Tuesday, December 30, 2003


Editorial: Deck stacked against wildlife When federal agencies are weighing whether to permit oil and gas drilling in sensitive areas, they depend on the Colorado Division of Wildlife to help them understand how the development will affect wild animals. It's crucial that the feds get accurate and objective data, even if the information shows that drilling in some places would be unwise. So it's distressing that Gov. Bill Owens' administration repeatedly has diluted and squelched comments from wildlife experts. As a result, Colorado has sent federal agencies one-sided, pro-development messages...Forest Service moving ahead with Ketchikan sale The U.S. Forest Service is moving ahead with a timber sale near Ketchikan that could lead to the first 10-year timber contract in the Tongass National Forest, the agency said Tuesday. The Forest Service denied an appeal from two environmental groups and will allow the Licking Creek sale to proceed...No quick, easy or inexpensive fixes for forest The San Bernardino National Forest is clinging to life. Besieged by drought and billions of tree-killing bark beetles, ravaged by historic wildfires and recently beset by flash floods and mudslides, half a million acres in the forest have seen an unprecedented environmental crisis in the past 12 months. But with the advent of 2004 comes hope among forest managers, scholars and lawmakers that the forest's woes - the culmination of a century of neglect and mismanagement - will finally be addressed... Eco-communes The mountain hut concept, developed in the 19th century, centers on communal rather than scattershot living. In the Alps, hundreds of structures dot the backcountry, providing access in areas otherwise off-limits to thousands of people. In North America such structures are relatively scarce, in part because backpackers here tend to seek out isolation. But the collective wear and tear of backcountry camping, along with the strain on wilderness from the rise in adventure travel, is driving a push for more huts. Serving as wilderness base camps, the huts also become a reservoir for important safety, weather and educational information...Sand dunes emerging as major environmental battleground A small, broom-like plant found only in the dunes of California's Imperial Valley has turned this vast and desolate landscape into one of the nation's unlikeliest environmental battlegrounds. The fight pits those trying to protect the fragile habitat of the Pierson's milkvetch against the huge crowds of off-roaders headed to the Algodones Dunes to ring in the New Year by driving and partying in the desert. The plant, which is protected by the powerful Endangered Species Act, is keeping dune riders out of an area 31/2 times the size of Manhattan. Off-roaders say the milkvetch is emblematic of what's wrong with the Endangered Species Act, which celebrated its 30th birthday Sunday. They contend it locks up huge areas of public land with what they call bad science about endangered species...Lots of time, money spent on wolves, grizzlies Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioners spent a lot of time, effort and money in 2003 managing two federally-listed endangered species -- the grizzly bear and the gray wolf. Both species are well on their way towards delisting, according to agency officials. Much of the commission's efforts in 2003 dealt with trying to speed up the process of removing the animals' listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), while at the same time searching for new funding sources to manage the animals... Endangered Species Act turns 30, faces challenges The imposing bald eagle and the tiny Southwestern willow flycatcher illustrate the debate swirling around the Endangered Species Act as it turns 30. The eagle has been pulled back from the brink of extinction thanks to protections provided by the federal law. Because of its revered status as a symbol of U.S. freedom, few grumble about the changes forced on human activities that have allowed the eagle to rebuild its numbers. But the flycatcher, benefiting from similar protections, mined a deep vein of dissatisfaction when its appearance at Roosevelt Lake threatened to force water releases during Arizona's drought. The prospect of saving a bird by draining water that serves thousands of Valley residents was cited as a classic case of how the federal law appears to value animal and plant life over humans. The water releases did not happen, but it cost the Salt River Project $17 million to create an alternate plan for the flycatcher...Plan to save Northwest salmon falls short, report says The plan to save the wild salmon of the Snake and Columbia rivers without disabling dams is not working as well as planned, the Bush administration has admitted. In a report issued Christmas Eve, the National Marine Fisheries Service acknowledged that "delays represent a significant concern" but nevertheless judged federal efforts to carry out the plan "adequate." Federal agencies are behind on "key actions" to save Columbia and Snake river salmon stocks from an extinction spiral, the agency said. That's worrisome, although it could be remedied, the report said...Wilderness Act anniversary celebration delayed until after election A federally sponsored conference to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Wilderness Act has collapsed after the U.S. Forest Service told conservationists it had to be postponed until after the 2004 election. Informed that the National Wilderness Summit and Expo scheduled for Oct. 1-7 in Denver could not be held before the Nov. 2 election, conservation groups jointly planning the event dropped out, feeling they were no longer full partners in the event. "What is frustrating to me is we have leadership at the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture talking about partnerships on public lands," said Don Hunger, director of national program development for the Student Conservation Association, who served as co-chairman of the conference planning committee. "It pretty much turns that relationship on its head, and says we're not a partnership."...BLM may reopen road in Gravelly Mountains wilderness study area The Bureau of Land Management is considering reopening a road through a wilderness study area in the Gravelly Mountains that has been closed for more than a decade. Madison County commissioners asked the BLM to reopen a route in that area after people in Virginia City asked for a way to reach the Gravellies. The choice of the road known as the "stock driveway" was a compromise, said Rick Waldrup, outdoor recreation planner for BLM's Dillon office. BLM is beginning an environmental assessment of the proposal and will accept public comments until Jan. 30...TPL's 2003 Conservation Achievements Today, the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit conservation organization, has announced its conservation achievements for the year 2003. Across the country, TPL protected more than 292,000 acres in 31 states during 2003, with a fair-market value of $236 million. In addition, TPL and its affiliate, the Conservation Campaign helped 19 communities nationwide pass measures that will generate more than $1.2 billion in new funding for parks and open space. Since it was founded in 1972, TPL has protected more than 1.6 million acres of land, from the inner city to the wilderness, in 46 states...NSA hit for secrecy by environmentalists The National Security Agency (NSA) has been reluctant to share information about environmental conditions on its property, much to the frustration of environmental groups and government regulators, activists complain. "No one's asking them for state secrets," said Zoe Draughon, chairman of the Restoration Advisory Board, a group of activists and regulators overseeing the environmental cleanup of Fort Meade, where the NSA has its headquarters. Miss Draughon said her group will not let the spy agency "wrap themselves up in paranoia and patriotism and say they have classified dirt."...Wyoming to consider brucellosis test plan All Wyoming cattle sold for breeding would have to be tested for brucellosis under a proposal that will be discussed by state officials next week. The idea comes in the wake of Monday's report confirming that a Sublette County herd is infected with brucellosis. Thirty-one of 391 cattle in the herd tested positive for the disease. So far, other tested herds that may have come in contact with the infected cattle have not shown signs of the disease. The Wyoming State Livestock Board will meet Tuesday to consider mandatory testing for brucellosis of cattle sold for breeding herds...New West Nile Virus Equine Recombinant DNA Vaccine Anticipated A new West Nile virus (WNV) equine recombinant canarypox vaccine awaits USDA approval; once available, it could pave the way for a new generation of equine vaccines in the United States. Merial has been developing this Recombitek equine WNV technology for three years. The company assembled a group of researchers, clinicians, and private practitioners in New Orleans, La., on Nov. 19, 2003, to review WNV and the research behind the technology. Recombitek would be the first recombinant canarypox DNA vaccine to be approved for use in horses in the United States, and it would provide another WNV vaccination option...Seabiscuit Movie Makes $80 Million in First Week Riding the crest of the holiday shopping season, Seabiscuit burst out of the gate with more than $80 million in DVD and VHS sales in its first week, making it the year's best-selling drama released on DVD and VHS. Released Dec. 16, the title sold five million units in its first six days...Perhaps it's just my age This year instead of assigning myself a whole bunch of do-better tasks, I'm making Griping Declarations. I'm going to hang on to my personal preferences and prejudices. I'm sticking resolutely with what I don't like, can't stand, don't want, and refuse to deal with. In other words, I'm keeping my gripes. I'm used to them. They're old friends. I can use them as conversation starters when I'm stuck for something to say at boring meetings. At my age, I can do that...The sharpest men carried pocketknives To help realize the change from the old days to modern times, we need only to recall memories of the pocketknife. Since the beginnings of man, a sharp edge on a rock, flint or metal often meant the difference between survival and death. Whether using a blade for protection or to help provide subsistence, the knife was indispensable...


WASHINGTON, Dec. 30, 2003—Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman today announced additional safeguards to bolster the U.S. protection systems against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE, and further protect public health.

“For more than a decade, the United States has had in place an aggressive surveillance, detection and response program for BSE,” said Veneman. “While we are confident that the United States has safeguards and firewalls needed to protect public health, these additional actions will further strengthen our protection systems.”

Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced additional safeguards to bolster the U.S. protection systems against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE, and further protect public health.

Veneman said the policies announced today have been under consideration for many months, especially since the finding of a case of BSE in Canada in May 2003. The policies will further strengthen protections against BSE by removing certain animals and specified risk material and tissues from the human food chain; requiring additional process controls for establishments using advanced meat recovery (AMR); holding meat from cattle that have been tested for BSE until the test has confirmed negative; and prohibiting the air-injection stunning of cattle.

While many cattle in the United States can be identified through a variety of systems, the Secretary also announced that USDA will begin immediate implementation of a verifiable system of national animal identification. The development of such a system has been underway for more than a year and a half to achieve uniformity, consistency and efficiency across this national system.

“USDA has worked with partners at the federal and state levels and in industry for the past year and a half on the adoption of standards for a verifiable nationwide animal identification system to help enhance the speed and accuracy of our response to disease outbreaks across many different animal species,” Veneman said. “I have asked USDA’s Chief Information Officer to expedite the development of the technology architecture to implement this system.

Additional Information Additional BSE Information and Resources

“These are initial steps that USDA will take to enhance our protection system,” Veneman said. “I am appointing an international panel of scientific experts to provide an objective review of our response actions and identify areas for potential additional enhancements.”

Specifically, USDA will take the following actions:

Downer Animals. Effectively immediately, USDA will ban all downer cattle from the human food chain. USDA will continue its BSE surveillance program.

