Forum – Winter 2000
In “Creating Havens for Marine Life” (Issues, Fall 1999), Tundi Agardy’s call for a comprehensive national policy for the protection of marine resources is right on the mark and is exactly the need I have addressed in H.R.2425, the Oceans Act of 1999. As Agardy writes, it is time for the government to respond to the public outcry, media attention, and increased advocacy for ocean conservation. The Clinton administration responded this year with the biggest request for funding of ocean conservation, exploration, and research programs in U.S. history. However, this funding request was largely ignored, especially in the House of Representatives. I encourage your readers to contact their representative and tell him or her how they feel about this issue. The oceans and marine resources are simply too precious to be subjected to a national policy of neglect.
It is time for us to extend our land ethic of conservation and environmental awareness to the sea. We also need a structural review and reform of the governmental bodies that create and implement ocean policy. We have not reviewed our ocean policy for 33 years, since the Stratton Commission was given the task in 1966 of examining the nation’s stake in the development and preservation of the marine environment and of formulating a comprehensive, long-term national program for marine affairs. Since that review, the U.S. population has grown from 196.5 million to about 270 million people, over 50 percent of whom live within 50 miles of our shores. By the year 2010, this figure will increase to at least 75 percent, with all of the attendant potential environmental consequences of having so many people concentrated in areas with diverse and fragile ecosystems. Meanwhile, wetlands and other marine habitats are threatened by pollution and human activities. A study of extinction rates of aquatic animals, published in October 1999 in Conservation Biology, reports that aquatic species are going extinct at a rate five times faster than land species. In addition, ocean and coastal resources once thought to be inexhaustible are now seriously depleted. In its annual report to Congress, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) states that about half of U.S. fish species are known to be overfished; but even more important, the status of overfishing is unknown for the majority (65 percent) of stocks assessed by NMFS.
Fish crises are expensive. This Congress just appropriated a total of $30 million to meet the needs of fishers out of work in Alaska and New England, and I am struggling to find funds for disaster relief for the fishers in my district who, on October 1,1999, were given 24 hours notice that their allowable take was being cut by 75 percent. Fishing crises such as these could be avoided with better data and cooperation among federal, state, and local governments and the private sector (including the fishing industry).
The Oceans Act of 1999 contains provisions similar to those of the 1966 act. It calls for the creation of a Stratton-type commission, called the Commission on Ocean Policy, to examine ocean and coastal activities and to report its recommendations for a national policy. In developing the report, the commission would assess federal programs and funding priorities, laws and their effects on ocean policy, infrastructure needs, conflicts among marine users, and the integration of ocean and coastal activities and technological opportunities. In an era of frugality when it comes to the environment, we need to maximize the effectiveness of our agencies and programs and improve communication among all the bodies involved with ocean and coastal activities.
Not only does half of the U.S. population live near the coast, but 293 (67 percent) of the members of the House are from districts with coastline or within the coastal zone. We are all critically dependent on the oceans and the resources we derive from them. Commercial and recreational fishing provides 1.5 million jobs and an estimated $111 billion annually to the nation’s economy, and more than 30 percent of U.S. gross national product is produced in coastal counties. Our oceans and beaches are our leading tourist destination, with 85 percent of tourist revenues being spent in coastal states. In 1993, more than 180 million Americans visited coastal waters nationwide; and in California alone the revenue generated by tourism is approximately $38 billion annually, much of it attributable to coastal visits. The beautiful coasts and ocean in my own district are key to the area’s $1.5 billion travel and tourism industry.
We need to make a commitment to these places of inestimable wealth and breathtaking mystery by reassessing our national ocean policy. In that spirit, I would like to leave you with some words from Sylvia Earle’s recent book Wild Ocean: “We carry the sea with us. We weep and sweat and bleed salt, and if we go far enough back down our family tree to the trunk we can understand why there is a feeling of kinship. To me all life in the sea is family.”
Tundi Agardy has gifted us with a robust and compelling call for a new network of marine reserves. Sensibly, however, she also notes that marine reserves, although necessary, are not the only solution. Because jurisdiction begins at the shore, reserves alone will do nothing to reduce the toxic brew of pollutants that typically drains from the land to the sea.
It is thus time not only to build marine reserves but also to blur the artificial divisions between land and sea that hamper proper coastal protection. U.S. governmental agencies have failed us and marine biodiversity badly, and it is folly to think that these agencies now suddenly have the political will to take the steps that are needed. But with public education can come impetus for change.
