Endangered Fish And Threatened Economy

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The convoluted effort to protect two, tiny dying fish has entered a new phase with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s decision to list the spikedace and the loach minnow as endangered. The USFWS also designated 710 miles of stream front in Arizona and New Mexico as critical habitat for the three-inch-long relative of the carp — including 84 miles in Rim Country. The designation includes the bulk of Fossil Creek, Tonto Creek and its tributaries and the Verde River and its tributaries as critical habitat. That means federal agencies must now consider the potential impact on the recovery of the three-inch-long fish anytime they take an action — like building a bridge, granting a grazing lease, logging a stand of trees or approving a pipeline.

The decision comes fraught with both opportunities — and anxieties.

On the one hand, the decision provides one more legal tool to help protect the region’s battered riparian areas. Studies suggest that most of the state’s rivers and streams have undergone dramatic degradation as a result of a century of building dams, digging wells, diverting water and grazing cattle. Mind you, an estimated 95 percent of the state’s wildlife species depend critically on these streamside worlds.

So we simply must protect the remaining streams, including the nearly pristine Fossil Creek and the still vibrant Tonto Creek here in Rim Country.

On the other hand, we’ve seen what a tangled bureaucratic logjam can result when the federal government attempts to protect such critical habitat. We need look no further than the absurd, year-long delay in approving the environmental assessment for the Blue Ridge pipeline. In that case, Forest Service biologists dithered as they mulled over whether the pipeline construction might, possibly, maybe affect two endangered species that don’t even live along the East Verde.

So we’re happy that the USFWS finally acknowledged reality — and added the two ancient survivors to the endangered list. We hope that decision will help protect Fossil Creek and Tonto Creek.

But we also hope federal bureaucrats don’t give us cause to regret this moment by slavish obsession with the letter of the law, rather than the duty to protect these precious species without doing any more damage than they must to our also threatened economy.

Forest Service needs help

Turn the other cheek. It’s the right thing to do. Besides, if you go the eye for an eye route — then the whole world ends up bloody and blind.

That’s why we hope the Payson Ranger District will get a great turnout of volunteers Saturday at 9 a.m. for another day devoted to picking up the trash and repairing the damage done by fools and yahoos.

Maybe if this community keeps demonstrating to the Forest Service how much we love the forest they’ll eventually get the point: Treat us like partners, not like potted plants.

Certainly, the message hasn’t yet sunk in.

Just witness the decision to close Fossil Creek Road without a word of consultation with Rim Country leaders.

Just witness the recent decision to not renew the long-term lease of a trailer park operating a vital sewage treatment facility on Roosevelt Lake, without any consultation with the county planning department.

Just witness the senseless delays on things like approving the environmental assessment for the Blue Ridge pipeline and the land sale to build a university campus here.

Still, the Forest Service remains dedicated to protecting the forest on which all of our livelihoods depend. If you turn out to help clean up the damage done to the land around the Jim Jones Shooting Range just south of Round Valley, you’ll see what we mean.

Rangers like Rachael Hohl and Chelsea Muise have developed a corps of volunteers who have turned out three times already to fill pickup trucks with bulging trash bags as a result of half a day’s cheerful work. Working alongside those dedicated Forest Service employees, you can’t doubt their love of the forest and their determination to protect it from the thoughtless knuckleheads who treat it like one vast dump site.

If you want to help out, look for the sign that says “Jim Jones Shooting Range” on the left side of Highway 87 half a mile south of the Round Valley turnoff. Just get there at 9 a.m., look for the cluster of green Forest Service trucks and you can spend a couple of hours making a difference.

Hopefully, the Forest Service will eventually get the message: We love this forest just as much as you do. Let us help protect it — by enlisting us as allies.

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