Action Report: April/May 2004

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

04-01-2004 // NWF Staff

Mercury Madness
The White House strategy for dealing with mercury emissions from power plants could do more harm than good to wildlife and people

For years, concerned citizens and conservation groups such as NWF have been pushing the federal government to mandate restrictions on mercury pollution pouring from smokestacks at coal-burning power plants. As the "Your Health" article points out, the Bush administration has now proposed an emissions program that in the long run could increase mercury pollution by as much as sevenfold.

"The Bush administration's actions are a 'dream come true' for energy companies and a nightmare for children's health," says Felice Stadler, national policy coordinator for NWF's Clean the Rain Campaign. "We could actually see more mercury entering our local lakes and streams at a time when health officials nationwide agree that mercury is a highly toxic pollutant that threatens children."

After it's belched into the air, mercury falls back to Earth in rain, seeping into lakes and streams. There it builds up in the fatty tissues of fish and other aquatic wildlife as it climbs the food chain to humans.

Scientific studies have revealed, among other things, extreme levels of mercury in common loons on their breeding grounds in the northern lakes, where loon numbers have fallen in recent years. Most mercury pollution reaching this region is believed to drift on the wind from midwestern power plants.

Under the administration's proposed "cap and trade" system, some of the worst mercury polluters in the Midwest and elsewhere could continue spewing the same--if not greater--levels of toxin into the air by purchasing pollution "credits" from companies that meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits, says Stadler.

"Dangerously high levels of mercury will continue to pollute waterways and endanger people and wildlife eating contaminated fish."

"During the next couple months, we are going to fight the administration's proposed rule with every tool we have available," adds Catherine Bowes, NWF's Northeast coordinator for the Clean the Rain Campaign. "Through activism, the media and meetings with legislators, we intend to literally overwhelm the EPA with public comments demanding stronger mercury rules."

In addition to garnering a groundswell of public support against the Bush administration's proposed rule for power plant mercury emissions, NWF's Clean the Rain Campaign is continuing to push for policies on the local and national level that will phase out the use and release of mercury. The Federation is working closely with its state affiliates on these efforts and in monitoring pollutants in rainfall in selected areas.

To find out more about the program, visit www.nwf.org/cleantherain.

Tall Tower Menace in Michigan
Communication towers built without environmental reviews threaten a bird's future

NWF is taking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to task for approving a vast network of 181 Michigan State Police communications towers, saying that allowing construction without environmental reviews violated two key laws and further imperiled the endangered Kirtland's warbler.

A growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates that communications towers, if not sited and designed properly, can pose serious threats to migrating birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimates that more than 4 million birds die every year when they collide with such towers. Other studies suggest the number could be as high as 40 million.

The construction of so many towers in and around Kirtland's warbler habitat is especially worrisome because only about 1,000 of the warblers remain in the world today--and all of them are believed to breed in Michigan.

The FCC has dismissed NWF's charge that it violated key environmental laws by approving the towers, saying post-construction impact studies--not scheduled to be completed for at least two years--would be adequate.

NWF has requested again that the FCC review the case, perform the required environmental analyses and consult--as required by law--with the FWS.

Gas Battle
Energy interests want to tap the Rocky Mountain Front

With eerie resemblance to the tug-o-war for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, energy tycoons have turned their sights on another stunning piece of real estate: Montana's Rocky Mountain Front. The Montana Wildlife Federation, an NWF affiliate, is at the forefront of the battle to protect this vast wildlife oasis, home to North America's largest herd of bighorn sheep. The group held a symposium in December, bringing together biologists, conservationists, ranchers, business owners, agency representatives and sports enthusiasts to discuss potential impacts from gas development on wildlife and local economies.

New Coral Reef DVD
Concerned that many of the world's most spectacular coral reefs are nearing a point of no return, NWF is distributing a free, multi-media DVD, Coral Reefs: Canaries of the Sea, to make people aware of the reefs' plight. The DVD explains the ecological importance of reefs, describes how human impacts are affecting them and offers practical tips for marine enthusiasts to help reverse some of the damage.

"More than 60 percent of coral reefs are already severely threatened by coastal development, pollution, careless tourism practices and harmful fishing," says Patty Glick, an NWF

climate change specialist. "Add the emerging threat of global warming, and the effects could be deadly." The DVD will be distributed at dive shops, zoos and aquariums, tourism offices and other venues. You can also obtain the DVD by contacting Patty Glick at glick@nwf.org, or calling 202-797-6898.

