two-headed trout

Kesterson Whistleblower Felix Smith comments on my "Two-Faced Fish in a Barrel" story

Editor's Note: Nearly 30 years ago Felix Smith, an employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), leaked information to then Fresno Bee reporter Deborah Blum that selenium-tainted farm drainage water from the Westlands Water District was causing embryo deformities in migratory birds nesting or feeding at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge evaporation ponds in western Merced County.  FWS biologists were initially barred from publicly speaking about the bird deformities by Reagan Administration Interior Secretary James Watt.  Smith and another FWS biologist, Harry Ohlendorf, had discovered the deformed birds in the Spring of 1983 when they opened eggs in nests at the so-called wildlife "refuge."   The Fish and Wildlife Service purportedly was preparing a press release on the issue but after months, Smith got angry and impatient at the stall tactics and let Deborah  Blum (who later won a Pulitzer Prize) know what was going on. Within 18 months, following continuing national publicity on the issue, the State Water Resources Control Board ordered Kesterson cleaned up or closed.  READ MORE »

Two-faced Fish in a Barrel

By Lloyd G. Carter
      "They are putting the heat on me. I was dumpin' in the river for years and years and I got by in good shape but now I've spent millions cleanin' the water up. I did it in Washington. I had to do it in Oregon. It's the law of the land now. Mighta killed a few fish and suckers but never hurt anything. They're blowin' holes around the feedlot in Washington to see if I'm pollutin' the goddamn water. Maybe we won't be able to feed cattle anywhere any more, I don't know. The problem is there's too many goddamn regulations.  Now, if you build a manger you got to go to town and ask 'em for permission to do it."
     Idaho potato, livestock and fertilizer kingpin J.R. Simplot talking about pollution at his feedlots in a 1998 interview with Range Magazine ["The Cowboy Spirit on America's Outback"]. Simplot died in 2008 at the age of 99, with a worth estimated at $3.8 billion.  READ MORE »

Cowardice at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

     In my nearly 30 years covering pollution issues at National Wildlife Refuges, I have come across several courageous field level employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and a few cowards in management positions, managers who are afraid of politicians, polluters, and their own shadows.  A good example is the debacle at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge in the early 1980s, where toxic selenium-tainted agricultural waste water from the Westlands Water District polluted the food chain in evaporation ponds at the Merced County "refuge," a supposed haven for migratory ducks and birds, triggering deformities and reproductive failure.  There were heroes like biologist Felix Smith - who leaked the Kesterson findings to Fresno Bee reporter Deborah Blum, and there were cowards in the Portland regional office who participated in a cover-up to delay release of the Kesterson findings.  READ MORE »

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