Hold On a Minute!

Ecologists are still trying to spin their phony 'Save the Whale' campaign

• Blumenfeld claims the scientists I quoted as saying the plant would not hurt whales "were all paid for by Mitsubishi."

False. Steve Swartz, a leading gray whale expert who served on an independent blue-ribbon commission of globally respected scientists, was not paid by Mitsubishi and personally opposes the plant on political grounds. Yet Swartz agreed with other independent scientists with whom I spoke, that the saltworks would not have even mildly harmed the whales.

The only scientist who was paid to advocate a position on the salt plant was Roger Payne. Payne was recruited by IFAW and NRDC to vociferously fight the plant. Though often called an expert by Joel Reynolds, Payne has never conducted a single gray whale study.

• Blumenfeld further alleges that most of 200 jobs at the new salt plant would go to "workers coming from Japan."

Wrong again. Why would Mitsubishi import expensive Japanese workers to perform jobs that have been performed well and cheaply for decades by Mexicans at the salt plant at Guerrero Negro? They wouldn't. But it makes a nice rural legend, doesn't it?

• Blumenfeld attacks New Times for failing to quote him because we wanted to tell only the sexier story of the incredible gold mine reaped by NRDC.

False. I tried to reach Blumenfeld, and he made several efforts to reach me, but we did not connect. I called him one last time the week before the story ran, leaving messages both in San Francisco and at IFAW. He did not call until the story was published -- and then refused to tell me which facts he disputed (aside from his insistence that IFAW, and not NRDC, recruited Pierce Brosnan to oppose the plant.)

• Blumenfeld says he never uttered a quote attributed to him by Goldsmith -- that the environmental groups felt "a moral obligation" to local residents to replace 200 jobs that would have been created by the saltworks.

False again. Blumenfeld offered that comment on the record, during a phone interview with Goldsmith.

• Reynolds says the existing salt plant at Guerrero Negro is a danger to the whales, as proven by a "turtle kill" in the lagoon there following a rare spill of toxic brine (a by-product of salt evaporation).

Not true. No evidence could be found that the turtles died from a brine spill or that a spill even occurred. Not one of the turtles had in its body a single one of the easily detectable toxins found in brine. Moreover, turtles do not congregate, yet the creatures washed ashore in a group.

So how did the turtles die? They had to have died together in order to wash ashore together. The strongest theory is that poachers killed the turtles, then dumped them when a patrol boat approached.

• Reynolds also claims the existing salt plant drove away the whales some years back, and that the whale population only recently rebounded at Guerrero Negro.

False. This rural legend arose from a situation in the 1960s when ESSA stopped dredging the silt-filled mouth of Laguna Guerrero Negro because ESSA moved its salt-export shipping activities to a deeper lagoon. Whales that had taken advantage of the man-made channel merely relocated to more accessible lagoons. A poorly done, 35-year-old study of the whale population wrongly gave the impression the whales had disappeared.

• Author and conservationist Serge Dedina says scientists, including Dayton and UC-Santa Cruz whale expert Burney LeBoeuf, were pro-salt plant, and could not comprehend Biology 101: that ecosystem integrity and biodiversity around Laguna San Ignacio were threatened.

False. No scientist who agreed to conduct research for the environmental impact assessment ever took a position on the plant. In fact, those with whom I spoke privately opposed the project. Nevertheless, they refused, as serious scientists, to knuckle under to Dedina's patently absurd view that the area's biodiversity or ecosystem were at risk.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) took such claims by Dedina, Reynolds, Blumenfeld and other salt-plant foes so seriously that it sent a team to determine whether a U.N.-designated whale refuge and adjoining desert at Laguna San Ignacio faced biodiversity or ecosystem damage from a salt plant.

UNESCO found no such thing. Instead, it announced that the existing salt plant at Guerrero Negro had been a boon to biodiversity. That's because saltworks are breeding grounds for protein-rich brine shrimp, which sustain hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. Indeed, salt plants were permitted under UNESCO's existing guidelines for Laguna San Ignacio's protected zones because they do not harm ecosystems.

Need I go on?

One of California's top political consultants, Bill Carrick, attended a party a few days ago at which, he tells me, a number of environmentalists "were taking the name Jill Stewart in vain, if you know what I mean." Indeed I do. But I'd suggest that environmental leaders who are tempted to dismiss New Times' story take a closer look, and this time turn their critique on themselves.

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