GOP attack on ESA fueled by “Tea Party Fantasies” by Bob Berwyn

You can read Bob’s entire article over at the Summit County Voice.  Apparently the House GOP report also failed to cite any peer-reviewed science.

Below is the first paragraph of Bob’s article.

Anti-environmental Republicans in the House are once again twisting the facts and distorting science in their efforts to dismantle the Endangered Species Act on behalf of various extractive and environmentally harmful industries.

Also, last Thursday, Rep Doc Hastings (R-WA), the GOP Chair of the House Resources Committee, announced that he will not seek reelection this year.

54 thoughts on “GOP attack on ESA fueled by “Tea Party Fantasies” by Bob Berwyn”

  1. Any proposed changes to the ESA, regardless of what it is, is more often than not portrayed as anti environmental. The reasons for proposing changes also get “twisted” around to make the best sound bite for the opposition. The electorate’s apathy and the media’s complicity usually lets them get away with it. It’s no wonder nothing gets done in Washington.

  2. Matthew, back in 95 I worked on Congresswoman Carrie Meek’s staff and was her representative on the Democratic Environmental Caucus. I wondered if we could work with the R’s on improvements to how ESA is managed in practice, and I was told that we “can’t touch it because then when the R’s want to make changes, we can accuse them of trashing species.”

    There are some very odd things about ESA that don’t make sense in a world of climate change, in which we don’t know what the climate will be like.

    In reality, there are a variety of judgment calls that are made by bureaucrats. Sometimes this has more of an impact on rural communities. Rural communities are often represented by R’s. Ergo, R’s don’t like endangered species.

    There is some likelihood that political pressures by D’s will get D leaning districts more rapid approval (sorry to say, but that is reality and it works with both parties, been there and got the t-shirt). Here is a story from the Denver Post:
    (Media-watchers.. notice again that you see this story in a regional paper and it is about a local situation)

    Much of the early rebuilding of roads and bridges devastated by the September 2013 floods were done in emergency status, which means much of the regular bureaucracy was hastily thrown out the window. Time was of the essence: There were people marooned from their homes and vital roads without access.

    Now, flood reconstruction and rebuilding is entering into a second, more permanent phase.

    And the habitat and viability of the Preble’s mouse will be considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service moving forward on the projects — something the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned local officials about last week.

    “We don’t intend that there will be delays,” said Susan Linner, Colorado field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which conducts the reviews. “You can never say never, but given the types of projects we are talking about, I think they will be handled fairly quickly.”

    Those assurances are cold comfort to Weld County Commissioner and prominent Greeley Republican Sean Conway.

    He says his area has 15 major road and bridge projects that need to be completed before the spring runoff is in full gush. He said it is unacceptable that local officials must wait for an Endangered Species Act review before embarking on vital repair work.

    “We have a short window,” Conway said. “I have engineers out in the field right now, and we need to get this work done. We have to get it done by April 1.”

    In Boulder County, miles away and on the opposite side of the political spectrum from Greeley, officials say a majority of its flood-recovery projects don’t disrupt the mouse habitat. On projects that fall within mouse territory, they welcome the Endangered Species Act review.

    “Whatever we’re doing in those areas, we will work to be sensitive to the projects with the mouse in mind,” Boulder County Parks and Open Space director Ron Stewart said. “Our elected officials, the county commissioners, are supportive of protecting a species that is endangered.”

    Fish and Wildlife officials say only five permanent reconstruction projects in the flood zone so far have required an Endangered Species Act review and all quickly passed — some in a matter of hours.

    “There may be some longer-term consultations for major road rebuilds or federal highways,” Linner said.

    NOTE THAT we are talking people who want their roads rebuilt not “extractive and environmentally harmful industries”

    • Thanks for sharing your experience and this info Sharon. Hopefully you can address it to Bob Berwyn, author of the article, and a guy whom you seem to know and have previously featured his articles and photos on this site.

