Action Report: April/May 2010
How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference
Double Trouble for Polar Bears
As part of an effort to generate support for stronger protection of threatened polar bears, NWF recently released a report on the dangers that offshore oil development and declining sea ice pose for the beleaguered animals. In response, nearly 9,000 of NWF’s activists sent comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) backing the agency’s proposed designation of critical habitat for the bears, which would give the area tighter protection. FWS, an agency in the Department of the Interior, is slated to make its decision by the end of June.
Near-record Arctic sea ice loss and continued development of oil and gas in the proposed critical habitat spells double trouble for the bears, according to the NWF report—Double Trouble: Melting Arctic Sea Ice and Offshore Oil Development—which was issued with the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. Polar bears live on Arctic sea ice most of the year, feeding on seals. Global warming has greatly reduced sea ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, two huge areas included in the proposed critical habitat. The Department of the Interior also has approved oil-drilling permits in this area. “The department is undermining its own efforts to protect polar bears by promoting this development,” says Doug Inkley, NWF senior scientist.
Oil development would put polar bear habitat at risk from spills, jeopardizing countless seabirds and marine mammals. “Oil extraction is even more challenging at sea than on the North Slope, where an average of 453 oil and other toxic spills occurred yearly between 1996 and 2008,” says Pam Miller, Arctic program director for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center.
In addition to this threat, global warming continues to cause declines in sea ice within the proposed critical habitat. “Some scientists now say that the Arctic could be free of sea ice in late summer by as early as 2012,” says Amanda Staudt, NWF climate scientist. The trend in Arctic sea ice is particularly alarming for mother polar bears and their newborn young because it means “more cubs will drown attempting the increasingly long swim from land to the sea ice,” adds Sterling Miller, NWF senior wildlife biologist.
The report lays out several steps to improve conditions for polar bears:
- Expand the proposed critical habitat to include the entire coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Beaufort Sea from Alaska’s northern coast out 200 miles;
- Provide strict oversight of oil and gas development and other proposed disturbances in critical habitat, as required by the Endangered Species Act; and
- Enact comprehensive clean-energy and climate-change legislation to reduce global warming pollution.
FWS received some 200,000 public comments on the proposed critical habitat designation, Inkley says. Read the full report.
Not Tough Enough
Ballast water discharges by oceangoing freighters are the leading source of invasive species in the Great Lakes. Seeking to protect water quality, NWF and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation filed a lawsuit against the state of Wisconsin in January. The groups claim the state’s new ballast water discharge permit is ineffective in preventing new invasions, running counter to state law.
FEMA: Protect Sea Turtle Habitat
NWF and the Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF) recently notified the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of their intent to file a lawsuit against the agency for failing to protect endangered sea turtles from the impacts of its Federal Flood Insurance Program, which promotes development in important habitat. Issuing insurance without first determining whether development will harm federally protected species or their habitat violates the Endangered Species Act.
In the United States, 90 percent of all sea turtle nesting takes place on Florida’s beaches. Inappropriately sited development can impact sea turtles by interfering with beach processes, discouraging females attempting to nest and disorienting hatchlings trying to reach the ocean. “In addition to providing essential wildlife habitat, these coastal areas work as buffers against storm surges,” says John Kostyack, NWF’s executive director of wildlife conservation and global warming. “By allowing houses and business to be built in flood-prone areas, FEMA is putting people at risk and wasting our tax dollars.”
Southeast Forests: Pine Away No More
Once blanketing more than 90 million acres across eight Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, longleaf pine forests have been reduced to just 3 percent of their historic range—eliminating vital habitat for a wealth of wildlife, from red-cockaded woodpeckers to gopher tortoises. Restoring the forests would provide much-needed assistance to these and other struggling native species. And according to a recent NWF report, it would also provide a boost to the economy of the Southeast and help the region cope with the effects of global warming.
The report, Standing Tall: How Restoring the Longleaf Pine Can Help Prepare the Southeast for Global Warming, was drafted in collaboration with the conservation groups America’s Longleaf and The Longleaf Alliance. It summarizes the latest scientific findings on global warming’s expected impact on the Southeast—specifically how it threatens southern forests. These forests not only will become hotter—and thus more prone to insect and disease outbreaks—they are likely to experience increased droughts, floods, fires and hurricanes. The report notes that the region’s dwindling longleaf pines are far more resistant to such stresses than are plantations of fast-growing loblolly and slash pine—and they more efficiently capture from the atmosphere the carbon pollution that causes global warming.
