Historic plan paves way for grizzlies’ return to Idaho’s Bitteroot region
Return to Idaho’s Bitterroot Region
History is about to be made in the Northern Rockies. If all goes according to plan, authorities will begin reintroducing grizzly bears next summer to the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness area of Idaho and western Montana–the first time the species has been reintroduced to the wild anywhere in the world.
They will be there because a group of conservation, industry and labor organizations, led by NWF and Defenders of Wildlife, sat down together and drafted a reintroduction plan that works for people as well as bears. If that plan is finally approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), most of the responsibility for managing a reintroduced species will rest for the first time not with the federal government, but with a committee of local citizens.
The precedent-setting plan began to evolve three years ago after a Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to return grizzlies to the Bitterroot threatened to trigger a conflict even more bitter than the 15-year battle to bring wolves back to Yellowstone. Residents of area timber towns were especially concerned that releasing an endangered species in their midst would lead the government to close off land to logging, threatening their livelihoods.
“People were getting up at public meetings and declaring ‘This is war!'” recalls Tom France, attorney in NWF’s Northern Rockies Natural Resource Center in Missoula, Montana. “We realized that if we were starting out that polarized, the fight over grizzlies would make the Yellowstone wolf debate look like a picnic.”
Sensing that the timber people might at least be willing to talk, France and Hank Fisher of Defenders of Wildlife approached Dan Johnson of Resource Organization on Timber Supply (ROOTS), which represents 1,700 unionized paper mill and sawmill workers, as well as sawmill owners, loggers, road builders and others associated with the timber industry in Idaho. One conversation led to another, and soon local union officials and the Intermountain Forest Industry Association, which represents timber companies throughout the Northern Rockies, got involved in the talks.
ROOTS people were opposed to bringing the grizzlies back, Johnson says, “but we figured it was probably going to happen anyway, and we wanted to make sure we had a say in how it was done.”
For the unions, it all came down to bread and butter issues. “I can honestly say that we would not have gotten involved except for concern about our jobs,” notes Phil Church, president of Paperworkers Local 712 in Lewiston, Idaho. But, he adds, “we bridged the gaps and created a situation where industry, organized labor and environmentalists could work on an issue for the benefit of everybody.”
As an early show of unity, the coalition produced a booklet with answers to common questions about grizzlies and what their return to the Bitterroot would mean. With booklets in hand, NWF staffers and timber industry representatives visited nearly a dozen towns to discuss reintroduction.
The sessions had some unexpected moments, recalls Mike Roy, a wildlife biologist in NWF’s Montana office. “I was fascinated to watch a union guy in Elk City, Idaho, screw up his courage and get up to say, ‘You know, I’m glad we have an Endangered Species Act. I believe we can make it work.”
After a year of discussion, the coalition developed a set of principles all could agree upon. After another six months, the group completed a reintroduction plan that the Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to endorse when it releases its environmental impact statement this fall. Public hearings will follow before the agency makes a final decision, but coalition members are clearly upbeat. Says union president Church, “This isn’t just a good plan; it’s a great plan!”
The heart of the plan is a 15-member citizen management committee, composed mostly of local people appointed by the Interior Department Secretary, which will develop long-range plans for managing the bears, monitor problems and recommend solutions for those that occur. “The committee will act in lieu of the Fish and Wildlife Service,” explains France. “Never before has the agency entrusted this kind of authority to a citizens’ management committee. Clearly, FWS recognizes that it needs to do business differently if reintroduction is going to succeed.”
The plan calls for relocating as many as six bears a year from British Columbia to the Bitterroot over the next five years. With a minimum of six million acres of unoccupied habitat and the largest roadless area in the United States outside of Alaska, the region is one of the few places with enough space, food and habitat to sustain a grizzly population. The Bitterroot could likely support 200 to 400 bears, a one-third increase in the total grizzly population in the Lower 48 states. To head off trouble before it occurs, NWF, Defenders of Wildlife and a Montana group called Brown Bear Resources are surveying the Bitterroot to pinpoint areas where people and bears might clash.
“By identifying such ‘hot spots’ as unsecured landfills, open dumpsters and bee-keeping and sheep-rearing operations adjacent to public lands, local communities and government agencies can take steps now to ‘bear-proof’ the Bitterroot,” says Roy.
Coalition members believe their greatest legacy may not be just returning grizzlies to their historic habitat but also setting the standard for how best to handle it. In the words of France: “We’ve opened the doors, so that future generations can look at this and say, ‘That was the right way to do it’.”
Don’t Sell Mercury Stockpiles, NWF
NWF has urged the Defense Department to cancel a planned sale of 11 million pounds of stockpiled mercury on the world market because of serious environmental risks to people and wildlife.
