One Small Harbinger of Peace

THE red-cockaded woodpecker doesn't exactly resemble a dove with an olive branch in its mouth. But the perky little redhead may go down in history as the first bird to make real peace between loggers and environmentalists - with help from Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt.

How did this 10-year veteran of the endangered species list - now shrunk in numbers to 10,000 - manage its survival as well as the marginal preservation of the southern forest in which it lives?

Credit the reasonableness of Georgia Pacific, volunteering to restrict operations on 50,000 acres in order to provide a protected habitat. And credit Mr. Babbitt, who combines a nature lover's idealism with a politician's sense of the possible.

On April 19 the Goldman Environmental Prizes were awarded to environmentalists from China, Namibia, and Columbia, among others.

This was also the week celebrating the 23rd annual Earth Day. Former United States Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D) of Wisconsin, father of this event, observed, "I think it is fair to say that Earth Day has come of age."

The happy resolution of the fate of the red-cockaded woodpecker can be viewed in the context of a movement arriving at maturity.

Babbitt and today's sophisticated environmentalists are establishing a simple, revolutionary rule for making difficult decisions about the environment: Don't wait for angry people to chain themselves to trees while other equally angry people shout at the top of their lungs that jobs take priority over spotted owls. Resolve the crisis before it escalates.

Could Babbitt's self-pronounced compromise apply beyond just the Department of the Interior?

The new accommodation for a tiny bird can hardly be counted upon to spread peace to Bosnia, South Africa, and the West Bank of Jordan. But because this modest agreement proves that coexistence is still possible in a world of frustrating confrontations, chalk up one small victory for the red-cockaded woodpecker and its friends.

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