ESA: A Clearing of the Air

July 12, 2005

Action Alert! Action Alert! Action Alert!

Due to recent confusion and half-truths concerning the coming effort to reauthorize Endangered Species Act, the American Policy Center feels it is time to clear the air a bit.

Some of our frequent allies on property rights are playing word games with grassroots property rights advocates in hopes of deceiving them into supporting what appears to be a bad bill. They refer to themselves as compromisers, winners, and realists who just want to work within the political system to accomplish what is “doable” on the Endangered Species Act. They say they have nothing but the best intentions. That they only want to do what is best for landowners. That it is now or never if we’re going to reform the ESA. That everyone should follow them, because it’s better to get some than none at all.

Anyone who disagrees with them is labeled an “extremist,” or a “purist.” In other words, if you believe that the government has no right to steal your property because it harbors a spotted owl or a snail darter — and you fight for that belief and make your voice heard — you are nothing but a malcontent. A doe-eyed optimist. Or maybe just a dumb hick who “doesn’t understand how Washington works.”

Unfortunately these self-described compromisers and realists do not have the interests of property rights advocates at heart. They are working as merely an extension of a congressional office and powerful industry lobbyists. As such, it seems their goal is not to protect property rights with regard to the ESA. Rather, their goal is to shepherd property rights advocates down a path to nowhere — all the while reassuring everyone that there is partial salvation at the end of the road. Amazingly, they compare themselves to great liberators. In truth, they are behaving more as wolves in sheep’s clothing.

The details of a long-anticipated ESA reform bill have now been made public in the press and by various political interests. These details come directly from Congressman Richard Pombo’s office. If they are accurate — and most folks (including those who are championing the bill) agree that they are accurate — then true property rights advocates have nothing to cheer, and plenty to lament.

For one, the bill pretends to offer landowners partial compensation when their property rights are taken under the ESA. Let us explain. The bill says that property owners may only seek compensation for the taking of private property if at least 50 percent of the property is taken. This means that if the government deems that only 49.9 percent of your property was taken, then you get nothing. Can you make do with half of your property?

Moreover, this 50 percent threshold is only the STARTING point. It is just the initial offering. As those who have been around Washington awhile know, once the fighting begins over this bill, and once the greens start their multi-million dollar assault, this already meager 50 percent threshold will almost certainly be whittled down to nothing. 50 percent would be a bad compromise, yet some want to offer it as a strong starting point. It is most certainly not.

But even those who have at least 50 percent of their property stolen by the government will likely never receive compensation anyway. Why? Because, reportedly, the bill does nothing to fix the issue of “ripeness.” Once your land is taken, you still have to file an “incidental take” permit and it can take years before you get any response. In the meantime, you’ve lost the use of your land for all of those years. When your permit is finally rejected, if you still have anything left, you can now go to court — and begin that long, drawn-out, expensive process. This has been the major problem with the ESA. Yet nothing is being done about it.

And then there is the dreaded invasive species provision. According to the details, the bill creates a new authority within the Endangered Species Act to regulate invasive species! Unbelievable. Invasive species are any plants or animals that are not native to a particular area. For example: Kentucky bluegrass on golf courses and English ivy on lawns. The radical greens have wanted invasive species regulation for years because they know it is the key to eventually having the power to regulate and control virtually every square inch of land in America. And under this so-called new and improved ESA, the greens will have this power. Property rights advocates have been fighting the invasive species nightmare tooth-and-nail for years. And now our so-called property rights allies are trying to sell this as a win for landowners? The absurdity of it all is beyond comprehension.

Here is the bottom line.

If you support the repeal of the Endangered Species Act, this bill is not for you. Reauthorizing the ESA now will take the repeal issue off the table for at least ten years, perhaps a generation.

If you support full property rights protections within the Endangered Species Act, this bill is not for you. From what we’ve seen so far, this bill is all smoke and mirrors and no real property rights protections. Don’t be fooled.

If you support partial property rights protections within the Endangered Species Act, this bill is not for you. Again, from what we’ve seen thus far, takings will continue unabated and will likely even increase due to the invasive species language.

If you support business as usual with the Endangered Species Act, by all means, this bill is for you.

Of course, we hope that what we’ve seen so far in the press and from Congress is not actually representative of the bill itself. We hope that when the actual ESA “reform” bill is introduced it doesn’t have all the major deficiencies mentioned above. However, we’ve been given no reason to be optimistic. So we must prepare for the worst — and also make certain that our loyal supporters are prepared.

Our job is to tell the truth and fight the battle for property rights as it must be fought — straight on. In light of the horrendous Supreme Court ruling on Kelo v. New London, we simply can not afford another devastating sellout on property rights.

Stay tuned, but in the meantime, see the Action to Take below.

* Action to Take *

Call your Representative and urge him or her not to support any ESA reauthorization bill that doesn’t fully protect property rights100 percent. Tell him or her that the ESA ought to be repealed, not strengthened. Explain that it would be a serious, serious mistake to reauthorize the ESA without fully bringing the bill in line with the U.S. Constitution. No half measures. No invasive species nightmares. No smoke and mirror property rights language. Capitol Hill Switchboard: (202) 225-3121. Simply ask for your Representative by name. Call TODAY, THIS WEEK, AND NEXT WEEK.


Tom DeWeese
[email protected]

Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.