The Daily Grist: March 9

Migratory Routes Increasingly Threatened

One of the significant but little-noted shortcomings of wildlife preserves is that they only protect animals that stay put.
Biologists who study large-scale animal migrations worry that many of nature's most spectacular feats of persistence and survival are threatened by habitat loss and development. For instance, each winter pronghorn antelope travel 300 miles south from the Grand Teton Mountains in northwestern Wyoming to a flat mesa where wind clears the snow from grass. At four points their route narrows to about a hundred yards wide, and one of those bottlenecks has been developed into a natural gas field. Similar difficulties face caribou, monarch butterflies, wildebeests, and scores of other peripatetic creatures. Some migratory routes -- like that of the whooping crane of the southern U.S. -- have been restored, but given the wide swaths of land required for such projects, many biologists fear that species unfortunate enough to require summer homes may be destined for decline.

Not Corn Yesterday
U.K. Ministers Green-Light Genetically Modified Corn

In the U.K., they fight over genetically modified foods the way folks in the U.S. fight over "America's Next Top Model." The daily drip of accusations and counter-accusations can blur the eyes, but today brought a bona fide significant development:
U.K. ministers officially announced that they would allow commercial plantings of genetically modified corn, a symbolically charged decision marking the first legalization of a GM crop in Britain. The announcement is expected to be met with a flurry of protests and court challenges; critics charge that scientific testing has been inadequate and public opinion disregarded. Still to be decided are questions of coexistence -- whether GM crops can be planted next to non-GM crops -- and liability -- who's responsible if GM crops contaminate neighboring crops. Even the most optimistic GM supporters don't expect to see seeds in the ground until 2005 at the earliest.

Sore Eyes for Sites
Eleven New Sites Proposed for Superfund

The U.S. EPA yesterday proposed adding 11 new sites to its Superfund toxic-site cleanup program, but
critics say the number is too small and the program woefully underfunded. The new sites represent the biggest, dirtiest, most complex cleanups in the country, the "real turkeys that the states don't want to touch," said EPA's Randolph Dietz. Since the program began in 1980, Superfund has completed cleanups of close to 900 sites; 1,240 remain unfinished. Critics point out that funding for the program has declined steadily -- and now that the industry-tax-supported trust fund has run out (Congress has refused to renew the taxes since 1995), cleanups are paid for entirely from general tax revenues, sticking taxpayers with the bill. They also complain that the number of contaminated sites added to the cleanup list has dropped sharply under the Bush administration, disguising the extent of the problem.

For more environmental news and humor go to Grist Magazine.

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