05 Nov 2018

Reform the Endangered Species Act?  Cue the Outrage/Hysteria/Handwringing *yawn*

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In the 45 years since the Endangered Species Act was visited on the U.S., it has simultaneously ranked as the most revered environmental initiative and the most reviled.  How can such a well-intended statute run afoul of its laudable goals?  Easy, the devil as always is in the details.

ESA enjoyed near unanimous support when it was enacted – eagles would be saved, gray wolves would be brought back from the brink and there would be no more extinctions, a la the passenger pigeon.  What could go wrong?  Authors of legislation since time immemorial have spectacularly delivered vague language, obtuse definitions and conflicting mandates.

The result is a full employment act for attorneys and court case after court case about what the law really means.  It’s left to those on the bench – from the Judge Judies and Wapners of the world to the Bader-Ginsburgs – to rule on the intent of Congress…a tall order considering Congress is rarely clear on its intent.

So, what IS the problem?  Like its partner in crime NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), ESA has morphed into a sprawling monolith seized upon by green activists to stop development of every stripe.  The sage grouse controversy in the inter-Mountain West threatens to bring huge set-asides that would bar oil and gas drilling, mining, grazing and other multiple uses.  Decades past, the snail darter – a trash fish – slowed the construction of the Tellico Dam in Tennessee.  It was later found to be abundant elsewhere and the dam was eventually completed.  The primary contention in the controversy was, you guessed it, the intent of Congress.

When Congress is inexact in its actions (when isn’t it?), the law of unintended consequences is ever present to inflict penalties for laxity.  The lone Congressman still serving who signed ESA gives voice to that reality, he says they were told the law would protect “leopards” not “snails, mussels and turtles.”  When the Trump administration rolled out reforms this summer, the green militants went into high gear, again,

A creative and aggressive congressman from California’s Central Valley undertook a similar reform, Richard Pombo’s legislation to reform the ESA passed the House by a vote of 229 to 193.  After much ballyhoo and the failure of the Senate to advance the legislation to President Bush, enviros declared an all-out war on Pombo.  The Sierra Club and other assorted lefties rained $2 million against him and barely defeated him with drab environmental consultant Jerry McNerney.

Now comes the Trump team with even stronger headwinds from the climate change crowd, the World Wildlife Fund through its media lapdogs, The Guardian, The Washington Post, et al, and legions of critical habitat advocates that regulate private lands out of productive use in the name of habitat preservation.

Another in the conga line of doomsday predications was recently published by the World Wildlife Fund, its biennial “Living Planet Report” claims life as we know it will be irretrievably lost in 100 years unless drastic actions are taken now to counter these cataclysms:

Populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians have declined by 60 percent since 1970.  The animals that remain will fight against warming oceans choked with plastic, toppled rain forests may zero out fragile species, and refuges such as coral reefs may nearly die off.

The report provides little scientific data nor peer review to back its claims. Some recommendations include:

“In the next years, we need to urgently transition to a net carbon-neutral society and halt and reverse nature loss — through green finance and shifting to clean energy and environmentally friendly food production. In addition, we must preserve and restore enough land and ocean in a natural state to sustain all life,” WWF Director General Marco Lambertini wrote in the report.

The Washington Post breathlessly added, International panels will meet in two years to discuss progress on the way forward, Lambertini noted, with optimism tinged with the understanding that there may come a time when we won’t be able to pull life back from the brink.”

With these dire threats to our very existence, it’s difficult to square up with fervent opposition to ESA reform.  By any measure, the recovery rate is a dismal failure at 3 percent of species listed coming off the list and proclaimed recovered.  The Endangered Species List bears a remarkable resemblance to a roach motel – the animal may check in, but it never checks out.

E&E News reported that a spokesman for the Environmental Policy Innovation center said there are advantages and concerns with the administration’s proposed changes…and concludes that if environmental groups want to maintain their credibility (such as it is) they cannot afford to cry wolf over everything.  Refreshing candor indeed from one greenie.

But like death and taxes, the biggies dependably railed at the proposals.  Jamie Rappaport of Defenders of Wildlife right here in Denver called it an “extinction package of anti-wildlife legislation” and in their fundraising lit the group said administration proposals “take a chainsaw to the Endangered Species Act.”  The usual hysteria and drivel concluded with, “Please donate today.”

There is an unseemly arrogance to the “save the species” crowd.  They are convinced that this moment in time, with this particular set of species, must be preserved at all costs.  It must be a singular special moment in history because, very simply, they are here.  It must be time to stop the evolutionary clock, save every species from its natural evolution and banish humanity’s progress to the ash heap of history.  Restore the buffalo common, reforest the farmland, reduce human population, leave oil and gas in the ground, move into a mud Hogan and glory in a hardscrabble subsistence.

Ready for that?

An objective, realistic view of species and extinctions has been advanced by Alexander Pyron, Biology professor at George Washington University. Professor Pyron declares, “The inevitability of death is life’s only constant (taxes not withstanding) and 99.9 percent of the species that ever existed, as many as 50 billion, have gone extinct. The world is no better or worse for the absence of saber-toothed tigers or dodo birds and our Neaderthal cousins who died off as Homo Sapiens began our ascent.”

To read Professor Pyron’s full essay, go here.

The essay concludes:

“The sixth extinction is ongoing and inevitable, and Earth’s long-term recovery is guaranteed by history (though the process will be slow).  Invasion and extinction are the regenerative and rejuvenating mechanisms of evolution, the engines of biodiversity.  If this means fewer dazzling species, fewer unspoiled forest and less untamed wilderness so be it.  They will return in time.  The Tree of Life will continue branching without us, even if we prune it back.  The question is: How will we live in the meantime?”

Professor Pyron’s essay is fittingly titled: “SPECIES DIE PEOPLE, DEAL WITH IT.”

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