Perhaps it is time for Western states to take a page from the tactics of environmentalists — namely, sue and settle.
Over and over, federal land agencies are eagerly caving in to radical environmental groups seeking to block just about any human endeavor that in anyway comes anywhere near any animal, bird, reptile, bug, weed or minnow whose population is even marginally in decline.
This past fall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) designated as threatened — under the terms of the Endangered Species Act — the bi-state greater sage grouse found along the northern California-Nevada border, supposedly a distinct population segment of about 5,000 remaining birds, even though the birds are legally hunted in both states.
That decision followed an October 2010 lawsuit filed by the Western Watersheds Project challenging grazing permits granted by the Bureau of Land Management.
In the past couple of weeks the FWS designated as threatened the lesser prairie chicken, which are found in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas.
Wild Earth Guardians sued the FWS in 2010 demanding rapid action on the listing status of 251 species. FWS agreed to determine whether to list the lesser prairie chicken by March 31 of this year. That is now a done deed.
Under the settlement, FWS must decide whether to list the greater sage grouse, which are found in 11 Western states, by September 2015. What do you think the odds are?
Kansas and Oklahoma plan to sue the FWS over the listing of the lesser prairie chicken.
Though the lesser prairie chicken population dropped about 50 percent from 2012 to 2013, Jim Pitman, small game coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, says the drop was largely attributed to drought.
“The important thing is the grassland is still there,” Pitman said. Once the grasslands regenerate from wet weather, the bird population will also increase, he said.
Among the topics of litigation the states should pursue are: Are the species really endangered? How scientific are the surveys? Have the federal agencies followed the law in deciding the listing or have they rushed to judgment? Has human activity in any way contributed to population decline or is nature merely taking its course?
Many of the causes of Western species decline have nothing to due with farming, ranching, oil and gas exploration or recreation, but with incompetent land management by the federal agencies, which have ignored fuel management practices and allowed vast wildfires to ravage the ranges. Additionally, there is a lack of predator control, one of the biggest problems for most of the species in question, but a factor ignored by the feds.
Would you trust these people to save a species?
Then there are the multimillion-dollar efforts by federal bureaucrats to save species that nature would have let expire long ago, such as the Devil’s Hole pupfish. These minnows have been so managed, so manipulated that they can no longer truly be said to exist “in the wild.” The federal government even built a $4.5 million aquarium for them that matches the Devil’s Hole environs. Why not just put a couple in a fish tank and let nature take its course with the rest?
The 40-year-old Endangered Species Act is less about saving species than it is about building a huge bureaucracy of overseers. Less than 2 percent of listed species have been delisted. Once on the list they are on the list forever.
Of course the feds are not really serious about restoring species to their natural habitat. They may reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone but they’d not think to reintroducing them to Central Park in New York City.
What about herds of bison roaming eastern Colorado?
There is no balance, no logic, no rationale to the way feds are handling this law. There needs to be cost-benefit-ratio analysis used to determine when the harm to farmers, ranchers, oil and gas exploration and recreation outweigh the fleeting and futile salvation of a few birds, reptiles, rodents, bugs, weeds and minnows. Sue them and let a judge sort it out. — TM