Wildfire Forces Evacuation of Colorado TownBAILEY, Colorado,
April 24, 2002 (ENS) - Four hundred homes have been evacuated as a fire raging out of control in the Pike and San Isabel National Forest threatens schools and a residential area in the town of Bailey, about 35 miles southwest of Denver.
At least four schools have been closed and a stretch of U.S. Highway 285 is shut down. Fire officials have assigned the highest level management team and 182 firefighters to this blaze they have named the Snaking Fire. A helicopter is dropping fire retardant on the flames.
Dry fuels and gusting winds are contributing to what officials are calling the "extreme fire behavior" that is endangering Bailey, a town lining the highway between heavily wooded mountains. No structures have yet been burned.
The Colorado woods are dry this spring after a winter of lower than normal precipitation, contributing to an early fire season. The cause of the Snaking Fire has not yet been determined.
Another fire in the Pike and San Isabel National Forest, on Topaz Mountain, is burning 12 miles east southeast of Jefferson, Colorado. Officials have assigned 156 firefighters to this fire, but they say loss of resources to the Snaking Fire is expected to delay containment of the fire on Topaz Mountain where heavy fuels and spot fires are the main problems.
Yet another Colorado fire is burning a path through the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest near Fort Collins, where 500 acres have been consumed. This fire is considered 50 percent contained, and a 25 person Americorp crew is working to extinguish the flames.
Lawsuit Seeks Water for Klamath Basin SalmonOAKLAND, California,
April 24, 2002 (ENS) - Coastal commercial salmon fishers filed a lawsuit today in U.S. Federal District Court to force the release of enough water into the Klamath River to protect this year's juvenile salmon runs.
At a March 29 ceremony, a large part of the Klamath River was redirected by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation into irrigation canals on the Oregon/California border. The Bureau devised a temporary plan for April and May 2002 that slashes the amount of water in the river.
The fishers charge that the diversion of the river comes at a critical time for newly hatched salmon, or fry, as well as one year old salmon, called smolts, that are ready to migrate to the sea. The lawsuit charges that the National Marine Fisheries Service ignored the best available science when it put its stamp of approval on the Bureau's short term water diversion plan.
"Fishing families are having a hard time paying their bills and the government is just trying to write off the lower river and coastal economy," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA), the west coast's largest organization of commercial fishing families and the lead plaintiff in the suit. "There is a lot more rainfall this year than during last year's drought, and all we are asking is a fair share so the lower river and its fisheries can survive."
In February, the National Research Council (NRC) issued an interim report criticizing some of the science that led to last year's decision to reduce river diversions to Klamath Basin farmers to help salmon and lake fish survive. At the same time, the NRC panel rejected the Bureau of Reclamation's proposed 2001 operations plan as too risky.
The Bureau has proposed the same low flows this year, even though there is more water available now than during last year's near record drought.
"There is more water available this year than last year," said Glen Spain of PCFFA's Northwest office in Oregon. "It's mind boggling that the Administration would give the lower river even less water this year than during last year's record drought. Fishermen deserve a fair share of water in the river just as much as farmers deserve water in the fields. It simply makes no sense to destroy thousands of coastal jobs and devastate coastal communities by artificially creating a downriver drought that does not have to exist."
Senate Wrapping Up Energy BillWASHINGTON, DC,
April 24, 2002 (ENS) - The Senate adopted several amendments to comprehensive energy legislation on Tuesday, and rejected efforts to remove an amendment that supports renewable fuels.
With a unanimous vote, the Senate approved the text of the Stevens-Byrd Climate Change Strategy and Technology Innovation Act, which would support research into the technologies needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the use of existing energy sources. The amendment would double the current investment in energy technology and research.
The amendment requires a long term national climate change strategy designed to stabilize greenhouse gas levels without hurting the nation's economy.
