The Environment

  Protect A Species, Get A Tax Break?February 28, 2007 23:23 Save the species, save a buck.

Landowners frustrated by the Endangered Species Act might get a carrot instead of the stick under a proposed revision of the law that would offer them tax incentives to give the critters a home. That approach is emerging as a narrower alternative to a comprehensive overhaul of the endangered species law, a priority for Republicans before Democrats took control of Congress this year.

While environmentalists credit the law with saving and reviving species like the bald eagle and spotted owl, many farm and property rights groups contend it unduly restricts legitimate land uses, provoking lawsuits instead of helping plants and animals.

  RFK Jr. Rips President Bush For Environmental PolicyFebruary 27, 2007 09:31 The crowd that nearly filled Virginia Tech's 3,000-seat Burruss Hall Auditorium to hear environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speak probably had an idea about what he thought of the Bush administration before he took the podium.

Some of Kennedy's books were on sale in the auditorium lobby, including his most recent -- "Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy."

But early on in a rambling speech Monday night that lasted more than an hour, the son of a 1960s Democratic icon made it clear that he wasn't critical of Bush because of his political affiliation.

He was critical of him, he said, because Bush has implemented policies and circumvented the law in order to enrich his donors at the expense of thousands of lives and America's environmental future.

"You can't talk honestly about the environment today ... without being critical of the president," he said.
  Scientists Use DNA To Track Poached Elephant IvoryFebruary 26, 2007 16:17 Scientists alarmed by a surge in the slaughter of elephants for ivory said on Monday they have devised a genetic method for tracking the origin of poached tusks and pinpointing "hot spots" for the illicit trade.

The killing of elephants for their tusks has reached levels not seen since a treaty that banned the ivory trade took effect in 1989, and the rise has been fueled by growing demand in Asia, the scientists said. The world community must act now or risk having the mammals, which live in Africa and Asia, become extinct, they said.

"Many, many people are unaware of how serious the problems have become again," lead researcher Samuel Wasser, director of the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology, said in an interview.

Policing the illegal trade has been hampered by the inability of authorities to figure out the geographic origin of black-market ivory.

The researchers gathered genetic information on various elephant populations in Africa using tissue and dung samples from the animals. They then made a DNA-based map of the elephant populations.

Using tusks from a huge haul of contraband ivory seized in Singapore in 2002, the researchers used their genetic analysis to determine where the elephants were killed.

  Antarctic Ice Melt Reveals Exotic CreaturesFebruary 26, 2007 13:58 Spindly orange sea stars, fan-finned ice fish and herds of roving sea cucumbers are among the exotic creatures spied off the Antarctic coast in an area formerly covered by ice, scientists reported Sunday.

This is the first time explorers have been able to catalog wildlife where two mammoth ice shelves used to extend for some 3,900 square miles over the Weddell Sea.

At least 5,000 years old, the ice shelves collapsed in two stages over the last dozen years. One crumbled 12 years ago and the other followed in 2002.

Global warming is seen as the culprit behind the ice shelves' demise, said Gauthier Chapelle of the Polar Foundation in Brussels.

"These kind of collapses are expected to happen more," he said. "What we're observing here is probably going to happen elsewhere around Antarctica."

Melting ice shelves are not expected to directly contribute much to global sea level rise, but glaciologists believe these vast swaths of ice act like dams to slow down glaciers as they move over the Antarctic land mass toward the coast. Without the ice shelves, glaciers may move over the water more quickly, and this would substantially add to rising seas.

  Scientists Add Shark Species To Endangered ListFebruary 22, 2007 16:28 Scientists added several species of deep sea sharks on Thursday to the World Conservation Union's (IUCN) endangered Red List due to overfishing.

At a meeting in Oxford, England, the scientists listed all three species of thresher sharks -- known for their scythe-like tails -- as "vulnerable globally," and moved the shortfin mako to "vulnerable today" from "near threatened."

"The qualities of pelagic sharks -- fast, powerful, wide-ranging -- too often lead to a misperception that they are resilient to fishing pressure," said Sarah Fowler of the IUCN's Shark Specialist Group.
  Logging Permit Violates Protection Of Northern Spotted OwlFebruary 19, 2007 13:28 A federal appeals court ruled Friday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act when it approved a 22,000-acre logging project that affects northern spotted owl habitat in southern Oregon.

In a case dating from 2001, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that would allow logging based on an "incidental take" statement estimating how many owls might be killed.

