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Sierra Club Wants to Turn Back Clock on 200 Years of Progress

by Editorial Board
Yakima Herald-Republic - April 10, 2002

We really only have such things as the journals of Lewis and Clark and the legends retold through the generations by elders of American Indian tribes to even begin to imagine what the West in general, and Northwest in particular, looked like 200 years ago.

It must have been something -- a lush landscape of prairies, valleys, mountains and seashores, untarnished by the subsequent and relentless advent of civilization that would change it forever.

It's true that many mistakes were made in harnessing the environment to advance the settling of the West, which was not always as romantic and idealistic as some would have us believe. Certainly the nearly 50 American Indian tribes encountered by Lewis and Clark might record subsequent history in a different light.

Still, time and development has produced the high-tech, modern society that produced the quality of life we all enjoy today.

In other words, it might have been pretty then, but you can't go back 200 years to recapture it, nor would we want to.

Yet we sense that is an underlying theme in a report just released by the Sierra Club that notes, with some alarm, that many of the plants and animals first reported nearly 200 years ago by the Lewis and Clark expedition are on the decline in the West.

President Thomas Jefferson in 1803 sent Capt. Meriwether Lewis, Capt. William Clark and the Corps of Discovery on an 8,000-mile round-trip journey across the West. They explored the region from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean.

Of the 122 animals discovered by Lewis and Clark, at least 40 percent are under a designation warranting concern and protection, the Sierra Club said in a new report.

"There is no better way to commemorate the upcoming Lewis and Clark bicentennial than to protect and restore wild America," said Mary Kiesau of the environmental group.

The report offered sweeping recommendations for preserving plants and animals, including greater use of federal designations to remove public lands from development, removal of Snake River dams, no oil or gas drilling in sensitive areas, bans on construction of logging roads and sharp restrictions on motorized vehicles.

In other words, let's use the occasion of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial to advance the ongoing agenda of the Sierra Club.

No thanks. Granted, there are many things that can be done to preserve and enhancement much of "wild America," today but a time warp to travel back in time isn't one of them.

It's true that many of the plants and animals from 200 years are either gone or found in reduced numbers. But that was part of the natural order of things, particularly as the West was settled.

There were also some major pluses. The Yakima River Basin was transformed into one of the most diverse agriculture areas in the world with the building of those five reservoirs in the Cascades to supply irrigation water for crops and livestock. One of those reservoir lakes -- Rimrock -- also offers a kokanee fishery that undoubtedly would not be there had the lake not been constructed.

The reservoirs were constructed in the early 1900s, so turn back the clock 200 years and the Yakima Valley as we know it wouldn't even be here. But some of the critters who were here before the dams were built have obviously had to adapt or perish over the years. That's one of the prices of civilization.

It will be interesting to revisit the Lewis and Clark expedition in the months ahead. But that's the proper way to commemorate their journey, not by adopting the modern-day agenda of the Sierra Club.

Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic by Editorial Board are Robert Bickler, Sarah Jenkins and Bill Lee.
Sierra Club Wants to Turn Back Clock on 200 Years of Progress
Yakima Herald-Republic - April 10, 2002

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