The Environment

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  Bush Administration Ordered To Write Global Warming ReportsAugust 24, 2007 09:00 The Bush administration has been ordered by a federal judge to produce two scientific reports on global warming sought in a lawsuit filed by conservation organizations.

U.S. District Court Judge Saundra Armstrong ruled Tuesday that the Bush administration had violated the Global Change Research Act of 1990 when it failed to meet deadlines for an updated U.S. Climate Change Research Plan and National Impact Assessment.

The judge ordered the Bush administration to issue the draft overdue research plan by March 1, 2008, with a final version of the plan no later than 90 days thereafter, and the National Assessment by May 31, 2008.

The last National Assessment was issued in late 2000 under the Clinton administration.

The plaintiff groups clained that use and dissemination of this assessment was "suppressed by the Bush administration," and the required update in 2004 was never produced. The Research Plan was required by law to be updated in 2006 but also has never been produced.

"This administration has denied and suppressed the science of global warming at every turn," said Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the attorneys arguing the case. "Today's ruling is a stern rebuke of the administration's head-in-the-sand approach to global warming."

The Research Plan guides all federal climate research, while the National Assessment serves to provide an understandable summary of global warming impacts on the environment, economy, human health and human safety of the United States and is to by used by Congress and federal agencies in setting policy and responding to global warming.

"Knowledge is the key to effective action," said Danielle Fugere, global warming program director for Friends of the Earth, one of the plaintiff groups. "Congress knew this when it required the best minds in our government to conduct a National Assessment documenting the impacts of global warming on the U.S. Today's ruling will help make that information available."
  Environmental Battle Subject Of FilmAugust 23, 2007 08:20 Standing on the northeast ridge of San Bruno Mountain, Steve and Ann Dunsky looked up and saw the fog roll in as the sun began to set.
The light was perfect. And from their vantage point, the two filmmakers could see the butterfly-shaped quarry ravaged over the years from constant mining of rocks and minerals.

The husband and wife weren't there to capture footage for their upcoming documentary, "Butterflies & Bulldozers: The Fight for San Bruno Mountain." They simply took a gander at land being graded for future housing.

"You can't help but feel surprised by what's up there," said Ann Dunsky, who has lived in Brisbane for 20 years. "There are waterfalls, caves, canyons, scads of endangered plants and animals. And to look at it in different stages is amazing. As residents, we don't want to see any more housing in town. We want to keep Brisbane small."

But they and their counterparts — Keith and Sam Moreau — are trying to remain objective for the film.

"We're letting the characters tell the story so we're not trying to impose our own voices," Dunsky said. "I think it's a much much better way. And those are the kinds of documentaries I like. It's by far harder."

The film revolves around the clash of two types of environmentalists who contend they had the best intentions for the future of San Bruno Mountain.
  How Smuggler Of Endangered Butterflies Was Finally NettedAugust 18, 2007 15:35 The smell struck undercover agent Ed Newcomer as soon as he entered the small, sparse apartment.

Faint and rancid, it permeated everything. It clung to the plastic containers that piled up in cupboards and on shelves. It seeped from the walls and the bathroom and the bed.

The smell was unmistakable: dead insects.

Inside the suspect grinned expectantly as he opened a container. Dozens of slimy white grubs slithered in the dirt. Another box revealed a dead black beetle the size of a fist, its long rhinoceros-like horn protruding in front.

"Dynastes hercules," the suspect said, his voice high-pitched and shrill.

Newcomer shuddered. But he smiled affably, the wide-eyed neophyte being inducted by the master. It was a role that Newcomer, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, had been perfecting for two weeks.

The suspect opened another box filled with dead butterflies, wings spread in iridescent glory - golds and greens and shimmering azures.

Like fairy dust, Newcomer thought.

Then he snapped back to reality.

Newcomer's tape recorder had accidentally shut off. His cell phone was broken. His backup agent was lost in traffic. If the backup couldn't make contact soon, he would call the police.

It was Newcomer's first undercover case.

He had won the trust of the world's most notorious butterfly smuggler, a man who made hundreds of thousands of dollars trading in endangered insects. He had been invited into the suspect's home.

Yet if he didn't leave in minutes his cover could be blown.
  Judge Upholds Endangered Species Protections For Wild SalmonAugust 17, 2007 08:30 A federal judge has rejected a broad challenge by farm and development groups to the protection of wild salmon as endangered species. The judge upheld a federal policy of using different standards to determine whether or not to protect hatchery-bred and wild salmon under the Endangered Species Act. The decision is the third court decision in recent months confirming that wild Pacific salmon should be protected under federal law.

