- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2007

Marking another Earth Day seems so 1970s, but it is as good a day as any to celebrate the many environmental successes across America.

The grizzly bears of Yellowstone, the American crocodile and the bald eagle are all coming off the Endangered Species List.

The whooping crane, the tallest bird in North America, was reduced in number to less than 20 by World War II. This past winter 237 of these migratory birds made the 2,400-mile trip from Canada to Texas with a record 45 youngsters in tow, including seven pairs of twins.

The California condor had dwindled to only nine in 1994, but it has defied predictions of extinction. It now has a population of 128.

The American peregrine falcon was removed from the endangered list in 1999 and it continues to thrive. This past year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released monitoring results from the first nationwide effort to measure the impressive raptor’s recovery. The 3,000 nesting pairs in North America amount to nearly 10 times the number in 1970 and more than nearly 1,800 breeding pairs at the time of delisting.

And largemouth bass thrive in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Lake, which has the highest concentration of that fish in New York State, thanks to a catch-and-release policy that seems to be just fine with urban anglers. The fish get bigger and put up more of a fight. The lake now has the state’s highest catch rate and 4,573 fishing licenses were sold in Brooklyn last year alone.

Catch a steamboat to the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley and you will find almost 400,000 acres of marginal agricultural land ripe for conversion to sustainable forests. Eighty percent of the floodplains in the Lower Mississippi that were forested have been cleared. The depletion of forests and wetlands not only harms wildlife and fish habitat, but it also removes natural means of absorbing the shock of storms and flooding in the wake of disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina.

The U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development (USBCSD) has led an initiative resulting in approximately 15,000 acres of cropland being converted to cottonwood and hardwood forests. Another 11,000 acres are committed for further conversion. USBCSD estimates that this project will result in $126 million of value added due to recreation, improved water quality, water yield and floodwater retention, carbon sequestration and land lease and harvest income (minus cost).

This reforestation project is typical of many new conservation initiatives in that it embodies a public-private partnership between business, private foundations, government (the Department of Agriculture in this case) and private landowners.

Conservation seems to be taking on shades of red as well as blue if the 2006 elections were any indication. According to the Trust for Public Land, a national conservation organization, voters in 23 states approved 99 ballot measures allocating $5.73 billion for state and local government funding for land and watershed conservation in states such as Texas, Utah and Georgia among others.

This sets a new record that exceeds the previous one of $5.68 billion in the general election of 1998. Moreover, the total amount of conservation funding for the entire calendar year 2006-primary and general election ballot issues also set a new record of $6.03 billion.

But what is truly stunning is the growth in private-sector, free-market conservation on the part of individual citizens, landowners and philanthropists, working through nonprofit land trusts to protect landscapes by means of purchase, acquisition of conservation easements (often by donation) and civic education.

The 2005 National Land Trust Census, conducted by the Land Trust Alliance shows that the total acres conserved by state, local and national land trusts doubled to 37 million acres over the prior five years. This is an area 16 times the size of Yellowstone National Park. The number of land trusts grew to 1,667, a 32 percent increase.

Congress and President Bush have recognized this organic, grass-roots movement by enacting an expansion of the federal conservation tax incentive for conservation easement donations through 2007. Hopefully, these provisions will be made permanent by the time the next Earth Day rolls around and we are looking for more good things to celebrate.

G. Tracy Mehan III served as assistant administrator for water at the EPA in President Bush’s first term. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Potomac Conservancy.

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