Inside the Capitol

Saturday, June 17, 2006

6-23 Bush Astounds the Envorinmental World

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- President George Bush's decision to permanently protect the Northwest Hawaiian archipelago by declaring it a national monument came as a surprise to the nation.
This is the president who has been called the biggest anti-environmentalist in our history. "If there's oil under it, let's go get it," has been his administration's battle cry.
So, what in the world happened? For starters, there isn't any oil down there. Undersea volcanoes are not where one goes looking for oil. The archipelago is a 1400-mile series of volcanic peaks, most of which have sunk back into the ocean and covered by coral reefs.
Several presidents, from Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton had temporarily set aside parts of that vast territory for protection over the years. Early in the Bush administration, a review of Clinton's action was initiated at the request of the fishing industry.
Five years of letters and testimony were collected and the expectation on all sides was that this administration would roll back those protections. But to nearly everyone's surprise, Bush did just the opposite by making the protections stronger and permanent.
Television reports indicate he was swayed by a Cousteau TV program about the archipelago. Another report gives former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich credit for influencing Bush. Is it weird enough for you yet?
This is the time in two-term presidents' careers that they start thinking about their legacies. Maybe that was an influence.
After all, this was the largest act of ocean conservation in history. It's the marine equivalent of Yellowstone National Park. It's a landmark conservation event. It is now the largest marine protected area in the world, surpassing Australia's Great Barrier Reef. It doesn't get more revolutionary than that.
Maybe the answer is that Karl Rove is back on the job now, paying attention to making the president look good instead of trying to keep himself out of jail.
But whatever the reason, George Bush did it and deserves the accolades he receives.
Most people aren't even aware of the existence of this magnificent expanse of islands, stretching 1400 miles from the islands on the southeast end of the archipelago, with which we are familiar, to Midway Island , halfway across the Pacific.
The islands aren't included in maps of the United States even though they are part of the state of Hawaii. The territory covered, 1500 miles by 100 miles, isn't counted in the size of the state. If it were, it would be one of our largest states.
Last summer, my wife and I traveled by cruise ship, along those islands, from Honolulu to Midway Island, a trip that took almost three days. Midway is of such strategic importance to the military that it still has jurisdiction over the island. But other than maintaining an emergency runway, it is a wildlife refuge overseen by 40 employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The island is home to a million albatross, who go there to mate. They cover just about every square foot of ground that isn't concrete or tarmac. Otherwise, they live at sea on a diet of fish.
Because albatross are so accustomed to landing on water, when they land on solid ground they often go sprawling. The troops stationed there named them "gooney birds." The name then gravitated to the C-47s, which transported troops and supplies to the island and beyond.
Our newest national monument will be given a Hawaiian name, based on suggestions of residents. It is home to over 7,000 species, at least a fourth of which are found nowhere else.
Almost 70 percent of the tropical shallow water coral reefs in the United States are located on the archipelago. It is a rookery for over 14 million birds. The area also has an abundance of large predatory fish at a time when 90 percent of such species have disappeared from the world's oceans.
This will be an enduring environmental legacy.
FRI, 6-23-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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