Product Holding. USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors will no longer mark cattle tested for BSE as “inspected and passed” until confirmation is received that the animals have, in fact, tested negative for BSE. This new policy will be in the form of an interpretive rule that will be published in the Federal Register.

To prevent the entry into commerce of meat and meat food products that are adulterated, FSIS inspection program personnel perform ante- and post-mortem inspection of cattle that are slaughtered in the United States. As part of the ante-mortem inspection, FSIS personnel look for signs of disease, including signs of central nervous system impairment. Animals showing signs of systemic disease, including those exhibiting signs of neurologic impairment, are condemned. Meat from all condemned animals has never been permitted for use as human food.

Specified Risk Material. Effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register, USDA will enhance its regulations by declaring as specified risk materials skull, brain, trigeminal ganglia, eyes, vertebral column, spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia of cattle over 30 months of age and the small intestine of cattle of all ages, thus prohibiting their use in the human food supply. Tonsils from all cattle are already considered inedible and therefore do not enter the food supply. These enhancements are consistent with the actions taken by Canada after the discovery of BSE in May.

In an interim final rule, FSIS will require federally inspected establishments that slaughter cattle to develop, implement, and maintain procedures to remove, segregate, and dispose of these specified risk materials so that they cannot possibly enter the food chain. Plants must also make that information readily available for review by FSIS inspection personnel. FSIS has also developed procedures for verifying the approximate age of cattle that are slaughtered in official establishments. State inspected plants must have equivalent procedures in place.

Advanced Meat Recovery. AMR is an industrial technology that removes muscle tissue from the bone of beef carcasses under high pressure without incorporating bone material when operated properly. AMR product can be labeled as “meat.” FSIS has previously had regulations in place that prohibit spinal cord from being included in products labeled as “meat.” The regulation, effective upon publication in the Federal Register, expands that prohibition to include dorsal root ganglia, clusters of nerve cells connected to the spinal cord along the vertebrae column, in addition to spinal cord tissue. Like spinal cord, the dorsal root ganglia may also contain BSE infectivity if the animal is infected. In addition, because the vertebral column and skull in cattle 30 months and older will be considered inedible, it cannot be used for AMR.

In March 2003, FSIS began a routine regulatory sampling program for beef produced from AMR systems to ensure that spinal cord tissue is not present in this product. In a new interim final rule announced today, establishments have to ensure process control through verification testing to ensure that neither spinal cord nor dorsal root ganglia is present in the product.

Air-Injection Stunning. To ensure that portions of the brain are not dislocated into the tissues of the carcass as a consequence of humanely stunning cattle during the slaughter process, FSIS is issuing a regulation to ban the practice of air-injection stunning.

Mechanically Separated Meat. USDA will prohibit use of mechanically separated meat in human food.

On Dec. 23, Veneman reported that a cow in Washington State has tested positive for BSE. A swift and comprehensive investigation is ongoing to trace the animal to a herd of origin, which is believed to be located in Alberta, Canada, as well as track additional animals that have entered the United States. (For the latest update on the investigation, visit www.usda.gov.)

For more than a decade, the United States has had in place an aggressive surveillance, detection and response program for BSE. The United States has tested over 20,000 head of cattle for BSE in each of the past two years, 47 times the recommended international standard.

Since 1989, USDA has banned imports of live ruminants and most ruminant products from the United Kingdom and other countries having BSE.

In 1997, the FDA prohibited the use of most mammalian protein, the main pathway to spread the disease should it be in the United States, in the manufacture of animal feed intended for cattle and other ruminants.

An independent analysis by Harvard in 2001 and again in 2003 shows that the risk of BSE spreading in the United States is low and any possible spread would have been reversed by the controls we have already put in place.

Technical Briefing and Webcast with U.S. Government Officials On BSE Case

Tuesday, Dec. 30

Welcome to today's technical briefing on the BSE situation. Today we are going to start off with an update by Dr. Ron DeHaven. He's the chief veterinary officer for USDA. We'll have a statement by Dr. Daniel Engeljohn, executive associate for policy from Food Safety Inspection Service. And then we'll have a statement by Dr. Lester M. Crawford. He's the deputy commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration.

I just want to point out a couple of things. Because of the number of people on this call, we would ask that you ask one question, no follow-ups. Also at the table here is Dr. Kenneth Petersen. He is the executive associate for regulatory operations at FSIS. He will be available as well to answer questions as needed. So the way it will work today is we'll let the statements go, and then we'll take three questions from the audio bridge; then we'll take three here, and then alternate. Dr. DeHaven will point you out. Wait for the mike to come to you. And then, with that, I think we're ready to begin. Dr. DeHaven?

DR. DEHAVEN: Thank you very much. Again, thank you all for being here. Ed mentioned that we will be making some statements. And, actually, I'm going to defer to my friend and colleague, Dr. Lester Crawford from Food and Drug Administration, and let him make the opening statement. Dr. Crawford?

DR. CRAWFORD: The Food and Drug Administration fully supports the safety policies announced today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which build on the principles and procedures that FDA and USDA have developed since 1997. These protective measures will add an additional layer of protection to the American public. In order to obtain these goals, FDA will evaluate the impacts of the new policies on the agency's resources, so that we can devise and implement the most effective and efficient additional layer of protection to the American public.

FDA will devote additional resources in order to do these increased responsibilities for protecting the safety of the food and feed supply. FDA will continue to rigorously enforce its measures to protect the public health against the BSE hazard. In the last six years, the agency has sponsored workshops, teleconferences and other outreach programs to stimulate cooperation of state, local and cross-border authorities in a vigilant surveillance for BSE. It has issued import alerts and bulletins to detain all products with processed animal protein from countries with BSE. It has requested blood centers to exclude blood donations by individuals who might be carriers of the BSE agent. And it has urged manufacturers of drugs, vaccines, medical devices and cosmetics to use only materials derived from cattle that are BSE free. The main focus of FDA's BSE prevention program has been regular inspections of all renderers and feed mills in the United States, more than 99 percent of whom have achieved full compliance with the 1997 FDA rule that prohibits the inclusion of most animal protein in feeds for cattle and other ruminants. The effectiveness of FDA's surveillance was most recently confirmed by the fact that all of the firms involved in the current BSE investigation were found to be in compliance with the FDA rule, and that the agency working with state and industry officials was able to halt the distribution of all of the meat and bone meal from the sick animal.

I cannot close without complimenting Secretary Veneman and the Department of Agriculture, who have been in complete communication with FDA. We have worked together and our agency applauds her leadership in this regard. We recognize that USDA is the lead agency. We want you to know that we feel like we are in complete communication, and we are working together on this, and in the end we will bring this to a satisfactory conclusion as fast as we possibly can.

Lastly, FDA has contained, as we have previously announced, all of the suspect rendered material. It is under our control, and it is being held at the present time.

DR. DEHAVEN: Dr. Crawford, thank you, and thank you for being here with us today.

Just a brief update on our investigation stemming from, again, a single positive cow slaughtered on December 9th, and she tested positive for BSE on December 23rd. Documentation is now available indicating that she was approximately six and a half years old at the time of slaughter, and our primary line of inquiry does lead to a farm in Alberta, Canada. The age of the animal is particularly important in that it does provide an explanation as to how she became infected, in that as a six-and-a-half-year-old with an approximate birth date of April 1997, she in fact would have been born before the feed ban went into place, either in Canada or the United States.

Multiple samples for DNA testing are in various stages of being submitted to two laboratories, one in Canada and one in the United States. We continue our trace-back and trace-forward investigations. We believe that the positive cow was one of 82 animals from the same Canadian herd that were permitted into the United States. We are conducting a painstaking records review to determine the transit, timing and current location of these 82 head of cattle. We do know that several are on the same premises where the positive cow was located immediately before she went to slaughter.

The positive cow we know had three calves while she was in the United States. The first animal, or first calf, was stillborn. The second is currently a yearling heifer, and is located on the index farm. And the third, a bull calf, is in a group of calves at another location, a calf feeding operation which is also under a state hold order.

I want to emphasize that these hold orders are not imposed because BSE is a contagious disease, or in any way to prevent the spread of this disease, since we know from the science that the disease is not spread by casual contact animal to animal. Rather, these hold orders are in place to ensure that we maintain the location of all animals that are of consequence and otherwise relevant to our ongoing investigation.

Just on a side note, if I could, I am hearing from my colleagues in the state of Washington that because of the incredible interest in this issue, there had been reports that reporters are visiting multiple dairy farms throughout the state. And while BSE cannot spread by this way, other diseases can be spread by people and equipment who move on and off the farm. So I would urge all farmers and visitors to take appropriate biosecurity precautions, and please let's respect the privacy and property of these individuals.

Finally, I just want to reiterate that the science supports our assertion that the meat is safe and nothing that we have announced today changes any of that. Over the last few days we have indicated that we are carefully considering appropriate changes to our system. Clearly that's a prudent thing to do given this new find in the United States, as well as the find in Canada in May of this year.

Today's announcement by the Secretary is clearly a result of that review. These actions do not in any way suggest that the meat produced in the current system is unsafe. For years we have had a feed ban in place. The high-risk materials from this positive cow were removed. And meat produced on the day that this positive cow was slaughtered is being recalled. Just like the meat recall, we are making these further enhancements to our system out of an abundance of caution.

I would again like to express my thanks to the owner of the index herd who has been extremely cooperative, as has the owner of the slaughter plant where this animal was slaughtered, the importers involved in the movement of these animals, and of course state officials in the state of Washington, and my friends and colleagues with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. All of them have provided tremendous assistance as we proceed with this investigation.

And, again, my thanks to the news media. We have been working hard, or you have been working hard, to ensure accurate reporting of this very complex and rapidly evolving situation.

With that, let me provide an opportunity for my colleague from the Food Safety Inspection Service, Dr. Dan Engeljohn, to make a statement.

