Interior chief offers water help to California
Salazar talks of expedited transfers, Recovery Act cash...Tracie Cone, The Associated Press
FRESNO -- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Sunday announced several steps he hoped would ease the toll the state's water shortage is taking on farmers and said he would assign a top deputy to help find solutions.
At a spirited town hall meeting in California's agricultural heartland, Salazar told a packed auditorium that Deputy Interior Secretary David J. Hayes will "bring all of the key federal agencies to the table" to coordinate efforts.
Salazar said he wanted to direct $160 million in Recovery Act funds to the federal Central Valley Project, which manages the dams and canals that move water around the state, and will expedite water transfers from other areas.
Members of the San Joaquin Valley congressional delegation told Salazar that three years of drought were forcing farmers to fallow hundreds of thousands of acres and idle farmworkers.
"The time for meetings and talk is over," said Rep. George Radanovich. "We need action now."
Farmers packed into the auditorium at California State University, Fresno erupted with loud applause.
The congressional delegates and other agriculture industry representatives asked Salazar to hasten the environmental review of the so-called two gates proposal, which would place removable gates in the central Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to block threatened fish such as the tiny smelt from getting killed by the pumps.
"We hope to make an expedited review of that project," Salazar said after the meeting.
The cause of the state's water shortages is not simply three years of below-average rainfall. Federal protections for threatened fish has limited the transfer of water from Lakes Shasta and Oroville through the delta into the state's system of aqueducts.
Searing 109-degree temperatures on Sunday underscored the need for water, and farmers appealed for action.
On the west side of Fresno County, the most prolific agricultural county in the nation, farmers have been told they would receive just 10 percent of their allocation this year, news that forced them to fallow hundreds of thousands of acres.
The farmers argued that cutting water deliveries to farms in the San Joaquin Valley oversimplifies the problems threatening salmon and smelt in the largest freshwater estuary in the West. They have asked for Salazar to ease enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, something he said he was reluctant to do.
"At this time, that would be admitting failure," Salazar said.
Fishing industry speaks up
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, told Salazar that farmers were bearing full responsibility for environmental problems caused by waste-water discharges from cities and by invasive species that eat native fish.
Lost in the chorus of catcalls and applause were the voices of environmental groups, fishermen and coastal communities affected by the collapse of the salmon season. They were there to remind Salazar that the north coast fishing industry has been hard hit by a decline of salmon in the delta and has resulted in the cancellation of commercial fishing season for two years.
Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said that 23,000 commercial and recreational people were unemployed because California's salmon fishery is shut down, which has cost the economy $1.4 billion.
Researchers at the University of California at Davis estimate that as of May, water shortages in the San Joaquin Valley have cost an estimated 35,000 jobs and $830 million in farm revenue.
Comedian Paul Rodriguez, who owns 40 acres of nectarines near Dinuba and heads the Latino Water Coalition, mocked environmentalists' argument that the decline in smelt is the "canary in the coal mine" warning of a declining ecosystem.
"The canary is there so it will perish and the miner can live, but these people got it backward: They want the fish to live so we can die," Rodriguez said as audience members stood and cheered.
Interior Secretary Salazar hears water plea...George Hostetter
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced several steps he hopes will ease the toll of the state’s water shortage, and is assigning a top deputy to help find solutions.
At a Sunday town hall meeting at Fresno State, Salazar told a packed auditorium that Deputy Interior Secretary David J. Hayes will “bring all of the key federal agencies to the table” to coordinate efforts.
"We are here because we want to help you find a solution," Salazar told the audience at Fresno State's Satellite Student Union.
Salazar said the pumps in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will be turned on July 1, and will be operated for the remainder of this year. That, he said, will buy time to allow federal officials, farmers and others to work on a plan to resolve the Valley's water needs.
Salazar said he wants $160 million in Recovery Act funds for the federal Central Valley Project, which manages the dams and canals that move water around the state, and will expedite water transfers from other areas.
Sunday's two-hour town hall meeting drew public officials, farmers, farm workers and fishing industry officials.
Farmers say that three years of drought and water cutbacks to protect threatened fish are forcing them to fallow hundreds of thousands of acres and idle farmworkers.
