Thursday, May 14, 2009

Notes from the annual meeting of the National Wildlife Federation

Notes from the annual meeting of the National Wildlife Federation

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I had the honor recently of attending the annual meeting of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) as an alternate representative for Prairie Rivers Network, which is the Illinois affiliate of the organization.

On the chance that you’re not familiar with it, NWF is America’s largest organization dedicated to conservation education and advocacy. It is also the one where I feel most at home. That’s because NWF consistently recognizes the vital connection between human well-being and the health of wildlife and wild places.

At the annual meeting, Prairie Rivers Network board member Clark Bullard of Urbana was elected to a second, three-year term as a regional director on the National Wildlife Federation board. He expressed pleasure with the organization’s leadership on climate policy, particularly its efforts to focus Congress on the need to establish contiguous migration corridors to ensure that plants and wildlife can survive global warming. “Even in the most optimistic scenario for phasing out fossil fuels,” Bullard noted, “wildlife and their food supplies must move northward at a rate of 30 feet per day, every day for the next century, just to survive climate changes already in the pipeline. If we don’t link fragmented habitats, logically along our rivers and streams, hundreds of species will be trapped and die in the fragmented habitats where they live today.”

In Bullard’s estimation the challenges NWF will address in the future are daunting. He points out that Congress has mandated a six-fold increase in biofuel production, forcing food and fuel to compete for a finite amount of land. “With agribusiness currently exempt from many environmental regulations,” he said, “there is little to keep industrial agriculture from decimating what is left of our natural world.”

I would emphasize that the annual meeting of NWF offered much cause for optimism, too. Being there allowed me to hear firsthand from the people of other NWF affiliates who have achieved significant conservation victories in recent years. Among them were representatives from Mississippi, who helped to head off an enormous Army Corps of Engineers project known as the Yazoo Pumps, which would have destroyed some 300 square miles of wetlands; representatives from New Mexico who helped coordinate the efforts of an uncommonly diverse coalition to preserve the Valle Vidal, also known as “New Mexico’s Yellowstone;” and representatives from Wisconsin, who promoted a state law that was signed this spring that bans the use of phosphorous in most lawn fertilizers.

Prairie Rivers Network board president Jon McNussen, with whom I attended the NWF meeting, enjoyed the opportunity for sharing among affiliates. “It’s good to learn what strategies are working effectively elsewhere,” he said, “on the chance we can adapt them to our own purposes Illinois. I also like to pass along to others what’s working for us.” Beyond that, McNussen noted the importance of face-to-face conversations to cultivate regional opportunities for collaborative efforts, such as the Great Lakes Compact. As he put it, “The concerns of clean air, clean water, and healthy wildlife transcend political boundaries.”

[Photo: Prairie Rivers Network board president Jon McNussen and other National Wildlife Federation representatives do some hands-on conservation at their annual meeting by participating in "TreeVitalize Pittsburgh.] In keeping with tradition, many of us who participated in this year’s annual meeting of the National Wildlife Federation took part in a local conservation project. Together with volunteers from the community we planted more than 1000 trees as part of an effort called “TreeVitalize Pittsburgh.” Those trees are small now, but they represent hope that we can leave future generations a world in which people and wildlife thrive together.