Let’s look at a perfect example that I lived through and remember vividly.
Back in the 70s we were nearing the end of the large dam building wave that spread across the county beginning with the great water projects of the the 1930s like the Hoover dam. For a while it appeared as though every river in the nation would be dammed and turned into a reservoir. Of course a lot of people were displaced by these projects and fought tooth and toenail to keep their family land. But it was a hopeless fight, there was few ways to fight emanate domain by the federal government.
However in 1973 Richard Nixon handed,on a silver platter, these people fighting to block these dams a new tool, The Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Now The Endangered Species Act was a good idea in theory, protect our wildlife for future generations. Of course when debating the act in congress beautiful, majestic animals such as the California Condor and the Bald Eagle were trotted out as examples.
But apparently no one in congress had ever heard of the “Law of Unintended Consequences.”
But the populace did. Immediately foes of the building of dams ran out hired, begged and schmoozed with biologists around the country. One of these projects was the Tellico Dam on the Little Tellico river in Tennessee, my home state.
When the The Endangered Species Act was passed the Tellico dam was 95% complete and people were in the process of being forced off their property in preparation for the closing of the dam and filling of the reservoir. It was then that Dr. David A. Etnier, an ichthyologist at the University of Tennessee, went searching for an endangered species to block the dam. I can’t find the video on line but I remember seeing an interview with Dr. Etnier a few years ago where he admitted that he began snorkeling in the Little Tellico river with the intent of finding an animal to list as endangered in order to block the dam. Now he never admitted as to who, if anyone gave him the idea, but his intent was clear.
Of course Dr. Etnier found exactly what he went looking for, the Snail Darter. This little fish, locals would call it a minnow, was just what he needed. It was significantly different enough from its cousins around the country to be called a distinct species.
Away to the media he rushed, Headlines all over the Tennessee valley proclaimed the discovery of a new species of animal. Lawyers jumped all over the news. The process of adding an endangered species to the protected species list was expedited lawsuits were filed and BOOM the construction of the Tellico Dam ground to a halt.
The lawsuits court proceedings became BIG news in Tennessee in the mid 70s. I remember coming home from school every day wanting to watch my afternoon cartoons and finding them preempted by the Snail Darter lawsuits. Day after day the local TV stations carried testimony and commentary about the Tellico Dam court proceedings.
Eventually the plaintiffs won and the Tellico Dam was to be torn down before it was ever completed. However there was one last wrinkle in the case. Al Gore Sr. Yes the father of Inconvenient truth-er Al Gore helped push through a bill exempting the Tellico Dam from the Endangered Species Act and the dam was completed and exists til this day.
So here we have a law passed with the best of intentions that is corrupted and used in a way that was never intended.
Now it dosen’t stop there. Look at these examples: Source
“Taung Ming-Lin, a Chinese immigrant, bought land in Kern County, California…to grow Chinese vegetables for sale to the southern California’s Asian Community. Lin claims to have been told by the county the land was already zoned for farming and that no permit was needed. When Lin began farming, his tractor allegedly disturbed the habitat of the endangered Tipton Kangaroo rat…[and] ran over some of the rats. Lin was charged with federal civil and criminal violations of the Endangered Species Act…. The criminal charges carry penalties of up to a year in jail and $100,000 fine.”
“In 1973 Margaret Rector bought 15 acres of land on a busy highway west of Austin, Texas. In 1990 the golden-checkered warbler was listed as endangered, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service says her property is suitable habitat. The land, in the fastest-growing part of the county, is now unusable. Its assessed value falls from $831,000 in 1991 to $30,000 in 1992. USFWS says she might be able to get a permit to develop, but this would require her to finance extensive studies and to mitigate any impact on the warbler.”
“[T]he Central Valley of California, Kern County produces huge crops of vegetables, nuts, fruit, and cotton with water that is brought southward from Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta through a series of natural and man-made structures known as the California Water Project. This multi-billion-dollar water project is financed by assessments upon all of those who use the water; in turn, state law allocates the right to receive and use specified quantities of water to farmers, rangers, cities, and industrial users. These water rights are recognized as a property right under California State law. Beginning in 1992, the federal government started limiting the amounts of water which could be sent south to Kern County and other parts of California in order to maintain in-stream flows to protect the habitat of two endangered fish–the delta smelt and the winter run of Chinook salmon. As much as two million acre-feet of water–enough to cover two million acres to a depth of one foot–have been held back annually from municipal and agricultural use in order to maintain certain levels in streams and lakes which constitute the habitat of these fish. Farmers and ranchers have suffered many millions of dollars in lost crops and, in some instances, have lost their property as it has become unproductive.”
“In Southern California an endangered fly in Riverside County held up the building of a hospital…. It’s a flower-loving desert sand fly, a bit larger than a common housefly, but it was an endangered fly, and they found eight of them. The cost to set aside this habitat for the fly: about $400,000 per fly.”
“In August 1997, U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan issued a moratorium on logging on 94 acres of privately held land near Eugene, Oregon. The two spotted owls actually make their nest about one mile away from the privately held parcel of land that is managed by the federal government. But because the land may be part of the owls’ `home range,’ the judge determined that logging should be stopped…without knowing if the owls in fact even used it.”
The FWS “threatened to fine a Utah man $15,000 for farming his land and allegedly posing a risk to the prairie dog, a protected species…. The USWFS told the man that he should hire an outside expert to determine if there are prairie dogs on his land. The expert prepared a report, which indicated that there were no prairie dogs. The farmer proceeded to work his land. However, the USFWS has told him that they will fine him anyway.”
In the end I think the Endangered Species Act must be rewritten. Number one on my list is property owners must by law be compensated for any loss of value and income caused by application of the Endangered Species Act on their property.
Number two, there must be a provision added that allows for the evaluation of public interest in a case by case base to balance protections with public good.