Ecology and Governmental Policy - Final - Resubmission

This topic submitted by Eli Balkin ( at 8:57 PM on 7/19/03.

A class picture at Poas Volcano in Costa Rica, 1997.

Tropical Field Courses -Western Program-Miami University

Ecology and Governmental Policy

The unquestionable superiority of humanity over all other terrestrial species has lead to the development of a highly uni-polar relationship between humanity and nature. Often, natural environments and the flora and fauna they house, are exploited by “industrial capitalism” or more dangerously, over looked by humans attempting to achieve other goals. However, as many ecologists preach, our fate lies with that of the animals.

One device created to help balance the scales between human growth and obliteration of wild areas is the wildlife sanctuary or park. Although humanity has long understood the necessity of nature and impossibility of human existence with out wild self sustaining ecosystems , it has been only recently that environmental protection has become a matter of governmental concern.

Since the earliest days of organized governance, the chief implement of governmental operation has been legislation. Although its form has undergone drastic revision from its original design as an executive or monarchical decree to present day congressional and parliamentary bills the object has remained constant; to set in motion a course of action. It was in 1864 that this powerful political tool was first applied to protection of nature. That year Congress donated Yosemite Valley to California for preservation as a state park. Eight years later, in 1872, Congress reserved the spectacular Yellowstone country in the Wyoming and Montana territories “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” . With no state government there yet to receive and manage it, Yellowstone remained in the custody of the U.S. Department of the Interior as a national park—the world's first area so designated. Since then more than 330 areas have received this protective designation. And others wait impatiently as they wade through the complex process of becoming a protected area. The practice of encouraging governmental intervention in this era of environmental depletion has become a structured process. However before the process can be discussed and evaluated a more primary question must be addressed.

The examination of the process of preserving and protecting these areas is can only be considered relevant if said areas are of value and therefore worthy of protection. The belief of this author is that natural areas ought to be conserved and that biodiversity should be preserved and encouraged. “The reasons for this are as varied as they are compelling: scientific, technological, economic, philosophical, ethical, aesthetic, and emotional” . Aldo Leopold stated “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent thinking” . This is perhaps the most rational and simplistic expiation for the protection of nature and biodiversity. The loss of biodiversity would cause humanity to loose the scientific bounty that the natural world can offer; many of which humans depend on for our survival. Most scientists believe that species are becoming extinct at a faster rate now than ever before in history. Both cogs and wheels are vanishing in environments and ecosystems across the globe. This loss of biodiversity will eventually lead to the breakdown of regional ecosystems and eventually the degradation of the global environment and a dramatic reduction in the livability of Earth’s biosphere.

The first use of political power to protect nature by way of a national park came during the Theodore Roosevelt administration in the early 1900s. Together with naturalist and ecologist John Muir, Roosevelt christened the world’s first national parks, including Yellowstone. As an avid hunter and fisherman Teddy was very sympathetic to the idea of protecting wild lands and native species. However, as with many of his pursuits, Theodore become over zealous and used his power as president to issue executive orders ordaining many wide stretches of lands as “regions designated for the protection of natural species” . This began to interfere with a common congressional practice, homesteading grants. Much of the planes states were vacant at the turn of the century and congress used its power to grant homesteads to both improve its image and empower America by granting large farms to families willing to develop the land. Much of the land set to be granted away was usurped by Teddy for his parks. The issue ignited the one of the first real environmental debate in American political history. Congress soon passed a law preventing the President from establishing national parks without congressional approval. Although the Chief Executive may create nature preserves, they no not have the same weight of stature as national parks.
Because an act of congress in required to establish a national park, the process is equivalent to that of passing any other bill (2/3 majority in the house and a simple majority of the senate). With one minor change, the approval of the Secretary of the Interior is required before the park can officially be established.

