AmeriScan: September 10, 2002

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Southern Appalachians Want Forests Protected

ASHEVILLE, North Carolina, September 10, 2002 (ENS) - People who live in the Southern Appalachians want their national forests protected, show recent surveys by the Southern Research Station (SRS) of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

The surveys by the SRS Recreation, Wilderness and Demographic Trends Unit in Athens, Georgia, found that area residents want the forests managed to protect clean sources of water, preserve natural landscapes for future generations to enjoy, and provide wildlife habitat.

The management plans for the national forests of the Southern Appalachian region are being revised to comply with the National Forest Management Act. The SRS surveys were designed to address the requirement for public involvement in these revisions, and were sponsored and conducted by the USFS, the Southern Research Station and the University of Tennessee.

"Public involvement is not only required: it is the most essential component of successful national forest planning," said Ken Cordell, project leader of the SRS social science unit. "These plans, so important for managing natural resources, are centered around the concerns and needs of the American public."

More than 5,200 people in the region were interviewed for surveys covering 13 national forests. Questions were designed to elicit which values were most important to residents in planning the future management of national forests.

"We found that people in the region value the national forests in many different ways," said Cordell. "People give top value to protecting sources of clean water, followed by retaining natural forests for future generations, providing protection for wildlife and habitat, providing places that are natural in appearance, and protecting rare and endangered species."

Residents gave lower values to managing national forests as sources of raw materials, as grazing ranges for livestock, and for tourism.

"In the Southern Appalachians, people clearly put ecosystems and naturalness above utilitarian objectives in the management of their national forests," said Cordell. "This is consistent with the natural resources agenda developed for the Forest Service over the past few years."

Survey information was gathered in a special application of the SRS National Survey on Recreation and the Environment (NSRE). All data and electronic copies of the five reports from the survey are available at:

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Drought Prompts Nationwide Emergency Haying

WASHINGTON, DC, September 10, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has authorized emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres across the nation to provide relief for farmers and ranchers in areas hardest hit by drought and other natural disasters.

Until Tuesday, emergency haying and grazing on CRP lands had been limited to 18 states.

CRP is a voluntary program that offers annual rental payments and cost share assistance to establish long term resource conserving cover on eligible land. This action will permit CRP participants to graze livestock or hay on CRP acreage.

"Extreme weather conditions have impacted so many farmers and ranchers this year, particularly livestock producers," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. "This Administration continues to utilize every available program to provide assistance and this decision will provide additional feed and forage to producers who have lost their hay stocks and grazing lands due to the recent disasters."

"It is our hope, that in the American tradition of neighbor helping neighbor, CRP participants in areas not affected by these disasters will make their CRP acreage available for haying or grazing or donate hay to those in need," Veneman added.

To be approved for emergency haying or grazing, a county must generally have suffered at least a 40 percent loss of normal moisture and forage for the preceding four month qualifying period. But in response to this year's widespread drought, which now affects more than 30 percent of the nation, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) has decided that the 40 percent loss criterion no longer applies.

State FSA committees may limit the area within the states if conditions do not warrant haying and grazing in all areas. CRP participants, where authorized, have until November 30 to submit applications with their local FSA office for emergency haying or grazing.

CRP participants who do not own or lease livestock may donate, rent or lease the hay or the haying or grazing privileges. CRP annual rental payments made to participants will be reduced 25 percent to account for the areas hayed or grazed, unless the hay or the haying or grazing privileges are donated.

For the welfare of wildlife, at least 25 percent of the CRP contract acreage must be left ungrazed or unhayed.

The USDA has developed a website for producers to list information concerning the need for hay or the availability of hay for sale or donation. More than 600 ads have been posted to the site, with the majority of people selling hay. The Hay Net may be found on the FSA Internet home page at:

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USGS Maps Aquatic Life in the Great Lakes

WASHINGTON, DC, September 10, 2002 (ENS) - A five year study in the Great Lakes basin aims to map unprotected areas that contain a wealth of biodiversity, and determine how free those habitats are from human disturbance.

