January 16, 2006
Terms of Endangerment: Not Saving the Species
By Michael D. Shaw
What happens when Green politics and common sense collide? The casualty is usually common sense, and the result—the extremist fallout of this partisan agenda—is a series of policies that seek to protect the environment by destroying industry, increasing taxes, and expanding bureaucratic red tape. Chief among these statutes is the Endangered Species Act (ESA), legislation that, however well intentioned, simply does not work. Its outcome in no way justifies its costs, science is often completely disregarded, and its fruits are largely nothing more than a collection of failures and gross oversights.
The Act does, however, enable the federal government to behave with virtual impunity against homeowners and businesses, while barely safeguarding the very animals it seeks to protect. In fact, a significant number of species under the Act’s protection are, since the ESA’s creation, now extinct. Thus, it would seem that Mother Nature is a far more powerful force than Uncle Sam, or the forecasts of a collection of economists and ideologues. Wow! This ecology stuff really works, after all.
Meanwhile, the financial hardships imposed by the Act are a big problem, since people rarely receive any form of just compensation for the taking of property on behalf of the interests of, say, an “endangered” Hawaiian hawk, Tinian monarch, or Pahrump poolfish. In just one example, 1400 farmers owning 200,000 acres in the Klamath River Basin of southern Oregon and Northern California were denied their water rights during the summer of 2001. An estimated $200 million of life savings and hard work were wiped out instantly as the farmers were left with essentially worthless land. In short, the Endangered Species Act endangers Homo sapiens far more often than it rescues obscure animals.
Created in 1973, the Act remains unable to achieve its mission. Since its inception, over 1,100 species have been listed as endangered or threatened, but only 27 species have been delisted. Unfortunately, none of these 27 species recovered because of positive actions instituted by the federal government under ESA. Though Greens may choose to ignore this fact, their preferred prophet, Charles Darwin, rebukes them at every corner. That is, these 27 species are not among the fittest that survive, and no amount of federal legislation can change this. What was that about “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men”?
Beyond this, the Act’s broad definition of “harm” enables officials to eschew science in their decision making. According to the Heritage Foundation, which initiated a comprehensive review of ESA:
“The cutting down of a few trees, for example, does not necessarily constitute harm to a species; nor does a landowner necessarily injure a bird by modifying its potential habitat.”
Makes sense. The overriding precept here must be common sense, unless we want to sacrifice mankind for the protection of a handful of animals that, left to their devices, will be extinct on their own.
Finally, five of the species the Act seeks to protect are already extinct: the Guam broadbill, Mariana mallard, and three species of the Oahu tree snail. Twelve other species are no longer even on the list because of faulty or incomplete data, including the Truckee barberry, Virginia northern flying squirrel, and Tidewater goby. Notwithstanding assertions about protecting animals on the “best available scientific and commercial data,” the Act often relies on questionable research devoid of peer review. That, and occasional cooking of the data, as in the infamous 2001 case of wildlife biologists planting false evidence of a rare and threatened Canadian lynx in the Wenatchee and Gifford Pinchot National Forests in Washington state.
Far from inaugurating a grand new era of environmentalism, the Endangered Species Act imposes an unfair cost on citizens, while barely making a dent on the actions of Mother Nature. Along with its use of highly charged theories and overtly political ideas, the Act represents another example of efforts to put ideology ahead of science, with predictably bad results.
Imagine that: A government program that doesn’t work.