Grist staff

Keep the Pedal From the Metal

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is barring off-road enthusiasts from one of their favorite playgrounds in Utah — but this time, it’s to safeguard their own health, not that of the environment. At Manning Canyon, a recreation area near Salt Lake City, the soil is contaminated with arsenic, lead, mercury, and other heavy metals from a nearby gold mine. Every time a motorist revs the engine, the pollutants are churned up and fill the air. The BLM plans to spend $6.8 million containing and cleaning up the mining tailings that contaminate the site. The project won’t be completed until …

Presto Change-o

Frogs are changing genders — and it ain’t just to Halloween getup. The most popular weed-killer in the U.S. is causing sex changes in frogs, according to a summary of a new study published today in Nature. The study, led by Tyrone Hayes, a biologist with the University of California at Berkeley, contains the first field evidence that atrazine, an herbicide used since the 1950s and once thought benign, is causing developmental defects in a common Midwestern frog. In one watershed researched, 92 percent of the male frogs had been feminized in water with just 0.1 parts per billion of …

Arkansas of the Covenant

Arkansas is poised to consider an innovative plan to create an “alternative fuels” tax on electricity and gas users in the state. Under the plan, which state Rep. Herschel Cleveland (D) said yesterday that he would introduce to the state assembly early next year, residents would be charged a 25-cent tax on each of their monthly electric and gas bills, while commercial and industrial users would be charged 25 cents for every $1,000 of electric or natural gas use per month. The tax would raise an estimated $2 million annually and would be used to create an alternative-fuels fund. Chris …

And other words from readers

  Re: Old MacDonald Had an Idea Dear Editor: Elizabeth Sawin’s article on sustainable agriculture was excellent, but it left out a key piece of the efficiency equation. Today’s farmers not only compete against other farmers in the United States who are subject to U.S. policy, but against all farmers worldwide. Even without expanded definitions of efficiency, our farmers are up against competition that is able to use more “efficient” pesticides banned for use in the U.S. (although usually produced by U.S. companies), farming methods that are far more environmentally destructive, labor that is not only cheaper, but would violate …

The Owl and the Pussycats

Canadian wilderness activists still can’t get over their astonishment or their delight over yesterday’s announcement by International Forest Products (Interfor) that it would halt all logging in spotted owl habitat in British Columbia, Canada. The company is the second-most active logger in the endangered owl’s terrain; not long ago it was considered Public Enemy No. 1 by environmentalists internationally for its logging practices in a pristine valley north of Vancouver. Last year, Interfor agreed to a moratorium on cutting in the most controversial areas of the valley; spokesperson Steve Crombie said the company now wanted to show that “[l]oggers care …

Send in the Marine Reserves

Australia has unveiled plans to create the world’s largest marine reserve in 16 million acres of the Indian Ocean, 2,500 miles off the nation’s southwest coast. The Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve will be twice the size of Switzerland and will protect one of the world’s most pristine marine environments from exploitation, including fishing and oil and mineral extraction. The Antarctic waters of the reserve-to-be are home to many important species, including the endangered southern elephant seal, the sub-Antarctic fur seal, and the Patagonian toothfish. Heard Island is home to Big Ben, Australia’s highest mountain and only active …

The Dead Phone

If you’re thinking about chucking your cell phone, think twice: Most of the 128 million mobile phones currently in use in the U.S. will end up incinerated or at the bottom of a landfill, according to a report released by the environmental organization Inform and partly funded by the U.S. EPA. By 2005, 130 million cell phones will be discarded each year, resulting in 65,000 tons of electronic waste annually, whose toxic components accumulate in plants, soil, and water. It’s not just a U.S. problem — 1 billion cell phones are in use worldwide — but some other countries have …

Ready, Willing, and Sable

There’s sad news and a silver lining in the world of endangered species today. On the sad side, the first California condor chick brooded and hatched in the wild in nearly two decades was found dead of unknown causes last Friday in Los Padres National Forest. The death of the chick was a blow to a $35 million effort to save North America’s largest bird; still, the program is hailed as a success by biologists, who note that condor numbers have risen from 15 in the 1980s to a current population of almost 200, 73 of which are surviving in …

Sleep With the Fishes

At least 20,000 chinook salmon and other fish have died in Northern California’s Klamath River in the last two weeks, but federal officials are unwilling to attribute the deaths to the Bush administration’s decision to divert water away from the river this year and into an irrigation project in southern Oregon. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams said fish health began to improve on Saturday, well before emergency releases of water from Oregon’s Upper Klamath Lake reached the California “dead zone.” He and other federal officials say that fact suggests that low water flows weren’t responsible for the …

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