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A Policy of Triage

March 28, 2013 - It seems odd that this could have happened with so little fanfare, but the Obama Administration announced its first national strategy for dealing with climate change on Tuesday.  This strategy, released in the form of a report, was the product of any number of government agencies, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation taking the lead.  Developed with the help of over 90 federal, state, tribal and local officials, the strategy recommends seven goals, among them land conservation, species maintenance, and educating the public.

Land conservation and habitat loss mitigation are going to play a huge role in implementing climate change strategy, because habitats traditionally occupied by certain species have already been altered by global warming.  In the case of the Lesser Prairie Chicken, the threats come from all sides: climate change, mining, oil production and loss of habitat.  Because the government already pays farmers and ranchers to remove land from production in order to create wildlife refuges, it will be possible to return some of it to native prairie, thereby offsetting Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat loss.

Other species urgently in need of assistance include brook trout, coral reefs, and salmon.  One member of the plant kingdom on this list is the Joshua Tree, for which Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP) is named.  Unless matters improve, the Joshua Tree will have disappeared from its habitat in southern California almost entirely by the year 2100.  This took me a bit by surprise because I just visited JTNP and saw the ugly Joshua Tree for the first time.  While not what you would describe as a visual treat, in a landscape which consists of rocks and little else, the hardy Joshua Tree affords the eye some relief from the weathered tan that surrounds onlookers.  It has earned its ecological niche, but that does not guarantee its survival.

Deciding which species to help will be a very pragmatic process involving difficult decisions.   According to Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hunting, fishing and other wildlife-related activities contribute $120 billion to the economy every year.  In addition, the seafood industry has a value of $116 billion.  Those species that contribute only their beauty or their rarity to humankind, without impacting the public coffers, may not get much in the way of help.  There apparently is just not enough to go around, and too many creatures in distress.

Nevertheless, over the next five years, the priorities established in the report will begin to be addressed.  One of these consists of establishing wildlife “corridors” that would enable animals and plants to move to new habitat.  It will not always be necessary for the government to buy land in order to accomplish this goal.  Many times, easements and land trusts can be set aside by working with state and local authorities.  Because of an easement that exists on private land in Florida, one of the last remaining corridors for panthers is protected.  Where large tracts of land are involved, the federal government can sometimes step in.  The current administration has added ten new wildlife habitats, totaling 4.5 million acres, thus far.

Taken all in all, Tuesday’s announcement was good, if not necessarily happy, news.


With thanks to USAToday and the Los Angeles Times.


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