The "green elephants" with the grassroots group Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) will not be endorsing a candidate for president this year. The group’s Web site calls the move "a simple and honest acknowledgment that over the last four years, the Bush administration has compiled a deliberately anti-environmental, anti-conservation record that will result in lasting damage to public health and to America’s natural heritage."

As evidence, REP points to the rollback of Clinton-era proposals such as the Yellowstone snowmobile ban and the protection of national forest roadless areas. REP has also criticized Bush’s "Healthy Forests Initiative," which promised to reduce wildfires by thinning dense thickets and brush without the usual agency oversight and environmental regulations.

The group works within the GOP to support green candidates, and hopes to build on the legacies of conservative conservationists such as Teddy Roosevelt and Barry Goldwater (HCN, 2/3/03: But you don’t sound like a Republican). It endorsed Sen. John McCain in the 2000 primaries, and halfway through Bush’s presidential term, gave the president a "report card" on his work in nine categories. His grades included 6 D’s, 2 Fs and a single B-.

"The president’s grades have declined," says REP’s communication director, Jim DiPeso. "There’s just no leadership from D.C., and aggressive national leadership must come from the Oval Office."

High-profile Republicans have been defecting from the Bush camp all year: Russell Train, head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Presidents Nixon and Ford, announced his support for Bush’s opponent, Democratic Sen. John Kerry, this summer. Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Edward Stringer, who served as chief counsel to George H.W. Bush’s Education Department and as chief of staff for Minnesota’s Republican Gov. Arne Carlson, also supports Kerry, citing the environment as one reason.

Come November, a fair number of conservative hunters and outdoor enthusiasts in swing states such as Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Oregon may also be leaving Bush behind, says DiPeso. If they do that, he says, they’ll be "plugging their noses and voting for Kerry."

The author writes from Leavenworth, Washington.