Action Report: October/November 2003

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

  • Rene Ebersole
  • Oct 01, 2003
Trouble in Alaskan Paradise 
On the surface, Alaska's Prince William Sound may look like a healthy ecosystem. But a new NWF report reveals that it still bears the scars of the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill that occurred there nearly 15 years ago. What's more, new wounds are being inflicted daily as tourism, pollution and shoreline development continue to increase in what was--prior to one of history's biggest oil spills--a remote slice of untouched, icy paradise for people and hundreds of wildlife species.

"Prince William Sound has reached a crossroads--what we do and decide now will determine its future," says NWF President Mark Van Putten.

Serving as a report card of ecological health, the NWF report, State of the Sound, breaks down the condition of the huge estuary into 16 environmental indicators and scores each one on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best rating). One area of concern uncovered by the report is the sound's Pacific herring population, which scored only a 2. The population has fallen to record lows in recent years, threatening other fish such as salmon--the sound's economic and ecological engine--that rely on herring as a vital food source. Harbor seals, marbled murrelets and orcas also received low marks.

Water quality in the sound rated only a 6 due to increased boat traffic, lingering oil pollution from the Exxon Valdez disaster and the presence of DDT and PCBs. "We are literally threatening to use--and love--the sound to death," says Patrick Lavin, NWF's Prince William Sound project manager.

Protection of the sound hinges on better management. A patchwork of state and federal agencies claims control over the estuary, but none are responsible for protecting it as a whole. To remedy this, the NWF report recommends establishing a protective designation for sound waters to clarify management goals and responsibilities and improve coordination among agencies. It also advocates actions that would improve water and acoustic quality, reduce the risk of invasive species and oil spills and protect wildlife populations.

"We must move now to protect this irreplaceable natural treasure," says Van Putten.

Your Contributions at Work 
The battles that NWF wins on the conservation frontlines are made possible by financial support from members and donors like you. Your contributions are funding dozens of initiatives, including an exciting array of environmental education programs:

Schoolyard Habitats®: providing unique, hands-on outdoor learning opportunities to children in grades K-12 and creating wildlife habitats that become an important part of community ecosystems.

Earth Tomorrow®: inspiring teachers and students to become environmental stewards through local conservation projects and annual, weeklong experiences in Atlanta, Detroit and Alaska.

Campus Ecology® fellowships: helping college students pursue their vision of an ecologically sustainable future.

For more about NWF's education programs, visit our School section.

From the Field: NWF Grows a Green Nation 
To help commemorate its 30th anniversary, NWF's Backyard Wildlife Habitat™ program recently named the U.S. Botantic Garden's Bartholdi Park the nation's 35,000th certified habitat.

Bartholdi Park is located adjacent to the Smithsonian Mall in Washington, D.C. Interpretive signs scattered amid the park's North American native plants, and the countless birds and butterflies they attract, highlight the critical features of a wildlife habitat--food, water, shelter and places to raise young. They also provide information about sustainable gardening practices that promote healthy environments for people and wildlife.

According to Christine Flanagan, the garden's public programs manager, an emphasis on natural landscaping seems to be a hit with visitors. "Almost all of them linger in the wildlife garden," she says. "I think it's because it just feels right. The message that I want them to leave with is that they too can have this wonderful respite, this Eden of their own."

Indeed, large numbers of homeowners--and even entire townships--are catching on to that idea. In June, the Georgia community of Chamblee was certified as the first NWF Community Wildlife Habitat in the Southeast and the fifth in nation. "The list of communities working toward this goal is growing fast," says David Mizejewski, Backyard Wildlife Habitat program manager. "We commend these dedicated residents for their conservation efforts and for bringing town citizens together for a common purpose--to create a place where people and wildlife can flourish."

Affiliate Spotlight: Farming for Wildlife in Arkansas 
The Arkansas Wildlife Federation (AWF) is helping farmers in the state "go wild"--and get paid for it--with workshops designed to educate landowners about the $17.1 billion made available for conservation programs by the 2002 Farm Bill. "It's the conservation community reaching out to the agricultural community to help it continue doing what it does, and save wildlife and habitat in the process," says AWF Executive Director Terry Horton, who organized the recent meetings. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Agricultural Liaison David Long provided workshop attendees with information about the options available and the benefits of wildlife-friendly plantings. Of some 360 landowners who attended the workshops, 73 percent--representing more than 15,000 acres of potential wildlife habitat--said they planned to enroll in at least one conservation program. "The turnout was amazing," says NWF Aquatic Habitat Specialist Jeff Barger. "No doubt these programs have the potential to make a major difference in the conservation of wildlife and habitat in Arkansas."

Back to School: NWF Wildlife University 
Are you longing to take a class in a fun subject such as gardening for wildlife, but never seem to have the time? NWF offers a solution to your dilemma in its new Wildlife University™, an on-line "learning portal." Beginning this October, web surfers can take distance learning courses at their leisure on a variety of topics, from wildife gardening to endangered species and conservation. New topics will be added each month.

NWF Children's Magazines Honored 
NWF's children's magazines, Ranger Rick®, Your Big Backyard® and Wild Animal Baby® were recently honored for their creative approach to children's publishing at the prestigious Association of Educational Publishers (AEP) awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. Ranger Rick snared three distinguished achievement awards for excellence. Your Big Backyard and Wild Animal Baby captured one award each.

In addition to the AEP awards, Ranger Rick recently received the esteemed Parents' Choice Gold Award. "We are dedicated to helping kids understand nature and inspiring them to explore," says Ranger Rick Editor Gerry Bishop.