The time has come to adopt the “precautionary principle” in environmental matters, so that pollutants that would have been created on land are instead avoided by source reduction, waste minimization, and pollution prevention. By halting overfishing and habitat destruction while also preventing pollution from land-based sources, we can truly begin to act with the sort of wisdom that Agardy provides.
Tundi Agardy’s article deserves to be read, and read again, by everyone who deals with ocean policy in North America. She explains that widespread injury to marine environments goes far beyond catching too many of the kinds of fish that we eat, and that systems of undisturbed marine protected areas, comparable with protected wilderness areas on land, are desperately needed. I agree with her completely.
Most people see only the surface of the ocean; the bottom is mysterious. On the North Atlantic coastal shelves, this mysterious bottom is scraped and scoured by mobile fishing gear, such as otter trawls and scallop dredges, more than once a year; yet how many people know what happens to sponges, cerianthid worms, and other bottom-dwelling animals, as the heavy gear, like a bulldozer, crashes by?
An excellent example of the impact of ignorance of the ocean environment is the widespread destruction of northern deep-sea corals. All along the outer edges of the continent’s coastal shelves, as far north as the Arctic, horny corals used to grow on rocky outcrops, boulders, and shell deposits, forming “forests” of “trees” several meters in height and covering large areas. In addition, stony corals formed huge mounds, known as bioherms. Yet most people don’t know that these colonial animals existed, let alone that they have been destroyed.
Fishing for bottom-dwelling fish in the past 40 or so years has tended to concentrate on the edges of the continental shelves where productivity is highest. Most of this effort has used damaging mobile fishing gear. As a result, the coral mounds and forests have been extensively cleared away, both accidentally during fishing and also purposefully because they get in the way. Studies in Europe have shown that northern deep-sea corals constitute habitat for numerous other species, but almost no work has been done on these ecosystems in North America. No effort has been made to address questions about the significance of the loss of deep-sea corals for fisheries declines, nor do we know anything about the potential loss of marine biodiversity as a result of this destruction.
Just as North Americans want to protect the few remaining patches of old-growth forest on land, so we need to do this on the bottom of the ocean. The damage may be at least as extensive in the ocean as on land, where over 95 percent of the original forests and grasslands have been cleared or transformed.
In Canada, not only is advocacy work on protection of deep-sea corals being left to small groups of environmental activists, even the scientific research is being led by them. The Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, published the first attempt to assess the status of deep-sea corals in the northwest Atlantic and is organizing a conference of world experts to be held in August 2000.
Fortunately, some remnant patches of deep-sea horny and stony corals remain. Because these colonial formations grow extremely slowly, taking thousands of years to create large structures, speedy restoration of their previous extent is impossible, but it is clear that the remnant patches deserve special protection. Adequately enforced marine protected areas are clearly required, and Tundi Agardy’s call to action to protect not just these special organisms, but also examples of all the various ocean-bottom types, needs to be widely heard.
Technology and development
F. M. Scherer’s “Global Growth Through Third World Technological Progress” (Issues, Fall 1999) is a welcome sign of the recent long-overdue revival of interest in science, technology, and development. As he correctly points out, energy research, development, and diffusion is a subject worthy of a major international effort. It links global warming, an area of critical global concern, with energy, a key input in economic development, and is thus an attractive area for international collaboration, where the interests of developing and developed countries coincide.
More generally, the time is ripe for a major increase in support for research, development, and diffusion of technology for the benefit of developing countries, and for helping them to participate in today’s global information-based economy, both through training in entrepreneurship and technology management, as Scherer proposes, and through assisting them to develop public policies and programs that encourage technological innovation. There is a special need for technology that will benefit poor and otherwise disadvantaged people within those countries.
This task calls for broad collaboration between the public and private sectors in developing and advanced countries, including countries such as Korea that have just joined the ranks of the advanced countries. It requires flexible institutional arrangements that can take advantage of fast-moving advances in information and biotechnology but can also tackle humble but essential problems in fields such as traffic safety, nutrition, and low-cost sanitation.
These characteristics will require institutional innovations that will draw on lessons learned by many institutions in different parts of the world and will take advantage of the capabilities of the Internet to make possible a network of collaborating institutions in developing and developed countries. In addition to the international agricultural research institutions mentioned by Scherer, I would call attention to such institutional models as Fondacion Chile, a marketing-led organization whose function is to use technology as a vehicle for launching new industrial sectors; the binational R&D foundations that encourage collaboration between U.S. business and firms in Israel and other countries; the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, which facilitates the transfer of privately owned technologies to developing countries; extension services that assist local industry to conserve energy in Brazil and other developing countries; and energy-oriented venture capital companies in India and elsewhere.