DR. ENGELJOHN: Thank you, Dr. DeHaven. The Secretary of Agriculture has very broad authority to be able to swiftly and effectively take the policy actions that she announced earlier today. Here at the Department of Agriculture we have the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which the Food Safety Inspection Service administers. Through the Food Safety Inspection Service -- we are the public health regulatory agency here at USDA -- that ensures that the food supply -- in particular the meat, poultry and eggs -- are in fact safe, properly labeled and, importantly, that they are fit for human consumption.

With the policies that the Secretary announced today, we will put in place, or intend to put in place, regulatory policies that will ensure that the federally-inspected facilities will have written procedures that will document how they intend to segregate these high-risk tissues from those which present lower risk or no risk at all. As the Secretary mentioned, we are going to focus on tissues that contain the potential for high infectivity. And because healthy-appearing animals may in fact have infectivity in those tissues, we'll concentrate on those tissues even in healthy-appearing animals. As the Secretary mentioned, we'll look at the small intestine and the tonsils of all cattle. We intend to prohibit the use of the brain and spinal cord and the vertebral column in cattle of older age that may have higher infectivity because of their age.

With those actions, I'd like to turn the microphone back over to you, Dr. DeHaven.

DR. DEHAVEN: All right. We'll open it up for questions. And, as was first mentioned, we'll go to our telephone bridge for the first three questions. So, operator, if we could please have the first question...

Followed by Q&A with reporters.

U.S. bans meat from sick, injured cows To bolster confidence in U.S. beef, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman on Tuesday banned sick and injured cattle - those at the highest risk to have mad cow disease - from the nation's food supply. In a series of actions that even critics lauded, Veneman also moved to: --Prohibit human consumption of certain high-risk cow parts from older cattle, including the brain, eyes, spinal cord and small intestines --Tighten restrictions on controversial slaughterhouse techniques that heighten contamination risks --Require inspectors to hold potentially ill animals out of the food supply until tests confirm they are safe --Speed up plans for a comprehensive national system to track cattle...The offal truth: People enjoy calf brains You can boil it in salted water, drain and chop it into neat little chunks, and then scramble it with a dozen eggs and three tablespoons of butter -- or you could coat it in cream, cheese and spices and fry to a crispy golden brown. Mmmmmm, yummy, brains! With eggs or fried as fritters, they are just like grandma used to make but after the last few days, you may not want to eat them ever again...Other beef-exporting countries fear U.S. ban will harm markets Far from celebrating, cattle producers in countries that compete with American beef products fear the discovery of mad cow disease in the United States will cause havoc in their export markets. The reason: The United States buys more imported beef than any other country. With U.S. beef exports now banned in many countries, more American beef is likely to be sold at home at prices too low for foreign beef producers to match. For Australia and other major beef exporters, the loss of the U.S. market could offset any gains from increased sales in countries such as Japan and South Korea that now ban American beef...Livestock industry officials support move on downer cattle Montana livestock industry officials said Tuesday they support a decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ban so-called "downer" cattle from the human food chain. The move was among the additional safeguards the USDA announced Tuesday that are meant to enhance systems guarding against mad cow disease and to further protect the public health. Steve Pilcher, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said the group supports the "tough decision" that Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman made regarding downer cattle - those that, for whatever reason, cannot move on their own...Official: Mad cow case spotlights labeling requirement The discovery of mad cow disease in the United States may help federal officials realize the importance of country-of-origin meat labeling said Carrie Longwood, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association. Longwood said South Dakota's congressional delegation supports country-of-origin labeling and that she hopes people in other states will encourage their congressmen to do likewise...Gov. Proposes Cattle Tracking System Gov. Bill Richardson has directed state agricultural officials to study the possibility of implementing a better tracking system for cattle in New Mexico. Richardson asked the state Agriculture Department to study the feasibility of requiring microchips to be implanted in all cattle in the state. He says the chips could provide a quick and sure way of identifying and tracking the animals...Cuba purchase of US cattle delayed over mad cow concerns Communist Cuba said Tuesday it will postpone planned purchases of American cattle after last week's announcement that a Holstein cow in Washington state tested positive for mad cow disease. Pedro Alvarez, head of the Cuban food import company Alimport, said earlier planned sales would go ahead only after authorities here are confident that the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, has been controlled...KF stores took beef off shelves Four chain supermarkets in Klamath Falls withdrew meat products following last week's announcement about a case of mad cow disease in Washington state. But store officials said there's no way to know where meat from the affected cow may have ended up, and that the withdrawal of meat from store counters was simply precautionary. Safeway opted to voluntarily withdraw all ground beef products from its stores in the Northwest until hearing more information from the U.S. Agriculture Department, said Bridget Flanagan, director of public affairs for 120 Safeway stores in Oregon and southwest Washington...US mad cow trade team to return to Washington A U.S. trade delegation that met with Japanese and South Korean officials to discuss their ban on American beef shipments will return to Washington on Wednesday, a U.S. Agriculture Department spokeswoman said on Tuesday. Some two dozen nations have halted U.S. beef shipments since the first case of mad cow disease was discovered in a Holstein dairy cow in Washington state. Last year, the United States exported about $3.2 billion worth of beef products. The USDA trade team visited Tokyo and Seoul this week but did not plan to visit any other countries at this time, the spokeswoman said...Food-borne diseases take heavy toll on public health In the week since mad cow disease was discovered in the United States, more than a million Americans were sickened by food they ate. About 6,000 became so ill they were hospitalized and nearly 100 died, according to federal health estimates. But mad cow disease wasn't the culprit. Indeed, not a single American is known to have contracted the human form of the disease from eating food in this country. Instead, salmonella, E. coli, listeria and other dangerous bacteria routinely take a huge toll on public health, yet get little of the attention that's now focused on the beef from one Washington state Holstein found infected with mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy...Scientist Says Anti-Mad Cow Measure Ignored A U.S. scientist said on Tuesday a simple treatment combining high pressure with heat could neutralize the proteins that cause mad cow disease, but federal officials had shown little interest in it. Dr. Paul Brown of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke said his process, developed with European researchers, would inactivate the prion proteins that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy without damaging the meat. Normal cooking does not affect prions...Organic Consumers Association Launches 'Mad Cow USA - Stop the Madness' Petition Campaign for Tough New Mad Cow Regulations The Organic Consumers Association, a nationwide grassroots lobby, is launching today a nationwide petition campaign, called Mad Cow USA -- Stop the Madness. Its goal is to educate and mobilize a million Americans to force Congress to enact strict, European- like regulations to stop the spread of Mad Cow Disease in the United States...Beef Futures Remain in Free Fall Beef prices extended their steep decline Tuesday on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, with key contracts falling the exchange-allowed limit for a fourth consecutive session after early buying interest fizzled. The most-active February live cattle contract ended the trading day down 5 cents at 76.17 cents per pound despite virtually the first buying since mad cow disease emerged in a U.S. cow a week earlier. Buyers disappeared by late morning amid talk that beef previously headed for Japan and South Korea - which have been among the top three customers for U.S. beef - already was being shipped back to the United States despite American diplomacy to end a nearly worldwide ban...

