by Whit Gibbons

January 4, 2004

The time has come to make 2004 resolutions, and the environment should be a major topic on everyone's list. Anyone who gives any thought at all to the issue knows that having healthy ecosystems increases our chances of having healthy lives, both physically and mentally. Some, maybe most, of us thrive on having the natural world intact, and nothing is wrong with challenging others who are not helping keep it that way. The following resolutions will be easy to carry out.

1. A straightforward resolution that could actually have an impact is to take a stand on environmental issues by writing letters, a process made even simpler these days with email. You have a wide choice of appropriate audiences, and your opinion may actually result in influencing one or more of them. Write the editor of your local newspaper expressing your views on an environmental matter of local, regional, or national concern. Or let the editor know that you appreciate the newspaper's publishing a particular story on an environmental issue.

2. Write an elected official. Check to find out how your congressional representatives have voted on environmental issues and tell them that you support strong protection of natural habitats. Small wetlands are still underappreciated by a few, as witnessed by the Supreme Court's environmentally unfriendly 5 to 4 ruling in 2001 that limited the protection of wetlands not connected to waters having interstate commerce. Let your representatives know that if they have recently championed the protection of these isolated wetlands, which harbor some of the highest wildlife productivity in the country, their support is much appreciated.

3. Resolve to support environmental education. What better group to support than children? You can assist education in many ways, such as by donating your time or supplies to a school science program that focuses on ecology. Ask a teacher what might be most needed: a book on natural history, a bird feeder and seed, an aquarium for the classroom?

4. In the spirit of environmental education, a clear target is yourself. Resolve to take a long walk through local woods, around a lake, or to a state park this spring for the sole purpose of appreciating a clean environment. Observe plants and animals, including insects, small flowers, and mushrooms. Have a friend accompany you. You may be amazed at how much exciting life is all around you, and you might become more appreciative of what it takes to keep it all with us.

5. In addition to a walk, resolve to watch an animal, other than a bird, in your yard for several minutes, until it does something you have never seen before. Nothing against birds, but most people already watch birds and need to learn to look at other animals as well. In fact, pick an invertebrate animal such as an insect or spider. Just watch it to see what it does.

6. Visit a wetland habitat and spend at least an hour looking at the plants and animals that live there. Isolated wetlands that may even dry up in the summer are great places because of their extremely high productivity. A stream or a river can also be a fascinating place if you stay around long enough to see what's there. While you are there, consider how many lives depend on the environmental quality not only in the water but also around it.

7. Identify a tree, shrub, or other plant in your yard or neighborhood and read about it. Encyclopedias, nature magazines, and books are obvious places to look, as well as reputable Web sites sponsored by universities, museums, or government agencies. You will appreciate the entire species, and the specimen in your yard or neighborhood, for the rest of your life if you become familiar with its ecology, geographic range, and overall natural history.

Resolve to follow through with these suggestions. Or create your own environmental resolutions. Developing and maintaining an appreciation of the environmental integrity of your community will almost certainly lead to a greater interest in the environment of your state, the county, and the world. And your interest may influence others. And so on and so on.

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