On canaries and logperch

As a professional biologist, I am appalled at what’s happening to our river. 

            Not just scientists studying rare species, but those who enjoy fishing for trout, smallmouth bass, and catfish on the Roanoke River have a right to be concerned.  We’re talking here about the survival of the ecological pride of the Roanoke River Basin, the Roanoke Logperch.  Eighty percent of the world’s population of Roanoke Logperch lives in the upper Roanoke River and its tributaries.  Badly handled Mountain Valley Pipeline construction work on the watershed is threatening their existence.

            Logperch require a strong flow of clean water to keep silt off their nests, eggs, and larvae.  It helps these little guys flip pebbles to find the bugs they eat.  Excessive fine sediment smothers fish eggs and the insects the fish feed on.  And a continuous flow of pipeline-caused sediment will lodge along the river, be moved along with the next high flow, and continue to cover the fish’s nests and food supply, leaving the species vulnerable not just this year but in years to come.  The newly listed Candy Darter in the New River watershed is similarly vulnerable to siltation.  Popular game fish such as bass and catfish require clean water as well.

            I know some question the logic of stopping a multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline project to save a little fish.  “The canary in the coal mine” is the role endangered species play in our society.  Their loss weakens the web of life on earth of which humans are a part.  The founder of the science of wildlife management, Aldo Leopold, has expressed this relationship as follows:

 The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, ‘What good is it?’ If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of eons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.

Note:  This is an excerpt from the remarks of Rupe Cutler at a for press conference in Roanoke County, Virginia, on the impact of the Mountain Valley Pipeline construction on endangered species.