By locating the places that support a wide range of aquatic species, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and its partners hope to help decision makers identify gaps in protection and set priorities for conservation.

"Our goal is to keep common species common," said Donna Myers, coordinator of the USGS Great Lakes Aquatic GAP Analysis Program.

"GAP analysis grew out of the realization that a species by species approach to conservation does not address the continual loss and fragmentation of natural landscapes," Myers explained. "The most efficient way to protect animal species is to protect their habitats. But protection can't be successfully accomplished until we know where these places are located."

The Nature Conservancy estimates that the Great Lakes region supports more than 30 communities of plants and animals that are found nowhere else on Earth. The Great Lakes and their watersheds provide habitat for about 300 species of fish, along with a variety of freshwater mussels, crayfish and aquatic insects.

Biologists do not have a complete picture of the aquatic biodiversity of this 200,000 square mile region, but they know that there are many threats to the region, including invasive species, agricultural development, forestry and urban expansion.

"Restoring and preserving the richness of species - the biodiversity - of the lands and waters of the region is an important activity," Myers said, "because biodiversity in the Great Lakes is strongly tied to the economy, health, and quality of life of the surrounding human population through its positive effects on tourism, recreation, agriculture, drinking water quality, and fish consumption."

The Great Lakes Aquatic GAP project will provide maps, data, information and scientific studies of basinwide, lakewide and statewide patterns in aquatic biodiversity. The project will involve cooperative relationships with state, local, and nongovernmental agencies in developing and applying this information to state and regional conservation activities.

"The Departments of Natural Resources in the States of Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin have taken a strong interest in the project," Myers said. "State level studies, which are components of the entire project, will begin first in Michigan, Wisconsin, and New York, followed by Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. A pilot state level study is in its third year in Ohio."

The USGS Great Lakes Science Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is leading the regional effort to combine data from all the Great Lakes states. Funding of just over $5 million is planned for the effort from 2003 through 2008.

The Great Lakes Aquatic GAP is one of the newest projects in the national GAP program, which involves the USGS and more than 200 other natural resource agencies in 49 of the 50 states across the nation.

More information can be obtained at these Web sites: and

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Honeywell Fined for Chemical Reporting Violations

CHICAGO, Illinois, September 10, 2002 (ENS) - Honeywell International has agreed to pay a $36,000 fine to settle charges that fires at one of its tar plants released coal tar to the atmosphere.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had filed an administrative complaint against Honeywell for violation of federal laws on the reporting of hazardous chemical releases. The complaint, filed March 29, 2002, was based on two separate incidents that resulted in the release of coal tar.

A fire at Honeywell's tar plant in Detroit, Michigan on February 5, 1998 released between 7,000 and 8,000 gallons of coal tar. On December 17, 1999, a second fire at the same plant released about 4,500 pounds of coal tar.

After the incidents, the company failed to immediately notify the National Response Center, the Michigan State Emergency Response Commission and the local emergency planning committee - in this case, the Detroit Fire Department.

Honeywell also failed to provide written follow up reports to the Michigan SERC and the city of Detroit's local emergency planning committee after the second fire. These reports are required as soon as practicable after such incidents.

Coal tar contains the hazardous chemicals benzo(a)pyrene and dibenz(a,h)anthracene, which when heated can evaporate into clouds. Both chemicals are suspected carcinogens.

Prolonged exposure to coal tar fumes, vapors or dust can cause irritation or burning to the eyes or respiratory tract. Ingestion of coal tar may cause irritation to the gastrointestinal tract, nausea and vomiting.

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Biodegradable Plastics Could Reduce Landfill Need

ITHACA, New York, September 10, 2002 (ENS) - Biodegradable plastics could help replace landfills, now clogged with computer and car parts, packaging and a myriad of other plastic parts, with compost piles, says a Cornell University fiber scientist.

Biodegradable composites, developed at Cornell and elsewhere, can be made from soybean protein and other plant based fibers.

