Action Report: April/May 2001

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

04-01-2001 // Phyllis McIntosh

EPA To Regulate Mercury Emissions From Coal-Fired Power Plants

In action long sought by the National Wildlife Federation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that it will issue the first national standards to limit mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The move is a significant victory for NWF’s Clean the Rain campaign, which for the past two years has publicized the health hazards posed by mercury and generated grass-roots support for regulations to control it.

The more than 86,000 pounds of mercury emitted annually from the nation’s 464 coal-fired power plants are the leading source of mercury air pollution. Through rain and snow, mercury in the atmosphere makes its way into lakes and streams, where it is ingested by fish and then by people and wildlife that eat the fish. Mercury is such a potent toxic that, even in tiny amounts, it can cause devastating effects on the human nervous system and the reproductive systems of fish, frogs and birds.

In its two Clean the Rain reports, NWF documents mercury contamination in the Great Lakes region and in New England, where precipitation contains as much as 73 times the level of mercury that EPA considers safe for surface water.

As the lead organization pressing for EPA action, NWF also coordinated the efforts of the environmental coalition working on the issue and sponsored lobbying days in Washington, D.C. It also issued action alerts, wrote countless letters and advised EPA on how to craft the final language of its "determination," which legally obligates the agency to issue standards.

"One of the main tasks of the Clean the Rain campaign over the next three years will be to make sure that the new administration follows through with standards that are fully protective of both people and wildlife," says Andy Buchsbaum, NWF water quality projects manager.

NWF is pressing for a final rule tough enough to protect the most vulnerable people who eat contaminated fish—children, pregnant women and subsistence anglers—and to protect the wildlife most at risk—loons, eagles and river otters. NWF also wants EPA to apply the same standards to all power plants, with no exceptions and no loopholes.

NWF NatureLink Clubs to Serve Kids of All Ages

Young people from the elementary grades through high school can learn about nature in their neighborhoods and what they can do to make their communities healthier for people and wildlife through NWF’s new series of NatureLink® clubs.

The year-round clubs, which will be sponsored by schools or community organizations, offer programs for three different age groups:

  • Ranger Rick’s EarthSavers® Club introduces elementary school children to nature in their communities through a variety of fun, hands-on activities.

  • NWF’s Teen Adventure Club, a completely new program for middle school students, features science-based investigation, community service and on-line activities with fellow club members.

  • NWF’s Earth Tomorrow® Club, based on a highly successful NWF program that has been operating in Detroit for several years, guides high school students in developing community conservation projects, gaining workplace and leadership skills and exploring environmental careers.

Each youth club will receive subscriptions to one of NWF’s award-winning magazines, monthly activities and lesson plans by fax or e-mail and access to on-line materials.

Congress Falls Short on Guaranteeing Conservation Funds

In the waning days of the 106th Congress, lawmakers provided some new funding for conservation programs but failed to enact the permanent long-term funding that NWF had sought. State fish and wildlife agencies will receive a total of $100 million in new funding, half of which will be placed in a new account specifically to benefit nongame wildlife.

NWF President Mark Van Putten called the measure "a down payment on the provisions of the Conservation and Reinvestment Act [CARA] that Congress failed to pass." He added that "we will work with the new Congress to make substantial, long-term wildlife funding a reality."

NWF had fought hard to pass CARA, which would have guaranteed nearly $3 billion annually, primarily for states and communities, over the next 15 years, all paid for by offshore oil and gas drill-ing receipts.

In other action, Congress authorized, as part of the Interior Department appropriations bill, as much as $12 billion for a variety of conservation programs over the next five years but did not make the funding mandatory.

Wildlife Week 2001: Nature in Your Own Neighborhood

During National Wildlife Week, April 16-22, NWF is encouraging children to look for opportunities to help protect wild creatures in their own communities.

Reflecting this year’s theme, Explore Nature in Your Neighborhood™, NWF is featuring:

  • National Wildlife Week Fun Book with hands-on activities such as building a bug trap or exploring a nearby pond. Teachers can download the free guides in English and Spanish from the Federation’s Web site.

  • Stewards of the Earth community service projects, such as stream monitoring and cleanups or trail and habitat construction, that benefit local wildlife.

  • Schoolyard Habitats ® projects, which serve both as mini-wildlife refuges and outdoor learning labs. Schools can get ideas from NWF’s Web site and free certification of their habitats if they download applications from the Web site during Wildlife Week.

NWF Helps Repair Damage to Streams, Surveys Forest Roads

After discovering that unmaintained roads are causing serious damage to Vermont’s wild trout streams, staff from NWF’s Northeast Field Office took up picks and shovels recently to help decommission an abandoned logging road.

Working with the U.S. Forest Service and inviting volunteers from a local watershed association, NWF staff removed two bridges and stabilized an eroding bank along Falls Brook in the White River watershed. When work resumes this spring, they will remove a third bridge and two collapsed culverts that are causing sedimentation problems in the creek.

The site is one of many "hot spots" that NWF, the U.S. Forest Service and Lyndon State College have identified in Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest, where abandoned roads are affecting streams. Studies show that old logging roads, with their stream crossings, gullies and collapsed bridges, are responsible for as much as 70 percent of the siltation and sedimentation in forest streams, says Kari Dolan, a water resources expert in NWF’s Northeast center. Sediment reduces spawning habitat for fish, suffocates fish eggs and smothers bottom-dwelling organisms and plants that provide food for fish.

Tennessee Affiliate Helps Reintroduce Wild Elk to State

For the first time since 1865, wild elk are roaming the hills of Tennessee, thanks in large part to the efforts of one of NWF’s affiliates, the Tennessee Conservation League (TCL).

In 1999, TCL and one of its affiliates, the Campbell Outdoor Recreation Association, held a series of meetings to assess and generate public support for releasing Wapiti elk into the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and surrounding region.

