Action Report: April/May 2009

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

04-01-2009 // NWF Staff

Undoing Damage to Imperiled Species
Bush administration officials dealt a severe blow to the nation's imperiled wildlife on their way out the door by issuing rules that weakened critical Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections. In response, NWF, 13 of its affiliates and Golden Gate Audubon filed a lawsuit in mid-December challenging the move, saying it was in direct violation of the federal government's duties under the law.

"Top political appointees were intent on cutting a gaping hole in the Endangered Species Act, and opening up sensitive habitats for development activities, before leaving office," says John Kostyack, NWF's executive director of wildlife conservation and global warming. The new regulations virtually eliminate independent scientific review under the ESA. Until now, federal agencies were required to consult with biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service to determine whether projects pose any harm to at-risk wildlife.

Under the new rules, these agencies will be able to unilaterally determine if actions, such as building a highway or filling in a wetland, will adversely affect endangered species. The latest regulations also prohibit scientists from addressing the impacts of global warming on imperiled wildlife and the ecosystems on which they depend. Kostyack says NWF will work "through the courts and with Congress and the Obama administration to undo the damage done."

UPDATE: "Obama Takes Bold Action to Restore Strength to the Endangered Species Act"

Great Strides Made to Protect Wildlife
Thanks to the support of our members, NWF achieved dozens of major conservation victories in 2008. Among them:

  • Winning an Endangered Species Act ruling from the U.S. court of appeals in Miami that prohibits federally subsidized development in the habitats of Key deer and seven other imperiled species in Florida. (This ruling could force the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reform the National Flood Insurance Program to address sea-level rise and other environmental realities on the nation's coasts and floodplains.)

  • Successfully advocating for the country's first-ever set of comprehensive state rules designed to minimize adverse impacts on wildlife from oil and gas drilling, which was adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

  • Certifying 20,000 new backyard habitats--homeowner-created havens for native plants and animals.

To read about our other accomplishments, see 2008 victories.

Minnesota "Vote Yes" Campaign Succeeds
The Minnesota Conservation Federation's decade-long effort to secure dedicated funding for wildlife and habitat protection in the North Star State culminated in the passage of a constitutional amendment in November. "This is the biggest conservation proposal to ever pass a state ballot test," says Gary Botzek, executive director of the NWF affiliate, which worked with more than 300 other groups to promote the amendment. It guarantees a projected annual investment of $250 million for the next 25 years.

Go Green, Save Green
No one can ignore the economic crisis our world faces today. In fact, you've probably already begun altering your behavior in response, whether by driving less, adjusting your thermostat or cutting back on your purchases. Each of these solutions can have a positive effect on one's pocketbook--and the environment. For other ways to save money while being green, visit NWF personal solutions.

Offsetting Your Travel Impact
When members go on wildlife-viewing tours selected by NWF's Expeditions program, they can enjoy nature's wonders rather than worry about the greenhouse gas emissions their travel generates. That's because the Federation has partnered with NativeEnergy, Inc. to ensure that the global warming impact created by trip-related activities is neutralized through the purchase of carbon offsets--a free benefit to NWF members who travel on an Expedition. NativeEnergy's offsets help fund renewable energy projects that create sustainable economic benefits for Native Americans, family farmers and rural communities in need. See NWF expeditions.

Annual Meeting Set for Spring
Workshops, restoration projects and guest-speaker presentations are among the events scheduled for NWF's 73rd annual meeting, which will be held April 30–May 2 at the Omni William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh. For details and registration information, visit annual meeting or call 703-438-6299.

Affordable Power for the People
Average energy prices in the U.S. Virgin Islands are among the highest in the nation due to the territory's reliance on oil that must be shipped in from other locations. Promoting the use of renewable power sources to lower costs and help the Virgin Islands achieve long-term energy independence is a key conservation priority of the Virgin Islands Conservation Society.

"It is our responsibility to reduce our contribution of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and to sensibly use our natural resources," says Paul Chakroff, a board member of the NWF affiliate. In 2008, the society helped form a coalition known as the Virgin Islands Renewable Energy Organization (VIREO) to advocate for viable alternatives that don't produce carbon dioxide, such as solar, wind, geothermal and ocean thermal energy. The coalition, which includes NWF, has been reaching out to both citizens and government officials--and making progress.

