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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Shaving Endangered Species: Act Locally

Air Date: Week of

Commentary from environmental journalist Tom Harris.


HARRIS: Batten down the hatches, Greenies! rough seas ahead.

NUNLEY: Commentator Tom Harris.

HARRIS: A long-delayed, bruising fight over reauthorizing the Endangered Species Act is coming, and it's going to be a major gut-check for environmentalists. Yes, the White House has been painted a more tolerable shade of green, but Congress is still Congress. The lobbying might of those who would gut the Act is still there, ready to be dropped on weak-kneed Representatives or Senators at the drop of a job. Even if that storm is ridden out, there's another just behind it -- the budget deficit crunch. All this talk about shared sacrifice is not just for the other guy, you know. The era of limited resources and lowered expectations is here again, and it will affect all endeavors, including environmental ones. Even if the Endangered Species Act is not bruised and bloodied, the critters are likely to be up the creek a while yet, until there is money enough for more listing studies and habitat conservation plans and biologists to do both. Until that money comes, the Greenies are going to have to take their own counsel about thinking globally, but acting locally. California is a good place to start. It has 17 percent of the country's species considered at risk of extinction, and 37 percent of the candidates for listing. The depression has temporarily deflated it, but California's recent growth spiral, some 800 thousand people a year, displaces critters and eliminates their habitat at a numbing rate. So if we won't quit having babies, or limit immigration, and if we can't spend our way out of this mess, what's a body to do? It all comes back to that dang slogan again: it's time for enviros to act -- locally. Look, species don't get exterminated in Washington DC, unless they're alien nannies. They get crowded out of a lot of little tiny places you never heard of, and along the entire expanding wall of suburbia. It's time to fight land use battles before city councils and planning commissions, or state forestry and agricultural boards, to confront developers and resource exploiters in the subdivisions, and on the marshes and the forests, and on the farms, where the critters live -- or used to. It's time to lobby voters and taxpayers, not just Congress; to fight the mayor, not just the President. It's time to tighten density limits and spur infill development -- make cities grow up instead of out. It's time to require more set-aside lands and mitigation banks. After all, projects take their toll locally, so the price should be paid locally too. And if someone wants to talk jobs, there are just as many in building rails as superhighways, and it takes a lot less space and causes a lot less pollution, too. I know that it's tedious and dirty work, but somebody has to do it. Let's hope the Greenies have the taste for it and the rest of us the will to support them. It may be our last good chance in quite a while.

NUNLEY: Tom Harris recently retired from the environmental beat at the Sacramento Bee. He's the author of "Death in The Marsh."



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