AmeriScan: December 15, 2000

SALMON SEX CHANGE SURPRISES BIOLOGISTS

MOSCOW, Idaho, December 15, 2000 (ENS) - Samples in 1999 from fall chinook salmon in the Columbia River's Hanford Reach show that four-fifths of the females spawning there began life as males. The finding could provide an important clue in sorting through the complex reasons for the decline of Northwest salmon runs, although the Hanford's wild fall chinook run is among the healthiest. The researchers ruled out radiation as a possible cause of the apparent sex reversal but suggested environmental contaminants that mimic hormones or water temperature changes could be the culprits. The research by University of Idaho (UI) and Washington State University scientists, in cooperation with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, was published in "Environmental Health Perspectives," a journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Nagler

University of Idaho zoologist James Nagler processes samples from chinook salmon carcasses along the shoreline of the Columbia River's Hanford Reach (Photo courtesy University of Idaho)

James Nagler, UI assistant professor of zoology who led the study, said the results of the genetic testing on the natural spawning chinook came as a surprise. "We have found that a majority of the female chinook salmon sampled carry a genetic marker that is found only in male salmon. The best explanation for these results is that these females have been 'sex reversed' and are in fact male," Nagler said. "This is not unheard of as salmon can be sex reversed experimentally under laboratory conditions. What is surprising is that this is the first report of this from a wild population of fish." Gary Thorgaard, WSU's School of Biological Sciences director and a co-author of the paper, said that experiments in his laboratory and others have shown it is possible to reverse the sex of trout embryos through the use of hormones. A study in Canada showed changing temperature could alter the sex of young sockeye salmon. "These results may explain in part the difficulties some salmon have had reproducing in the Columbia River Basin. The cause of the apparent sex reversal in these chinook salmon is presently unknown," Nagler said.

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FORMER EPA EMPLOYEE SUES AGENCY FOR DISCRIMINATION

WASHINGTON, DC, December 15, 2000 (ENS) - Steven Spiegel, a former enforcement attorney with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), today, filed a formal discrimination complaint against the agency for unlawful termination and employment discrimination. The complaint alleges that EPA engaged in repeated acts of discrimination against him because he was Jewish, and because he was disabled by injuries caused by EPA. The complaint says Spiegel was forced to work in a hostile workplace during his efforts to remedy the situation. Spiegel says he was fired soon after undergoing surgery to remove a large tumor from his throat. EPA had placed him on performance probation after learning of his need for surgery and his meeting with a Congressional committee investigating EPA for discrimination and retaliation. His firing on the grounds of "unsatisfactory performance" while suffering from a medical condition capped several years of discrimination in violation of the Federal Rehabilitation Act and the Civil Rights Act, the complaint charges.

Spiegel had a 20 year career in environmental enforcement and a record of high quality performance even though he had been injured while working for EPA. As a result of gross negligence by EPA, Spiegel became disabled with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity in 1989. Spiegel was one of many EPA employees who were injured and became disabled due to toxic air pollution inside EPA Headquarter's Waterside Mall office building. After being poisoned by chemical exposures, sensitive individuals are susceptible to adverse reactions from even low levels of chemicals common in an office environment. Spiegel appeared in the 1997 documentary, "EPA POISONS EPA: My Sister's Story," featuring another former EPA attorney injured with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. He also helped supply information to CBS for the 1999 "60 Minutes" expose "The Sick Building Syndrome," documenting how EPA injured its own employees.

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CHICAGO BANS MTBE

WASHINGTON, DC, December 14, 2000 (ENS) - The city of Chicago has banned use of the fuel additive MTBE, a move applauded by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). Ethanol is now used in the Chicago area to provide octane and oxygen in gasoline, but concerns were raised that MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) would move into the region as a result of numerous state bans on the water pollutant. "Eleven states have already banned MTBE," said RFA president Eric Vaughn. "As MTBE producers are forced out of those markets, they will seek new markets and MTBE will flow into areas where MTBE is not currently being used."

