September 22, 2006

In This Issue

EIGHTY SCIENTISTS PROMOTE SCIENCE ON CAPITOL HILL

On September 13, 2006, eighty scientists and engineers from 25 states visited over 100 congressional offices to advocate for the National Science Foundation. Sponsored by the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) the event featured interdisciplinary teams that met with congressional delegations and showed broad support for the agency. The teams emphasized the overall importance of science and education across all disciplines and thanked both the House and Senate offices for the current appropriations mark for NSF. If Congress manages to maintain the proposed increase (over 7 percent) for the agency as the 2007 budget is finalized, it would be the first increase NSF has seen in several years. Fiscal year 2007 appropriations are not expected to be completed until after the November elections and quite possibly could drift into next year. Representatives Sherry Boehlet (R-NY), Bart Gordon (D-TN), Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), and Rush Holt (D-NJ) spoke to the group of scientists and engineers during a reception and underscored their support for science and for the NSF. The Ecological Society of America helped organize this year’s event, which marked the second time CNSF has sponsored a Hill Visits Day.

USDA ANNOUNCES MORE INSPECTIONS, USER FEES FOR CANADIAN IMPORTS

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plans to step up fruit and vegetable pest inspections for imports from Canada and impose fees for customs services provided at the U.S.-Canada border. Formally, the interim rule would revoke an exemption for Canadian fruit and vegetable shipments from U.S. pest inspections.

Initially, the new USDA inspections will target those shipments perceived to be of the highest risk: tropical fruits and vegetables or other shipments that Customs and Border Protection officials suspect are not of Canadian origin, or products identified to have a pest risk, as potatoes are now. Such shipments may have entered Canada without being subject to the same phytosanitary requirements as the U.S. imposes because Canada has a colder climate in which pests cannot develop to the same extent.

Whether illegally transshipped (i.e. smuggled) or shipped legally, citrus from Canada could carry exotic flies that survive in tropical and subtropical regions. If these flies enter the U.S., they could threaten farms mainly in California, Florida and Texas. Another danger is woodboring insects transferred from Asian countries. These could damage trees in any part of the U.S., threatening Christmas tree and commercial lumber industries. In addition to potential economic losses, these pests could kill trees in recreational or urban spaces, according to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

A Canadian government official said his personal view is that the change will not disrupt trade and that the new user fees will not pose a major burden. However, Canadian private-sector sources anticipated the heightened inspections would have a significant impact. “If it slows the border crossing it will be an issue, because we deal with perishable products,” said Kristen Callow, general manager at the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers.

The proposed rule is in the August 25, 2006 Federal Register and comments will be taken until November 24, 2006. To see a copy of the article, go to: http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20061800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2006/pdf/E6-14128.pdf

The Ecological Society of America has provided comments on invasive species in the past:
www.esa.org/pao/esaPositions/pdfDocuments/Lodge%20paper%20no%20line%20numbers%20(final).pdf

CONGRESS LAUNCHES BIPARTISAN CONGRESSIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE CAUCUS

Hailing the National Wildlife Refuge System as the premier wildlife land system in the world, the four leaders of the newly formed bipartisan Congressional Wildlife Refuge Caucus (CWRC) – Co-Chairs Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Jim Saxton (R-NJ) and Vice Co-Chairs Mike Castle (R-DE) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) -gathered with a diverse coalition of national conservation and recreation organizations to celebrate the launch of the caucus and highlight the importance of protecting and preserving the Refuge System. The caucus is one hundred members strong, representing 168 of the nation’s 540 wildlife refuges.

“Our national refuge system is truly a triumph of American vision and commitment to responsible stewardship, protecting critical habitat and wildlife while providing economic benefit to local communities from recreational users,” stated Rep. Ron Kind. “Yet this system – which benefits so many – is struggling in the face of tightening budgets and additional burdens such as the threat of invasive species.”

The mission of the CWRC is to fortify, protect and preserve the National Wildlife Refuge System by supporting adequate Refuge funding, working for the strategic growth of the Refuge System through easements and targeted land acquisition, and by promoting legislation to improve the Refuge System. The CWRC also aims to educate members of Congress about the increasing number of challenges facing the System through briefings and other forms of outreach.

Members of the caucus recently introduced legislation to help combat invasive species, the primary ecological and financial threat to the Refuge System. According to its sponsors, the Refuge Ecology Protection, Assistance, & Immediate Response (REPAIR) Act (H.R. 5900), proposes an innovative and cost-effective approach to maximize eradication efforts and establishes a grant program to combat invasive species on and adjacent to refuges.

