Action Report: December/January 2002

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

12-01-2001 // Phyllis McIntosh

Population Growth Means Water Crises, Wildlife Losses
With World Population growing by nearly 80 million people each year, "our planet is at a critical crossroads over water," warns a new report from NWF's Population and Environment Program. The report notes that people already consume about 54 percent of all accessible water in rivers, lakes and underground aquifers. By 2025, population growth alone could push that figure to 70 percent. Wildlife, it states, will be among the first casualties of conflicts over scarce water.

NWF will officially release Population, Water and Wildlife: Finding a Balance in conjunction with an international conference on fresh water in Bonn, Germany, in December. Established in 1990, NWF's Population and Environment Program educates people about the need for a sustainable balance between world population and environmental quality, wildlife habitat and finite natural resources. Additional findings in the report include:

  • Amphibians, which have declined dramatically around the globe, "may be the aquatic equivalent of the canary in the coal mine--sounding the alarm for all freshwater-dependent species."

  • Nearly 69 percent of all freshwater dolphins and 70 percent of freshwater otters are in danger of extinction.

  • Of 25 biodiversity "hot spots" worldwide, 10 are located in water-short regions. These hot spots have an extremely large number of native species but only 25 percent or less of their original vegetation.

The report details NWF's efforts to protect freshwater resources by working for Everglades restoration, fighting water diversion from the Great Lakes and opposing massive reservoir development that is destroying wildlife habitat in Texas.

Individuals, too, can make a difference. They should let lawmakers know they want increased U.S. aid for international population programs. They can also conserve water and reduce the use of toxic chemicals in their own homes and yards.

Learn more about urban growth.

"Green" Investments Can Save Wildlife
Activists from the United States and eight other countries met in Amsterdam recently to discuss ways to encourage banks to halt investments in companies and development projects that damage the environment. The conference was cosponsored by NWF's Finance and Environment Program, which since 1997 has worked to educate banks and consumers about the power they have to protect wildlife and habitat by choosing their financial investments carefully.

Besides conducting workshops similar to the one in Amsterdam, the program:

  • Issues fact sheets and citizens' guides to inform consumers about what banks do with their money; how roads, dams, mines and other projects that banks finance can harm wildlife; and how individual investors can make a difference by writing letters, signing petitions and voting shares of stock in favor of environmentally responsible investments.

  • Encourages major financial institutions to withdraw financing from destructive projects, such as China's Three Gorges Dam; to invest in beneficial development like solar and wind energy; and to abide by environmental guidelines and codes of conduct.

  • Codirects Quantum Leap, a project that has trained more than 100 global activists about the link between finance and the environment.

Putting its money where its mouth is, NWF has "greened" its own portfolio and participates as a shareholder in meetings and proxy votes to bring about change within financial institutions.

Thirty Participants Convene for First Prairie Summit
Some 30 prairie enthusiasts from across the Great Plains convened recently at NWF's National Prairie Summit to begin developing a blueprint for preserving and restoring America's grasslands over the next 30 years. The first such gathering ever held, the Colorado summit brought together scientists, land managers, sociologists, economists and policy experts from government agencies, universities, industry and environmental organizations.

In conjunction with the summit, NWF released a new report, The American Prairie: Going, Going, Gone?, documenting how agriculture and sprawl have destroyed most of our native grasslands. (See item below.) Loss of habitat is taking a dramatic toll on wildlife of the Great Plains, including buffalo, black-tailed prairie dogs and pronghorn, the report notes.

Report: Nation's Grasslands Shrinking
Grasslands, which once stretched across a third of the United States, are now one of North America's most endangered ecosystems, notes NWF's recent report The American Prairie: Going, Going, Gone? Other highlights of the report include:

  • All but 1 percent of native tallgrass prairie has disappeared.

  • As much as 70 percent of mixed-grass and shortgrass prairie has vanished in some states.

  • Fifty-five U.S. grasslands species are now listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The black-footed ferret and Attwater's prairie chicken are critically endangered. The black-tailed prairie dog, central to the web of life on the plains, has been declared "warranted" for listing as threatened. Even abundant species, such as pronghorn, are at risk from development and habitat fragmentation.

Exxon Still Owes Millions for Alaska Oil Spill, NWF Says
NWF is urging the federal government and the state of Alaska to demand that the Exxon Corporation pay an additional $100 million for unanticipated damages from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. A 1991 court-approved settlement stipulated that Exxon pay $900 million in civil damages. The governments would then have an opportunity to collect as much as $100 million more if they could demonstrate damages that were not foreseen at the time of settlement. Although an official claim cannot be filed until 2002, NWF, joined by ten other organizations, is calling on the Bush administration and the state to immediately catalogue damages and create a restoration plan.

Twelve years after the spill, only 2 of 21 regularly monitored species are considered recovered. Among other lingering effects: Residual oil has impacted the early life stages of pink salmon and herring; harlequin duck populations continue to decline; a local pod of orcas appears in danger of extinction; and intertidal invertebrate organisms are less abundant and diverse than before the spill.

Destructive Texas Dam and Reservoir Threaten Wildlife
NWF and one of its affiliates, the Texas Committee on Natural Resources, are galvanizing opposition to a massive dam and reservoir project that would supply water to the Dallas-Fort Worth region at the expense of valuable wildlife habitat.

