Who mourns the dodo? Who laments the passenger pigeon? These are serious questions. They go directly to the heart of discussions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). By Government transfer of billions of dollars worth of resources to critters and their human surrogates our freedom, our economy and our society is diminished. That is a strong statement; for the brief supporting argument read on.
The concepts behind the ESA were not originated by Richard Nixon in 1973. Interstate commerce of animals killed in violation of state game laws was prohibited by the Lacey Act of 1900 (coincidently the beginning of American Progressivism). Protection of migratory birds followed in 1929 and the bald eagle in1940. The focus of laws and regulations shifted in 1963 from “taking” (killing, wounding, harassing) in the Lacey Act to habitat as established in the 1965 Land and Water Conservation Fund Act. In 1969 Endangered Species Conservation Act passed which anticipated the UN Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) of 1973, still a vehicle for imposing international regulations. Seventy years of legislation was rolled into one “comprehensive” bill, the Endanged Species Act of 1973, which also implemented CITES. Further amended in 1982, the ESA became, in the view of many, a declaration of war against private property and our economy.
Consider, when the ESA was passed, it was explicitly stated that economic criteria should play no role in species listings or in the designation of critical habitat. This was affirmed by a Supreme Court decision: Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill. In 1978, because of the extreme adverse affect of this rule, by amendment Interior Secretary “may” take economic factors into consideration. Despite this amendment plus four executive orders requiring cost/benefit studies there has been little change in the regulatory machine. Example, an attempt (being challenged by Alaska) to list the polar bear attacks much of Alaska; the spotted owl dramatically reduced the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest; a bait fish related to the common shiner caused a dust bowl in what used to be the fertile and productive San Joaquin valley of California. Estimates of listed plants and animals that occupy private land range from 75% to 90%, making the property subject to seizure by Department of Interior.
Is all this pain worth it? Some studies suggest the cost of the ESA is negligible. Others point to the billions in direct and indirect costs to preserve just the spotted owl, which is being forced out of its habitat anyway by the great horned owl. The fact isthere is no reliable method for performing an accurate analysis. So, as regulators continue to make the choice between the critters or us; it is always the critters in spite of the ineffectiveness of the ESA.
Until an realistic method for actually gauging cost/benefit is found, we must have legislators who will speak for humans and require regulators to give primary consideration to the affect on human life, liberty and property.
No one is suggesting shooting bald eagles for their feathers or using whooping cranes for target practice. But conservation has now become a weapon used by environmentalists to attack the US. This is of a piece with their view that on the continuum of creation, which starts with the earth, humans are the least important.
American citizens need to realize that they are really the endangered species. Again, who really mourns the dodo? Who really laments passenger pigeon?