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Bio Watch.

Trees Totaled

THAILAND -- Trees are dying along the route of the Yadana gas pipeline, a project sponsored by oil companies Unocal, Total, and Premier. Local environmentalists report that the dead and dying trees stretch for about three miles (five kilometers) in a critical watershed. Apichart Kaosaard, head of the Department of Forest Resources at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, told the Bangkok Post that, if Left untreated, the problem would keep spreading until the forest Loses its "evergreen characteristics."

It's a Fish-Eat-Fish World

US -- Aquaculture was supposed to be the answer to declining wild fish stocks, but a report in the journal Nature revealed that fish farms have become a major threat to sea life. According to the report, the fast-growing aquaculture industry has actually increased the demand for wild mackerel and anchovies, which are ground into meal to feed farm fish. "For every pound of farm salmon produced, two to five times that amount of ocean fish are caught to feed them," Nature reports. It takes about three pounds of wild-caught fish to grow one pound of shrimp.

The $6 billion aquaculture industry has more than doubled in the Last decade, with more than 25 percent of fish consumed worldwide now being farm-raised. The report recommended a shift to farming vegetarian fish such as catfish, tilapia, or filter-feeders such as scallops, mussels, and oysters. Aquacultural wastes (water filled with feces, food, and antibiotics) should be treated before release into the oceans, and fish-farm ponds should not replace mangroves and other coastal wetlands. "Aquaculture is so important to our future," said co-author Prof. Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University. "It is critical that we do it right."

US Company Poisons Peruvians

PERU -- On June 14, a truck from the Minera Yanacocha gold mine in northern Peru spilled 250 pounds of mercury near a remote Andean village. The Minera Yanacocha mine is managed by the US-based Newmont Corporation. Peruvian newspapers reported that 47 people, including several children, were poisoned by the spill and several became seriously ill. Newmont, the biggest gold producer in North America, holds a 51 percent interest in Minera Yanacocha. This single mine accounts for about 40 percent of Peru's total output of gold.

Nature in Widespread Decline

GERMANY -- The spiraling decline of the world's ecosystems due to increased resource demands could have devastating implications for human development and the welfare of all species, according to a new report.

The report, World Resources 2000-2001: People and Ecosystems: The Fraying Web of Life, is the result of a two-year effort by 175 scientists from the World Resources Institute (WRI), the United Nations Development Program, the UN Environment Program, and the World Bank, and chronicles a litany of environmental warning signs.

Half of the world's wetlands and nearly as much forestland were Lost in the Last century. Fishing fleets are 40 percent Larger than the ocean can sustain, and nearly 70 percent of the world's major marine fish stocks are overfished or at their biological Limit. Soil degradation has affected two-thirds of the world's agricultural Lands in the last 50 years. Dams, diversions, or canals fragment almost 60 percent of the world's Largest rivers. Twenty percent of the world's freshwater species are either extinct, threatened (including at Least 10,000 freshwater fish species) or endangered globally.

"There are considerable signs that the capacity of ecosystems -- the biological engines of the planet -- to produce many of the goods and services we depend on is rapidly declining," said WRI's Norbert Henninger at the World Exposition in Hannover. "As our ecosystems decline, we are also racing against time."

The report says that governments must view the sustainability of ecosystems as essential to human Life and adopt an "ecosystems approach" to managing the world's critical resources. This means evaluating decisions on the use of resources in Light of how they affect the capacity of ecosystems to produce goods and services.

"We must re-think how we measure and plan economic growth," said Henninger. "For too Long our development priorities have focused on how much humanity can take from our ecosystems, without too much thought on how it impacts the biological basis of our Lives."

A summary of the report and information on how to order copies are available at

Put Your Money Where Your Mouse Is

US -- Lab mice may be breathing a bit easier after Learning that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has given a chemical testing company a $200,000 grant to promote the use of human cells instead of Live animals in chemical safety tests. PETA's unprecedented grant went to Maryland-based In Vitro Sciences, Inc, which uses a cytosensor to record the chemical damage to individual human cells.

The Washington Post reports that this 20 minute test "is more accurate than squirting material in an animal's eye." Although biotech companies routinely use human cells to develop drugs, the cosmetics industry remains wedded to the use of animal testing. According to In Vitro's Rodger D. Curren, "Animal rights groups are saying you've got to solve this torture, and companies are saying we want to use this [human cell tests] but the government won't let us."

Logging Ban Saves Forest

GABON -- Logging will no Longer be allowed in Gabon's 1,900-square-mile Lope Reserve, which hosts the world's biggest concentration of Large mammals in a tropical rainforest. The Wildlife Conservation Society has signed an agreement with the Gabon government to protect and extend the boundaries of the reserve. The deal involved a trade-off allowing Loggers access to a Less biologically diverse area. The Lope Reserve may soon be declared a national park.

Halt that Highway

VIETNAM -- Plans to build a north-south highway along the route of the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail have been blocked by Vietnamese environmentalists and forestry officials, who say that the planned route would endanger 19 protected forests and several endangered animals, including the Delacour's langur.

The road would have bisected the Cuc Phuong National Park, a stretch of forest so revered that the Vietnamese studiously avoided using it to transport or hide troops or weapons during what they call the "American War." Another section of the road would have cut through the Phong Nha Nature Reserve in Quang Binh Province.

