AmeriScan: December 7, 2000

750,000 ACRES OF PRIVATE FOREST LAND WIN PROTECTION

WASHINGTON, DC, December 7, 2000 (ENS) - Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman today announced that the Department of Agriculture plans to protect almost 750,000 acres of environmentally important private forest land from development. "This relatively small public investment will help protect for future generations 750,000 acres of precious private forest land from the threat of urban sprawl and other development pressures," said Glickman. The $60 million Forest Legacy Program, administered by the U.S. Forest Service, helps participating states acquire forest lands or conservation easements from willing landowners. Conservation easements enable the government to purchase development rights that protect forest lands but also allow ownership of the lands to remain in private hands. Projects funded under the program must include a non-federal match of at least 25 percent of the total cost of the project.

While some of the projects are subject to Congressional approval, the projects include:

A complete list of the projects is available at: http://www.usda.gov/news/releases/2000/12/prlist.htm

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TEXAS PASSES COMPREHENSIVE HOUSTON AREA CLEAN AIR PLAN

HOUSTON, Texas, December 7, 2000 (ENS) - The three member Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) has approved a package of air pollution reduction measures for the eight county Houston-Galveston ozone nonattainment area. The plan, considered the most significant air quality proposal ever approved in Texas, will be submitted this month to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval. It is expected to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions regionwide by 75 percent, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by 40 percent in the Houston area. Both NOx and VOCs are ozone precursors. "This plan constitutes a blueprint for cleaner air and federal compliance in Houston," said TNRCC chair Robert Huston. "This demonstrates our absolute commitment to clean air not only in the Houston area but throughout Texas."

"We believe this plan can work, and we believe that it will work," said Commissioner Ralph Marquez. "We are entering a new era of clean air for the eight county Houston area. We will continue to be as flexible as possible, and we will continue to pursue improved scientific knowledge, but we must get the job done." Commissioners emphasized that the plan will remain a work in progress. A scientific review is already planned for 2002, with a comprehensive evaluation followed by necessary adjustments scheduled for 2004, three years before the federal deadline of 2007. The plan includes voluntary emissions reductions from Continental Airlines, Southwest Airlines, the City of Houston, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. and Union Pacific Railroad Co. Major industrial sources will face mandatory NOx reductions. Emissions from motor vehicles, construction equipment, and lawn and garden equipment are also covered by the plan. Speed limit reductions and cleaner fuel requirements will also reduce emissions.

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$50 MILLION FOR LONG ISLAND'S DRINKING WATER

LONG ISLAND, New York, December 7, 2000 (ENS) - New York Governor George Pataki has approved loans for $20 million for the Town of East Hampton and $30 million for the Town of Southampton to protect crucial drinking water resources on Long Island. The short term, zero interest loans from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) will be used for land acquisition for water quality protection as part of each Town's Community Preservation Fund (CPF). "This funding will allow the towns to acquire and preserve land that is vital to protecting the drinking water resources of Southampton and East Hampton," Pataki said. "With these loans, the towns can move forward to protect the quality of their natural resources and ensure their residents will have clean, safe drinking water for generations to come."

At the request of the Towns, in 1998 Governor Pataki signed legislation amending state town and tax laws to allow the five towns in the Peconic Bay region to collect revenue from a two percent real estate transfer tax to support the CPFs. These town funds call for protection of water quality, as well as the protection and preservation of farmland, open space and natural areas through the voluntary acquisition of land and development rights in targeted areas. The water quality related land acquisition projects are eligible for CWSRF funding under the Non-point Source Pollution Control section of the federal Clean Water Act. Among those areas targeted are the Peconic and South Shore estuaries in Southampton, and East Hampton's Pine Barrens near Sag Harbor, the Stony Hill area of Amagansett, and Three Mile Harbor. The loans will serve as a line of credit for the towns, which will use the money generated by the CPFs to secure the loans and pay down the debt.

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ECOTERRORISTS STRIKE LONG ISLAND CONSTRUCTION SITE

LONG ISLAND, New York, December 7, 2000 (ENS) - Last Friday, members of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) attacked a development site in Middle Island, Long Island, leaving a trail of property destruction in their wake. The ELF smashed more than 200 windows of houses already erected, pulled up survey stakes to delay clear cutting, spraypainted structures with slogans denoucing urban sprawl, and sabotaged 12 construction vehicles. The attack aimed to protect some of Long Island's last untouched ecosystems from urban sprawl. Urban sprawl is responsible for the alteration of more than 90 percent of all ecosystems on Long Island, either though paving, introduction of toxic man made materials, or from human intrusion into wildlife habitats, the activists charged. The ELF activists said their action sets a precedent that Long Island's unique Pine Barren ecosystem will not vanish without a fight.

