Thursday, August 20, 2009

Animal Crackers

The Endangered Species Act to most Americans is just a law they've heard about, which might even give them a warm and fuzzy tickle deep inside. To many Westerners it's synonymous with tyranny -- an all-powerful presence that licenses the federal government to trample property rights, destroy jobs, obstruct energy development and restrict access to supposedly "public" lands, all to "protect" a subsegment of a subspecies that some graduate student says is rare.

It's the law that eco-Luddites use to dictate public lands policies and thwart any sort of development or economic activity they find objectionable. Discover a new natural gas field in the Rocky Mountain region and in no time flat, almost miraculously, a host of rare plants or animals -- all in dire need of protection -- will be discovered there. It's the silver bullet that can stop any infrastructure project: any roadway, dam, reservoir, power plant, pipeline. Even some "clean energy" projects -- the only kinds of energy projects eco-Luddites embrace -- are being stymied by the ESA. All you need to do is identify something allegedly rare living or growing in the targeted project's vicinity and -- voilĂ ! -- you have a reason to say "no."

So whenever most Westerners read about the latest list of species, subspecies, or "distinct population segments" proposed for ESA protections, they greet the news with dread, not delight. It only evokes glee among federal biocrats (biologist-bureaucrats), who will see their power and budgets enhanced when the listings (and the regulatory controls that come with them) take place, and among eco-Luddites and their lawyers, who will use the listings to destroy jobs, drive up energy costs and thwart progress.

"Twenty-nine species in more than 20 states -- from a rare beach-dwelling plant in Yellowstone National Park to a caddis fly in Nebraska -- may need federal protections to avoid extinction, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," reports the Associated Press. "Fourteen of the 29 species appear in Utah, including 10 plant species and a small silvery minnow called the Northern leatherside chub. The agency said Tuesday that 20 plants, six snails, two insects and a fish may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act."

This stems from a 2007 listing petition made by WildEarth Guardians, which proposed more than 200 new species for protection, most of them in the West. The Fish and Wildlife Service rejected 165 of the candidates and delayed a decision on 38. But the listing of even 29 new species could have profound impacts on Westerners -- and on non-Westerners who get their energy from Western sources -- depending on where the species are found.

Here are the species that made the cut (each of which is of course critical to the survival of the planet):

Yellowstone Sand Verbena in Wyoming
Ross' bentgrass in Wyoming
Hamilton milkvetch in Colorado and Utah
Isely milkvetch in Utah
Skiff milkvetch in Colorado
Precocious milkvetch in Wyoming
Cisco milkvetch in Utah
Schmoll milkvetch in Colorado
Fremont County rockcress in Wyoming
Boat-shaped bugseed in Colorado
Pine springs cryptantha in Arizona, Utah
Weber whitlowgrass in Colorado
Brandegee's wild buckwheat in Colorado
Frisco buckwheat in Utah
Ostler's peppergrass in Utah
Lesquerella navajoensis in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah
Flowers pentemon in Utah
Gibben's beardtongue in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming
Pale blue-eyed grass in North Dakota, Oregon, Washington
Frisco clover in Utah

Frigid ambersnail in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin
Bearmouth mountainsnail in Montana
Byrne Resort mountainsnail in Montana
Longitudinal gland pyrg in Nevada, Utah
Hamlin Valley pyrg in Utah
Sub-globose snake pyrg in Utah

Platte River caddis fly in Nebraska
Meltwater lednian stonefly in Montana

Northern leatherside chub in Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming

That you've never heard of these plants and animals is irrelevant. That they may seem laughably insignificant, or may seem related to one another (like the 5 or 6 types of milkvetch included), and that their names may sound funny -- none of this matters under the ESA. That some of these aren't actually species, but subspecies of subspecies, also doesn't matter. Such judgments must be left to myopic federal biocrats, who can't see the implications of anything beyond what's on the microscope, and for whom cost-benefit analysis is an alien concept.

All creatures are created equal in the eyes of the ESA, meaning the Meltwater lednian stonefly is as worthy of protection as the bald eagle or a grizzly bear, no matter the cost to taxpayers, no matter the consequences for land owners. It's arrogant species-centrism to argue that some animals are more worthy of federal protection than others. Noah didn't discriminate; we can't either.

This is the insanity of an environmental law run wild. Yet few in Washington have the courage to admit that it's gotten completely out of control, lest they face the wrath of the Environmental Anxiety Industry. And non-Westerners in Congress have little reason to call for ESA reform, since the law's costs and consequences weigh relatively lightly (at least for now) on their constituents.

