Defenders View

A word from Rodger

Rodger Schlickeisen, © Krista Schlyer /

© Krista Schlyer /
For those who had hoped Barack Obama’s election would result in conservation initiatives that finally restore protections for imperiled wildlife and natural ecosystems, the results have been seriously disappointing.

Candidate Obama said he would make dealing with environmental problems—particularly climate change, a gigantic threat to species and habitat—a top priority. Congress responded swiftly, approving legislation to curb heat-trapping pollution emissions. Then the president chose not to push the Senate to act and essentially doomed any chance of passing climate legislation for the foreseeable future. Heavy Democratic losses in the 2010 elections have given control of the House to congressional Republicans, most of whom refuse to accept that we’re destroying our climate. And now Republicans have fired a salvo of budget provisions at wildlife and environmental agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, severely challenging their ability to deal with climate change and the recovery of endangered species.

Obama’s timid approach on oil and gas reform also has far-reaching consequences. The BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil well explosion underscored the need for stricter regulation of offshore oil drilling. Yet Obama, after appointing a commission that recommended stronger regulations, has made no serious effort to promulgate them. It’s hard to believe that the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history cannot trigger the president to act. And many in Congress have now seized on this leadership void to do Big Oil’s bidding by promoting more drilling in even more sensitive, difficult-to-reach places—including Alaska’s icy Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

Obama promised to bring science back to decision-making. But Interior Secretary Ken Salazar adopted Bush’s politically motivated plan to remove protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies. When a court overturned his illegal action, Salazar encouraged Congress to enact legislation removing protection for wolves. And for the first time in the history of the Endangered Species Act, Congress—with the complicity of the Obama administration—removed all protection from a listed species.

Obama’s record gives us little reason for optimism. Whether he can yet earn a passing mark this term will depend upon two pending conservation regulatory proposals—a rewrite of the rules that govern management of our national forests and grasslands, and the drafting of new guidelines that will determine whether massive renewable energy development on public lands is environmentally sustainable.

Those of us who care about the fate of our increasingly imperiled natural world must demand real progress that promises to solve very real problems. For conservation, the future has to be now.  

Rodger Schlickeisen,

More Articles from Summer 2011

“As a photographer, I learned a long time ago to get in touch with my feminine side,” says photographer Jim Chagares, whose sensitive portrait of an Alaskan brown bear nursing her cubs struck a chord with our readers and won the grand prize in Defenders of Wildlife’s 2011 photography contest.
Wolves always seem to get the short end of the stick in Alaska, where politicians often shoot first without even bothering to ask questions later. But that wasn’t the case this time.
One of the world’s most far-sighted environmental laws took a serious beating in April when Congress and President Obama quietly stripped federal protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies.
Clean up from the largest human-caused environmental disaster in U.S. history in the Gulf of Mexico last year isn’t close to over.
Endangered Cook Inlet belugas finally have something to smile about: the long-awaited designation of more than 3,000 square miles of critical habitat that scientists deem essential to their survival.
Yellowstone bison that search for food across park boundaries during harsh winter months are typically hazed back into the park or captured and sent to slaughter.
When the weather warms, Vitro Hilton, like so many of us, can’t wait to get his grill on. A vegetarian, he already has come a long way in reducing his carbon footprint.