NWF Members at Work: August/September 1999

08-01-1999 // NWF Staff

NWF Vaccine Offer Eliminates Last Excuse for Montana Bison Slaughter

In a dramatic effort to end the slaughter of bison outside Yellowstone National Park, the National Wildlife Federation has offered to reimburse ranchers who graze cattle near Yellowstone for the cost of vaccinating livestock against the disease brucellosis.

Fear of brucellosis, which causes cows to abort their fetuses, has been used by Montana officials to justify the slaughter of nearly 1,200 wild bison that have wandered outside Yellowstone since the 1996-97 winter. There is not a single documented case of wild bison transmitting the disease to cattle.

The vaccine offer complements an overall bison-management plan proposed by NWF and the InterTribal Bison Cooperative, which calls for testing any bison that wander onto private land and moving healthy animals to tribal lands. So far, Montana officials have rejected that plan.

Not surprisingly, Montana´s state veterinarian also quickly discounted NWF´s vaccine offer, which in effect means that the state plans to continue killing bison, says Steve Torbit, NWF´s bison project manager. Individual ranchers can still accept the offer, which does not require state or federal sanction.

"It´s very apparent that this issue is not about brucellosis," Torbit says. "It´s about control of land in the West, which has been dominated by livestock interests for more than a century. Those interests see the bison as competition for grazing land, pure and simple."

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Shop at On-Line Bookstore, Help Support NWF

Through a special agreement between BarnesandNoble.com and NWF, it´s now easy to buy books on-line and support NWF at the same time.

Every time you enter Barnes and Noble´s website through the NWF Bookstore at www.nwf.org and purchase any book, magazine subscription or software, Barnes and Noble will make a contribution to NWF. Products are discounted up to 40 percent.

The NWF Bookstore includes reading lists for parents and children, compiled by NWF staff as an introduction to the joys and issues surrounding conservation.

Soon to be added to the bookstore site are a number of other features, such as reader reviews, on-line chats, an A to Z catalog of books recommended by NWF, a list of the most popular reading among NWF members and books related to trips offered by NWF Expeditions.

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Supreme Court Decision Victory for Sea Turtles

A four-year legal battle by two Florida citizens to protect endangered sea turtles culminated in victory recently when the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court order allowing them to sue their county government over its beachfront lighting policy.

NWF attorney John Kostyack represented the conservationists at the Supreme Court stage of their case and argued successfully that their appeals court victory should be left intact.

The plaintiffs, Shirley Reynolds and Rita Alexander, sued Volusia County on Florida´s central Atlantic Coast for failing to restrict beachfront lighting that disorients nesting female sea turtles and hatchlings attempting to reach the sea.The county could solve the problem, they argued, by turning off lights, redirecting lights away from the beach or using lower level lighting.

The Supreme Court decision has broad implications, says Kostyack. "It means that citizens can challenge entire programs at any level of government that indirectly contribute to the decline of protected species."

The case now goes back to federal district court for trial, but it may never get that far. The Volusia County council reportedly is considering changes in its beachfront lighting that will protect turtles without further legal action.

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Delaware Affiliate: Legacy of Education, Stewardship

With programs ranging from a two-week trip to New Zealand to a one-hour session that introduces toddlers to the feel of a rabbit´s fur or a turtle´s shell, the Delaware Nature Society reaches 60,000 people a year statewide with its conservation message.

"Reaching the people and protecting the land" have been the society´s primary missions since it originated from a Junior League project 35 years ago, says Lynn Williams, the organization´s first president and now honorary board member. "Over the years, we have added advocacy--taking public positions on important conservation issues," she notes. But perhaps the most important contribution, she adds, is "the attitude of respect for living with the land that the society has generated among the people of the state."

Today, the Delaware Nature Society cultivates that respect through 400 different education programs. In addition, the society:

  • Operates two nature centers that serve as hubs for year-round education, and four nature preserves managed for their wildlife habitat and educational resources.

  • Enlists teams of volunteers for its Stream Watch and Soil Watch programs to monitor conditions in the state´s streams and spot sources of soil erosion that can pollute streams.

