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The five islands in Channel Islands National Park, off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, are a state treasure: Despite such close proximity to heavily populated Southern California, they have remained relatively undeveloped. There are 2,000 species of plants and animals in the park, 145 of them unique to the islands.

But now a squatly menace has them all under siege. Feral pigs, brought to the archipelago in 1853, are the only holdovers from the islands' ranching days, which ended in 1990. Herds of cattle, horses and sheep have also left their mark on the chain, but the four-legged rototillers on Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the islets, have had the greatest impact--even on neighboring Santa Rosa and San Miguel, where there are no pigs.

"We want to be pig-free," proclaims Diane Divine of The Nature Conservancy. Approximately 4,000 pigs are rooting up endemic flora like the island oaks and manzanita groves, and they've also lured mainland-based golden eagles, which have in turn discovered that the endemic island fox is as easy a kill as a piglet. "Golden eagles are making day trips over to the islands," says Tim Coonan, terrestrial biologist for the park service. "They're decimating the fox populations on Santa Rosa and San Miguel."

The feral pig population will be hunted until they've been extirpated. Nearby Santa Rosa Island took a year and a half, from 1991 to 1992, to eradicate its pigs. Eliminating them from the entire park will cost an estimated $1 million.

Kate Faulkner, chief of resource management for the Channel Islands National Park, says the Santa Rosa pigs were wiped out with a force of gun-toting wildlife biologists; a similar method may be used on Santa Cruz. Stephanie Boyles, a wildlife biologist representing the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), says that the group hasn't taken a position on the Channel Islands plan, but has opposed Nature Conservancy eradication efforts when they involve the use of painful snares.

Years of overgrazing have taken a toll on the fragile native ecosystem, but there is hope in reclaiming the islands. "I feel we've gone from an era of ranching to an era of restoration," says Faulkner. CONTACT: Channel Islands National Park, (805)658-5711,

--Chuck Graham


The water-saving benefits of many aging low-flow toilets are spiraling down the drain. According to a new University of Arizona study, poor design and the tinkering of do-it-yourself plumbers have reduced the toilets' effectiveness.

Subject to potshots by Jerry Seinfeld and other comedians because of their dubious flushing performance, low-flow toilets became mandatory in the U.S. in 1994. They're supposed to use less than 1.6 gallons per flush. But nearly 27 percent of the toilets surveyed in the Tucson area used more than 2.2 gallons per flush. About 14 percent required double flushing at least once a day, and 12 percent had recurring leaks. Although the researchers remain supportive of low-flow toilets, their findings play into an ongoing debate in Congress, in which some lawmakers want the federal government to stop regulating toilet design.

Because toilet bowls typically use more water than any other home fixture, the discovery that they are flushing more than expected may mean that water utilities' long-range planning is out of kilter with actual water use. "Most of them work just fine when they're new," says report co-author Gary Woodard. "But as they get older, a significant number do develop one or more problems."

After passage of the 1.6-gallon standard, most toilet manufacturers simply fiddled with the inner workings of their 3.5-gallon tanks. Two popular techniques were to use "early close" flush-valve flappers that shut quickly, or to install a "toilet dam" that retained water in the tank and reduced the amount of water flushed. Time and consumer ignorance can reduce these toilets' effectiveness. With a sharp pair of scissors, for example, consumers can easily trim the plastic toilet dam and increase the water flow. And when the "early close" flappers wear out, many consumers wind up installing a standard flapper that flushes 3.5 gallons.

Plumbing industry officials blame the federal government for rushing implementation of the 1.6-gallon standard. "Toilet design hadn't changed much in years and years, and then all of a sudden the federal government said, "Change everything and do it yesterday," says Claudia Harris, director of government relations for the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association.

Many environmental groups continue to champion low-flow toilets, because of the incredible potential for water savings. And they say the problems are overblown. According to the Conservation Law Foundation, "Although a number of well-documented studies have demonstrated that the ultra low-flow toilets have equal or better performance than older toilets, the trade is stubbornly resistant."

The industry says that the newest low-flow models function well and that improved toilet standards should be adopted later this year. CONTACT: Conservation Law Foundation, (617)350-0990,

--Mitch Tobin


Will Chicago become the world's first urban bioreserve? It's beginning to look that way. The Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, which helps local government units with land planning, has put biodiversity recovery at the center of its development policy. The Commission now asks local planners to consider both environmental protection and biodiversity recovery as they review drafts for housing developments and new roads. No other U.S. city can boast of such a policy.

During 2000, the Commission's Dennis Dreher worked full time to broaden official thinking in the region. "Community leaders are often business people," he explains, "so we approach them pragmatically. We demonstrate that preserving open space today means higher property values tomorrow, more tax revenues and a better life. We show them successful programs from this area--things they can do."

The Chicago region, comprising six counties in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, is blessed with 1,500 native plant species and 200,000-plus acres of protected conservation land. But much of this habitat is fragmented, polluted or invaded by alien plants.

In 1996, 34 government agencies, conservation groups and educational organizations joined forces to create a plan for restoring regional biodiversity. This coalition--called Chicago Wilderness--wrote a 192-page "Biodiversity Recovery Plan." The plan recommends broad actions like acquiring more land to connect habitat fragments and managing water resources but also specifies 141 actions that government, developers and landowners can take to protect natural communities and restore them to health. Today's Chicago Wilderness is 124 organizations strong.

