Action Report: August/September 2000

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

08-01-2000 // Phyllis McIntosh

You Can Act Now in Campaign to Save the Everglades

Launch a petition drive, write your member of Congress, sign up for e-mail updates and alerts about legislation being considered in Congress--these are just some of the ways you can become part of the National Wildlife Federation´s campaign to restore Florida´s Everglades.

For starters, visit NWF´s special Everglades Web site to view a virtual tour of the "river of grass" and a wealth of information on the history and ecology of the region.

You can download a petition urging Congress to pass an Everglades restoration plan this year, collect signatures and mail them to NWF to present to Congress. An action alert tells you what else you can do to make your views known and suggests points you might want to make in a letter to your lawmaker. By signing up on the Web site, you can automatically receive e-mail notices when your help is needed.

Once spreading across four million acres, the Everglades has been reduced to half its original size by a century of agricultural growth, urban sprawl and unwise water management. At the direction of Congress, the Army Corps of Engineers conducted a study of how to undo the damage, which it submitted to the lawmakers last year. Congress is now poised to act on the Corps´ proposed 20-year plan to remove man-made structures and acquire land necessary to restore natural water flows to the region.

NWF Sues to Protect Panther
Following through on their threat of legal action, NWF and one of its affiliates, the Florida Wildlife Federation, have sued several government agencies for contributing to the destruction of habitat for the endangered Florida panther.

The suit charges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Federal Highway Administration with facilitating urban sprawl in southwest Florida that has decimated panther habitat.

Takings Bill Would Encourage Sprawl, Damage Habitats

NWF is helping to lead the fight against a so-called "takings," or property rights, bill in Congress that would make it easier for developers to add to the urban sprawl that already threatens valuable habitat and endangered species such as the Florida panther.

The bill, passed by the House and now under consideration in the Senate, is similar to legislation blocked by the Senate in 1998. It would allow developers to file challenges to local land-use decisions directly in federal court, bypassing zoning appeals and state courts.

The developers´ group behind the bill has boasted that it is "a hammer to the head" of local officials. But NWF attorney Glenn Sugameli says, "Premature, expensive federal litigation would bully communities into approving projects that harm neighboring property owners and the environment.

"This bill is aimed at the heart of smart growth because control over destructive sprawl depends upon city, town and county planning laws," he adds.

NWF Sues Corps Over Dredging in Savannah Harbor

NWF and one of its affiliates, the Times New Roman" South Carolina Wildlife Federation, are among four groups suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for illegally approving a $230 million dredging project in Savannah Harbor.

The suit, filed on behalf of the groups by the Southern Environmental Law Center, charges that the Corps violated federal law by ramming through the project on a promise to study its environmental impact later.

In its recent report, Troubled Waters, NWF listed Savannah Harbor among the nation´s top ten most wasteful and environmentally harmful Corps projects.

NWF maintains that deepening the 36-mile channel by another six feet to accommodate the largest container ships would allow salt water to destroy more than half of the remaining freshwater wetlands at the nearby Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. The project also would adversely impact the Savannah River´s federally endangered short-nosed sturgeon, prevent recovery of striped bass and increase the introduction of potentially invasive species, according to Andrew Schock, director of NWF´s Southeastern Field Office in Atlanta.

"The Army shouldn´t be at war with nature," he says. "Savannah Harbor is another example of how the Corps is willing to bypass federal law to approve environmentally destructive projects."

NWF, Partners Win Grant for Vermont Forestry Project

The Ford Foundation has awarded NWF and two Vermont organizations a five-year, $750,000 grant for one of 12 national pilot projects in community-based forestry.

NWF´s partners are the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a nonprofit economic development organization, and Vermont Family Forests, a cooperative of 31 small private forest landowners dedicated to protecting the watershed of one of Vermont´s best trout streams, the New Haven River. Vermont Family Forests was the first forest-owner cooperative to receive NWF´s SmartWood certification for practicing environmentally sound forestry.

In the Ford project, NWF and its partners will push to expand the group of woodland owners who practice sustainable forestry, link their logs to local jobs in wood processing and link those products to emerging markets for certified wood.

"Because forestland in this region is divided among many small owners, there´s a great need for collaborative efforts to maintain forest-dependent wildlife and jobs," says Eric Palola, director of NWF´s Northeastern Field Office.

NWF Urges President to Declare Prairies National Monuments

NWF is calling on President Clinton to designate five particularly significant remnants of western grasslands as national monuments to protect them from such abuses as logging, mining, road building and overgrazing.

