Action Report: December/January 2000

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

12-01-1999 // NWF Staff

NWF Reports a Hard Rain Is Falling in Midwest Cities

NWF and 21 local and state organizations have launched a "Clean the Rain" campaign to alert the public to the danger of mercury in precipitation and tell citizens what they can do to protect themselves and wildlife.

The campaign was prompted by a new NWF report showing that rain falling over such cities as Chicago, Detroit, Duluth and Gary contains up to 65 times the level of mercury that the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe in waterways in the Great Lakes region.

Mercury is present in coal, in medical products such as thermometers and blood pressure meters and in household items such as fluorescent lights, lamps and thermostats. When these products are burned in waste incinerators and coal is burned in power plants, mercury goes into the air and then is carried back down into waterways when it rains. More than a third of all mercury emissions nationwide and more than half in the Great Lakes region comes from coal-fired power plants.

A drop of mercury as small as 1/70th of a teaspoon can contaminate a 25-acre lake to the point that fish in it are unsafe to eat. A typical 100-megawatt power plant emits about 25 pounds of mercury a year.

Mercury is a potent toxin that can have devastating effects on the human nervous system, especially in children and the unborn. It also can damage the brain, lungs and kidneys and even cause death in people. In wildlife, it causes reproductive problems in such species as fish, frogs and waterfowl.

Through the Clean the Rain campaign, NWF is calling on industries to reduce and eventually stop mercury emissions and is asking citizens to help by conserving energy, avoiding the purchase of mercury-containing products and recycling those products they do buy. NWF and its campaign partners also are asking the federal and state governments to monitor more closely mercury levels in rainfall.

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Wildlife Gains Significant Ground in Grasslands Plan

A proposed Northern Great Plains National Grasslands Land Use Plan released recently by the U.S. Forest Service is a good start toward managing public lands for both people and wildlife. But it falls short in meeting the needs of some species, such as bison, black-footed ferrets and prairie dogs.

That´s the assessment of NWF and four of its affiliates, the North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming Wildlife Federations, which have looked at the plan´s potential for improving wildlife habitat, aiding recovery of some species and improving opportunities for wildlife-related recreation.

"The Forest Service has proposed important measures to correct some of the serious environmental problems that currently exist on our national grasslands," says Cathy Carlson, NWF´s grasslands specialist. "But there are many areas where the agency should modify its proposals to be friendlier to wildlife."

While the plan would make modest cutbacks in livestock grazing, place some limits on prairie dog poisoning and improve habitat for several imperiled species, such as the burrowing owl and sage grouse, it would leave the black-footed ferret vulnerable and continue government-sanctioned poisoning of prairie dogs.

NWF contends that, if managed correctly, the scattered remnants of America´s grasslands could be restored to thriving prairie habitat, benefiting wildlife species that are so much a part of the nation´s heritage and providing much needed lands for outdoor recreation.

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Affiliate´s Efforts Spare Florida Spring from Development

Thanks to the determined efforts of the Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF), one of NWF´s affiliates, world-class Wakulla Springs near Tallahassee has been spared from nearby development that would have threatened its crystal clear waters and wildlife.

For five years, FWF and state officials fought off illegal rezoning requests from a landowner who wanted to build an RV park and store with gasoline pumps on land adjacent to Wakulla Springs, one of the largest and deepest springs in the world. FWF feared that petroleum and other pollutants would degrade the springs, which are connected to the property through an underground river.

As part of a final victory, the state purchased 25 acres of the land as a buffer zone around the springs. Among the wildlife that will benefit are numerous bird species, including limpkins and gallinules, as well as alligators, fish and invertebrates that depend on clean water, and a downriver population of manatees.

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Virgin Islands Group Embarks on Massive Mangrove Restoration

When Hurricane Hugo swept through the Virgin Islands in 1989, it destroyed many of St. Croix´s mangrove swamps, vital habitat for the island´s marine and bird life.

Now, with the help of the St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA), an arm of NWF´s affiliate, the Virgin Islands Conservation Society, the mangroves are coming back. With a grant from the Virgin Islands government and the Royal Caribbean Ocean Fund, SEA is launching a three-year project to plant 21,000 young mangrove trees in Sugar Bay on the north-central coast of St. Croix. Most of the work will be done by SEA volunteers.

A decade after the storm, the scene at Sugar Bay is still one of mud flats with tangles of bleached dead trees, says SEA´s Carol Cramer-Burke. Destruction of mature mangroves was so complete that not enough seed stock remained for the trees to regenerate naturally.

In a 1997 pilot project, SEA planted 1,000 red mangroves at Sugar Bay and found that plants shielded by PVC pipe encasements were four times more likely to survive because they were protected from crabs and wave action. Encasements will be used on all the new plantings.

Mangroves are vital to the island´s ecosystem, Cramer-Burke explains, serving as nurseries for fish, shellfish and crustaceans; providing nesting habitat for migratory birds; protecting coastlines from storms; and helping to purify runoff water before it reaches coral reefs and sea-grass beds.

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NWF, Affiliate Help Save Last Wetland Along Detroit River

A blitz of comments and testimony generated by NWF´s Great Lakes Field Office, Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), one of NWF´s affiliates, and many local organizations helped derail plans to develop the last wild coastal marsh along the U.S. side of the Detroit River.

The Army Corps of Engineers recently denied a permit for developers to build 340 luxury homes and a golf course on Humbug Marsh and Humbug Island, valuable waterfowl habitat just downriver from Detroit. NWF and MUCC presented detailed written comments on two rounds of permit applications, testified at two public hearings and generated fax comments from several hundred activists twice in six months to oppose the development.

