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The single-issue voter: A birder’s look at Joe Biden (D)

October 2, 2008

The seemingly never ending election season is finally drawing to a close. But for those still wondering about the policies of the national candidates as they apply to birds and birders, The Drinking Bird is here for you. Every other week until November, I’ll be looking at the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates’ bird platforms. Hold your horses, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Next in line, the Democratic Vice-presidential nominee, Joe Biden of Delaware.

I addressed last week the merits of breaking down the environmental policies of vice-Presidential candidates in addition to those of the Presidential candidates. Not only has the current administration seen a drastic increase in the power and influence of the Vice-president, but Clinton eight years prior was famous for passing the responsibility for environmental policy to Al Gore, perhaps the most environmentally aware Vice-president in history. In short, this is a well-traveled road, and definitely worth addressing.

Speaking of well-traveled roads, all future candidate snapshots in the series are roughly re-runs of reviews I published last year at approximately this time. Here’s Biden, at the time a candidate for President. I still believe that the best barometer for his potential environmental bona fides as VP is his voting record as a Senator, and as Biden has been a Senator for a very long time, we have plenty to work with.

A quick synopsis of the last assessment; he’s against drilling, for regulation of pollutants, for biofuel subsidies (boo!), he’s protected habitat in Delaware, and fought for third world debt relief in exchange for rainforest conservation (yay!). He’s also got a respectable 83% lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters. On the whole (with the exception of the biofuel thing) a positive platform and one birders can be comfortable with.

In an interview last year, when asked what the environmental achievement he was proudest of, he cited the protection of a large swath of Delware beach, placing in trust the entire expanse from Cape Henlopen to Rehoboth Beach, banning development on beachfront nearly 20 miles from end to end. For a state as small as Delware, that’s not insignificant. For those birders aware of the plight of shorebirds, specifically the Red Knot whose population has plummeted not least of which due to stopover habitat destruction, it’s clear this may prove to be an important development, or rather, lack of development.

Biden’s primary area of expertise is foreign policy, and as such the environmental issues he has taken on have primarily been those of “energy security”. Conservation policies have taken a backseat to issues of diplomacy, but he certainly appears to have his heart in the right place when it comes to issues of most importance to birders and naturalists.

Certainly, compared to his Republican counterpart, he’s practically John Muir.

Coming soon: John McCain, Republican candidate for President.

  1. October 2, 2008 7:45 pm


    Nice summary. As a (mostly) lifelong Delawarean and birder, I can say that I’ve been very happy with Joe’s performance overall. Yes, he does focus more on foreign policy, but his conservation and environmental instincts are very, very solid.

    One quibble–the Atlantic Ocean beach from Cape Henlopen to Rehoboth Beach has little direct significance for Red Knots and other horseshoe crab-affiliated shorebirds. But it’s an absolute jewel in tiny Delaware’s crown, for all sorts of other reasons. And the Delaware Bay part of Cape Henlopen is a horseshoe crab/shorebird area.

    You can see a number of photos and stories from Cape Henlopen on my blog: Jeffrey A. Gordon

    Right now, there are a lot of us in the First State pacing our cages, hoping that things go well tonight for Joe, for our country, and for our birds.



  2. October 2, 2008 11:14 pm

    @Jeff –
    Thanks for the clarification, as one who’s never birded the Chesapeake area I’m somewhat unaware of the specifics. I should have checked a little closer. Though Delaware is a small state, certainly I shouldn’t have made the assumption that it’s all the same. ; )

    I was impressed, though, with his citing of a habitat conservation issue as his proudest achievement as opposed to something more tangentially associated with the environment, such as energy policy and the like. I do think it does show an understanding, instincts like you say, of the issues beyond that which is covered by the main stream media.

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