NWF Members at Work: October/November 1999

10-01-1999 // NWF Staff

NWF Rallies Public Support To Save Everglades

As Congress ponders an unprecedented $8 billion plan to restore the Everglades, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the nation´s other large conservation organizations are rallying the public to help save the "river of grass."

"Americans must rise to the challenge to save this part of their natural heritage before it´s too late," says NWF President Mark Van Putten.

Considered a national treasure, the Everglades provides vital habitat for more than 68 endangered or threatened species, including the wood stork, manatee and Florida panther. It also is home to more than 1,500 other varieties of plants and wildlife and is the primary source of clean water for six million Florida residents.

The restoration plan, recently presented to Congress by the Army Corps of Engineers, would undo some of the damage caused by 50 years of man-made dikes, levees, drainage canals and channelization projects that altered the natural flow of water in the Everglades to open up land for development. Half of the original four-million-acre river of grass has been lost.

As a result, says NWF, the quality and quantity of water available to both people and wildlife in South Florida have been drastically reduced, wild-life populations are declining rapidly, and the way of life and economic health of the entire region are threatened. NWF is committed to passage of restoration measures needed to reverse these threats and ensure a sustainable future for people and wildlife that depend on the Everglades.

Through its Everglades office in Naples, Florida, NWF and its affiliate, the Florida Wildlife Federation, also are working to protect the comparatively unimpacted western Everglades from the effects of sprawl, loss of critical habitat and declining water quality that have destroyed so much of the eastern Everglades.

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Guide Tells Dentists How To Dispose of Mercury Safely

NWF´s Northeast Natural Resource Center is tackling mercury pollution by a different route--the local dentist´s office.

Dental waste is one local contributor to mercury contamination that has resulted in warnings about eating fish from Lake Champlain and other lakes in the Northeast. Amalgam used in fillings contains mercury, and amalgam scraps may end up going down the drain with wastewater or being deposited into trash containers.

Mercury released into the atmosphere from incineration of such waste rains down into lakes and streams where it accumulates in fish that may eventually be eaten by people and wildlife.

To help dentists combat mercury pollution, NWF has issued The Environmentally Responsible Dental Office: A Guide to Proper Waste Management, which is being distributed to 400 dental offices in Vermont and the Lake Champlain Basin of New York.

The culmination of more than a year´s research on safe disposal of dental wastes, the guide provides practical information about mercury-amalgam substitutes, recycling mercury and scrap amalgam and separating amalgam from wastewater.

For more information or a copy of the guide, contact NWF´s Northeast Field Office at 802-229-0650.

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More Towns Register Community Habitat Plans with NWF

It´s an idea that´s catching on around the country: Entire communities are banding together to preserve space for wildlife in private yards and common areas.

Three towns have registered their habitat plans with NWF, signifying their goal of being among the nation´s first certified Community Wildlife Habitat sites. So far the only community project certified by NWF is Alpine, California, a town of 13,000 that has more than 100 Certified Wildlife Habitat  sites and a host of other certified projects at schools and businesses.

The three other towns on their way to certification include:

  • Greater Zionsville, Indiana, a growing suburb of Indianapolis, which has launched a Habitat CPR project to create, preserve and restore as much green space as possible.

  • Reston, Virginia, a planned community outside Washington, D.C., that aims to certify Backyard Wildlife Habitat sites at 100 single family homes, 12 clusters, three apartment buildings or condominiums, three schools or day-care centers and seven workplaces, churches or other community locations.

Canastota, New York, a rural upstate community that is rallying landowners to protect wetlands on their property and planning to build a nature education center.

For information on what your town can do, write Community Wildlife Habitat Project, NWF, 11100 Wildlife Center Drive, Reston VA, 20190 or check NWF´s web site at www.nwf.org/backyardwildlifehabitat/.

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Government Modifies ´No Surprises´Policy For Habitat Plans

Under pressure from NWF and other conservation groups, the Clinton administration has backed away from its ironclad guarantees to landowners who agree to Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs).

