National Geographic : 1995 Mar
AFTER THE DAMS Images of then and now fill a Native American center at Celilo, Oregon, where old photographs recall an era changed forever by the Bonneville and other dams in the Columbia basin. Though upstream hatcheries release millions of salmon smolts, most die in a gantlet of dams on their journey to the sea. percent of the plant's former range. I'd been out since dawn watching the scrub's most cel ebrated resident, the California gnatcatcher, a twitchy-tailed little blue-gray bird that flits through brush low to the ground and mews like a kitten. You can't not like a gnatcatcher. But as it became scarce, real estate developers were starting to call it the "southern spotted owl." Anxious to demonstrate the ESA's flexibility, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt agreed to list the bird as threatened rather than endangered and to allow an "incidental take" as long as it would not harm the species as a whole. This meant that the building industry could proceed with controlled devel opment-if it would participate in a plan to conserve coastal sage scrub and help ensure the gnatcatcher's recovery. California already had a tough conserva tion planning process in place, and Orange County required builders to set aside 50 percent of new housing tracts as open space. The next step was to match those rules for growth to the gnatcatcher's. The selling point was that developers, like the birds, need cer tainty about the future. They can't afford to Dead or Alive: The EndangeredSpecies Act redesign projects every time another species in the area gets listed, and so much sage scrub habitat has already been lost or fragmented that some 70 of the plants and animals depen dent upon the habitat are in rocky shape along with the gnatcatcher. Make that 69; it looks as though Orcutt's spineflower just winked out once and for all. "Linking up scattered islands of sage scrub has been the tough part," Tom told me. "But we can plant native vegetation to build a habitat bridge. A whole cottage industry in habitat restoration is springing up in southern California." He tapped the map, calling it the kind of database that answers without rhetoric and emotion the questions people have been arguing over. Do we have enough open space? Do we have enough of the right kind in the right place? "Not only for gnatcatchers," he added, "but also for our riparian areas, our wet lands. And for the quality of life we want here. If we can pull this off in a region with 16 million people and land worth as much as a million bucks an acre, it ought to work for species protection and land-use planning anywhere in the country."