Friday, October 17, 2008

George Bush's Snowmobile

Last night the Endangered Species Coalition co-hosted a screening of A Snowmobile for George at the Center for American Progress.

When I first saw the movie many months ago, I thought, “If everyone in America could just see this movie, we would be in much better shape.” It does a great job of exploding the myth, held by some, that increased environmental standards and protections come at a cost to people. The film shows that quite the opposite is true. Decreased environmental standards and protections come at a cost to people.

The film is a story of how the Bush administration’s weakening of environmental protections has directly and seriously impacted tribes-people, fishermen, ranchers and fireman. The first-hand messengers are pretty powerful. And the consequences that they face are pretty severe.

The movie was followed up with a panel, including Todd Darling, the filmmaker, Reece Rushing from the Center for American Progress and Francesca Grifo from the Union of Concerned Scientists' Scientific Integrity Program. Todd gave us insights into what prompted him to make the movie. Reece told us of the litany of regulations that the Bush administration is weakening as they head out the door. Thankfully, Francesca had some good news for us about solutions, making science the basis for decision-making and protecting those in the government who speak out when they see foul play.

It was a great evening, and if you'd like to see the film for yourself, check out the A Snowmobile for George website for a list of upcoming showings. If you don't have one in your area, but know of a theater that might love to run it, get in touch with Todd!

Friday, October 10, 2008

More than 100,000 Americans Oppose Bush ESA Regs

A few of us from NRDC, EarthJustice, Sierra Club, Audubon and the Endangered Species Coalition hand-delivered more than 100,000 comments from Americans around the country opposing Bush's changes to endangered species protections today.

The Bush administration has been extremely effective at shutting down public input, including of course on endangered species issues. Americans who oppose Bush's proposed endangered species regulations are not allowed to email or fax in comments.

So, a number of conservation organizations collected the comments by email--clearly the most convenient way for most of us to respond. It was heartening to read people's concern for wildlife with comments coming in from around the country. Yes, we did get plenty from places like Berkeley and Seattle. But, we also received comments from Kimberly, ID, Mobile, AL, Toledo, OH, Tallahassee, FL, Charleston, WV, Manchaca, TX, Old Monroe, MO and Topeka, KS. Clearly, people in every state want to see our wildlife and our wild lands protected.

To be sure that each and every one of these comments would be counted, we decided to personally deliver them. We headed out to Ballston, Virgina this morning with half of us (and a bit more than half of the comments) in my parents trusty mini-van.

After the initial shock wore off, the US FWS representative took all of comments up to their offices and assured us that they would be reading them all.

Afterwards, we couldn't help but wonder whether the Bush administration or perhaps the next administration will change the way that comments can be submitted. We certainly hope that email submissions will be reinstated.

The comment period is still open (until October 14th) and citizens can submit them directly through this difficult-to-find link.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mahalo to Interior, I think.

Yesterday, the Department of Interior announced their intention to propose listing 45 plants, two birds and one insect that are all endemic to the Hawaiian island of Kauai to the Endangered Species List. Their proposal will also include designation of critical habitat that reportedly encompasses all but one of these species (the latter being left out over concerns of alerting poachers as to where to find it).

This decade has seen criminally few species offered the protection of the Endangered Species Act, thus a proposal to list so many at once seems on one level to be a great thing. I am glad that they are. However, from listening in to yesterday's media call and reading the press materials, I have many remaining questions about this proposal. So here is an attempt to explore some of the intermixing thoughts that didn't necessarily get fully explored in our press release.

“An Ecosystem Approach”
While there is some dispute as to whether or not it really is a new idea, Interior officials are highly touting this as an innovative means of protecting multiple species by protecting their ecosystem. I like the concept behind this and I appreciate the recognition that species are often endangered – or cannot necessarily recover – due to problems with the system as a whole. It is hard to imagine an instance where a species would be in danger and the ecosystem is not out of whack.

And Hawaii is a very special place when it comes to ecosystems. Given Hawaii's relative isolation from other land, it has a great concentration of unique biological diversity. As mentioned above, all 48 of these species only exist naturally on the island of Kauai. This automatically gives them a common vulnerability to natural disasters and global warming. Furthermore, where they overlap (and the announcement says the 48 species exist in 6 different types of ecosystems) they then share common threats from things such as habitat destruction by feral pigs and invasive species.

Part of my concern with this approach is for what information we may not obtain by neglecting to study species individually. Indeed, Interior cites their lack of knowledge about each species separately as part of the desire to do this on a more macro level. What if by focusing only on the common areas these species share, we neglect to protect an area that an individual species needs to stave off extinction?

It's before my time, but I've also thought the Northwest Forest Plan was developed as an ecosystem-wide means of trying to protect dozens or hundreds of species with one common plan – even though the main attention has focused on indicator species such as the Northern Spotted Owl and salmon (which continue to indicate trouble). The past many years have demonstrated just how bad things can become when a President's administration does not agree with the plan.

Critical Concerns
There also seems to be a bit of a disconnect between the pride of protecting the ecosystem for the benefit of these 48 species and the fact that 90% of the land they are proposing to designate as critical habitat is already protected as critical habitat for other species. How does the ecosystem gain protection in this instance? Only 1,646 of the proposed 26,028 acres of critical habitat will receive new protections. And of the new land, most, according to a discussion on yesterday's media call, is already being protected by the Kauai Watershed Alliance and their work with The Nature Conservancy. I trust they are doing great work and looking at their photos I'm tempted to give them all of my money to protect those places, but how do the 48 species being listed benefit if there is no real increase in protected habitat? They are endangered now and 90% of what we are protecting for them is already protected.

Listing Drought
I am also left fighting myself not just to say, “it's about darn time!” The Bush Administration has failed to protect America's natural heritage. And their tragic disregard for the law and the plants, fish and wildlife in need clouds the celebration that should come with this announcement. On one level, it is great that they are proposing to protect 48 species. On another level I know this proposal almost doubles the number of species they have listed under the Endangered Species Act, which I believe is only 51 since 2001. Their entire time in office and they have only listed 51 species to show for themselves, while thousands await attention! By comparison, President GHW Bush listed 56 per year! President Clinton did 62 per year!

I also know that just 6 months ago, this administration was promising lawmakers to propose listing for 71 species, by the end of September (which was the end of the government's fiscal year). If you are charitable, you can count the press release as being close enough for 48. That still leaves 23 species with no protection offered and 23 promises to Congress unfulfilled.

Even with all of my varied thoughts and concerns, I do want to say thank you to the Department of Interior for recognizing the need to protect these 48 plants, birds and lone insect. But now, where are the other 23 you've promised and what of the hundreds of others on the candidate list? They are in dire straights too.

For more info on the new proposal, see the Associated Press article.