NWF Members at Work: October/November 1998

10-01-1998 // NWF Staff


Act Now To Help Save Montana Bison

NWF is asking its members to speak out immediately against a National Park Service plan that would continue a senseless slaughter of buffalo that wander outside of Yellowstone National Park.

The proposed plan would give the Montana State Veterinarian and the state Board of Livestock absolute authority to decide the fate of the bison. These are the same bureaucrats who claim that bison leaving the park expose cattle to the disease brucellosis, which can cause an infected cow to abort a calf. Their claims persuaded the state to kill 1,082 bison last year even though there is not one documented instance in which wild bison have transmitted brucellosis to range cattle.

So far federal and state officials have ignored a solution proposed by NWF and the InterTribal Bison Cooperative which calls for trapping and testing for brucellosis any bison that wander onto private land. Those that test negative would be moved to tribal lands.

October 16 is the deadline for comments to the National Park Service. Let the agency know you object to the slaughter, want bison managed by wildlife professionals rather than by livestock interests, favor allowing bison to roam free on public lands, and support the NWF/ITBC plan.

You can learn more about this issue and register your comments directly with the National Park Service through NWF´s web site at www.nwf.org/buffalo/. Or, send your letters to Sarah Bransom, Interagency Bison Management Plan, DSC-RP, P.O. Box 25287, Denver, Colorado 80225-0287.

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NWF Seeks Protection for Prairie Dogs

To Help Save Western Grasslands One of the most enduring images of the Great Plains is the ubiquitous prairie dog popping out of its burrow. But the sad truth is that the most widespread of the country´s four prairie dog species, the black-tailed prairie dog, is in deep trouble. Its plight reflects a broader danger to an entire ecosystem: the shortgrass prairie that once covered vast stretches of the nation´s heartland.

The situation is so serious that the National Wildlife Federation has petitioned the federal government to issue emergency regulations listing the black-tailed prairie dog as a threatened species throughout its range, including land in Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming.

Besides addressing the decline of the prairie dog itself, the petition aims to harness the power of the Endangered Species Act to restore western shortgrass prairie habitats on which the prairie dog and scores of other species depend.

Because other animals make use of their burrows and because they are an important source of food for predators, black-tailed prairie dogs are linked to the well-being of many other species, including the swift fox, mountain plover, ferruginous hawk and burrowing owl. They are also essential to the survival of the black-footed ferret, an endangered species which has been the focus of a major recovery effort.

"This is not just about one species," says NWF Senior Wildlife Biologist Sterling Miller. "If we don´t help the prairie dogs, we can´t save the ferret, and it´s just a matter of time until other species are in trouble, too."

The Federation recognizes that its petition will be highly controversial among developers, ranchers and others who fear possible restrictions on use of public or private land. It is contacting governors of affected states, wildlife agencies and landowners´ groups in hopes of shaping recovery plans that meet the needs of both wildlife and local people.

"This is the best possible use of the Endangered Species Act," says NWF President Mark Van Putten. "If we all work together to make common-sense changes now, we can head off real problems later." Van Putten noted that without immediate action the black-tailed prairie dog´s eventual decline to endangered status would mean far greater restrictions and economic costs.

"Anyone who tries to turn this into a political football by stirring up fear and opposition is not looking out for the long-term welfare of this ecosystem or the people who depend on it," he added.

Although the black-tailed prairie dog is still a common sight in many parts of the West, development and farming have reduced its habitat by 99 percent. Its numbers have been further diminished by disease, intentional poisoning and unregulated shooting. Having once ranged across 100 to 250 million acres of grasslands, the animals are now scattered across an estimated 700,000 to 800,000 acres of rapidly disappearing habitat, much of it in fragmented parcels too small to sustain viable populations.

Because of the isolation of the remaining colonies, many experts believe black-tailed prairie dogs would not be able to repopulate areas that are affected by diseases, such as a flea-borne plague that periodically causes dramatic die-offs. As a result, even relatively large populations are susceptible to local or even widespread extinction.

Saving the species and its habitat will require the elimination of a plethora of government policies. Many state and federal agencies, for example, encourage poisoning of prairie dogs to keep them from competing with cattle on grazing lands in spite of evidence that prairie dog colonies are not incompatible with cattle grazing and may well be beneficial.

"With a threatened designation, there´s plenty of flexibility in the Endangered Species Act to address the needs of economic growth and the concerns of local communities," Van Putten stresses.

Under the law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to respond to NWF´s petition. If the agency decides the petition has merit, but does not issue an emergency listing, it has one year to decide whether black-tailed prairie dogs should be protected.

For more information, see the "Saving Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs and Their Grassland Habitat" section of NWF´s web site.

