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SPOTLIGHT

1. GULF SPILL

Wildlife toll mounts as BP oil inundates coastal marshes

VENICE, La. -- As efforts continue to plug the Deepwater Horizon well off the Louisiana coast, a small army of biologists and officials is canvassing the Gulf Coast to try to protect the region's coastal wetlands, one of the richest wildlife habitats in North America.

To date, the agency has collected nearly 600 animals from Louisiana marshes and beaches in Mississippi and Alabama. Most were dead.

But with each passing day, FWS crews, many working 12-hour days, return to the water and sometimes dense wetlands to rescue birds and other wildlife from the encroaching oil. But the animals often resist capture. "It takes a lot to get them," said one FWS biologist. "Sometimes we catch them after a day or two."

At the same time, scientists are trying to get a firmer grasp on how the oil spill will affect Louisiana's fragile wetlands, which are already suffering from erosion and subsidence. The prognosis is not good for wetlands that are heavily oiled. But where containment booms and other protective structures are in place, some wetlands have a fighting chance.

Elevating the risk - for both wetlands and wildlife -- is this week's beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season. Even a minor storm could greatly worsen the losses from the Deepwater Horizon spill.

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