Snail Darter Politics

Do you remember the snail darter? It’s a small member of the perch family whose status as endangered help to halt dam construction on Little Tennessee River in the 1970s. Despite being halted by the US Supreme Court, construction of the Tellico Dam was completed thanks to a sneaky move by congressional supporters.

Often our goal of a functional ecosystem for all to enjoy is skewed by opponents as “us versus them” – “us” being humans, and “them” being “stupid little fish” (as coined by Congressman Devin Nunes, R-CA). But as this article concludes – “when we fight to save a river, we fight to save part of ourselves”.


… As global climate change continues, we will see more frequent and more severe droughts, reduced river flows, and greater conflict over leaving sufficient water in rivers to sustain fish and wildlife and the rivers themselves. Whenever there is conflict over a river, and how its water should be used, the ghost of the snail darter looms again. It is convenient for those who favor damming and diverting water from our rivers to paint a picture in which the choice is for either people or fish, particularly if it is just a “stupid little fish” like the snail darter or the delta smelt. As these conflicts deepen, it will be increasingly important to remember that the fight over the snail darter was more than just a fight to save a tiny fish. It was a fight to save a river, one that was itself endangered and crucial to the lives, livelihoods, and heritage of the people who loved it. Thus, the true lesson of the snail darter is that when we fight to save a river, we fight to save part of ourselves.


Article by: William Robert Irvin

Published: February 24, 2014

Published by: American Rivers

Read full article here.