O ne of the last known sanctuaries for the Devils Hole pupfish, only 180 of which are known to exist in the wild, became a scene of devastation and carnage earlier this month — but not because of bulldozing land developers, industrial toxins or greedy commercial fishers. Nearly half the fish were killed off by their supposed guardians when federal biologists snared 90 adults in traps meant to catch larvae.
“It was a very tragic occurrence, one that we never thought would happen,” said Linda Greene, chief of resource management for Death Valley National Park. “The irony was not lost on us,” Greene said, referring to the fact that a federally protected species had been pushed to the brink of extinction in the middle of a national park.
It’s ironic, yes, but not unprecedented. Not too long ago another endangered fish, the humpback chub, was nearly wiped out when federal officials agreed to release a torrent of water down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. That action came at the behest of green groups, claiming it would help restore the river’s health by mimicking natural flood cycles disrupted when Lake Powell was created. Some groups want Glen Canyon Dam torn down and the reservoir emptied. But government officials opted for flooding instead, in an attempt at compromise. It’s estimated that 1,890 of 3,000 chub in the river perished.
Wiping out protected species evidently becomes a controversy and crime only when an industry or a private citizen is involved; good intentions give regulators and greens a pass.
We point to the incident not to make light of the poor pupfish’s plight — which in this case needed protection from the federal government, not the protection of it — but to highlight the obvious double standard that exists when it comes to harming protected species.
It also might give pause to those who unquestioningly accept the premise that animal species or parcels of land are “preserved” or “protected” when they fall into government hands. We shake our heads when reading such references, knowing that governments aren’t much better at managing public lands than managing housing projects.