The Invaders: New Darlings of the Drive to Gain Power and Money at the Altar of Environmentalism
By: Jim Beers Date: 01/12/2012 Category: | Wildlife Journal |
This article explores similarities between the current endeavors to bring “invasive species” under the control of the federal government and the campaign that led to passage of the Endangered Species Act more than 30 years ago. On the surface, the two efforts seem to have little in common, but as the author makes clear, the results – an accumulation of dollars and power by environmental groups and the infringement of private property rights – bear a chilling resemblance.
The similarities today between something called invasive species and endangered species back in the early 1970s is eerie. In both instances a Republican President is attempting to deal with a war while Democrats attack every move he makes. Demonstrations by radicals clamor on the evening news with no reasonable alternatives offered save overthrow of the Republicans. Environmentalists both in the federal agencies and in the powerful environmental lobby groups attack and undercut the President while offering the possibility of supporting him if only he will support a new program that will save plants and animals and surely generate the votes needed for reelection.
In the early 1970s Department of the Interior (where I worked), a Green* assistant secretary worked with these environmentalists while overseeing a well-credentialed Director of the US Fish & Wildlife Service who walked a fine line as a salesman for Endangered Species while trying unsuccessfully to maintain a workable wildlife management regime. Today, a Green Secretary of the Interior similarly courts environmentalists while using the credentials and reputation of a US Fish & Wildlife Service director to assure us of the “need” to federalize invasive species.
This federal power expansion will undoubtedly mushroom to cover things that will cause you to snicker and ask “How could anyone imagine such stuff?” Well, you would have said the same thing in 1972 if I had said that the Endangered Species Act would lead to:
- taking property without compensation;
- the listing of subspecies, races, populations, subpopulations, and distinct population segments:
- the elimination of logging and ranching over wide areas;
- the forced reintroduction of wolves and grizzly bears for which the ‘reintroducers’ are not responsible unless someone disturbs the animals;
- the eradication of needed public works projects to ‘save’ flies and toads;
- the death of citizens due to flooding caused by bushes growing on a dam and ‘needed’ for an insect;
- the elimination of big game herds for wolf food or the elimination of thousands of miles of stream sport fisheries for an undesirable trout;
- the perversion of biological classification so that academic specialists can obtain grants and career enhancements;
- creation of the largest budget and power increase for federal bureaucrats to date;
- the litmus test of environmental bona fides for politicians seeking reelection; and
- the greatest power source ever devised for environmentalists to stop everything from energy development to hunting and wildlife management.
Control of invasive species is a federal proposal that will expand and steadily eliminate the rights of property owners, the authorities of state governments, the legitimate activities of Americans, and a host of other abuses. It is just like the Endangered Species Act in this respect, and it will be expanded and abused even quicker because bureaucrats, politicians, academicians, and non-governmental organizations have gained experience in the past 30 years.
Back in the early 1970s, I was too dumb to see where all this was going. None of the people who did know ever said a word – they simply clipped coupons for their own careers and pay.
So I am writing a series of articles on invasive species based on the history of the Endangered Species Act. This series will cover the history and biology of invasive species, the politics applying to the interest groups, the legalities involved, and both the intended and unintended consequences that will result. The series will address all of the usual conflicts (East v. West, urban v. rural, feds v. states, academics v. working men and women, bureaucrats and politicians v. property owners and outdoorsmen, environmentalists and animal rightists v. recreationists and businessmen) for better understanding of the issues.
This series is not meant to disparage activities to control these species or to discourage more cooperation between government and landowners, businessmen, and others. It is meant to avoid the inescapable quagmires that the Endangered Species Act has created. The Bush Administration is currently exploring an invasive species program that could soon begin affecting all of us from boaters and outdoorsmen to gardeners and taxpayers. The time to learn about it is now. The time to do something about it is before it gets passed and underway. I hope to tell you what you can do and why you should do it.
What are invasive species?
"Invasive species" is the designation currently applied to non-native plants and animals that cause problems of one sort or another. Non-native is the relevant phrase: it refers to those plants and animals that are relatively new to a region, area, state, nation, or continent. While most of us take for granted thousands of species of plants and animals that were here when our grandparents and great grandparents were alive – species such as Hungarian partridge, brown trout, English ivy, and day lilies – as acceptable members of our environment, environmental groups, many academics, bureaucrats, and socialists know that ‘non-native” really means ‘not present when European explorers stepped ashore.’
There have even been legal arguments made that an Eastern US native fish (largemouth bass) introduced into Western US reservoirs are ‘non-native’ and should be eliminated. Have no doubt that non-native means all of these things and that this will be a readily accepted definition in a court of law by government or environmental litigants when seeking jurisdiction, land control, or control of human activities.
While advocates for federalizing invasive species never mention non-natives such as pheasants or day lilies as eventual targets for elimination, they do list non-native species that can and do cause extensive and serious problems:
- Zebra mussels from Europe clog water intake pipes and displace native mussels.
- Hydrilla, a thick, mat-like plant, infests many streams and reservoirs.
