The last couple of weeks have been bad for the Earth and its residents.
In Madison, Republicans moved closer to tearing apart protections of wetlands across the state, saying they inhibit growth. The Assembly Committee on Regulatory Licensing Reform voted to amend Assembly Bill 547 on a party‐line vote. The bill would, according to the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, “clear the way for the destruction of hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands important for providing fish and wildlife habitat, reducing floods, recharging groundwater, and protecting water quality.”
Opponents, including Ducks Unlimited, note that the bill also promotes sprawl by removing protection of state jurisdictional wetlands in every city and village in Wisconsin, including areas within a one‐mile radius of those municipalities, sewerage service areas and nearly 300 town sanitary districts spread across Wisconsin.
The bill removes key wetland replacement provisions. It also removes local authority to protect isolated wetlands through zoning. These provisions will result in a net loss of untold amounts of wetlands across Wisconsin’s urban and rural settings, undermining community‐based efforts to address flooding and poor water quality challenges. It may well increase the costs of flood control in these communities. Wetlands and associated systems are sometimes called “green infrastructure.” They are often a cost-effective way of dealing with storm water runoff and flooding.
Lawmakers who support the bill say their focus is on small wetlands that aren’t high-quality or rare. Let’s get something straight here: They don’t know what they’re talking about. In addition to the practical values of dealing with runoff and flooding, many of these little wetlands are crucial to an array of life forms. Some are vernal ponds that hold water for only part of the year. These are the places where spring peepers and wood frogs raise their clarion voices in the springtime. The little frogs are there for an important reason: The isolated ponds keep them safe from predators, except, unfortunately, humans.
These lawmakers know nothing about evolutionary biology, but if they did, they would know that most biologists believe we’re in the midst of the sixth great extinction cycle on Earth, the Anthropocene, so named because it’s caused by humans, willfully or out of ignorance. Amphibians like frogs and toads have been hit especially hard across the globe. So when this bill becomes law and it begins to mow down fragile populations, we’ll know exactly who to blame.
The Anthropocene is in part related to climate change, and in Washington, President Donald Trump made a slew of ignorant and wrong comments about this topic in a recent interview. His administration is now alone in the world in declaring that we need not worry about climate change. Trump claimed polar ice caps are at a record level. They are — but they are at record lows in our time. Arctic sea ice is in such a rapid long-term decline that climate scientists have described it as a “death spiral.” Conservationists who work the halls of Congress say that some Republicans know climate change is real and something has to be done, but they are, well, frozen in place, for political reasons. How’s that for leadership?
While Trump fiddled, a video of an emaciated polar bear crawling along in search of food went viral. Polar bears may be heading toward extinction faster than previously feared as they face an increasing struggle to find enough food to survive as climate change transforms their environment. As it turns out, the iconic predators have much higher metabolism than previously thought. They need more food, primarily seals, to meet their energy demands. But sea ice is making hunting increasingly difficult for the animals.
Yes, it has been a tough stretch for those who love the Earth.
Bill Berry of Stevens Point writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org
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