AmeriScan: September 9, 2002

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Bush Fire Plan Mirrors State Policies

COLUMBUS, Ohio, September 9, 2002 (ENS) - The Bush administration's plan for reducing the risk of forest fires counters almost 30 years of federal policy, argues an Ohio State University researcher who wrote a new book on government forest issues.

President George W. Bush has said he wants to ease restrictions on forest thinning and timber cutting projects in national public forests because of the tremendous amount of fire damage in the western states this summer. But Tomas Koontz, an assistant professor of natural resources at Ohio State, says the president's proposed plan seems to coincide more with the ideologies of state level forest agencies than with existing federal policies.

Changing those policies could have serious ramifications for environmental protection and citizen input on decisions affecting 191 million acres of U.S. national forests, Koontz says.

Koontz is the author of "Federalism in the Forest: National versus State Natural Resource Policy." In that book, he takes a look at the regulatory differences between federal and state forest agencies, concluding that the perceived benefits of the two governing methods depend on what results people seek.

"With a few exceptions, state governments are traditionally less interested in environmental protection," Koontz said. "They want to maximize profits and boost the economy. On the other hand, federal leaders are charged with providing environmental protection for national forests as well as citizen access to policy making."

After interviewing forest officials, attending public forestry meetings and analyzing the results of a questionnaire completed by 75 state and federal forest agency members, Koontz saw a pattern in how different levels of government prioritized activities related to forests. He found that states focus on using public forests to generate jobs and income, while federal forest officials focus more on upholding certain standards, such as ensuring citizen participation and environmental protection.

"State forest policy in the 1990s resembled federal forest policy prior to 1970," Koontz said. "State officials continue to face relatively few legal restrictions on timber production, and there is almost no allowance for citizen power to appeal decisions."

With the passing of the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969 and the National Forest Management Act in 1976, national forests gained a good deal of protection from logging interests. Both acts also emphasized preservation and soliciting public participation and input.

The Bush fire plan, dubbed the "Healthy Forests Initiative," would remove most environmental restrictions from forest management projects deemed high priority for reducing wildfire risk.

The president's plan would create partnerships with timber companies and other groups, encouraging them to perform fire management projects in exchange for the timber they cut.

"President Bush has said that if American taxpayers want to save money, some of those big trees need to be included in the deal," Koontz said. "The environmentalists counter that these forests need to be protected, and that throwing big money making trees into the mix just to entice the timber companies isn't the way to go."

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Virginia Malaria Cases Prompt Pesticide Spraying

LEESBURG, Virginia, September 9, 2002 (ENS) -Two Virginia teenagers were diagnosed last week with malaria, prompting health officials to spray area neighborhoods tonight to kill disease carrying mosquitoes.

The spraying began at dusk today in the Cascades and Sugarland Run area of Loudoun County. The county health department contracted with Clarke Mosquito Control to conduct the spraying, using the pesticide Anvil.

The county decided to "hit it as hard as we can the first time to decrease the chances we'd have to come back a second and third time," Loudoun County health director David Goodfriend said at a community meeting on Sunday. The pesticide applications will kill adult mosquitoes, while other chemicals already applied to water sources are used to kill mosquito larvae.

Area residents were advised to stay inside - and keep their pets indoors - while the spray trucks passed by, but were told it would be safe to go outside 30 minutes after the trucks passed. The mosquito abatement trucks were accompanied by a sheriff's vehicle to alert residents that the trucks are coming.

The spraying was prompted by the diagnosis last month of two Loudoun county students with a non-lethal form of malaria, a disease caused by a parasite transmitted by a mosquito bite. The cases involve a 15 year old male and a 19 year old female who are unrelated, and who have no recent history of travel outside of the United States.

Most U.S. cases of malaria involve people who have traveled to tropical countries where the disease is more common. But in 1998, an individual in the Tidewater area of Virginia, who had no history of international travel, was reported to have malaria.

Humans get malaria from the bite of an infected mosquito. When a mosquito bites an infected person, it ingests parasites found in the person's blood and can later pass the infection on to another person.

Virginia officials believe the disease may have arrived in Loudoun County when a local mosquito that bit a person who had been infected with malaria during international travels.

"Between your efforts and the efforts of the county and state, we do not expect anyone new to become infected after this week," states a release from the Loudoun County Health Department. "We may, though, still find a few more people who were infected this summer but had not yet received medical care."

Symptoms of malaria include fever and flu like illness, including shaking chills, headache, muscle aches, and tiredness. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may occur, and malaria may also cause anemia and jaundice, which includes a yellow coloring of the skin and eyes.