"MTBE has been detected in over 27 percent of urban water wells nationwide, but not in Chicago," Vaughan noted. "This 'first in the nation' action by the city of Chicago will prevent future MTBE water contamination and will help ensure a strong market for home-grown ethanol." Chicago's City Council passed the ban by a vote of 47 to 0 on Wednesday. The ordinance prohibits the "manufacture, blending, delivery, sale, distribution or use of MTBE" and becomes effective in two weeks. The ban ends a two year process by the city of Chicago to deal with the MTBE threat. "Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and the Chicago City Council should be applauded for their foresight to protect their water supply by banning MTBE," said Vaughn. "This action will save Chicago and Cook County from the MTBE nightmare that is spreading across the country." By banning MTBE, Chicago could boost demand for corn based ethanol, which is produced within the state. "Chicago's action can serve as a model by which other MTBE free areas can protect their water and stimulate their rural economies by increasing the demand for grain used in ethanol production," Vaughn concluded.

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ENVIRO GROUPS CONTEST MORATORIUM ON ENDANGERED SPECIES LISTINGS

WASHINGTON, DC, December 15, 2000 (ENS) - The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Biodiversity Legal Foundation have filed formal notice with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that they will sue the agency to strike down a moratorium on new endangered species listings. The USFWS has issued a one year moratorium on the listing of new species under the Endangered Species Act and the designation of "critical habitat" areas for those species already listed. If upheld, this moratorium will deny Endangered Species Act protection to hundreds of imperiled species and prevent the protection of millions of acres of forest, desert, grassland and rivers, the conservation groups charge.

The USFWS said the moratorium was necessary to allow the agency to cope with a backlog of listing work, and because so much of the agency's time and money is taken up by answering environmental lawsuits. "We have reached the point where the staff time and funding needed to list species have been consumed by the requirement to do court ordered critical habitat designations stemming from a flood of lawsuits," said USFWS director Jamie Rappaport Clark. "Unfortunately, many species that should be listed in the coming year won't be listed." The Center for Biological Diversity has developed a Moratorium resource website to counter these allegations. The website charges that the USFWS created the budgetary crisis by deliberately not requesting enough money to deal with current petitions and court orders. A close analysis of listing trends shows that during the first 25 years of endangered species protection, when there was little citizen involvement, the agency listed very few species despite repeated criticism by federal auditors, scientists, Congress and its own biologists, the website says.

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SUIT CHALLENGES "FLAWS" IN CANADA LYNX LISTING

WASHINGTON, DC, December 15, 2000 (ENS) - Defenders of Wildlife and 11 other organizations have filed suit in U.S. District Court to correct "fundamental flaws" in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) final rule that lists the Canada lynx under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The suit charges that the USFWS's final rule ignores several threats to the lynx, dismisses as insignificant three of the four lynx regions in the lower 48 states, and fails to designate habitat areas essential for the species' survival. The USFWS produced the current listing proposal under a 1997 court order in Defenders of Wildlife v. Babbitt. The judge in that case found that the agency's failure to list the lynx under the ESA was "arbitrary and capricious, applied an incorrect legal standard, relied on glaringly faulty factual premises, and ignored the view of its own experts."

"One court after another has found that the Service hasn't lived up to its legal obligation to protect the lynx and its habitat. Unfortunately, the woefully inadequate plan they have offered for the Canada lynx forces us into the courtroom once again," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "If USFWS would simply obey the law in the first place, we could avoid this horrible waste of their resources and ours, which are better spent on positive steps to protect this ecologically important predator." The new case charges that the USFWS' failure to designate Distinct Population Segments (DPS) in four regions fails to recognize the importance of each region to lynx conservation in the lower 48 states and cripples efforts to protect and restore the species in diverse habitats. The suit says the final USFWS rule ignores a host of threats to the lynx, and violates the law by designating the lynx as threatened rather than endangered. The suit seeks an immediate critical habitat designation for the lynx.

