Action Report: February/March 2005

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

02-01-2005 // Heidi Ridgley

Controlling Mercury Costs as Little as a Cup of Coffee
Technology exists to reduce emissions by 90 percent, says NWF study

Installing equipment to reduce mercury emissions at coal-burning power plants would up the average consumer’s utility bill by only $1 to $3 a month, reports the National Wildlife Federation in a new report, “Getting the Job Done.”

NWF analyzed the cost of installing mercury controls on coal-burning power plants in Illinois, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania. “We found that even in states that rely most heavily on coal for electricity generation, we can significantly reduce mercury emissions for about the cost of a cup of coffee,” says Felice Stadler, an NWF policy specialist. “If it works in those states, we can make it work across the nation.”

Costs to commercial and industrial customers are equally reasonable. In these states, businesses getting their electricity from coal-fired plants that reduced mercury emissions by 90 percent would see their utility rates go up an average of $5 to $15 on bills of $300 to $600 per month. Industrial companies with average bills ranging from $7,000 to $30,000 would see monthly increases of $100 to $300.

Even at moderate levels mercury can interfere with the development and function of the central nervous system as well as with the cardiovascular and reproductive systems and can cause permanent harm in humans and wildlife.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated last year that nearly one in six U.S. women of childbearing age has mercury blood levels considered unsafe for a fetus.

To date, 45 U.S. states and territories have issued fish consumption advisories because of mercury contamination.

“Despite these dire circumstances, the EPA, under the Bush administration, continues to set weak goals for cutting back on emissions of mercury,” says Stadler. “EPA officials contend that technology to control mercury pollution does not exist and that deep mercury reductions would cost too much, but our study reveals that there are various technologies available and points out how current technology makes a 90 percent emission reduction feasible by the end of this decade.”

Significant reductions in mercury emissions are not only good for the environment they are good for the economy, adds Olivia Campbell, coordinator of NWF’s Clean the Rain Campaign. “The Institute of Clean Air Companies estimates that the manufacturing, installation and operation of pollution-control equipment would create 300,000 jobs nationwide,” she says. “Our report debunks the claim that strong mercury reductions are impossible or economically impractical.”

To read the full report, visit our Mercury and Wildlife site.

Wildlife in the Classroom
Sign up for NWF’s Wildlife University™ online classes and learn about wildlife and wild places, issues that affect wildlife and ways you can make a difference. It’s free! Visit Wildlife University.

Finding Frogs
Join volunteers across the country in the months to come to record the names of frog species singing for mates, and help scientists determine how frogs are faring. Visit our Wildlife Watch site.

Attracting Wildlife
Learn how you can provide food, water and shelter for birds and other wildlife throughout the cold winter months. Go to our Backyard Wildlife Habitat - Seasonal Tips site.

NWF Goes to Court to Protect Habitat
Poor management practices disrupt crucial migratory nesting sites

In a move to safeguard ducks, pheasants and many other species of ground-nesting birds, NWF and six of its state affiliates recently filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency to stop the mismanaged haying and grazing of lands in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

With a combined total of 34 million acres, CRP is the nation’s largest private lands conservation program, paying farmers incentive fees for retiring environmentally sensitive croplands for a period of 10 to 15 years. Much of the land selected for the program contains high-quality nesting cover in states such as Montana and the Dakotas—areas that are essential to America’s migratory bird populations.

However, a blanket policy adopted in 2002 allows farmers to graze or hay CRP lands every three years, which is causing the degradation of critical habitat. This is especially problematic in Idaho, Montana, New York, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming, where the practices occur during prime nesting season.

“It can take 5 to 10 years to establish optimal grassland cover after haying or grazing has occurred,” says NWF Senior Counsel Tom France. “The policy currently in place allows haying and grazing at intervals too frequent to sustain healthy levels of grasslands required by nesting birds.”

Saving the Arctic Refuge
Another push is underway to open the refuge to drilling

America’s Serengeti, Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, is again the focus of a major battle in the nation’s capital. This year, drilling proponents have vowed that they will stop at nothing to pass legislation in Congress to mandate oil and gas development in the refuge. Among their tactics: pushing lawmakers to include revenues from Arctic drilling in this year’s budget bill—a scheme that enables proponents to push the controversial legislation through without full congressional debate.

An overwhelming majority of Americans have said repeatedly that they are not willing to sacrifice our nation’s largest and wildest refuge for a short-term, speculative oil supply, and drilling supporters would like nothing better than to avoid open public debate. At risk: polar bears, caribou, musk oxen, and dozens of species of birds and other wildlife, which depend on habitat in the refuge’s coastal plain where drilling would take place.

Currently, NWF is working with a broad coalition of groups to fight the latest assault on the refuge. To learn how you can help, see our Action site.

Battling with the Bureau
After fighting to protect the Arrastra Mountain Wilderness Area in Arizona for nearly a decade, NWF recently won a lawsuit in which a court ruled against a U.S. Bureau of Land Management plan to rebuild long-abandoned roads within the wilderness using bulldozers and backhoes.

Arrastra is known for its largely pristine landscape with rugged mountains, deep canyons, unique plants, rare wildlife and spectacular scenery. The area is also a wonderful destination for birders.

“Under the federal Wilderness Act, wilderness is defined as an area ‘where the Earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man,’” says NWF Counsel Tom Lustig. “Because of this ruling, the Arrastra Mountain Wilderness will retain its ‘primeval character’ unless the Bureau of Land Management launches another assault on these pristine lands.”

Something to Howl About
NWF continues to fight to ensure that gray wolves recover in New England. At the only Northeast public hearing on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to remove the species from the Endangered Species List, NWF wolf expert Peggy Struhsacker argued that the government should work to establish a healthy, viable population in areas where suitable habitat exists.

