Category: Wildlife Issues

Sand Dune Lizard and Lesser Prairie Chicken Could Halt Industry

The plight of two species is putting thousands of acres and the future of the oil and gas industries at risk. If put on the endangered species list, the sand dune lizard and the lesser prairie chicken could block off land from oil and gas companies across multiple states.

The lesser prairie chicken was added to the threatened species list after a court ruling in March 2014. The chicken has known habitats in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, and land management decisions could impact over 100 million acres across the five states.

The sand dune lizard is posing particular problems for the oil industry in West Texas. The lizard’s 800,000 acre habitat spans Southeastern New Mexico and West Texas and just happens to sit right in the middle of Texas oil country.

Given the Obama administration’s recent demonstrations of its willingness to put potentially beneficial land under federal protection, many in the oil and gas industries are concerned that even the potential presence of these species could shut down oil and gas rich areas from exploration or further development.

Shutting down oil-rich areas to protect these species isn’t just bad for the oil and gas industry ― it’s bad for its employees as well. Texas state officials and energy executives have warned that classifying the sand dune lizard as an endangered species could cost thousands of Texans their jobs.

Endangered Listing for Monarch Butterfly = Wrong Direction

While the federal government has already been involved and helping the monarch butterfly populations in the United States, recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it is going to protect the butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The act has been used to save a number of species in the past. However, more and more evidence is showing that the ESA is also being used for other purposes. By placing species on the list, land use by the species can be turned over to the federal government. Recently, the prairie chicken was put on the list along with the infamous spotted owl standoff.

The butterflies mate, lay eggs and feed on milkweed plants while they are temporarily in the United States. Potentially, the federal government could gain control over all of the milkweed plant land.

Even a well-respected monarch butterfly expert (Chip Taylor) said that he does not welcome this form of protection of the butterfly. Taylor, an insect ecologist at Kansas University said:

Nobody wants the government to tell them what to do with their property. The real challenge is to get the message out and get the public involved. This really is the way to go.

The federal government can continue to grow its size and power through many actions including using the Endangered Species Act. As Taylor pointed out, there are other ways to protect a species. Public response and efforts to endangered species around the globe is really having great success. Federal government intervention is the wrong direction.

Move Over Spotted Owl, Make Room for the Sage Grouse

The federal government is aggressively protecting the sage grouse. A few weeks ago, the Feds listed the Gunnison sage grouse as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The Feds want to add the greater sage grouse to the list. The greater sage grouse:

  • lives in 11 western U.S. states
  • covers 165 million acres, almost as big as Texas
  • population dropped from around 16 million over 200 years ago, to under half-million today

Conservationists believe that the sage grouse numbers are getting dangerously low. Human activity, specifically energy exploration and development, is the main cause of this issue, they claim.

However, local efforts in conservation and local economies are overlooked when considering listing under the Endangered Species Act in these cases. Overzealous efforts could have irreversible consequences to local economies and hinder growth. Much of the land in western United States is owned by the federal government. Imagine if that same amount of land in the eastern U.S. was also owned by the Feds. More than likely, the United States would not be the global leader that it is today.

House Passes ESA Reform as Veto Looms

Last week, the United States House of Representatives vote on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) passed 219 to 190.  HR 4315 will now go to the Senate and the White House has said that it will veto the bill.

In addition to requiring federal agencies to make ESA decisions publicly available while respecting while respecting state data privacy laws and private property, HR 4315 would:

  • Require the federal government to disclose to affected states data used prior to an ESA listing decision, and require the federal government’s “best available scientific and commercial data” to incorporate data provided by states, tribes, and local county governments.
  • Require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to track, report to Congress, and make available online the federal taxpayer funds used to respond to ESA lawsuits, the number of employees dedicated to ESA litigation, and attorneys’ fees awarded in the course of ESA litigation and settlement agreements.
  • Prioritize species protection and protect taxpayer dollars by placing reasonable caps on attorneys’ fees to make the ESA consistent with existing federal law. For example, the federal government limits the prevailing attorneys’ fees to $125/hr in most circumstances, including federal suits involving veterans, Social Security, and disability, supporters said. But under the ESA, attorneys are being awarded huge sums, in many cases, at a rate much as $600/hr, they indicated.

Species deniers: Now that is a horse of a different color…

We have all heard the activists and politicians who blame “climate deniers” for not supporting public policies that address the alleged man-made causes of climate disruption, despite all the “settled science” that justifies their push to limit our individual freedoms.

Please allow me draw your attention to an example where “settled science” is currently frustrating the efforts of wildlife activists who are trying to create effective public policy. And it involves their deep romance with the mustang herds that roam the vast American West.