Proposed as part of Texas's 50-year water plan, the project would ship 161 billion gallons of water per year through a 172-mile pipeline to the Dallas area. With an estimated price tag of $1.7 billion, the Marvin C. Nichols Dam and Reservoir, as the project is known, is the costliest proposed in the state's plan.

The controversial dam would inundate 72,000 acres, including 30,000 acres of high-quality rare bottomland hardwood forest, says Dave Moldal, NWF regional organizer in Austin. Habitat destruction would be "cal-amitous," he notes, for migratory birds, native mussels and wild turkey.

Agency Deals Blow To South Carolina Floodway Project
A $4-billion residential and research park project was stopped when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) found that 70 percent of it would lie in the floodway of South Carolina's Congaree River. Federal flood insurance program regulations prohibit building in a floodway, the section of a floodplain that experiences the swiftest and deepest waters during a major flood.

FEMA's decision is a victory for NWF and one of its affiliates, the South Carolina Wildlife Federation. The organizations worked to persuade FEMA and state and civic leaders to nix plans for the 4,600-acre development. "Despite all the politicking and all the money the developers poured into this, they still weren't able to change the floodway mapping," says Angela Viney, executive director of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation. "Science won out over politics."

Developer Builds in Harmony With Nature
Ray Smith does not fit the stereotypical image of a large-scale land developer. The northern Virginia builder is proving that it is possible to create the communities that people want while preserving the aspects of nature that enhance their quality of life.

Smith, president of Dogwood Development Group in Reston, Virginia, initially became interested in the issue several years ago when he learned that increasing numbers of home buyers were expressing an interest in outdoor activities such as hiking, bird-watching and gardening. Preserving habitat was also catching on in Reston (which in December 2000 was certified by NWF as the country's third Community Wildlife HabitatTM site).

Ray Smith, NWF Habitat Steward

To educate himself, Smith signed up for NWF's Habitat StewardsTM training. The Habitat Stewards program, sponsored primarily by Wild Birds Unlimited, trains volunteers to help schools, businesses, home owners and neighborhoods develop or protect wildlife habitat sites.

As a steward, Smith has done everything from lecturing on sustainable development at the University of Virginia School of Architecture to helping an Eagle Scout create a butterfly garden at a county park. He also counsels local county officials on ways to preserve open space and wildlife habitat. "Even such things as reducing the size of easements for utilities can minimize disruption," he says.

Smith practices what he preaches. He is especially proud of a community he is developing near Front Royal, Virginia, that he believes is one of the first Community Wildlife Habitats in the country created from scratch. It will feature 50 percent open space, nine miles of nature trails and native landscaping. Model homes will sport backyard habitats, and a staff naturalist will assist buyers in creating their own habitats.

"Our goal is to have greater biodiversity on the land than before we developed it," Smith declares. "I truly believe that we can develop in harmony with nature."

Virgin Islands Group Replants Mangroves
St. Croix's mangrove swamps, devastated by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, are on their way back after hundreds of volunteers painstakingly planted 21,000 red and black mangrove seedlings over the past three years.

The planting was a project of the St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA), an arm of NWF's affiliate, the Virgin Islands Conservation Society. The new mangroves, which will provide vital habitat for the island's marine and bird life, cover about two-thirds of the area damaged by Hugo at Sugar Bay on the island's north-central coast. SEA encased most of the seedlings in PVC pipe to protect them from waves and crabs. The result: an average survival rate so far of 90 percent.

California Group Rescues Young Salmon
Some 1,700 young coho salmon and steelhead trout have a new lease on life, thanks to recent efforts of the Marin County, California, Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN).

With the help of a Species Recovery Fund grant from NWF's Keep the Wild AliveTM Program, volunteers dip-netted the juvenile fish from isolated pools in tributaries of Lagunitas Creek that were drying up for the summer. The fish were then transported to the confluence of several other tributaries where they could continue their migration to the ocean.

As part of the grant project, SPAWN plans to train other volunteer groups in the area to launch similar fish rescue operations in the Lagunitas watershed, which contains the largest recorded population of wild coho salmon in California.

Retreat Nourishes Spirit Through Nature
Baptist minister Darrell Brown and his wife Shirley believe that communing with nature is the perfect way to heal body, mind and spirit. To that end they have established a combination nature center and spiritual retreat in Idlewild, Michigan, a community in Manistee National Forest, about 70 miles northwest of Grand Rapids.

Known as HOLIhouse (for Healing on Lake Idlewild), their nine-acre property, recently certified by NWF's Backyard Wildlife HabitatTM Program, features a pond, trails, a perennial garden and wildlife-feeding stations. Besides connecting with nature, guests can experience various forms of therapeutic healing, such as yoga and guided meditation.

To further promote the conservation message in their community, the Browns will host a NWF Habitat StewardsTM training session next May. Stewards in turn will work with schools and community groups to create habitat sites.

Mexican Students Learn About Prairie Dogs
Three conservation groups in Mexico are working with NWF to educate teachers and students in that country about the importance of grasslands and conserving habitat for the endangered Mexican prairie dog and its cousin, the threatened black-tailed prairie dog.

NWF's Gulf States Natural Resource Center in Texas plans to provide training and education materials, such as a Prairie Trunk containing pelts, skulls, puppets, a slide show and grasslands curricula, that the groups can adapt for use in Mexico.

The project will focus on communities near Mexican prairie dog towns in the states of Coahuila and Nuevo León and black-tailed prairie dog habitat in Chihuahua. Population growth, cattle ranching and irrigated farming have drastically reduced the animals' ranges in Mexico.

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