July 08, 2011
The Yellowstone Oil Spill and Ongoing Conservation Debates
By Hal Herring
by Hal Herring
The Yellowstone, and, in a connected but different arena, an important letter from the people to Congress
Fishermen and river-people across the US are watching the efforts to clean up the spill from the ruptured oil pipeline in the Yellowstone River. The latest news, from the Great Falls Tribune, is that Montana's Governor Brian Schweitzer has decided to pull his team from the clean-up efforts because of a "lack of transparency" exhibited by ExxonMobil, the owner of the pipeline. The spill is estimated at about 1000 barrels. Check out the story here.
We'll be reporting here on the clean-up efforts of our nation's longest undammed river, and how the spill might affect the fishery and recreation on the lower Yellowstone. Montana statesman Mike Mansfield, who was Montana's Senator from 1953 to 1977, was asked at the end of his career what his proudest accomplishments were, in all his years of service.
High on the list: "I saved the Yellowstone River from the Corps of Engineers." Mansfield did indeed thwart the many attempts to dam America's iconic Yellowstone, but even the noblest of rivers cannot be "saved" once and for all. To preserve a river, just like preserving a nation of free citizens, requires the constant vigilance of people who care enough to fight for it, to demand that it not be imperiled by the short term visions of souls whose only concern is the next quarterly profit report, or those who simply do not care about much of anything at all.
And now, to this week's Conservationist.
The Conservationist has covered the ongoing struggles over the federal budget deficit and how the proposed cuts could affect our long-term access to healthy and sustainable fish and game and water resources. But the debate over where (not if) to cut a whole lot of fat from our government spending is ongoing, and there are a lot of what you might call “backlash cuts” in the package – Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives zeroing-in on natural resource conservation programs at a time when conservation, tragically (and temporarily I hope) has become a political football toted mostly by Democrats.
Some of it has less to do with backlash politics than it does some shrewd elected lawmakers, schooled well in the grim arithmetic, who understand that slashing Medicaid will result in a kind of Frankensteinian flash-mob of villagers with torches and pitchforks, while defunding the clean water protection that has so vastly improved our waterways and lakes, even as our population has doubled, will go largely unnoticed (at least in the short-run) and may even win them some powerful friends in the would-be polluter lobby.
But as George Washington explained to Thomas Jefferson when our nation was but a sturdy, bellowing toddler, the purpose of having both a House of Representatives and a Senate is clear. The exchange is reported to have gone as follows:
Washington: "Why did you pour that coffee into your saucer before drinking it?"
“To cool it,” said Jefferson; “my throat is not made of brass.”
“Even so,” said Washington, “we pour our legislation into the Senatorial saucer to cool it.”
As we pour the many budget–cutting proposals brewed in our House into the saucer of our Senate, a coalition of over six hundred groups, ranging from the Civil War Trust through Ducks Unlimited and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, have drafted a letter to Congressional leaders requesting that we not throw out the baby of our farms, forests and waters with the bathwater of either partisan politics or the kind of unwise fiscal belt tightening where you sell your belt and lose your pants.
The letter is well-worth a read, as is the list of conservation and historic preservation advocates who signed it.
Dear Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Boehner:
We are a broad coalition of organizations representing millions of members with very diverse political backgrounds and areas of interest united behind a shared belief that natural resource conservation, outdoor recreation, and historic preservation, and investments in them, are vital to the future of our great nation.
Like you, we are concerned about our nation’s fiscal health. The nation faces unsustainable future fiscal deficits, which must be addressed. As part of the overall solution to our deficit challenges, we know that conservation, recreation, and historic preservation programs will not and should not be exempt from scrutiny. We are willing to engage in a process to find further savings in spending, and review the economic and budgetary benefits of critical conservation, outdoor recreation, and historic preservation programs.
The Federal budget cannot and should not be balanced disproportionately on the backs of conservation, outdoor recreation and preservation. Doing so will impose on the future generations whose well-being depends on the conservation and preservation of our common natural and historic resources.