The Action Report: February/March 2004

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

  • NWF Staff
  • Feb 01, 2004
Restoring Wolves in the Northeast 
The Bush administration’s plan to downlist wolves from endangered to threatened throughout the United States, except in the Southwest, has been touted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a testament to the success of their efforts to help wolves recover. But conservationists say the Wolf Reclassification Rule falls short of allowing the species to recover in a significant part of its historic range.

“In doing this, the administration has focused solely on the three percent of the range where we have wolf success stories—the Northern Rockies and the Great Lakes,” says John Kostyack, NWF’s senior counsel for wildlife conservation and lead representative in the Federation’s pending lawsuit, which charges the wolf rule violates the Endangered Species Act. “They are ignoring the fact that additional populations in places such as the Northeast are necessary to achieve long-term viability for the species. “This plan is illegal and contrary to what scientific experts recommend for wolf recovery.”

Millions of acres of habitat remain potentially available for wolf restoration. In the Northeast alone, 26 million acres of seemingly unoccupied but suitable habitat is chock full of the carnivore’s favorite foods: snowshoe hare, white-tailed deer, moose and beaver.

To return to the Northeast, the wolves need only hop the St. Lawrence River and traverse the 70 or so miles from Quebec to Maine. “When the river is frozen, it could be a walk in the park for wolves,” says Peggy Struhsacker, coordinator of NWF’s wolf recovery efforts in the Northeast. Reports of large canids traveling alone in the woods and a few wolves shot by hunters indicate the animals are already trickling down to Maine from Quebec. So the biologist and several hearty volunteers (see “On the Lookout for Maine’s Gray Ghost,” below) are combing the forest for clues—tracks, scat, fur—that could corroborate the wolf’s arrival.

Their work is akin to a group of crime scene investigators collecting evidence in a murder case. Only this would be a case of rebirth. “All we need is two wolves, a male and female, to meet and set up a territory,” says Struhsacker, “and we’ll have a breeding population, which—by law—the Fish and Wildlife Service will have to protect.” For more about NWF’s wolf efforts, see this section.

Your Contributions at Work 
The battles that NWF wins on the conservation frontlines are made possible by financial support from our members and donors as well as from private grants. NWF is engaged in dozens of initiatives across the nation, including:

The development of conservation-based water management strategies for the Great Lakes region with support from the Mott and Joyce Foundations. For more, see our regional section.
Workshops for landowners to learn about conservation opportunities provided by the Farm Bill with funding from the McKnight Foundation.
The training of hundreds of Frogwatch U.S.A. volunteers who are working to collect data that might help explain mysterious frog declines with a grant provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. For more, visit Frogwatch USA.
NWF Survey: Americans Want Action on Global Warming 
According to a nationwide poll commissioned by NWF, 79 percent of Americans believe the United States should curb its emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which are said to contribute to global warming.

Of the 1,200 Americans surveyed by Zogby International, 67 percent said they believe global warming could be addressed without harming the economy by requiring major industries to reduce emissions. Two-thirds of respondents also said they favored federal legislation that would set mandatory limits that hold industry accountable for reducing U.S. emissions to 2000 levels by 2010.

The Climate Stewardship Act, sponsored by Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, proposed such limits. But the bill lost by a vote of 55 to 43 last October. Nonetheless, the turnout was a victory for the environment, according to Jeremy Symons, NWF climate change and wildlife program manager. “The vote has changed the political climate and created momentum for U.S. action,” he says. “For the first time, the Senate has taken a vote on a concrete national action plan to begin solving global warming instead of just talking about it. The strong show of support from lawmakers from every region of the nation exceeded our expectations. The message from Americans that we must reduce the threat of global warming is getting through to the politicians.” Find out more.

