Reporter at Large (The Skipper and the Dam)
New Yorker, Dec 1st, 1986
BECAUSE California is such a crazy mosaic of habitats and plant communities, many of the
nation's rarest butterflies are found there. Lange's metalmark, for instance, a fiery-red variety of the normally orange-and-gray Mormon metalmark, lives on the Antioch Dunes, east of San Francisco, and has a total range of only fifty acres. The Palos Verdes blue was limited to half an acre on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, in Los Angeles. Four years ago, the spot was converted into a ball field, and that was the end of the Palos Verdes blue-a particularly bitter loss, because it resulted from poor coordination between the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the local people, who thought they were putting the ball field where the butterfly wasn't. The mountain West also has some rarities. Up in the Colorado Rockies, the so-called Pawnee montane skipper ranges over twenty-five or thirty square miles in South Platte Canyon, southwest of Denver. Unfortunately for everybody, this section of the canyon-where the main stem of the South Platte is joined by its North Fork, and for a considerable distance up both rivers-has been proposed by
the Denver Water Department as the site for a huge dam and storage reservoir. Perhaps fifty per cent of the butterflies will drown if the dam is built. But building a dam in the West these days is a complicated process. A detailed environmental-impact statement, in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, must be submitted. Two separate population and distribution studies of the Pawnee montane skipper, and dozens of other studies as well, have been required for the impact statement for the Two Forks Dam, as the Colorado project is called. A task force of some four hundred people has been working on the document for the last two and a half years. The bill for it so far is coming in at thirty-six million six hundred thousand dollars -a sum that William Miller, the exasperated manager of the Water Department, recently declared to be "approaching a national scandal."
Small, subtly camouflaged, darting from flower to flower, the Pawnee montane skipper belongs to an enormous family of butterflies-the Hesperiidae, or skippers-with some thirtyfive hundred species, distributed over every continent except Antarctica. As butterflies go-and they are among the most highly evolved insects, with four life stages-the skippers are rather primitive. They are, in some ways, closer to moths than to other butterflies. Like moths, they have stout bodies, and they sit with their wings flat out or partly open, but unlike most moths they fly by day and have knobbed antennae. The North American skippers, of which there are two hundred and ninety-two species, not including those in Mexico, tend to be drab-again, like the majority of moths-and sombre-colored. They have names like dusky wing, cloudy wing, sooty wing. It is only to the south, in Central and South America, that dazzling skippers, some with iridescent blue or orange stripes, zip around in the jungle understory. Because the North American skippers are small (seldom more than an inch from wingtip to wingtip) and subdued, and hard to catch and identify, they have been neglected by collectors, even though from an evolutionary and behavioral standpoint they are one of the most interesting groups. Take the two-spotted skipper, which lives in bogs and marshes and ranges from Colorado north to Canada and Maine, and south to West Virginia and Texas, yet never occurs in a group of more than a hundred or two. Only three colonies of the two-spotted skipper are known in all Colorado, one colony is known in Nebraska, none in Kansas. To find the next one, you have to go all the way to Iowa. The explanation for this highly local distribution pattern is that the colonies are believed to be stranded remnants of populations that were much larger during the last Ice Age. The Pawnee montane skipper, found so far in only one place in the world, is also thought to be what zoologists would call a "Pleistocene relict."
The first Pawnee montane skippers -eleven of them-were collected in the summer of 1883 and were sent that fall to W. H. Edwards, of Coalburg, West Virginia, a lawyer and coal-mine owner who was the leading lepidopterist of his day. Only two of the specimens were completely labelled. The labels identified their place of capture as Salida, Colorado, and their captor as one David Bruce. Edwards described more North American butterflies than anybody before or since, but he never got around to these, and they ended up, with the rest of his collection, in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, in Pittsburgh, which at that time was the center of American butterfly studies. There they languished for several decades, until, in 1911, they finally came to the attention of a specialist in Western lepidoptera named Henry Skinner. He described them and gave them the Latin name Pamphila pawnee montana, having decided that they were a subspecies of a Plains species, Pamphila pawnee, which had been described in 1874. Indeed, the differences between the Pawnee skipper and the Pawnee montane skipper are slight: montana is a bit smaller and usually browner than the consistently lighter, more yellowish pawnee, and montanaparticularly the female-has distinct ochreous-white spots on the undersides of its hind wings, while pawnee's spots are poorly developed. But the brown of some montana is greenish. Others are russet, and still others are yellowish, almost indistinguishable from pawnee. It's not an entirely clean situation.
Nothing more was heard of montana until 1967, when it was independently rediscovered in the South Platte Valley by two collectors-Ray E. Stanford and James A. Scott. Scott is a reclusive soul who has a doctorate in entomology from the University of California at Berkeley, and he makes his living building duplexes. His book "The Butterflies of North America" has just been brought out by the Stanford University Press. He caught his montana near a gold-mining ghost town in South Platte Canyon called Nighthawk. Stanford is a pathologist at the University of Colorado. He took his montana on a tributary of the South Platte named Sugar Creek. The two men didn't meet and compare their catches until a year later. At the time Scott collected his montana, he thought they were a dark variety of pawnee. Stanford suspected he had something new. Back home, he put them under a microscope, and saw that their valvae, or claspers-lateral structures of the male genitalia which enable butterflies to mate and butterfly taxonomists to tell one species from another-were definitely pawnee, but the coloration of the wings was wrong. It wasn't until 1972, when he went to Pittsburgh and, after pulling out dozens of drawers of skippers from their cabinets at the Carnegie Museum, finally matched his specimens with Hesperia pawnee montana Skinner, that he realized what he had. (The generic name Hesperia was reestablished in 1922 for skippers widely but erroneously classified as Pamphila during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.)
There was still a problem, however: Salida, in Colorado's Chaffee County, is seventy-five miles from South Platte Canyon, where both Scott and Stanford had caught their montana. In the summers that followed, the two men combed Salida and the rest of Chaffee County for the insect, but they couldn't find a single one. Stanford began to wonder about the labels on the type specimens in Pittsburgh. He conveyed his doubts to F. Martin Brown, a retired prep-school science teacher and the doyen of Rocky Mountain-butterfly collectors, who had sorted out similar discrepancies in the past. David Bruce, who had been identified as the collector, was an English housepainter who lived for many years in New York. There had been problems with his labels before. Brown managed to reconstruct Bruce's itinerary in the summer of 1883 from his correspondence, and he discovered that during the period when Bruce supposedly collected the montana in Salida he was in fact in a hospital in Red Cloud, Nebraska, recuperating after a fall from a scaffold. Sleuthing further, Brown learned that Bruce had left a butterfly net that August with the children of one William W. G. Smith, in Buffalo Creek, which is in the South Platte Valley, only a dozen miles from Sugar Creek, and that on September 7th the Smith children had mailed him several boxes of butterflies from "the Platte Canyon Valley." Buffalo Creek today consists of a store and maybe a dozen houses. Its population is perhap$ fifty. If anything, it's smaller than it was a hundred years ago, when it was a stop on the old Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad and the Smith children were romping around with Bruce's butterfly net. It's still a great place to find Pawnee montane skippers.
