Obama Administration Restores Clean Water Act Protections to Streams and Wetlands


The Obama administration has proposed a new rule to ensure waterways are clean and safe from pollution, just as weather is warming up so Americans can start enjoying them. For years, confusing Supreme Court rulings and agency guidance have left our country's small streams and wetlands at risk of pollution. This new rule will finally clarify which US waters are protected under the Clean Water Act and restore protections to almost all of the nation's fresh waters – ensuring safe drinking water for 117 million Americans.

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 and articulated that it applied to “all waters of the US,” they understood that bodies of water are interconnected. Many of us remember learning this in elementary school – how streams and rivers wind their way to join lakes and wetlands. Prior to 2001, virtually all streams, wetlands, lakes, and other natural water bodies were covered under the Clean Water Act.

However, the Clean Water Act was thrown into confusion by two Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 and subsequent agency guidance. For more than a decade, lack of clarity around the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act has left many of our nation's waters unprotected – threatening the public drinking water supplies of more than 117 million Americans, putting 20 million acres of wetlands at risk, and leaving 59% of all stream miles in the continental United States unprotected.

The Sierra Club applauds the Obama administration for this effort to restore a common-sense approach to protecting our nation's lakes, rivers, and streams. Clean water is an undeniable necessity for the enjoyment of these resources – not to mention the health of our families, our environment, and our economy. As the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have recognized with this rule, ensuring the protection of water bodies upstream is vital to keeping pollution out of our waters downstream.

However, it is critical that this rule protect all of America’s wetlands and waterways. The proposed rule stops short of restoring pre-2001 protections for many regionally important wetland and water bodies located outside floodplains, including prairie potholes, Carolina bays, vernal pools, and playa lakes. The science is clear that these so-called “isolated” wetlands can affect quality of downstream waters, especially when these wetlands are considered in aggregate on a regional or watershed basis.

Today's rule is a major step towards restoring clean water safeguards for all U.S. wetlands and water bodies. We look forward to a robust public comment period and to seeing a strong rule finalized quickly.

-- By Jessica Eckdish


p.s.-- Join us in thanking the Obama administration for restoring clean water safeguards

The Lacey Act - Leading the Fight Against Illegal Logging

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/14040318/aab8b23a-f6c9-4ee9-a5c9-395205923e0b.png
A Siberian tiger cub.

From furniture to paper and pencils, wood products are a part of our everyday lives. Though wood products are now more than ever coming from sustainable sources, up to 30 percent of wood traded internationally has been harvested illegally. Not only does illegal logging damage the environment, it disrupts our climate, hurts communities, and threatens American jobs.

Thankfully, with a landmark law called the Lacey Act, the United States is helping lead the fight against illegal logging. To get a snapshot of the costs of illegal logging and how you can help, take a look at our new webpage.

Deforestation, which is driven in part by illegal logging, is one of the largest sources of climate-disrupting pollution. Each year deforestation accounts for roughly 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide, around 17 percent of global climate-disrupting pollution. Further, illegal logging threatens valuable habitat for endangered animals and plants. A great report from the Environmental Investigation Agency details how illegal logging in the Russian Far East, allegedly to supply the flooring giant Lumber Liquidators, is threatening the last 450 Siberian tigers in the wild.

Illegal logging also threatens communities that live in and around forests. The illegal harvesting and removal of timber deprives countries of roughly $15 billion a year in tax revenue. Instead of funding public improvements that benefit communities, revenue from illegal logging funds underground crime.

Trade in illegally harvested timber threatens American jobs by driving down the price of wood products. Cheaper wood might sound good, but it actually places a huge burden on American companies. In fact, it’s estimated that lower prices due to the trade of illegally harvested wood products ends up costing U.S. companies $1 billion annually.

Thankfully, the United States has taken the lead in fighting the trade of illegally harvested wood. In 2008, the U.S. Congress amended the Lacey Act to ban the import of illegally harvested wood. Now, companies that import wood products must identify the species and origin of their products. Violators of the law face fines and jail time. Led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal government has opened investigations into companies that are alleged to knowingly import illegally harvested timber.