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Great Lakes Water Diversion: Target of Coalition Suit

Allowing groundwater to be pumped from the Great Lakes Basin into the Mississippi River Basin would set a dangerous precedent that could affect the future health of the Great Lakes.

That´s the thrust of a lawsuit filed against the Army Corps of Engineers by a coalition of conservation groups, including NWF and two of its affiliates, the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and Michigan United Conservation Clubs. At issue is the agency´s interpretation of a federal law that could allow owners of a proposed copper and zinc mine in northern Wisconsin to pump up to 1.7 million gallons of groundwater per day through a 38-mile-long pipe into the Wisconsin River, a tributary of the Mississippi.

Groundwater in the vicinity of the mine would naturally flow into the nearby Wolf River, which drains into the Lake Michigan basin. But the company claims it could not meet the discharge requirements to protect water quality in the Wolf, which is a state-designated Outstanding Resource Water and a National Wild and Scenic River.

The conservation groups argue that the proposed diversion could lower water levels in Lake Michigan, destroy wetlands and fish habitat in the lake´s tributaries and pollute the Wisconsin River with heavy metals. They also fear it would pave the way for other industries and municipalities to drain vast quantities of water from the Great Lakes.

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Courts Uphold Safeguards Against Coal-Mining Abuses

Who could oppose rules mandating that mining companies replace homes that collapse because of underground coal mines? Who could favor giving mining permits to companies that have failed to pay fines for mining violations elsewhere?

The coal-mining industry could and did, in federal district court in Washington, D.C., not long ago. But in a major victory for NWF and the Interior Department, judges in two separate cases soundly rejected industry arguments and upheld key regulations that protect people, homes and the environment from coal-mining abuses.

In one case, Judge William Bryant ruled that mining companies must indeed repair or replace homes and domestic water supplies damaged by mine collapses. In the second case, Judge Aubrey Robinson, Jr., upheld rules preventing coal companies that have violated the law in the past from receiving new mining permits, either directly or through related companies.

"Coal mining has a direct impact on the homes, water supplies and personal health of thousands of coalfield citizens," says Glenn Sugameli, NWF counsel.

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NWF, SmartWood Certify Vermont Family Forests

A group of 31 Vermonters who own an average of 200 acres each represent the first small-landowner cooperative certified for exemplary forest management by NWF and the Rainforest Alliance´s SmartWood program in New England.

Allied in an organization known as Vermont Family Forests (VFF), the owners are dedicated to practicing sustainable forestry, maintaining wildlife habitat and protecting water quality. VFF sponsors workshops and training programs to help private landowners become more knowledgeable forest stewards.

Members of the alliance range from a furniture maker with 17 acres to 1,400-acre Shelburne Farms, a nonprofit organization known nationally for its conservation education program and quality products. Altogether, they own 6,500 acres, about 72 percent of which is forest.

"SmartWood certification supports these landowners in their good work and over the long term may bring them economic benefit by identifying their products as coming from well-managed forests," says Mark Lorenzo, Northern Forest project manager in NWF´s Northeast Field Office.

For more information on the SmartWood program, contact Project Coordinator Alan Calfee or Project Assistant Keith Smith at P.O. Box 1876, Manchester Center, Vermont 05255. Phone: 802-362-1629.

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Edwards Dam Removal a First in United States

It´s official: Within a year the Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River at Augusta, Maine, will be history.

A recent agreement signed by federal, state, municipal and private officials and a coalition of conservation organizations, including NWF´s affiliate, the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), cleared the way for removal of the wood and rock structure, which has blocked 17 miles of fish-spawning habitat for 160 years.

If all goes as planned according to this agreement, the Edwards Dam will also go down in history as the first intact, operating U.S. dam purposely removed to restore local fisheries.

Last year, NRCM and other members of the Kennebec Coalition persuaded the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which licenses hydroelectric dams, to reverse an earlier decision and recommend removal of the dam.

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Vermont, NWF Act To Curb Mercury Pollution

When a federal study showed that at least half the mercury pollution in the Northeast came not from faraway power plants but from the region itself, the people of Vermont took action.

After strong lobbying from one of NWF´s affiliates, the Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC), the state legislature passed a tough law to keep mercury-containing products out of municipal waste incinerators and landfills. The measure is one of only two such laws in the country (the other is in Minnesota) to require manufacturers of such products as fluorescent light bulbs, batteries, switches and thermometers to label them so they can be collected separately and kept out of the solid-waste stream.

At the urging of NWF and VNRC, Vermont Governor Howard Dean also persuaded his colleagues in six other northeastern states and five Canadian provinces to commit to a 50-percent reduction in mercury emissions by 2003.