On the basis of Brown's detective work and their inability to find montana anywhere in Chaffee County, Scott and Stanford decided to change the type locality-the place where the type specimens were collected-from Salida to Buffalo Creek. They also decided, after months spent doing field and laboratory work, and poring over more than a thousand specimens in museums and private collections around the country, and mapping out all the places of capture, that montana was not a subspecies of pawnee but, rather, both were subspecies of another species, leonardus, which ranges to the east. A lot of the taxonomist's work in every branch of the natural sciences consists of splitting or combining species and subspecies in the light of new information. Here Scott and Stanford were combining pawnee and leonardus; they were, in Stanford's words, "revising the leonardus complex."
Not until 1981 were their findings published, in the Journal of Research
on the Lepidoptera. Apart from the excitement it stirred in the small fraternity
of Rocky Mountain-butterfly buffs, their paper, "Geographic Variation and
Ecology of Hesperia leonardus (H esperiidae )," went unnoticed. The Pawnee
montane skipper went from being Hesperia pawnee montana to being Hesperia
leonardus montana. It still didn't have a common name, and nobody except
a handful of Scott and Stanford's colleagues had ever heard of it.
THE South Platte River, in greatly altered form-diverted for treatment and consumption, returned as treated waste water-flows through Denver on the way to its meeting with the North Platte, in N ebraska, and their eventual merging with the Missouri, below Omaha. From Denver's beginning, in 1859, as a cluster of cabins and tepees at the South Platte's confluence with Cherry Creek, the river has provided the city with most of its water, and it still does. The first effort to obtain a stable supply for the city by impounding South Platte water was made in 1905, when the Denver Union Water Company, a private outfit, created Cheesman Reservoir, some twenty miles upriver from the Two Forks dam site. Cheesman Reservoir can hold seventy-nine thousand and sixty-four acre-feet of water. (An acre-foot of water, which is about three hundred and twenty-six thousand gallons, covers an acre of flat ground to a depth of one foot.) The first substantial onstream municipal water-storage facility in the mountain West, Cheesman Reservoir was hailed as the answer to Denver's water problems for all time.
In 1918, the Denver Water Department was chartered as a self-regulating utility to provide water to Denver residents roughly at cost-which is now around forty-four cents a day for the average customer. The department acquired Cheesman Reservoir and also a shallower reservoir fifty miles upstream-the Antero Reservoir, with a capacity of fifteen thousand eight hundred and seventy-eight acre-feet. But by the nineteen-twenties the population of metropolitan Denver had reached three hundred and fifty thousand, and the demand for water had almost caught up with the supply. Drought during the Dust Bowl years of the thirties aggravated the situation, and in 1932 the department put up a third dam on the South Platte, between the two others-the Eleven Mile Canyon Dam, which added ninetyseven thousand seven hundred and seventy-nine acre-feet of storage to the system. These three reservoirs provided enough water for Denver through the end of the Second World War. But by the mid-fifties demand had caught up with supply again, so the department looked across the Continental Divide to the Colorado River drainage. (Western water people speak not of basins or river valleys but of drainages.) Until that time, Denver had been relying mainly on East Slope water-water east of the Divide, caught by the South Platte. The South Platte drainage is huge-just the part above Denver is twenty-seven hundred square miles-but it collects only ten per cent of the state's water. Seventy per cent of the water flows down the great Colorado. That most Coloradans live east of the Divide and most of the water is west of it is one of the state's geographical problems. Another problem is that none of the substantial rivers that run through Colorado stay there. According to the Colorado River Compact of 1922, roughly half of the Colorado's flow must be passed out of Colorado and down to its Lower Basin, where it is piped to cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and, as of a year ago, Phoenix. Colorado is entitled to only fifty-two per cent of the water that remains. (The other Upper Basin states-Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico-share the rest.) Some Coloradans feel that they're getting the short end of the stick, but twenty-five per cent of the Colorado is still more than all of the South Platte.
In the twenties, George Bull, an engineer working for the Denver Water Department who had done some surveying on the West Slope, quietly filed for water rights to two of the Colorado's tributaries-the Fraser River and Williams Fork. The problem was how to get the water over the Divide and down to Denver. The answer, effected in stages from 1936 to 1959, was this: line with concrete the pilot bore of a railroad tunnel that goes under the Divide (a pilot bore is a tunnel used by tunnel diggers to probe the geology and remove debris from the main tunnel) and run Fraser River water through the pilot bore into South Boulder Creek, on the East Slope; dam South Boulder Creek near Eldorado Springs and shoot the water by a series of tunnels, flumes, siphons, and canals over to Ralston Creek, two streams to the south; dam Ralston Creek and run the water by conduit from there to the city's Moffat Treatment Plant. More tunnelling, of the Vasquez and August P. Gumlick Tunnels (longtime Water Commissioner Augie Gumlick had done so much for the Denver water system that he got his own tunnel), made it possible to divert Williams Fork water into the Fraser, so that today Moffat Tunnel, as the former pilot bore is known, can deliver a maximum of twenty-five hundred and thirty-nine acre-feet of West Slope water a day to Denver.
But the Moffat Tunnel was only the first "transmountain diversion," as Denver water people describe the process of bringing water under the Divide. George Bull had also filed for water rights to three other Colorado River tributaries-the Blue River, the Snake River, and Ten Mile Creek. All that the department had to do, again, was figure out how to bring the water over. This time, it outdid itself, digging between 1946 and 1962 what the department believes is the longest water tunnel in the world-the Harold D. Roberts Tunnel, twenty-three and three-tenths miles long-and constructing Dillon Reservoir, which can hold two hundred and fifty-four thousand and thirty-six acre-feet of Blue, Snake, and Ten Mile water. The chief value of Dillon Reservoir is as a backup. When there's a dry year on the East Slope and the other reservoirs are down, water from Dillon is piped under the Divide through Roberts Tunnel into the North Fork of the Platte to make up the deficit. The filling of Dillon Reservoir, in 1963, doubled Denver's water storage. The department thought that it had the city's water problems licked-if not for good, at least through the year 2000.