"The degree to which any particular phenomenon or activity contributes to climate change is not yet well understood. Regardless of cause there has been a dramatic warming trend in the Arctic areas of Alaska," said Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. "Pack ice, which insulates our coastal villages from winter storms, has shrunk. Increased storm activity has caused significant beach erosion that may displace entire communities along the coastline of Alaska. Sea ice is also thinner than it was 30 years ago. This amendment creates a process for the United States to seriously and responsibly address the climate change issue."
The measure includes $35 million for the creation of a Barrow Arctic Research Center, which would support climate change research and other scientific activities.
The Senate also approved an amendment authored by Alaska Senator Frank Murkowski that will offer federal tax credits to encourage the production of so called heavy oil from Alaska's North Slope, and promote the use of Alaska coal in synthetic fuels.
"For this country to solve its energy crisis we need to encourage more energy production domestically," said Murkowski, a Republican. "Alaska leads the world in coal reserves and holds billions of barrels of heavy oil under Prudhoe Bay. Providing the incentives is important for the nation and for Alaska."
The Senate voted to triple the amount of ethanol added to gasoline across the nation by 2012, rejecting attempts by Senators from California and New York to remove the ethanol language. Opponents of the measure argued that states that do not grow much corn - the major source of ethanol in the U.S. - would see higher gas prices as a result of the bill.
A final vote on the energy bill is expected by the end of the week, as the Senate agreed Tuesday to end six weeks of debate on the legislation.
House Begins Process of Overriding Yucca Mountain VetoWASHINGTON, DC,
April 24, 2002 (ENS) - A House subcommittee has voted to override the Nevada governor's veto of the proposed permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality voted 24 to two to overrule Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn's rejection of the Yucca Mountain site.
Earlier this month, Guinn, a Republican, used his authority under a special federal law to veto the Bush administration's approval of Yucca Mountain as the nation's only permanent repository for high level nuclear wastes, the most dangerous of radioactive wastes. The Department of Energy plans use the site to store 77,000 tons of radioactive wastes and spent fuel from nuclear power plants throughout the United States and 42 countries.
Under a 1982 law, Guinn's veto can be overridden by a majority vote of both the House and the Senate. The House subcommittee vote is the first step in that process.
If Congress overrides the Nevada veto, the final decision would be left up to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency responsible for licensing of the Yucca Mountain repository.
Republicans control the House and each of its committees. Just two Democratic Representatives - Bill Luther of Minnesota and Edward Markey of Massachusetts - opposed the subcommittee vote on Tuesday.
Opponents of the Yucca Mountain site hope that the Democratically controlled Senate will prove more resistant to Bush administration pressure to override Guinn's veto.
Bush Administration Asked to Protect Fish in South DakotaWASHINGTON, DC,
April 24, 2002 (ENS) - Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has joined Senator Tim Johnson and Representative John Thune, all of South Dakota, in asking the White House to intervene with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stabilize water levels in Lake Oahe.
The Congress members say a new management plan is needed to protect one of South Dakota's greatest assets, the Missouri River.
"Anglers come from all across our state - and from around the country - to catch walleye and other sport fish," Daschle said. "Last year, sport fishing generated more than $40 million for South Dakota's economy last year. This industry is in serious jeopardy due to ongoing actions by the Corps to lower water levels on Lake Oahe in order to support downstream barges."
To support the downstream barge industry, the Corps of Engineers plans to drop water levels in Oahe by three feet in the next month. The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks has said that this course of action will kill 100 percent of young walleye and smelt, causing the populations of both fish to plummet.
"Past declines in fish population have proved devastating for South Dakota's sport fishing industry," Daschle said. "This is a problem we just cannot ignore."
Daschle said that sending water downstream to support a $7 million barge industry while devastating South Dakota's $40 million fishing industry "makes no sense." The Lake Oahe issue underscores the need for revisions to the Army Corps' master manual, and restore more natural flows to the Missouri River, the Congress members added.
Colorado Releases Rare, Captive Raised FishALAMOSA, Colorado,
April 24, 2002 (ENS) - Biologists in Colorado working toward the recovery of native fish species released 300 Arkansas darters and 300 southern redbelly dace in springs at the Hugo State Wildlife Area last week.
