Editorial: Fragile ecosystem in need of protection

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

No one would dare argue that the lower portion of the Taunton River wends its way through a lush jungle surrounded by overgrown foliage, inhabited by giant anacondas and teeming with wooly monkeys and three-toed sloths.

But a river doesn’t necessarily have to look like the Amazon to be a fragile ecosystem in need of protection.

Yes, people use the Taunton River. Businesses and residences — including boat yards, condominium complexes and even power plants — line its shores, bridges span its waters, and boaters navigate its currents. But while the river may not reach the same threshold as a tropical rainforest’s waterways in terms of “wild,” it is definitely scenic and is home to dozens of species of fish and birds that need to be protected from the unremitting encroachment of human development.

That is the intent of the National Wild and Scenic River designation: to protect rivers with cultural, wildlife, recreational and historic values. The Taunton certainly fits the definition. It is the longest coastal river in New England without dams and supports 45 species of fish and many species of shellfish.

The watershed is the habitat for 154 types of birds, including 12 rare species. It’s shores are home to otter, mink, grey fox and deer. The river’s recreational value is obvious by the number of boats on the water on any given summer day and its history — before it was polluted — as a shellfishing ground meets the cultural standard.

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank recognizes the river’s value, prompting him to sponsor legislation to designate it “wild and scenic,” supported by Rep. James McGovern and Sens. John Kerry and Edward Kennedy. Unfortunately, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives do not support protecting ecosystems like the Taunton River.

Led by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the House Republican Conference opposes the wild and scenic designation, despite passage by the House Natural Resources Committee, which found the Taunton meets the designation based on its free flow and research value.

Bowing once again to Big Energy, the Republicans claim the proposal is a thinly veiled attempt to block transmission of liquefied natural gas through the river to Weaver’s Cove. Bishop — who represents a state 2,500 miles away from Massachusetts — referred to the Taunton as “a business river” and claimed Frank’s legislation was nothing more than an “effort to stop energy production.”

Bishop’s claims are wrong-headed on a number of fronts, not the least of which is his implication that stemming fossil fuel production is a bad thing given its devastating environmental impacts. Bishop is ignoring the prevalent wildlife in and around the Taunton River and incorrectly assuming that an effect of the designation — which would hamper Hess’ LNG efforts — is the intent of the proponents.

In the face of such short-sighted opposition from Republicans, Frank had requested his legislation be removed from consideration by the full House, which was originally scheduled for this past Wednesday. The vote was postponed and will be heard sometime next week, Frank announced Thursday.

Hess’ and Weaver’s Cove Energy’s LNG proposal shouldn’t even be part of the discussion. Once it finally meets its inevitable demise — removing Big Energy from the discussion — the wild and scenic proposal would breeze through the House, as it should. t is unfair to deny SouthCoast residents a clean, safe, protected river because some politicians continue to do the bidding of giant energy corporations.