The use of mercury is restricted in the United States because the metal persists in the environment and can cause neurological damage to people and animals. Mercury contamination is responsible for advisories against eating many kinds of fresh and saltwater fish and is linked to the decline of the endangered Florida panther.
Now that U.S. mercury mines have closed, the federal government should not be in the business of exporting such a toxic substance to developing countries which have few restrictions on mercury use, NWF President Mark Van Putten wrote to Defense Secretary William Perry. “Transferring the risk of exposure to this mercury from the U.S. to the Third World exemplifies environmental injustice,” he added.
Mercury sold abroad also could come back to affect U.S. citizens and wildlife through air pollution, which can travel long distances, or through imported fish and other products, Van Putten noted.
NWF Certifies First
In South America
A lodge in the Peruvian Amazon that hosts hundreds of U.S. and Peruvian school children every year is the first backyard wildlife habitat in South America to be certified by NWF.
Originally built as a vacation resort for city dwellers from Lima, Acosta Lodge’s main focus now is educating school groups about tropical rainforest ecology and the culture of native peoples.
Situated on a 30-acre lagoon near the town of Iquitos, the property includes 80 acres of virgin and second-growth rain forest, much of which can be explored via trails or by boat during the rainy season. Under construction are towers that will give students access to the forest canopy and an aquarium that will provide a closeup view of Amazon fish, reports Harry Morgan Smith, a retired environmental science professor from Alabama who originally suggested that the owners tailor their lodge for education.
The Acosta family has planted more than 100 species of native and other plants that attract a wide variety of birds, from parrots to hummingbirds, Smith says. The lush habitat also attracts a variety of other creatures, including large toads, poison dart frogs, kinkajous, saddleback tamarins, sloths, silky anteaters and an occasional ocelot.
Land for Wildlife
Under a new plan launched by the South Carolina Wildlife Federation (SCWF), an NWF affiliate, corporate landowners along the rapidly developing I-85 corridor in South Carolina will be encouraged to enhance wildlife habitat on their property.
Known as Wildlife and Industry Together, the project is a joint effort by SCWF, the state Department of Natural Resources, the National Wild Turkey Federation and Duke Power Company, which is a member of NWF’s Corporate Conservation Council.
The effort grew out of an ambitious habitat project at Duke Power’s Oconee Nuclear Station, explains Trish Jerman, executive director of SCWF. “We are encouraging other companies to follow Duke’s model of involving employees directly in planning and working on habitat areas. Their excitement ensures the success of the project, and at the same time they learn information that they can use to develop habitats at their own homes, schools and churches.”
The project focuses on the I-85 corridor because the area is rapidly being converted from farmland to industrial sites, Jerman says. “We hope to catch people as they are building and instill the idea of leaving hedgerows for wildlife, for example.”
At a company’s request, project team members make site visits and suggest such things as where to place nesting boxes, how to plant a butterfly or hummingbird garden and how to add native shrubs to create “edges” between field and forest. “BASF’s Anderson plant has a wonderful oak grove that they had come to take for granted,” Jerman says. “We were able to point out that oak trees provide great forage for deer and wild turkeys, and even poison ivy berries are a favorite food for woodpeckers.”
Study Shows Ways To Make Ecosystem
The key to protecting sensitive ecosystems is to encourage private landowners and resource users to invest in conservation through tax and other financial incentives. That’s one conclusion of the Keystone National Policy Dialogue on Ecosystem Management, a study group that included representatives from NWF and one of its affiliates, the Vermont Natural Resource Council, along with some 50 other experts.
The group studied examples of community-based ecosystem management around the country to determine what makes them successful. The most effective programs, the group concluded, are those that address environmental issues before they become major conflicts; focus on habitat and ecological communities, rather than individual species; recognize that people depend on and must assume responsibility for the ecosystems in which they live; and respect the rights of property owners within the framework of the public interest.
Successful examples of ecosystem management cited by the Dialogue group range from Waterways 2000, which aims to preserve wildlife diversity in a 51-square-mile watershed that includes Seattle, to the South Florida Ecosystem Task Force, a massive effort to restore the natural fresh water system that provides water for 5 million people and supports major tourism, agriculture and fishing industries.
“The long-term success of ecosystem management will rely on local trust, collaboration and real environmental improvement wherever it is tried,” says economist Eric Palola of NWF’s Northeast Natural Resource Center, who was a member of the Dialogue group. “By focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of local examples, the Dialogue has helped de-mystify this concept.”
1996 Farm Bill
Crucial to Future
What does the future hold for waterfowl populations in this country? The answer, according to NWF, depends upon how well provisions of the 1996 U.S. Farm Bill are implemented.
