Monthly Archives: March 2015

After layoffs, NWF chief vows to build ‘conservation field army’

 

By Phil Taylor

E&E reporter

The National Wildlife Federation is beefing up its field staff and intensifying its push to protect wildlife, restore landscapes and get Americans outdoors, CEO Collin O’Mara says.

Since taking office in July, O’Mara has trimmed NWF’s Washington, D.C., staff while empowering its field offices and 49 state affiliates to recruit and galvanize a nation of citizen stewards, he said.

“I really want National Wildlife Federation to be America’s conservation field army,” O’Mara, 35, said in an interview last week during a visit to NWF’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center in downtown Denver. “We’re better positioned than any other organization to do that. But to do that, you have to be much more present in the field.”

The goal is to stitch together a diverse coalition of hunters and anglers, bird-watchers, gardeners, farmers and recreationists who share the desire to protect wildlife and their habitat, O’Mara said. The group has just shy of 6 million active members and supporters now, he said.

NWF is also expanding efforts to expose kids to the outdoors in an age when electronics consume a growing portion of their lives, O’Mara said.

He is hoping NWF’s broad constituency can ease partisanship in Washington that has hampered funding for wildlife and passage of conservation bills like the “Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act” (S. 405).

“The wildlife message works,” he said. “I can talk to the most conservative tea party crowds in some places and the most liberal crowds in the Northeast, and there’s a consistency there. My biggest goal is to de-politicize.”

O’Mara previously led Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, a position he began in 2009 as the nation’s youngest state Cabinet official.

In his short tenure as CEO, O’Mara has visited 37 states, met with 31 affiliate groups and logged 30,000 air miles, he said.

‘Cut as deeply as you need’

His transformation of NWF did not happen without pain.

The organization last summer faced an $8 million annual deficit, he said. By last August, O’Mara had laid off about 50 NWF employees, reducing total staff to 272. The organization downsized its national office and shed some of its federal capacity on climate change, O’Mara said.

The cuts were “very surgical,” he said. They targeted senior management positions in an effort to achieve a more horizontal structure.

In July, NWF parted ways with it chief operating officer, Jaime Matyas, one of its highest-paid executives. Matyas became CEO of the Student Conservation Association a few months later.

It also laid off Felice Stadler, senior director of NWF’s climate and energy program, and longtime employee John Kostyack, who was serving as vice president of wildlife conservation. Kostyack in August was named executive director of the Wind Energy Foundation, a nonprofit industry-funded group that promotes public awareness of wind as a clean energy source and supports research.

Last October brought two other high-level departures: Ann Morgan, who had led NWF’s regional office in Boulder, Colo., since February 2012, and Anthony Caligiuri, senior vice president for conservation and education at NWF headquarters. Caligiuri now leads Colorado Open Lands, a land trust based in Denver.

NWF also laid off its chief financial officer, Dulce Gomez-Zormelo.

The group is in the process of selling its Reston, Va., headquarters and plans to integrate operations with its National Advocacy Center at 1990 K St. NW in Washington, D.C., O’Mara said. In recent months, it moved its Rocky Mountain office from Boulder to downtown Denver a few blocks from the statehouse. The move aimed to cut costs but also to get closer to NWF’s state and federal partners, he said.

O’Mara’s overhaul has parallels to his work in Delaware, where he was credited with engineering one of the first significant revamps of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control since 1972, a move aimed at boosting efficiencies during lean economic times.

“My model in Delaware is you cut as deeply as you need to have a balanced budget, but not at the expense of core competencies,” he said.

‘We are delighted’

Bruce Wallace, the incoming chairman of NWF’s board, said the terrain is “rapidly changing” for environmental nonprofits — with new funding challenges and political polarization gripping the U.S. Capitol. He said O’Mara has navigated those challenges with aplomb, having faced a similar organizational challenge in Delaware.

He credited O’Mara for leveraging NWF’s regional offices, state affiliates and geographic spread.

“We are delighted” with O’Mara’s work, Wallace said. “We are stable and growing at a time when the country could not need us more.”

While NWF lost some federal capacity in climate change, it has increased its ability to address the issue at the state level, O’Mara said. He said NWF will have more “boots on the ground” to support compliance with U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which will mandate that states reduce emissions of global warming gases 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

In part, O’Mara is returning NWF to its roots.

The organization was founded in 1936 by Iowa cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, a waterfowl hunter who was appointed in 1934 to lead the U.S. Biological Survey, now known as the Fish and Wildlife Service. Darling designed the first duck stamp, a federal permit to hunt waterfowl that has funded the purchase or leasing of more than 6 million acres of wetlands habitat.

In that era, wildlife lacked a national constituency to prod lawmakers to support conservation funding and policies, Darling warned in one cartoon. In 1936, at Darling’s urging, President Franklin Roosevelt invited thousands to Washington’s Mayflower Hotel for the first North American Wildlife Conference. The goal, according to Roosevelt, was to “bring together individuals, organizations and agencies interested in the restoration and conservation of wildlife resources.”

The conference resulted in the creation of the General Wildlife Federation — later called the National Wildlife Federation — and Darling was its first president. Today, NWF calls itself the nation’s “largest big tent conservation federation.”

O’Mara said the organization is returning to its hook-and-bullet base, even as it continues to advocate for members including bird lovers and gardeners. On Feb. 24, O’Mara spoke to the Garden Club of America about the threats facing pollinators and the importance of backyard habitat.

“We all agree we need wildlife funding, we need protections of the Endangered Species Act, protections of the Antiquities Act,” O’Mara said. “We’re trying to find that commonality and put that original coalition back together.”

Preaching climate change through wildlife

Wildlife has helped NWF bring attention to climate threats, he said.

“If it’s just carbon, it doesn’t span all those groups,” he said. “It’s a different kind of center of gravity, or rallying cry for what the organization is. That doesn’t mean we’re stepping back from climate in any kind of way. But it means it’s through a lens of wildlife, and local impacts on wildlife and not just global issues.”

