by Glen Morgan
The Official Blog, Freedom Foundation
April 17, 2014
The Freedom Foundation has written extensively about the Thurston County Mazama Pocket gopher saga. This was another Endangered Species Act (ESA) story about a little rodent that through no fault of its own has become a symbol of the abuse of people by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and other government agencies and special interests. On April 9th, the USFWS officially listed the pocket gopher as an endangered species, and the residents of Thurston County, Wash., get to enjoy the restrictions and harm this listing will bring to them.
However, as an example of government incompetence, the disregard of science, squandering of tax dollars, and just plain silliness, the pocket gopher saga shows what is repeatedly occurring throughout the United States. Our tax dollars fund this abuse of the ESA, and the consequent harm to our society.
Common sense would suggest, based on these findings, that the gophers were doing fine living alongside humans (not to mention artillery and a busy airport). Instead, the regulators decided to “save” pocket gophers from things like tractor tire vibrations, kids on bicycles, cats, dogs, and playground equipment. Inconvenient facts just never seem to bother the self-appointed defenders of nature as they scramble for grant dollars to fund their studies, not to mention their livelihoods. Everyone from the Thurston County Commissioners to the leadership of the local Thurston County Democrat Party were convinced that a burrowing rodent which thrived among exploding artillery shells was bound to go extinct if rural residents were permitted to install big toy play sets in their backyards or move dirt in their fields.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists actually raised questions about both local and federal efforts to list the gophers as threatened or endangered. The state’s scientists pointed out the lack of DNA evidence to show that different gopher groups were really “sub species” in need of their own separate listings. These questions and doubts were suppressed, along with any other information that might fail to support a federal USFWS listing under the ESA.
The USFWS regularly rejects, ignores, or tries to avoid science. A recent example from Eastern Washington was the recent attempt to list the White Bluffs Bladderpod. In that case, USFWS squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars on unnecessary studies while pleading poverty to avoid conducting a DNA test. When a private agricultural group paid the $25,000 themselves, the DNA test confirmed there was nothing to distinguish this plant from others just like it spread all over the Western United States.
Most of the time, USFWS just lists the animal absent any serious science or technical review. It does this in collusion with organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in a practice called “Sue and Settle.” The scam goes like this: First, CBD identifies or invents hundreds of critters that it claims are scarce. CBD then sues USFWS because these animals, bugs, or plants are not yet listed as endangered. USFWS initiates the listing process and negotiates in a kind of legal kabuki theatre to make it look like a real lawsuit and to run up CBD’s soon to be reimbursed legal costs. Then USFWS throws up its hands and "surrenders," listing the species as endangered regardless of science, truth, or harm to people. The bureaucrats get more power, the environmentalists get their way and taxpayers pay everybody’s legal bills.
Public pressure does sometimes make a difference, even with the USFWS. In public hearings the USFWS held last year about the pocket gopher listing, there were big, pretty signs claiming the USFWS “supported agriculture.” The actual USFWS proposal, however, was that no crops could be harvested, no fields tilled, no tractors driven anywhere near suspected gopher populations except between the months of November and February. Farmers and agricultural folk openly ridiculed the USFWS for proposing to only allow farming in the winter. It was loud, funny, and anyone with even elementary education about agriculture knew the farmers were obviously correct.
The ridicule and embarrassment was enough that even USFWS modified their final restrictions to exempt normal agricultural practices. This is great for the farmers who were boisterous and engaged, but if you happen to be a residential property owner or non-farm business in the affected locations, you will be burdened by the ESA gopher listing. No more sheds, barns, or outbuildings without federal approval (and additional fees, of course). Most landowners don’t even know this has happened to them, but they will learn soon enough.
Of course, it isn’t about the gopher. It is about control and restricting the land use of rural residents. Most bureaucrats involved in the process know this. If any of these government agencies actually wanted the gopher to explode in population, they would pay farmers to raise the rodents and we would have gophers by the millions. Such an effort would direct both the money and the power away from government and to regular people, it would solve "the problem," and it would be successful. Of course, there is no goal to solve any of these "problems." Why? Like so many other things in life, finding the answer is as easy as following the money. And even with the ESA listing bringing federal involvement, it is unlikely Thurston County will back off since they gain both power and revenues from these regulations.
A lot of money has been passed around between government agencies and special interests over just this one kind of gopher. There are grants for the county, the state, and even some nonprofits to “study” the animal. There are tens of millions of dollars for “mitigation” and “habitat” purchases. There is money to be made for consultants, planners, and other courtiers. All this money is taken from the people and used to grind down the local citizenry in a process that is designed to punish regular people not on the grant money train.
Until then, the pocket gophers will continue to thrive alongside exploding artillery, and the USFWS will continue to destroy people’s lives and communities, ignoring science and helping to pay off their special interest friends.
If you want to listen to how a local Representative - Republican JT Wilcox thinks of this type of legislation, you can listen to my interview here.