From river to river

  • Carroll Sheldon of Nebraskans First

  • Paul Currier of Platte River Whooping Crane Trust

  • Vernon Nelson, farmer

 

Note: This front-page editor's note is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

From river to river around the West, details vary, but the bigger picture is the same: The federal government brandishes the stick of the Endangered Species Act because it's almost the only tool the government has to restore river ecosystems. Yet in the 26 years that the law has been available, wildlife continues to decline.

Salmon in the Northwest, squawfish on the Colorado River and other native species around the West are all in trouble for similar reasons: Water has been sucked from the river for farming, drinking and making electricity.

There are all kinds of excuses. The federal agencies, primarily the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have to operate within the labyrinth of budgets, licenses and permits for dams and river diversions, intersecting with state and local water-rights systems. The Fish and Wildlife Service doesn't have direct authority; it merely issues "biological opinions' that are enforced only if environmentalists file suit and persuade some judge to enforce them.

It's a regulatory system that sets up environmentalists to look like spoilers.

More and more, instead of swinging full force, the feds look for progress by offering compromises, trying to lure as many people as possible to the negotiating table. Under this modern politics of consensus, coming to the table reluctantly are not only the cities and farmers but also hydropower generators, other developers and any tribes that have a claim. Environmentalists come, too, in spite of fears they'll be outnumbered and maneuvered into issuing a green blanket for compromises that amount to too little, too late.

It's a muddy picture, but on one river - the Platte - a new era might be dawning. Betsy Rieke, who as assistant secretary of Interior for Water and Science was instrumental in getting the Platte process going, says: "You have to figure out how to overcome the negative drag. I call it, practicing optimism beyond reason."

High Country News Classifieds
  • MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    For more information visit www. wyofile.com/careers/
  • THRIVING LOCAL HEALTH FOOD STORE FOR SALE
    Turn-key business opportunity. Successful well established business with room to grow. Excellent highway visibility.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    For more information, visit www.wyofile.com/careers/
  • SONORAN INSTITUTE, CEO
    Chief Executive Officer Tucson, Arizona ABOUT SONORAN INSTITUTE Since 1990, the Sonoran Institute has brought together diverse interests to successfully forge effective and enduring conservation...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a high-impact, nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 27-year legacy using...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Position Summary Join our Team at the New Mexico Land Conservancy! We're seeking a Project Manager who will work to protect land and water across...
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • WILDLIFE HAVEN
    Beautiful acreage with Teton Creek flowing through it. Springs and ponds, lots of trees, moose and deer. Property has barn. Easy access. approx. 33 acres.
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...