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Lynne Plambeck: Endangered species need protection

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: June 30, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 30, 2011 1:55 a.m.

The Endangered Species Act is a venerable piece of environmental legislation passed in the 1970s under the Nixon administration.

Both sides of the aisle came together in that decade to protect the wonders of nature, large and small. During that same time, the Clean Water and Clean Air acts also became laws of our nation. It was a time of growing awareness of our dependence on the natural systems around us and our duty to protect them.

But recently, all these important pieces of environmental legislation have come under attack from the Republican side of the aisle, the very GOP that first supported the legislation. That is why a Tuesday federal-court decision calling for a closer look a 40 endangered species in four Southern California forests is so important. 

The decision called for three federal agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, to take another look at how they are protecting rare plants and animals in Southern California forests. Two of the forests are adjacent to Santa Clarita — the Angeles and Los Padres.

The decision ordered the agencies to take a closer look at whether the actions these agencies permitted and the opinions they wrote were really protecting the rare plants and animals as they are mandated to do.

The decision could have an impact on us locally. The compliance with the Endangered Species Act is in question, among other issues — such as air quality — that the city brought up in its fight against the CEMEX mine.

The city was joined by the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment in its concerns for how this mining operation would affect the California gnatcatcher, a small songbird and the arroyo toad, among others.

While the city’s litigation over the mine is long since over, any change in the CEMEX proposal could bring a new review where this court decision would apply.

The decision also refers to our disappearing steelhead trout. The presence of this fish, once abundant in the Santa Clara River, has diminished because of impacts ranging from water quality to dams such as the freeman diversion. Urban developments, such as the 21,000-unit Newhall Ranch project, add to stormwater pollution problems that may affect the steelhead.

While sportsmen have long decried the reductions in numbers of this prized game fish, others have raised more far-reaching concerns. 

Some biologists believe that the southern steelhead, a kind of salmon, may be needed to help the whole species survive in a future warmer climate.

While northern salmon species need colder waters for migration and spawning, the southern species has adapted over thousands of years to a warmer climate. Could our southern steelhead spread northward in a future warmer climate where other salmon might die?

Such diversity is the very essence of the protections legislated in the Endangered Species Act.  With a diversity of plants and animals, adaptation is possible. But the fewer the variety of animals, the more likely it is that the whole population will be wiped out by a new disease or by climate change.

Examples of this are prevalent in agriculture in which single-crop fields of thousands of acres of, say, corn, apples or any other single-plant species can be easily wiped out by one new pest. 

When varieties are planted, often one will have a natural resistance. Even planting fields with a number of different crops helps.

Nature is that way, too. Perhaps that is why God asked Noah to make sure to put two (a male and female) of all of his creatures on the ark. To me, the Endangered Species Act is our Noah’s ark.

It is there to make sure that we keep two of every one of God’s creatures on the ark of planet Earth.

This legal decision will ensure that we practice the good stewardship needed to ensure their survival.

Lynne Plambeck is the president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.


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