Help Wildlife While You Shop
NWF debuted a range of products in recent months, and portions of the proceeds from their sale help to fund Federation conservation and education programs. Look for these items at local stores and online retailers:

  • Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife by Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program Manager David Mizejewski. Check out the book at www.nwf.org/habitatshop.
  • NWF Handheld Guide to Birds, a pocket-sized, multimedia field guide compatible with any Palm OS 5 unit. It includes detailed species descriptions, color photos, bird songs, range maps and more.
  • Ranger Rick Wild Jams, Your Big Backyard Animal Tunes and Wild Animal Baby Tender Moods, children's CDs filled with lively, nature-themed songs. Visit www.nwfkids.com.
  • Wildlife in Peril: Survivors, a celebrity-hosted DVD series that showcases wildlife conservation success stories.

A Win for the Nation's Waters
The Bush administration has reversed its course on a misguided wetlands policy

After months of fierce opposition from NWF and other conservation groups, the Bush administration recently halted a misguided effort to eliminate Clean Water Act (CWA) protections for tens of millions of acres of wetlands and streams. In the aftermath of the administration's decision, Julie Sibbing, NWF's wetlands policy specialist, said the Federation's state affiliates' tireless efforts were key in helping to secure this important victory.

When the administration announced its intent to remove CWA safeguards last summer, NWF affiliates from 13 midwestern and 5 southeastern states launched a "Sportsmen's Campaign for Clean Water" at NWF-cosponsored summits in Chicago and Atlanta. At least a dozen other affiliates from across the country joined their campaign to raise public awareness of the issue, developing strategic partnerships with other conservation groups, lobbying members of Congress and generating thousands of letters to President Bush.

"Wetlands and streams are critical to the fish and wildlife we care about," says Jerry McCollum, president of the Georgia Wildlife Federation, host of the Atlanta summit. "It is our duty as sportsmen and women to make our voices heard in support of their protection."

Fish Fight
NWF heads to court to protect Idaho salmon In an effort to protect and restore wild salmon and steelhead in Idaho's Upper Snake River, a coalition of conservation groups, including NWF, have filed a lawsuit against federal agencies operating Bureau of Reclamation irrigation projects there. The suit charges the agencies violated the Endangered Species Act and other laws. "To date, the federal agencies have taken a piecemeal approach to salmon recovery in the Snake River," says NWF Wildlife Program Manager John Kober.

A Voice for Frogs
NWF volunteer mobilizes more than 100 frogwatchers

As the sun sinks below the horizon, Sue Muller sets off on her weekly patrol of the wet places in Howard County, Maryland. She braves mosquitoes, ticks and sometimes snakes, wading through the tall grasses that rim the wetlands on her route. Then she waits and listens.

Before long, she hears the wood frog's raspy quacks, the bullfrog's baritone bellows of jug o'rum and the spring peeper's high-pitched peeps. During quick, three-minute surveys, Muller jots down every single call echoed from the ponds.

Muller is one of 3,000 volunteers with Frogwatch USA, a monitoring program coordinated by NWF and the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. The program provides people with the opportunity to learn about their environment while collecting valuable information about local amphibians.

Amphibians from around the world have been declining in recent years. Because they have porous skin and semiaquatic lifestyles, amphibians are among the first to suffer from environmental threats, such as pollution, invasive species or disease. They are, in fact, veritable canaries in the environmental coal mine. And right now, they are sounding an urgent alarm that the health of our ecosystems is in danger. The sudden, widespread amphibian declines are very worrisome, says Amy Goodstine, NWF's Frogwatch USA coordinator.

More than 20 years ago, Sue Muller volunteered to monitor squirrels in Washington, D.C., for the National Park Service. Ever since, she's been donating her time to keep an eye, or ear, on wildlife--from bluebirds to dragonflies. "I've been a volunteer all my life," she admits.

And she's been rather infectious with her efforts. Muller has managed to enlist more than 100 people each season to help her monitor 35 Frogwatch sites in Howard County. "Most frogwatchers do this on an individual basis, but it's great when someone like Sue takes the initiative of bringing the program to her whole community," says Goodstine.

Muller, a natural resource technician with the county's Recreation and Parks Department, is more modest about her efforts. When she first heard about Frogwatch, she thought, "This is cool. I need to get this out to other people." The rest was pretty easy, she says. "All I needed to do was recruit the volunteers, pick the sites and raise a little money for supplies."

Anyone can be a frogwatcher, Muller emphasizes. After all, when she started in 1999, she didn't know any of Maryland's 19 frog and toad calls. Now she leads several field classes to help other volunteers learn them. "People need to experience this," she says.

April is prime frog calling time. To find out how to join Frogwatch USA and start tuning into the frogs in your neck of the woods, visit www.nwf.org/frogwatchUSA.

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