Action Report: April/May 2006

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

04-01-2006 // Kelly L. Senser

Making Retirement Work for Wildlife on the Range
NWF and ranchers trade conflict for conservation around Yellowstone

Since the 1930s, the Allestad family has grazed sheep on 74,000 acres of Gallatin National Forest just outside Yellowstone National Park. Things went smoothly until about a decade ago, when growing numbers of grizzly bears and wolves began using the same land and livestock predation increased. Between 1999 and 2003 alone, the predators killed more than 100 sheep, and the conflict resulted in calls for government officials to either relocate or destroy the bears and wolves.

In an effort to protect wildlife and reduce livestock losses, NWF and the Allestads collaborated on a solution: The sheep owners would relinquish their grazing privilege to the U.S. Forest Service, and NWF would provide them with money to secure new grazing lands in an area without conflicts. For its part, the Forest Service would agree to permanently retire the allotment. And that's exactly what happened in January.

"This allotment lies directly north of Yellowstone's healthiest grizzly and wolf populations," says Hank Fischer, special projects coordinator for NWF. Not only will its retirement substantially expand the amount of conflict-free habitat available to both large carnivores and bighorn sheep (which may be susceptible to diseases carried by their domestic counterparts), but elk, deer and mountain goats will benefit as well, he says, from the increased availability of forage in the area.

For three years now, NWF has been working to retire public land grazing allotments in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where ranchers have experienced chronic conflicts with wildlife. In the beginning, NWF consulted with scientists and land managers to determine where the conflicts were most severe. The Federation then contacted relevant leaseholders. When parties interested in retirement were found, negotiations began. To date, NWF has retired 21 allotments, encompassing nearly 300,000 acres in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

"Retirement is a pragmatic solution that honors the needs of wildlife while recognizing the legitimate economic concerns of the livestock producer," says Fischer. He explains that NWF negotiates a price to retire an allotment based primarily on the number of livestock grazed.

NWF raised the $130,000 needed to retire the Allestads' allotment from its members, foundations and other conservation partners. "From a wildlife perspective, we are creating conflict-free habitat for a little more than $2 an acre," says Fischer. "But the real coup is that we are solving problems with the support of livestock owners." To learn more, visit www.nwf.org/ourprograms.

Grow Wild
American Beauties™ native plants are now available in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. A portion of the proceeds from each plant sold will help fund NWF's conservation work. Visit www.abnativeplants.com.

Enter Contest
National Wildlife and Nature's Best Photography invite photographers from all levels of experience to enter the 2006 National Wildlife Photography Awards competition. See www.nwf.org/photozone.

Hop to It
You can help scientists protect frogs and toads by monitoring the habitats these amphibians call home. Ready yourself by learning frog calls and studying observation tips. See www.nwf.org/frogwatchUSA.

National Wildlife Week: Connecting People with Nature
Celebration focuses on outdoor exploration and community service

On the eve of National Wildlife Week--April 22 to 30--the movie Hoot will open in theaters nationwide. Based on Carl Hiaasen's best-selling book of the same name, Hoot chronicles the fight of three Florida middle-schoolers to save a group of burrowing owls.

"This film is about getting folks of any age to defend a cause and take a stand for the environment," says Carey Rogers, a director of education programs for NWF. Because inspiring kids to observe and protect wildlife in their own neighborhoods is central to its National Wildlife Week mission, NWF is joining forces with Walden Media, the movie production company, to promote Hoot and to provide opportunities for young people to get outdoors during the spring celebration.

Other partners, including NWF affiliate organizations and Youth Service America, will also offer nature-oriented service opportunities during National Wildlife Week. And tips to help individuals and community groups develop their own projects are available on the Internet.

"We want people to roll up their sleeves and take an active role in making their community a better place for wildlife," says Eliza Russell, who heads the NWF education department's national programming efforts. She lists cleaning up a stream, planting a garden and creating a Schoolyard Habitats® site (left) among the restoration possibilities. "We also want people to take time to watch and read about the animals and plants around them," adds Russell.

The "Read with Ranger Rick" section of the National Wildlife Week website features a list of recommended books as well as activities for kids, parents and teachers. The "Wildlife Watch" section includes field guides and downloadable species checklists.

"NWF is committed to getting all children and families playing, learning and caring for nature where they live," says Russell. Her message to National Wildlife Week participants: "Get out! And take a friend with you."

Sportsmen Oppose Land Grab
Following criticism from wildlife enthusiasts, U.S. Representatives Jim Gibbons and Richard Pombo abandoned a proposal to overturn a congressional ban on selling public lands for their mineral rights. NWF, its affiliates, and more than 700 other conservation organizations and sportsmen's groups signed a letter opposing the provision.

"When sportsmen take aim, politicians take notice," says Larry J. Schweiger, NWF president.

The plan, which was removed from congressional consideration late last year, would have allowed holders of mining claims to purchase lands outright instead of just leasing them. It also would have allowed purchases not only for mining but for any purpose that would "facilitate sustainable economic development"--leaving millions of acres vulnerable to exploitation.

"Any politician considering a similar proposal in the future should take heed," says Schweiger. "Sportsmen and other outdoor enthusiasts will remain vigilant in ensuring that public lands stay in public hands."

Support for Population Program
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation recently awarded NWF's Population and Environment Program a $100,000 grant that the staff will use to develop its network of grassroots activists. "These activists help NWF work to achieve a sustainable balance among the world's population, wildlife and wildlife habitat, and our finite natural resources," says Program Manager Caron Whitaker. See www.nwf.org/population.

