When the going gets tough, the tough dress in funny costumes.

That was the scene at the US Department of the Interior earlier this week when opponents of offshore drilling delivered more than 250,000 postcards and letters protesting a proposal to open waters off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts to oil and gas development.

I’m sure most US government officials are used to receiving this vast amount of mail whenever their department proposes something unpopular with the masses. Who knew the “masses” included polar bears and salmon?

Apparently some of the protestors thought that their point would be more, well, “pointed” if they donned costumes of presumably doomed creatures to deliver the missives. The Associated Press reported that several demonstrators carried signs and wore salmon hats, and one – Wilderness League employee Stuart Campbell – wore an entire salmon costume. I guess to prove the point that salmon are precious, but only as an industry, the group served wild fresh salmon from Bristol Bay and read comments from residents from Point Hope, Alaska, who stand to lose their way of life if the fishing population there is affected by development.

The “march on Washington” was a response to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s invitation to public comments regarding expanded offshore drilling initially proposed in the final days of the Bush administration, the article states. “[Salazar] didn’t rule out expanded offshore drilling. But he criticized ‘the enormous sweep’ of the Bush proposal, which envisioned energy development from New England to Alaska, including lease sales in areas off California and in the North Atlantic that have been off-limits for a quarter century.”

Given the costumed finery of the demonstrators, the areas of chief concern apparently are offshore Alaska, including the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, home to polar bears, seals, walruses, and other wildlife. Bristol Bay watershed is also in the proposed leasing area.

Wilderness League Executive Director Cindy Shogan was quoted as saying that offshore drilling in these areas would have further negative impact on species already under threat from global warming.

It’s too early to tell what, if any, impact the bulk mailing might have on the Interior Department. But Salazar has indicated uncertainty as to whether he’ll put a new five-year drilling plan in effect before the existing program expires in 2012.

As a journalist I applaud this country’s Bill of Rights with its assurances of freedom of speech and the right to assemble. As an environmentalist I would like to know whether or not organizations like the Wilderness League can prove any real impact on these sensitive areas given the fact that over the years research has been quite inconclusive about the effects of offshore development on the marine population.

But as someone with a theatrical bent, I get a kick out of the costumes!

To see pictures, visit http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ijmzoObcMDyeXXrne4t-7meTNxQwD9ARVAA80.