The Global Citizen: Stopping by Lambs on a Sunny Morning

I should be writing about the new Clean Water Act just passed by the House. It removes half the nation's remaining wetlands from federal protection. It vastly increases (from 5 to 70,000!) the number of pollutants for which industry can get exemptions from federal emission standards. This bill was drafted by chemical industry lobbyists. Its Congressional promoters are not even ashamed of that.

I am furious, saddened, scared for our waters and our health. But it's a beautiful May morning, and the lambs are stopping traffic.

I just put them out with their moms onto the pasture across the road. Nearly every car that comes by slows down to relish the sight. Cars with small children in back stop outright. The grass is the incandescent green of May, splashed with yellow dandelions. Some of the lambs are white, some are coal black. They make a breathtaking sight.

Both the Senate and the House have approved the "rescission rider," which orders the Forest Service to double logging in the national forests over the next two years. It waives all laws (such as the Endangered Species Act) that might interfere with the cut and prevents citizens from going to court to protest. The timber lobbyists who wrote this law claim that a harvest is necessary to remove dead wood and prevent forest fires. Dozens of ecologists and foresters have testified that that's nonsense.

Those forests are owned by you and me, and we're being stolen blind. Not only will this cut trash ecosystems, but we'll lose $500 million on the deal, because we pay for the logging roads and we charge too little for the cutting rights. That's what happens when lobbyists write bills.

It's an abomination. It makes my blood boil. But the lambs on the pasture are dancing. They bounce, they leap, they make crazy white and black patterns across the green and yellow field. They form a gang and run around in a wide circle as if on a race track of their own imagining. As far as I can tell, they do this for the fun of it, exercising their young muscles, rejoicing in the million sparks set off by the morning sun in the dew-wet grass. A driver on our sleepy rural road would have to be blinded by hassle and hurry to go by without slowing to admire the sight. A shepherd has a hard time maintaining a mood of outrage.

Rep. Jim Hansen (R-UT) is working on a bill to sell the national parks. Sen. Craig Thomas (R-WY) wants to transfer federal BLM lands to the Western states. The National Rifle Association and other lobbies have rewritten the law governing national wildlife refuges, weakening the protection standards and exempting the Pentagon, the Department of Transportation, and other federal agencies from refuge law.

Down at the bridge over the brook our ducks are stopping traffic too. They're Khaki Campbells that we raised from day-old hatchlings. I don't want them in the brook. It's a watery brushy tangle down there -- one of the nation's surviving wetlands. Raccoons and foxes lurk, waiting to pounce on fat ducks. The ducks think it's paradise, though, and so far they've been smart enough to avoid predators. They waddle down from the barn, cross the road, stopping traffic, and disappear for hours. Then they waddle back up, cross the road, stopping traffic, climb the hill, and quack for grain. The few drivers who use our sleepy rural road seem to be willing to stop for ducks with a smile.

Senators Stevens and Murkowski (R-AK) are planning hearings to ask why the Forest Service isn't cutting more timber in the Tongass rainforest. Senator Domenici (R-AZ) will soon introduce a bill to turn over control of national grazing lands to local ranchers. Senator Gorton (R-WA) let timber, mining, and ranching lobbyists draft the new Endangered Species Act. It revokes existing recovery plans for 600 species and asks that they be redone (while the budget is cut). It gives the Secretary of the Interior the option to decide single-handedly that a species just isn't worth protecting. It prohibits only outright killing of an endangered creature, not removal of its habitat. (Developers can bulldoze the coastal scrub home of the California gnatcatcher; loggers can level the forests of the spotted owl -- just so they don't lay a finger on a bird.)

In the barn there's another set of traffic-stoppers -- the big gray Toulouse geese with four greenish, fuzzy goslings. They're just about ready to go down on the pond. All summer the folks with kids in the backs of the cars will pull over to watch the little flotilla, babies paddling after their parents as if they were attached by strings. People from town save up old bread and drive down to offer it to the geese, who look proud and majestic but are never above accepting a handout.

I can't believe that the folks who brake for ducks, who welcome goldfinches to their backyard feeders, who fish for trout in the brook, who stopped me the other day to point out four deer in the horse pasture, who led me one June to the secret place where the lady-slippers grow -- I can't believe, however they voted last fall, that these people want the environmental laws of the land gutted.

They are not "elitists," certainly not "anti-American environmentalist wackos." They're too busy living their lives and admiring the spring to pay attention to the resource grab going on in Washington. If they knew, they'd wonder how people ever got so sour-minded and money-obsessed.

"Come on up here," I think they'd say. "Clear the power trips out of your heads and remember what's important. Let the ducks show you what a wetland is for. Come see the lady slippers. On the way we'll stop for a minute and watch the lambs dance."

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