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Tuesday, September 30, 2008 (Merced (CA) Sun-Star)

Toyota Contributes Hybrid Cars, Money for Climate Research at UC Merced, Yosemite
By Danielle Gaines

Hai! Toyota donated $603,000 and five Prius hybrids to Yosemite National Park on Monday to support a number of education programs at Yosemite and UC Merced.

"The development of environmental education programs is key to preserving our majestic national parks for future generations," said Bill Duff, corporate manager of Toyota's North American environmental office. "At Toyota, we are committed to the environment and to funding educational programs that foster the next generation of environmental leadership."

Part of the money will be used to fund the Yosemite Leadership program, a UC Merced internship that provides students with work experience, wilderness education, a living stipend and the possibility of future employment.

"The partnership affords UC Merced faculty the opportunity to conduct important research that sheds light on the critical issue of climate change," said Chancellor Steve Kang, wearing a tan suit and matching khaki Toyota cap. "It prepares students to become wise stewards of the park and thoughtful leaders in the community."

Two interns from the program were on hand to talk about their experiences so far.

"It is hard to really explain and express what this program has done for me," intern Carla Saldana said. "The educational opportunities I have been given because of these programs have far exceeded everything."

Saldana was born and raised in Merced and graduated from Atwater High School in 2005. She is the second of five children and the first to go to college, she said.

"For many of the students involved they are the first ones in their family to go to college," said Mike Tollefson, Yosemite National Park Superintendent. "And sometimes the first in their family to go to Yosemite."

She quickly adapted to her new surroundings, though. "Yosemite is like a second home to me," she said.

Bob Hansen, president of the Yosemite Fund, read a letter he received from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the crowd that had gathered under the blazing sun outside the campus recreation center during the press conference.

"I extend my best wishes for your continued success," Schwarzenegger wrote, also calling Yosemite "one of the most awe-inspiring places in the world."

The five Prius vehicles will be used to support Yosemite's air quality, bear management, wilderness education, visitor services and search and rescue departments, as they drive along the park's 263 miles of roads.

Each of the five vehicles donated are worth between $24,000 and $26,000, said John Bissot, general manager of Merced Toyota.

A hybrid vehicle works by processing data as the car starts, accelerates, brakes and stops. An internal computer decides how to most efficiently propel the vehicle, whether by electric motor, gas engine or both. These features lead to a significant decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. Every 100 gallons of gasoline not consumed saves nearly one metric ton of carbon dioxide. Toyota estimated that its hybrid drivers have saved more than 319 million gallons of gas, as of September 2007.

Monday's donation is part of a larger Toyota program, called LEAF, that gave $5 million and 23 vehicles this year to the nation's five largest national parks: Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Everglades and Great Smoky Mountains.

"We are grateful for Toyota's generous support of these key educational programs in Yosemite," Tollefson said. "Toyota's grants ensure that parks and wild places remain relevant to future generations by providing access to higher learning and residential internships in one of America's flagship parks."

In the early 1880s, while his wife and two daughters stayed on a fruit farm near Martinez, John Muir, the "father of Yosemite," traveled to Japan and other spots in Asia. Now, in the form of Japan's leading automaker, Muir's travels have come full circle.

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