Since its amendment, the Lacey Act has shown a strong track record of requiring companies to identify the source of imported wood, both leading to more sustainable supply chains and helping decrease illegal logging. Currently, opponents of the Lacey Act are trying to weaken this landmark law. To help ensure the U.S. continues to lead in the fight against illegal logging and climate disruption, tell the President and Congress to fully enforce the Lacey Act!

--Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Representative, Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program

A Victory for the Mendocino Coast


This is a guest column from Rep. Jared Huffman, Congressman for California's 2nd District.

The environment and economy of the North Coast just scored a big victory. Last Tuesday, President Obama designated the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands as part of the California Coastal National Monument, protecting these pristine and breathtaking coastal lands. This landmark event is a testament to the power of a committed and engaged community.

President Obama's executive order protects more than 1,660 acres of the Mendocino coast, home to Great Blue Herons, Peregrine Falcons and the Laysan Albatross. This complex and fragile ecosystem includes habitat for endangered species like the Point Arena mountain beaver and the Behren's silverspot butterfly. More than two miles of the Garcia River and the estuary are also protected - good news for our salmon and steelhead fisheries.

Protecting this national treasure isn't just good for the environment - it's a huge win for the local tourism industry, already Mendocino County's biggest employer. The California Coastal National Monument, established by President Bill Clinton nearly 15 years ago, is one of the most-viewed, but least-visited National Monuments in America. Though it spans more than 1,100 miles of California coastline, few are able to visit the 20,000 small islands, rocks, and exposed reefs that make up the monument. As the first land-based addition to the California Coastal National Monument, this week's designation provides a gateway for visitors to experience the Monument and see some of the best ocean views in Northern California.

National Monuments bring tourists from around the world to shop at local businesses, dine at restaurants, and stay at hotels, strengthening the local economy and spurring job growth. In Mendocino County, 74 percent of tourists visit the region's public lands, bringing an estimated $314 million in annual economic activity to the region. The potential benefit to the local economy is just one of the reasons why the campaign to protect this amazing stretch of the Mendocino coast has had such broad support - from State and local elected officials, the Manchester-Point Arena Band of Pomo Indians, conservation groups across the country, and local businesses and civic leaders. This broad, team effort was critical to our success.

My predecessor, Representative Mike Thompson was an important part of that team. He initiated the bill to include this area as part of the Coastal National Monument. When redistricting shifted Rep. Thompson's new district to the south, he passed the torch to me.

I am proud to continue the coastal protection work that this district demands and deserves. The very first bill I introduced as a Congressman was to protect this land. Last July the House of Representatives unanimously approved my bill - so far the only conservation bill of its kind to pass the House in the 113th Congress. Our two California Senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, supported this effort in the Senate.

Last year, the Obama administration laid the groundwork for this historic designation when Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell joined me and other community leaders for a hike on the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands. It isn't often that a Cabinet Secretary visits - and it's rarer still that one comes to discuss expanding a National Monument in our backyard. We held a public meeting where she heard tremendous support from the local community for adding these breathtaking lands to the California Coastal National Monument.

What an honor it was to attend the signing ceremony last week in the Oval Office, flanked by several of the local leaders who championed this proposal, including Leslie Dahlhoff, former Mayor of Point Arena; Larry Stornetta, the former land owner of a portion of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands; Merita Whatley, Manager of the Point Arena Lighthouse; Eloisa Oropeza, Tribal Chairwoman of the Manchester-Point Arena Band of Pomo Indians; and Scott Schneider, President and CEO of Visit Mendocino County Inc.

But the enduring significance of the President’s action is far greater than that ceremony. The National Monument ensures that our children and grandchildren will always be able to hike along the bluffs and watch whales migrate just off the shore. It is fitting that President Obama followed in the footsteps of Teddy Roosevelt by using the Antiquities Act - the same law used to protect the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty. This jewel of the Mendocino Coast is a worthy addition to the California Coastal National Monument, and I’m thankful that the President agreed.

