Action Report: December/January 2006
How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference
Back from the Dead—and at Risk Again
Legal action aims to protect rare ivory-billed woodpecker
Last April, scientists delivered the hopeful news that an ivory-billed woodpecker had been spotted in the bottomland hardwood forests of Arkansas. The species, long thought extinct, had apparently survived for decades in the wild wetlands—vital oases that are now under threat.
In a move to protect the ivorybill, NWF and its affiliate the Arkansas Wildlife Federation (AWF) recently filed a legal action in federal district court to halt construction of the controversial Grand Prairie Irrigation Project, which would divert water from the bird’s habitat for agricultural use. The complaint states that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by not completing a thorough enough survey of the project’s potential impact on the woodpecker.
"This project is designed to draw 158 billion gallons of water from the White River each year," says David Carruth, AWF president, "effectively draining the wetlands habitat where the ivorybill was first sighted."
Something To Howl About
Efforts to return gray wolves to the nation’s northern forests recently got a boost—thanks to a decision by a federal court judge in Vermont. The judge ruled in favor of NWF and four other conservation groups, which argued that the U.S. Department of the Interior violated the Endangered Species Act in 2003 when it reduced protections for the canids across the Lower 48 and ended wolf recovery efforts in the Northeast.
"While wolves are an Endangered Species Act success story in the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies, the administration wanted to declare total victory based on these partial wins," says Peggy Struhsacker, program manager for NWF’s wolf recovery team. "The administration was ready to announce the marathon over when the finish line is still over the next hill."
According to John Kostyack, NWF senior counsel for wildlife conservation, the federal government has a legal obligation to recover wolves in a significant portion of their historic range, which includes the forests of northern New England and New York. "This ruling," he says, "is a major victory for wolves and for all the people who care so much about preserving America’s natural heritage."
Whether you’re at home or out and about, the everyday choices you make can benefit the environment. Discover easy steps you can take to live a greener, healthier lifestyle at our Get Green site.
Research shows NWF children’s magazines are highly suited to reading instruction and are endorsed by many of the leaders in literacy development. Learn more about the publications at our Kids Magazines site.
Enjoy gardening? Working with kids? Are you a computer whiz? NWF offers dozens of regional volunteer opportunities to match your interests, skills and talents. See our Volunteer site.
Salmon Recovery Under Attack
Rollback of habitat protections threatens livelihoods
A year ago, the Bush administration announced a plan to dramatically reduce safeguards for Pacific Northwest rivers and streams that are considered "critical habitat" for 19 threatened populations of salmon and steelhead. Among other changes, it proposed dropping protections for unoccupied habitat—despite conservationists’ warnings that plans to recover the fish could be devastated as a result.
Coproduced by NWF, Trout Unlimited and Earthjustice, and released this past summer, the report Salmon Recovery Under Attack outlines the critical flaws of the proposal and explores the likely effects it will have on communities that depend on the fish. The report’s conclusion: Decreased protections would endanger the incomes and lifestyles of thousands of people—from commercial and recreational fishermen to Native Americans to local business owners—in favor of "a narrow set of commercial interests." (See the article "Fishing for a Future.")
Unfortunately, says NWF counsel Jan Hasselman, coauthor of the report, "the window to convince officials to do the right thing has come and gone." He says the administration ignored the economic advantages of salmon recovery. And although it retreated from some elements of its proposal, others—including lost protection for unoccupied habitat—remained in the final plan that was released in August.
Despite the setback, NWF has not given up, Hasselman says: "We are looking at the plan and considering our options, including litigation." To read the full report, go to our News & Views site.
The Gulf Coast: Rebuild It Right
Federation urges restoration of wetlands to protect vulnerable communities
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, NWF convened a panel of experts on coastal restoration and water policy to discuss what lessons we can learn from the natural disaster, as well as how to help prevent a tragedy like it from happening again. The event, held in September at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and moderated by NWF Chair Jerome Ringo, was part of an ongoing Federation campaign to insert into the public dialogue the idea that the health of the region’s coastal ecology is vital to the health and safety of its communities.
"We must allow sound science accumulated in the years of study of the Gulf Coast, its vanishing wetlands and its vulnerable communities to guide the decisions on how and where we rebuild," says Ringo, who lives on the Louisiana coast. "We must respect the natural ecology of the Mississippi River and allow it to perform its natural task of creating a vibrant delta and system of islands that buffer inland communities."
In addition to advocating for the restoration of protective wetlands and sound water policy, NWF is also stressing the importance of addressing global warming, which likely made the impact of Katrina more severe.
Campuses Show It’s Easy Being Green
The conservation achievements of more than 50 colleges and universities are highlighted in NWF’s latest Campus Ecology Yearbook, an online publication detailing how students, faculty and staff are working together to green their campuses by organizing projects to conserve energy, reduce waste and restore habitat for wildlife. To read about these efforts, go to our Campus Solutions.
Talking to Sportsmen About Global Warming
NWF will host booths at International Sportmen’s Expositions in Denver and Phoenix in early 2006 to educate outdoor-sports enthusiasts about the threats global warming poses to waterfowl. Outreach at similar events in the Midwest and Southeast is also planned. For information about these shows, as well as what you can do to improve the forecast for ducks and other wildlife, visit our Global Warming site.
Lawsuit Filed to Protect Rare Bird
In the past four years, the number of Everglades snail kites has plummeted from 3,577 individuals to 1,610. With hopes of reversing the decline, NWF and the Florida Wildlife Federation recently filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, charging that the agency is degrading and destroying habitat critical for the endangered bird’s survival through mismanagement of water levels in Florida’s Lake Okeechobee.
