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Richemont chairman Johann Rupert to take 'grey gap... Billionaire 62-year-old to take 12 months off from Cartier and Montblanc luxury goods groupRichemont's chairman and founder Johann Rupert is to take a year off from September, leaving management of the...

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Cambodia: aftermath of fatal shoe factory collapse... Workers clear rubble following the collapse of a shoe factory in Kampong Speu, Cambodia, on Thursday

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Cost of saving endangered species £50bn a year, say experts

Category : Business

Annual spending to protect species and habitats is less than half the amount spent on bankers’ bonuses last year

Spending on conservation projects must rise by “an order of magnitude” if governments are to meet their pledges to manage protected areas and halt the spectacular rate of extinctions caused by human activity.

A stark assessment from an international collaboration of conservation groups and universities reveals the enormous shortfall in funds required to save species, and warns that costs are likely to increase, the longer action is delayed.

To reduce the risk of extinction for all threatened species would cost up to $4.76bn (£2.97bn) every year, they say, with a further $76.1bn (£47.4bn) required annually to establish and manage protected areas for species known to be at risk from habitat loss, hunting and other human activities.

Though governments agreed in 2010 through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to reduce the rate of human-induced extinctions and to improve protected areas by 2020, progress has been limited, in part because the financial costs of different strategies have been unclear.

“These seem enormous figures to us as individuals, but in terms of government budgets they are trivial,” said Stuart Butchart, the global research co-ordinator at BirdLife International in Cambridge.

“The $3-5bn to improve the status of threatened species and prevent extinctions is less than the amount that the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier is over budget. And the cost for both species and site targets is less than half the amount spent on bankers’ bonuses last year.”

The costings will feed into the meeting of the CBD under way in Hyderabad, India. Writing in the journal Science, the authors warn that resolving the conservation funding crisis is urgent. One challenge those attending the CBD meeting must address is the disparity in resources available for conservation in richer countries and the greater potential for conserving species in poorer, more biodiverse countries.

The costs to save individual species vary as widely as the strategies required. The ground-nesting raso lark is found on only one of the Cape Verde islands, and conservationists hope to reintroduce it to a neighbouring island. Before that, a population of cats introduced by humans must be exterminated. “They would probably wipe out any birds that you put there,” said Butchart.

In the US, the Californian condor used to range across the country, but no longer. One threat to the birds is the lead shot used by hunters in the wild. The birds are scavengers and can suffer if they ingest lead from animal carcasses.

Efforts to protect rhino populations have focused on controlling poaching, guarding their habitats and providing suitable grasslands. In the Mediterranean, a programme of captive breeding and reintroduction has improved the lot of the Mallorcan midwife toad.

For their analysis, the authors gathered details on the conservation of 211 globally threatened bird species and the costs to improve their status by one category on the red list of threatened species, maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. For example, a species ranked as endangered might be reclassified as merely vulnerable after a successful conservation project. The researchers devised a model that then extrapolated the costs of conservation to all threatened bird species.

Drawing on other conservation data for threatened mammals, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and plants, the scientists arrived at a model that could predict the costs for all threatened species.

In parallel, the team gathered information on the costs of protected areas for bird life and from these worked out how the cost would rise to establish and maintain safe havens for all threatened species.

“These aren’t bills, they are investments in natural capital, because they are dwarfed by the benefits we get back from nature, the ecosystem services, such as pollination of crops, regulation of climate, and the provision of clean water,” said Butchart.

“Governments have found vast sums to prop up the financial infrastructure of the world. It’s even more vital to keep our natural infrastructure from failing,” he added.

A working life: the head of pets

Category : Business

Veterinarian Maeve Moorcroft is responsible for all areas of health and welfare for the thousands of animals that pass through the doors of nationwide chain Pets at Home

“Sorry to keep you waiting. My snake is about to shed.” In 25 years of writing this is certainly the most unusual excuse I have ever heard, and Maeve Moorcroft is one of very few people who could get away with it.

Moorcroft is head of pets for Pets at Home, responsible for all areas of health and welfare of the thousands of animals that pass through the doors of the nationwide chain.

I am meeting her the morning after a very difficult evening for both her and Pets at Home: BBC’s Watchdog programme had run a lengthy feature on the health of a few of the pets sold by the store. I thought Pets at Home was going to fare quite well after seeing the first segment, which mostly related to a couple of cases of ringworm in guinea pigs; but the second part involved undercover filming in several stores, showing dead fish in tanks. A few looked like they had been dead for several days.

