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Drilling Rigs, 18-Wheelers Invade Peaceful Island
By Laura Fauth

endangered sea turtle
Think Fast: Endangered sea turtles now have to dodge 18-wheelers to build their nests on Padre Island National Seashore.
In a state where 97 percent of the land is privately owned, the Padre Island National Seashore, located southeast of Corpus Christi, Texas, is a rare jewel. The most visited public recreation area in Texas, the park encompasses 130,000 acres of barrier island habitat, including the longest undeveloped barrier beach in the world. Each year, nearly 1 million people flock to Padre Island to get away from city life and enjoy Texas' natural heritage.

Lately, however, visitors to Padre Island have found the once-peaceful barrier island disrupted by a surprising sight-heavy trucks, as many as 40 a day, traveling 15 miles along the park's ocean-side beach.

"With 18-wheelers rolling down the beach, the island is starting to look more like the Jersey Turnpike than a national park," says Fred Richardson of the Sierra Club's Lone Star (Texas) Chapter. "The trucks are ruining the seashore for people who go there to fish, swim, picnic, or just find some peace and quiet."M

The truck traffic began last year after the National Park Service approved two permits allowing BNP Petroleum, Inc., to drill gas wells in the seashore dunes. The Park Service has indicated that it plans to permit 15 to 20 wells for BNP within the next few years. If BNP wins approval for 20 wells, there could be continuous heavy truck traffic on the park beach for the next 30 years.

In addition to scaring off sunbathers, the traffic poses a serious threat to another Padre Island visitor-the Kemp's ridley sea turtle, the most critically endangered sea turtle in the world. Each year, Kemp's ridley turtles swim ashore on Padre Island to build their nests and lay eggs in the sand. During the last two decades, more Kemp's ridley nests have been documented on Padre Island than at any other location in the United States. Green and hawksbill sea turtles and loggerhead turtles also nest on Padre Island.

Last April, after the first permit was issued to BNP, the Sierra Club filed a legal challenge against Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to adequately disclose and consider the impacts of the drilling and truck traffic on the endangered sea turtles. According to the suit, truck traffic of the size and volume planned for Padre Island will have "a significant adverse impact on nesting turtles as well as other wildlife." The Park Service, however, has failed to come up with a long-term plan for protecting the turtles from oil and gas operations, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

"The heavy trucks could crush the turtle eggs, or pack the sand so much that the turtles are unable to get out and get back into the ocean," says Richardson. "The deep ruts created by trucks and bulldozers may even prevent the turtles from crossing the beach to establish their nests." The Sierra Club plans to present the merits of its suit to the judge by April 1, when the Kemp's ridleys return to the seashore.

The Lone Star Chapter is also calling for a federal buyout of mineral rights under Padre Island, and of certain mineral rights in coastal waters adjacent to the island. Rights to oil and gas reserves directly below the park are privately held, while the state owns the offshore mineral rights. In 2002, the Bush administration set a promising precedent when it offered a $120 million buyout of privately owned gas deposits under Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida.

"Padre Island is one of Texas' most loved parks-a special place that should be protected for our children and grandchildren," says Richardson. "A buyout is a win-win proposition for Texans and for turtles."

Take Action: Write or call President George Bush. Ask him to do for Padre Island National Seashore what he has committed to do for Florida's Big Cypress National Preserve - to support a federal buyout that will protect the park for future generations. Locals can also join the Sierra Club for a Camp-In and Sea Turtle Sand Castle Contest March 30 and 31 on Padre Island National Seashore. For more information, go to www.texas.sierraclub.org.


Help Protect Alaska's Rainforests-Permanently
By Laura Fauth

Two years ago, President Clinton administratively protected roadless areas of Alaska's Tongass and Chugach national forests, and wild forest areas in 37 other states, when he signed the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Since then, however, Bush administration directives have undermined the Roadless Rule, putting Alaska's rainforests back on the chopping block.

Supporters of Alaska's wild forests, including Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro (D), are now working to permanently safeguard wild areas of the Tongass and Chugach, so that the fate of the forests does not lie solely with the Roadless Rule. The Alaska Rainforest Conservation Act, authored by DeLauro, would protect more than 14 million acres of the Tongass and Chugach from clearcut logging, mining, roadbuilding, and other development, while allowing recreation, tourism, fishing, hunting, and traditional subsistence activities to continue.

Alaska's rainforest-stretching over 1,000 miles of coastline from Ketchikan at the southern tip of the panhandle to Kodiak Island-is the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. Most of this rainforest lies within the Tongass and Chugach national forests, home to salmon, marbled murrelets, lynx, wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, and the world's densest population of bald eagles.

"The Alaska rainforest is a world-class treasure owned by the American people, but it is being given away to special interests," said DeLauro, who first introduced the bill in 2001. "Administrative protections are no longer sufficient. This legislation has been carefully crafted to restore the balance among competing interests back in favor of the American people." DeLauro was expected to reintroduce the bill into the House of Representatives as The Planet went to press in mid-February.

More than 2.4 million Americans expressed support for the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which would have protected most of the land included in the Alaska Rainforest Conservation Act. When the Forest Service began revising its management plan for the Chugach in 1997, it received more than 30,000 comments supporting wilderness protection for the Chugach's Copper River Delta. And last year, in response to a draft management plan for the Tongass, Sierra Club members alone submitted 10,000 letters, faxes, and postcards expressing support for permanent protection of wild areas of the Tongass.

Despite this outpouring of support for wild forest protection, the Bush administration continues to pursue logging in the roadless areas of many national forests, including the Tongass and Chugach. Last year, the Forest Service released a management plan for the Chugach that fails to protect the Copper River Delta and other biologically important areas. The agency's draft plan for the Tongass, also released last year, leaves more than 9 million acres open to timber companies for logging and roadbuilding.

"Alaska's rainforests have become ground zero in the effort to protect roadless forests across the country,"says Sara Chapell, regional representative for the Sierra Club. "These forests are being heavily targeted for roadbuilding and new clearcuts. We want the Tongass and the Chugach permanently protected, so that no administrative or political whim can threaten their extraordinary wilderness and wildlife values."

Take Action: Write your representative and ask him or her to cosponsor the Alaska Rainforest Conservation Act. The legislation will need cosponsors both before and after its introduction into Congress.

To Take Action:
Write: The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500

U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510

U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515

Call: The White House, (202) 456-1111

Capitol Switchboard, (202) 224-3121


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