The plans are land-use agreements between the federal government and landowners that allow habitat destruction in return for some protection of endangered species. The government´s original "no surprises" policy guaranteed that there would be no changes in requirements for the life of a plan, which could be as long as 50 years, even if activities it permitted were later shown to be driving a species to extinction. NWF has argued that HCPs need to be flexible enough to change as new scientific information becomes available.

Finally, the administration appears to agree. Under a new policy, the secretary of the interior can revoke an HCP if the activities it permits are found to be jeopardizing the existence of a threatened or endangered species.

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Court Upholds Right To Deny Permits to Mine Violators

In an important victory for NWF and the U.S. Interior Department, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., has upheld the government´s right to prevent violators of coal-mining reclamation and pollution laws from receiving new mining permits, either directly or through related companies.

The court rejected several industry arguments, including the claim that a company should be allowed a new permit if an ongoing violation started more than five years ago--even if the damage is still continuing.

"This ruling prevents rogue companies that have refused to comply with the law from committing more violations and encourages reclamation of mined land," says NWF attorney Glenn Sugameli, who argued the case on the side of the government. "The court recognized that companies should not be allowed to mine if they are responsible for acid-mine drainage that is destroying streams or for other violations that continue to take a toll on the environment."

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Grand Rapids Project Generates Creative Schoolyard Habitats

One by one, the 22 Catholic elementary schools of Grand Rapids, Michigan, are creating butterfly gardens, woodland trails and sensory paths that double as wildlife havens and outdoor learning labs.

It´s all part of a three-year project of NWF´s school grounds training program, which educates teachers, staff and parents about how to design and use schoolyard wildlife habitats.

This fall, NWF is certifying six completed habitats, and its Great Lakes Field Office, which manages the project, is hosting a tour for habitat teams And community volunteers from the remaining schools. Among the creative efforts they will see:

  • A once-sunbaked playground at St. Andrew´s in downtown Grand Rapids that now sports a full-grown shade tree. When a third grader commented that he would be 30 years old by the time a tiny sapling provided any shade, the school looked for other solutions. Through the contacts of local businessman Peter Wege, whose foundation is funding NWF´s Grand Rapids Schoolyard Habitats® project, a full-sized tree was rescued from a downtown construction site and transplanted to St. Andrew´s as the centerpiece of a schoolyard that also includes a butterfly garden and woodland site.
  • An interior courtyard at St. John Vianny that has been transformed from an unsightly, overgrown storage area to a garden featuring native edible plants, a frog pond and waterfall. A newly installed picture window gives students a full view of the garden and its wild inhabitants.

A sensory garden and path at St. Isadore that appeals not just to wildlife but also to the human senses through fragrant plants, bubbling birdbath and a variety of natural materials, such as sand, rocks and wood chips. As each class graduates to the next grade, the children design a special stepping stone to grace the path.

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Wildlife Week Teachers´ Kits Available On-Line

Teachers can get a head start on planning for National Wildlife Week 2000, scheduled for April 16-22, by downloading lessons from NWF´s web site.

For the first time, Wildlife Week teachers´ kits will be available on-line rather than by mail through NWF´s headquarters or state affiliates. Wildlife Week theme posters, however, will still be offered through those sources.

Throughout the fall, teachers can download a series of 10 lessons for grades K-8 built around next year´s Wildlife Week theme, "Water for Life: Keep the Wild Alive." Topics will include the Everglades, prairie potholes, tropical waters and coral reefs, river deltas and accumulation of toxics in the Great Lakes. Each on-line lesson also will feature interactive on-screen activities for kids.

"By taking advantage of new technology as we enter the twenty-first century, we can reach far more teachers and children, save paper and offer a more exciting range of Wildlife Week activities for today´s computer-literate kids," says Margaret Tunstall, NWF´s director of classroom programs.

