From the week of December 612, 2001

Back to Baja

Scientific integrity challenged: It is unfortunate that Jill Stewart, Michael Lacey and Susan Goldsmith ("Crying Whale" and "The New Economy," November 22) believed the revisionist and incorrect statements by former Mexican government officials, Mitsubishi and ESSA employees and scientists who were on the Mitsubishi payroll about efforts to preserve the world's last undeveloped gray whale lagoon.

Emily Young and I interviewed ESSA manager Juan Bremmer in 1994 for a U.S. Marine Mammal Commission technical report titled "Conservation and Development in the Gray Whale Lagoons of Baja California Sur, Mexico" and my book, Saving the Gray Whale. After the interview was over, we realized that neither Mitsubishi, ESSA nor the Mexican Mining Trust had any intention of providing accurate information on their plans to construct a 500,000-acre industrial salt plant next to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and within a Mexican federal protected area in which industrial development is prohibited.

The inability of ESSA officials to provide accurate information on the salt project was the principal reason the Mexican government twice rejected project environmental impact assessments. The environmental documents were the product of the shoddy science of researchers, such as Burney Le Boeuf, Paul Dayton and their Mexican colleagues, who embarked on a Mitsubishi-financed public relations tour to discredit environmentalists even before the second EIA was released to the public (it was such a badly prepared document that then-president Ernesto Zedillo killed the project instead of releasing it publicly).

Pro-salt project scientists, such as Le Boeuf and Dayton, failed to comprehend what any undergraduate student first learns in Conservation Biology 101 -- the most important element of biodiversity conservation is preserving ecosystem integrity. Protecting San Ignacio Lagoon from industrial development was the most effective long-term gray whale conservation strategy for the region. That is why gray whale research pioneers, including Carl Hubbs and Raymond Gilmore, worked directly with their colleagues in Mexico to establish San Ignacio Lagoon as a whale refuge in the 1970s. Hubbs and Gilmore did so precisely to halt any future development there.

The anti-salt project campaign carried out by NRDC, IFAW and Mexican organizations, such as the Group of 100, co-opted the symbolism of the gray whale as an animal superstar created by the Mexican government. The fact that the government and Mitsubishi feigned surprise that environmentalists would use the gray whale as a conservation symbol is astonishing. As part of its extensive gray whale PR campaign, the Ministry of Fisheries (Pesca) in Mexico even produced its own nationally televised commercials that displayed frolicking gray whales with a message that flashed, "In Mexico, we protect you -- Pesca." Both Mitsubishi and ESSA made the gray whale the star of their own pro-development campaign. The gray whale is even the corporate symbol of ESSA.

The assertion that environmental groups "wooed" local residents into the campaign to halt the salt project is incorrect. The first letters written to President Zedillo against the salt project were written in 1995 by local whale-watching guides and fishermen from San Ignacio Lagoon -- a year before NRDC and IFAW became involved in the anti-salt project campaign.

The residents of Punta Abreojos and members of Punta Abreojos CoastKeeper (CADERNABB del Pacifico Norte A.C.) did not need any encouragement from environmentalists in the U.S. or Mexico to defend their multimillion-dollar lobster and abalone fishery from ESSA development. The activists from Punta Abreojos who helped to stop the salt project were so energized by their victory that they have since embarked on a coordinated effort to assist their fellow fishermen throughout Baja California to halt illegal fishing and stop the trade in endangered sea turtles.

Hopefully, the next time New Times covers an environmental story, its reporters will spend more time on the ground getting the story right instead of believing the inane banter of bad scientists, corporate henchmen and ex-employees of authoritarian and anti-democratic governments.

Serge Dedina
Imperial Beach, California

Hitting the objective: I never expected to read any sort of objective journalism relating to an environmental issue in any media publication. However, your November 22 piece "Crying Whale," on the environmentalists' kibosh of Mitsubishi's proposed desalinization plant, was just that. I agree that the hidden agenda of the environmentalists is not protection of whales, but the halt of all development everywhere, which really may not be that bad of an agenda except that all of the environmentalist lobbying and PR work customarily addresses only symptoms (can you say "global warming"?) of the real problem, which is the "O" word -- overpopulation.

Until New Times or any other media or environmental group has the guts to be politically incorrect and broach this topic, they won't get any type of support from me. Unfortunately, the big corporations (cheap labor and more consumers), multiculturalists (unlimited immigration to relieve guilt from being successful First World white Americans), politicos (perceived expansion of voter base), religious groups (religious dogma and more members), government (more tax dollars) and the media (a combination of the above) all benefit from exploding population growth and thus avoid discussions about it like the plague. Can you say "doomed"?

Mike Rhodanz

Win some, lose some: Congratulations to your reporters for the truly excellent and exhaustively researched article exposing the strong-arm tactics of the Natural Resources Defense Council and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

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