AmeriScan: December 8, 2000


WASHINGTON, DC, December 8, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has suspended logging on 34 sites in seven national forests located in Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas. The action came in response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund on behalf of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. "We are quite pleased that these sensitive areas of our national forests - and the animals and plants that live in them - are now going to be protected from clearcutting and other destructive logging practices," said Eric Huber, attorney for Earthjustice. The suit argued that current logging practices, if allowed to continue, would cause serious harm to a range of wildlife in the region. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta had already concluded, after a previous suit filed by Earthjustice, that the USFS did not maintain adequate data about rare wildlife species that live in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia.

This victory expands that ruling to the USFS' s 13 state southern region. "The bottom line here is that wildlife, such as wood warblers and various darters and other fish, will now have a fighting chance to recover without constant attacks on their habitats," Huber said. "Clearcutting wipes out forests and destroys important habitat for wildlife. Hopefully the Forest Service will now follow through and withdraw the other 22 timber sales they are still trying to defend in this suit." This week's action will ban logging in 21 areas on the Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forests in Georgia; 10 areas on the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee; five areas on the Bienville, Homochitto and DeSotto National Forests in Mississippi; and seven areas on the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas. "The Forest Service is supposed to be in the business of conserving our national treasures, not selling them off to the top bidders," said Rene Voss of the Sierra Club board of directors. Joining Sierra Club as plaintiffs in the suit were the John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute, Wild South, Wild Alabama, Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project, Friends of Georgia, Rabun County Coalition to Save the Forests, Cherokee Forest Voices, Forest Conservation Council and Ouachita Watch League.

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SACRAMENTO, California, December 8, 2000 (ENS) - Scientists have confirmed that agricultural contaminants may be an important factor in amphibian declines in California. A study by scientists of the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that organophosphorus pesticides from agricultural areas, which are transported to the Sierra Nevada on prevailing summer winds, may be affecting populations of amphibians that breed in mountain ponds and streams. Population declines in threatened red-legged frogs, foothills yellow-legged frogs, mountain yellow-legged frogs and Yosemite toads have occurred in California over the last 10 to 15 years, but no single cause for these declines has been identified. Many of these declines occurred in some of the state's most pristine areas. Declines have been drastic in the Sierra Nevada, which lie east of the agricultural San Joaquin Valley.

"While crucial to the agriculture industry, pesticides by their very nature can result in serious harm to wildlife both by directly killing animals and through more subtle effects on reproduction, development and behavior," said Dr. Donald Sparling, a research biologist and contaminants specialist at the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. "Unfortunately, now there appears to be a close correlation between declining populations of amphibians in the Sierra Nevada and exposure to agricultural pesticides." The scientists found proof that pesticides are being absorbed by frogs in both aquatic and terrestrial systems and are suppressing an enzyme called cholinesterase, which is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system. "Melting of pesticide contaminated snow could provide a pulse of toxic chemicals at a critical time in the life history of these frogs," said Dr. Gary Fellers, a research biologist and amphibian specialist at the USGS Western Ecological Research Center. The research is detailed in an article accepted by the journal "Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry."

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ATLANTA, Georgia, December 8, 2000 (ENS) - The purple bankclimber, a threatened freshwater mussel, has been found in the Chattachoochee River for the first time in about 150 years. Carson Stringfellow, an environmental consultant and part time environmental studies instructor at Columbus State University who specializes in freshwater mussels, documented the presence of the mussel in October. "When I first saw it I was looking straight down on the top, and I thought it was a washboard," said Stringfellow, referring to one of the six other mussel species that he has documented in this section of the river. "But when I reached down and picked it up, I immediately knew it wasn't. I thought, Oh my, that's a purple bankclimber!"

Stringfellow recorded the physical description of the mussel and took digital photographs from many different angles, which he sent to Dr. Jim Williams, a mussel biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "I couldn't believe after all these years that a purple bankclimber could still be in the Chattahoochee," said Williams. "I immediately looked back through historical records, and found only two other records of a purple bankclimber in the Chattahoochee - and the most recent one was from about 1850." But Bob Butler, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who is writing a recovery plan for the purple bankclimber and several other southeastern mussel species, says it is too early to tell whether the discovery of this individual mussel is significant to the recovery of the species. "A single individual does not mean there is a viable population," said Butler. "We need to conduct surveys to find out if there are more individuals, and if they are recruiting young individuals into the population. Mussels can live over 50 years, so this could just be an individual that has survived since before the dams were constructed in the 1900's."