"Humbug exemplifies the power of nature to thrive even in the face of human abuse," says Tim Eder, director of NWF´s Great Lakes center. "When you visit the Humbug area, you hear the constant clang of a steel mill nearby, and you see debris from old industrial activity and the smokestack of a coal-burning power plant on the skyline. But the marsh is full of life. You are likely to see a bald eagle or an osprey soaring overhead and herons wading in the shallows, and you know that fish are abundant in the waters that surround the island."

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NWF Helps Launch Transatlantic Talk on Environment

Climate change, biodiversity, and trade and environment are among the topics on the agenda of the Transatlantic Environmental Dialogue, created to increase cooperation between conservation organizations in the United States and Europe.

NWF was instrumental in establishing the dialogue group, which recently held its first meeting in Brussels. In a formal declaration, the approximately 50 groups represented stated that their goal is "to influence the plans and actions of our governments, at home and in the global theater, to make a substantial contribution to sustainable development at all levels."

"NWF took a lead role in creating this dialogue because we view it as an important opportunity to develop and deliver policy recommendations to U.S. and European governments on a wide range of environmental issues," says Jake Caldwell, NWF´s trade and environment program coordinator. "When conservation groups around the world speak with a united voice, we are that much more powerful."

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Conservationists Log Major Victory for Texas Forests

A 15-year battle to ban clear-cutting and other destructive logging practices on national forests in Texas has ended in victory for NWF´s affiliate in that state.

The Texas Committee on Natural Resources originally filed suit against the U.S. Forest Service in 1985, charging among other things that logging in the state´s four national forests was causing irreparable harm to soils and watersheds and that the agency was not properly monitoring the impact on forest resources.

A 1988 ruling ended clear-cutting within 1,300 yards of endangered red-cockaded woodpecker col-onies. In the latest victory, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld a 1997 injunction against most logging on national forests in the state. "The ruling sets a precedent for reform of clear-cutting and other destructive forms of logging that are depleting forest resources on federal lands throughout the country," says Janice Bezanson, executive director of the affiliate.

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New York City Kids Boost Reading Skills with Ranger Rick

Through its NatureLink® outdoor education program, NWF recently joined with the New York City Board of Education to provide literacy and environmental activities for 4,100 elementary school children.

The kids attended summer day and residential camps that combined classroom instruction with outdoor activities. The camps were part of the school system´s Break-Aways program for students who need extra help with reading and writing.

NWF provided copies of a special endangered species issue of Ranger Rick® and produced a teacher´s literacy guide with reading, writing and critical thinking activities corresponding to articles in the magazine.

Lessons in the guide were designed to build vocabulary, enhance reading comprehension and spur discussion while instilling an understanding and appreciation of endangered species.

"This program was an excellent opportunity for NWF to expose children of various backgrounds to the outdoors while helping to improve their classroom skills," says Hope Asterilla, NatureLink director.

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Land Purchase Won´t Solve Montana Bison Problem, NWF Says

The federal government´s decision to purchase 9,300 acres of land bordering Yellowstone Park as a protective buffer zone for bison is an important step, according to NWF.

But the larger issue remains: There is still no commitment from Montana officials to stop needlessly slaughtering bison on public lands, including the land acquired in this purchase.

Fear of brucellosis, a cattle disease, has been used by state officials to justify the slaughter of nearly 1,200 wild bison that wandered outside Yellowstone since the winter of 1996-97. However, there is not a single documented case of wild bison transmitting the disease to cattle.

Montana has repeatedly refused to adopt a bison management plan proposed by NWF and the InterTribal Bison Cooperative, which calls for testing buffalo that wander onto private land and moving healthy animals to tribal lands.

"We´ve even offered to reimburse ranchers whose cattle graze along the Yellowstone border for vaccinating their cattle against brucellosis," says Steve Torbit, NWF´s bison project manager. "But Montana officials refuse to discuss this solution, which would protect ranchers´ livelihoods and the bison."

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New NWF Magazine Introduces Toddlers to World of Wildlife

Now even very young children can enjoy an NWF wildlife magazine: Wild Animal Baby, created especially for children ages 12 months to 3 years.

The sturdy, board-book style magazine is durable, nontoxic, staple-free and the perfect size for little hands. Each issue features 24 pages of stories about familiar outdoor activities and photos of real animal babies. Fun, interactive rhymes teach colors, sounds and movements, while shape-matching activities develop pre-reading skills.

Subscribers also have free access to an on-line parents´ guide that offers additional activities and simple crafts.

For more information or to subscribe, call 1-800-611-1599 or visit the web site at

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Signs Alert Public to Peril Facing Rare Arroyo Toad

With 75 percent of its habitat gone and human activities encroaching on its remaining homes close to Los Angeles and San Diego, the tiny endangered arroyo toad needs all the help it can get.

In the latest project to benefit one of the 25 endangered species highlighted in its Keep the Wild Alive campaign, NWF recently joined with the U.S. Forest Service to post signs about the need to protect the toad´s habitat in three national forests. The signs are designed to educate the public and defuse tensions between conservationists and recreationists when forest areas are temporarily closed to increase the toad´s chances of survival.

As part of the sign-posting at Angeles National Forest outside of Los Angeles, NWF hosted 60 area schoolchildren who joined a biologist in toad-related activities and learned about new techniques, such as radio-tracking of the tiny amphibians.

At Los Padres National Forest outside of Santa Barbara, signs were unveiled on National Public Lands Day, when admission is free. Forest Service biologists led interpretive hikes in representative toad habitat, and NWF staffers discussed endangered species issues and the Keep the Wild Alive campaign. NWF also supplied signs for Cleveland National Forest near San Diego.

The arroyo toad is believed to survive only in about 22 drainage areas, mostly on public lands in California. NWF is working with its California affiliate, the Planning and Conservation League, to push for passage of legislation that would prohibit excessive road construction in state parks, a measure that would directly benefit the toad.

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