AmeriScan: November 8, 2001


WASHINGTON, DC, November 8, 2001 (ENS) - President George W. Bush has signed the $686 billion Department of Interior and Related Agencies Appropriation Act for fiscal 2002.

The bill funds the Interior Department and the U.S. Forest Service, as well as several environmental initiatives.

"I appreciate the bipartisan effort that has gone into producing this Act," said Bush, adding that the legislation supports several of his administration's key initiatives. The bill authorizes the use of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which receives funds from offshore oil leases, to acquire and conserve lands in national parks, forests, refuges and other public lands, and assist states in promoting conservation and outdoor recreation.

The bill includes funding to reduce the National Park Service deferred maintenance backlog and meet the growing demands on park facilities and resources. The Bush administration's Clean Coal Power initiative will receive full funding under the bill to promote research towards reducing the environmental impact of coal used for power generation in the United States.

"I am disappointed that my initiative to increase the Low-Income Weatherization Assistance Program by $120 million was reduced by $43 million in the final version of this bill," Bush added. "This reduction will deny program benefits for over 17,000 low income families, compared with my request."

The Forest Service will receive $4.1 billion, which includes increases for research and development as well as recreation, heritage and wilderness programs.

"Restoring forest and rangeland health, making lands accessible to the recreating public and protecting lives and communities from wildfire are our top priorities," said Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth. "Forest Service employees will spend these dollars wisely and efficiently in maintaining and restoring the health, diversity and productivity of America's national forests and grasslands."

The largest increase of almost $25 million went to the Forest Service's capital improvement and maintenance program to decrease its maintenance backlog, including the construction and restoration of buildings and the maintenance of roads.

The measure also increases funding for Forest Service recreation, heritage and wilderness programs by more than $15 million; forest and range research by more than $12 million; forest products by $11 million; and vegetation and water management by almost $9 million.

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SACRAMENTO, California, November 8, 2001 (ENS) - Disturbance by people and their pets is causing shorebirds like the threatened western snowy plover to wing it to more remote locations where less human disturbance occurs.

A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study shows that protection of small areas of special habitat could provide important sanctuaries for these birds with little impact to the beachgoing public, said Dr. Kevin Lafferty, a marine ecologist with the USGS Western Ecological Research Center.

"Research points to humans and pets as a frequent source of disturbance for shorebirds," said Lafferty. "For beach nesting birds like the snowy plover, such disturbance has made the majority of former breeding sites unsuitable."

Lafferty measured rates of disturbance on beaches, providing managers with information they used to try to reduce disturbance at Coal Oil Point Reserve, a public beach in Santa Barbara, California.

Lafferty found that human activity often displaced shorebirds approached within 20 yards. He discovered that 10 percent of humans and 40 percent of dogs disturbed birds, and more than 70 percent of birds flew away when disturbed.

"Most disturbances occurred near the water, but people used so much of the beach that birds were unable to find predictable places without people to rest and feed," said Lafferty.

Western snowy plovers chose to hide from people up on the dry sand instead of moving, said Lafferty. Even with this strategy, each snowy plover was disturbed about 115 times per week, 16 times more than at remote or protected areas where these birds still breed.

Despite disturbance, Lafferty found that snowy plovers stayed faithful to their preferred habitat around a lagoon mouth, though they were less abundant near beach access points.

Managers then experimented with marking off a protected area with a rope fence. The result: disturbance to snowy plovers and other birds plummeted, and about twice as many birds used the fenced off area to raise their chicks.

In addition, the number of least terns, an endangered species, within the fenced area increased six-fold.

"Two things appear to be operating," said Lafferty. "Birds can now sit in one spot without being forced away within a few minutes. In addition, other birds flying along the coast notice a lot of birds sitting on the beach, realize the area must be a safe place to rest for a spell and fly in."

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CHAMPAIGN, Illinois, November 8, 2001 (ENS) - Efficient fertilizer use could benefit the Mississippi River without hurting crop yields, a new study suggests.

A computational study on nitrogen runoff into the Mississippi River Basin from the 1950s to the 1990s suggests that better use of fertilizer - such as not over applying it - could slash the amount of nitrates flowing down river.

The study, appearing in today's issue of the journal "Nature," concluded that had there been a 12 percent reduction in nitrogen fertilizer use in the last two decades, there could have been a 33 percent reduction in the nitrate runoff to the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. In the gulf, excess nitrogen leads to algae blooms and seasonal dead zones where oxygen levels are depleted and marine life dies off.

"An earlier study estimated that a 24 percent reduction in fertilizer use would be needed to achieve the same level of reduction of nitrate movement to the gulf, but our results indicate that increasing the efficiency of fertilizer use may have a greater impact than previously thought," said Gregory McIsaac, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Illinois and lead author of the "Nature" article.