Editorial: It's not only fish vs. people
The National Marine Fisheries Service has issued a wake-up call on the dangers facing the Central Valley's salmon and, ultimately, the water system they depend on. It should be mulled and acted upon.
The wake-up call came in the form of a "biological opinion" that the fisheries service filed earlier this month. Prompted by a federal court ruling on a lawsuit by environmentalists and fishermen, it found that the ways the state and federal water projects operate threaten the survival of endangered chinook salmon and steelhead, and it required that they change their policies.
The changes the agency envisions include finding ways to get the fish around the dams and other barriers that currently stop them as they migrate upstream to spawn. With immense structures like Shasta Dam spanning the Sacramento River, and Folsom Dam the American, this will not be a simple task. It will require the construction of fish ladders, or elevators, or perhaps truck-and-haul operations. Experts aren't sure if any are feasible. The estimated price tag starts at $1 billion.
The price of not acting, however, will likely be steeper.
To begin with, the winter- and spring-run chinook salmon of the Sacramento River and the steelhead of the American are almost certainly doomed if their journeys to spawning habitat continue to be blocked.
That probably won't take salmon off diners' plates, although there are persistent questions about the taste, healthfulness and environmental impact of what's produced on fish farms.
But if these natural populations vanish, they will likely take with them the state's commercial salmon industry, which has already been shut for two years in the wake of the fish population's crash. The Fish and Game Department estimates that in 2008, the shutdown cost $255 million in revenue and more than 2,200 jobs.
Beyond that, the federal fisheries service's opinion is a wake-up call on the need for a major reassessment of state water policy. Pretty much everyone involved in the current system recognizes that it's broken, unable to store excess supply in wet years or deliver needed supply in dry ones.
The new federal rules, which will likely face a court challenge, don't require an immediate solution. The current blueprint requires studies starting later this year, trials of fish-moving procedures by 2012 and a decision on an ultimate answer by 2020.
Water officials should use that time not only to find the best way to get the fish around the dams but to explore cheaper ways to save them. One possibility being pushed by a Placer County group called Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead seeks the restoration of 600 small creeks between Modesto and Redding. The group says these creeks were once the sites of significant fish runs and offer a much less expensive way to provide spawning habitat than laboriously transporting fish around dams.
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.
San Francisco Bay Area Indymedia
Salazar Announces Aid to Valley Agribusiness, But Doesn’t Endorse Canal
Before a crowd of over 800 people, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on June 28 announced steps the Obama Administration is taking in response to agribusiness claims of drought impacts on the San Joaquin Valley...Dan Bacher
At a packed town hall meeting in Fresno on June 28, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced steps the Obama Administration is taking in response to agribusiness claims of drought impacts on the San Joaquin Valley, including the distribution of $220 million in Recovery Act funding for water and environmental infrastructure projects in California.
Salazar didn’t outright endorse a peripheral canal and more dams as requested by Valley Congressmen and agribusiness representatives as the solution to their “water supply problems,” nor did he agree to their request to convene the “God Squad” to gut protections for Delta smelt, Chinook salmon, green sturgeon and killer whales mandated under the Endangered Species Act.
“Water supply and infrastructure are options that need to be looked at,” Salazar said. “However, we are are not at a point where we are supporting a peripheral canal or new reservoirs.”
He said that he has appointed Deputy Secretary David J Hayes as the lead official to coordinate federal response to California water supply and related environmental issues with the state and stakeholders, including the peripheral canal and Temperance and Sites Reservoirs.
“I’ve assigned the Deputy Secretary to find those solutions,” said Salazar. "I do expect that there will be a significant water supply component to these efforts.”
He also refused to convene the “Gold Squad” as requested by Representatives Nuns, Radanovich, Cardoza and Jim Costa, who slammed the ESA and the Delta smelt and salmon biological opinions for putting “fish over people.”
“To convene the God Squad would be admitting failure in the recovery of these species under the ESA," said Salazar. “Where the God Squad has been invoked, it just created more litigation and compounded the problems it sought to address."
