Greenbacks, Politics and the Flat Earth Society

Columnist Dave Buchanan takes an insightful look at the controversy surrounding the discovery a few weeks ago that the greenback cutthroat used to replenish populations in the U.S. west weren’t quite as pure as they were thought to be (see “AP Covers ‘Wrong Fish’ Story“). Not surprisingly, some enterprising legislators jumped on the story and cited it as evidence of yet more wasteful wrongdoing by environmentalists. “But the story that today’s latest scientific advances overturn earlier, less-sophisticated methods (one researcher said Metcalf’s methodology was unavailable less than two years ago) has brought out the bottom-feeders interested more in denigrating the DOW’s science instead of ferreting out the real question — what do you do with the trout populations now?” In Colorado’s Grand Junction Sentinel.

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  • I’ve long argued that this whole “native species” argument is laced with pitfalls. The experts in the field I have spoken to over the years have all told me that the general working definition of “native” is basically “if it was here when WHITE men got here, it’s native.”
    Two quick points: WHITE men aren’t the only people who have environmental impacts. In fact, other ANIMALS…even “natives” have environmental impacts. Just ask the deer and the elk…the coyote and the wolf. Second, records 200-400 years ago (when WHITE people came to North America in significant numbers) were not very scientific and VERY rarely still exist today. In most cases, we’re making an educated guess about the way things were back in “the good ole days.” So we are actually STILL enforcing OUR contemporary perspectives in the name of science and natural history.
    This Greenback Cutthroat program is an EXCELLENT example of how “gray” a lot of this stuff is even among the “scientists.”
    Personally, I’m all for doing the best we can with what we have. But it bothers me that so many conservationists and nearly all environmentalists seem to elevate native restorationism to the level of ethical mandate…like it’s a “self-evident truth” akin to equality and the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In reality, it’s not quite that simple.

  • Sam

    The reason that the restoration of native species is a top priority for conservationists is because of a few reasons:
    1. Humans have caused the decline of whatever the species in question. For Greenies, it was through deforestation and livestock production. This is more a question of saving a species, if we can return them to their historical population numbers, all the better.
    2. The anti-conservationist state senators in Colorado love to jump on anything they can to show that conservation is a folly. In reality this recovery program may have failed in isolating Greebacks, but it has helped in restoring fish like the Colorado River Cutthroat, another fish which occupies a fraction of its historical habitat. The fact that the biologists did their best in isolating the genetic markers for this trout prior to advanced technologies is good enough for me. Science isn’t perfect, it is trial and error (hence the scientific method).
    3. The data regarding historical ranges of native species is not ‘an enforcement of our contemporary perspectives’ or an educated guess. Colorado has detailed information going back the past 100+ years regarding what was there and what ain’t there now. It is our duty to rectify the problems that we have created and to prevent future problems from occurring. I want my kids to be able to catch native cutthroat out of Plateau Creek just as I have, instead of looking at a wasteland of natural gas wells.