The five areas, which encompass more than 3.7 million acres, are:

  • The Vermillion Bluffs, northwest Colorado, famous for archaeological ruins and continuing finds of dinosaur bones, as well as for the largest concentration of rare plants in the state. The area´s sagebrush flats also are critical for recovery of the endangered black-footed ferret.
  • Owyhee Canyonlands, Idaho, a place of rugged, awe-inspiring beauty, stronghold of the nation´s largest population of California bighorn sheep and home as well to pronghorn, sage grouse and a host of rare plants. The canyons also include early Native American rock art and home sites, some dating back 6,000 years.
  • Missouri Breaks, Montana, a rare undeveloped segment of prairie river system that includes part of the route of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition. It is home to more than 60 species of mammals, 233 bird species and 20 species of amphibians and reptiles.
  • Sheyenne National Grassland, North Dakota, the largest remaining remnant of tallgrass prairie in an otherwise agricultural area.
  • The Steens Mountain-Alvord Basin, Oregon, which contains ecologically diverse landscapes ranging from alpine meadows to a desert basin with lakes, hot springs and sand dunes.

Project Will Sample Mercury Levels in Rain, Snow

As part of its Clean the Rain Campaign against mercury pollution, NWF is launching a one-year project to conduct weekly mercury sampling of precipitation in several midwestern cities and publicize the results through local weather forecasts.

"There is very little testing for mercury in urban areas, so consequently there is little good evidence about the impact of local sources, especially power plants, on the mercury load in our waterways," says Andy Buchsbaum, water quality projects manager in NWF´s Great Lakes Field Office.

Mercury released into the air by coal-fired power plants and waste incinerators falls back to Earth in rain and snow to contaminate water and poison people, fish and wildlife. An earlier NWF study found that rain falling over such cities as Chicago, Detroit, Duluth and Gary contains as much as 65 times the level of mercury that the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for waterways in the Great Lakes region.

House Easily Passes Landmark Funding Bill for Conservation

By a vote of 315 to 102, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the landmark Conservation and Reinvestment Act, which guarantees $2.8 billion annually in funding for conservation over the next 15 years.

The House action is a major victory for NWF, which has played a leading role in generating support for the bill. Representatives of NWF are now working hard to win passage in the Senate.

The bill channels money from offshore oil and gas drilling leases to states and local communities for support of wildlife and wild places, recreation, open spaces, urban parks, coastal and marine conservation and historic preservation. It is the result of a unique bipartisan coalition forged by the chief cosponsors, Reps. Don Young (R-Alaska) and George Miller (D-California).

The House-passed version contains an amendment introduced by Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-New York) that would eliminate incentives for increased oil and gas exploration and drilling, a matter of particular concern to environmentalists.

NWF Opens New Western Resource Center in San Diego

Environmental issues of concern in California, Nevada and along the United States-Mexico border are the focus of NWF´s newest field office in San Diego.

NWF will work with local organizations to protect biological diversity in Southern California, a region facing imposing population growth and major land-use planning decisions. San Diego County is home to more endangered species than any other county in the continental United States, and the California-Mexico border region supports more than 30 percent of all federally listed endangered species, notes Kevin Doyle, center director.

NWF also will work to identify ecologically significant wildlife habitat in the border region and develop a plan of action for its conservation.

The new Western Field Office is one of 11 NWF field offices around the country. Others are located in Alaska, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Montana, Texas, Vermont and Washington.

Plan Would Turn Desert Spring into Cattle Trough

NWF and one of its affiliates, the Arizona Wildlife Federation, are fighting efforts by the state office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to revoke protection for a wilderness spring and open the area to cattle grazing.

At issue is Sycamore Spring, the centerpiece of Arizona´s Arrastra Mountain Wilderness Area. Set among magnificent cliffs, the spring provides water, food and cover for a number of species, including peregrine falcons, blackhawks, mule deer, javelinas and lowland leopard frogs. Cattle would trample surrounding vegetation and pollute the water with their waste.

Arizona has designated the spring a "Unique Water," the state´s equivalent of an Outstanding National Resource Water. Because both the federal Clean Water Act and state water-quality regulations forbid degradation of a unique water, the state BLM office was prohibited in 1996 from placing cattle in Sycamore Spring.

Now, in an end-run around that ruling, the BLM office has asked the state to revoke the unique water status so that Sycamore Spring would no longer be protected by the Clean Water Act.

Arguing that opening the area to grazing would pollute the spring and destroy surrounding vegetation to support a handful of cattle, NWF, the Arizona Wildlife Federation and several other groups are urging the national BLM director to overturn the Arizona office´s request. They also are calling on the state to stand fast on protection for the spring.

Keep the Wild Alive: Ten Species Recovery Fund Grants Awarded

NWF has awarded grants to ten local groups and individuals for projects that will directly improve conditions for many of the endangered species highlighted in its Keep the Wild Alive campaign.

The winners, selected from among nearly 200 applicants, will receive between $3,000 and $7,000 from NWF´s Species Recovery Fund, which is supported by private and corporate donations. Winning projects were chosen because they are innovative, community-based and have the potential to be expanded or replicated elsewhere.

The projects include establishing wetlands to provide drinking water and prey for Indiana bats; distributing low-wattage light bulbs to prevent young sea turtles from becoming disoriented by bright beach lighting; planting Mauna Kea silversword plants in areas of Hawaii where they will be protected; constructing artificial habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers on private property; and erecting a barrier at the edge of a Utah reserve to keep off-road vehicles out of desert tortoise habitat.

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