Rather than talk about polar bears and puffins, glacial ice melt, or the Maldives being subsumed by rising seas, NWF is tailoring its message to how climate change will affect moose in New Hampshire, mule deer migration in Colorado and the temperature of trout streams.

“You can build a much more bipartisan coalition by focusing on the wildlife impacts than you can if you’re just focused on the man-made question,” O’Mara said. “It’s a very different kind of debate.”

The wildlife message has resonated particularly with Republicans who may be less swayed by academic warnings about climate change, which can sound abstract, O’Mara said. Showing the impacts “to someone’s backyard,” he said, “it’s easier to foster conversations on global warming solutions.

O’Mara, who graduated in 1997 from West Genesee High School outside Syracuse, N.Y., where he was class salutatorian and played baseball and basketball, has supported both Republicans and Democrats.

He took a break from Dartmouth College to serve as a staffer for former Rep. James Walsh, a Republican from central New York. As class president at Dartmouth, O’Mara organized hundreds of students in support of Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) first presidential bid, and was later named McCain’s youth coordinator for New Hampshire.

O’Mara would later serve as executive director of the Onondaga County Democratic Committee. In 2012, while he was secretary of environment in Delaware, he donated to President Obama’s re-election campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records.

NWF’s political action committee in 2010 spent $22,000 — all on Democratic candidates. But in 2014, it spent $15,000 on Democrats and $6,000 on Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

O’Mara said NWF’s priorities moving forward will be to preserve “big landscapes” that host species like bison and bighorn sheep, while defending public lands against state takeover bids.

NWF will continue to support dedicated funding for wildlife both in Congress and in states such as Missouri, where some lawmakers have proposed undoing a dedicated sales tax for conservation, O’Mara said.

Another major effort will be to preserve major waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware River and Mississippi River Delta.

NWF will also redouble its efforts to connect Americans to nature through existing programs like eco-schools and backyard habitats, O’Mara said.

It recently signed a partnership with the Fish and Wildlife Service to save the imperiled monarch butterfly, whose population has plunged 90 percent in the past 20 years. NWF’s role will be to inform the public about the importance of milkweed to monarchs and promote its planting across the United States (E&ENews PM, Feb. 9).

‘Richard Louv-style connection’

Youth engagement will be a signature campaign, O’Mara added.

Many of today’s parents grew up on video games and can’t be counted on to get their kids outdoors, O’Mara said. A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that Americans between ages 8 and 18 spend about 7.5 hours a day in front of some electronic device.

While kids know to turn off lights and recycle, they typically prefer to sit in front of a computer than play in a stream, O’Mara said.

“Kids are doing sustainable things, but it’s not connected to nature,” he said. “We need to have that Richard Louv-style connection to nature.”

Louv is the author of the 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.”

Key to those efforts will be NWF’s partnerships with the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and state and county parks, O’Mara said. NWF is also urging schools to incorporate outdoor learning into biology, chemistry and physics classes.

NWF worked behind the scenes on the White House’s “Every Kid in a Park” initiative, which was unveiled last month to give all fourth-grade students and their families free admission to national parks during the next school year. By NWF’s estimate, the more time kids spend in nature, the more they’ll become attached to it.

NWF also hosts more than 3,000 eco-schools in the United States, where it supports “‘green’ management of the school grounds, the facilities and the curriculum.” Roughly 4,400 schools have certified NWF habitats. It reaches younger kids through its Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr. magazines, which have a combined circulation of 625,000.

“We just have to make it easy enough for parents and schools and at the same time attractive enough for kids that it’s worth putting down the iPad,” O’Mara said.

O’Mara was in Denver last week to announce a partnership with FWS to help students build wildlife habitats in their schoolyards that mirror local ecosystems. Two Denver schools will partner with employees at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge north of the city to build habitats that support pollinators, migratory birds and wildlife.

NWF sees the program as an investment in kids’ health, intellectual development and happiness, in addition to recruiting a new generation of conservationists.

Morale at NWF has improved considerably since staff layoffs concluded last August, according to one former NWF employee. O’Mara is credited with having an open door policy and inviting constructive criticism from staff.

The organization has stayed financially solvent thanks to its endowment, which totaled $54 million in mid-2013. But the endowment suffered as a result of NWF’s recent financial woes.

The group has yet to file its financial 990 form for the year ending August 2014.

“The budget is balanced, revenues are up, staffing is probably stronger in the field than probably any time in 30 years,” O’Mara said. “We’re showing strength. We’re showing how we can mobilize a conservation army in a way that nobody else can. If we can do that consistently and efficiently across the entire country, our best days are definitely ahead.”

National monuments matter to Americans — Preserve the Antiquities Act

By Judith Kohler

From Wildlife Promise

 

Top-down or grassroots — it’s all a matter of perspective.

Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho has introduced a bill, S. 228, to block presidents from establishing national monuments. In a news release, Crapo criticized “top-down national monument designations” as potentially harmful to the local economy and public access.

But from the perspective of communities in Crapo’s home state, to Montana, Colorado and New Mexico, federal legislation blocking use of the Antiquities Act might look like a “top-down” response to public-lands management.

In fact, recent monument designations have been the result of years of work and lobbying by diverse community coalitions. In other words, the president was responding to grassroots campaigns, just as other chief executives from both political parties have since 1906.

After Rio Grande del Norte in northern New Mexico was declared a national monument in 2013, Kent Salazar, the Western vice chairman of National Wildlife Federation’s board of directors said: “We’ve been working on this for 15 years. Hunters and anglers support protecting Rio Grande del Norte. Environmentalists, ranchers and businesses support it. Native Americans have been hunting and fishing this area forever.”