- Salt cedar, a small shrubby tree, displaces native shrubs along waterways in the West and uses significant amounts of scarce water.
- Brown tree snakes, brought to Guam from New Guinea as stowaways on WWII planes, decimated Guam’s bird life, caused power outages and have bitten hundreds of children and adults.
- Cheatgrass displaces native plants, creates a fire hazard, and infests winter wheat over large parts of the US.
- Leafy spurge is poisonous to cattle and horses and yellow starthistle is poisonous to horses; both crowd out native plants and the animals that depend on them in densely infested areas.
- Kudzu, the infamous vine from a science fiction movie, smothers southern trees and buildings.
- Sea lampreys invaded the Great Lakes and began killing lake trout and salmon when canals and sea-going ships opened the way.
- Nutria, a large muskrat-like marsh dweller, causes extensive marsh plant damage in Louisiana and Maryland.
- Fire ants threaten the safety of human, pets, and domestic animals.
Advocates of federalizing the management and control of such species ignore or avoid the facts. For instance, zebra mussels have helped clean up (clarify) many waterways, including Lake Erie, where deeper sunlight penetration has caused an explosion of submerged plants that shelter fish and accordingly created a very productive commercial and sport fishery.
Hydrilla, which elicited forecasts of environmental Armageddon when first spotted 20 years ago near Washington, DC, established large beds in the Potomac River, creating extensive cover for endangered fish, a now-famous bass fishery, and large flocks of wintering scaup, mallards, and geese viewed from Washington office windows.
Another fact missing from advocacy reports is that control of many of these plants and insects is extremely dependent on pesticides, yet those who live with these pests testify to the fact that available chemical controls face environmental prohibitions and impossibly high permission requirements.
There are more facts conspicuous by their absence: Louisiana is attempting to decimate nutria populations with a bounty and new markets for the meat; problematic native species such as poison ivy, poisonous spiders and scorpions are ignored; and thousands of beneficial or neutral non-native landscaping species like tulips, day lilies, and lilacs and non-native hunting and fishing species like chukars, pheasants, brown trout and Great Lakes salmon go unmentioned.
Semi-tropical to Mediterranean climate and a large influx of international contacts leads states like Florida and California to be strong backers of federalizing invasive species efforts. The climate provides ideal habitat for exotic fish dumped in ditches, fruit flies hitchhiking on airplanes or steamers carrying fruit, pets or wild animals escaping from owners, and even birds miraculously blown across oceans from similar climates.
I attended an invasive species hearing at the US House of Representatives hearing in which a Florida state employee was the most outspoken advocate in the room for more federal dollars, more federal employees, and more federal authority.
Early in the proposal stage for the Endangered Species Act (1970-72) similar ‘facts’ were publicized and others were dismissed. For example, advocates of the ESA
- emphasized bald eagle preservation (while I used to see 30 at a time when I was in the Aleutians) and never mentioned the potential to use isopods and flies to stop public works projects.
- touted saving sturgeon, a relatively innocuous and little seen fish, but omitted the potential to use slight variations found in minnow-like darters from insular Tennessee watersheds to prevent construction of a needed major dam.
- told romantic stories about saving evening wolf howls in Minnesota but no one mentioned the effects on stock, big game animal populations, pets, and humans that an expanding wolf population would have. Intentions to force wolves back into the West where they had been purposely exterminated were vehemently denied for years.
They didn’t reveal that they imagined expanding the list to include subspecies much less races, populations, sub-populations, population segments, and distinct population segments. They didn’t mention their concerns that professors, researchers, and other specialty experts would skew their findings and eventually their scientific classifications and habitat declarations in order to get grants and other benefits resulting from publicity of their specialties. And they failed to admit that they were bent on clearing large swaths of the United States for something called the Wildlands Project.
They didn’t express worries that federal bureaucrats would list species and never delist them unless forced to do so or note that promotions, budgets, bonuses, and wide-ranging power would become directly proportional to the size of the program.
They didn’t acknowledge suspicions that environmental groups and politicians would lard federal agencies with employees with activist intentions for regulation writing and lawsuit cooperation.
They scoffed at the far-fetched idea that the ESA would result in taking property without compensation, closing access to federal land, and would eliminate businesses and recreational activities in the name of endangered species.
They justified the ESA with untrue claims of environmental needs and ecosystem viability, and they dismissed worries about loss of sovereignty to UN bureaucracies dedicated to worldwide control of International Endangered Lists that expand biennially, worries that proved to come true.
History and jurisdictions
The US Constitution (1787) established a regime of plant and animal jurisdiction and ownership unique in the world at that time. While limiting the federal government to specific authorities and responsibilities, it divided federal power between the ubiquitous three branches. The Bill of Rights (the first 10 Amendments  to the Constitution) concluded with Amendment X, which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
The jurisdiction over and management of all plants, insects, and animals is one of those powers. Only an Amendment to the Constitution or “Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States” can legally alter this. No longer did wildlife and plants belong to royalty or the aristocracy, in America it belonged “to the people”. States held the wild species in common ownership for all and men and women owned the domestic plants and animals outright. For at least 200 years anyway.
