NWF Members at Work: August/September 1998

08-01-1998 // NWF Staff


300 Towns Could Reduce Flood Loss With Voluntary Buyouts, NWF Finds

Until the mid-1980s, Tulsa, Oklahoma, had the dubious distinction of being America´s most flooded city. Some homes had been flooded and rebuilt as many as five times in six years. But after a foot of rain fell on Memorial Day 1984, causing the most devastating flood in the city´s history and $180 million in losses, Tulsa residents decided to get serious about floodplain management.

More than 900 buildings have been bought and relocated or rebuilt on higher ground by the city of Tulsa. The floodplain is now devoted to wildlife habitat, parks and 50 miles of biking, walking and jogging paths. As a result, recent floods have caused virtually no damage.

Tulsa is cited as"an outstanding example of how a community can use modern floodplain management to assist its citizens and the environment" in a new NWF report, "Higher Ground." The report assesses the national program for voluntary buyouts of flood-prone properties that NWF helped persuade Congress to expand in the wake of the 1993 Midwest floods.

Other methods have failed to stem flood losses, the report notes. Although the Army Corps of Engineers has spent more than $25 billion on flood-control projects in the past 25 years, the annual cost of floods has escalated steadily to a current level of more than $4 billion a year. And though the flood-insurance program requires properties suffering major damage to be moved or elevated, many in fact are rebuilt in place and continue to suffer flood damage, NWF´s analysis shows.

"Many communities are not fully aware of all the resources now available to assist with voluntary buyouts," says David Conrad, NWF´s "Higher Ground" project director. "We hope this report will be a truly useful tool at the local level to encourage consideration of this option."

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Reintroduction of Grizzly Receives Wide Support

A majority of people who commented on the government´s proposal to return grizzly bears to the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness of Idaho and Montana think reintroduction is a good idea, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Support is strong even among people who would be most directly affected. About 60 percent of Idahoans and Montanans who expressed an opinion at recent public hearings want to see grizzlies return.

Nationally, there was overwhelming endorsement for a citizen-management plan, drafted by NWF and Defenders of Wildlife, that would for the first time put real authority for day-to-day management of a recovery plan in the hands of local citizens. In Idaho and Montana, grizzly supporters were divided between those who liked the NWF/Defenders plan and those who favored a traditional Endangered Species Act recovery plan, overseen directly by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Either way the message is clear," says Tom France, an attorney in NWF´s Northern Rockies Field Office in Missoula, Montana. "Grizzly bear recovery has strong support in Idaho and Montana, as well as in the country as a whole."

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Finally! Michigan Warns Citizens About Health Risks

After 12 years of prodding by NWF, the state of Michigan has at last issued sound advice to warn people about the health risks of eating certain fish from the Great Lakes.

The state is distributing 1.5 million copies of a 60-page booklet to anglers who purchase fishing licenses, to pregnant women through their doctors´ offices and to others on request. The booklet explains that young children and unborn children are at greatest risk from mercury and PCBs that accumulate in large, fatty fish, especially predator species such as lake trout and salmon.

NWF has long been at odds with Michigan over the state´s refusal to join with other Great Lakes states in providing uniform advice to citizens about eating fish from the lakes. In the past, both NWF and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have published their own fish consumption advisories. Michigan recently became the last state in the region to adopt the latest scientific methods for assessing health risks of eating certain fish.

"Our real goal is to clean up the Great Lakes so that people of all ages will be able to eat all the fish they want," says Tim Eder, acting director of NWF´s Great Lakes Field Office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "But for now we´re pleased that anglers can at least enjoy fishing and minimize their health risks."

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Events Highlight Endangered Species´ Fate Worldwide

A tiger cub on Capitol Hill, an Earth Day fair at the Toledo Zoo, a parade of two-legged "animals" in Ann Arbor, Michigan--these are just some of the events NWF has helped organize recently to spotlight the world´s endangered species.

The five-month-old Bengal tiger cub helped NWF President Mark Van Putten lobby members of Congress for reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act and funds for family-planning assistance abroad, where spiraling population growth threatens the tigers´ remaining habitat.

