Posted on 27 June 2012.
The news from Congress has been pretty grim lately for wildlife, but our persistence has paid off with at least one major victory. Last week, the U.S. Senate approved a Farm Bill amendment that reinstates vital protections for wetlands and highly erodible lands from conversion to crops.
It may not sound like a big deal, but the provision (known as “conservation compliance”) prevents farm subsidy recipients from destroying sensitive habitat needed to sustain native plants and animals. Without this measure, row crops could stretch for miles, end-to-end, without the critical buffers around streams, river banks and delicate outcroppings that offer refuge for wildlife.
Conservation compliance was first introduced as part of the 1985 Farm Bill, requiring any farmer participating in certain subsidy programs to develop and comply with an approved conservation plan. Unfortunately, the 1996 Farm Bill altered the provision, and since then conservation compliance has not been tied to crop insurance subsidies.
Thanks to an amendment offered by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) to the current Farm Bill, conservation compliance will once again be tied to crop subsidies. In other words, any producers receiving tax-payer subsidized crop insurance will become ineligible for these subsidies if they convert highly-erodible land or wetlands to crops. Producers will also have to develop and comply with an approved conservation plan.
Because crop insurance is such a popular program for farmers, this one seemingly small change will have far-reaching impacts. If the amendment is included in the final bill endorsed by the House of Representatives, it will ensure that wildlife habitat remains on up to 250 million acres of farmland – the same acreage as all of the land under the control of the Bureau of Land Management.
Having conservation compliance helps create “shelter-belts” that support up to 90 species of breeding birds by allowing greater nest densities. Without these marginal habitats, literally millions of birds would not be able to survive throughout America’s vast farm landscapes. They also provide buffers that improve water quality by preventing erosion and reducing pollution from pesticides and fertilizer.
We’ll be working hard when the Farm Bill is taken up by the House later this year to make sure this provision is included. We’ll also be fighting to increase the overall funding for wildlife conservation, habitat restoration and projects to protect and improve water quality, all of which were cut by 25 percent in the Senate.
It’s going to be an uphill battle, but our nation’s wildlife is well worth fighting for.
Posted in Birds, Congress, Features, Habitat Conservation
Posted on 29 May 2012.
It’s been more than two years since the BP oil spill that spewed 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, but not all the damage has yet been done.
According to the latest AP report, the lingering effects are still taking a toll on fishermen in the Gulf, who are seeing much smaller catches in some areas. In the Barataria estuary, for example, the shrimp haul for last fall was down nearly 40 percent while the crab harvest was down nearly 30 percent.
High seafood prices have helped compensate for the shortfall to some extent, and some are blaming high water in the Mississippi River and drought in Texas in addition to residual oil. But it’s clear that we haven’t seen the last of the devastation from the spill.
It’s vital that we keep the BP disaster in mind, especially now that the Obama administration has agreed to let Shell drill in the Arctic this summer. Polar bears, whales and countless other species could be at serious risk from yet another oil spill that could be even more deadly than the BP spill in the Gulf.
See how Defenders is working to protect wildlife and natural habitats from the dangers of offshore drilling.
Help support our work to protect sea turtles and other wildlife. Text GULF to 90999 to make a $10 donation. (Message and Data Rates may apply. Mgive.com/t)
Posted in Alaska, Birds, Features, In the News, Marine Animals, Offshore Drilling, Southeast
Posted on 22 May 2012.
Defenders’ members and supporters submitted more than 40,000 public comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week, voicing opposition to a proposed land swap and road through the ecological heart of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
It’s one of Alaska’s most diverse refuges, with lagoons, tundra and stunning mountain peaks. This incredible habitat is home to brown bears, wolverines, caribou and other wildlife.
Tens of thousands of waterfowl, seabirds and shorebirds rely on the Izembek Refuge for nesting and feeding. In fact, each fall the refuge shelters nearly the entire population of Pacific black brant and emperor geese.
But the community of King Cove (population 938) wants to build a road through federally protected Wilderness lands within the refuge that would put this wondrous place at risk.
