Sensible Biologists Make Us Hopeful

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First a confession: We love sappy movies, where the struggling hero triumphs against all odds through pluck and perseverance in the final scene. Further, we’re sadly prone to optimism of the most cockeyed sort.

Still, we could not help but take heart from the page one story last Friday reporting the amazingly common sense reactions of United States Fish and Wildlife Service to the biological assessment of the Blue Ridge pipeline. Thank you: We could not have endured an extended journey down the rabbit hole of bureaucracy.

The USFWS biologists have a responsibility to determine if Payson’s 15-mile-long pipeline buried alongside Houston Mesa Road will hasten any vulnerable critters toward extinction. And even though the endangered Chiricahua leopard frogs and Mexican spotted owls don’t actually live in or along the creek, they do live nearby.

The U.S. Forest Service required a bewildering series of back and forth questions before it finally concurred with the consultants hired by Payson, who concluded the pipeline won’t harm any wildlife. That delay threatened to derange the complex schedules for building the pipeline and an Arizona State University campus that needs the water the pipeline will carry.

Happily, after a public outcry and a final round of edits — the Forest Service concluded the project won’t hurt either the two listed species or the native, headwater chub, considered “threatened” but not yet endangered.

Those desperate to jump-start our long-suffering economy, feared the USFWS would insist on calculating how many leopard frogs can dance on the head of a pinhead — and ask for a full environmental impact report, which would delay a project essential to the economic revival of Rim Country for another year.

Fortunately, the top USFWS officials took a calm, rational and scientifically based stance. In effect, they said that even if a drowsy owl in a distant patch of forest hears the faint sound of an explosion, no harm done.

By the same token, a stray Chiricahua leopard frog with an urge to see the world might well hop through a mile of hostile forest from Page Springs where they breed only to encounter some thoughtless trenching machine. But even if as a result that wandering frog can’t reach the creek, it won’t hasten the species toward extinction. After all, the creek’s full of trout, crayfish and bullfrogs — not the sort of neighborhood in which an endangered frog will find a home anyhow.

Now, we’ll admit: We have been fooled before — as pathetically willing as Charlie Brown to charge the football of hope only to wind up flat on our backs staring dazedly at the sky.

We don’t care. We shall cling to our fond hopes — at least for the three weeks the federal biologists say they need to double check their figures.

Star Valley securing the future

Star Valley continues to make progress on securing the community’s water future. The town council is keeping its eyes on the prize in its move to buy three drinking water wells from Payson and continue negotiations to buy out Brooke Utilities.

Granted, at the moment — the town has plenty of water.

A less farsighted council might therefore shrug and let the town’s future ride. On page 5A of today’s paper, you’ll find a story that underscores just how irresponsible such an approach would be.

Specifically, we’re back into a “moderate to severe” drought, which has gripped most of Arizona more or less for the past decade. Forecasters predict a dry, warm winter, thanks to cool surface temperatures in the Pacific.

Climate models suggest that the current warming trend will result in more violent, unstable weather in the coming decades — including a much greater chance of long, severe droughts in the Southwest.

As a result, stewards of the public interest must resist hoping for the best and continue planning for the worst.

Generations of visionary Payson leaders have done just that. As a result, we shall soon double our long-term, sustainable water supply with the arrival of the Blue Ridge pipeline. At precisely the time most other Arizona communities will face deep uncertainty about their water futures, Payson will have plenty of water to sustain its planned, build-out population.

Now, the Star Valley council has taken up the hard, sustained task of securing that same water future for its citizens. We applaud that effort, although we suspect the council will face some hard choices down the road when it comes time to decide whether to get into the water business — and make an investment in rights to a share of the Blue Ridge water.

It’s too soon to predict how the details will all come together. But it’s certainly not too soon to compliment the community leaders on keeping focused on the crucial choices necessary to secure the town’s future.

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