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Other Environment News

BBC/The Green Room: Al Gore: A matter of convenience


Al Gore's climate film may not change what Americans think on climate change; but that doesn't matter, argues Philip Clapp in the Green Room, because Americans are already concerned - and politicians are following the public's lead.

Al Gore's new global warming movie has been a blockbuster in the United States. At this point, it stands third in box office history among documentaries.

Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, has even beat out Madonna's Truth or Dare; an estimated 2.3 million Americans have seen it.

Unfortunately, that is still less than 1% of the US population.

Many of these movie-goers are probably already in Gore's camp. A significant number undoubtedly bought their tickets more to scratch six years of Bush-induced liberal political itch than to learn anything about global warming.

With audience numbers like these, the former vice president's gripping and beautifully produced video lecture isn't going to cause a tidal shift in American public opinion on global warming in the short run.

In reality, it doesn't need to.

Desperation grows

A fog of misinformation is still being generated in the US by an increasingly desperate network of industry-funded think-tanks (a category that includes the Bush White House) and a handful of right-wing ideologues.

Despite the efforts of this shrinking band, the average American already believes pretty much what the rest of the world does about global warming: human-produced pollution is causing it, the potential consequences look more and more devastating, and our governments should act - and act now.

US polls have registered this solidifying consensus for at least five years. The remaining doubts of many Americans were wiped out, along with New Orleans, by Hurricane Katrina.

Even if his impact on the general public is slim, Gore is having an impact where it counts much more - in the media and among politicians, many of whom have been well behind the public on global warming.

He has helped put the issue on the front pages of America's newspapers once again.

Equally important, he has made global warming an inescapable part of the political debate as America prepares to choose new leadership and a new agenda for the post-Bush era.

In many ways, that era has already begun, even though the president has more than two years left in office. This is particularly true on global warming.

Republicans turning

Members of the Republican Party in Congress, recognising that international and domestic action is inevitable, are already quietly abandoning the President. They are authoring and supporting legislation to set limits on US emissions.

In June 2005, the Republican-controlled Senate passed a resolution calling for precisely the kind of mandatory global warming emissions reduction law the President so adamantly opposes.

Congress has also repeatedly passed resolutions calling on the Bush administration to return to the international negotiating table.

The pressure is now so intense that the White House appears to be planning to make renewable energy development and global warming a centerpiece of its agenda in the president's final two years. Significant new proposals are likely to be unveiled in a major presidential address to Congress in January.

Administration insiders are calling the developing proposals Bush's "Nixon goes to China" moment, after Nixon's startling 1972 reversal of the longtime US refusal to deal with Mao.

Whatever Bush puts forward will probably be weak, but that it is immaterial; the substance of what the president proposes on global warming is likely to have little credibility, given his history on the issue.

But the very fact that Bush would finally reverse his position and call for action will liberate many Republicans to vote for meaningful pollution cuts.

Race to succeed

Equally important, looking forward to the race to succeed Bush in 2008, every serious potential Republican nominee has already abandoned the president's intransigent position.

The most prominent of them, Senator John McCain from Arizona, is actually the Senate's leading crusader on the need for the US to adopt a domestic emissions reduction system. McCain introduced the first such bill several years ago, and has forced Senate votes on it repeatedly, achieving near-majorities.

Al Gore's biggest contribution may be that his movie forces key parts of his own Democratic Party, including some reluctant potential presidential candidates, finally to give more than lip service to the issue.

In Congress, a handful of Democrats from coal and auto-producing states, responding to pressure from those industries' labour unions, has been one of the principal roadblocks to action.

Virtually all of these Democrats - sitting senators and potential presidents - know in their heads and hearts that strong action on global warming is urgent. They are the ones for whom global warming is truly an inconvenient truth - politically inconvenient.

Gore's own handlers in his 2000 presidential bid found it inconvenient, too, as they sought to shore up labour support in the same states. The issue never surfaced seriously in the then-vice president's campaign against George W Bush.

