Gray Wolf to be De-Listed: Too Soon, Club Says
by Johanna Congleton
Claiming the species is no longer near extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
in June proposed weakening protections for the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act.
In 21 states, all federal protections would be eliminated, and in 18 states they would
be reduced. The proposal leaves ill-equipped state wildlife agencies responsible for most
of the species' management and diminishes chances for wolf recovery across the country.
The agency touts this as a success story - proof the ESA works. But Sierra Club
activists argue it's a false victory.
"Although wolf populations have grown in some areas, that good news could be
short-lived without continued federal protection under the ESA," said Bart Semcer,
chair of the Club's Wildlife and Endangered Species Committee. "A level of killing
would be allowed that we haven't seen since the days wolves were hunted for a bounty; Fish
and Wildlife plans to be very lenient in defining circumstances under which wolves can be
In California, Nevada and 19 other states, the agency plans to eliminate federal gray
wolf protections. Activists fear this will doom efforts to reintroduce wolves to their
native ranges; without ESA protection there is no requirement for a recovery program.
"A successful reintroduction program will be almost impossible," said Semcer,
"because there are no legal incentives to conserve habitat, prevent killing or even
reintroduce them at all."
In parts of the Northeast, the gray wolf would be reclassified from
"endangered" to "threatened." This means they are no longer on the
verge of extinction, but are still imperiled. Protections would be reduced; for example,
they could be trapped or hunted if caught raiding livestock. Ironically, gray wolves no
longer exist in this region. Fish and Wildlife has prepared a plan to reintroduce wolves
to their native Northeastern ranges. While the Club welcomes this effort, there is concern
that the reintroduction plan will never be implemented if the wolf is reclassified.
"None of the state agencies has expressed eagerness to reintroduce the wolf and
some state legislatures have even passed laws prohibiting it," said Semcer.
"While the government plans to give the authority to manage wolves to state agencies,
it does not require them to pursue reintroduction."
"We need the federal Endangered Species Act to continue to protect vulnerable gray
wolf populations," said Tina Arapkiles, the Club's Southwest regional representative.
"Reintroducing large predators in the Southern Rockies is key to restoring a
balanced, diverse ecosystem; wolves keep elk and deer herds strong by weeding out the weak
The final blow to successful gray wolf recovery is Fish and Wildlife's call for
nationwide management using "lethal control," which is usually permitted only in
extreme instances of threats to livestock and humans. However, using a loophole in the
ESA, the new proposal expands the circumstances under which wolves can be killed.
"In the Northeast, if wolves were to ever return, they could be killed if hunters
felt they were eating too many deer," said Semcer. "Even worse, in anticipation
of lessened protections, the Minnesota state legislature has already approved a plan that
will eliminate wolves from entire portions of the state."
To Take Action: Although a date had not been set when The Planet went
to press, the Fish and Wildlife Service will be taking public comments for the new
proposal - so write now. Tell them you oppose their plan because it will destroy the
progress made so far on wolf recovery and doom efforts to reintroduce wolves to their
native ranges. Also urge the agency to consider a separate recovery plan for the Southern
Rockies. Write to Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior, U.S. Department of the
Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.
For More Information: Contact Bart Semcer at email@example.com and
Tina Arapkiles, (303) 449-5595; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hoboken Mercury Scare Bares Limits of Brownfields Cleanup
by Johanna Congleton
In 1993, 32 New York City artists bought an aged, five-story building in Hoboken, N.J.,
hoping to escape the high rents in Manhattan. The building was formerly owned by a mercury
lighting company and located on a "brownfield" - an abandoned or little-used
industrial site where hazardous waste still lingers. But the New Jersey Department of
Environmental Protection gave the site a clean bill of health, and the artists moved in.
Two years later, two-thirds of them tested positive for dangerously high levels of mercury
- a substance that causes brain and kidney damage.
The state's environmental department hadn't checked for residual mercury. The agency
claimed mercury testing wasn't required and that it lacked the resources to do so.
So when pools of mercury were discovered under the flooring and in crawl spaces, the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stepped in. Tests found mercury levels in the air
1,000 times above the federal safety level.
If properly cleaned and redeveloped, brownfields - which include old gas stations,
abandoned industrial lots and even former dry cleaning facilities - can provide an
alternative to suburban sprawl. A clean brownfield can revitalize an urban area and make
use of existing infrastructure.
Although the Club supports restoring brownfields to productive use, improper brownfield
cleanup and redevelopment can pose serious threats to public health - as clearly
illustrated in the Hoboken case. And the already hobbled brownfield-cleanup standards are
in danger of being weakened.
Under current law, the EPA can order immediate action to clean up a brownfield that
endangers people or the environment. So if a state cleanup or assessment is insufficient
and results in a threat to human health, the EPA has the option of using a "federal
safety net" to protect the public.
But developers are building congressional support to introduce several bills that would
bar the EPA from stepping in. In most states, developers are responsible for cleanup, so
rolling back the federal safety net means rolling out their own red carpet.
"The federal safety net's extra muscle is critical to proper brownfield cleanup
and maintenance - without it there is no recourse when state programs fail," said
Marti Sinclair, vice chair of the Club's Environmental Quality Strategy Team. "Some
states have not committed the funding to enforce their brownfield laws; citizens depend on
the threat of federal action."
As for the brownfield in Hoboken, the artists have been permanently relocated and the
building is scheduled for demolition.
To Take Action: Contact EPA Administrator Carol Browner and urge her
to oppose any legislation that would weaken the federal safety net. Also tell her strong
cleanup standards and public participation are vital to any brownfield legislation. Write
Carol Browner, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 410 M St. SW, Washington, DC 20460; email@example.com.
For More Information: Contact Marti Sinclair, (513) 674-1983; firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sierraclub.org/toxics/brownfields/index.asp.
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