National monuments matter to Americans

Approval of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in 2014 was propelled by widespread public support. “We’ve been working on this for more than a decade. Sportsmen, many of whom own local businesses, have been diligently reaching out to community leaders and elected officials to make permanent protection of these important lands a reality,”  John Cornell of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation said after President Barack Obama proclaimed the nearly half-million-acre area a national monument.

In Idaho and Colorado, many hunters, anglers, wildlife advocates and other outdoor enthusiasts would like to join the celebration. Members of Sportsmen for Boulder-White Clouds support using the Antiquities Act as the “clearest path” to conserving the world-class fishing and hunting country in central Idaho because legislation has failed so far.

“I think sportsmen and conservationists in Idaho are tired of waiting,” Idaho Wildlife Federation Executive Director Michael Gibson told a reporter. “People have been working on protections in the Boulder-White Clouds for 50 years.”

For more than two decades, Coloradans have been hoping to see Browns Canyon made a national monument to maintain the rugged backcountry, hunting, fishing and whitewater rafting that draws people from across the country. Former Sen. Mark Udall, Sen. Michael Bennet and Gov. John Hickenlooper called on President Barack Obama to use his executive authority to establish a monument after legislation failed to advance in the 113th Congress. More than 500 people signed up to speak during a meeting in December that was attended by federal officials seeking public comments. Former Rep. Joel Hefley, who saw his Browns Canyon bill stall in 2006 due to “Washington-style politics at their worst,” wrote a recent op-ed urging action.

“I’m hoping that we’ve finally pushed this thing through. It certainly deserves that protection after all these years and all the support we’ve generated,” Bill Dvorak, NWF public lands organizer and longtime rafting guide in Browns Canyon, told The Denver Post after the meeting in December.

Conserve our public treasures; Preserve the Antiquities Act

All the public, grassroots support would mean little if a president, who, after study and listening to community requests, would still have to win congressional approval to establish a new national monument. After all, congressional gridlock and ideological objections to conserving public lands are the reasons people to push for action under the Antiquities Act in the first place.

“It is critical that states and affected stakeholders where a monument could be located play a key role in the decision-making process,” Crapo said when he announced his bill to fundamentally change the Antiquities Act.

What really is critical is that Americans have another avenue when Congress ignores affected stakeholders and communities. It is critical to preserve the Antiquities Act, which gave us Grand Canyon National Park, Muir Woods National Monument, the Statue of Liberty National Monument, Dinosaur National Monument…and many, many more.

Jim & Eva Shockey to chair National Hunting & Fishing Day

 

Jim and Eva Shockey are arguably the hunting industry’s most dynamic duo. The father/daughter team gives sportsmen and women a unique voice that is as charming as it is lethal. But don’t tag them as bloodthirsty. The Canadian pair are deeply rooted in conservation efforts to better the sport of hunting for future generations.

This year, as the two embark on their many adventures, they carry with them the title of National Hunting and Fishing Day co-chairs. They were selected to serve as models of the conservation spirit for their numerous works to better North American properties and to share how conservation not only helps wildlife but sportsman as well.

“The biggest thing that people don’t understand is that hunting isn’t just about the kill. If anything, that is the smallest part of what we as hunters do,” said Eva Shockey. “For starters, hunters are the biggest contributors to wildlife habitat and conservation out of any group. The money raised comes straight out of each and every hunter’s pocket to pay for licenses, tags, ammo etc. On top of that, hunting is about the entire adventure from beginning to end, including saving up money to buy hunting gear, taking the time to practice shooting, spending time putting out trail cameras, scouting during pre-season or working out at the gym to be fit for hunting season comes.”

Sportsmen and women around the country rarely stop to realize where the money they spend actually goes. While feeding one’s family or another is beneficial, the real beauty of hunting, fishing, birding, shooting or camping is what it takes to maintain and create properties that can be enjoyed.

The Pittman-Robertson Act is a great example of how sportsmen, like the Shockeys, are creating a better environment. This piece of legislation has provided states with funding for wildlife research and projects that would have been unaffordable otherwise. Through an excise tax on sporting goods and licenses, these moneys go to fund important restoration and conservation projects that benefit all.

According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service webpage that was updated in January 2010, over two billion dollars of federal aid has been generated through the Pittman Robertson Act. The habitat acquisition and improvement made possible by this money has allowed some species such as American black bears, elk, cougars, white-tailed deer, wild turkey and others, to expand their numbers and ranges beyond where they were found prior to the implementation of the act.

The Shockeys understand the importance of sportsmen and women and their efforts to maintain and grow conservation through these types of actions.

“For me it’s when outdoorsmen proudly fly the flag, and don’t shy away when confronted by the loud anti groups,” said Jim Shockey. “As long as we stand proud and are always outspoken proponents of the outdoor traditions, we are educating the non-outdoors people. I’m not talking about being arrogant or over-bearing, I’m talking about resisting, never backing down when we are accused by those that contribute nothing in support of wildlife but are against what we do. We are right, we are the stewards and we are the hope of wildlife.”

Each member of the Shockey team has been very clear and consistent with their message to those that speak out against what they or sportsman do. These two traverse the globe looking for the next adventure. Whether on safari in the jungles of Africa, working up a mountain in Pakistan or tracking big game in the Rockies, Jim Shockey believes the role of sportsman is critical to the conservation model.

“By being an outdoorsman or woman, you are indirectly representing wildlife, stewarding those animals,” said Jim Shockey. “The dollars we spend go toward financing the conservation efforts of all the state wildlife agencies. And when that money talks it sends a clear message to the politicians to make decisions that protect wildlife and ensure that wildlife will be around for generations to come.”

Sportsmen will also encounter barriers. It seems female hunters have taken the brunt of these encounters over the past few years, but that doesn’t discourage those like Eva from facing the fight head on.

