Endangered species… Again a huge topic with many facets.
My area is one of the few, if not only area in the 48 contiguous states with an intact ecosystem, in that all of the animal species that have existed here for the last several hundred years are still here. The Bald Eagle, Mountain Caribou, Grizzly Bear, Wolf, Kootenai River White Sturgeon, all on the Endangered Species List, all make their home here. We also share space with many other species proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act, among them the West Slope Cut-throat Trout, Lynx, Wolverine and Kootenai River Burbot or ling.
All of these critters have a tenuous existence here. The primary cause is habitat fragmentation brought about by literally thousands of miles of roads, improper forest treatments, human encroachment and inhabitation of nearly every nook and cranny of the forest.
Like many rural areas in the West, livelihoods are largely based on resource extraction. My county alone has two large lumber mills, supplying a livelihood to a significant portion of the folks who live here. Mill jobs at around 10-12 dollars an hour tend to be one of the better paying jobs in the area. The mills support lots of others directly, Loggers, Foresters, Tree Planters, Truck Drivers etc., and indirectly by supporting much of the commercial business in town who supply goods and services to the community.
The ESA is a powerful piece of legislation. It requires us to do everything in our power to
protect species in eminent danger of becoming extinct in a particular area.
Aye, There’s the Rub! Conflict with a population of Westerners, proud of their perceived tradition of resource extraction and independence of body and mind. What locals call Use and Custom.
The Forest Service here, controls between 70 and 80 percent of the land, and it is up to them to attempt to balance the needs of the populace and their mandate to protect endangered species.
The Bald Eagle, first on the ESA list, wasn’t much of a problem for us. DDT was the primary cause of their downfall, not so much fragmented habitat. Bald Eagles are pretty adaptive to man’s existence and efforts, with the banning of DDT came back well.
The Grizzly Bear was our second on the List and has proved to be more troublesome, an on-going experiment with what works and what doesn’t work. Grizzly Bears and man do not mix well. Elusive and shy creatures, they apparently require large tracts of land free from man’s activities to successfully breed and prosper. In the early 1980’s the Forest Service started to gate roads in the forest to provide limited motorized access to many areas. Gates have been a fairly effective tool in providing safe habitat for the bear, but it has also completely galvanized the community. First it was just a few gates, then they started to flower seemingly everywhere. Many of the locals feel as though the Federal Government has completely locked them out of what they consider their own backyard. You hear it all the time- I can’t get to my special huckleberrypatchfishin’holefavoritehauntmushroompicken’area. This, despite the fact that there were few existing forest roads here until the 1930’s. If you want to piss off a Westerner, take away his 4x4! You might as well cut off his nuts! Non-motorized traffic is still allowed behind the gates as well as “administrative use” which is limited to some extent. The gated access can also be rotated throughout the forest to provide access for timber removal, road maintenance and what have you.
Third on our list is the Mountain Caribou. These animals require alpine areas for their survival and at the time of listing, were very rare here. The few remaining individuals roam between here and Canada and seemed to prefer the Canadian side of the border. More gates went up to protect their habitat. Several attempts have been made to augment the population with imported Caribou from Canada. The Caribou project has pretty much been a failure due to depredation by Mountain Lions and get this… even Grizzly Bears. You should hear the folks around the coffee shops and bars! The reality is probably again man’s interference with the balance of things in that we have managed for incredible numbers of White-tailed Deer to appease the hunters, thereby increasing the population of Mountain Lions who feed on the deer and the occasional Caribou.
Getting bored yet?
Our fourth listing was the Kootenai River White Sturgeon. An incredible and ancient creature, often reaching more than 12 feet in length. This is a separate species, developed over the eons by geologic and hydrologic structures of the earth. Their demise is apparently precipitated by the building of a large dam north of Libby Montana in the early 70’s. The dam was built to provide flood control of downstream lands and to provide more hydro power for our ever power hungry populace. Farmers in the Kootenai Valley love the Dam. They could abandon their dikes, built in the 30’s, mostly with government assistance, and spend more of their time growing crops instead of maintaining dikes and pumping equipment. Townfolk didn’t have to put up with the yearly floods. Slowly, but noticeably the sturgeon dwindled, despite severe limits on fishing and eventually a ban on keeping them at all.
The Wolf, thankfully, has not been much of a problem so far.
So there you have it…Loggers kicked out of the woods, mill workers and shopkeepers allowed to starve, farmers fields allowed to flood again, people have to actually get out of their vehicles and walk a mile or two…
the god damn government and all them environmental wackos are out to get us!!!
That’s the perception.
The reality is that the County’s population has nearly doubled since the 70’s. The two big lumber mill that we had here are still here and growing. Changes are happening to be sure, retooling to handle smaller diameter timber, mechanization to improve the bottom line and eliminate many of the workers. There are some empty store fronts, along with new enterprises coming to town. We still have crappy school buildings, but we are blessed with dedicated teachers.
Our schools and our roads are, to a large extent, dependent on the 25% funding the government provides from timber receipts to offset the lack of a tax base. Our water is still pretty clean, maybe too clean for the sturgeon. We are blessed with beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife, pretty good fishing still. Life is good here. Most of us don’t live here to get rich, we love our surroundings and relatively peaceful existence. The local “environmentalists” are learning to get along with the “loggers”. There is still a lot of friction, but there is an air of inevitability creeping in. Like most folks we are slow to change, we are proud of, and remember our past.
The ESA is a necessary evil if we wish to maintain some semblance of the web of life. We as a Nation, must recognize these things and help with the maintenance of our wildlife heritage. It is unfair to dump all the costs upon those of us who choose to live here.
I’m reminded of a story I read some time back, I can’t remember which environmental magazine in was in, but the gist of the story goes like this: There was a bus load of Big Wig environmentalists from the U.S. traveling the road somewhere in Kenya. They were looking into the possibility of environmental tourism to off set the cost of wildlife protection to the local population. They passed a native Kenyan, proudly walking along the road with his spear over his shoulder. One of the participants mentioned to the others, that if they hoped to protect wildlife and their habitat, they first had to have the co-operation of that fellow back there. How true.