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EDITORIAL: Federal officials have cried 'fish' and 'mouse' too often

By: The Gazette editorial
March 23, 2014 Updated: March 23, 2014 at 11:25 am
photo - Greenback cutthroat trout. Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Greenback cutthroat trout. Colorado Parks and Wildlife 

Humanity should respect other species and make reasonable efforts to protect them. We don't want a world without bald eagles or wood ducks, so we've rightly sacrificed to save them.

But the culture's sensitivity to wildlife protection is jeopardized when taken for granted, abused or exploited by those with disingenuous motives. If Americans hear of too many special mice that aren't really special, or of rare fish that aren't rare, they'll stop trusting the experts who make such claims.

Coloradans are all-too-familiar with the Preble's meadow jumping mouse. For years in the '90s and after the turn of the century, Coloradans were told to forgo development projects to save the precious mouse. Properties were rendered almost useless so humanity could save a unique species on the verge of extinction. The endangered mouse supposedly had limited habitat along the Front Range. After countless millions of dollars were wasted in lost opportunities, we all found out the mouse was just a mouse. It had no distinct genetic lineage and was abundant along the Front Range and a large corridor of habitat extending as far north as the Alaskan Peninsula.

So we shouldn't be surprised that another species scare has been deemed false. And we're still paying for it.

Gazette reporter Lance Benzel explained in Friday's Gazette the saga of the pure greenback cutthroat trout. Back in 1999, the U.S. Forest Service closed Severy Creek Trail on Pikes Peak, claiming it ran near the aquatic habitat of the unique species of fish. It's hard to imagine how a few hikers at 11,900 feet are going to destroy a community of fish, but we must defer to experts in the interest of species protection.

In 2006, testing determined the trout in Severy Creek weren't unique. It was another big oops. The trout were just trout, as the mice were just mice. They are not genetically pure greenbacks.

"Yet 15 years after the trail closure and eight years after biologists realized they were mistaken, Severy Creek Trail remains off-limits to the public," the news story said.

One excuse is the old "we can't afford to open it" mantra that accompanies reasonable requests by taxpayers to use that which they pay for and own.

Now the Forest Service, which seems to have little concern for the public's desire to access this land, wants to shut down access to a 4-mile stretch of Bear Creek Basin. They're rationale: to protect what biologists say is the only known habitat of native greenback cutthroat trout. Sounds familiar.

Federal officials must forgive mere mortals for a bit of skepticism. If the pure greenbacks really live in the Bear Creek Basin, which may not be true, they've survived until now with humans hiking in their vicinity.

As Benzel reported, opponents of the proposed closure fear they may not live long enough to regain access or enjoy alternative routes. In other words, they don't trust the federal government because of past and present behavior.

As humans, we should pride ourselves on decisions to protect God's creatures and the environment he blessed us with. We should do so because the protection of delicate life forms is important to humanity. Our ability to take this mission seriously erodes when the so-called experts are careless, or even abusive, in allocating our desire to care. Don't cry wolf. Or mouse. Or fish. Just respect known facts and the people who pay for it all.

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