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Bush as Defender of Nature?
Now That's a Fish Story

by Joel Connelly, P-I Columnist
In The Northwest, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 22, 2003

Joel Connelly, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Columnist The scene atop Bogachiel Peak is preserved by film and embedded in memory: A thunderstorm was clearing, the Hoh River was filled with fog, and Mount Olympus floated above it and glowed in the late-day sun.

My spouse remarked on what looked like snags in the meadow below. All of a sudden, the "snags" rose to their feet, and a dozen Roosevelt elk moved swiftly and silently into the forest.

By their name, Roosevelt elk stand for two noble American traditions. President Bush, who visits the Puget Sound basin today, seems bent on abandoning both.

One is Republican environmentalism: A great GOP president, Theodore Roosevelt, designated the first Mount Olympus National Monument to keep the great elk herds from being wiped out.

The second tradition is bipartisanship in protecting America's treasures. A distant cousin and Democratic president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, fell in love with the Olympics and designed a national park that protected not only peaks but primeval forests.

Alas, such traditions are nowadays giving way to "greenwashing."

Politicians scheme to weaken environmental laws and open pristine places to logging and drilling, and then use photo backdrops to depict themselves as defenders of nature.

The Bush II administration, preparing for the 2004 election, has set out to greenwash itself. The president will stop by the Ice Harbor Dam today in a bid to identify himself as a champion of restoring salmon habitat.

It's no wonder the term "fish story" was developed as a synonym for exaggeration or the tall tale.

Last year this administration -- under prodding from its political strategist Karl Rove -- ignored recommendations by hydrologists and biologists, and sharply increased water going to irrigators in Oregon's Klamath Basin.

As a result, last September, low river flows resulted in the mortality downstream of 33,000 chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout -- one of the biggest fish kills in the history of the West.

Is the administration, as it claims, seeking a "balance" in environmental management?

Hardly. What's apparent is how much at odds Bush II is from 20th-century Republican administrations.

Theodore Roosevelt created Alaska's Chugach National Forest largely to protect the famed migratory bird habitat of the Copper River Delta from being bespoiled by mining barons.

Bush II has pulled the Chugach out of protection of the U.S. Forest Service's "Roadless Rule."

Dwight Eisenhower, just before leaving office, created what was then the Arctic National Wildlife Range in the Brooks Range and along the coastal plain of the Beaufort Sea.

Bush II wants 1.2 million acres of America's greatest wildlife refuge thrown open to oil and gas drilling.

Some noted conservatives, in this region and nationally, have championed conservation.

Richard Nixon signed into law the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act. The laws were pushed through Congress by a distinguished Democrat, Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington, and overseen at the White House by expatriate Seattle lawyers John Ehrlichman and Bud Krogh.

Bush II is campaigning to remove NEPA requirements from a good deal of timber cutting on federal lands, and to exempt the Pentagon from having to comply with any of the landmark environmental laws of the early 1970s.

Gerald Ford signed 1976 legislation creating the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, despite veto urgings from his Agriculture Department. GOP Gov. Dan Evans convinced him of the virtues of protecting the "land of 600 lakes."

"A tree's a tree," Ronald Reagan once declared. Still, the Gipper helped preserve 2 million acres of Northwest forests. He signed into law the Washington and Oregon wilderness acts, written by GOP senators from the two states, plus legislation creating the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

"Greenwashing" is quite a different game: It's rooted in pretense, not achievement.

Then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich used to greet Earth Day each year by giving his troops a tip sheet of public acts to show concern for the environment. A big deal with Gingrich was visiting zoos.

In a recent memo, pollster Frank Luntz advised Republican politicians to give personal testaments to their love of the outdoors.

"Preserving parks and open spaces is a winner because it doesn't need to be explained to everyday Americans," he wrote. "We need more issues like this."

The advice is being followed. Sensing vulnerability on the environment, Bush has turned outdoorsman in the past week, proclaiming commitment to restoring national parks.

At home, we've seen the same thing. Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., regularly gets a score of 0 when the League of Conservation Voters evaluates Congress' key votes. But Nethercutt's TV spots tout him as a protector of the Spokane Aquifer's pure waters.

Nature runs wild when Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., runs for re-election. Dunn's ads have shown her canoeing. They've featured shots of ancient forests, rushing waterfalls, running elk and Mount Rainier.

When, then, will Dunn use her much-touted influence to win House passage of the Wild Sky Wilderness bill? She is, after all, a sponsor -- and Patty Murray got it through the Senate.

The presidential fish story today should feature gorgeous "visuals" for Bush and his supporting cast.

The public should, however, ask a question made famous by an old lady named Clara Peller in a Wendy's commercial: "Where's the beef?"

Joel Connelly
Bush as Defender of Nature? Now That's a Fish Story
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 22, 2003

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