Nearly Half of US Bald Eagles Suffer Lead Poisoning

WASHINGTON — 

America’s national bird is more beleaguered than previously believed, with nearly half of bald eagles tested across the U.S. showing signs of chronic lead exposure, according to a study published Thursday.

While the bald eagle population has rebounded from the brink of extinction since the U.S. banned the pesticide DDT in 1972, harmful levels of toxic lead were found in the bones of 46% of bald eagles sampled in 38 states from California to Florida, researchers reported in the journal Science.

Similar rates of lead exposure were found in golden eagles, which scientists say means the raptors likely consumed carrion or prey contaminated by lead from ammunition or fishing tackle.

The blood, bones, feathers and liver tissue of 1,210 eagles sampled from 2010 to 2018 were examined to assess chronic and acute lead exposure.

“This is the first time for any wildlife species that we’ve been able to evaluate lead exposure and population level consequences at a continental scale,” said study co-author Todd Katzner, a wildlife biologist at U.S. Geological Survey in Boise, Idaho. “It’s sort of stunning that nearly 50% of them are getting repeatedly exposed to lead.”

Lead is a neurotoxin that even in low doses impairs an eagle’s balance and stamina, reducing its ability to fly, hunt and reproduce. In high doses, lead causes seizures, breathing difficulty and death.

The study estimated that lead exposure reduced the annual population growth of bald eagles by 4% and golden eagles by 1%.

Bald eagles are one of America’s most celebrated conservation success stories, and the birds were removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 2007.

But scientists say that high lead levels are still a concern. Besides suppressing eagle population growth, lead exposure reduces their resilience in facing future challenges, such as climate change or infectious diseases.

“When we talk about recovery, it’s not really the end of the story — there are still threats to bald eagles,” said Krysten Schuler, a wildlife disease ecologist at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, who was not involved in the study.

Previous studies have shown high lead exposure in specific regions, but not across the country. The blood samples from live eagles in the new study were taken from birds trapped and studied for other reasons; the bone, feather and liver samples came from eagles killed by collisions with vehicles or powerlines, or other misfortunes.

“Lead is present on the landscape and available to these birds more than we previously thought,” said co-author Vince Slabe, a research wildlife biologist at the nonprofit Conservation Science Global. “A lead fragment the size of the end of a pin is large enough to cause mortality in an eagle. “

The researchers also found elevated levels of lead exposure in fall and winter, coinciding with hunting season in many states.

During these months, eagles scavenge on carcasses and gut piles left by hunters, which are often riddled with shards of lead shot or bullet fragments.

Slabe said the upshot of the research was not to disparage hunters. “Hunters are one of the best conservation groups in this country,” he said, noting that fees and taxes paid by hunters help fund state wildlife agencies, and that he also hunted deer and elk in Montana.

However, Slabe said he hopes the findings provide an opportunity to “talk to hunters about this issue in a clear manner” and that more hunters will voluntarily switch to non-lead ammunition such as copper bullets.

Lead ammunition for waterfowl hunting was banned in 1991, due to concerns about contamination of waterways, and wildlife authorities encouraged the use of nontoxic steel shot. However, lead ammunition is still common for upland bird hunting and big game hunting.

The amount of lead exposure varies regionally, with highest levels found in the Central Flyway, the new study found.

At the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center, veterinarian and executive director Victoria Hall said that “85 to 90% of the eagles that come into our hospital have some level of lead in their blood,” and X-rays often show fragments of lead bullets in their stomachs.

Eagles with relatively low levels can be treated, she said, but those with high exposure can’t be saved.

Laura Hale, board president at nonprofit Badger Run Wildlife Rehab in Klamath County, Oregon, said she’ll never forget the first eagle she encountered with acute lead poisoning, in 2018. She had answered a resident’s call about an eagle that seemed immobile in underbrush and brought it to the clinic.

The young bald eagle was wrapped in a blanket, unable to breathe properly, let alone stand or fly.

“There is something hideous when you watch an eagle struggling to breathe because of lead poisoning – it’s really, really harsh,” she said, her voice shaking. That eagle went into convulsions, and died within 48 hours.

