Conservative. Conservation. Fish Ladders.
For years, a consortium of government agencies and advocacy groups has struggled for funding to knock down dams and build fish ladders to help restore local fish migrations. That work was jump-started on Tuesday when the federal government came forward with $3 million in stimulus money for six projects on the Ten Mile and Pawcatuck rivers.
When the work is done, fish will be able to migrate all the way up the Pawcatuck from Watch Hill, in Westerly, to Worden Pond, in South Kingstown.
In East Providence, the 30-year campaign by volunteers to lift spawning herring one bucket at a time over the Omega Dam may finally come to an end. A fish ladder will be built there and at two other locations upstream.
In all, the money will open up 13 miles of rivers and streams and 1,640 acres of spawning habitat, including Worden, the state’s largest freshwater pond.
I understand the raised eyebrows some fiscal conservatives have. Is this really economic “stimulus”?
These projects were chosen partly because they were “shovel ready,” and far along in the permitting process. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration points out that this project may create up to 18 jobs. Does that seem right? $3 million in federal stimulus dollars will create up to 18 jobs. That comes out to $166,667 for each temporary job they create. For just a moment, let’s put the project aside. Is it really worth while to spend $3 million to create 18 temporary jobs? Will this project have an economic impact that will stimulate the economy and put more people to work long-term? It seems doubtful.
Perhaps. But the economic benefits may be realized farther out. A similar project was undertaken in Maine and has helped to reestablish various stocks of fish, including important bait fish and game fish like salmon, stripers and sturgeon. More bait fish and more game fish helps both commercial and recreational fishing entities here in the Ocean State. That seems like an economic plus to me. Additionally, the dam removal in Maine inspired other economic improvements. For example:
Augusta’s Capital Riverfront Improvement District (CRID) is using the removal of the Edwards Dam as the keystone of its efforts to revitalize Augusta’s downtown core. The District’s legislative purpose is to “protect the scenic character of the Kennebec River corridor while providing continued public access and an opportunity for community and economic development …” With funding and leadership from the August CRID, the Kennebec River waterfront is being cleaned and beautified, underutilized buildings are being renovated and converted into housing and commercial space, and the Edwards Mill Park is now on its way to completion.
Economic development isn’t always a straight line: conservatives should know that the law of unintended consequences can be both positive as well as negative. And there are political advantages to be found by supporting sound conservation policies:
I have argued the merits of promoting conservation as a conservative cause, including the construction of “fish ladders.” I cringe when I hear Eric Cantor and other GOP leaders railing against this and a handful of other conservation projects as “wasteful” government spending. Not only are the hook’n bullet crowd one of the largest voting constituencies in the hinterlands, they spend billions of dollars every year on hunting and fishing and helping to support local communities. This is a wise investment not only for the fish but for the voting and recreating public.
Conservatives shouldn’t let their legitimate criticisms of the social ideology we know as “environmentalism” cloud their thinking when considering conservation policies. The latter is entirely consistent with a conservative philosophy, after all.