National Wildlife Refuge System

Friends Save Dirt and Protect Wildlife

Friends Forward November 2013

Friends of Heinz Refuge, PA, are speaking out to protect land adjacent to this very urban refuge.
Credit: Friends of Heinz Refuge

In fighting a rezoning proposal, the Friends of John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, in Philadelphia  not only staved off harm to the refuge's environmental integrity, but also gained recognition of the refuge's very existence.

In 2012, Friends of Heinz became founding members of the Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition after a resident of the Eastwick neighborhood learned by accident about a rezoning proposal. The Korman Corporation wanted to build 722 apartments and 1,034 parking spaces on 35 acres adjacent to the refuge.  A city council hearing on the proposal was to be held in two days.

“We worked around the clock and showed up with an army of partners,” recalls refuge manager Gary Stolz. “We had 100 people representing refuge Friends, the Sierra Club, university and planning groups, the Delaware River Keeper Network, and civic associations.” About two dozen people testified against the rezoning. At the end of the day, the rezoning bill was withdrawn.  

“A small but significant victory for the coalition!” wrote Debbie Beer, a board member of the Friends and a leading member of the new coalition.  Now the coalition is working on a much broader range of issues affecting the neighborhood, including frequent flooding, air pollution, jet fuel dumping and two landfills.

All the coalition activity has helped build awareness of the refuge and generated strong, unprecedented relationships.  “Many of the local residents here just never walked into the refuge even if they only lived a half-mile away. This particular issue brought us an instant connection….The Friends got to know the teachers and the principal of the neighborhood school and we had programs for the fifth grade throughout the entire academic year,” said Beer.  The coalition also held a few meetings at the local library, prompting library staff to invite Friends to present a program at the library about Heinz Refuge. Several Eastwick residents also became Friends members.


Cleaning Up

Friends of the Tualatin River Refuge, OR, won a lawsuit to close and clean up a landfill near the refuge.
Credit: Friends of the Tualatin River Refuge

Friends of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon recently announced victory in its lawsuit against the owners of a landfill along the Tualatin River, seven years and $12,000 after the organization joined the Northwest Environmental Defense Center in fighting the polluter. 

Grabhorn, Inc., owners of the landfill, and its insurance company agreed to pay the Oregon
Department of Environmental Quality $7 million, the estimated cost of cleaning up the landfill.
Friends retain the right to monitor the cleanup.

The Friends were reimbursed for its expenses; $12,000 will be used to build a fund that will eventually help the group hire an executive director.

The Friends had agreed to pay for experts to testify in court. Those costs ballooned, nearly bankrupting the Friends, says Friends president Cheryl Turoczy Hart. When asked whether she would have voted to proceed if she had anticipated the length and cost of the lawsuit, she gives an emphatic “yes”. “Not only did we succeed in closing the landfill and protecting the river, now our name means something. If our name is on a letter, they know we will take action.”

As the areas around refuges become more populated and more urban, Hart believes issues of rezoning, land use and pollution adjacent to refuges will become more common. “Friends can advocate with a strong voice for the well-being of our refuge lands,” says Hart, “even if it’s not as much fun as birdwatching!”

The next fights for the Friends of Tualatin River Refuge include a proposed quarry and a gun club plan to excavate soil that might be contaminated with lead shot. Hart said the Friends will speak at public hearings and lend the group’s name to the causes without providing any money. “Lend your name, not your cash whenever possible,” advises Hart.


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Last updated: November 11, 2013