The Pallid Sturgeon is a fish that lives in the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, and which is on the endangered list.  Each year, many endangered species are further endangered by cuts in funding, because a country that went to war on borrowed money, with few who questioned going to war, now has to cut expenses to balance its budget.

A fish seems like a good place to start cutting money.  Or a bird.  Or a mammal, although our willingness to destroy other mammals of our own species hasn’t yet hit the chopping block.  Indeed, if we really want to balance our budget, so-called Defense should be first on the list.  But I digress.

The Pallid Sturgeon has been called the ugliest fish in America by some, so it might seem to be a good way to save money by cutting funding to preserve it.  After all, what use is a fish?  Oh sure, there are some anglers who enjoy catching something that can be 3-6 feet in length, weigh 85 pounds, and even provide caviar.  But a few anglers?  Not worth it.  Most of them who fish for the Pallid Sturgeon live in Red States, anyway, so politically this is a non-issue.

And the fish is ugly, at least compared to a Walleye.  But when I look into a mirror, I’m not looking so great some days, too, so I’m not about to pass judgment based on looks.

The Pallid Sturgeon is one of the leftovers from the Acipenseridae family and the Cretaceous period.  In 70 Million years, it has basically not changed, I have been told, making it a true living dinosaur.  It is endangered, because its habitat has been slowly destroyed by dams and pollution, and it spawns very seldom.

The question I ask is this:  “What is the Pallid Sturgeon worth?”

Each year, In Sioux Falls, a man who tries to recover this endangered fish; in other words, a man who thinks this fish has worth, has a visitor arrive from Washington, DC.  The visitor is an individual who comes from the center of government to the hinterlands of the US, where there are a lot of Republicans to be sure, but a lot of practical, commonsense people, too, people who have a multigenerational connection to the land and the life that land supports.  I don’t discuss politics with these folks, but when I discuss the land and wildlife with them there is a look on their face that I suspect is on my face, too.  I suspect the look is not on the face of the guy in the suit, when he arrives in South Dakota.

Each year, the man in charge of the Pallid Sturgeon project explains what he is doing in great detail, being sure to explain the dollars and cents involved in the recovery, so the dollars and cents guy can understand.  Mind you, this is not answering the question I raised above, for the word I chose was “worth,” not “cost”.  There is a difference, although to many, including the guy wearing the suit, the difference escapes him.  That is unfortunate, but he fortunately will learn the difference during his stay in the Dakotas.

At the end of the briefing, the biologist takes the Washington guy back to a large pool, and invites him to put hip waders on over his suit and step into the pool with him.  That to me would be worth seeing.  I would even pay to see that. Notice again how I use the two words.  The suit guy is a little surprised but does what he is asked to–he is used to that, after all–and soon, two of them are in the pool.  The biologist takes a net and scoops out one of the young sturgeon, and asks the man in the suit whether he would like to hold it.  Surprised, the man in the suit agrees, and he is soon holding a young fish in his hands, a fish without a lot of color, for that is what “Pallid” means.  While the fish is young, in terms of evolution, it is old, the same fish taking two opposite predicative adjectives.  It is somewhat ironic to me that while those who sent this man don’t believe in evolution, they would have to say that God created this fish in order to be consistent with their beliefs.  I believe something created this fish–I just call it The Creator–to be consistent with my beliefs.

The look on the face of the man holding the fish is priceless, from what I have been told.  His eyes open wide, as he realizes he is holding something special, something rare, something whose close relatives swam the waters of the Earth when dinosaurs roamed the land.  I’m about ready now to pay for the flight to Sioux Falls to just look at the fish, for the cost would be worth it, to juxtapose these two words.

“Funny thing,” the biologist has said.  “Every year, I get funding.  And the next year, they send a different guy.  And the same thing happens.”  The funding continues, and the fish recovery effort survives–for another year.  We don’t even know if the effort will be successful.  If not, our species has managed to destroy something whose close relatives were here more than three million generations ago, except there haven’t been three million generations of humans.  This fish is a relic.

So, what is the Pallid Sturgeon worth?  To me, the discussion isn’t really about dollars and cents but about dollars and sense.  Common sense.  The sense of beauty.  The sense of being stewards of God’s–The Creator, Mother Earth, or whatever you wish to call it–creation.  The sense that we are part of a vast web of life that we do not understand completely, but upon which we are dependent.  This fish has incredible worth, and a country that allows it to go extinct to save a few bucks really has its priorities wrong.

I think we have a moral duty to try to save the Pallid Sturgeon, unless nature–not man–in its own way decides that it is time for it to disappear.  Just as I believe that some day we will disappear, too.

I wonder how much that would cost.  I know this: it would have worth as far as Nature is concerned.

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