“For the last few decades, hunters have been painted in a bad light for one reason or another and today women hunters have taken some hits,” said Eva Shockey. “Being a young, blonde female who doesn’t fit into the stereotypical hunter, I knew I would be the target for anti-hunters. But, at the same time I also knew that I had a unique opportunity to influence a lot of people and show them that hunting is a good thing. Knowing that I am reaching young girls and women who are taking up hunting after seeing me and thinking, ‘Hey, if Eva can do it, then I can do it’, makes the pressures from the anti-hunters seem insignificant in comparison to how great it is to see other girls getting involved with the outdoors.”

Throughout 2015, Jim and Eva will be promoting National Hunting and Fishing Day in order to help recognize all the efforts sportsmen and women do for conservation.

National Hunting and Fishing Day is set for September 26. For more information about National Hunting and Fishing Day visit. http://www.nhfday.org

Creating a bird-friendly yard

 

New research shows that small habitats can add up to a big difference.

By Rene Ebersole

Audubon Magazine

 

We love our lawns. In the United States more than 45 million acres—an area eight times the size of New Jersey—are carpeted with them. And we’re adding 500 square miles of turfgrass every year. Maintaining all that lawn is a huge undertaking and, for many, a source of personal pride. Annually, the average U.S. homeowner spends the equivalent of at least a full workweek pushing or driving a mower.

You could say the quest for perfect lawns—richly green, closely cropped, weedless, and insect-free—is almost as American as baseball. But this national preoccupation comes at a cost. Consider how many gallons of water and pounds of pesticides it takes to keep lawns lush. Depending on the conditions, a 25-by-40-foot yard can drink 10,000 gallons of water in a summer. Lawn care accounts for 70 million pounds of pesticides applied in the United States each year, 10 times more than even what is used in farming. The toxic runoff percolates into groundwater, threatening wildlife and human health.

What you get is a cookie-cutter landscape whether you’re in Palo Alto, Houston, Cincinnati, New York, or Phoenix. “All around the country you can find the same few species of grasses and foundation shrubs making up a national, undifferentiated residential landscape,” writes Pam Penick in her new book Lawn Gone!. “It’s like driving cross-country on the interstate and seeing the same four fast-food restaurants at every exit.”

And wherever green grass grows there was once habitat—a forest, prairie, wetland, or even a desert. Which is why many gardeners concerned about disappearing wilderness and wildlife declines are trying to grow the habitat back. With support from conservation groups like Audubon—or just for the love of it—they are digging up their yards and replacing the grass with trees, shrubs, and flowering plants that can again provide birds and other wildlife with food, clean water, shelter, and places to nest. Their spadework is unquestionably restoring varied and colorful homes where chickadees can sing and butterflies can flutter. But until recently few scientists could say for sure whether such efforts are having a meaningful impact on wildlife. Now they are finding proof that even small habitats can make a big difference.

In 2000, when Doug Tallamy bought 10 acres of former farmland near Oxford in southeastern Pennsylvania, one mile from the Maryland border, he wasn’t looking for a new research laboratory. He simply wanted a pleasant place to live with his wife, Cindy, and a reasonable commute to the University of Delaware, where he has now worked for 32 years as an entomology professor. The property, once mowed for hay, was overrun with unwelcome plants. “Autumn olive and oriental bittersweet, Japanese honeysuckle, bush honeysuckle, and multiflora rose—the whole gang was there,” he says.

The exotic plants (nearly all from Asia) overwhelmed most of the landscape. He bought a sturdy pair of hand loppers to cut through the thorns, including autumn olive’s thick, inch-long spikes. Eventually, he could take a walk without injury.

Soon he noticed something else disturbing. Most of those nonnative plants had little to no leaf damage from insects, unlike the indigenous maples, oaks, cherries, willows, and black gums, which were being eaten as usual. He was concerned. Was he witnessing a troubling consequence of the exotic plants that are spreading everywhere? If insects that spent millions of years eating native plants passed up a buffet of aliens—because they either couldn’t or wouldn’t eat them—did that mean areas dominated by foreign plants would support fewer insects? And if the insect populations plummeted, would birds starve?

Tallamy did an exhaustive search of the scientific literature to see whether he could find answers to those questions, but there was almost nothing. So he began studying how throngs of proliferating exotic plants are affecting insect populations and, therefore, the birds that eat them.

Healthy bird communities are inextricably linked to healthy insect populations. Ninety-six percent of terrestrial North American birds raise their young on insects. And not just any insects. Mostly caterpillars. Rich in fat and protein, caterpillars are essential for a bird trying to keep up with the demands of a hungry family. Consider the Carolina chickadee. It takes 390 to 570 caterpillars a day to feed a growing clutch of four to six chickadees in the 16 days from when they hatch to when they fledge from their nest. “That can be more than 9,000 caterpillars to make one batch of chickadees,” says Tallamy. “We know they’re not flying five miles down the road to forage. We know that almost all of a chickadee’s foraging happens within 50 meters [164 feet] of the nest. That’s why you need so many [caterpillars] in your yard.”

One of Tallamy’s studies examined the moth and butterfly larvae that develop on indigenous and exotic plants in the mid-Atlantic region (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island), where you can find roughly 3,000 of the country’s total of 11,500 caterpillar species. From his findings he created a ranking system of regional trees and plants by the abundance and diversity of caterpillars they can host. First place on the top 20 list went to the oaks, which supported 534 species of caterpillars. Second place went to cherries and plums, which were home to 456; willows came in third, with 455.

The study confirmed Tallamy’s suspicions that gardeners could play a pivotal role in creating safe havens for wildlife. (An estimated 85 percent of invasive woody plants spreading through wild areas originally escaped from home gardens.) Thus he opens his landmark book, Bringing Nature Home, with a call to action: “For the first time in its history, gardening has taken on a role that transcends the needs of the gardener. Like it or not, gardeners have become important players in the management of our nation’s wildlife. It is now within the power of individual gardeners to do something that we all dream of doing: to make a difference. In this case, the ‘difference’ will be to the future of biodiversity, to the native plants and animals of North America and the ecosystems that sustain them.”