“We were answering calls until 11pm last night,” Moorcroft says. As we walk around the head office in Wilmslow, Cheshire, it’s clear more are still coming in, and one or two colleagues (you are not allowed to use the word “staff” at Pets at Home, everyone is a colleague) stop Moorcroft for advice or to ask her to talk to the pet owner on the other end of the line.

Moorcroft, who is Irish, qualified as a vet in Dublin in 1990 and spent 10 years working in the Peak District dealing mainly with domestic animals, “with the odd sheep and wildlife emergency thrown in”. She met her husband to be, a shepherd who now runs their farm, after treating one of his sheepdogs on New Year’s Eve, and now has two sons aged seven and five.

Like many vets, Moorcroft found that the long and often unsociable hours of being in practice did not fit well with having a family. She switched to working for a pet product manufacturer as their veterinary adviser, helping to make sure their products were safe and suitable.

Three years ago she moved to Pets at Home, becoming the first vet to hold the position of head of pets, involved in all areas of health and welfare of the company’s pets, fish and reptiles. Among other things, the role involves liaising with suppliers, checking where animals come from, supervising their care in store and overseeing the stores’ adoption centres.

She runs a team of about 10, including specialists in reptiles and fish, and two veterinary nurses working in a support role. Given the size of the company – 80 stores employing about 5,500 people with a turnover of £12m a week – this seems quite a modest number.

Moorcroft spends part of the morning answering emails and calls, mostly from the stores or vets contacting her about animals bought from Pets at Home, and is briefed by her team on the progress of a new range of guides published in association with the RSPCA and the licensing of various stores.

The open-plan office she sits in is like no other I’ve ever visited. There are a couple of dogs meandering between a selection of baskets and bean bags, and nearly every desk includes an aquarium or vivarium holding a wide array of fish, snakes, reptiles and amphibians. Moorcroft’s snake, Jean Genie, sits in a tank on her desk.

She moves on to visit a Stockport store with a specialist aquatic centre and featured prominently in the Watchdog programme. The staff are upset, and there is a high manager-to-colleague ratio on the shop floor to reassure staff and deal with customer inquiries.

While Pets at Home disagreed with some of the points made by the BBC programme, chief executive Nick Wood issued a statement saying the company would review its health check training and the frequency of the checks on its fish tanks.

We meet “Fishy” Pete, a marine biologist who is one of Moorcroft’s team, to inspect the fish: cold water, tropical and marine. The tanks are spotless and the only inverted fish is one which Pete assures me likes being upside down.

Some vets have a poor opinion of pet shops, and until recently the RSPCA has opposed the sale of animals through a shop environment. Has Moorcroft received flack from her veterinary peers for switching over to pet sales? “Veterinary science is a vocation, and I spent all those years in college because I wanted to help animals. Now I’m in a really good position to do that. Yes I’m one step removed, but I can get things in place to make things better,” she says.

Curriculum vitae

Hours Officially 8.30am to 5pm. Five weeks holiday plus bank holidays.

Work-life balance “It’s better than when I was in practice, and getting better still because of my veterinary nurses.”

Salary The average starting salary for a vet can be anything between £21,800 and £33,500 a year, depending on experience. However, further training and experience can increase the average salary to around £36,500. Moorcroft’s salary is equivalent to that of a senior vet, who can earn upwards of £50,000.

Best thing “Getting the chance to influence the health of thousands of animals all around the country.”

Worst thing “Laying awake at 4am, worrying about guinea pigs and rabbits.”

Microbes manipulate your mind | Mo Costandi

Category : Business

Bacteria in your gut may be influencing your thoughts and moods, raising the possibility that probiotics could be used to treat psychiatric illnesses

“The thought of parasites preying on your body or brain very likely sends shivers down your spine. Perhaps you imagine insectoid creatures bursting from stomachs or a malevolent force controlling your actions. These visions are not just the night terrors of science-fiction writers—the natural world is replete with such examples.

“Take Toxoplasma gondii, the single-celled parasite. When mice are infected by it, they suffer the grave misfortune of becoming attracted to cats. Once a cat inevitably consumes the doomed creature, the parasite can complete its life cycle inside its new host. Or consider Cordyceps, the parasitic fungus that can grow into the brain of an insect. The fungus can force an ant to climb a plant before consuming its brain entirely. After the insect dies, a mushroom sprouts from its head, allowing the fungus to disperse its spores as widely as possible.”

