Action Report: August/September 2003

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

08-01-2003 // Rene Ebersole

NWF Fights To Protect Panthers
In the ongoing struggle to save Florida panthers from extinction, NWF and an affiliate, the Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF), along with the Florida Panther Society (FPS), recently took emergency legal actions against government agencies that are failing to protect the species.

The endangered feline's fate could hinge on two separate court challenges. In late June, the conservation groups filed suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for permitting construction of a limestone mine in the middle of prime Florida panther habitat. Encompassing several thousand acres, the open-pit mine would be located on land characterized by FWS as "essential for maintaining a self-sustaining panther population," and accompanied by roads and other supporting infrastructure that could also harm the big cats.

NWF and its partners want the mine's construction to be halted at least until its effect on panthers can be more thoroughly investigated. "Destroying thousands of acres of panther habitat--deemed essential to the panther's survival by the government's own experts--defies both the law and science," says John Kostyack, NWF senior counsel.

In a second action, NWF and FPS are challenging the Corps' use of the Clean Water Act's nationwide permitting process, which has resulted in the loss of substantial tracts of habitat that is deemed essential to panthers. The Act allows the Corps to authorize certain types of development projects--those with minimal impacts on the environment--without any site-specific environmental review.

NWF and FPS contend that in four separate instances the Corps abused the authorization process by issuing permits based on arbitrary findings of minimal impact, when in fact the harmful impacts on the panther and its habitat were substantial. Such findings put the agencies in violation of the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Currently, only about 80 adult Florida panthers remain in the southern tip of the Sunshine State. "The future of this magnificent cat hinges on whether the agencies provide for panther habitat needs," says FPS President Karen Hill.

Your Contributions At Work
The battles that NWF wins on the conservation front lines are made possible by financial support from our members and donors as well as from private grants. Recent grants received by NWF include:

  • $150,000 from the Hewlett Foundation to be used over a three-year period for NWF's Population and Environment Program.

  • $22,500 from the Brainerd Foundation to help NWF create habitat corridors in Montana so bears and wolves can move freely between Yellowstone National Park and the Salmon-Selway Greater Ecosystem. Another $20,000 will aid NWF in its efforts to conserve the Copper River Delta, the largest contiguous wetland on the Pacific coast.

  • $12,000 from The Lazar Foundation to help the Sound Alliance, led by NWF, to protect Alaska's Prince William Sound--one of the world's richest ecosystems--from overuse, unwise development and poor management.

NWF and Affiliates Score Big Fish Victory
NWF and its affiliates recently celebrated an important milestone in their efforts to safeguard Northwest salmon and steelhead. "This decision creates a great opportunity," declared NWF President Mark Van Putten after a federal judge ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) failed to protect endangered fish from the harmful effects of hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. NWF and two affiliates, the Idaho and Washington Wildlife Federations, along with a coalition of conservation, energy and fishing groups, filed suit against NMFS (now NOAA Fisheries) two years ago because it ignored lethal conditions created by dams. The groups also charged NMFS with relying too heavily on future, speculative actions to make up for losses from hydropower facilities.

Once the backbone of a prosperous Northwest fishing and recreation economy, the Columbia and Snake River salmon and steelhead populations have been severely diminished by dams; some populations, such as the lower Snake coho salmon, are extinct.

Conservationists, pointing to the government's own studies, say removing the four inefficient and deadly dams on the lower Snake is the best way to restore the Columbia and Snake River Basin.

This recent court ruling opens the door "to fashioning a plan based on sound science that will save salmon and help build a sound economic future for the region," says Van Putten. To learn more, visit our Salmon page.