But no one foresaw the explosive growth that took place in and around Denver in the decades that followed. New suburbs blossomed in the surrounding plains and foothills, and the old ones spread riotously: Englewood and Littleton to the south; Lakewood and Wheat Ridge to the west; Arvada to the northwest; Thornton, Northglenn, and Westminster to the north; Aurora to the east. Vast unincorporated areas of Arapahoe, Adams, J efferson, and Douglas Counties changed practically overnight from open range into dense subdivisions. It's the familiar Los Angeles pattern; slowly merging with Fort Collins to the north and Colorado Springs to the south, greater Denver is in the process of becoming a sprawling megalopolis-one vast strip city along the Front Range, the eastern flank of the Rockies. A number of factors have helped make Denver the seventh-fastestgrowing metropolitan region in America. Only Washington has more federal agencies; the defense industry is a particularly big presence. Then, there are numerous defense-related industries, like Martin Marietta, an aerospace outfit, which put Littleton on the map. A lot of microchip and other high-tech companies have started up in Denver. After Interstate 70 was completed through Denver, in the early sixties, Denver became the hubthe marketing and distribution and banking center-of the High Plains and the Rocky Mountain region. People flocked to Denver because there was work and because the mountains, with their year-round recreational possibilities, were so close.
But the plains and foothills around Denver are dry-they get only fifteen inches of rain a year-and all these new places needed water. Englewood, having arranged its own supply of transmountain water back in the fifties, was set. (Englewood acquired water rights in the Winter Park area, on the West Slope, and has an exchange arrangement with the Denver Water Department whereby it can draw South Platte water in return for delivering an equal volume of Winter Park water through the Moffat Tunnel.) Aurora cornered a piece of the South Platte action in 1981 by building its own onstream reservoir, the Spinney Mountain Reservoir (capacity fifty-three thousand eight hundred acre-feet). But the other suburbs were mainly dependent on pump water, as ground water is referred to in the West, and the more they pumped the lower the water table got and the more expensive the pump water became. Some wells had contamination problems, too. Trichloroethylene, a common degreasing agent and suspected carcinogen, turned up in the water in Commerce City, a northern suburb. The first source to be identified was the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, just out of town. The Army had to give the Environmental Protection Agency seven million dollars to build carbonfiltration plants for the South Adams County water district, which includes Commerce City. East of Aurora-the fastest-growing part of greater Denver, where new subdivisions are springing up almost by the hour-the pump water is in danger of being tainted by the Lowry landfill, where industrial wastes were dumped for a period of fifteen years. Parents of prospective students at a high school that is being built near the landfill have taken to calling the school Toxic High.
Although the Denver Water Department had a number of long-standing suburban
contracts, its initial reaction to the rampaging growth outside the city
limits was to have nothing to do with it. "Even before Dillon Reservoir
came on line, the Board of Water Commissioners, our executive arm, drew
a blue line around our hundredand-fifteen-square-mile service area and
told everybody that's it," Edward Ruetz, the board's manager of community
affairs, recalled not long ago. "But the growth rolled on merrily over
the landscape-or, rather, it hopscotched. Anywhere some developer could
sink a well big enough, a subdivision popped up. Our blue line didn't put
one dent in the growth of the suburbs, whether we were in a position to
help them or not." In any event, as the new independent suburban water
districts began to have problems with their water sources they turned to
the Denver Water Department, and gradually the department relented and
entered the business of selling water. Today, it has water contracts with
almost a hundred suburban agencies. It has total-service contracts with
several water districts, under which it assumes complete responsibility
for their water needs, at roughly double the insidecity rate. It has a
raw-water contract with Arvada, a northern suburb, which takes care of
about a hundred thousand people.
RELENTLESS growth appears to be in store for greater Denver. According to the best study, there may be two million four hundred thousand people by 2010 and more than three million by 2035. In the late seventies, the Water Department began to worry again about an impending shortage. "The nightmare of every utility is that one day your customers are going to turn their faucets on and nothing will come out," Ruetz told me. The direst prediction had a "tap gap" developing by 1987.
The department had been aware of the potential of the Two Forks site for
decades. (Some people call the main stem of the South Platte above the
North Fork the South Fork; hence the name Two Forks.) Its predecessors
had filed for water-storage rights in that section of the canyon in the
late nineteenth century, and the department itself had filed for a right-of-way
with the Forest Service, which owns most of the land there, in 1931. As
a place to put up a dam, the Two Forks site has a lot going for it. Ruetz
describes it enthusiastically as "the best remaining site in Colorado."
The Front Range is riddled with faults, but there are no active ones at
Two Forks. A mile and a half below the meeting of the two rivers,
the gap between the walls at the bottom of the narrow, Vshaped canyon is
only a hundred feet. From a dam builder's viewpoint, it's just asking to
be plugged with concrete. The geology of the rocks that would hold up the
two abutmentsthe anchorage-is absolutely sound. Furthermore, the site is
close to Denver, so there would be easy access for the construction force.
On top of this, very little of the eleven thousand-plus acres to be flooded
is privately owned, and not many people live there. Only a few weekend
cabins are perched on the
And, best of all, Two Forks "would give us operational control over our system that we don't have now," Robert Taylor, the environmental coordinator in the department's planning division, told me. "When there's a good water year on the West Slope, we can't capitalize on it, because of lack of storage. During 1983 and 1984-years of heavy snowfall on the East SlopeDenver lost about a million acre-feet of spring runoff, because there was nowhere to store it. Two Forks would enable us to collect high flows wherever they occur, including West Slope water released through Roberts Tunnel into the North Fork." This time, the department wanted something really big-a deep, narrow lake backing up the South Platte twenty-nine miles and the North Fork maybe seven, with a total capacity of eleven hundred thousand acre-feet. But that didn't mean that all those acre-feet would be available. The storage capacity and the annual safe yield of a water system are two different things. Two Forks would increase the Denver system's yield by only ninety-eight thousand acre-feet. The 1980 yield was three hundred and seventy-nine thousand acre-feet-uncomfortably close to the total annual metropolitan consumption.of three hundred and fourteen thousand. By 2010, consumption is projected to be around five hundred and ninety-nine thousand, but the yield of the existing system will have increased (because wells for which permits have already been issued will have been sunk, among other things) to only four hundred and fourteen thousand, so there won't be enough water for Denver even with Two Forks on line. The balance will have to be made up by recycling and conservation.
But not everybody was as keen on the dam as the Water Department was. Few words, in fact, are likely to start a fight faster in the West these days than "dam." The seventies were not only years of sprawling growth around Denver but also the time when the environmental movement was spreading. Its messages hit home with many Coloradans, and strong antigrowth sentiment developed in the state. Some environmentalists felt that the only way to stop the development was to shut off the water.
