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AmeriScan: September 23, 2002

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Right Whale Calf Photographed in Bering Sea

WASHINGTON, DC, September 23, 2002 (ENS) - For the first time in more than a century, marine mammal scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have confirmed the sighting of a northern right whale calf in the eastern North Pacific Ocean.

The northern right whale is the most endangered whale in the world. Scientists estimate the right whale population in the North Atlantic at about 300 individuals, but have not been able to come up with a reliable population estimate of the North Pacific's right whale population.

Biologists have spotted only about a dozen individuals of the Eastern Pacific population in recent years.

"This is cause for celebration," said Jim Balsiger, regional administrator for NMFS in Alaska. "The North Pacific right whale population is in danger of extinction. A mother and calf embody hope for the whales."

NMFS researchers spotted the calf on August 24, while on the research vessel McArthur for a dedicated study of right whales in the southeastern Bering Sea.

"The weather was heavily overcast when we first made the sighting," said Southwest Fisheries Science Center scientist Lisa Ballance, the research cruise leader. "We immediately launched a small boat with three scientists aboard to get a closer look, and to take photographs and biopsy samples. The rest of us worked from the flying bridge of the main ship, recording video and still photographs."

"We tracked the pair for over an hour before a rain squall swept over us and shut us down. When the small boat was brought aboard, well after 10 pm, we compared notes and the conclusion was that this was a female-calf pair," continued Ballance. "It was a very, very exciting conclusion."

Since the research cruise ended September 2, a larger group of scientists has been studying the photographic evidence. Although the photos were taken in such low light levels that they did not reveal much, the skin sample taken from the larger whale confirmed it was a female.

Scientists have identified six individual eastern North Pacific right whales - all male - through skin sampling since 1997. Nine skin samples, including one from the mother of the calf, were taken this year. The 2002 samples are not yet genotyped, but only the one is from a female.

Scientists divide the North Pacific right whales into two populations, the eastern and western. The eastern population is more depleted than the western. Between 1900 and 1994 there were only 29 reliable sightings of right whales in the eastern North Pacific. Since then scientific expeditions have found a few whales - between about four and 13 individuals - in the eastern North Pacific each year.

Right whales were hunted by whalers in the early 1900s because they were easy to catch and floated after they were killed. Right whale flesh is very rich in oil.

Right whales have been protected since 1935. However, illegal Soviet Union whaling in the 1960s pushed the eastern population of North Pacific right whales even closer to the brink of extinction.

Because the Pacific's northern right whale population is small, and because right whales travel so far, not much is known by scientists about their range and habits. It is believed that they summer in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska and may winter as far south as Baja California, Mexico.

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Indian Point Gets Emergency Preparedness Test

NEW YORK, New York, September 23, 2002 (ENS) - Federal and state emergency managers will be testing emergency preparedness at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant outside New York City on Tuesday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be conducting a plume phase, full participation exercise to evaluate the ability of New York State and the four counties within a 10 mile radius of the plant to respond to a radiological emergency.

The federal government conducts full participation biennial exercises at all nuclear power plants to provide reasonable assurance that emergency response plans can be implemented as part of each plant's licensing process. The last full participation exercise for Indian Point was conducted in November 2000.

FEMA will be evaluating several criteria, including emergency operations management, proactive action decision making and implementation, field measurement and analysis, emergency notification and public information, and support operations and facilities.

"The federal government conducts full participation exercises bi-annually at all nuclear power plants to provide a reasonable assurance that emergency response plans can be implemented," said Joseph Picciano, acting regional director for FEMA's Region II. "Carefully evaluating these six key areas of preparedness will help us provide that assurance."

Indian Point's workers have been rehearsing for the FEMA exercises for weeks. The power plant's performance will be scrutinized because of the controversy surrounding the plant since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

A widening coalition of environmental and civic groups and elected officials is calling for the permanent closure of Indian Point's two functioning nuclear reactors due to their proximity to New York City, just 40 miles south of the plant.

"In light of the September 11th suicide bombing and Indian Point's proximity to the country's most densely populated metropolis, prudence dictates that the plant be shut down until Entergy demonstrates that it can protect the public from a terrorist attack," said Alex Matthiessen, executive director of Riverkeeper, one of the groups leading the campaign.

