They give me gnat catch fever ...EXPAND
They give me gnat catch fever ...
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

California Coastal Gnatcatchers and The Toll Roads: a Match Made in Hell

The state's leading nonprofit dedicated to protecting birds and their habitats has an interesting post up about the junk science (my words) being used to try to remove the California Coastal Gnatcatcher from the Endangered Species List.

But even more interesting is a tidbit buried in the report about a controversial Orange County agency.

Your really must read California Audubon's post—"New ‘defense’ of suspect gnatcatcher research only undermines case for delisting troubled species"—to get the full explanation of the strategy to remove federal protection of the birds, who have stopped, slowed or increased the cost of coastal development for years.

The Orange County outfit I referred to is the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA), who you may know better by the nickname The Toll Roads. The Irvine-based joint powers authority has built or made plans for pay-to-ride highways for years. Many of these routes do/would carve through gnatcatcher habitat, including the proposed Foothill South (241) through San Onofre State Park and perilously close to Trestles.

Basically, the supposedly scientific argument for de-listing the California gnatcatcher comes from authors of a report that claims the bird is no different genetically than gnatcatchers from Mexico, which is kind of ironic when you consider all the toll road supporters who do make distinctions between humans from California and Mexico in unrelated immigration debates.

California Audubon, whose article points out the report authors avoid providing supporting DNA evidence to make their claims, includes bits about ornithologist and lead author Robert Zink trying to fend off criticism that his findings are compromised by the forces that paid for it. Zink makes reference to lawyer Robert Thornton, who represented the TCA, developers and others with financial stakes in seeing the gnatcatcher de-listed.

"We understand that our failure to discover and disclose the fact that funding came from the Transportation Corridor Agency created a conflict of interest because Mr. Thornton has provided legal counsel in opposition to listing the California Gnatcatcher in 1994, has represented various land developers in southern California that have contested the listing of the California Gnatcatcher, and was one of 2 lawyers representing 7 plaintiffs in a petition to remove the California Gnatcatcher from the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (filed June 11, 2014)."

As I wrote above, that was part of the argument claiming the report was not compromised. Forget the birds, that's just batty!


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