AmeriScan: October 18, 2006

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Study Concludes Benefits of Eating Fish Outweigh Risks

WASHINGTON, DC, October 18, 2006 (ENS) - The health benefits of eating seafood generally outweigh the risks, but consumers face a confusing array of information about the nutritional value and health risks associated with fish and shellfish, according to a new report by the Institute of Medicine.

"Consumers need better guidance on making seafood choices," said Malden C. Nesheim, a Cornell University professor and chair of the committee that wrote the report. "The committee's approach to balancing the benefits and risks brings this information together in a coordinated way that applies to all population groups. Our model offers a foundation upon which agencies can develop advice that presents information in a user-friendly way and allows consumers to weigh all the relevant details and make well-informed choices."

The study recommends federal agencies to partner with state, local, and private groups to develop new informational tools and test them with consumers to make sure they work.

The committee concluded that healthy adults can safely consume up to 12 ounces of fish a week.

It found that the benefits and risks for broad categories of seafood are relatively consistent and fish generally are good sources of protein, low in saturated fat and cholesterol and provide moderate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

Predatory fish with long life spans -- such as swordfish, shark, and tilefish -- contain levels of methylmercury that are too high for pregnant and breast-feeding women, the committee concluded.

For all seafood categories, levels of contaminants such as dioxin and PCBs in commercially obtained fish generally do not pose health risks when consumed in amounts recommended by federal agencies, the report said.

The study was requested by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Another study, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, drew similar conclusions about the benefits of eating fish.

Some environmentalists criticized the Institute of Medicine report for not address the environmental and economic concerns associated with eating seafood.

"Consumers had hoped that this study would clarify the confusion at the seafood counter, but many will still be left scratching their heads," said Gerald Leape of the National Environmental Trust. "The study hyped up the benefits of Omega 3s, but paid mere lip service to the threat of harmful contaminants found in both wild and farmed fish. There's growing evidence that increased levels of fire retardants and PCBs found in fish can cause severe developmental and neurological problems for young children and those on the way. Despite this, the report authors encourage the American public to eat more fish."

Furthermore, the report "purposely ignored the environmental impacts on wild and farmed fish resulting from increased consumption of seafood," Leape added. "This is rather ironic since the federal agency that manages our nation's marine fisheries sponsored this study."

Committee members said the panel was not asked to examine the environmental factors that may affect seafood choices and specifically focused on analyzing the evidence on the nutrient and contamination content of various types of fish and shellfish.

The full report can be found here.

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Judge Rejects California Wind Farm Suit

SAN FRANCISCO, California, October 18, 2006 (ENS) - A California judge has dismissed a lawsuit against wind farm operators in the Altamont Pass east of San Francisco over the deaths of birds from wind turbines. The Center for Biological Diversity had sued the companies, claiming that the 5,400 turbines at Altamont Pass are killing more than 1,000 birds a year, including species protected by federal and state laws.

The lawsuit was filed under California's Unfair Competition Law and the "public trust doctrine." The group argued that wildlife in California is considered "public trust property," owned by the people of California, with the state acting as the trustee.

But the court rejected that reasoning and ruled that California citizens cannot bring suit under the public trust doctrine to prevent the killing of wildlife.

The Center for Biological Diversity said it was frustrated by the ruling and is considering whether to appeal.

"We think the judge got it wrong - the court's ruling contends that the public has no redress for ongoing harm to wildlife when regulators fail to act," said Jeff Miller, Bay Area Wildlands coordinator with the Center for Biological Diversity. "We call on the California Attorney General and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enforce our wildlife protection laws. We're losing an appalling number of rare golden eagles and western burrowing owls at Altamont."

The Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA) was established in 1982 on 160 square kilometers of private cattle ranches in eastern Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. Due in part to the local abundance of raptor populations in the region, wind turbines at APWRA cause more bird deaths than any wind facility in the world. Critics say poor planning allowed the Altamont's wind turbines to be built along a major raptor migration corridor and in the heart of the highest concentration of golden eagles in North America.

"We support renewable energy, including wind power, as an essential part of achieving the 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst consequences of global warming," Miller said. "The unacceptable numbers of bird deaths at Altamont are caused by obsolete, first generation turbines that were poorly placed to begin with. The bird deaths at Altamont are preventable and the operators must be forced to resolve this problem."

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Babbitt Named Chairman of World Wildlife Fund

WASHINGTON, DC, October 18, 2006 (ENS) - Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has been elected chairman of the Board of Directors of World Wildlife Fund, succeeding William Reilly who served as chairman since 2000.

"All of us at WWF wish to thank Bill Reilly for his six years of superb leadership" said Carter Roberts, CEO of World Wildlife Fund in the United States "At the same time, we are so fortunate to have Bruce Babbitt's amazing experience. His solid environmental accomplishments have set the standards for conservation."

Reilly, a former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, praised the choice of Babbitt to lead the board.