Past administrations have tried to slow the listing process down a bit, arguing that USFWS was financially and logistically swamped by the species-related work already on its plate. Much of what the agency should be spending on protection it instead spends on lawyers, to deal with the dozens of ESA-related lawsuits going at any one time. But it's doubtful the Obama administration will show any similar restraint when it comes to listing decisions, given the strong political ties it has to Gang Green.

Budget limitations aren't a reason for the agency not to act under this president. Bureaucratic inertia is the only hope Westerners have of slowing the regulatory deluge that threatens. This is one case in which federal red tape, "analysis paralysis" and the natural lethargy of the leviathan might actually be a blessing.


Anonymous said...

So where are the names and e-mail addresses of the bureaucrats? Can't make any complaints if there isn't anyone accountable to make a complaint to.

Anonymous said...

If you dont like the law - change it. I think it is quite reasonable to expect the Federal government to do its work and enforce the law. Good luck changing this law - I think it is quite popular.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article. I remember watching a special (on PBS of all places) on the environmental people out in California protecting a less than one inch fish and so it destroyed all these farm jobs. I watched as a grown man nearly wept losing his work and having to take a handout as a result. Here was a man who wanted to work but couldnt because of these enviromental fascists. I wondered how we as a country can stop them and take down this agency. Why does our govt keep creating this big agencies which then terroize the American taxpayer? As the pother poster said - who are these people and how can we protest?

Sean Paige said...

There are thousands of bio-crats burrowed into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so it's impossible to provide e-mail addresses for them. And it wouldn't do any good, since they serve the interests of the agency, not the people who have to live under the regulations that the agency cranks out. Ken Salazar is the Secretary of the Interior, which runs the USFWS, but he, too, is in league with Gang Green.

In response to another poster: Several stabs at ESA reform have been made, but all have failed for the reasons I state in the post. It's a holy grail for the nature worshippers. The environmental lobby is among the most powerful in Washington, and the ESA is its ticket to power. Nuff said?

As to the popularity of the ESA: It might be popular in Boulder, Missoula and a few other urban areas, where its effects aren't experienced directly, but it's hated in most of the rural West. If you got out more, and spent a little time with folks who actually work and live on the land, you would know that.

Thanks for the feedback,


Kari said...

In Mendota, Ca. environmental laws protected the Delta Smelt. The 2 inch minnow was getting caught in the irrigation systems. A federal judge rules to protect the minnow and now farmers cannot irrigate their fields enought to ward off the drought they are going through. there has been massive job loss - I believe the unemployment rate shot up by 35%! And most of the jobs are seasonal. an estimated 40,000 jobs lost. There can't be anything done about mother nature but there can be something done about the ruling.

Anonymous said...

The little 1" fish is the Delta Smelt. I live in Fresno County and our Ag Industry has been devistated by the shut off of water for farmers over the little fish.

It is a classic example of protecting a subspecies of a subspecies, and so on and so on...

The comedian / actor Paul Rodriguez has become a spokesperson on this issue and you can find out some of the protests that are planned. Look for the California Latino Water Coalition at He is the President of the Coalition.

To give you an idea of the impact here in the Central Valley of California, the unemployment rates in some of the West Side Cities is 35%+...!!!

John Sanzone said...

A couple issues with the article and commenters, and I mean respect, so please be respectful.

First off, in California how can you justify the irrigation over most of the state? By the old "plow brings rain" philosophy? The drought isn't nature's fault, it's the farmers, for building farms in semi-arid and arid ecosystems.

Also, to the author, what is it exactly that you mean by "laughably insignificant"? While you accuse 'biocrats' and 'graduate students' of trying to simply destroy jobs for the sake of subspecies of subspecies, I think you're coming across as in fact being "species centrist"...that if it saves one job its worth the extinction of a species. Many of these people are passionate and/or highly intelligent biologists, or other scientists, and while most of the time can draw specific economic benefits to protecting the interests of a greater ecosystem (fisheries and grazing lands, for prime examples), other times it is in fact the more abstract preservation of species and eco-systems that drives the call for the protection of endangered species.

What my problem is, is that while you speak as though the issue is saving jobs, perhaps not taking drastic action for the sake of a subspecies of a subspecies, your underlying motive seems to be more intense, in that you simply do not care if one or many species should go extinct. That not only is an insignificant sounding name or a fish that's only an inch long not worth state protection, but that the extermination of the passenger pigeon, American bison, tiger, and white rhino would all be justified to you.

In your world, if I'm not mistaken, we might have cattle and chicken left, and if we're lucky maybe a few stays of hardwoods? God made the salt marsh harvest mouse just for the hell of it. If it means a few hundred more acres of crop land and a couple of jobs, yeah, it's worth it?

