After the Bush administration in 2005 listed Puget Sound's declining killer whales as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, the Pacific Legal Foundation leapt into action.
Its court challenge in 2006 failed, however, so now its lawyers have filed a petition for delisting with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The irony is that the Pacific Legal Foundation regularly denounces environmentalists for frivolous challenges under the Endangered Species Act. Yet with this new petition, it has brought frivolity to a whole new level.
Here's the absurd line of reasoning. Since the "southern resident killer whales" eat chinook salmon, that's why chinook salmon runs in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have severely declined or even disappeared. By extension, water-pumping restrictions in the Delta also must be the fault of the orcas.
They want the killer whales delisted as an endangered species, though only 86 still exist, apparently believing we're not kidding that if orcas are taken off the list, farmers in the San Luis, Chowchilla and Westlands water districts could get more water.
Oddly, this petition comes just after a five-year review by the National Marine Fisheries Service, based on the best scientific and commercial data available. It concluded that Puget Sound's killer whales should remain listed as endangered.
Why? "Considering the status and continuing threats, the Southern Resident killer whales remain in danger of extinction. Therefore, the recommended classification for Southern Resident killer whales is to remain the same: Endangered."
Do the would-be delisters really believe that delisting of 86 orcas will, voilà, cause recovery of chinook salmon in the Delta magically allowing the lifting of pumping restrictions so more Delta water can flow to farmers?
Look, the 86 southern resident killer whales in question typically feed May-September in the inland waters of Washington state and British Columbia, particularly around Puget Sound. They are known to travel as far north as Southeast Alaska and as far south as Central California, tending to forage more widely when there's a scarcity of salmon.
Chinook salmon abundance is important to the survival and recovery of the southern resident killer whales just as it is important to the ecosystem of the Delta.
Hey, why doesn't the Pacific Legal Foundation and the south of Delta farmers it represents in this case support efforts to conserve and restore chinook salmon? That, coincidentally, is a top priority for supporters of Puget Sound killer whale recovery, too. Collaboration around constructive action; now that's a concept.
The Bee's past stands
"Whatever solution is ultimately embraced, the region will likely never return to the days when so many salmon choked the Sacramento River that Indians and settlers could catch dinner with their hands. But a revived commercial fishing industry, and an answer to one relatively small piece of the state's water policy puzzle, is a pretty good consolation prize. We should try to seize it."
June 29, 2009