No. 361, June 3, 2005

GILA MONSTER HELPS DIABETICS

   

OFF-ROAD VEHICLES BANNED FROM 700 MILES OF ROADS AND TRAIL IN CALIFORNIA

   

OLD-GROWTH TIMBER SALE CHALLENGED IN ARIZONA

   

PACIFIC STURGEON PROPOSED FOR ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT PROTECTION

 

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GILA MONSTER HELPS DIABETICS

Diabetes is a dangerous, often deadly disease that afflicts nearly 200 million people worldwide. It is especially common in the United States, with more than 18 million victims. Over 90 percent of diabetics suffer from the Type 2 form in which the body does not produce enough insulin to control blood sugar. Scientists have struggled for decades to develop drugs to help the body produce normal, lasting insulin levels. Current drugs do not last very long and do not selectively target times when levels are abnormal.

The Federal Drug Administration has just approved a radically new drug—marketed as Byetta—that comes from the venomous saliva of Gila monsters. Dr. John Eng, an endocrinologist at the Bronx Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New York City, became interested in the Gila monster because it eats very irregularly and thus possesses some way of regulating its blood sugar over long periods of time. He also knew that humans bitten by venomous reptiles often develop a condition called pancreatitis, or inflammation of the insulin-producing pancreas. Eng suspected that the Gila monster's saliva contains a chemical that influences the pancreas' regulation of blood sugar. A decade of research later, Dr. Eng identified that chemical as exenatide and developed a radically new drug that may be superior to currently used diabetes treatments because it is long-lasting and only has an effect when blood sugar levels are abnormal.

Second only to the saguaro as an icon of the Sonoran Desert, the Gila monster is a large, colorful and secretive reptile. It is rarely seen because it spends most of its time in underground burrows. It is protected from collection and killing by the State of Arizona. "I've come to really appreciate the Gila monster, and I don't want to see it disappear," Dr. Eng recently told the Arizona Daily Star. "I know it's under pressure from all the development out there, so please make sure the Gila monsters are well taken care of in Arizona. I have to say I'm thrilled this drug has proven successful, I want to thank the Gila monster."


OFF-ROAD VEHICLES BANNED FROM 700 MILES OF ROADS AND TRAIL IN CALIFORNIA

On 5-9-05, a federal judge ordered California's Eldorado National Forest to close more than 700 miles of roads and trails to off-road vehicles (ORVs). Judge Lawrence K. Karlton announced his proposed order at the conclusion of a hearing in a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, and the California Wilderness Coalition. The suit was brought because the Forest Service refused to systematically review and control the impact of ORVs, which have proliferated across an unplanned and unworkable network of roads and trails that span the forest. The Forest Service has 30 days to propose a schedule for reviewing ORV impacts across the entire forest.


OLD-GROWTH TIMBER SALE CHALLENGED IN ARIZONA

On 5-2-05, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter and the Southwest Forest Alliance challenged the logging of 50,000 old-growth trees on the Kaibab National Forest in northern Arizona. The logging would occur on the 22,000-acre Jacob Ryan "Vegetation Management Project." Despite the fact that 95 percent of southwestern old growth has already been logged, and the Kaibab National Forest has one the few remaining extensive old-growth ponderosa forests left in North America, the Forest Service has concentrated much of its logging plans there in recent years. The Kaibab also has the densest populations of northern goshawk in North American and much of it was designated as the Grand Canyon National Game Preserve by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.

This sale is a classic example of the Forest Service’s exploitation of concerns about forest health and fire to promote old-growth logging. Although this area is 23 miles from the nearest community, the Forest Service is using forest health and fire risk reduction as justifications to log thousands of old-growth trees. At the same time the Bush administration is spending money to log old-growth trees, Arizona is receiving two and a half million dollars less than was requested for hazardous fuels reduction and community protection projects.

Forest Service fire experts and fire ecologists say the greatest fire risk is in the density of trees 12 inches in diameter and smaller that make up roughly 90 percent of the trees in southwestern forests (more than 70 percent are six inches or smaller), and that thinning and burning underbrush and small-diameter trees, rather than logging large trees, is the key to preventing catastrophic fires and protecting communities. Illogically, the Bush administration’s plan calls for more logging of large trees rather than focusing on the small trees near communities.


PACIFIC STURGEON PROPOSED FOR ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT PROTECTION

On 4-6-05, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued a formal proposal to put green sturgeon populations south of the Eel River in California on the federal endangered species list. The decision came after the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups sued the Bush administration in 2003 for bizarrely declaring that west coast sturgeon were not endangered. In March 2004, a federal judge struck down the protection denial and ordered the agency to make a new decision in conformance with the best available scientific information.

Green sturgeon are long-lived, slow-moving fish that can grow to lengths of seven feet and weigh 350 pounds. Like salmon, they spend part of their lives in the ocean and return to the rivers where they were born to spawn. The Fisheries Service concluded that dams in California's central valley, including those on the Sacramento and Feather Rivers, block sturgeon migration.

Unfortunately, the Fisheries Service simultaneously declared that green sturgeon populations in northern California, Oregon and Washington are not endangered despite the fact that they have declined dramatically in the past century. The Klamath-Trinity basin may prove to be the last holdout for the ancient species. If the agency does not revisit this refusal to protect sturgeon in the Pacific Northwest, the Center may have to sue again.


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