Anonymous said...

At some point we have to decide what is more valuable - the Delta Smelt (Yum Yum if you eat about 200 of the little buggers with cocktail sauce), or the havest of a farmer's field.

I think the coneheads in DC and in the F&WS believe that food comes from the store. No one has to grow it. And the Environazis would just as soon eat dirt. Idiots.

Anonymous said...

To John Sanzone: Your body's immune system is at this time killing billions of microscopic creatures. For all you know, one of them may be the last of it's kind. How can you go on with your life knowing you could be ending so many others? Or have you decided which species may live and which may die?

Anonymous said...

How is it that an animal that is found in 8 different states, and not small east-coast ones at that, can be classified as endangered? The Frigid Ambersnail in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin has a habitat covering pretty much the entire upper central midwest! Doesn't sound very endangered to me.

Anonymous said...

why is it the eco-nazi's and tree/bunny hugging liberals preach and espouse evolution and then try to do everything to stop it. It is after all survival of the fittest. You can enjoy natures beauty, but only from a distance please don't step in the forest or prarie. You will endanger it by being there. What a bunch of holier then thou @holes.

Sean Paige said...

A few quick responses to John's points.

It's true that much of California and most of the Southwest need irrigation to support agriculture. But it wouldn't sustain much of anything else, in the way of modern civilization, without the dams and reservoirs that make this possible. Had we heeded the advice of John Wesley Powell, we might have done things differently. But that's all water over the dam now, and only kooks believe we should tear out the dams and depopulate the West. The drought in California is partly natural, but largely man-made, due to pumping restrictions caused by the delta smelt -- which a number of posters have mentioned. It's a perfect example of how the law this rigid and uncompromising law, and the rigid and uncompromising people who back it, have gotten out of hand and lost all sense of perspective.

Biologists are well-meaning people, and I never said that they were personally determined to destroy jobs, but like a lot of scientists and techno-heads, they can be a little myopic -- coming to believe that nothing is more important than the pygmy snail they did their master thesis on. Problem is, the government has limited resources -- even in the Obama administration -- and choices must be made about how to allocate our manpower and effort. Since it's impractical and unaffordable (and impossible -- you've heard of natural selection?) to save everything, we must make choices and value judgments. If you pour millions of dollars and man-hours into saving the pygmy snail (which may not be as threatened as alleged), something arguably more precious (and legitimately endangered) may get short-changed. The law was designed to save species, but has been headed down a thousand rabbit holes saving subspecies and "distinct population segments" of animals that are not endanger es at all, unless you choose to create all these silly additional categories. Biologists are tasked with doing the research; the policy decisions must be made by others, who are willing to accept trade-offs and appreciate cost-benefits analysis. But the politicians are too intimidated by the green lobby to do so. So we're stuck with a poorly-conceived and out-of-control law that operates on autopilot.

And, yes, I do value jobs -- and shouldn't we all, given the state of our economy. The ESA has been used not just to kill jobs in California agriculture, but in the timber, mining, ranching and commercial fishing "industries," which has killed off once-vibrant towns and turned them into welfare traps. The spotted owl case is just one of many. Then we hear the same people who make regulatory war on these industries, in the supposed defense of pygmy snails, wondering where all the good-paying American jobs went!

A balance must be struck, but that isn't possible when one side, the green side, has become a religion that's completely intolerant of reason, common sense or compromise -- and which recruits its followers, attracts resources and sells its agenda by using sensationalism and fear.

John Sanzone said...

"A balance must be struck, but that isn't possible when one side, the green side, has become a religion that's completely intolerant of reason, common sense or compromise -- and which recruits its followers, attracts resources and sells its agenda by using sensationalism and fear."

I absolutely agree with you on this; but most on the "right" don't look at this issue with this kind of reason. Unfortunately, neither does the group that legitimately intends to increase the abundance and sustainability of wildlife and wild spaces (like me). But simply falling back on the "jobs" formula almost always is rooted in laughing off species like they're worthless, and without any consideration whatsoever of real economics. What about immigration...especially somewhere like California? The last year or two it's been forgotten like it has no effect on both the incredible unemployment and bad economic state of CA, or the water issue (millions more living in the desert, millions more working the fields...)

However, I don't think your point about California and the desert southwest being otherwise useless makes much sense. Such a position is borderline socialist utilitarian utopia, ala draining the Aral sea to make the steppe "valuable" in agricultural production. You can see how that worked out. If the dam floes are opened and no water restrictions placed on farms and residential cities-in-the-desert in California, it would only be a matter of time before the mountain rain and snow isn't enough to sustain it. And, in the process, we'd lose the rivers, lakes, forests, and countless hundreds of species.