Tigers were the stars at the Toledo Zoo, as well, where members of NWF´s population and environment and endangered species teams showed the NWF film "Tiger!" and explained the link between human population and loss of habitat.

In Ann Arbor, children and adults donned costumes depicting their favorite wild animal or plant and marched in an all-species parade organized by NWF´s Great Lakes Field Office to celebrate the diversity of life on Earth.

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New Disclosures To Identify Users of Public Lands

Who benefits most from permits to graze livestock on public lands at cut-rate fees: small family ranchers or million-dollar cowboys?

That question will be easier to answer thanks to NWF´s recent success in convincing the U.S. Forest Service to release the names and addresses of individuals holding permits to graze livestock on national forest land.

With such information, NWF can determine, for example, whether some of the world´s wealthiest people graze livestock on national forest land while the public foots the bill. Access to names and addresses also allows NWF to identify corporations operating under different names.

"NWF has pried the lid off the grazing files for all members of the public to see," says Tom Lustig, senior staff attorney in NWF´s Rocky Mountain Field Office in Boulder, Colorado.

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New York State Forest Lands Face SmartWood Review

Specialists from NWF´s Northeast Field Office in Montpelier, Vermont, are evaluating forestry-management practices on 700,000 acres of New York state forest lands to determine if they balance timber production with wildlife habitat conservation.

If they meet the test for sustainable management, the forests will be eligible for special certification from NWF and the Rainforest Alliance´s SmartWood program. Such certification alerts buyers and the public that timber and wood products from those forests were produced using the most environmentally sound methods. NWF already has certified more than 100,000 acres of private and public forest land in New England through its collaboration with SmartWood.

The New York project, conducted in cooperation with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, is focusing only on "working forests," open to logging as well as hunting, fishing and other recreation uses. No park land will be included.

"This is one of our biggest and most complicated projects to date, but also one of the most exciting in terms of tapping New York´s potential to push a real, on-the-ground awareness of what sustainable forestry means," says Alan Calfee, NWF forester.

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NWF Sues EPA Over Paper-Mill Pollution Rules

NWF is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to require the pulp and paper industry to adopt technology that will reduce dioxin and other toxic pollutants.

The Federation is leading several other conservation groups, including one of its affiliates, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, in the lawsuit, which demands that EPA tighten recently issued regulations for the industry.

As they now stand, the rules allow paper mills to continue using chlorine-based bleaching processes that produce dioxins. These pollutants are released into nearby waters where they build up in the food chain and pose a health risk to people and wildlife.

NWF wants EPA to require technology that will move the industry closer to the eventual adoption of a totally chlorine-free (TCF) paper process. Now in use in Europe, TCF produces no dixoin, significantly reduces other pollutants and uses one-eighth of the energy required by chlorine-based processes.

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Report Highlights Community Action To Save Great Lake

What can you do to tackle toxic pollution? Start in your own community by encouraging schools and businesses to buy chlorine-free paper, urging local businesses and homeowners to opt for pesticide-free lawn care, and working to eliminate sources of mercury in your town. That´s the message of a new NWF report, "Protecting Lake Superior: A Community-Based Approach," that focuses on what individual communities are doing to protect the world´s greatest freshwater lake. The report highlights seven community projects in the region, including:

  • A joint project inspired by NWF´s Lake Superior and Campus Ecology® programs that encourages area colleges to purchase chlorine-free paper to reduce dioxin pollution.

  • An effort by the Red Cliff band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, aided by NWF, to eliminate open-barrel burning of trash, which releases dioxin from paper and plastic into the air.

  • The Green Thumb project, a joint effort by Canadian and U.S. cities to reduce pesticide use on lawns and other grounds.

A project in Marquette, Michigan, to analyze community-wide mercury use and find ways to eliminate it from local households and health-care facilities.

The NWF report includes tips on how to get involved in similar efforts in your community, along with lists of resources and people to contact for more information.

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NWF Certifies First Community Wildlife Habitat

The town of Alpine, California, in the foothills east of San Diego, has been certified by NWF as the nation´s first Community Wildlife Habitat.