Many gardeners and botanists regard Tallamy’s book as the seminal source, and sales remain strong—the paperback is in its seventh printing. Throughout it, Tallamy avoids the term backyard habitat, because he says “it implies that these are so terrible we have to hide them in the backyard. When in fact the front yard is fair game. We’re not talking about creating ugly landscapes. A beautiful oak tree in your front yard is a highly functional plant there.”

Homeowners who landscape with native trees and plants such as oaks, goldenrods, asters, cherry trees, and sunflowers are planting bird food factories that ship caterpillars in bulk, and make regular deliveries of fruits and seeds that help fuel bird migrations over thousands of miles and multiple continents. “The plants in our yards are just as effective as the bird feeder you put up in wintertime,” Tallamy says, “because the plants are making the food that feeds the birds in the summertime.”

For a bird searching for a nice place to raise a family, the classic suburban yard—a tidy bed of grass, one or two shade trees, and a row of leafy foundation plantings imported from China—must be like a foreclosed fixer-upper in a bad neighborhood. The accommodations are spare and all the local restaurants are dives.

The nice neighborhoods, on the other hand, where native plants abound, offer all the perks of a Park Avenue suite with a stocked pantry and a view. There is abundant food, places to nest, and a brilliant stage upon which a bird can sing without competing against the din of a lawn mower.

One of Tallamy’s undergraduate students, Karin Burghardt, compared two such types of landscapes in southeastern Pennsylvania. One property in each of six pairs had a higher proportion of native plants, and the other was more typically suburban, with an indigenous tree canopy casting shadows on lawns fringed by alien ornamental bushes and ground covers like pachysandra.

Not surprisingly Burghardt found a greater diversity and abundance of birds and caterpillars in the yards filled with naturally occurring plants. But one finding blew the researchers away. Birds of conservation concern in the area where the study was done—wood thrushes, eastern towhees, veeries, and scarlet tanagers—were eight times more abundant and significantly more diverse on those parcels. “There was a big jump in their ability to use these properties,” says Tallamy.

During the three months it took Burghardt to gather data, 125 square miles of lawn grew across the country, even in areas where you wouldn’t expect to find grass growing. In Phoenix, Arizona, where temperatures can hit 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the popular garden “oasis” is a mix of turf, subtropical palm trees, and a scattering of desert-adapted plants. Susannah Lerman, a researcher from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, traveled there to examine the difference between how birds use the “oasis” compared to grounds brimming with native desert plants (a gardening style known as xeriscaping; see “Hollywood Native.”).

The well-watered oasis yards were ruled by grackles, house sparrows, and European starlings—everyday birds that wouldn’t normally survive in such a hot and dry place. “You’re not going to see those species naturally in the desert because they can’t make it without water,” she says. “But as soon as you add water—boom.”

On the properties most closely resembling the arid desert surroundings, she found Gila woodpeckers nesting in saguaro cactuses, Anna’s hummingbirds sipping nectar from mesquite, and curve-billed thrashers nesting in cholla cactuses. She also discovered that the birds frequenting those xeriscaped properties were staying longer and eating until they were full. “They didn’t have to keep moving around, which takes a lot of energy,” she says. “They could stay in one patch and do all of their activities. If you’re a bird that doesn’t have to fly from yard to yard desperately trying to find food, you can go off and do other important things, like attracting a mate or feeding your young.”

Lerman worries about one potential hazard of creating a bird retreat in a desert of grass and pavement. In the right set of circumstances it could become a Bates Motel. “We have to be really careful that when we do create these habitats we don’t create ecological traps.” (This refers to the inadvertent bait and switch that can happen when wildlife is drawn to an area that ultimately jeopardizes its safety.) “If you create a wildlife habitat, and then you have a cat outside, it’s completely unproductive. You’re attracting all these birds to your yard with beautiful plants, and your cat is waiting to kill them.”

It doesn’t have to be your cat either. It could be a neighbor’s or a feral one. In fact, a recent study by scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute reported that between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds are killed each year by cats roaming outdoors. “This is a huge and complicated issue,” Lerman says, “because you can’t control other people’s behavior.”

While cutting-edge research is expanding scientists’ understanding of how people can support birds and other wildlife—one garden, schoolyard, and urban park at a time—there is still a lot to learn. “Prior to this research, it was largely suspected that backyard habitats could be helpful in providing sanctuary to birds during nesting and migration,” says Steve Kress, Audubon’s vice president for bird conservation and author of The Audubon Society Guide to Attracting Birds. “Their research gives us solid information that shows how important the native plants are.”

But he emphasizes that selecting plants that host the insects birds eat is only part of the equation. Fruiting plants and seeds fuel birds during migration, and are thus equally essential in any habitat. “Of course, plants should also be selected for other features than food, such as shelter during extreme weather and usefulness for nesting structure. Just as some plants sustain diverse caterpillar populations, others provide good options for nesting structure and safety from predators.”

Nest boxes hung on posts or standing trees are another key feature, he says, because people tend to remove downed trees and other structures with cavities that birds would use naturally. In addition, birds need sitting perches where they can keep an eye out for predators; a place to get out of the sun on a hot day or to weather a winter storm; water for drinking and bathing; and even some thorny shrubs like hawthorns that can provide a fortress against prowling animals, including cats.

At the same time scientists are taking a hard look at nonnative invasive species that provide birds with food but also harm the ecosystem. Porcelainberry is firmly on the National Park Service’s “least wanted list” for its habit of forcefully twining through woodlands and smothering native plants. But apparently the birds aren’t too picky. “[They] eat porcelainberries up the wazoo,” says Michelle Frankel, a conservation biologist who is leading Audubon’s Bird-Friendly Communities initiative in the Atlantic Flyway. Some people think: Why make such a fuss. Just leave it. But Frankel says you have to also consider the plants that porcelainberry displaces. What’s more, not all plants are created equal. A recent study revealed that the highest fat content and energy densities in fruits that migrant birds ate at two field sites in Rochester, New York, came from native shrubs—not the aliens. The birds were choosing the higher-octane fuel and eating it more voraciously.