Monday, December 29, 2003


Wildfires Reset Rock Clocks Wildfires are resetting the atomic clocks of some rocks, geologists say. The confirmation of the long-suspected wildfire effect could also give archeologists and fire historians a new way to date ancient fires. By heating up rocks and releasing helium that has been building up in the common mineral apatite ever since the rock first cooled, wildfires essentially erase the "cool-down" record within rocks, said Sara Mitchell of the University of Washington...Skiers again mapping out Nordic trail plan The White River National Forest is accepting comments on the West Elk Multi-Use Club application to mark and groom up to 20 miles of existing roads and trails for cross-country skiing near the Buford/New Castle Road northwest of New Castle. "Any approved marking and grooming would comply with Forest Service standards for winter trails," said a White River National Forest notice. If approved, the project would be implemented this winter...Column: The price of preservation: Does environmental value of land trusts justify big tax breaks? Between 1990 and 2000, the acreage of land protected by local, state and regional land trusts increased 226 percent to 6.2 million. When added to larger, national land trusts the acreage increases to more than 20 million acres -- more land than all of the national parks in the lower 48 states. But private land trusts, and particularly conservation easements, are facing increased scrutiny. Critics cite conflicts of interest on some trust boards and wealthy landowners trading land of questionable environmental value for big tax breaks as evidence of a system they say can be abused. The Washington Post published reports of a Florida golf course consultant who boasted online about an investor saving $4.8 million in taxes by agreeing not to build homes along fairways. In another published incident, luxury home builders in North Carolina reportedly paid $10 million for land only to receive a $20 million tax deduction for only building on a third of the tract. A developer in Pennsylvania was reported to have gotten a break for enacting building restrictions in portions of a subdivision that were unfit for building in the first place...Are U.S. Landowners Killing Rare Species to Avoid Regulation? Critics of the animal's protected status, including those representing farmers, ranchers, and developers, among others, have presented evidence that the mouse does not qualify as a threatened species. These landowners feared regulation of agriculture, development, and leisure activities on their land, all of which could have been curtailed as potentially damaging to the mouse's habitat. "The Endangered Species Act is one of the major tools in the U.S. to conserve species," said Amara Brook, psychologist and lead author behind the study. "But in some cases it may not be enough."...Arsenal nears milestone in transition to refuge Nearly one-third of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Superfund could become a wildlife refuge by the end of next year. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected in 2004 to recommend that 5,000 of the 17,000 acres within the arsenal are clean enough to be taken off the Superfund National Priority List. The arsenal outside Denver already is among the best places in North America to see trophy mule deer bucks...A paleontologist stalks a mass murderer The Gorgon was the top predator of its day, taking down strange beasts the size of a modern hippopotamus. The first man to find one called it Gorgonopsid, after the mythical Gorgon, a creature so horrible that all who gazed upon it were turned to stone. The animal stood 10 feet from tip to tail. Its head was tiger-like, with four-inch teeth designed for slashing prey. And yet it was eerily not like a tiger at all because the eyes were set at the sides of the head like those of a lizard, and the huge body was covered with scales. In a tale of science and discovery that reads like a whodunit, Peter Ward tracks the answer to the question: Who killed the Gorgon? It's an important question, because the Gorgon was snuffed in the largest mass-murder in history: the Permian extinction of 250 million years ago that killed 95 percent of the species on earth. It was so extraordinary that it makes the Cretaceous extinction - the one that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago - look like a decidedly second-rank disaster...Final Spending Bill Shortchanges Parks The Department of Interior's final 2004 spending bill, signed into law recently by President Bush, allowed the administration's process for privatizing park jobs to proceed and left parks and public lands vulnerable to harmful road construction. The final bill requires the Department of Interior to spend no more than $2.5 million on job outsourcing studies and related expenses this year and to extensively report back to Congress on how studies are going. The first privatization studies are expected to examine Park Service jobs at Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, and more studies are expected next year...Massacre site given to tribes Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal leaders prayed when a Colorado casino owner handed over the deed to the Sand Creek Massacre site in southeastern Colorado. The ceremony, which took place at the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribal Headquarters in Concha, Okla., earlier this month, included the story of the slaughter: On Nov. 29, 1864, Col. John Chivington ordered 700 soldiers to attack a sleeping village of about 500 Cheyenne and Arapaho, mostly elderly people, women and children. Laird Cometsevah, president of the Southern Cheyenne Sand Creek Descendants, said that a white flag of surrender and a U.S. flag given to tribal leaders by Abraham Lincoln were flying over the camp that day...Energy Department wants land to build railroad to Yucca The Energy Department wants to reserve more than 482 square miles of public land to build a rail line stretching to a national nuclear waste dump in the Nevada desert. The Bureau of Land Management issued a public notice Monday on the Energy Department request to withdraw 308,600 acres of public land from surface entry and mining for the next 20 years. The department would study the land for construction, operation and maintenance of a rail line to Yucca Mountain... Precipitation deficits loom There are two kinds of drought, according to BLM soil scientist and plant ecologist Bill Volk - agricultural drought, which gets the most press, and hydrologic drought, which should get a little more. Agricultural drought can be resolved quickly with a little well-timed moisture, he said. Billings and much of Montana suffered extreme precipitation deficits in 2003, but adequate spring moisture and cooler spring temperatures gave Montana its first good grass, hay and winter wheat crops in years. It's the hydrologic drought that worries Volk. "Hydrologic drought is looming larger and larger every day and will take a long time to turn around,'' he said. More than a single reasonably wet spring will be needed replenish streams, springs, aquifers, sub-soils and reservoirs... Column: The Right to Be Wild It was a long list, though not as long as the dossier I find myself compiling about the current chief executive, also from the nether regions of Texas. I'm not going to cover the waterfront, won't tell you everything, but as a Texas native and ex-petroleum geologist who has some thoughts on the subject of wilderness, I'd rather try to posit why the Bush administration's death knell for wilderness is wrong in a fundamental way: It strips away or eradicates not just a cultural cornerstone, but yet another of our rights -- the biological and utterly democratic right to know a piece of wild country will always exist under its own awesome powers of grace and logic. With his public-lands antics, Bush is stealing both our history and our future. He started in Utah, in Orrin Hatch-land, where residents of that state had spent years using a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) tool known as the Wilderness Handbook to inventory areas of the state's incredibly remote federal lands that had never been identified as wilderness. They found 3.2 million acres' worth, and 22 million acres of noninventoried BLM lands nationwide that were in need of federal protection. But in April, the administration slashed back: Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced that her department would no longer consider any public lands -- in Utah or anywhere else -- for new wilderness protection. The administration further argued that although it would manage these lands for other values -- oil and gas production, coal extraction, irrigation and hydroelectricity, timber, grazing, etc. -- it no longer had the authority to designate any of the public's lands as wilderness...Sierra counties face air cleanup: Rural regions must join in effort of smoggier neighbors Mountain-county residents east of the murky San Joaquin Valley are upset over the news that their fresh air soon will be classified as dirty, but that's only part of their bad news. Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne and Mariposa counties also will be pulled into the massive smog cleanup campaign for the Valley, the second-dirtiest air basin in the country. And the real downer: Their problem is not home-grown. The Valley is the biggest source of their pollution, sending smog to the mountains on prevailing summer breezes...A Free Trade Boom or an Environmental Bust? Metales y Derivados has become a symbol of what many environmentalists consider the failure of the North American Free Trade Agreement to adequately protect natural resources since it dismantled trade barriers among the United States, Mexico and Canada one decade ago on Jan. 1. "By increasing trade, NAFTA was supposed to create more resources to protect the environment," said Constance García of the Border Environmental Justice Campaign, a San Diego-based group that is lobbying to clean up the Metales y Derivados site. "Ten years later, that promise hasn't been kept." NAFTA's defenders counter that Mexico's environmental record is better now than it was before the pact. They note that many factories created in Mexico under NAFTA pollute less than their older, U.S. counterparts do. What's more, a bi-national NAFTA bank and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have poured more than a half-billion dollars over the past decade into such projects as cleaning contaminated water and improving air quality in border areas that have grown under NAFTA...Plan in the works to unite Mexican, U.S. governors on Rio Grande water issues With that in mind, a plan is in the works to bring the governors of New Mexico, Texas and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila and Tamaulipas together to draft a water agreement. The goal: to help future generations on both sides of the border manage the basin. "I'm very concerned by the lack of attention Mexico's federal government and the U.S. government are giving to water issues at the border," said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is behind the effort. Richardson wants the five governors to draft an agreement that would cover water use, conservation and management of the river. He hopes to rally the leaders as chairman of the U.S.-Mexico Border Governors Conference. If successful, Richardson and others say the agreement would be a breakthrough for the border...An odd lizard lives in huge numbers nearby. Why? Only one kind of lizard lives on Santa Barbara Island, and that's plenty. As many as 1,300 occupy a single acre on the rocky outpost, the highest known density of any ground-dwelling lizard on Earth. Imagine lizards waiting nose to nose to snap up the next available fly. Jammed claw to claw under prickly-pear cactuses. Skittering over sleeping bags in the dark. But Schwemm, a Channel Islands National Park wildlife biologist, repeats the warning of experts: This is not an easy reptile to hunt. For decades, scientists have traveled 38 miles out to sea to study Xantusia riversiana, or the island night lizard, and each discovery is more peculiar than the last. Like a Lewis Carroll creation, this species is at once familiar and strange...Western author continues living life the cowboy way Max Evans apologized to director Sam Peckinpah for breaking the latter's ankle in a brawl. Max only intended to break his neck. When it comes to the cowboy way of life, authenticity is what Evans is about. He likes Western films and the myths they perpetrate just fine, but he's always prided himself on portraying the reality behind the West whether that reality deals with the land, the animals, the cowboys, the bartenders, the artists or the hookers...PBS Bucking Horse film nearly done The annual Miles City Bucking Horse Sale is being used to demonstrate the culture of Eastern Montana in a documentary film being prepared for public television. "We are using the Bucking Horse Sale as a state of affairs for small ranches. ... It's a more intimate look at what life is like in Eastern Montana," said Ian Kellett, co-producing the film with Jon Dodson. The annual three-day sale and rodeo in May usually brings 200 to 300 unbroken horses to be viewed in a rodeo setting by buyers from around the country...
Transcript of Technical Briefing and Webcast with U.S. Government Officials on BSE Case

Monday, December 29, 2003

DR. RON DEHAVEN: Let me speak first from an investigation standpoint. We are continuing to work with our Canadian colleagues to verify the trace-back of the indexed or positive animal.

One issue that has been of particular concern was the initial discrepancy in the age of the animal as reported by our records in the US versus those records that were available in Canada.

Yesterday I personally telephoned the owner of this herd where the positive animal was located primarily to thank him for his cooperation thus far in this effort. However, during that discussion he indicated that he has conducted an extensive search of his records and located original documents that would indicate that the cow in question, this positive animal, was indeed an older animal when he purchased her in 2001.

Those records are consistent with the Canadian records indicating that this animal was born in April of 1997, making her approximately 6 1/2 years old at the time of slaughter. So again I want to personally thank him and his employees for the extraordinary level of cooperation that they have shown to our investigators throughout what is no doubt a very difficult time for them.

The age of the animal is especially important in that it is a likely explanation as to how this animal would have become infected. She would have been born before feed bans were implemented in North America. As the feed bans in the US and Canada both went into effect in August of 1997, as I mentioned records would now indicate that this animal was born in April of 1997.

Again, those feed bans prohibit the inclusion of ruminant protein -- that would be material from animals such as cattle, sheep and goats -- from being fed back to other ruminants. Research evidence suggests that this is the primary, if not in fact the only, means by which BSE is spread from animal to animal. Obviously the more time goes by the fewer animals that are alive that would have been exposed to feed before this feed ban went into place, and so as time goes by the risk of more animals becoming infected decreases.

Even though we have now resolved or apparently resolved the earlier discrepancy regarding the actual age of this animal, only DNA testing will positively confirm her origin. Again, our primary line of inquiry goes to a farm in Alberta, Canada, and our Canadian counterparts are working hand-in-hand with us sharing information, records and samples that will enable us to perform this DNA testing to hopefully confirm the actual herd of origin for this particular animal.

We are continuing the trace-back of the other 73 head of cattle that came into the United States in the same shipment as the infected cow but do not have any new data to report in that regard at this point. However, while reviewing records we have also determined that an additional eight animals from the same herd in Canada were also shipped to the United States, so we are now tracing the location of all 81 animals.

As I mentioned previously in previous press conferences, this positive cow had three calves while she was in the United States. One of them died shortly after birth, shortly after the animal entered the United States. The second one remains in a herd in Washington State where the positive cow was at the time that she went to slaughter. And the third animal, a bull calf, is currently in a separate herd with several other bull calves, which is subject to a hold order in place by the state of Washington.