In exchange for some $38 million in federal funding to modernize medical facilities and to develop a marine transportation system (including a $9-million hovercraft for emergency medical evacuation), community officials in 1998 had agreed to leave Izembek alone.
A land swap and road proposal threaten the Izembek Nation Wildlife Refuge.
Now the town is backtracking on its promise and vigorously lobbying federal officials and the Fish and Wildlife Service to approve the precedent-setting land swap that would clear the way for this unnecessary, destructive road.
Community representatives claim it would improve emergency access to a nearby airport in Cold Bay, Alaska, but experts estimate that it would take some two hours to reach the airport traveling by road versus approximately 20 minutes by hovercraft, which has successfully performed more than 30 evacuations since 2007.
While a final decision is likely to still be months off, it will be difficult for federal officials to ignore such widespread opposition to the proposal.
A huge thanks on behalf of Izembek’s wild ones goes out to all of you who spoke out against the road.
Posted in Alaska, Bears, Birds, Features, Habitat Conservation, Issues, Public Lands
Posted on 14 May 2012.
Izembek National Wildlife Refuge shelters tens of thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl, including the threatened Steller's eider.
Located on the tip of the Alaska Peninsula, Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is internationally recognized as an important wetland, protected as a wildlife refuge and designated as a Wilderness Area.
It’s one of Alaska’s most ecologically diverse refuges, with lagoons, tundra and stunning mountain peaks. This incredible habitat is home to brown bears, wolverines, caribou and other wildlife.
Tens of thousands of waterfowl, seabirds and shorebirds rely on the Izembek for nesting and feeding. In fact, each fall the refuge shelters nearly the entire population of Pacific black brant and emperor geese.
But federal officials are under pressure to move forward with a plan to build a road through the heart of this amazing place.
Please speak out now to urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service NOT to allow a road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
There are so many things wrong with the proposed road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
- It would slice through the ecological heart of this amazing place, devastating fragile habitat and the wildlife that lives there.
- It would cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
- It would also set a terrible precedent, threatening other refuges and Wilderness Areas.
- It is unnecessary—faster transportation alternatives already exist for the area.
The deadline for public comments is Friday, May 18th so please take action today.
Posted in Alaska, Bears, Birds, Features, Habitat Conservation, Public Lands, Take Action, Wolverine
Posted on 23 April 2012.
The wind energy project puts endangered California condors at risk.
Hoping to avoid avian “death by turbine,” conservation groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court to protect California’s endangered condors and golden eagles from a wind-energy project in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. The North Sky River wind project will have more than 100 wind turbines on 13,000 acres.
Listen to the story.
Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife, says the project is moving forward, despite their requests to get it redesigned to avoid environmentally sensitive areas and to include measures to protect at-risk birds.
“This project being proposed is right next door to the now-infamous Pine Tree wind facility. A documented total of eight golden eagles have died there so far this year.”
Delfino says the environmental review of the North Sky River project documented more than 50 golden eagle sightings within just 10 miles of the proposed site. Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported nearly 1,600 bird kills, which is among the nation’s highest fatality rates.
The wind energy project also poses a huge threat to other bird species, including the highly endangered California condor, Delfino says.
“All the condors have radio telemetry, and we know where they go. They have flown over this site, and there’s real concern that this site is a very, very bad location.”
The Defenders of Wildlife, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club, are asking the federal court to stop the project and require the BLM to complete a thorough review before allowing construction to move forward.
Lori Abbott, Public News Service – CA
Posted in Audio, Birds, California, Features, Habitat Conservation, Issues, Public Lands, Renewable Energy, Species at Risk
Posted on 18 April 2012.
The spring issue of Defenders is here! Check out “Shoring up the Red Knot” to find out how conservationists are teaming to help this shorebird recover. While you’re here, get some good news on Florida panthers and Mexican wolves, and find out how Defenders is working to increase protection for right whales, which are too often harmed by commercial fishing gear.
Find more great wildlife stories and photos in the spring issue of Defenders Magazine.
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Posted in Birds, Defenders Magazine, Features, Florida Panther, Marine Animals, Photo