Stopping the Slaughter of Buffalo
In a major win for the nation's last free-roaming buffalo herd, NWF recently brokered an innovative land swap agreement that removes livestock grazing from public lands west of Yellowstone National Park and reduces the odds of buffalo getting shot or slaughtered by state and federal agencies. Over the past 15 winters, the Montana Department of Livestock has killed thousands of migrating Yellowstone buffalo to protect neighboring cattle from the threat of brucellosis--even though scientists have found no evidence that the bacterial disease can be transferred from buffalo to cattle. Under the new agreement, livestock operators will move their cattle grazing operations from the 2,400-acre Horse Butte Allotment to another, buffalo-free zone. "Resolving the conflict between buffalo and cattle at Horse Butte is an important first step in developing equitable, lasting solutions to the Yellowstone buffalo issue," says Steve Torbit, director of NWF's Rocky Mountain Natural Resource Center.

Halt to Corps Project Rescues Outer Banks
Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all. That's what federal agencies recently decided when they abandoned the proposed $108 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers navigation project at Oregon Inlet on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Labeled by NWF as one of the most damaging Corps ventures, the Oregon Inlet navigation project included plans for a dual jetty system and a 20-foot channel that threatened the Outer Banks' bird-rich wetlands and one of the most important fisheries on the Eastern Seaboard. Authorities from three federal agencies agreed to maintain the current 12-foot channel and work on increasing boater safety. "This decision is remarkable progress toward protecting North Carolina's environment and American taxpayers," says NWF Senior Water Resources Specialist David Conrad.

Wolf Recovery Efforts Threatened by Feds
If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) gets its way, efforts to reintroduce gray wolves to new areas within their historic range could soon become futile. Buoyed by successful wolf restorations in the northern Rockies and the Great Lakes, FWS recently released a national wolf rule for gray wolves that shifts the species from "endangered" status to "threatened" in all areas of the continental United States except the Southwest. The move is part of a larger plan that sets the stage for removing the species from the endangered species list altogether--a step that would likely block future wolf recovery efforts nationwide, from the north woods of Maine to Colorado, say conservationists. "The FWS has an obligation under the law to recover wolves in a significant portion of their historic range, not just in the Northern Rockies and the Great Lakes," says NWF President Mark Van Putten.

Turning on the Tap for Walker Lake
Each spring and fall, more than 1,000 loons make a pit stop at a desert oasis in western Nevada to feast on fish, lap up water and rest from their marathon migrations. For these weary travelers, Walker Lake is like a roadside hotel with 24-hour room service. But this wildlife retreat could soon vanish. Ninety percent of the water that once filled the lake has been diverted to tens of thousands of acres of agricultural lands. That's why NWF's Nevada affiliate, the Nevada Wildlife Federation (NvWF), is working with local citizens and the Walker River Paiute Tribal Council to turn the spigot back on for the lake and its wildlife. NvWF has spearheaded a legislative resolution to protect the Walker Lake freshwater ecosystem, and at press time, that resolution was before the Nevada Assembly. The organization is also working on the ground with the tribe to remove tamarisk--an invasive exotic tree that sucks up valuable water from the lake. "The Nevada Wildlife Federation has been instrumental in our efforts to save Walker Lake," says Myra Wilensky, regional organizer of NWF's Western Natural Resource Center. "It's a national treasure worth fighting for."

Just Add Water: Create a Backyard Wildlife Oasis
Adding a pond to your yard is a great way to provide drinking and bathing water for wildlife visitors as well as important habitat for insects, amphibians, reptiles and birds. But if the task of installing a pond seems daunting, rest assured. Naturalists at NWF have consulted with expert pond designers to create an easy-to-install pond kit. The unique graduated basin of this 3-foot by 2-foot, 30-gallon pond--an appropriate size for small- to medium-size yards--is attractive to all types of wildlife, from dragonflies to frogs to birds. It's also well suited for aquatic plants, including water lilies, grasses and arrowhead. The NWF Backyard Wildlife Habitat™ pond kit, sold exclusively at The Home Depot® stores, includes a water pump, filter and two fountain nozzles to regulate the flow of water moving through the pond. A pond with moving water is less likely to harbor breeding mosquitoes.

