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Friday, December 10, 2010
Unnecessary protection of some species
By Andy Caldwell

Years ago, our country took steps to insure that no species would go extinct if something could be done to prevent it.  Thus, we created the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The ESA entailed listing species that are on the verge of extinction or critically close- at least this is what the ESA pretends to do!  These many decades later, the Federal government is hard pressed to show that they have successfully recovered any species that was not erroneously listed as endangered in the first place.  Further, the ESA has been so distorted by environmental, judicial and bureaucratic activists that I believe we need to start all over.
 
I agree with the premise that we should do everything within our power to prevent the extinction of any species.  However, the ESA has been distorted to protect the sub-species of sub-species in remote locales despite the fact that the actual species is in abundant supply in other regions.  For instance, it is true that salmon are extinct or nearly extinct on the Santa Maria River, yet that has more to do with the average annual rainfall in our watershed!  In other parts of the world, there is no shortage of salmon that would bring one to believe this species is on the verge of extinction.  The same goes for the Tiger Salamander and Snowy Plover.  These animals can be found in abundance in regions that have the right geographical and climatic conditions conducive to their well being.
 
To make matters worse, the ESA has also morphed into a habitat protection plan.  The theory goes that species experience decline as their natural habitat is diminished or impacted primarily due to mankind’s activities.  Thus, vast swaths of lands, in some cases, millions of acres can be determined to be critical habitat for just one species, such as the Reg Legged Frog.  The ESA and the government agencies that enforce it turn a deaf ear and blind eye to natural causes of species decline, including weather patterns, disease and natural predation.  Further, the cost to protect and attempt to recover a species and its habitat is not bound by cost and neither is there any consideration to force private landowners to bear the full brunt of the costs.  The ESA concerns itself with preventing a take of a species with nary a concern for a taking of private property.  Thus, the ESA trumps our Constitutional Bill of Rights that indicates that the government is not allowed to take private property for a public benefit without financial remuneration.
 
Recently, we saw the County of Santa Barbara fork out $400,000 to set up a conservation easement for Tiger Salamanders near Lompoc.  That really is small change compared to the $15 million tax payers are spending to restore Trout runs on the Santa Ynez River.  And even that is small change compared to the tens of millions of dollars that are going to be spent in one way or another to restore salmon runs on the Santa Maria River. 
 
The most significant and ridiculous costs associated with the ESA has to do with the Regional Water Board’s role in all this.  The Regional Board lists the Santa Maria River’s dry riverbed as an impaired water body.  They claim that the river should be healthy enough to facilitate enjoyment of the river for water contact recreation (swimming) and fishing!  As a test to see if the water is clean enough for fishing, they figure it has to be clean enough to support bugs the fish might eat as they travel up and down the river to and from their spawning grounds.  For this, they want the farmers to capture and treat all the water that runs off their property and they will eventually ask municipalities to do the same. 
 
Andy Caldwell is the Executive Director of COLAB and a 42 year resident of the Central Coast.  For contact information, visit the COLAB website at www.colabsbc.org
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