Ignore turtle at nature’s risk

It is clear that the Milford selectmen have no interest in what Suzanne Fournier has to say about the environmental issues she sees at the Brox property. That’s fine. They can, if they wish, ignore the concerns of Fournier, a member of the Brox Environmental Citizens group. They can ignore anything or anyone they wish. They listen politely to Fournier each time she brings up an issue, and then they go about their other business.

Here is a recent comment from selectmen’s Chairman Mark Fougere, who wrote in an email to The Cabinet: "The board listened to Ms. Fournier’s presentation; needless to say we do not agree with her arguments, which has been the case for most of her opinions relative to Brox."

The latest issue involved the town’s plans for a gravel removal operation at Brox that could threaten, if nothing else, a rare turtle known to be on the property. But …

It is one thing to listen politely to and then ignore Fournier’s concerns. It is quite another if the selectmen decide to ignore the concerns of Audrey Fraizer, the chairwoman of the town’s Conservation Commission, who told The Cabinet that the selectmen apparently have no plan to protect Brox wetlands and wildlife from an excavation. "The selectmen are not being conscientious," she said. "Someone should have a plan, and they don’t." And she wasn’t out there on her own. She was speaking for the Conservation Commission.

We think the commission’s concerns must be taken seriously. How can they not be? She is the chairwoman of the Conservation Commission, and thus has a vested interest in conserving the town’s environment. Ignore Fournier if they will (and that could be a grave mistake), but the selectmen really shouldn’t be ignoring the town’s top environmental official. We know, of course, that over the years and throughout the nation, many developmental projects have been stopped or altered because of environmental concerns, sometimes over a small, obscure fish or bird. And there are people, in and out of government, who think environmentalists take such things too seriously. They think, it seems, that development should come before the well-being of obscure creatures.

Is it such a big deal if they die out? Do we notice that the dodo is missing? Who grieves for the passenger pigeon? Are you desolate about the great auk? The saber-tooth tiger? The Steller’s sea cow? We hardly notice they’re gone. Yes, but they’re gone, and that’s the point. How many other creatures will disappear in the name of development? Or gravel removal?

At Brox, the issue is the Blanding’s turtle, which is regarded as endangered in New Hampshire. According to the state Fish and Game Department, it is illegal to possess, sell, import, harass, injure or kill them. Gravel removal could do one or all of the latter three.

Our problem is that we generally have great faith in Milford’s selectmen. We know and respect them all and believe, sincerely, that they have the best interests of the town at heart, which leads us to believe, sincerely, that they believe removing gravel from Brox is in the town’s best economic interests. We get it. But the environment has to count for something, as does the Blanding’s turtle.

As Fraizer, of the Conservation Commission, said, "My fear is that things will happen, and we’ll be trying to catch up." Just as we’re trying to catch up around the country with ground, air and water pollution. We agree with Frazier that "things" could happen, and we’ll be playing catch-up in some way we can’t now anticipate.