Monday, May 09, 2005

Plundering God's Creation

"The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." --- Genesis 2:15
New York Times editorial today.....Nature at Bay

The Bush administration's efforts to capitalize on the recent discovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker were bizarre. Gale Norton, the interior secretary, announced a $10 million program to enlarge the bird's habitat, proclaiming that "second chances to save wildlife once thought to be extinct are rare."

But what about first chances? The woodpecker, if it indeed has returned, is as much warning as gift. President Bush's policies suggest that he not only has failed to learn from past mistakes, but is determined to repeat them on a more destructive scale.

The obvious example is his fixation on opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. This bespeaks an intellectually bankrupt energy policy and would certainly cause trouble for wildlife. Yet the Arctic is hardly the only illustration of the administration's insensitivity to wilderness values. Here are three more of recent vintage:

Roadless Rollback On Thursday, the administration repealed one of President Bill Clinton's proudest and most popular environmental initiatives, a rule that placed nearly 60 million acres, or roughly one-third, of the national forests off limits to new road building and development. The Clinton rule gave protection to some of the last truly wild places in America and the fish and wildlife that live there.

By the Forest Service's own estimates, these roadless areas shelter at least 200 rare species, which under the administration's less protective regime will now be more vulnerable to commercial development. The rollback also completes the administration's demolition job on the web of forest protections it inherited from Mr. Clinton.

Drill, Drill, Drill Meanwhile, the Interior Department continues to move at warp speed to lease ever-larger chunks of the Rocky Mountains to oil and gas companies. At least one governor has had enough. Last month, Bill Richardson of New Mexico filed a suit against a Bureau of Land Management leasing plan that he says would leave 95 percent of the 1.8 million-acre Otero Mesa open to drilling.

At risk are some of the most important and fragile grasslands left in America, the wildlife they sustain and - of special concern to Mr. Richardson - an aquifer that contains the state's largest untapped source of fresh water. The lawsuit is being closely watched by other Western governors, in particular Wyoming's Dave Freudenthal, who is appalled by the pace and volume of the drilling activity in Wyoming's Upper Green River Valley.

It is not as if the oil and gas companies have no place else to go. Fully 85 percent of the petroleum resources on federal lands in the five Rocky Mountain states are already leased or available for leasing. Moreover, by its own admission, the industry has neither the equipment nor the manpower to exploit the leases it already owns - yet another reason to ask why the administration finds it necessary to accelerate drilling in places where moderation is required and to invite new drilling in places where there should be none at all.

Shortchanging Nature Mr. Bush's environmental agenda in the 2000 campaign consisted of three promises, none realized. One was to regulate global warming emissions. Another was to eliminate the maintenance backlog in the national parks. And the third was to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the government's main program for creating and preserving parks and wildlife refuges. The program's authorized level is $900 million, half for federal open space purchases, half for state acquisitions.

Mr. Bush hasn't come close. This year he asked for $130 million for federal purchases, nothing for the states. Last week a House subcommittee axed the federal funds altogether. The irony that Mr. Bush may be presiding over the death of precisely the kind of program that the ivory-billed woodpeckers of this world depend on seemed lost on Mr. Bush's senior officials, who uttered nary a peep of protest.

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