AmeriScan: October 30, 2006

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Deadly Storm Lashes Northeast

NEW YORK, New York, October 30, 2006 (ENS) - The storm system with heavy rainfall and extremely high winds that hit the Northeast this weekend causing flooding and power outages moved into Canada today. The lake-effect snow and rain showers which left up to 10 inches of snow in upstate New York is expected to move eastward and out of the area.

The wind and rain affected homes and businesses from Maine to Maryland as winds gusted to more than 70 mph, knocking over trees, power poles and a construction crane. Hundreds of thousands of people were left in the dark as the storm uprooted trees and blew them onto power lines, bringing down wires and breaking utility poles.

The storm was blamed for three deaths. A falling tree killed a motorcyclist in Massachusetts, police said. In New Hampshire, a man was missing after falling off a cruise ship on Lake Winnipesaukee during the storm late Saturday, and one man drowned when his kayak overturned on a swollen river, state officials said.

A gale warning remains in effect today for Maine. Central Maine Power Co. has restored service to about 80 percent of the customers who lost power due to strong winds from the weekend's storm. At 4:30 this afternoon, an estimated 7,000 customers remained without service.

The utility estimates as many as 70,000 Maine customers were without power at some point during the last three days, as strong winds persisted and caused new outages while crews worked to keep up with the damage. An estimated 500 employees and contractors have been involved in the restoration effort.

"The wind really was relentless during the weekend, and it made things very difficult for our crews," said CMP spokesman John Carroll. "Crews would no sooner finish one repair when something else would come down nearby."

"We will again have crews working through the night restoring power to customers that remain without service, Carroll said.

In New York, Saturday's storm knocked out power to an estimated 122,500 Long Islanders and disrupted rail service in Queens. The Long Island Power Authority said today its workers have completed all storm-related power restorations.

A fire fueled by Sunday's fierce winds gutted at least five Bronx buildings, leaving scores homeless, fire officials said.

Ten days ago, a storm brought Buffalo its two snowiest October days on record and knocked out power to more than 400,000 homes and businesses. Twelve deaths have been attributed to this record-breaking storm as well as injuries, such as hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning from poorly vented generators and gas stoves used for heat.

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Court Orders Army to Halt Stryker Development in Hawaii

HONOLULU, Hawaii, October 30, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Friday issued a temporary injunction to stop the U.S. Army from proceeding with construction, training and other activities related to conversion of the 2nd Brigade of the U.S. Army's 25th Infantry Division into a brigade built around the 25 ton Stryker fighting vehicle.

On October 5, 2006, the Court had ruled in a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice, acting on behalf of Native Hawaiian organizations 'lio'ulaokalani Coalition, Na 'Imi Pono, and Kipuka, that the Army violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it failed to consider any location other than Hawai'i for its Stryker brigade.

Despite the Court's ruling, the Army announced plans to continue Stryker training in Hawaii and to begin construction on November 1 of a Battle Area Complex for Strykers at Schofield Barracks in an area full of Native Hawaiian cultural sites, including a recently re-discovered Native Hawaiian temple.

The Army's refusal to stop Stryker activities prompted the Native Hawaiian groups to file a motion earlier this month seeking a temporary injunction from the Ninth Circuit, which the Court granted Friday.

The Court ruled, "We should not permit Defendants to render meaningless our holding that they should have considered reasonable alternatives to transformation in Hawaii by allowing them to continue with their implementation plan."

The Ninth Circuit's order will remain in effect pending a decision by the Hawaii District Court on future restrictions on Stryker activities in Hawaii.

The Stryker is a family of eight-wheeled all wheel drive armored combat vehicles produced by General Dynamics Land Systems, in current use by the U.S. Army. The Stryker can be deployed by C-130 aircraft and be combat-capable upon arrival in any contingency area.

The first Stryker brigades were deployed to Iraq in October 2003. The Army is forming seven Stryker brigades - one is planned for Hawaii.

"We're pleased the Court recognized the Army's plans to plow ahead with Stryker conversion in Hawaii before it even looked at other places where it could achieve its goals without destroying cultural sites violated both the law and common sense," said David Henkin, an attorney for Earthjustice who represents the Native Hawaiian groups.

