The Government Shutdown Endangers the Planet

The goShutdownvernment shutdown has received plenty of press. We all know the ways in which it’s related to the Affordable Care Act. We all understand the parts played by Republicans and Democrats alike. And we all realize that the longer the government remains shut down, the more vulnerable are the indigent, the very young, and the very old.

There is talk as well of the impact that the government shutdown is having in the financial sectors. No one will be surprised to see a plummet in the stock market on Tuesday, October 1, 2013. And the longer the government remains shut down, the more volatile the situation will become. With Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit the to White House on September 30, 2013, the keener journalists have finally begun to pay attention to world affairs, recognizing that our government is not just a vehicle for domestic policy, but that it has a foreign interest as well.

What has not reached the front pages, and what is not likely to reach the front pages, is the long-lasting impact that this shutdown will have on America’s natural resources. Yes, many states have a Department of Natural Resources. But no state alone can coordinate the complex network of ecosystems and habitats that have been entrusted to the Department of Interior.

USFWSIn the interests of full disclosure, let me say here that I am a government contractor, and my largest client is the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. However, I have been paid for all outstanding services, and I continue to earn income from other business ventures. So this article is not being written from a petty pecuniary interest on my part.

Instead, it is derived from two sources: (1) my deep and abiding respect for the work ethic that I have encountered among Fish and Wildlife Service employees, and (2) the mission that they work to uphold, which is “to conserve, protect, and enhance plants, animals, and other wildlife for the continuing benefit of the American people.”

I have worked with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service since 2007. And I am appalled at the caricature of the government employee that I continue to encounter. I’m sorry if you have ever had a bad experience at the DMV. But I can assure you that the biologists, the civil engineers, the educators, and the regulators that I have encountered at the Fish and Wildlife Service are among the most dedicated, the most intelligent, and the most compassionate people I have ever known.

These are people who come to work early. They stay late. They labor in small cubicles in windowless offices. They spend most of their time on the phone or the computer gathering data about a species or a habitat that is threatened or endangered so that they can preserve it for our benefit.

With the sequester earlier this year, they are already doing the work of 2 and sometimes 3 people. And despite the fact that they are demoralized by the difficult work conditions and the often overwhelming nature of their task, they continue to not only complete their work but to actively seek out ways in which they can excel at their jobs.

We as a nation decided that our land is valuable. We determined together that large swathes of it needed to be set aside as parks so that we could have places of retreat and repose. We understand the value that nature offers to our minds, our hearts, and our souls. Now those parks sit empty, unkempt, and for how long?

Likewise, wNWRSe determined as a people that certain habitats, ecosystems, and the plants and wildlife sustained thereon deserve to be preserved and protected for the future. The National Wildlife Refuge System was created to uphold this ideal.

These lands are vital to the health of our planet. As their name suggests, they provide refuge for the millions of migratory birds that are now making their arduous and treacherous voyage across the Northern Hemisphere and into Central America. We are obligated by a Migratory Bird Treaty Act to do everything in our power to protect these defenseless animals. Yet we are not funding these refuges.

As hunting season approaches, who will ensure that the game populations are both managed and protected? Wetlands, swamps, and forests are now left to seep brackish water into vulnerable roots. The danger of wildfire looms. And the government remains closed.

Finally, our threatened and endangered species are in greater peril as every day goes by. The system that we have in place is already hard-pressed to maintain the deadlines established by the Endangered Species Act. It is uncertain whether the courts will see the government shutdown as a viable excuse for violating the timelines provided by the Act. Regardless, any delay in implementation will have untold implications for an endangered species such as the bull trout or the whooping crane.

Red_Knot1Obviously, if a developer can’t apply for, let alone receive, a permit regarding the Northern Spotted Owl, his project goes on hold, and the entire community suffers as a result. But what happens when the shut down continues and neither the red knot nor the horseshoe crab can be listed in a timely fashion? Will we stand by and watch as these species disappear from our planet?

We the American people have entrusted our government with a broad range of responsibilities. Representatives, Senators: you have breached the faith. I implore you, whatever your political differences, uphold the trust of the American people. Preserve those resources that we have placed in your care. And as you continue the debate, please remember, all that is lost cannot be recovered.

Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island Tortoise. d. 24 June 2012

Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island Tortoise. d. 24 June 2012



  1. Hi Michelle:
    We have briefly corresponded in the past on writing matters, but I was not aware of your affiliation with Department of Natural Resources and United States Fish and Wildlife Service. For this I say BRAVO to you. We need people like you to push back on the ever expanding rush to destroy our environment and this is a very effective way to keep “a finger in the dam”, U.S. government shutdown notwithstanding.
    Speaking of that Dutch myth we have a group here in Ontario, Canada doing much the same work but on a different program, namely anti-mega quarry and farm land preservation. We managed to win an important battle with a Boston Hedge fund earlier this year who wanted, as owners to destroy over 2500 hectares of prime farmland in favour of mining limestone for roads, concrete etc, and dig a hole wider and deeper than the Niagara Gorge (as in Niagara Falls), ruin headwaters for five or more important rivers and drinking water for almost two million people. This would have destroyed fish, wildlife habitat and changed the level of Lake Ontario. We turned back the 5th largest Hedge Fund in the world who sold the land to a Canadian consortium who lease land to farmers all over Canada, because land is getting too expensive to buy and farm too.
    Our next battle is now raging over the proposed building of an airport in Pickering Township East of Toronto, which is also prime farmland. There is no need for another airport for Toronto and the destruction of thousands of acres of prime farmland. Geographically Canada is the 2nd largest country in our world, but we rank very low in arable farmland because it ceases to exist 300 miles North of the 49th Parallel, or the Canada/ U.S. border. It’s a known fact that of all the land we have, only .05% is useable farmland and includes the vast prairies over three Provinces, and land developers are using it up so fast predictions are there will be no farmland in Canada to grow food by the year 2090.
    As a writer I keep abreast of political going-ons in the United States because what happens there affects everything we do in Canada. Our respective economies are so intertwined now that this U.S. shutdown is going to affect our lives as much as it will Americans. We just won’t have any control to speak of in correcting the length or breadth of it and with a Conservative Prime Minister in bed with the GOP he will likely find ways during this shutdown to further his agenda to support big business and their agendas over the working class who need jobs badly especially our younger generations.
    I have a small SS pension from working in Michigan in the early 80’s and expect it will not be coming with the shutdown.

    Many thanks for your Corporate Writing Pro website, I love reading it and am archiving it for reference.

    Ron Lehman, Orangeville, Ontario.

  2. Thank you, Michelle!

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