McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–A new candidate should be considered for inclusion in the list of endangered species. The most recent threatened class of animal is the Klamathus agriculturas culitvaticus — otherwise known as the farmers of the Klamath Basin.
In April of this year, the Endangered Species Act was invoked and farmers in southern Oregon were not allowed to irrigate their crops. The reason, due to drought conditions there would not be enough water for both agriculture and aquatic life. Thus, since two endangered species were involved – the Coho salmon and the Suckerfish — the fish were deemed more worthy of the water.
Passed in 1973, the Endangered Species Act is described on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website as “one of the most comprehensive wildlife conservation laws in the world.” That might be an understatement. The 1,244 species listed in the United States (508 animals and 736 plants) have been used to greatly curtail industry, impede development and remove thousands of acres of land from the rolls of private ownership.
The most alarming aspect of the act is that it places the existence of plants and animals above the lives and well-being of humans. While an exemption does exist within the act that allows a project to continue if benefits are significant enough to outweigh the possible loss of a species, it is rarely applied. A Cabinet-level “Endangered Species Committee” decides whether the exemption is appropriate. The federal government has declined to convene such a committee in reference to the situation in the Klamath Basin. This is no surprise. Since the committee’s creation in 1978, it has only been called upon four times to render a decision.
All law is the application of someone’s morality. In the case of the Endangered Species Act, the federal government has deemed that when the lives of certain plants and animals intersect with Homo sapiens, it is morally imperative that humans yield the right of way. The fact that the Klamath Basin farmers, some whose families have cultivated the same land for generations, stand to lose everything is irrelevant. It matters not that approximately 1,300 families lives will be adversely affected, “the fish got to swim.”
It is interesting to note that the refusal to divert water also is affecting wildlife refuges in the Klamath area. So dire is the situation that if something is not done soon, wildlife experts predict that some 950 bald eagles will perish come fall. This poses a dilemma for those who want to enforce the Endangered Species Act because the bird in question is also an endangered species. It will be interesting to see if the eagles get the water, even if the people don’t.
Humans are given charge to care for and cultivate the environment. We should be good stewards of all that inhabit the world we live in. However, when push comes to shove, the lives and well-being of people must come before animals. While the extinction of a species is never desired, it is clear we can survive even if some life forms don’t. I haven’ t seen a dinosaur crossing sign on any roadways lately, have you?
If more care is not taken in the application of the Endangered Species Act, more of us might find ourselves where the farmers of the Klamath Basin find themselves — on the verge of extinction.
Boggs, whose column appears each Friday in Baptist Press, is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.