America’s great outdoors in danger <br>

This fall, many Americans are planning weekend trips to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Whether you are looking forward to camping or hiking in a nearby national forest, discovering the next great fishing spot, or eagerly awaiting the start of the hunting season, it is a good time to get outside and enjoy the cooler temperatures and fall foliage.

But what many Americans may not know when they head outside this fall is that the fish they catch might not be safe to eat and some of our national forests may soon be logged.

The federal government is right now working to weaken limits on mercury pollution that is contaminating fish across America. Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that has been linked to learning disabilities, developmental delays and more.

A recent study by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund showed that in the latest U.S. EPA tests of fish caught from America’s lakes, every fish sample tested was contaminated with mercury, 55-percent contained mercury levels that exceed EPA’s “safe” limit for women of childbearing age, and 76-percent exceeded the safe limit for children under age three. This situation is not only hazardous to the fish that live in these polluted waters but is also a risk to those fishermen and their families who like to eat what they catch.

Power plants are the biggest unregulated source of this pollution, responsible for 40-percent of total U.S. mercury emissions threatening our fish and waterways.

The good news is that we can solve this problem by simply requiring power plants to install the best available pollution controls, which EPA’s own research shows can reduce mercury emissions by 90-percent. Unfortunately, the Bush administration is proposing to delay by at least 10 years rules that would require power plants to install these pollution controls.

Unfortunately, in addition to unnecessary mercury pollution, the lands of our national forests are on the chopping block. From the magnificent national forests in Arizona to the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest to the misty groves of the Southern Appalachians, America’s national forests are home to some of the most striking beauty on earth. They provide clean drinking water for 60 million Americans across the country and critical habitats for one-quarter of America’s endangered species, including the grizzly bear, wolf and salmon. In addition, they provide endless opportunities for recreation and solitude.

The federal government, however, has proposed a repeal of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Logging, road-building and development will be permitted in areas that are critical for wildlife, such as fish, migratory birds and more.

Millions of Americans visit and vacation in our national forests, and it is no coincidence that 2.2 million people, including almost 20,000 Arizonans, have submitted public comments to the Forest Service opposing the repeal of the Roadless Rule.

Americans love the great outdoors, and we should preserve our heritage and our outdoor pastimes for future generations. It is time for the federal government to put solutions into action.

By Brad Johnson, Arizona Public Interest Research Group and Frederick A. Fillmore, Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited

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