AmeriScan: January 26, 2000

ACTIVISTS ARRESTED URGING GORE TO HELP HALT U’WA DRILLING

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire, January 26, 2000 (ENS) - Eight environmental and human rights activists were arrested today for staging a sit-in at Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign headquarters in Manchester. The protesters want Gore to use his connections with Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) to stop the U.S. corporation from drilling on indigenous U'wa lands in Colombia. The groups say Gore holds about $500,000 in Oxy stock, and has received campaign contributions from the company. Since January 19, at least 500 - and as many as several thousand - Colombian soldiers have been occupying an area of the traditional territory to which the U'wa hold legal title. On Tuesday, the Colombian Army forcibly evicted dozens of U'wa from their land using helicopters. Three U'wa people are now reported missing.

The U'wa gained international attention in 1996 when they vowed to commit collective suicide if the Samoré Block oil drilling project is not halted. "We prefer genocide at the hands of the Colombian government over relinquishing our Mother Earth to the oil companies," stated a U'wa communiqué. U'wa leaders have vowed to continue their nonviolent protests against Oxy' s efforts to drill on their land. "Gore can make the difference. He can save the U'wa and avert a public relations disaster for himself by intervening now," said Atossa Soltani of Amazon Watch. Dozens of activists from Action for Community and Ecology in the Rainforests of Central America (ACERCA), Amazon Watch, Native Forest Network, Rainforest Action Network and international trade coalitions from Vermont and Boston participated in today’s protests. Additional protests are planned at future Gore campaign stops. More information is available at: http://www.ran.org and http://www.amazonwatch.org

* * *

FIRED WHISTLEBLOWER SUES AIR FORCE

WASHINGTON, DC, January 26, 2000 (ENS) - A biologist fired by the Air Force for his part in exposing environmental problems on a military base in Arizona has filed a legal challenge under the Whistleblower Protection Act. Bruce Eilerts, a 17 year federal civilian biologist, was fired last November from his position as Natural & Cultural Resource Director at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) for helping prepare a complaint about environmental problems on the Barry M. Goldwater Range. The two million acre range has been used since 1941 by Air Force and Marine Corps pilots for air-to-ground and air-to-air training missions and by ground-based Marines for ground-to-air and land-based combat tactics.

In mid-July 1999, on behalf of current and former employees at the base, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Air Force Office of Inspector General concerning misconduct by Luke AFB officers. In October, those same officers searched Eilerts’ office and computer to find out who complained. Major Daniel Garcia initiated termination proceedings against Eilerts for "making malicious statements," "disrespect to a superior," "unauthorized release of information" and misuse of a government fax machine in sending documents to Washington, D.C.

"This is the most blatant case of retaliation I have ever seen," said PEER executive director, attorney Jeff Ruch. "After Mr. Eilerts has been restored to his position, we will seek disciplinary action against the officers involved." The suit is before the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board which must schedule a full hearing within 120 days. In upholding Eilerts’s termination, Lt. Colonel Bob Isaacson wrote, "Certain extra-governmental environmental activist organizations may hinder our mission by providing what we believe to be an inaccurate appraisal of our efforts." Isaacson cited an earlier directive forbidding staff "conversations with interest groups" or contacts with the media. "This case goes to the heart of the question of whether the military can be trusted with environmental stewardship responsibilities," Ruch concluded.

* * *

BUFFALO DEFENDER KNOCKED DOWN BY LIVESTOCK AGENT

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Montana, January 26, 2000 (ENS) - An environmental activist was knocked down by the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) agent Tuesday as the DOL attempted to haze a bull buffalo outside Yellowstone National Park. Buffalo Field Campaign volunteer Andrea Rightsell says she approached the agent to ask a question. She was standing in front of the agent when he ran into her with his snowmobile, knocking her to the ground, she reports. Rightsell intends to press charges.

On Tuesday afternoon, three DOL agents on snowmobiles, accompanied by an officer from the Gallatin County Sheriff's department, were trying to haze the buffalo away from the south side of the Madison River. To prevent the transmission of brucellosis, a disease that causes miscarriages and stillborn calves, from buffalo to Montana's cattle, the state either shoots or captures buffalo that cannot be hazed back into the Park. The state's position is not endorsed by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the federal body responsible for maintaining the state's brucellosis free status. "We don't feel there's a need to kill every bison that comes out of the park," said APHIS spokesperson Patrick Collins. Because bulls cannot transmit the disease, APHIS considers them "low risk" and says their presence will not jeopardize Montana's brucellosis free status. The bull, which the Buffalo Field Campaign says left the Park less than a week ago, was on National Forest land designated as wildlife habitat. It is unclear whether the DOL intended to capture the buffalo or haze him back to the park, the group says.