One of the plant's two operating reactors, Indian Point 2, had a radioactive leak in February 2000, and has had extra federal inspections since then. Indian Point has the sixth worst safety record of all the nation's 103 commercial nuclear plants, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

A 1982 study by the NRC attempted to estimate the maximum number of deaths and casualties that could result from a nuclear meltdown at Indian Point, caused either by an accident or a terrorist attack. Under a meltdown scenario at one reactor alone, the agency predicted up to 50,000 non-cancer radiation sickness deaths within a year of an accident, up to 14,000 additional deaths over time due to cancer, and up to 167,000 cases of ongoing radiation related health problems.

Another 1982 NRC study on the economic impacts on Westchester County showed that the meltdown would result in a loss of $314 billion, in 1982 dollars, to Westchester's property and commercial interests.

The scenario for Tuesday's exercises has not been made public, but evaluations of the plans and emergency actions involved in the scenario began almost a year ago. FEMA has been reviewing all planning and preparedness documents for the four within the 10 mile radius of Indian Point, New York State's plans and those of Bergen County, New Jersey, which has reception and congregate care centers for evacuated populations.

The exercise will involve FEMA, the NRC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, Public Health Service, and departments of Defense, Energy, Interior, Transportation and Agriculture. A final exercise report will be compiled soon after the September 24th exercise. It will be forwarded to the NRC and made available to the public.

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Montana Gets $57 Million for Conservation

WASHINGTON, DC, September 23, 2002 (ENS) - The Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the state of Montana are launching a $57 million program to address water quality and wildlife habitats in all or a portion of nine counties in Montana.

The funds, made available through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), will help protect lakes and water courses through the establishment of tree buffers, the planting of native and other grasses, and the restoration of wetlands. The primary goal in Montana is to reduce the amount of sediment reaching streams.

"This program will help enhance conservation practices and improve water quality," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. "This is an excellent public-private partnership that will benefit agriculture and communities in Montana."

Another aspect of the state's involvement in the program will be to recognize the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clarks' historic 19th century exploration trip.

The Montana CREP partnership targets 26,000 acres in Montana located in the nine designated counties of Blaine, Broadwater, Cascade, Chouteau, Gallatin, Fergus, Lewis and Clark, Phillip and Madison.

The total cost of the program is expected to reach $57 million over 15 years. Of that amount, $41 million will come from the federal government and $16 million from state and private organizations.

CREP combines an existing USDA program, the Conservation Reserve Program, with state programs to provide a framework for partnerships to meet specific state and national environmental objectives. These programs provide for voluntary agreements with farmers to convert cropland to native grasses, trees and other vegetation in return for rental payments and other incentives.

Interested farmers and ranchers can find more information about the program at: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/cepd/crep.htm

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EPA Agrees to Notify Groups About Pesticide Use

WOODBURN, Oregon, September 23, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to notify farmworker and environmental groups of any proposed uses of the controversial pesticide vinclozolin.

For four years, Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United (known by their Spanish initials PCUN) and the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP), have challenged the use of the fungicide vinclozolin on a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. The challenges led to a phase out of most uses of vinclozolin.

Under an agreement signed August 28, the EPA must give PCUN and the Coalition notice of any proposed use of vinclozolin and respond to any issues the groups raise before considering future requests to use this pesticide.

Vinclozolin disrupts the function of hormonal systems in animals by blocking male sex hormones. Researchers have also documented effects on developing fetuses when pregnant females are exposed to the chemical.

"EPA had flouted the law and the health of farm workers and consumers exposed to vinclozolin by allowing its use on numerous fruits and vegetables," said Patti Goldman, senior attorney with Earthjustice in Seattle. "Our appeals spurred EPA to crack down on this pesticide, and this agreement ensures that EPA will not secretly reinstate the cancelled uses."

Although the EPA announced a multi-year phase out of the pesticide, the agency has indicated to agricultural industry representatives that it will leave open the opportunity to apply for an emergency exemption in order to continue vinclozolin's use on snap beans in Oregon. Under the agreement, conservation and farmworker groups will be notified by the EPA before an emergency exemption is even considered.