Greening the Campus
For the past 15 years, NWF has tracked colleges across the country that are burning clean fuels, generating wind power, composting cafeteria food and restoring wildlife habitat. Finding out where these campuses are is as easy as opening up NWF’s Campus Environmental Yearbook for 2003–2004.

NWF releases the yearbook as part of its Campus Ecology® Program. The current edition—the only one of its kind in the United States—includes 46 case studies focusing on conservation and sustainability projects from 37 higher education institutions.

Students, faculty and staff can use the online publication as a guide that details the successes, challenges, goals and funding strategies of projects already in place.

Says Julian Keniry, NWF director of youth and campus ecology, “If colleges and universities don’t set the standard for environmental and economic sustainability, then who will?”

For a look at the NWF yearbook, visit our Campus Solutions site.

The Word on Wolves
NWF outreach aims to create greater tolerance for wolves among Michigan hunters

With illegal wolf killings on the rise in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, NWF teamed up with its state affiliate, the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), to educate Michigan hunters about the limited impact wolves have on white-tailed deer populations.

Together NWF and MUCC created a fact sheet to distribute to deer hunters at state Department of Natural Resources offices as well as at hunting camps and via the Internet. The fact sheet contains a chart that compares the causes of deer mortality in the Upper Peninsula and illustrates that wolves account for only 5 percent of total deer mortalities while other factors such as overwinter stress can account for 41 percent of the deaths.

“We hope that through our education efforts more hunters will welcome the presence of wolves or at least have an increased tolerance for them,” says Lisa Yee-Litzenberg, NWF’s Great Lakes wolf project manager.

To get the fact sheet, visit our Great Lakes site. Click on “Wolves” and under the “Fact Sheet” section, click on “Wolves and Deer in Michigan.”

Salmon on the Snake
Court ruling protects spawning habitat by preventing sediment dredging

NWF and its allies won a major victory in the protection of endangered chinook salmon late last year when the U.S. District Court in Seattle issued an injunction that prevents the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from dredging the navigation channel of Washington’s Lower Snake River.

Accumulating sediment hinders barge traffic, but dredging destroys spawning habitat and stirs up toxic contaminants. “Despite decades of promises to study less environmentally harmful alternatives to dredging, the Corps evaluated only one method,” says Paula Del Giudice, an NWF specialist on conservation issues in the Pacific Northwest. “And it’s the most environmentally destructive of any of the options out there.”

The court based its ruling on concern over “irreparable harm” to salmon if the plan went forward.

A Not-So-Grand Undertaking
NWF, its Arkansas affiliate, the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and other conservation groups have joined together to appeal a ruling by the 8th District Court of Appeals that allows the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move ahead with its Grand Prairie Irrigation project, an undertaking that could devastate the White River, threaten crucial wetlands and degrade water quality throughout the river basin.

Recycle Your Printer Cartridges
To help address the 500 million laser and inkjet printer cartridges across the globe that are tossed out each year, NWF is partnering with Quality Imaging Products to offer a free, easy way to ensure the items don’t sit in landfills for the next 1,000 years or end up getting incinerated overseas.

Despite recycling claims by some manufacturers, used cartridges often end up in places such as Guiyu, China, where they are burned or discarded, according to the International Imaging Technology Council. The result is polluted air and unsafe drinking water. U.S. consumers recycle less than 25 percent of their cartridges.

To find out how you and your school or workplace can join in on the program, visit the “Electronics” section at our Get Green site.

Pennsylvanian Wins Writing Award
The editors of National Wildlife awarded Pennsylvania journalist Cynthia Berger the Trudy Farrand and John Strohm Magazine Writing Award, an honor given by NWF each year for the best writing in the magazine. Berger was presented the award for “All-American Birds” (August/September 2004).

Conservation Hero: Youth Activist Speaks Out
Alaska Native takes issue—and action—over farmed fish

For Verner Wilson, an Alaska Yup’ik Native, all it took was a trip to Juneau sponsored by NWF’s Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA) program when he was in high school to inspire him to become an environmental activist.

“At first, all I thought was that this was just a free trip,” he says. “But this program made me realize how much power I had and what a difference I could make.”

Wilson, who is now pursuing an environmental studies degree at Brown University, is an active environmental steward and student trainer with NWF. He also writes newspaper editorials and letters to his legislators, and he’s established an environmental youth group in his hometown of Dillingham.

“Verner is very passionate about issues such as toxics in subsistence foods, pesticides and farmed fish, as he sees these issues threatening his Native way of life,” says Polly Carr, manager of NWF’s AYEA program, designed to engage high school students in their community.

“Many dyes and chemicals are being found in farmed fish—it’s just not a good idea to eat it,” says Wilson. “And they have really bad impacts on the environment because when they escape from their farms, they can transfer their diseases and altered genes to our wild Alaska salmon.”

Wilson believes these problems will be the downfall of Alaska Native fishing culture if Alaskans do not take action. “When you talk to the elders, they say there used to be so much fish that the rivers would rise whenever the fish came up to spawn,” he says. “Now there is much less.”

Yet, Wilson is optimistic. “I think the most rewarding thing is educating my peers and helping other people who really don’t think about environmental issues,” he says.—Gretal Schueller

Expedition: Close Look at Polar Bears
CNN crew joins NWF travelers on trip to the Far North

To document the effects of global warming on polar bears, a CNN crew tagged along last fall on a NWF Expedition to Churchill, Manitoba, where the animals are losing weight and bearing fewer cubs. Dependent on ice floes to hunt seals, the bears are affected by ice that melts earlier in spring and forms later in fall. “It was an eye-opening experience for all of us,” says NWF Senior Scientist Doug Inkley, a trip participant. To learn more about NWF Expeditions, visit our Expeditions site.

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