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  Sierra Magazine
  November/December 2004
Table of Contents
 
  FEATURES:
Wild & Whitewashed
Interview: Restaurateur Alice Waters
Who Grows Your Food? (And Why It Matters)
A Tale of Two Immigrants
 
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One Small Step
Lay of the Land
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Lay of the Land

Guns 'n Granola | Stupid Car Tricks | As the World Warms |
Bold Strokes | Bucktooth Brigade | Updates | Innocent Bystanders

Guns 'n Granola
Sportsmen aren't in the GOP's back pocket anymore.

They want to protect wetlands, think the energy industry has too much influence on public-lands decisions, are concerned with mercury levels in rivers, and want the United States to do more to fight global warming. And many of them carry rifles. According to a survey released in July by the National Wildlife Federation, many hunters and anglers are at odds with the Bush administration.

Nearly half of 752 respondents believe the oil and gas industry has the most say with the administration, while only 4 percent say that level of influence is appropriate. Only 30 percent agree with the administration policy of allowing wetlands to be destroyed as long as new wetlands are created elsewhere. And three-quarters of those surveyed believe that the United States should reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

It should be no surprise that sportsmen are among the most ardent conservationists. (Watching the sun rise while holed up in a duck blind on a frigid morning will do that.) Their zeal for protecting wildlife habitat is well-founded: The conservation group Trout Unlimited reports that the best hunting in Idaho and Oregon is in those states' wildest areas.

Even with the Clinton-era roadless rule in effect-which put 58.5 million acres of national-forest land off-limits to roadbuilding-the vast majority of roadless areas are still accessible to hunters on foot or horseback. Under pressure from logging interests, however, the Bush administration has proposed replacing this roadless rule with one that would require each governor to petition for roadless protections on national forests in his or her state.

Many sportsmen assume that they have little in common with environmentalists. Yet the Sierra Club has never opposed guns or hunting-and almost one-fifth of its members identify themselves as hunters or anglers. When quality of wildlife habitat is the issue, the groups find common ground-as the Club and Ducks Unlimited have done to protect California's Central Valley wetlands from sprawl.

Taking the time to reach these predominantly conservative sportsmen is worthwhile: They have clout that enviros can envy. "I don't think [George Bush] cares what the environmental community thinks," NWF board member Jim Martin told the Los Angeles Times, "but he cares what the sportsmen think." Four days after meeting with "hook and bullet" leaders last December, Bush killed a proposal to rewrite the Clean Water Act. The sportsmen convinced him that the plan would have damaged streams and wetlands. They'd probably never consider themselves "tree huggers"-but their concern for natural areas is right on target.
— Reed McManus

On The Web: For more information, go to www.sierraclub.org/huntingfishing.


Stupid Car Tricks
Automobile efficiency according to the EPA.

Here's the Bush EPA's idea of public service: making fun of auto-fuel efficiency. In a new advertisement promoting the agency's Energy Star program, a pleasant but somewhat ditzy couple named Mark and Suzanne have decided to do something about air pollution and global warming.

Mark's approach is first to rig a sail atop his car, then to mount huge microwave dishes on it, then to experiment with helium power, which makes him talk like a cartoon character. Meanwhile his wife learns about efficient household appliances and lightbulbs, because "the EPA says the energy we use in our home can cause twice the greenhouse gases of a car." (www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=news.nr_psa)

But what if, like most American households, Suzanne and Mark have two cars? In that case their automotive and household energy expenditures would be roughly equal. If they bought hybrids, they could cut their auto-energy consumption in half. (It would take a lot of compact fluorescents to do that for a house.) Ideally, of course, we would conserve energy both in the home and on the road. And our environmental officials wouldn't find the idea laughable.
— Paul Rauber


As the World Warms
Signs of a changing planet

The craggy peaks of Italy's Dolomites are crumbling. Hot summers and severe storms have dramatically accelerated thermoelastic erosion, a natural process common in mountainous areas with wide temperature ranges. During the warmer days, ice melts into fissures in the stone. In the night chill, the water refreezes, expanding and cracking the rock. This summer, four major rock formations tumbled from the famous range.

An odd thing happened in the Scottish Isles this summer: seabirds produced scarcely any young. Most of the avian species in this bird-watchers paradise-including guillemots, Arctic terns, and Shetland kittiwakes-depend on sand eels-small, silvery fish that feed on plankton. Scientists believe that the plankton are moving north as ocean temperatures rise, breaking the food chain and leaving the rugged islands' birds too hungry to breed.

Scientists at the United Kingdom's Open University have discovered an unlikely "cure" for global warming: acid rain. According to research published in August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the sulfur in acid rain inhibits the natural production of certain types of wetland microbes that emit methane, a major greenhouse gas. The paper did not address the wisdom of swapping one threat for another.

There's trouble under the sea for corals, mollusks, and other ocean creatures that rely on their hard shells or exoskeletons for protection. Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently calculated that the oceans have absorbed 118 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide-about half the total produced by human activity-since 1800. When the greenhouse gas dissolves in water, it forms carbonic acid, which keeps the animals from forming their calcium-based shells. In lab tests, snail species were shown to lose their shell-growing ability after being exposed to elevated levels of carbon dioxide for just 24 hours.

A finger in the dike won't protect you from global warming. In the Netherlands, where 50 percent of the land lies below sea level, architects have begun designing houses that will rise when the waters do. Generally made of wood and aluminum, some rest on floating platforms, while others are built on-but not anchored in-the ground. The idea is expected to catch on quickly in Europe's most densely populated country; some of the new amphibious developments already have a waiting list. — Jennifer Hattam


Bold Strokes
Smart Economics

Nature's bounty is a little safer in Canada: The nation's highest court ruled in June that companies that degrade protected areas and other natural resources can be held financially responsible-and that nonmarket values like watershed health and clean air must be included in calculating what they owe. The precedent-setting decision concerned a timber company that had caused a forest fire in British Columbia and was sued by the province for the loss of both salable timber and ecosystem health.