A Clean Sweep for New York Industrial Sites 
NWF affiliate Environmental Advocates of New York (EANY) recently celebrated the passage of landmark state legislation that aims to clean up hundreds of New York brownfields—tracts of land developed for industrial purposes, polluted and left abandoned. Former EANY Executive Director Val Washington was recognized by the bill’s lead sponsor, Senator Carl Marcellino, for her tireless efforts in bringing environmental, community and legislative constituencies together to negotiate the final act. As much as $150 million in state tax credits will become available annually for developers who agree to clean up industrial sites in accordance with state standards and remove sources of groundwater pollution. An additional feature of the legislation will help local communities determine the future use of recovered brownfields. “It’s ironic that the state that gave us Love Canal is one of the last to enact a comprehensive brownfields program,” says EANY Communications Director Jeff Jones. “But this bill sets the highest cleanup standards of any program of its type in the nation.”

Vermont Stream Restoration Aids Trout Species 
After decades of mismanagement that left its banks crumbling and its trout populations plummeting, Vermont’s Riford Brook is finally receiving some help. This past fall, NWF and a coalition of public agencies and citizens’ groups completed the first phase of a project to restore Riford Brook, which flows into the White River and provides important spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and trout.

“Our job here was to create a ‘win-win’ solution to help landowners and fish,” says NWF Restoration Project Manager Kari Dolan. “We are solving major erosion problems and returning Riford Brook to its rightful place as one of the White River’s important wild trout streams.”

Colleges Show It’s Easy Being Green 
Each spring, NWF’s Campus Ecology® program gathers case studies for its Campus Environmental Yearbook in order to document and celebrate the conservation work being done at colleges and universities across the country and in Canada. Of the 58 campuses that submitted success stories last year, 13 were honored with NWF’s “Green Campus Recognition” award for exemplary work. The University of British Columbia, for instance, was recognized for upgrading the energy efficiency of its academic buildings, which will generate $2.5 million in savings annually. For more information about this project and others, visit Campus Ecology.

“Wild” New Video Brings Nature to Preschoolers 
NWF has teamed up with Sunwoo Entertainment, animator of the popular children’s show Rugrats, to coproduce its first nature education video for the preschool market, Wild Animal Baby.

Based on NWF’s award-winning magazine of the same name, the video was created by wildlife experts who are also parents of preschoolers. It’s designed to promote inquiry and discovery while encouraging interactive play.

“Developing engaging, educational videos for young children is a natural extension and perfect marriage of NWF’s expertise in connecting people of all ages with nature,” says Chris Palmer, president of National Wildlife Productions. Order yours today!.

Carolina Writer Wins Prize For Magazine Work 
The editors of National Wildlife have named freelance journalist T. Edward Nickens winner of the Trudy Farrand and John Strohm Magazine Writing Award, which is given by NWF each year for the best writing in National Wildlife magazine.

Nickens, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, was honored for “The Art of Helping Wildlife” [February/March 2003], an article about efforts to protect imperiled species on the nation’s wildlife refuges. As part of his research, Nickens traveled to Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he helped scientists monitor nesting leatherback sea turtles and guided hatchlings safely to sea.

Groups Sue to Halt Illegal Cattle Grazing 
In New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, trespassing cows are denuding grasslands, trampling stream banks and polluting waterways vital to the survival of endangered Gila trout and other wildlife. In response, NWF asked the New Mexico federal court, on behalf of six conservation groups, to stop the ongoing environmental destruction.

“The rancher has turned his livestock loose in defiance of a 1997 court order prohibiting his grazing without a permit,” says Tom Lustig, NWF senior staff attorney. “Sadly, in again pursuing his discredited claim that he owns private property in the national forest, the rancher is destroying the environment and turning wilderness into a stockyard.”

Conservation Heroes: On the Lookout for Maine’s Gray Ghost 
On a remote Maine logging road near the Quebec–New Hampshire border, Charlie Adkins hauls a carcass from his truck and drags it into the forest. Adkins, a 60-year-old retired state game warden, is on an urgent quest for NWF. With the carcass—a moose from a road kill—he hopes to lure a wolf. A remote camera is set up nearby. It has caught images of everything from people to curious raccoons. But no wolves, yet.

