Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Fighting for Our Right to Irrigate Our Farms and Caretake Our Natural Resources

               Opinion: The NAS Report, And Those Who Attack It, 
                        In response to "Panel’s report challenged", By Anita Burke, H&N, 3/8, story link and others

Mike Connelly
NAS column (H&N)
Tuesday,  March 12 

Wow. Considering the caterwaul coming from high-priced environmental attorneys responding to the National Academy of Sciences Report, you have to figure the report hit pretty close to the bone.

We all remember last fall, when it was announced that the NAS would review federal allocation decisions, how overjoyed these same folks were. The tribes, fishermen and environmentalists all applauded the move because, as Glen Spain, the hired gun for party boat owners put it, “it will prove once and for all what we have been saying all along. Fish need water.”

Well, it didn’t turn out that way. In fact, what the NAS report proved once and for all was that simple-minded, made-for-media sound bites like “fish need water” are a dangerous mischaracterization of the situation that may very well be inhibiting our progress toward recovery of endangered species.

What biologists -- and not paid political operatives like Spain, Wendell Wood and Felice Pace -- have been saying all along is that lake levels and streamflows are not the answer to species recovery. What biologists (not to mention project irrigators) have been saying all along is that habitat restoration and improved stewardship are vastly more important than lake levels and streamflows. Federal biologists made this point very clearly in their biological opinions, even as they were requiring water reallocations that even they knew weren’t the answer.

Why, then, are the professional activists so fixated on shutting water off to farms? And why have they refused to support, and even actively opposed, the very restoration efforts that scientists recommend? The short answer is this: forced water reallocation the only tactic that lends itself to lawsuits.

There was a time, I suppose, when the environmental leadership was primarily concerned with species recovery. Their rank and file supporters probably still feel the same way. But battle-hardened fundraisers like Spain, Wood and Pace know what keeps their businesses in the black. Sure, it’s important to maintain the facade of the “moral crusade” because, after all, that’s the product they’re selling, but behind it all, they know, is the overriding imperative to keep the money coming in.
I am not just making some partisan accusation here. I am, as someone who runs a business and a couple of non-profits, merely making an observation about how these organizations balance their books.

It works like this. Funding for confrontational environmental organizations comes from two main sources: membership and foundation grants. In both cases, in order to persuade the contributors to choose your organization over the countless others vying for their attention, you have to do two things.

First, you have to convey a sense of urgency to the problem you are seeking to address. Second, you have to provide a specific description of how your organization will address this problem. On both counts, there has been no easier tactic to emphasize than litigation, and there has been no easier litigation to emphasize than ESA litigation. Again, this is not speculation, but an accomplished fact. For decades, environmental organizations that sue people have always ended up with the money. Organizations that don’t sue have had a much harder time staying funded.

Unfortunately, for confrontational activists, this is beginning to change. Litigious environmentalists have turned out to be their own worst enemies by demonstrating conclusively that, with all their years of lawsuits and war-mongering, they have never actually managed to fix anything. In fact they themselves keep claiming that things are only getting worse. In recent years foundations and rank and file environmentalists have begun to see through all the bluster, and have been choosing to fund more collaborative, stewardship-oriented organizations.

Contributors are making this choice for a very simple reason: collaborative stewardship improves ecological conditions and litigation doesn’t, period. Instead of accepting this shift and modifying their tactics, the litigious activists are just turning up the volume, trying desperately to conjure up the aura of crisis that has paid off for them so many times before.

The people who live and work in the upper basin are busying themselves with the difficult, long-term work of keeping things productive, and fixing things where they need to be fixed. These people are conservationists in the true sense of the word, and the bitter irony is that the false conservationists and their gang of earth-toned attorneys are thwarting local stewardship efforts by inciting an atmosphere of hostility, and even by directly attacking local collaborative stewardship efforts.
The litigious, corporate activists can’t be bothered with the dirty business of restoration and stewardship because there’s not enough drama in it; it’s not sexy enough for them, or for the dwindling number of citizens and foundations that still support them. But as we speak, their contributors are beginning to notice who is getting the real work done, and who is just getting in the way. 


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