"These new fully biodegradable, environment friendly green composites have good properties and could replace plastic parts in the interiors of cars and trains, in computers and in packaging materials and other consumer products," said researcher Anil Netravali, a professor of fiber science in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell. "They also provide excellent insulation against heat and noise for use in applications such as cars."

"Although the plant based fibers may not be as strong as graphite and KevlarŪ, for example, they are low in cost, biodegradable and replenishable on a yearly basis," Netravali added. Netravali's findings are published in the September issue of the "Journal of Materials Science."

Instead of nondegradable plastics based on petroleum products, green composites - also known as reinforced plastics - use natural fibers that, for strength, are embedded in a matrix made of a plant based or other resin. Composites technology is not new, Netravali points out, citing primitive bricks and walls made of straw mixed with mud as examples.

Netravali notes that most nondegradable plastic composites, made from petroleum based or synthetic polyurethane, polyethylene and polypropylene, end up in landfills. Not much can be reused or recycled. Plant based green composites could become inexpensive alternatives for many mass produced items.

"They will be made from yearly renewable agricultural sources and would be environmentally friendly because they would naturally biodegrade once they were thrown on a compost pile," Netravali said.

Netravali has helped develop green composites made from ramie fibers, obtained from the stem of an Asian perennial shrub and the resin made from a soy protein isolate-polymer. His research group is now working with a number of fibers, including those obtained from kenaf stems, pineapple and henequen leaves and banana stems.

The resin materials he is researching include commercial resins, such as polyvinyl alcohol and polylactones, and those derived from microorganisms. Netravali is manipulating the composites to improve their mechanical properties, such as stiffness and strength, and to decrease their water absorption, which could start premature degradation.

The new composites could also substitute for wood in such applications as crates or building studs.

"Trees take 25 years to grow," Netravali points out. "Fibers we use, however, come from plants that grow to maturity in a year."

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California's Native Grasses Can Be Restored

SANTA BARBARA, California, September 10, 2002 (ENS) - Native grasslands in California may be able to be restored without first eradicating invasive plants from Europe, show preliminary results from a new study.

The study by researchers from the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) and the University of Minnesota suggests that the native grasslands may only need to be reseeded with native seeds, according to a presentation at the recent annual Ecological Society of America meeting.

"We used experimental seed introductions of native and exotic species to investigate one of the most dramatic plant invasions worldwide, the invasion of 23 percent of California by annual plant species introduced from Mediterranean Europe," said Eric Seabloom, of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at UCSB.

The experiments were conducted at Santa Barbara County's Sedgwick Reserve, part of the University of California's Natural Reserve System, which is managed by UCSB.

Jim Reichman, director of NCEAS, said that the researchers found that the "native plants are actually better competitors than the invasives, but that the seed availability of natives is extremely low - probably due to grazing and drought 150 years ago."

Reichman explained that when the researchers provided seeds of native grasses, they were able to outcompete the exotic species for space and nutrients.

"This is encouraging news," Reichman explained, "because it suggests that in many places, providing seeds will be enough to reestablish native species. There may be no need to exclude the invasives first, a profoundly difficult task."

The research team also included Stan Harpole and David Tilman of the University of Minnesota.

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Washington Seeks Comment on Mercury Reduction Plan

OLYMPIA, Washington, September 10, 2002 (ENS) - The Washington Departments of Ecology and Healthy is seeking public comment on a new plan for reducing the use and release of mercury in Washington state.

The Mercury Chemical Action Plan lists known sources and uses of mercury in Washington. The agencies are now taking public comment on the plan, which identifies long term and short term strategies for reducing mercury sources and exposure.

"People would be surprised to learn how many consumer products contain mercury," said Bill Backous of the Department of Ecology (Ecology). "Through this action plan, we hope to increase awareness of these potential sources of mercury so people can either avoid them or learn to handle and dispose of them safely."

Mercury is toxic, and exposure to it can cause neurological problems in humans and animals. People may be exposed to mercury by eating contaminated fish from certain water bodies or by inhaling the gaseous form of the element.

