NWF Members at Work -- Apr-May 1997

News on NWF works and actions for Apr -May 1997

04-01-1997 // NWF Staff

Government Plugs Biggest Loophole

Faced with the threat of a lawsuit from NWF and with comments from thousands of NWF members and other concerned citizens, the U.S. government has agreed to abolish within two years a general permit that is responsible for the majority of authorized wetlands destruction in this country.

Known as Nationwide Permit 26 (NWP 26), the rule in question is one of 39 such general permits that give blanket authorizations for certain wetlands activities that have minimal environmental impact. Such activities include constructing small boat ramps, anchoring mooring buoys and placing crab and lobster traps. "The idea behind this rule was to streamline the permit process to avoid processing thousands of applications for similar minor activities," says Tony Turrini, counsel in NWF's Alaska Natural Resource Center and a member of NWF's Wetlands Team. "But the cost of such shortcuts is that they eliminate safeguards, such as meaningful public review and case-by-case environmental evaluation."

And all too often, the impact of the permitted activities is far from minimal. NWP 26 allows filling--for any reason--as many as 10 acres of isolated wetlands, such as prairie potholes or small streams that feed into larger waterways. The only stipulation is that the Army Corps of Engineers, which handles all federal wetlands permits, is notified. It allows filling as much as one acre of wetlands without notifying anybody.

"Small projects may not seem bad individually, but under NWP 26 they added up to destruction of 30,000 acres of wetlands a year, one acre at a time," says Grady McCallie, NWF's wetlands legislative representative.

During the phaseout of NWP 26, the Army Corps will allow people to fill only three acres with notification and one-third of an acre with no notification. The real benefit will come from completely eliminating NWP 26, which the Army Corps plans to replace with a series of "activity-based" permits to cover very specific activities.

"We intend to monitor that process very closely and be prepared to litigate if the Army Corps replaces NWP 26 with any permits that do not meet the letter or spirit of the law," Turrini warns.

NWF, which had led a major court challenge to nationwide permits when Congress first created them in 1982, began two years ago to gather data for a showdown over NWP 26. While the Federation does not claim all the credit for persuading the Army Corps to do away with NWP 26, "we clearly got the ball rolling and put together the evidence that intimidated the Corps into coming to the bargaining table," Turrini notes.

The battle heated up last summer when the Army Corps announced that it intended to reissue all of the NWPs. "Our first victory was getting the Corps to agree to extend the period for public comments and then to hold public hearings in seven cities," says Rick Spencer, who was in charge of NWF's grassroots action effort on the wetlands issue. An NWF Action Alert generated an estimated 2,000 comments to the White House from NWF members--a response that surprised administration officials and definitely got the Army Corps' attention.

The White House and EPA, realizing they had a political hot potato, played a key role in persuading the Army Corps to back down.

While defeat of NWP 26 is the biggest victory, NWF also helped win other concessions from the Army Corps. The agency has backed away from issuing two new proposed general permits and has agreed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service about how nationwide permits affect endangered species.

Public Pressure Leads to New Turtle Protection Rules

Thanks to pressure from NWF members and other concerned citizens, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has issued new regulations to help prevent endangered sea turtles from drowning in shrimp nets. (See "NWF Members at Work," International Wildlife, March/April 1997.)

The new rules, which went into effect March 1, require shrimpers to use hard metal turtle excluder devices (TEDs) that allow turtles to escape from nets more quickly than from the softer TEDs, which have been in use for years.

NMFS received more than 5,200 comments from the public urging the agency to strengthen the TEDs rules. "Apparently, that was enough to counter the political pressure from members of Congress who wanted to block the new regulations," says Jeff Flocken, NWF's endangered species coordinator.

Gardening, Nature Photography Shows To Air in April

How to landscape your yard to attract wildlife and how to take better nature photographs are the themes of two new NWF television programs premiering this month.

"The Living Garden," inspired by NWF's Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program and hosted by NWF's chief naturalist, Craig Tufts, will air on Home & Garden Television (HGTV) on Earth Day, April 22, at 8 pm eastern time. The program features visits to a half-dozen backyard gardens, where Tufts explains how plantings benefit and attract wildlife.

"Nature's BestĀ® Photography" is scheduled to be shown on the Outdoor Life Network. (Check local listings for date and time.) A how-to program, it will offer tips on such subjects as equipment, camera angles, lighting and composition.

Both programs are slated to become multi-part series beginning in the fall.

NWF Urges 105th Congress To Act On Key Issues

Reauthorization and strengthening of the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act top NWF's agenda for action in the 105th Congress.