Any landowners, companies, state or local governments with projects that might incidentally harm - or "take" - wildlife that is listed as endangered or threatened must first obtain an incidental take permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

But the appeals court found the statement supporting the permit for about 75 proposed timber sales in the Rogue River Basin had no scientific foundation, lacked a specific estimate of how many owls would be killed by the logging, and had no "trigger" for keeping track of whether too many owls were being killed.

The ruling was from a three-judge panel of the court.
  Wildlife Group Urges Consumers To Avoid Eating Endangered Species For Chinese New YearFebruary 18, 2007 22:34 As people across Asia gear up for sumptuous lunar New Year banquets, an international wildlife group is calling on Chinese consumers to start the year of the pig guilt free. The activist group Traffic wants consumers to think twice about what they eat, as the food could be from endangered species. Claudia Blume reports from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is the world's largest market for live reef fish, importing about 15,000 tons a year. Around the city, restaurants feature bubbling tanks carrying seafood such as grouper or humphead wrasse, which can cost as much as $100 per kilo.

This restaurant owner says reef fish are very popular at banquets because they are big and red, an auspicious color for Chinese.

Reef fish is in particularly big demand around Chinese New Year. The word 'fish' in Mandarin Chinese sounds the same as 'surplus', and many Chinese believe that by eating fish, the New Year will be plentiful.
  US Campaign To Raise Environment AwarenessFebruary 16, 2007 15:59 Plans have been announced in the US for a major campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of climate change.

The SOS campaign, short for Save-Our-Selves, will include a worldwide rock concert in July featuring major bands and artists.

Announcing the campaign, former US Vice President Al Gore said he hoped to draw attention to what he called the planetary emergency and create a movement which will motivate people to take action.
  Fund to benefit endangered speciesFebruary 13, 2007 16:34 Elephant ears, the kind made with flour, sugar and butter, go for $3.75 at the Oregon Zoo.

Actual elephant ears, the kind formerly attached to African elephants, sell for hundreds of dollars on the Internet. On Monday, federal authorities displayed a pair of real elephant ears, along with other endangered-animal parts seized in a series of stings last year.

U.S. Attorney Karin Immergut joined zoo director Tony Vecchio and Fish & Wildlife Service regional director Ren Lohoefener at the zoo in announcing the creation of an Endangered Species Justice Fund. The fund will start with a $60,000 civil penalty from a case involving the prosecution of 13 people across six states for selling live ocelots.

Although the animal parts on display were undeniably exotic, the elephant ears had a worn look.

"This one here had been used as a mat," said Robert Romero, a law enforcement agent for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Portland.

It is illegal to possess an endangered species in the United States.
  Endangered Species List Just Got ShorterFebruary 12, 2007 14:36 There is no reason to risk repeating history by taking gray wolves off the endangered species list.

A gray wolf is a wild animal and has a place in the ecosystem. They are meant to hunt deer, elk and other woodland animals. If there are too many nature will take its course.

Gray wolves are going to prey on livestock if they are given easy access to them. It is not a solution to lower the population of the gray wolves. The solution is for farmers to protect their farms with better enclosures.
  Hawaii's Bird Habitats Most ThreatenedFebruary 10, 2007 14:32 Hawaiian forests are the nation's most threatened bird habitats, according to a report released Thursday by American Bird Conservancy. "Saving these species is important but meaningless if the habitats they come from are also not protected," said Alan Lieberman, director of the Hawaiian Endangered Bird Conservation Program for the San Diego Zoo.

Hawaiian forests were listed ahead of the open ocean and sea bird nesting islands, which ranked second and also includes Hawaii territory. Third on the list was sagebrush areas found in Western states such as Washington, Oregon and Montana. And fourth was the Edwards Plateau Savannah of Texas.

The tropical chain of Hawaiian islands isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was home to about 140 native breeding species and subspecies before the arrival of humans in the archipelago. More than half of the bird species are now extinct. And among the 71 remaining Hawaiian birds, 30 are listed as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, according to the state's Department of Natural Resources' Web site.