      • As I’ve said before, Matthew, if you post something here this is where the discussion will be about what you post. I am not going to write to Bob. Bob comes up with many interesting stories. They are from his perspective, with which I don’t always agree, but the content is still interesting, and lots of times he finds out things or reports things that are not reported elsewhere.

        I agree with many people some of the time but with no people all of the time.

        • Fine. Just figured since you often featured Bob Berwyn on this site you may want to contact him directly and share your thoughts. I will send him a note about this discussion and maybe he will chime in.

          Sometimes I find it helpful that when we are talking about someone’s science, or someone’s article, on this blog it’s good to just directly contact the scientist, or author, and ask them specific questions, instead of just posting generally questions in this forum, which they might not even know exists…much less actually answer.

          • Hi Matt: I have the same perspective. Often I print my own stuff, partly as an effective peer review of my own ideas and opinions, and partly as (hopefully) education for others. In those instances I naturally back up what I post, because they are my words.

            When I print someone else’s work I almost always ask permission first, and sometimes even run a draft by them before posting. Then I am prepared to back up or defer on what is posted because it was my selection and I am familiar with the content. I think that making the choice to post the work of others, and then expecting your readers to reach out to those people is a poor policy. If you can’t back it up or explain why you made the selection, why do it? And if you haven’t contacted the author ahead of time, is it really fair to catch them flat-footed and having to back up their own words — out of context — to blog readers? And especially those of us who use pseudonyms? I think responsibility is an issue here, as well as intent.

          • Matthew, thanks for making me think about this some more. I wasn’t actually asking questions, I was disagreeing with their knowledge claims as published.

            Now you may not think it’s fair to them to not relay my discussion directly to them at the same time in case they want to rebut my points or clarify. Is that your point?

  3. Oregon recently had two fish species be delisted from the ESA. Both had habitats and those habitats expanded, on predominantly private property. One east of the Cascades, and one along the Willamette River flood plain. But we never see that kind of accomplishment from public lands. Why?

  4. I could support a bipartisan, science-based effort to make the ESA more effective at slowing biodiversity loss, but that’s not what’s going on here. The radical anti-environmental House leadership has no interest in protecting natural resources – all they want to do is slash and pillage the environment for corporate gain. You can dance around it all you want, but their record speaks for itself. The Center for Biological Diversity called them on it. I’m not big on slogans, but extinction really is forever, and it’s not acceptable, morally or scientifically. I think some of the examples and stories in these comments are interesting, but personally, I don’t think there’s a lot of room for nuance in this particular discussion.

    • Bob

      I am having trouble with this statement by you “extinction really is forever, and it’s not acceptable, morally or scientifically”. Does that mean that you disagree with the geological record that documents extinction and supports evolution and survival of the fittest as the best way to deal with the current changing global conditions? Do you think that if humans had been alive, the geological record would be different and those extinctions would have been avoided because humans wouldn’t have accepted evolution? Isn’t our survival as human beings the direct result of evolution? If extinction is unacceptable and bigfoot is a descendant of the Neanderthal, shouldn’t we start shooting humans any where near bigfoot sightings like we are doing to Barred Owls near Northern Spotted Owls?

      If extinction is a natural process as the result of global change and the interactions between various species with different genetic suitabilities for the current condition, why is that unacceptable? I happen to believe that evolution and the resulting survival of the fittest is precisely what is required to cope with global change. To me being against evolution is being against survival for all suitable species. In other words, I believe that there are certain cases where the EPA is counter productive to the global ecosystem in the future. In my way of thinking, successful adaptation to future conditions is going to come from mutations within the species more suited to compete in current conditions than from species not suited to compete. What am I missing?

    • And to someone who was in the trenches of the regulations, it’s basically almost all nuance. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

  5. On my old Forest, there were “endangered” populations of Pleasant Valley Tulips. Oddly enough, those plants were found inhabiting recent skid trails where “rogue” patches gained footholds. I’m not against the ESA, and I have worked within it, successfully, for decades. What I would like to see is recovery plans that mandate beneficial management that benefits those species.