But, like you said, moderation. I think we're better off dealing tit-for-tat when it comes to water rights or preserving natural habitat, rather than taking an absolute stance, which is unfortunately how it plays out with both the "leftist" environmentalists and the "right" wing "common sense" anti-environmentalists.

But replace "pygmy snails" with the American bison, or the gray wolf, or the rattlesnake, or the leopard, or one of the bears...and I don't think a good deal of your 'anonymous' posters would change their attitude.

Should the government be defending nature (wild, unknown, God's Creation) against man, or should the government be creating/saving "jobs" on behalf of unions, farmers, grazers, regardless of environmental impact?

The way I see it, the former, if done within reason, has and will continue to bring out innovation...the latter, without moderation or input from the 'environmentalists' could have led to many disastrous mistakes over the past centuries (far more extinctions, the mining of many more great mountain ranges, just to name a few).

Anonymous said...

I work for an Environmental Remediation Company in Texas. We have a California Regional Office near Santa Maria. I spent a month doing a three day job because of environmental idiocy. The speed limit on the project was 4MPH. If you ran over a bug, any bug, you had a small plastic container with a write on label to enter the date, time, location, and reason you ran over the creature. If a Plover landed on the beach and sat for more than 10 minutes they would shut the project down until they could see if it laid an egg. If it laid an egg the project was shut down until the egg hatched. That was minor inconveniences compared to other radical regulations. There were always several environmental watch dogs harassing the employees while they tried to work. A job that should have cost about $100,000.00 cost $848,000.00. What a concept.

Anonymous said...

John Sanzone ::

"Should the government be defending nature (wild, unknown, God's Creation) against man, or should the government be creating/saving "jobs" on behalf of unions, farmers, grazers, regardless of environmental impact?"

Should the government, under our Constitution, be seen to protect the People from themselves? to protect ones’ own property from their own legitimate use? and in so doing, ignore what is the true mandate in governance instead of forcing a very temporal agenda predicated upon the acquisition and maintenance of political power?
Suggestion for you and those who feel so disposed: Take those endanger species to your breast and suckle them with your own milk, my friend, lest you feel the bite of one who would resist any predator no matter how erudite. Toy with your own extinction, include me out.

CJrun said...

Unlike most commenters, I will use my public identity. Everything I do must be public, because I am a scientist and I believe in the scientific method; we share our information and sources and we accept peer-reviewed criticism.

I am a biologist that has practiced in this field since the 80s and I would be classified, by some, as a biostitute; i.e., one that represents private landowners for hire. I was once in an intense discussion with coworkers and made the comment, "Well, there is such a thing as private property." A response was, "Not necessarily."

Therein lies the basic problem. I work hard to try to mesh conservationism with stake-holder rights, but am made an enemy of the stake-holders by other people, often non-scientists.

In graduate school, in the 1980s, we actually laughed at the nonsensical crap put out by the government, such as the then-new HEP analysis (Habitat Ecosystem Potential). Little did we then know that the joke was on us; policy-makers would use lousy tools such as that to ruin people's lives. It is always easy to demonize a landowner or an industry, to make them the enemy to the public at large. That doesn't make it right. I consider my education and experience to be tools that I can use to help my fellow man, not to be weapons.

Conservationists can work to preserve land that is truly critical habitat, and pay for it out of their own dang pockets. And you know what? If we treat other people decently, they may even contribute to our efforts if those efforts are worthy, and if we don't always resort to extortion and polarization.

I have always tried to coach younger biologists, or this new made-up degree "environmental scientists", to be cautious and judicious. The pendulum always swings. Just because an environmental cause seems to be in the ascendency right now, that doesn't mean it should be pushed to some extreme. Because it will swing back and the extent to which it swings back will be increased by the extent of the first push toward the extreme. Some of us remember when we had vastly more serious ecological problems in this country and how much work it took to make the real progress that we have made. Not regulatory agency progress, but real work, in the field, fixing the problems and convincing landowners to work with us toward mutually agreed upon goals.

What is being done, now, is petty, spiteful, and short-sighted, in comparison. Environmentalism is a political movement, often devoid of science. The backlash from environmentalism that I consider inevitable will dammage genuine ecological progress.

It does ecology as a whole no good to drive agriculture or plastics manufacturing away from this country, where we have the cleanest Best Management Practices, to China and the developing world where they dump their wastes in the ditch out back.