"Whether it's protecting the Amazon or working to save tigers from extinction, WWF is the leading conservation organization worldwide," said Reilly. "We are pioneering new approaches to conservation that integrate the needs of wildlife and of people so that both thrive. I've been honored to chair the Board of Directors during an incredibly productive period and know that Bruce Babbitt is becoming chairman of an organization poised to do even more."

Babbitt served as Interior Secretary under the Clinton administration from 1993 to 2001.

During his tenure at Interior, Babbitt led efforts to create the Northwest Forest plan, to restore the Florid Everglades, to protect California deserts and to strengthen the National Wildlife Refuge system.

Babbitt also served as governor of Arizona from 1978 to 1987 and Arizona attorney general from Arizona from 1975 to 1978. He has served as a director of World Wildlife Fund since 2001.

"For 45 years, World Wildlife Fund has been the leading global conservation organization -- protecting nature for the benefit of both people and animals on a truly worldwide scale," said Babbitt. "I'm honored to succeed Bill Reilly who has led the organization as chairman so well for the past six years."

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Watchdog Group Criticizes Interior Department Strategic Plan

WASHINGTON, DC, October 18, 2006 (ENS) - The proposed new U.S. Interior Department "strategic plan" touts scientific integrity as one of its cornerstones, but a government watchdog contends that its managers continue to manipulate technical data and findings for political reasons.

The criticism, voiced by to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), says that each month, new reports surface from Interior scientists and technical specialists that political appointees are ordering scientific documents to be rewritten so as to be less protective of natural resources.

But a key passage of the "Draft Revised Interior Strategic Plan for FY 2007-2012" reads:

"Integrity must remain the foundation of all Department of the Interior science: impartiality, honesty in all aspects of scientific enterprise, and a commitment to ensure that information is available to the public as a whole."

The principal official responsible for the development of this five-year Strategic Plan is Paul Hoffman, a former Dick Cheney aide who serves as Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Performance, Accountability, and Human Resources.

Up until this March, however, Hoffman had a comparable position overseeing the National Park and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services. In that previous slot, Hoffman, who lacks any scientific training, repeatedly ordered scientific documents to be rewritten, according to PEER.

Most notably, last year Hoffman prepared a rewrite of all National Park Service management policies that caused a furor for proposing to subordinate the conservation mission of parks to public "enjoyment."

In the draft, Hoffman remover all references to evolution from the management policies. The controversial rewrite was eventually rejected by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.

"Putting political hacks like Paul Hoffman in charge of developing agency science policy may not be the best idea," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "If the Department of Interior really expects its promises of scientific integrity and transparency to be greeted by anything other than guffaws of disbelief, it needs to clean house and remove all its appointees who are ham-handedly cooking its scientific books."

In another passage, the strategic plan states, "We are continuing to refine a science code of conduct for all employees, contractors, and consultants and their managers who deal with science in their daily work."

"If Interior is, in fact, developing a code of scientific conduct, why is it doing so behind closed doors?" asked Ruch, pointing to a national survey conducted last year by PEER and the Union of Concerned Scientists showing high percentages of Fish & Wildlife Service scientists citing frequent and inappropriate political intervention as evidence of the need for an open re-appraisal of agency practices.

Interior's draft strategic plan remains subject to public comment through October 23, 2006.

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Hurricanes Helped Rejuvenate Waterfowl Habitat

LAFAYETTE, Louisiana, October 18, 2006 (ENS) - Birds migrating to and through southwest Louisiana will find a bounty of food resources this winter, according to biologists with the conservation group Ducks Unlimited (DU).

Their study of the region concludes that the annual plant growth that occurred in the marshes and wetlands this spring and summer will support large populations of wintering waterfowl.

"It is astonishing to see the amount of natural seed that is out there for the ducks this year," said DU Regional Biologist Chad Courville.

Disturbance caused by hurricanes and other natural events, like fire, are part of the system that keeps the marshes in southern Louisiana healthy. Healthy marshes are interspersed with patches of open water and thick stands of grasses and emergent vegetation. Over time, marsh vegetation becomes dense, eventually eliminating the open water patches in the marsh - a situation that offers little to waterfowl.

"Strictly in terms of waterfowl habitat, Katrina and Rita had both good and bad effects," said Dr. Tom Moorman, director of conservation planning at DU's Southern regional office. "On one hand, a recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wetlands Research Center suggests the storms caused significant transformation of coastal lands to open water. On the other hand, the flooding of the closed marsh with salt water from the storm surges set back plant succession and reinvigorated large areas of marsh. So, while the storms caused some direct habitat losses, they also improved the quality of some areas in terms of waterfowl food production."

Many of the marshes on Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge were in a closed marsh state before Hurricane Rita.