Gore has assured that it cannot be avoided by anyone in 2008, convenient or not.

Philip Clapp is President of the National Environmental Trust in Washington DC


Seattle Post Intelligencer:32 mayors discuss global warming



ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Mayors from 32 U.S cities were urged Saturday to be leaders in slowing global warming by taking steps in their communities.

"We need to find the leadership in this country," said Mayor Rocky Anderson of Salt Lake City at a conference on climate change. "If it's not going to come from the top down. ... We need to push from the bottom up."

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich hosted the conference for leaders from 17 states. Mayors will spend three days discussing how to reduce their cities' contributions to warming and how cities can adjust to changes scientists predict will spread to other states.

Anderson said that there is no longer a dispute over warming and that it's due to the burning of fossil fuels, which add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and trap heat.

The only uncertainties are how fast the globe is warming and where the effects will show up, he said.

Mayors kicked off the conference by swapping stories on the effects of warming in their communities.

"The fish gave us our first indication," said Royce Pollard of Vancouver, Wash., where salmon runs have been affected.

John Engen of Missoula, Mont., said his community has had more 90 degree days than anyone can remember. Warming's effect, he said, has a real cost.

"We catch fire in western Montana, and millions of dollars have been devoted to fighting wildfires," he said.


New York Times: Paying the Freight for Polluting the Air: Europe Takes the Lead



WHEN HSBC, Europe’s biggest bank, flies its executives around the world, it pays for the carbon dioxide emissions of every flight in the form of offsets, or investments in nonpolluting energy projects. The busy London-Hong Kong route, for example, produces 2.76 metric tons of carbon dioxide per passenger, which the company offsets for roughly $4.45 a ton, adding around $25 to the ticket price. (The amount varies with the price per ton of emissions.) Of the bank’s total carbon emissions this year, 10 percent will come from business travel, resulting in a fee of $310,000 in offsets. HSBC will pay $3 million more in offsets to achieve carbon neutrality, the first major bank to do so.

Offsetting has its critics, who say that emissions must be reduced rather than offset, and that some companies have adopted the practice to make a show of their green credentials. Nevertheless, offsetting is becoming increasingly popular.

Over all, business travel can account for less than 5 percent to more than 40 percent of a company’s carbon dioxide emissions. A manufacturer with a local operation will travel less, while a global operation in the services sector will travel more. Going green has its price, and so far more European than American companies have been willing to pay it.

“In terms of businesses actually taking the initiative without regulatory requirement or beyond compliance of regulation, the European Union is in the lead,” said Jonathan Shopley, chief executive of the London-based CarbonNeutral Company, specializing in carbon management strategies for businesses. “The U.S. is starting to catch up, but the companies that are building the costs of carbon into their bottom line now will be more competitive as the cost of carbon rises because of regulation.”

In Europe, carbon emissions are regulated by the Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Scheme, a mandatory cap-and-trade system that applies to major emitters. The plan is meant to meet Europe’s obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States did not sign. Compared with the emissions of a power station, those produced by corporate business travel are relatively small, and efforts to offset emissions are voluntary. In the future, however, the European plan will include more sectors of the economy.

Mr. Shopley thinks that voluntary offsets related to business travel will grow. They reached 5 to 10 million tons of carbon dioxide last year, and he thinks they may reach 50 million tons this year and 100 million the next. But they are a drop in the bucket of world emissions, which will exceed 25 billion tons this year alone. Air travel accounts for 4 to 7 percent of that total, he estimates.

“But given that there is a fair amount of travel within the service sector, which represents a significant proportion of the economy, I think CO2 reductions and offsets in business travel can have a material impact,” Mr. Shopley added.

CarbonNeutral measures a company’s “carbon footprint,” buys the right amount of offsets in renewable energy projects and verifies the reliability of those projects. It charges a fee for its services, and revenues have grown to $4.7 million since the company was founded in 1997.

