NWF Members at Work: June/July 1999

06-01-1999 // NWF Staff

NWF Seeks Return of Wolves to Remote Northeast Forests

With wolves now thriving in Yellowstone and central Idaho, the National Wildlife Federation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other groups are exploring the possibility of restoring the eastern timber wolf to remote areas of the Adirondack Mountains and the North Woods of Maine and New Hampshire.

Working with the Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Network, NWF´s Northeast Field Office in Burlington, Vermont, is spreading the message to conservation organizations and local landowners that wolves are essential to the health of the Northern Forest ecosystem. Without a major predator, burgeoning populations of prey species, such as deer, moose and beaver, are exceeding the ability of their habitats to support them. The result: habitat destruction and wildlife die-offs from starvation and other causes.

The Fish and Wildlife Service announced last fall that it will begin designing a wolf recovery plan for the Northeast sometime this year. The agency is expected to downlist the wolf from endangered to threatened in the Northeast--a move that will provide less protection for individual animals but would grant states and landowners more flexibility in managing wolf populations.

"As with the Yellowstone recovery effort, the recovery of the eastern timber wolf in the Northeast will be a long and arduous road with many opportunities for public input and support," says Elizabeth Soper, wolf recovery coordinator in NWF´s northeast center. "Public input is critical since the majority of land where wolves would be restored in the Northern Forest is privately owned."

One indication of the battle ahead: NWF is fighting proposed legislation in New Hampshire that aims to stop reintroduction of wolves in that state.

Good news from the western front: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that a female gray wolf, one of the first generation of pups born to wolves reintroduced into central Idaho four years ago, has crossed into Oregon in search of a mate. She is the first wolf spotted in the state since 1927.

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Public Backs NWF Plan for Ending Buffalo Slaughter

The National Park Service reports that the American public has registered overwhelming support for an NWF/InterTribal Bison Cooperative (ITBC) plan to end the needless slaughter of the nation´s last free-ranging buffalo herd.

Since the winter of 1996-97, the state of Montana has killed nearly 1,100 buffalo that wandered outside Yellowstone National Park because of fears they might transmit a disease called brucellosis to cattle. There is no evidence that such transmission has ever occurred.

Last summer the Park Service asked for comments on its proposed plan that would allow Montana to continue the slaughter. Since then, the agency has received 47,599 comments in favor of the NWF/ITBC alternative plan, which calls for vaccinating cattle against brucellosis and relocating healthy buffalo that leave Yellowstone to tribal lands where they could roam free.

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Georgia Affiliate Mobilizes To Stop Bad Bill Overnight

Score one for people power. An overnight e-mail blitz launched by the Georgia Wildlife Federation, one of NWF´s affiliates, generated enough protests to convince four state legislators to withdraw a bill that threatened funding for the state´s nongame wildlife program.

The bill, introduced without any notification to the public or interest groups, would have deleted language that dedicates money from the sale of Georgia´s wildlife auto tags to the nongame wildlife program. The special tags, depicting a bobwhite quail, have generated $9 million in just two years, making it one of the most successful such programs in the country, says Jerry McCollum, president of the Georgia Wildlife Federation.

"I first heard of the sneak attack at 6:30 p.m. on my way home from a long day at the General Assembly," McCollum recalls. "I went straight to my home computer and sent out a message to about 80 of our volunteer activists and asked them to send it on to everyone on their lists.

"Within 48 hours, the General Assembly received several thousand complaints by telephone, fax, e-mail and mail. This demonstrates that in Georgia and across the nation, two of the most powerful connections between people are their love of wildlife and their fascination with their computers," says McCollum.

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´No Mining´ Accord Spares Southeast´s Okefenokee Swamp

After two years of negotiations, a 28-member group that included NWF and one of its affiliates, the Georgia Wildlife Federation, has hammered out an agreement declaring mining off-limits in the famed Okefenokee Swamp on the Georgia-Florida border.

The DuPont company had planned a massive project to mine titanium dioxide, a mineral used as white pigment in a number of products, on some 38,000 acres adjacent to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Scheduled to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the next 40 years, the mine threatened to permanently change the flow of groundwater and disrupt the habitat of the swamp´s 1,100 species of plants and animals, including such endangered species as wood storks, bald eagles and red-cockaded woodpeckers.

