The Wizard of NMFS

A salmonid allegory

The story so far: It is a calm day in the Sound of Puget. Dorothy, our heroine, is washing her sports utility vehicle in the driveway of her 6000 square-foot farmhouse, fresh from applying herbicides to the north-forty acres of lawn. Her pet sea lion, Herschel, frolics in the suds that run down the driveway into the storm sewer. Suddenly, the sky turns dark and a tornado appears: It is the Endangered Species Act. Dorothy tries to escape but is caught up in the funnel cloud. Just before losing consciousness, she sees hundreds of fish whirling around her. To her horror, she realizes the salmon in the Sound of Puget have become endangered!
Dorothy and Herschel awake to find themselves in the Kingdom of the National Marine Fisheries Service, or, as it is commonly called, the Land of NMFS. In the Land of NMFS, the Endangered Species Act reigns supreme, and the salmon must be protected or else.

Stretching out in front of them is a yellow-brick road with numerous potholes and detours. They soon learn that this road leads to the Emerald City of Science, home of the Wizard of NMFS. Determined to get back home, Dorothy and Herschel set out down the road. Along the way, they encounter many lions and tigers and bears, and accumulate some interesting travel companions: Fat Cat, who predicts disaster if the lions and tigers and bears are protected; Chicken Little, who predicts disaster if the lions and tigers and bears go extinct; and the Cowardly Politician, who predicts disaster if she doesn’t get a larger budget. They eventually arrive at the Emerald City, where they are granted an audience with the Wizard . . .

Chapter Seven
In which our heroine learns what lies behind the curtain

All (singing): We’re off to see the Wizard,
the wonderful Wizard of NMFS,
becuz, becuz, becuz, becuz, becuzzzzzzzzzz . . .
becuz he’ll save the salmon for us!!

(They enter a long hallway with a slick, polished floor and dozens of side openings, each leading into a Bureaucratic Maze. As they approach the end of the hallway, flames erupt and a gigantic apparition appears, wrapped in a white cloak.)


Dorothy: We need your help, O Great Wizard! I would like to get back to the Sound of Puget; Fat Cat needs a heart; Chicken Little needs a brain; and the Cowardly Politician needs some courage. And we all want to save the salmon. We appeal to your fount of wisdom: Science!

Wizard: Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia!! No, wait, that’s for the Columbia river people – sorry.

Let’s take a look at your list: hearts, brains, courage. These have nothing to do with Science! I will tell you what you need . . .

(Vapors rise from cracks in the floor as the Wizard sinks deep into thought,
the vision of Science about to be revealed . . .)

You, Fat Cat!! (Flaming dollar bills shoot high into the air.) You must present me with a Habitat Conservation Plan, in which you promise to restore the entire Duwamish watershed to its properly functioning condition. In exchange, I will give you a permit for developing a few measly acres of land that once were a toxic waste dump.

You, Chicken Little!! (A piece of the ceiling comes crashing to the floor, landing squarely on Herschel. He is unaffected.) You must withdraw your 238 lawsuits, including the one for misspelling the Latin name of chinook salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha. In return, I will threaten local government officials with jail time and huge fines unless they pass stronger regulations governing car washes.

You, Cowardly Politician!! (A ghostly image appears, vaguely resembling a voting booth.) You must make many promises that extend beyond the next election, despite the loud laughter you will hear, and then pass new regulations and raise taxes. In exchange, I will not send you to jail (see Chicken Little above).

And you, Dorothy, what is it you wanted again?

Dorothy: Once, the runs of salmon were so strong that we could cross a stream by walking on their backs! Then the dams came, and the gill netters, and the loggers and farmers and ranchers – they took my salmon away! I want the salmon back, not just for me, but for my children, and their children, and their children’s third cousins, and – well, you get the drift. By the way, do you know where I can get a skinny-no-foam-triple-mocha? And how do I get to the nearest shopping mall?

Wizard: Dorothy, the answer has always been as plain as the white cloak I’m wearing. Just close your eyes, click your heels together, and repeat after me: The Best Available Science, The Best Available Science, The Best Available Science . . .

(Dorothy closes her eyes, clicks her heels, and repeats the Wizard’s mantra.
A cloud of smoke envelops the travelers.
When the smoke clears, all have vanished – except Dorothy, who opens her eyes and looks around with great consternation.)

Dorothy: Hey! What’s the deal!! (She spies a small opening to the side, covered by a gray curtain. She approaches.)

Wizard: Do not open that curtain!! (Dorothy pulls the curtain aside, revealing a room with a gigantic machine labeled “Federal Government” and a small man pulling levers and pushing buttons.) Ignore that man!! (The small man pushes a big red button in the middle of the machine. Sirens flash and alarms sound.)

Dorothy: What is all that? How do I get home? And what about the salmon?!?!?

(The Wizard disappears, and the small man steps out from the machine room.)

Small Man: I’m sorry, Dorothy, but you leave me no choice. I will now show you the True Path to your home – you must Change the Way You Live! Give up your SUV and use public transit!! Return half your lawn to a properly functioning stream buffer!!! Support a $2.8 billion storm sewer levy!!!! And turn in your Nordstrom’s charge card!!!!!

Dorothy: No! NO!!! NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

(Sobbing, Dorothy runs from the hallway, doomed to wander the Land of NMFS forever.)

(Soon after Dorothy leaves, another group of travelers arrive.
They are members of the Sound of Puget’s original population: The Tribes!
They approach the small man.)

Tribal members: We have come to see the Wizard.

Small Man: I’m sorry, but do you have an appointment?

Tribal members: Appointment? We don’t need no appointment . . .


Chapter Eight
In which the Small Man Learns to Say, “Boldt Decision”