authors wrote in their paper.

Lacking a standardized, uninterrupted data stream measuring any rising solar influence, those groups concluded that all global temperature increases measured during those years had to be caused by solar heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide introduced into Earth's atmosphere by human activities, their paper said.

"The problem is that Earth's atmosphere is not in thermodynamic equilibrium with the sun," Scafetta said. "The longer the time period the stronger the effect will be on the atmosphere, because it takes time to adapt."

"We don't know what the Sun will do in the future," Scafetta added. "For now, if our analysis is correct, I think it is important to correct the climate models so that they include reliable sensitivity to solar activity. Once that is done, then it will be possible to better understand what has happened during the past hundred years."

* * *

Cultivated Potatoes Originated in Southern Peru

MADISON, Wisconsin, October 6, 2005 (ENS) - Scientists have for the first time demonstrated a single origin for the cultivated potato - in southern Peru.

Humans have cultivated potatoes for millennia, but there has been great controversy about the vegetable's origins. This week the study was reported in the "Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences," by a team led by a USDA potato taxonomist stationed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The scientists analyzed DNA markers in 261 wild and 98 cultivated potato varieties to assess whether the domestic potato arose from a single wild progenitor or whether it arose multiple times - and the results were clear, says David Spooner, the USDA research scientist who led the study.

"In contrast to all prior hypotheses of multiple origins of the cultivated potato, we have identified a single origin from a broad area of southern Peru," says Spooner, who is also a UW-Madison professor of horticulture.

"The multiple-origins theory was based in part on the broad distribution of potatoes from north to south across many different habitats, through morphological resemblance of different wild species to cultivated species, and through other data. Our DNA data, however, shows that in fact all cultivated potatoes can be traced back to a single origin in southern Peru."

The earliest archaeological evidence suggests that potatoes were domesticated from wild relatives by indigenous agriculturalists more than 7,000 years ago, says Spooner. Today, the potato - an international dietary staple - is a major crop in both the United States and in Wisconsin, which is fourth in the nation for potato production.

Potato diseases such as late blight can cause significant economic damage to farmers in America and throughout the world.

"As a taxonomist, my job is to help determine what is a species and to classify those species into related groups," Spooner explains. "Other scientists use these results as a kind of roadmap to guide them in the use of these species based on prior knowledge of traits in other species." Spooner spends about two months each year trekking through the mountains of South America, collecting and identifying wild potatoes and researching them.

"When researchers discover an important trait - for example, that a certain species is resistant to disease - then everything related to that species becomes potentially useful," Spooner says. "We can screen samples to see if related germplasm has similar resistance, in which case we may be able to guide plant breeders to germplasm to use in breeding programs."

And beyond the agricultural benefits, Spooner's study has helped to rewrite a small but important chapter of evolutionary history.

"Books are written about questions of how crops originate," he says. "Sometimes statements are repeated so often that they are accepted as fact. This is a way to get people to reconsider long-held assumptions of the origin of the potato, and stimulate us to reconsider the origins of other crops using new methods."

* * *