January 11, 2009 at 8:44AM
by Jim DiPeso
Let's give credit where credit is due. Establishing three enormous marine preserves in the Pacific was a spectacular conservation achievement for President Bush.
No, it doesn't mean we should forget the administration's dropping the ball on global warming, pushing retrograde energy policies, trying to weaken the Clean Air Act, or the many other environmental errors of omission and commission of the past eight years.
But setting aside nearly 125 million acres of seascape to protect fish, marine mammals, coral reefs, seabirds, and one-of-a-kind geological formations is no mean accomplishment. Especially when you consider that Bush overruled the bilious objections of his strident vice president, who somehow got a notion stuck in his head that protecting unique natural treasures would set a bad precedent.
Bush did nothing of the sort. He simply invoked the Antiquities Act, one of America's least known but most effective conservation laws. He relied on a precedent set a century ago by Theodore Roosevelt. TR used the 1906 law to grant immediate protection to the Grand Canyon and other natural treasures threatened with damage from pell-mell exploitation.
Ever since, presidents from both parties have used the Antiquities Act to expand the frontiers of conservation.
Bush has pushed them farther than any of his predecessors. When combined with the 89 million-acre Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument that he established via the Antiquities Act in 2006, Bush has protected almost 215 million acres at sea bigger than the combined size of the national park and national wildlife refuge systems on land.
Let's take a quick look at some of the treasures contained in the new Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands, and Rose Atoll national monuments.
- There is no place quite like the Marianas Trench, located near Guam. Its bottom is as deep as it's possible to get anywhere on Earth without burrowing into the planetary crust. Surrounding the trench is a submerged wonderland of volcanoes and hot vents that support weird life forms that thrive in acidic water and feast on a liquid pool of sulfur.
- Pacific Line Islands, southwest of Hawaii, protects Wake Island, site of an early battle in World War II's Pacific Theater, along with pristine coral reefs and habitat for birds, sea turtles, and whales.
- Rose Atoll, east of American Samoa and as far south in U.S. territory as one can get, features rare giant clams, reef sharks, and rose-colored corals.
The new monuments will be safe from extraction and dumping, but open for free passage, scientific research, and low-key recreation.
Some may screw their faces into a harsh grimace at the thought of giving George W. Bush credit for anything worthwhile.
Understandable perhaps, but when one thinks of the wonderful creatures and extraordinary natural formations that have been kept safe for posterity, it's a penny to pay for riches beyond imagining.
Nice work, Mr. President.