Anthrax, tigers, and bison
Jack Woodall has raised some very important and contentious issues in wildlife conservation. 1 It is true that improved funding such as that available in countries like Canada could help achieving conservation goals in developing countries like India, where poaching poses a threat to many wild species, including the tiger. Interestingly, Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, where he had an unpleasant and life-threatening experience is supposed to be among the better-managed ones, having been ranked the fifth-best in an IUCN study. Conditions are far worse in many other reserves, especially those in remote areas. Dampa in Mizoram, for instance, is reported to have only eight personnel to guard its 500 km2 area. The poaching problem is accentuated by the presence of human settlements within the protected areas; tribal peoples and others have been living in the forest for ages.
Thus a mere increase in funds is unlikely to solve the multi-faceted problems of India's tiger reserves, where the greatest challenge is to find an economic-ethical mechanism that would perhaps enable people and tigers to co-exist. Unless these issues are addressed with an innovative, humane and balanced policy, the tiger in India will eventually find a place only in the annals of wildlife historians.
Department of Ecology and Environmental Science
Assam University, India
Snyder, sludge fighter
To bolster her arguments against the application to soils of treated sewage sludge/biosolids, Caroline Snyder, who holds an AB in Germanic Languages and a PhD in Germanic Languages and Literature, cites a small number of published peer reviewed papers and points to media accounts, gray literature, and undocumented allegations. 1 As with any other commenter, her views should be accorded appropriate weight in relation to the scientific literature she cites and her specific expertise.
The peer-reviewed literature on the management of biosolids includes thousands of papers. In creating the 1993 federal Part 503 regulations, EPA tapped the literature for the agency's extensive risk assessment. Two subsequent National Research Council reviews found biosolids applied to soils in accordance with federal regulations present "negligible risk," 2 and "There is no documented scientific evidence that the Part 503 rule has failed to protect public health." 3 Every ten years since 1973, land application researchers have held a major conference to review the state of the science and identify future research priorities; the most recent was January 2004.
Sewage sludge must be managed, because it is a necessary by-product of wastewater treatment. There can be significant agricultural and environmental benefits when sewage sludge is treated (e.g., with lime, digestion, composting, etc.) and applied as biosolids to grow crops, in accordance with regulations. This happens to 50% of US sewage sludge. Such utilization of a local source of macro- and micro-nutrients, moisture, and organic matter - replacing the need for significant amounts of imported chemical fertilizer - is often the best option in terms of conservation of energy and resources. Not all sewage sludges meet state and federal standards and can be recycled to soils; but many do and should be.
North East Biosolids and Residuals Association
References1. K. Grens, "Snyder, sludge fighter," The Scientist, 20(11):21, November 2006. 2. National Research Council, Use of Reclaimed Water and Sludge in Food Crop Production, Washington DC: National Academy Press, 1996. 3. National Research Council. Biosolids Applied to Land: Advancing Standards and Practice, Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2002.
Disclosure for extramural NIH researchers?
In February 2005, in the wake of conflict-of-interest scandals in the NIH's intramural program, 1 the NIH prohibited paid consulting for all government scientists, about 6000 of them, who work at the NIH's central facility in Bethesda, Md.
However, the 200,000 scientists and research personnel receiving funds from the NIH at universities, medical schools, and other research institutes around the country were not affected. These recipients of grants and contracts in the NIH's extramural program were and still are allowed to accept consulting fees and other forms of private payment from drug and biotechnology companies.
These scientists have been filing financial disclosure statements within their own institutions. However, their disclosure statements are kept secret, within each institution. Why not require easily accessible public disclosure of the statements? Public surveillance would strengthen self-policing by the institutions.
Almost 30 years ago members of Congress imposed on themselves a requirement to disclose their own private finances in detail. Their annual financial disclosure reports are readily available at www.opensecrets.org/pfds. It is only reasonable that similar rules should apply to NIH-funded scientists who accept private payments for consulting. A serious move to require this kind of public disclosure - as a condition of NIH funding - is likely to meet resistance from grantees, contractors, academic institutions, and corporations.
Congress should ask NIH Director Elias Zerhouni to abide by his own words that transparency - full public disclosure - is "one of the best protections" against conflicts of interest. Until now he has not seen fit to protect patients and the public by requiring such disclosure.
Project on Government Oversight, Washington, DC
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An article in our January issue (21:20) on ticks, mice, and deer misidentified a rodent as yellow-tailed mouse instead of yellow-necked mouse. The name was correct in a photo caption on the same page. In the same article, the deer now being studied should have been described as "radio-tagged" instead of "radiolabeled." The Scientist regrets the errors.