U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan rejected all of the arguments of the anti-environment group Pacific Legal Foundation which represents developers and farm groups. PLF argued that the National Marine Fisheries Service must make ESA salmon listing decisions based simply on the numbers of hatchery fish. PLF asked the court to remove 16 separate populations of salmon from the list of endangered species based on the prevalence of hatchery fish. The 16 stocks range from the Canadian border, through the Columbia basin, to the central California coast. Judge Hogan found nothing in the law to support the argument that wild and hatchery salmon have to be treated identically when deciding whether to protect wild salmon.

The ruling is consistent with another decision, issued in June by a U.S. district judge in Seattle, that set aside the Bush administration's policy of counting hatchery and wild fish together in Endangered Species Act assessments.

"Salmon and people need clean water, swimmable streams, and healthy habitat. We all win when we protect and recover wild salmon and their habitat," said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman. Earthjustice represented fishing and conservation groups seeking to retain Endangered Species Act protection for vulnerable salmon and steelhead populations. "Hatcheries never were meant to be a replacement for self-sustaining populations of salmon in healthy streams," said Hassleman.

The ESA requires NMFS to make listing decisions on the basis of the best science. NMFS's scientific advisors and experts unanimously concluded that it would be "biologically indefensible" to eliminate ESA protection for threatened and endangered salmon because of the abundance of fish raised by humans in hatcheries.
  Protection, Habitat Sought For JaguarsAugust 06, 2007 21:15 A conservation group filed suit Thursday in federal court demanding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designate critical habitat and create a recovery plan for endangered American jaguars.

Although the government listed the jaguar as an endangered species in 1997, it did not initiate recovery planning or designate critical habitat, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed the suit in Tucson.

Critical habitat designation means naming geographical areas that may require special management to help endangered or threatened species. That and a recovery plan are required under the Endangered Species Act, the conservation group claims.

"The jaguar is way past endangered and it's way past time for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to start the process of recovery," said group spokesman Michael Robinson.

Fish and Wildlife spokesman Chris Tollefson declined comment. He said officials haven't seen the lawsuit and "we generally don't comment on pending litigation anyway."

The jaguar is the largest feline in the Americas and is generally considered the third largest cat in the world, behind the tiger and lion.

The cats once stretched across the country but populations declined due to agricultural expansion and poaching beginning in the 1800s.

  Re-Examining Crucial DecisionsAugust 04, 2007 10:33 Julie A. MacDonald swept through the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service like a force of nature. Or, rather, a force of politics. MacDonald, President Bush's appointee as assistant secretary, bullied scientists, overrode regulations and improperly handed over agency documents to industry lobbyists. She finally resigned in the wake of a critical inspector general's investigation of her activities.

Now, eight major policy decisions about endangered species and habitat protection made by MacDonald are under official review. If they are reversed, it will be vindication for Interior professionals and scientists who found their expert advice and recommendations manipulated or ignored.

"We wouldn't be doing them [reviews] if we didn't suspect the decision would be different," said H. Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, to reporters last week. "It's a blemish on the scientific integrity of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of the Interior."

Staff complaints surfaced in October that their scientific findings were frequently overruled or disparaged. They said landowners or industry leaders influenced MacDonald's decisions. That's when the agency's inspector general began to examine MacDonald's role in the process.

At the time, she told a Washington Post reporter: "A lot of times when I first read a document I think, 'This is a joke, this is just not right.' So I'll ask questions. These documents have tremendous economic and social implications for people." MacDonald is a civil engineer by training. She came to the Interior Department in 2002, and has been deputy assistant secretary of the interior for fish, wildlife and parks since 2004.

If MacDonald's decisions are reversed, it may give such threatened and endangered species as California's red-legged frog, the white-tailed prairie dog and the Canada lynx new leases on life. It will also represent a condemnation of the Bush administration's proclivity for political influence over science.

MacDonald-influenced decisions have also been overturned by judges in federal courts. One of those involved MacDonald's decision that the endangered Santa Barbara and Sonoma salamanders were no longer "distinct populations." As such, they were no longer entitled to protection.

Judge William Alsup's ruling said MacDonald arbitrarily had scientists downgrade the two species, although an agency scientist had noted "genetics state otherwise."
  Weyerhaeuser Ordered Not To Log Owl HabitatAugust 02, 2007 20:55 A Seattle federal judge Wednesday ordered the Weyerhaeuser Co. not to log four sections of spotted owl habitat in southwest Washington.

