Earth Diary: Political Update

The proposed names for the Bush presidential administration appointments for environmental executives are not good news, the Endangered Species Report is released, and the founder of Earth First! is arrested.
By Tom Turner
September/October 1989
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Dave Foreman of Earth First! Was his arrest a frame-up, and is it a foretaste of things to come?
PHOTO: AP/NEWS FEATURES PHOTO


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The Bush administration been very slow to appoint deputies and assistant secretaries in the Departments of Interior, Agriculture and several others. And, by and large, the names that have been put forward are not particularly good news. James Cason, tapped to oversee the affairs of the Forest Service, is a protégé of James Watt. Cy Jamison, nominated to head the Bureau of Land Management, earned his spurs at the knee of Ron Marlenee, the Montana congressman who persuaded President Reagan to veto the Montana wilderness bill last year. Constance Harriman, the choice for assistant interior secretary to oversee the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, is a right-wing lawyer, one of whose qualifications is said to be the size of the contribution her daddy made to the Bush-for-president campaign. New director of the National Park Service is James Ridenour, who spent his recent career fighting conservationists back home in Indiana. The one bright spot is Michael Deland, headed for chairmanship of the Council on Environmental Quality. He was the EPA's regional administrator in Boston and is well thought of by many environmentalists. Nominations of all but Ridenour will be considered by senatorial committees in early fall.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives the news is similarly deja vu. Jim Wright, congressman from Big Oil, is gone. Tony Coelho, congressman from Big Water Projects, is also gone. Wright is replaced by Tom Foley, a decent guy who unfortunately is the congressman from Big Lumber. We'll have to wait on Coelho's replacement. So it goes.

A Gloomy Endangered Species Report

Congressman Gerry Studds of Massachusetts recently asked the General Accounting Office (GAO) to see just how well the government is doing in its effort to protect and recover threatened and endangered species. The answer is, not very well.

The Endangered Species List numbers nearly a thousand, of which about half are indigenous to the United States. Hundreds if not thousands more species should be on the list; they don't figure at all in this GAO report. Of the 482 listed native species, only 60% are covered by approved recovery plans. Of those recovery plans, at least half the steps outlined remain untrod. Despite listing and recovery plans, GAO found that populations of 34% of the listed species are still in decline, while 37% are stable and 16% are improving. The remainder are either "condition unknown" or assumed extinct.

The GAO opined that the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service spend too much effort on glamorous species like the gray wolf and the peregrine falcon and not enough on the lowly spotfin chub and socorro isopod. GAO recommended that the agencies develop a system—a new data base—so it will be easier to find out which species are on the way up and which are on the way out.

All in all, it seems to your correspondent like quibbling over minutiae. The endangered species program is so pitifully underfunded that no one could make a success of it by rearranging emphases. The only way to assure the survival of most of these species is to buy and protect their necessary habitats, and that will be very expensive.

The report, though depressing, contains a considerable amount of useful information: Endangered Species; Management Improvements Could Enhance Recovery Program, GAO/RCED-89-5, is available free from the General Accounting Office, Washington, DC 20548.

Earth First! Founder Arrested

The arrest of Earth First! founder Dave Foreman at the end of May may provoke soul-searching by people who have never decided just how far it is justifiable to go to preserve natural areas from destruction or to stop various sorts of pollution. It may also demonstrate how far the government is willing to go to squelch opposition to its environmental policies.

This is being written in the hours right after the arrest, and very few facts are known as yet. Three people were apprehended for allegedly trying to cut down pylons supporting electrical wires serving the Central Arizona Project. Foreman was arrested at home and charged with conspiring to sabotage the Diablo Canyon and Palo Verde nuclear power plants and the Rocky Flats weapons plant near Denver.

Anything could be true. Dave could conceivably have come off the rails and planned to cause a domestic Chernobyl. I'm disinclined to believe that. It would be too devastating to innocent people and to the wild nature he has dedicated himself to preserving.

It could be a complete frame-up by the government, which must detest Dave Foreman at least as much as it despised Abby Hoffman or Bobby Seale.

It could be an attempt by the power-pole choppers to save their skins by sacrificing Foreman's. Time will tell.

It will be fascinating to see. Early information indicates that the federal government has begun to infiltrate environmental organizations the way it did civil-rights and antiwar organizations a quarter century ago!


Tom Turner, a writer and editor with over 20 years' experience in the environmental field is staff writer for the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund [now Earthjustice], an independent environmental law firm that represents many organizations across the country. It is supported by private donations. For more information, contact Earthjustice.

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