Dealing with federal courts and endangered species


With newspapers cutting their budgets every year, the Capital Press performs an increasingly valuable service of covering agriculture, including forestry, across the West. The Oregon-based paper recently interviewed William Ruckelshaus, the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (which we wrote about here), and now the paper has weighed in on similar issues with its take on the Endangered Species Act.

According to the Capital Press editorial, the ESA is in serious need of reform.

While it is well-intentioned, it has met with limited success in achieving its goal of protecting major species on the verge of extinction, and its other major shortcomings cannot be overlooked. They fall in four areas: cost, ineffectiveness, property rights and misuse.

One of the most critical needs is to limit the number of species that have been protected over the past four decades.

Currently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists 71 clams, 60 insects and 29 ferns as endangered or threatened. In total, 584 animals and 795 plants are listed in the U.S.

These facts would likely surprise many members of Congress who in 1973 passed the ESA hoping to bolster efforts to recover the bald eagle and other major species. That 36 snails would join the nation’s symbol on that list could not have been foreseen…

…If a major animal or plant is facing extinction, that would certainly warrant designation as endangered. But if it no longer lives in one area but is plentiful elsewhere, does that really make it endangered? Sixteen “species” listed as endangered are actually local populations of single species.

Similarly, if a lichen becomes rare, what resources should the federal government invest in “saving” it? And should there be a monetary limit?

In other news, the co-president of Oregon’s second-largest landowner, Forest Capital Partners, is speaking out against the recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to treat logging roads like industrial sites. (We wrote previously about the case here, here and here.) Matt Donegan, whose timber management company owns 600,000 acres in Oregon, told the Medford Mail Tribune that the legal decision “could kill the Northwest timber industry.”

Donegan added that the decision could threaten Oregon’s status as the country’s #1 producer of lumber and plywood and the timber industry’s position as the second-largest employer in the state.

Donegan said the effect of the ruling would be to cast doubt on the value of investing in private forestlands, since harvest efforts could be tied up for years by litigation.

“A big chunk of what we do would be gummed up,” he said.

The decision also could backfire on those seeking to protect forestlands because once the private lands were no longer valuable for the timber they produce, they would be more prone to development.

“The single-largest threat to working forestland is when a mill shuts down,” Donegan said. “The land gets developed and there is fragmentation, rather than good forest practices.”