Friday, February 20, 2009

The Cat's Paw

Not so long ago, if the manager of a federal forest in Colorado tried to halt expansion of a ski resort, or to put the kibosh on a timber thinning project, by arguing that these actions might damage lynx habitat, he or she would have been laughed out of the room. That's because there were no lynx in Colorado, not so long ago.

But the state made a terrible mistake seven if eight years back, by agreeing to play host to an experimental colony of lynx, as part of a reintroduction effort. It seemed a reasonable compromise at the time: We'll do something to see if lynx can be restored to the Southern Rockies (which is the edge of their historic range), if the feds won't use that against us later, by pounding us with the regulatory sledge hammer called the Endangered Species Act.

The experiment held out promise not just for the cats -- who have done reasonably well after a rough start -- but for the possibility of a more reasonable application of this notoriously rigid law. But it was probably destined to blow up in our face, since there can be no compromise with environmental extremists, and with some federal regulators, once they have the bludgeon of the ESA at their disposal.

So now we in Colorado, as a reward for our good deed, are being punished, by seeing lynx habitat used as a reason to block this or that use of public lands, in violation of the agreement we thought we had with the feds. Not only is lynx habitat being raised as a possible objection to ski resort expansion, but it's being used to obstruct forest restoration projects designed to remove diseased stands and reduce the wildfire threat.

Instead of celebrating the day these wonderful animals were returned to the state, and demonstrating that a little flexibility and reasonableness from Washington can encourage cooperation instead of conflict, many Coloradans are kicking themselves for being such schmucks. Instead of a blessing, the cats are becoming a curse.

But so it goes with the Endangered Species Act.

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