That’s the introduction to my feature article about how the microbes in your gut might influence your brain and behaviour, which is out now in the July/ August issue of Scientific American MIND. The article focuses mainly on the work of Jane Foster and John Bienenstock of McMaster University in Ontario and John Cryan of University College Cork, who have been collaborating on experiments designed to test how certain species of gut bacteria influence the activity of genes in the brain. Below is a story I wrote last year about some of the work from Foster’s group, updated to include quotes and new research that has been published since I wrote the feature.

Gut bacteria may influence thoughts and behaviour

The human gut contains a diverse community of bacteria that colonize the large intestine in the days following birth and vastly outnumber our own cells. These so-called gut microbiota constitute a virtual organ within an organ, and influence many bodily functions. Among other things, they aid in the uptake and metabolism of nutrients, modulate the inflammatory response to infection, and protect the gut from other, harmful micro-organisms. A study by researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario now suggests that gut bacteria may also influence behaviour and cognitive processes such as memory by exerting an effect on gene activity during brain development.

Jane Foster and her colleagues compared the performance of germ-free mice, which lack gut bacteria, with normal animals on the elevated plus maze, which is used to test anxiety-like behaviours. This consists of a plus-shaped apparatus with two open and two closed arms, with an open roof and raised up off the floor. Ordinarily, mice will avoid open spaces to minimize the risk of being seen by predators, and spend far more time in the closed than in the open arms when placed in the elevated plus maze.

This is exactly what the researchers found when they placed the normal mice into the apparatus. The animals spent far more time in the closed arms of the maze and rarely ventured into the open ones. The germ-free mice, on the other hand, behaved quite differently – they entered the open arms more often, and continued to explore them throughout the duration of the test, spending significantly more time there than in the closed arms.

The researchers then examined the animals’ brains, and found that these differences in behaviour were accompanied by alterations in the expression levels of several genes in the germ-free mice. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) was significantly up-regulated, and the 5HT1A serotonin receptor sub-type down-regulated, in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. The gene encoding the NR2B subunit of the NMDA receptor was also down-regulated in the amygdala.

All three genes have previously been implicated in emotion and anxiety-like behaviours. BDNF is a growth factor that is essential for proper brain development, and a recent study showed that deleting the BDNF receptor TrkB alters the way in which newborn neurons integrate into hippocampal circuitry and increases anxiety-like behaviours in mice. Serotonin receptors, which are distributed widely throughout the brain, are well known to be involved in mood, and compounds that activate the 5HT1A subtype also produce anxiety-like behaviours.

The finding that the NR2B subunit of the NMDA receptor down-regulated in the amygdala is particularly interesting. NMDA receptors are composed of multiple subunits, but those made up of only NR2B subunits are known to be critical for the development and function of the amygdala, which has a well established role in fear and other emotions, and in learning and memory. Drugs that block these receptors have been shown to block the formation of fearful memories and to reduce the anxiety associated with alcohol withdrawal in rodents.

The idea of cross-talk between the brain and the gut is not new. For example, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is associated with psychiatric illness, and also involves changes in the composition of the bacterial population in the gut. But this is the first study to show that the absence of gut bacteria is associated with altered behaviour. Bacteria colonize the gut in the days following birth, during a sensitive period of brain development, and apparently influence behaviour by inducing changes in the expression of certain genes.

“One of the things our data point to is that gut microbiota are very important in the first four weeks of a mouse’s life, and I think the processes are translatable [to humans],” says Foster. “I’m getting a lot of attention from paediatricians who want to collaborate to test some of these connections in kids with early onset IBS. Their microbiota profile is wrong, and our results suggest that we have a window up until puberty, during which we can potentially fix this.”

Exactly how gut bacteria influence gene expression in the brain is unclear, but one possible line of communication is the autonomic branch of the peripheral nervous system, which controls functions such as digestion, breathing and heart rate. A better understanding of cross-talk within this so-called ‘brain-gut axis’ could lead to new approaches for dealing with the psychiatric symptoms that sometimes accompany gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS, and may also show that gut bacteria affect function of the mature brain.

More evidence that gut bacteria can influence neuronal signalling has emerged in the past few months. In June, Cryan’s group reported that germ-free mice have significantly elevated levels of serotonin in the hippocampus compared to animals reared normally. This was also associated with reduced anxiety, but was reversed when the gut bacteria were restored. And at the General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, also in June, researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas described experiments showing that one bacterial species found in the gut, Bifidobacteria dentium, synthesizes large amounts of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA.