Early in the decade, with greater Denver's population approaching a million
and a half, the Water Department became concerned about its treatment capacity.
There was enough raw water for the city but not enough treated water for
peak summer demands. On July 6, 1973, the temperature went up to a hundred
and three degrees, and five hundred and six million gallons of treated
water-an all-time record-was consumed. The combined output of the treatment
plants at the time was only four hundred and sixty million gallons a day;
fortunately, there was three hundred million gallons more in underground
storage. But that was too
IN 1977, Ray Stanford heard that the Two Forks project was next on the department's agenda, and he began to worry about the effect that the lake would have on the Pawnee montane skipper. He called an old friend, Paul Opler, in Washington, and filled him in on the situation. He and Opler had caught butterflies together in California in the fifties; now Opler was in charge of listing invertebrate endangered species for the Fish and Wildlife Service. Opler decided that the skipper was a good candidate for the list. The bureaucratic definition of a species is different from the scientific one. According to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, a subspecies can also be considered as a species, so montana qualified. For a species to be "endangered," it has to be "in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant part of its range." Its habitat can be designated as "critical habitat," whereupon it becomes illegal for federal agencies to destroy or adversely modify it, or to take any action that would "jeopardize the [species'] continued existence." The status of an endangered species whose habitat is in private hands is less certain; it is easier to get protection for the habitats of animals, including insects, than for the habitats of plants. A "threatened" species is a step down the ladder: it is in danger of becoming endangered.
After a species has been proposed for the list, its name is published in the Federal Register. Then there is a ninety-day "comment period," during which people can send in written opinions on whether the species is really endangered (the same sort of public review process, also ninety days long, that the Two Forks dam proposal will be going through, probably early next year). The difficulty with montana was that nobody except Scott and Stanford was familiar with its true identity and distribution, for at the time montana was proposed for the endangered list-in July of 1978the two of them hadn't published their paper. Even the eminent F. Martin Brown confused montana with pawnee; he didn't realize that there was a smaller, darker form in the mountains, different from the common one on the Plains, which ranges all the way up into Saskatchewan, and he argued that montana wasn't endangered. Other lepidopterists, who weren't familiar with the butterfly and so were unqualified to voice an opinion-among them, Stanford recalled, were conservative amateurs who oppose the federal government's sticking its nose into what specimens they can or can't collectwrote in against listing it, so the proposal more or less died. Montana wasn't listed, but it wasn't removed from the list of proposed endangered species, either.
During the comment period, there was considerable correspondence between the Denver Water Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service, which wanted to know if the department knew anything about the butterfly. It didn't. Bob Taylor was put in touch with Stanford, and Stanford told him that he thought the lake would severely jeopardize the butterfly's chances of survival. Up to then, every place he had collected montana was below the proposed waterline. Around this time, the insect made its first media appearance, in a weekly column in the Denver Post called "Spotlight on Clubs." Part of that week's column was devoted to the local chapter of the Xerces Society, an international organization dedicated to the conservation of invertebrates-primarily butterflies -and it mentioned that a "tiny, unobtrusive butterfly, with a wingspan of less than an inch," called the "montana skipper" was "causing discussion" among the members, because it was "found almost exclusively in the area of the proposed Two Forks reservoir ." Stanford was misquoted as saying that he thought the butterfly would be "wiped out." He didn't feel quite that strongly.
During the early eighties, the montana issue was quiescent. Scott and Stanford brought out their paper in 1981, but it wasn't widely read. Not until 1985 did montana reemerge on the scene. This time, it took center stage. The Water Department had started work on its obligatory system-wide environmental-impact statement, and also on a site-specific impact statement for the Two Forks Dam. It wanted these documents to be legally defensible from every angle-watertight, as it were. If there were questions about the Pawnee montane skipper, it wanted them settled now, before construction started. The last thing it needed was a snaildarter situation on its hands.
The snail darter is a small fish-a perch-that delayed the filling of the Tellico Dam, on the Little Tennessee River, and nearly scuttled the project altogether. It became an environmental cause celebre during the seventies. After the Tennessee Valley Authority had the site preparation for the dam well under way, and early stages of construction had begun, the darter, a previously undescribed species, was discovered in the water below. A lawsuit was filed on its behalf. When the suit was filed, the T. V.A. immediately shifted to a twenty-four- hour-a-day construction schedule-a common practice among builders who are being sued, for they know that the more of the structure they can finish the better its chances are of staying up. By the time the darter was described and put on the endangered list, the concrete portion of the dam had been completed, but the Fish and Wildlife Service gave a "jeopardy opinion" on the fish's behalf; that is, it decided that the fish's continued existence would be jeopardized if the dam was filled. There matters stood, with dam and darter deadlocked, until the case was referred to the Endangered Species Committee, which had just been created by Congress to resolve irreconcilable differences between construction projects and species for which a jeopardy opinion has been rendered. Some of the highest officials in the land sit on this committee: the Secretaries of Agriculture, the Army, and the Interior, the administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and a representative of each state concerned. Environmentalists nicknamed it the God Committee. Snail darter v. Tellico Dam was its first case, and it ruled in the darter's favor, saying that the dam would cause the fish's extinction and that the T .V .A. hadn't explored all the alternatives. But then Senator Howard Baker, of T ennessee, incensed at the trouble the little fish was making, introduced a bill in Congress exempting the Tellico Dam from all federal law. Congress passed the extraordinary bill, and the dam was filled. The T. V .A. hired frogmen to catch the darters below the dam and transplant them to other rivers. Subsequently, the snail darter was found to be more widely distributed than had previously been supposed. Tiny populations turned up not only in several other rivers in Tennessee but in a couple of adjacent Alabama and Georgia rivers as well-and its status was downgraded to threatened. So in the end the T. V .A. got its dam (even though Boeing had by then backed out of a proposal to build an industrial city near the dam, and one of the main reasons for building the dam had disappeared). But it was a traumatic experience, and one that the Denver Water Department had no desire to repeat.
In the spring of 1985, the department hired two biologists-Scott Ellis,
who was with an outfit called E.R. T. (for Environmental Research and Technology),
and Lewis Keenan, of PEST (Professional Entomological Services Technology)-to
do a study of the Pawnee montane skipper. Thirty-five thousand dollars
was allocated for the study, and Ellis and Keenan hired a number of assistants,
including Ray Stanford. He spent a lot of time in South Platte Canyon that
summer. It was the first time he had been paid for what he likes to do
best-go out and look for butterflies. By then, the press, sensing a potential
snail-darter situation, had picked up on the butterfly. The Denver Post
printed a story on April 20th, with a photograph of the insect, that
The story inside spoke
of an "olive drab speed-demon" that had been "suspended in silk every Colorado
summer for a million years, maybe." It went as far as to quote a famous
remark made by the Chinese philosopher Chuang-tzu upon awakening from a
strange dream some two thousand years ago: "I do not know whether I was
then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly
dreaming I am a man." The Post story called the insect "the Pawnee montane
skipper," and the Rocky Mountain News "the Pawnee montana, nicknamed montane"-the
first crude attempts to give the insect a common name. While Stanford was
interviewed in both articles, apparently neither reporter was aware that
he and Scott had reclassified pawnee and montana as distinct subspecies.
