Group making a point with
WOOD, Staff Writer 1/26/05
A group of politicians from Western states has
embarked on an unlikely cause: having the voracious,
invasive northern snakehead declared as an
But the move isn't so much about the toothy fish
- it's a stunt aimed at gaining attention to
property owners' concerns about the federal
government infringing on their rights to protect
Alan Gardner, a commissioner in rural
Washington County, Utah, admitted the application is
a ploy for publicity.
"It may let other people in other areas
realize what impact the Endangered Species Act has
on them," Mr. Gardner said.
The petition filed by Mr. Gardner and
government officials from a dozen other Western
states asks the federal government to protect the
northern snakehead and its possible habitat - a
massive stretch of land from upstate New York to
parts of North Carolina.
In Utah and other Western states, property
owners have clashed with federal authorities and
environmentalists over the implementation of the
Endangered Species Act for decades. Most notably,
protecting the northern spotted owl was blamed for
logging operations in the Pacific Northwest grinding
to a halt in the early 1990s.
The petitioners are asking the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service to declare the snakehead
"endangered" and adopt rules to preserve its
habitat, including scores of streams and rivers and
a five-mile radius along their banks. The area
includes 67 million acres of mostly private land in
eleven Eastern states and the District of Columbia.
A bare-bones Web site,
www.conservationwire.com, shows a map of the massive
"That's something we feel is totally
reasonable under the act and how it's interpreted
here in the West," Mr. Gardner said.
The northern snakehead, channa argus, is
native to Asia but appeared in a Crofton pond in
2002. With a huge appetite, the ability to breathe
air and wriggle short distances across land, the
snakehead set off alarms at the Maryland Department
of Natural Resources. Officials feared the snakehead
could eat or crowd out native fish.
The DNR eventually poisoned the pond and
found hundreds of juvenile snakeheads. More
recently, they've been found in the Potomac River.
Upon hearing of the "endangered" application
yesterday, a top DNR official reiterated the
agency's anti-snakehead stance.
"We don't know what the problems with
snakeheads will be and we don't want to use the
Chesapeake Bay watershed as an experimental tank to
find out," said Jonathan McKnight, associate
director of habitat conservation for the DNR.
Mitch Snow, a spokesman for the Fish and
Wildlife Service in Washington, confirmed that his
agency received the petition. He said he couldn't
comment, however, until the agency has finished a
preliminary review of the application, which would
take at least 90 days.
The snakehead faces significant challenges to
be considered endangered or threatened, a lesser
level. For starters, the Fish and Wildlife Service
already has declared the snakehead "injurious" to
other wildlife. Invasive species aren't normally
considered for protection.
What Mr. Gardner and the co-applicants really
want is for Congress to change the Endangered
Species Act. They want outside scientific review of
listing decisions, clearer definitions in plans to
bring back a species and a clearer sense of when a
species can be taken off the list.
Mr. Gardner complained that environmental
groups hijack the Endangered Species Act to stop
Robert Nelson, an environmental policy
professor at the University of Maryland, College
Park, said Mr. Gardner's concerns are nothing new
"This kind of thing is going on all the
time," said Mr. Nelson, a former government official
who specializes in land management issues. "A lot of
rural Western states see the Endangered Species Act
as a way of infringing on their private property
He said those seeking changes in the
Endangered Species Act have a "better shot" at
getting reform in the current Congress, because of
strong Republican majorities in both houses as well
as a Republican in the White House.
Mr. Gardner stressed he has a bipartisan
coalition behind the snakehead application. The
co-signers are county-level officials in Arizona,
California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New
Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota,
Washington and Wyoming.