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Losing Patagonia?

Patagonia's pristine watersWith its coastal rainforests and deep inland fjords, its snowcapped mountains and craggy fields of ice, Patagonia has remained a world beautiful and wild-so far. Last fall, OnEarth' s George Black reported on the threat of hydropower development in Chile in our cover story, "Patagonia Under Siege." In December NRDC named the region a Biogem and launched a new campaign to stop de-structive development. So far, NRDC e-activists have sent more than 45,000 messages to Chilean president Michele Bachelet to protest plans by the Spanish-owned utility Endesa, the largest electricity supplier in Chile, to build hydroelectric dams on a half dozen rivers. The project would flood fertile ranching land and cut a 1,200-mile-long swath through five national parks and two wilderness reserves in order to erect the world's longest electrical transmission line. Preliminary studies indicate that the demand for electricity has been overestimated and that the cost of the project has been underestimated. NRDC is working with sev-eral Chilean groups to draft an alternative proposal and to pressure the Chilean government to explore cheaper, cleaner forms of energy that would spare Patagonia. For more information visit NRDC's Biogems Web site at

--Ben Carmichael

Wagering the Catskills

Less than a two-hour drive from Manhattan, bobcats, black bears, and coyotes wander the forests, river valleys, and peaks of the Catskill Mountains, a region that has served as a refuge for generations of hikers, birders, hunters, anglers, campers, and even, once upon a time, Rip Van Winkle. Now, the St. Regis Mohawk tribe plans to build an off-reservation, Las Vegas-style casino in the bucolic town of Monticello, New York. The project threatens the region's watersheds, which provide water for half of the state's residents. The $600 million casino would draw more than six million visitors a year -- 40 percent more than Grand Canyon National Park -- along with traffic congestion and diminished air quality. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has claimed there would be no significant impact to the environment, in order to avoid submitting an Environmental Impact Statement as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. That's not legal, according to NRDC attorneys, who are working to compel the bureau and the Department of the Interior to comply fully with the law.

--Ben Carmichael

I Spy...

You don't have to be a CIA spook to track the 10,000 nuclear warheads still harbored by the United States. In keeping with its long tradition as a nuclear arms watchdog, NRDC recently teamed up with the Federa-tion of American Scientists to produce an interactive, three-dimensional map using Google Earth photo-graphic satellite technology. The map reveals, among other things, that the United States maintains 18 weapons storage facilities in 12 states and 6 European countries. More than 2,300 warheads are housed in a facility in Bangor, Washington, although about half of them may be found on any given day aboard ballis-tic-missile submarines in the Pacific Ocean. To access the map visit

--Lisa Whiteman

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New Management

On January 1, Peter Lehner left his post at New York's office of the attorney general to assume his new role as NRDC's executive director. Read more on Lehner in next issue's Fieldwork department.

To take action online on these and other environmental issues, visit NRDC's Earth Action Center.

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Photo: Garth Lenz

OnEarth. Spring 2007
Copyright 2007 by the Natural Resources Defense Council