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 8, 2000 (ENS) - A new Hemispheric Sustainable Energy Fund (HSEF) will help prepare and define sustainable energy projects throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The $1.25 million fund was announced by U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) president Enrique Iglesias at a meeting of the IDB's executive directors. It enables the creation of a multi-million-dollar 'family of funds' to help move sustainable energy projects from the idea stage into marketable operation. "This fund is an important tool to help develop and evaluate clean energy projects," said Richardson. "These projects are key to economic growth and improving environmental quality in developing countries."

"This is an important contribution for sustainable energy and transportation projects and sets the stage for other countries to join this effort," said Iglesias. Following last year's meeting of Western Hemisphere energy ministers, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the IDB formed a partnership to help clean energy projects in the region access international financing. HSEF was developed to help these projects to overcome financing difficulties by preparing and defining projects that can be marketed and executed. HSEF will finance consulting services for preparation of feasibility studies, market analysis, financing mechanisms and project appraisals for projects that use sustainable energy, renewable energy and clean energy technologies. The IDB will administer the funds for eligible institutions such as national and local governments, non-governmental organizations and regional organizations. The DOE will have oversight in the process.

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 8, 2000 (ENS) - Environmental Defense has released a report marking the 30th anniversary of the Clean Air Act. In December 1970, this historic legislation was enacted to protect public health by cleaning the nation's air. The report examines some of the Act's groundbreaking successes and also focuses on the particular problem of nitrogen oxides (NOX) air pollution, which has increased by 3.5 million tons between 1970-98, a rise of 17 percent since the Act was adopted. The report, "Building on 30 Years of Clean Air Act Success: The Case for Reducing NOX Air Pollution," is available at:

The Clean Air Act has reduced several major air pollutants while the nation's economy has grown briskly, and gross domestic product has risen by more than 114 percent, the report reveals. For example, since 1970, emissions of lead have been cut by 98 percent, due to the national unleaded gasoline program. But at the same time, serious air pollution challenges remain. "The Clean Air Act has been very effective in producing a healthier environment for millions of Americans, and we need to build from these successes in addressing the serious air pollution challenges we face today," said Environmental Defense senior attorney Vickie Patton. "It is critical that the Environmental Protection Agency be allowed to finalize protective emission standards to clean up the carcinogenic exhaust and NOX (nitrogen oxides) pollution from large diesel trucks and buses, and deliver healthier air to communities across the country. The Act's 30 year history has repeatedly shown that important steps can be taken to protect our citizens' lungs without harming our nation's economy."

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 8, 2000 (ENS) - The National Park Service (NPS) will dedicate $5 million from the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program to improve accessibility throughout the National Park System for the nation's 54 million citizens with disabilities. "This funding will help provide much needed assistance for non-fee collecting park units to make one-time accessibility corrections," said NPS Director Robert Stanton. "These projects include modifications to buildings and recreational facilities such as fishing piers, trails, wildlife viewing platforms, and in hiking, boating and camping areas to provide public access to these magnificent sites."

Parks that do not collect fees often do not have the revenue base to implement accessibility modifications. By setting aside a portion of the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program receipts for improving accessibility, the NPS helps these parks to apply for money to expedite accessibility projects. "The National Park Service is committed to ensuring that all citizens, including those who have a disability, are able to enter and enjoy all aspects of our national parks," said Stanton. "This has been a particularly high priority for the National Park Service since 1980 and is further reinforced and supported in the recent Director's Order for Accessibility for Visitors with Disabilities." The Recreational Fee Demonstration Program allows federal land management agencies such as the National Park Service to charge fees at selected demonstration park units. The agencies retains all of the recreational fees and can use them to address high priority maintenance, infrastructure, resource management and visitor service needs. Some groups object to the fees, saying that taxpayers already pay to support the management and maintenance of public lands.