The Federation is urging Congress to take the following actions:

Endangered species--Provide more incentives for private landowners to get involved in conservation; expand citizen participation in key decisions; manage species and habitats for recovery, not just short-term survival; and focus on protecting entire ecosystems.

Clean water--Strengthen the law to better control polluted runoff from fields and city streets; phase out the most dangerous toxics that accumulate in our waters; and give citizens the right to demand protection of specific waters as Outstanding National Resource Waters.

Public lands--Head off attempts to make timber production a top priority in national forests; require royalties for minerals extracted from public lands; set a fair and reasonable price for grazing on public lands; and generally ensure that public lands are managed for the benefit of all.

Wetlands--Incorporate the central idea of wetlands regulation--avoid destruction where possible, minimize losses that cannot be avoided and compensate for losses that remain--into the Clean Water Act. Also, ensure that the general permit program, responsible for widespread wetlands destruction, is never again abused as badly as it has been.

While these are top priorities, NWF also is urging Congress to take a number of other actions. These include implementing provisions of the 1996 Farm Bill to reduce environmental damage from agriculture; ending the moratorium on spending appropriated funds for population assistance in other countries; opposing all "takings" bills, which distort the Constitution and undermine protection of people, property and the environment; and passing a small excise tax on outdoor equipment to fund management of nongame wildlife.

Endangered Ferrets Making Comeback In Four States

Black-footed ferrets still rank as one of North America's most endangered mammals, but small populations are recovering in the wild in four states, thanks to a highly successful captive breeding and reintroduction program. NWF has been involved in implementation and monitoring of the recovery program since a small colony of the ferrets, once thought to be extinct in the wild, was discovered near Meeteetse, Wyoming, in 1981.

Western Division Staff Director Tom Dougherty and Staff Scientist Steve Torbit serve on the Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Implementation Team, helping to find creative approaches to funding the recovery program and facilitating cooperation among federal and state agencies involved.

Since 1991, 600 captive-bred ferrets have been released in Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota and Arizona. The total wild ferret population, which includes several generations of young born in the wild, now numbers about 90, says Pete Gober, the black-footed ferret recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

"This number might seem low, but only 10 percent of wild-born juvenile ferrets dispersing from their mothers survive the first winter," notes NWF's Torbit.

Broad-scale recovery is hampered by severe loss of habitat to farming, widespread poisoning of prairie dogs which are the ferrets chief food source, and a plague that infects both ferrets and prairie dogs.

Programs Bring City Kids in Touch With Environment

NWF is bringing the message of environmental activism to inner-city kids through its popular Animal TracksĀ® program. This year 900 Los Angeles youngsters will have an opportunity to participate in Animal Tracks conservation projects through their involvement in a city program known as Los Angeles Team Mentoring. The program pairs at-risk middle school kids with volunteer mentors, who teach them leadership skills and how to get involved in community service.

After learning about environmental responsibility from the Animal Tracks materials, mentoring teams have tackled a variety of community environmental service projects such as cleaning graffiti off local buildings and planting community gardens.

"The program begins by increasing awareness of the need to conserve resources by providing earth facts' that the students can relate to directly, such as air and water quality," says Animal Tracks Senior Program Coordinator Elenor Hodges. "Real-world projects teach students that they have the power to make a difference."

The Animal Tracks team also is developing an Urban Communities Action Pack that will help educators teach city kids how to recognize, preserve and restore natural elements within the city. NWF recently pilot tested the packs with 40 teachers in Los Angeles.

NWF and Affiliate Host Conference On Everglades

Those attending a recent conference on restoring the Florida Everglades pledged to do all they can to make the issue a national priority in 1997 and to better educate Florida citizens and tourists about this valuable ecosystem and the perils it faces.

The Everglades Coalition 12th Annual Conference, held in Deerfield Beach, Florida, was co-sponsored by NWF's Southeastern Natural Resource Center and the Florida Wildlife Federation, an NWF state affiliate.

The meeting brought together 250 people from all levels of government and from national, regional and local grassroots organizations committed to restoring the Everglades. Featured speakers included NWF President Mark Van Putten and Kathleen McGinty, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Agreement Set to Save Colorado's Windstar Valley

NWF has concluded a groundbreaking deal with the Windstar Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) to permanently protect the Windstar Valley in the mountains of Colorado and the hundreds of elk, deer and other wildlife that live there.

RMI is a research and educational foundation that fosters sustainable use of natural resources. The Windstar Foundation, created by singer John Denver, encourages people to take personal actions to help the environment.