The 600 fish from the John W. Mumma Native Aquatic Species Restoration Facility (NASRF) are the first ones raised in captivity at the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) facility.
Darters and dace are tiny fish that are native to waters in eastern Colorado, but today survive only in small isolated populations. The state of Colorado lists southern redbelly dace as an endangered species, while Arkansas darters are included on the state's threatened list.
NASRF Manager Dave Schnoor stressed that the DOW's goal is to recover the fish before they decline any further, so that the fish released now will become viable, self sustaining populations.
"Our previous efforts involved fish that were captured from the wild and then brought here for egg collection before being re-released, said Schnoor. "We are proud that this marks the first time released fish were raised entirely in our hatchery."
Hatchery personnel had to duplicate water temperature, water chemistry and the physical habitat of each species in order to get the fish to propagate.
"Even though the numbers are small for this first release, the production is a significant first step in captive production of these declining species and is an indication that fish from this facility can play an important role in recovery of aquatic species statewide," said Schnoor.
Colorado Governor Bill Owens praised the Colorado Division of Wildlife for their effort and dedication to the project.
"This project is an example of the great diversity in the Division of Wildlife projects," said Owens. "Research efforts such as this sometimes are overlooked but the fact is they are very important to the state."
There are 54 fish species, 13 amphibians and 37 mollusks native to Colorado. Of these, 52 percent of the fish, 100 percent of the amphibians, and three percent of the mollusks are listed as endangered, threatened, or as species of special concern.
The John W. Mumma Native Aquatic Species Restoration Facility is the only state run facility in the nation designed and built to raise threatened and endangered fish, amphibians and mollusk species. Other species raised at the facility include the Rio Grande sucker, northern redbelly dace, razorback sucker, Colorado pike minnow, bonytail chub and boreal toad.
Lake Tahoe Clarity Shows Five Year HighDAVIS, California,
April 24, 2002 (ENS) - The renowned clarity of Lake Tahoe reached a five year high in 2001, University of California at Davis researchers said today.
The Tahoe Research Group, which has studied the famous alpine lake and recommended recovery strategies for more than 40 years, said the finding is promising but does not mean that the battle is won.
"Based on the historical data, lake clarity would need to improve for at least another five years to declare that things are doing very well," said John Reuter, a Tahoe Research Group ecologist and director of the Lake Tahoe Interagency Monitoring Program. "We're extremely encouraged that the clarity in the past few years is better. But we have seen temporary improvements before."
UC Davis researchers have warned that, if unchecked, the long term and continuing decline in transparency will turn Tahoe's famous cobalt blue waters to green. The researchers measure lake clarity every seven to 10 days by lowering a white Secchi disk into the water at fixed locations and noting the depth at which the disk disappears.
In 1968, when UC Davis clarity studies began, the disk could be seen at a depth of 102.4 feet (31.22 meters).
The annual average Secchi measurements for the past six years were:
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) is the bi-state agency leading the collaborative effort to achieve and maintain established environmental quality standards in the Tahoe Basin. TRPA adopted the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program in 1997 and since then has supported restoration efforts in the basin.
Many of those efforts aim to reduce the runoff of sediment, which makes the water cloudy, and of chemicals and minerals such as fertilizers that promote algae growth.
Reuter noted that 2001 was a drought year, which reduced runoff. In contrast, the worst recent year for lake clarity, 1997, was a flood year.
"Since short term changes in Lake Tahoe's quality are strongly affected by precipitation and pollutant load in runoff, the long term impacts of restoration must be teased out from temporary conditions of drought and flood. Complex natural processes take time to discern," Reuter said.
"However, we can say without hesitation that if we don't continue to follow TRPA's Environmental Improvement Program, and even expand it, the chances of seeing clarity improve are much reduced," Reuter added. "As a matter of fact, they are very unlikely."
Colorado's Most Wanted Poacher Arrested in MichiganDENVER, Colorado,
April 24, 2002 (ENS) - After spending almost a year on the run, Colorado's most wanted poacher was arrested April 14 in Berrien County, Michigan, after a tip on his location was called into Michigan's poaching hotline.
