By Alan Caruba
If it sometimes seems to you that every single animal and reptile is endangered, you can thank that element of the environmental and animal rights movements that has spent millions to foster this absurd belief. Animals and reptiles, fish and birds, lizards and turtles, all are born in the wild and all are food for other species. Nature doesn’t pick favorites, but thanks to the Endangered Species Act (ESA), humans do.
I say “the wild”, but the wild is not some far off place, but rather, for example, it is the vast forested area along the Atlantic coast from Maine to Virginia and beyond. The “wild” has become our backyards as suburbs have become the home of choice for most Americans.
As often as not, those creatures are simply pawns in the environmental movement’s effort to close off vast portions of the nation’s landmass to access from the energy industries, the timber industry, agricultural interests, and any form of development from new housing to hospitals.
Enacted in 1973, the ESA has become the most pernicious piece of legislation foisted on a public that loves animals, but usually only in the abstract except for those who are pet owners who enjoy the companionship, mostly of dogs and cats. Other species may co-exist in beneficial ways, but they don’t adopt one another, nor do they intervene in the way the ESA does.
A couple of recent news stories illustrate how a noble human emotion, empathy, results in some outcomes that don’t reflect good judgment. Take, for instance, the Tampa Bay, Florida woman who ignored signs prohibiting contact with manatees. Videotaped climbing on several of them, she faces a stiff fine against touching them. Florida wants to protect these gentle vegetarians and to ensure they can continue their lives while avoiding dangers from boats whose propellers can cut or kill them. That just makes sense.
Contrast that with an article in New Jersey’s largest daily newspaper about Clinton Township residents who believe coyotes killed a deer. One family reported that is common to hear coyotes howling at night. Ah, Nature! But New Jersey?
Yes, New Jersey where its huge deer population thrives, often becoming road kill when a car crashes into them, endangering the drivers and passengers. A year ago the county in which I live had to authorize a deer kill in a reservation area, a watershed I have lived nearby my whole life. The deer were destroying it by eating the ground cover and any new trees. Where you find deer, you are likely to find clusters of Lyme disease since the ticks that are their parasites spread it to humans.
A large bear population requires New Jersey to have a hunting season for them. In recent years, this has been regularly challenged by those who have appointed themselves their guardians, but ask any Garden State resident that finds one in their back yard or on their porch and you will learn of the fear they generate. The state, like others, is home to Canada geese. Huge flocks of these birds befoul parks, golf courses, and other open areas they favor with their droppings. It was a geese collision that forced US Airways Flight 1549 to ditch in the Hudson River in 2009.
As a lifelong resident of New Jersey, I can assure you that there is no lack of raccoons, opossums, rabbits, and other wildlife. We have been told for decades that the growth of the suburbs is adversely affecting wildlife, but you would not know that if you lived here. They adapt! The bears break into garbage cans, eat the seeds in bird feeders. The coyotes will make off with a family pet for a tasty dinner. The deer eat expensive foliage and the crops that our farmers raise. It’s not called the Garden State for nothing.
This phenomenon is so widespread that Jim Sterba has authored “Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds.” The woods that Dorothy passed through to get to Oz was filled with “lions and tigers and bears, oh my”, but throughout suburban America, they also include cougars, coyotes, deer, and bears.
In general, the ESA has been a huge failure. Only a handful of species of the hundreds deemed “endangered” have been restored to a larger population. The real purpose of the ESA is not about protecting creatures. It is about thwarting all manner of development, but most especially, access to areas where vast amounts of oil, natural gas, and coal exist, waiting to be extracted. The most endangered species in America today are the hundreds of jobs (and revenue) that this represents.
An example of this was described by David Porter in a recent Wall Street Journal commentary, “Playing Chicken in Oil-Patch Politics.”
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced that it will formally consider listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken—whose habitat includes some of the nation’s major energy fields—as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.” Porter identified this as “a desperate ploy by the Obama administration to further its campaign against oil and gas drilling.” The chicken is a ground-nesting bird native to portions of Texas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.
The effort to list the prairie chicken is similar to an earlier effort to list the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, overlapping the same area as the chicken. Fortunately it failed, but it drains revenue and time from those states that must invest both to resist such listings in the effort to protect access to the energy reserves beneath their ground.
By September 2011, the Associated Press reported that there were more than 700 pending cases to declare “endangered” everything from the golden-winged warbler, the American eel, and the tiny Texas kangaroo rat. Yes, a rat!
The U.S. Forest and Wildlife Service had “issued decisions advancing more than 500 species toward potential new protections under the Endangered Species Act.”
It is time to end the Endangered Species Act as a very bad piece of legislation whose intent has nothing to do with protecting these creatures whose populations are exploding everywhere and everything to do with harming the economy of the nation. They don’t need protecting. They are surviving in spades!
© Alan Caruba, 2012