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Applying bad science and/or pure politics to environmental problems doesn’t provide the solutions we need to make this country a better place for our Grandchildren.
There’s a bumper sticker out there, I’ll bet you’ve seen it too, that simply states, “Extinction is Forever.” My interpretation of the message behind the words is, “We must protect species from going extinct at all cost!” I disagree. Nature has been killing off species, including all of our precursors and ancestors, for millions of years.
General thoughts on protecting the Environment
Certainly we cannot have mining operations dumping their tailings into our streams, or factories using the nearest river as a chemical sewer for their waste products. Nor does every “Along the shore” development opportunity need to be realized. We need to protect some unique wetlands from development. Similarly we need to preserve some national forests in their pristine state. However, we do not need to preserve every stand of old growth timber on the West Coast because there might be a spotted owl in residence. Disclosure: my dad was a “gypo” logger (small operation, maybe three to six people) a species that is almost extinct now. Short divergence: old growth forests have a bad habit of being attacked by bugs, the trees die, lightning starts a forest fire, and the cycle of life starts over. How is this better than some loggers coming in, making a decent living harvesting the trees, and leaving a few select trees for reseeding. Better yet accelerate recovery by replanting with seedlings. This is a good Fall job (that I did in my teens) for young, agile, strong people. Do kids today even do any manual labor – plant trees, work hay fields, pick fruit – or have all those jobs that build character and resolve to get an education been handed off to those pesky illegal immigrants? (see my earlier blog on illegal immigrants)
Back to extinction
Nature is constantly experimenting via natural selection. She is experimenting with adaptability versus specialization. Each method works for various species. Some survive and thrive because they are highly adaptable and others because they’ve specialized for habitats and niches that other species can’t survive and thrive in. All of these species are in constant completion, nature is brutal. Small example: in my own yard I’ve watched a blue spruce smother a dogwood (too large to transplant) competing for water and sun. Sometime species over-specialize to the point that when the environment they are in changes a bit, they cannot compete with a more adaptable species and eventually lose the survival battle. This is called extinction and it is not automatically a crime against nature; it is part of nature. It would be a crime against nature if we logged off the entire redwood forest of Northern California or drained all the wetlands along the N. Carolina coast. It is a crime against nature that we are over-fishing the oceans. It is not a crime against nature if the spotted owl loses the battle for the owl niche to the barred owl.
Here are two examples of bad environmentalism involving spotted owls and salmon, first the spotted owls. In the 1990’s the Federal Government decimated the lumber industry in Oregon and Washington by drastically (90%) reducing logging on federal lands to protect the endangered spotted owl. Loggers, log truck drivers, and mill workers became all but extinct. That has not proved successful as the barred owl is displacing, and breeding with, the spotted owl (Environmentalist Wisdom: Shoot One Owl to Save the Other, WSJ July 30, 2011). So now the federal government plans to set aside additional land for protection of spotted owls and “remove” (i.e. shoot) competing barred owls. This is beyond ludicrous.
Second example, Northwest salmon runs. Millions of dollars have been spent and many commercial activities curtailed to protect and improve the salmon runs of the Pacific Northwest. In general I would agree that this has been a good application of the Endangered Species Act. However there are two examples where this good idea, ”save the wild salmon” is being taken too far: killing hatchery salmon and breaching Snake River dams. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife was killing thousands of hatchery fish to “protect” maybe 100 wild fish by reducing competition. This story was captured on film by Ron Yechout and delivered by ABC News. At a time when we are trying to save the commercial fishing industry, the sport fishing industry and the fish themselves, there can be no “bad salmon” just salmon. The second salmon example is the insistence by U. S. District Court Judge James Redden that any plan for improving Snake River Salmon runs include consideration of breaching the four Lower Snake River dams. (See Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, August 11, 2011) For those of you not living in the NW, these are major dams that provide flood control, irrigation, and hydro-electricity. They are the key to agricultural prosperity in Southeastern Washington and major sources of that critical resource, “green electricity” for the grid. Additionally, the breaching process itself is a significant risk to the salmon runs it would be intended to improve. After a decade of effort the third and latest Biological Opinion [plan], Tri-City Herald, August 10, 2011, developed in cooperation by federal, state, and NA tribes (and their collective scientists) was deemed insufficient by the Judge (and how much biology did he take in college?). One rogue judge is costing us all millions of dollars of tax money by insisting that a really bad solution be considered, while delaying good solutions/improvements. Once again politics is trying to dictate science.
Owls: Reopen 50 to 60% of the federal land to logging once again. The trees would be sold by competitive bid. Use half of the money to reduce the deficit and half to improve the habitats (for owls) of the remaining areas. This would have the added benefit of improving the economy. Sound like a win-win to you?
Salmon: Execute the proposed BiOp which includes $10 Billion for salmon habitat, hatchery and transportation improvements. The money comes from a slight increase in the electricity rates – a perfectly fair and appropriate “tax” increase. Don’t tell the Tea Party.
What can we do?
Write our Congressmen and women. Tell them we expect them to pass laws based on good judgment, and good science, and that balance protection of the environment with protection of people’s livelihoods. Tell them you support the above ideas, – if you do, or give them your own good ideas.
We can turn over a better world, a better country, to our Grandchildren only if we use good science to develop sensible solutions.