|The Endangered Species Act is a remarkable document. It is a statutory verification of
the respect for life held by the American people. In its arcane and stilted legal phrases,
it sets out the processes for identifying and protecting those life forms with which we
share the planet.
The religious community has very deep feelings about this. Everything
was created by God, and all things are therefore sacred. The earth is not ours; we were
placed here as good stewards to care for what God has created. In this theology,
the web of life is a sacred principle, and all creatures have intrinsic value. All life is
valued because all life is sacred.
But some folks just dont get it. They think that the sun rises and sets on human
ambitions and that nothing should get in the way of us doing whatever we want with this
Listen to what a leader in the Missouri Farm Bureau has to say about the imminent
extinction of one species, the Topeka shiner: It is just bait if it has no
value, what does it matter? Some other minnow will take its place.
These statements and others equally disrespectful were made at a recent
U.S. Fish and Wildlife hearing on the proposed listing of this minnow as an endangered
species. The Missouri Farm Bureau and the Cattlemens Association presented
statements in opposition to the listing. They never gave any evidence to show that the
fish is not in danger of extinction. But they gave plenty of evidence of their lack of
concern about the natural world. At least they are consistent; these organizations have
opposed the listing of almost every species in danger of being destroyed, from the wolf to
the Indiana bat.
But, in Missouri, at least, they made a mistake: The farm bureau asked for the hearing
to be held in Bethany, presumably because a couple of their members owned property along a
stream that has an existing population of Topeka shiners. Unbeknownst to the Farm Bureau,
that is where I have been organizing and mobilizing opponents to concentrated animal
feeding operations that house and process thousands of hogs and chickens and their
waste. Both Continental Grain and Premium Standard Farms have huge facilities near
Bethany. We have quite a few members and allies in that area many of whom are
family farmers with small operations.
We alerted those allies and members by letter and by phone. And we contacted the
leadership of the anti-hog-factory group who quickly understood that polluted runoff from
these hog factories contaminates local waterways and threatens the shiner and
family-farm operations, to boot.
At the hearing, there were about 80 locals, 60 of whom adamantly supported the listing
of the Topeka shiner. The Farm Bureau and the Cattlemens Association directors
showed up and denounced the listing as imposing on sacred private-property rights.
Fortunately, they spoke first, and assumed that the crowd was with them.
Then farmer after farmer got up to speak in favor of the listing, and said angrily that
the Farm Bureau and the Cattlemen do not speak for me they are wrong.
Several gave passionate statements about stewardship, respect for other species,
protecting the rural way of life, and the desire to keep their streams clear and clean.
One farm woman quoted from Genesis and stated emotionally that anyone who was
willing to destroy one of Gods creations for profit and greed should be deeply
In short, we ambushed them and it was sweet. The representatives of Fish and Wildlife
were ecstatic; they had never had such support from farmers.
Troy Gordon, volunteer Ozark Chapter leader on endangered species, and I spoke on
behalf of the Sierra Club, but we mostly just stuck to the facts.
What is significant here is that the farmers we have worked with on hog factory issues are
now with us on other core environmental issues.
We are ever so grateful to have them and they are grateful to have us.