"When the saltwater flooded these marshes, it killed most of the maidencane that was choking the system," said Glenn Harris, refuge manager. "Once it started raining here and the marshes got a flush of freshwater, the annual grasses and sedges that are more beneficial to waterfowl began to grow."

In mid-September, early migrating blue-winged teal and northern shovelers were already feasting on the foods available in the marshes that rebounded from the hurricane disturbance.

Mottled ducks and whistling ducks were also taking advantage of the new flush of resources, DU biologists said.

"Historically, hurricanes have been a significant force in shaping the complex ecology of the Louisiana coast. Today, with alterations to the system's hydrology, hurricanes can cause significant habitat loss," Moorman said. "Ultimately, the system needs to be restored to a point where marsh creation by natural processes is more or less in equilibrium with marsh loss. Ducks Unlimited is working on many fronts to achieve this goal."

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Soap Lake Bacteria Eyed as Pollution Treatment

BOZEMAN, Montana, October 18, 2006 (ENS) - A research team studying salt flats near a slowly vanishing lake has found a new bacterium that could clean up some of humanity's pollution. The Montana State University researchers are currently working on three scientific papers describing the unique qualities of Halomonas campisalis, a bacterium discovered in 1995 near Soap Lake, Washington.

The bacterium was first identified by Montana State University chemical engineering professor Brent Peyton when he was working for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington.

The laboratory wanted to develop a treatment to remove nitrate contaminants from alkaline and saline radioactive wastewater. Such a treatment could also be used to clean-up wastewater from fertilizer and explosive manufacturing plants, which is 10 to 15-times saltier than the ocean and laden with polluting nitrates.

Soap Lake is one of only 11 known meromictic lakes in the United States - this kind of lake has layers of water that do not intermix. The water in meromictic lakes separates into layers of differing mineral concentrations. The upper layer of Soap Lake is a little less than half the saltiness of the ocean, but more than 100-times saltier than river water.

The bottom layer is more than twice as salty as the ocean and more than 700-times saltier than river water. These two layers are thought to have remained unmixed in any significant way for the past 2,000 to 10,000 years. The conditions of Soap Lake are considered so extraordinary the National Science Foundation designated it a "microbial observatory."

The bacterium Peyton found in the salt flats near the lake was perfect for the treatment of salty, nitrate-bearing wastewater, as well as wastewater from the production of explosives and fertilizers.

"You could pour that salty wastewater in a tank with Halomonas campisalis, add sugar or vinegar for food and let it perk away to create nitrogen," Peyton said.

Peyton added that Soap Lake has continued on a course in recent years that may lead to its disappearance.

"Many unique and undiscovered organisms have evolved in the extraordinary saltiness of the Soap Lake ecosystem," Peyton said. "But the lake's saltiness is being diluted, likely because of a major irrigation project built in the 1950s. It is already 60 percent less salty than 50 years ago. In another 50 years, Soap Lake as we know it - and the unique life it harbors - may not exist."

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Coalition Protects South Dakota Bird Habitat

HAND COUNTY, South Dakota, October 18, 2006 (ENS) - A coalition of public and private interests have funded a $3 million effort to protect more than 10,300 acres of South Dakota native prairie grasslands and wetlands.

The native prairie and wetlands of Hand County have long been recognized as a prime breeding area for a diversity of bird species but these populations are increasingly threatened by conversion of the grassland to cropland. The conservation group Ducks Unlimited led an effort to research the magnitude of prairie conversion in the region and to develop models that would help identify tracts that are at greatest risk of being converted.

The investment in this research then helped the conservation group obtain grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to begin the effort to purchase grassland easements on native prairie grassland and wetland complexes. These tracts supply critical breeding habitat for a diversity of grassland birds including waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors and songbirds.

The grasslands are also critical to ensuring the viability of the local ranching industry, which is a cornerstone of the rural communities across South Dakota.

"This partnership illustrates the scale of conservation work that can be done when foundations, federal agencies, non-profits and conservation-minded landowners work together," said Scott Stephens, director of conservation planning for Ducks Unlimited's Great Plains region.

A portion of the funding from NFWF comes directly from a Budweiser sales promotion - more than 180 participating Anheuser-Busch wholesalers donated a percentage of sales of the popular beer to fund conservation efforts. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contributed funds from its duck stamp program.

"Helping to catalyze the protection of such a large block of grassland habitat is exactly the type of result NFWF seeks to achieve through its grants," said Jeff Trahndahl, executive director for NFWF. "This project illustrates all of the key elements NFWF epitomizes, including strong partnerships, leveraged returns on invested grant money and long-term approaches to conservation challenges that achieve results."

"The easement is a way to be rewarded for good stewardship," added Brad Magness, cattle producer from Huron, South Dakota and one of the landowners involved in this critical block of habitat. "The easement helps us to pass the ranch on to the next generation and even expand it while still maintaining the grasslands, our ranching operation and the wildlife that have always depended on the prairie."