More and more, citizen science projects continue to deepen our understanding. Two such programs were launched this spring. “These initiatives are designed to look more closely at bird and plant associations and answer some of the questions, particularly having to do with backyard habitats,” says Frankel.

YardMap is a Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology project that encourages people to gather data about the habitats that they are most familiar with—their yard, their favorite birding spot, a schoolyard, even a cemetery—to provide insights about how they can aid wildlife. The program is like Google Earth, allowing users to zoom in on their place and mark the types of plants that exist there. “It’s connected to eBird [a real-time online checklist program that collects and broadcasts bird data], so they can also keep track of the birds they see,” says Frankel. “It’s a very cool tool.”

She says that the program is being promoted to Audubon chapters around the country, and the schools, neighborhood groups, and municipalities receiving mini-grants to create “Urban Oases” demonstration habitats will be asked to track their sites with YardMap.

The second program, called Hummingbirds at Home (www.hummingbirdsathome.org), joins Audubon’s citizen science programs, such as the Christmas Bird Count and the Great Backyard Bird Count, by enlisting people to log observations of hummingbirds on flowers and note blooming patterns. Several recent studies indicate that the arrival of hummingbirds on their foraging grounds is out of sync with food availability and flower pollination. “The Hummingbirds at Home program aims to gain insights into what’s going on, and how people can help,” says Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham.

There is plenty of evidence to show that anyone can play a vital role in preserving bird habitats, says Tallamy, who even goes as far as to call it a moral imperative. “Our success is up to each one of us individually,” he writes in Bringing Nature Home. “We can each make a measurable difference almost immediately by planting a native nearby. As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered—and the ecological stakes have never been so high.”

Shovel Ready: Transforming Your Yard

  1. Get started by signing Audubon’s Healthy Yard Pledge to promote bird-friendly communities. It aims to remove invasive exotic plants; plant native species; reduce pesticide use; conserve water; protect water quality; and support birds and other wildlife. Visit audm.ag/HYPledge.
  2. Begin small and have a plan. “Someone always comes up [after a talk] and says, ‘I’m going to run home and rip out all my lawn,’ ” says Doug Tallamy, author of the renowned gardening book Bringing Nature Home. “That is not my recommendation. If you take something out, be ready to replace it.” He suggests an easier pace. “This can be a hobby. You don’t have to do it all at once.” Or, for instant results, hire someone to do the work. If you already pay to have your lawn cut and cared for, you might consider putting at least part of that budget toward managing your yard in a way that’s more beneficial to birds.
  3. Convert the salespeople at your nursery. If you go to one with the name of a native plant that you want to buy, they will likely take you to the closest thing in stock. “What you say to them is, ‘That’s not what I want. Can you get this for me?’ And if they can’t, you walk away,” says Tallamy. “If they hear that enough they’ll start carrying this stuff.” (Find resources that can help you locate plants native to your region at audubonmagazine.org.)
  4. Try to avoid cultivars of the native plants you’re buying. When the horticultural industry tweaks a plant’s features (for instance, its color or petal size and shape), the plants may become less desirable or even incompatible with the insects that evolved to eat them.
  5. Shun the misconception that gardens brimming with native plants look weedy. “If you go to the fine gardens of Europe, many of the plants they display are from North America,” says Tallamy. “So this notion that just because a plant grows down the street, it can’t be used formally is just an urban legend.”  For some domestic inspiration, Tallamy points to a new 3.5-acre native plant exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden that is both beautiful and beneficial for wildlife in one of the world’s most crowded cities.
  6. There’s power in numbers. Enlist your neighbors and wider community to help incorporate bird-friendly plantings in yards, parks, workplaces, schoolyards, and other public areas. Join a growing army of citizen scientists collecting data about how birds can coexist with us and become part of Audubon’s Hummingbirds at Home program. Visit audubon.org/citizenscience, where you can also download the mobile app.
  7. This winter participate in the Christmas Bird Count (birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count) and the Great Backyard Bird Count, two ongoing citizen science programs that help track long-term bird population trends.
  8. Register your plot of habitat at YardMap and document its value to birds as you make improvements.
  9. Hang out at home. Half the nation’s lawn equals about 20 million acres—roughly the collective size of 15 national parks, including Denali, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, and The Badlands. “We have to get rid of the notion that nature is something you must drive to,” Tallamy insists. “That’s why people go to national parks, to connect with nature. You can do that right at home—every time we look out the window or go outside.”

Will deer truisms hold true?

 

Survey asks hunters how weather and moonlight impact deer movements; research to test beliefs
 

The moon is nearly full, will deer be moving only at night?

Is the cold front that’s coming through the reason deer are out feeding?

In answering questions like these, deer hunters often rely on common wisdom. But are such truisms really true?

Well, researchers with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences are going to find out.

But first, they are going to ask the public how they think deer respond to changes in weather and moonlight – and then test these ideas with data from movements of radio-collared deer.

“There are a lot of widely-held beliefs about what causes deer to move, how far, and when they move,” said Duane Diefenbach, adjunct professor of wildlife ecology and leader of the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Penn State. “In our current research project, we are collecting hundreds of thousands of locations from GPS-collared white-tailed deer. We thought it would be fun to see what people think about how deer move and see if that’s actually true.”

Diefenbach doesn’t think anyone has studied the validity of these common beliefs about how deer respond to weather and moonlight. “This is a great opportunity to find out.” he added. “I’m certainly curious.”

The Deer-Forest Study is a collaborative research project studying how deer, soils and vegetation interact to affect Pennsylvania forests. The Game Commission is partnering with Penn State and the state Bureau of Forestry in the efforts.