The "No Mining" agreement, which has been signed by DuPont and other members of the collaborative group, is an especially sweet victory for the Georgia Wildlife Federation which has been fighting the proposed mine for more than four years.

The accord calls for retiring mineral rights on the 38,000 acres that were to be mined, adding 10,000 acres to the wildlife refuge, creating an education and research center to be operated by the Georgia Wildlife Federation and funding various ecotourism and other economic-development projects for nearby communities.

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Prairie Dog Step Closer To Winning Protected Status

NWF has cleared the first major hurdle in its effort to reverse the decline of the black-tailed prairie dog and its grasslands habitat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to launch a full review of NWF´s petition to list the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A final determination is expected by the end of 1999.

NWF´s petition says that black-tailed prairie dogs, the most widespread of the country´s four prairie dog species and critical cogs in the grasslands ecosystem, have already disappeared from 99 percent of the land they once occupied. They have succumbed to habitat loss, disease and government-sanctioned eradication efforts that stem from the myth that they compete with livestock for grasslands.

A "threatened" designation would immediately shift the government´s focus from extermination to restoration, but would be flexible enough to allow private landowners to control prairie dog populations as necessary.

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NWF Joins Suit To Save Sacramento Wildlife Habitat

A coalition of conservation groups, including NWF and its California affiliate, the Planning and Conservation League, have filed suit to overturn a federally approved habitat plan for the 53,000-acre Natomas Basin near Sacramento.

The basin, a rich agricultural region, provides critical habitat for waterfowl and Swainson´s hawks. Several years ago, these hawks, which are on California´s threatened list, suffered severe losses from pesticide poisoning in their South American wintering grounds.

The Natomas Basin Habitat Conservation Plan, which covers habitat for 26 species for a period of 50 years, was approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior in December 1997. The conservationists´ lawsuit charges that the plan allows tens of thousands of acres of development to go forward without basic safeguards for wildlife.

For example, although wildlife agencies have long insisted that protection of the Swainson´s hawk depends on conservation of vital nesting and foraging areas along the Sacramento River, the plan allows destruction of more than two-thirds of that habitat.

"The Natomas plan is fatally flawed because all of its guarantees fall on the side of development at the clear expense of wildlife," says NWF attorney John Kostyack. "That flaw is at the heart of similar plans all across the country. This case can set a precedent because the court will have an opportunity to give the Interior Department clear direction on how to more appropriately balance the needs of wildlife with the need for development," he adds.

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NWF Certifies Habitat at Disney Institute Garden

Disney World in Florida has joined more than 23,000 other properties throughout the country--from private yards to school campuses and corporate headquarters--with a garden certified as an official NWF Backyard Wildlife Habitat™ site.

The newly designated habitat is the Teaching Garden at the Disney Institute, a part of Disney World that offers visitors classes on a range of topics. The institute uses the garden to promote gardening for wildlife as part of its "Designing Gardens" program. Class participants learn, for example, how to create butterfly gardens using appropriate plants native to their regions of the country.

In addition to a wide variety of butterfly-friendly plants, the Teaching Garden demonstrates six water features inviting to frogs and toads. Native plants provide food and refuge for many bird species, such as mockingbirds, palm warblers and ruby-throated hummingbirds.

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Global Warming Poses Threat to New England

Global warming is bringing unusually warm temperatures, erratic rainfall and stronger, more frequent storms to New England. If unchecked, these climatic conditions could seriously threaten the region´s environment and economy.

That´s the conclusion of a study conducted by NWF and released at its recent conference on climate change in New England.

"New England´s long coasts and fragile forest ecosystems are already strained by pollution and land development, making them especially vulnerable to the impacts of global warming," says Patty Glick, NWF´s climate change specialist.

Scientists predict that by 2100, the temperature in New England could increase three to seven degrees Fahrenheit, and sea levels could rise as much as 20 inches. Among the consequences:

  • Warmer ocean temperatures could affect survival and distribution of ocean species such as lobster, cod and mackerel.