He said that the administration must both establish the “certainty” and “realiabity” of water supplies and to fulfill the responsibilities for endangered species, unfortunately invoking the "co-equal" goal rhetoric of water supply and ecoystem restoration that led to the current ecosystem crash in the Delta under CalFed.
To the chagrin of recreational and commercial fishermen, Indian Tribes, and environmental justice groups, Salazar, Hayes and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor said they would continue to work through the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan that includes a peripheral canal and more dams.
In fact, Salazar pledged “renewed federal involvement and leadership” in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and “federal engagement in water supply issues that extend beyond the scope of the BDCP and the immediate geography of the Bay Delta.”
“Significant progress will be made on the most contentious water supply and environmental issues by the end of 2009, including but not limited to the issues raised by the BDCP,” according to Salazar.
Other actions that Salazar announced included continued efforts to distribute $220 million in Recovery Act funding for specific water and environmental infrastructure projects in California.
Of this amount, $160 million will be directed to the Central Valley Project. Interior will announce an additional $40 million in drought relief funds within the month, the majority of which will go to California’s Central Valley, according to Salazar.
He also pledged the “expedited review” of infrastructure projects that could potentially add "flexibility" to water delivery systems, including the proposed “Two Gates” project and the canal intertie project linking the California Aqueduct and Delta-Mendota Canal.
After Salazar’s opening address, Representatives Cardoza, Nunes, Costa and Radinvoch, in an egregious example of bi-partisan servitude to corporate agribusiness, spoke for around 45 minutes, repeating the Big Lie that the San Joaquin Valley economy was being ravaged by court-mandated federal measures to protected endangered Central Valley Chinook salmon and Delta smelt.
They demanded immediate resumption of the pumping and called for Salazar to convene “The God Squad." They also claimed that water exports were not the major factor in fish declines – that invasive species, water pollution and other factors should be considered in the collapse of endangered species. They called for the immediate overturn of the two biological opinions and asked for new opinions based of “true science”.
“The ESA is not working,” said Jim Costa said, in a curious leap of logic because it was largely because of the attacks on the ESA protections by Costa and other Valley legislators that Chinook salmon, delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, Central Valley steelhead and other species are in their greatest crisis ever. “If the ESA was working the fish would not now be endangered. We can’t can’t fix the Bay-Delta Estuary by only dealing with exports.”
Cardoza said the biological opinion was “insanity.” “The bottom line is that we need to turn back on the pumps,” he stated.
“This is not a drought,” claimed Nunes. “It is a regulatory drought.”
The right side of the room was filled with loud and angry agribusiness representatives, whom Salazar at one point admonished for interrrupting and heckling David Hayes. The left side of the room was filled with over 100 red-shirted members of the United Farmworkers Union (UFW) who remained largely silent except for when UFW President Arturo Rodriguez spoke. At that time, they clapped loudly.
All of the members of the so-called stakeholders panel – including the Mayors of Fresno and Mendota, Comedian Robert Rodriguez, and Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District, called for the construction of a canal and more dams and reconsultation on the biological opinions. No recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen, Delta farmers and California Indian Tribes such as the Winnemm Wintu who are severely impacted by increased water exports in recent years and canal plans were invited to be on the "stakeholders panel!
Arturo Rodriguez was the only panel member who didn’t call for the construction of the peripheral canal and more dams or overturning the biological opinions under the ESA. He pointed out the contradiction between agribusiness asking for new water infrastructure when farmworkers are denied clean drinking water in the field.
“We have no thoughts on the peripheral canal or dams at this time,” Rodriguez said. “We are looking at the plans and proposals to insure that what is done takes into account the needs of farmworkers, including making sure that farmworkers have sufficient water to drink in the fields. This is more than just insuring water for agriculture – we want to sure that workers have good jobs with good wages and access to representation.”
Rodriguez noted that 6 farmworkers died last year due to heat. He also emphasized that any water infrastructure plans by the state and federal governments must take into consideration the needs of agriculture, farmworkers and their families, and the environment.
A sizable, contingent of recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Delta farmers, and environmental justice advocates showed up at the meeting to dispel the “Big Lie” of agribusiness the battle to save the Delta is one of “fish versus people" when it is really one of family farmers, recreational fishermen, commercial fishermen and California Indian Tribes versus corporate agribusiness. Although none of these groups were represented on the stakeholder’s panel, Salazar called, by random comment card selection, four representatives of these groups off to the podium to talk for three minutes.
