Geez, all those punches must sting.
In Nebraska and its neighboring Plains states, U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service biologists and other employees are again
taking shots right and left from critics. It would be one thing if
those blows were legitimate - almost all of them, however, hit
below the belt.
A recent Fish and Wildlife decision
designated critical habitat for the threatened piping plover along
three Nebraska rivers, including the Platte. After the decision was
announced, the critics began to howl and the scare tactics began.
Nebraskans First, a group of politically active central
and western Nebraska irrigators, has been among the opposition's
strongest voices. The group has, among other things, accused the
Fish and Wildlife Service of instigating a "land control program."
Inside and outside of Nebraska, the group blames the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service (and other federal agencies) for:
- Shutting off irrigation water in Oregon's Klamath River
Valley during a drought to protect the endangered suckerfish and
threatened coho salmon, an act that supposedly "ripped the local
- Planting tufts of hair from a captive
lynx in two national forests in Washington "in hopes of tricking
the public into believing critical habitat for the Canadian lynx
needed to be designated," and
- Trying to gain control of
the entire Platte River -- no small feat since the river spans the
width of Nebraska from Wyoming and Colorado on the west, to the
Missouri River on the east -- about 500 miles worth.
time for folks in Nebraska, and elsewhere, to dig a little deeper.
On Point No. 1, the Klamath controversy: Detractors want
us to believe that this was a simple case of farmers vs. fish. It
makes good headlines and can often persuade Midwesterners - many of
whom are members of the anti-government and anti-environment
faction - to lean in one direction without investigating. Here are
some real truths:
Agriculture is not a major player in
the Klamath-area economy. A study found that while farmers there
use up to 95 percent of the surface water, they contribute to less
than 1 percent of the area's economy. The Klamath problems are the
result of a century of misguided federal government policies, not
the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service and other
government laws and agencies.
There is not nearly enough
water in the Klamath to serve all interests. Because of water
withdrawals for farmers, more than 90 percent of the salmon
population has died off. That includes the recent fish kill of up
to 30,000 chinook. An agency staffer's recent whistleblower
complaint may tell us more about pressure to shift more water to
An estimated 7,000 commercial fishing jobs
have been lost in the past 30 years because of agricultural
diversions and other mismanagement. Eighty percent of the area's
wetlands have been drained, destroying vital habitat for migratory
birds. Agricultural chemicals have leached into and polluted the
Klamath basin and area wetlands.
On Point No. 2, the lynx
controversy: This story proves exactly how long a falsity can
linger. Two separate studies have totally exonerated Fish and
Wildlife and Forest Service employees of any wrongdoing whatsoever.
The Department of Interior and the General Accounting Office have
vindicated the biologists. This is a story that originated in the
Washington Times earlier this year. The Associated Press and The
Wall Street Journal were among the media dispersing the myth. The
story was then jumped on by anti-government and anti-environmental
critics before any fact-finding was done.
As it turned
out, the story and follow-ups were chock-full of factual errors. In
reality, no lynx hairs were ever "planted." Controlled samples were
submitted to test the accuracy of federal wildlife labs. There was
nothing deceitful about it.
Outside Online, a Web site
for outdoorsmen, has called the incident "a case study in
media-amplified demagoguery." The media watchdog group Fairness
& Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) has ripped the Washington Times
for its "hoax" story. Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility has called the reporting "a disgraceful saga of ugly
politics fueled by shoddy journalism."
Nebraskans First has a link to the Times' "hoax" story on the lead
page of its Web site. On Point No. 3, the Fish and Wildlife
Service's purported agenda to control the Platte River: There is
not now, nor has there ever been, any such agenda.
numerous interviews and other relations with Fish and Wildlife
employees over the past two decades, I have found them to be some
of the most dedicated and open-minded people around. Yet they are
often the target of relentless critics looking for someone or
something to blame when things don't go their way - such as
designation of critical habitat for a threatened shorebird.
The Platte River is important to a lot of Nebraskans.
Communities, wildlife and farmers need its water. It is a shared
treasure, an ecological wonder, a historical jewel. Because of
that, the Platte and those who seek to steward it deserve much
better than the deceptions that some groups choose to perpetuate.