President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife delivers "The Policy Environment" lecture

Posted by Elizabeth Hopkins

Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, offered a glimpse into the political battle between legislators and environmental conservationists on Thursday, Oct. 11 in Gannett Auditorium in a lecture entitled "The Policy Environment."

Established in 1947, Defenders of Wildlife works to promote innovative long-term solutions to protect wildlife and to preserve biodiversity. The non-profit organization has a rich history of fighting for environmental conservation on the legal front and working with policymakers to establish legislation that will ensure that wildlife populations are not increasingly marginalized.

Clark's lecture primarily focused on recent threats posed to the Endangered Species Act, which established a comprehensive list of all species considered endangered or threatened with extinction. Defenders of Wildlife has worked since 1973 to defend this act and continue maintenance of the list.

"[The Endangered Species Act] is the strongest environmental federal law currently existing, one that ideally possesses enough clout to slow biodiversity loss through the protective measures it authorizes," Clark said. "We are in the midst of the Sixth Great Extinction. Earth is losing something in the range of 30,000 to 100,000 species per year, a rate that is accelerating as a result of human overpopulation. Evidence of this mass extinction can be found in the rapid decline in bee populations throughout North America-a shocking trend that is only just beginning to wreak havoc on agriculture."

In spite of these alarming developments, an effective response has not yet been seen from government, according to Clark. In fact, the Endangered Species Act has faced intense political opposition in recent years. Acting as the cornerstone for endangered species protection, this act has been challenged by attacks to remove key provisions posed by conservative politicians.

"Intervention by Congress," Clark said, "has seriously threatened the gray wolf's status on the endangered species list in the past several years. The battle between legislators and the Defenders of Wildlife has further manifested itself in an effort by the Appropriations Subcommittee to halt additions to the endangered species list."

Clark highlighted cooperation as the central solution to protecting biodiversity and wildlife and in preventing further political measures from dismantling laws related to environmental conservation. She believes that scientists, legislators and environmental groups must collaborate to initiate long-lasting, effective protection laws.

Clark illustrated the importance of Defenders of Wildlife maintaining an influential power in government. An environmental organization possessing a strong political presence would ensure that environmental interests are not only considered, but are prioritized.

Another key component to success in conservation lies in reaching the base support of the public. Unfortunately, a language barrier has largely prevented scientists from getting the environmental message across, as they struggle to address the average American.

"Scientists must bring [the issues] into a frame the audience can understand," Clark said.

Rather than delving into the language of science to portray the devastation of biodiversity loss, environmental groups appeal to the emotions of the public, using the stories of treasured animals, such as the polar bear, in order to incite awareness.

Similarly, topics such as the rising of sea levels and natural disasters directly appeal to an audience that has witnessed devastation from events such as Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

Obtaining support is all about placing issues in the right context, and for Defenders of Wildlife and other environmental organizations, this remains the crucial step in changing perspectives inside and outside of the political environment.

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