Gray Wolf in Eastern U.S. May Come Off Endangered List / U.S. States Could Get More Power to Build Roads in National Forests / Concerns About Underwater 'Dead Zones'
This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty. And I'm Sarah Long. Coming up this week: gray wolves in the eastern United States may come off the endangered list.
Another proposal in Washington would give states more power to decide about road building in national forests.
And, a report on underwater "dead zones."
Government scientists in the United States say populations of the eastern gray wolf have returned to healthy levels in several states. As a result, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service says the time has come to remove this animal from the list of endangered species.
Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in nineteen-seventy-three. At that time, the population of eastern gray wolves was down to a few hundred in Minnesota and Michigan. Historically, the eastern gray wolf populated a large number of states, including the New England area of the Northeast.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced the proposal to remove the eastern gray wolf from the endangered list. Placement on the list provides special protections for animals and plants at risk of going out of existence.
A count in Minnesota in nineteen-ninety-eight reported more than two-thousand-four-hundred gray wolves. The government says Michigan and Wisconsin together have almost seven-hundred.
Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin are in the Great Lakes area. Federal officials say all three states have plans in place to support the long-term survival of their gray wolf populations. These animals are also known as timber wolves because they live mainly in forests.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will accept public comments until November on its proposed action.
Criticism surfaced immediately. The Wolf Conservation Center in New York says the recovery is just beginning. That group says what has been gained in the numbers of eastern gray wolves could quickly be lost.
An expert on wolf recovery from the National Wildlife Federation also denounced the proposal. Peggy Struhsacker says the plan would threaten efforts to return wolf populations in the northeastern states. She says wolves are needed there to help keep populations of the animals they hunt, like deer and moose, in balance.
The action under the Endangered Species Act would only affect gray wolves in the eastern United States. Special protections would continue for populations of western and southwestern gray wolves.
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In January of two-thousand-one, President Bill Clinton signed a policy called the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. He signed it shortly before he left office. The rule made it illegal to build roads in about twenty-four million hectares of national forests. The goal was to restrain the cutting of trees by the wood products industry. The rule covered almost one-third of the national forest system.
The government has faced legal action ever since the rule took effect. Timber companies argue that the rule is unfair and hurts business. A number of states also have gone to court. They say they should have more power to make decisions about forests within their states.
Now the Clinton administration rule may be coming to the end of its road.
This month, the Bush administration moved to replace the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman proposed a new rule. She made the announcement in Idaho, one of the states that have most strongly protested the current rule. Mizz Veneman said endless lawsuits do not represent progress for communities. She said the new rule she proposed would lead to more cooperation between state and federal officials.
Most roadless areas in national forests are in the West. Twelve states contain ninety-seven percent of all the roadless areas in the national forests.
The Agriculture Department says the proposed rule establishes a process for governors to work with the Forest Service. It says the purpose is to develop locally supported rules for conserving roadless areas. State governors could ask for areas to be kept roadless. They could also request permission to develop areas of national forests.
Timber companies and leaders in several states praised the new proposal. Governor Dick Kempthorne of Idaho appeared with Mizz Veneman as she made the announcement. He said the proposal creates a process that honors the independence of states.
Environmental defense groups have their own opinion of the proposed new rule. Tim Preso is a lawyer with Earthjustice. That organization is defending the Clinton administration rule in a number of cases. Mr. Preso says national forests belong to all Americans. He says state governors should not be able to go against the people's interest in protecting those forests.
Americans have until September to comment on the proposed rule before a final version is published.
"Dead zones" are areas of water starved of oxygen. These areas are produced by pollution or natural causes. The United Nations Environment Program says there are almost one-hundred-fifty dead zones in oceans and seas around the world.
Dead zones return year after year. They often develop in deep water close to shore. Usually they are found in water that differs in temperature or salt content from surface to bottom.
Normal numbers of fish may live near the surface of a dead zone. But deep down, the fish lack enough oxygen. They leave the dead zone if they can. Shellfish that cannot escape the zone fast enough can die. So may other creatures that live on the bottom of the sea.
Experts say these dead zones are a threat to fish supplies and to the people who depend on them.
Earlier this year the U.N. Environment Program released its first "Global Environment Outlook Year Book." It says oxygen-starved areas in coastal waters have been expanding since the nineteen-sixties. It says there are two times as many as there were in nineteen-ninety.
The U.N. Environment Program says the causes of dead zones can differ from place to place around the world. The causes can include agricultural and human wastes and air pollution from the burning of fuel.
One of the largest dead zones is in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana in the southern United States. Oxygen loss in the Gulf of Mexico can begin as early as February. And it can last until the middle of fall.
Scientists say nitrogen carried into the Gulf of Mexico from agricultural lands is mainly responsible. One report says an area of about twenty thousand square kilometers in the Gulf is affected now.
The Mississippi River carries freshwater into the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi is the largest river in the United States. It passes by many agricultural areas.
Nitrogen increases the growth of algae in water. Algae is a single-celled organism, a rootless green plant. But a lot of algae can make an ocean or lake look like a forest.
When algae die, they fall to the ocean floor. Bacteria then eat the remains. These bacteria take most of the oxygen from the deepest levels.
Federal environmental officials say pollution from drilling for oil and natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico might worsen the dead zone. Gannett News Service reported this month that some permits for new drilling have been delayed because of these concerns. A three-year study of the issue is planned.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Caty Weaver and Jerilyn Watson. Cynthia Kirk was our producer. This is Bob Doughty. And this is Sarah Long.. Join us again next week for more news about science, in Special English, on the Voice of America.