SSRIs, the class of antidepressants that includes Prozac, prevent neurons from mopping up serotonin once it has been released, thus maintaining high levels the concentration of the transmitter at synapses. And benzodiazepines, a class of anti-anxiety drugs that includes diazepam, mimic the effects of GABA by binding to a distinct site on the GABA-A receptor.

All of this suggests that probiotic formulations that are enriched in specific strains of gut bacteria could one day be used to treat psychiatric disorders. “There’s definitely potential on numerous levels, but I do think studies need to be done in a proper, robust manner in representative samples,” says Cryan. “Even as an adjunctive therapy for anti-depressants, this could be really important, but first we’ll have to figure out which species are going to be beneficial, and how they’re doing it.”

Microbiota researcher Rob Knight of the University of Colorado, Boulder, agrees that probiotics could potentially be useful. “I find the mouse data convincing but there’s not yet direct evidence in humans,” he says. “What’s needed is longitudinal studies of at-risk individuals to determine whether there are systematic changes in the microbiota that correlate with psychiatric conditions, and double-blind randomized clinical trials. Research-supported, FDA-approved and effective products are likely at minimum 5-10 years off, but given the lax regulation of probiotics, I’m sure that products could be on the shelf tomorrow.”

Travelodge Kicks Off National Teddy Bear Swap at Philadelphia Zoo

Category : Stocks, World News

Thousands of Stuffed Animals Expected to Be Donated to Local Charities

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Ripples from Pebble felt far from Alaska

Category : Business

Even Republicans are against the huge Pebble mine, which could ruin a pristine salmon fishery – but locals are in two minds

Rick Halford is a “manifest destiny” kind of Alaskan. He cleared his land with dynamite. He calls himself the “ideal redneck Republican”. As a longtime leader in the state legislature, he never met a hard-rock mine he didn’t like.

That is, until he took a long look at the proposed Pebble Mine in south-west Alaska. It is a phenomenal prospect, the biggest and richest in North America. But to dig a mine there is to make a Faustian bargain that involves an agonizing Alaskan twist.

In return for copper and gold worth an estimated $500bn (£320bn), state and federal regulators risk poisoning what scientists describe as the last best place on earth for millions of wild salmon.

“If God were testing us, he couldn’t have found a more challenging place,” said Halford, who helped write Alaska’s industry-friendly mining laws when he was president of the state senate.

The global mining corporation Anglo American and its Canadian partner, Northern Dynasty Minerals, which have formed the Pebble Partnership, want to dig one of the world’s largest open-pit mines – up to three miles wide and 600 metres deep. They want to do it in the near-pristine watershed of Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

Worry about the mine, in a place where extensive exploration and drilling has been going on for more than a decade, echoes far beyond south-west Alaska. Major environmental groups have mobilised against it, with the backing of eminent salmon scientists and celebrities such as Robert Redford.

More than 50 top jewellers around the world worldwide, including Tiffany, Zales and Boucheron, have promised not to use gold that comes from Pebble. Restaurants, chefs and seafood distributors across the US have also come out against the mineit. Its supporters include Sarah Palin, who backed the project when she was state governor.

The proposal has triggered partisan infighting that reaches from the Alaskan tundra to the halls of Congress, where House Republicans accuse the Obama administration of plotting a pre-emptive move to kill the mine.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) described the Bristol Bay fishery as “a significant resource of global conservation value” in a report this year. It noted that more than 14,000 people had jobs based on salmon fishing, which sustainably generates $480m a year. It also warned that, during the lifetime of the Pebble Mine, accidental spills of waste were likely to pollute some waterways, creating the potential for killing salmon and poisoning their habitat for many years.


The EPA’s draft scientific assessment of mining impacts on salmon outraged Northern Dynasty. It called the study in June as “a fundamentally flawed document that is premature, rushed, omits key sources of scientific data … and distorts other data to arrive at conclusions that are simply not supported in science”. Executives at the Pebble Limited Partnership, a company owned in equal parts by Northern Dynasty and Anglo-American, say they have the know-how to operate an open-pit mine in the Bristol Bay region for a hundred years or more — without significant harm to salmon fishing.

“I really do think you can do both,” said John Shively, chief executive of Pebble, told the US documentary series Frontline. Pebble’s slogan is “Fish Come First.”

