leatherback graphic

Another Sunday, sliding along the shallow Guadalupe River. Watching fish in the quieter pools defend their nests and sweep up house with tail fins blazing.

Turkey vultures hang on the wind above and cliff swallows sweep over the slow-flowing water with beaks agape. I’d wish-you-were-there, but then it would’ve been too crowded.

It was quiet.

At the spill point by the beach, a couple hundred miles downstream, there was the reverberation of calamity.

A young endangered sperm whale had been either bled to death or sent off with a handful of tranquilizers on Mustang Island after stranding there Tuesday. Reports between print and TV media also differed on the reasoning for not returning the 8-ton mammal to the Gulf. One said it was too big. The other said too sick.

About the same time, a leatherback sea turtle rolled up on our Texas shores for the first time in more than 70 years.

Does it matter? That one rare species died as another rare species made a happy landing?

Does it really?

Our attitudes have changed a lot of over the years regarding the other species we share this planet with. Consider how my 1890’s-era children’s book portrays African wildlife:

african wildlife

It is a jungle out there, after all.

‘Course, perspectives have changed through education — particularly as technological advances have elevated us beyond the competitive reach of “the others.”

I think I can say this, poised here with all of you at this pinnacle moment, homo sapiens sapiens rule.

However, I would suggest our moral evolution has lagged. How else could anyone ask (as I did above — did you notice? — and New York Times science writer Andrew Revkin did to a considerably broader audience days before the leatherback surfaced here): Do we need leatherbacks?

In a related post, he wrote:

There are obviously several layers to the word need. There is the leatherback’s function in ocean ecosystems (for one thing, it eats a lot of jellyfish). Then there is its place in the world as humans experience and shape it. There, one could argue that the leatherback, and myriad other species, have vital roles as a source of inspiration and awe — living evidence of the power of biology, if given some space, to endure hard knocks and always come back, producing ever more diversity along the way.

I wrote in to suggest it was absolutely the wrong question to be asking, however you define “need.” From our position of power, we get to choose who lives and who dies. That simple. The responsible question to ask from this vantage point is if the turtle needs us.

That answer is supremely affirmative.

Still, as the Sixth Mass Extinction continues. It remains to be seen what we are truly willing to do.

What about you?

Would you give a day without AC for a vanishing frog, fern, or eel? Would you at least stop using that horrendous aftershave?

Also, one for the CurBlog:

golden shovelSo that’s how you win a “Golden Shovel” award, eh?

Announced by the lamentably un-singed press staff of Governor Rick Perry this morning, Texas received the gilded implement from Area Development magazine.

Can you feel that business-friendly climate breathing down your neck?

Can you see it? It looks an awful lot like bad building practices silting up our cherished rivers and streams.

Perry credits the award to “our state’s reasonable regulatory environment.”
Queque would suggest we also have to thank our long history of not bothering the builders.

Days before the Shovel announcement, the U.S. EPA announced it had settled a number of lawsuits against four of the country’s most prominent builders, including Dallas-based Centex Homes, for alleged Clean Water Act violations.

Texas stayed out of the rumble, despite being the third most impacted state in the country.
Of the 2,200 sites included in the lawsuit, 247 were in Texas. That includes 26 housing developments in San Antonio and 19 in Bexar County.

So, while Colorado, Maryland, Virginia, Missouri, Nevada, Tennessee, and Utah are divvying up their share of the $4.3 million settlement (granted, it’s not much), Texans get to play with our shiny tool in silted-over riverbeds.

Post-settlement reforms are across the board, however, and the EPA anticipates that they will keep 1.2 billion pounds of sediment out of national waterways each year from here out.


Find your neighborly subdivision on this list of housing developments included in the lawsuit. Or go to the primary docs on the case.

[Illustrations from Sea & Land: An illustrated history  of wonderful and curious things of nature existing before and since the deluge, 1887.]

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