First, some quick background: I stated in an earlier blog post regarding the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that even though a majority of scientists consider the existing biological taxonomy of wildlife as settled science, some scientists disagree as to what exactly defines a distinct species of animal or plant life.

What is wrong with ignoring the critics of “settled science” for deciding what constitutes a “species” when designing effective wildlife policy?

If two very similar types of animals were incorrectly considered separate species when in reality they were biologically identical, the potential elimination of one animal type while the other animal type continues to thrive is not likely to create a meaningful loss to the larger ecosystem.

If you fail to recognize that two similar looking animal types were truly two distinct species, then allowing one type to disappear as long as the other type is thriving may well damage our larger ecosystem. It is important to not make either mistake.

But what is wrong with assuming that choosing more definitions of species is better than choosing fewer when making policy?

As I discussed in yet another blog post, when a given animal species is considered endangered under the ESA, a private land owner or a lessee of federal lands could be required to endure significant economic losses to preserve the natural habitat of this endangered species. These very real and personal economic losses are never discussed when the federal agencies tabulate their costs for enforcing the ESA.

Well, wouldn’t a federal agency directed by a representative democracy make sure that any individual economic sacrifice be required only to prevent a real threat to our ecosystem?

Perhaps, but it is in any wildlife management agency’s best interest to sidle up with wildlife activists to define a “species” as narrowly as possible. This maximizes the opportunities to exercise control over private land owners and federal land lessees, which would then justify their growing mission and budget needs.

Surely you are being overly pessimistic!

Back to the lead story: A recent development regarding activists concerned about the dwindling herds of wild horses roaming the American West is clearly justifying my fears.

Most land owners or federal land lessees in the western states see wild horses as a nuisance animal, much like feral dogs that terrorize an urban neighborhood or feral hogs that destroy golf courses and farm lands. These folks even organize annual round-ups to limit the damages arising from these herds, paying the participants with the very horses they catch.

However, supporters of these wild horses see them as mustangs. They are romantic, living mementos of a defining era in American history (and I admit that I share that perspective). Yet, these mustang activists are seeking explicit protection of these wild horses under the ESA. I just cannot support that approach. It involves manipulating science for the sake of romance.

You see, the ESA empowers various federal agencies to severely restrict the individual liberties of private land owners and lessees of federal lands — but only if such restrictions are a necessary consequence of protecting and preserving an endangered species of wild animal or plant life. In other words, an entire native species must be at risk before this act can be invoked.

As I predicted, mustang activists are lobbying the federal government to deny settled science in defining what constitutes a native species. As AP reporter Scott Sonner notes:

Efforts to halt mustang roundups in Congress and the courts have been unsuccessful over the past decade, but two groups in a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service are focusing on genetics and research they say prove the (wild) horses are a native species. They say growing threats from development, livestock grazing and government gathers are jeopardizing the genetic viability of individual herds in 10 states from California to Montana.

Jeopardizing the “genetic viability” of a specific herd comprised of a species that exists abundantly elsewhere does not create the same threat to our ecosystem that jeopardizing an entire species would create. You see, the meaning of biological definitions really does matter for making good public policy.

Today, most of the scientific community considers both domesticated and wild horses as a single species, known as equus ferus. Mustangs are simply considered invasive, feral horses that were introduced to the American West by humans. Defining both wild and domesticated horses as a single species was legitimated by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature in 2003. In other words, this biological species definition is “settled science.”

Yet, mustang activists think the federal definition of “species” should ignore settled science and divide horses into two separate species: wild and domesticated. Their motive does not appear to be promoting scientific clarity over biological taxonomy. Instead, after failing to convince a representative democratic governments to create legislation strong enough to preserve our dwindling Mustang herds, these wildlife activists are willing to deny “settled science” for effective political maneuvering.

It seems that when it comes to that great American icon, the noble mustang, wildlife activists are happy to be “settled science” deniers too.

The Under-Reported Costs of the Endangered Species Act

When I read articles from the apologists for the Endangered Species Act (ESA), I often read silly statements like,

The U.S. federal and state governments spent just more than $1.7 billion to conserve endangered and threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in fiscal year (FY) 2012… (W)ith a pretty high success rate of preventing species from going extinct, the ESA works out a decent bang for your buck.

