The Action Report: October/November 2001

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

  • Phyllis McIntosh
  • Oct 01, 2001
Prairie Dog Crusade Prompts Change for Nation's Grasslands 
Three years after the National Wildlife Federation petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list the black-tailed prairie dog as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, there is clear evidence that the process has dramatically changed the way many Americans regard prairie dogs.

Responding to NWF's petition, FWS declared in 2000 that the species "warranted" protection but that listing was "precluded" at that time because of limited resources and an abundance of other candidates for listing.

"State agencies, federal land managers and individuals saw that this really was a species and an entire ecosystem in jeopardy," says Jamie Rappaport Clark, NWF senior vice president for conservation, who as former head of FWS was on the receiving end of NWF's petition in 1998. "They realized they needed to do something about the situation themselves or be forced to do something by law."

There has been some significant progress in the last three years, including:

All states within the historic range of the black-tailed prairie dog have started working on conservation plans to safeguard the species.

FWS, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service have declared a moratorium on poisoning of the species on their lands.

Several states have modified the prairie dog's "pest" status to recognize its wildlife value.

A new federal grasslands management plan calls for conserving and restoring wildlife and habitat and also reflects the new attitude of managing grasslands for all citizens instead of special interests, says NWF counsel Kim Graber, who coauthored NWF's prairie dog petition.

Graber notes that NWF and its state affiliates are working with state agencies and tribal organizations to develop management plans that will balance the needs of prairie dogs and the people who share the animals' grasslands habitat.

NWF Targets Habitat-Destroying Sprawl 
Through a series of conferences around the country, NWF and several of its state affiliates are rallying citizens to take action against--and promote alternatives to--the sprawl that threatens wildlife habitat and quality of life for people.

A California symposium focused on how unchecked growth could lead to the extinction of many of the state's threatened and endangered species, while a New England workshop explored how the proliferation of roads, parking lots and buildings contributes to polluted storm-water run-off. A third conference, scheduled for October 5-6 in Seattle, will look at the impact of unfettered development on salmon and other wildlife in the Pacific Northwest.

These events are part of NWF's Smart Growth and Wildlife campaign, which is working to promote the revitalization of older neighborhoods and the development of transit-oriented areas that preserve open spaces and watersheds, and which require less dependence on automobiles.

NWF also is working for passage of smart-growth legislation now before Congress, including a bill that would give first priority to downtown business areas when federal agencies seek to relocate.

In addition, NWF is supporting a bill that would provide federal grants to aid states in reforming outdated planning statutes, and is gearing up to press for smart-growth provisions in a major, new federal transportation bill.

Learn more about the Smart Growth and Wildlife campaign, call Caron Whitaker at 202-797-6608. For details about the upcoming Seattle conference, call Barbara Wilson at 206-285-8707.

Americans Want Smart Growth 
Americans overwhelmingly want an end to sprawl, according to a poll by Smart Growth America, a coalition of citizens groups of which NWF is a leading member. Among those responding, the results show:

83 percent support establishing green spaces that are off-limits to development

81 percent favor priority funding to maintain services in existing areas rather than encourage new development

81 percent support tax credits and low-interest loans to revitalize faltering cities and communities

77 percent want to see tax dollars used to buy land for parks and open space and to protect wildlife

77 percent favor using transportation funds for pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods rather than new highways; 60 percent favor improved public transit over new roads.

NWF Assails Decision To Shelve Grizzly Recovery 
In her first major wildlife decision since assuming office, Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced she is abandoning efforts to reintroduce grizzly bears to the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness area of Idaho and Montana.

The planned reintroduction of five bears a year would have been the first wildlife recovery effort under the direction of a local citizens committee.

The Citizens Management Plan, negotiated by NWF, Defenders of Wildlife and representatives of the region's timber workers and timber industry, was considered one of the most innovative wildlife recovery efforts ever devised. It was approved last year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after years of study and public comment.

"The administration has rejected a golden opportunity to deliver on its promise to engage residents in making species recovery efforts work for wildlife and people," says Jamie Rappaport Clark, NWF's senior vice president for conservation and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The decision sets a dangerous precedent by vetoing a major conservation initiative in a way that undermines the purpose of the Endangered Species Act."

NWF has played a key role in generating a deluge of public comments opposing the decision and has pledged to continue advocating this approach to grizzly reintroduction.

Grass-Roots Effort Ends in Victory For Texas Water 
Responding to a ground swell of public opinion, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has overturned a decision by Texas regulators that would have lowered water-quality standards for the state's largest reservoir.

The change in standards would have allowed a paper mill to continue discharging high levels of pollutants into Lake Sam Rayburn, one of the best bass fishing lakes in the nation and site of a future drinking-water supply.

NWF and one of its state affiliates, the Texas Committee on Natural Resources, helped mobilize conservationists, anglers and business owners. "This powerful coalition sent EPA more than 2,500 letters and postcards opposing the downgrade," reports Dave Moldal, NWF regional organizer.

Alaska First State To Regulate Cruise Ship Pollution 
Alaska has enacted the first state law in the country to regulate cruise ship pollution--a move strongly advocated by NWF.