Such programs require not only funding but the willingness of governments and firms in advanced countries to devote major resources to them. They also require a substantial change in attitudes and policies that inhibit technological innovation in many developing countries. The alternative is a worldwide shakeout in which developing countries that do not succeed in managing technology will fall farther and farther behind, contributing to economic decline and political disorder, mass migrations, environmental disasters, and possible nuclear incidents.
Ann M. Florini and Yahya Dehqanzada provide a broad and thoughtful look at the role of commercial satellite imagery in increasing global transparency (“Commercial Satellite Imagery Comes of Age,” Issues, Fall 1999). By transparency, they mean the ability of nongovernmental organizations and individuals to possess information that has traditionally been concealed by geography, distance, and the actions of governments. In this regard, commercial remote sensing is part of a broader trend toward global transparency that is resulting from technologies such as air travel, telecommunications, satellite broadcasts, and the Internet. The power of these technologies has also been reinforced by political and economic trends such as democratization and trade liberalization.
The article recognizes the potential security and privacy problems that can result from satellite imagery but goes on to show that governmental efforts to control or even restrict commercial imagery will be self-defeating. In particular, such efforts are likely to be counterproductive to U.S. economic and political interests in promoting global transparency. This makes sense in that the United States is an open society, and we have had long experience with transparency; even while having occasional mixed feelings about the resulting political accountability. And the technologies of commercial satellite imagery are also those of information technology in general–a leading area of U.S. economic strength.
The key policy question for the United States and other open societies is whether to embrace or resist the opportunities presented by commercial imagery. This is not an easy choice, as many societies, and typically governments, resist change and seek to preserve the status quo. Commercial satellite imagery is a force for change that will create dynamic business opportunities; empower nongovernmental organizations in areas such as the environment, international security, and human rights; and cause confusion as future media analysts argue over the interpretation of particular images.
But as the article says, “The only practical choice is to embrace emerging transparency, take advantage of its positive effects, and learn to manage its negative consequences.” A corollary might be that the most destructive choice would be to ignore or deny the spread of satellite imagery, to fail to learn to use it, and to fail to learn to operate in a more transparent world. Those who learn to use and analyze imagery, not just how to take it and possess it, will have the competitive advantage in this new environment.
Perhaps the most illuminating aspect of the article by Ann M. Florini and Yahya Dehqanzada is its illustration of the long history of debate over commercial remote sensing policy. Resolving that debate has involved incremental steps over many years. More will be required now that the successful launch of Ikonos-2 has ushered in the age of commercially available 1-meter satellite imagery.
In technologies ranging from encryption to communications satellites, the difficult reality faced by the U.S. government is that it has lost much of the control it once had over access to dual-use products. The end of the Cold War and the growing challenge of foreign competitors limit what the United States can do to prevent access to high-resolution commercial imagery from space.
The most critical aspect of the availability of such data is the skill with which it is analyzed. The “bloopers” referred to by the authors should not be dismissed with a smile or a wince. What may be an embarrassment to a media outlet could become a disastrous national security situation. The U.S. government has focused so far on its legitimate national security concerns about the widespread availability of high-resolution commercial imagery and when it can implement shutter control. Equally critical, however, is the interpretation of that imagery. It may be prudent now to focus on motivating satellite imagery customers to train imagery interpreters properly. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the United Nations have long histories in training people around the world to use satellite remote sensing data for civilian purposes. Broadening and enhancing such programs for both government and private customers could have a payoff far in excess of their costs by avoiding potentially catastrophic misunderstandings.
Imagery companies have a vested interest in the correct interpretation of their products as well, and could work with governments to ensure an adequate supply of skilled interpreters. Those companies also may decide not to sell imagery to any and all customers, instead recognizing the virtue of self-regulation discovered by so many other U.S. industries hoping to stave off government rules.
The advent of high-resolution commercial imagery has also focused more attention on “space control.” The antisatellite debate of the 1970s and 1980s is now more broadly focused on various methods to ensure that the United States can use its satellites during a crisis while denying enemies the use of their own space assets. The authors argue that the United States would find it self-defeating to “violate the long-held international norm of noninterference with satellite operations.” However, bearing in mind the authors’ explanation that some countermeasures (such as spoofing and jamming) leave no evidence of tampering, it may be naive to conclude that such a long-held norm of noninterference exists. The brute force approach of antisatellite interceptors may be replaced by more subtle techniques, but the objective of limiting the ability of enemies to use their satellites–commercial or military–against the United States and its allies still appears valid.
