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Mr. President, I feel very strongly that the United States, considering its historical involvement in the Canal Zone, has a responsibility to the world that goes beyond the political issues occupying the daily news columns; namely, a responsibility to ensure that mankind does not lose, in the name of political expediency, an area endowed with a biological wealth that should contribute to human knowledge and understanding for generations to come.
For variety of tropical bird, animal and plant species concentrated in a single area, the Canal Zone rain forest habitats are perhaps unique. (In December 1976 the annual Canal Zone Christmas bird count of the Panama Audubon Society recorded a total of 333 different species sighted during one 24-hour period. This was the highest count ever achieved anywhere in the world.) For easy accessibility to scientists, students and amateur naturalists from all parts of the world, these habitats are unsurpassed, and thus ideally suited to firsthand observation and research. I think it would be difficult to calculate their value as a living laboratory wherein scientists can probe for answers to nature's many perplexing questions. Attesting to this fact are the many scientists presently engaged in research projects here under the auspices of such organizations as the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Gorgas Memorial Laboratory.
From the moment I arrived on the isthmus nearly three years ago, I have been impressed with the overwhelming abundance with which nature has blessed this area. As a member of the Panama Audubon Society, I have become intimately acquainted with some of the most beautiful local forest habitats. It has been distressing to observe the limited damage already inflicted by the slash and burn methods of encroaching squatters and illegal hunting by poachers, even in areas set aside by the Canal Zone government as forest and wildlife preserves. But it is much more distressing to contemplate the certain tragic fate that awaits these irreplaceable forests if definite measures are not taken soon to protect them.
The inevitability of such a fate is made shockingly clear merely by traveling in any direction from the Canal Zone into the Republic of Panama and observing the almost total destruction of natural vegetation. Most areas are completely devoid of any significant forest cover, and much of the land lies neglected and unproductive. Unless the United States government assumes a responsibility for their protection, the same thing will happen to the forested areas of the Canal Zone
once direct control over these lands passes from the Uniteè States to Panama, a country with one of the poorest conservation records in the world. Then not only will the wildlife populations be deprived of their habitats, but the soils will be depleted of forest-supplied nutrients, the canal will lose much of its vital water supply as the absence of forest cover brings a decrease in the amount of rainfall and denuded floodplains will permit erosion to rapidly silt up canal channels. Ecologically, the Canal Zone could become a disaster area in a relatively short time. And since an ecosystem is not an isolated entity, the consequences of environmental deterioration in the Canal Zone could extend far beyond its boundaries, affecting much of middle America.
Surely, human rights include man's right to pursue a greater understanding of the ecological relationships which will determine the quality, perhaps the survival, of life on earth. Many answers will be found through the study of the intricate structure and dynamics of tropical ecosystems. Few such systems remain intact-one of the most important is contained within the wet lowland forests of the Panama Canal Zone.
I, therefore, urge you, Mr. President, as the first dedicated conservationist to occupy the White House in a very long time, to assure that any agreement which the United States may finally reach with Panama goes beyond merely meeting the political demands of the hour and responds to the critical environmental needs of this and future generations.
Panama Audubon Society
DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Washington, D.C. 20520
July 6, 1977
Ms. Carolyn Lowe
Post Office Box 2026
Panama Canal Zone
Dear Ms. Lowe:
Your message to the President has been referred to the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs in the Department of State for reply. You will be hearing from them in the near future. Should you have further questions, you may wish to be in touch with them directly. They may be reached at (202) 632-9227 in Room 5263, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520.
We very much appreciate your interest.
Hodding Carter III