Wednesday, September 02, 2009

When Smelt Count More Than People

In the 1930's, Oklahoma farmers fled the Dust Bowl to resettle in California's Central Valley, a migration portrayed most famously in John Steinbeck's classic novel "The Grapes of Wrath." They helped turn the Central Valley into the nation's truck garden, an area that provides the United States with half of its vegetables.

Now the Central Valley itself is becoming a dust bowl, largely due to federal government environmental policies that favor the preservation of the delta smelt over the preservation of one of this nation's prime agricultural centers. As described by Ben Shapiro at, unemployment in the town of Mendota hovers around 41 percent, and at 15% for all of Fresno County in July (a figure that will climb once temporary employees are let go after the summer harvest).

Ben explains that this disastrous situation is directly attributable to a decision by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service in December 2008 to shut down the operations of water pumping stations of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, because they jeopardized the continued existence of the delta smelt. The result, according to Ben:
The farmers whose ancestors built the canals to irrigate the Central Valley have been totally cut off from their water supply, even though they're still paying bills for it. Hundreds of acres of prime farming land lie fallow, crops withered and dead.

A warning to the reader of Ben's column--the title, "Obama's Failure to Help May Spring from Racism," which Ben probably did not compose, misstates the essential thrust of the column. Ben's main point is that this is a government-made disaster, resulting from a policy decision that (although he does not mention this point) was made during the final days of the George W. Bush Administration and could now be readily rectified with courageous action by the Obama Administration.

I understand that there are two sides to every question, and if any readers are aware of the economic impact of dwindling populations of delta smelt, such as a decline in fisheries, I would be happy to hear about it.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, the reader will note that I uncharacteristically refer to Ben Shapiro (photo, below right) as "Ben" rather than "Mr. Shapiro."
That is because I am friends with his parents, watched him grow up, and am proud that he and his wife reside today in our North Hollywood Jewish community. I still "shep naches" from a Hannity & Colmes interview with Ann Coulter, broadcast on July 8, 2005, when Alan Colmes asked Ms. Coulter who she would favor for nomination to fill a vacancy on the United States Supreme Court. Ms. Coulter responded that she would pick Ben Shapiro, who "just finished his first year at Harvard Law, 21 years old." For the record, Ben has since graduated from Harvard Law, summa cum laude. He also plays a mean violin.


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