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The Naturalist's Corner: Could the environment be, once again, a game changer?

Bald eagles, recovered from likely extinction by the Endangered Species Act, nested successfully at Lake Junaluska in 2019 for the first time in recorded history. Don Hendershot photo Bald eagles, recovered from likely extinction by the Endangered Species Act, nested successfully at Lake Junaluska in 2019 for the first time in recorded history. Don Hendershot photo

I ran into a fellow at Ingles just the other day. Regrettably, I don’t remember his name, but I run into him occasionally around town and have for years. And I definitely should remember his name because he is a loyal follower of the “Naturalist’s Corner” and he is crazy bout his birds. Every time I see him he has some encouraging words regarding a recent column and/or a recent bird-related anecdote to share.

He sidled up near me in Ingles and said, almost in a whisper, “I know what this column is going to be.” I just kinda looked at him because I wasn’t even 100 percent sure what this column was going to be. “The Endangered Species Act,” he said, with a knowing wink.

I got the feeling from our brief encounter that he was a pretty solid Trump supporter. “I agree with a lot of things,” he said, “but not this. Every animal deserves a chance.” 

If the people who remember the Cuyahoga River on fire in 1969; Love Canal in the 1970s; Three Mile Island, also 1970s; the time when bald eagles and peregrine falcons were absent from most of the southern landscape; the time when brown haze hung thick and close over the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and cities like Birmingham; if these people can join with 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg and progressive millennials and Gen-Zers in once again placing the environment and the fate of spaceship Earth prominent rather than the filling of corporate coffers — if they can join with my friend who believes, “Every animal deserves a chance,” maybe we still have a chance to right this spaceship, which is beginning to careen out of control.

It’s no secret the “environment” has become a partisan issue today. Recent numbers from the Pew Research Centers show 74 percent of Democrats believe the environment should be a priority vs. 31 percent of Republicans. What’s lost is the fact the environment (clean air, clean water, public lands, etc.) was once a pretty non-partisan issue, a place where people regardless of their party affiliation felt strongly about protecting the planet for generations to come. In fact many landmark environmental laws came to fruition under Republican administrations — the Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act (all under attack by the current Republican administration) all came to fruition during the Nixon administration; in fact, the EPA was created under a Nixon executive order.

How the Republican Party went from Roosevelt (chief-hunter) to Trump (chief climate denier) is probably a library full of conundrums and intrigue. The cliff notes, however, point to Regan and the ultra-conservative movement and money flowing from those corporate coffers.

But — yeah I know, it’s a big but — but if enough Trump supporters like my friend decide this planet and the animals on it are more important than some CEO’s portfolio and decide to vote on it, perhaps we can focus, once again, on a shared American dream of environmental protections and enhancements in perpetuity.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. His book, A Year From the Naturalist’s Corner, Vol. 1, is available at regional bookstores or by contacting Don at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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