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Lake Superior Kayakers Support Water Quality

Five men recently kayaked 85 miles across the rough, cold waters of Lake Superior to help NWF publicize the need to designate the world´s largest freshwater lake an "Outstanding National Resource Water."

It took the men 25 hours to paddle from Thunder Bay, Canada, to Lake Linden on Michigan´s Keweenaw Pen-insula, with a stop on Isle Royale to wait for good weather.

Planned in conjunction with NWF´s Great Lakes Field Office, the trip was designed to build public support for tougher water-quality policies that would protect the lake from toxic pollutants. A long-term goal of NWF´s Lake Superior Project is "zero discharge" of the most dangerous and long-lived chemicals, such as mercury and PCBs, into the lake´s water and air.

"Designation as an Outstanding National Resource Water would tell the world that Lake Superior is one of the world´s most magnificent natural treasures and deserves the highest level of protection from toxic pollution," says Tony DeFalco, NWF´s Lake Superior Project organizer.

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Missouri Affiliate Wins Court Victory on Conservation Tax

The Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that the state´s 1/8 percent conservation sales tax must be used only for conservation and cannot be considered part of the state´s total revenues.

The decision is a victory for the Conservation Federation of Missouri, one of NWF´s state affiliates, which was instrumental in persuading voters to approve the tax in 1976 and has led the fight in the courts to keep the fund from being raided.

State officials had wanted to divert money from conservation-tax revenues to pay refunds to taxpayers, as required by law any time the state exceeds certain spending limits.

In the two decades the tax has been on the books, it has generated more than $1.1 billion for conservation of the state´s forests and fish and wildlife.

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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 Offers Free Video To Boost Conservation Funding

This fall is make or break time for some of the most important environmental legislation ever to come before Congress--bills to provide permanent conservation funding that would be safe from annual budget battles, says Jodi Applegate, NWF´s conservation funding project coordinator.

NWF is urging all members to voice their support for the legislation, which would set aside as much as $2 billion a year from federal offshore oil- and gas-drilling royalties to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, protect wildlands and coastal areas and support state wildlife agencies.

In pressing for passage, NWF cites results of a recent national survey by the Luntz Research Companies showing that 89 percent of Americans favor using conservation funds to protect wildlife habitat; 44 percent think wilderness protection should be a top priority. Nearly half of those surveyed said that a trust fund to conserve land, water and open spaces is even more vital than popular highway and airport trust funds.

To help people understand and take action on this crucial issue, NWF has produced a 15-minute video, "Giving Back to Nature," which it loans to members to show to citizens´groups.

To get a free copy of the video or find out what else you can do to help, write NWF, 1400 16th St., NW, Washington, DC 20036; call 202-797-6636.

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Bald Eagle Recovery Success Result of Decades of Effort

Decades of effort by NWF and other conservation organizations to rescue the bald eagle from extinction in the 48 contiguous states have paid off in remarkable recovery for the national symbol.

Over the years, NWF has been deeply involved in the battle to save the eagle through research on the pesticide DDT, which caused disastrous thinning of egg shells; creation of a Raptor Information Center that conducted annual eagle counts; and extensive public awareness campaigns.

Through legal action under the Endangered Species Act, NWF also won a ban on use of lead shot, which had been poisoning the eagle´s food supply.

In the 1800s, as many as 250,000 eagle pairs occupied the United States. By 1963, the number of nesting pairs in the continental United States had dwindled to 417. Listed as endangered in most of the contiguous 48 states in the early 1970s, the bird had recovered enough by 1995 to be upgraded to threatened status. Now, there are 6,000 eagle pairs--a better than tenfold rebound in less than 40 years.

A crucial step was the banning of DDT, but NWF also credits the Endangered Species Act for protecting eagle habitat and raising public awareness about eagles.

Appearing recently on NBC´s Today show and CBS News Saturday Morning, Ed Clark, NWF eastern region vice chair, termed the eagle´s recovery "evidence of an exciting trend in bringing back America´s wildlife heritage."

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