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The Wild

We've had a spate of stories here in northern California about the crash of the fall run of king salmon returning to spawn in the watershed of the Sacramento River. Historically, many hundreds of thousands of the fish would return annually; this year the count was around ninety thousand, which spells disaster for salmon fishermen up and down the coast. It is also one more indicator that the river system, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in particular, is very sick, largely because of the enormous volume of water diverted via giant pumps for agricultural and domestic use.

Another domino has toppled from the ranks of the most virulently anti-environment members of Congress. The election of 2006 took out Richard Pombo, then chairman of the House Resources Committee. Last week came the news that his comrade-in-chainsaws, Rep. John Doolittle, will retire at the end of this congress. Mr. Doolittle, who represents northeastern California, is being investigated for ties to Jack Abramoff and has chosen not to seek reelection under heavy pressure from fellow Republicans, who feared losing the seat to a Democrat.

The biggest story around here lately has been the tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo, and what a muddled tragedy it is. Spokespersons for the zoo couldn't even say how tall the wall the tiger got over was for a while. Were the victims high and drunk, as has been alleged? Did they roar at poor Tatiana, even attack her with slingshots? The rumor mill has been churning. And now the survivors have hired Mark Geragos, defender of Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson, the guy who gives lawyers black eyes by the dozen. Meanwhile, I'm wondering, along with many others, whether it's time to close all zoos. The pro-zoo faction argues that they're good for public education, recruit defenders of wildlife, and are a genetic reservoir of disappearing species. Others say that the animals you see in a zoo behave nothing like the way they do in the wild so the education is minimal and skewed, that you can learn more about tigers from Animal Planet, that a zoo is really just entertainment for humans, like a carnival midway. My kids loved going to the zoo, I'm quick to admit, but maybe it's time to close them down and turn our attention to preserving habitat so all those amazing creatures will survive on their own.

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I hate to throw stones, but I can't help but wonder how on earth the Sierra Club decided to give its David Brower journalism award to Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist. It's true that Friedman has been singing green tunes recently about energy and climate. It's also true that he has been the most strident and bombastic proponent of the World Trade Organization and free-trade-at-all-costs, the-environment-and-labor-be-damned. His best seller, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, for example, quoted dozens of bankers and corporate bigwigs on the greatness of trade (a rising tide lifts all boats, they say, which is fine unless you're tied up to a pier) and not a single one of the scores of able, even brilliant, critics of trade as currently practiced. I do not think Mr. Brower would be pleased.

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