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DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Polk and Sumter counties of Florida

   

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May 2005 Newsletter articles

VICE NOTES
PENTAGON PARES BACK ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES
POLK NATUREFEST - A HUGE SUCCESS
STATE ACTION MAKES WILDLIFE EXPENDABLE

PENTAGON PARES BACK ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES

In a significant policy shift, the Pentagon has sharply reduced its environmental duties, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). A new directive signed by outgoing Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on March 19, 2005 confines Pentagon anti-pollution work only to activities that directly "sustain the national defense mission."

This new "Department of Defense Directive" cancels a Clinton-era directive on "Environmental Security." The new Directive trims a listing of Pentagon policy elements by eliminating provisions for "Reducing risk to human health and the environment by identifying, evaluating, and where necessary, remediating contamination resulting from past DoD activities"; "Protecting, preserving, and, when required, restoring, and enhancing the quality of the environment"; and "Conserving, and restoring where necessary, the natural and cultural heritage represented on DoD installations within the United States."

In an apparent concession to criticisms leveled when PEER posted a draft of the new policy in December, the final version was changed to add as policy "to protect DoD personnel from accidental death, injury or occupational illness" and "to protect the public from risk of death, injury, illness, or property damage because of DoD activities."

"These changes show that protecting the public and even their own personnel from environmental threats is an afterthought," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "One additional change to the final policy is opening 'dialogue' on environmental issues, which is ironic coming in a document that was developed in secret in the utter absence of dialogue."

The new policy also significantly cuts Pentagon compliance with anti-pollution rules by dropping requirements that it obey "regulations, Executive orders, binding international agreements" and other federal "environmental, safety, occupational health, explosives safety, fire and emergency services, and pest management policies." In its place, the Pentagon would pledge to only abide by "applicable law and DoD policy."

In stripping away promises to improve or protect the environment, the new Directive instead says that the Pentagon "will evaluate all activities...and make prudent investments in initiatives that support mission accomplishment, enhance readiness, reduce future funding needs, prevent pollution, ensure cost effective compliance, and maximize the existing resource capability."

"Despite having the worst pollution record on the planet, the Pentagon promises to self-regulate its environmental performance," added Ruch, pointing to the Pentagon's continuing efforts to exempt itself from an array of environmental laws. "This new policy says that Pentagon agencies will do only the minimum pollution prevention and clean-up as required by its logistical and facility management needs."

Department of Defense directives define the agency's mission and responsibilities. By its terms, this Directive covers all "DoD operations, activities, and installations worldwide, including Government-owned/contractor-operated facilities." ...Chas Offutt/PEER/Ross Vincent

Editor's Note: Remember the proposal to greatly increase the use of high explosives at the Avon Park Bombing Range? I believe the 'discomfort index' just went 'way up!

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POLK NATUREFEST - A HUGE SUCCESS

Polk County's natural treasures were the main attraction at Water, Wings and Wild Things - Polk Naturefest 2005 which was held at the Circle B Bar Reserve on April 9th. The beautiful weather resulted in over 2000 people coming to enjoy the Reserve along with all the activities and displays.

Sierra Club volunteers Gail Bond, Karen Tiano, John Ryan and Marian Ryan kept busy at our booth where children colored butterflies or fish images that were made into buttons to wear or refrigerator magnets. Children and adults both were entertained by our "guessing game" where participants feel different objects from nature in a bag and see if they can name them. Visitors were interested in our display on Polk's ecosystems and took many of our educational brochures home with them.

This event was the first time ever that representatives of the county, municipalities, tourism and economic development, the conservation community and the private sector collaborated to showcase Polk's numerous nature-based recreation opportunities. And the results were so outstanding that plans are already in motion for next year's Naturefest.

To recap the highlights of this year's event: The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program provided financial sponsorship. Free pontoon boat rides were provided by Southland Scenic Water Tours. Ron Bull of Fly Fishing Adventures gave fly fishing demonstrations......the crowd was thrilled to see his seaplane land and take off again from Lake Hancock. Dennis Poulin from Pompano Beach led a kite making clinic. Alan Yoder, Polk County Utilities, offered water conservation tips.

Many activities for children were offered: the Gardenia Garden Club had pot painting and gave away pine seedlings, Lakeland Clean & Beautiful did face painting, Polk County Solid Waste Division helped children make bird feeders from recycled bottles, LEAD offered an art project, Donna Stark's mounted insect displays were a big hit with the kids, Tabitha Biehl of Polk County Natural Resources created the Wacky Wheel of Water, Wings, and Wild Things game, Polk County Utilities and Polk County Natural Resources Division offered children's activities.

The pioneer encampment area hosted by the Royal Rangers featured basic archery as well as exciting knife and hatchet throwing demonstrations. Pioneer crafts were offered for sale. The Florida Frontiersmen Association members were dressed in 1800's period wear.

Wildlife attractions featured a presentation by Safari Todd. Joan Waters of Woodland Wonders was also there. Gil Daigneau and his butterfly tent were quite popular.
 

Bob Taylor and Frances Coleman offered a wood duck nesting box building clinic that proved very popular. Sale of the duck boxes benefit the Richard L. Coleman scholarship fund at New College in Sarasota.

There were also guided nature hikes. Chuck Geanangel and Paul Fellers were there with a spotting scope sharing their knowledge of birds. Buck and Linda Cooper provided information on butterflies. The Florida Trail Association offered "Hiking 101", the Native Plant Society had plants for sale. Wildlife artists and photographers including Ann Malatesta, David Price, John and Sarah Keifer, and Renier Munguia displayed their work and gave presentations.