"Urban sprawl not only destroys the forest and green spaces of our planet, but also leads directly to added runoff of pollutants into waterways, increased traffic that causes congestion and air pollution, and a less pleasing landscape," the activists said in an anonymous communique. "These luxury homes are being built precariously close to the 320 acre Cathedral Pines County Park. Long Island has the 2nd largest pine barren ecosystem in the world. Our greedy and corrupt politicians are more than willing to provide subsidies and allow construction in any area not under current protection by the Long Island Pine Barren Protection Plan. Our forests also lay ontop of our aquifer which provides a large expanse of drinking water that is easily contaminated by pollutants and runoff. We will not stand by idly while our Earth is butchered for the monetary gain and the luxury of the wealthy elite."

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ENDANGERED SEA LIONS UNDER ATTACK BY ALASKA SENATOR

WASHINGTON, DC, December 7, 2000 (ENS) - Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, a Republican, is holding up a final deal on a multi-billion dollar education funding bill by insisting on a rider blocking protections for endangered Steller sea lions. The rider would prevent the application of all federal environmental laws to the federal North Pacific groundfish fisheries. The pollock, Atka mackerel, and Pacific cod fisheries support a multimillion dollar fishing industry, but also form the food supply for the sea lions. A coalition of major environmental groups, including Greenpeace, American Oceans Campaign and Sierra Club, is urging the Administration to block Stevens' rider. The National Marine Fisheries Services' (NMFS) has released a biological opinion indicating that fishing restrictions are necessary to protect the endangered sea lions and their habitat.

Stevens has also rejected Administration offers of $75 million in economic assistance for fishermen in Alaska. "We have argued for years that industrial fishing destroys marine habitat and removes vast amounts of fish that are essential to the health of the entire ecosystem, specifically the endangered Steller sea lion. NMFS' biological opinion confirms this," said Phil Kline, fisheries program director for American Oceans Campaign (AOC). "Our principal objective is to promote a healthy ecosystem that protects endangered Steller sea lions and ensures a sustainable future for Alaska's coastal communities. The Biological Opinion is the first step toward a more balanced approach to managing North Pacific fisheries." Since the 1960s, the population of Steller sea lions has declined by over 80 percent. The decline continues, with an estimated average drop of over five percent each year during the 1990s.

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GENETICALLY MODIFIED RICE RESISTS INSECTS

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, December 7, 2000 (ENS) - Texas A&M University biologists are developing a genetically modified rice resistant to insects and microbes. For years, spraying insecticides on rice crops has been the best way to protect rice crops from insects. Scientists are now creating new strains of rice plants that would contain insect killing proteins, so no insecticide would be needed. "We are interested in killing insects that eat rice plants, like the rice water weevil," says Timothy Hall, distinguished professor of biology. "This insect feeds on the leaves and lays its eggs on them. When the eggs hatch, larvae grow and spend about a month chewing the roots." To protect rice plants from water weevils, Hall and his colleagues insert insect killing genes in the seeds of rice plants. When the plants grow, these genes produce insect killing proteins in the plant roots, preventing water weevils from eating the roots.

But Hall and his group discovered that many of the insect killing genes are not expressed or expressed only in the early stages of the growth of the plants. These genes - also called transgenes - are turned off once they are inserted in plants. "This lack of expression - also called gene silencing - is a way for plant cells to protect themselves from invasion," Hall says. "When we put the gene in, it is seen by the plant cells as an invasive event, so there are various ways in which the cells turn off the expression of the foreign gene." Hall and his colleagues are making new genes that would escape the gene silencing mechanisms. "We want to create what we call stealth genes, basically genes that can get underneath the radar of the host cell protection," Hall says. "That involves understanding what the actual mechanisms of gene silencing are." The research by Hall and his colleagues is reviewed in the journal "Plant Molecular Biology."

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ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS CRITICIZE OFF ROAD PLANNING IN FLORIDA

OCALA, Florida, December 7, 2000 (ENS) - Four environmental organizations have notified the U. S. Forest Service (USFS) that they are withdrawing from working groups that the agency has established to help develop policy for off road vehicle use on the Apalachicola, Osceola, and Ocala National Forests. In a letter to Forest Supervisor Marsha Kearney, the organizations - Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Marion Audubon and Putnam County Environmental Council - said they are withdrawing because the working group process has proven to be "flawed and works against the best interest of the National Forests in Florida." At issue are the impacts of off road vehicles on unauthorized roads and trails within restricted areas of these three national forests. The vehicles threaten the habitat of endangered and threatened forest species, sensitive wetlands, upland habitats and enjoyment of the forests by those who prefer non-motorized recreation.

