March 1, 2019
Historic Legislation – and McGraw’s Role
Photo by wbeem/flickr
Conservationists around the country are hailing the passage of landmark legislation that permanently authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund – arguably the United States’ most important conservation program.

LWCF, as it is known, uses royalties from offshore oil and gas production to finance land acquisition and protection at the federal and state levels. Since its inception in 1965, the fund has raised billions of dollars for conservation and allocated an average of $345 million a year in recent years.

But Congress allowed LWCF to expire last fall. The bill that the House sent to President Trump last week for his expected signature ensures that the fund never will expire again.

The McGraw Center for Conservation Leadership played a role in this historic achievement. In the fall of 2015, the Center issued a white paper calling for reauthorization as well as many reforms and improvement. The team that produced the paper consisted of longtime federal, state and private-sector conservationists. Their ideas were circulated widely and key legislators were made aware of the recommendations.

“The passage of permanent authorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund is the result of the effort of the conservation community and those in Congress who worked with us,” said McGraw President and CEO Charles S. Potter Jr. “The Center for Conservation Leadership played the role it does best – bringing together leaders from across the country to put forward recommendations for how LWCF could be improved from an economic efficiency and program standpoint.

“There will remain annual appropriations discussions as to how much money LWCF receives how it should be spent. These are conversations we welcome.”
Several of the McGraw team’s recommendations remain a possibility – including the establishment of a commission to ensure that the money is spent efficiently and maximizes on-the-ground results.

Read more about the legislation here .

Read the McGraw white paper here .
A Sober Visit to Our Largest Wildlife Refuge
By Tom Clynes/Audubon
Photo by Alaska Region USFWS/flickr
“The seasons are in disarray,” Robert Thompson tells us, shrugging apologetically. It’s early July, and Thompson, an Iñupiaq guide and environmentalist, has invited our team of six to use his house in Kaktovik as the staging point for a nine-day canoe expedition into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

We’d planned to launch from Kaktovik, the northeastern most settlement in Alaska, and paddle along the Beaufort Sea. For decades the warming climate has made these coastal waters  increasingly ice-free  and navigable from midsummer to early fall. But this year the ice shows no signs of retreating, except on the side of the barrier islands closest to the village.

Ours was a bittersweet assignment: We’d come to see and understand what the country and the world stand to lose if America’s largest and most pristine wildlife refuge is  opened to oil drilling . Since the Arctic Refuge was designated in 1980, it has dodged several attempts to remove protections for a 1.5-million-acre swath known as the 1002 Area, which covers most of its coastal plain and has been estimated to contain as much as 11.8 billion barrels of oil. But in December of 2017 Congress approved a tax-overhaul bill  that opens the area to drilling, despite opposition from  70 percent of American voters . Federal agencies are rushing through permitting and lease-sale processes, even as scientists warn that oil exploration and extraction will irreparably damage this fragile and critical habitat.

Aldo Leopold:
A Leading Voice
in the Wilderness
By Erik Ness/
Pacific Southwest Region 5/flickr
Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac” turns 70 this year. At a time when writing about ecological emergency is emotionally and politically fraught, the “Almanac” is a balm of wisdom and reverence for nature. And few essays have had more impact on green schools of thought than “Thinking Like a Mountain.”

Leopold was an esteemed professor of wildlife ecology  at the University of Wisconsin, and “A Sand County Almanac” had an unlikely ride into the environmental canon. Published in 1949, a year after Leopold’s death, it enjoyed initial critical applause and modest success among conservationists. That was not surprising; Leopold was respected among his peers and newspaper reviews were positive. But the all-systems-go, post-war boom was not an ideal environment for Leopold’s reflections.

Then in 1966 the book came out in paperback, followed in 1970 by an expanded edition that included essays from “Round River,” another posthumous collection of Leopold’s writings. Environmental sentiments were gaining nationally, and Rachel Carson’s 1962 “Silent Spring” had helped catalyze a green current in the counterculture. Leopold’s thoughtful essays caught the popular imagination, shaping the very ethical and intellectual evolution of the movement.

More than 2 million copies  have now been printed, in 14 languages. 

Searching for Bird Before its Habitat Sinks
By Tristan Baurick/
Photo by Julio Mulero/flickr
On a late-winter night, a small group of mosquito-bitten scientists and college students drag paint cans full of BBs and bolts through a remote marsh south of Lake Charles. With spotlights and fishing nets at the ready, they take high steps over tangles of long grass, hoping the clattering will flush out their quarry—a red-eyed, sparrow-sized bird that few people have ever seen.

Three hours into the march, as expectations fade and leg muscles start to quake, someone yells the two words the surveyors have been waiting to hear. 

“Black rail!”

Jonathon Lueck, a bearded graduate student in a raccoon-skin cap, drops the dragline of cans and races after the bird. It flies a few yards, then falls back to the safety of the grass, where it lives in an underworld of tunnels and hideouts. Lueck swings his net and misses. He tries cupping his hands over the wily rail, but it slips from his fingers. Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana’s director of bird conservation, catches up and drops his net in the nick of time. 

“Wooo,” Johnson yells. He scoops up the rail and holds it gently for all to see its dappled, gunmetal-gray feathers. “The bird that doesn’t exist.” 

Why Are Turkeys Declining in the Eastern U.S.?
By Will Brantley/Field & Stream
Photo by NatureNerd/flickr
One morning in the early 1990s, Dad let me skip school to go on my first  turkey hunt . When a gobbler came strutting in to our setup, I missed—but the overall effect was like setting a match to gasoline. I came into my own as a turkey hunter during the early 2000s, when turkey populations were at their modern height. I’ve since hunted across North America and a few other continents for a variety of critters. But there is still nothing I’d rather hunt than a spring gobbler.

Plenty of turkey nuts feel the same, and it’s because of that passion that we are growing increasingly worried. In places, there just aren’t as many turkeys as there once were. I filled my share of tags last season—but I also spent more days without hearing a gobble than I did in the prior two years combined. What I did hear was lots of other turkey hunters saying the same thing.

Of course, hunters like to complain when game populations decline. We blame our turkey woes on too many coyotes, diseases from chicken houses, and those guys who reap turkeys instead of call them in. We think the sky is falling and that state agencies and groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation are just letting it happen. But wild-turkey management is complex, and answers to problems don’t come quickly. State agencies and the NWTF are doing far more to study the decline—and find solutions—than most hunters probably realize.

“Wilderness is the one kind of playground which mankind cannot build to order.”

-   Aldo Leopold
To read past McGraw Reports click here.