Lead on the landscape affects not only eagles, but also many other birds — including hawks, vultures, ravens, swans and geese, said Jennifer Cedarleaf, avian director at Alaska Raptor Center, a nonprofit wildlife rescue in Sitka, Alaska.

Because eagles are very sensitive to lead, are so well-studied and attract so much public interest, “bald eagles are like the canary in the coal mine,” she said. “They are the species that tells us: We have a bit of problem.”

Source: Voice of America

US Begins Counter-terrorism Training in Africa Amid Upheaval

The United States’ yearly counter-terrorism training program for African forces began on Sunday in Ivory Coast at a time of upheaval in which Islamist fighters control large areas, coups are on the rise and French forces are winding down.

The training program, known as Flintlock, will bring together more than 400 soldiers from across West Africa to bolster the skills of forces, some of which are under regular attack by armed groups linked to al Qaida and Islamic State.

Those not present included forces from Guinea and two countries worst-hit by Islamist violence, Mali and Burkina Faso. Military juntas have snatched power in those three countries since 2020, raising concerns about a return to West Africa’s post-colonial reputation as a “coup belt.”

Central to this year’s training is coordination between different forces fighting the same enemy.

“A main focus of Flintlock is information sharing. If we can’t communicate, we can’t work together,” said Admiral Jamie Sands, Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, at the opening ceremony.

Islamist militants roam across large areas of the Sahel, the arid band of terrain south of the Sahara Desert. Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have been overrun by attacks since 2015 that have killed thousands and uprooted more than 2 million people. Security experts say insurgents have infiltrated coastal countries including Benin and Ivory Coast.

The groups ghost across poorly-policed borders, confounding a mosaic of local and international forces who have spent billions of dollars trying eliminate the threat.

France has led the fight against the militants since 2013, but popular opposition to its intervention has grown. Last week it said it would leave Mali, moving instead to Niger.

Diplomats fear the exit of 2,400 French troops from Mali – the epicenter of the violence – could destabilize the region further.

Source: Voice of America

US Indo-Pacific Strategy Short on Trade Incentives, Experts Say

WASHINGTON — A major initiative to strengthen and cement America’s ties with Asia and counterbalance China’s expanding influence lacks robust trade incentives that are viewed as politically perilous in the United States, where protectionist sentiment runs high, experts told VOA.

The United States needs to intensify its focus on the Indo-Pacific region because of the “mounting challenges” posed by the rise of China, according to a strategy document released by the Biden administration last week.

“The PRC [People’s Republic of China] is combining its economic, diplomatic, military and technological might as it pursues a sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and seeks to become the world’s most influential power,” the strategy document said.

That description of China largely mirrors the view taken by the former Trump administration, which often took a bluntly adversarial stance toward Beijing. Beyond rhetoric, however, Biden’s strategy seeks to shore up regional alliances and partnerships that many see as critical to U.S. strategy in Asia.

It responds to the desire of many countries in the region for the United States to play a galvanizing role in addressing common challenges such as public health, climate change and anti-corruption, Ryan Hass, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told VOA.

“It is a welcome departure from the America-first mindset during the Trump era,” Hass said.

No economic framework, leadership

The new strategy calls for advancing freedom and openness, building collective defense capacity within and beyond the region, and building regional resilience. It also embraces what the administration calls “promoting shared prosperity.”

But Hass and other observers say the Indo-Pacific strategy lacks a coherent trade framework that gives countries in the region a good economic reason to deepen relations with the U.S. They say Washington’s international economic agenda should match the leadership role the United States seeks for itself in the region.

Robert Daly, director of the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, told VOA the strategy suffers from a fundamental contradiction in that it implies that the U.S. will engage in a high degree of global activism, following years of far more isolationist foreign policy under the Trump administration. At the same time, the Biden administration has not primed the American public to shift away from the Trumpian critique of globalization.

“They’ve put themselves in a box where they, for political reasons, seem to accept the Trump view that globalization is the playground of self-indulgent coastal American elites who don’t care about the heartland [of America],” Daly said. “What was needed was a better form of globalization that serves American interests — the Biden administration has chosen not to take that on.