* * *

WASHINGTON U. STUDIES SEATTLE WTO FIASCO

SEATTLE, Washington, January 26, 2000 (ENS) - University of Washington (UW) scholars are studying the outcome of the disrupted World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle in December, and debating its implications for the future. Post-WTO examinations are under way in numerous corners of the university, said Jere Bacharach, director of the Jackson School of International Studies. Upcoming events include a six professor Jackson School forum, a lecture by a Business School expert on global trade and a gathering of union and environmental leaders convened by the Center for Labor Studies. Also in the works are a student essay contest hosted by the Center for International Business Education and Research, a public opinion survey from the School of Communications and a major political science department initiative on dissent, citizen participation and free speech.

The UW had established itself as a neutral forum for serious discussion of trade issues during the months leading up to the November 30 start of WTO talks, Bacharach said. The school hosted a direct encounter between strong critics of the WTO and its director-general - a vigorous but civil exchange of ideas that stood in contrast to the chaotic clashes that later erupted downtown. "The public perception is that the WTO Ministerial Meeting pitted protesters against the WTO," said Debra Glassman, a senior lecturer in finance and business economics who will deliver a February 2 lecture on the future of international trade. "But we all missed a bigger and more important story: the conflict between the developed and developing countries that unfolded inside the convention center." For a list of some of the major upcoming post-WTO campus events and studies, click here.

* * *

SOFTWARE MODELS GROUNDWATER BIOREMEDIATION

BLACKSBURG, Virginia, January 26, 2000 (ENS) - A new computer model may assist engineers in cleaning up contaminated groundwater. Mark Widdowson, a Virginia Tech civil engineer, developed the Sequential Electron Acceptor Model, 3 Dimensional (SEAM3D). "The SEAM3D software is designed to model the distribution of contamination over space and time, including biological reactions," said Widdowson. "It's a fate and transport Model." For example, the software will indicate how widespread and how fast a contaminated body of underground water will spread. This knowledge could be important if the contaminated ground water was nearing a wetland, a stream or a reservoir. "Most plumes of contaminants in ground water never exceed a certain size because they become stable over time. However, the key word is attenuation, brought about by the presence of microorganisms in the adjacent soil and/or water. We learned in the 1990s that these microorganisms are a major player in reducing the strength of the contaminated areas," Widdowson explained.

In sensitive areas, engineers often use in situ bioremediation to help hasten cleanups right at the site of the contamination. Bioremediation involves the addition of oxygen and other nutrients to a contaminated site to stimulate bacteria to speed up their work of breaking down contaminants. In situ bioremediation now accounts for almost $870 billion in worldwide annual expenditures. Widdowson’s software has been accepted as the preferred bioremediation program by the Waterways Experiment Station (WES) of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The U.S. Department of Defense placed WES in charge of the national Groundwater Modeling System (GMS).

* * *

SALT MARSHES A MAJOR SOURCE OF METHYL BROMIDE

SAN DIEGO, California, January 26, 2000 (ENS) - Salt marshes are a major natural source of methyl bromide, researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, have found. Methyl bromide is produced naturally from oceans and plants on land. It is also manufactured around the world as a pesticide against insects, weeds, pathogens and rodents. Methyl bromide also is generated as a byproduct by burning vegetation and leaded fuels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 72,000 tons of methyl bromide are used around the world each year. Scientists estimate that about half escapes into the atmosphere. In the U.S., the EPA estimates about 21,000 tons are used each year in agriculture, quarantine treatments and fumigation of buildings.

Because it is considered a significant ozone depleting substance, governments have developed controls that limit methyl bromide production. Scientists have estimated that 20 percent of the methyl bromide that reaches the atmosphere can be attributed to fumigation, about 10 percent to vegetation burning, and roughly 30 percent to production from the oceans. But the balance of this methyl bromide "budget," a significant 40 percent, was missing. The new study uncovers about 10 percent of the absent budget. "Scientists suspected that there was a large natural terrestrial source, based on evidence from ocean cruises and computer models, but the source proved to be somewhat elusive," said Robert Rhew, a graduate student in the Geosciences Research Division at Scripps. "We found that salt marshes emit methyl bromide at rates greater than any other natural environment, on a per area basis." The study, which also implicates salt marshes as a source of methyl chloride, is published in the January 20 issue of the journal "Nature."

* * *

SIX IOWA WASTE TIRE PILES APPROVED FOR CLEANUP

DES MOINES, Iowa, January 26, 2000 (ENS) ­ An estimated 140,000 waste tires in six stockpiles in Iowa will be cleaned and recycled at a cost of $329,000. The cleanup contract with Greenman Technologies of Minnesota was approved during a meeting last week of the Environmental Protection Commission of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Roya Stanley, administrator for the DNR’s Waste Management Assistance Division, said the tires have been in the ravines and tree lines for more than 20 years, and will be difficult to access. "Most of these tires were used for erosion control and for fill in wash areas by the farmers and land owners," said Stanley. "The challenge will not be to recycle the tires, but to get them out from the site."