“It’s not an issue of fish versus people - there is 100 percent unemployment of commercial salmon fishermen,” said Jane Wagner-Tyack of Restore The Delta. “The BDCP has serious problems in that there are no representatives from the Delta involved. You can’t help this region by destroying another one, the Delta.”
Barbara Barrigan Parrilla, campaign director of Restore the Delta, noted that there are 6,000 recreational fishing jobs on the Delta and that the 500,000 acres of farmland in the Delta, now under threat from increased water exports, contribute $3-1/2 billion annually to the California economy.
Mike Hudson, president of the Small Boat Commercial Fisherman’s Association, did a superb job of talking about the plight of commercial fishermen being unemployed for 2 years because of the collapse of Central Valley Chinook salmon.
He also took aim at the “fish versus people ” claim that has become the mantra of corporate agribusiness. “Whoever says this is about fish versus people is saying I’m not a person!,” Hudson said to a round of applause from many in the audience. “Thousands of people depend upon healthy salmon runs on the coast as a way of life.”
Dick Pool, administrator of Water for Fish, discussed the economics of the salmon shutdown and said his organization strongly supports the Delta smelt and salmon biological opinions.
“The issue here is not jobs versus fish, it is jobs versus jobs and food versus food,” emphasized Pool. “Currently there are 23,000 commercial and recreational people unemployed because California’s salmon fishery is shut down. This has taken$1.4 billion out of the State’s economy.”
Contrary to the lies of agribusiness representatives and Valley politicians repeated again and again at the meeting, agribusiness employment actually rose in 6 out of 7 San Joaquin Valley counties from May 2006 to May 2009. During three years of drought between May of 2006 and May of 2009, farm employment went up 13.7% in Kern County, 12.1% in Fresno County, 19.3% in Tulare County, 2% in Merced County, 5.3% in Madera and 8.4% in Stanislaus County, according to official data compiled by the California Economic Development Department. Only in the smallest agricultural county of Kings was there a decline.
"While we’re told that 262,000 acres have been fallowed in Fresno County, the County’s Department of Agriculture was releasing a report that revealed 2008 was another record year with agricultural production dollars up 5.9% over the previous record year of 2007," revealed Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.
For more about agribusiness lies about the drought and the "impact" on San Joaquin Valley agriculture, please read CSPA's Press Release - Myths, Lies and Damn Lies at http://www.calsport.org/6-28-09.htm
Other Steps Announced by Salazar:
Salazar noted that the Bureau of Reclamation has already taken operational steps to stretch the water supply in the San Joaquin Valley. These include:
• The processing of more than 70 transfers that total approximately 245,000 acre-feet of water for the San Joaquin Valley.
• The approval of rescheduling requests by Westside and Friant Division CVP contractors to allow them to preserve and use prior year allocations of approximately 250,000 acre-feet in San Luis Reservoir and 57,000 acre-feet in Millerton Lake.
• The planned announcement of 2010 rescheduling guidelines by August 1, several months in advance of prior practice.
• The approval of contracts to convey 170,000 acre-feet of non-CVP water through CVP facilities for irrigation in various areas affected by the “drought.”
“The Interior Department will continue these efforts and work closely with California to continue facilitating water transfers between willing sellers and buyers, as well as other efficiency improvements,” said Salazar.
“When a community is suffering the way this community is suffering, all parties must come together and work in good faith to find solutions,” concluded Salazar. “We want to continue all these actions and also to learn from you today any other ways in which we can help.”
California Sportfishing Protection Alliance
CSPA's Press Release - Myths, Lies and Damn Lies
Despite drought, Valley agriculture doing far better than rest of economy...6-28-09
Stockton, CA – Sunday, June 28, 2009 -- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is in Fresno today to attend a meeting and listen to the economic woes of the south Valley. Newspapers and airways are awash with accusations that a three-inch fish has caused a man-made drought in California and that environmentalists and fishermen seek to “starve people in order to save whales.” Congressmen, farmers and water agencies claim that 450,000 or more acres of land have been fallowed and 35-50,000 people have been put out of work: all because of Delta smelt and the Endangered Species Act. But, facts are stubborn things. And the facts tell us that these accusations are lies – bald-face lies.
