Orlando, Fla. As you prepare for the summer golfing season, a word of warning before trying to retrieve your ball from that water hazard on No. 2 at Stoneybrook West. Chances are, you're encroaching on a federally classified wetland.
True story: Gale Norton, the former Secretary of the Interior who just quit a few weeks ago amid the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, called a news conference before her resignation to trumpet a U.S. Fish & Wildlife study claiming the nation had finally put an end to the ongoing depletion of federal wetlands. It was all part of President Bush's promise of "no net loss" of our environmentally integral wetlands.
"This report is good news not only for biologists but for all of us," Norton proclaimed. "We all depend on wetlands as the nurseries of life."
Now for the rest of the story: During the time frame of the study, we actually lost 523,000 acres of natural wetlands. The reason for the "net gains" is that the study actually included manmade substitutes such as golf course water hazards and mall retention ponds.
Once again, it seems, we've gone from weapons of mass destruction to whoppers of mass distortion.
"It's pitiful our government would classify golf course ponds as wetlands," says Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.
"Wildlife needs wetlands to survive; not water hazards," says Scott Yaich of Ducks Unlimited - an organization dedicated to the conservation of wetlands and waterfowl.
What will be classified as a federal wetland in the next report - the wave pool at Wet 'n Wild? Here's a good rule of thumb: If a body of water has more Titleists and Maxflis sinking to the bottom than it does mallards and mergansers swimming on top then it probably shouldn't be classified as a wetland.
Memo to U.S. Fish & Wildlife: That's not a turtle egg buried in the bottom of that pond, it's a Top Flite Strata Tour Premier.
It's no wonder Mother Nature is sending killer hurricanes and alligators at us in record numbers. Think maybe she's angrily fighting back?
How would you feel if you were a gator? You've inhabited this land since the Pleistocene Era. You used to live in serene cypress sloughs teeming with fish and fowl. But your swamps have been drained to build cookie-cutter houses in country-club communities. And now you swim in a pesticide-laden puddle on the sixth hole at Goat Ranch Creek and get plunked in the head once a day by some duffer from Des Moines.
The problem is alligators and manatees and sea turtles can't make campaign contributions like the big developers do. They can't voice their opinion and they can't vote. And, so, it's up to us to speak for them.
We have only one planet, one Florida, and I hate to tell you, but it's got to last us a few more million years. That means we can't be drilling for oil off our beaches just so we can have cheaper gas for our Hummers for the next five years. It means our politicians can't keep playing shell games to hide the real truth.
"It's disappointing our government has chosen to represent this report as something it's not," says Julie Sibbing of the National Wildlife Federation.
The government may say we are gaining wetlands, but the ducks and the deer and the hunters and fishermen know better.
They know Arnold Palmer may be great at designing a golf course.
But he knows absolutely nothing about creating a wetland.