The recommendations for avoiding malaria are the same as those issued by area health departments regarding the West Nile virus, which has infected at least five people in Virginia so far this year. Health officials encourage people to wear long pants and long sleeved clothing outside, use insect repellents containing DEET, and eliminate standing water sources where mosquitoes may breed.

After today, Loudoun County officials plan to monitor for mosquitoes that may carry malaria, and may call for additional spraying if the problem persists.

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Florida Highway Widening Project Challenged

ISLAMORADA, Florida, September 9, 2002 (ENS) - A proposed highway widening project in southern Florida would not would not improve hurricane evacuation capacity, which is already more than adequate, according to an engineering study released today.

Groups opposed to the widening of US-1 between Key Largo and Florida City said the report shows that the project would waste tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. One Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) estimate puts the total project cost at $160 million.

Construction would impact several hundred acres of wetlands, conflicting with federal and state goals for an $8 billion Everglades restoration project and a struggle to protect the remaining ecosystems of the Florida Keys.

National and local citizen groups complain that Florida Governor Jeb Bush and FDOT have already consented to the unnecessary widening of the section of the portion of Highway 1 known as the "18 Mile Stretch."

The new engineering report, titled "Transportation Engineering Analysis of the Proposed Widening of US-1 Between Florida City and Key Largo," shows that the existing highway between Key Largo and Florida City, used in conjunction with Card Sound Road, provides the Keys with more than adequate hurricane evacuation capacity.

The report, issued by Dr. Joseph Hummer, a national expert on highway safety and design, contradicts an earlier FDOT study, known as the Miller Report. Environmental groups say Governor Bush has been misled by the flawed and dated material in the Miller Report and that has led to faulty decisions about the "18 Mile Stretch."

Dr. Hummer's report, commissioned by the Florida Keys Citizens Coalition and the Florida Keys Environmental Fund, suggests that the State of Florida's goals for hurricane evacuation can be met by existing road structures with the addition of only minor improvements. Dr. Hummer states that he believes that safety concerns can be alleviated by the replacement of an unreliable drawbridge with a fixed span bridge, and construction of a median barrier to reduce head on collisions.

"FDOT's road expansion plan for the '18 Mile Stretch' would waste taxpayer dollars and is based on erroneous information," said Charles Causey of the Florida Keys Environmental Fund. "Dr. Hummer's report shows that we don't need this massive project to satisfy hurricane evacuation and safety requirements. It suggests a more appropriate design, particularly important in light of secondary impacts in the Keys."

National citizen and environmental groups, along with independent transportation experts, say the new analysis emphasizes the need for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement before a final decision is made on the road project. Critics charge that the original permit application is outdated, is based on flawed studies and did not fully disclose the negative environmental impacts of intended construction methods.

"Widening this road is likely to spur development and traffic growth in the Keys, increasing the number of people and cars being evacuated during hurricane alerts," said Michael Replogle, transportation director at Environmental Defense. "Supplemental environmental studies should consider those effects and consider the alternatives put forward by Dr. Hummer's study, and options for improved transit and road pricing to significantly expand travel choices in the Keys."

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Chicago Landlords Charged with Lead Paint Violations

CHICAGO, Illinois, September 9, 2002 (ENS) - Two apartment building owners in Chicago have been charged with failing to warn their tenants that their homes may contain lead based paint hazards.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Region 5 has filed a complaint against apartment building owners Ivan and Jadranka Mijic, proposing to fine them $76,890 for 46 violations in 10 apartments.

On March 6, 1996, the EPA and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued new rules to protect families, especially those with children, from hazards of lead based paint in the home. Real estate companies and property owners must provide buyers or renters with a lead hazard information pamphlet, any information or reports concerning lead based paint hazards in the property and a Lead Warning Statement to be signed by both parties.

Sellers are required to provide purchasers an opportunity to conduct a lead based paint evaluation.

"By carrying out these enforcement actions, EPA is restating that protecting children's health from lead based paint exposure is one of our highest priorities," said Thomas Skinner, administrator of EPA Region 5. "To this end we will vigorously pursue compliance with this rule."

Deteriorated lead paint is the most common source of lead exposure to children in the United States. About 75 percent of the nation's housing built before 1978 contains lead based paint. While the paint poses little risk if it is well maintained, damaged paint may pose a health risk if paint particles are ingested or absorbed through the skin.

Even low levels of lead exposure can threaten the health of occupants, particularly children and pregnant women. The effects of lead exposure can include learning disabilities, growth impairment and permanent damage to the brain, nervous system, hearing, vision and kidneys.