  • Maintains an active steward-ship program to help thousands of landowners improve water quality and protect natural areas. The society estimates that it has directly influenced preservation of 10,000 acres of the state´s critical natural resources.

Produces educational materials such as a video about the impact of landscaping decisions on the water supply, which was broadcast on PBS.

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NWF, Affiliate Urge Congress to Revive Conservation Fund

One of the most important steps Congress can take toward ensuring long-term funding for conservation is to revive a valuable program already on the books.

That´s the conclusion of a report by Environmental Advocates, NWF´s New York affiliate, that asks Congress to provide automatic funding for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund at the authorized level of $900 million annually. The report, "Restoring the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund," notes that since its creation in 1965, the fund has been responsible for conserving 7 million acres of natural area and developing more than 37,000 parks and recreation facilities in every county of the country.

In 1980, congressional appropriations to the fund began to decline, and state and local governments have received no money at all from the fund since 1995. Concern about the impact of the funding drought on New York state led Environmental Advocates to produce the report in cooperation with the New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials.

To find out how you can help, contact Office of Grassroots Action, NWF, 1400 Sixteenth St., NW, Washington, DC 20036.

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Salamander House Contest to Aid Amphibian Studies

Think you can design a house a salamander might want to move into? Send it in, maybe win some cash and help scientists study the causes of amphibian declines at the same time.

NWF, in conjunction with amphibian experts at the U.S. Geological Survey and the Thousand Friends of Frogs program at Minnesota´s Hamline University, has launched a two-year contest to develop small structures that can be placed in or near streams to attract declining salamander species. The grand-prize winner, chosen after field testing of designs by U.S. Geological Survey scientists, will receive a $2,500 prize.

Why do salamanders need houses after surviving millions of years without them? They don´t, but scientists do, explains Craig Tufts, NWF´s chief naturalist. "Basically, we are using people´s ingenuity to design structures that will attract salamanders, so that scientists studying causes of amphibian declines can find and monitor the salamanders without disturbing other natural habitat."

For contest details, write Sam Droege, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, 12100 Beech Forest Drive, Laurel, Maryland 20708-4038.

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Detroit Sustainable Communities Project To Aid Fishing Access

Identifying potential sites for a public fishing facility along the Detroit River is the newest project in NWF´s Sustainable Communities initiative in the city of Detroit.

Along with an NWF urban revitalization program in Detroit known as Building Bridges For Sustainable Development, the fishing project will meet the community´s need for shoreline access and help revive a heavily industrialized area.

The fishing access study is made possible by a grant from the Great Lakes Fishery Trust, created by settlement of a lawsuit brought by NWF and one of its affiliates, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, against the Ludington Pumped Storage Plant, which killed millions of fish every year in Lake Michigan. More than half of the $172 million settlement was earmarked for restoration and protection of Lake Michigan fisheries through establishment of the Fishery Trust.

Besides identifying the best sites for a fishing facility, NWF will build support among community groups, developers and others for construction of the access.

"Through this and future projects in the Sustainable Communities initiative, we hope to extend our conservation of wildlife habitat to urban areas," says project director Guy Williams of NWF´s Great Lakes Field Office.

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Campaign Persuades Hospitals to Make Mercury-Free Pledge

As part of an all-out assault on mercury pollution, NWF´s Great Lakes Field Office and Health Care Without Harm, a coalition of health-care professionals and organizations, have persuaded more than 85 hospitals nationwide to pledge to eliminate mercury-containing products from their facilities.

The hospitals pledged to find safe alternatives to at least two of the most common mercury-containing devices, thermometers and blood-pressure meters, and to stop sending mercury thermometers home with patients. Mercury, a potent neurotoxin, is released when such equipment either breaks or is discarded.

"The mercury-free pledge these hospitals took is critical in light of reports showing mercury contamination of our food supply," says Andy Buchsbaum, water-quality project manager in NWF´s Great Lakes center. "Mercury levels in canned tuna are high, but levels in Michigan lake fish are up to five times higher." Incinerators, including medical-waste incinerators, are major sources of mercury in the air, which is then deposited in the Great Lakes and other waters.

