Action Report: October/November 2005

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

  • NWF Staff
  • Oct 01, 2005
Fighting Invaders on Military Lands 
Nonnative species are threatening Department of Defense facilities

Once a year for the last two decades, U.S. Marines have steered their amphibious assault vehicles directly into the Nu’upia Ponds on the island of Oahu. Located on sprawling Marine Corps Base Hawai‘i, the 482-acre wetlands are infested with pickleweed, an invasive plant native to Argentina that threatens to choke off the ponds and destroy vital habitat for the endangered Hawaiian stilt.

Using their 26-ton vehicles, the Marines flatten the pickleweed and create "moat and island" terrain that the stilts need for nesting and feeding. The exercise, which also provides the Marines with an important opportunity to practice amphibious assault, has paid off. In the past 22 years, the number of stilts inhabiting the base has increased from 60 to 160.

The fight to control pickleweed at Marine Corps Base Hawai‘i is one of the case studies highlighted in a new National Wildlife Federation report that examines the impacts of invasive species on military facilities—and the endangered and threatened species that live on those facilities—all across the country. Created in partnership with the Marine Corps, on behalf of the Department of Defense (DoD), Under Seige: Invasive Species on Military Lands details how invasives can escalate operation costs by rendering training lands useless, altering hydrologic conditions and destroying habitat, thereby reducing ecosystem health.

"Invasive species are impeding military readiness in a time of war," says NWF legislative representative Corry Westbrook, coauthor of the report. "They are either preventing or altering training activities directly, or indirectly impacting training by degrading the overall sustainability of the natural resources on military installations." They also are taking a toll on the more than 300 federally listed species that inhabit the millions of acres of lands and waters managed by DoD (see "Bases Loaded").

Nonnative plants and animals, the report points out, are the second leading cause of native species’ decline in this country after habitat loss.

"Although encouraging initiatives are being undertaken to control invasives on military lands," says Westbrook, "DoD must address this problem on a more ambitious scale. Leaders of military installations must support their natural resource managers’ efforts to create effective approaches to prevention and control. Likewise, Congress must enact comprehensive legislation to address this growing problem."

Currently, two bills are pending in Congress that, while not comprehensive, would offer some important solutions. To learn more about them and to read the new report, visit our News and Views site.

Curbing Mercury Pollution
NWF affiliates recently made progress toward reducing mercury pollution in consumer products. Environmental Advocates of New York successfully advocated for passage of state legislation to phase out the sale of mercury thermostats, while Environment Council of Rhode Island helped secure passage of a Rhode Island law requiring auto manufacturers to pay for removal of mercury switches in cars.

Take Action 
Minimize the threat of mercury in your life by learning how to properly dispose of products that contain the neurotoxin and finding effective alternatives to them. Visit the Mercury and Wildlife site.

Fall Tips 
Gardening activities change with the seasons. For tips on harvesting seeds, planting trees and enticing birds to your backyard in autumn, visit our Backyard Wildlife Habitats - Seasonal tips site.

Lend a Hand 
Enjoy gardening? Working with kids? Are you a computer whiz? NWF offers dozens of regional volunteer opportunities to match your interests, skills and talents. See our Volunteer site.

Magazine Wins Top Honor 
"Clear typography, engaging activities and photos that deliver wild animals to homes throughout the country" are among the qualities praised by the Association of Educational Publishers (AEP) in naming Your Big Backyard® its Golden Lamp Award recipient for the best educational periodical of 2005. The NWF children’s magazine competed against several hundred publications to win the honor. Visit our Kid Zone site.

Taking a Stand for Public Lands 
When cattle were found illegally grazing in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest last year, the U.S. Forest Service hired wrangler Isaiah Baker to help round up the trespassing livestock. Hoping to interfere with the 2004 impoundment, Sherry Farr-Laney, co-owner of the cattle, filed a bogus criminal complaint against the hired hand in county court. Though Farr-Laney later dropped the charges, this past summer a federal judge ordered her to pay more than $6,000 for trying to impede the impoundment. "NWF represented Baker in the case to defend him, and citizens generally, from those who want to privatize public lands," says NWF counsel Tom Lustig. "We stood up against those trying to bully employees who work to protect the environment."

Wetlands Efforts Succeed in Ohio 
An intense campaign to safeguard wetlands in Ohio by a coalition of conservation groups, including NWF and its affiliate, the League of Ohio Sportsmen, paid off last summer when Governor Bill Taft vetoed a trio of provisions in the state budget bill. If included in the bill, the provisions would have significantly reduced wetlands protections throughout the state.

Protecting Our Health 
Lawsuit challenges rule on mercury emissions

NWF and several other conservation groups recently filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), challenging a new rule that establishes a so-called cap-and-trade system for reducing mercury emissions from power plants, which spew roughly 48 tons of mercury each year. The rule in question sets a maximum limit on how much pollution should be allowed, then lets companies trade within that limit.

"Under the rule, some coal-fired power plants could avoid making cuts, while others could profit by selling their unused allowances," says Olivia Campbell, NWF’s mercury campaign coordinator. "Instead of bringing about much-needed reductions, the cap-and-trade system merely transfers the health threat from one area to another—and wildlife and humans continue to pay the price."

Forty-five states currently have advisories against fish consumption due to mercury contamination of lakes and other water bodies. Every year an estimated 630,000 babies are born in America with unsafe levels of mercury in their blood.