Preceding Trump, the former Obama administration championed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade agreement with 11 other countries designed to be the cornerstone of U.S. economic policy in the region. The Trump administration withdrew from the TPP in 2017, leaving the other members to sign a revised deal, called Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

With no public support for multilateral trade agreements, the Biden administration has said it has no plans to join the CPTPP and has made clear it intends to continue its predecessor’s protectionist trade policies.

The White House has not yet shared details of its Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a component of the larger Indo-Pacific Strategy. The framework, which they billed as a “multilateral partnership for the 21st century,” was scheduled for launch early this year.

“As we consult with the Indo-Pacific partners, Congress and other stakeholders, we will have more to share as the process is ongoing,” deputy White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told VOA on Thursday. “It’s underway.”

The administration said the framework would “promote and facilitate high-standards trade, govern the digital economy, improve supply-chain resiliency and security, catalyze investment in transparent, high-standards infrastructure, and build digital connectivity — doubling down on our economic ties to the region while contributing to broadly shared Indo-Pacific opportunity.”

But officials have acknowledged the framework will not include opening up American markets, the economic carrot that analysts say is missing from the strategy.

“Why would regional states agree to serious concessions on climate or labor standards if the United States is unwilling to discuss trade or investment liberalization?” asked Zack Cooper, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “It appears that Washington is content to remain on the sidelines as Beijing integrates more deeply into the region’s economic order.”

In a briefing to reporters this month, a senior administration official acknowledged that regional countries want more but are “very realistic” about the constraints and challenges that shape the Biden trade policy.

Build Back Better World

Some analysts see the potential for incentives beyond market access.

“The promise of this [Indo-Pacific] initiative is that it will offer some other things that aren’t market access,” said Matthew Goodman, senior vice president for economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Goodman told VOA those may include improving international trade regulations or investing in infrastructure as promised in the Build Back Better World initiative.

Biden launched his Build Back Better World plan (B3W) during the June 2021 Group of Seven summit, with the goal of creating “a values-driven, high-standard and transparent infrastructure partnership” to help finance projects in developing countries.

U.S. officials led by Daleep Singh, the deputy national security adviser for international economics, have scouted several countries in Latin America and Africa to identify potential infrastructure projects, particularly those that focus on climate, health, digital technology and gender equality.

“There’s been enormous enthusiasm in every country we visited, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Ghana, Senegal, DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], parts of the Middle East, Indonesia, Thailand, and other parts of the world,” Singh told VOA Friday.

B3W has been framed as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s international development program that has financed infrastructure projects in Asia, Africa and Latin America and has made inroads in Europe. China’s BRI investments have been criticized by outside groups for not assessing environmental and social impacts, lacking financial transparency and leaving some governments struggling to pay for costly infrastructure.

“The reason there’s so much enthusiasm is that countries do want a choice,” Singh said. “For a long time. China has been the only game in town for many of these countries, and in many cases, they have buyers regret.”

Last year the administration promised to include details of some initial projects during the formal launch of the initiative, originally scheduled for early 2022.

“We will have more details to come in the coming months on how to continue to implement this initiative, and the projects the U.S. government is investing in with allies and partners,” Jean-Pierre said to VOA Thursday. “This is something that the president is committed to.”

Allies and partners

Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy promises steps to deepen America’s existing treaty alliances with Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand. It also aims to strengthen relationships with regional partners such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Pacific Islands.

Continuing Trump’s approach, the administration is putting strong emphasis on the Quad – a regional grouping among the U.S., India, Japan and Australia.

Much of the strategy rests on the presumption of what the other actors will do, according to Aparna Pande, director of the Hudson Institute’s Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia.

“Japan and South Korea should get along, ASEAN should remain central, India should play a bigger role,” she told VOA, pointing out that with India’s plummeting economic growth, New Delhi may not be able to accept that challenge.

The strategy also aims to strengthen deterrence of military threats, with Japan and South Korea to pursue denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang has taken a series of provocative steps while ignoring Washington’s offer of talks without preconditions.

North Korea conducted 11 missile launches in January, a record in a single month, including a new type of “hypersonic missile” able to maneuver at high speed. It has also raised the possibility of restarting nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

Military deals

While the Biden administration is not offering greater access to American markets, it has been handing out military deals.