Protecting salmon in perpetuity from mining waste is a corporate pledge that Native Alaskan fishermen find impossible to believe. They note that the Pebble site occupies a soggy saddle of land between the salmon-rich Nushagak and Kvichak rivers, which flow through the heart of the world’s most productive sockeye watershed. The site is also prone to extreme weather and big earthquakes.

Jason Metrokin, president of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC), the region’s largest native-owned business, said leaks of toxic mining waste are inevitable, as is harm to the fishery. The BBNC’s 9,000 Eskimo, Indian and Aleut shareholders have voted overwhelmingly against Pebble as a threat to their economy and culture.

Scientists who have studied the long-term biological consequences of hard-rock mining are dumbstruck by the prospect of an open-pit mine in an ecosystem where 30m-40m salmon return from the Pacific each summer – and where commercial and sport fishermen catch half of them without reducing the historic abundance of fish.

“It is essentially a goose laying golden eggs,” said Tom Quinn, a University of Washington fish biologist who has studied the watershed and camped there for 25 years. Elsewhere, in North America and across the world, when major mining development has occurred near a salmon or trout watershed, there has been a consistent pattern of pollution that erodes the health of fish or kills them outright, according to Quinn and many other researchers.

Even the best mining technology, engineers and ecologists say, periodically fails to prevent spills and leaks. After mines foul streams and rivers, cleaning up the mess and reviving salmon runs have proven to be expensive, complicated and slow. Fish biologists say that the damage usually turns out to be irreversible given the persistent toxicity of the pollutants, the chronic lack of government money for remediation – removing pollution from soil, groundwater, sediment or surface water – and the history of mining companies in ducking clean-up obligations.

“There really is no such thing as a ‘no-risk’ mine,” said Nicole Vieira, a Colorado State University researcher who studies the effects of mining on rivers in the Rocky mountains.

The federal government is well aware of the risks. It has been obligated by the Endangered Species Act to spend billions of dollars on salmon restoration in western rivers. However, at best, huge spending by taxpayers has helped return only a small fraction of the historic fish runs in what had once been great salmon highways.

In its assessment this spring of the potential impact of open-pit mining in the Bristol Bay ecosystem, the EPA spelled out the costly trouble the Pebble Mine could create. At a minimum, with no accidents or failures, it said that the mine would cause the loss of spawning and rearing habitat for multiple species of salmon, removing about 70 miles of streams and five square miles (13 sq km) of wetlands. More worryingly, the report said that evidence from the operation of similar large mines suggests that one or more accidents or failures would probably occur, releasing toxic waste with the potential to cause “immediate, severe impacts on salmon, and detrimental, long-term impacts on salmon habitat and production”.

The EPA says it has the authority under the Clean Water Act to stop Pebble Mine from being built. It is now in the process of determining whether it should use that power. But the agency’s report – and the possibility that the Obama administration might stop the mine before the state permitting process formally begins – has prompted an angry response from the state of Alaska and Republicans in Congress.

Leading the charge in Washington is Darrell Issa, a Republican Representative for California and chairman of the House committee on oversight. In a letter to the EPA in May, he said the agency appeared to be considering “an unprecedented and legally questionable” bid “to pre-emptively veto permits for the Pebble project”. By moving to stop the mine before other state and federal agencies examined the project, Issa said the EPA was “arriving at a conclusion without all the facts”. His letter demands that the agency disclose internal documents related to its assessments of the mine and reveal names of employees who worked on the review.

Alaska state authorities also dispute the EPA’s authority to make the assessment, with the state’s attorney general calling it “unlawfully pre-emptive, premature, arbitrary, and capricious”. The dispute over jurisdiction – and when EPA can weigh in on Pebble – seems certain to end up in a federal court. The push to develop Pebble Mine comes amid surging global demand for copper. Historically high metal prices have given mining conglomerates such as Anglo American plenty of capital to invest in challenging engineering projects and to fight their way through opposition in the courts for years or even decades.

So far, the Pebble Partnership has spent about $450m on exploratory drilling, permit preparations and public relations. If the mine moves forward into production, it expects to spend another $7bn or more on bringing electricity to the site, as well as on the construction of a pipeline, an 86-mile private road for freight, and earthen tailings dams for storing waste. The money would benefit many large and small companies across Alaska.

The world needs more copper. It is a vital component in our gadget-crazed, electrically-powered culture and in devices that reduce use consumption of fossil fuels. Hybrid cars contain nearly twice as much copper as conventional cars. Wind turbines require tons of it. So does the power grid, which is expanding rapidly to hook up windfarms, solar panels and geothermal plants. In China and across the developing world, the need for copper is growing even faster than it is in the United States.


