AmeriScan: January 11, 2000

WYOMING COURT UPHOLDS ROAD MORATORIUM

CHEYENNE, Wyoming, January 11, 2000 (ENS) - U.S. Federal District Court Judge Clarence Brimmer has issued a ruling upholding the U.S. Forest Service's (USFS) 18 month moratorium on road building in many of the nation's remaining roadless areas. In February 1999, the agency imposed the moratorium in order to reevaluate its approach to managing the more than 373,000 miles of road that now cross the National Forests. Only about 18 percent of these roads are maintained by the USFS, and studies show that the roads can cause major environmental damage. The temporary moratorium was challenged in court by the Wyoming Timber Industry. The industry had claimed that the moratorium could only be adopted on a forest by forest basis for all 124 national forests. In rejecting the timber industry's claims, Judge Brimmer upheld the USFS’s authority to embark on a system wide rule making procedure.

"The court ruled that the Chief of the Forest Service properly adopted the broad moratorium through an agency wide rule," said Jim Angell of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. The District Court also ruled the timber industry lacked the legal standing to raise these arguments. "Fish, elk, and grizzly bears alike all benefit from the protection of our remaining roadless areas. Everyone who fishes, hunts or spends time in the backcountry should applaud Judge Brimmer's decision," Angell said. "This court ruling vindicates the Forest Service decision to study roadless areas and their significant ecological and economic values," said Bob Ekey of the Wilderness Society. "This decision should silence any argument that what the Forest Service is doing is illegal."

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SENATE CONSIDERS TYING SCHOOL FUNDS TO LOGGING REVENUES

SEATTLE, Washington, January 11, 2000 (ENS) - A U.S. Senate bill already approved by the House of Representatives would reinforce a system of tying school and road funding into logging revenues in Oregon and Washington. An analysis by The Wilderness Society shows that the bill would provide a dramatic increase in funds for counties where logging is a major source of revenue. "We were astonished to see how much money a handful of counties would receive under this bill," said Wilderness Society senior resource analyst Mike Anderson, who oversaw the study. "This bill would lead to ill advised management of national forests in the Pacific Northwest and across the country." The bill would also create local committees to select national forest projects designed to generate money for the counties, and require counties to spend 20 to 25 percent of their payments on these projects - rather than to apply it directly to schools and road maintenance.

Payments to Oregon and Washington counties have declined 44 percent over the past decade due to reductions in national forest and BLM logging, especially in old growth stands. "What's interesting," said Anderson, "is that despite the decreases, the counties generally are doing quite well. In fact, total county revenues in Washington have doubled since 1991, with these timber payments now amounting to just 0.7 percent of the total." "The current system is irrational," said Michael Francis, director of The Wilderness Society's National Forest Program. "Why should the education of our children be tied to the number and size of trees that are cut in their counties?" The report is available at: http://www.tws.org/newsroom/logging.htm

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NEW YORK PROPOSES TAX BREAKS FOR GREEN BUILDINGS

ALBANY, New York, January 11, 2000 (ENS) - New York Governor George Pataki announced a new program today to offer financial incentives to developers that use environmentally sound materials and practices to construct and renovate buildings. The initiative would provide up to $25 million in tax breaks over the next several years for using technologies that reduce pollution and save energy and materials. Pataki’s plan is part of his fiscal year 2001 budget proposal. The program would make New York a national leader in promoting environmentally friendly building technologies. The governor said the measure would promote improved environmental standards, increase energy efficiency, and create awareness of new technologies that can improve the quality of life of those living in environmentally friendly buildings.

"In every measurable way, New York's environment is getting better - cleaner, safer, more accessible, and better protected for future generations to enjoy," said Pataki in his State of the State address. "We are on the right track, but we can do more. And we will." The Green Buildings Tax Credit would encourage the construction and rehabilitation of environmentally sound buildings by providing a credit for the development of "green buildings." Only buildings larger than 20,000 square feet would qualify for the tax breaks. Pataki cited a proposed 25 story residential building slated for Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan as an example of buildings that could benefit from the new measure. The building’s planners have proposed using energy saving lights and windows, and paints and carpeting that emit no hazardous fumes. The project includes "high environmental standards that put New York State and Battery Park City solidly in the green," Pataki said. The new credit would become effective January 1, 2001.

