NANFA-- Where is the anger?

Christopher Scharpf (
Thu, 14 Mar 2002 22:58:54 -0400

> It seems that arguments about habitat protection rarely help and usually
> make enemies. People seem to bring in politics and personal views and such
> that usually don't have anything to do with the details of the issue at
> hand. Maybe a simple review of the state of our aquatic habitats and their
> life would be helpful.

The following is from Peter B. Moyle, author of INLAND FISHES OF CALIFORNIA.
it dates from 1995, I think.

Where is the anger? Why is there no storm of fury over a Congress that wants
to nullify the existence of hundreds of species? Why hasn't a ripple of fear
passed through the nation over the actions of politicians who would dump
more poisons into rivers and allow streams to run dry? Are we going to sit
around quietly, drinking bottled water from France, watching the fish die?

I wish I understood this complacency. In my office I have a map of the
Sierra Nevada that illustrates the near-disappearance of chinook salmon that
once kept people awake at night from the splashing of a million tails.
California's coho salmon fisheries are nearly gone now. The fishermen know
that a thousand frozen salmon from Alaska cannot replace a single coho in
their catch.

Yet in the Pacific Northwest, keeping a few loggers employed for a few years
(until the trees run out) or keeping a few cows grazing along unfenced
streams is regarded as worth sacrificing entire fish populations that can
support future generations.

Of course, the fish (and humans) were not doing well even before the present
era of "Wise Use" and congressional myopia. More than one third of all the
fish species in North America are in serious decline even with the
Endangered Species Act in place. Every year, we pay more to filter the water
we drink. Every year, more streams lose the vegetation along their banks,
their runs of salmon and their ability to cleanse themselves.

My academic life has been partly spent documenting the loss of California's
native fishes. My first paper documented the brief return of chinook salmon
to the Kings River in the San Joaquin Valley where it had not been seen for
25 years and has not been seen since. Subsequent papers documented dramatic
declines in fishes and frogs native to the Sierra Nevada foothills. I
continue my academic studies, but for every ecological paper I publish, I
publish two on species declines. In 1975, one of my students caught and
released the last known bull trout in California. Attempts to reestablish
the species have failed. Destruction of species and ecosystems is easy and
cheap, restoration hard and expensive.

This year it rained in California as it has not rained for years. Fisheries
are rebounding, because the water has been purified, the spawning gravel
cleansed and riparian habitat flooded. This gives hope that salmon, sturgeon
and splittail can recover if we let them. However, the drought California's
fish have suffered will be repeated if water diversions and environmental
degradation continue.

Pressured by the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws, there
is an effort to negotiate solutions to California's water problems. Yet
Congress seems bent on destroying this to favor the greedy few. Where is the
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