Friday, January 09, 2004
LOS ANGELES — Thirty
years ago, few had heard of the Endangered
Species Act (search),
the new law that had been designed to help
save bald eagles, alligators and California
But in its 30 years on
the books, the law has emerged as a touchstone
for environmentalists, and a brick wall
for developers who say the law is not as
much about saving whales as it is about
"It's the pre-eminent
anti-growth act in America, the pre-eminent
anti-housing, anti-construction, anti-new road
law in America. That's not what it's supposed
to be. It's supposed to be the pre-eminent
species protection act in America," said
property rights activist Laer Pearce.
"They exaggerate the
dangers of the ESA to serve their own selfish
desires to make a profit," said Joel Reynolds
of the Environmental Defense Fund (search).
When the law was created
in 1974, 109 species received protection,
including the grizzly bear and the crane.
Today, the law protects 1,200 species, 60
percent of which are plants.
In the last two years
alone, the federal government has set aside 38
million acres of so-called critical habitat,
including three parcels each the size of Rhode
Island — one for a bird, one for a frog and
the last for an owl.
Critics say that as a
result of the act, endangered flies have
blocked freeway construction, spawning salmon
have brought down dams and suckerfish in
Oregon have put hundreds of farmer out of
In California, a shrimp
that thrives in mud puddles gave government
nearly de facto control over private property,
effectively denying owners the right to build,
farm or sell their land.
"There is a lot of taking
of land that happens," Pearce said, adding
that hundreds of thousands of jobs have been
lost in the mining, construction, logging and
farming industries. "We are forced to give
away a lot of our land and very rarely is
anything given in return."
For six years, the Preble's
jumping mouse (search) has
been on the "endangered" list, stopping dozens
of building projects. Last week, scientists
said they made a mistake. The mouse is
genetically identically to a commonly-found
"Clearly, if that
mouse is listed along with 1,126 animals,
critters, bugs, snakes, bats and rats and all
kinds of other things that are on that list,
it's just going to add to the burdens we face
out West," said Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell,
the snail darter (search) fish,
which stopped construction of a dam in
Tennessee, is not exactly the perfect poster
children for the green agenda, but it is among
dozens of species that would otherwise be
extinct without the law. They credit ESA with
performing exactly as Congress intended.
"It was grounded in the
belief that we share the land with a whole
host of plant and animal species and we have a
moral obligation to share the land with those
species," said Jay Watson of the Wilderness
House Republicans say
ESA's overhaul is long overdue. They say the
bill is symbolic of the worst in big
government and they want to stop the junk
science, curb frivolous lawsuits and balance
the rights of private property owners with
rights of butterflies.
Stamping the act with a
price tag in the billions of dollars and miles
of red tape, the Bush administration also says
should the president win a second term, it
wants to amend the law.
But environmentalists say
they will not budge. Even if the law is
flawed, they say they don't trust this White
House to rewrite it.
"I don't think we'll see
a full-blown effort to tear down the
Endangered Species Act. I think that would be
a huge mistake," Watson said.
"One species is not
endangered and that is the sacred cow," Pearce
Fox News' William
LaJeunesse contributed to this report.