Action Report: February/March 2001

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

02-01-2001 // Phyllis McIntosh

Putting the Pieces Back Together: Congress Approves Plan To Restore Everglades

In what National Wildlife Federation President Mark Van Putten calls "the start of the greatest environmental turnaround in history," Congress has approved a $7.8 billion, 30-year plan to undo decades of human tinkering and restore the natural plumbing of the Everglades.

The action is a major victory for NWF and one of its affiliates, the Florida Wildlife Federation, which for the past year waged a national education campaign and petition drive to mobilize public and congressional support for Everglades restoration. Earlier, NWF was instrumental in persuading the Clinton administration and Congress to improve the restoration plan with greater emphasis on ecological recovery.

In the waning days of the last Congress, NWF played a crucial role in winning passage of the restoration bill and helping to rescue it from a morass of environmentally destructive projects contained in an earlier bill.

As the first step in the restoration plan, Congress authorized $1.4 billion for four pilot projects to test new technologies and ten initial projects, including filling in some canals and constructing fresh water reservoirs.

Altogether, the plan calls for 68 projects over at least three decades to remove or alter man-made structures that interfere with natural water flow, restore wetlands to naturally cleanse and transport water and build wastewater reuse facilities. The plan will also create storage areas to hold fresh water that is now dumped into the ocean at the rate of 1.7 billion gallons a day.

Beneficiaries of the plan include six million South Florida residents who depend on the Everglades for clean drinking water, as well as highly endangered species, such as the Florida panther, manatee, wood stork and American crocodile.

Although further funding authorizations will be needed every two years, "this historic legislation to save an American treasure is a strong indication that Congress is committed to seeing this through," says Carolyn Waldron, NWF vice president for the southeast region.

Sioux Reservation Site of Latest Ferret Release

NWF, long involved in efforts to restore endangered black-footed ferrets to the wild, has helped engineer the second reintroduction of ferrets on a tribal reservation.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released more than 100 ferrets onto Chey-enne River Sioux lands in South Dakota. NWF also was involved in the only previous release onto tribal lands at Fort Belknap Indian Community in Montana.

"NWF has long advocated that tribes be factored into the recovery program," says Steve Torbit, NWF senior staff scientist. "We believe the tribes not only have the biological resources necessary for wild-life conservation, but they also have the institutional and technical capability to successfully manage endangered species."

Torbit and Tom Dougherty, senior adviser to the NWF president, have served on the ferret recovery implementation team for several years, helping to plan releases into the wild, find funding for the recovery program and facilitate cooperation among federal and state agencies involved.

Since 1991, more than 1,300 captive-bred ferrets have been released in Wyoming, Montana, Arizona and South Dakota. About 500 are believed to be surviving in the wild. Another 400 are held in captive-breeding facilities around the country.

Wild black-footed ferrets, which feed mainly on prairie dogs, are among the species that would benefit from NWF’s efforts to preserve the nation’s dwindling grasslands and win Endangered Species Act protection for the black-tailed prairie dog. 

Plan for Restoration of Grizzly Hailed as New Wildlife Era

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced its final decision to return grizzly bears to wilderness areas of the Northern Rockies under a landmark citizen-management plan that NWF helped initiate.

The grizzly recovery plan is unique on two counts: It is the first major recovery plan for an imperiled predator species that was developed at the local level rather than by federal officials; and it is the first that would entrust decision making to local residents.

A 15-member Citizen Management Committee, including private citizens, state and federal wildlife officials and representatives of the Nez Perce Tribe, will be responsible for ensuring that grizzly recovery progresses in ways that are most compatible with the economic and other concerns of surrounding communities.

When the plan gets under way, a minimum of five bears per year will be relocated to the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness of Idaho and Montana from Canada and other parts of the United States over a period of five years.

The citizen-management plan was developed by NWF; Defenders of Wildlife; the Resource Organization on Timber Supply (ROOTS), a trade association of the timber industry and its workers; and the Intermountain Forest Association, representing timber companies and sawmills in the Northern Rockies.

"Citizen management strikes a commonsense balance to recover grizzly bears while respecting the interests of men and women who use, enjoy and earn their livelihoods from the land," says Tom France, director of NWF’s Northern Rockies Project Office and a principal architect of the landmark management plan.

Voters Register Mixed Feelings on Environment

Voters in the November election were sharply divided not just on the presidential race, but also on how best to manage the environment, results from various states suggest.

The biggest defeat for conservationists was in Oregon, where voters approved a constitutional amendment strongly opposed by NWF that could force governments to compensate landowners whenever regulations reduce the value of their properties.

"This is the most extreme ‘takings’ measure I’ve ever seen," says NWF attorney Glenn Sugameli. "It will be used to challenge all forms of zoning and land-use planning, and could have a chilling effect on state and local efforts to control sprawl and promote smart growth."