    • Larry, What a great idea. On the NFs in Florida the management practices that would have the greatest beneficial impact on the endangered redcockaded woodpecker is cutting more pine timber (reduce basal area of overdense stands to 50 sq ft. per acre) and understory hardwood removal (energy-wood). There’s a strong market for both. Do you think this will ever happen? Forget it! The Apalachicola N.F. is cutting 5% of its pine annual growth and no hardwoods.

      • Mac

        What you are suggesting is exactly what we did in southern Arkansas for the RCW in the ’90s. As a Trial, the USFWS let us get rid of the hardwoods and get the pine BA down and the birds loved it and the USFWS agreed that it was the most effective treatment. Fifteen years later, the USFWS hadn’t learned a thing when I visited the USFWS Noxubee Wildlife refuge, the midstory hardwoods had branches within a foot of nesting cavities all primed as ladders for the snakes and raccoons to climb right to the nesting cavities so that they could steal the eggs without getting much pitch on them.

  6. I gave up the divisive combativeness of partisan politics decades ago. I fully expect letters and statements made by the Center for Biological Diversity and its spokespersons to contain bias. I fully expect letter and statements made by the American Farm Bureau and its spokespersons to contain bias.

    When I see an article titled “GOP attack on ESA fueled by “Tea Party Fantasies””, I anticipate that the main thrust of the article will contain a range of bias that is not particularly designed to present a balanced picture of the issues at hand. I would expect a similar lack of balance from an article taking an accusatory tone toward “Crypto-Marxist Socialists”.

    Over the past several months, I’ve sat through all the ESA hearings held by the House Committee on Natural Resources. Republican and Democrat members of the committee were present, made statements, and asked questions of the witnesses. The Center for Biological Diversity and a range of other nonprofit conservation organizations were on the list of people and organizations invited to provide testimony for each of the hearings. On most occasions, the CBD and other conservation organizations declined the invitations.

    Because CBD and other conservation organizations were invited to participate in the hearings, and largely failed to do so, the CBD’s endangered species policy director Brett Hartle’s complaint about “cherry-picked witnesses from the six hearings” is disingenuous at best. His organization was, after all, one of the cherries picked. It’s not the committee’s fault that CBD had better things to do on the days those six hearings were held.

    I’ve read the Center’s recently released analysis of the working group’s report . . . and have read the working group’s report, too.

    The working group was, I agree, a partisan assemblage of Congressional Representatives and their staff. That’s the way most Congressional working groups are put together. The exception is when such a group is called a bipartisan working group . . . and then you have to carefully parse the group’s membership to identify any potential for bias in one direction or another.

    The Center’s analysis presents the Center’s perceptions. Again, that’s only to be expected. I do have reason to be as skeptical of their analysis, just as I would were there to be a separate analysis published by the Farm Bureau. Each organization has objectives they are pursuing, and will write to those objectives. Either way, it’s good to have voices from outside the working group pointing out areas that perhaps bear further evaluation.

    For instance, the Center’s “Report Error #10” is about the White Bluffs bladderpod listing process leaves out some crucial information about how USFWS handled the receipt of new scientific information and the need to develop further information based on the findings of scientific information brought forward by a stakeholder group. Because I was personally involved in that particular listing process, it’s something I can speak to. What should happen is a more in-depth independent look at the questions raised, and how reform should address the deficiencies demonstrated by the White Bluffs bladderpod listing process.

    As a result of the way the Center handled that one point, I have concerns that other points of its analysis may be similarly compromised.

    If Mr. Berwyn can write in opposition to what he perceives to be “anti-environmental Republicans in the House”, another author could write in opposition to “anti-human Democrats in the House” with just as much credibility on the very same subject area.

    That’s kind of where we are at the wingtips of public discourse on the ESA. It’s not a situation that is beneficial to the species of concern, nor to the people who live in or near those species’ habitats.

