Endangered Species (was Re: Miss Pop Ulation)

James Rogers (jamesr@best.com)
Fri, 3 Dec 1999 14:22:10 -0800

On Thu, 02 Dec 1999, Harvey Newstrom wrote:
> Facts, please! According to one study mentioned on
> <http://www.cnie.org/nle/biodv-1.html>, there are an average of 407 animals
> left in each species of invertebrates on the Endangered Species List.

Actually, it says that the *median* population is 407 animals (for vertebrates), not the average. A big difference. While a large percentage of the species listed with the ESA really are endangered, there is a good sized fraction that are most certainly not. See below.

> The listing of an endangered species by the Endangered Species Act
> of 1973 (ESA) requires a risk of global extinction, not local disappearance.
> Please give references where an endangered species was listed while
> "flourishing by the millions in other, less visited, regions of the planet."

Only in theory. The criteria for listing allows for many exceptions, which have in practice been exploited in every conceivable fashion.

Example of locale specific endangerment: The bald eagle.

The bald eagle was originally designated endangered south of the 40th parallel. Later legislation expanded it to the entire lower 48 states. I believe the bald eagle was reduced to several hundred breeding pairs in the lower 48 at one time. However, Alaska was specifically exempted. Why? Because Alaska (and Canada) had a large and healthy population of bald eagles that were being actively culled to control the populations (they are avian coyotes in some respects). And quite honestly, I've never been on a trip to Alaska at any time where I didn't see dozens of them; they are as rare as pigeons up there. The bald eagle in Alaska has been put on the list off and on in recent years, but mostly as the result of a tug-of-war between environmentalists and Alaskan agricultural concerns, not as a function of population.

The requirements for listing are easily manipulated:

Decisions to list a species is based on petitions and other documentation submitted by private parties. Unless the listing authority has recent documentation specifically refuting the documentation submitted with the petition, the species in question will usually be listed based on the documentation submitted with a petition-to-list.

One of the more egregious side-effects is caused by who is allowed to submit petitions to list or de-list a species. Listing or de-listing a species requires documentation be submitted by a qualified scientist. However, any documentation submitted by parties with economic interests that could be affected by a listing are invalid by law. The result is that it is very easy for people with environmental agendas to list a species, but extremely difficult for those people affected by the listing to de-list a species or contest a petition-to-list, even if the petition-to-list contains bogus or unsubstantiated information. The people most affected by a listing are, by law, not allowed to contest a listing.

Environmentalists use the ESA as a weapon to lock up vast tracts of land from human use: see Elko county, Nevada.

This is the part that really pisses me off. The more extreme environmental groups are using the ESA as a tool for their own agendas without regard to the real purpose of the ESA. In the case of Elko County, they wanted to turn a large section of Humboldt forest area into an off-limits wilderness area. The small population that lives there wasn't interested in their plan, since they hunt and fish in those areas. Solution: the environmentalists listed the local population of Bull Trout as endangered in that locale, creating an instant critical habitat area that is off-limits to humans. The Bull Trout species is not endangered; it lives in many other areas and the local population of Bull Trout was very healthy. The listing of the trout was purely a strongarm tactic.

And to top it off with a purely anecdotal story:

I was fishing off the coast of British Columbia with a local fisherman. While we were fishing, I noticed we were being followed by enormous flocks of sea birds (the name escapes me at the moment). The fisherman told me that those birds could not be harmed because they were an endangered species. Looking at the thousand or so bird directly behind our little boat, I thought he was kidding. Nope. According to him those birds became endangered at some place along the U.S. coast (Oregon I think he said), and as a result were endangered everywhere. He claimed that when a large fishing vessels dumped barrels of chum various fish parts overboard, thousands of those birds would descend like a swarm of locusts. They used to drive the birds off with guns(they eat all the bait), but since they became "endangered", they've had to live with them.

It is all fine and well that they want to protect the ~1,200 species currently listed in the U.S., but the current listing process is does not require scientific rigor and is often very political.

-James Rogers