John Shively, chief executive of the Pebble Partnership, said: “If you want to go to a green technology, something has to come out of the ground to build these things. And that’s just the way it is.”

The Bristol Bay salmon fishery, which environmentalists fear will be badly affected by the mine, is as productive and healthy now as it was a century ago. And in ways that non-scientists often fail to appreciate, sockeye and other species of salmon are fundamental building blocks of life in southwest Alaska. Fattened by their years in the Pacific, the fish deliver about 20,000 tonnes of nutrients to bears, wolverines, eagles and Native Alaskans, according to the EPA assessment. Phosphorus and nitrogen from rotting fish that have died after spawning are vital to plants and trees. Studies show that trees near salmon-rich streams grow up to three times faster than those near waterways without salmon.

North of Bristol Bay, tens of millions of juvenile sockeye come of age each year in a vast salmon incubator called Lake Iliamna. Nearly 80 miles long and 22 miles wide, it is the largest undeveloped lake in the United States. It also happens to be about 15 miles downstream via Upper Talarik Creek from the proposed Pebble Mine – a geographic coincidence that mortifies fish biologists.

“If you were to pick the worst place in the world from the point of view of salmon to have an activity like [an open-pit copper mine], this would be right exactly where they’ve got it,” said Quinn, the fisheries biologist from the University of Washington. “If Iliamna isn’t the strongest of the [salmon] strongholds, nothing is.”

In its assessment of open-pit mining at the site, the EPA said there is a risk that during the expected life of the mine, some contaminates – including dissolved copper – could wash into Lake Iliamna from pipeline breaks or the failure of water-treatment systems. These accidents have occurred at other similar mines in the past, the EPA said.

In native villages along the shores of Lake Iliamna, residents eat salmon nearly every day. Catching salmon is a seasonal ritual that binds families together, while preserving cultural identity. Salmon, though, are not enough to survive in modern Alaska. To pay bills, villagers say they need cash. The best-paying fishing jobs have always been in towns around Bristol Bay, which is about 80 miles south of Lake Iliamna but not reachable by road. Even in Bristol Bay many native Alaskans have sold their fishing permits to non-Alaskans, who now hold about two-thirds of the lucrative drift-net permits and earn most of the fishery’s cash revenue.

Near Lake Iliamna, good year-round jobs were always hard to find. That is, until the discovery of Pebble.

“If Pebble wasn’t here, I don’t know where I would be working,” said Sheena Ishnook, 23. She has a $17.50-an-hour job operating an incinerator in Newhalen, a village on the lake. The job is funded by the Pebble Partnership, as part of its campaign to win over local support.

With her savings, Ishnook bought an iPad and is saving for a snow blower and a pick-up truck. She knows that the mine might harm the salmon she and her family rely on for food. “It is kind of a big risk,” she said. “But other than that, it gives us job opportunities, makes us stay here at home instead of moving away.”

For several years now, Alaskans have been haggling about – and voting on – the risks and rewards of the proposed mine. Television and radio periodically bombard them with advertisements, some financed by Pebble, others by environmental interests. A statewide vote in 2008 narrowly supported the mine, with the backing of then-governor Sarah Palin. But in the autumn of 2011, residents of the sparsely populated Lake and Peninsula borough, where the mine would be built, voted narrowly against it. The vote was 280 against, 246 for. There are only 1,631 people in the borough, which is about the size of Ireland.

Within days of the “no” vote, Alaska’s attorney general, John Burns, launched a lawsuit to invalidate the election, saying that a “small majority of voters” in a local community could not usurp “comprehensive state authority”.

The promise of well-paid jobs at Pebble – 2,000 in construction and 1,000 in mining – comes at a time when Alaska is searching for new tax revenues to replace dwindling income from its main oilfields on the North Slope.

Current rules require mining firms to pay salaries and overhead costs at the Alaska department of natural resources when state employees process mine permits. Under these rules, no big mine has been turned down by the state.

The regulations – which Rick Halford helped write in the 1980s when he was Republican leader in the state Senate – have saved money and encouraged small- and medium-sized mine operations, he said. But he now believes the rules undermine the state’s ability to evaluate a multibillion-dollar project such as Pebble.

“States are too close to the short-term jobs,” Halford said. “It’s difficult for the state to say no.”