The USFS established a process allowing off road vehicle users and others to negotiate where and how off road vehicle access would be permitted. In the letter to the USFS, the organizations stated they are "frustrated" by the process for a number of reasons, including the lack of science based planning and inconsistent information, participation and decision making by USFS staff. The groups also said the process includes lopsided representation, where recreation demands by user groups are broken out by the various types (such as motorcycles, all terrain vehicles and jeep clubs) without offering equal representation to non-motorized recreationists. "In the working group process there has been no serious attempt or intent expressed to address broad natural resource issues," the groups wrote. The four organizations intend to review research about the impacts of off road vehicles on the environment and to gather new site specific data to present to the USFS.

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ARMY HOSTS FIRST WORLDWIDE ENVIRONMENTAL/ENERGY CONFERENCE

ATLANTA, Georgia, December 7, 2000 (ENS) - The Secretary of the Army is sponsoring the Army Worldwide Environmental and Energy Conference (AWEEC) 2000 this week in Atlanta. This is the Army's first worldwide conference and is a follow up to the Army Senior Environmental Leadership Conference (SELC) 2000 held in March. The AWEEC brings together Army leaders, installation managers and civilian agency officials to discuss the challenges associated with Army Transformation and to present the outcomes from the SELC. This year's theme, "Sustainable Installations and Operations: Transforming the Army," reflects the conference's goal to address critical installation, environmental and energy issues facing the Army as it transitions into the 21st century. As the Army changes, environmental stewardship will remain a key component of all operations and activities, Army officials said.

The Army defines effective environmental stewardship as:

The conference format will include five plenary sessions with senior speakers from the Department of the Army, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Each plenary session will be followed by topic specific sessions to provide the opportunity for discussions. Additional highlights of the conference will include the presentation of Vice President Gore's Hammer Award to the U.S. Army Environmental Center for conservation management and alternative fuel vehicle displays.

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SEA SHEPHERD BEGINS FIVE YEAR GALAPAGOS PATROL

LOS ANGELES, California, December 7, 2000 (ENS) - Captain Paul Watson will lead a crew of Sea Shepherd International volunteers on a high speed patrol vessel departing Los Angeles today for the Galapagos Islands, where the ship will begin a five year conservation patrol of the Galapagos Marine Resources Reserve. The mission marks the first time a foreign registered vessel has been allowed to patrol the Islands along with the Galapagos National Park Service and the Ecuadorian Navy, and comes at a crucial juncture in the history of efforts to preserve the unique natural heritage of the Galapagos. Last month, local fishers ransacked several facilities of the Galapagos National Park and the Darwin Research Station, smashed and burned files and equipment, stole rare hatchling Galapagos tortoises from the tortoise breeding center, and broke into the Park director's home and burned his possessions in the street. The fishers demanded the lobster fishing quota be extended beyond the limits set on earlier this year. Hundreds of new fishers had flocked to the islands to participate in the profitable fishing.

Ecuadorian President Gustavo Noboa has issued a statement affirming "the country's commitment to guarantee the conservation of the extraordinary biodiversity and ecosystems of the archipelago." Sea Shepherd's vessel carries donated computers, cameras, and video and communications equipment to replace units lost by the Galapagos National Park Service in the recent violence. "We are especially indebted to the Fund for Animals, whose generosity made possible the purchase of the bulk of the replacement equipment not covered by donations," said Captain Watson.

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THREE FLORIDIANS HONORED FOR OCEAN CONSERVATION

WASHINGTON, DC, December 7, 2000 (ENS) - The Center for Marine Conservation (CMC) has presented recognition awards for outstanding ocean conservation work in Florida to Mary Barley for her work to restore the Florida Everglades, Dr. Jim Bohnsack for his work to promote marine reserves and Bill Sanders for his efforts for the International Coastal Cleanup in Florida. The awards were presented at CMC's board meetings this week. In 1995, Mary Barley took over the Everglades Foundation after the death of her husband and founder George Barley. Barley and her organization work to expand the public's understanding of the Everglades ecosystem and its environmental and economic values. "Mary has inexhaustibly led the movement to restore the Everglades with focus, conviction and incredible passion," said David Guggenheim, Ph.D., CMC's vice president for conservation policy. "The recent passage of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan now brings that dream of a restored Everglades one step closer to reality."

Dr. Bohnsack is one of the leading advocates for no take marine reserves areas where consumptive uses such as fishing are prohibited. Dr. Bohnsack is a research fishery biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service and an adjunct faculty member at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. He has worked on marine wilderness and marine no take reserves in places such as the Florida Keys, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Bill Sanders has been the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) coordinator in Pinellas County, Florida since 1997, and was ICC coordinator in Wakulla County, Florida from 1992-96. "The great volunteer turnout each year at the Florida Coastal Cleanup in Pinellas County is a reflection of Bill's dedication, affection and enthusiasm for what he does," said Denise Washick, CMC's Florida ICC coordinator. "He's a perfect example of what can be accomplished when you put your heart and soul into something that you believe in."