Most waterfowl populations are at their highest levels in nearly 20 years, partly because of good weather that has brought abundant water to the prairies. But recovery probably would not have been possible without such federal Farm Bill provisions as the Conservation Reserve Program and Swampbuster wetlands protection program, which provide millions of acres of nesting cover and brood-rearing habitat.
Thanks to the efforts of NWF and other conservation groups, Congress retained these important habitat protection measures when it passed the 1996 Farm Bill.
“We can’t rest on our laurels,” warns Dan Limmer, NWF’s North Central regional executive. “Sometimes people think that when legislation is passed, the work is done. NWF members must continue to work with federal agencies to fully implement the intent of the Farm Bill through regulations that will conserve the habitat on which waterfowl and other wildlife depend.”
Keep Hands Off
Urges Trade Group
As the trade body known as the World Trade Organization prepares to meet in Singapore this month, NWF is urging the group to stay out of the business of regulating ecolabeling.
Ecolabels, or “green” labels, are small symbols affixed to products to alert consumers that those products were produced in an environmentally friendly way.
A recent NWF report, “Guarding the Green Choice: Environmental Labeling and the Rights of Green Consumers,” concludes that private organizations independent of both government and industry are probably best qualified to promote and oversee ecolabeling.
“The World Trade Organization can play a role in helping governments coordinate ecolabeling to avoid trade conflicts, but it is not equipped to judge the environmental information behind the labels themselves,” says NWF trade expert Rodrigo Prudencio, author of the report.
For more information about the report, write Prudencio at NWF, 1400 16th St. NW, Washington, DC 20036 or send him an e-mail at email@example.com.
Encouraging traditional conservationists and student activists to work together to protect Wisconsin’s natural heritage is the goal of a project launched by NWF, its affiliate, the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, and colleges throughout the state.
Project WELD (Wisconsin Environmental Leadership Directive) sponsored a series of meetings on campuses this fall on such issues as funding for nongame wildlife and implementing the Great Lakes Initiative. Two campus WELD participants also have been sworn in as the first student members of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation’s Board of Directors.
Project WELD has started to provide the Wisconsin Federation with the “fountain of youth” it needed to re-energize its board and members and has given students “another avenue for pursuing their interests,” says Cam Davis of NWF’s Great Lakes Natural Resource Center, who helped establish the program.
Florida Group Helps
Save One of World’s
The Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF), an NWF affiliate, has played a major role in stopping commercial development around Wakulla Springs near Tallahassee, one of the deepest and largest freshwater springs in the world.
In 1995, the group went to court to stop plans for an RV park and gas station that conservationists feared would pollute the springs’ unique system of underground caverns and sinkhole lakes. The court entered an injunction to temporarily halt all development plans, describing Wakulla Springs as “a regionally significant natural resource with a worldwide reputation as a Florida scenic area.”
Members of the Florida Wildlife Federation also generated 600 letters to the state land acquisition committee supporting state purchase of the land surrounding Wakulla Springs State Park, says FWF president Manley Fuller. The state is now negotiating with the landowner to purchase the property.
St. Croix Group
Logs Important Win
On 10th Anniversary
Defeating a developer’s latest attempt to build homes along an important sea turtle nesting area at the far eastern tip of St. Croix was the perfect cap to a decade of conservation victories for the St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA), a chapter of NWF’s affiliate, the Virgin Islands Conservation Society.
“It was concern over rampant development in many of the island’s sensitive areas that led to SEA’s creation in 1986,” says executive director Robin Freeman. Perhaps the group’s greatest achievement was thwarting plans for a major resort in Salt River Bay, the largest remaining mangrove system in the Virgin Islands, which provides nursery habitat for sea turtles, waterfowl, fish and shellfish. To celebrate its 10th anniversary and raise money for future conservation work, the association is selling prints of a new watercolor painting depicting the multi-hued colors of the Caribbean, along with cavorting dolphins. For details, please contact SEA at Arawak Building, Suite 3, Gallows Bay, Christiansted, Virgin Islands 00820 or call 809-773-1989.
Texas Photo Contest Includes Prizes
National Wildlife magazine recently participated in one of the country’s most unusual photo contests. Landowners who open their land for wildlife photography share the contest awards equally with the photographers.
The Valley Land Fund of South Texas recently awarded $100,000 in prizes to 93 winners—both photographers and landowners—in its second competition. National Wildlife’s photo editor, John Nuhn, was among the judges who reviewed nearly 4,000 images from 158 photographers.
Founded by businessman John F. Martin, the Valley Land Fund aims to create a partnership among businesses, private landowners and wildlife photographers to conserve the wildlife and habitat of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
The next contest will be held in 1998. For more information about it, write the Valley Land Fund, P.O.Box 2891, McAllen, Texas 78502 or call 210-381-1264.
COPYRIGHT 1996 National Wildlife Federation
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