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GROUPS SEEK ADDITIONAL PROTECTIONS FOR STEELHEAD

LOS ANGELES, California, December 15, 2000 (ENS) - Seven conservation and fishing organizations have filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agencies' failure to protect endangered steelhead trout in southern California. Rather than giving Endangered Species Act protection to all Southern California steelhead habitat, the agencies excluded steelhead streams above dams and south of Malibu Creek. Steelhead are a form of rainbow trout. Like salmon, they spent most of their adult life in the ocean, but spawn in freshwater streams and rivers. Tens of thousands of the fish used to return to southern California streams every year. Dams, urban development and livestock grazing have decimated steelhead runs and today just a few hundred fish make the annual pilgrimage. Studies conducted by NMFS biologists and independent scientists demonstrate the importance of spawning habitat upstream of dams. They also found that the species used to inhabit streams as far south as northern Baja California, Mexico. Last year, steelhead were discovered in San Mateo Creek in San Diego County.

Without removal of existing dams, steelhead runs will never return to their full abundance, the groups charge. Without protection south of Malibu Creek, they will remain absent from a large portion of their historic range. Groups filing the lawsuit include the Center for Biological Diversity, California Trout, Environmental Defense Center, Friends of the Santa Clara River, Heal the Bay, Institute for Fisheries Resources and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations. They are represented by Tanya Gulessarian of the Environmental Defense Center and Neil Levine of EarthJustice.

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BLM PUBLISHES FINAL RULE ON WILDERNESS ACTIVITIES

WASHINGTON, DC, December 15, 2000 (ENS) - Rock climbing is a legitimate use of wilderness areas, says the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in its new wilderness management rules. The BLM published a final rule on Monday that revises and updates management regulations for congressionally designated wilderness areas. The final rule applies to 5.5 million acres of BLM managed wilderness areas in the continental U.S. The rule does not govern activities in wilderness study areas. "Wilderness areas are among the crown jewels of America's public lands," said BLM acting director Sylvia Baca. "This final rule will help the BLM preserve and protect these national treasures." The regulation recognizes rock climbing as a legitimate use of wilderness areas. Rock climbers do not need a permit to climb, but may not use power drills to install permanent fixed anchors. The BLM has decided to postpone any regulatory action on the installation of such anchors in areas where they already exist.

The final rule authorizes American Indians to use wilderness areas for traditional religious ceremonies, but does not grant tribes exclusive rights. The rule, which takes effect January 16, 2001, makes clear that sailboats, sailboards, parachutes, game carriers, carts, wagons and similar devices are "mechanical transport" that cannot be used in wilderness areas. The rule also defines banned "motorized equipment" as including chainsaws, power drills and motor vehicles. Wheelchair use is permitted in wilderness areas under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but BLM will not construct facilities or modify land conditions to accommodate wheelchair use. Horses and other pack animals are allowed in wilderness areas. No competitive events will be allowed in designated wilderness. Aircraft will not be allowed to land, or to drop skydivers and other materials, in wilderness areas. The final rule is available at: http://www.blm.gov/nhp/news/regulatory/2000f.html#6300/8560-final

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DOE LAB TO STIMULATE WIND POWER

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico, December 14, 2000 (ENS) - One of the national laboratories of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will purchase wind energy to stimulate the market for green power in New Mexico. Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) has contracted to purchase electricity from an existing turbine near Clovis. The power will be purchased through DOE's Albuquerque Operations Office and will provide power for six percent of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant's (WIPP) total electric services requirement. "We intend to purchase one megawatt of wind generated power in 2001, ramping up to 10 MW of renewable power within ten years," said SNL executive vice president Joan Woodard. "Sandia's purchase of this wind generated power should promote wind development in New Mexico, provide economic and environmental benefits, and help meet DOE's goals as well as our nation's."