    • Norman MacLeod says: “For instance, the Center’s “Report Error #10″ is about the White Bluffs bladderpod listing process leaves out some crucial information about how USFWS handled the receipt of new scientific information and the need to develop further information based on the findings of scientific information brought forward by a stakeholder group. ”

      Hard to tell to what Mr. MacLeod objects. The opponents of listing this endemic plant retained a University of Idaho geneticist to do some sequencing. They then claimed that Dr. Cort Anderson’s results showed “no genetic deviation between the White Bluffs bladderpod and the other samples — meaning genetically it is the same as the common Douglas’s bladderpod.”

      Because genetics runs in my family and I’m a curious SOB, several months ago when the bladderpod hit the news, I called up Dr. Anderson to ask him about his bladderpod work. He confirmed what FWS’s five peer reviewers said — his analysis was insufficient to prove what the farmers had asserted. And that’s consistent with what CBD reports in its letter.

      So, I wonder, has Mr. MacLeod talked to Dr. Anderson, too?

      • So just to recap, the farmers asserted that the rare bladderpod was not different from common bladderpod, but Dr. Anderson’s work did not show that it wasn’t different ? How similar did Dr. Anderson’s work show that it was?

        Is Dr. Anderson’s work posted somewhere so we all (geneticists included) could take a look?

        • The last I had heard, the Farm Bureau’s commissioned study by Dr. Anderson was not available for public review without the Farm Bureau’s permission.

        • While the full version of the report is not available, there is an abbreviated version in circulation. The key finding from the report:

          Based on the sequence data generated in this study, White Bluffs bladderpod is
          not genetically distinct, or distinguishable, from P. douglasii bladderpod populations or individuals.

          What follows is the recommendations section of the short report on Dr. Anderson’s study, where we find caveats to the above, accompanied by advice on expanding the study to obtain a more conclusive determination:

          While the findings presented in this report do not indicate that P. douglasii ssp. tuplashensis is a distinct and independently evolving taxon, these results cannot be considered definitive or final. Our sampling was constrained by both the time available to collect and process samples, and the availability of Physaria samples. Ideally, this study would be expanded, to incorporate both more bladderpod samples from across the species’ range, and more comprehensive sampling of the genomes of the Physaria douglasii specimens. The former will be important to establish a more representative sampling of bladderpod populations, necessary for rigorous statistical comparisons. The latter will be important to more reliably establish whether tuplashensis is indeed genetically different from other douglasii populations—the ca. 2500 total bases of DNA sequence analyzed in this study represent a miniscule fraction of the total Physaria genome. In order to more accurately infer population structure and patterns of gene flow in this taxon, it will be necessary to adopt alternate approaches that more comprehensively sample a larger fraction of the genome. Specifically, we recommend interested parties follow up with a study that incorporates either SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) technology, or microsatellite DNA methods. These technologies do require an investment of time and resources to develop polymorphic markers. However, they also would provide much more comprehensive sampling of the genome, and hence would be much more likely to detect emergent divergent evolution of tuplashensis populations.

          USFWS had severely limited the number of samples that could be taken for this study. The study determined that there was doubt as to whether the White Bluffs bladderpod is a distinct and independently evolving taxon. (It could be an ecotype adapted to survival in a distinctly harsh soil regime.)

          The recommendations for a more comprehensive study were not acted upon by USFWS as part of the listing process, even though it would have been a reasonable and prudent course of action, given the potentially significant impacts to the human environment that the recovery plan driven by the listing could drive. The Service’s position, as conveyed in a newspaper article, was that it did not have the resources to perform such studies.

          On November 13, 2013, USFWS planted a significant number of White Bluffs bladderpod seedlings at a location across the Columbia River as an “experimental planting in an area away from where the plant naturally grows.”

