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.

Emotionally charged issues like this need the objective balance of accurate reporting more than ever. It's too bad the facts of the matter couldn't be brought to the public's attention at the appropriate time -- before the salt plant project was canceled.

By the way, you might ask Kristi Dempsey to reread the articles. It may point out to her the difference between what is important as opposed to merely sensational. Her hissy fit with Howard Seftel was pointless, stupid and way below the standards of your usually excellent reportage. Remember, you are the guys who uncovered the Baptist Foundation scandal. Keep up the good work.

Jack Katz

Crying foul: In my review of "Crying Whales" and "The New Economy," I am astounded by the gross inaccuracies and misrepresentations that they present about the story behind the "Don't Buy It" campaign. As a staff member for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) who worked closely on this campaign, I find that the article reads like a fictional tale that portrays Mitsubishi -- one of the world's wealthiest companies -- as the sympathetic protagonist.

In truth, Mitsubishi and the Mexican government at the time sought to build a saltworks plant twice the size of Washington, D.C., within a UNESCO World Heritage site that has four levels of legal protection from development. In 1994, Mexican environmental groups banded together to form Grupo de los Cien (Group of 100) in order to oppose the development of the saltworks plant in Laguna San Ignacio. Their objectives were simple: Stop the plant from being developed and preserve the quality of life in the region. Unlike the authors' contention, the gray whales were never the sole issue.

With limited resources to battle the mammoth Mitsubishi, the coalition recruited IFAW and other international NGOs to join the campaign. IFAW's involvement made possible the development and incorporation of objective science and research into the debate, by documenting the fragile nature of the marine habitat threatened by the construction of the saltworks plant. Curiously, while your article maintains that science did not prevail, Mitsubishi never released an environmental impact assessment on which it spent $2 million. Why not?

Other key facts are grossly omitted. While the authors portray the environmental performance of the Mitsubishi plant in Guerrero Negro in Laguna Ojo de Liebre as a rationale for a similar plant in Laguna San Ignacio, they omit Guerrero Negro's documented record of 290 environmental violations. Similarly, the authors' contention that no sea turtles were harmed by this facility is contradicted by the Mexican attorney general's confirmation of the deaths of 94 protected and endangered black sea turtles from exposure to toxic brine.

Lastly, far from abandoning local communities that so courageously opposed this development, IFAW has worked intensely with Mexican environmental groups and the Mexican government to establish a $2 million development fund for the local communities. Given the close working relationship we maintained with the local communities to this day, we find this distortion particularly vexing.

We at IFAW are proud of the role we played in preserving the pristine habitat of Laguna San Ignacio.

Helen Chin, acting deputy director
Wildlife and Habitat Program
International Fund for Animal Welfare

Budget Blues

Privatize the system: Arizona's budget problem can be solved without damaging programs, rescinding employee raises, using financial gimmickry, closing loopholes, borrowing or raising taxes ("Fiscal Fissure," John Dougherty, November 29). Instead, legislators should mandate performance improvements used by large, successful private organizations.

The first action the Legislature should take is to mandate annual 6 percent to 7 percent overall cost/service-unit reductions in personnel and procurement. Industry has demonstrated that this is achievable through innovation, restructuring, ending/replacing ineffective programs, taking advantage of hiring freezes, and improved matching of staff to workload. Potential annual savings: up to $400 million.

The second action required is to take advantage of three major improvement opportunities within education.

• Reduce administrative/overhead costs. Federal data reveal that the percentage of current Arizona education spending reaching the classroom is tied for second lowest in the nation. Raising it to the leader's (Maine) level would save about $400 million a year. Meanwhile, Edison Schools Inc. has cut administrative costs by 10 percent and plans another 10 percent reduction within two years. If Arizona emulated Edison, savings could be doubled.

Potential annual savings: up to $800 million, shared with local school districts.

• Improve incentives for parents to use cheaper charter, private and home-schooling alternatives. Each performs at least as well as public schools yet receives limited or no state support. Providing more equitable state financial support for these alternatives would both improve parent involvement (a key component of pupil achievement) and reduce spending.

Potential annual savings: up to $500 million, again shared with local school districts.

• Reduce college/university waste. According to one expert researcher: "On average, the economy generates only about half as many college-level jobs for the number of people we graduate, and only about half who begin college graduate. . . . So the actual four-year college success rate is one out of four . . . a pretty dismal return on the taxpayers' investment."

Potential annual savings: up to $200 million, shared with community-college districts.

The preceding total almost $2 billion a year, more than enough to solve the state's budget problem -- even after sharing the benefits with other political units.

Long, drawn-out studies and legions of consultants are not required to accomplish these improvements -- only leadership with a sense of urgency, high expectations, focus and regular follow-up.

Loyd Eskildson
via Internet

Warlock, Stock and Barrel

Something Wicca this way comes: I was excited to see the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. However, when I read your review referring to the Harry Potter character as a warlock in training, I got a bit upset ("Spell Binding," Gregory Weinkauf, November 15). A "witch" is not the same as a "warlock." A male witch is also a witch. Witches will take offense to being called warlocks.

I was glad to see a film that portrays witches in a favorable manner. Wicca is an acknowledged belief, and I felt it important to bring this to your attention.

Tatiana Fulsome

Wild Westwood

Angels in the field: In my estimation, Donna and Jerry Neill ("Welcome to Donnawood," John W. Allman, November 15) are angels who have given their hearts, minds, energy and enormous amount of personal time to make the communities of Phoenix safer to live in.

With their NAILEM marches, Donna and Jerry played an important part in helping my neighborhood get rid of a large, established drug and prostitution complex by getting the attention of our neighborhood and also letting the "bad guys" see and hear that the neighborhood wanted them out!

Everyone is not necessarily good at everything. As far as them not being good bookkeepers, I forgive them. I'm sure now they will be getting help with the paperwork. Angels who want to better our lives should be treasured -- we need more Donna and Jerry Neills in Phoenix!

Nancy Rose
Sahuaro Block Watch Leader
North West Sunnyslope Community

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