May 26, 2011

More Delta hyperbole

By More Delta hyperbole

Author:  Damien M. Schiff

Columnist Michael Fitzgerald of The Stockton Record ran this vituperation yesterday excoriating the United States Fish and Wildlife Service for allowing millions of Sacramento splittail to be destroyed by the water pumps in the south Delta.  Setting aside the obviously intemperate and unreasonable tone of the article (e.g., referring to the Delta pumps as producing an "aquatic Chernobyl"), Mr. Fitzgerald's piece appears to proceed under a number of misapprehensions.

For example, Mr. Fitzgerald writes that "You can't kill 5.5 million of anything and expect a species to flourish."  The statement is demonstrably false:  one can kill 5 million fruit flies, and yet the fruit fly species will survive.  I'm not a scientist, but as the foregoing example proves, it's common sense that population viability is not necessarily a function of absolute numbers.  In fact, population biology has long known of the "bottleneck effect," whereby certain individuals in a healthy population are doomed to die because the available habitat/food is insufficient, but the population survives because enough individuals get through the bottleneck to reproduce.  In other words, one cannot make any definitive assessments of a population's viability solely by looking at the numbers of individuals within that population that perish.  Thus, the Service can reasonably conclude that the splittail is doing just fine, notwithstanding the large number of fish taken by the pumps.

Reasonable people can disagree about how to improve the ecological health of the Delta.  Stridency and animadversion a la Fitzgerald are not helpful to that goal.

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