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Treat me like a Delta smelt

December 02, 2007|Bruce Braunstein | Bruce Braunstein is the author of the forthcoming "The Rise of Hollywood and the Pacific Coast," to be published by McGraw-Hill.

We who live in Los Angeles know we live on the edge of the desert. Our city could not exist if we did not import huge volumes of water every day. Yet in August, U.S District Judge Oliver Wanger ordered state and federal water managers to reduce pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a move that could cut the supply of water flowing from Northern to Southern California by 30%. Why? To protect the Delta smelt, a thin, almost translucent fish threatened with extinction. His Honor ruled that the gigantic pumps of the California Water Project were trapping and disorienting the poor little fish.

Cutting back our water supply will give the 3-inch fish a chance to recover, as required under the Endangered Species Act. It may be good for the fish, but what about the people who need that water? Don't we have any rights? For that matter, consider the people of drought-stricken Atlanta, where, in order to protect the Gulf sturgeon and three mussel species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requires the Army Corps of Engineers to spill 5,000 cubic feet of water per second from a dam on Lake Lanier on the Chattahoochee River -- a man-made reservoir that provides water for the city. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue calls that a "nonsensical action" that favors "mussel and sturgeon species over Georgia citizens."

The Corps of Engineers recently issued a compromise: It will siphon off 5% less water each day. But instead of inveighing against misguided efforts to save endangered species, perhaps Perdue, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other governors in similar straits should be lobbying to get one more terran life form added to the federal Endangered Species Act: homo sapiens.

Go ahead and object that the human race, whose population doubled between 1961 and 1999, is in no danger of extinction. But look at Nobel Prize winner Al Gore's work on global warming. Look at the all the threats to our civilization and our species, from nuclear war to bovine-generated methane to collisions with near-Earth objects. A case can easily be made that human beings are more endangered than whooping cranes, whose numbers have increased nearly ninefold in the last 40 years.

The Fish and Wildlife Service determines whether to add a species to the federal lists of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants. Once listed, a species is afforded the full range of protections available under the act, including prohibitions on killing, harming or otherwise "taking" a species. If humans were listed, we'd have equal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The act provides protection to endangered species' habitats. It prohibits trafficking in these species across borders. We human beings should be afforded at least the same rights as the spotted owl and the Delta smelt.

The act also provides that even if the entire species is not immediately threatened with extinction, a definable section can be listed if it is threatened. So if those subspecies -- such as the Van Nuys soccer mom, the Zuma wave rider or some of the rest of us who live in drought-threatened areas -- can be listed, then we will be able to balance our interests against those of the smelt.

Now, if we carry the implications of this logic further, we will find that we can use the Endangered Species Act's prohibition on transporting endangered species across national borders as an easy form of immigration reform. Illegal aliens could be prosecuted for importing an endangered species (themselves) across the border.

We are an endangered species. We had better realize it and change our behaviors if we want to survive.

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