From mute swans protected by Royal Charter to a lame-duck President dismantling protections

December 12, 2008 at 4:07 pm | Posted in Endangered Species Act, President Bush | Leave a comment
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Cold swan snuggling beak in feathers near River Thames Windsor 12 December 2008

Cold swan snuggling beak in feathers near River Thames Windsor 12 December 2008

The mute swan shown above lives on the River Thames, so is a potential participant in the annual ceremony of Swan Upping, which was established by Royal Charter many centuries ago. The idea was to take a census of swans on the Thames, back in the days when swans were considered a meal fit for a king. Even today, Swan Upping requires teams for the Sovereign and two Livery Companies of the City of London to row up the River Thames in a skiff—catching, marking and counting swans as they go. This was designed as a practical way to apportion ownership of such tasty dinner birds between the royal family and members of The Worshipful Company of Vintners (wine traders) and The Worshipful Company of Dyers (originally the trade association for the dyeing industry).

Today, all mute swans on the River Thames are protected by this ancient Royal Charter, and apparently most swans in England are now owned by the Queen, or protected by law. (They are not eaten.)

In recent years, swan numbers increased so much that anglers have expressed concerns that these graceful birds are threatening biodiversity. Perhaps bird flu diminished numbers again, but that’s not much comfort when a large sickly bird is spotted struggling on the river bank. However, we do have a Swan Lifeline:

Swan Lifeline for sick and injured swans 12 December 2008

Swan Lifeline for sick and injured swans 12 December 2008

So do these beautiful creatures pose a threat to biodiversity? At a local level, perhaps. But there will always be changes of biodiversity, natural and anthropogenic (being caused by human actions). Of more concern to me is what is going on across the pond that has the ability to affect a much bigger portion of life on Earth …

Just as the mute swans of the River Thames are not silent (they do have voices), the lame-duck President in America is not so dumb. Unfortunately, Bush still has powers that he is determined to use, to provide last-minute, long-lasting concessions to some of our most polluting industries. If enacted, these ‘softeners’ could help carbon-intensive business yet would have a negative effect on biodiversity on a national, and perhaps even at a global, scale.

For example, only yesterday, President Bush announced regulatory exemptions to the Endangered Species Act.

In a speedy response, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), and its partners—Defenders of Wildlife, and Greenpeace—filed a lawsuit in San Francisco federal court. Here’s the press release of those three groups opposed to Bush’s environment-damaging actions.

According to CBD:

“As an early Christmas gift to industry, Bush’s policies exempted greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, oil and gas drilling, and other harmful developments from the Endangered Species Act. …

… Bush also exempted tens of thousands of logging, mining, road building and development projects from Endangered Species Act review. Rather than have U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists independently review these actions, the Bush policy allows the agencies proposing the logging and mining to do the review themselves. …

… Unfortunately, there are more bad regulations affecting clean air, clean water and our oceans coming down the pipe. …”

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