Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar had a few tips for environmental journalists last week about under-covered stories on their beat.
Speaking at the Society of Environmental Journalists’ twenty-first annual conference here in Miami, Salazar said that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 revealed that Americans were “hungry” for news about its causes and consequences, and that they care “deeply” about land, water, and wildlife.
The spill also laid bare a larger truth about the importance of journalism, he said:
A second lesson from the coverage of Deepwater Horizon is that Americans aren’t just passionate about conservation, they also demand knowledge and information about the natural world and how it’s changing.
Yes, our attention spans are shorter in the digital age. And yes, there is a demand for sound bites, bulletins, and punditry. But Deepwater Horizon proved that there is also a huge appetite—and appreciation—for complicated information, scientific perspectives, and nuanced reporting.
How else do you explain that “loop current,” “blowout preventer,” and “hydrates” became familiar terms in American households? The oil spill put a premium on good reporting. It put a premium on good reporters.
The first was “the countless locally-driven, consensus-based conservation efforts that have taken root across the country,” he said. “They don’t get much attention because there’s often no conflict involved, but what’s happening along the rivers of America, what’s happening in the Dakota Grasslands and the Flint Hills of Kansas, and what’s happening right here in the Everglades, is nothing short of a revolution.”
Salazar explained that the following day he would lay four planks on a boardwalk at the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge near Vero Beach, Florida inlaid with the names of the four latest areas to join the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s conservation system: the Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area of Kansas, the Dakota Grassland Conservation Area of South Dakota and North Dakota, the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge of Pennsylvania, and the Tulare Basin Wildlife Management Area of California.
The second story that the Secretary said deserves more attention is “the inextricable connection between the health of land and water and the health of our economy” evinced by the Gulf oil spill.
“The fact is: America’s great outdoors are a massive economic engine for our nation,” he said. “The extent to which our land, water, and wildlife fuel our economy is not adequately understood or reported—and, unfortunately, that knowledge gap can have real consequences when people make decisions about investments and fiscal priorities.”
Lastly, Salazar asked for reporters’ “help explaining what is at stake for conservation at this moment in our history.” He highlighted the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, saying that over the last two years, the Obama administration had “moved mountains to provide additional funding and to move Everglades restoration from planning to on-the-ground results.”
The following day, the Secretary toured the Tamiami Trail Bridge Project where construction is under way on a one-mile bridge, to be completed by 2013, which will help restore water flows to the Everglades. Such conservation projects, in the Everglades and around the country, are “in jeopardy,” Salazar said.
“It’s not simply a matter of budgets, although the House Republican budget would force the closure of an estimated 100 national wildlife refuges to the public,” he said. “It’s also about a fundamentally different vision of who we are as a nation and what we can do as a people.”
Indeed, as The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin recently reported, House Republicans have targeted the Land and Water Conservation Fund for “drastic cuts,” yet resistance to environmental goals extends far beyond Capitol Hill.
Florida governor Rick Scott travelled to Washington, DC in early October for a two-hour meeting with Salazar, during which he asked for more time and money to reach a clean-water target for the Everglades, according to an article by Miami Herald reporter Erika Bolstad and St. Petersburg Times reporter Craig Pittman. Originally, the state was supposed to cut the flow of phosphorous into the Glades to ten parts per billion by 2012, but the state legislature pushed the deadline back to 2016. Scott said he now needs another six years on top of that, requesting that the deadline be extended to 2022.