Subject: 2 Years after Valdez spill, on
Sat, 12 Oct 96 11:59:00 GMT

2 Years after Valdez spill, only bald eagle recovers

    By Sonali Paul
     WASHINGTON, Oct 10 (Reuter) - More than seven years after
the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, the bald eagle has been
the only species among 28 to recover from the damage in the
waters off Alaska, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
     Despite the grim picture, federal and state officials said
they were pleased with the progress they had made in acquiring
land in Alaska to protect wildlife in the aftermath of the Exxon
Valdez oil tanker spill.
     Five years ago, the government set up a $900 million fund
for the biggest land acquisition programme in the United States,
with the money coming from Exxon Corp.'s $1 billion civil
settlement from the spill. The money is being used to protect
and restore wildlife habitats and research plant and animal life
along the fouled coastline.
     "Only one species, the bald eagle, is now considered to be
in the status of recovered," Assistant Secretary of Commerce
Douglas Hall said. "The most dramatic decline has been in
herring," he added.
     The collapse of the herring population began in 1993, when
fish born in 1989, the year of the spill, came back to spawn in
Prince William Sound. Although the herring were killed by a
fungus, officials believed it was linked to the spill.
     "We think circumstantially there's good reason to believe
there's a connection," Stan Senner, scientific coordinator for
the trustee council, said.
     Pink salmon and sockeye salmon populations appeared to be on
the mend but officials said it was too early to say confidently
that the species had recovered. Marine animal populations,
especially harbour seals, killer whales and seabirds, were still
dropping, but it was unclear how much of the loss was due to the
oil spill, Hall said.
     The harbour seal decline sparked serious concern because
native groups hunt the animal for its meat and skin.
     Of the $900 million fund, $200 million went to reimburse
agencies for cleanup after the spill. Of the remaining $700
million due through 2001, $380 million was going toward
acquiring land, $180 million for research and monitoring and
$108 million toward a reserve fund to be used after 2001.
     Negotiating a price was the biggest challenge in acquiring
land from native corporations that offered their property,
Assistant Interior Secretary George Frampton said. "These
negotiations are often difficult because people tend to look at
the fund and say you can pay a little bit more," he said.