Conservation – not more control
By Paul Driessen
President Obama’s parting edicts betrayed Israel and commuted prison sentences for terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera and traitor Bradley/Chelsea Manning. Another abused the Antiquities Act yet again, by banning economic use on an additional 1.7 million acres in Utah, where the federal government controls 61% of the state’s land. (This one new lock-up is nearly equal to Delaware and Rhode Island combined.)
The withdrawal was on top of 320 million acres in national park, preserve, wildlife refuge, wilderness and other restrictive land use categories – plus “buffer zones” around many of those areas – nearly all of it in the eleven westernmost states and Alaska. That’s equivalent to virtually all the land in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.
Folks in Eastern and Midwestern states have no idea what it is like to have federal bureaucrats controlling 30-87% of lands within their borders, and affecting vast additional acreage – questioning, studying, delaying, blocking and escalating costs for every proposal and project. They’re about to get an inkling.
With yet another last-minute regulation, the Obama Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) designated the rusty patched bumblebee (RPB) an endangered species, because its populations have declined significantly in recent years. It did so in response to a petition and a sue-and-settle lawsuit by the activist Xerces Society, which originally claimed the decline was due to “low population dynamics,” habitat loss, and a nasty parasitic fungal infection that spread to RPBs from commercially raised bees imported from Europe.
Then, out of the blue, Xerces and the FWS suddenly and inexplicably revised their rationales, to argue that most of the blame should be attributed to pesticides, specifically neonicotinoids – the advanced technology, reduced-risk pesticides that farmers love and radical environmentalists have been trying to ban for years. In another nod to green extremists, the agency also blamed herbicides like RoundUp, saying the weeds they kill in farmers’ fields and along highways are important food sources for RPBs.
(Friendly sue-and-settle lawsuits between pressure groups and regulators have been a hallmark of the Obama Administration, and there is good reason to suspect carefully plotted collusion in this case.)
These always rare bumblebees make their nests in the ground. That means any activities that disturb the soil could impact them: road, pipeline, transmission line (for wind, solar or conventional power), housing and other construction projects, and even plowing fields for crops. Ironically, RoundUp-ready crops largely eliminate plowing, which would seemingly increase RPB habitats and populations.
In its rush to beat the January 20 noon deadline, the FWS failed to publish any “survey protocols” for finding RPB nests and avoiding damage to them. All of this means farmers, developers and even homeowners are in murky legal waters and could face fines if they inadvertently harm any nests or bees.
Vast areas are affected. Rusty patched bumblebees were once found from the Dakotas through the Midwest, down to Kentucky and the Carolinas and northward to Maine. Xerces claims the bees have been “sighted” since 2000 in 13 states – including many major corn and soybean producing states, as well as the Upper- and Mid-Atlantic seaboard states.
Having that huge swath of the USA in legal jeopardy – and subject to review, control, delay and penalty by the FWS – is bad enough. But the agency is also pondering endangered status for two more bee species.
The yellow-banded bumblebee has been found all the way from Montana east to New England, and down the Atlantic coast to Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. The western bumblebee’s range includes the entire block of eleven western states plus Alaska: more than a billion acres – nearly half of the entire United States! Just to protect a bumblebee species and its potential habitat.
Put them together, and the Fish & Wildlife Service would regulate nearly three-fourths of the USA. The bumblebee listings would be the highest impact designations in Endangered Species Act (ESA) history – and would rival the EPA’s CO2 endangerment rule, Clean Power Plan and Waters of the US power grab.
Most Americans associate the ESA with prominent conservation achievements, such as reversing the near-extinction of iconic national emblems like the bald eagle, alligator and bison. However, the ESA has increasingly been invoked to “protect” small, obscure creatures like beetles, other bugs and the snail darter of Tellico Dam fame – and often to block energy and economic development.
Three invented spotted owl subspecies ended timber cutting in many states – often resulting in super-hot conflagrations that incinerate forests, soil organisms and endangered species alike. The delta smelt’s 2010 endangered species designation is being used to deny water to farmers and communities in California’s Central Valley, costing thousands of jobs, millions in agricultural damage and numerous bankruptcies – while regulators flushed billions of gallons of water into the sea in unsuccessful efforts to help the fish.
Indeed, it seems only wind turbines are exempted from the ESA’s draconian rules and penalties. Worse, threatened or endangered designation has only rarely been used as a foundation for proactive efforts to restore species populations. In some cases, environmentalists have opposed human intervention: hatching California condors and releasing the grown adults into the wild, or employing fish hatcheries for smelts.
The real activist and regulator goal of ESA designations – and actual result – seems to be land use control.
With regard to neonicotinoid seed treatments, which account for over 90% of neonic usage, even EPA recently concluded that these insecticides pose no threat to honeybees, and careful practices can easily mitigate potential risks from spraying them. In fact, growing scientific evidence is so overwhelming that neonics are safe for domesticated bees and wild bees (native bees) alike that anti-pesticide groups are now focusing on bumblebees, which have declined in numbers and about which much less is known.
The real threats to all bee species continue to be natural and imported mites, fungi and other diseases. There is little evidence that government-mandated efforts to “restore” lost habitat for bumblebees (or other “endangered” species) will actually bring them back.
Many suspect that these last-ditch DC diktats have little to do with conservation – and are primarily designed to expand government control over land use and development. That’s why a 2016 FWS decision to expand its definition of “critical habitat” caused 18 state attorneys general to sue the agency over its asserted authority to “protect” areas where endangered species do not currently live, calling it an unconstitutional “taking” of private property without compensation.
This and countless other Obama Administration actions also help explain why 98% of all US counties voted for Donald Trump, and why Republicans now control the House and Senate, 33 governorships and 68 state legislative chambers. Hillary Clinton won only in coastal cities, academic enclaves and very poor areas; in fact, without her margins in just five New York City and LA counties, she would have lost both the popular and Electoral College votes, notes John Steele Gordon.
All of this suggests that most of America is tired of being governed by unelected, unaccountable, elitist, illegitimate Washington bureaucrats who don’t understand or care about citizens’ concerns and needs.
The endangered species actions raise vital questions for the new Congress and Trump Administration:
Amid all the other high-priority items, how can we block and defund this last-ditch RPB overreach?
How can we repeal, replace, repair and improve the Endangered Species Act, to prevent future abuses, balance human and wildlife needs, and find ways to recover populations of threatened and endangered species without controlling or shutting down thousands of human activities on hundreds of millions of acres? It’s an essential component of restoring power from Washington to the people.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power - Black death and other books on environmental issues.