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AmeriScan: September 17, 2002

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Last of New Mexico's Wolves Recaptured or Killed

SOCORRO, New Mexico, September 17, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has killed a litter of seven wolf pups after confirming that they were hybrids, not pure Mexican wolves.

The pups were born to a female Mexican wolf who was the last remaining female from the Pipestem Pack, the first released Mexican wolves to reproduce and successfully raise pups in the wild. Genetic analysis revealed that the pups were not full blooded Mexican wolves, and that their mother's presumed mate, the last surviving male wolf from the Pipestem Pack, was not their father.

"The genetic analysis could not determine for certain what the father is," the USFWS said in a press release. "However, the results indicate that the father is most likely a domestic or feral dog, or wolf x dog hybrid."

The phenotypic traits, or physical appearance, of the pups also suggests that they are wolf dog hybrids, the agency said.

The entire Pipestem Pack, including the adult male, adult female and the seven pups, were removed from the wild in May 2002 at the request of a private landowner on whose property the wolves had been killing livestock. They were all held in captivity at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge where the adults remain.

However, "in keeping with the Service's Final Rule for managing the Mexican wolf reintroduction and recovery program, these offspring have been humanely euthanized," the USFWS said.

Under the USFWS regulations covering the reintroduction of Mexican wolves into the Blue Range of Arizona and New Mexico, "the Service or any agent so authorized by the Service, may capture, kill, subject to genetic testing, place in captivity, euthanize, or return to the wild (if found to be a pure Mexican wolf) any feral wolf-like animal, feral wolf hybrid, or feral dog found within the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area that shows physical or behavioral evidence of hybridization with other canids, such as domestic dogs or coyotes."

The original Pipestem Pack was released in 1998, but recaptured just six months later in the spring of 1999 after they killed cows grazing on public land in the Apache National Forest. The wolves had scavenged cattle that were already dead, and may have learned to associate cattle with prey.

Three of six wild born pups died from a virus while in captivity. After the survivors were re-released into the Gila National Forest in April 2000, two of the pups dispersed from the pack at a younger age than is normal for wolves; one was killed by a hit and run driver and the other is missing and presumed dead.

The alpha male was re-captured after a sheep was killed by a member of the pack on private land near the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. In March 2001, the alpha female died of natural causes.

The mother of the hybrid pups euthanized by the USFWS is a wild born pup of the original Pipestem alpha pair. She has been recaptured with her companion, the former alpha male of the Mule Pack, the only other wolf pack released in New Mexico.

The capture of the two adult wolves removes the last established pair of Mexican wolves from New Mexico.

The Center for Biological Diversity plans a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management over their failures to address the problem of livestock carcasses, which can lead reintroduced wolves to seek cattle as food.

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Wildlife Corridors Prove Their Worth

GAINESVILLE, Florida, September 17, 2002 (ENS) - An extensive, University of Florida led study shows that wildlife that corridors encourage the movement of plants and animals across fragmented landscapes.

Fragmented habitats can isolate species, reducing their chances to reproduce and survive. Many communities are beginning to set aside small strips of open space linking larger natural areas in hopes of helping wildlife to survive and thrive.

But ecologists have long debated whether these so called wildlife corridors actually help species, and few studies have provided enough data to help answer the question one way or the other.

A new, multiyear study, covering hundreds of acres, examines two indicators of healthy ecosystems - plant pollination by insects and the dispersal of seeds by birds - and concludes that corridors can encourage species to migrate between islands of intact habitat.

"This is by far the largest experimental look at the effects of corridors that has ever been done," said Josh Tewksbury, a UF postdoctoral associate and lead author of a report on the study scheduled to appear next week in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers mapped out eight similar sites, each measuring about 158 acres, along the South Carolina-Georgia state line. This site, the Savannah River Site National Environmental Research Park, is a 482 square mile federal research area set aside during the Cold War for nuclear weapons development.

Forests of 50 year old pine trees dominate all eight sites. At the researchers' request, in 1999 the U.S. Forest Service arranged for workers to log trees and burn the remaining groundcover in selected areas, creating one central clearing and four peripheral clearings on each site.

They also logged corridors connecting each central clearing to just one of the four peripheral clearings, leaving the other three separated by forest. The clearings grew into fields, creating a patchwork of forest and field habitats hosting very different species.

Research on the sites lasted for two years, with most data collected in 2000 and 2001.

For one of two major experiments, the researchers planted male holly bushes in the central patch and female hollies in the four peripheral patches. They chose holly because it is not naturally present in the forest and the female trees cannot bear fruit unless pollinated by males.

