by Whit Gibbons

December 2, 2002

The Republicans have got to feel great. Control of the Senate, the House, and the presidency all at once. And best of all-the opportunity to make great strides for environmental protection. How can any Republican not feel good about their prospects in 2004, because of the many favorable environmental statements they can make in the next two years? The opportunities are seemingly endless, as two examples reveal.

Opportunity 1 - According to some predictions, 10-15% of the world's flora is headed toward extinction within the foreseeable future. One recent report suggests that the percentages are closer to half of the plant species on earth because of the high biodiversity in tropical regions. The issue here is not to quibble over whether 10, 50, or some in?between percent of the world's plants are going to disappear. The point is that once percentages reach double digits they are already too high. Likewise, the global extinction predictions for mammals, amphibians, and fishes are between 20% and 30%, most of them being in tropical regions.

The case is a no brainer for the Republicans. Put some global constraints on deforestation and development in tropical regions, as well as anywhere else where forests and river systems are threatened, and make sure every country in the world knows it better follow the rules. We have demonstrated that we are in a position to invade other countries despite how other nations might stand on the issue, so we can certainly declare that we will keep the world's rain forests and streams from being destroyed by other countries. An easy Republican win for the environment.

Opportunity 2 - Another problem that can be addressed at more than one level is that three five-month-old birds recently died in the wild before fledging. This ordinarily would not represent many individuals of a species to die at one time, except for the special situation-the birds were California condors, a species so endangered that these are the first young to be born in the wild in more than 15 years! Even worse are the suspected causes of death. One baby had high levels of copper in its system, and another had eaten several bottle caps, pieces of glass, and plastic. Like other birds, condors bring food to their babies in the nest, so the trash and contamination fed to the young are what the big birds are finding available to bring home. Condors represent a major U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) effort in the last century to save the species from extinction. The few surviving condors were captured, subsequent young being raised in captivity and eventually released into the wild. The recovery plan appears threatened because of a lack of FWS personnel to oversee the project.

A bill needs to be presented in Congress and passed on for rapid signing by President Bush to significantly increase the budget of the FWS, the agency dedicated to protecting endangered species. Proper ecological and behavioral research on wildlife species must be carried out if protection and recovery plans are to be properly implemented for species of concern. A proper level of funding is a requirement. In addition, Congress should pass a resolution endorsing the Endangered Species Act and pledging to strengthen it further by including nationwide protection for endangered plants. Plants are not afforded the same level of protection as animals, so Republicans have a wonderful opportunity to show their commitment to preserving our entire natural heritage rather than just selected animals.

Additional opportunities - The list of ways to make a positive environmental impact is endless for a situation in which majority votes can be assured at every level. Besides the obvious protection of wildlife and habitats, opportunities abound for demanding cleaner air and water through controls on industrial and agricultural pollution. And we the American public also have a responsibility. We must keep a close eye on the environmental progress being made during the next two years so that we can reward the party in power for all their environmental efforts when the time comes to return to the polls.

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