Action Report: August/September 2005

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

  • Kelly L. Senser
  • Aug 01, 2005
How NWF Is Making a Difference

A new study finds North American ducks are at risk due to global warming

The Prairie Pothole Region of the northern Great Plains is known as America’s “duck factory” for good reason. Dotted with millions of shallow depressions and ponds that fill with water in spring, it provides ideal breeding habitat for millions of ducks and other migrating birds. That could change in the next few decades, however. If allowed to continue unabated, global warming and the problems it causes threaten to devastate waterfowl populations across North America within the century, according to scientific research presented in a new NWF report, The Waterfowler’s Guide to Global Warming.

“By 2080, global warming could reduce wetland habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region by up to 91 percent,” says Patty Glick, NWF’s global warming specialist and the report’s author. “As the climate warms and evaporation and plant transpiration increase, many of the region’s ponds are likely to dry up or be wet for shorter periods, making them less suitable habitat for breeding pairs and duck broods.” Species that would be left at risk include the northern pintail.

Flooding, erosion and changes in salinity triggered by rising sea levels could cause as much as 45 percent of coastal wetlands to disappear by 2100, the report states. Especially vulnerable are the shallow wetlands of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, which provide critical wintering habitat for diving ducks such as canvasbacks, redheads, ruddy ducks and scaup.

Disruptions in waterfowl migration are among the other likely effects of a warmer climate described in the report. Increased fall and winter temperatures in northern regions, for instance, may reduce seasonal ice cover, making in unnecessary for ducks and geese to fly as far south to find ice-free water and adequate food. Scientists project global temperatures to rise on average by 2 to 10 degrees F in the coming decades.

“Even where changes associated with global warming alone might not cause problems, the combined effects from human activities such as oil and gas development, forestry, mining and global warming make it difficult for some waterfowl to adapt to a rapidly changing environment,” says Glick. “Waterfowl face an uphill battle.”

The Waterfowler’s Guide to Global Warming includes a comprehensive list of recommendations to help improve the forecast for ducks. Chief among them: Reduce carbon dioxide pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, the primary cause of global warming. To read the full report, visit our News & Views site.

The grizzly bear exists in less than 1 percent of its historic range in the lower 48 states. Help secure prime habitat for it and other imperiled species. Visit our Adopt an Acre site.

Some perennials are best avoided in the garden because they can become weedy or invasive. Go to the Native Gardening and Invasive Plants Guide site to view a state-by-state list of undesirable plants.

How do you and your family like to spend time outdoors? Share your experiences and find out what others are doing to savor nature’s wonders at the Get Outside site.

Coalition forms to help restore long-suffering Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are under siege—plagued by invasive species, toxic pollution, overfishing and other strains caused by human development. In an effort to address these problems, President Bush last year recognized the ecosystem as a “national treasure” and called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to lead government groups in developing a restoration plan for the watershed, which boasts 95 percent of the nation’s freshwater supply. To date, the federal process has made some progress, according to Andy Buchsbaum, director of NWF’s Great Lakes office, but the jury’s still out on whether it will succeed in crafting an effective plan.

“For too long, governments have taken a Band-Aid approach when it comes to the Great Lakes,” Buchsbaum says. “That must stop. We need permanent and comprehensive solutions that will save the ecosystem and bolster our region’s job base and economy.”

To help achieve those outcomes, an unprecedented union of more than 50 national, state and local conservation organizations recently formed. Headed by NWF and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the Healing Our WatersSM—Great Lakes coalition aims to secure a sustainable restoration plan and the billions of dollars needed to implement it. “This is a fight,” says NPCA President Tom Kiernan, “to save our national heritage.”

Wyoming landscape deserves protection

Wyoming’s Great Divide is the ancestral homeland of the Shoshone and Ute peoples, and the former stomping grounds of the notorious Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Its badlands, mountains and sand dunes provide habitat for hundreds of wildlife species, including some of the country’s largest surviving herds of pronghorn. For these reasons and others the region is too valuable to be left unprotected and opened to unchecked oil and gas drilling, according to The Special Values of the Great Divide, a report recently released by NWF and the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance.

