THE TORTOISE AND THE HAIR
No,no. It's not a typo. You're reading that title and thinking..."he misspelled 'hare'", but it is no mistake. This column details how a turtle, well, lot's of turtles, actually made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Truthfully, I don't have any hair on the back of my neck, but if I did, it would have been standing up when I read a news item explaining a recent military debacle. Not a battlefield type of thing, a policy type of thing. Most of us remember, a few decades ago, when the exorbitant cost of military supplies and equipment began to leak into the daily press. Remember the $100.00 toilet seat? The $200.00 hammer? Since then, as with all government spending, we seem to roll over for it like beached whales waiting for the dart. We joke about it, at least I do, practically non-stop because it is, after all, a non-stop source of entertainment.
Perhaps the recent financial meltdown on Wall Street, Main Street and every street in Europe has taken the comedic sheen off of these stories. Or maybe, it's just the ones that catch our attention now are so utterly fantastic that they are foisted into a league of their own. They are the cream of the crop. The Grammy-Winners. They have to be just to get our attention. So this story fell into that category for me.
Two weeks ago the Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin in California's Mojave Desert, suspended it's massive "Turtle Relocation Program" in the face off some developments, the possibility of which, were apparently overlooked during the development phase of this program. "I'll have what they're smoking", was my first thought when I pondered the vision of Military High-Brass sitting around a 1-acre Walnut table at the Pentagon, planning this brilliant maneuver.
You see, the $8.7 million plan was to relocate thousands of California Desert Tortoises from a planned combat training ground, to nearby public lands. Phase 1 began last March when 670 of the little creatures were airlifted...yes, airlifted, by helicopter out of the southern portion of the base to their new homes in the drought-stricken western Mojave Desert. I thought turtles liked water, but I guess these are desert turtles. What they don't like, as it turned out, are coyotes. Why would they? So far, coyotes have eaten 90 of the "new-to-the-neighborhood" snack food. These numbers, by the way, come from federal biologists who are monitoring the project. Good work if you can get it.
So one just has to wonder, doesn't one, who is watching the cash register? These are the stories that make my hare stand on end (not a typo). While the rest of us struggle to make ends meet, another federal disaster evaporates another few million. I have no doubt that my son's sixth-grade Earth Science class could have done a better job planning and instituting a plan to develop a combat training area, and to relocate these little creatures to a place where they could survive. It would seem redundant to ask if anyone bothered to check the proposed relocation area for signs of any tortoise-predators. I know myself, from years of attending the "Annual Tortoise-Coyote Races", that the turtles do not do well when racing the coyotes. I also suspect, that even without a biology degree, I could have sensed a problem with the plan long before the 90th turtle became an oyster-on-the-halfshell for another mangy desert-dog.
"We shut it down because of the mortality rate," said John Wagstaff, spokesman for the base. "It will remain on hold until the Army and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determine the reasons behind it." I'd love to be a fly on the wall at that meeting. I wonder how much that study will cost. Hey, John, let me help you out. The reason behind it? You brought the turtles to a place infested with coyotes. The coyotes, doing what coyotes do, ate the turtles. It would have been quicker, cheaper, and saved a lot of helicopter-time, to shoot the turtles where they were. Or, brought the coyotes to the turtles by Jeep.
I'm sure it will be months before a report on this "failure" is released. I'm still wondering about that line about the "mortality rate". Was he talking about the turtles...or our tax dollars?