Although the precise cause and effect relationship between fertilizer use and the dead zones is still uncertain, McIsaac said, the fact remains that nitrogen going into to the Mississippi River Basin increased faster than the amount of nitrogen harvested in crops in the 1960s and 1970s.

Nitrogen that is not taken up by plants may flow into groundwater and rivers. The new study shows that when the capacity of crops to absorb nitrogen is reached, any further nitrogen that is applied "dramatically increase losses to streams," said study collaborator Mark David, a UI professor of biogeochemistry.

"In a survey conducted in 2000, about 30 percent of Illinois farmers indicated that they apply more nitrogen than is recommended for economically optimum crop production," McIsaac said. "Eliminating that over application will maintain yields, reduce costs and, according to our analysis, reduce the nitrate in the Mississippi River."

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RICHLAND, Washington, November 8, 2001 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) $8.4 million in grant funding for research to support the department's Environmental Management cleanup program.

The grants, which fund research initiatives to develop new approaches for dealing with the disposal of high level waste and the decontamination of facilities, are part of 45 research grants totaling $39 million.

PNNL is a multiprogram laboratory that conducts basic and applied research to solve problems in the environmental, energy, health and national security areas. The lab employs about 3,500 people and has an estimated annual budget of about $540 million.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the DOE plans to extend its contract with the Battelle Memorial Institute to manage and operate the PNNL for an additional five years.

"Battelle has done an extraordinary job operating PNNL over the years," Abraham said. "The Department of Energy and Battelle will be negotiating the details over the next several months, but we look forward to a continued partnership that will lead to further scientific advances benefiting our country."

Abraham authorized the DOE's Richland Operations Office to begin negotiations with Battelle. DOE decided to extend the contract with Battelle after evaluating several factors, including past performance and potential impacts from a change in the contractor.

Battelle has received "Outstanding" ratings for the past three years from the DOE. The current contract expires in September 2002.

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LACEY, Washington, November 8, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has reopened a proposal to list the showy stickseed, Washington state's rarest plant, as endangered

Showy stickseed, known from just one location in Chelan County, has been moving towards extinction. Its numbers have declined from 1,000 individuals in the early 1980s to about 300 plants in a recent survey.

In February 2000, the USFWS proposed to designate the plant as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In October 2000, a moratorium on any listing was imposed on the agency, except for court ordered actions, and a final determination on listing the showy stickseed was never made.

The USFWS announced Wednesday that it will reopen the comment period on the proposal to list the showy stickseed to allow all interested parties to submit comments on the proposal. Any comments submitted during the initial comment period from February 14 to April 14, 2000 need not be resubmitted and they will be considered in the final determination.

The new comment period will be open through December 7.

"This beautiful flower is the rarest plant in the state of Washington, growing at one site west of Leavenworth on the Wenatchee National Forest," said Anne Badgley, USFWS Pacific regional director. "Designating it is as endangered will allow us to protect and recover this species for future generations to enjoy."

Showy stickseed now lives on less than two acres on a steep, unstable slope above the Wenatchee River. The plant does not tolerate shade and does not compete well with other vegetation that has invaded the site, including noxious weeds.

A wildfire might be a serious threat to the few remaining plants. Because of the loose, unstable soils where the plant grows, it is at risk of being trampled or dislodged by tourist that may walk on the slope where the plants are found.

Staff from the Wenatchee National Forest are monitoring the weeds and attempting to protect the rare plant.

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BOULDER, Colorado, November 8, 2001 (ENS) - A science team led by the University of Colorado at Boulder is conducting research on Alaska's North Slope to better understand and support local decision making in the face of climate variability and potential environmental disasters.

Their primary goal is to help local peoples identify common interests by exchanging information about natural and human caused climate change, said CU-Boulder's Amanda Lynch. Climate variability includes changes in average temperatures, the extent of sea ice and the level of the permafrost over years and decades, said Lynch, an atmospheric scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

The estimated 8,000 people on Alaska's North Slope, which encompasses about 89,000 square miles, are about 70 percent Inupiat American Indians.

"The fall storms are the most severe," said Lynch. "But when the ice is out in the summer, the wind whips up the waves, making flooding and erosion much worse."

The science team was awarded a three year, $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to help mitigate North Slope environmental problems.

"The idea behind this research project was to find out what the people on the North Slope of Alaska were environmentally vulnerable to, and how we could help," said Lynch. The primary problem, according to residents, was extreme storms in the summer and fall.

The researchers are creating a storm damage handbook using computer modeling, which indicates where to place sandbags during severe storms and the optimum places to build sea walls to mitigate damage.

"We are trying to tailor it to their specific problems," Lynch said. "It also includes extreme events such as storm surges, flooding events and high wind events - when they happen, how often they happen, and how severe they are."

