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This was an op-ed piece that was recently published in the Orange County Register ...It's a bit scary to say the least ...but it really drives home how important public outreach and education are to vernal pool preservation!
--Russell Huddleston, Rare Plants Chair, Sac Valley CNPS


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

This fairy (shrimp) tale could come true An easy, cheap alternative to battles over preserving a tiny, tough crustacean

By MATTHEW CUNNINGHAM

I'd like to talk about fairy shrimp – those tiny crustaceans that flitter about in "vernal pools," i.e., puddles, on developable land throughout Southern California. For me, these tiny, hardy creatures symbolize the absurdity of the Endangered Species Act and the extremities to which property owners must go to accommodate even the most esoteric organisms.

Environmental groups wield the fairy shrimp like a talisman. They speak of it in reverential tones as if it were a rare, fragile creature on the verge of extinction. If developers don't obey demands to reserve for the shrimp's use tracts of land perfectly suitable for human habitation, the environmental groups take them to court.

This practice costs developers millions of dollars in legal fees and delays - which are ultimately passed on to homebuyers. Here in Orange County, the fairy shrimp is one of the more prominent critters whose "preservation" has bedeviled property owners trying to build houses.

Call me insensitive, but why must human beings design entire communities and commercial projects around the lifestyle of a creature that is basically a freshwater brine shrimp - much like the variety popularly known as Sea-Monkeys?

Yes, Sea-Monkeys. The very same creatures that children for decades have bought by the millions, plopping these vacuum-packed crustaceans into a jar of water and watching them come instantly to life.

A fairy shrimp's life isn't much different – except for the part about being sold and shipped worldwide. Puddles ... excuse me, "vernal pools" fill up in the spring. The mud-encased eggs laid by the preceding generation of fairy shrimp then come by life - like when you pour your packet of Sea-Monkeys into an aquarium. The little beasties live a carefree life of swimming, frolicking and reproducing until the inevitable day when their puddle dries up. The fairy-shrimp eggs dry up with it and, when the rains return, begin the cycle again.

The eggs can also travel on animals' dusty fur, or be carried to other exotic, new vernal pools by a gust of dusty wind.

This "resting period" usually lasts six to 10 months, although eggs have been hatched in a laboratory after 15 years. Fairy shrimp eggs have withstood up to 210 degrees F and 310 degrees below zero.

I don't know any humans who can absorb that kind of punishment. In fact, fairy shrimp strike me as tough little imps that will outlast humans.

So how do we provide habitat for humans while ensuring fairy shrimp have sufficient puddles for the springtime frolicking and reproducing?

I have a modest proposal inspired by the spectacular success of Sea-Monkeys: Make fairy shrimp profitable. It's not a new idea. In fact, a British company called The Netyfish sells bags of 20-30 fairy-shrimp eggs online for $2.21 a bag (although they don't sell to the United States).

Instead of expensive, divisive legal fights and regulatory central planning, why not allow developers to simply buy fairy-shrimp eggs, like the public does with Sea-Monkeys, and sprinkle them in spots of land where a "vernal pool" might form with rainfall.

To save money and promote an attitude of stewardship for the Earth, groups like the Endangered Habitats League – which remorselessly stalks Orange County developers – could organize school field trips, hand each child a bag of fairy-shrimp eggs and unleash them to sew the open spaces with tiny unborn crustaceans.

The cost savings realized by eliminating expensive and time-consuming lawsuits and regulatory compliance requirements could be passed on to homebuyers - or, God forbid, pocketed by the developers. By creating a market demand for fairy shrimp, we ensure their survival – and create wealth for fairy-shrimp entrepreneurs. It's a win-win.

Some might dismiss my modest proposal as absurd – but is it really any more absurd than the flouting of property rights that occurs on behalf of this practically indestructible little crustacean?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matthew Cunningham is proprietor of Pacific Strategies, a public-affairs firm, and owner of Blogatomic, a weblog solutions consultancy.