But businesses stress that buying offsets without reducing the amount of travel will bring little net relief to the problem of climate change. At the same time, travel is often essential, particularly for service companies, many of whom anticipate more travel as they expand globally.

“Business travel is one of the hardest aspects of environmental management,” said Francis Sullivan, HSBC’s environmental adviser. “We do what we can, like not having more than one person at a meeting, and doing online training to limit traveling, but it’s a tough nut to crack,” he said.

At the reinsurance company Swiss Re, business travel accounts for about 50,000 tons of carbon emissions a year, or 45 percent of its total.

“We’ve gone from 2.2 tons to 2.8 tons per employee,” said Andreas Schlaepfer, head of internal environmental management. “And it’s going up, especially in short haul.”

Besides requiring employees to consider telephone and videoconferencing before flying, Swiss Re recently decided to extend the length of short-haul flights that require economy-class tickets by 25 percent, making flying less appealing.

Despite a slow start in the early 1990’s, videoconferencing holds the greatest potential for reducing business travel. British Sky Broadcasting has invested in videoconferencing suites. At Ikea in Sweden, 1 of 10 meetings are being replaced by a videoconference. And Credit Suisse has increased it by 14 percent.

“The two things people have been waiting for, bandwidth and eye contact, are starting to become available,” said Paul Dickinson, the coordinator of the Carbon Disclosure Project, a London-based group of institutional investors that gathers data on emissions from the world’s 500 largest companies. “Videoconferencing can lead the way to reduced carbon business communications.”

With more European companies focusing on cutting emissions from business travel, the travel industry itself has begun to collaborate. In the United States, that trend has been slower to develop. Avis Europe, for example, offers clients the option to make a rental car carbon neutral through its Web site. Avis in the United States, which has different ownership, has no such plans to do so.

Europe’s airlines are the missing piece in the puzzle, and will probably remain so until later this fall, when the European Union Commission will decide on when and how they will be brought into the emissions trading plan. Meanwhile, some companies are beginning to ask airlines to share the costs of carbon neutrality.

British Airways is the only scheduled airline making an offset option available to travelers on its Web site, but not specifically for corporations. Others can be expected to follow suit. “Although we don’t have deals with corporate clients on carbon offsets, it won’t be long before we do, and will likely have significant numbers in a short period of time,” said Paul Marston, a British Airways spokesman.

American airlines have yet to offset carbon emissions, with one exception. In 2002, Nike and Delta Air Lines began an agreement in which both contribute to an offset fund that goes toward local sustainable energy projects. Nike has similar agreements with Hertz and Northwest Airlines. The company offsets 45 percent of its 47,754 tons of carbon emissions from business travel.

Apart from isolated cases, American companies have yet to embrace the idea of offsetting carbon emissions from business travel. But that is changing. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives, based in Virginia, has partnered with CarbonNeutral and the Climate Trust, in Oregon, to spread the word.

For many association members, “reducing the carbon footprint is a new concept, and there is some resistance to the idea, largely based on the idea that carbon reduction in travel is primarily a marketing trend,” said Susan Gurley, the group’s executive director. But the association’s leadership, she added, “sees it differently.”

“We think this is the start of an industrywide philosophical shift, not a passing trend,” Ms. Gurley said.


The Independent (UK): Firm makes mark on the climate

By Martin Hickman


Shoppers will be able to take account of climate when deciding what to buy with the launch of a new mark. Manufacturers who go "carbon neutral" can apply for their labels to feature the Penguin Approved logo, which carries the assurance: "No Global Warming".

Creators of the scheme hope it will emulate the success of the Fairtrade mark for labour standards which now endorses 1,500 products with sales of £195m. Penguin Approved has been devised by Belu, the not-for-profit company that launched Britain's first biodegradeable bottle for its mineral water this summer. More than one million of the corn polymer "bio bottles" have been sold and the water will be the first product to carry the new logo.

Reed Paget, Belu's managing director, is founding a charity to accredit other goods and products and said he had been in talks with two companies, including one in the FTSE 100.

