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.The Eternal American Battle - Humans V Money

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Friday, April 30, 2010

GIVING HUMANS THE BIRD

I have a horrible feeling that somehow we’ve gotten this whole endangered species thing wrong. Yes, we continue to carelessly destroy habitats, introduce alien species, and randomly dump industrial waste and spill oil, and that’s all bad and we should stop it. But I’ve been eating dolphin safe tuna for almost fifty years now and the darn dolphins are still not safe. I thought these aquatic mammels were supposed to be so smart! Meanwhile, nobody tried to protect the Northern Pike of Lake Davis, California: Quite the opposite.
Some idiot released a couple of Northern Pike into the small and until then very placid Lake Davis back in 1991, because they thought Pike would be fun to catch. Unfortunately Lake Davis already had a stocked population of game fish, Rainbow Trout, which are not only a popular game fish amongst tourists but are also an easy meal for the voracious Northern Pike.
To the California Fish and Game Department the worry was, that once these piscatorial carnivores had finished off the trout in Lake Davis, they would swim downstream into the Feather River, into the Sacramento and then upstream to devour the Delta Salmon fry populations, which Fish and Game had just spent tens of millions of dollars re-introducing. So, beginning in 1997 California Fish and Game declared war on the Pike. They began by dumping 16,000 gallons of liquid poison and 60,000 pounds of powdered poison into the lake. They posioned the water supply of the little lake side community of Portola.  But the Pike...not so much. Next the humans ropped off sections of the lake where the Pike tended to congregate, and tried to electrocute them. Shockingly, that didn't work either. Over ten years California Fish and Game spent well in excess of $30 million trying to kill off these finned invaders, and that effort didn't prove to be fun for anybody, except possibly the Pike.
The Northern Pike of Lake Davis were poisoned. They were electrocuted. They were shot, netted, hooked, cornered, dynamited, starved and suffocated. The state even drained the lake. For over a year the nearby human population couldn’t drink the water, it was so full of piperonyl butoxide. It was like trying to control flys with a fly swatter. 
These Franken-Pike refused to die. They weren't on any endangered species list, they’re on the ten most wanted list. They’ve had more people gunning for them than Osama bin Laden, and with about as much luck. When nothing else worked Fish and Game tried stocking Lake Davis with oversized Trout fry, thinking they would be too big for the young Pike fry to eat and the Pike would then starve to death or be eaten by the baby giganto-trout . In response the Pike began growing nine to fourteen times faster than normal. They became super-Pike fry-enator babies: big nasty Pike babies that had no trouble swallowing the Trout babies of unusual size.
Six hundred Pike were caught in Fish and Game sample nets the year after the lake was poisoned. In 2004, after the electrocution and draining and the shooting,  the catch was 17,635. In all, something over 65,000 Pike have been pulled from Lake Davis since humans began trying to eradicating them, and God knows how many sacrificial trout. But however many it was, it wasn't enough.
In May of 2005 the Pike were caught trying to find a way around the Pike screens on the spillway. When stopped the Pike explained, "Somebody told me I could us this exit." And in 2006, after a winter of heavy snow pack and spring rains, Lake Davis came within inches of overflowing the spillway entirely, and releasing the un-eradicated Pike directly into the Sacramento River system. That year, still not willing to admit he had been beaten by a mere fish, Steve Martarano of California Fish and Game gamely insisted, “We’ve gotten better at knowing where the Pike are.” Yeah, Steve: they’re in the water.
Well, in January of 2007, Fish and Game announced plans to try it one more time. In the fall of 2007, as part of yet another $12 million "new" program, about 48,000 acre feet of “rotenone”, a commonly used and “safe” pesticide, were dumped into the lake and, this time, upstream as well,, in the lake's tributaries. And this,  Fish and Game assured everyone, would finally kill off "the-Pike-that- wouldn't-die" without killing the people or the local economy...again. Nobody would know for certain if it worked until spring. The ice over Lake Davis was still 12 to 24 inches thick, but under that ice 31,000 new Eagle Lake Trout were re-stocked, ranging in size from 8 oz.to 3 lbs. And down there, in the dark water, unseen by human eyes, the battles were occuring that would decide the fate of many a naturalist at Fish and Game. As spring of 2009  approached they poured in another one million trout. And every human in California had their fingers crossed. The last word (as of 2010), on the Fish and Game web page for Lake Davis containes this cautiously hopeful message; "Currently, the reservoir area is open and restocking with rainbow trout has begun." But I've got to tell you, that to me the tale of Lake Davis reads a lot like Mary Shelly's monster story.