          The Service had so many seedlings to plant that they called for 6-8 volunteers to help with the planting. Only a few months previous, they had only allowed five plants to be made available for DNA testing.

          These are the kinds of things that, at least on the surface, make it apparent that we need to really figure out what’s going on with how the ESA is being applied in practice. Once we have a handle on that piece, we can move on to determine what, if any, reforms need to be made to the Act.

          • That’s what I figured. If only five plants were available, that isn’t a very good test. But maybe there aren’t more of these plants around to sample. If they can’t sample any more of the rare ones, they can sample more of the non-rare ones. They could sequence the genome of each individual plant if they had enough money.

            But let’s step back. If there had been differences with the small sample, then we would have an answer. But if there is not, then there needs to be more analysis.

            Can you see that the deck is stacked against finding something to be the same as something else? Because if you find it to be the same, it can be argued that you haven’t looked hard enough. And there is no scientific gold standard for “this is as far as you have to look for differences.” Nor is there a gold standard for “25 base pair differences equals a species -worthy difference.”

            And let’s just take a look at the legal development of ideas (this is not exhaustive)
            1. Endangered species act (species)
            2. distinct population segments (where did that come from? some legal interpretation? I used to sit in on fish discussions in which morphology and genetics did not agree, which was a fascinating discussion about DPS’s)
            3. Now according to this report what we care about is:
            “sp. tuplashensis is a distinct and independently evolving taxon,”

            But taxa combine, separate and recombine as part of the dance of evolution. Connie Millar made this point very well in a paper on either Sequoiadendron or Radiata pine..if I remember, sorry for the aging memory.

            Now if we go back to Botkin’s book and the idea that scientists know things aren’t static (like species hybridizing and separating) but here we are again with ESA spending beaucoup bucks to figure out exactly the current status of something with the idea to keep it as it is.

            • ESA Section 3 (16): “The term ‘species’ includes any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature.”

              I’m sure there are genetic definitions of ‘species’ and ‘subspecies,’ and DPS is defined here:

              So yes, the current status is important, but there is nothing that prohibits changes in ESA classifications based on new information. I think this has happened based on new genetic technology, and there is no reason to think it wouldn’t happen for hybridization or convergence if that can be identified. I don’t think this presumes a static environment. I think the real question may be the “burden of proof” (which under ESA should favor protection) and deference to the federal agency determination.

              • Here in the Sierra Nevada, there is a protected species of Clarkia whose only difference is flower color, compared to the common Clarkia species. Is that a good reason for establishing a new and “endangered” species? I once went to a Wilderness Area, where most of the common wildflowers all had a purple tint to them, probably due to the local insects, who prefer purple flowers. Do all those common species that have different colored blooms deserve to be their own new and endangered species status? Where do we draw the line, between the “lumpers”, and the “splitters”?

            • The USFWS made only five plants available. They could easily have made a more statistically significant number of plants available, but opted not to.

              That the study performed did not find differences between the samples and P. douglasii samples they were compared against is a very strong indicator of the need to perform additional DNA analysis to a point where we can say with confidence that their either is or is not sufficient differentiation between the P. douglasii found in other locations and those found along the White Bluffs for P. douglasii tuplashensis to be a valid subspecies warranting protection under the provisions of the ESA.

              The soils along the White Bluffs are not optimal for P. douglasii. They may represent the margin of potential habitat for P. douglasii. As a result, P. douglasii plants growing in that marginal habitat might look significantly different than genetically similar plants growing in optimal soils. (If I plant seeds from a clover plant in ideal soils, the resulting clover will look very different than plants growing from the same parent’s seeds in dry gravel.)

              The Service needed to do a bit more work, and that work was technologically feasible. They chose not to.

              Yes, the DNA studies required to nail this down are pricey. That should be balanced against the listing’s assertion that nearby irrigated agriculture is a threat to the continued existence of the White Bluffs bladderpod. The recovery plan that now has to be developed will almost certainly condition allowable agricultural practices in order to address that asserted threat.