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THIRD NEW ENGLAND UNIVERSITY FINED FOR HAZWASTE VIOLATIONS

BOSTON, Massachusetts, January 11, 2000 (ENS) - The University of New Hampshire (UNH) agreed last week to pay $49,000 and conduct environmental improvements worth about $180,000 to settle claims by the EPA that the university violated federal and state hazardous waste management laws. In a consent agreement, UNH agreed to design an extensive system to manage chemicals the university uses and stores. In addition, the university promised to document that it has trained personnel in hazardous waste management and performed inspections of all areas where hazardous wastes are stored. In March, the EPA cited UNH for 15 separate counts of violations of state and federal hazardous waste management laws, as part of a multifaceted effort designed to bring all New England colleges and universities into compliance with federal environmental laws.

"Since EPA's 1997 inspection, UNH has moved forward quickly and responsibly to correct prior violations," said John DeVillars, EPA's New England administrator. "With this settlement, the university has taken steps to further protect the public health and safety of students and staff on campus." UNH is the third university in New England to be hit with an enforcement action in the last four years, joining Yale University and Boston University. EPA is working on actions against other universities that have violated environmental laws. These institutions will be held to the same standards as private industry. "Responsible businesses learned long ago that good environmental performance is a sound business practice," DeVillars said. "It is a sound practice for a university as well."

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ENVIROS SUE AGAIN TO HALT KAIBAB TIMBER SALE

FLAGSTAFF, Arizona, January 11, 2000 (ENS) - Three environmental groups have filed suit - for the second time - against the USFS to prevent a timber sale in the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona. Last month, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and the Southwest Forest Alliance appealed the Dry Park timber sale on the Kaibab. In response to an earlier appeal, the timber sale was withdrawn for failing to consider the impact of old growth logging on elk, turkey, deer, pygmy nuthatches and the Kaibab squirrel. The forest also violated its own Northern goshawk protection guidelines by failing to designate and protect nest areas from logging. The USFS has reissued the sale, proposing to log more than 6,000 old growth ponderosa pine trees from the Kaibab Plateau, one the few areas left in North America with significant expanses of old growth ponderosa.

The entire Kaibab Plateau, including the Kaibab National Forest, was designated the "Grand Canyon Game Preserve" by Theodore Roosevelt in 1907. Though Roosevelt declared that the forest should be "protected in perpetuity" and "not sacrificed to the short sighted greed of the few," the USFS maintains the preserve is a meaningless designation which does not limit logging. The groups say the USFS also ignored the fact that 200,000 acres of the plateau, including part of the Dry Park Timber Sale, lie within the Department of Interior's Kaibab Squirrel National Natural Landmark. The environmental groups have launched a campaign to designate the entire Kaibab Plateau a Northern goshawk/Old growth preserve and research area.

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FERTILIZER SPRAYING HALTED IN OREGON WATERSHED

ROSEBURG, Oregon, January 11, 2000 (ENS) - The Bureau of Land Management has been ordered not to spray a fertilizer on forest lands in Oregon until further studies of environmental effects can be completed. The environmental group Umpqua Watersheds, Inc. had appealed the planned Forest Fertilization program to the Department of Interior’s Internal Board of Land Appeals (IBLA). Last week, the IBLA decided there were enough environmental concerns to warrant a stay on the project until the Board can review additional evidence and issue a final ruling. Roseburg BLM had proposed to spray 12,500 acres of the Umpqua Watershed near Roseburg with 435 pounds per acre of urea pellets containing ammonia nitrogen fertilizer. BLM needed to spray the fertilizer to hasten tree growth and maximize logging revenues. Spraying 5.5 million pounds of fertilizer would have allowed BLM to log an extra two million board feet a year.

The judges said, "The purpose of fertilization is to have a permanent impact on some species; it is difficult to believe that with respect to other species, fertilization is irrelevant simply because they were not the intended target. Presumably, dropping 435 pounds per acre of fertilizer will have some impact on water resources justifying our further and careful review of the record." Because BLM lands are mixed in with private lands, numerous rural families draw their drinking water from the watersheds to be sprayed. Some residents who knew about the spraying asked BLM not to spray their drinking water supplies, and the IBLA was also responding to their concerns. A final decision on the project is expected later this year.

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PLUM CREEK APPLIES FOR PERMIT TO KILL FISH

SEATTLE, Washington, January 11, 2000 (ENS) - Plum Creek Timber, the company that just completed a huge land exchange with the USFS in Washington, has now applied for an "Incidental Take Permit" for bull trout and salmon across the company's remaining Washington, Idaho, and Montana timberlands. The permit would allow Plum Creek to kill, harm, or otherwise "take" various imperiled salmon, trout and other species associated with their habitats. The permit provides a limited exemption from the Endangered Species Act (ESA). To get the permit, Plum Creek must develop a mitigation plan known as a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). The conservation group American Lands warns that HCPs developed by wood products companies are often "grossly inadequate, fail to really offset impacts to endangered species, and saddle the public with the burden of paying for additional mitigation measures needed for species recovery."

