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Snail Darters and Amphibians

“Hump smarter, save the snail darter,” Zygmunt Plater read off a package of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Endangered Species Condoms, which were given out to attendees of the UO’s Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in early March. 

The questionably witty rhyme got the packed audience laughing in the EMU ballroom on the afternoon of March 3 for the keynote speakers of the day. The subject at hand was a case near and dear to Plater, who is a faculty member at Boston College Law School. 

Plater has served as petitioner and lead counsel in a case involving the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The snail darter was crucial to his argument that went before the Supreme Court. The TVA had put dams all over the state flooding small farmers’ lands and damaging wildlife habitats, but these concerns weren’t enough leverage to bring a suit. 

According to Plater, the key was the Endangered Species Act, which had recently been passed at the time in 1973. Under this legislation, the snail darter was endangered and needed to be protected. The Tellico Dam threatened its protection. Plater made his case based on this and won, but the dams were built anyway thanks to a congressional amendment exempting the snail darter from the ESA.

The second keynote speaker that afternoon was Tyrone Hayes, a biologist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley. In his research, Hayes has focused on how chemicals can affect amphibian development. He has studied these dangers throughout the U.S. and Africa.

Hayes had found that certain herbicides such as atrazine can feminize male amphibians. He urged that this is not only a risk to wildlife, but to humans too and especially to those in lower-income areas who tend to be less informed about the dangers surrounding pesticides. Locally, atrazine is widely used as a forestry pesticide, and members of the Triangle Lake community have tested positive for its presence in their urine. For more information on Hayes’ research go to atrazinelovers.com