Citizens Unite To Save The Red Desert
At a series of public hearings recently held in Wyoming by the Bureau of Land Management, tribal members, hunters and other local residents--including representatives from NWF and its affiliate, the Wyoming Wildlife Federation--voiced overwhelming opposition to further oil and gas development in the Red Desert's Jack Morrow Hills. By a margin of more than 5 to 1, attendees supported the preservation of the 620,000-acre wilderness area through the "Wildlife and Wildlands Alternative." Developed by NWF and a coalition of conservation groups and businesses, the Wildlife and Wildlands Alternative calls for the trade and buyout of oil and gas leases in Jack Morrow Hills in exchange for responsible recreation and grazing.

NWF Prepares For Clash Over Grazing Rights
NWF is gearing up again to protect the nation's wild open spaces from destructive gazing practices. Recently, the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced plans to reevaluate regulations on livestock grazing, which occurs on more than 170 million acres of public land in the lower 48 states. The move could roll back measures adopted in 1995 to balance grazing practices with the need for recreation and ecological protection. "Unfortunately, too often the BLM has allowed grazing to dominate all other uses of the land, permitting unsustainable livestock grazing to destroy streams, pollute water, eliminate native trees and grasses and erode soils," says NWF Counsel Tom Lustig. "The ecological damage caused by abusive grazing has crowded out fish, waterfowl, birds, endangered species and big game."

Members Flood EPA With Clean Water Comments
More than 10,000 NWF members and activists from across the nation recently sent comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency opposing a plan to reevaluate the types of waters protected under the Clean Water Act. "The overwhelming number of comments sends a clear signal that people will not stand idly by and let the nation's waters be put at risk," says NWF Wetlands Policy Specialist Julie Sibbing.

New Postage Stamps Showcase Arctic Treasures
A postage stamp might be small in size, but it is a powerful medium if you want to spread a message. That's why the National Wildlife Federation is celebrating the U.S. Postal Service's newest set of commemorative stamps featuring Arctic wildlife in their tundra habitat. "These stamps underscore the point that the Arctic Refuge is exactly that--a refuge for wildlife, not a platform for drilling rigs," says NWF President Mark Van Putten.

Caring for a Cave in Missouri
When Tom Aley made the bold decision to quit his job as a hydrologist and leave Los Angeles nearly 40 years ago, the then 27-year-old was looking to buy a piece of real estate--one that would encompass a bit more than a house with a picket fence. His new home would have to include a cave.

It took a small army of realtors to find the perfect piece of property: 125 acres located in southwestern Missouri, "The Cave State," home to more than 5,000 caverns. The property's centerpiece, Tumbling Creek Cave, sealed the deal. It boasts the most diverse fauna that is known to any cavern west of the Mississippi, including a large colony of endangered gray bats and at least six invertebrate species found nowhere else in the world.

Seven years later, Aley and his wife, Cathy, an aquatic biologist, moved to the property and became the proud founders of the Ozark Underground Laboratory, a private research center located only 30 yards from their front door. The laboratory conducts problem-solving research of cave ecosystems around the globe, but the Aleys have also spearheaded a landmark restoration project to correct decades of environmental damage to the fragile ecosystem right in their own backyard.

A key member of that ecosystem is a small mollusk. Found only in the cave that is its namesake, the Tumbling Creek cavesnail thrived in the Aleys' property for centuries. But sedimentation, erosion and water pollution in the surrounding region have drastically reduced the snail's numbers to only 1 percent of what they once were. The Aleys are monitoring the remaining snails and working with neighboring landowners to reduce the problems impacting the underground water system. The cavesnail is an indicator species, says Cathy. By protecting it, we can protect groundwater quality "and everything--and everybody--dependent on it."

After a recent visit to the Aleys' laboratory, NWF Aquatic Habitats Specialist Jeff Barger remarked, "I was just in awe because of the selflessness they seem to possess in regard to this cave. Tom and Cathy put their money where their mouths are. They lead by example."

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