"Chicago Wilderness is now a partner in regional discussions about sensible growth, clean air and similar issues," says Tim Sullivan, deputy director of the Brookfield Zoo and a member of the task force that wrote the document. "We have a blueprint for priorities now, a roadmap to follow."

Laurel Ross, Chicago-area director of The Nature Conservancy, chairs the coordinating group that does day-today work at Chicago Wilderness. "Everyone here put organizational and personal agendas aside to pursue the goal of biodiversity recovery. Instead of competing for members and grants, conservation groups are cooperating. We've made a larger pie and everybody shares in the glory." CONTACT: Chicago Wilderness, (708)485-0263,

--Victor M. Cassidy


"You can't see the 42-inch, high-density plastic pipes from the top of Cornell University's McGraw Tower, but they're there, snaking up Ithaca's trademark gorges to "the campus on the hill." Filled with water drawn from the icy depths of Cayuga Lake, the pipes make Cornell's experimental air conditioning initiative, Lake Source Cooling (LSC), possible.

Anyone who has ever discovered an open window in winter knows that heat flows naturally toward cooler areas. The $60 million LSC system is based entirely on this principle. After being sucked up from the frigid reservoir at the bottom of Cayuga Lake, water is pumped to a heat exchange facility, where the lake pipes meet and wrap around a second set from a closed loop that serves the Cornell campus. Elementary transfer of heat occurs between the two sets of pipes without traditional chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigeration or the energy that produces it. The newly chilled water is then pumped up the hill to air-condition the campus and the now tepid lake water is dumped back into a shallow discharge zone at Cayuga Lake's southern shore.

According to the University's official LSC website, the project "saves enough fossil-fuel energy to power a fifth of all the households in the City of Ithaca (roughly 2,000 homes), reduces local air pollution from power generation, speeds the elimination of ozone-depleting refrigerants, and provides unprecedented insight into the ecology of Cayuga Lake."

But critics--many of whom learned their biology at Cornell--remain unconvinced. Although limnologists have steadfastly maintained that LSC has "no discernable impact" on Cayuga Lake and is equivalent to only four to five hours of sunlight a year, many residents feel betrayed that the University is using their lake as a guinea pig for the world's first inland lake cooling project.

And their concerns might be valid. Four weeks after LSC went online, rhizoclonium, a previously undocumented algae in the lake, bloomed in an area roughly the size of a football field near the discharge zone. "I don't know why the rhizoclonium has suddenly appeared," says Rich DePaolo, spokesperson for the Cayuga Lake Defense Fund (CLDF), "but the only thing that's changed in the lake for the past 30 years is the introduction of LSC."

Lanny Joyce, Cornell's senior mechanical engineer in charge of LSC, dismisses the critics' concerns. "It's too bad the CLDF doesn't recognize the science behind the project," he argues. "The group is creating all these doomsday scenarios that are completely unfounded." CONTACT: Cornell University Utilities Department, (607)255-6631,; CLDF, (607)275-9054,

--Devin Smith


The peregrine falcon is the fastest bird in the world, and can travel the length of a football field in a single second diving for prey. The spectacle is no longer reserved for country skies, however. Peregrines are responding to the city's siren song and thriving in urban environments.

"There have been peregrines nesting on man-made structures for as long as we can remember," says Bill Burnham, president of the Peregrine Fund, the organization that initiated the recovery effort 30 years ago. Tall city buildings resemble cliffs and offer similar advantages: a perch for hunting and protection from enemies. Cities also offer a steady supply of sparrows, starlings and pigeons, the peregrine's favorite meal.

Although falcons face the same city hazards as other birds, including power lines and mirrored glass, common wilderness threats are obviously less of a problem. The purpose of the first city release, at the Smithsonian's Castle in Washington, D.C., was not so much habitat loss as "to avoid predators, specifically raccoons and great horned owls," Burnham says.

"Peregrines are extremely successful in the city," says Mark Martell, coordinator of conservation projects for the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota. "Probably any city of any size in the U.S. within peregrine range has at least one pair."

Evidence that city residents cherish them can be found in the abundance of "falcon cams" on the Internet. Other organizations monitor their peregrines via closed-circuit TV. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, pipes peregrine activity into the clinic for the enjoyment of patients and staff. Wisconsin Public Service's Pulliam Plant in Green Bay has a monitor in the employee lunchroom that offers a close-up view of a rooftop nest.

The delight humans seem to take in accommodating peregrines is crucial to the birds' survival. "One of the big things urban peregrines require is the tolerance, if not active involvement, of people," Martell says. He notes, however, that the birds are very territorial and will not tolerate humans anywhere near their young.

Peregrine Fund founder Tom Cade estimates there are now probably 150 urban peregrine pairs. CONTACT: Peregrine Fund, (208)362-3716, Peregrine cams can be found watching birds at these locations, among others: The Rhodes State Office Tower in Columbus, OH, www.dnr.state.; The Rachel Carson State Office Building in Harrisburg, PA,; The Landmark on the Lake apartment building in Milwaukee, WI,; The Northern States Power Company on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, MN,

--Joanne Rideout
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Title Annotation:news about various environmental topics
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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