Either "the montane Leonard" or just "the montane skipper" would have been
more apt, but "Pawnee montane skipper" it became, joining the ranks of
"the American Indian," "New Jersey the Garden State," and all the other
misnomers that have made their way
I WAS alerted to the flurry that the skipper was causing by a letter from a woman who lived in Boulder, Colorado, and was aware of my interest in butterflies-an inherited one, which has run in my family off and on now for six generations. Catching and mounting butterflies and making watercolors of them had been part of growing up for me, as it had been for my father and his uncle (both did scientific work as adults) and his grandfather, who grew up in the mid-nineteenth century, when a rounded education included a solid dose of natural history. Enclosed with the letter was a recent article in the Denver Post headed "$65,000 OK'D FOR STUDY OF TWO FORKS BUTTERFLY." What had happened, I learned after making a few calls, was that the 1985 study by Ellis and Keenan had concluded that only about seventeen per cent of the montana population would be inundated-an estimate that Stanford, Scott, Opler (who by then had moved to Colorado and become more involved in the skipper's future), and James Miller, Fish and Wildlife's regional listing coordinator, all thought was far too low, Miller raised a number of questions about the methodology of the study. The census had been conducted only in places where the skipper was already known to occur, he complained, and was therefore not representative; the census plots should have been chosen at random. So Fish and Wildlife, which was in a position to declare the reservoir site a critical habitat and to stop the dam in its tracks, recommended that a second study be undertaken. "We insist that the species remain around," Miller told me over the phone. "When you're in the West, there are two sides: the people who want it and the people who don't. If you go out to the canyon and look at the scenery, you'll see that it's asinine to put a dam in there. But the water needs of Denver are getting larger by the day."
Though the Water Department was "initially teed off," Miller recalled, it complied with Fish and Wildlife's recommendation. Sixty-five thousand dollars was allocated for the new study, and ten thousand more for the assistance of Fish and Wildlife entomologists; Scott Ellis, of E.R. T., was again retained. This was a modest sum to invest in the future of a rare life form, and a tiny fraction of the cost of the whole environmental-impact statement.
Early in September, I took a plane to Denver. My plan was to see the butterflies in the morning, get the Water Department's side of the story in the afternoon, and then discuss the skipper and its prospects over dinner with Stanford, Miller, and Opler.
At nine o'clock, Scott Ellis stopped for me in a big blue-and-white Blazer, and we drove over to the Water Department to pick up a biologist in the environmental section named Chip Dale and then headed out to South Platte Canyon. Except for one overnight stay, I hadn't been to Denver in nearly twenty years. The place was unrecognizable. In the last decade, with the help of Canadian and oil money, a dense stand of tall glass towers had shot up downtown. One of them was shaped like a gigantic cash register. Ellis said that that was the United Bank Center. "We're living in a growth syndrome," he explained. Tall, blond, lanky, earnest, Ellis was thirty-seven. He had grown up in western Colorado, in a little town called Hotchkiss, in a family of fruit farmers (apples, plums, peaches). One day when he was eight, a cousin came over with a butterfly net. "I got kind of hooked," he told me. "I wrote F. Martin Brown, and he gave me a lot of encouragement." Ellis went away to college-Cornell-and graduated with a degree in English and biology. "I thought I'd become a bio-poet," he said, "but after spending a year living in a trailer in Fort Collins and getting a good taste of poverty I decided I didn't want to be some kind of hippie general-purpose ne'er-do-well, because it was so damned miserable." He got a job with E.R. T., a new environmental-consulting firm based in Concord, Massachusetts, and he'd been with it ever since. "Our main game is air-quality analysis and hazardouswaste management," he said. He had been doing a lot of plant-ecology and endangered-species work. With his background in butterflies, he was tailor-made for this assignment.
Leaving the city limits on a freeway, we passed through the southwestern suburb of Lakewood-a maze of attached two-story or three~story condominiums and apartments and detached, densely clustered single-family houses. The buildings were brandnew and quite handsome, with narrow, slanted natural-finished board siding, portholes under the eaves, stained-glass windows, greenhouses, patios, and other nice touches. Glamorous, nostalgic versions of the local vernacular architecture that they had replaced, they were best described, we decided, as ersatz mine shack-the Rocky Mountain subspecies of modern American tract housing, a Colorado cousin of New Mexico's ersatz pueblo, Kansas's ersatz grain elevator, Vermont's ersatz country store. Even the shopping malls harked back to the clapboard hammer mills where ore was ground, or to the headframes that had perched over shafts in the old mining days.
Chip Dale, who was thirty-one, had grown up in suburban Aurora but had been drawn to the backcountry; he liked to hunt and fish and be outdoors. For a master's degree in wildlife biology from Colorado State University, he had spent a year observing a herd of bighorn sheep that have a lambing site where the north abutment of the dam is supposed to go. "Between 1978 and 1980, the herd rose from forty-eight members to seven~-sevenj then it suffered a pneumonia die. off, and it's now down to around fifteen," he told me. "Bighorns have a highly integrated social structure and a strong collective awareness. One sheep sees a predator-a cougar or a coyote-and does an alarm display. The others key to it, and they all head for the rocks, where they can outrun it."
Dale explained that he was "scoping out" the field studies necessary for
compiling the system-wide impact statement. The impact on the terrestrial
wildlife, excluding the bighorn herd, was being assessed by a Boulderbased
firm called Stoecker-Keammerer Associates, which was getting two hundred
and forty-three thousand dollars for its study. The sheep were going to
be a problem. Dale himself was weighing the alternatives: improve the adjacent
habitat to entice the sheep off the sitej move them temporarily during
constructionjpermanently relocate themj or leave them alone and see how
they did. E.R. T., whose
Chadwick & Associates, of Littleton, was receiving just over six hundred thousand dollars for the aquatic study. The South Platte is one of the most productive trout streams in the state. And another firm, R. A. Valdez and Associates, was studying the effect that increased dIversion of the Blue, the Snake, the Ten Mile, and other West Slope rivers would have on the endangered bony tail chub, the humpback chub, the Colorado squawfish, and the state-endangered (that is, not federally listed) razorback sucker in the Colorado River. A substantial amount of the ninety-eight thousand acre-feet of water a year that Two Forks would add to Denver's water supply would be taken from the West Slope, and this might alter the flow of the Colorado enough to disturb the spawning grounds and nurseries of the fish. "As you can see, we're leaving no stone unturned," Dale told me.