NWF Helps Get Native American Voices Heard 
Native American tribes are recognized in the United States as sovereign governments, but the opinions of tribes are frequently overlooked or forgotten by federal officials when it comes to decisions that impact the environment.

That's why NWF, with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recently formed the Tribal Environmental Policy Council to train Native Americans on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which gives U.S. citizens the opportunity to challenge the government when it fails to consider alternatives to projects that cause environmental harm.

"NEPA is a critical path for tribal stakeholders to influence policymaking both on and off tribal reservations," says Amy Amoroso, NWF tribal lands program manager.

Paving The Way for a Sustainable Future 
Nine NWF Campus Ecology® fellows recently completed projects that will help the nation's universities become models for environmental progress. Their endeavors range from strengthening the importance of native habitats in urban environments and educating youth about alternative energies to supporting sustainable markets and providing environmental resources and tools to leaders on campuses and in communities.

Over the past three years, NWF's Campus Ecology program has hosted 50 fellows in 24 states. One alumnus of the program who ambitiously altered her campus cafeteria's waste disposal method by launching a composting project last year says, "I now realize I can transform a dream into reality. But the project may still be a distant 'wish upon a star' had I not received support and encouragement from NWF." For more, visit our Campus Ecology section.

Protecting Wildlife South of the Border 
Wildlife and wild places traverse national borders. Therefore conservation efforts must do the same. That's why NWF has expanded its education and advocacy programs to Mexico--one of the top five ecologically diverse nations in the world.

NWF is adapting its environmental school materials for use throughout Mexico and providing training to teachers. More than a dozen schools in the city of Monterrey recently established Schoolyard Habitats® sites. NWF's main goal: to help promote a strong conservation movement that will keep Mexico's biological diversity intact.

Conservation Heroes: A Montana Rancher's Legacy 
From his home in Big Sky country, Hugo Tureck has watched the wind, water and extreme temperatures continually sculpt the badlands over many years. But this rancher and conservationist has watched the landscape change in other ways, too, as more and more subdivisions and industries march across the legendary frontier.

"In recent years, I started realizing how much Montana's wide-open spaces were being discovered, and I decided I needed to become more involved in land protection," says Tureck, a member of NWF's Montana affiliate, the Montana Wildlife Federation. "There was a time when ranchers were the land stewards because they had to protect their property in order to pass it down to the next generation. But today, if you look across the face of Montana, there are very few third- and fourth-generation ranchers anymore."

Tureck became concerned that corporate interests were swallowing up the badlands for short-term rewards. As a result, he chaired the council that recommended a protection and management plan for the newly created Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in 1999.

Recently, the Upper Missouri River Breaks--like other national monuments created at the tail end of the Clinton era--has become vulnerable to energy development and other potentially destructive uses favored by the current administration.

As vice chairman of the Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument, a coalition that includes businesspeople, hunters, farmers and ranchers, Tureck remains determined to protect the area. Last year, when the Interior Department picked at the seams of the monument's boundaries, he testified before Congress on the need to keep it intact. "He's a tireless conservation steward of the land," says NWF Legislative Representative Marc Smith.

For Tureck, the future is what it's all about. "If we can make these unique places a part of our national identity," he says, "we can preserve them for all Americans to enjoy today and centuries from now."


Proposed Mine Threatens a Great Lake 
A new NWF report reveals that rain falling over a dozen Gulf Coast, southeastern and mid-Atlantic states contains levels of mercury well above what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers "safe" in surface waters. According to the report, Cycle of Harm: Mercury's Pathway from Rain to Fish in the Environment, Texas had more mercury in its surface waters than any other state--98 percent of waters there exceeded the EPA safe level. New York held the best record, but even there 84 percent of samples surpassed the EPA limit. "These levels of contamination threaten human health and wildlife," says NWF President Mark Van Putten. Mercury--even at low levels--can damage the brain, especially during fetal development. A single gram of the toxic metal can contaminate all the fish in a 25-acre lake. "By cleaning up mercury in the environment," says Van Putten, "we can protect both our wildlife and ourselves from a host of threats."

Proposed Mine Threatens a Great Lake 
If a Michigan-based mining company has its way, a 1,000-mile stretch of picturesque shoreline along Michipicoten Bay on Lake Superior's North Shore could soon provide aggregates and asphalt for buildings, highways and byways in Milwaukee and Chicago. "It's an operation that would create an industrial zone in what is now de facto wilderness," says NWF counsel Jane Reyer. Mining the shoreline will likely impact wildlife in the adjoining Pukaskwa National Park in Canada and nearby Michipicoten Island, the only remaining areas in the basin that support woodland caribou, which are occasionally spotted swimming near the proposed mining area. What's more, the toxic runoff associated with the mining activities will taint waterways, harm already endangered fish and damage an entire ecosystem. "With all that we know about mining and water pollution, it's unbelievable that we're still looking at mining such a pristine stretch of shoreline," says Reyer.

NWF Awards Wildlife Grants 
NWF recently awarded its 2003 Species Recovery Fund grants to a dozen local organizations that are using innovative, community-based means to directly improve on-the-ground conditions for imperiled species. Ranging from $4,000 to $7,000, the grants will allow winning groups to focus on conserving locally endangered and threatened species, from gopher tortoises and Houston toads in the Southeast to grizzly bears and black-footed ferrets in the West to karner blue butterflies in the Northeast. For more information, visit our Wildlife section.

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