Action Report: April/May 2003

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

04-01-2003 // Rene Ebersole

Clean Water Act Under Attack
NWF and other conservationists are calling the Bush administration's recent attempt to roll back Clean Water Act protections an effort that could give developers the green light to fill, pollute and destroy many of the nation's wetlands and streams.

In January, the administration announced plans to review the 30-year-old law and issued new guidelines to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers for determining whether certain waterways are eligible for protection.

The new guidelines threaten to "dilute the entire Clean Water Act," says Julie Sibbing, NWF's wetlands policy specialist.

Of major concern is the fate of streams that do not flow year-round or that run underground, even for short distances, and nearly 20 million acres of so-called "isolated" wetlands. Widespread degradation of these water sources could impact not only critical habitat for migratory waterfowl, fish, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, but commercial fishing and other industries that generate millions of dollars for local economies, say conservationists. The proposed rules could also hike up the costs of dealing with pollution, treating drinking water and responding to flooding.

"Pollution doesn't stay put," says NWF President Mark Van Putten. "Even if it is isolated, one unhealthy lake or stream can quickly jeopardize other nearby water resources, creating a dangerous domino effect for water and wildlife across an entire region." The nation's waterways have become significantly cleaner and wetland losses have decreased substantially throughout the country in the decades since the passage of the Clean Water Act. However, approximately 40 percent of waterways are still too polluted for fishing and swimming and more than 58,000 acres of wetlands are lost each year nationwide.

According to the Bush administration, the new guidelines stem from a 2001 Supreme Court ruling that created a loophole in the Clean Water Act for certain non-navigable wetlands. "The administration took a small exception opened by the Supreme Court and magnified it to weaken protections for many of America's important waterways," says Van Putten. "After 30 years of Clean Water Act protection, this change is completely unnecessary and marks another administration effort to trade the long-term health of our natural resources for shortsighted industry demands." For more information, visit our Wetlands page.

Your Contributions at Work
The battles that NWF wins on the conservation frontlines are made possible with funds from our members and other generous supporters. Recent initiatives that we have been able to aid with those funds include:

  • The restoration of endangered ocelot habitat in Texas through our Keep the Wild Alive™ program. See our Wildlife page.

  • The New England non-lead sinker exchange project, which aims to protect waterfowl from poisonous lead in conventional sinkers. Anglers can exchange lead sinkers at various sports shops and state parks free of charge. Visit our Northern Forest page.

  • The Habitat Stewards™ program, which helps people become mentors who assist others with the creation or conservation of wildlife in their communities. Learn more at about Volunteering.

Court Blocks Army Corps Dredging Plans
With the pound of his gavel, a Seattle judge recently postponed a controversial dredging project in the Lower Snake River, agreeing with NWF and a coalition of conservation organizations that the dredging would cause "irreparable harm" to imperiled chinook salmon and steelhead. The $2.4 million project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers aims to deepen the Lower Snake and remove growing piles of sediment from clogged commercial barging channels.

In NWF's continuing battle to protect wildlife and waterways from Army Corps projects that "ditch, drain and damage," NWF and its partners sued the Corps and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which approved the Lower Snake dredging project, for violating the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The latter law requires federal agencies to consider alternatives when proposing any action that may affect the environment.

NWF and others had proposed several safer, less expensive alternatives to dredging, including the promotion of healthier streamside habitat that would naturally control erosion and reduce the flow of sediment into the Snake. "It took a lawsuit to affirm what we've been saying all along about this project," says NWF Counsel Jan Hasselman. "Plans to dredge the Snake cannot proceed until the agency answers legal and scientific questions and considers cost-effective alternatives that will better protect the environment."

