Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

For Peat’s Sake: Science, Wetlands and Politics

By Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

After the 2014 mid-term election results came in, my initial thought was – is this going to impact wetland protection, and if so, how? Before the days of unrelenting and unapologetic bipartisan gridlock in Washington D.C., science and environmental protection were never viewed as being the concern of one party over another. forpeatssake111314-1Many of our most significant and successful national environmental protections and programs were developed and passed by both parties – nearly unanimously – because those in power during the 1970s recognized that our environmental health was directly connected to human health, economic health and the health of wildlife regardless of one’s political leanings. In fact, in 1972 Congress overrode a veto by President Nixon to pass the Clean Water Act[1]. And in 1973, Nixon called on Congress to develop better protections for species and the Endangered Species Act passed almost unanimously.[2]

forpeatssake111314-2Sadly this is not the world we live in today. At the time that these bills were passed it was easy to see the impact of unregulated industry and agriculture. Unfettered releases of toxins and pollution into our air and waters had caused significant impacts to high profile species such as the American Bald Eagle. And the Cuyahoga River fire in 1969 certainly could not be ignored. Because of protections afforded by the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act, our country looks very different today. Most folks today don’t worry about breathing the air, drinking their tap water, or swimming in their local lakes and ponds because the laws have done what they were intended to do – protect these valuable resources.

But regardless of what political party we may belong to, our memories are short and those of us who lived through the 1960s and 1970s are growing old. There are fewer of us kicking around now who remember why we enacted these laws to begin with. This past summer I moderated a webinar that was about lessons learned from the 2013 Colorado floods. The presenter made a very acute observation that he shared with us: we have about a 2 year window after any major catastrophe to get policies and laws changed or the general public will forget about the events and will lose their sense of urgency to address the issues that precipitated the event. Out of sight = out of mind.

forpeatssake111314-3Today I am afraid that we take for granted what these environmental laws have provided for us. They are viewed now by some as an impediment to economic growth and an unfair burden on business – a “job killer.” Science is no longer held in such high esteem and the scientific process is viewed as cumbersome and flawed. The Great Recession changed the priorities of this country in some very fundamental ways. Not that there wasn’t a focus on economic growth before – but there wasn’t this sense of panic that I see today that precludes any other policy considerations. I have no idea what the impact will be (if any) on wetland protection from the recent election, but it appears that even with the public outcry for more efforts to break down the gridlock, we may be facing more of it – like it or not. And the role of objective scientific findings to inform policy is still tenable.

But enough of my musings. As much as I get brought down by the weight of these issues, I do always try to find a way to laugh and lighten my spirit. How else can we continue if we don’t, right? So I found this bit of humor online that not only sums up my observations of today’s political climate, but also made me laugh out loud, as I hope it will for you!

Here we go:

forpeatssake111314-4A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost. He reduced the altitude and spotted a woman below. He descended a bit more and shouted. “Excuse me… can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”

The woman replied, “You are in a hot air balloon approximately 30 feet above the ground. You are between 40 and 41 degrees North latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude.”

“You must be a Scientist,” said the balloonist.

“I am,” said the woman.

“How did you know?”

“Well”, answered the balloonist, “everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help so far.”

The woman below responded. “You must be a politician.”

“I am,” replied the balloonist, “but how did you know?”

“Well,” said the woman, “You don’t know where you are or where you’re going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem.”

She continued after a moment of silence: “The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it’s my fault.”

(taken from

So for Peat’s Sake, keep up the good fight, keep up the faith, and find some time to laugh!


This entry was posted in Clean Water Act, economic growth, endangered species, pollution prevention, water policy, wetland science and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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