The Deer-Forest Blog, where researchers share their findings with the public, is online at http://ecosystems.psu.edu/deer. For the next several weeks anyone can answer a few questions posted there about how they think deer respond to different weather conditions, such as cold fronts, rain and wind, and how deer movements change with the moon’s phases.

“We hear hunters say that deer become nocturnal following the early muzzleloader and rifle season in October,” said Christopher Rosenberry, who supervises the Game Commission’s Deer and Elk Section. “We now have access to technology to see if that is actually true.”

Both adult male and female deer have been captured and fitted with GPS collars that transmit the deer’s coordinates via satellite every three hours during October. Researchers are going to first investigate deer movements during this month because it is the archery and early muzzleloader and rifle hunting seasons, and it’s before most of the breeding occurs.

“The last week of October is when the rut begins in Pennsylvania,” noted Bret Wallingford, deer biologist with the Game Commission. However, compared to November, most deer still exhibit normal movements and likely are more influenced by weather conditions than breeding urges.”

Anyone interested in taking the brief online survey can go to http://ecosystems.psu.edu/deer/, where the link will be prominently displayed.

After the survey is closed, the responses will be summarized and shared on the blog.

Two undergraduate students in the College of Agricultural Sciences, Kate Williams, a Wildlife and Fisheries Science major, and Leah Giralico, a Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences major, will be analyzing the data to see how deer actually respond to weather and other factors. In the research, they will analyze more than 13,000 deer locations for October 2013 and October 2014.

Groups sue EPA for approving insecticide despite threat to endangered species

 

By Kelly House

The Oregonian

 

Conservationists who argue a newly approved insecticide is a known killer of bees and other pollinators plan to sue the federal government for letting it go to market.

The groups, including West Linn-based Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety, notified the Environmental Protection Agency of their intent to sue over flupyradifurone, a compound manufactured by Bayer CropScience.

The plaintiffs allege EPA regulators disobeyed federal rules requiring them to consult with federal wildlife agencies before approving a substance known to kill endangered animals.

Flupyradifurone is part of a growing class of insecticides engineered to seep into a plant’s system, rather than simply coating the outside. These so-called systemic insecticides include neonicotinoids, chemicals that have been implicated for playing a role in mass bee die-offs in Oregon and other states.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture this month banned the use four types of neonicotinoids on linden trees after identifying the chemicals as culprits in a series of mass bee die-offs in recent months. An agency spokeswoman said ODA is looking to the federal government for further guidance on pesticide regulations.

The EPA announced its decision to approve flupyradifurone Jan. 21 with a press release promoting the chemical as “safer for bees.”

“Laboratory-based studies indicate that the compound is practically non-toxic to adult honeybees,” the release stated. “Studies show no adverse effect on overall bee colony performance.”

The plaintiffs disagree with that characterization. EPA researchers concluded the compound was safer for colonies because it kills individual bees on site, preventing them from carrying the chemical back to the hive where it could sicken other bees.

“Having the bees drop dead in the field rather than poisoning their whole hive is not something you want to write home about,” said Lori Ann Burd, a Portland-based environmental health director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Plus, Burd said, the EPA’s statements about colony safety fail to account for the thousands of solitary bee species that don’t live in hives.

The label accompanying containers of flupyradifurone acknowledges the substance “may have effects on endangered species.” Plaintiffs say because of that, the agency was legally obligated to consult with federal wildlife agencies before approving the insecticide. It didn’t.

“EPA cannot absolve its responsibilities to comply with the Endangered Species Act merely by acknowledging the harm to endangered species that exposure to Flupyradifurone will cause,” the group told EPA administrator Gina McCarthy in a letter notifying her of their plans to sue.

The EPA has 60 days to respond, or the matter goes to court.

U.S. F&W lists nonnative snakes as “injurious wildlife”

 

Protections for native wildlife and sensitive U.S. ecosystems strengthened through prohibitions on importation and interstate transport.

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has declared the reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda as “injurious” under the Lacey Act. A fifth snake, the boa constrictor, has been removed from consideration for listing as an injurious wildlife species.

The listing will prohibit import of the four snakes into the U.S. and its territories, as well as transport across state lines for snakes already in the country, and is intended to help restrict the snakes’ spread in the wild. Following opportunities for public comment, an economic analysis and an environmental assessment, the Service produced the final rule, which was published in the Federal Register March 10, 2015. The prohibitions in the rule will go into effect 30 days after publication and apply to live individuals, gametes, viable eggs or hybrids of the four snakes.

“Large constrictor snakes are costing the American public millions of dollars in damage and placing at risk 41 federally and state-listed threatened or endangered species in Florida alone,” said Service Director Dan Ashe during an event to announce the rule at the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. “Today’s action will help prevent humans from contributing to the spread of these snakes.”

In March 2010, the Service proposed listing nine species of large constrictor snakes not native to the United States as injurious wildlife. The listing was finalized in 2012 for four species: Burmese python, yellow anaconda, and northern and southern African pythons. In 2014, the Service reopened the public comment period for the remaining five species, including the boa constrictor. Although the boa constrictor can be damaging to U.S. wildlife, the circumstances surrounding the species, which include widespread private ownership and domestic breeding, render importation and interstate transport prohibitions less effective.

The reticulated python and the green anaconda, considered the two largest snakes in the world, are traded commercially as pets. Some of these powerful snakes have been intentionally released into the wild, while others escape from poorly secured enclosures. Small numbers have been found in the wild in Florida, putting at risk native wildlife unprepared to defend itself against these giant and efficient predators. Prohibiting additional importation and interstate transportation could reduce opportunities for future releases into the wild.

The Beni and DeSchauensee’s anacondas are not known to be in the United States. The Service determined an injurious listing now is the most effective way to prevent future problems like those occurring with the Burmese python. In Florida, Burmese pythons are preying on native wildlife species, including those that are endangered or threatened. Scientists have not found any way of eradicating invasive constrictor snakes once they become established in the wild.

