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Pacific Legal Foundation Releases Earth Day
List of Top 5 “Human Costs” of Environmental Extremism

Sacramento,CA; April 21, 2004: Pacific Legal Foundation today released its Earth Day List of Top 5 “Human Costs” of Environmental Extremism, providing factual and legal evidence that inflexible environmental laws and overregulation are dramatically impacting people’s lives and livelihoods every day, often for species protections that are illegal or unnecessary.

The top five human costs of environmental extremism are:
  • Separating people from nature.
  • Cutting people off from water to give to fish.
  • Extinguishing hundreds of thousands of jobs.
  • Diminishing the American dream of home ownership, and
  • Blocking forest fire prevention that saves lives and homes.

“Organizations with an extreme view of environmental protection have violated the trust of the American people who care about our environment, but are not willing to stand by while human values are disregarded,” said , Vice President of Pacific Legal Foundation. “This Earth Day, PLF is exposing how inflexible environmental laws and overregulation put species first and people last.”

“People are paying a high price in their personal lives for overzealous environmental laws and regulation. People have lost homes, farms, jobs and even their lives to protect plants, insects, and fish,” added Stirling. “Today we’re shining the spotlight on the human costs of environmental excess.”

Human Cost #1: Separating People from NatureFamilies Kicked Off 210 Miles of Pacific Coast Beaches Despite Court Ruling that Restrictions are Illegally Imposed

Americans love the outdoors. Yet some environmental activists continue to advance the idea that people are not part of the “environmental equation.” More and more, environmental activists are fighting to limit human access to our public lands, parks and beaches in the name of “species protection.”

For example, beachgoers, tourists and local residents in California, Oregon, and Washington are currently facing severe beach use restrictions on over 210 miles of Pacific coastline designated as “critical habitat” for a small shorebird known as the Western snowy plover. In some areas, people can no longer enjoy beach recreation or even walking on the beach because miles of beaches have been roped off to them.

What’s worse is that the government is enforcing these illegally imposed restrictions. Two years ago, in response to a lawsuit brought by PLF, a federal court ruled that the critical habitat for the plover was unlawful because the government had failed to perform an adequate economic impact analysis as required under the ESA. (The government had reported that it expected no economic impact from putting restrictions on hundreds of miles of coastline where beach tourism and recreation are an economic mainstay.) Although the court ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must redo the evaluation, the judge left the illegal designations in place while the Service performs the new review-a process the government says may take four years.

But that’s not all. The Western snowy plover is not actually threatened. In February, PLF filed a lawsuit charging the government with sitting on two delisting petitions for the plover that include over 500 pages of data showing the plover is not threatened. After ignoring the data for nearly two years, the Service announced last month that the petitions showed that delisting the plover “may be warranted” and that it would reconsider the listing over the next year. In the meantime, people are still being excluded from beaches.

“The plover is not threatened and the government has admitted the beach restrictions are illegal, yet people still won’t be able to use the beaches for years to come while we wait for government bureaucrats to redo evaluations they should have done correctly in the first place,” said Stirling.

— PLF Attorney Contact on this Issue: /

Human Cost #2: Cutting People Off from Water to Give to FishKlamath Farming Families Wiped Out for Fish Listed under Illegal Counting Method

People and fish have one very vital thing in common-they both need water to survive. But increasingly, environmental activists are putting the speculative needs of fish over the actual needs of people.

In 2001, for example, environmentalists convinced the government to shut off water to farmers and their families in the Klamath Basin on the Oregon/California border, who have been farming in the region and paying for their water for over a century. The reason? To provide more water to “endangered” salmon, even though there was no scientific evidence that the fish should even be listed as “endangered.” Klamath farmers lost their crops and the local economy lost an estimated $200 million in crop and property value, devastating the region. Some families lost farms that had been in their families for generations.

But recent events reveal that the farmers’ loss was based on illegal listings. In February, PLF won a landmark victory at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals when the court let stand a 2001 federal district court ruling that the government had been illegally undercounting coho salmon along the Oregon coast to justify its listing under the ESA. Specifically, the government had been illegally excluding hatchery born salmon in fish counts to qualify naturally spawned salmon for listing. The government is using the same illegal counting methods for the salmon in the Klamath Basin, as well as chinook, chub, sockeye, and steelhead salmon throughout the West.

Incredibly, a study by the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), Accounting for Species: Calculating the True Costs of the Endangered Species Act, released last week by PLF, reports that salmon species accounted for the top five most expensive species listed under the ESA in 2000. In addition, a 2002 study by the General Accounting Office reported that taxpayers spent $1.505 billion in taxpayer dollars from 1997 to 2001 to preserve salmon in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Yet many of these salmon have been illegally listed for years.

“American taxpayers are paying hundreds of millions of dollars a year to protect salmon that never should have been listed in the first place,” said Stirling. “Billions have been wasted and people’s lives have been devastated for fish that are not endangered.”

--- PLF Attorney Contact on this Issue:

Human Cost #3: Extinguishing Hundreds of Thousands of JobsWorking Families Lose Jobs, Way of Life to Protect Species; Jobs Shipped Overseas

Excessive ESA regulation on agricultural production, forest management and other industries destroys businesses and jobs, with far-reaching effects on the American economy. The workers in these industries are hit the hardest.