Like many conservative Alaskans, Halford hates it when the federal government, particularly the EPA, intrudes in state business. Still, as much as he would like to see more mining, more well-paid jobs and more economic activity in Alaska, the scope of Pebble – and its perennial risks – have convinced him that any decision about the mine’s future should be made at the national level.

“The real hope of stopping this development is the national conscience,” he said.

• Blaine Harden reported this story for the documentary series Frontline. The film Alaska Gold will be broadcast in the US on the US

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Parks Canada Launches Educational Album Gallantine au parc Forillon

Category : Stocks, World News

GASPÉ, QUEBEC–(Marketwire – July 21, 2012) - To mark Canada’s Parks Day, Parks Canada and Gaspesian artist Sylvie Gallant (Gallantine) are pleased to launch Gallantine au parc Forillon, a joyous and educational album that transports children to the heart of nature, offering them an intimate connection to Forillon Park’s animals.

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Parks Canada Launches Educational Album Gallantine au parc Forillon

Category : Stocks, World News

GASPÉ, QUEBEC–(Marketwire – July 21, 2012) - To mark Canada’s Parks Day, Parks Canada and Gaspesian artist Sylvie Gallant (Gallantine) are pleased to launch Gallantine au parc Forillon, a joyous and educational album that transports children to the heart of nature, offering them an intimate connection to Forillon Park’s animals.

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Scottish trawlerman has £1m seized for role in fisheries scandal

Category : Business

Ian Buchan, of Peterhead, pleaded guilty to illegally landing and selling £4.5m worth of mackerel in ‘black landing’ scam

A Scottish trawler skipper has had £1m seized by the courts after pleading guilty to a major role in one of Europe’s largest illegal fisheries scandals.

Ian Buchan, 55, from Peterhead, was given the £1m confiscation order after he admitted illegally landing and then selling nearly £4.5m worth of mackerel in a highly sophisticated “black landing” scam to evade European fishing quotas.

The confiscation order, made at the high court in Edinburgh on Friday under legislation introduced to combat organised crime, is one of the largest ever made against an individual by the Scottish courts.

The record remains a £1.3m fine against Michael Voudouri, for a £3m VAT evasion in 2006, while the engineering firm Weir Group was fined £3m and had £13.9m of profits confiscated for evading sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

Buchan was among four skippers given confiscation orders for their part in landing over-quota fish at two processing factories in Peterhead, which have also been convicted and fined for handling tens of millions of pounds worth of illegally caught mackerel and herring.

By March this year, 27 skippers and three processing factories, including Shetland Catch outside Lerwick, Shetland, pleaded guilty to illegally landing £63m worth fish over a five-year period. By that point, the largest single confiscation order was £425,900.

The master of the vessel Quantus, Buchan landed at Fresh Catch in Peterhead, which had fitted an underground pipe and switching valves, operated from an anonymous and clandestine hut known as the Wendy House, which was disguised with fake “Danger: high voltage” signs on its door.

The confiscation orders issued on Friday against the other three skippers totalled £187,281.

Lord Mandelson confirms he is advising company accused of illegal logging

Category : Business

Peer’s consultancy works for paper and pulp multinational alleged to have chopped down protected trees

Lord Mandelson has been recruited to advise a multinational company accused of illegally chopping down endangered rainforest.

The Labour peer and his staff in the political consultancy that he set up after leaving government have been meeting officials on behalf of Asia Pulp and Paper.

For more than a decade, APP, one of the world’s largest pulp and paper companies, has been accused by environmental groups such as Greenpeace of destroying thousands of hectares of Indonesian rainforest and endangering some of the world’s rarest animals. A growing number of firms have boycotted APP.

The disclosure comes as Mandelson and other peers are expected to face pressure from the House of Lords authorities to declare their clients.

Global Counsel, the consultancy Mandelson chairs, does not name its clients as it “respects their privacy”. But after inquiries by the Guardian, he has confirmed that Global Counsel has a contract with APP, the first time he has acknowledged a client of his firm. The company says it is helping APP meet new EU rules requiring timber imported from Indonesia to be sustainably sourced.

The peer acquired a large roster of contacts from his time as the European trade commissioner between 2004 and 2008, and as a key member of the administrations of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

There has been long-running concern about politicians who exploit their contacts and knowledge gained while in public office after they leave power.