For its part, NWF´s Northeast Field Office has launched a year-long program to educate 300 dentists in the Lake Champlain Basin about mercury-pollution prevention. NWF is distributing information explaining how dentists can reduce mercury in wastewater by installing sink traps to capture the mercury amalgam used in fillings and by recycling the amalgam waste instead of disposing of it down the drain.

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Iowa Hatches First Wild Trumpeters in This Century

Iowa conservationists are celebrating the hatching of three trumpeter swan cygnets on a farm pond in Dubuque County, the first documented hatches among wild trumpeters in the state in 115 years.

The hatches are a direct result of a reintroduction program that has released more than 140 captive-bred trumpeters in Iowa during the past five years.

One of NWF´s affiliates, the Iowa Wildlife Federation, administers and helps raise funds for the Trumpeter Swan Trust Fund, made possible by a $140,000 donation in memory of David A. and Robert Luglan Sampson of Webster City, Iowa. The fund, which now totals $175,000, enables the state to maintain habitat and purchase swans to broaden the genetic diversity of trumpeters in Iowa. "The [Iowa Wildlife] Federation has done a terrific job for us and has saved the state thousands of dollars in administrative costs," says Ron Andrews, trumpeter swan restoration coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

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NWF Program Puts Focus on Wildlife, Climate Change

From polar bears to coral, the world´s wildlife is at risk from global warming that threatens to disrupt regional temperatures and precipitation patterns, raise sea levels and increase storm activity.

Already there are troubling signs: Glaciers are melting; the Arctic ice pack on which polar bears and their prey depend may be shrinking; and coral reefs are dying off at unprecedented rates. In the United States, warmer temperatures threaten to dry up many of the Midwest´s prairie potholes, destroying habitat for hundreds of thousands of migrating ducks and geese.

As part of its new Climate Change and Wildlife Program, NWF is cosponsoring a public conference on the impact of global warming on the world´s ecosystems, to be held at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., on October 7-8.

NWF launched the climate program to help people understand the consequences of global warming and take action to ensure that the United States does its part to reverse the trend. According to Patty Glick, coordinator of the Climate Change and Wildlife Program at NWF, the first order of business is to urge Congress to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that commits industrialized nations to binding reductions in greenhouse emissions over the next decade. These gases include carbon dioxide, methane and other gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels that, like a greenhouse, trap the sun´s heat to warm the Earth.

In the next two years, NWF also plans to sponsor scientific research on wildlife impacts and develop educational materials for the World Wide Web, television and video programs, an interactive CD-ROM computer game and a "what you can do" packet to educate citizens about the issue.  

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Busy TV Season Ahead for NWF Wildlife Shows

Birds, bison and beautiful nature photography are among the highlights of the newest NWF programs slated to air this fall. Watch for:

  • "Nature´s Best Photography" , a 13-part series premiering October 6 at 9 p.m. eastern time on the Outdoor Life Network. It explores the beauty and diversity of the natural world through the eyes of some of the world´s finest nature photographers.

  • "BirdWatch" , a 13-part series that will air on most PBS stations starting in early October on Saturdays at 6 p.m. and on Thursdays at 12:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. Check local listings for the premiere date in your area. Cohosted by Craig Tufts, NWF´s chief naturalist, this magazine-format program covers everything you ever wanted to know about birding.

  • "Birding for Kids," a TV special soon to be available on home video, is already airing on PBS stations in some viewing areas. It introduces young people to the fun of birdwatching and shows them how to attract birds to their backyards.

  • "American Buffalo: Spirit of a Nation," premiering November 1 on PBS as part of the Nature series. This film chronicles the comeback of the buffalo on the Great Plains and the reintroduction of these magnificent animals to Native American tribal lands.

"Underdogs," premiering November 15 at 9 p.m. eastern time on the TBS Superstation. This program introduces viewers to the wonderful world of prairie dogs and the grasslands on which they depend.

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Affiliate Logs Win for Pennsylvania Anglers, Boaters

Pennsylvanians can continue to count access to their favorite fishing grounds among their inalienable rights, thanks to a legal victory by the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen´s Clubs (PFSC), one of NWF´s oldest and largest affiliates.

Luzerne County Judge Ann Lukota ruled that the state´s navigable rivers belong to the public and access to them cannot be restricted, regardless of who owns the riverbank property.

The case stemmed from a dispute between fisherman John Andrejewski and the Lehigh Falls Fishing Club which claimed it had the right to limit access along 1.7 miles of the Lehigh River to its members and guests. Determined to safeguard the rights of anglers and boaters, PFSC pursued the court case on Andrejewski´s behalf for the past two years.

Although the case depleted PFSC´s legal fund, President Ray Martin pledged that "the Federation´s commitment to defending individuals´ rights to public access will continue. We believe such important issues are well worth the expense and effort."

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