Editorial: Congress should repeal Endangered Species Act

Our federal bureaucrats have never met a problem they couldn’t exacerbate. That is especially the case with their handling of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Using flimsy evidence the Fish and Wildlife Service has declared countless species to be threatened or endangered with extinction under the auspices of the ESA to the detriment of numerous human endeavors on both public and private land.

The northwest timber industry was decimated in a futile effort to save the spotted owl, but it turns out the spotted owl’s real enemy is the barred owl, which has been taking over its territory to the point that federal agents are now shooting barred owls.

In California — the fruit, nut and vegetable basket of the nation — farmers are having to let fields lie fallow and unirrigated in order to preserve the water for snail darters and other fishes. This not only devastates the farmers but drives up the cost of groceries for all in a futile attempt to save an insignificant creature that will doubtless become extinct anyway — as nature, not man, dictates.

In Nevada, efforts to save desert tortoises by federal land bureaucrats has led to the near extinction of ranchers in Clark County, leaving only one rogue cowboy to face off an army of heavily armed Bureau of Land Management agents with the aid of a few armed civilians and militia volunteers. This in spite of the fact range biologists have proven desert tortoise thrive when cattle are present compared to cattle-free rangeland.

In addition, the desert tortoises are so near extinction that the Las Vegas-based Tortoise Group is now up to its armpits in tortoises — as many as a thousand a year being turned in — that it is adopting out to homes in Reno, Sparks, Carson and points north. Also, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center in Clark County is being closed because of a lack of funding.

The bureaucrats can throw up their arms when it comes to complying with the ESA, while ranchers, miners, lumberjacks and oil and gas explorers have no such option.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently in the process of declaring the bistate sage grouse — a supposedly unique species of this chicken-sized, ground nesting bird — as threatened under the ESA, a deed that will jeopardize the grazing rights of ranchers on two dozen allotments along the northern Nevada-California border.

Meanwhile, a study by the U.S. Geological Survey over the past decade has found that the population of bistate grouse has been relatively stable. Not that this would deter the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The bistate grouse is a precursor to the debate in the rest of the state, which is home to greater sage grouse, due to be declared endangered next year. The federal government agencies have largely ignored independent studies that found the population of this subset of species to also be stable and in no way threatened with extinction.

The land agencies list the biggest threat to greater sage grouse as human industry, virtually ignoring the paramount threat from predators such as ravens, which are protected under a migratory bird treaty.

Under the ESA the secretary of the Interior may take into consideration the fact that the designation of a species habitat might harm the economy or impact national security, but the bottom line in the law is that those considerations must yield if the “failure to designate such area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the species concerned.”

Of course, enforcement is arbitrary and capricious. Oil companies and miners who accidentally kill protected species pay millions in fines, while the administration proposes to give operators of wind turbines 30-year permits to kill bald and golden eagles.

Congress should repeal the Endangered Species Act and replace it with a law that establishes a balance between protecting valued species — not every bug, weed, minnow, rat and pigeon — that are proven by scientific research to be in actual danger of extinction at the hands of human activity, while taking into account the costs to the economy and jobs of human beings. Federal agents shouldn’t play God. — TM

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