According to the Chicago Department of Public Health, more than 12,000 children under the age of six were diagnosed with lead poisoning in 2001.

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Jetski Agreement Extends Park Closures

WASHINGTON, DC, September 9, 2002 (ENS) - The National Park Service (NPS) and Bluewater Network have reached a settlement extending the date when personal watercraft (PWC) use would be banned from eight units of the national park system.

The agreement, filed Friday with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is not effective until the court enters an order incorporating it. The order affects PWCs often referred to by the brand name Jet Ski.

Counsel for the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit, Bluewater Network, The Wilderness Society and other organizations, approached the NPS with an offer to negotiate an extension. Bluewater expressed a desire to help alleviate some of the pressure being felt by the NPS from user groups and local businesses surrounding the park units scheduled to close to PWC use September 15.

The eight National Recreation Areas (NRA) affected are Amistad NRA in Texas, Bighorn Canyon NRA in Montana and Wyoming, Chickasaw NRA in Oklahoma, Curecanti NRA in Colorado, Glen Canyon NRA in Arizona and Utah, Lake Mead NRA in Arizona and Nevada, Lake Meredith NRA in Texas, and Lake Roosevelt NRA in Washington state.

The agreement between NPS and Bluewater Network allows PWC use to continue through November 6, 2002. This extension will allow usage of PWC's through the end of the recreational boating season.

At Lake Mead NRA, PWC use will continue until November 6 like the other seven, and from November 7, 2002 to January 1, 2003, will be subject to interim measures in specified areas. Lake Mead will issue a press release at a later date with information specific to the interim measures.

Before this extension, the eight areas were scheduled to close to PWC use on September 15, based on the previous court approved settlement agreement between the NPS and Bluewater Network. Beginning on November 7, at the seven areas and beginning on January 2, 2003, at Lake Mead, PWC use will no longer be allowed unless and until a special regulation providing for some continued use is finalized and published.

All eight parks will continue to work on such rulemakings and, throughout the end of 2002 and during 2003, will be publishing environmental assessments and proposed rules for public comment.

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Long Island Farm Hosts Wind Turbines

ALBANY, New York, September 9, 2002 (ENS) - A new wind project on Long Island will generate 100,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity for New York state every year.

The first of five wind turbines, to be located on a working farm in Suffolk County, was dedicated on August 31 by New York Governor George Pataki, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) and the Long Island Farm Bureau. The project will produce enough electricity to power about 12 average sized homes on Long Island.

The primary purpose of the turbines, funded through LIPA's $170 million Clean Energy Initiative, is to demonstrate how the wind can be harnessed on Long Island to generate electricity.

"This is an exciting step forward for the development of wind power as an alternative energy technology on Long Island," Pataki said. "Working in partnership with the Long Island Farm Bureau, LIPA is demonstrating how innovative thinking can bring new and environmentally sound solutions to help address New York's energy needs."

The wind project is located on the Zeh Farm behind the Windy Acres Farm Stand in Calverton. The first turbine cost about $225,000 to construct and put into operation.

In return for allowing the wind turbine to be placed on their farmland, the Zeh family will receive an annual energy credit on their electric bill equal to 25 percent of the power generated by their farm's wind turbine. This credit is expected to be worth about $3,000 per year. The term of the lease is 20 years.

"Increased energy use on Long Island has made it necessary for the Long Island Power Authority to investigate sources that could help the utility meet consumer demand," noted State Senator Kenneth LaValle. "Wind turbines are known to provide a clean source of energy. This pilot program will help determine whether they could help meet the growing energy demand on Long Island and, quite possibly, provide significant savings for the consumer."

More than 1,200 letters were sent to Long Island Farm Bureau members last year explaining LIPA's willingness to erect a wind turbine on leased farmland. About 40 farm owners expressed interest, and sites were reviewed for favorable wind characteristics, favorable distances from residential areas, and nearness to LIPA's distribution system.

"This green energy initiative should help to control the cost of energy not only for the participating farmer but indeed for everyone," said Farm Bureau executive director Joseph Gergela. "Wind energy is an untapped resource, and the turbines being sited on East End farms are the first step in providing green energy that is safe for the environment while helping Long Island with its energy needs."

LIPA has also begun an initiative, under its CEI program, to develop 100 megawatts of offshore wind turbines. These turbines, much larger than the land based units LIPA is using now, would be located off the south shore of Long Island in a yet to be identified area one to six miles offshore.