The researchers waited until the hollies had flowered and then measured the fruit set, or the percentage of flowers that turned into berries, in each of the clearings. The hollies in the connected patches were consistently more fruitful than in the unconnected ones, indicating that more wasps, butterflies and other insect pollinators made it from each central patch through the corridor than through the forest.

In a second experiment, the researchers looked at how corridors affected seed dispersal by birds. The researchers marked thousands of seeds of wax myrtle and holly in the central patch with a sticky powder that can be seen only with a florescent light.

The researchers then placed seed traps under 16 bird perches built in each of the connected and unconnected peripheral patches. Over several months, they collected and analyzed the resulting bird droppings in a lab, finding that more droppings containing wax myrtle and holly seeds were carried from central patches to connected patches than to unconnected patches.

"Our study suggests that these corridors do help in connecting populations, and theoretically they should help sustain networks of populations existing in increasingly fragmented landscapes," Tewksbury concluded.

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4,600 Acres Added to Migratory Bird Refuges

WASHINGTON, DC, September 17, 2002 (ENS) - The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission has approved the acquisition of more than 4,600 acres of migratory bird habitat.

The new federal lands, approved at the commission's September meeting, will benefit migratory birds and other species on units of the National Wildlife Refuge System in five states. The cabinet level commission authorized funds of almost $1.5 million to acquire the land.

"The land acquisitions approved by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission will protect important habitat, ensuring that the National Wildlife Refuge System continues to provide vital nesting, breeding, feeding and resting places for migratory bird populations," said Steve Williams, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge system.

"By working with state, public and private partners, the Commission continues to make sure that the 95 million acre National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) System remains the world's premier network of public lands dedicated to wildlife conservation," added Williams.

The new acquisitions include 5,129 acres in Texas that will preserve bottomland hardwood trees and associated wetlands for migrating, wintering and breeding waterfowl in Trinity River NWR. In Virginia, a new 92.8 acre tract will help protect waterfowl within the boundaries of Back Bay NWR in the city of Virginia Beach.

Twenty acres will be added to Mackay Island NWR in Currituck County, North Carolina to provide habitat for wintering waterfowl. Also in North Carolina, a 3,063 acre acquisition will help protect bottomland hardwood forest and swamps for waterfowl in Roanoke River NWR.

Two land purchases were approved in Mississippi, including 120 acres to protect and restore migratory waterfowl habitat at Tallahatchie NWR, and 640 acres to provide habitat for waterfowl within Panther Swamp NWR.

In Louisiana, a 640 acre tract will be acquired to protect bottomland hardwood forest and swamps for waterfowl in Lacassine NWR.

Funds for the purchases will come from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which is supported by revenue collected from Federal Duck Stamp sales, import duties collected on arms and ammunition, right of way payments to the refuge system, and receipts from national wildlife refuge entry fees.

The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission also approved 44 grants that will foster wetland restoration, protection and enhancement projects in Mexico, Canada and the United States under the auspices of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. Grant funds of almost $7 million will be combined with more than $13 million in partnership money in Canada.

More than $1 million in U.S. funds will be combined with $1.5 million in Mexico, and more than $24 million in grants will be combined with another $117 million in federal funds for projects within the United States.

The Commission also funded 42 small grants totaling almost $2 million for conservation programs for 2002 in the United States. This will be combined with more than $13 million in partner funds.

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Federal Funds Help Farmers Through Natural Disasters

WASHINGTON, DC, September 17, 2002 (ENS) - The Department of Agriculture is releasing additional funds for states hit by drought and other natural disasters.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced the release Monday of almost $10 million for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) a voluntary conservation program that promotes environmental quality and assists producers to meet local, state and federal regulations.

The money is targeted to help 14 states where natural resources have been damaged by drought. Funds will help farmers and ranchers install conservation practices to reduce soil erosion, improve water use efficiencies and protect grazing land.

"The majority of these funds will be directed to states most severely impacted by the drought," said Veneman. "This will provide assistance to help agricultural producers implement conservation practices in an effort to prevent further damage to natural resources resulting from the drought."

The $10 million announced Monday is in addition to the $414 million already earmarked for the EQIP program in fiscal year 2002. The states that will receive additional EQIP funds include Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

Another $94 million was released Monday for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP) in 36 states and Puerto Rico.

"This program will provide assistance to help restore natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfires and other natural disasters," Veneman said. "The Bush administration remains committed to providing the tools and resources for environmental stewardship to ensure that the land remains both healthy and productive."

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides technical and financial assistance through EWP where a potential threat to life or property exists as a result of natural disasters, including floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires. EWP provides funding to local project sponsors for work that includes clearing debris from clogged waterways, restoring vegetation and stabilizing streambanks.