“This report should be a wake-up call to state and federal officials that we need to act now and protect Wyoming’s wild places,” says Kate Zimmerman, NWF’s senior land stewardship policy specialist. In addition to outlining the unique values of the Great Divide, it details the threats to these resources from industrial development. Proposed projects include the construction of thousands of new oil and gas wells, numerous wastewater ponds, and miles of new roads, pipelines and power lines—all of which could mar landscapes, degrade habitat and limit recreation opportunities if safeguards are not put in place now. To read the full report, visit our News & Views site.

For more than two decades, NWF has supported Native Americans in their efforts to protect wildlife and wild places, providing resources to help them restore species such as wolves and bison to tribal lands. Current projects include:

Colorado River International Conservation Area: With the Cocopah Tribe, NWF is working to preserve 12 miles of the Lower Colorado River flowing between Arizona and Mexico on the Cocopah Reservation. The region is an important migratory stopover for birds such as the western tanager.
Tribal Education: Using its Schoolyard Habitats® and Access Nature™ curriculums, NWF is providing Native American students with hands-on opportunities to learn about and care for the natural world.
Walker Lake: NWF, the Walker River Paiute Tribe and other partners are fighting to save this vital Nevada resource. Irrigation diversion is leaving lake levels dangerously low and causing precipitously high saline levels in the water body, threatening the area’s fish and wildlife and jeopardizing the traditional Paiute way of life.
Visit the In-Depth Resources: Land site.

NWF and The Toro Company recently debuted a Flower Garden Watering Kit designed to help homeowners conserve water and restore wildlife habitat. Available for purchase at The Home Depot, Plow & Hearth and other retailers, it includes sunflower seeds, a guide to attracting butterflies and a drip irrigation system that reduces water consumption by minimizing evaporation loss.

On the heels of an announcement from the scientific community that mercury contamination in the Northeast is more extensive than previously thought (see “Mercury Rising” in this issue), the State of Vermont passed a law in May that bans the sale of certain mercury products, regulates disposal of all of them and requires users such as dental offices to capture and recycle waste mercury. “Vermont is taking a much-needed step in the right direction,” says Catherine Bowes, Northeast program manager of NWF’s Clean the Rain Campaign. The Federation urged passage of the legislation and worked to ensure industry proposals to weaken it did not succeed. According to Bowes, NWF will continue to support state and federal efforts to eliminate sources of the pollutant, which poses dangers to both people and wildlife.

In May, a U.S. district court judge rejected the federal government’s $6 billion proposal to improve the Columbia Basin’s hydroelectric dam system, saying it violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to protect imperiled salmon. Noting that federal law puts salmon “on an equal footing with power production,” the judge ruled in favor of a challenge brought by NWF and other conservationists to the NOAA Fisheries plan.

NWF affiliate works to protect Hawaii’s vulnerable species and habitats

Roughly a third of the nation’s threatened and endangered species are from the Hawaiian Islands. Since 1950, the Conservation Council for Hawai’i (CCH) has been working to protect them and the state’s other native plants and animals—90 percent of which are found naturally nowhere else on Earth. “We speak for those who have no voice,” says Marjorie Ziegler, CCH executive director. Among the NWF affiliate organization’s recent endeavors:

Securing support for the acquisition of Kahuku Ranch for inclusion in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (HVNP). Described by the National Park Service as “a sprawling natural wonder,” the 116,000-acre parcel doubled the size of the protected area, which provides critical habitat to dozens of rare species.
Organizing conservation-based service projects, including the construction of a boardwalk in HVNP to prevent endangered Mauna Loa silversword plants from being trampled by visitors.
Advocating for legislation that increased the state conveyance (real estate transfer) tax and dedicated a portion of the tax to the Natural Area Reserves System—the state equivalent of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Federation’s legal actions are successful

NWF and its co-plaintiffs in a pair of lawsuits filed to protect rare Florida species were given reasons to celebrate recently.

First, in what could be a lifesaver for the Florida panther, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers illegally failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regarding the impacts of nationwide dredge-and-fill permits issued in 2002 on critical panther habitat. Such permits, allowing development in an endangered species’ habitat, can be issued only if the environmental impact of such activity has been reviewed by federal wildlife experts—and only if this review concludes that the impact would be minimal. “The Corps has a responsibility to ensure that its actions do not further jeopardize wildlife that is already on the brink of extinction,” says John Kostyack, NWF senior counsel. Fewer than 100 Florida panthers remain in the wild.

In another case, a judge ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency and FWS to make amends for failing to do enough to protect key deer and seven other imperiled species in the implementation of a flood insurance program that encourages development.

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