Action Report: December/January 2004

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

12-01-2003 // Rene Ebersole and Kelly Senser

NWF Leads Sea Turtle Fight
Every spring, hundreds of female leatherback sea turtles emerge from the turquoise waters that wash the white, sandy rim of Puerto Rico known as the Northeastern Ecological Corridor (NEC). They come from hundreds of miles away, surviving great storms, fishing nets and plastic bags mistaken as tasty jellyfish, to return to the beaches where they hatched and lay their precious deposits of eggs. In 2003, endangered leatherback turtles made 400 nests on the shores of the NEC. This 3,200-acre coastal fringe is one of the most important nesting sites for leatherbacks in the United States and its territories, according the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But two hotel giants envision a very different type of beachfront--one with fresh linens, beach bars, golf, swimming and tennis. With support from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Four Seasons and J.W. Marriott aim to build two five-star resorts on some 1,700 acres of the NEC. Because these projects would significantly threaten sea turtles in the Caribbean, NWF is leading a coalition of conservation groups in a campaign to stop the resorts' construction.

"If these massive resorts proceed, they will have devastating impacts on turtles," says Randy Sargent, NWF counsel for wildlife conservation. Not only will valuable habitat be lost or degraded by the resort's development, but increased light pollution on the beach will disorient leatherback hatchlings and adults, which use the moon and stars as signposts to navigate, and amplified beach traffic will crush some hatchlings in their nests.

Also at risk is the NEC's small but recovering population of hawksbill turtles--among the most endangered of all sea turtles. Mangrove forests, coral reefs, a rare bioluminescent lagoon and a variety of other endangered species, including the Puerto Rican plain pigeon, brown pelican and Puerto Rican boa, could also be impacted. "Just last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and hundreds of biologists at the International Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation urged that this highly sensitive coastal fringe be managed as a nature reserve," says Sargent. "We must protect this unique place."

Your Contributions at Work
The battles that NWF wins on the conservation frontlines are made possible by financial support from our members and donors as well as from private foundations. Recent grants received by NWF are funding dozens of initiatives, including:

  • Extending NWF's Schoolyard Habitats® program to 1,000 elementary school teachers in the state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico, through a grant from the C.S. Mott Foundation.

  • Working to stop or redirect environmentally damaging water development projects in the Lower Mississippi River basin region with support from the McKnight Foundation.

  • Protecting national monuments and other lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management with assistance from the Wyss Foundation.

Alaska's All-Star Activist
"Identify a need, determine what would take care of it and organize a response." That's the creed by which Peg Tileston has been guiding Alaska's conservation movement ever since the pioneering activist set down roots in the state three decades ago. "Peg's one of our founding mothers," says Martha Levensaler, a fellow Anchorage resident and NWF regional organizer.

Tileston's career as a community organizer began in 1972 when she moved to Alaska from Maryland with her husband and three children and found herself a few service hours shy of meeting Alaska's teacher certification requirements. She started volunteering for the local parks and recreation council, then the upstart Alaska Center for the Environment.

Her involvement with the state's conservation community evolved in the years that followed as she helped launch a number of environmental organizations. Among them: Alaska Center for the Environment, the state's largest grassroots conservation group, Trustees for Alaska, Alaska Conservation Foundation and Alaska Common Ground. She also helped establish NWF's Alaska Women's Environmental Network (AWEN). Since its inception in 1994, AWEN has created networking opportunities and training workshops that empower women and further their involvement in the conservation movement.

Among the 72-year-old activist's current projects is the production of What's Up, an electronic newsletter that helps keep her fellow Alaskans informed about environmental issues. "There is so much work that needs to be done," Tileston says. "We must enlist the help of people who care about what is happening in their backyards, then expand their concern horizons."

Showcasing St. Croix's Natural Side
Many people fly to the Caribbean to get away from it all. While some come seeking a game of golf in a sunny locale, others savor the region's natural treasures. With this in mind, a local chapter of the Virgin Islands Conservation Society, an NWF affiliate, is working to ensure ecotourists find what they're looking for on the island of St. Croix. Three years ago, an anonymous donor helped the St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA) purchase the island's Southgate salt pond and surrounding wetlands to protect them from resort development. SEA resolved to make the 99-acre area a premier site for environmental education. The nonprofit will begin development of Southgate Nature Park this winter, with conservation management guidance from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute scientists. Raised boardwalks, bird-watching blinds and camping platforms will complement a visitor's center, where both locals and vacationers will be introduced to the reserve's wildlife, from endangered sea turtles to mollusks to more than 100 bird species.

Gray Wolf 101: NWF Launches New Web Course
If you're interested in gray wolves, register for a free online course offered by NWF's new distance learning program. You will learn about the gray wolf's behavior, how the species is adapting to habitat loss and what you can do to protect wolves. NWF will be offering a variety of courses like this one in its endangered species series. New classes will be added throughout the year.

Dallas: Curb Your Thirst Before Crabs Get Hurt
Crabs are picky. It takes a delicate balance of salt and fresh water to keep them in their comfort zone. If their watery realm becomes too salty, crab populations suffer. That's why NWF is concerned about the Sabine River Authority's (SRA) request to withdraw additional water from one of the two rivers that drain into Texas's Sabine Lake, a 14-mile-long coastal bay on the Gulf of Mexico.

SRA asserts that the water is needed for the city of Dallas, where the average person consumes 260 gallons of water a day, compared to the state average of 181 gallons.

NWF has asked to participate in upcoming proceedings being held by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that will determine how much--if any--additional water can be taken from the river.

"Many of the state's estuaries have reached their limit," says John Hannah, communications manager at NWF's Gulf States Natural Resource Center, adding that Dallas could avoid siphoning fresh water away from Sabine Lake through better conservation measures.