The law, which supplements federal regulations, requires cruise ships to register with the state, maintain pollution records and sample their discharges at least twice a year. It also gives the state access to vessels for additional sampling and provides the state with a per passenger fee to cover administration of the enforcement program.

NWF and other conservation organizations worked with the governor's office, state agencies and key state legislators to help ensure passage of the legislation. As part of the Prince William Sound Alliance, NWF will continue to seek a "no discharge zone" for the sound.

New England States Get Poor Grades On Mercury Pollution 
Overall, the six New England states rate only a C- for their efforts to carry out a 1998 pledge to virtually eliminate the release of mercury into the environment, according to a report from the New England Zero Mercury Campaign.

NWF and three of its state affiliates--the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the New Hampshire Wildlife Federation and the Vermont Natural Resources Council--are participating in the campaign.

The report praises the states for controlling emissions from municipal and medical waste incinerators. But it also says they need to take more aggressive action to phase out mercury in consumer products, reduce coal burning at power plants and prevent mercury used in dental offices from contaminating water.

Activist Sparks Community Habitat Project 
Tukwila, Washington, a town of 15,000 located about ten minutes from downtown Seattle, is known mainly for its shopping malls and its location at the crossroads of two major interstate highways. But thanks to a determined newcomer, it is about to become the first NWF-certified Community Wildlife HabitatTM site in the Pacific Northwest.

"One of the things that attracted us to Tukwila was the large stretches of undeveloped land in the midst of all the industry and shopping centers. I wanted to find a way to keep wildlife a part of the community," says Michelle Roedell, an avid birder who moved to the town with her family three and a half years ago.

After some research, she discovered that NWF's Community Wildlife Habitat program just might be the answer. She presented her idea to the head of Tukwila's Parks and Recreation Department. Impressed, he helped her organize a special town meeting to discuss the idea. "The turnout and interest were tremendous," she recalls. In just two years, the town is well on its way to certifying 250 individual Backyard Wildlife HabitatTM sites (the long-term goal is 500), all five schools are actively working on Schoolyard Habitats® sites and 100 businesses have developed habitats or supported the program.

"Michelle's real strength is that she has quietly motivated and empowered a lot of other people to get involved with this program," says Gretchen Muller, education assistant in NWF's Seattle office.

In return for her efforts, Roedell says that she was rewarded with the discovery of a "real sense of community that exists here and the pride that people take in Tukwila becoming the first town in Washington to be certified as a Community Wildlife Habitat site."

Maine Ads Urge Forest Certification 
Frustrated that Maine's timber industry has defeated one forest protection measure after another, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, an NWF affiliate, has launched an ad campaign to pressure companies to adopt sustainable forestry practices.

Ads that have run repeatedly in three of the state's largest newspapers praise two major timber companies whose lands have been certified as well-managed by the independent Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and challenge ten others to work toward certification.

NWF has partnered with the FSC-accredited SmartWood program to bring certification to the Northeast. To qualify for certification, landowners must not harvest trees faster than new ones grow and must ensure that timber practices do not harm wildlife and water quality.

The council's campaign includes a petition drive to allow Maine residents to express their concern about the state's forests.

Adopt-a-Lek Project Aids Sage Grouse 
It's tough work, arising before dawn in the early spring to travel to remote areas in search of leks, or communal breeding grounds, where male sage grouse strut their stuff to attract females. But it's a labor of love for some 40 volunteers who have signed on to an Adopt-a-Lek project sponsored by NWF and its state affiliates in Montana, Nevada and Wyoming.

The volunteers, who range from kids to retirees, count the males present at a lek--an important gauge of population trends--and measure the quantity and quality of sagebrush cover and the understory grasses that are critical to successful nesting. The data they collect will assist the states in developing and implementing recovery programs for sage grouse, which have declined dramatically over much of their range.

Oregonians Restore Rare Butterfly Habitat 
With a grant from NWF's Keep the Wild AliveTM Species Recovery Fund, a Eugene, Oregon, group is working to restore native plants on which the endangered Fender's blue butterfly depends.

Working with local students, ecologists and staff from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Willamette Resources and Educational Network is planting about 100 Kincaid's lupines, the threatened host plants for Fender's blue caterpillars, and 200 nectar plants for the adult butterflies. The group also is working to remove the nonnative Himalayan blackberry, which is crowding out the lupines and other native wildflowers.

Found only in Oregon's Willamette Valley, the one-inch butterfly was thought to be extinct for more than 50 years until an Oregon lepidopterist rediscovered it in 1989. Only about 3,000 are thought to exist in the wild. The butterfly's survival is severely threatened by urban sprawl, which has destroyed much of the upland prairie where it lives.

Staten Island School Adopts Nearby Pond 
As part of its NWF-certified Schoolyard Habitats® project, P.S. 56 in Staten Island, New York, has made an adjacent pond a focal point for environmental education, both for students and the community at large.

Led by fourth grade teacher Charles Perry, now retired, students have helped with pond cleanups, studied wildlife that congregates there, sampled water quality and researched the history of the pond, once a gathering place for Native Americans. All 120 fourth graders participated in a music and dance program celebrating Lenape Indian traditions, and many of the children contributed pictographs for a mosaic in the school auditorium.

Students and teachers have enhanced the wooded pond setting by planting native trees and bushes and a butterfly garden on the grounds of their three-year-old school.

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