"The Army's conduct was all the more outrageous since it told the Court that the Battle Area Complex, whose construction would destroy countless cultural sites, is not even one of the projects the Army deems 'critical' for training soldiers," Henkin said.

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Scientists Publish Honey Bee Genome Sequence

BETHESDA, Maryland, October 30, 2006 (ENS) - A research consortium, supported by the National Human Genome Research Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health, today announced the publication of a draft genome sequence of the western honey bee. The scientists found that the honeybee genome is more similar to humans than any insect sequenced to date.

The honey bee's social behavior makes it an important model for understanding how genes regulate behavior through the development of the brain and central nervous system. That may lead to important insights into common mental and brain disorders, such as depression or schizophrenia or Alzheimer's disease. The scientists say the bee genome may provide an important window into immunity and aging.

In a paper published in the October 26 issue of Nature, the Honey Bee Genome Consortium, led by Richard Gibbs, Ph.D., director of the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM-HGSC) in Houston, describes the approximately 260 million DNA base pair genome of the honey bee, Apis mellifera.

Over 40 other companion manuscripts describing further detailed analyses are in current issues of "Insect Molecular Biology," "Genome Research," "Science," "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," and other journals.

Although only nine percent the size of the 3 billion base pairs in the human genome, the honey bee contains nearly half as many genes as the human genome, more than 10,000 in the bee compared to around 20,000 genes in the human.

The honey bee is the third insect to have its genome sequenced and analyzed. The malaria-carrying mosquito (Anopheles gambiae) was completed in 2002 and the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster), an extensively used model organism in genetics research, was completed in 2000.

The honey bee genome is 50 percent larger than fruit flies but contains roughly the same number of genes.

Sequencing of the honey bee genome began in early 2003. NHGRI provided about $6.9 million in funding for the project and the U.S. Department of Agriculture contributed $750,000. Additional support was provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Library of Medicine.

"Comparing the genome of the honey bee with other species separated over evolutionary time from humans has provided us with powerful insights into the complex biological processes that have evolved over hundreds of millions of years," said Human Genome Research Institute Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

"The genome of the honey bee has been added to a growing list of organisms whose sequence can be compared side by side to better understand the structure and functions of our own genes," he said. "And that will help speed our understanding of how genes contribute to health and what goes wrong in illness."

The researchers report that the honey bee has evolved more slowly than the fruit fly or mosquito and contains 10,157 known genes. Researchers caution that this gene count will increase as other insects are sequenced and compared to the honey bee in the future.

When compared to other insects, the honey bee genome contains fewer genes involved in innate immunity, detoxification enzymes, and taste receptors. It contains more genes for olfactory receptors and novel genes for nectar and pollen utilization.

The honey bee genome shows greater similarities to vertebrates than insects for genes involved in circadian rhythm, as well as biological processes involved in turning genes on or off, the scientists found.

Researchers discovered nine genes in the "royal jelly protein family" which appear in the honey bee genome but not the mosquito genome. These genes have gained new functions through evolution and are believed to contribute to the sociality of the honey bee. Royal jelly is produced by glands in the head of adult worker bees and is an important nutritional component in queen and brood care. This process is vital in the early development of a honey bee and determines whether it becomes a queen or a worker bee.

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National Bison Range Evaluation Censored by Federal Agency

WASHINGTON, DC, October 30, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service censored key findings in its performance evaluation of the first year of split operations of the National Bison Range Wildlife Refuge with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The deleted portions of the evaluation contained warnings of deteriorating relations and communication barriers that are the subject of a grievance recently filed against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by the remaining staff at the refuge.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service decided to close its ears to the alarms being sounded at the National Bison Range," said Grady Hocutt, a former long-time refuge manager who directs PEER's refuge program. "How will these communication breakdowns be addressed if the Service does not admit their existence?"

The text of the original evaluation summary dated March 1, 2006 had been cut by nearly half when it was finally released to PEER in July by the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Freedom of Information Act.

In addition to escalating management problems, censored sections described postponement of priority projects on the refuge, including assessing plans for coping with chronic wasting disease, mapping the spread of invasive plants and finishing shoreline restoration work.

Another censored section described the complete loss of the volunteer program support for the refuge, which had provided 4,500 hours of free labor and now requires the use of paid staff.

