A Bad Law Must Be Repealed

February 6, 2006

By Tom Deweese

Congress is going through the process of trying to fix the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Why do they think it needs fixing? Because, quite simply, the ESA is the worst law ever to be enacted by Congress.

For thirty two years the ESA has taken control of private land out of the hands of the owners in the name of protecting endangered species. Yet, the ESA is actually responsible for the destruction of whole industries and the towns they supported, as lumber mills are shut down for lack of cut trees. Farmers and ranchers have lost vital grazing land. Urgently needed minerals are left in the ground and imported from foreign countries because the ESA blocks mining efforts.

The ESA has become a very powerful tool, used by radical environmentalists who want to stop literally any use of certain lands for any purpose. They have made up endangered species like the Spotted Owl, which actually flourishes throughout the Northwestern part of the nation. Environmentalists have used the ESA to block the building of hospitals and airports, always claiming to find an obscure sand flea or snail darter buried somewhere in the sand. Los Angeles International Airport urgently needs to build new runways, but environmentalists claim the108 acre plot of land is home to the Riverdale fairy shrimp that sometimes live in swampy areas. The entire community of Klamath Falls, Oregon has been literally choked to death as its water supply was shut off to protect a sucker fish that isn’t endangered. The law suits begin. The costs go up. The projects die. Jobs are lost. It happens time after time.

The ESA is also used by industry to hurt its competition. The Surdna Foundation, which was created with money from the timber fortune of the John E. Andrus estate, makes grants in the millions of dollars to a wide array of environmental groups whose sole purpose is to enforce the Endangered Species Act. In one case, documents show that Surdna made grants in excess of one million dollars in “an emergency action to protect forests and save the environment.” As a result of those grants and the actions they paid for, thirty six lumber mills were closed in Northern California, 8,000 loggers lost their jobs, and the price of lumber, now in severe shortage, rose dramatically. Who gained? Surdna, which owns its own timber operation that was left unharassed by environmental legal action. Surdna earned a profit of $2.7 million from the otherwise devastated timber industry.

Yet, all of this pain and suffering is for absolutely nothing, as far as endangered species are concerned. Incredible as it may sound to the average American, in the 32 years since the ESA has been on the books, just 34 of the nearly 1,300 U.S. species listed have made their way off the endangered list. Of this number, 9 species are now extinct, 14 appear to have been improperly listed in the first place, and just 9, (.6% of all species listed) have recovered sufficiently to be delisted. A less than 1% recovery rate proves the ESA does nothing to protect endangered species – it just makes special interest groups and the government more powerful.

No law should have this kind of power over a free American people. To believe that Congress has any shot at fixing such a bad law is to also believe in the Easter Bunny. It’s not going to happen. The fix may, in fact, be worse than the original as the radical environmental groups see an opportunity to actually strengthen the law.

Current efforts to fix the ESA are now before Congress. The House has already passed the “Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act (TESRA, HR 3824), sponsored by House Resource Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA). Supporters of the ESA were outraged by TESRA’s efforts to at least provide some compensation to besieged property owners. Consequently, driven by the insistence of the environmental movement, much of the pro-property language has been gutted or watered down. The Senate now has several versions of its own, all worse than the House version. The fact is, the ESA is the holy grail of the environmental movement. It will not allow even a single comma to be changed without all out war.

There is only one valid answer to this outrageous situation. Repeal the ESA and, if necessary, start over. Such a repeal effort has begun. A coalition of national property rights groups led by the American Land Foundation, Stewards of the Range and the American Policy Center are currently circulating a letter to the Senate calling for repeal of the ESA. A key section of the letter states: “Congress needs to revisit the wisdom of the Founding Fathers who believed the ownership of property must be secured from government intervention for liberty to exist. Take that security away through environmental laws like the ESA, and not only is liberty not secure, it no longer exists. You only have to look at the past 30 years since the enactment of the ESA to see what it has produced – the dramatic destruction of property rights and the failure to recover species.”

The coalition already has gained several thousand signatures of property rights activists and property owners. The full letter can be found at www.stewards.us and can be signed on line. More signatures are urgently needed before it is presented to Senate leadership.

As the debate grows and the legislative process gets underway in the Senate, the letter can be key to sending a warning to the Senate that not all Americans are blindly supporting the Endangered Species Act. Americans should not have to suffer under such bad law simply because of a radical political agenda perpetrated by a few powerful special interest groups. Says Margaret Byfield, executive director of Stewards of the Range, “Landowners are tired of losing their land and livelihoods while Congress discusses ways to slow the bleeding.”

In this day, when Americans have come to understand the horrors of widespread government abuse of eminent domain, such as in the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision, we should rightly fear the creation of a new ESA that could best be called Kelo 2.

Tom DeWeese
[email protected]

Tom DeWeese is President of the American Policy Center and National Grassroots Coordinator for CFACT (Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow) working to help local activists organize into Freedom Pods (www.CFACT.org). He is also the author of three books, including Now Tell Me I Was Wrong, ERASE, and Sustainable: the WAR on Free Enterprise, Private Property, and Individuals.