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EDITORIAL: Killing Nevada’s million-dollar fish

The Devil’s Hole pupfish might be the most expensive swimmer on the planet.

Despite being listed as an endangered species and enjoying decades of overpriced federal protection, the fish’s numbers keep falling, from an estimated high of 544 in 1990 to just 35 this spring. There are all sorts of pupfish, of course, but none exactly like the ragtag band of survivors gutting it out inside Devil’s Hole, an extraordinarily deep but narrow pool northwest of Pahrump. Untold sums of money — $20 million? $30 million? — have been poured into the hole.

Yet the more the federal government spends to save the pupfish, the more they die off. The campaign to save the species from extinction makes the Obamacare rollout look like the Manhattan Project.

Already, Devil’s Hole is protected by barbed wire, a security system and solar-powered, 24-hour video surveillance. A dedicated team of scientists feeds the pupfish five times per week. And about four months ago, as reported Sunday by the Review-Journal’s Henry Brean, the U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service opened a $4.5 million research facility less than a mile from the pool. It includes a 100,000-gallon tank that perfectly replicates Devil’s Hole. The lab costs about $250,000 per year to operate.

Wow. Talk about sticker shock.

Now a multiagency team has successfully collected eggs from Devil’s Hole and hatched them inside the lab. Ten of the 14 hatched fish have died.

“We spend a lot of time watching every single egg and every single larvae,” aquaculturalist Olin Feuerbacher said.

We’re from the government, and we’re here to help.

Obviously, the lab has no mirrors. Because as researchers burn through millions of tax dollars, struggling to come to grips with the exact cause of the fish’s demise, they refuse to consider an obvious possibility: They’re behind the pupfish’s population woes.

But Washington’s institutional aversion to accountability — in which no one is fired and every self-inflicted problem gets a bigger budget — rewards nonperformance. Will someone dare suggest we pack up and leave Devil’s Hole alone, just to see how Mother Nature responds? Can we at least turn the pupfish research lab into a lodge and spa, or put it to some other productive purpose, when the last fish passes away?

If Devil’s Hole were renamed the Black Hole, it would be the perfect metaphor for the behemoth federal bureaucracy, broke and piling up debt, completely unable to prioritize spending. As we’ve written for years, the government won’t ever stop trying to save the Devil’s Hole pupfish. Even if it kills the pupfish. Even if it takes every last dime of your money.

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