For 100 years, the federal government concerned itself with protecting high seas fishery interests of Americans, cooperation with neighbors like Canada in the Great Lakes, and interstate and foreign commerce protection for farmers, ranchers, and businessmen dealing in wildlife and plants.
In the late 1800s western states resigned themselves to the federal government retaining large portions of the West. This acceptance of predator control and grazing allocation by federal land administrators gave birth to an uneasy notion that the federal government is somehow immune to state jurisdiction over plants and animals.
During the WWI, President Wilson signed and the Senate ratified a Migratory Bird Treaty with Canada for about 200 species of birds that migrated between the two nations. Certain species like hawks, owls, pelicans, and cormorants were specifically excluded because of the damage they caused. More recently these and several others were included in treaties with Mexico, Japan, and Russia. Primary management jurisdiction thereby was transferred from the state governments to the federal government for these named species.
In 1973 the Endangered Species Act was passed by Congress and signed by the President. The authority for the federal government to constantly name species, subspecies, etc. as endangered and thereby seize jurisdiction and management authority from the states is claimed to be a United Nations treaty signed by many nations. Two points: First, I would assert that a UN treaty is not a treaty as mentioned in the Constitution. In our treaty with Canada for instance, both sides are held responsible for certain actions or the treaty can be broken. On the other hand, the UN treaty can be regularly broken or ignored by others, and we have no recourse because of the brokerage role of the UN.
Second, and most important, those of us alive today have seen the federal government unilaterally use legislation to usurp jurisdiction and management authority over threatened and endangered species, marine mammals, wild horses, and animal welfare from the states.
These laws are being used to justify expanded power by the federal government at the expense of “the States” and “the people” over loggers, ranchers, fishermen, home-builders, hunters, trappers, medical researchers, pet breeders, campers, etc., etc. As a result, a bill to “do something” about invasive species is greeted mostly with a yawn by the public and with dollar signs and dreams of increased power by many others. No one any longer questions the legality, much less the results of these plunges into federal power-building that the Founding Fathers so rightly feared.
This last point was confirmed and made shockingly apparent to me last week. The polling question on the History Channel website was, “who should be more powerful, the state government or the federal government?”
Those who know civics and history understand that the Constitution names specific roles for each government; it does not give one a more powerful role over the other. The Civil War settled the union of the states, not who is more powerful (the northern states under a federal government defeated the southern states under a confederate government). President Lincoln didn’t defeat South Carolina; he defeated President Davis. Like any enduring marriage, our national life has prospered over an equal relationship with specific roles for each spouse (state and federal) and a shared sense of devotion to each other. The more we speak of who is more “powerful” the deeper our problems become.
Animal damage control
In the early 1900s federal, state, and university researchers studied ways to minimize or eliminate damage caused by predators (wolves, cougars, coyotes, and bears), and public employees successfully exterminated wolves and depressed the numbers and distribution of the others. About 40 years ago reductions in control allowed coyotes to explode back into the eastern US and state abrogation of management responsibility allowed California cougars to once again kill and maim humans, pets, and livestock and reduce once robust wild bighorn sheep populations in the Sierras to endangered status.
Today, similar elimination of bear management is allowing depredations of burgeoning bear populations to endanger humans and cause extensive economic damage once again.
The federal government also specialized in bird research (as primary managers of migratory birds). Damage from ducks, geese, blackbirds, and others was reduced and direct control (i.e. killing) was the final and often best method.
In the 1950s, increased international travel by tourists and servicemen caused the federal government to:
- begin banning from importation (based on the legitimate responsibility of regulating foreign commerce) what were called injurious wildlife like mongoose;) and
- begin searching the world for new and desirable species to release in the US such as chukars from India and snow grouse from Afghanistan. The federal government was also busy buying large marshes specifically for the breeding, migrating, and wintering needs of waterfowl. Many of these had and still have prized non-native species on them such as the Sika deer from Japan on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and the Assateague National Seashore Park and the sambur deer from India on the Saint Vincent’s Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Nearly all the “calendar picture invasive species” mentioned previously were present in the 1950s-60s. None were on the old Injurious Wildlife List that I enforced as a US game management agent at the New York port-of-entry in the early 1970s. Their visibility as a potential federal concern arose as “the usual suspects” (“the pushers”) saw how the Endangered Species Act generated funds and influence for academicians; budgets and career enhancements for bureaucrats; votes for politicians; and power for non-governmental groups. Let it suffice to say that claims of “billions” in damage and “millions of acres” are everywhere in Washington today. Slick publications, handouts, proposals, and publicity appear in every nook and cranny. “Invasive species” are like the cherry blossoms swelling in anticipation of the right conditions to burst forth.
* "Green" is a designation given to those individuals who favor a radical form of environmentalism that promotes government intrusion into the business of private landowners.
About The Author
All Authors Of This Article: | Jim Beers |