A map featuring Polk County's nature based recreation opportunities was published just in time for distribution at the Naturefest. The map can be obtained from Polk County Natural Resources (863-534-7377) or from Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing (863-534-2500).

Many people worked long and hard to make this event a success, but special recognition must go to Gaye Sharpe, Environmental Lands Coordinator for Polk County, for spearheading this effort. It's my hope that the Polk County Naturefest will become an annual event that we can look forward to for many years to come. ….Marian Ryan

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STATE ACTION MAKES WILDLIFE EXPENDABLE

In mid April, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) voted to adopt amendments to state rule criteria that govern the listing and delisting of Florida’s imperiled species. According to representatives from Save the Manatee Club, the amendments only slightly improved the rule criteria, which will cause many of Florida’s imperiled species to be in even greater danger of extinction. The Club strongly objects to the failure of the state agency to adopt substantive changes that would consider individual species’ life histories rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, which they feel will lead to numerous species being downlisted or delisted before they are recovered. They say untimely reclassifications of species may result in the rollback of protective regulations and will lead the public to believe that species are doing better than they really are.

Under the rule criteria as amended, Florida’s imperiled species will be classified based solely on the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) guidelines. Environmentalists argue that the FWCC adopted the IUCN definitions for "endangered" and "threatened" but did not properly align the names for these categories of imperilment. Because of this, Florida’s endangered species such as manatees, panthers, and sea turtles, could potentially be reclassified as "threatened" – or receive an even lower classification – all because of the misalignment of category names and definitions. Now that the rule amendments are adopted, FWCC plans to move forward with the completion of a manatee biological status review precipitated in 2001 by a petition from an angler’s lobby group, the Coastal Conservation Association.

"State decision-makers are listening to special interests like never before. They have already downlisted the endangered red cockaded woodpecker to a species of special concern. It will only be a matter of time before the state receives more petitions from special interest groups to downlist other species whose habitat requirements get in the way of developers’ profit-making. Sales prices for individual boat slips built over submerged lands held in public trust have soared to over a million dollars in some cases. With so much money to be made at the public’s expense, it’s no wonder that the agencies are being pressured by the legislature to open the floodgates of development without adequate checks and balances to protect the environment and especially our imperiled species," stated Patrick Rose, the Save the Manatee Club’s Director of Government Relations.

Using one of the state’s listing/delisting criteria, a species would have to undergo or be at the risk of undergoing an 80% decline in its population in order to be listed as endangered. Listed species that have undergone precipitous declines historically, but are not continuing to decline at an 80% rate, could be downlisted despite the fact that their numbers are only a small fraction of their original populations. Under this steep 80% decline, a species could go extinct before conservation measures could be implemented. Club representatives fear that management of imperiled species is going to be crisis-oriented, unnecessarily expensive, and ineffective. They say state rule criteria especially do not apply to long-lived marine species like manatees and sea turtles.

Earlier, a state review of 24 listed species found that a majority of the species could be downlisted or even delisted when the state’s flawed criteria was applied. It is possible that the Florida panther, with an estimated 80 individuals living in the wild, could fall down a category from endangered to threatened status. The federal Marine Mammal Commission has stated that the Northern right whale –– the most endangered marine mammal in America –– would likely fall down a category as well. The black bear would have a good chance of being delisted altogether, paving the way for the bear to once again be hunted. "People are going to think that any species undergoing a downward category change is on the road to recovery purely because the FWCC is obstinately refusing to align the IUCN categories and names for these categories with their own listing/delisting guidelines," said Patti Thompson, the Save the Manatee’s Director of Science and Conservation.

Save the Manatee Cub also expressed outrage over proposed bills making their way through the legislative process that will decrease protection for wildlife habitat, thereby placing native species at even greater risk. "Developers are having a field day in Tallahassee. There are proposed bills to weaken the environmental review process by eliminating federal reviews, authorizing local governments to construct public marinas and boat ramps using general permits that would circumvent environmental reviews altogether, and weakening local growth management plans and state oversight," said Rose.

"Manatees and, in fact, all of the state’s wildlife will continue to face mounting pressures from Florida’s fast-paced growth. To illegitimately downlist a species won’t do anything to protect our wildlife. We want the state to base the biological status of any species on scientific benchmarks, including stable or increasing survival rates, comprehensive habitat protection, and significant reduction of human-related mortality," stated Rose.

"The FWCC has demonstrated once again that they lack the will to do the right thing –– they are more interested in bowing to political pressure. This is a disgraceful failure of both leadership and stewardship and puts the responsibility on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to ensure that federally listed species will be fully protected in Florida," concluded Thompson. ….Save the Manatee

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VICE NOTES

Do you ever wonder if your Sierra dollars are funding plush offices for staff? This picture of the St. Pete office should reassure you. It was taken at a phosphate issues meeting attended by Frances Coleman, Marian and John Ryan. The furniture there, and at the San Francisco offices, generally falls under the category of 'mis-matched gargage sale.' And talk about maximum use of space...!

 

Thanks to the Taylors for hosting the April meeting; a large number of new faces appeared, enticed by "Oil on Ice" which is loanable. The fight to protect ANWR isn't over yet! We were delighted to have representatives of Girl Scouts USA with us. In response to their request, we gave them suggestions for several environmental projects; if you know of a need for volunteers, call Sarah at 863 688-5491.

Richard Coleman Scholarship Fund: our total is close to $7,500. Much of the increase over this past year has come from your generous support of the nesting box project. Special thanks are due Bob Taylor for constructing almost 100 boxes! ...Frances H. Coleman

   

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masthead picture: POLK NATUREFEST , published with permission
Copyright © 2003, Frances Coleman, All Rights Reserved

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