Well, I beg to differ — $1.7 billion is just a small part of the total economic costs of implementing the ESA. Let me count the ways:

1)    The economic costs of implementing the ESA include its total impact on economic efficiency. This includes all of the lost economic opportunity that arises from the restrictions that are imposed by the ESA. When a federal agency declares private property as a “critical habitat” for an endangered species on private land, that agency can force the land owner to discontinue her economic use of that land. This impacts not only the landowner, but all of the businesses that directly engage in trade with that landowner. How bad can this cost be? One economic study in 1994* looked at the ESA recovery plan for the spotted owl species in the northwest. It estimated that this plan decreased economic welfare in the region by $33 billion (and that was in 1990 dollars). That was just one recovery plan… for one endangered species… for specific period of time.

2)    The economic costs of implementing the ESA include its total impact on social equity. What is almost never considered by such apologists is the unequal distribution of who ultimately bears the cost. The cost of any regulation is not just the taxes raised for implementing the Act. These taxes are spread across the federal government tax base, and (conceptually) everyone bears some federal tax exposure. However, the economic costs that arise from regulations are borne only by the landowner and those that directly relied on the land owner for trade. This creates a disproportionate share of the total economic costs to be borne by the land owners and the people who do business with them, rather than by the nation’s taxpayers. That same spotted owl study estimated that the regional producers of intermediate wood products bore the brunt of that $33 billion economic loss, which was a very small segment of the regional population. Ouch…

3)    The economic costs of implementing the ESA include its total impact on individual rights. Yet another aspect of the cost of implementing the ESA is that when private property owners are told that their land is “critical habitat” and can no longer be used for its historical economic activity, this amounts to a “taking”  that is supposedly protected under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, the land owner must undertake very expensive legal action to sue the federal government for her rightful “just compensation” for this taking. Research by the Congressional Research Service has shown that the odds of winning such suits are relatively low. Their 2013 study identified 18 such ESA cases filed against the federal government, with only one being successful at the time of printing and two still outstanding. That means there is between a 83% to 94% chance of losing a very expensive law suit to defend your Constitutional rights. A track record like that will be sure to send a message to those who believe the U.S. Constitution will protect their individual rights.

2014 Omnibus Has Good Provision for Endangered Species’ Conservation

Whatever other good or bad provisions the 2014 Omnibus Budget bill that President Obama has now signed contains, it has one excellent provision: good for sportsmen and good for species facing extinction in their native lands. 

The 2014 Omnibus removes endangered species protection from three select species: the scimitar horned oryx, the Dama gazelle and the addax.  How can this be good for species you say?  Let me give you some background. 






In 2005, the FWS listed three foreign species: the Dama Gazelle, the Scimitar-Horned Oryx and the Addax as endangered, at the same time the agency adopted a rule that would exempt captive members of the three species in the United States from ordinary ESA restrictions. Though nearly extinct throughout the various ranges of their native country’s (where they are supposedly protected by law), these three species thrived on private ranches in Texas where — treated as private property, indeed, livestock —  they were raised on spreads large and small, for hunting and breeding.  Their populations had done so well, in fact that a number of them were shipped back to their native lands for restocking.  Unfortunately, this success was threatened by the  misguided and inane efforts of animal rights wackos using a poorly written law – the Endangered Species Act. 

HSUS and Friends of Animals filed suit to challenge that rule. Their goal was to prevent the hunting of individual animals, regardless of the cost to the species as a whole.  The court found find that hunting these species was legal and rejected HSUS and Friends’ assertions that hunting in the U.S. encouraged poaching or brought any other harm to members of the species outside of the U.S. The court also rejected the animal rights groups’ allegations that they were harmed by the hunting of the species in the United States.   That should have been the end of the case since neither group was found to have standing, the lawsuit should have be summarily dismissed.  Unfortunately, this did not occur.

The Court did ruled in the two groups’ favor on one critical point. The judge decided that the ESA does not allow a blanket exemption to endangered species prohibitions and that those who wish to hunt or otherwise conduct activities that amount to a “taking” of these three antelope species, must apply for an individual enhancement of survival permit from the FWS. The judge ruled that because the permit applications must be published in the Federal Register, the notice of the application makes it possible for individuals and groups to comment on the proposed activities.  As a matter of law, the judge may have been correct, I’m not a lawyer and cannot say.  As a matter of policy, this was potentially disastrous — for the species, and, to some extent for the ranchers who now own what became nothing more than expensive living lawn ornaments. 