And as I explained before as well, this hold order is not to stop the spread of the disease. BSE is not a contagious disease like we associate with conditions such as human flu, but rather the hold order has been put in place to make sure we know where all of the relevant animals are with regard to this investigation and to prevent future complications as it relates to the investigation.

I would emphasize again even though we are following up on these three calves that maternal transmission, transmission from the cow to her offspring, is a rare means of transmission if it occurs at all. Therefore, it would be highly unlikely that this is, this type of transmission would occur in this case. However, as I mentioned, the calves that are still alive, those two, one on the indexed farm and the other in this calf-rearing facility, are on hold orders out of an abundance of caution to preserve public and international confidence that we in fact have the situation well in hand with regard to our investigation.

We are continuing to look at any and all appropriate changes to our entire meat and livestock system as it relates to BSE. Even though we are still early in this investigation there is no indication that we have the magnitude of problem that Europe has experienced in the years past -- in large part due to the preventive measures such as feed bans that were put in place in this country back in August of 1997.

There is also no reason to question the safety of the US beef supply. Muscle tissue or cuts of meats are safe. Research shows that the prion, which is that infectious agent that causes BSE, is not found in skeletal muscle tissue. The infective agent is largely in the brain and spinal cord and a few other tissues not normally consumed by humans in this country.

Research studies in which muscle tissue from infected cattle has been injected directly into the brain of other cattle, the most likely way to transmit the disease when infectivity is present, have demonstrated no evidence of transmission of the disease through muscle tissue.

In contrast, high-risk tissues such as brain or spinal cord in the same study do cause the disease when they are either fed to or injected into recipient cattle.

International standards allow for the import of meat and other commodities even from countries that have a high or moderate risk for BSE. Those countries that have had numerous cases of BSE in their own native-born cattle. These international standards have been developed with the advice and consultation of many of the top international scientists and researchers in the field of BSE. By any stretch of the imagination the US cannot be considered to be at high risk for BSE, especially given our high level of surveillance over the recent past and the fact that only one case has been found here, and further that a single case appears not to have been even born in the United States at this point.

International reaction to our find of this positive case has been based largely on public perception and not what we know about the science of this disease. We have been working with the World Animal Health Organization, the OIE, especially since the finding of the single case of BSE in Canada in May of this year to ensure that the international response to a case of BSE is better founded in science and not just in public perception.

Even with the finding of this single cow, the US remains at very low risk. Measures we put in place in this country years ago -- including the prohibiting of feeding rendered cattle products back to other cattle and stopping cattle imports from high-risk countries -- are protecting the US consumer. Further, we have conducted surveillance testing of high-risk cattle for more than 10 years, and this is our only positive find despite that high level of surveillance testing. For the last two years we conducted approximately 20,000 tests each of those two years -- more than 45 times what the World Animal Health Standard would call upon us to test.

An extensive risk assessment was conducted by Harvard University, and that assessment demonstrated that the risk of BSE in the United States is very low and that even with the disease our procedures that we have put in place would be eliminating the disease from our population.

The producer recalled the meat, and the recall in this situation from this cow and others slaughtered on that day has been done out of an abundance of caution. The risky materials, especially the central nervous system, the brain and spinal cord from this animal, were removed, and they went into rendered product for inedible purposes and did not go into the human food chain.

Again, I want to reiterate my thanks to the herd owner, the slaughter plant owner, the importers, the officials in the state of Washington and our colleagues in Canada for their tremendous assistance as we have proceeded with our investigation. And again, my thanks to you in the news media who have been working so hard to ensure that reporting on this situation is accurate and is timely and recognizing that this situation is evolving very rapidly.

With that, let me pass the microphone to my colleague with Food Safety Inspection Service, Dr. Ken Petersen.

DR. KEN PETERSEN: Thank you, and again, good afternoon.

I'd like to briefly summarize the current situation on the beef products related to the December 23, 2003, BSE recall. The beef products were distributed from Verns Moses Lake Meat to Midway Meat on December 11, 2003. We know that on December 9 when this animal was slaughtered, that was the only animal that tested presumptive positive for BSE. And yet we decided to initiate a recall out of all 20 animals that were slaughtered on that day. The recall was for those 20 carcasses, which involved slightly over 10,000 pounds of meat.

We also know that all of the central nervous system-related tissue -- that is, the brain, the spinal cord and lower part of the intestines -- were removed at the Verns slaughter facility during the slaughter that occurred on December 9, 2003.

Those are the tissues that are most likely to contain the BSE agent. Because the meat leaving Verns did not contain these high-risk material, the recalled beef presents an essentially zero risk to consumers.

This recall was initiated out of an abundance of caution following the report of this one cow testing presumptive positive. Even though we remain confident in the safety of these beef products, we are and we will continue to verify distribution and control of all products related to this recall.

Since the discovery of BSE last week, the Food Safety Inspection Service has been working literally around the clock to ensure the protection of public health. FSIS is verifying that the commercial companies have notified their customers of the recalled product and have also told their customers how to handle recalled products that they have in their possession.

Previously we've discussed the distribution of products from Midway Meats down to Interstate Meats and Willamette Valley Meats. Both of those last two are located in Oregon. We've since found that the products were distributed to an additional 42 locations from Interstate Meats and Willamette Valley Meat. The vast majority of these products, at least 80 percent, were distributed to stores exclusively in the states of Oregon and Wisconsin.

FSIS is verifying that these 42 distributors are complying with their requirement to notify their customers. In overseeing this process, FSIS has found that all of the companies that have received these products have in fact been duly and promptly notifying their customers. We will continue to ensure that this indeed remains the case.

The transcript continues with Q&A's with reporters

Don't know how many of you saw the O'Reilly Factor tonight, but they really did a job on the U.S. beef industry. Tony Snow was the guest host, and he had as his "expert" a professor from NYU, I believe was the university. When asked if our food supply was safe she wouldn't answer, told people to vote with their forks to get changes made, and told people to buy organic. On Fox News! Wonder what CBS will do.

If you want to express your concern about this one-sided presentation of the issue, you can email the show at oreilly@foxnews.com

