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Know the West

Why care about a snail the size of pinhead?


Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories, Can she save ecosystems?

MOLLIE BEATTIE: Even if not a single job were created, wildlife must be conserved.

Why? Because we are linked to it, and it is in our immediate self-interest to care about it.

When we see the snails and the mussels and the lichen in trouble, it is often a signal that the ecosystems upon which we, too, depend are unraveling.

The Bruneau hot springs snail is a classic case of a little species in the middle of a big controversy. Farmers in Idaho are up in arms because of the listing of the snail as endangered. After all, who cares about a snail no one ever sees when there are jobs at stake?

But the snail is simply a weather vane for a much greater threat to farmers and others in the region - in this case the steady decline of the regional aquifer in the Bruneau Valley.

The snail is the messenger telling us that a water problem exists and must be dealt with or the ecosystem and agriculture upon which human beings depend will continue to crumble.

Once again local reaction is quite literally to kill the messenger rather than heed the message.

- From a speech to the Natural Resources Council of America at the National Press Club, Washington, DC, Dec. 8, 1993.