Medical facilities making the mercury-free pledge include more than 30 Great Lakes-area hospitals, such as the Detroit Medical Center, and nationally known institutions such as Kaiser Permanente, which operates about 30 hospitals and 250 clinics nationwide.

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Arkansas River Project Threatens Two Vital Refuges

NWF and one of its affiliates, the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, are calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to abandon a proposed channelization project on Arkansas´ White River that would threaten the White River and Cache River National Wildlife Refuges, home to some of the most diverse plant and animal life in North America.

The project would convert the river to a 200-foot wide, nine-foot deep navigation channel to benefit a few private shipping interests, at a cost to taxpayers of at least $40 million. Besides directly destroying fish and wildlife habitat, dredging a larger channel would alter the hydrology of the river basin, reducing the winter flooding that is vital to fish, waterfowl and other wildlife. The area supports bald eagles, black bears, more than 100 species of fish and the largest concentration of wintering mallard ducks in the Mississippi Flyway.

Strong opposition from conservationists and environmental agencies stopped the dredging project in the early 1980s. Congress deauthorized it in 1988, only to revive it nine years later under pressure from the barge industry.

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Pollution-Control Guide Offers New Strategy

Despite 25 years of progress in cleaning up waters fouled by factory and wastewater treatment plant discharges, more than half of the nation´s 2,000 watersheds remain polluted, mainly by runoff from city streets, agricultural lands, construction sites and logging areas.

With Congress and state legislatures unwilling to regulate such runoff, more and more states are adopting an innovative approach--called watershed-based trading--to tackle the problem. As part of its Saving Our Watersheds program, NWF has issued a guide to help citizens´ groups understand these trading schemes and work to improve them.

Trading works this way: Instead of installing additional control technology at their own plants, polluters opt for a less expensive alternative to control polluted runoff elsewhere in the same watershed. They might pay farmers to create buffer strips or install fences to keep cattle away from streams, for example, or pay loggers to restore damaged streamside areas that otherwise would be subject to erosion.

For more information about the publication, "A New Tool For Water Quality: Making Watershed-Based Trading Work For You," contact the Northeastern Field Office at 58 State Street, Montpelier, Vermont 05602. Phone: 802-229-0650.

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Court Upholds Rights of Coalfield Homeowners

In a victory for NWF and the Interior Department, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., has upheld government rules that protect homes and drinking water supplies from damage by underground coal mining.

The regulations require coal mining companies to take steps to minimize damage from land subsidence and repair or fully compensate property owners for any subsidence damage that does occur. More than 1.8 million homes in this country are at risk from subsidence, which collapses the land and damages and destroys buildings above underground coal mines.

The court rejected an industry argument that requiring a mining company to compensate homeowners for damage would constitute a "taking" of the company´s property rights.

"NWF is pleased that the court agreed with our position that fanciful industry takings claims are not a reason to gut critical protection for the true property rights involved--those of homeowners," says NWF attorney Glenn Sugameli, who argued the case on the side of the government.

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Forest Service Halts Poisoning on Its Land

In response to a formal request from NWF, the U.S. Forest Service has ordered its staff to immediately stop poisoning black-tailed prairie dogs on all public lands administered by the agency.

The action is a major victory for NWF, which has petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the black-tailed prairie dog as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. That agency has agreed to undertake a full review of the petition but won´t make a decision on listing until the end of this year.

The poisoning halt, which affects 42,460 acres of Forest Service land where prairie dog colonies are found, "is a momentous step in the right direction," says Cathy Carlson, NWF grasslands project director. "It means that the Forest Service is getting out of the extermination business and into the business of protecting natural resources, where it belongs."

Government-sanctioned poisoning, along with habitat loss, unregulated shooting and disease, have eliminated black-tailed prairie dogs from 99 percent of the land they formerly occupied. The animals have been routinely poisoned as part of an eradication campaign aimed at preventing them from competing with livestock.

NWF maintains that protecting prairie dogs is vital to restoring the health of America´s grasslands wildlife, much of which depends on the animals for food or on their burrows for shelter.

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