Now that John McCain has picked a running mate, Sarah Palin, it is a good time to take a look at what a Republican victory this fall might mean for birds and wildlife.
For some time now, the Republican party has not been particularly friendly to the conservation agenda. The Endangered Species Act has frequently been under attack from the current administration and has suffered a revision in 2004 that limited the impact of the law in protecting our most at-risk plants and animals (Eilperin 2004). A bright spot in the Bush administration’s dealings with endangered species was considering the listing of the polar bear.
It didn’t take Sarah Palin long to act against this positive step. In a lawsuit against the federal government, Palin’s administration argued that,
“Listing the polar bear as a threatened species [under the Endangered Species Act] will have a significant adverse impact on Alaska because. . . [it] will deter activities such as commercial fisheries, oil and gas exploration and development, transportation, and tourism.” (Rood 2008)
The Endangered Species Act has been crucial to the recovery of several bird species including the Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon, and the continuing success of Whooping Cranes and Kirtland’s Warblers. If Sarah Palin can’t support listing polar bears, there is no hope she would embrace using the act as it was intended, protecting endangered species from development and environment degradation.
Palin discounted the most recent findings of the U.S. Geological Survey that found that polar bears are threatened by global warming and will likely be extinct before this century ends. In fact, she refuses to recognize humans role in influencing climate change.
The effects of climate change on birds have the potential to be devastating. Changes in food availablity, precipitation amounts and loss of habitat are some of the threats that a changing climate pose to birds, according to the Smithsonian.
The WWF says that the bird groups that are most at risk are seabirds and migratory birds as well as species that require mountain, island and wetland habitats. Scientists have noted population declines of up to 90% in some species as well as a complete reproductive failure in others (WWF 2006).
Palin has a history for sticking up for oil, big business and special interests at the expense of animals and the environment.
Palin has strongly promoted oil and natural gas resource development in Alaska, including in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. These areas are vital for the many species of birds that breed in the wildlife refuge and on the north slope area of Alaska. More oil drilling operations will inevitably result in more spills and environmental degradation. Palin already has a bad reputation in this area, refusing to push Exxon to pay the government for the environmental damage that occured when millions of gallons of oil were spilled into the ocean. The oil spill killed 300 Bald Eagles, 200,000 Common Murres, as well as whales, otters and many other seabirds.
Sarah Palin refuses to recognize several of the most severe threats facing wildlife and in particular, birds. The bottom line is that she has a history of giving priority to business interests at the expense of wildlife in almost every case. In fact, I could not find one positive thing Palin has ever done that benefitted wildlife. As Vice President, Palin would likely continue with her record of ignoring environmental impacts and scientific studies, similar to the current administration. She may even be a step backwards for conservation as many of her positions seem more extreme than the current administrations. Sarah Palin would be a disaster for the environment and by extension, birds. Let’s hope it never comes to that.