While Americans love animals—half the nation are pet owners and billions of dollars are spent on wildlife and bird watching each year — our animal affinity seems to wear a little thin when it comes to nitty-gritty policy debate.
But policy is what allows forests to be clear cut and hazardous mining runoff to end up in streams and rivers. It’s not until the land in our backyards is leveled or a species is pushed to the brink of extinction or until the world becomes a gigantic furnace that we make a ruckus about policy.
Perhaps that’s why a court ruling (pdf) received so little fanfare. The rejected regulations would have turned forest-planning standards (including protections for wildlife on 193 million acres of public lands) into virtually meaningless suggestions, making it easier for industry to log, mine and drill national forests with little to no regard for impacts on the land.
On Friday, the Obama administration decided not to appeal the court’s decision. It’s a bold move that deserves some recognition. U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack has charted a new course for our nation’s forests — focusing on protecting water supplies and helping forests survive the ravages of global warming.
This is good news for wildlife. Secretary Vilsack has reaffirmed the important stewardship role that the Forest Service has in helping wildlife and other natural resources adapt to a changing climate.
And while the Obama administration ponders its next moves, some members of Congress have already put forth one great idea. A bill called America’s Wildlife Heritage Act would ensure that wildlife is always taken into consideration, not only on our national forests but also on the Bureau of Land Management’s National System of Public lands. Smart policy and balanced management like this will help to keep this nation of animal lovers happy.
Cat Lazaroff is the Director of Communications for Defenders of Wildlife, a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org