Last fall, VIREO proposed a territory-wide initiative that would allow homeowners to purchase solar-powered water heaters by making payments over time on their monthly electric bills. (As much as 30 percent of household energy use may be attributed to water heating.) Both the governor and the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority gave the project a green light. "Details are being worked out with the hopes of launching the program within the next few months," says Chakroff.

"This is a tremendous conservation success," says Geralyn Hoey, an NWF regional representative. Because of it, the director of the Virgin Islands Energy Office has asked VIREO members to provide input on an energy policy plan--an invitation, says Hoey, that is unprecedented. See www.virenewableenergy.org.

Planning Guide Helps Colleges
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions without a plan is like constructing a building without a blueprint, says NWF's Campus Ecology® team: The outcome is unlikely to meet the original goals in a timely manner. In order to help campuses working to reduce their carbon footprint, the team recently published the Guide to Climate Action Planning: Pathways to a Low-Carbon Campus. Drawing upon the experiences and expertise of leading colleges and universities across the country, the new report provides a comprehensive review of the strategies and steps to reduce emissions, highlighting best practices. To access the full report, go to Campus Ecology and click on "Resources."

NWF Conservation Hall of Fame®
The Conservation Hall of Fame® was established by the National Wildlife Federation in 1963 to honor Americans who have made significant contributions to the country's conservation and environmental movements. Over the years, the NWF board of directors has voted nearly three dozen luminaries posthumously into the hall of fame, including the two most recent inductees described below.

Celebrating People Who Made a Difference
The National Wildlife Federation honors two of America's conservation heroes

LADY BIRD JOHNSON (1912–2007)

Portrait of  Lady Bird Johnson

Photo: © TODD TREADWAY

Few American names are as synonymous with efforts to beautify the United States with native plants as that of the former first lady, whose lifelong love of nature translated into national policy during her husband Lyndon Johnson's presidential years. The Beautification Act, enacted into law by Congress in 1965, was the direct result of her campaign for nationwide scenic enhancement, particularly in regard to roadside development. Known as "Lady Bird's Bill," the legislation mandated control of outdoor advertising, including removal of certain types of signs along many of the nation's highways. She also led an effort to beautify Washington, D.C., creating a "garden city" that became a model for other U.S. metropolitan areas.

Returning home to Texas after her husband's term of office ended, Johnson focused much of her efforts on educating the public about the ecological advantages of gardening with native plants--an interest that led her in 1982 to cofound the National Wildflower Research Center on 60 acres near Austin that she donated to the project. In 1997, the center was renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Now covering 279 acres and displaying more than 700 plant species, the center demonstrates how native plants conserve water and minimize the use of polluting fertilizers and insecticides.

In inducting her last year into the Conservation Hall of Fame, NWF's board of directors noted that "Lady Bird's support of native plants was a major part of her efforts to make America not only more beautiful but also more ecologically sound." The wildflowers gracing many of the nation's roadways are living monuments to her foresight and commitment.

LUNA LEOPOLD (1915–2006)
Portrait of Luna Leopold

Photo: © TODD TREADWAY

A pioneer in the field of river studies, Leopold had a profound influence on efforts to restore and protect America's waterways, both large and small. The son of famed ecologist Aldo Leopold, he served for 22 years as chief hydrologist of the U.S. Geological Survey's Water Resources Division, where he made major contributions to our scientific understanding of riparian systems.

Among his assignments during that period was an assessment of plans to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Leopold's study predicted disaster if oil companies laid pipe on frozen ground and across rivers. His vehement complaints compelled the pipeline consortium to initiate safeguards. He also consulted on plans for a South Florida jetport that threatened a portion of the Everglades.

"In 1969, he practically invented the Environmental Impact Statement through its design and early application to problems such as the proposed Trans-Alaska Pipeline and Everglades Jetport," wrote one of his colleagues, Thomas Dunne, a professor of environmental science and management at the University of California–Santa Barbara.

Leopold launched a second career in 1972 as a hydrology professor at the University of California–Berkeley. Throughout his life, he published nearly 200 scholarly papers and numerous books. He retired from the university in 1986 but persisted in his research and writing. "His work played a major role in the way our nation approaches environmental issues today," observed the NWF board during Leopold's installment into the hall of fame a year ago.  

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