SID SALTER: Poll shows post-spill support for environmental rehab

By Sid Salter

While the first priority continues to be and should be the economic reimbursement of individuals, families and businesses impacted by the BP oil spill in the Gulf, it’s time that Mississippians begin to focus sharply on the state’s share of environmental restoration.
Wildlife Mississippi is hoping to direct funding from future Gulf oil spill response legislation for Gulf Coast environmental restoration – something recent polling throughout the Gulf states suggest is popular with voters and taxpayers in the spill-impacted states.
The poll was funded by The Walton Family Foundation (www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org), who has provided substantial prior funding for freshwater and marine conservation, primarily for creating economic incentives for conservation and by aligning economic and conservation interests. According to James Cummins, executive director of Wildlife Mississippi (Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation), The Walton Foundation has also funded projects in the areas of environment and K-12 education in the Mississippi and Arkansas Deltas.
Wildlife Mississippi received a $195,000 grant from the foundation last year to work with private landowners on the reforestation of bottom land hardwoods in the Delta on lands that Cummins said “should have never been cleared in the first place.”
Cummins said the recent polling is unique and shows overwhelming support among all five Gulf states for environmental restoration in the region.
“The polling shows that voters believe that environmental restoration is intrinsically linked to the economic well being of the state and the region,” said Cummins.
Part of the appropriate environmental response to the BP oil spill is restoring Gulf Coast wetlands, primarily for the environmental and economic benefits they provide. Wildlife Mississippi was created in 1997.
The foundation is a low-overhead, no frills organization which was founded to conserve, restore and enhance Mississippi’s fisheries and wildlife resources for the enjoyment and enrichment of all state residents, their children and visitors to the state.
Wildlife Mississippi identifies itself as being “on the forefront of an effective conservation philosophy.” It is based on three basic principles: 1) a strong economy provides incentives, 2) encourage conservation stewardship while recognizing private property rights and 3) polluters should be liable for harm they cause others.
Wildlife Mississippi has been involved with a migratory bird initiative to try to prevent birds from becoming oiled. Readers can follow that effort at the group’s Website (www.wildlifemiss.org). The Gulf state polling produced the following results from Mississippi alone:
* Some 83 percent of voters believe that Mississippi’s economy is very or somewhat reliant upon the environmental health of the region.
* More than 8 in 10 voters in Mississippi, or 88 percent, believe that restoring the health of the Gulf Region is an extremely high priority.
* Some 75 percent of voters polled in Mississippi say they are more likely to vote for leaders who support new investments in environmental restoration.
The polling, conducted jointly by Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research and Consulting, was done between Sept. 7 and Sept. 13.
Polling results from all five Gulf states will be released today – but it’s clear that environmental restoration remains high on the list of Gulf State residents who expect BP to put their money behind these efforts as a major part of Gulf state restoration.
Sid Salter is Perspective editor at The Clarion-Ledger and a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 961-7084 or ssalter@jackson.gannett.com.