Friday, March 31, 2006

Endangered Species

Dear Indigna,

I’ve been reading about how Representative Richard Pombo (R-Tracy) wants to rewrite the Endangered Species Act. I’m confused about all the provisions and what they would mean for our environment. Can you break it down for me?

Sunshine Ocean Oaktree
Big Sur, CA

Dear Hippie,

It’s really very simple. First of all, Rep. Pombo points out, as the motivation behind his bill, that the existing Endangered Species Act has managed to “save” and repopulate “less than 1%” of the species on the list. Since this constitutes abject failure on anyone’s scale, we should give up, resign ourselves to mass extinctions and just lay back and try to enjoy it, preferably from the driver’s seat of a new Suburban while off-roading around pristine foothills scouting for particularly scenic ridgelines to put shopping malls on. The beauty of this approach is that it will inevitably result in a 100% success rate in that eventually the “list” would be empty.

The main point of Rep. Pombo’s bill is to make the government “compensate” landowners who are not allowed to develop their land because of the E.S.A. The problematic situation is analogous to eminent domain in that the government, by trying to protect some frog or lizard that no one has ever even heard of, can’t be eaten, doesn’t make a good pet and isn’t even attractive to look at, essentially “takes” the land from its owner. The difference is that in the case of eminent domain, the government has to pay the “fair market value” for the trailer park or whatever. The congressman is so irritated by the E.S.A. that he feels that the landowner, say, a rancher/congressman, should be compensated, not for his vacant land, but for the value of the development he would otherwise have built on it.

This idea only seems fair. Let me illustrate how it would work. Suppose you own thousands and thousands of acres of farmland in remote areas of your state (as no doubt some congressmen do). Now say, as a tribute to 9/11, you want to build a full-size replica of the Twin Towers on a couple of those acres and lease them out at the same rates as the originals brought in. If some prissy, holier-than-thou self-appointed “species police” named, oh, I don’t know, “ Sunshine Ocean Oaktree” maybe, should happen to be trespassing on your land and find a dodo bird, which was thought to be extinct a long time ago, the government would have to pay you $7 billion (the value of the land if the proposed development were to occur) if it wanted to keep you from cementing the bird into the building’s cornerstone.

The coolest thing of all about this proposal is that you could “profit” from a “development” that you never even have to build, and continue to enjoy your beautiful acreage (now that you finally retire) without the eyesore of a gas station, seedy strip mall or a couple of 110-story office towers! What’s not to like?

P.S. If you’re afraid that one day you’ll really, really, really just have to have a spotted owl, and nothing else will do, you can always take a few DNA samples before the backhoes roll and clone as needed, à la “Jurassic Park.”

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