MAINE VOICES: Brownie Carson and Larry Schweiger
Brownie Carson and Larry Schweiger, special to the Telegram
Over 30 years ago, with the Cuyahoga River in Ohio so polluted it caught fire and Lake Erie dead, our waters were in crisis and many could not support fisheries, waterfowl or other wildlife.
Congress realized that without broad, comprehensive federal protections, future generations would not know waters teeming with ducks, trout, bass and other wildlife.
In one of the greatest achievements of environmental protection, Congress responded by passing the Clean Water Act and establishing successful, broad protections for the waters that people and wildlife depend on.
This act has been crucial in cleaning up our waters and protecting vital habitat for both game and non-game species that outdoor enthusiasts enjoy.
Like other states, Maine has benefited greatly from the Clean Water Act. With a proud heritage of wildlife and tradition of good stewardship over its resources, Maine has partnered with the federal government to provide comprehensive protection for Maine’s great streams and wetlands.
Now, however, the Clean Water Act is under attack. In an effort to undo Congress’s will, certain developers and industrial interests are trying to get the U.S. Supreme Court to remove federal protections for well over half of the streams and wetlands that flow into larger waters and provide irreplaceable habitat for trout, ducks, and other wildlife.
These development interests are making the seemingly ridiculous argument that while Congress may have intended to regulate pollution being dumped into larger waters, it meant to allow dumping into the streams and wetlands that flow directly into those larger waters. These waters include the very places where most ducks breed and many fish spawn.
Opponents of comprehensive Clean Water Act protections also argue that waters would not be harmed if Clean Water Act safeguards are scaled back, because states could step in and protect streams and wetlands.
Maine and most Northeast states do have certain wetlands protections in place, but this is the exception. Most states have no protections for wetlands at all, and several states have laws that don’t permit them to regulate waters any more strictly than federal protection allows.
But even states like Maine that have some protections in place need all the help they can get. With current state staffing already too thin and development pressures increasing, any rollback by the federal government would be a serious blow to wetlands protection in Maine.
The Bush administration, along with more than 30 states, including Maine, and an unprecedented number of wildlife and sporting groups, such as the National Wildlife Federation, former Environmental Protection Agency administrators, a bipartisan group of congressional members and others, have argued before the Court for Clean Water Act protections to remain strong.
These efforts acknowledge the strength of Maine’s and America’s tradition to respect and protect wildlife.
The decision, which is expected as early as this month, is now in the court’s hands. However, the voice of the public must be heard. Outdoor enthusiasts must continue to speak out in favor of strong Clean Water Act protections.
Outdoor enthusiasts can help by urging the administration to keep defending the act in the courts and to resist any efforts to weaken it through rule making.
Maine is a place people love in large part because of its wildlife. But unless the waters wildlife and people depend on in Maine are protected, it may lose this great heritage.
If we don’t act now, we risk not being able to pass along to our children the proud tradition we enjoy today of hunting and fishing in our wetlands, streams, rivers and lakes.
Brownie Carson is executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.