Many other issues will arise as the transparency discussed by the authors evolves. Marrying such imagery with the precise navigational data from the Global Positioning System could have profound national security and societal consequences. Not only will it raise issues about potentially enhancing terrorist activities, for example, but also about privacy and the extent to which such information can be used in civil and criminal court cases. Much more work awaits the policy community in addressing this new era of commercial space imagery.
As one of the architects of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and an author of several books reporting on the TIMSS findings, it is particularly pleasing to me to see the point of view expressed by Eamon M. Kelley, Bob H. Suzuki, and Mary K. Gaillard in “Education Reform for a Mobile Population” (Issues, Summer 1999) and in the National Science Board (NSB) report the article refers to.
Since the TIMSS study, we have done additional curriculum analyses on current state standards and assessments (for an ACHIEVE project) and on the most frequently used standardized tests (for a state of California project). We found the “mile-wide inch-deep” curriculum to be alive and well. The new generation of standards currently used by the states has not changed in any appreciable way from Kelley et al.’s description of the U.S. curriculum as lacking coherence, depth, and continuity. So the NSB recommendations still need to be heralded, as they have yet to permeate state policy.
A second aspect of our analyses examined the content profiles associated with the most frequently used standardized mathematics tests in this country and with the state mathematics and science assessments of almost half of the states. We found that these tests in the eighth grade do not test the content typically found in the curriculum of the top-achieving countries (nor, for the most part, do they test the more challenging content that states include in their standards). We also found these tests to lack focus and coherence.
The other disturbing element we encountered in the analysis of these data is that the content of such tests does not line up very well with the states’ own standards. For example, the major emphasis of mathematics tests in the eighth grade continues to center on arithmetic and computation, in spite of state standards that include concepts of functions, slope, congruence, similarity, and proportionality. These results again illustrate the fragmentation of the U.S. curriculum.
These new data make even more compelling the authors’ call for making more explicit the linkages between K-12 content standards and college admissions. The country would do well to take heed of the recommendations made in the NSB report and articulated by Kelley et al. in their article.
Fixing the Forest Service
H. Michael Anderson’s call to fund the U.S. Forest Service entirely through congressional appropriations is a blueprint for disaster (“Reshaping National Forest Policy,” Issues, Fall 1999). As he says himself, funding that depends on annual appropriations is “subject to the vagaries of congressional priorities and whims.” Although the current system of Forest Service funding provides perverse incentives to land managers, increasing political ties will not provide the ecological stewardship we would all like to see on our public lands.
Congress already appropriates hundreds of millions of dollars each year for federal land stewardship. Yet at least 39 million acres of federal forest land are at extreme risk from catastrophic wildfire. An additional 26 million acres are highly susceptible to disease and insect infestation. Few of our forests resemble those of 100 years ago. This is not the result of timber harvest, forest roads, or recreation use. Nearly a century of fire suppression has literally changed the structure of many forest lands. Wagon trains could once roll through open savannas of ponderosa pine forests in the intermountain West. Fires kept brush down and prevented competition from shade-tolerant fir. Today, however, our forests are loaded with debris and are 82 percent denser than in 1928. These are not healthy forests by anyone’s definition.
How did our forests get this way? Relying on congressional budgets, federal land managers must play politics that serve powerful constituencies. Although the role of fire as a natural forest process has long been known, politics and regulations make it almost impossible for forest managers to use fire as a tool.
In many areas, even fire use must first be preceded by some type of logging to reduce the density and fuel load in order to avoid uncontrollable fires. But regulations, from the Clean Air Act to the National Environmental Policy Act, make this almost impossible, and the public input process often prevents timber harvest where it is desperately needed.
A preferred method would be to allow our forest professionals, rather than Washington politicians, to manage our forest lands. If we want our lands to be managed for their ecological integrity, we must get the incentives right. Cut the ties to Washington funding. Allow federal land managers to use the resources of the land to provide for economic and ecological sustainability.
H. Michael Anderson provides an excellent summary of the problems that plague the Forest Service and the challenges that Chief Mike Dombeck faces in his attempts to turn the agency around. One challenge Anderson identifies is the need to develop a long-term policy concerning roadless areas in national forests. On October 13, 1999, President Clinton directed the Forest Service to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for a nationwide roadless area management policy to be adopted through administrative regulation. This is the approach Anderson recommends for dealing with the problem. The agency has begun the process of seeking public input on the rulemaking process. A draft EIS is to be available for review and comment in the spring of 2000, with final regulations due before the end of 2000.