Mercury also may be absorbed through the skin if children or adults play with the silvery liquid mercury found in a broken thermometer or thermostat. Other states have launched efforts to reduce the use and release of mercury, and Washington's action plan builds on those efforts.

"We know a lot about the health problems that mercury can cause. Health effects are most severe for the developing fetus and young child," said Jude VanBuren of the Department of Health. "Our public health advisories warn about mercury in certain kinds of fish. To keep mercury out of our food chain, it is important to reduce the amount of mercury released into the environment."

The action plan for mercury, produced at the direction of the state legislature, is the first plan to be developed as part of Ecology's "persistent, bioaccumulative toxins" (PBT) strategy. The department intends to develop action plans for other PBTs, which are toxic substances that are known to build up in humans and animals.

The PBT strategy and the draft mercury action plan are available at:

The 60 day public comment period on the draft Mercury Chemical Action Plan ends on November 8. Written comments may be submitted to Mike Gallagher at or Department of Ecology, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, Washington, 98501-7600.

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Purdue University Urged to End Fur Trapping Program

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana, September 10, 2002 (ENS) ­ An animal welfare group has called on Purdue University to end its affiliation with the Fur Takers of America's Trappers College.

Purdue University offers two continuing education credits to people who complete the weeklong course, which teaches students to be more efficient fur trappers. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) says it is unfortunate that a prominent institution of higher education such as Purdue University would associate itself with a course that promotes the use of inhumane traps used for the killing of animals for their pelts.

"This course in fur trapping serves only to endorse the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals," said Dr. John Grandy, HSUS senior vice president for wildlife and habitat protection. "It is very disappointing that a school of Purdue's stature would promote a practice that clearly supports animal suffering and an industry that has greatly lost its popularity with the American public because of its direct link to animal cruelty."

The Indiana Department of Fish and Wildlife grants the Trapper's College permission to trap furbearing animals out of season for the purposes of this course. In 2001, students at the Trapper's College trapped 158 animals, killing 46 of them.

One of the animals killed was an otter, a protected species that has been reintroduced to the state after being extirpated in 1942 by fur trapping and declining habitat. Other animals trapped by students included raccoons, opossums, skunks, muskrats and beavers.

Students often trap the animals in steel jaw leghold traps. These traps, banned in 90 nations and eight states, often cause painful, non-fatal injuries to trapped animals. For example, 53 percent of otters captured with steel jaw leghold traps as part of the reintroduction attempt in Indiana required treatment for serious injuries ranging from amputated toes to broken teeth.

The HSUS learned that two instructors for the Purdue course, Pete and Ron Leggett from Maryland, have recommended what the group calls "questionable" means of dealing with non-target animals that are accidentally caught in steel jaw leghold traps. In their book, "The Autobiography of Leggett's Fox Trapping Methods," they describe a technique for removing a non-target skunk from a trap after using a club to stun the animal.

"Immediately place one foot on the body of the skunk and reach down and release the skunk's foot from the trap," the book recommends. "Immediately grab the skunk by the back and throw it as far as you can."

Some proponents of the Trapper's College claim that the course is used to educate Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators (NWCO's) on how to handle conflicts between people and wildlife. But in an email correspondence, Purdue University's Brian MacGowen, a speaker at the Trapper's College, stated, "If you are wanting more information about how to trap furbearers using foot hold traps, body grip traps and snares, then this course will definitely be helpful to you. If you are looking for how to get a raccoon out of an attic, etc., then it probably won't meet your needs."

MacGowen said that the time devoted to nuisance animal control was limited to a discussion about mole trapping that lasts "an hour or two."

This year's Trapper's College is taking place September 8-14th, in LaGrange, Indiana. Subjects covered include Fur-Skinning, Handling, Grading and Marketing, Trap and Snare Placement. The course also includes a section on justifying trapping to the public.

Participants are required to become members of the Fur Takers of America, a national organization that promotes fur trapping, before joining the class.