Court Rules in Favor of Missouri River Wildlife
Conservation groups celebrated an important victory recently when, after a series of court battles, a federal judge determined that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must manage the Missouri River to protect endangered species.

The groups, including NWF and six of its affiliates, initially sued the Corps to return the river to a more natural ebb and flow that would support the survival of imperiled pallid sturgeon, piping plovers and least terns. The agency fought lowering water levels because of the impact it could have on the barge industry.

Though the judge's decision could still be challenged, "this court victory affirms what we have been saying for years," says John Kostyack, NWF senior counsel. "The Corps has responsibility toward the nation's wildlife, not just a narrow set of special interest groups."

Drink Coffee, Help Save Songbird Habitat
It's the time of year when many songbirds take up residence in Latin America. If you want to help protect their winter habitat, drink shade-grown coffee. Created in cooperation with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, NWF's Café Verde coffee is harvested from farms that aid migratory birds by keeping forests intact and avoiding pesticides. To learn more about the ecological benefits of buying shade-grown, organic coffee and how to purchase Café Verde, see NWF's Green Purchasing Section.

Mining Threatens Trout Fishery in Michigan
Habitat loss and degradation from riparian logging and shoreline development have already contributed to the coaster brook trout's decline in the Lake Superior basin. To keep the fish population from becoming further decimated, NWF has launched a campaign to halt a new sulfide mining operation in the Yellow Dog Plains area of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Acid rock drainage from the mine would pollute the area, which includes the Salmon Trout River, one of the last native runs of coasters in the region. The mine would forever degrade the region's wildness and the way of life for those who live and recreate on the Plains, says Eric Firstenberg, policy advocate in NWF's Great Lakes office.

Good Wood Grows in Vermont
For years Mark Lorenzo had been telling people to look for furniture and wood products made from sustainably harvested timber. For just as many years they had been coming back to him singing the same sad song: "I can't find them." That's why Lorenzo was excited in 1999 when he received a multiyear grant from the Ford Foundation to promote community-based forestry as part of NWF's Northern Forest Restoration project. Finally he had a chance to do something that would not only help people find environmentally sound wood products but also assist northeastern businesses that would agree to make such products.

At the time, most conservation groups were focusing on national forests, which make up less than five percent of the 26-million-acre Northern Forest of New England and New York. But more than 85 percent of the Northern Forest is privately owned. So NWF recruited several partner organizations to help private landowners become certified under guidelines of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) while simultaneously looking for small-scale woodworkers and crafters that would manufacture products made from certified lumber.

In presentations to woodworkers, Lorenzo, NWF's Northern Forest Project manager, stressed the need to sell something different in a market becoming flooded with inexpensive furniture products--many of them made by American companies that have in recent years moved their operations overseas.

One group of Vermont woodworkers was all too familiar with that scenario. After being laid off by furniture giant Ethan Allen, the group was trying to form a small cooperative. Through NWF's Northern Forest Restoration project, Island Pond Woodworkers found their niche crafting beautiful FSC-certified, solid wood furniture. Another craftsman launched a full-time business out of making pens from certified hardwoods. In all, 16 businesses in Vermont have become certified through the Northern Forest Restoration project.

"Now that these businesses have made a commitment," says Lorenzo, "we're actually helping them sell these things." NWF recently persuaded three major universities and the state government in Vermont to pay a little more to know where their wood products are coming from. Middlebury College alone recently used 200,000 board feet of sustainably harvested hardwood in three new campus buildings.

"We've gone from a concept on paper to millions of acres of certified forests, more than a dozens of businesses making certified wood products and many happy customers buying environmentally and socially responsible wood products," says Lorenzo. "This is a fun job!"

Peregrines Make a Comeback in Vermont
Thirty years ago, the peregrine falcon had vanished from Vermont. Today the remarkable recovery of the world's fastest bird warrants that it no longer be listed as a state-endangered species, says NWF Biologist Margaret Fowle, who authored Vermont's peregrine recovery plan. Since 1999, NWF has been working with Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, Vermont Institute of Natural Science and a handful of dedicated NWF volunteers to monitor reintroduced peregrines and their offspring. Last year, when the population reached a record 30 pairs--just two pairs shy of the historic average--the groups decided it was time to propose the bird's endangered status be downgraded. The state legislature is currently considering their plan. "This proposal marks a major milestone in the recovery of Vermont's peregrines," says Fowle. "While we want to celebrate this success, we also want to remain vigilant to ensure that the recovery of this amazing bird continues."

Oil Drilling Could Ruin Copper River Delta
In its ongoing effort to shield the nation's last remaining wild places from haphazard oil development, NWF and a coalition of conservation groups are fighting a proposed oil exploration project slated for Alaska's Copper River Delta--the largest wetland on the Pacific Coast. The groups charge that the U.S. Forest Service considered the environmental impact of only one oil well that would be dug for the project when three oil wells are actually planned. What's more, the project's oil spill contingency plan addresses disasters occurring only on land, leaving the Copper River Delta's world-renowned salmon fishery and some 16 million migratory birds and waterfowl vulnerable to oil spills that could foul the region's ecologically rich waters.

Putting Mammals on the Map in Pennsylvania
Wouldn't it be a tragedy if a state's last northern flying squirrels disappeared because--unaware that the squirrels were there--no one stopped developers from logging their forest and putting up a strip mall? The answer from NWF is a unanimous "yes." That's why the Federation and its Pennsylvania affiliate have joined several partner organizations to provide financial and logistical support to a grassroots project that aims to improve mammal conservation in Pennsylvania. The project is identifying areas that are vital for the survival of northern flying squirrels and other furry animals--from the endangered Indiana bat to the more common river otter. The Keystone State is the first in the country to pinpoint "Important Mammal Areas." Learn more at www.pawildlife.org.

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