Originally published by the Houston Chronicle.
July 11, 2014 – Updated: July 14, 2014 4:00pm
Leadership needed to spearhead protection of the state’s environment and wildlife.
Imagine this conversation 50 years from now when a docent at the Houston Museum of Natural Science walks visitors through the ornithology collection.
“This is the passenger pigeon, which became extinct in the 20th century because of mass deforestation, disease and competition for food. Next, children, we have the whooping crane, one of the most majestic birds to ever inhabit North America. It became extinct in the early 21st century because no one would tell commerce and lobbyists that they would have to use less water. No one demanded innovation.”
The extinction scenario for the most famous avian residents of the Texas coast is not farfetched. And anyone who has marveled at the majesty of the 5-foot-tall birds foraging for blue crabs in their wintering grounds at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport has to be saddened by the June 30 ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel said that U.S. District Court Judge Janis Jack abused discretion in finding that 23 cranes had died because of a disruption to their habitat.
In The Aransas Project v. Shaw, plaintiffs were seeking enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. The lower court found that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was responsible for the deaths because it issued permits that ultimately withheld water that would lower the salinity levels in Aransas Bay. Water that’s too salty is not conducive for crabs and wolfberries, two of the cranes’ staple foods. The circuit court overturned the lower court’s ruling and appeals are expected.
Instead of again turning to federal courts to solve a Texas dispute, it is time for our Legislature to show leadership. And this fix is one that will not require a dime of taxpayer money. We need a leader to propose and ensure the implementation of laws that restrict water usage that has a negative impact on the cranes. We need education campaigns and mandates about smart water conservation. We need to tap our new water slush fund to save the birds. And, perhaps most important, we need an economic analysis of water pricing in the state.
If we charged the right price instead of giving the resource away, consumers and industry would not only act smarter, we might be able to fund technology that would keep important bay areas at the correct salinity levels, benefitting birds and business.
Most of all, we need to create an environment in Texas where the view of water isn’t a gushing tap or a resource that exists to fill recreational lakes. We must think of entire ecologies. And when we say with pride, “Don’t Mess with Texas,” we should be sure we’re not messing with something thoroughly Texas – the whooping crane.
To read original editorial on the Chronicle’s website, click here.
***** FOTWW’s mission is to protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population
of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****