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Viewing Environment through Human Centered Lens

by Robert Stokes
Wheat Life, Jan 2003

I like clean air, clean water and wildlife. But I also view environmental values through an ethical lens that is human centered and moderated by non-environmental concerns, otherwise known as costs.

That makes me unfashionable. Modern environmentalists believe humans are not the only entities with rights. Animals, trees and the Earth can't tell us their needs and desires. But conservation biologists and philosophers of Deep Ecology can. Once those new Age priests apply their stamp of approval, an environmental goal becomes absolute: "Science says grizzly bears need this, so they should get it, irrespective of cost."

Such nonsense is easy to ridicule. A more difficult task is staying engaged to support moderate environmentalism. Anyone can join a crusade against logging. But try to find an organization that opposes timber industry abuses while understanding how environmentally responsible logging can coexist with other forest uses. You can also take your pick of groups that would dismantle as much of the Columbia Basin Project as necessary to keep salmon in absolutely every stream where they are today. But try to find advocates of a more moderate salmon conservation effort.

It would amaze conservation pioneers like Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and Aldo Leopold to know we must defend positions they considered obvious; that conservation's overall purpose is advancing a long and broad view of human welfare, and that costs are relevant to evaluating environmental reforms. But that's where 30 years of "progressive" environmentalism has left us.

Natural resource users have an obvious interest in restoring moderate -- human centered, cost conscious -- environmentalism. But how to do it? These recent Northwest examples may offer insight.

A few Americans still hunt with hounds. In 1996, America's largest animal rights group, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) sponsored initiatives banning hound hunting in Washington and Idaho. Hound hunting is more demanding than other types of hunting, involving a year-round commitment to breeding and training as well as deploying and retrieving hounds in the field. No matter to HSUS. The group characterized the sport as shooting defenseless animals out of trees. Their principal TV spot showed hounds attacking a bear cub. What they failed to mention was the footage came from court records of a commercial poaching incident, and depicted actions that violated several tenants of legal hound hunting.

Washington's small hound hunting community couldn't afford even a modest media campaign, much less one sufficient to overcome the HSUS campaign and the initiative's initial 60-plus percent margin of support. However, in 2000 hound hunters and the Department of Wildlife successfully lobbied the legislature to partially relax the ban: not by revisiting the merits of the initiative and the deceptive campaign that made it law; but because hounds were supposedly needed to keep cougars from threatening livestock and people. To save what they could, followers of a tradition dating to the pharaohs hid their sport behind the excuse of animal control.

Over 60 percent of Idaho voters also initially supported banning hounds. However, Idaho's hunting leaders began their NO campaign by uniting hunters of all types. They accomplished this by publicizing HSUS's well-known position that virtually all hunting should be banned. That broader support base provided resources for an effective media campaign. The message to non-hunters was that Idaho's wildlife should be managed by Idahoans, for Idahoans. Specifically, hunting should be managed by the scientists and professional managers of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Idaho's hound ban was rejected by over 60 percent of the voters. Idaho wildlife continues to be managed for human purposes, rather than according to animal rights ideology. In particular, cougar and bear are managed to produce quality hunting experience, including hound hunting.

HSUS returned to Washington in 2000 to score second victory. This time their initiative banned most commonly used trapping techniques. The group has not returned to Idaho.

The debate over whether hatchery salmon fulfill Endangered Species Act (ESA) requirements offers opportunities to introduce (much needed) cost consciousness into the implementation of that law. Until recently, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) ignored hatchery production when listing salmon for ESA protection. The agency has even ordered destruction of salmon suspected of hatchery ancestry.

When a federal judge struck down that practice, Northwest Regional Fisheries Administrator Robert Lohn ordered a review of hatchery policy. The recently completed first phase dealt with listing and delisting salmon populations and took a slightly more charitable view of hatcheries.

The second phase addresses recovery planning, which will undoubtedly lead to discussion of a new development called "conservation hatcheries." In conservation hatchery programs, wild salmon are captured and their eggs reared in hatcheries. Conditions are kept as natural as possible, consistent with maximizing survival. Juveniles are released into the streams from which their parents were captured. There they imprint on the water chemistry and later return to spawn. Except for deliberate marking of the fist generation, and possible minor evolutionary effects thereafter, they become indistinguishable from wild salmon. Under current NMFS rules the second and subsequent generations would also count toward ESA recovery goals.

Everyone accepts conservation hatcheries as stop-gaps to stabilize declining wild salmon populations. But expect environmentalists to oppose using them as permanent replacements for measures like spilling water over dams, reducing irrigation flows or removing dams altogether.

Expect permanent use of conservation hatcheries to be supported by people who think compliance costs are one measure of how well ESA serves -- or fails to serve -- the public interest. That may include recent Bush fisheries appointees like Robert Lohn and his superiors.

As political appointees, their job is aligning the NMFS agency culture -- sometimes called science -- with the larger society's expectations. The 20-year history of Columbia River salmon planning suggests environmentalists and fisheries advocates will make the most of every opportunity to present their case. Time will tell who else does.

Robert Stokes, Natural-Resource Economist
Viewing Environment through Human Centered Lens
Wheat Life - January 2003

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