Vin Suprynowicz

The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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Future scholars, seeking a textbook example of the way a federal bureaucracy can stretch a limited congressional authorization to justify regulating everything in sight, could do worse than the Endangered Species Act.

The law seemed non-controversial when first proposed -- the encroachment of civilization was seen as threatening the extinction of certain large animals which remain “totemic” of the American wilderness, including the grizzly bear and the bald eagle.

So Congress authorized the Interior Department to determine which critters were truly “endangered,” and to moderate the impact of further encroachment on their habitat -- which would surely be limited, if there truly were so few of them.

Fast forward 33 years. Thanks to increased agricultural efficiency, there are vastly more forested acres in North America now than there were in the early 20th century. This restored forest belt has allowed many wild creatures to return to areas in the lower 48 where they weren’t seen for a century, multiplying till they actually threaten to become pests.

By any measure, America’s air and waters are far cleaner -- it’s now safe to boat and swim in virtually every American river, including those that were brightly colored with chemical effluent or smelled like raw sewers in our parents’ time. And improved technology and practices mean many wild species now prosper quite happily in close proximity to drill rigs and pipelines, or in forests that were clear-cut by timber companies half a century ago.

No one seriously worries, today, that headlines in our lifetimes are likely to report the death of the last grizzly, or gray wolf, or bison, or bald eagle.

So of the animals that were once listed as “endangered,” most have surely been declared saved, by now -- why, it must be about time to declare the ESA a success and put it in mothballs ... right?

You must be joking. This is a federal bureaucracy, remember? The greens discovered, long ago, that to cripple development or outdoor recreation anywhere in the nation, all that’s now required is to locate some obscure weed, bug, slug, salamander or slime mold and propose that it be listed as “threatened.” A self-sustaining federal bureaucracy of Gaia-worshippers will immediately break off chanting around the campfire, curl their braids up under their ranger caps, and rush into action.

Since 1973, the federal government has identified 1,337 domestic species as threatened or endangered. But of the 1,337 species which have ever been listed, 1,311 remain on the list.

We’re to believe virtually none have been brought out of danger (perhaps because the obscure varieties of bugs and weeds so honored were never very plentiful, going all the way back to Columbus?) but also that virtually none deserve de-listing because they’ve gone extinct -- as surely some would have, if the reported dangers were not grossly exaggerated.

And they call three years in Iraq a “quagmire”!

A species doesn’t even have to be in short supply to merit federal canonization. The process of getting a species listed has long since “evolved” to the point where “distinct local populations” of tree squirrels -- so common they’re killed by exterminators elsewhere in the country -- can be declared threatened or endangered if doing so is found useful in limiting the development of a university telescope project on some southern Arizona mountaintop where the furry pests happen to be in short supply.

These little rodents could mate perfectly happily with members of the species Tamiasciurus hudsonicus found anywhere else, but when it suits the purposes of the greens, won’t you welcome, please, our newest Permanently Endangered Species, the Mount Graham Red Squirrel!

Barring revolution, the way absurdities like this are supposed to be changed is through elections. For most of the past 26 years American voters have been casting their ballots overwhelmingly for candidates -- whether Republicans or “New Democrats” -- who vow to cut federal spending by reining in such regulatory excesses. Yet heaven help a political appointee who actually tries to bring some common sense to such a self-perpetuating government “industry.”

“Overall, President Bush’s appointees have added far fewer species to the protected list than did the administrations of either Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush,” the Washington Post breathlessly reported this week, citing as their source the litigious Center for Biological Diversity.

The Clinton administration added weeds, live bait, and rats to the list at a rate of 64 per year, you see. But since 2001, the list has grown by only 59 new bugs per year.

Oh, the humanity!

In fact, if the species preservers were doing their jobs, shouldn’t they have listed all the really important stuff 30 years ago? Shouldn’t we be measuring progress through the ongoing shrinkage of the list, rather than its endless expansion?

No, no. The culprit in all this -- the litigious CBD and their public relations shills at the American Izvestia make clear -- is a Bush appointee named Julie MacDonald, a civil engineer by training who worked at the California Resources Agency before joining Interior, and who has served as deputy assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks since 2004.

Ms. McDonald “has rejected staff scientists’ recommendations to protect imperiled animals and plants under the Endangered Species Act at least half a dozen times in the past three years,” the Post reveals.

Not only that, she sometimes makes fun of them, spicing her correspondence with “mocking comments,” the Post reports.

Sacre bleu!

When scientists raised the possibility that a proposed road might degrade the greater sage grouse’s habitat, which is scattered through 11 Western states, MacDonald wrote in thre margin of the document: “Has nothing to do with sage grouse. This belongs to a treatise on ‘Why roads are bad.’ ”

Such straight talk apparently sends the CBD litigators reeling to their couches with an advanced case of the vapors.

“The documents show MacDonald has repeatedly refused to go along with staff reports concluding that species such as the white-tailed prairie dog and the Gunnison’s sage grouse are at risk of extinction,” the Post quivers.

Try telling any rancher or farmer west of the Mississippi that we have a shortage of prairie dogs. Meantime, if anyone really wanted to help the sage grouse, they might consider a bounty on the crow and coyote that eat their eggs -- or maybe buying a hunting license, given that those revenues are used almost entirely to propagate such species. (Don’t tell PETA.)

Francesca Grifo of the Union of Concerned Scientists tells the Post that MacDonald’s actions are “not business as usual, but a systemic problem of tampering with science that is putting our environment at risk.”

Note the phrase -- not endangering squirrels or salamanders, but “our environment.” The critters themselves, as even the Gaians will admit in rare moments of candor, are little more than pawns or proxies.

If Ms. McDonald has indeed blocked the Righteous Malthusians from “safeguarding plants and animals from oil and gas drilling, power lines and real estate development,” as the always-objective Post asserts, how many have actually gone extinct? Hm?

The only thing Ms. McDonald’s healthy skepticism puts at risk is the ongoing scam through which the greens turn up some previously unnoticed scraggly local weed or bug they could hardly care less about, and then use it to sanctify and “protect” an entire ecosystem from productive human use -- funding their ongoing efforts with extorted tax dollars.

The Post reports Ms. MacDonald has apologized for her sarcasm. But she shouldn’t have.

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