To get approval, producers will have to measure the emissions of greenhouse gases caused by their goods, reduce those emissions over time and offset the remaining under the "Gold Standard" scheme run by the World Wildlife Fund.

Offsetting negates the release of greenhouse gases by preventing, or removing from the atmosphere, the same amount elsewhere, for example through investment in renewable energy. Goods may then be described as carbon neutral.

Shoppers will be able to take account of climate when deciding what to buy with the launch of a new mark. Manufacturers who go "carbon neutral" can apply for their labels to feature the Penguin Approved logo, which carries the assurance: "No Global Warming".

Creators of the scheme hope it will emulate the success of the Fairtrade mark for labour standards which now endorses 1,500 products with sales of £195m. Penguin Approved has been devised by Belu, the not-for-profit company that launched Britain's first biodegradeable bottle for its mineral water this summer. More than one million of the corn polymer "bio bottles" have been sold and the water will be the first product to carry the new logo.

Reed Paget, Belu's managing director, is founding a charity to accredit other goods and products and said he had been in talks with two companies, including one in the FTSE 100.

To get approval, producers will have to measure the emissions of greenhouse gases caused by their goods, reduce those emissions over time and offset the remaining under the "Gold Standard" scheme run by the World Wildlife Fund.

Offsetting negates the release of greenhouse gases by preventing, or removing from the atmosphere, the same amount elsewhere, for example through investment in renewable energy. Goods may then be described as carbon neutral.


Reuters: Stratospheric Sulfur Could Stall Global Warming

By Deborah Zabarenko


WASHINGTON — To stall global warming for 20 years, one climate scientist Thursday proposed lobbing sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, which would work in concert with cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

The sulfur dioxide, a pollutant on Earth, would form sulfate aerosol particles to shade the planet, much as the ash clouds from a major volcanic eruption do, said Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Wigley used computer models to determine that injecting sulfate particles at intervals from one to four years would have about the same cooling power as the 1991 eruption on Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.

His research, published in the journal Science, indicates this approach would work together with cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, which are produced by the burning of fossil fuels.

The idea of injecting sulfates into the stratosphere, some 10 miles above the Earth's surface, was first proposed and quickly rejected three decades ago as a dangerous tinkering with natural processes.

But Wigley said he was prompted to pursue this angle when Paul Crutzen, a Nobel-winning atmospheric chemist, recently suggested a new look at the notion of geoengineering, as this notion is known.


"I'm not suggesting we don't reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for energy," Wigley said in a telephone interview. "I think that that's the only long-term solution to the problem of global warming, we definitely have to do that.

"But ... can we make it economically and technologically easier by doing something that's also technology, which may be cost-effective?"

It would not be cheap, according to Wigley's estimates.

The most sensible way to get sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere would be to send numerous planes -- more than the world's current commercial airline fleet -- to take it there. This might cost hundreds of millions of dollars, he said.

The sulfur dioxide would form small sulfuric acid aerosol droplets. Another method to get these aerosols into the air is the possible addition of sulfur compounds to airplane fuel, which would then form sulfur dioxide, Wigley said.

On Earth, sulfur dioxide contributes to respiratory illness, aggravates heart and lung disease and contributes to acid rain. Power plants and other factories are the biggest producers.

But Wigley said the amount of sulfur dioxide needed for the geoengineering project would probably cause negligible pollution down on Earth's surface, because his model called for less than 10 percent additional sulfur dioxide than is emitted by the burning of fossil fuels.

The technology exists now to put this plan into effect, but studies of economic feasibility are needed, he said. It has the potential to stall global warming for 20 years, to buy time for solutions to the problem, according to Wigley.

"We've got to consider it very seriously because otherwise we might be in for much worse things just due to emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases," he said.


El Financiero (Mexico): NASA revela reducción en la capa perenne del hielo ártico

Washington, 13 de septiembre.-  El hielo perenne del Ártico se redujo en un 14 por ciento entre 2004 y 2005, según datos de la NASA difundidos hoy por el Laboratorio de Propulsión a Chorro (JPL).

