Suit forces Maryland to suspend shooting of mute swans

The state of Maryland agreed to stop shooting mute swans, a nonnative bird that state officials contend is destroying habitat in Chesapeake Bay.

An animal-welfare group had sued over the shootings, saying officials were making the elegant birds a scapegoat for the Bay’s environmental problems.

Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Gov. Robert Ehrlich, said the state will honor a request from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to suspend the shootings, which began April 25.

The federal agency had issued a permit allowing the state to kill up to 1,500 of the roughly 3,600 swans in the Bay, but decided to reconsider the issue after the New York-based Fund for Animals filed suit.

“Hundreds of these majestic, graceful birds have been saved from slaughter,” said Michael Markarian, Fund for Animals president.

The state defended the shootings in a letter to Fish and Wildlife announcing the suspension, saying the program “was thoroughly supported from a scientific perspective.”

State officials contend mute swans, which are natives of Eurasia, eat an estimated 10 million pounds of the Bay’s underwater grasses each year. Other efforts to control the population, such as coating their eggs with vegetable oil to keep them from hatching, have failed.

Opponents of the shootings have argued that there have been no conclusive studies showing the swans are eating too much grass or crowding out native birds.

State officials said they had killed fewer than 100 of the swans, descendants of five pet birds that escaped in the early 1960s. Fawell said he believed the suspension was temporary, but Markarian contended that Maryland will need a new permit if it wants to resume killing swans.

Whitman resigns EPA post

Christie Whitman, sometimes at odds with the White House over environmental issues and a lightning rod for the administration’s critics, announced that she would resign as EPA administrator effective June 27.
As EPA administrator, she was a member of the Chesapeake Executive Council, the top policy-making body for the Bay cleanup effort.

Whitman said in a letter to President George W. Bush that she was leaving to spend time with her family.
“As rewarding as the past two-and-a-half years have been for me professionally, it is time to return to my home and husband in New Jersey, which I love just as you do your home state of Texas,” she wrote Bush.

With Whitman’s departure as EPA administrator, Bush loses one of the most prominent women in his Cabinet—a moderate former New Jersey governor selected by the president to help soften his image as a political conservative, particularly on environmental issues.

In a statement, Bush called Whitman “a trusted friend and adviser who has worked closely with me to achieve real and meaningful results to improve our environment,” and also “a dedicated and tireless fighter for new and innovative policies for cleaner air, purer water and better protected land.”

“Christie Todd Whitman has served my administration exceptionally well,” he said. “I thank her for her outstanding service to our nation and wish her well as she returns to New Jersey.”

As Bush gears up his re-election campaign, the White House has advised that if senior staff and Cabinet members are thinking of leaving the administration, this is the time to resign; otherwise, they will be expected to remain aboard until after the 2004 election if Bush wins a second term.

Whitman had a history of sometimes clashing with the White House, starting with the president’s abrupt decision to withdraw from the Kyoto global warming treaty.

Whitman had differences with White House officials early during Bush’s presidency when she advised him in a March 6, 2001, memo that global warming “is a credibility issue for the U.S. in the international community” and “we need to appear engaged” in negotiations. The administration later withdrew from the Kyoto, Japan treaty on the issue negotiated by former Vice President Al Gore, Bush’s Democratic opponent in the 2000 election.

She also pushed enforcement of a Clean Air Act provision known as “New Source Review,” requiring that any increase in production from older factories, power plants and refineries be accompanied by state-of-the-art pollution controls. Those measures were opposed in Bush's energy policy initiative.

“I'm not leaving because of clashes with the administration. In fact, I haven’t had any. I report to the president, he has always asked me to give him my best unadulterated advice,” Whitman said in an interview.

Three White House officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, insisted Whitman was not forced out, but rather wanted to return home. They said Bush was nowhere near selecting a new EPA chief.

