NWF and its affiliates are protecting public lands, bridging a habitat gap for mountain lions and much more
Vieques Refuge: Not For Sale
Covering 17,771 acres on an island a few miles east of mainland Puerto Rico, Vieques National Wildlife Refuge is one of the Caribbean’s largest, most ecologically diverse wildlife refuges. At least 800 fish, 174 bird and seven bat species are found in the refuge. Threatened green and endangered hawksbill and leatherback turtles nest on its beaches, and Antillean manatees, whales and dolphins swim off its coasts.
This spring, U.S. congressional members considered transferring management of more than a fifth of the refuge to Puerto Rico, which could have sold it to developers to help pay down the commonwealth’s $72 billion debt. But several organizations fought the proposal, including the National Wildlife Federation, its affiliate Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña Inc. (SOPI), the League of United Latin American Citizens and Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors. In May, these groups and their supporters persuaded Congress to reject the transfer.
The deal would have set a bad precedent for other refuges, says SOPI Past President Israel Guzmán. “We believe public lands should be kept in public hands.”
A 40-year-old Toxic Chemical Law Updated
Tens of thousands of chemicals are on the market today, yet only a small percentage of them have been tested or regulated since the U.S. Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 1976. Among the law’s many weaknesses is that it only requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to test a chemical after it is on the market and has been shown to pose a risk to people or the environment.
The National Wildlife Federation has been among the many organizations pushing to reform this outdated legislation. Finally, in June, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act became law, addressing many of the weaknesses of the TSCA. For example, the new act establishes an EPA safety standard that all new chemicals must meet prior to distribution. It also requires vulnerable human populations, such as children and pregnant women, to have sufficient protections from toxic chemicals.
This bipartisan legislation is a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve protections of public health and the environment,” says NWF President Collin O’Mara. “It addresses many of our long-standing wildlife and public health concerns, while also setting up transparent and predictable chemical evaluation processes for industry.”
Status Quo Won’t Save Salmon in the Columbia River Basin
Once again, a federal judge ruled in May that NOAA Fisheries’ approach for managing Columbia River Basin salmon and steelhead just won’t do, stating that the agency’s latest biological opinion about the basin’s hydroelectric system fails to address the impacts of not only its dams but also climate change. Dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers block salmon from reaching the ocean to mature or returning upstream to spawn. Although ladders (right) help some fish navigate the maze of dams, powerhouses and reservoirs, many fail to make it. Thousands also have died from reduced river flows and warmed waters. Today, 13 basin salmon species are threatened or endangered, including sockeye (above).
Since 2001, NWF has led five lawsuits demanding NOAA disclose the system’s full effects and consider all options for habitat protection, including dam removal. The agency now has five years to do so. “I’m hopeful we can restore salmon and develop clean energy alternatives in the Northwest,” says NWF Regional Director Tom France.
Putting Natural Defenses to Work
In May, the National Wildlife Federation and Allied World Assurance Company released Natural Defenses in Action: Harnessing Nature to Protect Our Communities, a guide that provides a dozen case studies of how resource managers and city planners are tapping into the power of nature to combat climate change impacts, from severe storms to wildfires. Tactics include building “living shorelines” of oysters (left) to buffer ocean waves and enlisting beavers to reduce flooding. “This report shows a nature-based approach is not just good theory,” says Bruce Stein, NWF’s associate vice president of climate adaptation. “It is actually being done by communities across the country.”
As part of the White House priority agenda for enhancing the resilience of natural resources, NWF received the first national Climate Adaptation Leadership Award in June for “exemplary leadership in reducing climate-related threats.”
Bridging the Habitat Gap for Wildlife
If you want to know what an animal has to go through to cross a highway in Southern California, walk a few days in its paws. During Urban Wildlife Week, October 16 to 22, National Wildlife Federation’s California Director Beth Pratt will follow the path that now-famous mountain lion P-22 might have taken from the Santa Monica Mountains across two eight-lane freeways, Highways 101 and 405, before reaching his home in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park (above). Pratt will wear the same kind of GPS satellite collar as P-22 so that anyone can follow her progress online. The walk will conclude on October 22 with a P-22 Day celebration in the park.
Pratt’s journey is raising awareness of the need for a wildlife crossing over Highway 101. “I wanted to show how vital it is to provide safe, connected habitat for wildlife,” she says.
Conserving Parks, Soil
In November, Missourians will vote on whether to renew a 0.1 cent sales tax dedicated to conserving state parks, soil and water. Prior to voters first approving the tax in 1984, Missouri had the nation’s second highest rate of soil erosion and its state park facilities were degrading. The tax has since provided more than $660 million to soil and water conservation projects on agricultural lands and about three-quarters of the state’s park system annual budget.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources Director Sara Parker Pauley says losing this revenue “would be devastating to our park system.” The Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM), an NWF affiliate that helped initiate the tax, agrees. “It not only keeps state parks free and functioning,” says CFM Executive Director Brandon Butler. “It keeps soil on the ground and out of our rivers.”
Protecting Colorado’s Public Lands
The Colorado Wildlife Federation (CWF), a National Wildlife Federation affiliate, has fought to protect its state’s wildlife habitat since 1953. Its supporters—anglers, hunters, birders, photographers and other outdoor enthusiasts—have banded together to ensure public lands are accessible to people while managed sustainably for elk, pronghorn, sage-grouse and many other iconic Colorado species.
This year, CWF helped defeat efforts to weaken water quality standards that would have increased stream temperatures during shoulder seasons. CWF also led diverse stakeholders in providing recommendations to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for South Park to safeguard watersheds and unfragmented habitat and identify appropriate areas for energy development.
At the urging of Senator Kerry Donovan (right), CWF and others, Governor John Hickenlooper (seated) declared May’s third Saturday as Colorado Public Lands Day. CWF Executive Director Suzanne O’Neill says this is “an opportunity to educate residents and visitors about public lands’ extraordinary value as wildlife habitat and to our state’s economy.”
More from National Wildlife magazine and NWF:
Puerto Rican Parrot Comeback
Affiliate of the Week: Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorrique
Fishing for a Future in the Columbia and Snake River Basins
Affiliate of the Week: Colorado Wildlife Federation
The Great Marsh: Nature's Flood Insurance
NWF Blogs: Living Shorelines
The Ultimate Urban Cats
Keeping Public Lands Public
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More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. We're on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.