In Arizona and Colorado, meanwhile, voters rejected NWF-backed initiatives that would have given citizens a say in limiting urban sprawl.

On the plus side, voters in several states supported NWF’s stand on key issues:

  • Citizens in Arizona defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required any initiatives affecting wildlife, to be approved by a two-thirds majority of voters. The measure would have made it more difficult for the state to pass sound wildlife conservation measures.

  • Californians rejected a proposed constitutional a-mendment that would have allowed corporations to avoid paying for environmental damage they cause.

  • Montana voters approved an initiative that prohibits establishment of new game farms and expansion of existing ones and stops the farms from charging hunters a fee to shoot animals. NWF’s state affiliate, the Montana Wildlife Federation, was a primary sponsor of the initiative.

  • Voters in the state of Washington spurned a measure that would have required 90 percent of the state’s transportation funds to be spent on road construction and maintenance.

NWF Convinces Congress to Fund Wetland Purchase

Thanks to an eleventh-hour effort by NWF and two of its state affiliates, 1,000 acres of a valuable southeastern wetland will pass into federal ownership. The area in question is the 170,000-acre Pinhook Swamp, which connects the Osceola National Forest in Florida and the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia.

An important habitat for Florida black bears, the diverse ecosystem also is home to a variety of imperiled species, including the wood stork, red-cockaded woodpecker, fox squirrel and parrot pitcher plant.

NWF, along with two of its affiliates, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Georgia Wildlife Federation, has been urging Congress to add the Pinhook Swamp to the Osceola National Forest, creating one of the largest federally protected wildlife habitats east of the Mississippi River. So far, though, only 40,000 acres have been acquired.

When Congress passed the 2001 Interior Department appropriations bill without any mention of the Pinhook, NWF realized that one section of the bill contained money that could be used for a land purchase. Within hours after the bill was signed, NWF and its affiliates began coordinating letters and phone calls and scheduling meetings with key lawmakers. The result: Congressional leaders agreed to make $1 million available for purchase of 1,000 acres of the Pinhook that otherwise would have been sold for timber land.

"Had NWF not been vigilant, this opportunity would have slipped by without notice," says Andrew Schock, director of NWF’s Southeastern Natural Resource Center. Besides immediately protecting 1,000 acres for wildlife, the purchase also keeps the Pinhook in Congress’ sights for future funding, he adds. 

Lead Shot Ban Saves Waterfowl

The 1991 nationwide ban on lead shot, which NWF was instrumental in bringing about, has had remarkable success in preventing the lead poisoning deaths of millions of waterfowl, according to a new study funded in part by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

After examining thousands of ducks harvested in the Mississippi Flyway during the 1996 and 1997 waterfowl seasons, researchers concluded that the ban prevented the lead poisoning deaths of some 1.4 million ducks in the 1997 fall flight of 90 million ducks. They estimated that poisoning deaths among mallards were down by 64 percent, while overall ingestion of toxic lead pellets had declined 78 percent over pre-ban levels.

During the 1980s, NWF led the conservation community in petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a nationwide ban of lead shot, which poisons waterfowl that swallow lead pellets while grubbing for food on the bottoms of lakes and streams, and other birds such as bald eagles that feed on crippled or poisoned waterfowl. When the agency failed to act, NWF filed suit under the Endangered Species Act and several other federal laws. That action led to the 1991 ban, which was phased in over five years.

The Fish and Wildlife Service now estimates that the ban has benefited some 27 species of birds other than waterfowl, including bald eagles.

Keep the Wild Alive: Report Outlines Action To Aid North America’s Wild Cats

Everyone from private citizens to wildlife agency staffs can take action now to encourage conservation of North American wild cats and help ensure that these powerful symbols of open spaces survive into the future. That’s the theme of a new NWF report, The Endangered Cats of North America, which grew out of a workshop held last year by NWF’s Keep the Wild Alive™ program. Two North American cats, the Canada lynx and the Florida panther, are among the 25 endangered and threatened species highlighted in the Keep the Wild Alive campaign. The report also focuses on ocelots, jaguars and jaguarundis, as well as on species with more numerous populations, such as cougars and bobcats.

Because cats are so wide-ranging, protecting them also helps to safeguard a variety of species that rely on the same ecosystems.

The report cites specific actions that various individuals and groups can take to bolster cat conservation. It calls on activists and environmental groups, for example, to urge local governments and city planning agencies to limit the impact of road construction and urban development on cats and their habitat. The report also suggests that wildlife agencies and environmental organizations encourage landowners to protect habitat through such measures as conservation easements and land exchanges, and involve citizens in cat conservation through habitat restoration events and similar activities.

To raise awareness about wild cats and their role in nature, NWF is issuing color posters and a classroom curriculum for teachers in conjunction with the report. For more information on these materials, or to download a copy of the cats report, please see NWF’s Wildlife Web site at.

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