Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The White House Calls

I got a call last week from The White House.

OK it was from a junior public relations staffer in the White House press office calling about a press opportunity, but still, it was a call from The White House.


Well, it seems President Bush was going to be attending a press event concerning migratory bird conservation at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge in suburban Maryland, outside of Washington DC.

And I think someone in the White House press office must have said:
"OK. Who can we possibly get to show up for this press event?"

And another press office staffer must have said:
"I dunno, why not call one or two of those bird magazines."

So the call came in and my thought process went like this:
Hmmm. We're not a political magazine, but we do publish articles about bird conservation.
But George W. Bush is one of the least bird-friendly presidents in my lifetime!
True, but what politician IS truly bird friendly these days?
Still, wouldn't it be cool to dispatch one of our field editors to cover this event just to see what it's like? To see the media machine in action?
Besides, the Prez might not even show up.
But then again he might!

So I called BWD Field Editor Howard Youth, who lives near Washington D.C.

Now, the LAST thing I want to do is get into a flame war here in BOTB about the current President of these United States. If you want to do that, I'm afraid you'll have to look elsewhere.

And as much as I might like to, I'm not going to rant here about politics, or about this administration's policies and actions in the arena of conservation or anything else. There are a million other places to immerse yourself in that sort of thing.

It's not that I don't have opinions (I certainly do) or that I don't want to Change the World (I want to do that, too). It's just not what I do here in Bill of the Birds. If you know me at all, you know exactly where I come down on all of this stuff.

What I do here in this little corner of the Blogosphere is tell stories (which I hope are funny, interesting, moving, amazing, and even... ironic) and to try to entertain.

So, let's get back to the press event...

I asked Howard to attend--really just for him to see what it was like. I asked him to give us a straight cub-reporter-style article about it. I mean, it's not every day that you get to be at a small press event with a U.S. President.

By shuffling his very hectic youth soccer coaching schedule, Howard was able to make the scene.

Here is his report, along with a few photographs that the White House press office sent to him afterwards.

A bird on the Bush. The President with an eastern screech-owl. White House photo by Eric Draper

President Promotes Migratory Bird Conservation
by Howard Youth

On a crisp October morning at the Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland, President Bush expressed his concern for the plight of migratory birds and his hopes for their future. As yellowlegs yodeled from the lake shore and kinglets buzzed and chattered in the trees, the Chief Executive outlined a mixed bag of initiatives he hopes will protect feathered creatures and enable Americans to enjoy "the beauty of birds for years to come."

The President's programs included some already underway and others in the early stages, including:
  • A new policy called recovery credit trading, in which landowners who improve wildlife habitats on their land can accrue credits they can sell to off-set habitat alterations done elsewhere.
  • Conservation tax incentives that reward landowners who donate conservation easements, contributions of property rights that ensure long-term conservation. The President urged Congress to pass this measure in the Fiscal Year 2008 budget.
  • The President's allocation of more than $509 million in Fiscal Year 2008 to USDA Farm Bill conservation programs including the Conservation Reserve Program, which provides incentives to farmers who rest and protect their land as wildlife habitat.
  • A Department of Interior effort to build migratory bird stopover spots in parks and backyards in five cities, a project that would provide a blueprint for how other cities can follow suit.
  • The 2009 publication of a "State of the Birds" report that identifies species in need and charts conservation progress and areas needed for improvement to boost troubled species.
"To me this [migratory bird conservation] is a national issue that requires national focus," said the President. Three beavers circled in the waters behind him, as if to signal that they too could benefit from such programs. Like migratory birds, some efforts reach beyond national boundaries. The President highlighted U.S. support for conservation in five priority habitats in Mexico, all of which harbor birds that breed in the U.S. but winter in or pass through Mexico during migration. Bush also called for stepped-up U.S. support for an international agreement that aims to mitigate threats, such as long-line fishing and introduced species on nesting islands, that face albatrosses, petrels, and other marine birds.


Some other noteworthy observations from Howard:

President Bush asked if screech-owls "only hoot at night." Once he got confirmation, he quipped, "That sounds like my press corps." Few attending press people laughed.

President Bush's hand was warm on a cool fall a.m. As he shook my hand he called me 'dude', saying: "Good morning, dude. Nice to see ya!"

Precious few real details were provided and there was no Q&A session, leaving many open questions. It's a lame-duck mixed bag of things he's signed or would like implemented.

White House photo by Eric Draper

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