“We hope Secretary Salazar will seek out the facts and see through the transparent efforts by Governor Schwarzenegger, Valley elected officials and the hydrologic brotherhood to use the red-herring of economic recession as justification for depriving the Delta of essential water,” said CSPA Executive Director Bill Jennings. “Their efforts can only be successful if the Secretary,
reporters and the general public ignore the facts,” he said, adding, “The truth is more water won’t wash away the Valley’s recession and endangered species are the victims, not the problem.”
According to official data collected by the California Economic Development Department, during three years of drought, between May of 2006 and May of 2009, farm employment went up 13.7% in Kern County, 12.1% in Fresno County, 19.3% in Tulare County, 2% in Merced County, 5.3% in Madera and 8.4% in Stanislaus County.1 Only in the smallest agricultural county of Kings, did we find a decline. While we’re told that 262,000 acres have been fallowed
in Fresno County, the County’s Department of Agriculture was releasing a report that revealed 2008 was another record year with agricultural production dollars up 5.9% over the previous record year of 2007.2
San Joaquin Valley farm unemployment has always been high and, while the present economic disaster has exacerbated conditions, farm unemployment has not fluctuated according to wet and dry years.3 Indeed, agriculture has fared far better in the current recession than other segments of the economy. While May 08 to May 09 construction, manufacturing, trade & transportation and financial employment in Fresno County dropped by 3,000, 2,300, 1,200 and 900, respectively: agricultural employment actually increased by 100.4 Tulare County reports that while, agricultural employment increased by 2,100 between May 08 and May 09, construction, manufacturing, trade & transportation, hospitality and financial employment was down 800,1,100, 1,300, 400 and 500, respectively.5 Even in counties reporting slight declines in agricultural employment: other employment sectors experienced far greater drops. In the last year of a three-year drought (May 08-May09), statewide farm employment dropped by only
9,600 while nonfarm employment plunged 744,400.6 Indeed, employment figures for counties for north-of-Delta counties that are receiving full water allotments are showing similar employment impacts.
Who is not telling the truth: our elected representatives or the California Employment Development Department? And, who is distorting the truth about actual water shortages?
As Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow pointed out in a 15 May 2009 letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, Westlands Water District is expected to receive 86% of its normal water supplies in this third year of drought; Kern Count Water Agency is expecting 85% and the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors will receive 100% of its non-drought supplies.7 The chart attached to Snow’s letter claims that Westlands’ 14% shortfall will force it to fallow 225,000 acres rather than its normal fallowing of 78,000 acres and Kern County Water Agency’s 15% shortfall will compel it to fallow 220,000 acres rather than the normal 100,000 acres.8 The numbers simply don’t add up.
Mr. Snow was candid when he wrote Senator Feinstein that, “I believe many have lost sight of the plain fact that we are in a hydrologic drought, and as such water supplies are simply limited for all users”9 and when he testified to Congress that, if there was no court order protecting fish, there would only be a 5% increase in water to the Central Valley.
Unfortunately, Mr. Snow and those who scapegoat fisheries seem unable to admit that water supplies in a drought are also limited for fish and wildlife and that recent biological opinions provide less water for the environment during shortages. Nor can they acknowledge that California has issued water rights for 8 _ times the average amount of water in the Bay-Delta watershed or that Valley farmers have recently planted hundreds of thousands of acres of perennial crops based upon the most junior water rights that assume interrupted supplies during the inevitable droughts that occur more than a third of the time in the state.
Those who accuse fishermen and environmentalists of trying to “starve families to protect whales” appear incapable of exhibiting compassion for the depressed communities along the coast and wrecked livelihoods of commercial fishermen whose boats are either dry-docked or repossessed by the bank or lamenting the 23,000 people out of work or the $1.4 billion lost to the state’s economy because of fishing closures. And what of those on the Westside of the Valley who irrigate selenium laced soils that discharge toxic wastes back to the river and Delta? Do they believe they have a prerogative to water that leaves the Delta with salinity levels that threaten the existence of generations of Delta farmers who cultivate over 400,000 acres of some
of the finest prime soils on earth?