Sierra Club Volunteer Wins White House “Champions of Change” Award

BenblonderBen Blonder

This week the US Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell honored fourteen Champions of Change for engaging the next generation of conservationists. I was lucky enough to attend the event at the White House and walked away feeling truly inspired. The honorees are each helping to fulfill Secretary Jewell’s youth initiative by ensuring that young people and communities have opportunities to play, learn, serve and work outdoors.

It was wonderful to hear the stories of so many amazing organizations and individuals working to reverse the growing divide between young people and nature. These “Champs” are truly setting young people on a course to improve their health and well-being, establish lifelong connections with nature, and lead tomorrow’s conservation movement.

Among them was Benjamin Blonder, a Sierra Club Tucson Inner City Outings leader. Tucson Inner City Outings is one of fifty-two volunteer led Sierra Club outings groups sharing their love for the natural world with people, mostly youth, with limited opportunities to experience the outdoors.

The other honorees shared a wide range of initiatives such as hiking clubs, ecological restoration projects, urban youth leadership development, and even veteran resiliency building. One success story came from ELK (Environmental Learning for Kids), an organization working with the Trust for Public Land to secure funding to purchase land in one of Denver’s most economically distressed and challenged neighborhoods, bringing nearby nature into the community.

Continue reading "Sierra Club Volunteer Wins White House “Champions of Change” Award" »

Senate Subcommittee Takes Up Climate Disruption

The topic of the day at the Environment and Public Works subcommittee hearing was climate change. The hearing was held to discuss natural resource management, a very real concern in a world undergoing widespread global climate change. We can already see the effects of climate change right here in America, today. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that this past January was one of the four warmest in recorded history. The Environmental Protection Agency is already predicting longer and more common droughts in the drought prone west, rising sea levels along the coasts and more intense hurricanes to hit our eastern shores. Further, the warmer drier climate nationwide stands to cause serious disruption to American livelihoods from sea to shining sea.

The hearing was also the same week as the release of U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the United Kingdom’s Royal Society report “Climate Change: Evidence and Causes.” The report provides scientific evidence definitively supporting the reality of human caused climate change, and is aimed to educate the public and legislators. In the face of the facts climate change denial seems impossible—but then again I’ve found hearings on Capitol Hill to be full of surprises. Despite the scientific consensus on climate change the EPW hearing illustrated that there are still those who contest the reality of climate change.

Continue reading "Senate Subcommittee Takes Up Climate Disruption" »

Celebrate! Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands Added to the California Coastal National Monument

Stornetta.Par.69962.Image.375.281.1_BLMPhoto courtesy Bureau of Land Management

Today, President Obama took the significant step of designating Point Arena - Stornetta Public Lands as part of the California Coastal National Monument. Located along the south coast of California’s Mendocino County, these public lands include 1,665 acres of majestic views, tide pools, and coastal wetlands that are home to an abundance of sea mammals, sea birds, and abalone. The designation marks the first expansion onto land for the California Coastal National Monument which stretches along 1,100 miles of California’s coast.

Adjacent to Manchester State Beach and the Point Arena Lighthouse, the Point Arena - Stornetta Public Lands area includes more than two miles of coastline, portions of the Garcia River, the Garcia estuary and a five-acre island—Sea Island Rocks. Its wildflower meadows and shifting sand dunes provide a home for otters, seals, pelicans and a host of other wildlife. The area is vital habitat for migratory birds, salmon, and several endangered species including the Point Arena mountain beaver and the Behren's silverspot butterfly.

The area is also a tremendously popular tourist draw. Thousands of people visit the area every year to watch wildlife, fish, and hike-- and in doing so contribute to California’s booming outdoor recreation economy. Today's designation ensures that local communities will continue to benefit as more people visit the area.

Just last month, I had the opportunity to visit Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands with my wife as we were driving north on Highway One from San Francisco. At that time, Sierra Club activists, business owners, and community leaders were all busy organizing to protect this special and rugged place for future generations. As we stood on those bluffs and watched the waves crash below us, we understood why those people had been pushing for years to permanently protect this unique place. And now, less than a month later,  thanks to the help of California Congressmen Huffman and Thompson, as well as Senators Boxer and Feinstein, their efforts have proven fruitful.