We rose out of the suburbs, and out of the short-to-mid-grass prairie, into grassy tablelands-pawnee countryand then into the foothills of the Front Range. Chaparral-savanna bristling with ribs of tipped-back Jurassic red rock known as hogbacks and flecked with such shrubs and low, stunted trees as mountain mahogany, Rocky Mountain juniper, Gambel oakbegan to take over, with ponderosa pine fringing the hillcrests. The freeway narrowed to a two-lane highway, which led through dense secondgrowth coniferous trees-"dog-hair stands," Ellis called them. Gray skeletons of Douglas fir-victims of the spruce budworm-were scattered among them. We turned left onto a smaller road, which passed through Pine, an austere cluster of mountain cabins, with a sparkling little creek twisting through it. The creek, I was surprised to learn, was the North Fork, the transporter of much of Denver's West Slope water. We went on down through even smaller settlements-the famous Buffalo Creek, and Foxton, which will probably be at the edge of the lake and overrun by lakeside enterprises if the dam goes through. Then we made another left, onto a dirt road that dropped into a steep, narrow canyon, with room just for it and the greenish, mineral-tinted pools of the North Fork, plunging among huge orange boulders to our right.
After maybe half a mile, Ellis pulled over, and we got out. We were perhaps thirty feet below the projected waterline now. The air was thin and clear and dry, and was scented with the vanilla odor of ponderosa pine mingling with the pungence of fringed sage. Ellis scrambled up a steep slope of coarse orange nuggets of crumbled Pikes Peak granite, too fine and firm to be called scree but not organically developed enough to be called soil. "F. Martin Brown calls it Grape-Nuts," Ellis said. "It's real stressful for plants, because it has no water-holding capacity, and whenever it rains the stuff comes right down. Look at this rill." He was straddling a crevice cut into the slope by runoff. "There must have been a gully washer here last night. The sliding helps keep the slope open. Open is what montana likes-the parts of the canyon that are most like the Plains, especially the south-facing slopes, which get more sun and are drier, so the pines are more widely spaced. The premier habitat of montana is ponderosa-pine parkland, up to seventy-four hundred feet."
Looming high above us were the smooth, rounded orange crags, spattered
with green lichen, known as Cathedral Spires. Such a majestic formation
must have been sacred to the Indians. I asked who the Indians had been
around here. "Cheyenne and Arapahoe may have made seasonal use of the canyon,"
Dale said. "They never lived here full time." The Water Department was
lucky that it had no Indian rights to contend with. A large bird of prey,
which Ellis and Dale agreed was a goshawk, flew over. All around us, male
grasshoppers were crepitating-snapping their wings-in an effort to attract
HOSTILE though the slope was for plants, quite a few species had managed to take hold on it. Some were ubiquitous roadside plants, like smooth sumac and velvet-leaved mullein. Others were xerophytes, adapted to the dryness-yucca glauca, Plains prickly pear. "Here's some blue grama -montana's food plant," Ellis said. We knelt before a clump of grass whose spikelets, unlike any grass I'd ever seen, shot off from their stalks at right angles, like a pennant. Equally unusual was the arrangement of kernel-like flowers: they were on only one side of the spikelet-the undersideand it looked like a toothbrush. "Blue grama is one of the dominant grasses of the short-grass prairie," Ellis said. "It's also the food plant of pawnee. The feeding ecology of the two subspecies is the same. In fact, the differences between them are purely visual. Montana is a penetration of leonardus that may have been isolated in this canyon sometime after the last Ice Age, and, once here, it began to develop characteristics of its own. Only five miles of hostile habitat, at the bottom of the canyon, separates it from pawnee. Given the opportunity, the two would interbreed. Maybe they do on occasion. Maybe every once in a while, a pawnee blows in here from the foothills."
At that moment, a little orange butterfly-so small and swift and well camouflaged against the orange Grape-Nuts that I wouldn't have noticed it on my own-landed on another clump of blue grama, several yards away. "A female montana," Ellis whispered excitedly. He crawled until it was within a foot of his nose. "All right! I think she's going to oviposit. This has only been seen a few times. Come on, baby." But the montana flew off, leaving Ellis searching vainly for an egg. "It's big and bright and pearly white," he said. "You can't miss it. The females lay one at a time, maybe fifty to a hundred during their brief lifetime." He got to his feet and slapped his thigh. "Damn! That's what's so frustrating. They sit and fly around all day and nothing happens."
Another female landed on my shoulder. "She likes your shirt," Ellis explained. "It's the same color as Liatris." Liatris punctata, which has several common names-blazing star, prairie gay-feather, dotted gay-feather -is montana's nectar plant. Not far away, under a ponderosa pine, we found a clump of it. It had half a dozen flower clusters dripping with feathery lavender petals and bristles. The lavender was a little rosier than my shirt. As if on cue, a third female montana landed on one of the clusters, delicately uncurled its proboscis, and tapped the nectar deep within one of the plant's little trumpets. We were so close we could see velvety green hairs coating its chunky brown body. Still another landed on Dale's jeans. Suddenly, there were dozens of them, flying all around us. Had they come to check us out, or had they been here all the time and were we just now getting them in focus?
Ellis explained what all the montana were doing here: "They are locally abundant wherever both components of their habitat matrix-Liatris and blue grama-come together. But there aren't many spots like this. Over their entire range, their distribution is patchy." That August, he and five assistants had counted montana in forty-eight belt transects. A belt transect is a strip four hundred metres long and ten wide. The transects were selected at random, both above and below the proposed waterline. The counters found an average of only one montana per transect, maybe from one to three individuals per acre. I asked how many there were altogether. "That's a hot controversy," Ellis said. "Everybody wants a number. Very cautiously-we haven't really looke at the numbers yet-I'd say anywhere between seventy-five and a hundred and fifty thousand." And how many of them would be flooded? "We don't know that yet, either. But a lot more than the seventeen per cent we came up with last year. I'd say maybe even as many as forty per cent."