              The cost of performing the additional DNA analysis, when considered in the context of the continued viability of a perhaps significant portion of a multi-billion dollar agricultural industry, is minimal on balance.

        • Sharon, it’s deja vu all over again, we discussed this in quite a bit of detail a few weeks ago (you participated in the thread), but here’s a small excerpt from one of my posts in that thread: “There’s a lengthy discussion and peer review comments for the bladderpod DNA study (done here at my home university, looks like solid work), warning it’s a very big file:

      • No, I did not talk to Dr. Anderson, nor did I think that the conclusion drawn by the local Farm Bureau was correct.

        What should have happened, given the results of the initial DNA study, was for the USFWS to have followed up by performing a more complete study. The Service did not do so, essentially saying that they did not have the financial resources to do so. By taking this course, they failed to comply with their mandated responsibility to balance the needs of the natural environment with the needs of the human environment.

        • “By taking this course, they failed to comply with their mandated responsibility to balance the needs of the natural environment with the needs of the human environment.” Except that’s not the legal standard for listing set by the Endangered Species Act. The ESA requires that the Secretary of Interior list “solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available to him after conducting a review of the status of the species.”

          The “balancing” of the human vs. natural environment permitted by the ESA is when the so-called God Squad is invoked or when critical habitat is designated. As a veteran of both processes, I’m happy to explain them if anyone is interested.

          • Balancing can be brought into the ESA in pari materia from NEPA. The mandate is there in pari materia.

            That balancing of the natural environment and human environment is not specifically called for within ESA at present is one of the things that need to be addressed though ESA reform.

            • I love it when you talk Latin — so sexy.

              The ESA already includes a detailed process for “balancing of the natural environment and human environment.” It is Sec. 7(e)(1). This section allows a federal agency or applicant for a federal permit to seek an exemption from the Act’s prohibition on federal agency actions that jeopardize a listed species or adversely modify its critical habitat. In this exemption process, inter alia (I can speak dirty, too), the economic/social benefits of the agency action are compared against the benefits of conserving the species or its habitat.

              • My apology for not providing a definition at the time of my posting.

                in pari materia (legal term) is a canon of construction where laws on the same subject, in the same matter, may be construed with reference to one another.

  7. During the past 40 years we’ve had ample opportunity to observe the successes, failures and unforeseen effects of the Endangered Species Act. With this in mind —

    • Can we all agree that the Act is not perfect and that changes might be made?
    • Can we agree that the ESA has had serious economic and social impacts on some counties and schools?
    • Can we agree that litigation under the ESA has been a tool used effectively to advance the interests of sectors of the environmental community?
    • Can we also agree that, at times, litigation, found by the courts to be without merit, has caused expense to the federal governments and, by delaying planned actions, has caused economic and social damage to families, schools, and local governments?

    It we can agree on these things, should we not agree to change the ESA to reduce these adverse economic and social impacts?

    Here is a copy of a letter that I recently send to the House Committee on Natural Resources. It suggests changes in proposed legislation that seeks to accomplish these end.

    I’ve read with interest the ESA Working Group’s report the Endangered Species Act. While the western states, especially Oregon and Washington, have been the most grievously affected by the ESA, the southeast has had its own problems with the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW). In I999 I assisted the Liberty County (FL) School Board in a claim against the U.S. Forest Service for damages caused by use of flawed science in RCW management (errors later recognized and corrected by the Forest Service). In preparing that claim, I identified and, in part, quantified the economic and social damages caused by management for the bird.

    The attachment [] lists these adverse impacts of the ESA on the people, especially the children, of Liberty County, Florida. The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Apalachicola N.F. Plan paid only superficial attention to the economic impacts and made no mention at all of the social impacts of RCW management.

    Here are some thoughts that may be helpful to achieving a more balanced and productive ESA.

    Category two (Litigation) should provide for reimbursement to be made under the English Rule. Loser pays the costs, including losses to timber value caused by harvesting delay, of the winner.