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION PROMOTES DDT IN MALARIA FIGHT

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it will promote the use of DDT to prevent malaria in developing countries, especially those in Africa. The chemical — whose effects on the environment were famously outlined by Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in 1962 — is banned in the United States and most of the world. But a handful of developing nations rely on DDT to fight malaria, a disease that each year sickens more than 500 million people worldwide and kills more than 1 million.

Alternatives to DDT have been developed and are in use, but they are less effective, said Arata Kochi, the director of WHO’s Global Malaria Programme. One major problem is that mosquitoes that carry malaria often develop resistance to insecticides used to control their populations. Some environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense, have supported limited indoor spraying until better alternatives to DDT can be developed.

Kochi and other WHO officials were quick to point out that the public health organization is recommending limited indoor spraying of the chemical, which requires far less DDT than the agricultural spraying that is now banned in most countries.

FEDERAL COURT REINSTATES ROADLESS AREA CONSERVATION RULE

In a major decision, a federal judge in California reinstated Clinton-era protections of 58.5 million acres of national forests. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco sided with four Democratic attorneys general and 20 environmental groups in reinstating the Clinton rule and throwing out the Bush Administration’s roadless petition plan.

The Clinton rule put 58.5 million acres of national forest off-limits to roadbuilding, logging and other development. But in May 2005, the Bush Administration repealed the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule in its entirety and substituted it with a state petition process that would eliminate federal protections from logging and mining in favor of state-specific rulemaking. On the day of the court’s ruling, Idaho Governor Jim Risch was expected to release a petition under the Bush rule that if accepted would open the majority of Idaho’s roadless areas to logging, mining, and drilling.

The Ecological Society of America has provided comments on roadless areas in the past: http://www.esa.org/pao/esaPositions/Letters/roadlessStatePetition10202004.php

FEDERAL COURT ORDERS REGULATION OF BALLAST WATER

Finding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulation exempting ballast water discharges from the Clean Water Act is “plainly contrary to the congressional intent,” a federal court ordered the EPA to come up with new regulations in two years. The order follows the court’s finding in 2005 that EPA had illegally exempted ships’ ballast water discharges from Clean Water Act permit requirements.

The agency argued that monitoring ballast water was the responsibility of the Coast Guard, effectively allowing ship operators to release ballast without Clean Water Act permits. The ruling directs EPA to take specific action by September 30, 2008 to ensure that shipping companies comply with the Clean Water Act and restrict the discharge of invasive species in ballast water.

Over 21 billion gallons of ballast water from international ports is discharged into U.S. waters each year and is considered by many to be the primary way invasive species enter U.S. waters. The cost of invasive species to the U.S. economy is estimated in the billions of dollars annually.

Although bills are pending in the House and Senate that would require ships to reduce the number of organisms in their ballast water, the delay in effective federal action, combined with the high cost of invasive species to the environment, industries, and drinking water sources, has led numerous states to pass their own laws. Michigan will require shippers to have permits by early next year. And California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) signed a bill into law that would require ships entering state ports to treat their ballast water. Under the California bill, ships will have to treat ballast water before dumping it in ports or coastal waters. The treatment standards will be phased in, starting in 2009, to provide time for systems to be developed to kill the organisms. By 2020, no discharge of organisms larger than 50 microns will be allowed.

GROUP PROPOSES DIVERTING MISSISSIPPI RIVER

At an April meeting of researchers considering what to do about Louisiana’s dwindling wetlands, all attendees agreed that diverting the Mississippi was necessary to mitigate rising sea levels, storms of increasing intensity and land loss associated with climate change.

Such a diversion would be located in the delta at the river’s mouth, well downstream of New Orleans. It would fix the river’s tendency to dump 120 million tons of sediment per year into deep water, rather than wetlands, due to the fact that the delta reaches too far into the Gulf of Mexico and the river’s mouth now sits at the edge of the continental shelf. Under a diversion plan, water would enter marshes and shallow-water areas and eventually rebuild the coast. Louisiana’s marshes have lost more than 1,500 square miles since the 1930s, about a quarter of their total area.

“A major diversion in the lower part of the river is something that needs to be done,” said James R. Hanchey, Deputy Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. “I think it’s within the realm of possibility.” He added that nutrient runoff from chemicals used inland could stimulate marsh plants, rather than contribute to the dead zone of oxygen-poor water near the river’s mouth.

Scientists have proposed making the diversion near Davant, 45 miles southeast of New Orleans, further down the river. Apart from technical concerns, other issues include land rights, minor relocations, oil and gas leases and navigation of the river. Designing the project could take three or four years, Hanchey said, followed by a construction period of five to 10 years.


Sources: Unified Forest Defense Campaign, Northwest Environmental Advocates, The Ocean Conservancy, Baykeeper, Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement, GreenWire, Environment and Energy Daily, and The Federal Register.

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