IT was getting hot. We sat under the pines, and Ellis reviewed the butterfly's life cycle from the moment, in late August or early September, when the female lays one of her big white eggs on a blade of blue gramaactually glues it on, with some kind of secretion. The egg hatches in a week or so, and a little larva comes out: pale pinkish, nondescript-no horns or tufts, gaudy spots or stripes. Secretive and solitary, the larva feeds on the grass only at night, and when winter comes it burrows down into the base of a clump of the grass and passes into a torpid state called diapause. Around April, it revives, and probably in the last half of July it pupates. It emerges from its cocoon no earlier than July 31st (at least in the laboratory). By August 15th, the emergence of the males is well along. The females really start coming out between August 20th and 25th. By now-September 5th-the females were dominant. The only males still around were occasional "rags"-old, tattered butterflies. Why the sexes emerge at different times is a mystery. It would seem to be maladaptive, since it reduces the opportunities for reproduction, unless it is a mechanism for population control.
The adult males spend a good deal of the time patrolling-flying from flower to flower taking nectar and trying to find females. Unlike hummingbirds and bees, they don't have a fixed route, a sequence of plants that they visit-they don't "trap-line." They wander around haphazardly within their rather small home range. Few of them probably go more than several hundred yards from where they are born, although they are such strong fliers that they can go a hundred yards in one burst. "They're aggressive, pugnacious little butterflies," Ellis said. "They'll challenge all comers." We watched as a male rag sunning on a boulder was dive-bombed by another male, into whose area he had evidently intruded. They rose to a great height in a kind of dogfight. With their robust bodies, skippers have thermal-mass problems. They have to start the day warming up on a rock, vibrat ing their wings, as bumblebees do.
"When a male spots a female, he flushes her and tumbles around in the air
with her and maybe wafts sexually arousing pheromones in her direction
We drove on down past a group of cabins. Somebody had built a boat in his
back yard which looked like a small ark. I wondered if he knew the plans
for the canyon. "He must be waiting for the flood," I said, to which Ellis
replied, "The species diversity is going to be really low when he sets
out." There was an abandoned hotel at the meeting of the North Fork with
the main stem of the South P1attea relic of the Denver, South Park &
Pacific Railroad. Otherwise, the canyon there was pristine, gloriously
wild, sun-drenched, and filled with butterflies. We stopped to investigate
a stand of musk thistle that was a mecca for them: half a dozen montana
(musk thistle is one of their next-favorite nectar plants), several Hesperia
comma (same genus, but much more common, ranging over Eurasia as well,
differentiated from montana ,by well-defined whitish chevrons on the hindwing
undersides), a ragged Aphrodite (a large, silver-spangled orange fritillary).
We drove up along the South Platte to the little town of Deckers and stopped
for lunch at a log-cabin restaurant, slated to be under a hundred and forty
feet of water. I felt like a condemned man eating his last burrito. Even
if the future of the Pawnee montane skipper weren't at stake, I thought,
the loss of this canyon would be a real shame.
THE West has always been a land of lucrative contracts. Th.e big money in the nineteenth century was made by the people who won the contracts to survey and build the railroads and to supply beef and grain to the Army and the reservation Indians. Since 1969, the year of the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the federal government, before it makes any major decision affecting the environment, to evaluate the decision's consequences, consulting for environmental-impact statements has become a big business in the West, where so much of the land is federally owned.
As a genre of writing, the environmental-impact statement is-in a word-deadly. It has a standard form, dictated by the Council on Environmental Quality: Chapter 1 contains the executive summary; Chapter 2 explains the purpose of and need for the project; Chapter 3 lays out the project proposal and its alternatives; in Chapter 4, the existing environment of the site and its flora and fauna, and the environment and flora and fauna of other sites on which the project might have an impact, are identified and described; in Chapter 5, the impacts and the possibilities for minimizing them are assessed; and the rest is boilerplate -who wrote what, and that sort of thing.
The study for the Two Forks project-including the system-wide and site-specific
impact statements-is thought to be the most extensive and expensive in
history, and it is being financed locally. The technical documentation
it has generated so far stacks to six feet. By the end of this year, its
millions of words and accompanying art will be boiled down to a three-hundred-page
draft; the final version will be published by the Corps of Engineers, the
"lead federal agency," a year from now unless it is delayed by negative
That afternoon, the department's special-projects coordinator, Stephen Work, traced the history of the system-wide statement for me. It was on Halloween of 1982 that work on the statement began. The growth projections and the water-demand-andavailability figures all had to be verified. "Fifty-some alternatives for increasing storage had to be evaluated, and all but three scenarios, each with two long-term nuances, were ruled out for environmental, economic, engineering, or geological reasons," Work said. "We asked what's going to happen after Two Forks, and looked fifty years down the road, at what the Corps calls the linkage issuewhether Two Forks would predispose the system to further environmentally undesirable transmountain diversion projects. Our conclusion was that it wouldn't. The system-wide statement came in at six million nine hundred thousand dollars-very near the estimate of six million seven hundred thousand."
The original estimate for the entire document was nineteen million dollars, but by May of 1984, when work on the site-specific statement started, the new estimate was twenty-five million. By 1985, it had gone up to twenty-seven; by March of 1986, it was thirty-four; today, it was thirty-six and a half. "And I doubt that's the end of it," Work went on. "The site-specific statement got into heavy cost. First, there was the pre design effort-the feasibility and geology studies. The size and type of dam had to be selected." Should it be a gravityconcrete, an earth-fill or rock-fill, or a double-curvature dam? In the end, a six-hundred-and-fifteen-foothigh thin-arched, double-curvature dam was settled on. Double-curvature dams curve both from side to side and from top to bottom-a configuration that gives them double strength.
The main engineering contract, worth $8,165,720, was awarded to Harza Engineering, a Chicago firm. Micro Geophysics, of Wheat Ridge, got $1,677,580 for the seismic studies. "And we hired a number of individual geotechnical consultants-geology professors with expertise in areas like dating faults," Work continued. A couple of hundred thousand dollars' worth of drilling and trenching were involved, and, of course, the estimated cost of the dam had to be determined: it was three hundred and thirty-seven million. "But all this work would have had to be paid for anyway, with or without the impact statement," he reminded me.