The two organizations have established the Windstar Land Conservancy to hold title to 1,000 acres of the Windstar Valley near Old Snowmass. NWF sold the Conservancy its half interest in the property to enable the Conservancy to protect the land and provide office and educational facilities for both RMI and Windstar Foundation.

As part of the deal, the local government joined several other parties in purchasing a conservation easement on the entire property to protect it forever from development.

NWF, Native Tribes Pledge to Bring Bison Back to West

NWF and the InterTribal Bison Cooperative, a consortium of 40 Native American Tribes in 17 states, have launched a landmark campaign to restore wild bison to tribal and public lands in the West.

After making a dramatic comeback from near extinction, many bison have been reduced to the status of domesticated cattle, frequently penned, dehorned and raised to become burgers on restaurant menus. They roam free only in Yellowstone National Park, but once outside the park, they are targets of a controversial controlled kill by Montana state livestock officials. The killing is in response to fears that bison leaving the park boundaries could expose cattle to the disease brucellosis, which causes cows to abort their young. However, not one instance of brucellosis transmission from wild bison to range cattle has ever been documented.

The goal of the new agreement between NWF and the Cooperative is to manage bison as a premier wildlife species rather than as domestic livestock. To stem the current killing in Montana, the organizations will advocate the capture and quarantine of Yellowstone bison that migrate to private lands outside the park. Animals that pass quarantine will then be made available to the tribes for reintroduction to tribal lands. The tribes have agreed that a percentage of the healthy bison will be made available for release on appropriate public lands.

Court Rejects Claim to Grazing Rights on National Forest

Legal action by NWF may have helped spur a federal judge to rule against a rancher who had illegally grazed cattle in New Mexico's Gila National Forest for more than a year.

The rancher refused to sign a grazing permit with the U.S. government or limit his cattle's range, claiming that he owned grazing rights in the forest. The cows trampled stream banks, threatening federally endangered Gila trout. They also ate young willow trees that provide habitat for an endangered bird, the Southwest willow flycatcher, says Jay Tutchton, counsel in NWF's Rocky Mountain Natural Resource Center.

Rather than round up the trespassing cows, the U.S. government chose to fight the rancher in court. Concerned about the delay while 800 cows continued to damage the area, NWF moved to intervene against both the rancher and the government.

Soon thereafter, the judge ruled that the cows must indeed be removed; the rancher must pay the government as yet unspecified damages (the government has asked for $46,000); and the rancher's claim to grazing rights in the forest is without merit.

Georgia Group Seeks to Protect Unique River Ecosystems

An unusual coastal plain ecosystem in the middle of the Georgia Piedmont region is the target of preservation efforts by the Georgia Wildlife Federation, one of NWF's state affiliates.

The area, along the Alcovy River, features a 25-acre stand of tupelo gum trees, thought to be remnants of an ancient coastal forest. The swampy woodland is home to such species as the bird-voiced tree frog and the mole salamander.

The river is still relatively undisturbed, but there are development pressures on all sides that make preservation urgent, says Jerry McCollum, president of the Georgia Wildlife Federation.

The group has purchased an 80-acre tract of land along the river. Through private donations and grants, it has raised $925,000 of the $1.6 million needed to build the Alcovy Environmental Education Center. Construction is slated to begin this summer on the center, which will include headquarters for the Georgia Wildlife Federation, classrooms and a field station where graduate students can conduct environmental research.

McCollum also is working with Newton County officials to create a greenway along all 25 miles of the Alcovy River in the county. About 25 of the 99 landowners along the river have signed greenway agreements pledging to help protect the unique ecosystem.

Water Recreation Vital to Vermont Economy, NWF Finds

Clean water and healthy streamflows contribute significantly to Vermont's economy, supporting a $110 million water-based recreation industry that creates as many as 3,500 jobs in peak season and generates more than $6 million a year in tax receipts. That's the conclusion of a study by NWF's Northeast Natural Resource Center. The study will play a role in the current hot debate over use of Vermont's water resources.

State utilities have been pushing for revisions in state water-quality standards to better favor hydropower generation. Their effort stems from a hallmark decision in which the Vermont Natural Resource Council, an NWF affiliate, convinced the state to prohibit Vermont's largest utility from continuing to operate four dams on the Lamoille River because those dams do not meet water-quality standards.

"Our report brings to the table a previously unheard voice of those businesses--many of them small entrepreneurs in rural areas--whose livelihoods are dependent upon keeping water in the rivers and of good quality," says Kari Dolan, water resources project manager at NWF's northeast center. "Before we act to give water away for diversions, such as for hydropower development, we need to consider other needs."

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