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Heat relief: Without steps to curb global warming, animals, plants we need to survive will vanish forever

Without steps to curb global warming, plants, animals we need for food, drugs will vanish

This saguaro, standing like a sentinel in silhouette, is among the "iconic, charismatic mega flora" that could be endangered by climate change, says a scientific panel's recent report.

This saguaro, standing like a sentinel in silhouette, is among the "iconic, charismatic mega flora" that could be endangered by climate change, says a scientific panel's recent report.

Friday marked the third annual national Endangered Species Day, a day set aside to recognize our nation’s efforts to safeguard our rarest fish, wildlife and plants.

But this year, one fact is clear: Global warming is changing everything we know about protecting wildlife and natural resources.

Luckily, thanks to U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva and other members of Congress, we also have an opportunity to finally tackle global warming and ensure that our wildlife heritage is protected for future generations of Americans.

In our warming world, habitats around the globe are shrinking and being destroyed while plants and wildlife are forced to adapt, migrate – or perish.

While the iconic polar bear gets most of the press, few species are immune, and many are in peril – including Arizona’s trademark saguaro cactus.

A recent report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program warns that due to the warming climate “. . . the probability of loss of iconic, charismatic mega flora such as saguaro cacti and Joshua trees will greatly increase.”

The world-class scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change have summed up the challenge in stark figures:

Without strong, rapid action to address global warming, 20 to 30 percent of the world’s plant and animal species will be at increased risk of extinction.

Stopping extinction is more than the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do. By safeguarding wildlife and natural resources, we keep our communities healthy and sustainable.

We all depend on diverse eco-systems for many life-sustaining services. These “ecosystem services” help produce and maintain clean water and air, and supply a variety of foods and medicines.

In arid Arizona, for example, our water flows in part from the healthy forest ecosystems along the Mogollon Rim and in the White Mountains.

Birds and insects pollinate our crops at no cost – just imagine what it would cost to do this by hand!

Wildlife activity are not only essential for our well-being, but also are an enormous boon to our economy.

According to the newest National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation, 87.5 million Americans spent more than $122 billion in 2006 on wildlife-related recreation.

This spending supports hundreds of thousands of jobs. In Arizona, for example, it is estimated that hunting and fishing contribute $1.3 billion to the state’s economy each year.

We rely upon nature, and nature relies upon us. But we need to act fast to make sure that we don’t lose our wildlife and the natural resources we all depend upon.

By taking steps to curb our nation’s carbon pollution, we begin the transition to a sustainable green economy by lifting the burden off taxpayers and placing it squarely upon the polluting industries responsible for causing global warming.

But there is more to be done. Comprehensive climate and energy legislation must also include funding and strategies specifically aimed at safeguarding our wildlife and natural resources.

Grijalva has recently introduced a bill, the Climate Change Safeguards for Natural Resources Conservation Act of 2009 (HR 2192), that will help bolster the resilience of natural ecosystems in the face of global warming.

The legislation would create strong, coordinated national and state plans to put the best possible tools and strategies in the hands of state, federal and tribal land managers.

The bill would also boost scientific capacity to ensure that management decisions are informed by the best available science and monitoring.

Of course, it’s vital that Grijalva’s bill be backed with enough funding to do the job right.

Congress should dedicate 5 percent of the total revenues generated by a federal climate program to safeguard wildlife and ecosystems in a warming world.

It’s a small investment to ensure that the world we leave our children is as close as possible to the one that we have been fortunate enough to inherit.

The phrase “extinction is forever” is a potent reminder of what we have to lose and what must be done.

We all rely on nature for survival, so we must strengthen our efforts to address the negative impacts of global warming.

When we reduce pollution that contributes to global warming and invest in ways to safeguard nature and wildlife, we are not only helping nature, we are helping ourselves.

Scotty Johnson, a native Arizonan and Tucson resident, is the senior outreach representative for Defenders of Wildlife – a national conservation organization. For more information about the effects of climate change on wildlife and natural resources, see the Defenders’ new report “Beyond Cutting Emissions” at www.defenders.org.

Scotty Johnson

Scotty Johnson



Climate Change Safeguards for Natural Resources Conservation Act of 2009 (H.R. 2192): tinyurl.com/qv3wum

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