Meanwhile, a the same time the Pike were swiming rings around biologists in Northen California, other biologists raising endangered California Condor chicks in Sourthern California, were using hand puppets to feed baby Condors, so they would have no positive human interaction before they are released into the wild. But despite these efforts about a half dozen of the first juvenile Condors freed in the wild chose to hang out at the Pine Mountain Club, a condo resort village down the road from Fraser Park, at the Western end of the Tehachapi mountain range between Central and Southern California. And what the Pine Mountain Club Condors seemed to have figured out on their own, is that their razor sharp beaks and talons designed to rip open animal carcasses worked even better on plastic trash bags and kitchen window screens.
One  “naturalist” studying the Condor-condo interaction, returned home after a hard day of remote Condor observing via powerful binoculars only to discover three of the 30 pound birds with their 10’ wingspans, gallivanting about his bedroom, using it as a sort of playroom and free toilet. They had entered via a slit they made in his window screen. One was in his underwear drawer shredding his shorts while the other two were slowly dissecting his mattress with all the abandon of adolescences free from parental oversight. It is tempting to suggest that the birds picked out this guy personally to deliver a message, and maybe they had; "Stop watching us, you eco-papparazi!" Now, the average citizen, like say maybe Russel Crowe, would have gone into that room with a broom and defended his privacy, and he would driven those feathered gangbangers out the way they had come in!
But this guy was a “naturalist”, and he lived by a differernt code. In order to avoid "human interaction" with the feathered truants, this guy retreated until the birds got bored and left on their own. Or maybe they just ran out of poop. The “naturalists” then convinced local politicians that the problem was not the errent juvanile avian trouble makers, but humans. Dutifully the Condo board voted to require residets to hold all trash inside until the morning of collection, and then to place it in locking containers. And at the landfill a bulldozer was kept standing by so the the garbage bags could be immediately covered with dirt.
The thinking was that without an easy food supply the condors would leave. They did not take the hint. Instead in this Condor version of "West Side Story", the plot was much more simple. The Condor "Sharks"  loomed about on the roof of a local restaurant, depressing the hell out of all potential customers. Who wants to eat at restaurant with vultures looming about on the roof? The condors may have looked like comment on the cuisine, but they were actually just waiting for the trash trucks to arrive. They would then use their extraordinary skills at gliding to follow behind the trucks all way to the dump, where they quickly descended on the plastic bags, ripping them open with great vigor. Then they dinned on all the leftover meat, empty soup cans and macaroni and cheese containers, as if they were a dining on a dieing wooly mammoth. The front loaders couldn’t cover the trash bags without the risk of burying a condor at the same time, so the meals could now be eaten at leisure in a sort of Condor outdoor olfactory buffet. Game, set, and match to the Condors.
The biologists and naturalists were horrified because this behavior didn’t fit their image of noble Condors sailing in an empty sky above an untouched wilderness - which is where the Condors almost became extinct in the first place. Need I point out that not a single condor died at the Pine Mountain Club? They ate too many french fries, but none of them died!
The happy ending to this story of rebellious Condors is that once they matured and mated the adult condors didn’t want their offspring growing up in an urban environment anymore than Republicans do. Today, the Pine Mountain Club is condor free, except for a few weeks every summer when the newly adolescent vultures fly in for a sort of avian spring break, a condor rumsringa. They eat spicy food, taunt the humans and stage panty raids on the naturalists. And then they leave. And even the humans have adapted. The Pine Mountain Club now calls their newsletter "The Condor", and guests can drink themselves into oblivian in the "Condor Room" at the club bar. And wouldn't you like to see one of these drunks come staggering out into the morning light to be confonted by a feathered omen of impending death?
Now, I’m not suggesting we try protecting endangered species with dynamite or by raising their cholesterol levels, but it does seem that the animals we’re protecting are all in trouble while the ones we’re trying to exterminate are experiencing population booms. What can we learn from this? Well, first, that there are six billion humans on this planet at present and more on the way. And baring a natural disaster or WMD we are not going anywhere. And if we do, so are the Condors and most of the Pike and Trout. Modern Condors, searching for dinner while soaring above the wilderness are going to see a lot more humans than dead deer. And Pike and Trout are going to meet a lot of little fish with hooks in them. So why not “humanize” them, teach them what every mentally retarded urban pigeon already knows; the fries are better at Burger King, don’t drink the yellow water, never trust a politician in an election year and don’t go swimming in Lake Davis unless you want your talons bitten off.
-30 -

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