"We hope to encourage other government and private sector purchasers to join us in expanding the role of renewable energy," added Woodard. The purchase agreement is for a ten year term and the wind power sources will be competitively selected. SNL's purchase will prompt the installation of an additional turbine and should stimulate further economic development in the state. Xcel Energy's Southwestern Public Service Company, through its Windsource program, will deliver energy produced by both turbines. "It is fantastic that we collectively brought this renewable resource acquisition to fruition," said DOE's Michael Loera. "Not only are we furthering the State of New Mexico's economic development initiatives, but we have set forth a benchmark whereby we can continue to measure, apply and improve our contracting techniques to foster renewable resource acquisitions in New Mexico, Nevada and Texas."

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RESTON, VIRGINIA DESIGNATED AS COMMUNITY WILDLIFE HABITAT

RESTON, Virginia, December 15, 2000 (ENS) - Heralding a growing trend of community concern for the environment, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is recognizing Reston, Virginia, as a Community Wildlife Habitat, the first in Virginia and the third one in the nation. "It is inspiring to see people join together and work hard to develop a whole community that welcomes wildlife," said NWF president Mark Van Putten during a ceremony at Reston's Lake Anne Community Center on Thursday. Van Putten commended Reston for setting an excellent standard for other communities throughout the country. "The residents of Reston, and their homeowners association, have proved that nature and suburbia can truly coexist." Community Wildlife Habitats are an extension of NWF's Backyard Wildlife Habitat™ program, which encourages individuals to turn their landscapes into wildlife habitat. Since 1973, NWF has certified more than 28,000 backyard habitat sites nationwide, including 1,351 in Virginia.

Walker Center

The Walker Nature Education Center in Reston features demonstration gardens, meadows, a pond, trees with nesting cavities, nesting boxes, bird baths and feeders (Photo courtesy Defenders of Wildlife)

To qualify as a certified Community Wildlife Habitat, Reston, which encompasses about 7,000 acres, had to certify numerous residential backyard habitats, as well as habitats in schoolyards, businesses, apartment complexes, neighborhood clusters and public places such as parks and churches. Each of Reston's 150 individual certified habitats, created over the last two years and spearheaded by the Reston Association, the second largest homeowners association in the country, provide the four essential elements for wildlife to thrive: food, water, shelter and places to raise young. The result is an oasis for diverse species of local and migratory birds, butterflies, insect pollinators, mammals and native plants. U.S. Representative Tom Davis, a Republican from Virginia's 11th District, applauded the partnership between NWF and Reston, and entered the certification into the Congressional Record. "The residents of Reston have joined together in an effort to make their community wildlife friendly, and in doing so, have improved their quality of life in a very tangible and inspirational way," said Davis.

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"WE KNOW THEY'RE AROUND HERE SOMEWHERE..."

NEW LONDON, Connecticut, December 15, 2000 (ENS) - Officials managing the decommissioning of a nuclear reactor at the Millstone plant in Connecticut say they cannot account for two spent fuel pins that were removed from a fuel assembly in October 1972. As part of the ongoing decommissioning of Millstone Unit 1, a detailed documentation of the fuel now stored in the Unit 1 spent fuel pool is underway. A detailed verification of spent fuel pool content records was part of this effort. During this process, workers identified a discrepancy in the paperwork relating to the location of two spent fuel pins that were removed from a fuel assembly in October 1972, plant officials said. "A search is underway; however, these fuel pins have not yet been located among the 2,884 fuel assemblies containing more than 140,000 fuel pins currently in the spent fuel pool," plant officials wrote in a report to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Workers are searching pertinent records to determine the fate of the missing fuel pins. But they reassured the NRC that the fuel pins could not be posing a health or environmental risk. "Due to the radiation levels of the fuel pins, if they were removed from the spent fuel pool, the use of a shielded cask would have been required and the shipment could have only been made to a licensed facility," plant officials told the NRC. "Any other movement of these pins from the site would have been immediately detected by the site radiation monitoring system. Therefore, there is a high degree of confidence that these pins are not in an unrestricted area and are under the control of a licensed facility; either here in the spent fuel pool or possibly at a licensed radioactive waste disposal site. As a result, we are also confident that no overexposure of workers or members of the public has resulted." An independent team is helping with an onsite investigation to determine the location of the two fuel pins.