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The President Exhibits Character on Earth Day

President Bush behaved like a true gentleman in giving his blessings to Earth Day, rather than taking the opportunity to blast the radical environmental movement. The setting for his presentation was the National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine, which is part of the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge. He was right at home, since the Bush family compound is only a short distance downeast in Kennebunkport.

The President noted that he and old Number 41 liked to try to catch striped bass just off from the Refuge beach. He referred to the site as a beautiful piece of land, which might be true, but, interestingly, it cannot compete with the magnificent Wells and Moody Beaches in respect to attracting visitors.

Bush noted that Earth Day has become a great tradition in our country. The environmentalists inspired by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring were very effective; with the employment of deception, bad science, and play on emotions; in having it become a permanent fixture on the calendar. Undoubtedly, it has become more renowned than two other April events; namely Paul Revere's ride and the shot heard around the world. Hardly a man beyond the reaches of the Boston Marathon and the traditional Red Sox game remembers such triflings. This indeed is a sad commentary.

Rachel Carson, it should be remembered, was a psuedo-scientist who dabbled in the pesticide scare and went on to predict the total demise of the American robin. She must be included in the ranks of the many prophets of doom whose predictions were way off base. Undoubtedly a hoax, since this species is very secure, and many of its members, as a result of adaptability now find many parts of the Northeast to their liking even during the winter months. And, it must be emphasized that the environmental movement is spearheaded by numerous well-heeled, ultra-liberal groups whose concern for the natural world is somewhere out in the wings. The President was gracious enough to refrain from any such comments.

He did note that we indeed have responsibilities to the natural world to conserve that which we have. The question arises, as it does in most discussions involving environmental matters, as to whether individuals know and understand the difference between conservation and preservation. Conservation implies wise use of natural resources. Preservation deals with maintaining things in their existing state. The latter, incidentally, is extremely difficult to achieve because the natural world is in a constant state of flux, in line with the dictates of Mother Nature. Hence, all ecosystems are thus endangered. These givens are often not appreciated and distinctions become blurred.

Opportunity was taken of the occasion to announce the launching of a wetlands initiative. Reference is made to the old policy which called for limiting losses. The goal is now to expand the acreage of wetlands in America. The importance of such habitats was noted; including home for thousands of species of wildlife, with half of the North American bird species nesting or feeding there, and half of the threatened and endangered species using them. Mention was made of the presence of some endangered species on the Wells Reserve wetlands. The above statements raise many questions regarding the endangered species programs. An objective wildlife biologist would state that endangered implies threatened with extinction from Planet Earth. Unfortunately, the Endangered Species Act has allowed for inappropriate interpretation to include any species that attempts to thrive on the marginal portions of their range. This in fact would allow any species, or for that matter subspecies, to be listed. The President wisely avoided any mention of such abuses. Undoubtedly, he is aware that this Act sorely needs major changes.

His presentation included mention of wetlands values that can be questioned. First is that of trapping pollution and cleaning the water. Just how do wetlands accomplish this feat and how significant is it? Then there is the matter of reducing the impact of floods. Wetlands by nature and definition are shallow water bodies with low water retention capabilities. Consequently, the significance of their role in such is suspect. Nonetheless, they have carried weight in the wetlands campaign.

President Bush noted that wetlands have been called the nurseries of life, with their well-being vital to the health of our environment. These, of course are valid statements, but there is a need to put everything into perspective. As with anything; including natural areas, wildernesses, or multiple-use areas; there is the basic question of how much is enough and for what. This matter is often grossly neglected, especially with public agencies that are not required to show a profit. A more-the-merrier attitude may prevail. Supply to demand and cost to benefit analyses seem foreign.

The President went on to note that three decades ago the United States was losing about 500,000 acres of wetlands each year. It must be mentioned that any such figures are subject to many questions. After the expenditure of millions and millions of state and federal dollars for designing and conducting inventories, there still exist many questions as to just what should be called a wetland and how its boundaries should be drawn. Consistency has not been the rule.

The new policy that Bush is committed to is designed to move beyond the no net loss of wetlands in America to an overall increase over the next five years. This is all well and good as long as the necessary discipline of how much is enough is exercised. Outlined were financial incentives for landowners, partners for fish and wildlife programs, and conservation titles among others. Care must be taken here to prevent a repeat of earlier programs such as conservation easements that resulted in gross landowner abuse. Lessons should be learned from the many programs for creating wetlands on private properties, designed to increase the number of ducks available to hunters, that were the rage in the late 1940's through the 1960's. After the expenditure of huge sums of money, the enlightened finally realized that the cost of producing one additional bird for the hunter to see was disgustingly exorbitant.

The President ended with a number of excellent points, such as: good stewardship will happen when people say that they are not going to rely on the government to be the solution to the problem; government can help, but not stand in the way of common sense policies; and it will send a clear signal that if you want to be a responsible citizen, do something about the quality of life in your community. He had noted earlier that Earth Day this year happens to fall in the middle of National Volunteer Week.

Nate Dickinson
April 23, 2004

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