"This agreement is designed to provide more information to farm workers who are on the front lines of exposure to this dangerous pesticide," said Ramon Ramirez, president of PCUN. "Our hope is that these procedures will permanently stop the regulatory abuses that spanned fourteen years and got us involved in this issue in the first place."

"When pesticides are sprayed directly on food, some of the chemical inevitably ends up where we don't want it, including on the food that we all eat," added Norma Grier, executive director of NCAP. "By having a more transparent process, we can do a better job of protecting the health of both farm workers and consumers."

The agreement can be viewed on NCAP's Web site at: http://www.pesticide.org

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New York Promotes Electricity from Manure

ALBANY, New York, September 23, 2002 (ENS) - New York has passed legislation providing incentives for farmers to produce electricity with methane from animal manure using anaerobic digesters.

Governor George Pataki signed net metering legislation that will encourage farmers to sell excess electricity generated through the use of anaerobic digesters to utilities. The legislation is designed to make the installation and operation of anaerobic digesters more economic for New York farmers, while providing them with a tool to address environmental concerns and to reduce their energy costs.

"The legislation will generate new sources of revenue for our family farms, allowing them to remain competitive, while maintaining our high standards for protecting the state's environment," Pataki said. "This is one more example of how New York State is making greater use of renewable energy resources in an effort to decrease our dependence on imported energy."

Net metering laws already exist for electricity generated by solar panels on homes. The new legislation would expand those laws to include qualified farms as potential "net metering" customers who generate power from methane.

Methane released from New York State's agricultural industry represents a source of greenhouse gas emissions. By anaerobically digesting the manure, capturing the methane, and burning it to generate electricity, farmers can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions while saving energy.

"This new law is an important tool that will encourage the agriculture industry to make use of innovative technology to help reduce farmers' electricity costs while addressing the need to safely dispose of animal waste," said state Senator Jim Wright. "These are both economic and environmental benefits."

New York's dairy and livestock farmers face stringent federal, state and local regulatory pressures to control nutrient runoff into streams and eliminate the odors associated with manure management. Net metering offers farmers a way to reduce operating costs, while generating additional cash flow as a result of selling electricity to utilities.

Anaerobic digestion also gives farmers the opportunity to profit from compost sales and the use of nutrient rich liquids in lieu of high cost synthetic fertilizers.

"The concept of net metering electricity produced from farm animal manure is common sense, yet creates enormous benefits," said John Lincoln, president of the New York Farm Bureau. "Farmers would be provided with an economic benefit, and the environment would be protected by assisting farmers with waste disposal efforts."

New York State has more than 7.7 million acres of farmland, supporting almost 1.5 million cattle, 80,000 hogs and 60,000 sheep as part of the state's $3.1 billion agricultural industry.

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Millions Pledged for Fish Habitat Restoration

WASHINGTON, DC, September 23, 2002 (ENS) - American Rivers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are partnering on a series of fish habitat restoration projects.

More than $300,000 in federal funds will be provided for the implementation of river restoration projects in the Mid-Atlantic, California, and the Northeast during the first year of a three year partnership. Grant recipients will raise another $400,000 from non-federal entities for these on the ground restoration activities.

Over the next three years, the partnership will provide as much as $2.2 million for community driven dam removals and fish passage projects that restore habitat of migratory fish such as alewife, American shad, salmon and steelhead, all of which spend their adult lives in salt water before returning up rivers to spawn.

"The challenge is to work with more of our communities to restore free flowing river habitat historically used for fish spawning and rearing through the removal of obsolete and unsafe dams," said Bill Hogarth, assistant administrator for NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). "We are pleased to be making the announcement of projects selected in the first year of what promises to be a very productive and long lasting relationship with American Rivers."

Dam removal and other fish passage techniques are designed to restore historic migratory fish runs. While dams can provide valuable services, they often drown wildlife habitat under reservoirs, block the annual migrations of fish, and can create downstream conditions inhospitable for fish and wildlife.

Removing some dams can reverse these impacts and restore the natural integrity of rivers. When dam removal is not an option, fish passage devices, such as fishways and bypass channels, may be constructed to enable fish to swim over or around dams and return to their historic upstream habitat.