At this writing, the U.S. Senate was expected to take up a measure that would overturn the flawed EPA rule. "Current and future generations," says Campbell, "deserve emissions standards that protect public health and the environment." To learn more, see our Mercury and Wildlife site.

Affiliates in Action: Taking Aim at Hunger 
Conservation groups urge sportsmen to share the harvest

While white-tailed deer populations in many places are increasing too rapidly for their habitat to sustain them, a number of NWF affiliates are supporting programs that encourage hunters to feed the hungry by donating venison to area food banks. The Arkansas Wildlife Federation and the Conservation Federation of Missouri, for example, help administer programs in their states, coordinating funding and other resources. Last year, Missouri’s Share the Harvest program collected a record 275,374 pounds of venison—enough food for roughly a million meals. Meanwhile, Michigan United Conservation Clubs is advocating for passage of legislation that would allow Michigan residents who purchase hunting and fishing licenses to make voluntary contributions to their state program. Other NWF affiliates are involved in similar efforts; contact your state affiliate to find out about these and other programs.

Towers of Trouble for Hawaiian Birds 
Conservationists sue FCC for its failure to communicate

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) isn’t doing what it should to protect native Hawaiian birds from fatal collisions with communication towers on Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii, say a trio of conservation groups.

The Endangered Species Act requires the FCC to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when towers may affect federally listed species—in this case, the threatened Newell’s shearwater and the endangered Hawaiian petrel. But the agency has not yet done so, according to a lawsuit filed July 27 by the American Bird Conservancy, Forest Conservation Council and Conservation Council for Hawai‘i (CCH), an NWF affiliate.

"Building towers hundreds of feet high, near populations of endangered birds, without any environmental review, when scientists know that millions of birds collide with towers like these across the country, is unacceptable," says Marjorie Ziegler, CCH executive director.

During breeding season, shearwaters and petrels are active at night, flying out from their inland burrows before sunrise to forage in the ocean and returning after sunset. The lawsuit says towers pose "a substantial risk of collision and death to these birds, particularly young fledglings," because the night fliers can’t easily see the structures and guy wires, or they may become disoriented by utility lights.

"We’re not saying ‘no towers,’" says Ziegler. "We’re saying consult, to find ways to minimize the impact on birds."

The groups list reducing tower height, eliminating guy wires and using white strobe lights instead of red pulsating lights among the potential life-saving modifications.

Massachusetts Enrolls 
NWF campus program welcomes its first state

As part if its efforts to minimize the environmental impacts of government operations and activities, Massachusetts recently enrolled all 29 of its public colleges and universities in NWF’s Campus Ecology program. "This is the first time a whole state enrolled, so this is an important milestone for us," says Julian Keniry, director of campus and community leadership. "We’ll be working with the State Sustainability Program to help the campuses achieve conservation objectives that address global warming and other environmental issues, improve public health and create new jobs." Learn more at our Campus Solutions site.

A Natural Team Helps Transform a Community
Couple works together to turn their corner of Idaho into a haven for wildlife

If enthusiasm for wildlife is infectious, the entire state of Idaho may be headed for an epidemic—thanks, in large part, to Paul and Susie Headlee. The couple joined NWF several years ago as entry-level members. Today, they are trained volunteer NWF Habitat Stewards who helped guide their community through the rigorous process of becoming the seventh certified Community Wildlife Habitat in the country. And it all started with one backyard.

The Headlees were introduced to NWF by Michael Wiegand, a close friend and the owner of a landscaping business that specializes in wildlife-friendly native plants. Soon after they joined the Federation, the Headlees got their yard certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat™ site. "I put the sign up next to our porch and people started asking me what it was about," says Susie. Some people would have offered curious neighbors the NWF website address and been done with it. Not so the Headlees. Soon, they were offering backyard habitat workshops to their neighbors in Hidden Springs, a planned community located ten miles northwest of Boise, the state capital. Nearly 10 percent of the houses in the community are now certified, and more are being added all the time.

The Headlees have always been nature lovers; many of their early dates involved hiking. "I grew up a few hundred yards from the Minnesota River—that was my playground," says Paul, whose background is in wildlife biology and who now works for the Idaho legislature. But it took the Backyard Wildlife Habitat program to create a preservationist tag team.

"Paul is the quiet one with the science background and Susie is the go-getter. They make a great team," says Craig Tufts, director of NWF’s citizen scientist programs. Tufts visited the Headlees for Hidden Springs’ habitat certification ceremony earlier this year and was impressed by their ability to look beyond their own backyard.

The Headlees urged Hidden Springs’ developer to hire an environmental coordinator to oversee the community’s 800 acres of open space. The developer agreed to use funds from "transfer fees"—a one-quarter percent charge tacked onto every lot or house sold within Hidden Springs—to pay for the coordinator, as well as for education and preservation programs.

"This has made the community more cohesive," says Susie. Since the Headlees live in a development that is still growing—plans call for 1,000 houses by the end of construction—they find that the workshops and community meetings offer an opening to incorporate new people into the fabric of the neighborhood.

Now that Hidden Springs’ community habitat is well underway, the Headlees are beginning to look further from home. They have already helped create a butterfly garden at a nearby hospital and a wildlife habitat at the U.S. Federal Building in Boise, where Susie works as an administrative officer. Having seen what their energy can do for one small community, they’re eager to see what it can do for a whole region. "I do think it’s infectious. Someone like me, I’m not a wildlife biologist. I just want to talk about birds and toads," says Susie. "With my husband’s background and my enthusiasm—we are truly a team."

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