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Big Oil vs. Wildlife

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BY GEORGE H. HARRISON

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As the BP oil disaster moves from the Gulf of Mexico to the courts, it is noteworthy to consider the damages caused to wildlife. Interestingly, the damages to be considered by the courts are those to people, such as lost income, equipment and marinas. Millions, if not billions, will be paid out for losses to people, but what will be paid out for losses to wildlife?

Apparently, the brown pelican was the No. 1 bird hit hardest by the spill. Just one year after being removed from the endangered species list, the Louisiana state bird was a success story of restoration. The oil spill could not have come at a worst time for the pelicans, which were on the verge of another breeding season. Many of the islands where they nest were oil-soaked, and no one knows how many of the 8,000 to 16,000 pairs were either killed or did not reproduce.

Nor does anyone know how many other species of birds, mammals, insects, crustaceans, fish, etc., were affected, but we all know that it had to be enormous. And who really cares, besides those who make a living harvesting them?

What about those volunteers who spent days and weeks cleaning oiled birds? They must have cared, but their work was a waste of time. Studies show that rehabbing oiled or injured wildlife has virtually no effect on the species. The number of pelicans that survived the rehabbing process and were released to live to the next breeding season is so minute that it isn’t worth counting them.

So, what’s your point, Harrison?

My point is that in this day and age of fossil fuel dependency, there is no way that wildlife and the natural environment have a ghost of a change of competing with “Big Oil.” Offshore oil drilling and drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other pristine environments, will eventually be approved by our government because we “have” to have the oil at any cost. It’s a matter of national security, and no brown pelican or caribou or endangered warbler will stand in the way. That’s just the way it is. ♦

—A member since 1963, George Harrison is a field editor for National Wildlife and contributing editor for Birds and Blooms. He is also a freelance writer and photographer, and consultant and author. Contact him at ghhkph@gmail.com.

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