During these same two and a half years, the "traditional" environmental studies were undertaken. Wetlands disturbance above and below the site, erosion acceleration, channel stability below the dam (a new concern of the Forest Service, evaluated by Symons & Associates, of Fort Collins, for ninetyseven thousand dollars), vegetation encroachment, overbank flooding, sediment transport-all these had to be examined. On top of these were "nontraditional" investigations, like the recreational study done by Flores & Associates, of Denver, which cost more than half a million dollars$817,000, to be exact. In its present state, South Platte Canyon is very popular with inner-tubers, kayakers, trail bikers (who tear up and down its walls, wrecking montana habitat), and stream fishermen. Turning the river into a lake would drown one of the state's great trout streams. According to Trout Unlimited, there are eight thousand miles of trout stream in Colorado but only fifteen miles are of the calibre of the stretch of the South Platte that will be drowned. The flatwater fishermen, of course, would be delighted at the prospect of a new lake to put their boats on; there's a shortage of flat water around Denver. Flooding the canyon would perhaps triple the number of "recreators" it could accommodate. The Water Department hadn't decided yet how many marinas and launching spots and access roads (which would further destroy montana habitat) it would provide. The dramatic fluctuations of water level that are anticipated if the lake is createdthirty feet when it is high, as much as a hundred and fifty feet when only the lower section, down by the dam, has water-could be a big problem. The lower section would be like the neck of a funnel, Work explained.
A contract awarded to THK, an Englewood firm, to assess the socioeconomic impact brought it more than half a million dollars-$596,430. That seemed a lot, considering that hardly anybody lives in the canyon; but the little towns like Pine and Buffalo Creek were never going to be the same, if what had happened after Dillon Reservoir was created was any example. The firm was also evaluating how fishing and rafting on the Blue River would be affected by the lowering of its water level. The South Platte's hydrology, all the way down to Nebraska, was mostly being done by the Water Department.
The thing that was driving up the cost of the statement and exacting so much detail was, of course, the fear of litigation. Work figured that the production of such a voluminou~ document might not save money, but it would save time, since it could keep the project from being held up or altered in mid-career. The main legal counsel was the Denver firm of Saunders, Snyder, Ross & Dickson, specialists in water rights and environmental law. It was being paid $1,747,000. The suburban participants had spent $880,000 more for their own legal counsel, and $223,381 for public relations. Finally, there were the miscellaneous expenses: $325,000 to a helicopter service; $157,875 for a public-opinion survey on the desirability of dams and flat water versus wilderness and stream recreation; several contracts-not all with the Water Department-adding roughly seventy thousand dollars, for the services of a former environmental aide to the governor as a public and political liaison and consensus builder; $193,975 to the Environmental Caucus-a consortium including the Environmental Defense Fund, the Colorado Mountain Club, the Colorado Environmental Coalition, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Audubon Society-to enable the environmentalists to review the progress of the project and provide feedback as it developed, in the hope that then they would be less inclined to sue.
ONE figure in the Water Department's 1984 Annual Report, which Work gave me a copy of, caught my attention-that for "percapita g.c.d.," or gallons consumed daily. That year, the average Denverite used two hundred and twenty-one gallons of water a day. This figure seemed as much a "scandal" as the cost of the impact statement. Work explained that it represented the total wat~r consumption in the city divided by the number of residents, so it included "a fruit salad" of industrial and commercial as well as residential use, the watering of golf courses, and the unknown usage of the commuters who pour in from the suburbs. He produced a report that showed Denver's per capita g.c.d. to be no more of a scandal than that of other cities: in 1981, when it was 227 gallons, New York's was 166, Cheyenne's 235, Los Angeles's 151, San Francisco's 146, Fort Worth's 285, Phoenix's 238, and Cleveland's a towering 292. "In New York, the g.c.d. is affected by leaks -it's an old system," Work explained. "Out here, the dryness and the need to keep things green make a mess out of our g.c.d." Denver has an evaporation problem, he said. Swimming pools, reservoirs, and other surfaces of standing water there drop three feet a year. During the hot months, eighty per cent of the residential use, which accounts for half of Denver's total consumption, is for watering lawns.
The maintenance of a healthy green lawn is an obli~ation and a statement in American culture, In Denver, it is even more than that; it is a major pastime and a recreational therapy, practically an obsession. I remembered from a visit to Denver in August of 1967 that everybody was out watering. Now the watering was more automated. Wherever I looked as I drove around that afternoon and evening between appointments, fans of fine spray were arcing slowly over glistening greensward, jets were spurting, flicking in revolutions. "If you want anything growing besides native things, you have to irrigate," Doris Kaplan, a colleague of Ruetz's in the Water Department's community-affairs section, told me. (Professionals don't speak of watering or sprinkling.) "The cities and towns in the West are the only green around. You have to figure out if it's worth a little water. You have to have something to look at out here. A lot of people in Denver who belong to certain age groups and income levels don't get up to the mountains. What they have in the way of environment is right there, and when they know that it isn't going to rain they get into a routine whereby they water."
Some critics of the Two Forks project maintain that South Platte Canyon
and the Pawnee montane skipper are being sacrificed for new lawns in Denver.
One biologist claims that if the residents of Aurora alone planted buffalo
grass instead of Kentucky bluegrass Denver wouldn't need a new reservoir.
Not only does Kentucky bluegrass need lots of water, he says, but it has
caused an explosion around the metropolitan area of tawny-edged skippers,
an undistinguished species whose larvae eat it.
WORK'S assessment of the skipper's impact on the dam was that it would be "more of a thorn than a big problem," and he seems to have been correct. On September 26th, the Fish and Wildlife Service formally proposed that Hesperia leonardus montana be listed as a threatened, not an endangered, species, and the proposal was published in the Federal Register. The habitat of a threatened species can also be designated as critical, but montana's was not. The conclusion was that the species would survive. "We're going to get the protection we want," Jim Miller, Fish and Wildlife's regional listing coordinator, told me. "Even if we don't have critical habitat, we've still got the Section 7 consultation process. The W ater Department is going to have to consult with us-closely-before it does anything." And Fish and Wildlife could still declare the canyon a Category 1 (irreplaceable) Resource. That would make it very hard for the department to get its right-of-way and dredge-and-fill permits, though not as hard as if montana had been designated an endangered species with critical habitat.
Jim Scott was upset by the decision. He worries that with the lake there a prolonged period of cold could wipe out the remaining skippers; they wouldn't be able to move down into the lower, warmer reaches of the canyon.
A Fish and Wildlife employee I talked with said he thought that the threatened-species listing was a sellout. "Of course montana's endangered," he said. "Fifty per cent of its habitat is going to be flooded, but that's the choice habitat, where most of the montana live, so maybe seventyfive per cent of the population will drown. And nobody really knows how the microclimate of the remaining habitat is going to be changed. It's unquestionably going to become more humid, and montana needs dryness."
Then why hadn't it been proposed for the endangered-species list? "Something this big has got to have politics in it all the way from the top down," the Fish and Wildlife man said bitterly. "The reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act has been stalled since 1985. Congress could easily rescind it. The protection of rare life forms is not a priority of the Reagan Administration. It doesn't like the idea of multimillion-dollar projects' being held hostage by butterflies. So we've got to play it cool. We've got to look down the road and consider all the other endangered species around the country that still need protecting."