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Conservation In Mind – Protecting species, citizens’ participation

By Frances Lamberts

An interview with country singer Roseanne Cash was reported in the newspaper Zeit in December, following a performance in Essen, a city in Germany. As to her first memory of politics, she related writing to President Johnson, at 9 years old. I told him that I liked him,” Ms. Cash said, “and would have voted for him had I been old enough.” She had also wanted to know what he does in his free time, but never heard back from him.

It brought to mind other examples of children conveying sentiments or concerns to political leaders.

When a freshwater mussel was nearing extirpation in the Nolichucky River, fourth- and fifth-grade children from Chuckey sent letters to the Fish and Wildlife Service, as the Service held a public hearing on listing this species for protection under the Endangered Species Act. One student’s penciled message (as written): “I think the people in fifth grade are really mad that the mussels are dying out, and that they might not be around for future generations. We are hoping that someone will do something to save the mussels.”

Letters about air and water pollution to Senator Gaylord Nelson, by dozens of grade school children, are preserved in a small book titled “What are me and you gonna do?” One student’s note (as written): “I go along with you on pollution. I think it should try to be stopped. I think that we should use electric car electric trains and electric buses. And another thing I am too young to die.”

For these children came promising answers. The Elktoe mussel received protection and its population was expanding in the river’s upper reaches a decade later. It is one of the nearly 99 percent of all imperiled plant and animal species which the ESA, so far, has successfully saved from extinction. And Earth Day, begun by Senator Nelson, annually in April lets us celebrate nature’s beauty and many services to humankind, and renew or initiate actions for its protection.

The Administration’s rule changes to the Endangered Species law could seriously weaken wildlife protections. Its recent changes to “modernize” the National Environmental Policy Act would dramatically curb opportunities for citizens to participate in government decisions that affect their communities, the environment and people’s health.

The children, their future well-being threatened when the environment is degraded, can rightly ask: What are me and you, and the courts, “gonna do?”