More information about the Emergency Watershed Protection Program is available at: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/ewp/ewp.html

More information about the Environmental Quality Incentives Program is available at: http://nrcs.usda.gov/programs/farmbill/2002/products.html

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Connecticut Researcher Promotes Transgenic Fish

STORRS, Connecticut, September 17, 2002 (ENS) - Synthetic growth hormones could shorten the growth time needed for farm raised fish to reach market size, says a biologist from the University of Connecticut.

In research led by Connecticut Sea Grant scientist Thomas Chen, transgenics, or the technique of transferring DNA from one species to another, has showed promise as a method for stimulating growth hormone production. Using rainbow trout and tilapia, Chen is testing a synthetic protein to determine whether it can stimulate growth hormone production the same way a natural protein would.

When Chen, a professor of molecular and cell biology, and his team transferred the rainbow trout growth hormone gene into common seafood species like carp, catfish and tilapia, the altered fish grew 60 to 600 percent larger. Chen also found that the application of a synthetic growth hormone releasing peptide was successful, suggesting that the peptide, as well as the hormone itself, can stimulate growth.

More studies are underway to confirm the hypothesis. The researchers are also working to find a peptide that will protect farm raised rainbow trout and other seafood from disease, which often plagues aquaculture operations.

If the researchers are successful, transgenic fish could reduce both the amount of time and feed needed to grow fish to market size.

However, the research comes on the heels of a study by the National Academies' National Research Council (NRC), which found that genetically engineered (GE) animals could pose a serious threat to the environment if they escape and introduce their engineered genes into wild populations.

A 12 member committee from the NRC reviewed existing science to identify what health and environmental problems might be posed by transgenic animals. The committee concluded that the possibility of transgenic fish and other animals escaping and interbreeding with or out competing wild populations tops the list of concerns associated with advances in animal biotechnology.

"It might be impossible to limit which communities a GE organism will gain access to," the committee wrote. "Thus if any of these communities are fragile, the concern will be high that the GE organism will cause environmental harm."

The engineered animals "might eventually replace its relative or become established in that community if the GE organism is more fit than its wild relatives in that environment," the committee added.

The NRC report, "Animal Biotechnology: Identifying Science Based Concerns," can be read online at: http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10418.html?onpi_topnews082002

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More Hunting, Fishing Added at Refuges

WASHINGTON, DC, September 17, 2002 (ENS) - Seven additional national wildlife refuges in Louisiana, Montana, Wisconsin and Virginia will have hunting and fishing programs this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has announced.

The USFWS will open new hunting and fishing programs on refuges in Louisiana, Montana, Wisconsin and Virginia as part of its annual Refuge-Specific Hunting and Sport Fishing Regulations. The agency will also increase opportunities for hunting and fishing at eight refuges, bringing to 311 the total number of public hunting programs on national wildlife refuges (NWR).

The USFWS offers 271 public fishing programs on its almost 540 NWRs.

"I am pleased to announce these newest opportunities for America's hunters and anglers to enjoy their favorite pastimes on refuges," said USFWS Director Steve Williams. "Since 1903, America's national wildlife refuges have been special places for people to hunt or fish, watch and photograph wildlife, or simply enjoy the great outdoors. I am committed to expanding these activities wherever they are compatible with the refuge system's wildlife conservation mission."

The USFWS is adding the following refuges to the list of areas open for hunting and/or fishing: Bayou Teche and Cat Island refuges in Louisiana; Lost Trail NWR in Montana; Occoquan Bay, Rappahannock River Valley and Wallops Island refuges in Virginia; and Whittlesey Creek NWR in Wisconsin.

The agency will increase recreational hunting and fishing opportunities on eight refuges in Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, and will make minor administrative changes to the general regulations governing hunting and fishing on refuges.

In 2001, there were two million hunting visits to national wildlife refuges and six million fishing visits. By law, hunting and fishing are two of the six primary wildlife dependent recreational uses on national wildlife refuges, and individual refuges are encouraged to provide opportunities to hunt and fish whenever they are compatible with the refuge's conservation purposes.

The USFWS reviews hunting and fishing programs on national wildlife refuges each year to determine whether to add, modify or remove them.

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Invasive Hemlock Pest Spreading Westward

ROCHESTER, New York, September 17, 2002 (ENS) - Invasive insects known as woolly adelgids are infesting hemlocks in western New York, marking a westward expansion by the nonnative pests.

Residents of Monroe County have been asked to watch for the exotic tree pests, which sucks sap and nutrients from hemlocks, eventually killing the trees. Hemlock woolly adelgids, which are native to Asia, have been a serious problem in southeastern New York for more than a decade, but were only recently discovered at two locations near Rochester.