“A substantial part of America’s environmental future is tied to this one species,” writes Harvard University professor emeritus Edward O. Wilson in the foreword to the report. “The longleaf also holds the key to an important part of the future economy of the southeastern United States.” Economic opportunities provided by longleaf forests include products such as pine straw and habitat for recreational hunting.
Given their importance, the report calls for a national-level commitment to restore longleaf pine forests, an effort on par with current restoration initiatives in the Everglades and the Chesapeake Bay. “We badly need new tools to deal with the effects of climate change in the South,” explains Eric Palola, senior director of NWF’s Forests for Wildlife Program. “The good news is that bringing back the iconic longleaf pine ecosystem is one of the best tools available.”
Black Belt Forest Program
Roughly 70 percent of the historic range of longleaf pine forests is today occupied by small landowners, many of them African Americans living in poor, underserved communities. To help the trees and residents of this so-called Black Belt region, NWF, with support from the Ford Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, has teamed up with several landowner groups to forge a new regional strategy for longleaf restoration—a plan that also will promote income-generating activities such as sustainable livestock grazing. For more information, contact Amadou Diop at DiopA@nwf.org.
“This year the NWF Action Fund aspires to pass meaningful climate and clean energy legislation, restore clean water protections to U.S. waterways and promote outdoor and conservation education for all Americans,” says Executive Director Sue Brown. To learn how you can take part in the fight to protect wildlife and wild places, visit the Action Center.
American Beauties for the Backyard
Spring’s a season when many homeowners have planting on the brain. They visit local garden centers in search of new flora, but are sometimes left confused by the choices: Is the plant I like good for wildlife? Does it grow naturally in my area? American Beauties Native Plants, an NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat® partner, helps eliminate this guesswork.
Since 2006, the company has offered a line of shrubs, trees, vines, grasses and wildflowers attractive to birds, butterflies and other desirable species. Available in garden centers in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Northwest, these plants come with oversized tags featuring habitat descriptions and care instructions.
American Beauties is dedicated to promoting native plants that “bring life to the garden,” complimenting NWF’s efforts to encourage people to create wildlife-friendly habitats. To date, the company has donated more than $110,000 to the Federation’s conservation and education efforts. For more information, visit the American Beauties Native Plants website.
Generation E: Turning Passion Into Action
An NWF report published right before last year’s Copenhagen climate negotiations found lots of good news—and a few troubling signs—about how college students across the country are confronting the issues of climate change and clean energy.
First, the good news: Students are more aware of, more involved and more creative in dealing with climate issues than ever before, according to the report, Generation E: Students Leading for a Sustainable, Clean Energy Future.
“Generation E” stands for the three Es of sustainability: ecology, sustainable economics and social equity, says Julian Keniry, NWF’s senior director of campus and community leadership and a coauthor of the report. “It also stands for a tremendous amount of energy and excitement on college campuses today,” she says, adding that sustainability “defines and unites the current generation like no other issue of our time.”
The study looked at 165 campuses in 46 states and found impressive examples of creative student effort. In North Carolina, for example, students at Warren Wilson College spent more than 400 hours during spring break working to weatherize homes in their community. University of Tennessee at Knoxville students helped establish a fee for clean energy at several of the state’s universities, raising $1.4 million for green power purchasing and energy efficiency upgrades on the campus.
All this is great, says Keniry, but there are still some discouraging signs that universities themselves are not as committed to teaching about sustainability as their students are to learning. “Only a small minority of colleges and universities in the United States report they teach a majority of their students about the basic functions of the Earth’s natural systems, and even fewer teach about the connection between human practices and sustainability,” Keniry writes in her foreword to the report.
Read the Generation E report. Find out more about NWF’s work on college campuses.
Greening Schools—Inside And Out
Since its October launch, Eco-Schools USA has welcomed schools from 27 states and the District of Columbia to its growing ranks. “There is a groundswell of interest in greening our schools and getting kids back in touch with nature,” says Kevin Coyle, NWF’s vice president of education.
Part of an international initiative designed to encourage whole-school action for the environment, Eco-Schools USA strives to improve students’ academic performance while decreasing a school’s energy and water use. The NWF-hosted program also works to foster a greater sense of eco-stewardship among young people.