“Everything is connected to everything else,” Zygmunt Plater, a professor at Boston School of Law, declared on Thursday night in Vollum Lecture Hall, in a lecture about the endangered snail darter. Plater, an environmental lawyer, has worked on seven law faculties and written a number of articles about varius endangered species, a subject very close to his heart.
The snail darter, a one and a half inch long fish found in freshwater, was discovered by a group of fisherman in 1973. The fisherman had never seen the snail darter before, and its rarity immediately brought the little critter to the attention of the scientific community. On August 12, 1973, University of Tennessee biologist David Etnier declared the snail darter an endangered species.
In 1973, the Tennessee River already featured sixty-eight dams and another, the Tellico Dam, was in the dockets. With twenty-four major dams already within fifty miles of this project, the Tellico Dam would completely halt the natural current of the river, mud would pile on top of the gravel where the snail darters bury their eggs, and the snail darters would suffocate.
Not everyone was sympathetic to the defenseless snail darter. Plater read off a few quotes from some right wing conservatives who did not seem to concern themselves with ‘lesser’ creatures. Plater’s favorite is a Rush Limbaugh quote, “ Limbaugh said, ‘Huge hydroelectric dam halted by tiny fish…environmental extremism…homo-socialism!’ I don’t even know what a homo-socialist is.” Plater said.
The Tellico Dam would do more than just run the snail darter into extinction, it would also flood 330 family farms. TVA convinced the community that the building of the dam would create more jobs and was, in the end, good for the community, causing them to turn against the farmers and their farms. Support was turning to the positive for the building of the Tellico Dam.
The God Committee, people against the Tellico Dam, said the following: “Here is a project that is 95% complete, and if one takes just the cost of finishing it, against the total project benefits, and does it properly, it still doesn’t pay…which says something about the original design!”
Because an endangered species was at risk, environmental lawyers, including Plater, were able to build a strong case against TVA and the Tellico Dam. Not only could the farms be saved if the case was won, but the snail darters would be spared as well. The news kept the possible destruction of the farms secret, convincing people the only disadvantage of building the dam was the extinction of the snail darter. As a result judges and juries, thinking this case was solely about the snail darter, ruled for the building of the dam. TVA burned down farmhouses, built the dam, and flooded the remnants of the farms. 330 farms disappeared and the snail darters were relocated to a new area to save them from extinction.
Plater, turned his anger and frustration from the outcome of the Tellico case into motivation to inform other people about the issue in hopes of preventing similar things in the future. “Everything is connected to everything else,” Plater explained. The snail darter was connected to the river, which was connected to the farmers, yet only the snail darter got the public attention, leading to the loss of a case, the loss of 330 family farms, and the near extinction of a tiny fish.