Según los investigadores, la pérdida del hielo perenne, que debiera mantenerse durante todo el verano, fue todavía mayor y se acercó a un 50 por ciento en el momento en que ese hielo se desplazaba desde el Artico oriental hacia el oeste.

Según Son Nghiem, investigador del JPL, los cambios que se han registrado en esos años en el hielo ártico "son rápidos y espectaculares".

Añadió que de mantenerse la situación, ésta tendrá un impacto "profundo en el ambiente, así como en el transporte marino y el comercio".

Según el estudio, hecho con datos aportados por el satélite QuikScat de la NASA, la reducción de la capa de hielo perenne, que tiene un grosor de tres o más metros, totaliza 720,000 kilómetros.

Según los Centros Nacionales de Pronóstico Ambiental en Boulder, Colorado, el deshielo se debería a un cambio en los vientos árticos.

Los investigadores señalan en un comunicado del JPL que si se mantiene esta disminución del hielo, el mar circundante aumentará su temperatura, lo que acelerará el deshielo estival que, a su vez, reducirá aún más la capa de hielo ártico.

No obstante, Nghiem advierte de que estos cambios todavía no están bien comprendidos y que persisten muchos interrogantes.

"Es vital que mantengamos una vigilancia estrecha sobre esta región, mediante satélites y datos aportados desde la superficie", señaló.


Libération: Au Vanuatu, mollusques et crustacés jamais vus



Biodiversité. Sur l'île de Santo, une expédition est chargée d'inventorier le vivant.

Vanuatu envoyée spéciale

Un drôle d'écosystème s'est posé sur Espiritu Santo (ou Santo), une des 83 îles du Vanuatu. Inutile d'aller fouiller les plages de sable fin ou les trous bleus aux eaux transparentes : c'est dans un hangar en tôle situé à Luganville, au sud de l'île, que l'on trouve la plupart de ses spécimens. Là, les yeux collés à leur microscope, armés de pincettes et de pipettes, une trentaine de biologistes occupent leurs longues journées à trier mollusques, crustacés, algues... Certains se passionnent pour d'étranges limaces fluorescentes (les nudibranches) ou s'émerveillent des sexes de crabes. D'autres photographient une minuscule bestiole aux yeux bizarrement humains (les strombes). Tous participent à l'expédition Santo 2006. Et tous font partie du module «marin», un des plus importants de la mission avec le module «forêt».

Au coeur de cette ruche, un homme mène ses abeilles ouvrières à la baguette : Philippe Bouchet, directeur de l'unité Taxonomie-collections au Muséum national d'histoire naturelle qui co-organise l'aventure avec l'Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD) et l'ONG Pro-Natura international. Si les expéditions n'ont plus de secret pour lui, l'envergure de Santo 2006 dépasse de loin ses missions précédentes. Rien que pour le module «marin», environ 60 participants venus d'une quinzaine de pays (dont des étudiants du Vanuatu) vont s'activer sur l'île pendant deux mois. L'accent est mis sur toutes les petites bêtes, généralement délaissées par les naturalistes, sur lesquelles le manque de connaissance est le plus flagrant.

«Monde à découvrir».  «Nous sommes au XXIe siècle et il reste une quantité incroyable d'animaux inconnus ! Tout ce monde à découvrir, c'est mon moteur, se justifie Philippe Bouchet qui passe bien plus de temps à gérer la logistique de cette «usine à gaz» qu'à rechercher de nouvelles espèces. «Au rythme actuel des extinctions d'espèces, on a intérêt à se dépêcher d'inventorier le vivant, faute de quoi des espèces disparaissent sans même que l'on s'en rende compte», poursuit le naturaliste de 53 ans.

