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    Sunday, October 02, 2022

    Good for wildlife, good for humans

    Wildlife in southeastern Connecticut appears to be getting wilder: reports of bear sightings in the hilly triangle where the Lymes meet; coyote complaints in many neighborhoods of many towns; way more suburban bobcats.

    All you have to do near the shoreline is look up, and soon enough an osprey is apt to cruise by. My own backyard is getting nightly visits from some carnivore that pooh-poohs fences and leaves its calling cards. My guess is the local red fox.

    All of those animals are predators, which go where the food chain flourishes. While that is not welcome news for mice and minnows, it is good for us humans. Where the animals can make a living, generally so can we, locally or globally.

    It appears to be working well here, in spite of the summer’s drought and high temperatures. But how are we doing with the causes of those conditions, years after it became obvious that wildfires, floods and erosion were devastating the homes and lives of both animals and humans? Attention last week was on the Senate passage of the so-called Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which tackles carbon emissions with incentives to make and buy energy-efficient vehicles and appliances and decrease use of fossil fuels.

    By now carbon emissions have been decisively identified as a major culprit in the heating up of the planet and related extreme weather trends. But it will take close to a decade — the bill’s sponsors estimate 2030 — to achieve a significant downturn in emissions.

    Where is the evidence of success, if any, from earlier efforts to involve Congress and the public in preserving the land and water we and the animals depend upon?

    It only turned two years old this month, but the Great American Outdoors Act, passed in 2020 as a five-year, $1.9 billion-per-year plan for critical maintenance to national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, recreation areas and American Indian schools. The parks’ popularity had not been enough to generate needed funds for deteriorating buildings, trails, roads and other infrastructure, some of it dating from the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s.

    Our corner of Connecticut has two wildlife refuges overseen by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge has 1,000 acres of forest, shrub land, barrier beach, tidal wetland and fragile island habitats spread across 70 miles of the Connecticut coastline, including Westbrook. The Pachaug-Ledyard Focus Area of the Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge, administered by staff at McKinney, only recently got its final approvals for specific types of future use. Upstream of us in the Connecticut River watershed is the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, extending from northern Vermont into Connecticut. All can benefit.

    The outdoors act also makes permanent the existing Land and Water Conservation Fund and allots $900 million per year to conservation and recreation opportunities across the country, funded by royalties from offshore oil and natural gas. The fund is being put to use in drought-stricken California, where decades of development have dropped the water flow in the San Joaquin River Basin. A sort-of modernized conservation corps is doing the hard work of digging ditches.

    And it is hard work — but it does not feel that way for those who fall in love with the great outdoors.

    Last week Connecticut conservationists gathered at the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center in Old Lyme to celebrate the Great American Outdoors Act. As a bipartisan effort in the fraught presidential election year of 2020, it was a rare victory. President Trump signed the bill into law. Precious few bills got that far in that period, but this one made it. It is good for wildlife, for humans, and for the planet.

    Lisa McGinley is a member of The Day Editorial Board.

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