Environmentalists (the liberal variety) are taking a lot of hits these days. Their ability to keep us from drilling for our own oil is being blamed for $4 plus gas prices. Their refusal to allow any substantial increase in large-scale energy production is being blamed for serving as a straitjacket for our economy and our prosperity. Their manufactured “global warming” crisis is being blamed for institutionalizing the shortages mentioned above and for threatening to put aspects of our lives, from the most momentous, such as how many children we have, to the most minute—our home thermostat settings and how much gas we buy—under the control of liberal bureaucrats.

Almost no one, however, takes issue with Liberal Environmentalism’s most basic claim—that protecting nature, i. e. reducing the impacts of humans on forests, grasslands, deserts, meadows, mountains, etc. makes those areas more natural, more healthy, better functioning, and a better home to their native plants, animals, and ecological functions.

Some may gripe that enviros want to protect too much and say “It would be nice of we could protect everything, but…,” but those same people are glaringly quiet beyond that. Even Liberal Environmentalism’s most vocal adversaries have little or nothing to say about whether contemporary environmentalism works to save the bunnies, birds, trees, fishes, and ecosystems that make up what we call Nature.

That is about to change.

Liberal Environmentalism’s deepest, darkest, secret is that it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work to do the one job it claims that only it can do—restore nature, heal the planet, bring back native plants and animals, save endangered species, and so forth. In fact, in many of those cases and more, Liberal Environmentalism doesn’t even make things better, it makes things worse.

That requires an example. A good one involves the Verde River in Central Arizona.

In the mid-1990s a couple of environmental groups sued the U. S. Forest Service to remove cattle from public lands along hundreds of miles of streams in the Southwest including the Verde. They sued because they deemed the impacts of grazing to be a threat to two threatened species, the Verde being home to one of these species—the spikedace. Instead of arguing the suit, the U. S. Forest Service conceded to environmentalists’ demands out of court without the knowledge or agreement of the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Assn. and New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Assn., which were intervenors in the case.

In 1997, after all cattle were removed from the upper stretches of the Verde, to everyone’s surprise, it became apparent that the spikedace had left with them. Monitoring by state and federal agencies has turned up no spikedace in the Verde since grazing along the river was stopped. In fact, the number of all native fishes in the Verde has dropped precipitously since what was alleged to be the major threat to them (grazing) was removed. (from 80% native / 20% nonnative to 20% native / 80% nonnative)

U. S. D. A. scientists, searching for an explanation to this counter-intuitive happening, noted that, after grazing was removed, a large increase in trees and willows began to crowd the riverbanks transforming the stream from wide, shallow, gravelly, and warm (ideal habitat for spikedace and other warm-water natives) to narrow, tree-shaded, mud-bottomed, deep, and cool, which is ideal for large, non-native spikedace-eating predators such as smallmouth bass. And then the big fish ate the little fish.

The Verde River 1975—grazed, wide, shallow, gravelly, and warm, ideal habitat for large numbers of spikedace and other warm-water native fish. The Verde River 2008, grazing has been removed from this area for 15 years, and the river is narrow, tree-shaded, mud-bottomed, deep, and cool, and there are no spikedace.

Small portions of the Verde continue to be grazed. They looked surprisingly like the river did when it was good spikedace habitat.

Small portions of the Verde continue to be grazed. Today, they look surprisingly like the river did when it was good spikedace habitat.

The reduction of human impact on the Verde’s riverside habitat by removing grazing is an application of the assumption that forms the bedrock on which contemporary liberal environmentalism is founded. That assumption is that all environmental problems are caused by the overuse, misuse, or just plain use of nature by humans, and that the way to solve all of those problems, or to avoid them, is to limit our species’ use of nature, ideally to zero.

Some in the environmental movement, quite a few actually, have taken this belief that “humans don’t cause environmental problems, we are the problem” to its logical extreme. For instance, when University of Texas evolutionary ecologist and lizard expert, Dr. Eric Pianka, the “2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist,” advocated the elimination of 90 percent of Earth’s population by airborne Ebola. He was given a standing ovation by the Texas Academy of Science. More environmental writers than I can (or want to) quote here have said that the best thing that could happen to planet earth is for homo sapiens and our impacts to disappear.


In the case of the Verde River’s spikedace and its other native fish, the removal of human impacts seems to have been the worst thing that could happen. If that result doesn’t disprove the basis for contemporary liberal environmentalism, it at least raises significant questions about it. It certainly helps make the case that mainstream environmentalism doesn’t work, at least not all the time, because Big Green not only didn’t achieve its goal of protecting the spikedace, it exterminated a significant population of the rare fish. And without so much as an “oops” or “sorry” to boot.

If that surprises you, it‘s just the beginning of the story of Big Green’s failure in the case of the Verde and the spikedace. It gets worse.

Note: This was first posted on my “Learner Blog” –


  • Brad VanDyke
    11 years ago

    Thanks Dan. Excellent. I’m referring people to this site as much as possible.

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