Ici, on travaille 12 heures par jour, 7 jours sur 7 ! Les bateaux partent vers 7 heures. Certains embarquent des plongeurs chargés d'échantillonner un fond marin bien identifié. D'autres transportent des pêcheurs qui déposent des filets et les récupèrent quelques jours plus tard, grouillant de bêtes. Un autre encore traîne un immense filet sur quelques kilomètres et ramène plusieurs dizaines de kilos de matière, mélange de sable, de vase et d'animaux. A leur retour, c'est l'effervescence. Les scientifiques se précipitent pour voir si leurs bêtes préférées font parties des trouvailles. Puis il faut tout passer au tamis. Réaliser un premier tri entre ce qui est vivant et ce qui est mort, et parmi les vivants, entre les mollusques et les crustacés.

Les différentes espèces sont ensuite étudiées, classées et photographiées avant d'être plongées dans de l'alcool et enfermées dans des boîtes, à destination du Muséum national d'histoire naturelle.

Déjà, une dizaine d'espèces sont estimées «totalement nouvelles» . «Vu la richesse biologique du coin, c'est évident que nous trouverons de nouvelles espèces à Santo, précise Philippe Bouchet. On s'attend à découvrir entre 3 000 et 3 500 espèces de mollusques uniquement au sud de l'île. C'est presque deux fois plus que le nombre d'espèces présentes dans toutes les mers européennes !» 

Pour vérifier cette hypothèse, il suffit d'ailleurs d'entrer dans le labo. En quelques jours , la moisson est impressionnante : un conus gloriamaris ­ cône rarissime et mortel ­, au moins cinq nouvelles espèces de crabes, une moule inédite... Autant de spécimens destinés à passer des eaux chaudes et colorées du Pacifique Sud aux tiroirs sombres et austères de la zoothèque du Muséum.

(1) Qui prépare un ouvrage sur le sujet à paraître fin 2007 aux éditions Belin.


Environment News Service: World Health Organization Backs DDT to Fight Malaria


WASHINGTON, DC, September 15, 2006 (ENS) - The World Health Organization has recommended wider use of the controversial pesticide DDT to battle malaria. WHO officials announced the plan Friday as part of its bid to strengthen efforts to combat the infectious disease, which kills more 1 million people each year.

The new WHO policy calls for more indoor residual spraying of DDT and other insecticides in areas where malaria remains an epidemic and in areas with constant and high malaria transmission.

"The scientific and programmatic evidence clearly supports this reassessment," said Dr Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, WHO assistant director-general for HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. "Indoor residual spraying is useful to quickly reduce the number of infections caused by malaria-carrying mosquitoes. It has proven to be just as cost effective as other malaria prevention measures, and DDT presents no health risk when used properly."

Widespread indoor use of the controversial insecticide was phased out over the past three decades, but the WHO said its analysis shows that DDT is a safe, effective and cheap option for countries struggling to control the deadly disease.

The threat from malaria is most severe for the world's poorest and its most vulnerable. More than 80 percent of the 1 million killed annually live in sub-Saharan Africa and most deaths occur in children under the age of five. The disease also makes 500 million people worldwide acutely ill each year.

Developed during the early 1940s, DDT helped eradicate malaria in the United States and Europe. The WHO launched a plan to battle the disease in 1955 and DDT was at the center of those efforts for three decades. Concerns about the health and environmental effects of the insecticide prompted bans on DDT in many developed countries and in the early 1980s the WHO stop promoting its use.

Views about the use of insecticides for indoor protection from malaria have been changing in recent years. Environmental Defense, which launched the anti-DDT campaign in the 1960s, now endorses the indoor use of DDT for malaria control, as does the Sierra Club and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

But some are unconvinced and believe WHO's change in policy well-intentioned, but misguided.

"Given the well-documented adverse health effects associated with DDT's toxic properties and its persistence, the international community has a social responsibility to reject the use of this chemical and practice sound and safe pest management practices at the community level that prevent insect-borne diseases like malaria," says Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.

"It's about time the international community focused on combating malaria, but this approach takes us in exactly the wrong direction" according to Paul Saoke, director of Physicians for Social Responsibility in Kenya. "DDT is a short-sighted response with long term consequences, and WHO should be helping countries fight malaria with safer and more effective alternatives."

