The Portland Phoenix

Into the Wild: A smarter way to protect biodiversity

Swainson's thrush

The Swainson's thrush, according to the National Audubon Society, has declined as a breeding bird along parts of the Pacific Coast and elsewhere, and could be vulnerable to loss of habitat on breeding grounds. (Portland Phoenix/Nick Lund)

Sorry in advance for what I am going to start with here, which is another list of bad things going on in the world. Just bear with me please, because there’s optimism here, too.

We’re facing a catastrophic biodiversity crisis, largely driven by human activities. We’re destroying habitat, we’re overexploiting wildlife, the climate is changing, invasive species are expanding, and we’re polluting our air and water.

Last year, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released a report warning that about 1 million species are at risk of extinction around the globe. Three billion birds have disappeared from North America since 1970, and humans have severely altered 75 percent of the world’s lands and 66 percent of its waters.

We need to act quickly to save the planet. But you knew that already.

We also need to act smarter. There are a whole bunch of different government agencies responsible in some way for conserving biodiversity in this country, but they don’t work together. The National Park Service handles its parks, and the Forest Service handles its forests, but they don’t necessarily work together. What about that invasive species creeping from the forest into the park? What about the animals that migrate over the borders?

There is confusion, a lack of organization, and a lack of efficiency among the agencies, not to mention a massive lack of funding driven in large part by the previous administration which – putting it mildly – didn’t place much emphasis on biodiversity protection.

A law proposed in Congress would help. It wouldn’t create new policy; just improve the way we’re currently doing things in hopes of making the best decisions possible for our environment.

Introduced in the House by Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colorado, and cosponsored by a bipartisan group including our own Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, House Joint Resolution 69 would establish a National Biodiversity Strategy – a coordinating policy that can get federal agencies working together on wildlife protection, and working with state and local governments and private landowners. We’re not reinventing the wheel here, just making it rounder.

But the National Biodiversity Strategy legislation needs someone to introduce it in the U.S. Senate. I think that person should be Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. We know she cares about the environment, and just this year she sponsored a bill to protect native plants in national parks. She’s thoughtful when it comes to environmental protections, and concerned about the impacts to Maine’s natural resources economies. But the National Biodiversity Strategy is perfect: it doesn’t create new laws, just makes the ones we have already more efficient and effective.

You know we need to take action on the environment. Everyone knows it. Our government knows it, whether some of them want to admit it or not. But taking action is hard because it takes effort and because it might change how we do things.

Well, things are changing whether we want them to or not. Maximizing the efficiency and effectiveness of the tools we already have – the laws that have already been passed – is an easy and smart way to begin the task of repairing the damage we’ve caused.

There’s no time to lose.

Nick Lund of Cumberland is outreach and network manager at Maine Audubon. He has written about nature for the National Audubon Society, Down East, National Parks Magazine, The Washington Post, and others. He can be found online at and on Twitter @TheBirdist.

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