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 News from South Dakota Secretary on the ESA, posted 7/18/05

Does the king have clothes?

About all one need say is, "the Endangered Species Act" (ESA) and the arguments begin about this "king" of natural resource management. Congress is doing that right now.

Just like ordinary people, most Congressmen already have their minds made up. The difference is many are afraid to say so. I admit my bias up front. ESA makes no sense to me.

First, I know of nothing in the Constitution that says the federal government should regulate state-owned property. All the wildlife here is owned by the State of South Dakota. Giving control to Congress makes no sense to me.

Second, managing a chunk of the environment for the exclusive benefit on one particular critter is exactly what preservationists have been arguing against for a hundred years. The difference is the "one particular critter" is now a rodent instead of a cow. They can't have it both ways.

Third, ESA does not work and everyone knows it. The "isolated wilderness" and "save a single species" ideas were tested for fifty years. They don't work. That is why the conservation movement invented "ecosystem management" twenty years ago and why the United State Forest Service officially adopted it into law ten years ago. We now manage natural resources for the big picture, not for the preservation of just one little thing.

Even members of the "green movement" acknowledged the old system's failure, but they argued for keeping ESA until the new system was in place. Time is up.

Fourth, extinction is a perfectly normal cycle of selection that operated long before man decided he knew better how to run things.

Fifth, the assumption that each one of the millions of critters potentially protected by ESA has some mystical and extraordinary value may create a noble feeling, but it is not rational.

Sixth, Congress says a protected species or subspecies is "unique". The people who collect the money are the people who decide it is unique. For example, the Northern Swift Fox was a protected "unique" subspecies until another group of researchers decided it does not exist.

Last but not least, Congress is generally the worst imaginable manager of natural resources.

If you want millions of acres of scorched black earth, let Congress manage your forests. If you want barren grasslands, give them to Congress.

If you want just about anything (including your money) lost or destroyed without meaningful accountability, normally Congress can help you out.

If you are a real conservationist like me, you may agree that local governments and local owners are better managers of natural resources than Congress ever will be.





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