In order to thrive, snail kites must have open freshwater marshes that support large populations of apple snails—a primary food source—as well as patches of trees on which they can perch and nest. Lake Okeechobee used to provide that, but then the Corps began increasing the average water level of the lake to make more water available for agricultural irrigation. "Sadly," says NWF counsel Randy Sargent, "the Corps’ actions have nearly eliminated the bird from the area and pushed it even closer to extinction."
Safeguarding Species on Tribal Lands
Native Americans share lessons of wildlife management
Tribal leaders from across the West recently gathered in Salt Lake City for a conference to discuss management of endangered species on Native American lands. Joined by representatives from nonprofit conservation groups and state and federal agencies, they assembled at the invitation of NWF, host of the two-day event.
"Most people don’t realize that Native Americans own and manage 95 million acres—11 million acres more than the National Park Service," says Stephen Torbit, director of NWF’s Rocky Mountain Natural Resource Center. "Even less recognized is the significant skill and expertise with which tribes have managed imperiled species on those lands."
The conference focused on the opportunities and obstacles faced by Native Americans working to protect threatened and endangered wildlife. Chief among the challenges: Lack of political and financial support. Even with little or no outside assistance, though, tribes have played a fundamental—often key—role in recovering species such as wolves, black-footed ferrets and Apache trout.
"Native Americans have a lot to teach us," says Garrit Voggesser, manager of NWF’s Tribal Lands Conservation Program. "We hope that the conference will not only build collaboration among tribes, federal agencies and nonprofits, but also be a stepping stone to securing annual congressional funding for tribal conservation programs." To that end, Native American participants and NWF staff are forming a coalition to build support for tribal wildlife management and endangered species efforts. See our In-Depth Resources: Land site.
Taking Care Of Bears
Wildlife-resistant dumpsters safeguard people and bruins
In 2005, NWF completed its third year of efforts to place bear-resistant dumpsters into the Selway-Bitterroot area of western Montana. The objective of this project is to reduce habituation of black bears to garbage, which project managers hope will lead to a decrease in bear mortality and an increase in the number of bears that eat natural foods and display wild behaviors instead of habituated ones in the vicinity of humans. NWF biologist Sterling Miller says benefits will also apply to grizzly bear populations once the species becomes established in this area, either through natural dispersal or through reintroduction. Grizzlies were eliminated from the Selway-Bitterroot some 70 years ago, but because huge swaths of acceptable habitat remain there, it is designated a recovery area. To learn more, go to ourAdopt a Wildlife Acre site.
Leaving the Nest
Eleven eaglets were raised and released during the second season of the Vermont Bald Eagle Restoration Initiative. Numerous groups are helping to support the reintroduction, with NWF coordinating and managing the 3-year effort. The initiative aims to re-establish a breeding population of bald eagles in the only state among the Lower 48 without one. To learn more, visit the Vermont Bald Eagle Restoration Initiative site.
‘Wild’ New DVDs for Preschoolers
NWF has teamed with Sunwoo Entertainment, animator of the popular children’s show Rugrats, to produce its first DVD series for the preschool market, Wild Animal Baby®.
Based on NWF’s award-winning kids’ magazine of the same name, the series serves as a child’s introduction to the natural sciences, promoting problem-solving skills, age-appropriate math concepts and opportunities to develop motor skills by imitating the movements of animals. An animated team of wildlife investigators—Izzy the Owl, Skip the Rabbit, Rosie the River Otter and Sandy the Salamander—guides the learning, introducing viewers to everything that squirms, wiggles and flies onscreen.
"This multisensory experience provides a way for preschoolers to explore and connect with the amazing wonders of their natural world," says Mary Dalheim, editor of Wild Animal Baby magazine.
To learn more, visit the Kids Zone site or call 1-800-900-2656.
Protecting A Premier Environmental Law
California affiliate thwarts developers’ attempts to weaken legisislation
Since the late 1960s, the Planning and Conservation League (PCL), NWF’s California affiliate, has been involved with the establishment and defense of the California Environmental Quality Act—the Golden State’s premier environmental law.
CEQA, as the legislation is known, protects species and special habitat areas from adverse development by requiring environmental impact reports, public input and mitigation measures to offset ecological degradation. Peninsular bighorn sheep, Swainson’s hawks and tiger salamanders are among the beneficiaries—as are people.
Earlier this year, developers sought to weaken CEQA, but their attack was blunted by PCL and a diverse coalition of environmentalists, trade unions, social justice groups and affordable housing proponents. Besides coordinating the defense campaign and mobilizing CEQA supporters, PCL used its report Everyday Heroes Protect the Air We Breathe, the Water We Drink, and the Natural Areas We Prize: Thirty-Five Years of the California Environmental Quality Act to educate legislators about the law’s importance.
"We expect the rollback attempts to resume and perhaps intensify next year," says Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, PCL’s communications director, "but we’re hopeful the Planning and Conservation League will remain in a strong position to fight off these attacks and help foster improvements in California’ s land use policies." To learn more, visit the Planning and Conservation League site.
Tuning in to Mother Nature
Campout helps families connect with world outside their backdoors
There is nothing like a summer night under the stars: just you, your family, a campfire—and a flush toilet only yards away. NWF’s first Great American Backyard Campout, held August 20, invited people to get a little closer to nature by pitching a tent right in their own backyard (or in a nearby campground). More than 32,000 campers from across the country accepted that invitation.
"It’s a simple idea to show people that nature is not far away or hard to enjoy," says Brittanie Williams, campout project manager. Research suggests that American children are growing up disconnected with the natural world and its wonders. Instead of running around the neighborhood, they now spend an average of 6 hours a day tuned to TV, video game and computer screens.
"I never knew spending the whole day outside could be so much fun," reported one seven-year-old campout participant. "I think today was more fun than my birthday." To read more stories from campers, visit the Backyard Campout site.