Science, not ideology, should drive decisions where wildlife involved

Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2002

A controversy over water usage in the Oregon-California Klamath Basin is receiving national attention. The facts break down like this: Last March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued statements claiming that if local farmers used their normal allocations of water, suckers in a nearby lake would be killed due to a lowered water level in the lake. Based on the report with supposedly scientific underpinnings, a federal judge cut off irrigation water supplies from Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River to the Klamath Irrigation Project. For the first time in 100 years, farmers were left without water.

Not surprisingly, the year of 2001 was a devastating one for farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin. Protests ensued along with supporting opinions from respected biologists that the agencies' reports lacked even the most basic scientific foundation.

The Interior Department then stepped into the fray and ordered the opposing opinions to peer review by the independent National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The NAS subsequently issued a 26-page report saying that it found no clear evidence that higher water levels in the lake would help the suckers.

The drastic action taken by Fish and Wildlife cost the Klamath Basin 2,000 jobs and $134 million to date. Family farms went into foreclosure and Hispanic families went without jobs and in some cases, food. In the Basin, wildlife refuges dried up and other fish perished. None of this should have been allowed to happen.

This tragedy points to startling commonalties emerging elsewhere in the country and right here in our back yard. We live in a country where federal judges are willing to put ideology ahead of science; who freely risk the livelihood of thousands of people in defense of a bogus cause.

Court decisions that resemble activism are becoming more commonplace. Judge James Singleton's last Tongass logging injunction rendered an effect similar to the one created by the Klamath decision.

The Clinton administration created a shift in the environmental movement. Federal agencies have been staffed by politically appointed activists willing to ignore science and reason in the quest to thwart development. People, families and jobs are being trammeled in the process.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a commentary citing a report issued by the National Wilderness Institute that puts into context the results of the Endangered Species Act. According to the report, just 27 animals and plants have been removed from the list of 1,000 species. Out of the 27, the agency admits that nine should never have been placed on the list, and seven became extinct, leaving exactly 11 recovered species in 25 years of work.

The lesson in all this is that the time has come for setting standards for all agencies to follow that require real scientific proof before remedial action is taken.

In our part of the world a single 4-inch Dolly Varden trout could block the development of new hydroelectric power for Alaska's capital city. Juneau enjoys some of the most economical electricity to be found anywhere, generated by clean, efficient hydroelectric power. For 60 years plans have been considered for a power facility near Lake Dorothy. If the plant were built today by privately owned Alaska Electric Light and Power Co., it would generate an output of as much as 30.3 megawatts of power to supplant the existing demand in dry years and supply Juneau's future needs.

Because this single fish was discovered near the mouth of Dorothy Creek during an environmental impact survey, the entire project could be jeopardized if the habitat must be maintained to sustain this species of fish. Dolly Varden is a popular game fish found in abundance throughout Southeast Alaska. Lake Dorothy Hydroelectric Inc. officials have been responsibly engaged in addressing issues related to fisheries and water resources and remain hopeful that the project will move forward. The Lake Dorothy project is an extremely important project for Juneau. It would be a travesty to see the long-term environmental benefits of clean power generation lost for the sake of a 4-inch, non-endangered fish.

-- Juneau Empire

March 10

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