Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Jaguar Scandal

by Martin Murie

(Swans - February 9, 2009) The deliberate policy of the Bush regime was to privatize everything, even the lands that belong to citizens of America. Yes, Woody Guthrie was right: This is our land. The recent gutting of the act designed to save endangered species had a long preparation in former presidencies. One example is the granting of freedom from investigation for land owners who "accidentally" harm an endangered species. That happened under the Clinton regime. A more dramatic example, in the Bush years, was the total abandonment of using the Act to preserve jaguars in the United States. These big cats' habitats once extended from the Appalachians to the southwest of current United States' imperial sway.

Look back. In 1847 President Polk wanted California, then a part of Mexico. He used an engagement between American and Mexican troops to claim that "American blood has been shed on American soil," and sent a big army equipped in state-of-the-art artillery and cavalry equipped with rifles into Mexican territory to battle with an army whose cavalry used lances for the most part and whose artillery was primitive. Abe Lincoln, at that time a congressman, asked for the location of spilled American blood. He received no answer. We did get California and other pieces of Mexico and very soon our government bought a southern piece of what is now Arizona and New Mexico. Let's not forget the lies of omission and lies of commission; they are part of our heritage.

My question now is, who are the people working inside the huge Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service whose responsibility is to lay out plans, based on scientific research, for habitat boundaries for endangered species, including the jaguar? Fish and Wildlife's decision that there are no jaguars within our borders passed the buck to the government of Mexico that couldn't care less about the few jaguars roaming the northern mountains of Mexico, or even the illegal timbering of monarch butterflies' Mexican winter sanctuary.

These Fish and Wildlife people in Washington must be bureaucrats, well versed in the Art of the Politically Possible. But aren't there any scientists inside Fish and Wildlife with enough nerve to risk their jobs to protest the executive modifications of clearly-stated sentences making up the Endangered Species Act? There must be some down there in the ranks who groan to each other, in private. Contrast this quietude to the Fish and Wildlife's predecessor, the Bureau of Biological Survey, where an open and spirited controversy boiled and bubbled among field biologists on this question: are predators, such as jaguars and wolves and coyotes, part and parcel of the "balance of nature"? Do not these species deserve equal protection? All extremes were represented, from Stanley Young who sided with ranchers and state bureaucrats, to outspoken partisans of predators. For an authoritative look into those times there is a must-read book, Predatory Bureaucracy, by Michael Robinson (published by University Press of Colorado). The controversy is still with us, but at least in the last century it was open. Bureau of Biological Survey people knew each other and who was on which side. Robinson's book also has fascinating takes on smart wolves and smart trappers.

Well, in the February 2008 issue of Journal of Mammalogy the lead article brought photographic evidence proving that there were still jaguars in the borderlands of Arizona. Individual animals could be identified by individual patterns of spot shapes and patterns, proving that more than one jaguar was currently padding silently in deep darkness north of the border. The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Department of the Interior on this issue and later added the Journal of Mammalogy article to their lawsuit. Nothing happened, no apologies, no changes issued from the depths of the Department of the Interior. That is a flagrant pie in the face, similar to, but even more outrageous than denying polar bears an endangered species status. The timid, corporate-minded personnel of that huge bureau ought to hang their heads in shame. The former head of this outfit deserves his Rubber Dodo Award.

This is only one of many stories of failure of responsibility by members of the Bush/Cheney clique. Privatization has been the watchword all through these eight years, as it was in the reign of Bill Clinton.

http://www.swans.com/library/art15/murie64.html

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