Thursday, August 28, 2008

Can Obama save an endangered Endangered Species Act?

Obama’s promise of change can’t come too soon for some of the Bush administration’s most lowly constituents.

After all, humans aren't the only living things subject to our government. But because they can’t vote, can't form an opinion on a campaign platform, our country's four-legged residents are even more vulnerable than we are. In his last months in office, Bush has turned his attention to a humble target often overlooked in the current “going green” craze. Unbeknownst to them, the future of our wild neighbors are the seriously threatened by a recent proposed change to the Endangered Species Act.

Currently, federal agencies are required to consult scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine the potential impact of proposed projects – such as oil drilling - on threatened species and habitats. The Department of Interior insists that eliminating this consultation would streamline the conservation process. And indeed, the new requirement that projects have a “direct” impact on endangered species in order to be assessed would certainly eliminate many previously regulated projects. However, it would also mean that indirect effects on species and habitat - such as climate change - could not be taken into account when assessing the impact of a proposed project. How convenient, just as the conflict between our climate change and country’s ecological footprint is coming under public scrutiny.

Incredibly, this proposal would allow agencies to determine the impact of their own actions, with no external assessment. That sounds about as effective as asking drivers to voluntarily decide whether their own driving habits contribute to global warming or not! According to former U.S. Forest Service ecologist Robert Mrowka, it’s like “the fox guarding the hen house."

Bush’s last-minute proposition, just months before his departure from office, suggests an assumption that he will be followed by a sympathetic successor. When questioned, McCain had no comment to offer on the proposed revisions. Meanwhile, Obama responded in a manner consistent with his message of change. "This 11th-hour ruling from the Bush administration is highly problematic,” said Obama campaign spokesman Nick Shapiro. "….As president, Senator Obama will fight to maintain the strong protections of the Endangered Species Act and undo this proposal from President Bush."

But will it be too late? For some of our furry neighbors I fear it may be. Exhausted by hours of politics and propaganda, after investigating this legislation for hours I left my computer and stepped out into the warm North Carolina night for a restorative walk. Speaking loudly over the resplendent chorus of thousands of cicadas, katydids, and crickets, I tried to explain to my partner Matt my distress over the politics I’ve been reading about. Suddenly, I broke off in shocked mid-sentence. Just a few feet over my head, a bat glided into an oak branch, cutting off a cicada in mid-chirp. The cicada and the bat fell out of the tree, wrestling in mid air. The cicada squealed shrilly. After a moment’s fierce fight the cicada darted away, too stunned to chirp, and the bat swept sulkily off, in search of perhaps less feisty prey.

Matt and I stared at each other, dazzled. Nature, red in tooth and claw! Suddenly, my frustration fell into perspective. Such moments are, after all, why I do what I do. My hours devoted to dissecting Obama and McCain’s environmental policies are for the sake of my neighbors like this bat: perhaps one of the Gray Bats, Indiana Bats, or Virginia Big-Eared Bats currently endangered in my state. After all, these species, like dozens others, are more threatened even than I by the uncertain future of our government.

by Sadie Kneidel

1 comment:

Almost Vegetarian said...

Good essay. My problem is, so often, they say one thing and, yet, do another. Which means, you really need a way to see right into their heart.