The threat to birds' habitat in Hawaii _ from avian diseases, invasive plants and invasive species such as cats _ continues despite the efforts of government agencies and private organizations like the San Diego Zoo, the report said.
  Fed and State Conflicts Over Endangered SpeciesFebruary 08, 2007 09:48 As we humans crowd Arizona, we're crowding wildlife out. It does not take a rocket scientist to fathom how dwindling rivers, razed deserts and oceans of fresh concrete might just push many species--from pygmy owls and garter snakes to wee top minnows--to the razor's edge of extinction.
But pell-mell growth isn't the only threat. According to biologists and conservationists, turf battles between state and federal wildlife officials are also taking a toll. In particular, critics contend that the Arizona Game and Fish Department has devolved from a conservation champion into a conservative hotbed, steeped in resentment of federal oversight and grudging to embrace the Endangered Species Act.

As it happens, the ESA is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And that's what sticks in the state's craw, say critics. For evidence, they point to Arizona's enthusiasm for removing the Southwestern bald eagle from endangered-species status, or often-floundering efforts at recovering the Mexican gray wolf.

Top Arizona Game and Fish officials contend that federal programs only make their jobs harder. When The Arizona Republic ran a story about the eagle in January, for example, Game and Fish Director Duane Shroufe even complained that "the Endangered Species Act gets in our way of managing species."
  Sea Bird Tied To Logging Fight DwindlesFebruary 07, 2007 13:19 The marbled murrelet, a threatened sea bird whose rare trait of nesting in old-growth forests made it a factor in logging battles in the U.S. Northwest, is also declining dramatically in Alaska and Canada, where most of the birds live, according to a U.S. government review.
The review of existing population surveys by the U.S. Geological Survey was requested by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the Bush administration considers whether to take the marbled murrelet off the threatened species list in Oregon, Washington and California, where protection for the old-growth trees it nests in have dramatically reduced logging on some national forests.

The first comprehensive look at population surveys in Alaska and British Columbia found an overall decline of about 70 percent over the last 25 years, dropping the estimated population to 270,000 birds in Alaska and 54,000 to 92,000 birds in British Columbia.

The review released Monday found that genetically, the birds divide into three groups: the western tip of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska; the rest of the Aleutians south through British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon into California; and central California.

The bird is not protected in Alaska.

  Bush Outlines '09 Arctic Refuge Oil, Gas Lease In '08 BudgetFebruary 05, 2007 11:09 U.S. President George W. Bush aims to open up a 1.5 million acre area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, to oil and gas leasing by 2009, according to the administration's proposed 2008 Budget.

As part of the administration's energy policy to help wean the country off dependence on crude imports, the president hopes opening ANWR's "1002" area on the North Alaska coast will tap the estimated 5.7 billion to 16 billion barrels.

The administration has faced tough opposition to opening up the refuge, and given that environmentalists successfully lobbied against re-opening ANWR in the Republican-controlled Congress last year, it is generally believed re-opening ANWR in the current, Democrat-run Congress would be much more difficult.

The U.S. Geological Survey expects peak production could hit 1 million barrels a day, "equivalent to nearly 10% of the nation's current daily imports ... and and would result in an estimated $7 billion in new revenues," the administration said in its budget. The income would be split 50-50 between the federal government and the state of Alaska.

The budget includes a proposal to authorize the Department of the Interior to conduct "environmentally responsible oil and gas exploration and development.

"The 2008 Budget will support necessary activities to begin ANWR leasing and fund continued leasing of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska," it said.
  Ky. Researchers Count Endangered BatsFebruary 03, 2007 18:25 Dave Waldien stretches, shining his helmet‘s light into a limestone crevice. "I‘ve got two," he says. "One‘s a big brown ... and I‘m not sure what that one is." Stepping across a few of the cave‘s boulders, Jim Kennedy takes a look.

While the annual event attracts some 700 cavers and thrill-seekers for three days of cave tours, Kennedy and Waldien traveled into darkness on a different mission.

That data then gives scientists information for better management of the species, he said.

The bat has been on the federal endangered species list for decades, with less than 500,000 individuals and declining. Many thousands hibernate in Bat Cave here, listed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife authorities as one of two "critical habitats" in Kentucky.
  US Urges 'Global Discussion' On UN Climate ReportFebruary 02, 2007 15:16 Wow... talk about being late to the party... and showing up naked, too!

The Bush administration played down the U.S. contribution to world climate change on Friday and called for a "global discussion" after a U.N. report blamed humans for much of the warming over the past 50 years.

"We are a small contributor when you look at the rest of the world," U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said of greenhouse gas emissions. "It's really got to be a global discussion."

The United States is responsible for one-quarter of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide and uses one-quarter of the world's crude oil.

A unilateral U.S. program to cut emissions might hurt the economy and send business overseas, Bodman said.