Mandelson said his work for APP centred on a new licensing regime that would mean Indonesian companies could sell timber products to Europe only if they came from legally harvested trees. He was advising APP on making the new regime a success and “raising awareness of these tough new standards” with APP customers and stakeholders. A significant proportion of APP exports are to Europe.

The peer has travelled twice to Jakarta in recent months and held meetings with the EU ambassador there; his staff have met members of the Indonesian government.

When Mandelson lost his post as business secretary after the 2010 general election, he set up the “strategic advice consultancy” with financial backing from WPP, the marketing services group headed by Sir Martin Sorrell. Under Whitehall rules, he was barred from lobbying ministers and officials in the British government for two years after he left office. It appears that he has been concentrating on getting work from foreign companies.

Mandelson has been accused of using a loophole in the Lords register of financial interests to sidestep a new requirement to disclose certain clients of Global Counsel. He is understood to reject the accusation on the grounds that he acted with advice from the Lords authorities. A Lords committee is reportedly recommending that peers who have set up consultancies declare their clients or leave the parliament.

APP is a controversial Chinese-Indonesian company owned by the Widjajas, a rich dynasty. In recent months, APP has come under growing pressure after it was accused of illegal logging in Indonesia and damaging the habitats of rare animals such as the Sumatran tiger. A year-long Greenpeace investigation, published in March, alleged that endangered trees, known as ramin, have been chopped down and sent to factories to be pulped and turned into paper. The trees grow in peat swamps in Indonesia where the dwindling number of surviving Sumatran tigers hunt. Greenpeace alleged that it found ramin logs in a paper mill belonging to APP on nine occasions over a year. Chopping down ramin trees, a protected species under an international treaty, has been illegal under Indonesian law since 2001. Wood from the rainforests is being turned into everyday products around the world such as photocopying paper, tissues and paper packaging, according to Greenpeace.

APP, part of the Sinar Mas conglomerate, denied any wrongdoing, saying that it “maintains a strict zero-tolerance policy for illegal wood entering the supply chain and has comprehensive chain of custody systems to ensure that only legal wood enters its pulp mill operations. APP’s chain of custody systems are independently audited on a periodic basis.” It said it welcomed the Greenpeace report as it would help “identify and act on any weaknesses in its chain of custody systems”.

Last month, three large companies said that they were going to stop buying paper products from APP, either for ever or until they were satisfied that the products were being produced sustainably.

At least 67 companies worldwide, such as Tesco, Kraft Foods and the office suppliers Staples, have boycotted APP since 2004, according to a Greenpeace list.

APP has consistently said it has always acted in an environmentally responsible manner, that it has not been destroying large areas of Indonesian rainforest and that it was a prime mover behind establishing a sanctuary for the Sumatran tiger.

A Greenpeace spokesperson : “Asia Pulp and Paper has been responsible for the destruction of vast swaths of Indonesia’s rainforests, including areas of habitat for the critically endangered Sumatran tiger. Mandelson joins a growing list of spin doctors and industry stooges who have tried to rehabilitate APP’s image.”

APP said its aim was to work with countries to “build and strengthen an efficient mechanism to eradicate the illegal logging trade”.

The aim of the regime is to stamp out the illegal logging and rapid deforestation which has been taking place in Indonesia since the 1990s. The disappearance of the forests are also responsible for climate change.

The peer, who is also an adviser to investment bankers Lazard, has been recruiting to Global Counsel individuals whom he reportedly “rated in government and who have the skills and connections to help him in his business”. His staff include the ex-civil servants Stephen Adams and Duncan Buchanan.

Adams worked as a speechwriter for Mandelson at the European commission and the business department, while Buchanan was the head of the South Asia unit of UK Trade and Investment, the government agency that promotes exports. A spokesperson for Global Counsel said : “Global Counsel are advising APP on how to ensure that the new voluntary partnership agreement on legal and sustainable timber trade between the European Union and Indonesia is a success … As companies in emerging economies grow across the globe meeting high European and American standards is one of their key challenges.”

TSA agent spots gun parts hidden in toy animals – CBS News

Category : Stocks

CBS News
TSA agent spots gun parts hidden in toy animals
CBS News
(CBS News) A Transportation Security Administration officer discovered something more than just three stuffed animals inside a carry-on bag going through the conveyor belt of a Rhode Island airport X-ray checkpoint Monday. Hidden inside each of the
Gun parts found in stuffed animals at RI
Gun parts, bullets found in boy's stuffed animals at Providence AirportCNN International
TSA finds gun parts inside boy's stuffed animalsBoston Globe

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