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HARTFORD, Connecticut, December 8, 2000 (ENS) - Connecticut Governor John Rowland has designated eight parcels of state owned land as Natural Area Preserves, a special designation to protect the unique ecological characteristics and species of an area. The parcels, totaling 1192 acres, raise the amount of Natural Area Preserves in Connecticut to more than 6,700 acres. The eight areas are Bluff Point in Groton, Duck Island in Westbrook, Gold's Pines in Cornwall, Roger Tory Peterson Wildlife Area in Old Lyme, Lord Cove in Lyme/Old Lyme, Matianuck Sand Dunes in Windsor, Merrick Brook in Scotland, and Sandy Brook in Colebrook. "This is another major step toward better stewardship of our land for future generations," Rowland said, "Today's designations will forever preserve the environmental balance in several key areas of our state."

The Natural Area Preserve designation requires a detailed management plan for each preserve to protect each Preserve's unique species and communities. The designation allows only non-motorized recreation. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will not develop roads or permanent structures on the sites. Access trails and simple paths may be developed and maintained to direct visitors to areas appropriate for scenic, scientific, educational and recreational uses. Hunting and fishing will continue where they are now allowed. To become part of Connecticut's Natural Area Preserve System, an area must be an area of land or water containing species or features of biological, scientific, educational, geological, paleontological or scenic value worthy of preservation in their natural condition. "Each preserve has specific quality, be it scenic landscape or critical habitat, which is essential to the survival of a number of threatened or endangered species," said DEP commissioner Arthur Rocque, Jr.

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YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, California, December 8, 2000 (ENS) - Yosemite Concession Services Corporation (YCS) was named one of the Top 10 companies in California for its outstanding waste reduction, recycling and reuse practices. YCS, an authorized concessionaire for the National Park Service, received the "Waste Reduction Awards Program (WRAP) of the Year" award from members of the California Environmental Protection Agency's Integrated Waste Management Board. Ten businesses are selected each fall for their dedication to reducing waste, finding creative reuses for materials that might otherwise end up in landfills, and preventing additional waste through good environmental and business practices. YCS has earned WRAP award recognition for eight consecutive years since the program's inception. "We're glad to recognize the creative and innovative efforts of these companies to cut down on the trash they produce," said Waste Board member Dan Eaton.

YCS diverts 41 percent of waste from its facilities through the Waste Diversion Programs. The company has formed a managerial Green Team to develop new environmental initiatives and operating procedures, several of which already have been instituted. YCS recycles 25 different materials, including items such as fluorescent lamps, Freon, propane canisters, kitchen grease and automotive fluids. YCS accommodations encourage the voluntary reuse of linens and towels. Recycling containers for glass, aluminum, plastic and paper are standard in guests' rooms and throughout YCS operated facilities. "It takes the efforts of all of our employees, managers, and front line personnel to operate a comprehensive recycling and waste reduction program, and we're very proud to receive this award," said YCS president Cindy Bower. "Recycling is an everyday standard at YCS, and we continue to generate ideas and develop procedures that will reduce the amount of resources we use and the amount of waste we produce. We strive to serve as a model for other companies and park operators."

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RICHLAND, Washington, December 8, 2000 (ENS) - Federal law enforcement officers have uncovered an illegal harvest of sagebrush seed on the Hanford Reach National Monument /Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, located in south central Washington. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officers encountered individuals in the process of harvesting seed on Monument lands, then traced the activity to a local contractor and seed company. No arrests have yet been made. The investigation is continuing, with leads being pursued on other public and private lands regionwide.

Disturbing or removing plants, animal, minerals, and cultural and historic artifacts is prohibited on public land. Violators may receive fines up to $5000.00 and/or six months in jail. Large wildfires across shrub-steppe habitats and subsequent vegetation replanting needs have prompted increased demand for native seed throughout the western U.S. "Native seed is a hot commodity in the marketplace right now," said FWS biologist Heidi Brunkal. "However, if the seed is not collected under the right circumstances with proper technique, it will not germinate. As a result of this illegal operation, many healthy sagebrush plants were damaged and much of the harvested seed is unusable." About 1,500 pounds of illegally harvested seed have been recovered so far. Any salvagable seed will be used in future vegetation restoration projects. The Monument consists of about 195,000 acres of the Department of Energy's Hanford Site, and includes some of largest remaining undisturbed shrub-steppe habitats in the Columbia Basin. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the majority of the Monument under agreement with the Department of Energy.