August 2004 Newsletter Articles
FROM THE CHAIR…Bob Taylor
BUSH ADMINISTRATION MISSES THE TRAIN
KEEP THAT MOMENTUM GOING!
ECOTOURISM AND A NEW, IMPROVED VACATION GUIDE
LAST CHANCE TO ENTER THE ENVIRONMENTAL LANDS PHOTO CONTEST
As is our custom during the summer months, the group’s July meeting was held at a member’s home, rather than at the Audubon Nature Center. John and Marian Ryan hosted the informal, agenda-free meeting and with free flowing discussion of numerous environmental and political topics, a good time was had by all. Marian is recovering nicely from the broken femur (thigh bone) that she acquired last month. Despite this serious injury, she already is attending environmentally important meetings and has scarcely missed a beat with her correspondence. Three cheers for her service above and beyond the call of duty.
On the national front, it seems that President Bush and his oil baron cronies are on the prowl again in the arctic northwestern regions of Alaska. This time, as reported in a message from Robert Redford (actor, environmental activist, and board member of the Natural Resources Defense Council), the Bush Administration is "using the recent rise in gasoline prices as a pretext to sacrifice one of America's greatest natural treasures -- the Western Arctic Reserve of Alaska -- to massive oil development." Redford adds "The Western Arctic Reserve may be less well-known than the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- which lies directly to the east -- but its wildlife populations are every bit as unique, spectacular and endangered." Redford’s group is especially concerned about "the Western Arctic Reserve's Teshekpuk Lake region -- one of the most important tundra-wetland ecosystems left on our planet. This vast network of coastal lagoons, deep water lakes, sedge grass meadows and braided streams provides the critical calving grounds for the 45,000-member Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd", and provides the nesting grounds for many important waterfowl species.
Incredibly, this region has never been granted full federal protection because it was set aside by Congress as the "National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska" nearly a century ago. But Congress also stipulated that this oil field be tapped only in time of dire national need. Even during the darkest days of World War II and the oil embargo of the 1970s, this reserve was not touched. Clearly, the current elevation in oil prices (which some suspect may be politically engendered), is not sufficiently dire to justify the proposed raid.
Redford’s group states that "Drilling in the Western Arctic would have no effect on gas prices at the pump. Its oil would take years to get to market and would never equal more than one or two percent of America's oil supply -- a tiny drop in the bucket of our nation's oil consumption".
We are urged to join Redford "in telling the Bush administration to follow the cleaner and more self-reliant path of fuel efficiency -- and to put Teshekpuk Lake and other critical habitats off limits to the oil industry. Time is of the essence. Over the next 30 days, the Bush administration is taking public comments on its plan to put 96 percent of the reserve's wildlife-filled northeast region on the auction block. Let us do our part by going to http://www.savebiogems.org/westernarctic/takeaction.asp?RR0407 and sending an electronic message telling the Bureau of Land Management to withdraw its destructive plan and to permanently protect the reserve's world-class wildlife habitats.
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The Bush administration's transit policies are missing the train, and American workers are paying the price. That's the conclusion of a new Sierra Club report, which details how local economic pressures feed a growing demand for rail and other public transit projects and how the administration's bias against transit is out of touch with America's communities and commuters.
The growing popularity of public transportation underscores an important realization that is taking hold in communities across the country: that public transit spurs revitalization and redevelopment and it fights smog and traffic. It does so without feeding sprawl the way haphazard road building does. Regardless of these facts, the Bush administration is trying to shortchange transit and favor highway building in our communities.
Public Transportation Progress Jeopardized
Among hundreds of public transportation projects that could be significantly stalled due to the Bush administration's transportation proposal, the report highlights a dozen public transportation projects.
< p> While dozens more projects would likely suffer under the Bush Administration proposal, the projects listed above are a representative sample. Delaying or preventing these from getting built would harm commutes, economic revitalization, better jobs and improving our environment.
- Florida - Tampa Bay Regional Rail System
- Georgia - Atlanta-Athens Commuter Rail
- Indiana - Northeast Indianapolis Corridor Rapid Transit
- Louisiana - Jefferson, Orleans, and St. Charles Parishes light rail
- Maryland - Bethesda to New Carrollton Purple Line
- Michigan - Downtown Detroit to Metro Airport Rail Project
- New Hampshire/Massachusetts - Lowell-Nashua Commuter Rail Extension
- Ohio - Cincinnati Interstate 75 Corridor Light Rail
- Oregon - Portland South Corridor Light Rail
- Texas - Houston Light Rail Extension
- Virginia - Williamsburg-Newport News-Hampton Light Rail
- Wisconsin - Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee Metra Extension
Need for Greater Transit Investment
The Sierra Club report documents the benefits of transit and the costs of the Bush administration policies. The report argues that the United States deserves a balanced transportation plan that is sensible for both the environment and the economy.