Hunting is technically still legal but the additional bureaucracy and delays introduced by the application and Federal Register notice procedures will made it more difficult and more expensive for ranchers to raise these animals. Many ranchers with existing herds no longer wished to raise and breed these animals. Many ranchers offered discount (basically cull) hunts for the species in order to clear them from their properties and the cost of continuing to feed them (they compete with the other “valuable” wildlife and domestic livestock for feed and browse — and Texas is in a serious drought) before the ruling became final.  Three is some evidence that others contemplated capturing and gelding or neutering, their remaining stock of these species so they wouldn’t breed.  As a result, in just two years since the ruling there a dramatic decline in the number of herds and ultimately the number of animals in the U.S.  For instance, The Exotic Wildlife Association estimates that scimitar horned oryx numbers in Texas are now at nearly half of their 2010 levels.

In this case, scientific management (FWS did approve of managing the species as private property) and markets combined for the good of the species, it seems, only to be undone by the courts.

Now thanks to the efforts of Rep. John Carter (R-TX-31), the author of the provision and his colleagues in the House and Senate, especially Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX-32) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA-42), and John Cornyn in the Senate (who insisted that this provision remain part of the bill), the court’s ruling and the foolish efforts
The antelope were exempt from the Endangered Species Act from 2005 until 2012 during which time populations experienced dramatic growth in the United States. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was forced to remove the exemption due to legal action that prompted a cumbersome and lengthy permitting process all of which led to a dramatic decrease in populations.  For example, Scimitar horned oryx numbers in Texas are now at nearly half of 2010 levels.
As Representative Carter has stated, “This legislation gets big government out of the way so that ranchers can begin working to bring these rare antelope populations back to former levels.  This has been a long time in coming – but we got it done.”

Congress got this one right and one can hope they use it to help all other foreign endangered species as well.

Government Programs Hurt the Environment

The NCPA has written numerous times about various government agencies and programs that are supposed to protect or promote environmental quality but which result in environmental harm.  For instance:

Federally subsidized flood insurance;

Federal mismanagement of public lands;

Federal  endangered species policies;

Federal promotion of ethanol, wind and solar power;

Federal agriculture subsidies;

And Federal mismanagement of ocean fisheries.

Now, on a single day, I have been given the gift of multiple news reports each detailing new ways the government is hurting the environment while purporting to save it.

On how government ethanol subsidies and mandates  are destroying the prairies.

On how government subsidized and required solar power is competing with wind power to slay birds – combine the two and we really could have the Silent Spring Racheal Carson wrote about, just not from chemicals as she opined.

But Washington is not the sole source of environmental decline, other researchers and government officials think it’s a good idea to kill animals to study (the world’s oldest animal was killed to determine its age) or to save them (slaughtering thousands of chickens in order to save some few of them from the possibility of dying in the chicken fight ring).

Folks, I could make this stuff up, but I don’t have too.  And this is the same government we’re supposed to trust when it says there are no death panels in the health care law?

Some Environmental Reading for the Long Weekend

Here’s a grab bag of stories to read while recovering from the brat and steak you ate yesterday. It’s what the Founding Fathers would want.

Using the Free Market to Save the Rhino

Here’s a great (and moving) piece from NPR’s Planet Money on a proposal to encourage the breeding of rhinos in an effort to flood the market with rhino horn (which grows back) and undermine poaching by driving prices down. At the current rate, poaching will cause a decline in the rhino population in 2016.

There is debate about whether this is the correct strategy or whether we should further stigmatize the use of rhino horn as a traditional medicine. I say both. If breeding rhinos fails to drive prices down, we are still increasing the population. If we put all our efforts into increasing the stigma of buying rhino horn fails, we’ve lost ground with no backup plan.

Here is the audio. I warn you, the beginning of the audio includes a rhino being shot and crying for help. It is really heart-rending. But the story is excellent and worth listening to.

When Government Fails, Free-Market Environmentalism Is There To Pick Up The Pieces

Here in Seattle, we have a taxpayer-funded county employee, who calls himself the “Eco-Consumer,” whose entire job is to spread left-wing environmental messages Last month we noted that the taxpayer-funded “Eco-Consumer” lamented the fact that car sharing programs might take people off taxpayer subsidized buses even though the Smart Cars of Car2Go are likely as efficient as buses per passenger.

Now, with the transit strike in San Francisco shutting light rail down, car sharing programs are booming and providing an alternative to transit. As the Associated Press reports:

Avego is one of many startup rideshare companies marketing their services with gusto after this week’s strike by the workers who transport more than 40 percent of commuters coming from the East Bay to San Francisco.

Sign-ups jumped from hundreds before the strike to thousands over the weekend, said Paul Steinberg, Avego’s director of operations for the Americas. “We’re getting creamed,” he said.

The online rideshares, peer-to-peer taxis and carpool apps have faced criticism and calls for bans because they compete with taxis. Some offer prescreened cars owned by professional drivers with black sedans or SUVs, while others provide ways to find commute partners and share the travel costs. Some of the services get around safety regulations and government fees by offering a donation-based system.