Species are added to the list of injurious wildlife to prevent their introduction or establishment and to protect the health and welfare of humans; the interests of agriculture, horticulture or forestry; and the welfare and survival of wildlife resources.

The Service considered a variety of factors when evaluating these snake species for listing as injurious, such as the species’ survival capabilities and ability to spread geographically, their impacts to threatened and endangered species, and resource managers’ ability to control and eradicate the species.

Most people who own any of these four species will not be affected by this regulation. Those who own any of these species will be allowed to keep them if allowed by state law. However, they will not be allowed transport or sell them across state lines. Those who wish to export these species out of the United States may do so from a designated port within their state after acquiring appropriate permits from the Service.

The final rule, supporting documents and questions and answers about this action are located at the following web site: http://www.fws.gov/verobeach/InvasiveSpecies.html

For more information on the injurious wildlife provisions of the Lacey Act, please read the following fact sheet:

http://www.fws.gov/verobeach/PythonPDF/20150306%20LCS%20Final%20Rule%20QA.pdf

Hunting for conservation solutions: 6 themes from Pheasant Fest & the Commodity Classic

 

By Ariel Wiegard

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

 

Last month I attended two very different events. First was the Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic, the world’s largest gathering of upland hunters and conservationists. Next was the Commodity Classic, a farmer-focused convention led by some of the country’s biggest commodity agriculture groups. Despite their differences, I was encouraged to see many common themes that we can build upon as we work on next generation agriculture and conservation policy. Here are six takeaways:

 

1. American exceptionalism is alive and well. In his Commodity Classic speech, USDA Secretary Vilsack told a cheering crowd that agriculture is at the center of the American success story—because just 1% of the population farms, the rest of us are free to fulfill our individual passions, talents, and appetites more so than in any other nation. Likewise, sportsmen proudly serve as the lynchpin of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Sportsmen pay for conservation, management, and enhancement of species and habitat so that all Americans can enjoy wild resources, unlike in many countries where hunting is restricted to people with wealth, private land, or other special privileges.

 

2. We must tell our stories. People are drawn to hunting and farming by stories, a shared heritage, and traditions passed down through generations. However, the average age of farmers is going up (it currently stands at 58), wild lands are disappearing, and conservation funding is perennially at risk. We must recruit new farmers, hunters, and anglers if we want to remain number one

 

3. Quality gear is essential. Whether it’s guns, dogs, tractors, or satellite systems, the quality of a sportsman’s or farmer’s gear can make or break their season. It’s probably why I saw adults act like kids in a candy store, both when snuggling an eight pound Deutsch-Kurzhaar puppy and eyeballing a 120-foot wide John Deere planter.

 

4. …but it all starts with soil. If your native top soil is gone or damaged, you’ve lost your ability to grow anything for food or habitat. Even water quality and flood control in our cities are affected by farmland soil. These days, everyone—farmer, hunter, rural or urban—is paying attention to soil health.

 

5. The humble insect could drive the future of conservation. One-third of human food depends on pollinator species populations which are threatened by habitat loss. Farmers and conservationists are taking notice. The good news: what’s good for bees and butterflies is good for birds, and we can expect to see a number of innovative approaches to pollinator health in the next few years.

 

6. Sportsmen and farmers agree: a successful Farm Bill is based on partnerships. Together we helped pass and implement the 2014 Farm Bill, and whether there will even be another Farm Bill may hinge on our shared ability to conserve habitat while keeping farming profitable. We will need to work together now more than ever. It’s heartening to know that we all share some common

Wolf Creek looking for environmental biologist

 

The Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation is now advertising for an Environmental Biologist with strong skills in natural resource management. It is an exciting position dealing with fisheries, wildlife, rangeland, agriculture, water quality, soil health, natural areas, nuclear power, and all the challenges/opportunities that comes with such diverse (but connected) ecosystem interactions.

The link below provides more information. Please realize job duties listed cover other positions. The natural resource duties are the focus of the current opening.  Application deadline is March 30, 2015.

For more information, go to: http://wolfcreekplant.com/job-opportunities/

Learn how you can help nesting birds

Watching birds at the nest is fun–and fuels bird conservation

 

Springtime is nesting time, and that means another season of beautiful birdsong, colorful eggs, and downy nestlings. Spring also brings another season of NestWatch, a free citizen-science project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Volunteers have been helping the Lab monitor nesting birds for 50 years, keeping tabs on open-cup nests and actively putting out the welcome mat for species that prefer a cozy cavity.

“Even those who already have birds nesting nearby can support more birds by putting up a nest box, or by landscaping for nesting birds,” says NestWatch project leader Robyn Bailey. “Supplying nesting materials, like wool, cotton, or pet fur is another great way to encourage more birds to take up residence.”

NestWatch provides an intimate glimpse into the lives of nesting birds but it is much more. NestWatch data have been used in more than 130 scientific studies, yielding valuable information for scientists and land managers, such as:

♦ When, where, and how many eggs are laid by certain species across a wide range

♦ How to minimize the effects of forestry and agricultural practices on nesting birds

♦ Revealing that some species, such as Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds, are nesting

earlier as spring temperatures have risen.

These discoveries and others are made possible by people who simply enjoy watching birds in their backyard or local park.

“I find observing the behavior of the natural world endlessly fascinating,” says participant Kate Lowry. “NestWatch offers me the chance to channel my efforts into this more organized method that can provide information to real scientists who, in turn, use the data in their studies.”

“Even after five decades there’s a lot learn,” says Bailey. “For example, data on the Eurasian Collared-Dove, a relative newcomer to North America, remains sketchy. We still don’t know how its presence affects our native Mourning Doves, or even how many times they can nest in one year.” Scientists need more data to understand how and why species respond differently to large, continent-level changes in the environment.

NestWatch can be a wonderful learning experience for the whole family. Find out more about the project, sign up, and learn how to locate and monitor nests at NestWatch.org.