The rural community of 13,000 has more than 70 backyard wildlife habitats certified by NWF, two school-yard habitats, and a host of other certified sites at places such as a fire station, the chamber of commerce, a bed and breakfast and an antique store.

The town celebrated its national recognition with a Sage and Songbirds Festival inspired by the colorful, nectar-rich native sages residents have planted to attract birds and butterflies. To kick off the event, local school children released 2,200 butterflies they had raised from larvae.

"The idea that communities are habitats for more than just people is really taking hold across America," says Jim Lyon, director of community-based programs for NWF. Community habitat projects are underway in a number of other places, including Portland, Oregon; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Atlanta, Georgia.

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Wetlands Victory: Court Suspends Nationwide Permit

It sounds harmless enough: filling a fraction of an acre of marsh to build a single-family home. But multiply that many times over and the impact on the nation´s dwindling wetlands could be devastating.

Luckily, that may not happen. In a major legal victory for conservation, a federal judge has suspended Nationwide Permit 29 (NWP 29), which provided blanket authorization for filling wetlands and other waters to construct single-family homes. He ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to stop accepting applications for permits under NWP 29 after June 30 until further word from the court.

NWF led a coalition of 17 organizations, including eight of its state affiliates, in suing the Corps over the permit, which threatened not only the environment but also the homeowners it was intended to help. "Houses built in wetlands often become a nightmare for buyers, as foundations settle unevenly, septic systems fail, basements and ground floors flood and yards erode," says Tony Turrini, director of NWF´s Alaska office, which led the legal challenge.

The permit promised to be a windfall for developers who had bought up wetland property at bargain prices, Turrini adds. A study in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, found that in six subdivisions alone, 2,372 lots would likely have been developed under NWP 29.

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Endangered List May Graduate Several Species

NWF is applauding the government´s proposal to remove more than two-dozen species, including the bald eagle and peregrine falcon, from the federal Endangered Species List. However, the Federation maintains that continued vigilance is needed to keep these species on the road to recovery.

The bald eagle has returned from the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states thanks to the Endangered Species Act and the banning of DDT. But it is still threatened by toxic pollution in the Great Lakes region and other prime habitats, and by congressional efforts to weaken the law.

NWF has pledged to review the delisting proposal species by species with scientific experts to ensure that each change of status is warranted. "If the science shows we´ve gotten these species off the critical list, then it´s time to let them out of intensive care and in some cases out of the hospital altogether," says NWF President Mark Van Putten. "There are plenty of other species that need to get in."

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Smithsonian Honors NWF Web Site, Adds to Archives

It´s official: NWF´s web site is now part of history. It was one of 442 innovative sites added to the Smithsonian Institution´s Permanent Research Collection of Information Technology in 1998.

David Allison, curator of the archives, says "NWF is using information technology to make great strides toward remarkable social achievement in environment." The Federation was the only national conservation group to be nominated and selected for this distinction.

The honor was the latest in a string of kudos for NWF´s web site, which has received tributes form the American Library Association, ABC´s Good Morning America, The Houston Chronicle and The Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

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NWF Around the Nation

The Tennessee Conservation League, an NWF affiliate, is working to build support among local governments for reintroducing elk in the state. The league favors a state plan to introduce 60 animals over two years in the 170,000-acre Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. If that proves successful, 200 more would be released in the following two years.

NWF´s Northwestern Field Office in Portland is offering any teacher in Oregon or Washington free loan of a Schoolyard Habitats® "Borrow Box." The box contains slide shows, field guides, soil test kits, wildflower seeds and activities to help students explore nature in the schoolyard and the classroom.

Two of NWF´s affiliates, the Georgia Wildlife Federation and the Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF), have succeeded in getting major conservation issues on the November ballot. Georgia voters will decide whether to approve a new Heritage Fund that would raise up to $35 million a year for land protection through a small increase in the real-estate transfer tax. In Florida, the issue is whether to create a unified Fish and Wildlife Commission, which FWF says is needed to reduce political involvement and end "yo-yo management" of state fisheries.

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