  • Long-term changes in precipitation and temperature could increase dieback of some tree species, changing the composition of forests and the distribution of wildlife species. For example, the black-capped chickadee, Massachusetts´ state bird, might no longer exist in the state if climate change forces its range northward.

More frequent and more violent storms could force greater levels of polluted runoff into coastal estuaries and bays and flood vital streamside habitat inland.

NWF urges everyone to take steps now to help reverse global warming by using energy more efficiently at home and at work, taking public transportation and calling on state legislators to require electric utilities to use less-polluting energy sources such as wind and solar power.

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NWF Helps Alaska Schools Adopt Local Wetlands

Rallying Alaska´s school children to appreciate, monitor and help protect neighborhood wetlands is the goal of the new Adopt-a-Wetland program launched by NWF´s Alaska office.

In the pilot project, fifth and sixth graders at Baxter Elementary School in Anchorage have adopted Baxter Bog behind the school as an outdoor classroom. Student activities eventually will include monitoring water quality, inventorying plants, logging animal sightings and studying winter ecology. Experts from the community visit frequently to talk about specific aspects of wetlands.

Besides providing educational materials and promoting stewardship activities such as bog-cleanup days, NWF is planning to create an on-line system that participating schools across the state can use to share information about their adopted wetlands.

"Over the next two years, we hope to recruit at least five more schools in Anchorage and expand the program to Juneau and Fairbanks," says Renee Haen, programs coordinator in NWF´s Alaska office.

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Project To Stop Poisons Targets Worst Pollutants

NWF has launched a "Stopping the Poisons" project to put new pressure on government and industry to eliminate the most persistent toxic chemicals from the air, land and water.

The project targets such substances as mercury, dioxins and PCBs, which are among the most potent poisons on Earth. Forty states should warn anglers to limit fish they eat because of contamination from mercury, which can cause long-term damage to the nervous systems of fetuses and young children. Dioxins and PCBs are causes of birth defects. Infinitesimal amounts of dioxin--60 parts per trillion in tissue--can kill 50 percent of young lake trout.

"These chemicals are so toxic and persist for so long that simply reducing their release into the environment is not enough," says Andy Buchsbaum, water quality projects manager in NWF´s Great Lakes Field Office. "They must be completely eliminated from the air, water and land."

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Delegates Elect Paula Del Giudice

NWF Chair Paula Del Giudice, a long-time conservation activist from Las Vegas, Nevada, was elected Chair of the National Wildlife Federation at its 63rd annual meeting recently in Houston, Texas.

The freelance writer, photographer and author has served as NWF´s Western Region Vice Chair since 1992, and been an active member of NWF´s board since 1985, after serving the Nevada Wildlife Federation, an NWF affiliate, in many capacities. She has also been appointed to several resource advisory committees over the past decade.

"It is such a high honor to have been elected to the Chair of the nationa´s largest conservation group," Del Giudice said. "As the first woman to hold this office, I am proud that the National Wildlife Federation has truly become the nation´s ´big tent´ conservaiotn group, with room for people of all backgrounds and motivations for conservation."

Delegates to the 63rd annual meeting also elected three new directors:

  • Dr. Earl Matthew, an infectious-disease specialist from Rockport, Texas;
  • Steve O´Hara, an attorney from Jacksonville, Florida; and,

Chuck Olmsted, a professor at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

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NWF Around the Nation

The 100-year-old Environmental League of Massachusetts is NWF´s newest state affiliate. Among its recent successes is helping to enact state laws to protect rivers, redevelop contaminated industrial sites and conserve land on Cape Cod. The group also organized the Massachusetts Environmental Collaborative, a network of 35 state groups that works together on environmental issues.

The Environment Council of Rhode Island, another NWF affiliate, is fighting plans to turn a former Navy base at Quonset Point into a container ship megaport, a project that would destroy several hundred acres of valuable wetlands.

The Colorado Wildlife Federation, an NWF affiliate, is repeating its popular "Colorado Wildlife in the City" summer program for Denver families who have had limited opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Activities include fishing, bird banding, gold panning and visits to wildlife refuges, nature centers and the zoo.

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