Also censored was a list of hidden costs for implementation of the controversial agreement that had to be absorbed by cuts in refuge programs.

Notwithstanding the extensive redactions, the final evaluation was hardly glowing, finding that the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes failed to perform many agreed upon functions, did other work incompletely, failed to provide qualified personnel and, in some cases, misplaced funds.

On September 19, 2006, the Fish and Wildlife Service staff of the National Bison Range, a unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System in Montana, filed an unusual joint grievance that working conditions have become intolerable due to a torrent of "safety and ethical violations, harassment, intimidation, and personal slander," according to agency management.

The issues cited by the employees closely track the issues that Fish and Wildlife Service removed from the March evaluation, according to PEER, a national association of government employees in natural resource agencies.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has retained an outside investigator who is preparing a report for regional officials concerning the employee grievance.

In addition to the employee grievance, the Interior Department Office of Inspector General has opened a separate probe into problems on the National Bison Range, with investigators now interviewing Fish and Wildlife Service employees.

Last year's precedent-setting agreement awarded the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes with approximately half of the positions and funding for the National Bison Range and the nearby Ninepipe and Pablo National Wildlife Refuges.

Among the problems raised by the censored evaluation is that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to establish any clear guidance, standards or policies, requiring endless negotiation with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes over every issue no matter how trivial.

"There has been an abject failure of agency leadership leaving its own people to cope with an untenable situation," said Hocutt. He cited political intervention that he says "rammed the agreement through" over the objections of conservation groups and Fish and Wildlife Service employees, including a letter of protest signed by more than 100 refuge managers.

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NOAA Funds Study of Florida's Red Tide Blooms

WASHINGTON, DC, October 30, 2006 (ENS) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, has awarded $814,000 to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute to examine the underlying causes of the red tide blooms along Florida's Gulf Coast. The grant is the first installment on a $4.7 million, five-year grant for the project.

The scientific team will seek to better understand the causes of red tide, Karenia brevis, along Florida's Gulf Coast, especially how and what types of nutrients fuel the blooms.

"A better understanding of the underlying causes of K. brevis blooms is essential for predicting when blooms will occur and evaluating what prevention options may be available to coastal managers," said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher. "NOAA's partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute will help provide a more thorough understanding than is currently available."

At a July NOAA supported red tide workshop held in Sarasota, Florida, national and international red tide experts agreed that not enough is known about the nutrient sources that support growth of the red tide organism in the Gulf of Mexico.

The new research, which will combine biological, chemical and physical measurements with predictive modeling efforts, seeks to address a critical knowledge gap using both experimental and modeling approaches, as well as retrospective data analysis. Investigators also will seek to identify alternatives for coastal managers.

The red tide organism blooms in Florida almost every year, and annual economic impacts in Florida from the blooms have been estimated to be at least $15 million to $25 million.

The red tide is currently affecting shore areas from Pinellas to northern Collier County. Last year, an unusually large and persistent bloom occurred, lasting from January 2005 to February 2006.

K. brevis produces neurotoxins that can kill marine mammals, fish and other marine creatures, cause shellfish to be unfit for human consumption, and sicken humans with chronic respiratory problems such as asthma.

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California Air Board to Spend $25 Million on Alternative Fuels

SACRAMENTO, California, October 26, 2006 (ENS) California's Air Resources Board has 25 million reasons to promote alternative fuels this week. Part of the California Environmental Protection Agency, the board has been allocated $25 million by new state legislation to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

"With the threat of global warming and today's unstable political climate affecting our resources, fully exploring use of alternative fuels is a top priority," said board chairman Dr. Robert Sawyer.

"Thanks to forward thinking and sound science, California sets an example for the country and for the world," he said. "We are excited by all the possibilities and challenges ahead, and hope that our efforts will help to further diversify and enhance our future energy options."

Under Assembly Bill 1811, which amends and supplements the Budget Act of 2006, the Air Resources Board must award the funds by next July and cannot fund any project that include fuels derived from petroleum, coke or coal.

Currently, the board is considering allocating the $25 million as follows, with final amounts assigned on a project-by-project basis:

The board is inviting solicitations for projects, with decisions on the final slate of projects to be made next spring.

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