NWF Rates the Best and Worst for Wildlife
NWF recently released its assessment of actions and decisions that have done the most to help or harm wildlife in 2002. It was, for instance, a landmark year for whooping crane conservation. Events included the first wild whooper chick to fledge east of the Mississippi in more than a century, the solo northward migration of five young cranes and a larger than ever migration of captive-raised cranes led by ultralight planes. Meanwhile, not even good news about the growing numbers of endangered Florida panthers prowling Florida's Everglades could spare the subspecies from being labeled the wildlife "loser" of the year. Destruction of the cat's already diminished habitat is occurring at a dangerous pace, threatening the panther's future. Other wildlife losses highlighted by The Best and Worst for Wildlife report include oil drilling on wild lands and salmon barging. Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate's support last spring to keep Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge wild and efforts to reduce global warming in California are hailed among the year's triumphs.

Coming to a Store in Your Neighborhood
If your family is thinking of starting a NWF Backyard Wildlife Habitat™ site, there is no better time than the present. April is NWF month at The Home Depot. Stores across the country will feature Backyard Wildlife Habitat clinics, Kids Workshops® and new NWF products, including bird baths, pond kits and nesting boxes.

Florida's Western Everglades on "Road to Ruin"
American taxpayers will have to dole out billions of dollars to repair the damage that has been done to Florida's Everglades by draining the "River of Grass" to build housing and strip malls within a stone's throw of Miami. Yet the same kind of poorly planned development is still ravaging the western Everglades near Naples and posing serious threats to people and wildlife, according to a new report by NWF, the Florida Wildlife Federation, an affiliate, and the Council of Civic Associations. Titled Road to Ruin, the report exposes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for violating federal laws by delaying formal action on the Southwest Florida Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and instead allowing the annual development of more than 900 acres of wetlands in the EIS area. "The Army Corps owes it to Americans to learn from the mistakes of the past and turn off the tap that's draining the western Everglades," says Andrew Schock, director of NWF's Southeastern Field Office in Atlanta.

NWF Ranked Among Top Charities
For the fourth consecutive year, Smart Money magazine ranked NWF among the top conservation groups in a study of the nation's 100 largest charities. According to Smart Money, the goal of the study was to reveal to the publication's 822,000 readers, who look to the magazine for information on personal finance and investment opportunities, "which charities work most efficiently and which ones lavish money on administration and fund-raising." Based on the way NWF allocates its funding for programs, fund-raising and endowments, Smart Money's analysis listed the Federation as one of the nation's top two environmental organizations in which a person can invest.

A Giant Win for Wilderness
U.S. forests are a bit safer--at least for now. A federal appeals court in California recently upheld the Clinton administration's so-called "roadless rule," aimed at protecting 58.5 million acres of national forest land from logging, road construction and related damage. The court action hampers efforts by the Bush administration and the timber industry to undercut the rule. Designed to provide lasting protection to roughly one-third of the nation's forests, the roadless rule prohibits road construction, reconstruction and timber harvest in designated areas. "These lands represent some of America's last remaining truly wild places, providing our best wildlife habitat and cleanest waters," says NWF board member Mike Dombeck, who originated the roadless rule during his tenure as chief of the U.S. Forest Service. "I'm pleased that our efforts to protect them have been vindicated."

Mercury: The Household Menace
From air conditioners and fluorescent lights to cosmetics and food, common household items that contain mercury can cause dangerous pollution and serious health threats to people and wildlife. The silvery metal is a powerful neuro-toxin. NWF's new Mercury Products Guide offers important tips for safeguarding your family and the environment.

Two Women and 34 Million "Friends"
It was three o'clock in the morning one summer night last year and Jane Roberts couldn't sleep. The NWF volunteer activist was restless, angry and frustrated about the Bush administration's decision to derail $34 million of congressionally approved support to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The UNFPA is a program that aims to slow the growth of the planet's bulging population and provide medical care to thousands of women and children in developing countries. Studies show that programs such as the UNFPA, which educates women and provides access to affordable family planning, result in fewer unexpected children.

According to the UNFPA, $34 million could prevent two million unwanted pregnancies and 800,000 abortions. In addition, it could spare the lives of some 4,700 women and 77,000 infants and children. All of this is above and beyond the benefit that curbing population growth means for scarce natural resources. "In 1900, one billion people inhabited the Earth," says Roberts. "In 2000 the population was at six billion. And there is no way the planet will have fewer than nine billion by 2050. From a billion people to nine billion in 150 years! The stress on the environment will be incredible."