The problem with relying on government is that you can’t rely on it. By giving people personalized options to commute, car sharing and other free-market approaches are filling in for commuters where the transit strike has failed commuters.

You can read the whole article here.

An Environmentalist Does the (Ugly) Math on the Impact of Local Food

One of the most persistent beliefs of the environmental left is that buying local food is good for the environment. The evidence, however, shows that buying local produce often is much worse for the environment. A piece from earlier this year does the math and, again, finds that buying local food can be much worse for the environment. The author notes:

I have no idea where my food comes from, but I hope it’s shipped by rail from a California factory farm. Don’t get me wrong—I’m an environmentalist, not an agribusiness executive. But I’m an environmentalist who can do math, and the numbers on locavorism, like much else in green-urbanist food ideology, don’t add up.

He notes that efficient transportation over long distances can use much less fuel than inefficient, short trips.

A typical semi truck, meticulously packed and scheduled by corporate bean-counters, will carry 20 tons of food six miles or so on a gallon of diesel—that’s 120 ton-miles per gallon, in the jargon of freight fuel-efficiency. A freight train gets a whopping 480 ton-miles per gallon. Compare them with, say, the local farmers at the Union Square Greenmarket, whose light trucks and vans typically haul more dead weight—farm-stand, vehicle and driver—than produce. The most fuel-efficient farmer I talked to there reckoned that at peak harvest he burned nine gallons of diesel to bring two tons of potatoes 127 miles from Roscoe, N.Y., for an efficiency of 28 ton-miles per gallon. Hauling each spud from upstate thus requires as much fuel as moving it 585 miles by corporate semi or 2,340 miles by rail.

This doesn’t even get into the issue of growing food where the yields are best. Transportation accounts for 10 percent or less of total energy in growing food, so growing where yields are high is far more important.

As always, I have to make it clear that if you want to buy local food for whatever reason, that is fine by me. I visit my farmers’ market almost every week. I keep my bees at a small local farm and I am very happy to do so.

If, however, you are buying local food because you believe it is saving the planet, you probably want to rethink that. It’s what the Founding Fathers would want.

Obama Administration: Putting Species above People and the Constitution

A couple of weeks ago, I noted the Obama administration’s hypocrisy concerning protecting endangered species from harm (in this case the California condor) when it runs up against the President’s preferred energy sources – wind energy in this instance.

Barely a week later and two new stories arise showing that though the administration values wind turbines more than condors, it values condors and other species more than your average citizen and his or her property.

To put the value scale in perspective:

  • ·         Expensive, unreliable green energy > condors and other endangered species > average U.S. citizen.

CNN has publicized an ongoing dispute in Tombstone, AZ, where the U.S. Forest Service is refusing to let the city rebuild its water system; a system destroyed by wildfires and floods.  Despite a clear chain of title, previous court victories backing Tombstone’s claim and multiple rebuilding projects carried out with the Federal government’s past approval, the USFS will only allow Tombstone to rebuild the pipeline with shovels and picks and horses – no mechanized equipment, with even wheelbarrows being considered mechanized.  Absent the pipeline, the city’s residents are faced with moving out and on or drilling more wells in an area where arsenic in wells is not uncommon.  Faced with such choices, Tombstone has sued the Administration in a case that will likely end up before the United States Supreme Court.  One can only wonder how it has come to this.  This should highlight the need for legislators, states and communities to look at the potential long-term harms that could result if a new wilderness area is carved out of their lands or if new species are declared endangered.  This is a fascinating story and should be read in full.

In another case directly bearing upon the California condor’s standing, it seems that a large condo (one name for a group of condors) have taken up residence in a particular California valley.  When the condors initially moved in the residents were charmed and amazed, but those feeling changed rather quickly as the damages that condors can cause quickly became evident.  The huge birds have pecked off roof shingles, damage air conditioners, destroyed screens and the frames for doors and windows an have and left porches, patios and decks coated in foul smelling, potentially harmful droppings.  For many species, such harms could be solved by harassing them or calling pest or animal control.  Not for condors, they are protected and can’t even be harassed or shooed off.  Mind you, these problems are not an act of God, the federal government reintroduced these birds into the wild, but now claim they have no responsibility for the damage they cause.  This claim would not fly for any other government program supposedly carried out for the public benefit.  What happened to paying takings when private property is damaged or basically controlled by the government in furtherance of a public purpose.  As sad as this situation is, I’m glad it’s occurring in California – the citizens are reaping what they are trying to by pushing misanthropic environmental laws across the whole nation.