American Elephants


Endangered, Threatened, And Extinct Species vs. Bureaucracy. by The Elephant's Child

the utah prairie dog cynomys parvidens is a federally threatened mammal species found only in parts of souther Utah
(davewelling. photoshelter.com)

The Endangered Species Act became law on December 28, 1973, forty years ago.  A law intended to conserve species and habitat has meant recovery for less than 2% of the approximately 2,100 species listed as endangered or threatened, but as an industry for enriching lawyers and environmental activist groups it has been remarkably successful. Benefiting the environment? Not so much.

The law was well intentioned, but was meant to depend on science and data. The bureaucrats in charge have administer the law poorly and ignored provisions designed to promote good science and good sense. In the late 1970s, officials erased the distinction between different levels of endangered species listings. Originally it was only when an animal or plant was labeled “endangered” — on the verge of disappearing — that landowners were hit with heavy regulations, including prohibitions on activities that could “harm” or ‘harass” the species. The Carter administration extended these restrictions to species that are “threatened” — in trouble but not facing extinction.

It is not easy to tell when a species is “endangered.” Wild animals prefer to avoid humans, which makes it hard to count them. And if there is only a small population here, is there another on the other side of the mountain? Animals move in response to food.  Animals have predators. It is very, very complicated.

Polar bears were supposed to be “endangered” but they found enough to call them “threatened,” but those designations were based on flawed predictions of melting Arctic Sea ice. The globe warms and cools in natural cycles and the bears have done fine through both cycles. Emperor penguins were supposed to be heading toward extinction in the Antarctic — again based on predictions of vanishing ice. The predictions have been wrong, the globe has not warmed for over 17 years. In 2009, the Beverly herd of Caribou which numbered over 200,000 a decade previously could not be found. But a more diligent search turned them up right where the aboriginal elders said they would be.

If there is a project that environmental activists don’t like, they will fan out over the land involved, searching for a species that might be useful to delay or halt the project.

In Cedar City, in southwest Utah, Endangered Species Act regulations have given the Utah prairie dog the run of the town since it was listed in 1973. The rabbit-size rodent is now listed as “threatened” even though there now seem to be around 40,000 in the area. Residents cannot take measures to control the population nor even try to relocate the animals to federal property. Federal regulation is not amenable to common sense. Homeowners’ yards are pockmarked, mounds and tunnels on airport property create real hazards on runways and taxiways. At one airport hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent to prevent prairie dog infestation.

Small business owner Bruce Hughes bought a 3.4 acre parcel to develop. “Then the prairie dogs moved in,” making it impossible to use the property productively.”If I killed even one, it would be a $10,000 fine and five years in federal prison. I could rob a convenience store and get off easier.” A lesson in small government where legislation should be made as close to the people concerned as possible.

Many of the most damaging Endangered Species regulations come from federal “biological opinions” issued by U.S. Fish and Wildlife or NOAA staff. Man-made drought in the San Joaquin Valley came from a “biop” that claimed that irrigation harmed a tiny fish, the delta smelt. To protect the smelt, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ordered severe restrictions on water deliveries by government water projects. At the height of the man-made drought, hundreds of thousands of acres went fallow, and unemployment in some communities reached 40%. And with so many acres lying fallow in the great Central Valley breadbasket, the cost of your groceries went up.

If the law is to be retained, its execution needs drastic reform, reliance on poorly informed science needs to stop, and some consideration needs to be paid to the jobs and communities involved. If you are interested, enter “Not Extinct” in the search bar over Bob Hope’s head. Seems that nearly a third of supposedly extinct species aren’t, which is good news indeed.

 

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