"These wind farms and our aggressive approach to developing indigenous renewable resources are emblematic of New York State's commitment to protecting the environment and preserving our natural resources for future generations," Pataki concluded. "Clean energy technologies like wind farms will help New York State and the nation accommodate the growing demand for electricity in an environmentally responsible manner that avoids air pollution. Wind power has the added benefit of diversifying the energy mix that powers the Empire State and boosting energy security by reducing our need for imported energy."

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Zoos Asked to Halt Wild Elephant Captures

ATLANTA, Georgia, September 9, 2002 (ENS) - An animal rights group is asking American zoos to give up plans to capture and import 11 African elephants from Swaziland for display later this fall.

Last week, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) faxed an urgent appeal to Zoo Atlanta president Terry Maple, asking him to help abort plans by the San Diego Zoo and the Tampa based Lowry Park Zoo to capture the elephants. PETA is urging the Zoo Atlanta, along with 59 other zoos, to prohibit wild elephant captures at their own facilities and to support a similar rule that would affect all accredited zoos and animal parks.

"The San Diego Zoo and Lowry Park Zoo have created a firestorm of disgust over their recent application for a permit to import 11 wild African elephants from a 74,130 acre park in Swaziland," the letter states. "PETA believes public opinion supports our position that no zoo today should still be importing additional elephants from the wild. We ask that your zoo formulate a policy against wild elephant imports and urge the American Zoo and Aquarium Association to adopt a similar rule that would affect all accredited facilities."

PETA notes that the social structure of free roaming elephant herds is very complex, argues that it cannot be duplicated in captivity, even by the most well intentioned zoo. In nature, females remain with their mothers for life, and males approaching maturity require the guidance and wisdom of older bulls in order to become well adjusted adults, PETA says.

"Taking elephants out of nature to stick them in zoos is cruel and contrary to the conservation ethic," said PETA's elephant specialist, Jane Garrison. "Instead of tearing apart families and causing a lifetime of misery, zoos can take in needy elephants who must be rescued from cruel circuses and pitiful roadside zoos."

PETA rejects claims by the two zoos involved in the Swaziland transaction that the elephants they plan to capture would be killed if they are not adopted by zoos. PETA has offered to assist in relocating any of Swaziland's excess elephants to another free roaming area in Africa.

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20 Swift Foxes Released on Blackfeet Reservation

BLACKFEET RESERVATION, Montana, September 9, 2002 (ENS) - Twenty imperiled swift foxes were reintroduced Sunday on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in northwestern Montana.

The foxes are being restored to the region through a unique partnership between Defenders of Wildlife, the Blackfeet Nation and the Cochrane Ecological Institute (CEI). CEI, the world's only swift fox captive breeding facility, is providing the foxes.

The Blackfeet Nation is providing the site and assisting with the reintroduction, and Defenders of Wildlife coordinates the project and funds the release and tribal biologists to monitor the foxes. The goal of the project is to establishing a self sustaining population of swift foxes.

"It is very encouraging to know that these foxes are once again roaming the grasslands where they belong," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "The recovery of rare species nationwide depends on innovative partnerships such as this."

A total of 117 swift foxes will have been released since the first release in 1998. The reintroduced foxes have produced litters every year and tracking data indicates excellent survivorship of radio-collared individuals.

"The swift fox is back in Montana, thanks to the Blackfeet people and some very committed individuals," said Minette Johnson, regional field representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

The swift fox was once common on the Blackfeet Reservation and throughout Montana. When Lewis and Clark passed through the area in 1806, they reported swift foxes at the confluence of the Two Medicine and Marias Rivers, 14 miles from the site where the foxes are now being released.

The last confirmed trapping of a swift fox in Montana occurred in 1953 and the species was declared extinct in the state in 1969. The fox's disappearance was a result of numerous factors, including incidental poisoning by bait set out for wolves and coyotes, trapping, habitat loss to agriculture, and loss of food sources like prairie dogs and ground squirrels as part of federal eradication campaigns.

Named for its speediness, the swift fox is one of North America's smallest canids, or dog like animals, weighing an average of five pounds and measuring 12 inches in height and 31 inches in length. It is buffy-gray along its back, with yellowish tan across its sides and legs.

The swift fox is an opportunistic predator feeding on ground squirrels and other small mammals, grasshoppers, and berries.

The foxes have received a warm reception from the community on the Blackfeet Reservation.

"The swift fox, 'Senopah,' has great meaning for the Blackfeet people. We are glad to welcome them home," noted Gayle Skunkcap, director of the Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife Department.