Of course, there aren’t supposed to be wolves in Maine—the animal was eradicated from the northeastern United States more than 100 years ago. But a few events have led many to believe that wolves are crossing over from Quebec in winter on a frozen St. Lawrence River. In 1993, for instance, a hunter killed a female wolf some 30 miles south of the U.S. border. Then, in 1996, a trapper killed a male that officials termed a “probable wolf.”

Recently, Adkins’ efforts have taken a more pressing tone. The Bush administration has proposed changing the status of wolves from endangered to threatened across the United States, except in the Southwest. The new ruling lumps the wolf population from the Great Lakes states, where wolves are recovering, with the Northeast, even though wolves haven’t even begun to make a comeback there. That means “if the Great Lakes wolves eventually get delisted, they’ll delist wolves in every other state,” says Peggy Struhsacker, coordinator of NWF’s wolf recovery efforts in New England.

Conservationists would like to see the Northeast categorized as a “distinct population segment,” but that’s hard to do without any evidence of wolves living there. And that’s what makes Adkins’ volunteer efforts so important. If wolves are found, and are known to be breeding, then the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would need to enact a recovery plan.

“If anybody’s going to find a wolf first, it’s going to be Charlie,” says Struhsacker. “He’s our eyes and ears on the ground.”

Adkins is searching the forests along the Maine border for scat, for tracks and, of course, for the elusive gray ghost itself. On an average day he covers between 30 and 80 miles of old logging roads. He bags every pile of suspicious scat and mails it to Struhsacker, who then sends it to a lab for DNA testing. He also photographs every probable track. Three years ago, he took pictures of some amazingly large canid tracks and sent them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He has also begun calling for wolves with an electronic howl. “I don’t have the voice for howling. I’ve tried it a couple times when no one was listening,” he laughs. “I decided I better run a tape.” But he has yet to record so much as a squeak back.

Adkins admits it’s sometimes like looking for a needle in a haystack—a 400-square-mile one—but he’s not discouraged. He says, “All things deserve a place in the world.”

NWF Gives Eagles a Boost on Lake Champlain
NWF will soon begin work to help bald eagles make a comeback on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain. Eagles can sometimes be spotted soaring over the lake, but they haven’t bred there in years. This spring, NWF, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and Outreach for Earth Stewardship, plans to launch an eagle “hacking” program to help the birds get a better foothold in the region. Biologists will place captive-raised nestlings high above the lake in semi-open enclosures, where the eaglets will be fed until they are old enough to take flight. “Such programs have been instrumental in the recovery of bald eagles throughout the Northeast,” says NWF Wildlife Biologist Margaret Fowle. “This project will give eagles the boost they need to begin nesting on Lake Champlain again.”

Victory Scored for Vanishing Orcas 
In response to a petition spearheaded by NWF, NOAA Fisheries (formerly known as National Marine Fisheries Service) recently proposed to designate Prince William Sound’s most imperiled orcas a “depleted stock.” According to scientists, the animals, known as the AT1 population, represent a culturally and genetically distinct group. In 20 years, the population has declined from 22 individuals to eight. A number of suspected culprits include the Exxon Valdez oil spill, hazardous toxins in sound waters, noise pollution from boats and an 80 percent drop in the harbor seal population upon which the whales prey. “NOAA Fisheries’ proposal to list the AT1 orcas as a depleted stock is a crucial first step toward protecting the whales and the entire ecosystem from further harm,” says Pat Lavin, NWF’s Prince William Sound coordinator.

NWF Launches Battle to Protect Natomas Basin 
Charging that the development of thousands of acres in northern California’s Natomas Basin will further endanger already threatened species, NWF and a coalition of national and regional conservation groups are taking legal action against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. NWF charges the agency with illegally approving a plan for a housing development in the 53,000-acre basin that will leave state-threatened Swainson’s hawks and federally threatened giant garter snakes at risk of extirpation. “We’re not opposed to developing in this area,” says NWF senior counsel John Kostyack, “but we want to create some sort of wildlife preserve network that will allow these species to thrive and remain viable.”