"This proves owls have a federal right to live," said Peter Goldman, a lawyer for the Seattle Audubon Society who filed the motion.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman issued the injunction granting Audubon's request to stop logging near the sites until the conclusion of its lawsuit against the state and Weyerhaeuser. The trial is set to begin in April.

The judge denied the advocacy group's second request to stop the state from granting logging permits for more than 200 other sites on private land that have been identified as possible spotted owl habit.

Pechman ruled against the scientific testimony presented by the state and Weyerhaeuser that habitat requirements established in the mid-1990s were unnecessarily large and Weyerhaeuser's more recent and smaller estimates were sufficient to protect the species.

Weyerhaeuser spokesman Frank Mendizabal said his company already has stopped harvests at three of the sites as part of a research agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He also said that barred owls have been found at all of the sites and are known to compete with spotted owls for habitat. He said they are a likely cause of the threatened birds' continual decline, not the logging of relatively young, 50- to 80-year-old, forests.

Spotted owls were declared a threatened species in 1990 because of logging in old-growth forest, the primary habitat for the owls. Despite increased protection of the remaining old-growth forests and a protection plan, the owl's population has continued to decline, and they now are being found in younger forests.
  House-Passed Wrda Bill Moves To Senate For Vote, But Veto Threat LoomsAugust 01, 2007 23:49 For more than six years, environmentalists have been determined to persuade lawmakers to pass a massive water bill that holds more than $370 million in funding for the Picayune Strand State Forest in Collier County.

The House overwhelmingly approved the water bill late tonight on a 381-40 vote, and the Senate will take up the measure Friday. But someone else stands in the way: President Bush.

Wednesday, as both chambers prepared to debate the Water Resources Development Act, White House officials sent a letter to lawmakers bluntly stating the president’s displeasure with the bill. The administration officials said Bush would veto the bill because of its hefty price tag.

"The administration has urged the Congress to limit the total cost of the authorizations in this WRDA and to authorize only those projects that would provide a high net return on investment and fall within the three main (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) mission areas," the letter from the White House Office of Management and Budget said. "Unfortunately, the conference has reported a bill that exceeds significantly the $15 billion estimated cost of the House-passed bill, which is the higher cost of the House and Senate bills."

"Indeed, it seems a $14 billion Senate bill went into conference with the House’s $15 billion bill and somehow a bill emerged costing approximately $20 billion," the letter continued. "This is not how most Americans would expect their representatives in Washington to reach agreement, especially when it is their tax dollars that are being spent."

Environmentalists said they were "deeply disappointed" with the president’s intention to veto the bill.

"Funding for these projects is vital and long overdue," said April Gromnicki, the director of Ecosystems Restoration for Audubon, the environmental group. "We urge the president to reconsider."

If Bush does veto the legislation, Gromnicki said lawmakers should override the veto. It was unclear Wednesday if the bipartisan bill had enough votes for an override.
  Lawmakers Probe Claims Of Improper Influence Over ScienceAugust 01, 2007 23:41 Participants in a House Natural Resources Committee oversight hearing Tuesday examined allegations that Vice President Dick Cheney exerted undue influence over scientific decisions at federal agencies, and discussed ways to strengthen oversight of political appointees.
The hearing focused on two recent disputes between scientists and policy-makers at Interior Department agencies. The first, over potential vice presidential influence at the Fish and Wildlife Service, was highlighted in a June 27 Washington Post story that concluded that Vice President Cheney subverted scientific findings about a species of endangered fish that lives in Oregon's Klamath River.
According to the article, government scientists found in 2001 that maintaining water levels in the basin was necessary for the survival of an endangered species of salmon, and the Bureau of Reclamation was forced to halt water deliveries to regional farmers. The Post reported that Cheney secretly found a way to bring the initial scientific findings into question, resulting in a decision to resume deliveries in 2002 and "the largest fish kill the West had ever seen."
The Interior Department's inspector general looked into the Klamath River decision in 2004 at the request of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. At the time, the IG's office found no proof that politics had affected the scientific basis of the decision. In a letter to Kerry, the IG stated, "We found no evidence of political interference affecting the decisions pertaining to the water in the Klamath project."
Mary Kendall, Interior's deputy inspector general, said at Tuesday's hearing that the 2004 report grew out of allegations against Karl Rove. Although she stood by the conclusion that Rove exerted no influence over the process, she acknowledged that it was possible the report could have overlooked Cheney's influence.