"The hemlock woolly adelgid poses a serious threat, and it has already caused a great deal of damage to trees in other parts of the state," said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) commissioner Erin Crotty. "The discovery of the adelgid in a new area is cause for concern, and we ask the residents of Monroe County to please assist us in targeting these pests so that we may help to contain the problem and preserve the health of hemlock trees throughout New York State."

The presence of hemlock woolly adelgids on trees in the town of Brighton was first confirmed by the Cornell Cooperative Extension. DEC foresters, officials from the State Department of Agriculture and Markets, and volunteer tree care professionals responded to the initial report by examining more than 600 hemlock trees in surrounding areas.

Another infested location was later discovered a few miles away in the town of Irondequoit. The infestations have been determined to be small and isolated, but there is risk of spreading.

In forested areas, treatment of infestations becomes much more difficult and can lead to widespread decline of hemlock trees, as seen during the last decade in parts of the Catskills and Hudson Valley.

"The importance of hemlock trees in the urban and forest environment cannot be overstated," said state Agriculture commissioner Nathan Rudgers. "It is one of the most common backyard species planted by homeowners and one of the most cultivated landscape tree species. The Department of Agriculture and Markets will continue to work cooperatively with DEC to make homeowners, farm woodlot owners and the state's 2,400 nursery establishments aware of this pest."

Homeowners and tree care professionals can help by looking for the distinctive egg masses of hemlock woolly adelgids on Eastern or Carolina hemlocks. The egg masses are white and woolly in appearance, resembling the tips of cotton swabs, and are present throughout the year at the bases of the needles.

Ornamental trees can be treated with insecticides or horticultural oil to control the pest. Infested trees should be reported to the nearest DEC office so individuals may receive information on the safest and most effective methods of treatment.

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Website Offers Chesapeake Bay Monitoring Data

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland, September 17, 2002 (ENS) - The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has launched a new website that uses new monitoring technologies to provide a better picture of the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

The site (http://www.eyesonthebay.net) provides real time information on a range of environmental data, including salinity, temperature, levels of dissolved oxygen, pH, water clarity, algal levels and chlorophyll concentrations. The website also offers background material to help the public to understand why the data is relevant, how to interpret it, and what Maryland is doing to restore the health of Maryland's coastal bays and their tributaries.

"These are both exciting and challenging times for our Bay cleanup," said DNR Secretary J. Charles Fox. "These powerful new tools combine remote sensing technology and the use of the Internet to link former gaps in data. It will allow us to more fully understand problems of the Bay, and use that knowledge to make informed policy decisions towards restoring the health of the Bay."

New technologies for monitoring the Bay have been developed and tested over the past several years by DNR and its partners and have proven invaluable for understanding and assessing key habitats in the Bay, especially shallow waters.

"These new innovations fill a big gap in our ability to assess the state of the Bay's health and make good decisions," said Rob Magnien, director of DNR's Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment program, and the lead scientist for this initiative. "The shallow water areas we can now observe have largely been unmonitored by traditional programs due to the cost and time needed to take measurements across these vast areas and rapidly changing environments."

The new technologies allow DNR and its partners to better understand the link between, pollution, water and habitat conditions, and the agency's goal of restoring the Chesapeake Bay's living resources. The new data can be used to determine whether Maryland is meeting water quality criteria set out by Bay restoration agreements, and assess problems like fish kills and harmful algal blooms.

For instance, drought information on the new site demonstrates that the combined effects of low water flow and higher salinity during the dry conditions of the past two years have "potentially serious implications for living resources."

Certain species of bay grasses are adapted to saline environments, others to freshwater environments, and others to zones that transition from saline to fresh waters, the site shows. When the salinity gets too high or too low for a particular grass species, grass beds may die off, resulting in "reduced food supplies for waterfowl, decreased habitat for juvenile crabs and finfish, and increased re-suspension of sediments."

There are at least 20 species of grasses that can be found in Maryland bays and tributaries. Research has shown that the density of juvenile blue crabs is 30 times greater in grass beds than in unvegetated areas of the bay.

Citizens, students and researchers can use the site to explore the natural history of the bay, its problems and their solutions.

"We have learned a great deal from the deployment of these new monitoring technologies," Fox said. "The problems close to our shorelines have not been appreciated as much as those in the Bay's deeper channels, where much of the Bay's research and monitoring has been conducted in the past, but they are just as damaging if not more so to living resources.

"It is in these shallow waters," said Fox, "where our Bay grasses are struggling to survive and where most of our fish kills occur due to nutrient overenrichment, harmful algal blooms and low dissolved oxygen."

For more information, visit: http://www.eyesonthebay.net



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