Earlier this month, the administration approved a possible $100 million sale of equipment and services to Taiwan to “sustain, maintain and improve” its Patriot missile defense system.

The sale is in line with the Indo-Pacific Strategy goal of supporting Taipei’s self-defense capabilities in hopes of promoting peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. However, it has triggered an angry threat of retaliation from Beijing, which claims the democratically self-governed Taiwan as its breakaway province.

Earlier this month, the administration also approved the potential sale of F-15ID aircraft and related equipment to Indonesia in a deal valued at up to $13.9 billion, despite human rights concerns that have delayed previous arms sales to the country. The last arms deal made by Washington and Jakarta was in 2011.

Other deals include AUKUS, the September trilateral security pact with Australia and the United Kingdom to provide Canberra with nuclear-powered submarines.

More deals are expected and sharper contours of the Indo-Pacific Strategy may take shape as Biden hosts ASEAN leaders in Washington in the coming months and travels to the region for summits later in the year.

Source: Voice of America

Good Rainy Season Forecast for Parts of Drought-Stricken Horn of Africa

GENEVA — A new seasonal forecast for the drought-stricken Horn of Africa shows many parts of the region can expect a good rainy season.

The forecast by the World Meteorological Organization is good news for millions of people suffering acute hunger because of poor harvests caused by several years of drought.

However, WMO spokesperson Clare Nullis said that good news is coupled with warnings that people should still prepare for what she called a worst-case scenario.

“The March-to-May rainy season is really, really important for many countries in the region,” she said. “In the region, it accounts for about 70% of the total annual rainfall. So, obviously if there were to be a renewed failure of the rains, there would be massive socioeconomic consequences.”

The World Food Program says 12-14 million people in three of the worst-affected countries — Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia — are facing severe hunger due to the devastating drought across the Horn of Africa.

The WMO says southern to central parts of the region have the highest chances of receiving more rain than normal at this time of year. Countries include Tanzania, eastern Uganda, northern Burundi, and eastern Rwanda.

However, it says western South Sudan, and central and northeastern Ethiopia are likely to receive less rain than usual.

Given the below-average rainfall the past three seasons, meteorologists say a wetter-than-normal season does not mean the region will immediately recover from the drought.

Nullis said countries in the eastern part of the Horn should prepare for the worst.

“In the regions worst hit by drought, the current trends are comparable to those observed during the 2010-2011 famine and the 2016-2017 drought emergency,” she said. “There is obviously a delay between planting and harvesting. The next harvest will not start until about August, so we are not going to see any immediate positive impacts.”

More than a quarter-million people died in the Somalia famine between 2010 and 2012, more than half of them children. More than 6 million people, half of Somalia’s population, were ravaged by the severe 2017 drought. Few people died, though, because the international community responded quickly to the acute hunger emergency.

Source: Voice of America

The Scoop – Friday February 18, 2022

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By Doug Samuels Since 1999, all sources remain confidential. Mail@FootballScoop.com or 225.229.3429 2021-22 Tracking Pages: Our pages tracking the hires across college football are now live. OC TRACKER – DC TRACKER View the original article to see embedded media. Sioux Falls (D-II): Per source, former Waldorf (NAIA – IA) offensive coordinator Brody Rohach has accepted quarterbacks job. Mercer University’s Joel Taylor (DC) Moved to 3-High Spacing, Then Jumped 40 Spots in Total Defense: Teaching route distribution in Drop 8 coverage is easy, how you’re fitting a potential five-man box in the ru… Continue reading “The Scoop – Friday February 18, 2022”

African Development Bank Group approves $379.6mn Desert to Power financing facility for G5 Sahel countries

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The Board of Directors of the African Development Bank Group (www.AfDB.org) has approved the Desert to Power G5 Sahel Financing Facility, covering Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. The Bank envisages to commit up to $379.6 million in financing and technical assistance for the facility over the next seven years. The Desert to Power G5 Financing Facility aims to assist the G5 Sahel countries to adopt a low-emission power generation pathway by making use of the region’s abundant solar potential. The facility will focus on utility-scale solar generation through independent power pro… Continue reading “African Development Bank Group approves $379.6mn Desert to Power financing facility for G5 Sahel countries”