But then, that's just my opinion after having worked in environmental clean-up for decades, and having been born and raised in countries where sewage runs in the streets.

Sean Paige said...

Thanks, CJrun, for those observations. Not all "ologists" drink the green kool-aid, I know, so I shouldn't paint them with the broad brush I use in the piece. But those who don't jump on a bandwagon, or who try to bring some common sense and balance to these issues, often face a backlash from those who are more advocates and ideologues than scientists. I have a friend -- I can't use the name -- who is one of the most dedicated conservationists and best scientists I know (a person who doesn't just talk about saving species, but does it), who came under vicious and personal attack for raising questions about the quality of the science underpinning the ESA. To speak ill of the ESA, to question the ESA, opens one to Inquisition-like tactics by the zealots, who will tolerate no dissent -- much like researchers who don't swallow the sensationalist interpretation of climate change come under attack. That opened by eyes to the prevalence of advocacy-scientists and advocacy-science out there. I also encountered a number of kool-aid drinkers during my years as a journalist -- and almost all of them worked in government, not surprisingly.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone overlaid the list of 200 recommended endangered species with potential fossil fuel resources?

As an avid camper, hiker, and four-wheeler living in California, I have participated in many public land-use meetings. There are many environmentalist that have a larger goal in mind. Limit human activities they don't like. Not all environmentalist fit this mold but many of the 24/7, professional environmentalist have a bigger agenda than saving a species. They are trying to limit the access and/or activities allowed on public land. The milkvech likes to grow in dunes, so the dunes need to be closed to the public. The toad lives along a creek with a road running nearby, the road must be closed to vehicles.

They often win because they spend their lives filing complaints and lawsuits. I on the other hand have a day job.


Garrett said...

What is wrong with extinction, anyway?

Is it not a necessary component to Biological development?

I may have to re-read my Evolutionary texts, but I am pretty sure I got it the first time around.

Extinction is a fundamental aspect of life.

I quote a great Greek Philosopher - Nothing endures but change.

Dr. Rob Roy Ramey said...

The ESA listing "surge" has begun.

Next, the US Fish and Wildlife Service will be requesting more funding for their endangered species program.

What we will not see, is any objective prioritization of conservation effort (money) on endangered "species" at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In other words: "Just send money and skip the accountability part."

This absence of prioritization on endangered "species" is exactly what shortchanges conservation of bona-fide species that are highly unique and highly endangered. The United States allocates the majority of its endangered species budget to nondistinct but presumably threatened or endangered populations of common species (listed as Subspecies, Distinct Vertebrate Population Segments (DPS), or Evolutionary Significant Units (ESU)). It is clear, however, that this conservation approach comes at the expense of many “full” species that are highly unique and that are far more endangered. Fully one-fifth of ESA-listed “species” are really subspecies or DPSs/ESUs, and these tend to be the most controversial and costly to "protect".

The current proposal illustrates a similar lack of ESA prioritization: allocating listing effort to speciose taxa (many species in a genus) rather than highly unique taxa (one or few species in a genus), contrary to the 1982 amendments to the ESA. The proposal includes six species of milkvetch (genus Astragalus). Twenty-one species and subspecies of milkvetch are already listed in the west as threatened or endangered. There are a total of 614 species and subspecies of milkvetch listed on Natureserve.

Mr. Salazar, please take note.

Anonymous said...

That does it! I own a beautiful piece of Colorado mountain land on which I plan to build my retirement dream home. But now, with the Gang Green sniffing around I'm going to Agent-Orange the whole place and kill every fuzzy weed, thistle and snail before they string yellow tape around the place. That'll help put them out of business; If there's nothing to save maybe they'll go home to their mommies.

TooMuchTime said...

But now, with the Gang Green sniffing around I'm going to Agent-Orange the whole place and kill every fuzzy weed, thistle and snail before they string yellow tape around the place.

This is exactly what is happening because of the ESA. People know they can't build on a piece of property if the zealots are allowed to check the property for "endangered species."

I believe this falls under the heading of "allow me to define the habitat and I'll find the endangered species."

So, the ESA actually kills endangered species because property owners can't afford the ruinous lawsuits from the enviro-whackos.

OB1 said...

A reasonable solution for Endangered species revolves around recognizing that ESA rules have bascially socialized all land use. A more reasonable perspective would rely upon some one or group stepping forward to steward endangered species. If property is taken or regulated out of reasonable normal use, the taking should be compensated as part of stewardship. If no one steps forward to steward a two toed nerfnik, bye bye two toed nerfniks... If the stewardship fails, oh well -- stuff happened to Neanderthals and mammoths too.