Sunday, June 05, 2005

"Snails Don't Feed Nobody"

Yet another situation guaranteed to add more fuel to the ecology vs economy debate in rural middle Tennessee:

Development of a proposed limestone mine has been put on hold while the fate of a threatened species hangs in the balance. The painted snake coiled forest snail has been on the threatened species list since 1978, and has not been found elsewhere in the world. Of course, folks are painting this situation as another instance of much needed jobs for humans versus some stupid insignificant critter. Can't eat it, can't sell it, can't get a job from it, so what good is it? In other words, if the instrumental value of some part of nature isn't patently obvious, it must be good for nothing and thereby in the way of progress.

To further complicate matters, there's more than a snail at stake here. The proposed mine would be of the open-pit variety, and would likely have larger impact on the environment than interfering with the survival of one species (aesthetically and otherwise). Further, there are ruins from a previous mining operation in the area, which have been listed with the Tennessee Preservation Trust as among the ten most threatened architectural sites in the state (more evidence that when mining operations are finished, communities are abandoned and workers forgotten). In addition, the man responsible for the quote in the title is mentioned in an AP article (link below) as being disabled with cancer. His father and grandfather worked in the Gager mine (now in ruins); one wonders what the long-term health effects of mining in the area might be.

Also, I'd be curious how the snail fits into the larger ecosystem -- whether other species rely on it as a food source, etc. Species don't exist in a vacuum. They act upon and interact with larger systems of life. They can serve as "canaries," signaling impending doom for other species in the area, as in the case of frogs. The fact is that snails do feed somebody, or somebodies, even though the impact of that feeding may not be as immediately obvious as the impact of thirty jobs (that will last until the limestone is extracted, or that will be given to people outside the community, etc).

What happens to the limestone once it's extracted? One proposal on the table is to sell it to coal-fired power plants.

You can find an AP wire report regarding this situation here.

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