    Category 3 Consideration of economic impacts at the time of listing is impractical as these impacts are (1) site specific and not specifically identifiable at listing and (2) caused primarily by implementation, not listing. Remove consideration of economic impacts and include in a new Category 5 that would focus on Economic AND SOCIAL impacts caused by the implementation of the ESA. Social impacts, while intertwined with and triggered by economic impacts, are, perhaps, the most single significant adverse impact of the ESA.

    The ESA, as written and implemented today, is concerned only with non-human flora and fauna. It fails to recognize the needs of the single most important component of the planet’s ecosystem – humans. Any revision to the ESA must include a mandate to identify, quantify, and consider the human (economic and, especially, social) consequences of any action taken to implement that law.

    I strongly urge that any ESA-related legislation brought to the floor of the Congress contain that mandate.
    May I also add that I am not, and never have been, a member of the Tea Party and my goal is not to “slash and pillage the environment for corporate gain”.

  8. Mr. McConnell raises some excellent points. Federal (and most state) law mandates that the natural environment and the human environment be balanced. This means that the needs of the human environment must be balanced equally with the needs of the natural environment, with both afforded full and meaningful consideration.

    This mandate for balancing is found in statute, administrative law, and numerous executive orders. Failures of the ESA are not limited to protection of species, but also where the needs of the human environment are not provided with that mandated consideration.

    • You know, now that you mention it, it can be argued that ESA as carried out in practice may not be aligned with section 101 of NEPA:

      “to use all practicable means and measures, including financial and technical assistance, in a manner calculated to foster and promote the general
      welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.”

      • Courts have consistently rejected attempts to graft NEPA onto listing and critical habitat designation. The courts’ thesis is that the listing & critical habitat processes are sufficiently NEPA-like that Congress could not have intended both to apply.

      • “Federal (and most state) law mandates that the natural environment and the human environment be balanced.” Fox news is ‘fair and balanced.’ That term means whatever someone wants it to mean, so as a general point, it is useless (but probably wrong).

        The purpose of NEPA was to counter-‘balance’ the bias towards federal decisions based on economics (“particularly the profound influences of population growth, high-density urbanization, industrial expansion, resource exploitation, and new and expanding technological advances” (from the same section 101) and instead “to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man” (section 2). Sharon’s quote is selective and must be read in its broader context to mean that fulfilling social and economic requirements can best be achieved by protecting the ‘natural environment.’

        Of course, NEPA seeks to accomplish this rebalancing only by requiring procedures to identify environmental impacts. ESA imposes both procedural and substantive requirements, which basically take precedence over NEPA. And its purposes are even more un’balanced:’ “to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved, to provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species …” (section 2(b)). To paraphrase what courts have said about this, Congress has balanced the interests and come down on the side of protecting species at risk of extinction.

  9. I’m glad some of you are looking at the specifics of this proposal. It allows me to keep putting that off (maybe until it goes away). As I understand it though, a stated purpose of the proposed changes is to help species recover (which I think a lot of Ps and Ds would agree with), and it would therefore be best to judge the merits based on the stated goal. I think that should rule out attacks on the listing process (species that don’t get listed when they should are pretty unlikely to recover), or the judicial process unless it can be shown that litigation impedes recovery (which seems unlikely the way I understand recovery funding works, especially if the litigation is about listing).

    I did read Mac’s much shorter proposal, so I can give my opinion on that. I think we agree that the listing decision should be a cumulative assessment of the likelihood of a species becoming extinct, and the economic and social costs can best be assessed when a specific action is proposed that would affect individuals of the species. The NEPA process already does this (even for HCPs that allow take of listed species on nonfederal lands). With this information, the federal action agency may choose to provide less protection for the species up to the point of jeopardy. At that point, the Endangered Species Committee could then decide that the socioeconomic impacts of an action warrant the extinction of a species. I don’t see the need to change this process.