Dr Arata Kochi, director of WHO's Global Malaria Program, said the revised position is based on "the science and the data."

"Of the dozen insecticides WHO has approved as safe for house spraying, the most effective is DDT," Kochi said.

Indoor residual spraying is the application of long-acting insecticides on the walls and roofs of houses and domestic animal shelters in order to kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes that land on these surfaces.

Recent research and testing has demonstrated that well-managed indoor residual spraying programs using DDT pose no harm to wildlife or to humans, the WHO said.

New evidence from India and South Africa, where DDT is used for indoor residual spraying, shows that correct and timely use of indoor residual spraying can reduce malaria transmission by up to 90 percent.

Fourteen countries in sub-Saharan Africa are using indoor residual spraying and 10 of those are using DDT, but these efforts are hampered by a lack of funding - this could change with the WHO's new policy.

The Bush administration praised the WHO decision and pledged to continue support for its plan to help combat malaria.

"I anticipate that all 15 of the country programs of President Bush's $1.2 billion commitment to cut malaria deaths in half will include substantial indoor residual spraying activities, including many that will use DDT," said Admiral Timothy Ziemer, coordinator of the President's Malaria Initiative. "Because it is relatively inexpensive and very effective, USAID supports the spraying of homes with insecticides as a part of a balanced, comprehensive malaria prevention and treatment program. "


Los Angeles Times: BLM Plans to Allow Wilderness Airstrips

By Julie Cart,


Critics fear harm to animals, solitude. Pilots cheer access.

GREAT FALLS, Mont. — When Lewis and Clark navigated flimsy boats beneath the towering sandstone cliffs of what is now Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, their journal entries described eroded bluffs, abundant wildlife and the Great Falls, which Meriwether Lewis reckoned were "truly magnificent and sublimely grand."

Although the Missouri Breaks looks much as it did when the Corps of Discovery came through in 1805, this primitive landscape now contains something the explorers could not have foreseen 200 years ago — airstrips gouged out of sagebrush plateaus.

After decades of ignoring unauthorized takeoffs and landings on the monument's 10 airstrips, the federal Bureau of Land Management is finalizing plans to close four of the airstrips and allow recreational pilots to land small planes on at least six other remote sites in the Breaks' uplands.

The proposal has created a tempest at one of the BLM's most isolated and least-visited outposts. On one side, the Montana Pilots' Assn. hails the plan as a victory for recreational pilots and others who advocate increased access to public lands. Arrayed on the other side is a loose coalition of conservationists, hunters and anglers who say the planes will harass wildlife and could destroy the experience of solitude offered by the rugged landscape.

Some of the landing areas are cut into land managed as wilderness; others are in or near sites the BLM labels as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. All of the landing strips are located in areas used by local ranchers for livestock grazing.

If, as expected, the BLM adopts its proposed 20-year plan for operating the Missouri Breaks, it will be the first time the agency has officially sanctioned recreational use of airstrips in wilderness areas.

Critics of the plan, including the Montana Wildlife Federation, which represents hunters and anglers, would like to see use of the airstrips banned. They say the action will almost certainly increase traffic to the airstrips and pose a threat to wildlife, including deer, elk, antelope and bighorn sheep. Although big-game animals are all legally hunted in the monument, the Montana group says allowing planes to drop well-to-do hunters deep into difficult terrain would put ground-based hunters at a disadvantage.

They also argue that well-maintained airstrips could become staging areas for poachers and note the significant commercial value of bighorn sheep. Montana's annual auction for the single out-of-state bighorn hunting permit it issues each year has fetched as much as $310,000.

Critics say the campaign by pilots to access land deep within the Breaks is motivated not so much by a clamor to use the landing strips there, but rather to establish a precedent.

"I don't think these pilots want to fly in and out of the Breaks," said Will Patric of the Wilderness Society in Bozeman, Mont. "This is a pressure campaign by the Montana Pilots' Assn. to open up more federal public lands to recreational flying activities."