The dream became reality last December when the state Wildlife Resources Agency released 50 Canadian elk at a reclaimed strip mine in a Campbell County wildlife management area. Plans call for reintroducing an additional 50 to 100 animals a year over the next four years.

NWF Fellowship Leads to Wetlands Restoration Career

As an environmental studies major at Middlebury College in Vermont, Lara DuMond was considering a career in teaching, writing or photography. But a senior-year project supported by a fellowship from NWF’s Campus Ecology® program sparked an interest in wetlands that has led to an environmental consulting job, where she currently is inventorying wetlands restoration opportunities in Massachusetts.

DuMond was among the first 24 recipients of the NWF fellowships, which give college students practical experience in conservation through projects that green their campuses and communities.

DuMond decided to focus on a 12-acre wetland behind Middlebury’s new science center that had been overrun by invasive plants and whose water flow had been diverted by a man-made ditch.

After consulting with experts from state and federal agencies, she produced a 40-page plan for restoring native-plant diversity and naturalizing water flow.

"Since the area was near the science center, I thought it offered a perfect educational opportunity," DuMond says. "People could look out the window and see it, and when restored, it might become a research site for ecology classes.

"Not a lot of people know about the importance and functions of wetlands, so I wanted to stimulate interest in the community that hopefully would continue after I was gone," she adds. To that end, DuMond wrote articles about the wetland for the college and town newspapers, appeared on a local radio talk show, and posted signs around campus advertising a weekend wetland tour. About 30 students, faculty members and townspeople showed up in the rain to see and hear how her restoration plan would work.

Middlebury administrators have shown a great deal of interest in implementing DuMond’s plan, says Amy Seif, the college’s environmental coordinator. "Her project focused attention on an area of campus that most people didn’t even recognize as a wetland, and it forced us to look at the environmental impact of our ten-year campus expansion," Seif says.

Projects undertaken by other Campus Ecology Fellowship winners include demonstrating natural wastewater treatment with plants and microorganisms at Penn State University; educating people about how to reduce the amount of toxic materials used at Pratt Institute and other art colleges; and establishing a campus-wide composting system in dining halls at Stanford University.

New Headquarters Building Reflects NWF’s Mission

Daylight streams in through north-facing windows. The forested parkland they overlook instantly connects people inside with the natural world just beyond the glass. On the south exterior, a huge trellis stands poised to support native vines. Most of the year their leaves will shade the building from hot sun; in winter, the leafless vines will let more heat pass. The result: a year-round cut in energy consumption and costs, all produced by what amounts to a spectacular vertical habitat for birds and insects.

Inside, a spacious, open floor plan lets daylight filter to almost every corner. A sophisticated distance learning facility graces the Jay D. Hair Education Center, from which NWF Internet programming will provide interactive conservation education to adults and children worldwide.

This is just a taste of NWF’s newly completed headquarters in the planned community of Reston, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. Staffers moved in over the winter and dedication ceremonies are on April 6.

Though suburban, the building’s location promotes walking, cycling and the use of current bus and future rail transportation. A wildlife pond and native landscaping will add yet another certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat™ site to an area that has made NWF’s gardening for wildlife initiative a true community affair.

Even the local watershed benefits from NWF’s arrival. Rainwater that once ran uncontrolled off nearby lots, causing erosion and washing pollutants into waterways, will now flow into two bio-retention ponds. These artificial wetlands capture and naturally cleanse the water, releasing it gradually to make its way through local streams to the Chesapeake Bay.

Headquarters energy systems were chosen for maximal efficiency at a reasonable price. Doors and building accents are constructed from wood grown in forests certified for sustainable management. Even the carpeting is environmentally friendly.

"This was about more than building a great new home," says NWF President Mark Van Putten. "It’s meant to send a message about what the National Wildlife Federation stands for and to provide a model of what any organization can achieve if it builds with the health of the environment and with a lot of common sense in mind."

NWF chose building features that struck a sensible balance between cost-effectiveness and environmental friendliness. Along with the use of creative environmental elements, such as the trellis, these choices will pay for themselves over a short period. "We’re really engaging in conservation education here," adds Van Putten. "We’re teaching businesses and organizations everywhere that they can meet their facilities’ needs, benefit the environment and still maintain their bottom lines."

As for NWF’s bottom line, the new, efficient headquarters will mean a savings of nearly $900,000 every year—dollars that can go directly to conservation education and advocacy.

NWF Certifies Its New Hometown as Community Habitat

The 62,000 residents of Reston, Virginia, have proved their town a fitting site for NWF’s new headquarters by creating 150 certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat™ sites over the past two years. In recognition of their accomplishments, NWF has certified Reston as the nation’s third Community Wildlife Habitat. The others are Alpine, California, and Zionsville, Indiana.

As in many growing communities, Reston is losing valuable wildlife habitat to development. Species of particular concern include the screech owl, wood duck, spotted salamander, bobwhite quail, box turtle, and pink lady’s slipper orchid.

To qualify as a certified Community Wildlife Habitat, Reston, which encompasses about 7,000 acres, had to certify not only numerous residential habitats but also sites in schoolyards, businesses, apartments and public places such as parks and churches.

The town’s initiative was led by the Reston Association, the second largest homeowners association in the country. It formed a Habitat Team, which sponsored a "How To" open house and made "backyard habitating" the theme for Reston’s holiday parades and the nature center’s annual Arbor Day event. Team members rounded up volunteers from local high schools to install a habitat at a senior citizens’ home and worked with children to create a habitat on top of an elementary school.

"Excitement for this project was contagious," says Claudia Thompson-Deahl, the Reston Association’s resource manager. "Lots of people jumped on the bandwagon to accomplish the goal of getting certified by NWF."

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