For example, in the late 1980s, environmentalists filed a series of lawsuits invoking ESA protections for the northern spotted owl. In 1991, a federal court ruling shut down logging on 24 million acres in Oregon, Washington, and northern California. According to PERC’s study “Accounting for Species,” at least 130,000 jobs were lost when more than 900 sawmills, pulp and paper mills closed to protect the owl. Thousands of families lost not only their incomes and their homes, but their way of life.

Protections for the California spotted owl have been equally destructive. Although it has never been officially listed under the ESA, environmentalists’ lawsuits pressured the U.S. Forest Service to set aside tens of thousands of Sierra Nevada mountain forest acres as protected habitat for the California spotted owl. By 2000, over 50 percent of the region’s timber harvesting had stopped, and a corresponding percentage of its lumber mills shut down.

These jobs have now been shipped outside the United States. Despite the fact that there are more trees in those forests today than there were when the environmentalists’ lawsuits where filed in the late 1980s, 80 percent of the wood products used on California building and construction products now come from out of the country.

But there’s more. In February, 2003, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a shocking disclosure: the California spotted owl was not in need of special habitat protection, nor had such protection ever been necessary. Yet it took more than a decade and tens of millions of dollars in research for the government to reach this decision.

“The economic losses suffered by America’s timber and farming families is a classic example of the devastating impact of environmental extremism on ordinary people. These families’ lives and livelihoods were destroyed because of environmental zealotry, often for species that never needed protection,” Stirling said.

--- PLF Attorney Contact on this Issue:

Cost #4: Diminishing the American Dream of Home OwnershipGovernment Shuts Down 400,000 Acres to Development in Midst of Housing Crunch after “Guessing” at Snake’s Habitat

ESA regulatory delays and fees impede development, reduce the supply of affordable housing, and increase home prices and commute times. Consumers at the lowest end of the housing affordability spectrum disproportionately bear this economic burden.

For example, over the last few years, the Bay Area in northern California has faced one of the worst housing shortages in the nation. Workers all over the region commute as much as four hours a day to and from work because of the lack of affordable housing. Nevertheless, in October, 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 406,708 acres in Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, and San Joaquin counties as critical habitat for the Alameda whipsnake, 61 percent of which was private land sorely needed for residential development in the East Bay Area. The government had rushed the designation as part of the settlement of a lawsuit by an environmental activist organization.

Pacific Legal Foundation sued to stop the designation, and exposed the fact that the government admitted that it did not have adequate survey data to know what land was actually occupied by the whipsnake. Rather than performing a proper study, government bureaucrats guessed-including all “potential” habitat within the snake’s range in the designation.

In May, 2003, PLF won a landmark decision at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. The court ruled that the government had illegally ignored the requirements of the Endangered Species Act in designating critical habitat for the whipsnake and invalidated the designation.

“Environmental groups shamelessly misuse the Endangered Species Act as a tool to stop development,” said Stirling. “The real victims of the environmentalists’ game are families who can’t afford to buy a home because abusive environmental regulation has priced them out of the market.”

--- PLF Attorney Contact on this Issue:

Human Cost #5: Blocking Forest Fire Prevention that Saves Lives & Homes Wildfires Consume Tens of Thousands of Acres in the Name of “Species Protection”

Environmental extremism costs human lives. Last year, devastating fires in southern California destroyed hundreds of homes and killed 16 people, seriously injuring many more. These and other recent fires that have devastated thousands of acres throughout the West were in large part due to delays in implementing forest fire prevention policies caused by ESA regulation and lawsuits filed by environmentalist organizations.

Last week, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Blue Ribbon Fire Commission released a report finding that inflexible environmental regulation, including the Endangered Species Act, is one of the key factors blocking “fuel reduction programs” that are critical to forest fire prevention. For example:

  • According to a congressional investigation, cited in the Blue Ribbon Commission report, more than half of all federal projects proposed to reduce fuel were never implemented, including several that would have limited the scope of California’s devastating Firestorm 2003. These programs were caught in a morass of litigation threats and lawsuits.
  • The Los Angeles Times reported that fuel reduction programs (tree and brush thinning) that would have limited the scope of Firestorm 2003 were not implemented because of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s concerns over the threatened California gnatcatcher and other species.

Nationwide, lawsuits by environmentalist organizations-targeted specifically to delay or stop fuel reduction projects-are one of the most difficult roadblocks that face state and federal agencies responsible for fire fighting and prevention. For example:


  • In Montana, an environmental group is suing to stop the use of fire retardants to fight forest fires. If successful, the lawsuit will critically weaken firefighters’ ability to fight fires.
  • In California, environmentalists successfully stopped the fuel reduction and restoration projects following the Star Fire that consumed 17,000 acres in the El Dorado and Tahoe National Forests two years ago. The Star Fire salvage project would have removed fire fuel in 10% of the burned area, replanted trees, and rehabilitated the seared hillsides, but environmentalists convinced the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to enjoin it.
  • In Oregon, the Wilderness Society and other environmental groups have made it clear that they will sue to stop the Biscuit Fire Recovery Plan, a plan aimed at restoring damaged ecology by reforesting portions of the burned forest.

“Environmentalist organizations continue to abuse environmental regulations to block sensible forest fire prevention programs in the name of species protection,” Stirling said. “The irony is that the species they’re supposedly trying to protect are destroyed in forest fires, along with their habitat.”

— PLF Attorney Contact on this Issue:





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