Sen. John McCain's environmental legacy in Arizona may be inexorably linked with the fate of a narrow ribbon of Fremont cottonwoods and willows lining the diminutive San Pedro River, the last free-flowing, wild river in the desert Southwest.
McCain has repeatedly expressed strong support for saving the San Pedro River, which he describes as a "national treasure" whose loss would be a "national disaster." His statements about preserving the most biologically diverse wildlife corridor in the United States have burnished his maverick reputation for he is embracing a conservation ethic that appears far more moderate than current Republican norms. But looking beyond McCain's words, an examination of his legislative actions on the San Pedro River reveals a very different attitude.
Since the early 1990s, scientists have warned that ground water pumping by the burgeoning communities near the Army's Fort Huachuca threatens to dry up the San Pedro. Yet when McCain faced a crucial vote in 2003 about whether to protect the San Pedro River or assure the long-term presence of Fort Huachuca and its high-desert boom towns, McCain voted to save the base. At the river's expense, McCain voted to exempt the fort from a key provision of the Endangered Species Act.
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