The current road system in the national forests includes 380,000 miles of road, enough to circle the globe more than 15 times. Estimates of the amount of roadless area contained in parcels larger than 5,000 acres are around 40 million acres. A roadless area policy is necessitated by the difficulties the agency has experienced in maintaining the existing road system and by growing scientific evidence about the detrimental environmental impacts associated with the construction of expensive new forest roads. Recent polls have also shown that 60 to 70 percent of the U.S. public want public lands to be protected from developments (such as oil drilling, logging, and mining) that imperil the benefits of clean water, biological diversity, and wildlife habitats provided by roadless areas. So except for the timber industry, its professional and congressional allies, and motorized recreational groups, response to Clinton’s announcement has been generally favorable.
The roadless area EIS and resulting regulations will test Dombeck’s ability to unify his agency around a vision of ecosystem protection and restoration and to bring the agency out of its dark period. Timing could be everything. If the 2000 election brings in a Republican President and a Republican Congress, the entire initiative as well as other needed reforms could be scuttled. Dombeck’s immediate task will be to ensure that the process does not become sidetracked or mired during the writing of the EIS.
Replacing the agency’s utilitarian focus with a land ethic emphasizing ecological integrity and long-term sustainability will require bold policy action. By directly confronting the damaging effects of roads, the Clinton administration and Chief Dombeck can leave a valuable legacy. How the issue plays out politically in the next year merits continued monitoring.
H. Michael Anderson presents an accurate description of the radical changes Chief Mike Dombeck has initiated at the U.S. Forest Service. Although Anderson clearly articulates the changes Dombeck had instituted before publication of his article, the extent to which the Wilderness Society’s recommendations have been implemented since the article’s publication is simply astounding. Either Anderson is clairvoyant, or Chief Dombeck is catering to the whims of Anderson’s organization.
Unfortunately, Chief Dombeck is steering the Forest Service on a collision course with Congress and national forest user groups. By implementing policy changes that are clearly contrary to existing laws and the statutorily defined purposes of the national forests, Dombeck has effectively usurped the authority of Congress to establish and oversee natural resource policies on federal lands. If dramatic change in the purpose of the national forests is warranted, it is the responsibility of the legislative branch of our government to make that change. Dombeck has unilaterally set a course to deprive the public of the benefits of multiple forest use for all Americans and instead to give preeminence to the preservation of biological preserves for the benefit of the few.
Consider the interests of the forest products community. Chief Dombeck has testified before Congress that the national forests grow some 22 billion board feet of timber every year while allowing over 7 billion feet to die. In 1999, under Dombeck’s leadership, the Forest Service sold just 2 billion feet for commercial purposes. This was less than a third of the annual mortality and less than 10 percent of net growth. This is not a recipe for sustainable management; it is a recipe for ecological disaster. If we continue to grow over 10 times more than is being removed, the forests will become more overcrowded and susceptible to disease and insect infestations, and will eventually succumb to catastrophic wildfire. Doesn’t a modest timber sale program designed to keep growth and removal in balance make better ecological sense?
President Clinton is fond of observing that the national forests contribute only 5 percent of our nation’s wood product needs; thus, going to zero percent is inconsequential. What the president doesn’t admit is that one-half of this country’s softwood sawtimber is growing in the national forests. If half of the wood inventory is only contributing 5 percent of our needs, something is very much out of balance. This policy becomes more ludicrous when we recognize that 40 percent of U.S. wood needs are being imported from other countries. This makes no economic sense, no ecological sense, no moral sense. How can we, in good conscience, sit on such a huge reservoir of renewable resources and let other countries meet our wood product needs?
Chief Dombeck is not reshaping national forest policy. He is rewriting it to the detriment of all the multiple users of the national forests. Perhaps more disturbing than the degree to which the chief’s policies depart from tradition is the extent to which they are scripted by the Wilderness Society.
In response to H. Michael Anderson’s article on the Forest Service, I hope readers will note that having vanquished the “bigs” in the timber industry in terms of harvests from the public lands, the environmental movement can now be expected to turn its attention to motorized recreation as the next great adversary. One can only hope that these new wars can be fought without the flaming rhetoric that spawned the term “timber beasts.” Environmentalists and recreationists want many of the same things from the public lands, beginning with wildness and the spiritual renewal that draws people of many stripes. Perhaps these commonalties will provide enough common ground to allow advocates to seek negotiated settlements rather than another generation of managing these lands in the courts.