When UNFPA was created in 1969, the United States was its largest contributor. Now, the United States would give nothing. "I couldn't believe this [decision] reflected the intent of the American people," says Roberts, a retired French teacher and tennis coach from Redlands, California. "I remember lying in bed thinking 'I know there are 34 million people out there who would give a dollar for this.'"

Little did Roberts know that Lois Abraham, an attorney and mediator in Taos, New Mexico, was thinking the very same thing. Both women independently came to a solution: If the Bush administration wouldn't cough up the dough, they would launch a campaign to raise the $34 million on their own. Making phone calls, typing letters and sending off e-mail chain letters that would bounce from one end of the country and back, Abraham and Roberts embarked on their personal crusades. Later, when they learned of each other's efforts, they combined forces. And so began the 34 Million Friends Campaign-"an excellent example of the positive difference just a few passionate people can make," says NWF Population Policy Analyst Caron Whitaker.

At first, letters and donations trickled in to the UNFPA. But within weeks, the trickle transformed into a deluge of support. At press time, the 34 Million Friends Campaign had raised nearly $500,000. Even if the campaign falls short of the $34 million mark, Roberts says the flood of donations will ring loud and clear with the government that the American people support the work of the UNFPA. And that is truly important, says Whitaker. "Raising $34 million once is hard enough. It can't possibly be done every year. We look forward to working with Jane and Lois in the future to support U.S. government funding of UNFPA."

Bighorn Sheep Bumped for Big Oil
NWF and the North Dakota Wildlife Federation (NDWF), an affiliate, are appealing a proposal by the U.S. Forest Service that would allow increased oil and gas development on roughly 48,000 acres of bighorn sheep habitat on North Dakota's Little Missouri National Grasslands. Bighorn sheep were extirpated from North Dakota during the early 1900s, but were reintroduced to the state's national grasslands in 1956. Supplemented by additional transplants, the population has since grown to approximately 150 sheep, but remains threatened by human disturbances and disease. NWF and NDWF want the Forest Service to restore protections to all inhabited and potential bighorn ranges in the Little Missouri National Grasslands. "At more than a million acres, this is the nation's largest national grassland," says NWF Counsel Michael Saul. "Surely, in an expanse this big, the Forest Service can set aside adequate habitat for bighorn sheep."

Water Resources Victory in Texas!
Plans for a dam that would have disrupted the natural flow of Texas's Sulphur River and flooded more than 30,000 acres of rare bottomland hardwood forests have been halted thanks to an outpouring of public opposition. Last year, NWF and an affiliate, the Texas Committee on Natural Resources, sought help from their members and other activists to fight the $1.7 billion Marvin Nichols Dam, which the groups labeled the worst project in the state's water plan. The Northeast Texas Regional Water Planning Group received more than 5,000 public comments against Marvin Nichols, prompting officials to remove the dam from a list of recommended projects in the region. "This is a real victory for the people and wildlife of Texas." says Susan Kaderka, director of NWF's Gulf States Natural Resource Center. "Our water resources are just too precious to waste."

Prairie Dogs Pop Up in New Places
A new report by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (CDNR) could bring the state one step closer to developing a management plan for black-tailed prairie dogs, say conservationists. According to the CDNR, black-tailed prairie dogs were found on 600,000 acres of the state's Front Range--a 20,000-acre increase from previous estimates. "Good news," says Stephen Torbit, director of NWF's Rocky Mountain Natural Resource Center. But it should be taken with a note of caution. "It is the quality and continuity of the habitat-not its total coverage-that are the most important indicators of a species' recovery and viability." Black-tailed prairie dogs once inhabited some 100 million acres of grasslands across the Great Plains, compared to one million acres today. Developing an effective long-term recovery and management plan for black-tailed prairie dogs will be crucial, says Torbit.

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