NWF Files Supreme Court Brief
Conservationists and the Bush administration don't always come down on the same side of environmental issues. But in regards to streams and wetlands that feed into larger water bodies, they agree: Congress intended to protect these waters when it passed the Clean Water Act in 1972.

NWF, Ducks Unlimted and other groups asserted this position in January when they jointly filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, which is currently in the midst of deciding two consolidated cases that will determine the fate of millions of acres of wetlands and countless tributaries. The Supreme Court cases, Carabell v. United States and United States v. Rapanos, are on appeal from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

"The lower court properly recognized that the Clean Water Act was intended by Congress to broadly protect America's waters," says Jim Murphy, NWF wetlands counsel. "If the Supreme Court reverses the lower court findings, it will be an enormous setback for the health of all waters and for future generations that will depend on them. It's like saying you cannot cut down a tree but are free to poison its roots." To learn more about NWF's efforts to protect our nation's waters, visit www.nwf.org/wetlands.

Water Planning in the Lone Star State
NWF, officials assess impact of proposed development projects

In Texas, where controversies over how best to use the state's limited water supplies are raging, NWF is collaborating with regional water planners to conduct rigorous assessments of proposed projects such as dams and pipelines. The goal: to determine the environmental impacts of the projects so officials can make water-use decisions based on science.

"This collaboration is great news for the state's rivers and coastal bays, which are threatened by the diversion of too much water," says Myron Hess, manager of NWF's Texas Water Programs.

To date, NWF's Austin office has cooperated in analyses for two of the state's water planning groups: one in the fast-growing San Antonio area and one near the border with Mexico. Norman Johns, an NWF water resources scientist, used sophisticated computer modeling to help assess the cumulative impact of the projects proposed by each region.

"The interesting thing," says Hess, "is that in one of the regions our analysis showed that full implementation of the water plan could be harmful to San Antonio Bay, the winter home of the endangered whooping crane. But the group was open to including the information and considering it in future planning."

Working with planners is part of NWF's ongoing effort to reform Texas water management policies. State law currently provides little protection for the water needs of fish and wildlife; in fact, it is technically legal to withdraw every drop of water from some rivers. Learn more at www.nwf.org/ourprograms.

Boreal Birds Have Their Day
Forest home is the focus of an international conservation campaign

Billions of birds representing some 270 species migrate to North America's boreal forest each year to breed. Although most of the forest is intact, less than 8 percent of its 1.5 billion acres is protected, leaving the habitat and the wildlife that depend on it vulnerable to threats such as logging and oil and gas drilling.

On May 13, participants in International Migratory Bird Day festivities across the continent will celebrate this important bird nursery as well as learn how they can help protect it. NWF efforts to raise awareness will include organizing bird-friendly habitat projects, distributing resource materials and publishing information about the boreal and its inhabitants online. Visit www.nwf.org or www.birdday.org.

Victory for Salmon
A federal judge recently granted NWF and its co-plaintiffs--other conservation organizations as well as commercial fishing and sportfishing groups--their request for an injunction to increase the amount of water spilled over dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers during the late spring and summer salmon migrations. Last year's increased spills improved juvenile salmon survival rates by 64 percent.

Making History in the Northeast
Despite political pressure to abandon the effort, seven Northeast states have agreed to take action to reduce global warming pollution from power plants. The governors of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont announced in mid-December the creation of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative--an agreement to develop state rules to establish the first mandatory cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide emissions in the country.

"Encouragement from diverse constituencies, including NWF's affiliates, was critical to keeping the governors committed to this landmark agreement," says Catherine Bowes of NWF's Vermont office. NWF and its affiliates in the Northeast convened a summit last fall to map out a strategy for building support for regional action to curb carbon emissions.

"What happens here in the Northeast will drive the inevitable national discussion about reducing global warming pollution from the power sector," says Bowes. "It's essential that we get it right." Learn more at www.nwf.org/globalwarming.

Volunteers Do the Sage Steppe
Grouse program benefits from citizen science and corporate support

Before the sun rises above the chilly Montana steppe, Beth Sullivan and Kay Miller are on the clock, sitting in Sullivan's car, scanning the grasses for movement. Later in the day they'll assume their identities as retailers at the Patagonia outlet store in Dillon, but the predawn hours find the women hunkered down as citizen-scientists with NWF's Adopt-A-Lek program.

Sullivan and Miller are stationed near a lek, a traditional sage grouse display ground where the birds gather for a month each spring to perform their mating rituals. Information the duo and dozens of other volunteers gather about America's dwindling sage grouse population will help NWF find solutions to the bird's survival woes. Once numbering more than a million, only about 250,000 sage grouse now remain in parts of 11 Western states and two Canadian provinces.

A desire to help preserve the species and its habitat is what prompted Sullivan to get involved with the Adopt-A-Lek program--and garner her employer's support of the effort. Besides paying employee-volunteers like herself to go afield and collect data, Patagonia has backed the program with grant money, donated fleece apparel to keep volunteers warm and opened its doors for public meetings about the initiative. "We couldn't have asked for a more meaningful collaboration with Patagonia, which has led the way as a fantastic corporate partner," says Ben Deeble, NWF's sage grouse project coordinator. "Now groups like the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund are offering support as well."

Volunteers spend three to four hours each morning traveling to leks and counting the sage grouse that emerge, put on lively courtship displays and then melt back into the brush. With data participants collect, NWF and states can track population trends and pinpoint where habitat improvement is needed.

"It's important to be reminded that there is a whole cadre of people who care deeply about sage grouse and this landscape, it isn't just ranchers and conservationists," says Deeble. "Volunteers have always been the backbone of this program, and now corporations are lending a hand as well." To learn more, visit www.nwf.org/sagegrouse.

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