Endangered Species Act: Are We In Need Of Protection Now?
The Endangered Species Act is in dire need of reform. Hopefully, the recent coverage by Fox News and Sean Hannity, of the Water Crisis in California’s Central Valley will bring about the attention needed to wake up Washington and bring about necessary change.
Being from Siskiyou County, located on the northern border with Oregon, I have seen the devastation resulting from an antiquated act. Regulations resulting from the listing of species, without consideration of social and economic impacts have been devastating to rural economies and California business. Resulting listings also trigger additional regulations through various state resource agencies. Even though environmental impact studies are required to be conducted prior to regulations and restrictions being imposed, socio-economic impacts are rarely addressed and beneficial uses are regularly weighted towards single species. Failure to adequately address the socio-economic impacts of regulations and assessing all beneficial uses then results in economic hardship on land owners and rural economies and often has negative impacts on other species due to a lack of foresight and holistic approaches.
There was the listing of the Northern Spotted Owl that all but eliminated the logging industry and resulted in mass closure of mills throughout Northern California. This resulted in the loss of revenue for rural counties and schools that received funds from the receipts of timber sales, a loss of local jobs, and a reduction in family owned businesses in rural towns. The irony behind the listing was that the scientists that conducted the population surveys looked for the owls in “old growth forest” where the “literature” said they would be found. In reality, the owls also reside in new growth pine forests, non-conifer forests and structures, such as barns. Subsequent surveys in the owl’s actual habitat indicate a healthy population, but delisting has not occurred.
Then there was the listing of the fall run Chinook salmon and Coho salmon. Further restrictions and regulations were placed upon forest management, farming and ranching. Most of the mitigation measures, to minimize negative impact on salmonids, were reasonable: fish screens, permanent rock weir dams, creation of cold water pools, bank stabilization and riparian habitat enhancement. However, the encroachment on water rights and private property rights is inexcusable. With the listing of salmonids, came an assumption of guilt on all private land owners. Failure to recognize the impacts of natural precipitation, predation and ocean conditions placed all responsibility for recovery on the private sector with little to no mitigation for impacts not associated with private landowners.
Now we are seeing the impact of the listing of the Delta smelt, water being taken from farmers in the Central Valley. Pumps at the Jone’s Pumping Station and the Federal Fish Collection facility are operating, sending a nearly full canal flowing through the very area that has lost use of the water. Ironically, there are few, if any, Delta smelt even being collected at the Federal Facility, as they are not in the south Delta, and several municipalities are still being allowed to send their minimally treated sewage directly into the Delta. Further, the “two-gate” project, which would minimize the smelt’s ability to enter the take-out to the pumps, has been stalled by the government yet again, why?
Certainly, some past practices from the early 1900’s through the 1970’s were not exactly “environmentally friendly.” However, science and technology have changed practices and management styles to be beneficial to both resource managers and the environment. It is in the best interest of resource managers to ensure that the land is healthier and able to support future generations. Yet, the Endangered Species Act and a host of state agencies are now ignoring the benefits of modern resource management and the symbiotic relationship and dependency that exist between forest managers, famers, ranchers and the environment. Short sighted implementation of regulations that place onerous financial burden, force public policy on private land, tread on liberty, take private property, encourage development and negatively impact habitat and unintended species continue to plague the west. Is it any wonder that species do not recover and that California has become a business killer?
Curtailing logging has led to the highest density of forests in the history of the Pacific Northwest, resulting in elevated evapo-transpiration rates. Couple that with low snow pack and drought level precipitation and you have less available total surface flow available for fish, wildlife, municipalities and agriculture. Additionally, we have seen a higher number of catastrophic wildfires costing states and the federal government (tax payers) millions upon millions of dollars. Would it not be beneficial to harvest timber, generate local revenue, increase potential flows and save money from fighting fires?
Current recovery strategies are at odds with each other. One plan calls for creating Coho habitat which negatively impacts Chinook. Another plan calls for all banks to be stabilized and eliminate erosion, which negatively impacts the habitat for bank swallows. Yet another plan only allows for prescribed burning during the time of year with the highest risk of fire. Short sighted planning must be stopped. The government and agencies are only causing more problems than they are solving. Environmental extremists have pushed the envelope too far. It is time for reason to return to regulation.
Common sense tells us there is a need for balance. Allow logging to resume utilizing modern practices, increase available surface flows, improve available habitat and provide the necessary water to farmers and ranchers. Build more water storage facilities, do not remove them. Modify existing structures to accommodate for fishery needs, green power and irrigation, do not take them out. Acknowledge that agriculture, including timber, is potentially the biggest positive contributor and enhancer to salmon and wildlife habitat when allowed to operate with modern technology and management practices. Continued regulation and restriction will only exacerbate the existing problems. The Endangered Species Act must be reformed to recognize the value of timber operations, farms, ranches and local economies in BALANCE with nature.