First lady scheduled
for 1-day Midway tour
First lady Laura Bush is scheduled to tour Midway Atoll tomorrow, getting a firsthand look at its wildlife and historical features, a day before a Honolulu ceremony bestowing a Hawaiian name on the marine national monument that her husband created last year.
President Bush promised in June that the 140,000 square miles of islands, atolls and surrounding ocean in the near-pristine Northwestern Hawaiian Islands would be give an appropriate Hawaiian name as soon as possible.
Laura Bush will be accompanied on her one-day tour of Sand and Eastern islands -- the two main islands of Midway Atoll -- by U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Deputy Commerce Secretary David Sampson and Jim Connaughton, head of the president's Council on Environmental Quality.
"I have heard she's a bird lover -- that they're something she's always enjoyed," said Steve Holmer, a spokesman for the advocacy group American Bird Conservancy. "We're very happy to see that she's going out there and taking a look."
Holmer said he hopes that when Bush sees the thousands of albatross and other seabirds nesting there, she will be inspired to lobby for a quicker cleanup of the lead paint that poisons thousands of birds every year.
Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started to spend $200,000 a year on removal of lead paint from old Navy buildings, the conservancy believes the government should do a $6 million cleanup all at once and "be done with it," Holmer said. That makes sense considering plans to revive small-scale eco-tourism at Midway, he added.
The president's 2008 budget proposes $600,000 to hire three Fish and Wildlife Service workers for the monument: a monument manager, a permit manager and a conservation law enforcement manager. It also proposes $2.3 million in capital funds, said Barry Stieglitz, Fish and Wildlife Service director of the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Refuges. But there is no extra money for lead cleanup.
One study estimates up to 10,000 birds a year are sickened by the lead, which they eat as paint chips.
In addition to being part of the new monument, Midway Atoll is a National Wildlife Refuge and the site of the Battle of Midway National Memorial. Those two sites continue to be primarily overseen by the Fish and Wildlife Service, one of three partners in the new monument. The other co-managers are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The monument is the largest conservation area in U.S. history. It is home to 14 million nesting seabirds and more than 7,000 species of sea creatures, a quarter of which are found nowhere else in the world.