There is enough water in California to provide for people and rivers, if it’s used wisely. Reclamation, recycling, groundwater banking, conservation and desalination offer a virtual river far larger than any additional supplies secured via new surface storage or a peripheral canal. Fish are not the problem. “A dysfunctional water delivery system, greed and failure to comply
with existing laws have brought us to the edge of disaster,” observed Jennings. “Common sense, sound science and a proper respect for law can lead us back from the abyss,” he said.
1 CSPA Table, Monthly Farm Employment
extracted from EED Data, http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/?pageid=166.
2 2008 Agricultural Crop and Livestock Report, Fresno Department of Agriculture, page I,
3 CSPA Table, Industry Employment & Labor Force by Annual Average, 2000-2008,
extracted from EED data, http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/?pageid=166.
4 CSPA Table, Farm and Nonfarm Employment May 08 v. May 09,
extracted from EED Data, http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/?pageid=166.
6 Industry Employment & Labor Force, Employment Development Department, Labor Market Information Division, June 19, 2009.
7 Letter from Lester Snow, DWR, to Honorable Dianne Feinstein, May 15, 2009.
CSPA is a non-profit public benefit conservation and research organization established in 1983 for the purpose of conserving, restoring, and enhancing the state’s water quality and fishery resources and their aquatic ecosystems and riparian habitats. CSPA’s website is: www.calsport.org.
Saving Species No Longer a Beauty Contest
Homely Creatures Receiving More Help...David A. Fahrenthold
MENDOTA, Calif. -- Are we ready to start saving ugly species?
When it began compiling lists of threatened and endangered animals and plants more than 35 years ago, the U.S. government gave itself the same mandate as Noah's Ark: Save everything.
But in practice, the effort has often worked more like a velvet-rope nightclub: Glamour rules.
The furry, the feathered, the famous and the edible have dominated government funding for protected species, to the point that one subpopulation of threatened salmon gets more money than 956 other plants and animals combined.
Now, though, scientists say they're noticing a little more love for the unlovely.
They say plain-Jane plants, birds with fluorescent goiters and beetles that meet their mates at rat corpses are getting new money and respect -- finally valued as homely canaries inside treasured ecosystems.
But it still can be a hard sell. That's obvious here in California's Central Valley, where farmers are locked in a bitter fight with a glassy-eyed smelt.
"Over a stupid fish," said Mendota Mayor Robert Silva.
"A worthless little worm," Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) called the fish, "that needs to go the way of the dinosaur."
The government lists 1,318 U.S. species as threatened or endangered, everything from the American alligator to the Florida ziziphus, a spiny shrub. By one measure, the federal government has already done something miraculous for them: It has kept them around. Only nine listed U.S. species have been declared extinct since the act was passed in 1973.
But the idea was not just to arrest species at the edge of disappearing: It was to bring them back. And by that measure, most of the success has gone to glamour species.
Only 15 U.S. species have officially been declared "recovered." They are three plants, two obscure tropical birds -- and 10 animals that would look good on a T-shirt. These include gray wolves, bald eagles, brown pelicans and the Yellowstone subpopulation of grizzly bears.
"There has been a very heavy bias toward 'charismatic megafauna' -- relatively large, well-known birds and mammals," a pair of Harvard researchers wrote in the 1990s. "All other classes of fauna, and all flora, have gotten extremely short shrift."
How short? The classic tale involves the California condor, a vulture so homely that its head looks as if it's on inside-out. In the 1980s, scientists captured the remaining few dozen condors, deloused them and began breeding them in captivity.
That was a great thing for the condors but a catastrophe for an even uglier species: the California condor louse. "It passed out of existence when they washed off the condors," said Nathan Yaussy, an ecology graduate student at Kent State University who blogs at http://endangered-ugly.blogspot.com.
Today, the folks at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which cares for most protected species, say that charismatic animals may have had a leg up in the past -- but they no longer care about beauty. Instead, funding is supposed to be parceled out to those most at risk, and species at the center of legal fights.