Talking points on the pilots association's website indicate as much: "Getting six airstrips written in the management plan of a new National Monument will be a precedent-setting event."

Pilots readily acknowledge that they are interested in greater access to BLM and Forest Service lands in the region, and they argue that the airstrips, among other things, serve recreationists who are not physically able to hike or even ride in a vehicle for miles to get to backcountry.

Members of the Montana Pilots' Assn. said their activism was intended to forestall more closures and to maintain access to public lands.

"It seems that motorized recreation is the fall guy anymore," said J.C. Kantorowicz, a pilot from Great Falls. "They want to close it all up. What are all of us who enjoy motorized recreation supposed to do? There's no reason to close them because someone in Los Angeles and New York City has an idea that this country out here ought to be completely empty."

Flying small planes into backcountry is common in the West. Increasingly, ranchers and other residents in rural areas use planes to run errands to distant towns, replacing long rides in pickup trucks along unreliable roads. In fact, a number of ranchers around the Breaks have their own small planes and rudimentary airstrips on their ranches.

Still, many ranchers here oppose the proposed BLM plan.

Bill and Ronnie Robinson own the Anchor Ranch and run 500 head of cattle in the monument. Bill Robinson keeps a plane and hangar on his private land, but neither he nor his wife is happy about the idea of sanctioned landing strips on monument land.

"I don't want to see the airstrip in the Breaks," Ronnie Robinson said, sitting at her kitchen table on a hot day recently. "I think it should be protected. I believe the BLM has dropped the ball."

For years, the BLM was unaware that airstrips existed on government land in the monument, even though some of the 10 airstrips are believed to have been established by the BLM 50 or more years ago for firefighting activities.

"Nobody knew they were there, so the first thing we did was to get somebody out there to look at them," said monument manager Gary Slagel. "I wouldn't say we were appalled by them, but we were surprised, and we knew we had to address them in the draft plan."

Slagel understands that allowing six airstrips is controversial but says that the BLM cannot ban an activity unless there is a scientifically proven effect on resources. An analysis concluded that the planes would not bother wildlife, he said.

Dave Mari, the former manager of the BLM's Lewistown Field Office and Slagel's former supervisor, said the agency was under pressure from Montana lawmakers to retain the airstrips in the new management plan.

"If you own an airplane, you are not poor, and you have the ability to make campaign contributions and influence people who have a say," said Mari, who began the planning process before retiring in 2004.

Supporters of the management plan say it adequately protects wildlife. Moreover, the proposal calls for seasonal closures of four of the six authorized airstrips to allow wildlife undisturbed winter range and to protect the bighorn sheep during lambing.

Kantorowicz says that responsible pilots haven't caused problems. "I personally fly over game animals, and they don't run," the Great Falls pilot said. "I can fly over at 50 feet, and they'll look up at me — they don't even move — and then go back to grazing."

Betsy Buffington of the Wilderness Society said the BLM ignored "reams and reams" of scientific data proving that small planes buzzing herds of wildlife was stressful to animals. "In areas where there is no cover, like the Breaks, wildlife run and have no place to hide," she said.

The 375,000-acre Missouri Breaks monument was designated by President Clinton as one of his last official acts, and his Jan. 17, 2001, proclamation noted that the vestige of wild grasslands on the edge of the Great Plains should be preserved for its isolation.

Dyrck Van Hyning, a 63-year-old former Marine officer who served in Vietnam, grew up on a ranch near Lewistown. Missouri Breaks has always been his refuge, he said, a place to retreat where there is no sign of the hand of man at work.

Surveying a graded airstrip in a remote area of the Breaks known as the Bullwhacker, Van Hyning said he understood why pilots want to bypass the predawn trek he undertook to get to this still place.

"People with money, they don't want to drive here. They don't want to hike here. They just want to be here," he said. "But their being here changes it. That's its beauty — it's unchanged."


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