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BOSTON, Massachusetts, November 8, 2001 (ENS) - Collecting pretty seashells is more than a vacation pastime for scientists from the University of Michigan and Ohio State University, whose analyses of scallop shells are filling gaps in Antarctica's temperature record for the last century.

"Unlike areas that have been inhabited for long periods - where people have measured temperatures every day for hundreds of years - there are very few instrumental records of temperatures on the Antarctic continent or in its vicinity that extend back to the early 1900s, the beginning of the industrial revolution," said U-M professor of geological sciences Kyger Lohmann.

As a result, researchers who want to know how the area has been affected by global warming have little to go on.

"Although some information can be gleaned from ice cores, it is difficult to resolve seasonal variation - particularly the magnitude of summer warming - from the ice and snow records," says Lohmann.

But growth bands in the shell of the Antarctic scallop, a sea animal that can live 100 years or longer, do reveal annual, and even seasonal, environmental trends, Lohmann and his coworkers found.

"We can see a long term warming trend in the Antarctic continent during the last 100 years, with a major shift occurring around the early 1950s," said Lohmann.

In their analysis, Lohmann and coworkers looked at ratios of isotopes, or alternate forms, of oxygen in the growth bands of the scallop shells. Changes in the isotope ratios reflect changes in the chemistry of coastal waters as glaciers melt and retreat, which is an indirect measure of the continent's temperature highs.

"The warmer the summers, the more glacial ice melts on the continent and runs off into the surrounding waters," Lohmann explained. "Small changes in the amount of glacial meltwater dramatically affect the chemistry of the coastal water, and that, in turn, is recorded in the accretionary growth banding of the shell."

By analyzing shells of scallops collected in different areas, the researchers hope to get a year by year picture of temperature changes in different parts Antarctica over the past century.

The researchers reported on their work Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Boston.

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SACRAMENTO, California, November 8, 2001 (ENS) - In the first gathering of its kind, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will bring together manufacturers and retailers of high efficiency appliances and lighting products under one roof.

The Energy StarŪ Product Expo will open to the public on November 9-10. Via taped message, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham will offer encouragement to consumers to "Look for the Energy StarŪ label."

"Energy StarŪ represents a huge success for the environment and for consumers," Abraham said. "The manufacturers, retailers and energy providers who partner with the U.S. government in Energy StarŪ provide quality products and give consumers energy savings choices in lighting and appliances."

Held in Sacramento's Convention Center, the Expo will display more than 30 types of Energy StarŪ labeled products available to consumers. Energy StarŪ labeled products are between 10 percent and 25 percent more energy efficient than conventional products.

The DOE estimates that this year alone, Energy StarŪ labeled products and buildings will save Americans more than $6 billion in energy costs. Replacing all older appliances and products in a typical American home with Energy StarŪ models can reduce a household's annual energy costs by one-third.

Energy StarŪ is a voluntary partnership of the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, manufacturers, retailers, utilities and state organizations nationwide.

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WASHINGTON, DC, November 8, 2001 (ENS) - Joseph Hautman's painting of a male black scoter flanked by three females was selected Wednesday as the design for the 2002-2003 Federal Duck Stamp.

Hautman's painting was selected over 11 other finalists after a tense last round of judging that required an unprecedented series of four tie breaking votes to choose the winner.


The winning painting of a quartet of black scoters (Photos courtesy USFWS)
"I'm speechless. I was thinking I didn't win because it was taking so long," Hautman, a resident of Plymouth, Minnesota, told Interior Secretary Gale Norton when she telephoned to give him the good news.

Joseph won the contest once before in 1992 with his portrayal of spectacled eiders. His brother Bob Hautman won last year's contest, as well as once previously. A third brother, Jim, has won three times.

"It feels like I have to win twice to get any respect in this family," Joseph Hautman joked.

Since black scoters do not frequent Minnesota, Joseph first saw them on a hunting trip to Alaska in 1990. He kept one to use as a mount to draw the stamp.

Second place went to Richard Clifton of Milford, Delaware, for his painting of a single black scoter floating with a wooden decoy. Daniel Smith of Bozeman, Montana, took third with his rendition of a pair of black scoters riding the waves.

"We have a great tradition in this country - a rich outdoor heritage." said Norton. "Americans have always enjoyed our beautiful natural resources. As we look for ways to serve conservation, there is no better example than our own Federal Duck Stamp."

All waterfowl hunters age 16 and older must purchase and carry a Federal Duck Stamp while hunting. Ninety-eight percent of the purchase price of each Duck Stamp is used to acquire wetland habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife species.


The Junior Duck Stamp contest winner
The black scoter, a sea duck which nests in the Arctic regions of Canada and western Alaska, was the only duck species that had never been depicted on a duck stamp.

Judges also picked the winner of the Junior Duck Stamp contest on Wednesday, which honors young artists. Eighteen year old Aremy McCann's acrylic painting of a trumpeter swan took the top honors in this category.