Mad cow suspicions downplayed OFFICIALS throughout Canada downplayed the significance of the origins of a cow that was found to have mad cow disease in Washington, saying today that it was not confirmed that the sick animal came from a farm in Alberta. "Finding out where the cow came from is only one aspect of an investigation. It's equally important to find out in fact where the feed came from that gave the cow BSE and also particularly where that cow contracted it," Agriculture Minister Bob Speller told a news conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He also said it was essential to ensure proper tagging and slaughterhouse procedures were followed, and that Canada and the United States have begun separate DNA tests, but did not know when results could be expected...Federal ag minister says U.S. mad cow should not delay border opening If the Americans stick to science in the handling of their first mad cow case, there is no reason it should delay the resumption of trade in live cattle with Canada, the new federal agriculture minister said Monday. Bob Speller delivered that message in Winnipeg as producers and politicians alike scrambled for answers about what effect the discovery might have on the cattle industry and on trade relations between the two countries...U.S. Searches for Links in Mad Cow Case Authorities said Monday they are looking for links between the Holstein infected with mad cow disease and a Canadian cow that was diagnosed with the deadly illness in May. Repeating their insistence that the U.S. food supply is safe, agriculture officials also said they are searching for 81 Canadian-born cows from the same herd as the sick Holstein that records indicate entered the United States in late 2001. Dr. Ron DeHaven, the Agriculture Department's chief veterinarian, said records from the Washington dairy farm that was the infected cow's last home, and in Canada, confirm that the animal was born in Alberta, Canada in April 1997. Alberta also was the home of the infected Canadian cow. More significantly, both cows were born before the United States and Canada began banning from use in cattle feed brain and spinal cord tissue that is the primary means by which the ailment is transmitted. The ban, which took effect in August 1997, prohibits feeding the cattle protein to cattle, sheep and goats... Editorial: Confidence essential to U.S. beef industry Public confidence in the safety of beef is essential for the continued health of the cattle industry in the United States. The detection of a case of mad cow disease in Washington state has raised questions about U.S. safety procedures. Although officials say the danger to the public is minimal, 10,000 pounds of beef have been recalled. About two dozen nations banned U.S. beef imports on the heels of the discovery. American consumers obviously love beef. Still, they can't help but have questions about meat inspection and safety procedures... Mad cow scare raises profile of similar brain-wasting disease The first U.S. case of mad cow disease has raised public awareness -- and confusion -- about an extremely rare related disorder in humans. It's probably safe to say that before last week, most Americans had never heard of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a brain-wasting disease first reported in 1920 by two German doctors. Scientists did not link mad cow disease with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD, until the mid-1990s. They named the human ailment linked to eating tainted beef "new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease" to distinguish it from conventional CJD...U.S. livestock tracking system may begin mid-2004 U.S. farmers and ranchers will take the first step toward a nationwide animal tracking system in mid-2004, a program intended to swiftly pinpoint the history of livestock suspected of mad cow disease or other dangerous diseases, program developers said on Monday. The goal of the voluntary program is to identify within 48 hours of a disease outbreak the animals involved and the farm, ranch or feedlot where they were raised so the disease cannot spread. That would be faster and more reliable than the welter of systems that producers now use. Numbering systems vary from farm to farm and producers often track different information...USDA Sees Little Benefit in Testing All Sick Cows U.S. officials, faced with the first case of mad cow disease on American soil, said on Monday testing all injured or sick cattle for the brain-wasting disease would do little to strengthen food safety. Kenneth Petersen of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (news - web sites)'s Food Safety and Inspection Service told reporters that increasing mad cow testing to cover all injured or sick cattle "doesn't appear to be prudent, from at least a food safety standpoint." Some cattle arrive for slaughter with broken bones that are "extremely localized" and do not affect the quality of their meat, he said... Safeguards Failed To Keep Infected Cow From Food Supply An exclusive KIRO Team 7 Investigation has exposed how safeguards set up to prevent diseased cattle from entering our food supply failed. The mad cow in question was never supposed to be made into hamburger. KIRO Team 7 Investigators have discovered the U.S. Department of Agriculture knows that and has opened an internal investigation, trying to figure out why their own codes weren't followed. When a crippled or sick dairy cow can't walk into a slaughterhouse, federal meat inspectors label it a downer. Because there's something obviously wrong with the animal, they randomly draw blood and test for mad cow. What's not so typical in this case is that regulators let the "suspect" animal meat get to store shelves before looking at the mad cow test results. "Somebody made a big mistake. They shouldn't have passed it along," said former USDA Veterinarian Dr. Lester Friedlander...Canada still hopes to boost beef trade with U.S. Canada hopes the U.S. mad cow crisis won't hamper efforts to allow more Canadian beef to cross the border early in 2004, Agriculture Minister Bob Speller said on Monday. "This is all about science, it isn't about a trade war," Speller told reporters after meeting with farmers in Winnipeg. Many Canadian cattle farmers worry they won't see a speedy end to trade bans that have depressed morale and markets for the export-dependent cattle industry since a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, was discovered seven months ago in the western province of Alberta...Beef futures plummet in mad cow aftermath Beef futures fell the maximum amount allowed on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Monday for the third straight trading session since the emergence of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease. With a ban on U.S. beef imports by more than two dozen nations still in place, near-term cattle futures all fell to the new limit Monday. Live cattle for delivery in February -- the current benchmark contract -- fell 5 cents to 81.17 cents a pound. Concerned about the impending expiration of the December contract on Wednesday, the exchange took emergency action for a second time to raise the daily trading limit for that contract on Tuesday. The Merc said that if the contract again falls the 5-cent limit Tuesday morning and stays there for an hour, an additional 2.5 cents would be allowed for a maximum fall for the trading day of 7.5 cents...Industry and government have plans for nationwide cattle ID system, but funding is lacking Last week's discovery of a single cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a Washington state dairy herd illustrates the need for a national livestock identification system to trace infected cattle in the U.S., government and beef industry officials say, but plans to deploy such a system are still hobbled by a lack of funding. A consortium of livestock producers and processors as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in September developed the U.S. Animal Identification Plan (USAIP) ,which called for identifying all 30 million cattle in the U.S. with a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag by July 2005. But, according to Robert Fourdraine, chief operating officer at the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium, who also served as IT director for the USAIP, funding "is the $600 million question." That sum is the estimated cost to deploy an electronic tracking system throughout the U.S. livestock industry, covering cattle as well as other animals such as pigs and sheep...South Florida Woman Battling Mad Cow As the federal government continues to assure Americans that there is little risk of mad cow disease spreading to humans after an infected cow was found in Washington state, a South Florida family knows first-hand how devastating the disease can be. Mad cow disease was first discovered in England in 1986 and a similar disease began showing up in humans 10 years later. To date, there are only about 150 known cases in the world, including one in South Florida. Charlene Singh is unable to speak, move or eat on her own. It has been nearly two years since she was diagnosed with Variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease. VCJD is the degenerative fatal brain disorder linked with eating meat from cattle infected with mad cow disease...BSE update: Finger pointing and trade issues Over the past week USDA has been forthcoming with new information about the first US case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow) as it becomes available in part to keep the markets from wide price swings based on uncertainty over the future of domestic consumption and the fate of export markets. The sharing of unconfirmed information has led to outcry from officials and producers in Canada. Over the weekend many, including Minister of Agriculture Bob Speller, said USDA was pointing fingers on Saturday when officials announced to the press that an eartag on the diseased Holstein indicated a connection to a farm in Alberta Canada...Sheep Ailment May Hold Clues to Mad Cow Disease No one knows for sure when or where the first cow went mad, but the first recorded case occurred in December 1984 when a dairy cow on a farm in West Sussex began to stumble around and act strange. That cow, identified only as No. 133 in a British government report, died two months later, as others on the same farm fell ill. An autopsy on one in 1985 found its brain full of holes, like a sponge. Sick animals turned up on other farms, and by 1986 the British knew they were facing an epidemic of a terrible new cattle disease. By 1994, the illness had spread to people, probably from eating beef. So far, the number of human cases has remained relatively small, 137, mostly in England, out of millions there who may have eaten contaminated meat. But the disease inspires fear because it is fatal, the incubation period is uncertain, people have no way of knowing they have been infected until they get sick and the symptoms are horrific. The disease attacks the brain, leaving a person mentally and physically helpless. Many victims were young, including some in their teens and 20's. Many scientists think Britain's mad cow epidemic had its origins in scrapie, a spongiform brain disease that occurs in sheep and goats. The name comes from the sick animals' tendency to rub against things and scrape off patches of wool... McDonald's Japan To Stop Selling US Beef Hot Dogs -Nikkei McDonald's Holdings Co. (Japan) Ltd. (2702.JA) on Tuesday will suspend sales of hot dogs that contain beef imported from the U.S. following the discovery there of a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad-cow disease, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported in its Tuesday edition. The Japanese arm of U.S. fast-food giant McDonald's Corp. uses Australian beef for its hamburgers, but 15% of its hot dogs consist of U.S. beef. McDonald's Japan will destroy all of the frankfurters that are in distribution and in stock at its stores. Following the suspension of hot dog sales, all of the beef products on its menu will use Australian beef...

Missouri Stockgrowers' Association
December 24, 2003

On Thursday, December 11, 2003, R-CALF-USA and a number of its affiliate cattle organizations sponsored a Prion Disease Roundtable in Denver, Colorado. Dr. R. M. Thornsberry, President of the Missouri Stockgrower’s Association was commissioned by R-CALF President Leo McDonnell to organize the roundtable and invite prion specialists to present information at the roundtable that would benefit the education of livestock producers throughout the United States.

Dr. Stanley Prusiner, the scientist who discovered prions, for which he won the Nobel Prize in medicine, was invited to the roundtable. Notes from Dr. Prusiner’s presentation on prions and prion diseases was presented to the roundtable by Dr. Thornsberry, who had attended one of Dr. Prusiner’s lectures on prion diseases. Although uable to attend the roundtable, Dr. Prusiner provided the roundtable with five papers published in prestigious peer reviewed medical and science journals. These papers were provided to all the attendees and key points from these papers were discussed at the beginning of the roundtable discussion. Dr. Prusiner emphasized normal cooking temperatures do not inactivate prions. This point is especially important when humans are exposed to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) prions in the normal process of consuming beef muscle cuts that may contain significant nerve tissue. Dr. Pruisner’s laboratory is currently developing a live animal test to determine whether or not an animal is carrying BSE prions prior to entering the food chain for human consumption.

Dr. Jason Bartz, an applied science researcher from Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska, was the second presenter at the roundtable. Dr. Bartz presented current research data on prion diseases and particularly outlined the pathogenesis of prion diseases. Dr. Bartz presented data that defined the ability of prions to replicate in secondary lymphoreticular system tissues, and the ability of prions to travel throughout the nervous system, finally locating within the brain or brain stem tissues where pathological changes occur. Dr. Bartz also presented data to illustrate the severity of prion disease appears to increase as the disease is passed from animal to animal. Dr. Bartz presented data to illustrate the infectivity and persistency of prions. Prions in brain tissue were heated to 600 degrees Celsius--that is over 1200 degrees Fahrenheit--and injected into brain tissue. These heat treated prions were still capable of causing prion disease changes. In other words, there is no commonly utilized method with which to inactivate prions on surgical instruments, surfaces, pens, corrals, chutes, ground, etc. Dr. Bartz also presented data that indicates tongue lesions or sores provide the mechanism for prions to enter brain tissue through the nerve that supplies the muscle tissue of an animal’s tongue. Dr. Bartz, with more sensitive immunodection, has identified prions in muscle tissues of the tongue.

Dr. Terry Spraker, a veterinary pathologist from Colorado State University, demonstrated in his presentation that not all animals that develop prion disease die immediately. On the contrary, animals can carry prion disease and shed large numbers of prions for months and maybe years before the disease progresses to the point where it may be identified by clinical symptoms. Dr. Spraker mentioned that research being done by Hamair Amair in Ames, Iown, Mike Miller with the Colorado Department of Wildlife, and Beth Williams thus far shows no evidence of natural transmission of Chronic Wasting Disease in deer and elk to cattle.

Dr. Linda Detwiler, adjunct professor and animal health consultant specializing in prion diseases and other regulatory issues, presented her findings from prion disease investigations in Canada and Europe. Dr. Detwiler also presented a short video of four Holstein cows with mad cow disease (BSE). The clinical signs were extremely subtle. Although they appeared essentially normal, they could have infectivity in certain tissues such as intestine and tonsil for months prior to developing clinical signs. Dr. Detwiler identified risk factors present in the United States and Canada that could result in exposing negative ruminants to prions. The BSE case in a native Canadian cow demonstrates that the BSE agent is in North America. Some of the current practices which could pose a risk to the North American cattle production system include no specified risk material (SRM) ban (tissues such bovine brain and spinal cord can still be included in nonruminant feed) so if the agent is present there could be contamination of feed for ruminants if produced in plants with no dedicated lines. There are certain exemptions to the current US feed ban which could potentially expose US cattle to the BSE agent. These include the feeding of ruminant blood meal, unfiltered beef tallow, and poultry litter to ruminants. In addition, there is no SRM ban in place for public health. That is, bovine brain, spinal cord and other potentially infected tissues may still be used in food products.

Dr. Susan Keller, Deputy State Veterinarian for North Dakota, presented the regulatory issues surrounding prion diseases including Scrapie in sheep and BSE in cattle. During a discussion on the most recent Havard Risk Assessment for BSE in the United States, Dr. Keller attempted to determine what the industry response would be to a single case of BSE in the United States. The fact that the incubation period of BSE is extremely long (possibly up to 20 years), Dr. Keller determined that responding to a single case of BSE could potentially encompass up to 20 years of regulatory activity to ensure the public that BSE was under control in the United States. Although the Havard Risk Assessment for BSE is accurate, it does not take into account the devastating effect of a single case in the United States on state regulatory function and financing. Once Canada is designated an acceptable risk country for export of meat or animals into the United States, other countries with a history of cases of BSE will also petition the United States government for the same export status.

