Friday, February 9, 2007

Pushing wildlife from our heritage

The national debate over protecting wildlife from developers who would turn natural habitat into new housing and industry sites can be found in microcosm in Blaine County.

Owners of the 4,630-acre Cove Ranch south of Hailey propose building a 338-unit housing project in an area that Idaho Fish and Game agents identify as hillside habitat for wildlife. They suggest shifting the project to a flat farmland area.

Wildlife is as vital to ecological and environmental systems of the Wood River Valley as streams and forests. However, it's gradually being pushed out for the march of so-called civilization.

Nationally, even the national symbol, the bald eagle, is in jeopardy again.

In another retreat from protecting the environment, the U.S. Interior Department proposes to relax protections for the magnificent eagle, which has rebounded from 400 breeding pairs in the 1960s to about 7,000 today.

The greater number of eagles is the justification for relaxing protections: Even if eagles die or are killed by developers knocking down trees in their habitats, there are still enough eagles to go around. But there's danger: Reduced protections invite trigger-happy "sportsmen" to knock off eagles and salvage prized feathers from the carcasses. Reduced protection also opens loopholes for habitat degradation likely to reduce eagle numbers in not just days, but years when it would be difficult or impossible to pin down the cause of their demise.

Getting wildlife back is a lot harder than protecting it in the first place. That's a truth that should guide lawmakers at every level of government lest we wake up one day to a world from which the wild has departed.

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