IPFS Vin Suprynowicz

The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

More About: Vin Suprynowicz's Columns Archive


As documented in Vernon Bostic’s “Ecology of the Desert Tortoise in Relation to Cattle Grazing,” the greatest death loss among Southern Nevada desert tortoises during the severe drought of 1981 occurred in the Crescent Valley Allotment, where cattle had been excluded from grazing all year by federal fiat.

“On the adjoining Christmas Tree Pass Allotment, which was grazed (by cattle) all year long, the tortoises were relatively unaffected by the severe drought. ... The reason is simple: Cows provide tortoises with both food and drink,” wrote Mr. Bostic, who took his degree in Range Management from Colorado State University in 1935.

(Unsavory as it may sound, the tortoises get water in times of drought by eating the cow pies.)

Cattle also benefit the tortoises by eating off last year's dried growth from grasses and other desert plants, clearing the way for new growth close enough to the ground to provide turtle fodder. The toothless tortoise cannot clear away the old growth without this symbiotic help.

Yet federal “tortoise preservation” efforts have for years concentrated on pushing cattle off the 10,000-square-mile desert tortoise habitat, on the undocumented presumption that cattle somehow cause massive tortoise loss by stepping on baby turtles, while ignoring the well-documented ecological role that cattle play (presumably replacing prehistoric herds of buffalo, antelope, and other ungulates) in bringing consumable water to tortoise ranges.

In Northern Nevada, federal “ecologists” noticed cattle wallowing, grazing, and performing other presumably unsanitary bovine behaviors among a large population of wild birds in the marshlands at the southern end of the Ruby Valley.

Federal orders evicted the privately-owned cattle, setting the area aside as a “bird sanctuary” ... where there are today hardly any birds.

Where did the birds go? They followed the cattle to areas where the creatures still stir up and fertilize the marsh, generating huge bug hatches which are food for the birds.

The federal response? They want to expand the bird “sanctuary,” barring the cattle from that pasture, too.

What shall they “protect” next?

Years ago, Southern Nevadans would visit the desert oasis of Devil’s Hole to swim, camp, and picnic -- possibly mimicking the behaviors of prehistoric man in that otherwise forbidding section of the Mojave, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas in today’s Death Valley National Monument.

Animals visited the springs at night. In the cavern springs lived tiny pupfish, which managed to survive these “assaults” for a very long time.

Then wise government functionaries decided to step in and fence off the area, in order to “protect” the minnow.

You’re ahead of me, aren’t you?

Disruption inadvertently caused by scientists trying to study the pupfish are among the factors cited for the fact the creatures -- which numbered 533 when the G-men first went to work and which still counted in the hundreds only two years ago -- now number only 84 and appear to be nearing extinction.

In one incident, kept secret until recently, Southern Oregon University researchers accidentally killed 80 of the iridescent, inch-long blue fish -- about one-third of the population at the time -- by leaving empty glass fish traps stacked on dry land. A flash flood sent the traps tumbling into the spring. Discovered a week later, the unattended traps had attracted and killed about 80 fish.

What do you suppose the federal penalty would be for one of us commoners if we were to kill one third of the world's remaining “endangered” pupfish ... even by accident?

Researchers isolated some of the fish in artificial tanks. But they began to notice fish in the tanks with fins on their bellies. (The Devil’s Hole fish is considered unique because it lacks these pectoral fins.)

It turns out the filters on one of the tanks, which is fed water from a nearby spring, were not fitted properly, allowing a supposedly different species of pupfish to enter the tank and interbreed.

The solution? Last week, federal and state wildlife officials held a press conference to announce they’ll “step up” their efforts to save the pupfish, even if it means simply relocating all of them to some aquarium.

Apparently there’s no limit to the amount of tax money that will be devoted to continuing a program which -- to date -- have reduced the population of these inoffensive critters by some 84 percent.

Can anyone involved in this project spell “hubris”? Have they considered that fencing off the springs may prevent the approach of various other animals that might have formed a part of the fish’s natural ecosystem, fertilizing the waters like the cattle of the Ruby Valley?

Meantime, has anyone tested the fertility of the offspring created by the crossbreeding of the Devil’s Hole pupfish with those very naughty “other” pupfish, fertility which would give strong evidence that the Devil’s Hole fish are not a unique species after all (since two separate species, by definition, cannot create fertile offspring) -- invalidating the expenditure of a single additional federal tax dollar to “preserve” them?

Or would that be “too much” science?