PA power plan could help Bay

Pennsylvania has launched a $5 million initiative that officials say will help improve air quality, preserve land and protect local watersheds while providing economic opportunities for the state’s agricultural community.
The initiative, Pennsylvania Energy Harvest, will help finance the implementation of clean and renewable energy technologies such as biomass and wind power.

“Pennsylvania Energy Harvest will encourage energy innovation by funding projects that use sources which in some respects are unique and especially important to Pennsylvania,” said acting Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty said.

“Embracing new technologies will ensure the state realizes dividends in environmental protection, economic growth and energy security. Pennsylvania has the potential to become a national leader in clean energy generation.”

Farmers, legislators, representatives of the agricultural community and environmental advocates attended the unveiling of the initiative at Rocky Knoll Farm, a 4,500-head hog farm that has been using a methane digester since 1985 to produce electricity. The digester generates about $3,500 per month in income by processing manure from the hog operation and a limited amount of milk product residue from a nearby Frito-Lay factory.

The output from Pennsylvania’s hogs and dairy cows can produce 631,000 megawatt hours, while keeping animal wastes out of waterways and, ultimately the Bay. That is enough to power 86,000 homes or reduce the need for 384,459 barrels of oil, which would fill up more than a half-million average-size cars with gasoline—or roughly the number of all passenger cars registered in Philadelphia.

Aside from biodigesters, wind energy also provides a steady income through leases and royalty payments. Although leasing arrangements vary widely, a reasonable estimate for income to a farmer or landowner from a single utility-scale turbine is about $3,000 a year. On a smaller scale, a 10-kilowatt wind turbine, the type typically found on farms, saves about $1,080 in energy costs each year. Farmers can still grow crops or raise cattle next to the tower.

The project also supports using biomass, which includes any organic and renewable material, such as agricultural byproducts, for electricity generation. A secondary benefit might include growing switchgrass to produce biomass. When planted near a stream as an energy crop, switchgrass reduces runoff and improves water quality.

“The Pennsylvania Energy Harvest program will support innovative solutions for increasing energy production, providing new economic incentives and improving water quality all in one fell swoop,” says Matt Ehrhart, Pennsylvania Executive Director for Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “Fostering still untapped renewable energy sources and creating viable economic uses for manure and coal waste streams is critical to cleaning up Pennsylvania’s waterways and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.”

Pennsylvania Energy Harvest mixes money from the Clean Air Fund, Growing Greener and U.S. Department of Energy grant funding to support clean and renewable energy projects that can help the state better manage its energy resources, improve the environment and spur economic development.

Bay lighthouse selected for stamp

A Chesapeake Bay lighthouse was among five recently selected by the U.S. Post Office to be featured in its continuing series of stamps highlighting the navigational aids.

The Old Cape Henry Lighthouse, located on the grounds of Fort Story in Virginia Beach, was selected along with four other southeast structures, Cape Lookout, Morris Island Lighthouse, Tybee Island Lighthouse and the Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse.

Cape Henry was the first lighthouse constructed by the U.S. government and began protecting the southern mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in 1792. It was replaced by a new lighthouse in 1881 and continued to be used as a navigational aid by vessels sailing around Cape Henry.

The quintet of lighthouses will be issued by the Postal Service on June 13, with first- day ceremonies in Tybee Island.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse is located on Core Banks along Cape Lookout National Seashore near Beaufort. NC. It was activated in 1859, replacing a smaller tower established in 1812.

Morris Island Lighthouse, at the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, SC, began operation in 1876 on the site of an earlier lighthouse that was destroyed in the Civil War. Since the late 19th century, it has weathered hurricanes, a major earthquake and total erosion of the land around its foundation.

Tybee Island Lighthouse was built in 1773 on Tybee Island, east of Savannah, GA. After the Civil War, it was rebuilt and restored. Marking the mouth of the Savannah River, this lighthouse guided ships safety into the harbor.

The Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse was built in Detroit and was erected before being shipped in parts to its present location near Pompano Beach, FL. It was reassembled and activated in 1907. Fully automated since 1974, its beam can be seen from more than 20 miles.