Wendell Cook had fled Colorado on May 23, 2001, the day he was to be sentenced in Montrose County for wildlife poaching and being a felon in possession of firearms. He will be extradited to Colorado this week.
"This guy just took off and left and thumbed his nose at everyone," said Glenn Smith, the Colorado Division of Wildlife's Operation Game Thief coordinator. "But just because you go a couple of thousand miles away doesn't mean we'll stop looking for you."
Law enforcement officers in Colorado, Michigan, Arizona, Indiana and other states had been searching for Cook, and had received several tips on his location before the one received in Michigan. On April 13, Michigan wildlife officers were told they would find Cook teeing off on a southern Michigan golf course the next morning at 8 am, where Cook was arrested without incident.
Cook and his three partners killed five deer - one of which was a trophy animal under Colorado's Sampson Law - two elk, two antelope and a black bear. The DOW learned of their poaching activities in September 2000 after several tips to the Operation Game Thief hotlines. Operation Game Thief is an interstate project aimed at curbing poaching.
When Cook and his partners were charged in November 2000, Cook pleaded guilty to one felony and three misdemeanor wildlife counts. Cook's partners confessed when confronted by wildlife officers and all paid fines, with one of them, Jon Clark, also spending 90 days in jail.
At the time of the poaching, Cook was on probation for a felony drug charge and could not legally possess a firearm. When wildlife officers arrested Cook in October 2000, wildlife officers found nine guns in Cook's house, at least two of which he had used for poaching.
Cook's original proposed sentence included fines of more than $5,000 and up to five years in state prison.
While no one knows exact figures, poachers could be killing almost as many animals and fish in Colorado as legitimate hunters do during legal seasons, Smith said.
"If poachers kill even half that number each year, the problem is serious," he said. Poachers do not just take game animals, but also kill endangered, threatened and nongame wildlife, Smith added.
Since 1981, more than 700 convictions have resulted from Operation Game Thief tips. Those convictions have led to more than $600,000 in fines and the seizure of 1,300 illegally taken animals. Almost $130,000 in rewards have been paid to citizens who reported illegal wildlife activity.
More information is available at: http://www.wildlife.state.co.us/OGT/index.asp
National Park Week Offers Special EventsWASHINGTON, DC,
April 24, 2002 (ENS) - This is National Park Week, and Park Service sites around the nation are holding special events throughout the week.
"Perhaps more this year than in years past, National Park Week is a time for us to find inspiration and healing in parks all across the Nation," said National Park Service (NPS) Director Fran Mainella. "Whether reflecting on the historic battle at Gettysburg National Military Park, enjoying water sports at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, or gazing at the majestic natural wonders of Yellowstone or Yosemite, I invite all Americans to explore the value and relevance of parks and open spaces in their lives."
The first National Park Week occurred in 1991 when President George H. W. Bush proclaimed it to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the National Park Service, which was founded in 1916. At first, National Park Week was intended to be a one time event, but it was proclaimed again in 1994 and has been an annual event ever since.
"Our national park system was established in 1916 to protect and maintain our natural resources and historic sites," said President George W. Bush, declaring National Park Week 2002 on Tuesday. "Today, there are 385 national parks on 84 million acres, visited annually by 280 million people from around the world."
"The parks are places for recreation, education, and reflection, and we must take care of them in a way that preserves them for posterity," Bush added.
America's parks conserve many of the most spectacular natural areas in the world. From the Florida Everglades and Arizona's Grand Canyon, to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, each of the parks offers an opportunity to learn, relax, reflect and play.
For example, on Saturday, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington DC, and Glacier View, Smallwood and Mount Rainier National Parks in Washington state will all sponsor a park wide cleanups. On Sunday, Gould Manor Park in Connecticut will hold a 2.5 mile family walk.
The NPS website has a complete list of scheduled events at: http://www.nps.gov/npweek
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