Although American national parks are the most vigorously protected type of wildlife sanctuary they are simply one breed of nature preserve. Three types of governmentally protected area exist. Federally Administered National Parks, State parks run by states governments and finally, local parks and sanctuaries which are guardianed by county or city governments.
Often, the costs of maintaining a wildlife park are shared between multiple governments. This is the cast the Ohio’s East Fork State Park. Although the state of Ohio retains ultimate jurisdiction over the lands, the State of Ohio, Hamilton County and the Federal Government all contribute to its upkeep. Although this cooperative agreement may seem productive and mutually beneficial, it often creates inconsistency within the park and requires the use of park funds for the establishment of a bureaucratic structure rather than for naturalist causes . These types of issues and their results can be seen at East Fork State Park. The maintenance and wildlife protection aspects of care at East Fork are divided between the State and US Army Corps of Engineers, agents of the Federal Government. Despite the dubious reputation of the Army Corps with regard to their environmental policy, their section of the park is free of debris and trash and park regulation including “on-trails-only” policies are strictly enforced. While the understaffed and under funded State maintained areas of the park are often littered and with out sufficient numbers of park rangers, disrespectful patrons often disrupt local wildlife by carving their own trails through protected areas .

Due to the weight of the undertaking of establishing a national park, many barriers exist when a proposal is made to form one. Two main categories of obstructions occur on the path towards park creation. First and most invasive is the debate that often occurs most often on the floor of the senate. The struggle to find a balance between human development of and wildlife protection is one that occurs in every type of environmental discussion from air pollution control to nuclear waste. The more traditional philosophy encourages human expansion with the understanding that cost to the biosphere is worth the benefits to human kind. The more progressive social schema demands that natural areas be protected with the understanding that the relatively small hindrance to human activities that this protection imposes will be outweighed in the future by the benefits of having a more complete and self sustaining biosphere. Most recently, this debate was made highly public when President Bush proposed opening the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. He, following a more traditional conservative approach, believed the benefits of retrieving these natural resources outweighed the cost of damaging the Alaskan environment. The motion was continually blocked by a liberally controlled senate that encouraged the protection of America’s long term interests by preserving that ecosystem.

The second category of barrier is not between groups with in the legislative structure but rather between the legislative body it’s self, and external groups, especially ecologists and environmental researchers. Often the data produced by these scientists fails to have a lasting social effect because of the failure of congress to effectively communicate with the scientific community. And the disability of the many researchers to present their data in a manor that allows for a layman to easily see the proper course of action and why that course must be followed.

“Many of the reports submitted to congressman are technical in nature and the information, no matter how accurate and diligently collected is rendered useless because the legislator fails to understand it. He if left asking “so what? Florida panthers are becoming extent. So what?”

If the decision is made by the American citizenry that natural areas ought to be protected and ecosystems should be preserved, and that mandate is issued to a government, two types of actions must be taken; both the text of existing law and the interpretation of that law must be altered. The current governmental strategy is both inadequate and inefficient at achieving the aforementioned goals. Proof of this can be presented in many forms. Large predators, such as the Florida panther, who are easily affected by changes in the quantity and quality of a food supply that often occur as the result of ecosystem breakdown are being destroyed at a rate 10 higher than would naturally occur. A great majority of our nation’s bird species are in decline . Amphibians are vanishing mysteriously. Countless invertebrates are dissipating before humans can recognize their existence, and regionally native plant species are loosing the battle for survival to both human and to artificially introduced exotics.

Wildlife preserve are one simply one aspect of what must be a larger effort to protect and conserve Earth’s natural environment. Although it is highly admirable to reserve areas for the protection of wildlife and the enjoyment of a nation’s citizens, more must be done. Attitudes towards conservation, pollution and waste management must be reevaluated and altered. If significant changes are not made by the American and global public, America’s national parks, though marvels of the marriage of ecology and government, will become islands of un-manicured perfections is a world of deteriorating ecosystems.

Works Cited

Bauchner Joshua S.. Intrernationsl Regulitory Devices: Legal Research Guides to the EU Data Protection Directive and the Convention of Biological Diversity. Buffalo: William S. Hein & Co., Inc., 2001.

Mangun, William R.. American Fish and Wildlife Police: The Human Dimension. Chicago: Southern Illinois University, 1992.

Snape, William. Biodiversity and the Law. Washington D.C.: Island Press, 1996.

Topbin, Richard. The Expendable Future: US Politics and the Protection of Biological Diversity. London: Duke University Press, 1990.

Wagner, Fredric H.. Wildlife Policies. Washington D.C.: Island Press, 1995.

Wood, Don A,. Florida's Fragile Wildlife. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001.

US National Park Service. "National Park Servicer History." . 6 may 200. Depertment of the Interior. 1 June 2003 .

Yaffee, Steven Lewis. The Wisdom of the Spotted Owl: Policy Lessons for a New Century. Washington D.C.: Island Press, 1994.

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