Republicans say that they’re fiscally responsible. That means that they ought to support programs that are financially efficient.

Republicans say that they’re conservative. That means that they ought to support conservation programs.

Nonetheless, a fiscally efficient conservation program came before the House of Representatives yesterday, and most Republicans voted against it. Why would they do such a thing? Why would they vote in such a way that is in contradiction to the principles they say they value?

The legislation in question is the Crane Conservation Act – H.R.1771. As the name of the law suggests, the law would help in the conservation of cranes around the world. No, not construction equipment – birds. Cranes are tall, elegant migratory birds related to storks. There are about 15 species of them around the world, although some scientists disagree about the actual number.

Cranes are umbrella species, which means that they occupy pivotal roles in the ecosystems where they live, having a positive impact disproportionate to their numbers. Republicans ought to appreciate that fact – it turns out that cranes are fiscally efficient, if you think in terms of ecological currency. This also means that crane conservation programs affect more than just the cranes they are specifically targeted to. Crane conservation programs are thus extremely efficient ways to conserve entire ecosystems. (For more information about cranes and crane conservation, see the International Crane Foundation and the information page compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey on crane conservation needs worldwide)

The Crane Conservation Act also focuses on local control – yet another principle that Republicans say that they support. Instead of coming in with big government centralized control, creating one cookie cutter approach, the act supports and enhances programs around the world that are already in existence. These are programs that have a proven track record, and they will retain control over their own local efforts.

The funding of the Crane Conservation Act is also structured in an extremely efficient way, working through the Multinational Species Conservation Fund. That fund has already been proven to operate in such a way that provides maximum impact per dollar. The fund encourages matching funds and additional in-kind support at the local level, helping to support the creation and enhancement of independent fundraising structures and community support.

The efficiency of the financial network to be used by the Crane Conservation Act works so well that the Crane Conservation Act will be able to support global crane conservation efforts with just five million dollars.

In terms of the overall size of the federal budget, five million dollars isn’t even a drop in the bucket. It’s more like an infinitesimal speck of mist. Five million dollars won’t even buy a single car dealership. It’s the amount that hospitals pay for a gamma ray knife, just one piece of equipment.

The military would buy just one M1 Abrams tank with five million dollars. Five million dollars is something like two percent of the annual federal budget for abstinence-only education programs that have been proven not to work. Five million dollars is how much it costs clean up the depleted uranium strewn by just two American bombs.

We also ought to compare the 5 million dollar cost of the Crane Conservation Act with the 15 billion dollars in cash lost by the Pentagon in Iraq.

There can be no rational objection to the Crane Conservation Act on the grounds of fiscal responsibility. The legislation has been examined and been certified to contain no earmarks for pork barrel spending. The Crane Conservation Act also contains no extra provisions to deal with any matters other than crane conservation. It does not secretly modify any existing U.S. law or provide financial kickbacks to anybody.

So, why on earth would the following 118 Republicans vote against the Crane Conservation Act? The only explanations I can think of are that they don’t approve of fiscal responsibility, they don’t like conservation, they don’t approve of local control, or they are angry because they weren’t allowed to put earmarks into the legislation.

The Crane Conservation Act passed, but just barely. A few more Republican votes against it would have killed this very sensible, well-crafted legislation. So, if you see your representative’s name in the list below, pick up your telephone and dial the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Ask to speak to your representative’s office, and leave a message telling the staff just what you think of this irresponsible opposition to the Crane Conservation Act.

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