I was taking with a friend of mine in Georgetown, Texas who was filling me in on the latest Salamander controversy that essentially promises to shut down most future development in Williamson County. An endangered vertebrates can shut down a whole development, apparently, anytime before or after approval, while endangered invertebrates can only shut down development prior to approval. I thought to myself “gee, those invertebrates have a class action cause for discrimination versus those smug vertebrates”. In any case, it reminded me of a column I wrote in 2004 about antelopes…
I attended a very interesting roundtable discussion a couple of weeks ago (actually now in September 2004) in Denver at the annual Colorado Oil and Gas Association meeting. The discussion, entitled “Smart Development”, was comprised of a panel of speakers that included Joe Jaggers of Williams, Ron Hogan of Questar, Reeves Brown of Club 20, Dr. John Beckman of the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Dr. Patricia Limerick of the Center of the American West from UC Boulder.
Jaggers and Hogan talked about the difficulties of drilling and producing on federal lands, and the tightening noose of interlocking breeding seasons, and the clever, industrious ways they had found to both address the concerns over winter-time mule deer mating habits posited by the plethora of environmental concern groups while still being able to drill and develop the Pinedale Anticline, thought to contain over 20 Trillion Cubic Feet of natural gas.
Dr. Beckman then rose to speak. He described his organization, the Wildlife Conservation Society, as NOT a rabid environmentalist group. In fact, he said, it was comprised of PhD ecologists, and was, in reality, the New York Zoological Society, who presumably adopted the nom de guerre Wildlife Conservation Society for its hipper, more modern and sensitive mien than the archaic "New York Zoological Society", which connotes caged-in suffering yankee animals.
In any case, Dr. Beckman's group is studying the large mammals along the Pinedale area to determine if there is anything unusual about them that could drive some sort of "protected status" claim. To their great surprise, they identified a group of pronghorn sheep in the area that has a migration route of some 330 miles. In fact, it is the 2nd or 3rd longest existing large mammal migration route in North America and the 5th to 7th longest in the world.
Why the range, you ask? Because, honestly, I don’t remember the actual rankings, but I'm pretty sure I'm in the ballpark. On the basis of this spectacular finding, the Scientifically-Based Wildlife Conservation Society felt that this special group of Pronghorn Sheep and its migratory route be assigned a (presumably Scientifically-Based) "World Treasure" designation. It was not immediately clear what worldwide regulatory body, in fact, is in charge of said "World Treasure" designations, or whether said regulatory body would consider 20+ Trillion Cubic Feet of Gas worth $100 billion dollars and capable of heating every Western city in the US a "World Treasure".
In any case, the Wildlife Conservation Society's proposal, which the Scientifically-Based group considered to be a “Win-Win”, was to remove from any future development the minerals along the migratory route forever.
Are you marvelling yet at the flawlessness and beauty of the Scientifically-Based study and its proposal? A few things helped clarify their reasoning.
Upon questioning from the audience, Dr. Beckman stated, that, AT ITS PEAK, the migratory herd contained some 400 members. Since this is 400 of some 4 million animals of the SAME FRIGGING SPECIES in the state, membership in this group is harder to come by than a Skull and Bones knock on the door at Yale.
A federally-protected subset of Pronghorn Sheep? I have visions of a caste-like stratified Pronghorn Sheep society with Mayflower descendant-like exclusivity. Wasn't there a Dr. Seuss book about this?
On a more serious vein, a scientific study made with the sole purpose of finding ANY unique characteristics that can then somehow be classified as a Treasure Needing Preservation is not science at all. When the end result is pre-ordained… how do we keep dirty (CHOOSE ONE: Big Oilmen, Big Mining Conglomerates, Timber Interests, etc) from (CHOOSE ONE: Wrecking, Wasting, Pillaging, Raping, etc) our pristine wilderness... the reasons found to rationalize this are incidental.
Not covered in Dr. Beckman's talk was 1) exactly why a 330 mile migration pattern is valuable? 2) of the several other pre-historic migration patterns identified, what caused their eventual extinction and how did those extinctions negatively impact the ecosystem? 3) exactly how many pronghorn sheep today are migrating today? 4) can we build the remaining Pronghorns a light rail system?
It boggles the mind what they would have proposed as a "Win-Win" solution had they discovered a herd of tap-dancing antelope...
Some real good comes from this... The Mayer Anomaly, named after its creator, is a Direct Economic Natural Resource Indicator. If more than two endangered species habitats, and/or more than one mating ground or migratory route overlap, you have a statistically phenomenal likelihood of encountering an Economically Attractive Natural Resource! Ignoring, for the moment, sampling issues (ie that any areas areas of interest to Evil Capitalists are sampled far more robustly by the resource exploitation slayers than trailer house developments, farmland/ranchland, scout camps, etc. even though no compelling evidence that E&P operations have EVER significantly negatively impacted wildlife in the past), we might have finally found a way to remotely locate big oil and gas accumulations!