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The Endangered Species Act

Lompoc Record September 14, 2006, Commentary by Andy Caldwell

Maybe this is just what we needed. For the past several years, I have been trying to get the attention of our elected leaders at the local, state and federal level to mount a campaign to push back hard against an organization called the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).

This organization has served to establish Santa Barbara County as ground zero with respect to the Endangered Species Act. The damage being incurred is as a result of the fact that the CBD files lawsuits to accomplish three goals or means to their end.

Our elected officials and the staff at all levels of government that work for them don't do anything effective to counter these goals by way of effectively fighting the lawsuits or changing the law to prevent more of the same.

What the CBD does first is they get species listed. Santa Barbara County has more species listed than any other county in the continental United States!

The CBD then sues to get critical habitat for the species designated, which has served to encumber almost our entire county. As an example, if you add the critical habitat designation and range of the species for the tiger salamander, which typically occurs on ranchlands, in areas away from waterbodies, and the land designated for the red-legged frog, which typically occurs near water bodies, there isn't much of this county left unencumbered! Throw into the mix another 20-30 species, and well, you get the idea.

Now, the CBD has moved to phase three of their plan, which will serve to limit the ability of landowners to make productive use of their property as a result of the critical habitat designations.

In case you have not been following this saga, let me digress. The Endangered Species Act was meant to save species from becoming extinct. But by way of litigation and other means, the Act is now used to protect every sub-species of a species, regardless of how plentiful the family of species is as a whole.

For instance, salamanders are so plentiful in areas of our country that have a lot of vernal pools, because they get a lot of rain, that the little varmints are legally used for fishing bait. The bird that has caused the closure of Surf Beach in Lompoc is in no danger of extinction at all, as it has millions of cousins who are doing just fine elsewhere.

To make matters worse, the law has evolved to protect not only the species but all the land where the species lives or could live! The logic here is that the habitat critical to the species survival must be protected if the species is to survive. The way the feds figure, over 4 million acres of land in California alone is necessary to ensure the survival of the red-legged frog.

In phase three of the CBD plan, the organization and their pals in our federal government are now planning on banning pesticides and herbicides throughout our county in the areas designated as critical habitat for the frog. This is going to impact farmers, ranchers, golf courses, the Santa Maria Airport, and homeowners in the vicinity of drainages that could support the frog, regardless of whether the frog is actually present or not.

To think that these restrictions are going to go in effect throughout California is mind-boggling. But maybe this is just what we need to get the Endangered Species Act reform measure that has been stalled in Congress to get moving again. Maybe some of the right people are going to finally get mad enough to do something about this debacle.

There is really no threat of any of the species on the list going extinct any longer as a result of the scientific means we have to ensure the opposite effect. The bottom line here is that it is not difficult to produce frogs and salamanders in a captive breeding program by the tens of thousands for release into the wild. We have such a program for the condor, why not for frogs, salamanders and the like?

Neither do we have a shortage of federal and state lands that could provide suitable habitat for the survival of any the species listed in our county, instead of using private property.

But of course, that is not what this is all about is it? The fact is the environmental organizations like the CBD and our local equivalent, the Environmental Defense Center who often partner with the CBD, are not really concerned about the future of the species, they are only using the species to control land use.

They use the species to defeat housing projects, the development and use of farmland, and in some cases such as Surf Beach in Lompoc, they use the act to prevent recreational uses of the citizenry.

Farmers need water and land and the ability to control weeds and pests from devouring their crops. Unfortunately, the wherewithal to farm is being eroded by abuse and misuse of the Endangered Species Act. When will our community leaders and elected officials realize that you can't negotiate with these people - that this means war?

Andy Caldwell is executive director of COLAB and a 38-year resident of the Central Coast. His column appears every Thursday. You may reach him at 929-3148, or by e-mail at colab@utech.net.

September 14, 2006

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