In measured tones that accepted the reality of global climate change but stopped short of urging specific limits on the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to it, Bodman hailed the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in Paris.

"We're very pleased with it. We're embracing it. We agree with it," Bodman told a news conference. "Human activity is contributing to changes in our Earth's climate and that issue is no longer up for debate."

  Intergovernmental Panel On Climate ChangeFebruary 02, 2007 10:18 Here's the report and a link the the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change.
  Pennfuture Files Endangered Species Act Petition Against Bush AdministrationFebruary 02, 2007 09:25 Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture) today joined environmental, sporting groups, and scientific organizations from all regions of the country in legal action to further press President Bush on global warming and the growing potential of significant wildlife extinctions this century.

The diverse conservation groups - led by the Center for Biological Diversity, including California Trout, Center for Native Ecosystems (Colorado), Conservation Northwest (Washington), Friends of the Clearwater (Idaho), Restore the North Woods (Maine), Save the Manatee Club (Florida), and Arkansas Fly Fishers, as well as PennFuture - filed a petition under the Administrative Procedure Act to better protect endangered species from many current dangerous threats, particularly global warming, by fully implementing science-based recovery plans and actions.

This filing comes on the eve of the unveiling of a dramatic report from 1600 international experts that will show that harmful greenhouse pollution is already damaging or destroying much of nature - from high profile species such as the polar bear and Mexican wolf to countless other organisms and ecosystems. Just recently, lead petitioner Center for Biological Diversity filed papers in U.S. federal court to compel compliance by the Bush Administration on mandatory climate change reporting requirements, including those relating to biological diversity and human health.

"Now that President Bush has agreed - after six years in office - that global warming is a serious problem, it's time for his administration to take serious action," said George Jugovic, Jr., Chair of PennFuture's Law Staff. "Every day we wait to take action means more habitat and more wildlife move closer to extinction. Our legal case is designed to stop the delays and make that serious action take place."

  First Endangered Fish Species RecoversFebruary 02, 2007 09:22 For the first time in U.S., and probably global, history a fish identified as endangered has been shown to have recovered -- and in the Hudson River, which flows through one of the world's largest population centers, New York City.
Doug Peterson, a former Cornell postdoctoral researcher now at the University of Georgia who worked with Cornell's Mark Bain on the study, holds a shortnose sturgeon, the first fish species to recover enough to be taken off the endangered species list. It now thrives, even in the Hudson River in New York City.

The population of shortnose sturgeon, which lives in large rivers and estuaries along the Atlantic coast of North America, has increased by more than 400 percent in the Hudson River since the 1970s, report Mark Bain, associate professor of natural resources at Cornell, and his colleagues in the online publication PLoS ONE. However, the shortnose sturgeon is still endangered in other rivers, Bain said, and will not necessarily be removed from the endangered species list by the U.S. government.

In the past 100 years, 27 species of fish have died out in North America and four have become extinct. The U.S. government currently protects 149 fish species and subspecies and a total of 1,311 species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
  U.N. Says There'S No Stopping Global WarmingFebruary 02, 2007 00:43 In the strongest language it has ever used, a United Nations panel says global warming is "very likely" caused by human activities and has become a runaway train that cannot be stopped.

The warming of Earth and increases in sea level "would continue for centuries ... even if greenhouse gas concentrations were to be stabilized," according to a 20-page summary of the report that was leaked to wire services.

The summary of the fourth report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, was scheduled for release this morning in Paris. But scientists involved in the final editing process have been leaking bits and pieces from it all week, culminating in the leaking of the full report eight hours before its release.

The phrase "very likely" indicates a 90% certainty. The last IPCC report, issued five years ago, said it was "likely" that human activity was at fault, indicating a certainty of 66%.
  Report To Link Global Warming To HumansFebruary 01, 2007 11:16 Officials from 113 countries agreed Thursday that a much-awaited international report will say that global warming was "very likely" caused by human activity, delegates to a climate change conference said.

Dozens of scientists and bureaucrats are editing the new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in closed-door meetings in Paris.

Their report, which must be unanimously approved, is to be released Friday and is considered an authoritative document that could influence government and industrial policy worldwide.

Four participants told The Associated Press that the group approved the term "very likely" in Thursday's sessions. That means they agree that there is a 90 percent chance that global warming is caused by humans.

"That is a big move. I hope it is a powerful statement," said Jan Pretel, head of the department of climate change at the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute.