The fiscal health of our nation is hurting. But as badly as we have mismanaged the economy, however, we have been even worse trustees of the environment.
Last year, Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs wrote: “As a species, human beings have a major self-control problem. We humans are now so aggressively fishing, hunting, logging, and growing crops in all parts of the world that we are literally chasing other species off the planet. Our intense desire to take all that we can from nature leaves precious little for other forms of life.”
Human impact on the environment is causing thousands of species to vanish every year, hundreds of times faster than the natural rate. Global warming is adding a new and unknown dynamic to past and current human activity. Wildfires, floods and invasive species have all taken an irreparable toll on habitats and the species they sustain. Across the globe we’ve read a steady stream of alarming statistics that confirm Dr. Sach’s simple observation that the abundance and diversity of species is in dramatic decline.
How do we pull ourselves back from the abyss?
First, I think we have taken an important first step with a change of leadership at the top. We will soon have a President and administration, as reflected by the appointments he has announced to date, that have acknowledged these challenges and has a mandate from the electorate for change.
Second, we will need to redirect our resources toward developing and supporting new, cleaner and more sustainable policies, programs and technologies.
And third we will need to fully embrace and practice conservation.
On the local front, I plan to introduce legislation next in the coming weeks to create a regional, $20 million conservation program that would be administered by the National Park Service.
The Park Service’s National Capital Region would solicit proposals by the two states, the District, the local governments and any non-profits that propose to acquire or preserve land within the D.C. region and Potomac River watershed. Proposals would have to be matched 50-50 by the locality and would be ranked based on ecological values and recreational opportunities.
This is a pilot program, but if successful I could lead to see hundreds or thousands of these initiatives springing up around the country. I suspect many more local governments would be more ambitious in preserving land, if there were some stronger federal incentives.
We will never know the lands our ancestors walked. Vast grasslands where millions of bison roamed, forest land that stretched uninterrupted along a continent’s coastal plain are gone, never to return.
But, we can and should preserve characteristics of these landscapes and the species they sustained for our own sake and for future generations.