TCS Daily

Fairy Shrimp vs. Man

By C. C. Kraemer - September 23, 2004 12:00 AM

A wide-body jet with 300 passengers lumbers westward on a runway at Los Angeles International Airport toward the ocean on its takeoff roll. About halfway down the runway, the captain pulls back on the yoke and the airliner pokes its nose skyward and climbs powerfully away from the Earth. By the time the jet clears the end of the runway, it will be more than 1,000 feet from the ground.

Swimmers on the beach don't even notice. Neither does a 1-inch crustacean that makes its home in vernal pools -- kids would call them mud puddles -- near the airport. It does not even know the jetliner and the people on it exist.

But that doesn't matter. What counts is the fairy shrimp has advocates who will zealously look out for its best interests -- whatever they might be.

The shrimp lives -- exists? -- in a depression at the end of a runway. Officials have fenced off 108 acres for its privileged use, even though no shrimp worth eating has been found there, just eggs that haven't yet hatched, even after having been in the spot for years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants the area to be designated as a preserve for the fairy shrimp. That probably sounds reasonable, since the property is likely to sit idle because of its location. Who would want it for anything? But an argument by LAX officials demonstrates that this is yet another case of man forcing man to yield to a lower life form.

It's not that the relatively small tract has been set aside. It's the ripple effect that area would have. Designating the area as a preserve for the fairy shrimp would require it to have standing water. That attracts birds. Though they both have wings and fly, birds and aircraft do not mix well.

Sometimes the results are disastrous. Yeah, it makes a mess of the bird. But too often it's equally as ruinous for humans. Jetliners full of passengers have been known to go down after sucking birds into their engines.

Takeoff is a critical moment for a flight. If something is thrown off -- even a bird being chewed up by a turbofan engine with 65,000 pounds of thrust -- it makes the takeoff that much more difficult. The Bird Strike Committee USA, made up partly of federal and aviation industry officials, says that a 12-lb Canada goose hitting an aircraft traveling 150-mph at lift-off is similar to the force created when a 1,000-lb weight is dropped from a height of 10 feet. That should be enough to violate the structural integrity of the hull of any jetliner.

The Los Angeles Times reports that LAX recorded 632 wildlife strikes from 1990 to 2004. Not all were bird strikes and none apparently caused a crash. But a KLM jumbo jet was in danger after a seagull was sucked into one of its engines in August 2000. It made an emergency landing, but not after the plane was damaged and passengers -- there were 449 people aboard -- no doubt had some anxious moments, as well they should: Since 1988, nearly 200 people have died across the world from incidents caused by bird strikes.

The economic costs of bird strikes are high, as well, more than $500 million a year. This isn't a trivial matter.

So, with all these hurdles, why establish a wildlife preserve that will clearly add risk to outbound flights at LAX, the world's fifth and the country's third busiest airport? For the same reason that Marines training at Camp Pendleton 60 or so miles south of LAX have their amphibious beach assault training interrupted because of a small gray songbird called the gnatcatcher.

Or why farmers in the Klamath basin at the California-Oregon border have been denied precious irrigation water because federal officials have, at various times, diverted it to the suckerfish, an endangered species that was given priority over man.

It's the same old story. The locations and critters change. But the forces behind the ongoing effort to elevate lesser beasts above man remain the same. The most radical among them believe that humans are a blight on the Earth. It doesn't matter to them what the battleground is, just so long as humans lose another round.

The author is a TCS Contributor living in California.


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