Web Weed Whacker
Farmers and gardeners in Pennsylvania can now get nontoxic pest-control advice at the punch of a few computer keys. At Penn State University's "Pest Problem Solver" Web site (http://paipm. cas.psu.edu), maps and timetables alert growers to where and when pesky insects and weeds will emerge so they can plan earth-friendly pest management accordingly. The site also lists natural pest-control methods for a cornucopia of produce, from asparagus to watermelon, and offers links to Web sites of other integrated pest-management programs nationwide.
— Marilyn Berlin Snell


Bucktooth Brigade

Long before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began to manage the hydrology of this country, an army of humble, unpaid civil servants had that same function: beavers. At the time of European contact, some 60 million to 400 million North American beavers had helped create a lush landscape of riffling streams and wet meadows that would be unrecognizable today.

Then came the haberdashers. By the turn of the 20th century, the European lust for felt hats and fur coats had almost made the North American beaver extinct. But thanks to reintroduction efforts beginning in the 1940s, and newer trapping regulations in some states, beavers are back on the job. In a remarkable recovery, 6 million to 12 million beavers now inhabit streams and rivers from the Canadian Rockies to northern Mexico, where they haven't been seen in generations.

That's good news for a nation where water supply and quality are shaping up to be major challenges. While other natural wetlands are diminishing, the ponds and marshes that form behind beaver-made dams are increasing in acreage; they harbor hundreds of species, from songbirds and herons to muskrat and moose. "Beavers have become a natural restoration tool in many degraded riparian systems, especially in the arid western states," says Bruce Baker, a wildlife scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The beaver's comeback has not been without conflict. Beavers can cause flooding and wreak occasional havoc, as an overeager colony did in 1999 by felling cherry trees in the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. But beleaguered landowners and municipalities are finding ploys to limit potential damage, such as painting tree trunks, or installing flow devices that lower pond levels without breaching the beavers' dams. "It's beginning to sink in that beavers manage water pretty well," says Sharon Brown, a biologist with the New York-based advocacy group Beavers: Wetlands and Wildlife. And we don't even have to pay them.
— Elaine Robbins


Updates

FOREST SERVICE FIREBUGS A central feature of the Bush administration's "Healthy Forests" program is the logging of remote, often roadless forest areas in the name of fire suppression. But in August, U.S. District Court Judge Morrison England Jr. invalidated a timber sale in California's Tahoe National Forest after the Sierra Club and Earth Island's John Muir Project proved that the logging operation would actually increase fire danger, by leaving large amounts of flammable debris. (See "Lay of the Land," September/October 2003.)

"Even the Forest Service's own studies indicate that over 30 to 40 tons of small-diameter fuel [per acre] on the forest floor creates 'extreme fire hazard,' " England wrote. "By [the Forest Service's] own estimate, as much as 85 tons of flammable surface fuel will be present after the logging has been completed...[S]uch an increased risk is clearly not in the public interest."

ENDANGERED HUMMER? As gas prices continue to soar, car buyers are connecting the dots. Sales of the Ford Expedition, which gets 16 miles per gallon, dipped 23 percent in August, and Excursion sales dropped by 44 percent. Sales of General Motors' Hummer H2, which gets 13 mpg, are off 27 percent this year. (See "Lay of the Land," September/October 2003, page 19.) Meanwhile, Ford says that 30,000 people have expressed interest in its Escape Hybrid SUV, and Toyota has 22,000 buyers on a waiting list for its 45- mpg hybrid Prius.

STICKING IT TO NONSTICK Thanks to the efforts of the Environmental Working Group to shed light on the dangers of the chemical components of Teflon coating, the EPA is seeking what may be the largest environmental fine in history from DuPont. The agency charges that DuPont withheld for decades information about birth defects stemming from perfluorooctanoic acid (a.k.a. PFOA or C-8), a key component of Teflon. (See "Hearth & Home," September/October, page 20.) Total fines may run in the hundreds of millions of dollars, dwarfing EPA's previous record of $30 million levied against Koch Industries for oil spills.

On The Web: For more news every weekday, visit /scoop.


Innocent Bystanders
Our national parks are threatened by repeal of the roadless rule

Two dozen national parks and monuments could see industrial development on their borders if the Bush administration succeeds in reversing protections for wild areas in our national forests. According to the nonprofit national-park watchdog group Campaign to Protect America's Lands, one-fifth of the roadless areas now threatened with logging, drilling, and mining either border or are near national parks, including Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and the Blue Ridge Parkway-parks visited by 43 million Americans each year.

In addition, 163 miles of the Appalachian Trail pass directly through now-endangered roadless areas. Instead of unspoiled vistas and clear streams, future hikers and park visitors could experience panoramas of clearcuts, waterways choked with sediment, and sharply reduced wildlife populations.

In July, the Forest Service opened the door to mayhem when it announced a major revision to the Clinton-era protections for roadless areas, opening these wild forest regions to development (see page 8). "This latest move adds another chapter to the encyclopedia of insults and abuses the Bush administation has heaped on our parks," says Campaign director Peter Altman. Interior secretary Gale Norton, he says, is duty-bound to protect the national parks, and thus should be opposing the new Bush rules.

Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, have mounted a new effort to flood the Forest Service with public comments in support of protection. (Two million comments, overwhelmingly in favor of preservation, were filed in past rounds.) While the initial process included 600 public hearings, however, the Bush revision offered not a single one.
— P.R.


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