Following the roundtable, a general consensus was reached on four topics:

-- Prion diseases are infective, especially within susceptible species. Although most animals that exhibit symptoms of prion disease die, thus ending the progression of the disease, that animal may in fact shed many prions into the environment prior to and after death.
-- Since there is no known Standard Operating Procedural method to adequately disinfect or inactivate prions, extreme caution should be taken with prion diseases, their research, and their disposal.
-- New more sensitive prion histochemial testing procedures identify prions in muscle tissue as well as lympoid and nervous tissue. This finding is reinforced by Dr. Prusiner’s laboratory, which is developing a preslaughter test to identify prions in tissues prior to meat entering the food chain. This finding means human exposure to prions in certain muscle cuts of beef is possible.
-- Opening the border to Canada is questionable until high risk factors such as the feeding of blood meal, feather meal, unfiltered beef tallow, poultry manure, and non-ruminant species feeding of meat and bone meal is properly addressed by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

The roundtable presentations and discussions were recorded. A transcript will be made available to the Academy of Veterinary Consultants, the American Association of Bovine Practioners, and the Colleges of Veterinary Medicine throughout the United States and Canada. A condensed version translated for the livestock industry will be made available to educate livestock producers about prion related diseases.

This press release was written by Dr. R. M. Thornsberry, the moderator of the Prion Disease Roundtable and has been edited and approved by those participating in the roundtable. A transcript approved by and edited by all participants will be available in January, 2004. For a copy of that transcript, write to: R. M. Thornsberry, D.V.M., P.O. Box 818, Richland, MO 65556 or email:cowman@webound.com