American Lands is urging the public to review and comment on the proposed HCP. A copy of the draft and information on submitting comments are available online at: http://www.fws.gov/r1srbo/SRBO/Plumck.htm. There are two public hearings in Washington this week on the HCP, including one today in Kelso and Wednesday in Yakima. In Montana, public hearings will be held January 17 in Libby, January 18 in Kalispell and January 19 in Missoula. On January 20, a hearing will be held in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. All meetings run from 3:30 pm until 7:30 pm. Written comments must be received by February 15, 2000.

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PARK, ECO-MUSEUM PLANNED FOR NEW YORK’S GOVERNORS ISLAND

NEW YORK, New York, January 11, 2000 (ENS) - New York Governor George Pataki announced a plan last week to turn Governors Island into a civic, cultural and educational destination in New York Harbor. The proposal will include a 50 acre public park at the southern end of the Island, and a new Hudson River museum including exhibits documenting the River's important ecological systems, the significance of the Harbor in the ecology of marine life on the eastern seaboard and the Harbor’s role in history. "Each year, millions of people come from around the world to visit New York Harbor," Pataki said. "Governors Island will be a place where residents and visitors alike can relax and play in a new public park, enjoy spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan, discover the importance of this extraordinary State treasure in our nation's history, and learn about the historical and ecological significance of the Hudson River and New York Harbor."

Governors Island consists of 172 acres of developed land above water and 32 acres of submerged land surrounding the Island. It was owned and operated as a military facility by the British and American armed forces for more than 200 years. The Island is now owned by the federal government. Under the redevelopment proposal, Governors Island would be transferred from the federal government to the state or city at no cost, pending Congressional approval. The proposed land use plan will be subject to state and city environmental reviews and historic preservation laws and will solicit public comment and participation.

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WASHINGTON ECOLOGY DEPARTMENT CLEARED BY COURT

SPOKANE, Washington, January 11, 2000 (ENS) - A Thurston County Superior Court judge found Friday that the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) did not willfully withhold any documents and did not act in bad faith in its handling of several public disclosure requests submitted by clean air activists in 1999. Judge Richard Strophy heard the case brought against Ecology by Save Our Summers (SOS), a local clean air advocacy group. Save Our Summers asked the court to penalize Ecology, alleging that the agency had purposely withheld documents. The documents concerned activities related to wheat stubble burning, including an agreement between Ecology, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers and the state Department of Agriculture for reducing emissions from wheat stubble burning by 50 percent over seven years. About 100,000 pages of documents were involved - stacked together, they would make a pile 71 feet high.

In October, Ecology announced it had found additional documents that should have been disclosed. In connection with this oversight, Judge Strophy awarded SOS "reasonable attorney fees and costs" associated with bringing the issue to court. The amount will be determined later. "We worked very hard to fulfill SOS' enormous record request. We appreciate the judge recognizing that the omission was an oversight, not a deliberate act," said Mary Burg, who manages Ecology's air quality program. Because the agency did not willfully withhold documents or act in bad faith, the judge did not fine the agency. The judge directed Ecology to work with SOS to make sure the group has all the information it needs.

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HUNTING GROUP DEFENDS GUN RAFFLES FOR WILDLIFE

SACRAMENTO, California, January 11, 2000 (ENS) - A national hunting group is lobbying against a California bill that would prohibit the raffle of firearms and ammunition at fundraising events. The Wildlife Legislative Fund of America (WLFA), an advocacy group representing some 1.5 million sportsmen and sportswomen, says wildlife programs will suffer if the state Assembly passes Assembly Bill 1010. The bill would ban the distribution, drawing or raffle of any firearm, component or ammunition at any California fundraising event. WLFA says almost all California conservation organizations use sporting arms as prizes at their events. "For a state that has a reputation for concern about the environment, California's elected officials are close to selling their outdoors as well as their citizens' down the drain," said Bud Pidgeon, president of WLFA. "Tens of millions of dollars have been raised in California through sportsmen attending events in which funds raised directly benefit wildlife. Key to the success of these events are the firearm drawings. This legislation will take away this draw and severely impact the ability to raise money at these events."

Some of the nation’s largest hunting organizations in the country hold fundraising events in California, including the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited and the Mule Deer Foundation. Pidgeon added that firearm winners at these events already must pass a background check before they are awarded their prize. This law will not help control any illegal trade in firearms, he says, but will divert millions of dollars away from wildlife habitat programs.