Please join me in thanking President Obama for responding to the widespread desire among Americans by permanently protecting our outdoor heritage for future generations.

-- Dan Chu, Senior Director, Our Wild America campaign 

Congress Finally Wakes Up, Protects Sleeping Bear Dunes as Wilderness

Sleeping Bear Dunes_NPS
photo courtesy National Park Service

This week, Congress did something that would have been unthinkable just a few short months ago: they passed a wilderness bill. Such an action, which used to be routine and bipartisan, has been blocked by House Republicans for the past five years. The last time Congress passed any new wilderness protections was in early 2009.

The bill, sponsored by Senators Carl Levin (D) and Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) now goes to the President’s desk for his signature and, once done, will designate 32,500 acres of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan as wilderness. The lakeshore stretches for 35 spectacular miles along Lake Michigan on the "little finger" of the mitten of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. It also includes north and south Manitou Islands, which in the legend of Sleeping Bear Dunes represent the bear cubs of the mother bear whose shape is seen in the 450 foot tall dunes on the shoreline. The area is extraordinarily popular with families, anglers, paddlers and birders. A wide variety of activities draw well over 1 million visitors every year. The area is also home to several threatened and endangered species including the Piping Plover, Pitcher’s Thistle and Michigan Monkeyflower. I'm proud that Sierra Club was a driving force behind the creation of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in the 1970s and that today the wilderness designation further protects these amazing places.  

The passage of this legislation not only affords greater protections to a beloved area of the Great Lakes region, but hopefully signals a thawing of the gridlock that has prevented widely-supported bipartisan bills from moving that in total would protect several million acres of wilderness. Last Congress became the first since 1966 to not designate a single new acre of wilderness. This year, the Wilderness Act celebrates its 50th Anniversary and we hope that Sleeping Bear Dunes is only the first area that Congress moves to protect. Wilderness areas, national parks, monuments, and protected public lands are part of our special American heritage. And if Congress doesn’t continue to act, we hope President Obama will use his authority to designate national monuments to ensure that our outdoor legacy lives on.

--  by Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Director  

Youth Project Aims to Save Wildlife

256px-2005-bandipur-tuskerImage courtesy Yathin S Krishnappa 

At 14 years old, Josh Crow is leading a project to help save wildlife around the world. Working with One World Conservation he's reaching out to youth between the ages of 6 and 17 years to write letters to world leaders in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization asking them to intercede on behalf of endangered wildlife.

Youth interested in joining Josh to help save wildlife can write letters or poetry, create art, or even make videos about any plant or animal currently on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. Whether it's coral reefs or Asian elephants, youth should reflect on the plants and wildlife they are passionate about, perhaps even some that aren't as familiar to most people. Submissions should be polite and heartfelt and should include some scientific data to help persuade world leaders to take action.  

"I need your help to protect the world's wildlife. This is our world, our heritage. And we need to protect it," says Josh Crow.

Submissions should be sent to wildlifeambassadors@hotmail.com or P.O. Box 41731, Austin, Texas 78704. Once sent, they will become the property of One World Conservation. 

Protecting Pristine Lands for Future Generations

Port arena

Last week my wife and I drove up the legendary Highway One on the California coast. Our destination was somewhere about 100 miles north of San Francisco, planted on the windswept bluffs perched above the ocean. Presently, this stunning area is known as Point Arena - Stornetta Public Lands. It is a patchwork of public lands and Trust for Public Land conservation easements that covers over 1,000 rugged acres.
We stopped, jumped out of the car into a stiff winter breeze and walked to the edge of the ocean.  We were greeted by two harbor seals frolicking in the waves on rocks below us, and as we scanned the ocean, hundreds of harbor seal heads appeared, bobbing in the rough sea. As we walked along the bluffs, seagulls and cormorants flew by and gathered on the rocks. It was exhilarating to see life thrive in such harsh conditions, knowing this scene has changed remarkably little over the past several thousand years. And, hopefully, the area will look this way thousands of years from now.