Sunday, December 28, 2003


Bridger-Teton National Forest officials propose more heli-skiing Bridger-Teton National Forest officials are proposing to allow more heli-skiing while redrawing permit boundaries for heli-skiing to limit interference with wildlife and backcountry skiers. The forest on Tuesday released a draft study and proposal to award a five-year permit to High Mountain Heli-Skiing, which has been permitted to guide heli-skiing trips in the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee national forests since 1977. The company had sought permission to expand its operation. Under the forest's preferred plan, the company would be allowed access for 1,000 skier days, up from 468 days originally permitted in 1984. The company had requested 1,500 skier days to meet future demand...Grizzly bear recovery presents new challenge Hans Peterson wasn't concerned when the 2-year-old grizzly bear wandered into the yard of his home in Tetonia, on the Wyoming border, in September. Even after the bear turned into a regular visitor, ignoring his barking dogs, Peterson didn't rattle. But when the 150-pound sub-adult sow refused to leave his garage after his wife honked the car horn, Peterson lost his patience with his new neighbor. The bear was trapped and moved by federal authorities last month, a scene that is expected to become a regular occurrence in eastern Idaho as the grizzly population continues to expand out of Yellowstone National Park. Peterson's non-violent resolution of his encounter with the bear is a sign of the success of the Endangered Species Act, signed into law 30 years ago today by President Richard Nixon...Species Act reform may be possible As the federal Endangered Species Act turns 30 today, groups warring over the landmark conservation law say they're edging toward a consensus that its future lies in cooperation instead of confrontation. Supporters and opponents alike say the act is being loved to death by environmental groups that have used it not only to save species from extinction, but to block -- or at least slow -- rampaging development. The Bush administration's chief overseer declared the act "broken," snapped under the weight of myriad lawsuits that now drive most aspects of the law. Environmental groups counter that Bush has sabotaged the law by not seeking sufficient money through a Congress that, in turn, is so split it hasn't reauthorized the act since 1988. It's funded instead on a year-to-year basis as critics and supporters spar over its future...Measure shielding wildlife turns 30 Thirty years after President Nixon quietly signed it into law, the Endangered Species Act remains one of the nation's premier environmental statutes and one of its most controversial. From the snail darter to the spotted owl to Pacific salmon, the law and its enforcement still spark fierce confrontations between environmentalists and business interests that almost inevitably end up in court. Repeated attempts to overhaul the law have been beaten back in Congress, though critics say they aren't about to give up trying. The original sponsors of the act may not have foreseen the impact it would have...Endangered Species Act hits 30 Paul Selzer can thank a tiny lizard for making him an unlikely member in the desert's club of Endangered Species Act pioneers. It was the early 1980s and Selzer, a Palm Springs attorney, had a client whose plans to build a new country club were being hindered in part because it would have threatened a population of Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizards. At the time Selzer said he had never heard of the Endangered Species Act, the 1973 law that was shielding the lizards' habitat from the proposed country club development. But he soon became acquainted with the landmark environmental law and, perhaps more important, an amendment to the act that would allow the country club to go forward and rewrite the way species are protected in the Coachella Valley and the nation. "Before (the amendment), if you found an endangered species on your property the game was over," Selzer said. "You couldn't do anything."...Pombo eyes overhaul of Endangered Species Act Since he was elected to Congress in 1992, Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, has steadily gained political influence in Washington, D.C. The former rancher serves on the Committee on Agriculture and last year was elected to a powerful post -- chairman of the House Committee on Resources. As chairman of the Resources Committee, Pombo helps set policies governing oil and gas exploration, logging, water use and endangered species protection. A staunch defender of property rights, Pombo recently talked about his legislative priorities...Activists protest Alaska in NYC On a Manhattan sidewalk jammed with shoppers and tourists, a tight band of animal rights activists Saturday tried to draw attention to the cause of Alaska wolves. "Save a wolf. Sign a postcard. Boycott Alaska," Bob Orabona called out to the crowd rushing past Rockefeller Center. Orabona works in the Connecticut headquarters of Friends of Animals, the group that staged the protest...Feds losing grip on species act A funny thing happened to the landmark Endangered Species Act (ESA) on its way to turning 30 today: Depending on whom you ask, the government either lost -- or ceded -- control over it. When a federal judge in Seattle this month ordered the government to rethink its decision not to protect Puget Sound orcas under the ESA, it did so at the behest of a Tucson, Ariz.-based environmental group, which had filed a legal challenge. Three decades after President Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law, nearly every major decision about what animals or plants to protect -- from the Columbia Basin's pygmy rabbit to the Washington gray squirrel -- is now made, at least in part, by Arizona's Center for Biological Diversity. Founded more than a decade ago by a philosopher, a biologist and an emergency-room doctor, the Center for Biological Diversity has grown so efficient and successful at filing lawsuits that it is responsible for more than 95 percent of the species nationwide that have been protected by the act since the year 2000...Endangered Species Act remains source of controversy Critics say that law went too far. Conservationists say not far enough. The Endangered Species Act offered crucial protection not just for critters but for us, too, scientists say. So in a state where the needs of both often clash, they say the battle to save species is far from won. Environmental groups considered the act a national wakeup call. It replaced weaker laws in 1966 and 1969 that set forth lists of endangered wildlife. For the first time, the government had to identify the most important habitats and create plans for recovering species. It also had to consult federal biologists before issuing permits for construction in areas where listed species live. Now, some wildlife advocates consider the results mixed...Endangered Species Act survives 3 decades: Law's future rocky as backers, critics deadlock on possible changes Whether the act that was meant to keep species alive has become creaky and outmoded -- or is just underfed after years of political stalemate and stagnant budgets -- is a matter for debate. The law's supporters cite its legendary successes, such as the comebacks of the bald eagle and the California condor. Backers say other victories are less well known but just as ecologically significant. But the law's critics -- including senior officials in the Bush administration -- say it has become an economic drag and is badly in need of reform...Column: GOP moves imperil dynamic, flexible, common-sense law On Dec. 28, 1973, I watched President Richard Nixon sign into law the Endangered Species Act. It was one of my proudest moments in Congress. For 30 years the ESA has been protecting our environment and species on the verge of extinction. Today, conservationists and supporters look at the ESA and call its enactment visionary, while developers and critics refer to it in four-letter terms not fit for printing on the pages of this newspaper. I disagree with both characterizations. To me, the ESA was and remains common sense. Like many of the cornerstone environmental laws we put in place during the early 1970s, the ESA's enactment was a nonpartisan, consensus undertaking: it passed the House by a vote of 391-12, and the Senate by a vote of 92-0...As list grows, so does struggle to save endangered species Now, 30 years after President Richard M. Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law on Dec. 28, 1973, conservationists are still wondering how to keep the dwarf wedge mussel, the bog turtle, and the wild yak from disappearing. The challenge gets bigger every year. In 1973, 77 species were on the endangered or threatened list. Today, more than 1,800 plants and animals are listed. Though critics slam the Bush administration for weakening environmental protection and say the process to get on the endangered list is cumbersome, even the harshest voices say the Endangered Species Act has been a positive force. "It's a law that has morals - and to me it's a miracle that it's stood intact for so long," said Brock Evans, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, which represents about 400 grassroots groups. "Sure, it could be better and improved, but this is a law with teeth."...The State of the Species The biggest battles now are over the act's requirement that endangered species listings be accompanied by designations of "critical habitat'' areas. Such a designation requires scientific review and a formal declaration by the U.S. Department of Interior that precludes habitat changes that would adversely affect the endangered species. Craig Manson, assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife and parks, has said a flood of court orders requiring the government to designate critical habitat for endangered species already on the list is eating up the program's $9 million annual budget. He said the requirement has become an obstacle to private landowner cooperation and has delayed the listing of other species that are in need of the act's protections. Only about 400 species have had critical habitat designations, Manson said, and to do the work for designating habitat for the other 800 species on the list would cost more than $150 million. Pending court orders require the Interior Department to perform assessments and designate critical habitat for 32 species on the endangered list...Editorial: An Endangered Act In recent years, skeptical members of Congress have frequently complained that the Endangered Species Act is "broken" and so riddled with litigation and ill-defined rules that it ought to be abandoned. Controversies over obscure plants and toads have led many to ridicule the act's stringent provisions. The congressional committees with jurisdiction over the law are now all controlled by members who oppose the act. As a result, it has not been reauthorized since 1988, when Ronald Reagan was in the White House, though it remains in effect by default. But however despised, the law has been a success, at least in one sense. Thanks to the legislation, the American bald eagle, whose near-extinction had become a symbol for environmental degradation, is still flying. Species as varied as the gray and red wolves, the American alligator, the black-footed ferret and the California condor have also recovered, and their numbers are increasing. The act has also inspired conservation efforts around the world, including a ban on trade in elephant tusks and the redesign of fishing nets, which once killed large numbers of endangered turtles in the Gulf of Mexico and now allow them to escape...Column: Allowing snowmobiles in Yellowstone is the right thing to do However, to the environmentalists' chagrin, populations of bison, as well as elk, grizzly bear and gray wolf, increased as the case ground its way through court. As snowmobile use had not decreased, other theories had to be advanced, including alleged water and air pollution. However, the Park Service's own environmental analysis showed that the air and water in Yellowstone are not polluted. While snowmobiles do have impacts, they are a fraction of the total human impacts to the park. This makes intuitive sense, as Yellowstone receives more than 1.6 million summertime visitors traveling in all types of motorized vehicles along a more extensive road network than previously available to the 60,000 or so visitors on snowmobiles. That doesn't matter to the environmentalists. They are driven by a philosophy that would eliminate much of the human use and visitation to all of America's parks. They truly believe that we are "loving our parks to death." Their ultimate vision for the National Park system is a vast primitive wildernesses connected by highly restrictive "wildland corridors" where humans will at best be allowed a quick glimpse through a carefully controlled mass transit system...Park employees can use snowmoblies Most of the new snowmobiling rules in Yellowstone National Park probably won't apply to people who live and work in the park's interior. "Personal, non-recreational use of snowmobiles will be allowed to continue" for employees, park spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews said last week...Denali park opens to snowmobiles Like much of Southcentral Alaska, Denali National Park and Preserve has gotten copious quantities of snow. Enough has fallen, park managers said recently, that portions of the 6-million-acre park are now open to snowmachines. But when Denali National Park and snowmachines are mentioned in the same breath, confusion is never far behind. The 4 million acres added 23 years ago to Mount McKinley National Park by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and designated either "park" or "preserve," are open, when snow cover is sufficient, to snowmachine access for "traditional activities." ANILCA did not specify what those activities are, but "congressional debate refers to subsistence-like activities associated with a rural Alaska lifestyle," according to a Park Service statement last May...Gibbons' plan to sell public land for mining criticized Rep. Jim Gibbons and environmentalists are clashing over his plan to sell public land in Nevada to two mining companies. The Reno Republican maintains the plan would give a boost to the rural economy, but environmentalists call it an end run on the nation's environmental laws to the benefit of one special interest. His plan calls for the sale of various plots of federal land in Elko, Eureka, Humboldt, Lander and White Pine counties to Placer Dome U.S. Inc. or Graymont Western U.S. Inc. The proposal would allow the companies to bypass what Gibbons views as excessive red tape: the permitting process of the National Environmental Policy Act...BLM looks to double gas wells allowed The U.S Bureau of Land Management has more than doubled the number of gas wells that would be allowed under the Jonah Infill Drilling Project. The BLM originally proposed allowing up to 1,250 new wells to be drilled from 850 new well pads for the lucrative Jonah gas fields of southwest Wyoming. Based on new information and a revised development proposal from Encana Oil and Gas, Inc., the BLM revised that number to 3,100, according to Carol Kruse, leader of the BLM Jonah Drilling Project Interdisciplinary Team...Environmen talists wary of Steens Wilderness plan Environmentalists fear that consultants with strong ties to the mining industry who wrote a management plan for about 1.6 million acres of public land in southeastern Oregon ignored their concerns. In October 2002, environmentalists from the Oregon Natural Desert Association asked the Bureau of Land Management to designate 363,000 acres in southeastern Oregon as wilderness study areas. The land surrounded the Steens Wilderness Area, which was created in 2000. They got no response. The proposed area fits into a larger parcel -- roughly 1.6 million acres -- for which the agency was writing a management plan...Drought: Current dry spell no match for Great Depression No matter how dry it gets or how long the current drought lasts, it probably can never compare to the misery of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. "Most of our population now is insulated from its effects," said Bill Volk, a soil scientist and plant ecologist for the Bureau of Land Management. "There's food on the shelves at the grocery store, and water still comes out of the tap." Only a very small percentage of Montanans - those still farming and ranching - have experienced the latest drought's direct effect, he said. The other 90 percent has yet to feel the pain...A dark age driven by wind A mighty wind blew out of Montana and Wyoming on May 8, 1934, sucking top soil off dried-up fields and blowing it in a vast brown cloud east across the country and onto ships 300 miles off the Atlantic coast. The dust storm was estimated at 1,500 miles long, 900 miles across and two miles deep. On its sweep across the continent, the storm picked up 350 million tons of dirt and drove it at speeds of up to 100 mph. On the night of May 9, an estimated 12 million tons fell on Chicago as the dark cloud advanced on the East Coast. Three days after the storm began, the dust headed out to sea...State gets challenge on public land auctions A challenge to the way the state auctions public land has complicated Phoenix's plan to preserve thousands of acres and threatens preservation plans of cities around the state. Two members of People for the West, a property-rights group, sent letters to the State Land Department to stop the state from selling land to Phoenix for the Sonoran Preserve in north Phoenix. The group questions the legality of the Arizona Preserve Initiative, a 1996 law that enables the department to mark some land for conservation at the request of cities and non-profit associations. The auctions for such land are closed to developers...Court opens door for gravel mining to resume The Idaho Supreme Court has refused to rehear Blaine County's arguments over zoning on state lands, opening the door for a gravel mining operation unpopular with local homeowners to resume operations. The court has denied the county's motion for another hearing after its July 23 decision, when it handed the state Land Board an exemption from local planning and zoning laws for its mining and other "non-commercial" leases of state endowment land. The high court overturned 5th District Judge James May, who gave counties regulatory authority over state trust lands. Income from those lands goes into the state endowment funds for the public schools...Texas county is reluctant to shoot ions into clouds Farmers and ranchers in these parts have been seeding clouds and harvesting rain for decades, scientifically fighting what has been a losing battle against the arid climate of the Lower Rio Grande Basin. But new Russian technology that purports to build rain clouds by shooting ions into the sky is instead creating a firestorm on the Texas border. A political squabble has broken out between Webb County Judge Luis Bruni and the four county commissioners, who can't decide if they want to be the first county in the country to test the IOLA (ionization of the local atmosphere) technology...Scientists test dogs to sniff out weeds Someday soon, man's best friend could also be one of his biggest allies in the war on noxious weeds. That's the hope of researchers like Kim Goodwin, who are studying whether dogs can be trained to detect the prolific - and problematic - spotted knapweed the same way they can be trained to sniff out drugs and bombs. Goodwin, a weed prevention coordinator at Montana State University at Bozeman, said she got the idea for putting dogs to work by seeing how dogs have been used at airports, post offices and ports of entry to search for everything from illegal drugs and bombs to prohibited agricultural products...Local cattle paper has global reach In his travels across the United States and Canada, Byron Bayers discovered a common thread among cattle ranchers. "You can go into Alberta or travel into Texas and if someone didn't know these people were from different regions, you'd never know," Bayers said. "Ranchers everywhere are trying to do the same thing and achieve the same end result." That's one of the many observations Bayers has had over the last seven years as the co-owner of the largest independently owned newspaper on the Hereford breed of cattle in the United States. Bayers, 73, of Twin Bridges, and his daughter, Jill Hotchkiss of Reva, S.D., have published "Hereford America" - which boasts a circulation of 15,500, including readers in every state and 11 foreign countries...Cowboy churches, where religion is easy, ropin' em in Wearing a cowboy hat, boots and string tie, Harry Yates doesn't look like a typical preacher. And the Texas Troubadour Theatre he's standing in front of - with its neon Texas-shaped sign flanked by guitars - is not your normal church building. But that is part of the attraction of the Nashville Cowboy Church, which draws several hundred worshippers each Sunday and has thousands more listening on the radio or via the Internet...Newcastle engraver's silverwork adorns saddle displayed on movie screen in "The Missing" It was the classic case of being in the right place at the right time for engraver-silversmith Linda Doyle Dearmore. The outcome was that some of her artistry has made it onto the movie screen in "The Missing," a big-budget western directed by Ron Howard and starring Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett. Dearmore, who lives on an 18-acre ranch in Newcastle with her husband, Cliff, has been putting her own distinctive stamp on western-style silver pieces for the last three decades. One of her big fans is Clint Mortenson, who owns the Silver & Saddles shop in Santa Fe and does work for Euro Disney's Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. Mortenson invited Dearmore to Santa Fe last February to bring her tools with her for a couple of weeks of work...On The Edge Of Common Sense: Capture one of good's great triumphs over evil It is particularly unfortunate over the holidays that politics interferes with all Americans enjoying one of the greatest triumphs of good over evil that the world has seen since Hitler was driven from power. On Dec. 13, Saddam crawled from his hole a beaten man. Our magnificent armed forces, from Rumsfield to Jessica Lynch, rode in like the avenging army of red, white and blue. Despite sharp turns, pot holes and setbacks, they never hesitated, never lost their resolve. It is the job of critics to ask questions, to make us examine our motives, to encourage us to consider our options. Some critics consider it their obligation to diminish successes, to create doubt, to question the cause, to sow the seeds of dissent. Critics at home and abroad have done their job. They did as well as they could in the face of overwhelming odds. Nine months is not much time to fight an opponent as committed and well-trained as America's armed forces...