Radical environmentalists' concern for so-called "endangered species" can have far-reaching consequences vis à vis private-property rights.
When Animal Liberation Front activists destroy private property in ill-advised attempts to save animals, local authorities drag them to jail, and the media dismiss the eco-terrorists as being part of a “fringe” group. But when federal regulators destroy the value of private property while trying to save endangered species, national authorities turn their backs. Bill Snape, Chairman of the Endangered Species Coalition, is an example of one who lives in either ignorance or denial of this double standard: "There just aren’t private landowners that I can identify where the value of their property has radically declined as a result of the Endangered Species Act. These landowners don’t exist.”
The many people who have had their lives and livelihoods ruined by Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations would disagree. Consider, for example, the California homeowners whose houses burned to the ground in the early 1990s after federal regulators forbade them to plow fire-resistant areas around their property -- for fear of disturbing the Stevens kangaroo rat. Or consider the families of four firefighters who died battling a forest fire in Washington state because they had to wait 9 and 1/2 hours for permission to draw water from a river that contained federally protected fish.
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution allows the federal government to take land for the public good as long as “just compensation” is provided. But in the case of the Endangered Species Act, the government can harm both the property’s value and its usefulness -- without doing a single thing to reimburse the owner, who, in fact, will still have to pay taxes on the property even if he is not allowed to touch it.
Thus it is no wonder that private landowners -- many of whom enjoyed and protected the wildlife on their land in the years preceding the implementation of the ESA -- find themselves suddenly at odds with the animals. In a process referred to as “Shoot, Shovel, and Shut Up,” many landowners who find endangered species on their land get rid of them before federal officials find out about the animals' presence and declare the land off-limits -- and thus essentially worthless to -- the owner.
The environmentalists on the other side of this issue refuse to budge from their position; they agree with the Animal Liberation Front's view that animals take priority over people. A few more examples of ESA-induced hardship include the following:
- “Camp Pendleton in Southern California is one of the best places to train our men and women in uniform,” says Peyton Knight of the National Center for Public Policy Research. “Yet it is also home to the San Diego fairy shrimp, a tiny crustacean that lives in stagnant puddles of water. Camp Pendleton’s commanding general told Congress in 2003 that endangered species such as the fairy shrimp were the biggest obstacle to military training and readiness on his base.”
- After logging restrictions were placed on federally owned forests in 1989 to protect the northern spotted owl, 288 sawmills in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and California were closed; 31,438 jobs directly related to logging were lost; and 63,000 indirect jobs went away. Years later, it was discovered that the owl populations were not in fact fragile enough to warrant the restrictions after all.
- In 2001, the federal government cut off irrigation water to 1,400 farms in the Klamath Basin of Oregon in order to protect the coho salmon. As a result, farmers had no water during a severe drought, and many had to sell their land. Later, it was learned that the coho salmon were not endangered after all.
Adapted from the article, "De-Prioritizing People," written by Jennifer Biddison and published by TownHall.com on March 28, 2006.