The landowners will be responsible for installing erosion controls and reseeding the areas when the clean up is over. They will also be removing other solid waste, such as old cars and appliances, during the clean up, Stanley said. Goodyear Tire and Rubber of Akron, Ohio is paying $25,000 toward the cleanup, because tires at one of the sites came from its retread plant. The company had the opportunity to landfill the tires and chose not to, said Stanley. Steve May of DeSoto, Iowa will pay $15,000 toward the cleanup costs because Goodyear paid him to dump tires at one of the sites. The landowner did not receive payment for taking the tires.

* * *

NEW YORK STREAM PURCHASE WILL ALLOW PUBLIC USE

ALBANY, New York, January 26, 2000 (ENS) - New York State has agreed to buy 432 acres in the Catskill Mountain town of Rockland, including a half mile stretch of the Willowemoc Creek, one of the finest trout streams in the state. The purchase price of $763,000 will be financed by the Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act. The state is expected to close on this property later this winter and then open it to public use. "New York's legendary Catskill Mountain trout streams have helped define this region for residents and visitors alike," said Governor George Pataki. "The acquisition of this key holding will help protect and extend public access to this remarkable resource, enhancing recreational opportunities and tourism for the future."

The purchase also includes a half mile section of the Mongaup Creek. Both stream segments in this purchase have been leased by a private fishing club for years and have not been accessible to the public. Mongaup Creek is fed by large springs that provide pure, cold water for the State Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) Catskill Fish Hatchery. The Mongaup also supports an abundant population of wild brook and brown trout, which require cold water to survive and propagate. The parcel will be added to the Willowemoc Wild Forest and managed by DEC to protect its fishery resources. The forested hillsides will also provide opportunities for hiking, photography, nature study and hunting.

* * *

FOREST SERVICE PROVIDES GRANT TO TREEPEOPLE

LOS ANGELES, California, January 26, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has presented a $50,000 grant to TreePeople to help jumpstart interagency planning for watershed improvements in the Los Angeles area. TreePeople is a local environmental group which supports the planting and care of trees, provides educational tools for environmental stewardship, and serves as a catalyst for cooperative action among Los Angeles communities. "Everyone needs water; clean water, and all the benefits that flow from it," said USFS Chief Mike Dombeck. "One of the challenges of the next century will be the increasing competition for limited water supplies, which is common to a lot of municipalities in this part of the country." The grant is part of a challenge to local, state and national agencies to make investments in water, flood and pollution prevention improvements.

The USFS says watershed maintenance and restoration are among its top priorities. Healthy watersheds are more resilient in the face of natural or human induced disturbances. Demonstration projects, such as those led by TreePeople, help transcend the boundary lines of forests, states and municipalities. National forests in California comprise 20 percent of the state's land but produce about 50 percent of California's runoff. Nationwide, forested lands comprise about one third of the nation's land area and supply about two thirds of the nation’s total runoff. National Forest lands are the largest single source of water in the continental U.S. "By focusing on areas of agreement and integrated approaches to water quality improvement, we can bring people together to restore the soil, water and air upon which we and future generations will depend," concluded Dombeck.

* * *

MOBILE EXHIBIT TEACHES TEXANS FIRE PREVENTION SKILLS

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, January 26, 2000 (ENS) - The Texas Forest Service (TFS) has created a new vehicle to educate Texans on how to protect their homes and families from fire in wildland areas. Wildland communities, referred to as urban wildland interface by TFS, are areas where combustible homes are mixed with combustible vegetation. The "Urban Wildland Interface" traveling exhibit includes an illustration wrapped van and trailer. Inside, televisions air a seven minute movie featuring character Tex Forester sharing step by step fire prevention tips. Two computers offer an interactive game that tests fire prevention skills. The exhibit will travel across Texas spreading its message of "defensible space" and "firewise" practices to those living in wildland communities.

"We have created something that will heighten the public's awareness to a very serious matter," says James Blott, state wildland urban interface coordinator with the Texas Forest Service in Conroe. "We have all the bells and whistles, and use the latest in technology to inform the public. We know our audience is sophisticated. We believe the best way to share crucial information that could save lives is to come right to the population we want to reach and immediately capture their interest," Blott says. TFS says four lives were lost to wildfires in 1999. More than $7.1 million in property damage occurred, and more than 422,939 acres of wildland was destroyed, at a cost of $57.7 million to the state of Texas.