Just a few months ago, the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, walked these bluffs, accompanied by local residents and Sierra Club supporters who are united in their desire to see President Obama recognize Point Arena - Stornetta Public Lands as our nation's newest national monument. Designating this area a national monument would protect the rugged natural beauty and marine life here for future generations.

The president seems poised to act. Our visit to Stornetta was only few days after President Obama's State of the Union address, where he asserted that he would use his executive authority to protect our nation's public lands, a clear reference to his ability to designate new national monuments:

"I'll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations."
-- President Obama

And this bold statement came only a few short weeks after Secretary Jewell visited another important landscape in need of increased protection -- the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in southern New Mexico. And just as at Point Arena - Stornetta Public Lands, local community members came out in droves to meet Secretary Jewell on her visit there. Close to a thousand New Mexicans turned out to a town hall meeting in Las Cruces to tell her the importance of protecting the region.  

A national monument there would protect 500,000 acres of southwestern desert, steep mountain cliffs, and a diversity of wildlife, including peregrine falcons, pronghorn antelope, and mountain lions. A recent economic study found that a national monument designation would give a $7.4 million boost to the economy and double the number of jobs supported by outdoor recreation and tourism on public lands.

Jewell's visits to southern New Mexico and California are signs that the president is listening to the American public and hearing their demands to have their special places protected, especially in the face of a Congress that has repeatedly failed to act on saving our wild places. It is hugely rewarding to think that the bluffs whereI stood with my wife just last week could soon be protected forever as America's newest national monument -- and that the spectacular Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks could soon join them.

Please join me in thanking Secretary Jewell for showing her great interest in protecting these wonderful natural treasures for all of us.

-- Dan Chu, director of the Sierra Club Our Wild America Campaign

House Republicans Continue Push to Unravel Endangered Species Protections

OR Chub riverOregon Chub habitat, photo courtesy Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

A three-inch-long minnow native to Oregon became the ultimate underdog success story this week. The Oregon chub (Oregonichthys crameri) was initially listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1993. The species was down to a population of fewer than 1,000, but thanks to the action and protection of the Endangered Species Act, the Oregon chub's population has been restored to nearly 160,000. The removal of the Oregon chub from the Endangered Species Act is a huge success not only for the Act but also for its implementation as part of a productive collaboration between employees at the federal, state, and local level with the help of landowners. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber asserts, "The delisting of the Oregon chub is the product of remarkable partnerships by committed people who have advanced Oregon's natural legacy while showing that economic health is not only possible but strengthened by efforts to recover and safeguard native fish and wildlife."

The Oregon chub joins a happy group of endangered-species success stories and can now sit alongside animals such as the brown pelican, the gray whale, the southern sea otter, and the ever popular bald eagle, which also managed to bounce back from the brink of extinction.

Despite this latest chapter in a strong history of how well the Endangered Species Act works, last week House Republicans released their latest roadmap for undoing protections for our nation's wildlife. This roadmap trots out many tired and factually inaccurate arguments, disregards science, sets unrealistic timelines, and offers false choices between conservation and economic benefit. And while Republicans bemoan the number of species moved off of the endangered species list, they continue to fundamentally undermine species' recovery by continually cutting the budget of the Fish and Wildlife Service. By all accounts, the Act is a resounding success.Of all plants and animals ever protected under the Act, 99 percent have been saved from extinction, and populations of the majority of plants and animals protected under the Act are stable or increasing in size.

As President Obama said, "Throughout our history, there's been a tension between those who've sought to conserve our natural resources for the benefit of future generations and those who have sought to profit from these resources. But I'm here to tell you this is a false choice." We can have a productive economy while protecting important endangered species, and the recovery of the Oregon chub is the latest example to prove it.  

The Endangered Species Act is undeniably one of the most important pieces of legislation that has been signed into law in the past 50 years, and it is credited with bringing back invaluable species from the brink of extinction. From the majestic bald eagle to the Oregon chub, the Endangered Species Act works, and will continue to work as a safety net for our native species, despite outlandish claims by some in Congress.

-- By Foley Pfalzgraf

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