Planet Earth News: Ecomidity, the Clean Water Act and Nature Library Selections

MOTHER EARTH NEWS environmental planet earth news briefs includes the environmental movement's ecotimidity, the Clean Water Act and selections from the nature library.

| May/June 1987

MOTHER EARTH NEWS environmental planet earth news briefs includes the environmental movement's cautiousness in recent environmental problems, Congress passes the Clean Water Act over the President's veto and new selections from the nature library.

Environmental Planet Earth News


Is the environmental movement getting too cautious? Consider the following:

  • In west-central Texas, as I mentioned in issue 103, plans are afoot to build the Stacey Dam just below the confluence of the Colorado and Concho rivers. There are many things wrong with the proposal, not the least of which is the fact that, if implemented, it would wreck most of the remaining habitat for the endangered Concho water snake and probably kill most of the snakes outright.
  • In Sacramento, California, the city fathers have given their blessing to a big real estate development on the outskirts of town. The development is in flagrant violation of the city's own master plan, which calls for building in vacant parts of town before reaching out to the fringes. The policy was intended to minimize commuting, cut down on air pollution and preserve agricultural lands.
  • In the northern Rockies surrounding Yellowstone National Park are the last remnants of the noble grizzly bear population in the lower 48. Habitat for some bears is shrinking as people usurp the land for roads, gas wells, ski resorts and logging operations. Yet Montana directly threatens the grizzly—an endangered species—with a hunting season.

Classic environmental problems all, but they have something unexpected in common: The environmental community is ambivalent about what to do.

In Texas, they remember the snail darter. In the mid-'70s, the Tennessee Valley Authority commenced construction of the Tellico Dam on the New River in Tennessee. The dam was a real stinkeroo: It cost more than it could ever hope to return, it destroyed valuable farmland and a lovely stretch of river, and it drove people from land their forebears had lived on for two centuries.

None of the economic or aesthetic arguments against the dam had slowed it down one iota. But then a biologist in waders netted a small fish he later identified as a snail darter. It was, almost by definition, an endangered species, since it was so little known in the area. The researcher then went fishing for a lawyer, the lawyer sued to stop construction of the dam and the court ordered work suspended.

The half-built dam stayed that way for many months as the legal battle raged. Editorial cartoonists took great delight in this David vs. Goliath contest. For the most part, the press heaped ridicule on those who would use a tiny fish to stop something so nearly sacred as a dam. In the end, Congress ordered that the dam be finished.

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