When Animal Liberation Front activists destroy private property in ill-advised attempts to save animals, local authorities drag them to jail and the media dismisses the eco-terrorists as being part of a “fringe” group. But when federal regulators destroy the value of private property while trying to save endangered species, national authorities turn their backs. Why the double-standard?
Part of the problem is that the people who decide national policy are headquartered in Washington, D.C., where large plots of private property are rare. Those of us who live in urban or suburban areas imagine endangered species protection to be as simple as being kind to blue whales, grizzly bears and bald eagles. We don’t stop to consider the dilemmas facing people thousands of miles away from us.
Bill Snape, Chairman of the Endangered Species Coalition, is an example of one who lives in either ignorance or denial. “There just aren’t private landowners that I can identify where the value of their property has radically declined as a result of the Endangered Species Act,” he says. “These landowners don’t exist.”
Try telling that to those who have had their lives and livelihoods ruined by Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations. How about the California homeowners whose houses burned to the ground in the early 1990s after federal regulators told them they couldn’t plow fire-resistant areas around their property for fear of disturbing the Stevens kangaroo rat? Or the families of four firefighters who died battling a forest fire in Washington state because rescuers had to wait 9 ½ hours to find out if they could draw water from a river that contained federally protected fish? Or a retired couple whose only retirement nest egg – their property – lost most of its value when federal authorities decided that the land was occupied by endangered species and thus unusable? …
The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution allows the federal government to take land for the public good as long as “just compensation” is provided. But in the case of the ESA, the government can forbid you from using your property – harming both the property’s value and usefulness – without doing a single thing to reimburse you. In fact, you still have to pay taxes on your property, whether or not you’re allowed to touch it….
[Consequently,] private landowners – many of whom enjoyed and protected the wildlife on their land in the years preceding the implementation of the ESA – find themselves suddenly at odds with the animals. In a process referred to as “Shoot, Shovel, and Shut Up,” many landowners who find endangered species on their land get rid of them before federal officials can show up and declare the land unusable. This is a tragedy, of course, but easy to understand when we realize that one endangered woodpecker – or even a tree where that endangered woodpecker might like to hang out – can cause acres of land to be deemed off-limits and thus essentially worthless to the owner.
R.J. Smith, senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, says these perverse incentives make the ESA, in its current form, “bad for humans and bad for species.” … The environmentalists on the other side of this issue won’t budge. Despite the fact that most right-leaning groups are choosing at this time to focus on strengthening property rights and not repealing the ESA, … most Green groups … seem to agree with the Animal Liberation Front that animals take priority over people.
[Some] more examples of ESA-induced craziness:
- After logging restrictions were placed on federally owned forests in 1989 to protect the northern spotted owl, 288 sawmills in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and California were closed, 31,438 jobs directly related to logging were lost, and 63,000 indirect jobs went away. Years later, folks realized that the owls really weren’t fragile enough to warrant the restrictions after all.
- In 2001, the feds cut off irrigation water to 1400 farms in the Klamath Basin of Oregon in order to protect the coho salmon. As a result, farmers had no water during a severe drought, and many had to sell their land. Later, people realized that the coho salmon weren’t endangered after all. …
The above is excerpted from “De-Prioritizing People,” written by Jennifer Biddison and published by TownHall.com on March 28, 2006.
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