A global appeal Led by the Worldwide Fund for Nature warns that the proposed Ho Chi Minh Highway would "encourage massive agricultural encroachment, illegal Logging, firewood extraction, and hunting of protected species."

The Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists has called on the government to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment, as required under the Convention on Biodiversity that Vietnam ratified in 1994. As InterPress Service reporter Nguyen Nam Phuong noted, "The army is known to be involved in limestone exploitation. Smoother transport links would mean more lucrative gains."

Genetically Silenced Spring

UK -- European skylark populations have fallen by as much as 90 percent over the past 25 years, and the introduction of genetically altered crops (GACs) may finish them off, according to the journal Science. Skylarks are only one of a number of songbirds threatened by crops engineered to resist the increased use of herbicides, which allows farmers to practice "chemical clearcutting" of non-engineered plants. Among the "weeds" that would be eradicated are Lamb's Quarters and other seed-bearing plants that the birds feed on. If GACs are widely adopted, the impact on seed-eating songbirds could be "severe."

Goodbye Colobus

US -- In September, biologists announced that the Waldron's red cotobus monkey, a denizen of the rainforests of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, has been driven to extinction by human hunters and loggers. The journal Conservation Biology noted that the disappearance marked the first time since the early 1700s that a primate (a member of the same taxonomic group as humans) had become extinct. Conservation Biology warned that the fate of the colobus "may be the first obvious manifestation of an extinction spasm that will soon affect other Large animals in this region."

Biodiversity: It's a Blast

CHINA -- Each year, the "blast" fungus spoils millions of tons of rice and costs farmers billions of dollars in losses. Now farmers in Yunan Province have managed to overcome the fungus and double their production at no cost and without chemicals. Instead of planting a monocutture of tall rice, the farmers alternated with rows of short, blast-resistant rice. Exposed to more sunshine, the tall rice has grown even taller.

"People have said that these kinds of ecological approaches wouldn't work on a commercial scale," Cornell University agricultural ecologist Alison Power told the New York Times. But with tens of thousands of farmers now using this technique on 100,000 acres, Power noted, "This is a huge scale."

"There's been quite a push by the agrotech industry to market genetically homogenous crops," University of Washington ecologist Shahid Naeem told the Times, but the Yunan biodiversity experiment proves that "there are some really simple things we can do in the field to manage crops."

Can a Mouse Save a Parrot?

MEXIC0 -- At one time, the US had two native parrot species. The Carolina parakeet went extinct in the 1920s and the Mexican thick-billed parrot was displaced by logging in the 1930s. Pronatura, Mexico's Largest conservation group, and the Wildlands Project of Tucson, Arizona, hope to finance the purchase of a 6,0O0-acre parrot preserve in northern Mexico's Sierra Madre Mountains. Once this habitat is secured, Thick-billed Parrots will be transplanted to their old haunts in the Sky Islands of Arizona and New Mexico.

Anyone with access to the Internet can help. By visiting the Ecologyfund website [] and clicking on one of the "Donate Land for Free" buttons, 35 square feet of Mexican wilderness will be preserved using money from six corporate sponsors. Clicking on all of the program buttons can save 292 square-feet of wilderness everyday. Since its February debut, EcologyFund has saved more than two square miles in the US, Canada, Patagonia, and the Amazon.

The Ozone Hole Sets a Record

KENYA -- On September 14, the United Nations and the UN Environment Program celebrated the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer. The celebrations were somewhat muted by the discovery that the annual ozone hole over the South Pole had swelled to a record 11 million square mites (28.3 million square kilometers) -- 37 percent larger than the year before.

The human population centers most at risk from skin cancer and cataracts caused by the increased UV radiation are Ushuaia, Argentina (the world's southernmost city) and Sodankyla, Finland (the northernmost). Scientists attributed the record-setting hole to "unusually intense stratospheric air currents" in the Arctic Vortex, which raises the possibility that climate change may have played a role.

California's Logging and Montana's Fires

US -- Missing from the controversy over western forest fires is the story of water's migration from the temperate forests of the Pacific Coast to the dry inland forests of the Rockies, and the rote that West Coast logging is clearly having in the overall Loss of precipitation inland.

The basics of the water cycle are simple. When rain falls on bare ground, most of it runs off. When it falls on forest, more of it gets trapped. This water is absorbed up through the roots and stems of trees into their branches, needles, and leaves. Eventually it is released back into the atmosphere, where it provides moisture for local forest dew and replenishes passing clouds that carry it further downwind.

Thus, the forest acts as a powerful and far-flung aerial irrigation system, pumping water skyward. Logging removes these pumps and disrupts the natural irrigation system.

In a forested area, about one-third of the rainfall runs off toward the sea, and the other two-thirds is retained. About half of the captured rain eventually flows back to the sea, stabilizing stream flows. The rest enters the atmosphere as downwind precipitation.

Logging turns these ratios upside down. A Logged forest loses two-thirds of its initial rainfall to run-off, leaving only half of the remaining third (half as much as a non-logged forest) to recharge the clouds and streams.

The net effect is a redistribution of water wealth that results in a shortage in downwind areas. A paper by two US Forest Service hydrologists summarized the situation succinctly: "Deforestation desiccates the atmosphere."

Lance Olsen is the former director of the Great Bear Foundation, PO Box 2699, Missoula, MT 59806.
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Author:Olsen, Lance
Publication:Earth Island Journal
Geographic Code:0JINT
Date:Dec 22, 2000
Previous Article:Making Waves.

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