"The funded projects represent a terrific start to a partnership we feel will be extremely successful in restoring fish habitat," said Elizabeth Maclin, director of American Rivers dams program. "American Rivers is excited to see more communities across the country realizing the benefits of restored rivers through the removal of dams that no longer make sense and the construction of fish passage projects."

Last week, the partners announced the selection of 13 projects in eight states for federal funding, including dam removals and fish passages in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

For more information visit: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/habitat/restoration/community/

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California Golden Trout May Need Protection

SACRAMENTO, California, September 23, 2002 (ENS) - The California golden trout, California's official state fish, may need to be protected under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has determined.

The USFWS, complying with a court order, has completed an initial review - called a 90 day finding - on a petition filed by Trout Unlimited to list the species as endangered. The USFWS has determined that "substantial evidence" exists to support the petitioned action.

Next, the USFWS will complete a 12 month review to decide whether or not to propose the California golden trout for listing as threatened or endangered. At the end of the review, the agency will determine whether listing is "not warranted," "warranted" or "warranted but precluded" based on other higher priority species.

An endangered species is one that is in danger of extinction throughout "all or a significant portion" of its range. A threatened species is one that is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.

"No final decision has been made," said Steve Thompson, manager of the USFWS California/Nevada Operations Office.

At the same time it is doing the 12 month review, the USFWS will work with the state Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies and stakeholders on updating and refining a 1999 conservation strategy for the trout. Effective conservation measures in place at the time of the 12 month finding could reduce or prevent any need to list the species.

California golden trout are now limited to two watersheds - the Golden Trout Creek drainage and the headwaters of the South Fork Kern River. Both are in the Golden Trout Wilderness - part of the Inyo National Forest - in some of the highest watersheds in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains.

The California golden trout has experienced a decline in its range as well as abundance. Declines in populations are a result of hybridization with introduced rainbow trout and competition with introduced brown trout.

Genetic studies have shown that fish in most reaches in the two watersheds show some level of hybridization. The fish have also been affected by livestock overgrazing.

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California Law Will Protect Native Trout

SACRAMENTO, California, September 23, 2002 (ENS) - California Governor Gray Davis has signed a bill intended to protect the diversity of the state's native trout.

The bill, AB 2013, provides state support for the Heritage Trout Program, a fisheries protection program developed by the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and California Trout, a 31 year wild trout and steelhead conservation organization.

"Our state's dwindling native trout populations are valuable economic resources, critical indicators of the health of our watersheds, and magnificent symbols of California's wild heritage," said State assembly member Tom Harman, a Republican and cosponsor of the bill. "Today, they have finally been granted the attention and commitment to their protection that they deserve."

California hosts the richest diversity of native trout species of any state in the nation. The state's 20,000 miles of rivers and streams support 11 native species including, the high sierra Paiute and Lahontan cutthroat trout, the coastal rainbow trout, the steelhead trout, and California's state fish, the California golden trout.

But California also leads the nation in the number of extinct or imperiled aquatic species. The two native Sierra cutthroat trout, Lahontan and Paiute, and the Little Kern golden trout are all listed as threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. Steelhead populations have declined by 90 percent since 1950.

The native bull trout is already extinct in California, and even the California golden trout is a candidate for the Endangered Species list.

"By protecting these valuable fish species, we will also protect our state's wild rivers, wild streams and valuable wild habitats," said Gary Seput, chair of CalTrout's board of directors.

More than 20 years ago, California Trout collaborated with the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to institute one of the most successful programs ever undertaken by the Department, the Wild Trout Program. In 1999, California Trout approached the Fish and Game Commission to ask it to establish another fisheries protection program, one that would protect California's native trout and steelhead - the Heritage Trout Program.

CalTrout has advocated that the program be codified into law by the state legislature. As a state law, the Heritage Trout Program will be more than policy. The program will be able to mandate adequate funding and appropriate management, which will lay the foundation for its ongoing effectiveness.

For more information on CalTrout's work on the Wild Trout Program and Heritage Trout Program policies, visit the following link on our web site: http://www.caltrout.org/conserve/WildTrout.html

For more information on DFG's Heritage Trout Program and on California's native trout species visit: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/fishing/wtp/heritage/heritage.htm



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