Action Report: October/November 2004

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

10-01-2004 // Heidi Ridgley

Exposing efforts to undermine the Endangered Species Act
Using flawed economic data, the White House cut in half the acreage that federal scientists recommend for critical habitat designation

The Bush administration has consistently used flawed economic data to weaken protections provided to plants and animals under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), according to a new NWF report. Unsound Economics: The Bush Administration's New Strategy for Undermining the Endangered Species Act reveals how the executive branch has, for the first time, justified reducing the amount of proposed critical habitat—land essential to the survival of endangered species—by arguing that it costs too much. "When it comes to habitat protection, this administration is exaggerating the costs and keeping the public in the dark about the benefits, helping developers and hurting wildlife," says John Kostyack, NWF senior counsel.

Despite recommendations by federal biologists that called for the designation of 83 million acres, the government approved only 41 million acres between 2001 and 2003. "The report shows a clear pattern on the part of the administration of suppressing information to arrive at predetermined results that would undermine the ESA," says Peter Uimonen, an NWF researcher. For example:

  • Last spring, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued an economic analysis of proposed critical habitat for threatened bull trout in the Columbia, Klamath and Snake River Basins after deleting the entire 57-page section written by an independent contractor that detailed the benefits of protecting this habitat.

  • The White House's Office of Management and Budget also called for the deletion of pages in an economic analysis that showed the potential benefits of critical habitat designation for the endangered Topeka shiner.

  • Similarly, the most recent economic analysis of critical habitat for the Mexican spotted owl (left) released by FWS completely lacks a section detailing the benefits of conservation.

When pointing out critical habitat designation costs, the White House cites the entire expense of implementing the ESA for a given species—not just the cost of proposed critical habitat protections. "This administration has set new records in terms of the perversion and distortion of facts," says Kostyack, who adds that the report also points out how the administration has spent a substantial portion of scarce endangered species conservation money on economic analyses that it then chooses to ignore or distort. The bull trout report, for example, cost $450,000. "This exaggeration of the costs of critical habitat protection appears to be adding fuel to efforts in Congress to weaken the ESA," he adds, referring to the bill that passed the House Resources Committee in July, which would effectively remove the ESA's critical habitat protection mandate.

To read the NWF study, visit nwf.org.

Adopt a Wildlife Acre
NWF's new Adopt a Wildlife Acre initiative helps alleviate conflicts between ranchers, who graze livestock on public lands, and wildlife, such as grizzly bears.

Saving Wilderness
With its affiliate, the Arizona Wildlife Federation, NWF is seeking wilderness designation for the Tumacacori Highlands. Read about federal wilderness areas in Untamed Lands on page 32.

Waste Not, Want Not
Find out if you're a water waster or a water saver by taking the quiz. While there, you can also get other tips to help you live a greener, healthier lifestyle.

Protecting an Imperiled Family
Campaign wins protection for orcas in Alaska

After losing more than half its members, an imperiled group of orcas in Alaska's Prince William Sound gained federal protection last summer, following a petition filed by NWF and seven other conservation groups. It's the first time the federal government acted specifically to protect orcas, also known as killer whales.

Designated as "depleted" under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the family ranges from Prince William Sound to Kenai Fjords and is distinct from other killer whales in the North Pacific Ocean. Once made up of at least 22 animals, only 8 remain. "Listing them as a depleted stock is a necessary first step toward learning why this particular group is dying off," says Patrick Lavin, NWF's expert on Prince William Sound. "Once we figure that out, maybe we can figure out how to stop the decline."

Scientists point to a combination of problems—noise from underwater vessels, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and declines in prey populations, particularly harbor seals—but think contamination is the main culprit. Prince William Sound orcas rank among the most contaminated marine mammals ever measured.

Pollution Overload
Sportsmen speak out on mercury pollution

Sportsmen—even those that helped to elect President Bush—now believe that his administration is on the wrong track with several of its major wildlife and conservation policies, according to a first-of-its-kind survey.

"Hunters and anglers give the administration credit where it is due," says NWF President Larry Schweiger. "But on several crucial issues, hunters and anglers say the administration is listening to the wrong people, especially in the oil and gas industry." The independent survey conducted by Bellwether Research and Consulting in Alexandria, Virginia, polled 752 sportsmen, 68 percent of whom say they voted for Bush in 2000. Among the findings: 71 percent believe that coal-fired power plants should clean up thier mercury emissions within the decade. A full 73 percent favor alternatives to oil and gas drilling.

Granting Rare Species A Chance
Created to encourage habitat restoration, species reintroductions and private land conservation activities, NWF's Species Recovery Fund awards grants to community-based groups that improve conditions for endangered species. This year grantees include:

  • Pretoma, a Costa Rican group monitoring endangered leatherback sea turtles on the country's Pacific coast. The project includes building a hatchery to protect turtle nests from poachers.

  • Louisiana Wildlife Federation, which is helping to purchase and install artificial nest cavities for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker in Alexander State Forest.

  • Institute of Applied Ecology in Oregon, which is educating high school students about prairies and species conservation.

For more on grant recipients, visit nwf.org.

A Hands-On Approach
This summer, the Corporation for National and Community Service awarded a three-year, $242,000 AmeriCorps grant to NWF and five of its affiliates in Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and South Carolina. "This is an exciting opportunity for us all to work together to develop volunteer leaders and engage communities in hands-on conservation," says NWF's Senior Vice President Dan Chu.

Coffee For The Birds
Café Verde and Café Verde Decaf, the shade-grown, certified organic coffees made by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, have new names: National Wildlife Blend and National Wildlife Decaf. NWF partnered with the Vermont coffee company last year to promote the benefits of coffee beans grown without pesticides and under the shelter of native tree canopies, which provide vital habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. The small-scale farmers who produce the coffees in Mexico and Peru use organic techniques that have been passed from generation to generation. To buy National Wildlife coffee and other NWF products visit Shop NWF

The People Problem On the 10th anniversary of the population conference in Cairo, U.S. support still lags

Every 20 minutes, the world adds another 3,500 human lives and loses one or more animal or plant species—at least 27,000 species a year by some estimates. Population growth exacerbates species loss by causing habitat destruction, water shortages, climate change and pollution.

"Until we address population growth, all of our environmental victories are temporary," says NWF's Population and Environment Program Manager Caron Whitaker.

In 1994, 179 countries came together at the U.N. International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and signed a consensus to make voluntary family planning services, basic health care and education available by 2015. Ten years later, the United States has only met a third of its financial commitment, while other donor countries have paid in full.

As a leader in the campaign to check population growth, NWF joins the organizations, elected officials and tens of thousands of Americans that are calling on the United States to meet the commitment it made a decade ago. For a copy of the NWF paper examining the goals and promises of the Cairo conference, e-mail population@nwf.org.

No More Roads
House votes to prohibit construction in Tongass National Forest

Setting the stage for a possible win in the Senate, the House of Representatives voted in June to prohibit new road construction in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. NWF and a coalition of environmental and taxpayer advocacy groups pushed for the amendment to the Interior appropriations bill, which would end a timber industry subsidy program that has cost taxpayers some $750 million over the past 20 years. "It makes no sense to use taxpayer dollars to construct new roads in premier wildlife and recreation habitat," says NWF's Kristen Cummings.

State Affiliates: How You Can Get Involved
NWF affiliates are autonomous, statewide, nonprofit organizations that take the lead in state and local conservation issues and also partner with NWF to conduct grassroots activities on national issues. There are currently 47 affiliates including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. To learn how you can get involved with projects going on in your state, find your affilliate.

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