"The program does not approach charismatic species as a top-tier" priority, said Bryan Arroyo, who heads the endangered species program. "We're not saying, you know, 'Here's wolves . . . or polar bears, or whatever, we're going to give more money to that.' "
But budget data show the beautiful and the edible are still coming out on top. The top 50 best-funded species include salmon, trout, sea turtles, eagles, bears -- and just one insect and no plants.
The Chinook salmon in the Snake River in the Northwest, whose needs include fish-friendly improvements at dams, was listed as receiving at least $69 million in help. Other fish in the ecosystem benefit, too, but that's still more money than the total spent on all insects, clams, snails, arachnids, corals, crustaceans and every species of threatened plant -- about 72 percent of the whole list.
Environmentalists say this isn't the way nature works.
"You can't disregard any of the pieces of the puzzle if you want to save all the pieces of the puzzle," said Trent Orr, an Oakland, Calif.-based lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice. "You can't kind of cherry-pick and say, 'Oh, yes, let's have a world where there's charismatic mammals . . . but let's ignore the minnows.' "
There are small signs that people are listening.
The American burying beetle, which uses carcasses as nurseries for its young, gets three times the funding that it did in 1998. The orangefoot pimpleback, an endangered freshwater mussel, is getting six times what it did.
The Attwater's prairie chicken, a Gulf Coast species with a neck sac that looks like a radioactive gobstopper, is being bred in captivity at Texas zoos to keep it from disappearing.
And in Arkansas, a mud-brown mussel called a fatmucket has received new attention -- enough funding to track down new populations and sign on property owners to plant trees to filter runoff into streams.
"Mussels and the Arkansas fatmucket are definitely viewed in a different light, and they've definitely kind of gained a higher importance," said Joy DeClerk of the Nature Conservancy, who works with the animal. She said the attention seems to stem from a realization that mussels are a sensitive indicator of a river's overall health. "I'm cautiously hopeful," she said.
But there are good reasons not to be. Climate change is expected to put an even greater squeeze on endangered creatures. And scientists say many plants and animals have already been so harmed that they will probably never be "walkaway species," able to live on their own.
That means permanent human hand-holding, which is expensive. Kirtland's warbler, a colorful songbird that lives in Michigan forests, requires people to cut down trees to re-create its preferred young forest habitat, and to kill the cowbirds that invade its nests. Total cost: about $990,000 per year, at last count.
"Can we do that for the Furbish lousewort? I'm not sure," said Mike Scott, a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey, mentioning a Maine plant. "And can we do it for the two-thirds of the species that are plants or invertebrates? I think that's a tough sell."
In California, the charisma-less, inedible Delta smelt is testing the notion that ugly is in.
The smelt, a three-inch-long minnow look-alike, lives only in the San Francisco Bay and the brackish river delta that feeds it. That is terrible luck: This delta is at the intake pipe for California's vast plumbing system, which sucks water from the north and pipes it to cities in the south and farms in the middle.
The fish's population has dropped to less than 10 percent of its historic high because of urban pollution, hungry invasive species and pumps that whoosh them through to alien habitats, environmentalists say. They sued to leave more of the water -- and the smelt -- where they were.
"They are one of the best indicators of the overall ecological quality" of the delta ecosystem, which also hosts migrating salmon, said Christina Swanson, executive director of a California environmental group called the Bay Institute. "Whither smelt, so goes the rest of the system."
They won. In 2007, a federal judge said the smelt needed greater protection. In December, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a plan that included a rule to cut back water pumping at certain times.
In this arid town in the Central Valley, farmers say that the restrictions, combined with a drought, have contributed to unemployment that may be as high as 40 percent.
"Because there's no water, there's no work," said Juan Carlos Diaz, who can't even draw customers to his thrift store. And all because of a fish, he said in Spanish: "Because of it, we are losing everything."
The battle goes on in the courts and in Washington, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and California congressmen have sought to change the federal orders.
In the meantime, this month a group of California environmentalists held a day-long event in Oakland to make the point that fish in the delta and other nearby rivers have a value all their own.
They called it . . . SalmonAid.