||Good Neighbor Forum
---- ESA misused, speakers say
February 27, 2007 by Dan Barker, Fort Morgan
(Editor’s note: This is the second in a series
of three stories on the theories of why
farmers are facing hardships as presented at
the Good Neighbor Forum in Greeley.)
Jim Chilton believes there are environmental
activists hiding within the government who are
acting out their own agendas at the expense of
farmers and ranchers.
The Arizona rancher was not alone, as the
consensus at the Good Neighbor Forum in Greeley
Saturday was dominated by those concerned about
how different government land agencies such as the
Bureau of Land Management, the Forestry Service,
the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department
of the Interior in its decisions about the
Endangered Species Act (ESA) damage the rights of
agricultural producers. About a quarter of those
attending were from Morgan County.
In Chilton’s case, he faced officials who wanted
to limit his grazing rights on federal land after
an Environmental Protection Act analysis was
completed in 1996. When he accessed information on
his file under the Freedom of Information Act, he
found untrue information such as 44 percent of his
soils on the lands were unsatisfactory due to
overgrazing, he said.
He was told he had to reduce his herd from 500
head to 252. However, when range science experts
came to examine the land, they did 1,000 samples
of his land and concluded Chilton’s land should be
allowed 559 head for light to moderate grazing,
Also, the analysis claimed the area in which his
cattle grazed was home to the only Sonoran chub in
the United States. Minnows he called “little
wetbacks” migrating north into the area were
“greeted as heroes” by environmentalists,
particularly the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).
The lesser long-nosed bat was also supposed to be
in the area, he said.
However, a biological assessment by the Forest
Service found 99.9 percent of the time there were
none of these chub in the area, Chilton said.
Chilton said he found out later two of the
offending officials were married and met with CBD
to discuss the case sympathetically.
“I found it outrageous,” he said.
Eventually, a judge found in favor of Chilton’s
argument that the government did not have
authority if the species were not really there. An
appeal to the 9th Circuit Court, which he called
the “most liberal in the nation,” upheld the first
judge unanimously, saying the burden of proof was
on agencies to prove species are there and there
is harm to them, instead of simply assuming
grazing would harm the species, Chilton said.
All of this turned out to be motivated because his
land was in the middle of an area which was part
of the federal Wildlands Projects. People in
various agencies believed in the idea and were
encouraged by environmentalists. A small group of
activists within the government agencies found it
safe and easy to create scenarios where species
were endangered, although they had no evidence.
Claims were overblown, such as saying cattle might
step on chub minnows or accidentally ingest them
when taking a drink. It all reflected an anti-use
philosophy, he said.
All of this amounted to a “loss of freedom for
people in rural areas,” Chilton said.
Jim Beers, a retired Fish and Wildlife Service
employee who flew from Virginia to speak on the
history of environmental and animal rights, said
this kind of overreaching was part of a slow
process which began when President Theodore
Roosevelt set aside national parks such as
Yellowstone. Social experiments like Prohibition,
the New Deal, the United Nations and the Great
Society, along with the income tax amendment,
paved the way for the federal government to
interfere in people’s lives and property.
During the 1970s, factors came together like the
“perfect storm,” he said.
Federal agencies wanted to do more and groups like
the Wilderness Society and the Nature Conservancy
joined with those like People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals and the Audubon Society. Even
Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited were infected
with the desire to limit land use, Beers said.
Those administering the Endangered Species Act
started finding not just species but “populations”
and “distinct populations” and what had started as
a grand idea to save animals such as the bald
eagle took on a life of its own, he said.
No one ever said the ESA would affect the building
of roads or dams when it was first created, Beers
This led to a “subtle perversion” of state
agencies, which had previously been watchdogs
against federal control, he said.
Beers also claimed Roe vs. Wade, the U.S. Supreme
Court decision about abortion in 1973, also had an
effect by setting a precedent of interpreting the
U.S. Constitution with “penumbras formed by
Agencies began to dream of a “Pre-Columbian
fantasy” of the Wildlands Project, Chilton said.
Despite the ascendancy of environmental
popularity, there are things producers can do to
protect their property rights and should remain
optimistic, both speakers said.
There are certain principles which must be
encouraged. Agencies must base decisions on
peer-reviewed science, not fears of imagined
scenarios. Those in federal agencies who become
“rogue agents” need to be “ousted.” No agency
should have the power to affect lives and the
economy without external scientific review. Agents
should be held personally accountable. Congress
should pass a code of ethics for agencies dealing
with nature. The Endangered Species Act must be
redesigned to reward landowners for creating
habitat instead of punishing them, Chilton said.
Remember that state government is the best friend
for the producer to resist federal agencies and
environmental groups, Beers said. Do away with the
Electoral College. Find senators who will stand up
for their states. Know the issues. Talk to other
affected groups. Understand community values.
Protect those who might be minorities, who could
help later, he added.
Fighting for property rights may seem hopeless,
but many thought they could not undo Prohibition,
but that happened, he said.
While the Great Society was popular during its
time, politicians now brag about reducing welfare,
One specific suggestion was trying to create a law
similar to the Arizona Private Property Act, which
is good at defining when the government can use
land or resources for a public purpose, Chilton
The act says when legislators pass a new law that
devalues property, they must pay for it, he said.
A recent Supreme Court decision approved cities
taking homes by eminent domain if they are trying
to increase the tax base. That has scared a lot of
urban homeowners and might be easy to sell to
voters, Chilton said.
— Contact Dan Barker at email@example.com or