In recent years, demand for public transportation has increased significantly, and new transit ridership has greatly exceeded projections. Since the last time Congress took up a major transportation funding bill in 1998, public transit ridership has increased 21 percent. New transit lines are greatly exceeding projected ridership in Houston, Dallas, Denver, Salt Lake City and elsewhere. New Starts, the federal program that helps promising transit projects get off the ground, has a record backlog of over 200 projects, reflecting the fact that more and more communities are embracing, and clamoring for, public transportation.
The report lays out the economic issues behind this growing support for public transit in America's communities, looking at employee stress levels, the challenges of low wage commuters, redevelopment linked to transit, and jobs directly in the transit sector.
The benefits of transit seem lost on the Bush administration, which proposed, as part of its six-year transportation plan, a radical change to the ratio for federal matching transit funds. Currently, the federal/state funding match for new transportation projects is 80:20, however, the Bush administration would like to dramatically increase the state share to 50 percent for all new transit projects. In doing so, this administration would put hundreds of transit projects across the country in jeopardy, and with them, the jobs and economic benefits those projects bring locally.
And it's not just the Sierra Club that is criticizing the Bush Administration over public transportation. Paul Weyrich, of the conservative Free Congress Foundation, in a recent commentary called the Bush Administration "THE most anti-rail administration in the history of federal involvement in mass transit" and notes "the Bush folks are not pro-transit."
We Can Do Better
We can enjoy easier commutes, more sensible development, jobs in better locations, and a better environment with a stronger commitment to public transportation. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has chosen to reward its friends in the road lobby rather than promote a balanced transportation policy. What's more, communities across the nation are eager for public transportation, but they will be waiting longer and paying more for transit under the Bush administration's plan.
...Eric C. Olson, Sierra's Challenge to Sprawl Campaign
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Florida Hometown Democracy's proposed constitutional amendment has the necessary number of valid signatures to go before the Florida Supreme Court for a ruling on the language and singleness of purpose. Now we need the signatures of thousands more registered voters to see if we can get the amendment on the 2006 ballot.
The primary is August 31, and all those going to the polls are registered and are committed voters! Please volunteer to collect signatures on petitions at a precinct for 3-12 hours on August 31st. The primary and the November election are our best bet for getting large numbers of valid signatures. We would like enough volunteers to cover the largest and most important precincts, so call 863-298-8134) or e-mail Gail email@example.com and volunteer! Call by Aug. 20th so she can get you the supplies/ signs/petitions you need. All you need to do is take a lawn chair, something cool to drink, and a positive attitude!! We have two volunteers as of mid -July, so come on and join us and let us get the signatures!
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Those of us who are interested in Polk becoming a premier ecotourism destination are pleased that the Central Florida Visitors and Convention Bureau has produced a new Vacation Planning Guide that highlights our environmental assets more than ever before. There are over a dozen pages describing numerous opportunities for boating, fishing, cycling, camping, birdwatching, horseback riding, hiking, and hunting. The guide also lists wildlife viewing tips and the location of conservation lands like Polk's Circle B Bar Reserve and the Lakeland Highlands Scrub, plus state parks.
Success for ecotourism vendors rests on potential clients’ ability to locate them. It's important for all ecotourism vendors to be listed in these vacation planners. If you know of someone offering these types of services who is not listed, have them contact the Central Florida Visitors and Convention Bureau - Tourism and Sports Marketing by calling 863-534-2500.
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Don't forget that September 10th is the deadline for entries for the Polk County Environmental Lands Program photography contest. The contest commemorates the 10 year anniversary of the successful passage of the Environmental Lands Referendum and will highlight the best of our unique natural lands. Ten grand prize winners will have their winning photos included in a special Polk County Environmental Lands 2005 calendar!
Entries must be images taken on the following Environmental Lands in Polk County: Gator Creek Reserve, Lakeland Highlands Scrub, Alafia River Reserve, Circle B Bar Reserve, Crooked Lake Prairie, Hickory Lake Scrub, Lake Marion Creek and SUMICA. For contest rules, location maps and directions to sites, check the Polk County web site at www.polk-county.net or call Lita O'Neil at the Polk County Natural Resources Division (863) 534-7377.
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Ryan Kordek, Ridge Ranger, explaining his restoration work on the Lake McLeod Preserve. He provides a classic example of how one person - close to home - can make a profound impact on this world.
- Rainfall Monitors
- Volunteers Improving Polk needs monitors to record rainfall at their homes. Call 534-6089.
- Florida Trail Association
- Workers of all ages needed to maintain existing network of hiking trails, to continue construction on the Florida National Scenic Trail and to start new trails on Polk's Environmental Lands. Call 644-5448, 686-1818, e-mail: Dec1966@aol.com
- Ridge Rangers
- Search for rare plants and animals; help install fence; remove non-native, invasive plants; install boundary signs; enter data critical to the study of rare species. Call 863-699-3740.
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