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It’s a natural: Rebuild America’s refuges and parks with green jobs

January 21st, 2009

“More than 35 percent of our nation’s wildlife refuges have no staff and no visitors center. That’s largely due to starvation of funds over the past few years under the Bush Administration,” Kahn says. “The Fish and Wildlife Services are hoping to lead by example. They’re the one tasked with not only helping wildlife in this country thrive, but also helping it thrive within the context of climate change, which adds huge burdens on the economy. The good news is they can lead by example by reducing their own footprint.”

By revamping old, or building new, visitors centers to be more energy efficient – using wind turbines, geothermal, solar and other types of renewable energy sources – the government can create jobs and help the environment, he says.

For instance, the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge that spans Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin needs habitat control against non-native invasive plants, such as leafy spurge and purple loosestrife (pictured), which infringe upon critical habitat for river otters and bald eagles. The Chesapeake Bay area is infested with nutria, which are destroying marsh grass and wetlands at an alarming rate (“and coupled with sea level rise from climate change,” Kahn says, “it could be devastating.”)

And – no surprise here – the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge in South Louisiana is in dire need of restoration after a series of devastating hurricanes over the past five years. Its marshes and wetlands are home to hundreds of bird species, including pelicans, egrets, roseate spoonbills and various types of heron; and these vital wetlands also serve as  natural barriers against Mother Nature and are critical natural filters for polluted waters.

“In general, in the Lower 48, many of our systems have dikes or canals that are relics of 100 years ago, water-controls structures that are deteriorating,” Kahn says. “And that’s just from the infrastructure side. On the habitat side the number one problem, natural resource problem, reported by refuges is invasive species.  They are literally changing what we know as American plant and animal species. There are thousands that are costing Americans billions of dollars to eradicate or control.” He points to Giant Cane, which has overtaken large swaths of the Rio Grande’s banks, and cheate grass found throughout the American West, which inadvertently promotes the spread of wildfires.

As for the stimulus plan  Congress just proposed, he says, “I absolutely like it. I see that it has the opportunity to not just infuse dollars into local economies and create jobs in the short term, but to have a lasting impact on both humans and the habitats that sustain us – and (on) fixing a lot of the budget shortfalls.

“There’s been a lack of attention in recent years and that lack of attention has been glaringly obvious, and we absolutely hope the new Administration will not only care about climate change and habitats but will care about funding” green jobs on federal lands.

“Many of our nation’s public lands have been starved for funding, and there’s an unbelievable backlog at all the public lands agencies,” Kahn adds – not just within the FWS’s National Wildlife Refuge System.

“There’s also the National Parks Department, the National Forest System, the Bureau of Land Management… All of them have really, really suffered,” Kahn says.

This stimulus, he hopes, will not just to chip away at the backlog, but create useful, American jobs — “Jobs that cannot go overseas.”


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