    The other fish species that has been proposed for delisting is the Modoc sucker. Credit is in fact given to the Forest Service for improving its status. (

    • Jon:

      I’d like to challenge your comment: “species that don’t get listed when they should are pretty unlikely to recover.”

      Is this information based on any type of study? Or is it someone’s opinion? Or is it just your opinion?

      Of course we’re back to the semantics of whatever “recover” means, but still, I’m very interested in the source of this statement.


      • I’ll take the blame/credit for this statement. But it’s basically the premise of ESA – that when species get to the point where they meet the listing criteria they are then in danger of not recovering unless they get the protection provided by ESA listing.

  10. Matt: I misspoke. The Oregon chub has its delisting PROPOSED by USFWS and that will be or has been published in the Federal Register. The other fish is the Borax Lake chub, which is NOT being delisted, but reduced to threatened from endangered. And it is on BLM land, albeit with the Steens Mtn Land exchanges, ten acres of desert for one acre of aspen and wetlands, springs, has changed the ownership of so much of that area. The Borax Lake was an actual place where the hot springs lake laced with borax was piped or dipped out and the water boiled off with juniper and sage fires under cauldrons to where you had the powder that was hauled out of the Alvord lake bed in 20 mule team wagons. The help was mostly Chinese, and from them all the homesteader cabins had alluvial and deflation plain mud tile roofs. But the Borax Lake (a smallish hot springs, really, with these fish that live on the margins where the water is warm enough to be ice free all year, and not so hot as to cook the fish) chub evidently have population enough, now, to be no longer “endangered” but only “threatened.” So one proposed for delisting and one taken off the endangered list. But the private property issue and recoveries is still relevant.

  11. One of the things I find most objectionable about the ESA is the prohibition on private propagation of the species. I mean, why is it so uncool to have the White Bluffs Bladderpod Global Alliance go ahead and crank out a few flats of bladderpods now and then?

    • What is prohibited is ‘take’ of a listed species, which specifically applies to ‘collecting’ (and doesn’t except that in seed form). However, the law authorizes a permitting process for take if it is to be done “for scientific purposes or to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species” and meets other criteria.

      • Yet there are almost no propagation programs in place, except spendy government stuff like for Paiute Springs chuckersuckers. Where’s the CBD talus-snail brooding facility, for example? Oh, that’s right — the object is not really to save species, but tie up land uses.

        The most sensible thing would be a “You List It, You Own It.” Want wolves? Fine, but you have to pay for the lost elk opportunities or whatever demonstrable impacts a species has. You get to sell or give away take permits.

        • “the object is not really to save species, but tie up land uses”

          I think it’s kind of hard to separate the two, which unfortunately makes it easy to suspect the motives. And species have no doubt been used as surrogates – say stopping a dam because you are really interested in whitewater paddling. But sometimes/often the object is just saving a species. And often the impacts on land uses can be minimized. But really, if the law fits, why should motives matter? Maybe because this is part of some larger socialist conspiracy to take away private property rights just because we don’t like them? I don’t think so.

          • More to the point, propagation is not a substitute for land-use controls. If there is not enough habitat to support a species it is not ‘recovered.’

    • Sharon, four people wrote the ESA in a House cafeteria. One was the chief of enforcement for USFWS at the time, and an animal rights group now has an award named after him.
      I’ve got lots to say about ESA and its reform, but I gotta go.

  12. A few years ago some old fellows got some hatch boxes from the STEP program and were able in few year to see a strong run of steelhead and salmon.
    Fish and Wildlife put quick end to that.

    • Bob S.:

      Same thing happened to the Jefferson kids in Portland, although I think it was the PPS school district in this instance that stopped the process cold, rather than Fish & Wildlife. But certainly none of the latter, Trout Unlimited, or etc., rushed in to help salvage the Willamette Industries-funded Project that was terminated almost immediately following Weyco purchase (despite professional media assertions to the exact contrary):


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