Web Exclusive

Wolves in the Old Days of New England

NWF’s attempts on behalf of wolf recovery in Maine seek to restore a remnant of a once-extensive predator population. Prior to European settlement of the area we call New England, wolves ranged all across the region, sharing it with black bears and cougars. Colonist William Wood, writing in 1635, commented that wolves often harassed the bears, suggesting that “there would be more of them [bears] if it were not for the wolves, which devour them; a kennell of those ravening runnagadoes, setting on a poor single Beare, will teare him as a dogge will teare a Kid....”

Another early settler, Thomas Morton, in 1637 wrote that wolf skins were valued among New England Indians, especially the skin of a black wolf, considered a worthy present for a chief, or “prince,” as Morton called Indian leaders. He added, “When there ariseth any difference betweene prince, and prince, the prince that desires to be reconciled to his neighbouring prince does endeavour to purchase it, by sending him a black wolfes skinne for a present, and the acceptance of such a present is an assurance of reconciliation betweene them....” Among these Indians, a black wolf skin was worth 40 beaver skins.

Soon after English colonization began, deer—the wolf’s primary prey in New England—declined under the onslaught of gunfire and habitat loss. Wolves turned to livestock for food, and colonists responded by attempting to exterminate the wolf. In 1630, Massachusetts became the first colony to put a bounty on wolves. Other colonies quickly followed suit.

One memorable story from the colonial era illustrates the extremes to which colonist would go to kill wolves. On a winter night in 1739, a female wolf that left a distinctive track—she had lost the toes of one foot while tearing free from a trap—allegedly killed 75 sheep and goats belonging to Israel Putnam, who, in a few more decades, would become a hero of the American Revolution when he commanded troops at Bunker Hill. But in 1739 he was only 21 years old, a neophyte farmer who had recently moved from Salem, Massachusetts, to settle near Pomfret, Connecticut, about 35 miles northeast of Hartford. When he finished counting his sheep after the night of the wolf, he joined with five neighbors in a plan to destroy the she wolf by hunting her in relay teams of two, giving her no rest.

Off they went on horseback, across hill and snowy dale, and the following morning trapped the wolf in a den. Putman and the others tried to smoke her out, but no dice. They sent dogs in after her, but the dogs came back badly wounded and would not again enter the den. Putnam asked one of his slaves to go into the den and shoot the wolf, but the slave demurred. Whereupon Putnam removed coat and vest, lit a birch-bark torch, and himself slithered into the 2-foot opening, a rope tied around his feet so his companions could pull him out at a given signal.

Down he went, down and down, fully 25 feet into darkness lit only by the smoking torch. And then he saw the wolf at bay. She snarled, he kicked his feet, and his buddies pulled him out so quickly that his shirt was pulled off over his head.

Once Putnam had rearranged his clothes and loaded a gun with nine balls of buckshot, he went in again. This time, when the wolf growled, he fired. Immediately, his friends hauled him out again, to find Putnam stunned by the gunfire and choking on smoke.

When both the smoke and Putnam’s head had cleared, he went back into the den, this time to find the wolf motionless. He touched his torch to her nose. When she did not respond, he grabbed her ears, kicked at the rope around his feet and was dragged out for the last time, dead wolf in tow. His friends cheered.

This exploit made Israel Putnam a local hero. For years afterward, schoolchildren sang about Putnam and the she wolf.

But even as early as 1739, the New England wolf was on its way out. By the close of the 18th century, wolves were much reduced, although they remained fairly common in southern Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire and in the western mountains of Massachusetts. A century later, the wolf had ebbed away from New England as a viable species. By the 1930s, federal biologists considered the wolf extinct throughout New England.

By Roger Di Silvestro

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