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Environment 'Model' Questioned

April 11, 1993

In the past, Times editorials have made the usual, vacuous "jobs vs. environment" argument, but a recent editorial abandons this logic and endorses the Interior Department's political compromise ("Green Without Being Mean," March 26).

In presenting this policy, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt touted the state program that is being attempted in Southern California as a "model" that will be an improvement over the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Will this turn out to be the case?

One interpretation of the ESA is that it employs a "canary-in-a-coal-mine" approach, where ailing species such as the gnatcatcher are identified as "indicator species." These species provide information about the health of the overall natural systems in which they live. The logic of this approach is simple. Natural environments are extremely complex systems with many fragile, interactive dependencies. Thus, the decline of one species can mean the decline of an entire ecosystem.

The model that Babbitt favors assumes that (1) we will quickly arrive at a detailed understanding of how the natural system the gnatcatcher lives in functions, (2) the data and recommendations presented by the scientific community won't be squashed or manipulated, and (3) government organizations and developer factions will work honestly with community and environmental organizations--the usual government/industry collusion and trickery will not suffice. I question the reasonableness of these assumptions.

The solution to our environmental and economic problems will not be delivered by mere compromise and consensus building. Government actions must encourage sustainable business activities. This might mean some industries can offer less temporary and short-term employment, but as the saying goes in the Northwest: "What kind of jobs would loggers have if they were allowed to level all the forests?"

PETER WALZER

Huntington Beach

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